Intro and writer's tips

Welcome to the book blog of writer Diane Paul. Have a browse, leave a message, become a follower, post to twitter or facebook...write a guest blog...just enjoy.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who've been sending me releases and books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction welcome. Just send me an e-mail at bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website can be found at: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/





Thursday, 6 February 2014

So, What's Wrong With School? 125 reasons not to send your kids

According to Home Education UK, it is estimated that around 60,000 children in the UK are being home educated. That’s roughly about 0.6 per cent of the population. It’s perfectly legal and parents don’t have to be qualified teachers to educate their own children. They can teach what they like and they don’t need to follow the National Curriculum.

Manchester mother of two, Jessica Mwanzia taught her children at home . Now, aged 17 and 20, they are studying courses ranging from accountancy to film and enjoy karate, gardening and doing voluntary work.

'My son left school aged five,' she told me. 'The preceding two years were spent battling with two different schools in an unsuccessful attempt to get his needs met.’ Jessica believed her experiences to be unique and saw herself as a failed parent with a failed child. But as she became part of the home education community, she found other ways to raise and educate children. ‘By listening to many parents, I became shocked by the stories I heard of children’s school experiences. Some were truly horrific: bullying, violence, injustice and labelling seemed commonplace; boredom almost universal,’ she said.

She began collecting anecdotal information and news items and reading books that looked critically at the institution that shapes most of our lives. Jessica herself is highly qualified with a BSc, PGCE and an MEd. She trained to teach in the 1980s ‘when child-focus was already on the wane. Children seemed to be an obstacle to the delivery of a curriculum dictated from on high’.

The results of her research and her views on our education system today have resulted in ‘So, What’s Wrong With School?’ It’s quite a tome and written in a semi-academic style but it’s worth reading if you want to know more about the subject, especially if you’re a parent disillusioned with the current educational system and wanting to investigate alternatives.

Jessica argues that much that is learned in schools is outdated, useless and out of context. And she is concerned about what children learn about themselves when they are told they are failures. ‘The rigidity and limitations of the curriculum, getting more so by the day, limits what children can become,’ she says.

Her book looks at how school can separate children from their own needs and from each other through competition, age segregation and setting. ‘Isolating children from their parents and other adults, apart from teachers, gives children a skewed view of the world.’ She examines the culture of school and how it influences wider cultures worldwide. ‘Bullying, exclusions, injustice, dishonesty and blame-shifting are seen as the underbelly of the institution.’ Myths about children, reward and punishment and about the evidence underlying what happens in a school are questioned. She believes that schools are failing children through institutionalising and focussing on the needs of the corporate world, rather than on childrens’ needs.

Teachers are found wanting: ‘undermined, overwhelmed, sick and absent, the low morale of the teaching profession is seen to contribute to a more negative experience for the children in their charge.’

The chapter ‘Numbering Our Children’ looks at the impact of continual measurement. ‘The damaging effect of continually being tested, from toddlerhood through to the teenage years, is put in the context of the drive for more and more numbers to attach to children like tags in a sale, so they, their teachers and schools can be ranked.’

Adverse effects on children’s health looks at sick buildings, safety, exercise and food. Mental health ranges from stress and anxiety to the growing number of children on psychiatric drugs. ‘Some groups are particularly harmed by school,’ says Jessica, as she looks at the ramifications for boys, girls, for those who are gay, poor or from a minority group.

She looks at the impact on us financially, on the natural world, children and society at large. And if this sounds like a pretty bleak picture, with which not everyone may agree, she ends on a more positive note as she suggests the way forward, from home education and alternative schools to positive changes in mainstream schools.

‘So What’s Wrong with School?’ adopts an ideological and political slant to a topical subject. Jessica admits it may not be a comfortable read. ‘It’s certainly a challenge to what we’ve been led to believe.’ Parents and teachers, take note.

I’ve certainly noticed a steady decline in literacy standards and that’s not just from the children. On TV particularly, the standard of spelling on captioned material is appalling and I’m sick of hearing announcers saying ‘he was stood’ and ‘she was sat’; then there’s the pronounciation of droring for drawing and the misuse of adverbs such as literally when the meaning is clearly not literally or so obviously so that its use isn’t appropriate; or pacifically instead of specifically. I always thought the Pacific was an ocean. Primary school is the place to learn how to speak and spell English and for some, this obviously isn’t happening. ‘Draw Liners’ it said on a packet of drawer liners I spotted in a well-known department store last week. What many people don't realise is that words spelt differently mean different things, so yes, it is important to spell accurately or some unwary shoppers might end up buying draw liners for quite the wrong purpose. So maybe Jessica’s ideas aren’t that far-fetched.

And I dare you to find a spelling mistake in the above paragraph! (And beginning sentences with 'and' or 'but' is journalistic licence.)

You can buy a paperback copy of ‘So What’s Wrong With School? 125 Reasons not to send your kids by Jessica Mwanzia through this link:

www.lulu.com/commerce/index.php?fBuyContent=13639070 price £4.80
or direct from Jessica’s website: http://sowhatswrongwithschool.wordpress.com
Like on facebook www.facebook.com/SoWhatsWrongWithSchool
You can contact Jessica at jmwanzia@phonecoop.coop













Monday, 22 April 2013

Creative Writing Festival for aspiring writers planned for York

If you're an aspiring novelist hoping to get your book published commercially, the best place to be in September will be the University of York.

For three days, from 13 to 15 September, the campus will be brimming with book doctors, top agents, publishing legends, best-selling authors and other hopeful writers. This is all serious stuff and everyone will be doing their best to help you. It's the 2013 Festival of Writing, run by the Writers' Workshop team.

Previous festivals have resulted in publishing contracts and agent sign-ups, so it's worth giving it a go. What do you have to lose? You can have a one-to-one session with an agent or a book doctor if you send a copy of your novel in advance - they'll give you loads of tips and answer any questions you have. They all descend on York each year in the hopes of finding the next big author - that may be you.

You can book on to one of the mini courses or workshops on writing or publishing, led by industry pros, listen to keynote speeches by authors who have made it and listen to panel discussions by the experts. And the friendly atmosphere and positive support you will receive will make it worthwhile. Making contacts is all-important in this business and just chatting and exchanging contact details with other emerging writers will help you to keep in touch with writing buddies - writing is a lonely business and it's good to compare notes with people in the same position who can empathise.

Keynote address will be made by author Adele Parks, whose debut novel 'Playing Away' was published in 2000. She's had 11 novels published since then, all of them Times Top 10 Bestsellers. Her books have sold over two million copies and been translated into 25 languages.

Best-selling author Adele Parks

You can learn more about the Festival on http://vimeo.com/54084473 and http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/events.html

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Artists a feature of author's first novel



During the Second World War, London's National Gallery ran a Picture of the Month scheme, putting one masterpiece on public display each month to keep up morale and cultural interest during the city's dark years.

In the present, Claire and her Canadian husband, Rob, once so much in love, are drifting apart since the death of their unborn baby, six months earlier. When Rob's grandmother, Elizabeth dies in Canada, the couple receive a box of letters written to her by her cousin, Daisy who worked as a typist in Whitehall in 1942. Claire is fascinated by the correspondence, which describes Daisy's visits each month to see a painting at the National Gallery and she decides to follow in her footsteps, read a letter a month and search out each painting for herself. It's the only thing that makes her life bearable, for she blames Rob for their child's death. When he fails to turn up to meet her because of a business meeting, she is attacked by thugs and suffers a miscarriage without his support.

