Saturday, 16 June 2018

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH A PROBLEM LIKE - SOCIAL MEDIA?


Social media love it or hate it, is a fact of modern life. If you’re a writer it has probably  become an insidious, important part of your life. These days it’s all about getting the word out about your books into the big wide world. Publishers are constantly telling writers ‘You need a platform. An on line presence.’ Along with: ‘You have to be seen if you want to sell your books.’ In other words writers have to come out from behind their computers and self-promote. Something the majority of us hate doing.

Having a presence on line involves belonging to and being active on at least some of the following: FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin, having an Amazon book page, a website, FaceBook author page, a blog etc etc. I’m sure too, there are other sites that have passed me by. (I’ve deliberately left GoodReads off the list because really that site is all about readers not writers.) The one thing that unites them all is: they consume time. Click on your FaceBook home page and the big black hole of social media sucks you in before you realise it. Liking this post, responding to another, writing a post of your own. That done you take a quick look on Twitter and so it goes on. Writing time can disappear in a click of the mouse, leaving you with the desired presence on the internet maybe but no writing time to finish the next book. ‘An on line presence.’ Four simple words that can wreck havoc with your writing life if you aren’t careful.

One of the big problems is deciding exactly just how ‘public’ you are going to be with the information and news you put out into the world. It’s easy to forget it will be visible forever. While readers like to interact with their favourite authors, too much information given out on line can be dangerous.




I have a deadline for my next book that I MUST meet and I’ve thought long and hard about taking a complete break from social media, but I do still have books to promote and keep in the public eye as much as possible. So I’ve bought an old-fashioned timer to try and control the hungry monster that social media has become. The plan is thirty minutes in the early evening every day. I’ll let you know how I get on.

How do you manage your time on social media? Which is your favourite site? Any advice would be gratefully received.


Saturday, 9 June 2018

GETTING TO KNOW MURIEL SPARK


2018 is a year of important centenaries as we remember the end of the First World War and also women in Great Britain and Northern Ireland being granted steps in the right to vote. However, a literary centenary that may be passing beneath your radar are celebrations to commemorate Dame Muriel Spark’s birth. An initiative designed to introduce her work to a whole new audience.

Who was Dame Muriel Spark?

Spark was born in Edinburgh and is recognised at both home and abroad as one of the finest novelists of the last century. Her sharp witty prose earned her a place amongst the crème de la crème of Scottish writers. Dame Maggie Smith starred in the 1969 film
adaption of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, her most famous work.

This was as much as I knew. Like Spark, I'm Scottish. I needed to do better.

Getting to Know Her


A quick Google search offered the following –

Born in Edinburgh as Muriel Camberg, she attended the James Gillespie’s High School for Girls, where a teacher, Christina Kay, provided the inspiration for Miss Jean Brodie.

A prolific novelist, her short modern classics include The Public Image, Momento More, The Girls of Slender Means, A Far Cry From Kensington and more. In addition to novel writing, she also wrote poems, plays and children’s books, alongside biographies of Mary Shelley and Emily Brontë. She died in April 2006, in Florence, aged 88.

The International Style of Muriel Spark


The next stop on my journey to discover more about Spark took me to The International Style of
Image from the International Style of Muriel Spark
Exhibition at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
Muriel Spark exhibition at Scotland’s National Library in Edinburgh. Exhibits from the library’s extensive Spark archive were on display, including memorabilia from the places Spark called home – Edinburgh, Africa, London, New York, Rome and Tuscany – including correspondence with Jackie Onassis and Beryl Bainbridge.

What quickly became clear was that Spark was an author of contradictions, highly sociable, loving travel, fashion and parties, yet choosing to spend the last decades of her life writing in the tranquillity of the Tuscan countryside. She was a proud Scot, yet left Edinburgh for South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with her new husband, Sydney Oswald Spark, at the age of nineteen, returning only occasionally to the country of her birth.

Dame Muriel Spark

What makes Spark so special?


