Carrbridge in Winter - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography





Sunday, 29 December 2013

New novel release by Jenny Harper

As it's Sunday and I'm not sure which of my fellow bloggers is due to blog next, I'm leaping in to remind those of who who haven't yet heard that my novel, Face the Wind and Fly, is now available on Amazon.

Love wind farms? Hate them? Love a good story with challenging family relationships, complicated emotions and difficulties tossed into daily life by work, friends and circumstances? Then there's something here for you.

It's available now as an ebook from Amazon, and I'm hoping you'll be able to buy it as a printed book very shortly.

And now I'll shut up and let the next blogger have the stage!

Face the Wind and Fly by Jenny Harper, available from Amazon, currently priced at 95p.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Some resolutions by Mary Smith

I’m late putting up my post and I’m blaming the usual pre-Christmas mayhem. Earlier this month I thought I would be interviewing fellow blogger Jenny Harper whose first novel, Face the Wind and Fly is about to go live on Amazon but a wee delay has meant it isn’t up there yet – but do look out for it. It will be coming very soon.

In the meantime, in between rushing around the shops, spending far too much money because my method to cheer myself up while shopping for impossible-to-buy-for people (DH in my case) is to buy something for me, too, I haven’t had much time to think up a blog topic. I finally decided to think about some New Year resolutions for writers.

Keep on writing.

Do not feel guilty
We’ve all read the instructions, the how-to-write-a-novel/bestseller manuals and learned about the need for discipline and to approach our writing as we would any other job. We’ve been told to give ourselves a target of X number of words a day and to sit at our desk until we have achieved the target. Then, when we don’t achieve the magic number we feel guilty and beat ourselves up because we’re clearly not as dedicated as we should be. Rubbish! Yes, there is a need for a certain amount of discipline but there is also a need to be kind to ourselves and not take all the blame when we didn’t make the word target. Life gets in the way and sometimes we have to accept this and go with the flow. We are writers, we want to write and we will write and sometimes a bar of chocolate and a glass of wine while reading a book we enjoy will make us better writers.

Accept that talent will NOT always be recognised by a traditional publisher
New writers were always advised that ‘talent would out’, that if they kept plugging away, sending their manuscripts to agents and publishers, one would eventually recognise how good it is and offer a contract. This advice is backed up by the list of successful writers, usually topped by J K Rowling, who were rejected umpteen times before their book was picked up by a publisher.

They don’t mention that the work of many, many really good writers is not picked up this way. I have some excellent books on my Kindle and can’t understand why a mainstream publisher didn’t publish them. Of course, many writers are now going straight to Kindle without putting themselves through the trauma of countless rejections – and good on them.

Learn marketing skills
You have to be good at promotion and marketing whether you self-publish or are published by a traditional publisher. I know writers whose publishers almost insist they have a website, a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account all with the aim of marketing books. Tweeting, ‘Buy my book’ 50 times a day, though, is not going to endear you to potential customers, which is why we need to learn effective marketing skills. I can’t help feeling there is some disconnect between writing and marketing (although Charles Dickens did it well). If we wanted to be super salespeople we’d not be writers.

Maintain contacts with other writers
Other writers know exactly what the writing life is like – its ups and downs; the joy of having a story/poem/novel accepted; the depths of despair to which we plunge when our work is rejected. Other writers can be a lifeline. Cherish them.

Keep on writing. (I know, I wrote this at the start – but it is worth repeating)
Okay, maybe this year was not the year of your breakthrough novel; maybe you didn’t find an agent – or found one who then didn’t sell your book. Or, maybe you got your book ‘out there’ and no one apart from your best friend and your auntie bought it and you’re thinking you might be better taking up knitting. No, keep on writing because, ultimately, it is writing which pleases us most.

Happy Christmas and I wish all writers a creative 2014.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Is getting to grips with technology a distraction? by Jenny Harper

Years ago, when I was editing a magazine for craftspeople, I used to feel so sorry for these creative folk, who also had to market their own work, run a business, get noticed by the media, deal with advertising and generally be savvy in ways that for most of them was totally alien.

