Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

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


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


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.


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.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Indian women's stories

Six years ago I received a signed copy of a book of short stories from a former writing pupil. Aruna Nambiar was living then in Bangalore and I'd tutored her by correspondence. I remember her as a dedicated student, determined to pursue her freelance writing career alongside engineering management and retail banking. She has written for a variety of Indian newspapers and edited a travel anthology called The Itinerant Indian, which she also sent me and which I am ashamed to say still lies unread on the mounting pile by my bed.


Curtains is an anthology of short stories contributed by Aruna and eight other Indian women of differing cultural backgrounds, communities, religions and ages; their jobs range from journalism to college professors, engineers to homemakers and they are spread over different parts of India and the world. They have one thing in common and that is their love of the written word. Their stories cover a wide range of emotions and themes, many based on true life experiences or people they have known but certainly using their cultural backgrounds to write about their world.

If sometimes real life stories don't translate well to fiction, structure doesn't hold up well or anecdote or incident has been mistaken for plot, this is one occasion where it can be overlooked because the enjoyment for me came from learning about the richness of the culture, whether village life and customs or descriptions of Indian food and spices or middle-class traditions. Learning about arranged marriages, so alien to the western world, yet so acceptable to those Indian girls whose fathers or brothers find their husbands for them, makes fascinating reading. How lucky we are to have the freedom to make choices, even though they may not turn out to be the best for us and how protective Indian parents have been to ensure their daughters marry someone known to them.

Two stories

Two stories stood out for me, the first by Andaleeb Wajid, which gives the book its title - Curtains. Andaleeb, a technical author for a documentation company, comes from Vellore and her stories are based on this town. Her characters are taken from people she has met. Her story, Rendezvous at Tea won her a prize in the Kathalok Short Story Writing Competition. 'Winning it changed the way I wrote fiction, as it reinforced my belief that I was in the right direction. More so, because I had attempted something different and winning it greatly increased my confidence,' she says.

In Curtains, the fluttering light blue curtains provide a marker for Farida as she remembers them on specific occasions. They are in the house of her husband's boyhood, where she has lived since her marriage. The curtains reassure her that life goes on, whatever happens. She used to watch them being washed regularly under her mother-in-law's supervision. But they hang limp and unwashed four years after her mother-in-law's death and water is in short supply. Should she buy new ones?

Farida is lonely with an unattentive husband. She has lost her self-esteem and has let the house go. She takes down the curtains and sees outside three young men smoking. She thinks the ugliest one has leered at her as she hangs up sheets in place of the curtains. She asks her husband for new curtains. '...if they're dirty it's because you haven't washed them,' he says. '...you haven't washed them even once...They could well last another ten years...' Farida pays the servant to wash them for her. She hangs up the clean curtains - the young man is there alone and he acknowledges her. She waves back. She has found a way to be noticed and acknowledged that she doesn't have in her life. Guess who is going to have the cleanest curtains in the street? And although this is really an incident rather more than a plot and it's quite a drawn out story, it carries a very strong message, particularly for women who spend their day alone with only the household chores to fill their time. We all need to be valued and acknowledged; if we are valued we value ourselves.


The story that made me laugh the most was Rani, written by Sarita Mandanna from Coorg. Sarita has an MBA from Wharton Business School and she works in New York. Written in first person, Rani grows up in a culture of superstition where horoscopes are cast to ensure a prospective husband is a good match for a girl. 'Never defy God. Or argue with the fates.' Rani studies medicine and her family find a good match in her second cousin, Venu, also a medic. 'The elders decided, and we trusted their judgment,' she says. Inevitably, she falls in love with a Captain called Banesh and she wants to marry him. The outcome is ironic but it offers great insights.

Curtains is published by Unisun Publications, www.unisun4writers.com/ email info@unisun4writers.com

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Witness launch for Cath Staincliffe

If you're in Manchester on Thursday, 28 April, pop in to Waterstone's on Deansgate around 6.30pm for the launch of crime writer Cath Staincliffe's new novel, Witness.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Gothic Scheherazade from Joanne Harris

Sleep, Pale Sister

Drugs, sex and --  only the rock 'n' roll is missing from Joanne Harris's novel, Sleep, Pale Sister (Black Swan). And it isn't the first time that great literature has been influenced by The Arabian Nights, for wasn't it Mary Shelley who used some of its elements for her own Gothic Frankenstein horror story?