What Claire really wants is to be loved and although Rob does love her, she rejects him for letting her down, something he didn't do deliberately. She sets out to destroy him, instead of trying to move forwards, in fact she actually enjoys hurting him. After a while, Claire's attitude towards Rob and her constant introspection began to grate as I felt it had gone on for too long. He has also lost a child and now he is losing his wife. I wondered why Claire hadn't been having counselling to sort out her thoughts and feelings. I didn't feel that I wanted to root for her and instead, my sympathies lay with Rob, who displayed the patience of a saint. However, I did realise that without Claire's emotional inner turmoil, there would have been no story.

And the mood soon changes. She goes from despair to hope on seeing the paintings and learning how Daisy's life unfolds, in epistolary form. She can't help acknowledging the parallels between the two. When Claire meets art auctioneer, Dominic at the gallery and embarks on a monthly tryst with him, her life changes radically. She creates a fantasy life for herself in her obsession both for Dominic and Daisy's unfolding life in the letters and is soon in danger of losing everything that she cares about.

It's a well-written story, thought-provoking too, with some inventive twists and satisfactory closure - all ends happily. Through it, we learn something about the privations of war in England through Daisy's life and times. And if you like art history, the author has researched thoroughly and highlighted some wonderful paintings, with vivid descriptions and analyses, along with snippets about some of the artists, ranging from Titian to Renoir. You can actually view them if you scan the QR code at the start of each chapter with your Smart phone or download a free app if you have a BlackBerry or iPhone. You will be taken to each painting at the National Gallery, with information about the artists.

This is a worthy first novel for Camilla Macpherson, who is part-lawyer, part-author. She is a winner of the Promis Prize for short stories and has been shortlisted for several other writing awards. Her website is at:
www.camillamacpherson.com

'Pictures at an Exhibition' is published by  Arrow Books,2012.

Friday, 5 April 2013

'The Middlesteins' - and how overeating can affect your family



Whenever little Edie Herzen was out of sorts, especially when she hollered, her mother found the perfect antidote - food. 'Food was made of love and love was made of food and if it could stop a child from crying, then there was nothing wrong with that either.' As a result, Edie became known to the neighbours as 'just that fat child from (apartment) 6D...'

Quite why I read this book with an American accent twirling around my head, I have no idea, except that the length of the sentences probably dictated it. Is 16 lines long a record, I wonder? I could hear a New York Jewish torrent of words hurling themselves onto the pages, always with that singsong tone and nasal twang so beloved of the Jackie Masons and Bette Midlers of this world; hence the humour.

It's a funny book with a serious sub-text and author Jami Attenberg cleverly blends the two to prevent her tale becoming maudlin or, for some readers, too close for comfort. I first heard 'The Middlesteins' on 'Book at Bedtime' on BBC Radio 4 but as I missed a huge chunk of it, I decided to read it for myself.

Edie's father - '...at meals he ate and ate...' had justifiable reasons for doing so, having starved eight years before on his long journey from the Ukraine to Chicago, where the family now live. So no wonder that, as an adult, Edie now suffers from obesity in a big way and has associated, life-threatening health problems. At 59, she weighs over 300 pounds.

When Edie's husband, Richard Middlestein refuses to take any more and leaves her after 40 years, he is reviled by his children and grandchildren, cast out as a 'coward' and no longer included as a family member. Well, you would, wouldn't you? But is that cowardly, or is it brave? I felt sorry for this guy, who has spent most of his married life being bullied and picked on by his wife. Nobody seems to mind about that (except Richard). But why would anyone want to remain in a situation that makes them unhappy? And he's had no sex for a long time. My only surprise was that he hadn't left her earlier. Her health problem is of her own making. She is given every opportunity to save herself but she has no desire to do so and listens to nobody's advice. So why should her long-suffering husband be expected to hang around, taking more abuse when he could be doing something for himself for a change. There comes a time when we have to say 'enough' and begin thinking about ourselves. I think he did the right thing.

The importance of family is highlighted here. We see a coming together of a family that didn't seem that close at first, in an effort to help Edie, who after all loves eating and doesn't want to be helped. '...her heart and soul felt full when she felt full...' She relates a pack of crisps and a tub of onion dip to '...waiting for her like two friends who had come over for coffee and a little chitchat.'

Some cutting back and forth for back stories tends to confuse but it's worth pressing on, it's well written and thought-provoking; sad too, not only at the outcome but by the predicaments this middle-aged couple experience after the breakup of their marriage and family. Loneliness can be, well, lonely and dating on internet sites can be daunting after a certain age, so I'm told... And secretly, he would like Edie back but only if she loves him again. So he chases his past in an effort to capture something wonderful that he's lost. But he knows she will never love him again.

The children's own lives are threaded through the main theme with some credible characterisations. Daughter Robin, now 31, has had a mixed up childhood and son Benny smokes a lot of pot. His controlling, perfectionist wife, Rachelle (who lives on veg and tofu) becomes obsessed with his mother's eating habits and takes to stalking her, which is how we find out what Edie is up to and how she meets the new man in her life. By page 146, Benny is worrying about everyone and in particular, his balding pate. It touches on themes that are pertinent to us all. This is about everyday life in a dysfunctional family. Nobody conforms. Everyone is affected by Edie's situation, except possibly Edie. Granddaughter, Emily, nearly 13, meanwhile is filled with hate. She hates her mother and everything else and operates a Things That Suck list. Her twin, Josh is a bit of a wimp. Emily's attitude towards her grandfather is so disrespectful, you will root even more for him.

And every so often, Jami Attenberg throws in something so profound, out of the blue, that you have to stop and think about it. This is a great story and how inventive to highlight one of the biggest health issues of our time - obesity, the dangers of junk food and the problems of persuading people to eat more healthily - not to mention the destructive effect on the lives of the people around them that obsessions create.

Jami has written three books and contributed to the 'New York Times' and many other publications. She lives in New York. You can visit her website at jamiattenberg.com or follow her on Twitter @jamiattenberg




'The Middlesteins', by Jami Attenberg is published by Serpent's Tail (Profile Books) 2013.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

New online database helps writers find agents

There was a time when publishers received thousands of unsolicited manuscripts a year from would-be authors, more than they could cope with. They employed readers who were skilled enough to recognise within 10 pages and often by the end of the first page, whether the sender could write. Infrequently, they found a gem hidden in what was commonly termed 'the slush pile'.

Nowadays, most of the major publishers no longer accept unsoliciteds and only deal with agents, though in some cases a well-written enquiry letter can result in a request for sight of the manuscript. But finding an agent to take on an unknown writer with no track record can be as difficult as finding a gem in a slush pile. Most publishers want to work with people already in the business who understand what writing and publishing is about and writers who can churn out a book a year. The alternative, a growing trend, is self-publishing but this is expensive and time-consuming, so often ending up with a heap of unsold books under the bed or stacked in the garage. And paying for a book to be published is by no means an indication that someone is a writer.

The Writers' Workshop have set up a new website to help would-be writers find the right agent for them. www.AgentHunter.co.uk is a searchable database of UK based agents and publishers. The site development has taken a long time for the team to define what agents are looking for. It includes contact details and advice along with links to their twitter feeds. Agents' personal tastes are highlighted and the site includes articles by or about them. Writers will find great advice on site to guide them through the process of seeking representation, how to go about doing it and what they might expect.

The Writers' Workshop say there is nothing like this site in the world and that 'it's the best course of action you can take when you feel you have a manuscript which is ready to be viewed commercially'. If you have a book with an original plot that's well-written and to publishable standard, there is no reason why an agent should not be interested in taking it on. It's a matter of finding the right agent for you and Agent Hunter may be just what you need to get you started.