Guess what? That's exactly how I'm feeing myself right now! Having taken the decision to publish a couple of my novels as an indie, I'm trying to get to grips with everything that needs to be done. I know, I know, lots of you have done this already, but come on, it is a bit scary, isn't it? There's so much to think about, from the process of uploading to making sure that absolutely everything is in order. There's ISBNs, acknowledgements, blurb, trailer for the next book, covers – deep breath – metadata, tags, marketing strategies, promotion, not to mention ITIN numbers and heaven knows what.

Then there's my website. I set it up a year ago and felt very proud of myself. It's just simple and I didn't promote it, because, well, I had nothing much to promote. Now it needs updating so that I can put up the news about my story in the RNA anthology, take part in the My Writing Process blog, start to build an email list, link to my books when they go up on Amazon, and heaven knows what else.

It's exciting, for sure, but it's also extremely time-consuming and a little scary. And I'd much rather be sitting writing than having to get to grips with all of this.

The plus side is, I can finally get some of my work out there to all the readers I imagine breathlessly waiting to read my every word. *Grins*

Without being ironic, though, it really is exciting. My novels are sad things hiding facelessly on my computer. None of you really knows what my writing is like or what kind of stories I tell (apart from my lovely writing buddies, Jennifer and Dianne, that is). Of course it's scary, opening your work to the world in this way, but it's exhilarating too. Soon my little babies will have faces and, like newborns, will sally out into the world to engage with others and try to make their mark.

I thought I'd design the covers myself, but have now decided to employ an experienced graphic designer. It will be really interesting to see what he comes up with!

I've given myself last month to edit the books (and after a year or two away from them, it was surprising to see how much needed editing!) and this month to get the covers done, my ducks in a row, and one title uploaded. January will see book number two, but I probably won't do the third till March or April.

Meantime, what about my writing? The ideas are beginning to whizz around, and I can't wait to have the chance to clear space in my head so that I can sit down and do what I really want to do – which is, after all, write.

But then, it's about engaging with the reading public too ...

By the time I blog here again, I hope to be able to share some of my work with you. You never know, I may even cheat on the rota and sneak in early. That's what being a marketing manager dictates, after all!


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

THE SHOPS I MISS THE MOST

Back in the day,when I was five years old, my mother enrolled me in the local library. It was situated here in Paignton where the old Liberal Party headquarters had once been. To get to the books one had to climb a couple of flights of - to my young mind - very wide stairs. Creaky double doors, one had to push open with both hands, opened into a big space with floor to ceiling bookshelves, all with their headings - POLITICS, SCIENCE, GEOGRAPHY, FICTION ...and the rest. The books I loved the best were the ones in leather covers with very thin, tissue-paper like pages one could almost see through. They crackled when I turned them with a bit of lick on the end of my forefinger - sacrilege, I know, but I was only little. It wasn't long though, before I wanted my own books. For Christmas each year my dear old Aunt Frances always bought me an Annual of some sort....I remember Girl when I was older but not what I had before that. My father gave me 2/6d a week pocket money which was just about enough to buy cheap versions of the classics back then. Woolworth's sold them - hardbacks with quite garishly illustrated paper covers. I still have some of them. The town had a couple of stationers' shops that sold books as well, so I was pretty much set up for book buying - being able to hold it in my hand and sniff the pages (old books always had a smell about them, didn't they?)before taking it to the counter to be paid for and wrapped up. Fast forward a few years ......and not only has Woolworth's gone, but also all those old-fashioned stationers' shops that sold books, too. W H Smith sells books, of course, and have done for some time but I have never felt able to just browse in there with people wanting you out of the way in their haste to buy newspapers and cards and paperclips. Waterstones haven't made it to the coast but I have to say I don't get the casual browse I remember so well when I go into one in Exeter or Bristol or wherever. And now Amazon seems to have become the bookshop du jour. Paperbacks or Kindle, take your pick. Epublishing is, so I'm reliably told, taking over how we want our books, how we buy our books. I often wonder how many of those titles downloaded, because they're written by a friend or a friend of a friend or someone we've friended on Facebook or Twitter, are actually read. I'm not so much of a dinosaur that I don't have a Kindle - I do ....a pretty purple one. But oh how I miss those independent booksellers of old that seemed to be in every town, and often in large villages too. But all is not lost here, we still have an independent bookseller in Paignton - The Torbay Bookshop - although the owners have had to diversify and sell chocolate as well to make the business viable. And they still host booksignings - I've met Sir Patrick Moore, Kate Mosse,Francesco da Mosto, Ann Widecombe, Rachel Joyce, Kate Furnivall, and many others. I've even sat behind the little table piled high with my own books. I'll be there again at the end of January 2014 to sign copies of EMMA:There's No Turning Back. Liking a book signed by the author is a personal choice but there are, I think, still a lot of people about who like a personal message from the author. Last week I was at a talk in Brixham Library given by Lesley Pearse for which The Torbay Bookshop got in the books for her to sign. Even now I'm published myself it's still a thrill to meet a big-name author in the flesh. In high street booksellers buyers are rushed through at booksignings as though on a treadmill - I know, I've been there, done that. But in independent bookshops there is time to chat, to have a glass of wine. To browse. So, while we still have small, independent, bookshops in our towns let's use them, I say.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

