Sunday, 30 April 2017

Let's Hear It For The Girls

by Jennifer Young

The Parsonage. (Image courtesy of SMJ.)
Recently I enjoyed a literary weekend away, to Stratford-on-Avon via the Lakes and Bronte Country. There’s material there for a dozen blogs, but I’m going to confine myself to just one aspect. And it’s the one aspect of a wonderful weekend that disturbed me. 

You think of the Brontes and you think, first of all, of the sisters — of Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Of course, there are other Brontes, too — their parents, the sisters who didn’t write and the adored but feckless only brother, Branwell. But it’s the three who wrote the books who are the focus of the whole Bronte experience. Isn’t it?

I’m sure the Bronte Parsonage Trust would argue that that’s what they’ve done, but the subliminal messages I picked up weren’t quite so clear. The Parsonage itself is a strange place, austere as you might expect it to be. In the first room on the left there’s the dining room. Charlotte’s portrait — the famous one — hangs on the wall and there are sheets of paper and a quill on the spot where Emily wrote Wuthering Heights. Upstairs, the sisters’ bedrooms are full of glass cases, letters they wrote, costumes from the BBC dramatisation of their lives. To go out, you go through Branwell’s room. 

On the outside looking in - Charlotte, Emily and Anne.
(Image by Rich Tea.)
And here’s the thing. In the rest of the house the girls and their genius are confined to their glass cases, but Branwell’s tortured spirit is allowed to roam free. His bed is unmade. His desk is chaotic. His room is plunged into shadow. It’s beautifully done — but why this one room? 

When we left the Parsonage itself we were directed through an exhibition space that was devoted…well, to Branwell. There’s a window onto a garden where there’s a statue of Charlotte, Emily and Anne. They’re on the outside, looking in. Symbolic or what? There’s nothing explicit, and certainly no direct claim that he wrote his sisters’ books, but I came away from the whole place with a very strong sense that somebody responsible for the exhibition design felt that poor Branwell was mightily hard done by. 

The theory that Branwell was the author of his sisters’ books or, at the very least, the creator of Heathcliff, is for me an implausible one. Let’s remember: it was so hard for women to get published that the three sisters, literary geniuses all, had to pretend to be men, so why, if Bramwell had written any or all of the books, would he go through such peculiar hoops to avoid taking the credit? 

I’m not an expert on the Brontes, but Haworth did leave me troubled. It was difficult enough for the sisters to find publication and recognition during their lifetimes. It’s all the more awkward to see them overshadowed by their brilliant but troubled brother over 150 years after their deaths. 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

5 Brilliant Podcasts for Writers

I’m a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to listening to podcasts but since discovering them, around 18 months ago, I’ve become a firm fan. Family and friends have grown used to me pressing home the joys of stumbling over a great new show.

But why do I love podcasts so much?

Because whatever my mood or writing problem, there’s a podcast which can help. Whether I’m searching for practical writing advice or marketing tips, interesting features, some much needed encouragement or simply wish to learn what’s ‘happening’ in the literary world right now, there’s a podcast that fits.

Don’t have time to listen to podcasts? Think again…

  •        Why not enjoy a new podcast when preparing dinner? It turns cooking into a pleasure rather than a chore - learning about the publishing industry whilst throwing together a bolognaise sauce.

  •         A podcast of a decent length helps quash the tedium of ironing. The Bestseller Experiment is one my favourites. I’ve popped more details and a link below.

  •         When heading off on a long journey, whether driving or going by train or plane, why not stock up on some interesting shows?