And if you want to meet the agents, don't forget that the Writers' Workshop Festival of Writing takes place this year in York from 13-15 September. Details from info@WritersWorkshop.co.uk

Friday, 29 March 2013

Book reviews and ethics

Why would anyone go to the trouble of reviewing books and even setting up a blog to do so? After all, a review of anything is just the reviewer's personal opinion. Reading is subjective. But reviewers are critical readers and members of the buying public; the more books we read, the more selective we become about standards of writing and good storytelling.

Freelance books journalist, Alison Flood writes a fascinating article in the Spring edition of 'The Author', the journal of the Society of Authors on the ethics of book reviews. Apparently some review bloggers are actually charging authors to review their books 'nicely'. I'm pleased to say that I'm not one of them and I wouldn't like my followers to think that charging for reviews is regular practice by book bloggers. Some writers have apparently admitted to paying for 'nice' reviews and/or bigging-up their own work in print under various akas, otherwise known as sock-puppetting.

Alison also highlights the tendency of some over-zealous authors to post their own, or friends' and relatives', glowing reviews on Amazon. You can always spot these by the excess of superlatives and overblown adjectives, something that, ironically, doesn't fool anyone and is more likely to deter people from buying the books. Even publishers and agents are not exempt from underhand tactics when it comes to getting good reviews, it seems. Amazon is trying to put a stop to it but quite how they will identify who is genuine and who is not, is puzzling.

With newspapers reducing their reviewing staff and review pages and authors being expected to do most of their own marketing, book bloggers are in great demand. I'm flooded with requests from self-published writers to review, mainly, their e-books, something I don't do, being addicted to the look, touch and smell of good-quality traditionally published print books and having avoided the urge to rush for a 'must-have' e-reader I will never use. I may change my opinion in the future, but for now that's how it has to be.

My life as a book blogger began during a slow period when I had time on my hands. I hadn't expected it to take off the way it did, I enjoyed it and I'd had plenty of reviewing experience as a journalist when I edited my own theatre column and I've been an avid reader since I learnt my first words. I'm enthusiastic about recommending books I rate highly and I do criticise where I feel it's due - that's how writers learn, from criticism - but if I really feel a book is poor, I usually avoid reviewing it. I do benefit from free books from authors and traditional publishers who ask me to review their books unconditionally but many of the books I review are those I have selected in bookshops and bought and paid for myself. Some come from my vast store of books built up over many years, for I review older titles as well as those just launched.

I suspect that paid-for, biased book bloggers are pretty thin on the ground but it only takes one or two bad apples to taint the whole barrel once the issue is highlighted and I would be sorry for blog readers to get the wrong impression about the vast majority of us.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Man Booker shortlister poses moral dilemma

I'm ashamed to say I don't know the work of author Carol Birch but I think I will be reading the other nine novels she's written after sampling Jamrach's Menagerie. I'm not surprised it was shortlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize, longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award. I'm just surprised that she didn't romp in first for them all.



It contains an extraordinary premise, based on a true tale that contains a heart-wrenching moral dilemma. Young Jaffy Brown and his shipmates are faced with a life-changing decision when they're shipwrecked on a trip to the Dutch East Indies; it's the sort of decision that most of us would find repugnant. But we can't know how he or any of his companions felt as they were fighting for survival. We would probably all do the same, though I think I would rather die. The argument, though, is what constitutes true friendship in these circumstances and that could be debatable. The characters are three-dimensional and the dynamics fascinating. And I can't reveal more without giving the story away.

Carol Birch gets inside the mind of an 8-year-old boy and follows his progress into adulthood. His first brush with death occurs when he strokes a tiger's nose and ends up in its mouth. The author's research into the 19th century bustle of London, life at sea and the barbaric business of whaling in those days evokes a strong sense of place and time. I wondered for a while why I was reading a seafaring story but a strong plot and heaps of conflict, coupled with the quality of the writing reeled me in and I couldn't put it down until I'd reached the final words.

Jamrach's Menagerie is published by Canongate Books (2011). Join the discussion on Twitter #jamrach
Carol Birch will be appearing at the St John's Theatre and Arts Centre in Listowel, Ireland on 2 June 2012, in conversation with Carlo Gebler.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Is reading good for your health?

Children have been taking the flak for not concentrating on their reading. One in six is said to be struggling to read when they move to secondary schools and one in ten boys has an average reading age of about 7. They're not going to be taught to read there but they are likely to be encouraged to keep up with their reading and to read more critically. If they can't read properly in the first place, there are going to be tough times ahead for them. It's no surprise to me as many of them can't speak properly either. Why would that be I wonder?

Nothing to do with spending hours behind a compu'er screen, texting their mates even when they're in the next room or gluing themselves to the TV set instead of reading a book, I suppose. Judging from some of my piano students, anything involving a bit of hard work is just not cool any more. They're happier having things done for them. Even counting the beat only works if I count while they play.

If you can't read, you aren't going to be able to spell either. Or recognise when you use a swear word. 'Bloody?' wrote one of my creative writing students. 'I didn't think that was a swear word.' Pretty tame by today's standards I'll admit but at what point do you stop? And I do wish newsreaders (of all people) would stop saying, 'he was sat' and 'she was stood'.

It will be interesting to see how the Government's new competition encouraging children to read pans out. The national reading scheme is aimed at 7-12-year-olds and it's based on finding those who read the most books. I'm not too sure how you can prove the veracity of that claim as it might be tempting to get other people to read them for you, while you carry on watching Blue Pe'er. Is that still on? Couldn't they get involved in helping their viewers to read, now that libraries are closing down? And would you want to be tagged as the 7-year-old who had read the most books in England? Erm...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

National Book Swap keeps books in the public eye

The Guardian and Observer Book Swap

Choose a book you enjoyed reading (or even one you didn't enjoy reading - reading is subjective after all) and leave it somewhere, anywhere for someone else to pick up and read - a park bench, the steps of a public building, the back seat of a bus or a restaurant loo will do fine. Be inventive.

The Guardian is urging us to do just that in a national Book Swap giveaway of 15,000 books. There's no charge for them and the campaign runs until the end of October. You can get a free bookplate sticker from The Guardian and The Observer on Saturday and Sunday or download one online from www.guardian.co.uk/books/interactive/2011/sep/15/guardian-and-observer-book-swap-sticker. Insert a sticker in your giveaway book and write a message for the finder, then drop the book wherever you choose to leave it. If you happen to pick up a book someone else has left, leave it for another finder and upload the details of where you left it at www.guardian.co.uk/bookswap or on Twitter (#guardianbookswap). You also have to upload a photo of the book where you found it and to read and review it on www.guardian.co.uk/bookswap. If you don't have a spare book, you can get loads from local charity shops.

Origins of Book Crossing

Seems like fun but book swapping is nothing new. The idea, known as Book Crossing was dreamed up by Ron Hornbaker in 2001. His website, http://www.bookcrossing.com/ has spread its message to more than 113,000 people worldwide. If you want to 'release' books into the 'wild' you have to register on the website and you can go hunting for books listed and their whereabouts. Official BookCrossing Zones can be found in coffee shops, cafes and restaurants and other places. An annual convention in April attracts BookCrossers to literary events where they can release books. In 2012, Ireland will host it in Dublin. London took its turn in 2008.

Bookswap at Endcliffe Park for Open College of the Arts

Here is a copy of One Day by David Nicholls left on the wall of Endlciffe Park in Sheffield. Inside is the message left on the sticker by Elizabeth Underwood from OCA. 'I've chosen the place because lots of people climb over the wall into the park,' she says.





Friday, 23 September 2011

Short stories in peril campaign

Many writers, like Ian Rankin for example, began their careers with short stories on BBC Radio 4 and now it looks like the opportunities for short story writers are in jeopardy. The Beeb has reduced its short story quota on Radio 4 from five a few years ago to three and now to one a week.