Sleep, Pale Sister was one of the two novels written before the author hit the jackpot with Chocolat and since its debut in 1994, it's been revised and republished by demand. I think it's a great story in the Harris tradition, pacey, full of action, twists and dark surprises; it's about love and hate, revenge and treachery. Apart from the parallels to Scherherazade's escape from male domination with her storytelling techniques, I was minded of Wilkie Collins, Wilde, the Brontes, the pre-Raphaelites and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in turn. That's a lot to be reminded of. It's a dark novel with a tragic ending, splashed with visions of a netherworld and the murky side of life in the back streets of London, brothels and graveyards.

Dark Plot

Henry Paul Chester is a painter who has twice exhibited his work at the Royal Academy. But he's an odd bod with emotional scars from a childhood influenced by his minister father, whose home is steeped in religious paraphernalia and maternal neglect from his beautiful mother whom he rarely sees. On trying to gain her love, he succeeds only in gathering massive guilt, which mars his ability to show his true emotions. Svengali also comes to mind when he marries his main model, the 'stunner' who sits to him for his allegorical portraits reflecting young women.

Effie Shelbeck is only 10 when she first sits to Henry and, at 17 she becomes the 40-year-old artist's wife. (Interesting that John Ruskin married a teenage bride called Effie Gray.)  Henry keeps her in check with regular doses of laudanum, which she promptly pours into the plants, a quite natural reaction for a spirited young woman you might say. Quietly, she makes a life of her own in another world, in the rather dubious company of Mose Harper, poet and philanderer and his friend brothel keeper Fanny Miller, whose little daughter Marta was murdered by 'a client'. Effie is a bit of a witch -- Harris seems to specialise in these -- and has out-of-body experiences where she identifies the murderer and takes over Marta's identity. Need I say more?


Both Henry and Mose are fundamentally flawed, there is no Mr D'Arcy for poor Effie and she must suffer her fate a la Juliet. The novel is full of Gothic Victorian allusions, so much so that I felt that I'd already read the section on Henry's disillusionment with married life somewhere before but couldn't put my finger on it. He seemed a familiar character somehow. Perhaps he is typical of Victorian men. He requires perfection and wants to put Effie on a pedastal to adore from a distance. She is his muse, he has moulded her but Effie is human and has needs of her own. Mose, on the other hand, is a cad and womaniser who wants Effie solely for lust, to destroy her and he has no morals. Effie is neither of the women they want her to be and both men are using one another -- Henry is after Mose's connections in the art world and Mose wants access to his wife. Fanny wants her daughter back and poor Effie just wants To Be.

'God made women weak and perverse and full of treachery', says Henry. And what about men? What are they full of?

If you enjoy Joanne's books, why not log onto her website at http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Found cat alert. Is this intruder yours?

Grumpy Old Cat stages a sit-in

It's very tiring being a cat. Fortunately, my job involves a great deal of sleep, so I have no time any more to write blogs. But it enables Her to get on with the important things, like cleaning my litter tray, filling up my various food bowls and changing my water, regular trips to the vet and bank, as she makes out my vet's fees and food bills are exorbitant. I'm only a cat, for heaven's sake. How much can it cost to keep one lousy cat?

Of course, if she didn't fall for the spare cat's theatrical act of bursting open my private door and pleading poverty and starvation every day, she'd only have one cat to pay for. I've heard her groan when she picks him up. There's obviously something heavy inside (like a free range chicken) and he plays on her sympathy by occupying her filing tray, fooling her into believing he's doing something useful.

Cry for help

So if anyone out there misses their cat for great lengths of time and recognises this intruder, or Spawn of the Devil as she calls him, please come and get him. It's gone beyond a joke.

Spawn of the Devil pretending to be useful

Lady cat column

And while I'm on the subject of superfluous devil-cats, have you noticed that The Lady magazine, not content with a tedious dog's column, (the idea of a dog being able to write is so ridiculous) have launched a cat's column too. Whatever next? Gertie the Goldfish blogs swimming tips? Soon there will be no space left for humans, or huwomens either for that matter.

Yours cattily
Harry the Cat, aged 21 this year
Presents gratefully received (especially food parcels)

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Next Big Author competition

There's a novel inside everyone! It's an old cliche and I don't believe it. Novels aren't inside us; they are between covers on bookshelves. Our life experiences might contribute to a novel but we don't all have the gift of turning them into a good read.

How to Enter

If you want to find out if you have that gift, five major publishers have joined forces with organisers youwriteon.com and The Next Big Author event to award one critique each to the top five entrants.

All you have to do is write the opening chapter (5,000-7,000 words) of a novel, any genre and upload them onto the http://www.youwriteon.com/ site between 17 and 31 May. You will find directions on there on how to do this. In June, you have to exchange reviews by reviewing and rating other entrants' opening chapters on the site. Every time you review a chapter, your chapter will be passed on for review in return. The minimum is four reviews. The five highest rated chapters will be announced on 1 July.