  •         Exercising – walking in the mountains, running in the park, hitting the treadmill in the gym, all are made easier when listening to a podcast.
I hope that as well as being informative, the podcasts I’ve chosen to share are also entertaining and fun. So here goes…


The Bestseller Experiment – length approximately 1 hour

In this weekly podcast, writer Mark Stay and trainee author Mark Desvaux, challenge themselves to write, edit, publish and market a self-published, bestselling eBook in just a year - and these guys are having a blast along the way.
Through interviews with publishing experts and bestselling authors, they discover the secrets of writing a bestselling novel.
Each one of the Bestseller Experiment podcasts offers gems of writing wisdom. If you’d like to sample a flavour of the show then I recommend episode 29 - Kate Harrison discussing writing both fiction and non-fiction, episode 24 - Liz Fenwick and the Crows of Doubt, along with episodes 03, 17 & 25 by the amazing multi-million selling indie author Shannon Mayer, and the latest instalment (at time of blogging), which features David Shelley, CEO of Little, Brown and Orion Books, who provides an insight into the future of publishing.
Also, if you sign up to receive a free weekly dose of the Bestseller Experiment, and I highly recommend you do, you’ll receive a free how to write a bestseller e-book, The Vault of Gold, which contains all the best hints and tips from the show. And did I mention it’s FREE!

The Creative Penn – length approximately 1 hour

The Creative Penn is the show that first got me hooked on podcasts. A definite must listen weekly treat for me! Shows are posted on Mondays by author and professional speaker, Joanna Penn, who is a positive powerhouse of creativity, describing herself as an author entrepreneur. The Creative Penn is an uplifting mix of author/publishing insider interviews, book marketing news, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, as well as reporting on new technologies in the fast-moving publishing world.

With a back catalogue of over 300 episodes to enjoy, I recommend you dive in and sample what The Creative Penn has to offer.

Also, when signing up to The Creative Penn podcast, be sure to download your FREE copy of the Author 2.0 Blueprint, which provides tips on how to write, publish and market your book.

 The Worried Writer – length approximately 45 mins

The Worried Writer is produced by best selling novelist, Sarah Painter, whose blurb for the show includes the tag line - Creative Writing for the Timid. Painter unearths useful tips and strategies for coping with fear, self-doubt and procrastination, through informative interviews with experienced authors, including Rachael Lucas, Catherine Ryan Howard, Miranda Dickinson, Annie Lyons and more. Painter’s focus is very much on how to get the job of writing done. She begins each podcast by answering a listener’s writing query, before moving on to interview her guest.

As well as producing the Worried Writer podcast, Painter has also recently published her self- help book for writers - Stop Worrying; Start Writing – one I already have on my TBR pile!

Grammar Girl – Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing – length approximately 10-15 minutes

Grammar Girl is my go-to podcast when driving to the supermarket, or collecting teens from school. At 10-15 minutes, each episode is the perfect length for grabbing a grammarly (is that even a word?) workout.

If your memories of grammar lessons are dry and boring then never fear, Grammar Girl - otherwise known as Mignon Fogarty, who creates and hosts the show - specialises in providing quick and dirty grammar tips in a quirky and memorable way.

I already loved Grammar Girl’s posts on Facebook and Twitter, but listening to her podcast makes learning even easier. Grammar Girl provides tips for American English but I haven’t found this to be a problem as she also points out when British English might differ. A short and helpful podcast definitely worth a try.

BBC Radio 4 Books and Authors – length approximately 30 minutes

BBC Radio4’s Books and Authors podcast contains episodes of both Open Book and A Good Read. In Open Book, the journalist, Mariella Frostrup talks to authors about their work and in A Good Read, writer and broadcaster, Harriett Gilbert invites guests to discuss their favourite books. The Books and Authors podcast is my literary fix. It helps keep me up-to-date with what’s interesting in the publishing industry and stretches my reading as my TBR pile always grows after listening to one of these podcasts!

Please share your favourite podcasts too
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick round up and if you’ve yet to discover the delight of listening to podcasts, then I hope this post might inspire you to try one or two. And if you are already an enthusiastic podcast follower,  please join in by sharing your favourites below. 

Happy podcast listening,


Saturday, 15 April 2017


"Why do you watch this?" asked my husband. "They don't live in the real world. All they do is argue."