The Society of Authors has taken up the cudgel and launched a petition on the National Short Story Week website and anyone who wants to sign it should log on to (www.ipetitions.com/petition/noshortstorycuts) At the last count it had attracted over 6,500 signatures, so let's keep it going.

Author Sarah Dunant was hoping they would reconsider. She says: 'When it comes to fiction radio excites and exercises the imagination in a way no other medium can manage. Nowhere is that more perfectly illustrated than the short story where, within 15 short minutes, one can be transported into a different world. It is a cheap yet invaluable example of radio at its best. It feels both mad - and sad - to think that Radio 4 would somehow be better without it.'

Sarah Dunant


BBC Controller Gwyneth Williams said the number of short stories on Radio 4 would be diminished from 150 to 100 from April 2012, some of them would premiere on Radio 4 Extra and that she hoped to broadcast short stories more on Radio 4 Extra.

Society of Authors' Short Story Tweetathon

To back up their campaign, and to celebrate the short story, The Society has launched a Short Story Tweethathon (#soatale) on Twitter for five consecutive weeks, beginning last week with Ian Rankin. Five first line contributions will be tweeted by Simon Brett, Neil Gaiman, Joanne Harris and Sarah Waters. Tweeters can complete the next four sentences, to produce a short story in 670 characters. Every hour, the best lines will be selected and the resulting short stories will be published on the Society's website where rules and stories can be viewed (www.societyofauthors.org/soa-short-story-tweetathon-soatale)  The BBC are currently showcasing shortlisted entries for their own short story competition.

In addition to the cultural and creative impact of the BBC short story cuts, the Society of Authors is concerned that the new scheduling will restrict linked themes and creative programming and that the proposed time slots will limit the audience. BBC Director General Mark Thompson and Chair of the BBC Trust Lord Patten are reviewing the proposed cuts but more signatures are needed.
Log onto Twitter every Wednesday at 11am if you would like to take part in the Tweetathon. Retweet via http://bit.ly/SoAtale

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Litfests for Manchester & Sheffield

Two Literature Festivals about to launch in October – 'Off the Shelf', Sheffield’s Festival of Words and Manchester Literature Festival.

Carol Ann Duffy

Sheffield 'Off The Shelf'
Sheffield celebrates its 20th year, with Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and ‘The Bees’, a new collection of poems; fun with a Bookswap; Fiona MacCarthy talking about ‘The Last Pre-Raphaelite – Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination’; a debate on ‘The Future of the Book’ with Noel Williams from Sheffield Hallam University and Lesley Gunter from Sheffield Libraries for new technology and Richard Welsh from Sheffield’s children’s book shop ‘Rhyme and Reason’ with novelist Rachel Genn supporting the book. That’s just for starters and among the big names are Will Self, Jeremy Paxman, Sir Michael Parkinson, Claire Tomalin, Rob Brydon, Joe Dunthorne, Jeanette Winterson, Polly Toynbee and many more.

Jeannette Winterson
The Festival runs from 8-29 October 2011 – further info http://www.offtheshelf.org.uk/ 
tel: 0114 273 4400.

Manchester Literature Festival

Manchester’s Litfest runs from 10-23 October 2011 with an international cast of authors. A lineup of guests includes Sarah Dunant, Tahmima Anam, Jeffrey Eugenides, Antonia Fraser, Michael Frayn, Alan Hollinghurst, David Lodge, Sue MacGregor, Colm Toibin and again Claire Tomalin.

The second Manchester Sermon delivered by Andrew Motion will be a highlight, together with poems by Jean Sprackland responding to the Ford Madox Brown exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, a rugby-themed event with Tom Palmer at Media City and the launch of the Midland Future Manchester creative writing competition.

Everything from Nordic crime fiction to dub poetry takes place here – details from 0161 236 5555, http://www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk/  

Writers' Workshop hosts Festival

The Getting Published Event

Literary agents receive about 50 unsolicited manuscripts a week and of those, very few are found to be of a publishable standard. If you've written a book and you're looking for an agent or an expert to tell you how to strengthen it, you have a chance to get your manuscript looked at during the Writer's Workshop Festival of Writing in London.

Leading agents, publishers and book doctors will be on hand to give you a short, expert and truthful introduction to all you need to know about what to do next. And, if your writing is good enough, it may be presented to agents.

Keynote speaker is Caroline Dawnay of United Agents. David Headley of DHH Literary Agency, Penny Holroyde of Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency and Juliet Mushens of PFD will also be on hand. The 'Slushpile Live' event sounds informative - when agents and publishers talk about how they view your work. And for a 15 minute session with a Book Doctor, you have to send your work in advance.

The Festival is run by author Harry Bingham. Harry has written five novels, two non-fiction books and The Writers' & Artists' Guide to Getting Published. The event takes place on Saturday 15 October 2011 and tickets cost £185.






You can log on to the website at http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/ for more information and booking forms.

New scriptwriting course for Open College of the Arts

Open College of the Arts

I haven't abandoned the blog altogether, just bending to the demands of an overloaded work schedule and didn't realise I'd been away for so long.

In the meantime, the Open College of the Arts (OCA) have launched a new scriptwriting course called Narrative and Dialogue, on which I'll be tutoring. I'm really pleased about this as I've been tutoring on the Writers' News scriptwriting course for about ten years and it's something I enjoy.

 Search for screenwriting mentor

At the same time, I've been looking for an experienced screenwriter to mentor me through the development of a screenwriting project, something I haven't tackled before. The one I thought I had fell through when her workload increased and I can't get started until I get some direction with the plot and structure. Please get in touch if you have this kind of experience or know of someone who might be interested.

Narrative and Dialogue

Narrative and Dialogue is a Level 1 course and a core requirement for the OCA's BA Hons Creative Writing degree. It's an introductiory course that focuses on scriptwriting to help students learn to write in any form that requires plot, structure, dialogue and character and that can 'tell a story'. It's equally valid for scriptwriters as it is for writers whose primary interest is the novel, short story or narrative poetry.

You can find out more from the OCA at enquiries@oca-uk.com or phone 01226 730495. Their website is at http://www.oca-uk.com/ and you can read their blog at http://www.weareoca.com/

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Gruesome murder mystery for DI Whicher

I was rivetted by the dramatised version, starring Paddy Considine and Peter Capaldi and decided to try Kate Summerscale's novel of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House. Both were fascinating and, while the amount of research carried out by the author added to the intrigue of the book and gave an insight into social conditions and sleuthing in the mid 19th century, the ITV dramatisation concentrated on the story itself and graphically brought it and the characters to life in the way a book couldn't, illustrating the old chestnut 'show, don't tell' at its best.


Little Saville Kent, aged 3 is murdered in his sleep during the night on 30 June, 1860 at Road Hill House in Wiltshire where he lives with his parents, Samuel Kent, a sub-inspector of factories and his second wife, Mary. Samuel and Mary live in the elegant mansion with the four children of Samuel's first marriage and three from their own. Mary, originally Mary Pratt, used to be the nursemaid when Samuel was married to Mary Ann, his first wife and it is conjectured that 16-year-old Constance, one of the original brood, is the culprit to this foul deed, aided and abetted by her younger brother, William.

As the door to the outside world was locked on the inside, it is assumed that someone in the house has killed Saville and it takes a while before they locate his body. The police seem to be making a hash of things and Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher is called in for his expert opinion. Whicher points a finger at Constance, whose mother is alleged to have had mental health issues, on the grounds of jealousy and retribution and the poor man virtually wrecks his career on the strength of his convictions. As this is based on a true story, poor little Saville suffers a tragic fate as indeed does Whicher. A pall of sadness hangs over the narrative throughout and I was glad to see Whicher exonerated and reviving his good work by the end.