Spark’s early career couldn’t have been further from the stereotypical image of a reclusive author, rarely leaving their writing den. For a flavour of what made her so special, the BBC put together a web page -
10 Things You Might Not Know About Muriel Spark which contains facts such as, she :
  •         Bought a horse from the Queen
  • ·      Gave designer dresses to nuns
  • ·      Wrote her most famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, in just eight weeks

Edinburgh City Council recently revealed plans to name a pathway, which runs close to Spark’s high school, as Muriel Spark Walk.


Where else to learn about Spark?


The International Style of Muriel Spark exhibition may be over, but there is still lots going on, both in Scotland and further afield. One of the best ways to keep up with what’s happening is over on Twitter @MurielSpark100

The Edinburgh International Book Festival has planned a whole series of events celebrating Spark’s life and work, with a new event space on George Street being named the Spark Theatre.

In honour of Spark's centenary year, Creative Scotland created a new Muriel Spark 100 Fund. I was thrilled to learn that two fabulous writers from North East Scotland are amongst the recipients - Shane Strachan and Morna Young. Readings of Strachan's new short stories will take place at The Barn Salon, Banchory on Tuesday 28 August.


Further reading


To discover even more about Spark the writer, I recommend An Appointment in Arezzo: A friendship with Muriel Spark, which is a lively, humorous memoir, published as part of the centenary celebrations, by her travelling companion and confidant, journalist Alan Taylor.
Appoinment in Arezzo -
A Memoir by Alan Taylor
My favourite Spark quote from An Appointment in Arezzo is this –
To her, travel was literature’s lifeblood: ‘We have to find at first hand how other people live and die, what they smell, how they are made. I recommend travel to young authors. And also to authors not so young.’
A top tip for writers I intend to take to heart.

Share Your Favourite of Spark's work

I’d love to know if you have a Spark favourite?

And in this year of centenary celebrations, I hand the final word to Miss Jean Brodie, who brought Dame Muriel such world wide acclaim,


‘It’s important to recognise the years of one’s prime…’

Happy reading!

Rae
SaveSave

Saturday, 2 June 2018

IS COMPUTER-BASED WORK BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH? by Victoria Cornwall


Did you know that working on a computer or laptop for hours on end can be bad for your health? I didn't, but I do now. I spent this spring preparing my third novel, The Daughter of River Valley, for publication. Spending several hours a day editing, proof reading and editing again took its toll, namely a very stiff neck. It got me thinking ... why was I suffering and what could I do about it?

When we think of occupations which pose a health risk our thoughts immediately race to the emergency services or armed forces, not time spent in front of a computer with our favourite beverage by our side. Well, perhaps we should think again. Join me as I navigate through the dangers and provide suggestions on what you can do to prevent them.


But wait! Before we go any further, this seems an appropriate time to add a disclaimer. The following post is just highlighting certain, but not all, health risks linked to a sedentary occupation. The prevention and treatment suggested is from experts, but you are a unique individual who deserves the best. If you are experiencing any symptoms, or suspect you have a problem, there is no better course of action than to visit your general practitioner (GP) for an assessment, advice and maybe even treatment for your problems. I am not a health expert, I am a writer with a blog post to fill.

So now that  is out of the way, lets start at the top and work our way down the body.

Eye Strain



The average person blinks about 15 times a minute. Blinking prevents eyes from becoming dry and irritated by spreading tears over the eye. Research has discovered that people who read, watch or play on computers blink half the amount. This behaviour, plus the contrast of text against the background and viewing the digital screens itself, can be hard on your eyes.

What can we do about it?
NHS choices offer eye safety advice. To read their general advice click HERE, however I have summarised their advice for computer users below:-

  • Pause now and again and look into the distance or stare out of the window
  • Blink your eyes now and again
  • Stretch your head and neck
  • Take frequent short breaks away from the computer.
  • Ensure you're working in well-lit conditions and without a light reflecting off the computer screen.
  • Visit your optometrist about every two years for eye tests, and make sure they know you use computers a lot.
  • If you are middle aged or older, middle-distance glasses can help with computer work.
Headaches and Migraines


Migraine Relief believes that computer monitors can cause a tremendous amount of stress on your eyes, leading to migraines, especially when settings and placement aren’t appropriately adjusted.