This is not the first time my husband has caught me watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I watched him do a U turn out of the room, leaving me to indulge in the American reality show. Despite his protest, he knows to leave me to it. Compromise is the secret to our 31 year old marriage and it is a valuable lesson we have both learnt over the years. However, he had a point. Why do I enjoy watching mega rich, beautiful women, falling out all the time? It is a waste of my precious time and it teaches me nothing ... yet I am hooked.

I know why. While I am watching the Housewives of Wherever Land betraying each other, I am escaping the stresses of the day job, my edits and my attempts to fill in the plot holes of my current project. I am having a rest from the promotional wheel and from worrying about the numerous conflicts in the world. I am not proud of my choice in television programs, but it is a guilty pleasure I enjoy.

A guilty pleasure is something that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard. Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD , Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease), says "Indulging in some of your guilty pleasures can add years to your life. Whether it’s a “mental health day” off from work, a long bubble bath, nap, massage, chocolate croissant, or serving of tiramisu, treating yourself can bestow numerous health benefits -- especially if you strip away the guilt."

I sometimes think women's lives are ruled by guilt, either trying to avoid it or experiencing it. However, take heart as indulging in your guilty pleasure is thought to be beneficial and something to be encouraged. It allows one to take time out and put distance between oneself and the demands of the day. It helps to recharge those batteries and spreads a feeling of well-being without being too taxing. It might just be what you need to motivate or kick start that creative gene inside you.

So my advice is to give yourself permission to indulge in something that may not appear to have a direct benefit to your day job, or your chores, or your latest creative project, because in the long term it may just have more benefits than you can foresee.

I asked some fellow authors what their guilty pleasures were. I banned chocolate as I had a sneaking suspicion that 95% would choose the coco bean confectionery, besides I had a feeling there were more interesting guilty pleasures lurking in their lives. Below is what they confessed:-

Jennifer Bohnet Looking at expensive houses on the internet - that I can't possibly afford.
Jennifer Young A glass or two of red wine -- in bed -- with a good book, when my husband is away.
Gill Steward Lying on the bed for half an hour after lunch, reading.
Linda Michelmore Expensive lingerie
Rae Cowie Watching Gogglebox while eating Doritos
Morton S.Gray Shower Gels - I love to have a selection and get lots of my book ideas in the shower!
Janet Gover Say Yes to The Dress
Clare Chase Indulging in Youtube spirals (ie top of the pops The story of 1981...)
Chris Stovell Spotify Listenathons (music)
Sheryl Browne Binge watching Kiefer Sutherland and Game of Thrones ... and eating cupcakes.
Kathryn Freeman TV series Arrow on Sky 1
Angela Britnell Say Yes to the Dress
Georgia Hill Doctors on the TV and The Archers and standing in front of the bathroom mirror, holding a shampoo bottle and giving my Oscar acceptance speech
Lisa Hill Doc Martin
Bernie Stevens Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Lynda Stacey Watching the Gilmour Girls
Henriette Gyland Strong liquorice
Jan Brigden Made in Chelsea/Real Housewives of Cheshire and searching out and singing along to old skool/cheesy tunes via YouTube
Kirsty Ferry Celebrity gossip magazines
Christina Courtenay Reading until the early hours of the morning and Thor movies as often as I can
Rhoda Baxter Lego Friends sets
Anne Marie Brear American TV show, The Amazing Race
Amanda James Playing phone app games (songpop, words with friends, begewelled, blitz and cookie jam on Facebook
Jane Cable Shoulder massages
Liz Fenwick Playing Solitaire on my phone

Thank you to all those who were brave enough (and had the sense of humour), to share their guilty pleasures with us. Our guilty pleasures may vary, but at least we are all united in the idea that it is okay to take time out and do something which appears useless, but may have long term health and creative benefits ... or at least that is my excuse and I am sticking to it!