Kate's book was published in 2008 by Bloomsbury. She won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction for it. A special edition is available with an eight-page gatefold section of contemporary documents from the investigation. It includes letters, police reports and Mr Whicher's case notes.

You can learn more about The Suspicions of Mr Whichever on a special website: http://www.mrwhicher.com/

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

A good guide to Coeliac Disease

Gluten free goodies

Most decent restaurants and cafes seem to be genned up on alternative eating these days. Chefs actually know about Coeliac Disease and the importance of providing gluten free food for the 1 in 100 people who suffer from this auto immune complaint, not to mention the dangers of cross contamination in the kitchen. His and Her toasters are a must if you are one of them.

I'm always delighted to find gluten free alternatives in places where I've never found them before. Now I can pop in to John Lewis's cafe in Cheadle for a Genius bread sandwich or even Starbucks at Manchester's Piccadilly Station. Fortunately, they're all wrapped so no danger of cross contamination. But wandering round my local park I stopped for a cuppa at the little cafe in the grounds and was delighted to find gluten free coconut cakes on offer; not so delighted when the serving person picked up my cake with the same tongs she'd just used to pick up my companion's chocolate cake. Fortunately, I haven't had a reaction - yet.

Coeliac Disease: The Essential Guide



Writer Kate Coxon has produced this informative book from Need2Know Books giving the basic lowdown on Coeliac Disease, its diagnosis, treatment and symptoms. She goes into the best diet for people with gluten intolerance or coeliac disease, how to shop, cook and eat at home, information about getting NHS prescriptions for food and how to overcome the difficulties on finding gluten free food on holiday or while travelling.

Coeliac Disease is quite hard to diagnose. The symptoms are similar to other complaints, like IBS or wheat intolerance and many people in the process of becoming coeliac are often incorrectly diagnosed. It can take an average of 13 years to diagnose. Meanwhile, sufferers could be developing related health conditions like diabetes, anaemia or low thyroid without the link being discovered. Tests bring false negatives and false positives. My own biopsy produced a negative and it was a long time afterwards, when I knew more about the condition, that I realised I had been on one of my frequent yo-yo exclusion diets and hadn't been eating any gluten for a while before the biopsy took place; nobody had even told me I was having one.And I woke up in the middle of it - v-e-r-y painful; I don't recommend it.

So what is Coeliac Disease? Coeliac Disease is actually an auto-immune disease, when the body attacks self. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It's that sticky stuff that gives bread its light, fluffy feel, so good for comfort eating. Some sufferers cannot tolerate oats, although the gluten in oats is not the same and most people can tolerate it. Oats are often produced in the same environment as gluten grains and become cross contaminated anyway. Nowadays, gluten-free oats are available and I can recommend Nairn's wonderful gluten-free porridge and oatcakes.

Gluten is the trigger and it creates an immune reaction that affects the gut lining and stops it from absorbing nutrients efficiently. It produces a wide range of symptoms, such as persistent diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, pain, headaches, tiredness and much more; it varies from person to person. Some suffer from endless viruses and infections because of the impaired immune system.

Coeliac Disease is neither treatable nor curable. The only way to keep it under control and stop attacks is to avoid gluten for good. Nowadays, gluten-free foods are freely available in supermarkets, health food shops, internet shopping and other outlets. The labelling is now clearer so shoppers can see which foods are out of bounds to them. Fosters fish and chippy in Didsbury, Manchester and Alderley Edge, Cheshire have gluten free Sundays to which I hie down for my weekly treat and my own great niece's husband in Southport has a chippy that does the same.

The UK Coeliac Society is a great support organisation and its members receive a Food and Drink Directory telling them what gluten-free foods are available and where and they produce a magazine called Crossed Grain.

If you think you might have Coeliac Disease, you can have a blood test to begin with but make sure you are eating foods containing gluten before doing so. If the antibodies are there, the next step is a biopsy. Reading Coeliac Disease: The Essential Guide is a good starting point. Personally, just finding out what the ghastly symptoms were that had been ruining my life for so many years, filled me with happiness and being able to stop them, or most of them, has done wonders for my morale and self-confidence.

Kate has included a Help List of useful organisations and a relevant Book List. The book can be obtained in bookshops, from http://www.amazon.co.uk/ or from the publisher, Need2Know Books at http://www.need2knowbooks.co.uk/

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Where were you on 11 September 2001?





That Day in September

This is a curious little book. You can read it in one sitting it's so short - just 87 pages long. That's because it's a personal eyewitness account of the tragedy that hit New York and the rest of the world on 9/11. Author Artie Van Why had to get it off his chest and writing things down is a great way to ease internal pain. He's also talked about it on stage in LA and New York

Artie takes an emotionally charged trip back to the time he heard a loud boom and the building shuddered. He was working at a word processing centre across from the World Trade Center. After the initial disquiet, all hell broke loose. That was just after the first plane hit one of the World Trade Center towers.

Artie lived in New York City for 26 years and his writing covers the event, its aftermath and how badly he was affected afterwards. His experience is to be featured on the BBC's website to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the event. Tom Geoghegan from the Washington DC Bureau of the BBC was set to interview him last week.

'All along the endeavor has been a way of processing my experience and, more importantly, it is my contribution to assuring we never forget. That Day In September is my personal tribute to honor those who died,' he says.


Artie's book is available on http://www.amazon.co.uk/  http://www.goodreads.com/ and he has versions in PDF, Word, Mobi and ePub. His Facebook page is at http://www.facebook.com/ThatDayInSeptember

New Writer prose and poetry prizes

If you enjoy writing, now's your chance to try for The New Writer's Prose and Poetry competition. This year's closing date is 30 November, so it's time to get to work. This is the 15th annual international competition for short stories, microfiction, single poems, poetry collections, essays and articles. Not only could you win money but you could see your work published in The Collection, a special edition of The New Writer magazine, which comes out the following July.

Last year's winners are featured in the current issue of the annual Collection. You can buy copies at www.thenewwriter.com/prizes.htm and read the guidelines and entry fees.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Alone in Berlin a revelation


I abandoned the blog recently to work on the second edition of my book about Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. At night, I read Michael Hofmann's translation from the German of Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin, not knowing what to expect except another book about the Nazis. It was a revelation.

Alone in Berlin

The author Primo Levi declared it 'the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis'. I'm tired of the out-of-context extracts quoted about books we find plastered all over the covers and endpapers. 'The most hilarious book ever written' rarely has me falling off my seat and '...it scared me half out of my wits' leaves me looking for the missing pages they must have had that I didn't. I wish publishers would stop it. It's so misleading.

Levi was right though. I haven't read all the books ever written about German resistance to the Nazis, so I'm not in a position to comment but it was certainly the best of its kind that I've read, despite its tendency to slip in and out of past and present tense in the same paragraph. Whether that was the author's intention or something to do with the translation, I have no idea but it was very irritating.

For someone with a plethora of distant cousins and great aunts and uncles who were murdered by the Nazis in Austria and Lithuania, German equates with Nazi; it's hard to separate the two. Just changing planes at Dusseldorf was repugnant in 1959. It never occurred to me that there were German people who resisted the Nazi regime, probably because I was in denial from years of absorbing Nazi horror stories from a different perspective and the discovery of a Daily Mail picture book called Lest We Forget that I found on my parents' bookshelf when I was six. I never forgot.

So for the first time, I discovered what fear does to people, how the tyrant and bully controls the masses, with hypnotic rhetoric, threats, physical violence and murder. It could happen any time, any place, one madman gains control and you have mass cowardice that has neighbour spying on neighbour in an effort to please the gangs of vicious thugs that follow the psychotic leader and save their own skins.