What can we do about it?
Migraine Relief offers advice on how to make some simple changes to your computer and workspace to help ease the strain. To read more about it follow this LINK where they talk you through adjusting your monitors refresh rate and view mode.

Posture Problems


Bad posture can lead to neck, shoulder and back ache.

What can we do about it?
NHS Choices offer posture tips for laptop users. They advise the following:-
  • Place the computer or laptop at eye level. This may mean you may need to use a separate keyboard and mouse so you can place the laptop higher.
  • Use your laptop on a stable base where there is support for your arms, rather than on your lap.
  • Take regular breaks away from the computer to move and ease your joints and muscles.
  • Adopt good sitting posture with lower back support. Avoid awkward stretching by ensuring other desk equipment is within reach.
  • Prevention is better than cure. Start good habits before the aching starts.
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)


This condition is related to the overuse of muscles and tendons in the upper body. also known as work-related upper limb disorder, or non-specific upper limb pain.
Behaviour that is thought to increase the risk of RSI include repetitive activities, poor posture or activities that require you to work in an awkward position

What can we do about it?
Modify the task or activity that is causing the symptoms or stop doing the activity altogether. As with any problem that persists, it is always advisable to see your GP. To learn more about the condition, click HERE.

Weight Gain


Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat.  
According to National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and kidney disease ….Excess weight may increase the risk for many health problems, including
  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease and strokes
  • certain types of cancer
  • sleep apnea
  • osteoarthritis
  • fatty liver disease
  • kidney disease
  • pregnancy problems, such as high blood sugar during pregnancy, high blood pressure, and increased risk for cesarean delivery (C-section)
What can we do about it?
The Start Active Report recommends breaking up long periods of sitting time with "shorter bouts of activity for just one to two minutes".
Avoid eating calorific snacks, whilst working. According to the Royal Society for Public Health, it takes 15 minutes of running at 5mph to use up the calories in 1 small packet of crisps.

Depression


Study by researchers from the Karolinska Institutet, Gothenburg University and Uppsaala University, in Sweden showed writers “were more likely than the general study population to suffer a range of disorders, including schizophrenia and depression. Writers were also more likely to commit suicide.”

As a writer, I understand how writers can be vulnerable to depression. The road to publication is littered with rejections. Writing is isolating, both physically and mentally, as one cannot write in company and not everyone understands the process or the career itself. A writer works hard to create something, which can be judged harshly by others. I am not saying this leads to depression, but a writer has to be aware that they could be at risk of sliding down the slippery slope greased by rejection letters, poor reviews, poor sales and low income. 

What can we do about it?
  • Join writing groups, writing associations and meetup with like-minded people. Sharing the highs and lows of a writing career, whilst having a good time socialising, works wonders for the soul. 
  • Try not to take rejection or harsh reviews personally. 
  • Get out and about, rather than keep yourself locked away in your writing cave. Sometimes words flow better when you have had time to relax.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell someone if you are feeling low. Talking it through with someone who cares and understands might be all you need.
Kittens


Kittens? What has kittens got to do with the above afflictions waiting to pounce while we tap away on our computers? I felt this post was rather depressing, so I thought I would slip in a cute picture to cheer us all up. A basket of adorable kittens should do the trick.

So in summary, just remember that all the above problems can be solved or prevented by one simple change ... movement. So get up and move around on a regular basis. It's a simple solution, but simple is usually the best. Happy writing!
By Victoria Cornwall
Author of