More details from http://www.thenextbigauthor.com/ and www.youwriteon.com/ The competition is funded by the Arts Council. The five publishers involved are Random House, Bloomsbury, Orion, Little,Brown and Hodder & Stoughton. Good luck!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Joanne's Lollipop Shoes - great fun and welcome change!

Keep starting books and abandoning them, so no point in blogging them. One was such a tale of disaster and misery, I couldn't bear to read further than Chapter 7. Another - authored by a major prizewinner - was the second book I'd given up by the same writer, whose style obviously doesn't appeal to me. Confusion over who was speaking, including the merging of some dialogue into the prose sentences with no speech marks, made it impossible to follow. Lots of brilliant research shone from the pages but out of character dialogue and tone put an end to it by Chapter 5.

I needed to be cheered up, so I turned to Joanne Harris and entered a world of witches and finger spells, magic and chocolates, suspended my disbelief for a few days and had a great time. The Lollipop Shoes (Black Swan) is a 2008 edition that I found in the library - thought I would support my local before the council added it to its list of closures. Kids ran around screaming and shouting, so I didn't stay long, popped into Cafe Rouge for a quiet drink and a read but kids were running around screaming there too. What is going on out there? Shades of Lord of the Flies?

Witchcraft in the chocolaterie

I come from a chocoholic family, famous in the area for its chocolate shop. So another chocolaterie story, especially in Paris, had more appeal than misery and confusion. Chocolat heroine, Yanne Charbonneau (aka Vianne Rocher) takes over an old cafe in Montmartre and turns it into the chocolaterie, continuing to run it after the owner, Marie-Louise Poussin has died. Her 11-year-old daughter Annie (aka Anouk) is being bullied at school and 4-year-old Rosette can't speak and is learning to sign. Business isn't so good. They are all a little witchy.

The status quo is shaken when witch's daughter with a past, Zozie de l'Alba (not her real name) with the pink-streaked hair and red shoes gradually ingratiates herself with Annie and from there to Yanne. This is all calculated to wreak havoc for them under the guise of friendship. Yanne absorbs Zozie into their lives and into the shop, where she becomes indispensable. Zozie makes finger spells and changes people, some for the better, winning everyone's confidence. Annie, with Zozie's support makes some finger signs of her own, beats the bullies and the shop prospers.

Landlord, prosperous snob Thierry le Tresset wants to marry Yanne but the sudden re-appearance of Roux, Yanne's former lover from Chocolat in Lanquesnet throws her into such confusion that at first she doesn't notice what is going on under her nose with Zozie taking over her children. Thierry is viciously jealous of him and Roux has no idea he has fathered Rosette. The story is told from three different viewpoints - Yanne, Zozie and Annie - which gives it an added dimension.

This is a fairy tale for adults and fairy tales can be scary, even though they may have happy endings. Just the thought of rum truffles and three layer chocolate cake was enough to glue me to the page, together with the evocative descriptions of the Montmartre I once knew and traipsed around; the characters looking artistically pretentious in corners of cafes in the Place du Tertre brought it all back. I remember one who always dressed in a cloak and a pseud artist's hat like Aristide Bruant in Lautrec's painting and the stylish transvestites reeking of Chanel No 5 were easily mistaken for models until the sound of a baritone voice hit the air as they passed. I won't go on. The Lollipop Shoes was great fun, a welcome change and took my mind off other things.

Latest news

Joanne is just putting the finishing touches to her latest book, Runelight and this should be out around October this year. And Vianne Rocher might just be on her way back to Lanquesnet... Joanne is working on a screenplay adaptation of Lollipop Shoes to offer for production. She is a great champion of the continuation of libraries so how apt that I should borrow Lollipop Shoes from one. You can log on to her website at: http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/

Monday, 21 February 2011

Poetry news

I don't often write about poetry but then I don't write poetry either. I like the war poems of Sassoon and Owen, I enjoy Eliot, Stevie Smith and Robert Frost but I'm not a connoisseur of the great and the good. I spent a few of my teenage years writing suicide poetry in the bedroom but then didn't we all? 'The tumbrils of my mind roll on...' and all that! I soon grew out of it when the Beatles kicked in. But kind people have passed on these snippets of poetic news, so I'm including them.

National Poetry Competition 2011

The winner of the 2010 National Poetry Competition will be made public in March and after that, the 2011 competition will be launched. The competition for the best single poem submitted was set up in 1978 and since then has given career boosts to such poets as the current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy and T S Eliot prizewinner, Philip Gross. Helen Dunmore won with her poem, The Malarky in 2009. http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/ will give you more details and the prize is big.