There were those though who followed their personal convictions, who were not Nazi sympathisers, who were committed to helping those in need, who didn't consider that they were acting heroically, who saw Jews as people in need of help rather than as Jews, and who often acted spontaneously to help them. Yad Vashem, the Jewish holocaust remembrance organisation calls them the Righteous Gentiles and gave over 21 thousand of them official recognition after the war. Most of them were Polish, the rest eastern European. Germans were a bit thin on the ground.

True story

There was resistance to the Nazis at all levels of society but to no effect. Alone in Berlin is based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel and this story was taken from information in their files. They were Hitler's followers until 1940 and they dropped postcards to warn the Germans against the Fuhrer and his regime. In Fallada's story, they are represented by the fictional Otto and Anna Quangel. When their only son is killed fighting during the French invasion, they turn against the regime. Otto writes and drops his propaganda postcards in buildings in and around Berlin, aided and abetted by his wife. But people are too afraid to read them or to be found with one in case they are arrested for originating them, so they hand them in to the police immediately. The Quangels are caught in the end and sadly, their arrest results in a ripple of interest in others associated with them, however innocent they may be, including their late son's girlfriend, who commits suicide in prison.

The book is peopled with fascinating characters from drunken Hitler supporters to down and out ne'er-do'wells, all bent on self-preservation, no matter what the cost to others. Even the police inspector's life depends on him bringing someone, anyone, to justice. The Quangels stand out among them as two sober individuals among an ocean of drunks, seeing clearly where others peer through the mist.

This is one of the most fascinating books I've read for a while and, although it has a sad ending and contains material that doesn't always digest well, it's a brilliant historical document, a rivetting read, full of action and incident and - a revelation.

It's published by Penguin and translated from the original German novel, Every Man Dies Alone. You can read about the author, Hans Fallada on http://www.hansfallada.com/

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Dark tale from Joanne Harris

blueeyedboy



Gloria Winter (nee Green) lives in the Yorkshire village of Malbry. Once married to a friend of her father's who ran a fish and chip shop, Gloria meets Peter Winter at a Christmas party. He's the local car dealer with a BMW and a bit of flash and he becomes her second husband until the car dealership goes and Peter goes with it. To care for her three sons, Nigel, Brendan and Ben Gloria takes in mending and ironing and becomes a cleaner.

Black, Brown and Blue are the names of her children because of the colours in which Gloria dresses them. Black for Nigel, the eldest, 'moody and aggressive'. Nigel is killed in a car crash. Brown, for Brendan, 'timid and dull' and Blue for the youngest, most doted on son Ben. Ben is a murderer.

This is a dark book for one such as Joanne Harris and although it's beautifully written and the words flow onto the pages at a rivetting pace, it left me with more questions than answers. I usually discard books I can't get into but I read blueeyedboy to the end because of the author's ability with language. It was the plot that confused, twisted and turned until I had no idea what was going on. It had no discernible structure and read as though it hadn't been plotted first. 

blueeyedboy is a nickname for the man who writes about his mother's love for him over his two brothers and his hatred of her. Halfway through, having been led to believe Ben is the author of the webjournal badguysrock@webjournal.com and whose creepy postings  steadily reveal a tale of hatred, revenge and child abuse, murder even, the roles are switched and it appears to be Brendan, not dead after all, who is the blue eyed boy doing the writing. Is it fiction -- fic as the author BB calls it in his web journal -- or is Ben/Brendan revealing a true life situation? And it is Ben who is dead. Whoever it is, he's 42 and still living with mama. And this is his social life.

Ben has synaesthesia. He sees things as colours and smells words. He was half of a set of twins and claims to have eaten his brother in utero. I know. It was hard to root for him, or any of them for that matter and I didn't really care what happened to them. Once Brendan becomes the blue eyed boy, the synaesthesia goes too and I found him even less interesting. Nigel's girlfriend, Albertine and her neighbour Emily, or is that Beth, plays a key part in the fabrication of this complex story.



So, come back Vianne Rocher with some chocolate truffles. BEB wasn't to my taste.

Blueeyedboy is published by Black Swan and you can log onto Joanne Harris's website at http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Novel in the Viola - Natasha Solomons does it again

If you like an Upstairs/Downstairs story, try The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons. Natasha won acclaim for her first novel, Mr Rosenblum's List and this is her second. It's equally as appealing, though not in the same genre. It has an evocative pre-war appeal and covers a familiar theme about people who don't fit in - the outsiders. Natasha bases her characters and plots on her relations, her grandfather for Mr Rosenblum and this time the honour goes to her great aunt Gabi Landau, who escaped the Holocaust by applying for a job here as a domestic servant.

The Novel in the Viola is an enchanting love story and it will warm the cockles of your heart. It's 1938 in Vienna and Elise Rosa Landau puts an ad in The Times offering her services as a domestic servant. She 'speaks fluid English' and she's offered a position as house parlour maid at Tyneford House in Dorset, home of widow Mr Rivers and his son Kit. Why does she do such a thing?

Her mother, Anna is an operatic heroine star in Vienna and her father, Julian an avant-garde novelist. Her older sister, Margot is a professional viola player and is married to Robert, an astronomer. Natasha builds up a rich picture of their affluent middle class life in Vienna, where glamorous and talented people's lives are about to be shattered. The girls' parents plan to flee to New York but can't get a visa for Elise, aged 19. Operatic luminaries offer Anna jobs to get her out of Austria but the authorities are making things more and more difficult for Jewish people to move around freely, let alone leave the country.

Elise never sees her parents again but Margot and Robert make it to San Francisco where they eventually become Americanised. Elise becomes Mr Rivers's servant but doesn't fit in with the below stairs bunch. They know she's really a lady. Neither is she accepted by the upper crust young men and women in Kit's circle. They know she's a Jewish refugee. Fortunately, the Rivers' do accept her and even try to help bring her parents over to England. But the extent of the class system is highlighted for there is social order below as well as above stairs and some nastiness from the upper crust. Meanwhile, Elise sets her cap at Kit, who sets his at her.

Some of it felt like Daphne du Maurier in tone and elsewhere it smacked of Jane Eyre. But it was an unputdownable read for me and I enjoyed the meticulous research into pre-war life in Vienna, the Master/Servant relationship and the life and times of the upper classes in war torn Britain. And I had fallen in love with Mr Rivers as soon as he arrived on the page.

The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons is published by Sceptre. Natasha lives in Dorset and she and her husband have written the screenplay for Mr Rosenblum's List for Film 4/Cowboy Films. Log on to her website at http://www.natashasolomons.com/

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Edgar Allan Poe Awards and The Next Big Author

How's this for coincidence? A few postings down, I wrote about the Next Big Author Competition and my Mills and Boon quick entry, which morphed into an Edgar Allan Poe, when my third cousin from Chicago (our Lithuanian grandmothers were sisters) goes and wins the Edgar Allan Poe Award. Creepy or what?

The Edgar Allan Poe Award

The Edgar Allan Poe Awards are presented every spring by the Mystery Writers of America in New York City and this year was the 202nd anniversary of Poe's birth. The best writers of  mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2010 received their awards at a banquet at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.


Edgar Allan Poe winner Sam Bobrick

Sam Bobrick won his award for the best theatre script - The Psychic. Sam has written and co-written over 30 plays, 20 of them published by Samuel French, mostly comedies. 'There is nothing more satisfying to me than to sit in an audience and listen to people laugh...My main goal has always been to entertain...Life is tough enough. Why send an audience home suicidal? It only cuts into future ticket sales.' I won't argue with that.