Saturday, 26 May 2018

OTHER WEDDINGS ARE AVAILABLE ........Linda Mitchelmore

Anyone unaware the UK (and in particular HM The Queen) hosted a Royal Wedding last weekend must have been on some other planet. Love the royals or not (and just for the record I am an unapologetic royalist), I couldn't help thinking the whole shebang was a bit Mills & Boon romance come to life. I am not knocking Mills & Boons, their publications or their authors, but there do seem to be a lot of words like wedding and bride, and more than a few royals in their titles. I Googled 'brides in book titles' and there were hundreds of them!
One of the first short stories I ever had published was set around a wedding. I think I called it 'The Guest List' or somesuch. It involved a bride whose parents had divorced acrimoniously and her mother was adamant she did not want her ex-husband (father of said bride) to be there. But the bride and her father hatched a plan so he could be part of her big day - he was the chauffeur of the wedding car. I wrote it as a twist in the tale and it was huge fun to do.
In my 'Emma' trilogy (Choc Lit - 'TO TURN FULL CIRCLE', 'EMMA, THERE'S NO TURNING BACK', 'EMMA AND HER DAUGHTER') my heroine, Emma Le Goff, has three weddings. The first is a faux wedding. After the local vicar refused to marry her and Seth Jago (the hero of the piece) she has a dilemma - she dearly wants to spend the rest of her life with Seth but she is fiery and spirited and doesn't like being dictated to by a bigoted vicar. So she arranges a sham wedding - a set of photographs, she in bridal attire with bouquet, is taken at a remote rural church, the photographs displayed on Emma's mantelpiece for anyone calling to see - a very brave move for the times ... early 1900s. Emma's second wedding is only alluded to as she prepares to sail for Canada with Seth and his (but not hers) baby daughter, Fleur. She buys flowers for a bridal bouquet before boarding the ship intent on asking the captain to marry them. The third of Emma's weddings takes places - after a lot of twists and turns and problems and heartbreak - when she returns to the UK a widow. When writing that scene, this is the headdress I saw that inspired the dress Emma (a gifted dressmaker with her own atelier) would make for herself for her wedding to Matthew Caunter.
Like I said, there were hundreds of book titles with weddings as a theme. And I was surprised at the diversity of authors who have written some of them. Here's Debbie Macomber
And Kate Mosse.
My soon-to-be-published first title for HarperCollins, SUMMER AT 23 THE STRAND, is a series of linked short stories. And yes, weddings feature. One of my characters is a jilted bride. Another character's life is on a downward spiral but she struggles to regain control so she can attend her son's wedding. And a third features a couple recently in receipt of their bus passes who are having a secret wedding ...... why? Well, why not buy the book and find out?
So, that's weddings for you ..... but as we all know organizing a wedding is the easy bit ...... the marriage that comes after is what requires the hard work. Cynic? Moi?

Saturday, 19 May 2018

The Emperor's New Clothes


Where I will be facing my fears...
Image courtesy of Kenneth Allen via Geograph
Licensed under Creative Commons 2

I’m in a state of some considerable confusion right now, and it’s all because of something I ought to be tremendously excited about. I’ve been asked to do some library talks. 

You might think I should be leaping about for joy, but the idea of it stressed me out so much that when I’d sent the email saying I’d do it I had to go away and eat a bar of chocolate to recover. Let me tell you: that isn’t normal for me. 

Realistically, there shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t mind talking. (Ask anyone who knows me.) In a previous life I worked in economic consultancy and — apart from one terrible occasion when I succumbed to a coughing fit and had to be brought a glass of water — I positively enjoyed standing up in front of sometimes-not-very-friendly panels and being cross-examined on the finer details. I even have fond memories of some of my smarter replies to some of the questions (along with some less fine moments, but I prefer ti forget those).

This is different because it involves talking about me, my creative process, my productivity and that old chestnut, my path to publication. It’s one thing doing that over cup of coffee with a friend. We can all do that. But this is different, because it’s in front of people I don’t know. Like every other writer I know, I suffer from impostor syndrome and wake up every day believing that today is the day the world will realise that I can’t write at all, that finding a publisher was luck way beyond justice and that self-publishing is an act of suicidal vanity. 

What if they begin to whisper? What of one among them, like the wise child in the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, points their finger at me and says the unsayable? “Look at the Emperor! He has no clothes on!”

Is it possible to die of humiliation? 

I’ll let you know.