National Poetry Day 2011

This year's theme for National Poetry Day 2011 is 'Games'. It will be held on Thursday 6 October. Live events and web-based activities have been a feature since 1994 and this year promises to be no exception. You can find out more about it from http://www.nationalpoetryday.co.uk/

Book A Poet

This brings me to an exciting venture recently launched by a team of writers and editors with a passion for poetry. www.bookapoet.co.uk/ They've opened an agency to take bookings for poetry readings and these range from festivals to workshops and residencies to readings. In fact, anyone who wishes to book a poet can find one here. Examples of poets' work are featured on the site together with a gallery, so you can see who they are.

And if you send me your poetry news, I might do a regular poetry blog.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Is Amy Chua, Tiger Mother perfectly right or horribly wrong?

Yale Law School's John M Duff Professor of Law, Amy Chua has caused quite a stir on the parenting front with her new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin) and whatever else it achieves, it's destined to sell books, so her parents will be delighted she's succeeded at that.

Not read the book but...

I haven't read the book, nor do I intend to unless sent a review copy (large hint) but I've read the articles and seen the interviews, particularly this morning's with Vanessa on Channel 5 (whatever is that chap doing there?). I get the gist of it though and decided to throw in my two penn'orth because a third of my piano students are Chinese and boy have I noticed the difference in cultures between east and west? And that's just it. Why should we be so outraged by attitudes of other cultures because they aren't like ours? How arrogant are we to say another approach is 'wrong' and ours is 'right'? There is no right or wrong, just differences and some may work and some may not in both cultures.

UK piano students

Now for the empirical take. To generalise (which I know I shouldn't) some of my British parents are great lead swingers; they cancel lessons at the drop of a hat - amazing how many cars break down so often and how grandpas have a habit of re-dying (Tip 1: if you're going to tell a little white one, make sure you remember what it was.) Kids tend to be hawked round from football to dancing, from Brownies to swimming and on to guitar and/or piano lessons, not to ensure they excel at all these activities, because they don't, but (just my opinion this) it enables the parent(s) to drop into Tescos and leave them with the musical childminder for half an hour while they do the shopping. This seems to have come to an abrupt halt since I made it clear they were to be picked up at the end of the lesson and not 15 minutes later while I'm teaching someone else. 'She'll be here soon, she's just gone shopping', has lain dormant for a while.

What happens with these kids is that they are doing so much stuff that they have no time to practise any of it, so they are mediocre at all of them. I could weep over those who begin with a genuine talent, only to fade into oblivion on the keys as they spread their time between multifarious activities. Then there's the X boxes and social networking which ensure they don't go to bed (or to sleep) until the small hours and take up far too much of their childhood. And nobody seems to care; except me perhaps. I sit by them as they yawn and stretch, sneeze and cough ('oh, has he got a cold?'-surprised parent) after a late night sleepover and a heavy day at school. What chance does a struggling piano teacher have trying to motivate them? How can that be 'right' eh?

Chinese piano students

The Chinese parents, on the other hand, have strict ideas about what they expect from their children, discipline for a start (remember that if you were born before 1960?). 'How is that 'wrong'? In the last lot of exams, the two distinctions went to two Chinese girls and the rest got high merits (including a Chinese boy whose standard slipped because his parents were being too Western to notice).

I once had a pupil whose Chinese mother berated her at every slip of a key leaving the child a quivering wreck in floods of tears. Once I'd convinced the child that it was OK to make mistakes and told the mother that she was the cause of the child's problems and it couldn't continue, it stopped, we became great friends and the pupil achieved what her mother had wanted in the first place. I think it's about compromise. Practising is a problem for all children and most of my Chinese parents are willing to compromise, especially those born here or who are in mixed marriages, which provides a better balance. And they do seem to have an innate talent for playing the piano. I have an adult Chinese student who applies herself to practising diligently and is happily playing Clementi and Beethoven after only 12 months.

What now?

Amy Chua
My greatest test is about to come. During a recent trial lesson, I asked a young Chinese boy why he wanted to learn the piano? 'I don't,' he said. 'My father wants me to.' Pretty honest considering dad was sitting by his side at the time, looking thunderous. It isn't unknown for them to have had three or four piano tutors before they get here, probably nothing much wrong with any of them, but if a pupil doesn't want to learn, they're unlikely to pull it off with any of us. Maybe I'll turn out to be Little Miss Perfect.

PS: Harry the Cat

And now, I must go and kill that cat for he's been whining all day, despite four different bowls of food, none of which meet his expectations and he's standing on the stairs above my office, deaf as a post and shouting his head off.