Sam, who has written extensively for TV and stage, has also written songs for Elvis Presley, Brian Ferry and Los Lobos. And he has written several plays with his wife, writer Julie Stein.

Sam's website is at http://www.sambobrick.com/ 

The Next Big Author competition

And as for that Next Big Author competition, my ratings are at 3.4 out of a possible 5 at the moment, so I've a long way to go. What's so fascinating about this 'peer review' system is how varied the reviews are. Someone says the dialogue isn't realistic, someone else says the thing they love most is the realistic dialogue. Each reader comes up with a different set of parameters as to how stories 'should be' written.

Reading is, after all, subjective and maybe your literary knowledge depends on which writing courses you've been on and which 'how to...' books you've read. But it's useful criticism in one sense (as long as you act on it with caution), because writers are too close to their own work to see what others see and they don't. But, in all honesty, if you had to choose between a review from a professional writer, publisher or editorial consultant and one from an unpublished, hobby writer, which would you choose?

http://www.thenextbigauthor.com/ and http://www.youwriteon.com/ are the sites to log on to if you want to upload your opening chapters. Dream on...

Cat poems raise money for care of strays in Fuerteventura


This is Tunachunks. Tunachunks lives at a hotel in the Canary Islands, where the editor of this wonderful anthology of cat poems, writer Alison Chisholm stays on holiday. 'She moves in with us for treats and titbits but disappears the moment the cases appear and we start to pack,' says Alison. At that point, the hotel entertainer takes over her welfare. Tunachunks is an El Capitan cat, so she enjoys veterinary care and will always be looked after.

Cat Lines has been compiled to raise funds for El Capitan, the charity that funds the care of Fuerteventura's stray and feral cats and there are lots of them. So if you're over there and you spot a cat with a slightly trimmed left ear, you will know it's being cared for by El Capitan and that their cat-loving volunteers are keeping an eye out for it. The charity makes sure the cats are neutered, has set up Cat Feeding Stations, encourages the adoption of cats and tries to create a better understanding of their plight among the residents.

The poems, all 52 of them, including two of Alison's, have been dedicated to the memory of Orlando, described as 'A Cat with Attitude'. And if you're a cat lover, how could you resist such titles as, Fried Mouse Anyone? Break a Paw Darling, Fat Cat, A Cat Called Audrey, A Kitten for Christmas or The Cat in the Wardrobe. I love the Shape poem, If You Were Mine, written in the shape of a cat - very clever.

As they're all copyright of the individual poets, who donated their work to the charity, the only one I can reproduce here is, yes you've guessed it, my own. I don't usually write poetry, so was delighted when Alison included What Creeps in the Night? And followers may recognise Harry the Cat, who is currently turning round in circles on the patio, (only he knows why) and Black Bertha, aka Spawn of the Devil, who inhabits my filing tray and steals his food.

What Creeps in the Night?

Black Bertha creeps up to the window
Peers into the house, is he there?
Harry watches from the top of the stairs
Not today lady, not today he swears.

Today he is king of his corner,
His green grape eyes flash, she waits poised
Big Bertha's mane gleams silk in the sunlight
A movement with his paw, whoosh she takes flight.

Licks her shirtfront, black like a mineshaft
Unsure of strategy, action
Watches the house from the dense hawthorn hedge
Sleep little one on your carpeted ledge.

The moon laughs, gleams goodbye to the sun
Black Bertha prowls on silent paws
To the window, she heaves at the catdoor
A leap and feet skid on the marbled floor.

Harry the Cat snores soundly, roundly
The black furball, low to the ground
Slithers to the richness, smell of the sea
'So sorry my dear, this is meant for me'.

So if that hasn't put you off and you'd like to support El Capitan and the sterling work they are doing for the island's cats, you can buy a copy of Cat Lines in the UK from 53 Richmond Road, Birkdale, Southport, Merseyside PR8 4SB, price £4.50 plus p/p £1, plus an extra 30p p/p for each additional copy. Cheques should be made payable to Alison Chisholm. Copies can also be bought in Fuerteventura, in hotels, bars and a craft stall in Caleta de Fuste, and some in Germany, suggested minimum donation 5 Euros.

El Capitan animal project can be contacted at Lichtenbroicher Weg 8a, 40472 Dusseldorf. www.animal-project.de/ email: info@animal-project.de

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Can you help with facts about ADHD?

ADHD:The Essential Guide Update



Developments move so fast in the health world and three years have flown since my guide on ADHD was published. Since then, new facts have come to light and synchronicity keeps throwing me in the direction of people involved in this area, so my file is constantly growing. So much so, that I think it's time to revise and update, so whatever else is out there that my research hasn't turned up, I'd like to know about it.

Talking of synchronicity, last year I was visiting some friends who live in a country park near Manchester and was suddenly attacked by the symptoms of a debilitating virus. My friends run a B&B business, letting out beautiful black and white timbered cottages in the grounds. Staying there at the time just happened to be a homeopath, who not only helped to get me on my feet again but turned out to be a representative of The Handle Institute, an American organisation that stands for Holistic Approach to NeuroDevelopment and Learning Efficiency. In fact, there was a whole bunch of them from all over the world attending a conference.

The Handle Institute

HANDLE's practitioners use a holistic non-drug approach to help people with ADD, ADHD, autism, dyslexia, Tourette's Syndrome and many more. Their work will, of course, be featured in the new edition of my book and they do have representatives in the UK.

How you can help

So, if you know of new research or developments in ADHD, would like to get a mention for your work in this field or have your case history included in the next edition, I'd love to hear from you. Or maybe you have tips that work for you and you'd like to share them with ADHD sufferers and their carers/families or even teachers. If so, please contact me NOW at diane@keywordeditorial.com

Contacts

For more details about The Handle Institute, log on to http://www.handle.org/ or email support@handle.org/ And if you're visiting Manchester and would like to drop out of the rat race and immerse yourself in nature in a picturesque olde-worlde enclave two minutes from civilisation, contact me and I'll put you in touch.

How to obtain ADHD:The Essential Guide

ADHD:The Essential Guide can be obtained from bookstores, Amazon or direct from the publisher, Need2Know Books at http://www.need2knowbooks.co.uk/, tel: 01733 898103.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Write a book in record time and be the Next Big Author

I intended to have a go at this but things got in the way and although I churned out two chapters in the time it took to change a duvet cover (which is quite a long time here) the story began to morph from Mills & Boon into Edgar Allan Poe before I knew it. That's what happens if you let your characters take you over. However, all may not be lost and although the Next Big Author closing date is 31 May, here are a few examples of famous authors who penned books in a hurry and became Big Authors.

Big Authors

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange: “The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate: written a quarter of a century ago, a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence.”

Mickey Spillane: His most famous Mike Hammer Novel, I, the Jury, was written in nine days. It sold seven million copies in three years.

From The Guardian: “Alexander Dumas had a 100-louis bet (a decent sum in 1845) that he could write the first volume of Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge in just three days. Powered by a steady supply of coffee (his manuscripts are splattered with it), he pulled it off within six hours to spare with scarcely a crossing out .."

In 1941, Jack Kerouac dashed off 200 short stories in eight weeks, thanks to a regime of benzedrene pellets.

Stephen King took just three nights to finish The Running Man while hooked up to a Budweiser drip.

Noel Coward wrote Private Lives in four days...J B Priestley wrote An Inspector Calls in ten days - 'all plays should be written in a burst of explosive energy.' Neil Simon wrote Come Blow Your Horn in three weeks.

So Edgar Allan Poe it is.