SOCIAL MEDIA AS LITERACY AID – AND AN INFLUENCE ON WRITING STYLE? by Gill Stewart



I sometimes wonder what the impact of social media has been on functional literacy.  Do we write more or less now than we used to?  Is that writing better, worse, or just different?

Horace - Roman poet who deplored the falling standards of youth
I know many of us groan when we see the numerous spelling and grammar mistakes on Facebook, Twitter, etc., but surely these media are encouraging people to communicate in writing when they would not otherwise have done so.  Letters would have been anathema to them.  Even now they may be communicating more with copied cartoons and photos, but they are also adding their own captions and comments so they are writing.  These are people who would have been reluctant writers at school and non-existent ones thereafter.

So, what impact has this had?

On the level of literacy?  I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that in terms of quantity of people communicating via the written word, it has increased.  As to quality, that is a different question.  Certainly The Mail thinks that standards are falling (no surprise there, then!).  A recent article claims ‘the massive rise in social media use among the young is having a major impact on writing skills’ [Mail Online, 27.11.2013]. However, when reading the detail of the article I see they are more concerned with quality (correct spelling and grammar) than quantity (actually writing).  And they say nothing at all about actual communication, i.e. whether the writing is doing what it is intended to do and telling us something.

Others have a particular dislike of texting, claiming that it reduces all communication to bite-sized chunks, with little or no regard for grammar and a definite encouragement towards abbreviation.  I, on the other hand, would tend to agree with the suggestion that texting is developing its own kind of grammar.  It may not be standard grammar, but it is understandable to the people who use it and can be very evocative.  LOL has evolved into something much subtler and sophisticated and is used even when nothing is remotely amusing… [it] signals basic empathy between texters, easing tension and creating a sense of equality… Texting, far from being a scourge, is a work in progress.’ [Time Ideas, 25.4.2013]

Writing is a tool of communication, not an end in itself.  It is a tool that has been changing just as language has been changing since man (and woman) first changed from grunts to words.  This harping on about the decline in our grammar and spelling reminds me of the Roman poet Horace who complained at length about the falling standards in the youth of his day.  And that was about, er, two millenia ago…

Which brings me to another point.  What has this upsurge of writing in the social media done for our style of writing.  And is it, er, now acceptable to include ‘er’ in a sentence?

Clearly, the general tone on social media is chatty and informal, which is fine because this is an informal sphere.  However, my personal experience is that this style is moving over into e.g. work sphere.  Work e-mails may well be more formal than FB, but they are very much less so than internal memos used to be, never mind letters.  Letters are still used occasionally, but it really is occasionally – and are often sent as an attachment to a fairly informal e-mail, so you are getting both streams of communication at once.

Whole books have now been written as a series of e-mails and Instant Messages, e.g. Meg Cabot’s ‘Boy Meets Girl’.  And they are fun and enjoyable not because of the format but because they have a good story-line, believable characters and create a world we want to enter.   If they don’t have these latter three qualities then they will not be a good read – the format cannot make them good any more than it can make them bad.

So – is the rise of social media harmful to literacy because it encourages communication in bite-sizes?  Are books un-read because you can read a summary on-line?  Are spelling and grammar deteriorating to the point of no return because no one cares any more?  Or is this the way it has always been – not progress or deterioration, but just change?