How to Enter

You only have to write the opening chapters. The competition is supported by publishers Bloomsbury, Random House, Orion, Little Brown and Hodder and Stoughton.




Log onto www.thenextbigauthor.com for details of how to enter via the competition rules on the left hand side of the site’s homepage.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Complementary Therapy practical guide

Need2Know Books has carved quite a niche in the health and education field with its Essential Guide series. A new wave of Lifestyle titles includes everything from Gardening to Gap Years and Walking to Weight Loss.

Complementary Therapies

A recent title covers the basic field of complementary therapies, authored by freelance health writer Antonia Chitty and hypnotherapist, life coach and Reiki Master, Victoria Dawson.

As more and more people are turning to complementary therapies and natural health clinics are springing up all over the UK, anyone who finds the range of therapies a bit baffling can find out about the more well-known ones in Complementary Therapies: The Essential Guide. 

Therapies covered

Among those covered are:
  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Chiropractic
  • Herbal Medicine
  • Homeopathy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Massage
  • Osteopathy
  • Reiki and
  • Reflexology
Chapter content

Each chapter gives the basic facts, together with research, advice from the experts and case histories from clients. The authors cover each therapy's history, which is enlightening. Who knew that massage was used during the first World War to help shell shock victims, or that homeopathy has been used in the UK for the last 200 years. I remember when there were only two practising in Manchester. They've multiplied since then and there are schools and training courses for them.

You can learn what the treatment entails and the types of complaints each therapy is used for and what the contraindications may be. So if you have a serious heart condition, you're not going to have hypnotherapy. The various uses for children, older people and pregnant women are outlined.

Anything missing?

Masses of complementary therapies abound and I could think of one or two main ones that were missing, such as nutritional therapy, which is important when so many people are becoming intolerant to so much of the food we eat, such as wheat or gluten generally and the additives and colourings used by food manufacturers. IBS and coeliac disease appear to be on the increase, so we need to find out what we can do to regulate our diets and eat more healthily. Other therapies, Reiki for example is only one of many 'touch' therapies available and Shiatsu, Bowen, Feldenkrais, Rosen and Rolfing are types of massage from dozens in existence that are popular today. But perhaps they are a subject for a different book.

Ordering



To order a copy you can call 01733 898103 or email sales@n2kbooks.com. To see the full range, visit the website on http://www.need2knowbooks.co.uk/ Antonia's website is http://www.antoniachitty.co.uk/ and Victoria's is http://www.vadconsultancy.co.uk/

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Zafon's first novel for young readers

The Prince of Mist

Shadow of the Wind author, Carlos Ruiz Zafon launched his writing career in 1992 with a novel for young readers. The Prince of Mist has been translated from the Spanish by Lucia Graves and it's a young person's twist to selling one's soul to the devil and reaping the consequences.

Books for young adults

Zafon's first four novels were aimed at young adults and in an attempt to reach readers of all ages - 'storytelling transcends age limitations' - Phoenix Paperbacks have produced this edition. It is basically a young reader's book all the same and, having enjoyed Shadow of the Wind so much, I'd mistakenly bought it as Waterstones displayed it among the latest adult releases. If you don't care for books about magic, ghosts and teenage adventures, then beware that you don't make the same mistake.

It's an easy read that can be read in one sitting and it concerns the adventures of three teenagers. A fourth lands in hospital in a coma quite early on and plays no further part in the story, which made me wonder why she'd been included in the first place other than to get the parents out of the way. While they're at the hospital, 13-year-old Max Carver and his 15-year-old sister Alicia become friends with the lighthousekeeper's grandson, Roland whose gramps has a creepy story to tell. But can they believe him?

Creepy clown

The Carvers have moved to the coast where their father reckons they'll be safer as it's 1943. Nothing could be further from the truth as Max begins to have odd dreams and stumbles on a walled garden containing statues of a circus troupe, a sinister stone clown and a star engraving, which pops up in various situations he encounters later on. The lighthousekeeper tells them about Cain, the wicked magician who is seeking his revenge and I couldn't help but think how much more vibrant these passages would have been if they'd been shown actually happening.

An exciting read

I didn't find it scary as other reviewers say they did but then I'm a cynical old bat who spends her working life appraising other people's writing and can't get out of the habit of suggesting areas for improvement. However, it was an exciting read and I didn't have too much trouble whizzing through its pages, even though I haven't been a teenager for a very long time.

You can learn more about Carlos Ruiz Zafon's writing on his website: http://www.carlosruizzafon.co.uk/
His next book in the young readers series, The Midnight Palace will be released on 2 June 2011 and it's set in Calcutta in the 1930s.



Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen

I borrowed this book from the local library in an effort to support the service, along with Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, which I gave up on quite early. The librarian said her husband said it all came together towards the end. Unfortunately I didn't get that far and if a book doesn't hook me at the beginning, I'll never know how great it turned out to be.

Three-tiered plot

I persevered with Madame Proust's 1890s unpublished diary and learnt a lot about son Marcel in the process - her smothering love for him and his repressed homosexuality, his asthma attacks, (the physical reaction to his repression no doubt) and the louche lifestyle to which he was attracted. Author Kate Taylor recreates the times well through narrator Marie Prevost, who lives in Canada and carries out her research in Paris. But I found the backtracking and timeline switches hard to follow and became confused with the various characters in a three-tiered plot that didn't work. The constant time changes prevented the plot from moving forwards and this interfered with the flow for me.

Meanwhile, Sarah Bensimon, who lives in Toronto with foster parents, returns to her birth family's apartment in Paris after the war to search for them. People are reluctant to talk but she finds a witness to their murder in Auschwitz. In Toronto, she develops an ultra kosher kitchen and cooks kosher versions of French cuisine. I couldn't figure out what this had to do with the story although the title is ambiguous as it implies that Madame Proust  kept a kosher kitchen. She was also Jewish though, which makes Marcel so and Sarah's son Max, like Marcel, is stringing along an adoring young woman called Marie. Both Maries are thwarted when they learn the truth. I'm not sure why the men needed to be Jewish as the story would have stood as well had they been Catholic or Hindu but I was hoping to learn more about the French collaboration to transport their Jewish population to Drancy, transit camp to Auschwitz during the war and this wasn't forthcoming.

I'm not sure what the kosher kitchen had to do with anything or other authorial discussions about language for example or the Dreyfus affair. I think it was about different types of love - unrequited, motherly and gay. However, it was well written and researched and I enjoyed the author's take on Madame Proust's unpublished letters.


Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen is by Kate Taylor and published by Chatto & Windus, 2003.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Diving at Sharm El Sheikh

Whether you're a diver or you just want to know more about scuba diving, a new e-book written by diving instructor John Kean may interest you.

John is a former client of my editorial consultancy and I found his book, Lost Wife, Saw Barracuda both amusing and informative. In it, he explains how he came to make the transition from stockbroker in the UK rat race to a life in the sun of Sharm El Sheikh where he became a dive instructor.

The book begins with John's experience during the terrorist attack on the resort in 2005, when many people were killed or injured and his part in helping them when he was first to arrive on the scene. In addition to that, he's been chased by sharks, had a 737 airliner drop out of the sky into his dive site, broken four bones, been arrested three times and experienced an earthquake.


The book is full of tips and advice on diving and contains humorous and some serious anecdotes about his diving adventures, the sort of incidents that can happen on diving courses and the various people he's trained as diving instructors.

John's first book was a diving guide to the wreck SS Thistlegorm, which is mentioned in Lost Wife... He also writes articles for several diving magazines.

Lost Wife, Saw Barracuda: True Stories of a Sharm El Sheikh Scuba Diving Instructor is available in Kindle Edition and can be obtained from Amazon Media EU S.a r.l.