As I climbed the stairs to go to bed, I listened to my husband flicking through the channels.
He stopped and settled himself deeper into the sofa cushions and started  to laugh quietly to himself. Curious, I retraced my steps to see what he was watching. It was Family Guy. Hhhmmm, a family that does not live in the real world and fall out all the time. Perhaps our guilty pleasures are not so very different after all!

Victoria Cornwall

Saturday, 8 April 2017


Boxes of inspiration?

One of the most infuriating things for me as a writer is when real life gets in the way of those precious minutes (hours?) I need to spend in front of my computer. I’m ‘in the zone’ and I have all the ideas and words ready in my head – and then life interrupts. I really resent the phone calls, chores, trips, etc, etc, that eat in to my valuable writing time. However, I’m trying to be a little more zen about this. I’m trying to Embrace The Interruption.

OK, I know I’m not going to manage that all the time, but there are definitely moments when a distraction from writing can be useful. Here are some examples of when it has turned out to be just what I needed:

  • That time I was driving to pick up one son from an after-school activity and paused at the traffic lights and saw a slim man in a leather jacket, hair pulled back in a pony-tail. He wasn’t exactly handsome but he was exactly who I needed to base the secondary hero of my current book on.
  • The maddening phone call that dragged me out of deep engrossment in a current w-i-p and made me lose my train of thought, but provided me with exactly the dialect I needed for a bit of local colour.
  • The rather unsettling visit by a neighbouring farmer who knocked on the door when I was home alone. The conversation provided me with a realistically aggressive male character. I rarely meet open aggression in my (very middle class) day-to-day life so you have to take it where you find it!
  • And my least favourite one (because we’ve moved house twice in the last 18 months): sorting through long-forgotten possessions, or possessions handed down from other family members. This is boring and time-consuming, but just occasionally I find a little something that gives me an ‘oh, there’s a story here!’ moment. It almost makes all the sorting worthwhile.

One thing that I try to do at all times is to have a notepad to hand, because you never know when one of these little interruptions/helpful inspirations will occur. I can’t count on my memory to retain them all, but a few words in a notepad are usually enough.

So that’s my advice for the day – make the most of those interruptions, and, if you get inspired, don’t forget to note it down.

Saturday, 1 April 2017


Back in 2002, when I was being considered for a cochlear implant, my ENT surgeon asked what I would like to do if he agreed to implant me that I couldn't do now. My reply was instant. I said,'I don't have grandchildren at the moment but if/when I do I'd love to be able to read to them and hear their little voices reading to me.' His reply was instant, too. 'Oh, I think I'll be able to manage that for you.' And he did. I now have two grandchildren, Alex and Emily. For a year now we have had them to stay every weekend and reading to them has become a big part of that. Alex is almost ten and a good reader. He's especially good at sight-reading and now he often reads to his class at school. Emily- aged five - is full of enthusiasm for the written word and has already written her first book! It's called The Three Penguins - cover artwork by Emily also!
I kept most of the books my own children had when they were young. I think I know just about all the Mr Men books off by heart. But I also pick up books in charity shops I think Alex and Emily will enjoy. One recent purchase (all of 50p and it's in hardback!) is The White Sea-Shell by Benno Pludra. This a translation from a Scandinavian language (not sure which) and has, as most children's books do, a moral theme. This one is about friendship but also about 'not giving up when the going gets tough'. Alex read this one aloud to me over four consecutive weekends which was a new experience for him as he had to remember what had gone before and pick up the thread. As this book isn't set in the UK there was a whole different lifestyle for Alex to learn about too.
When I saw The Lonely Scarecrow by Tim Preston (also in hardback and another 50p spent!) I had to buy it. The pages are embossed and I think Emily enjoys running her fingers over the tiny holly berries and the rabbits' footprints as much as she loves listening to the story. There is a poetic feel to the prose in this book and Alex has read this one aloud too, and we both enjoyed it for the clever use of language. 'From the north there came a fierce breeze. A sly breeze that stole the leaves from the trees and the light from the days. A sharp breeze that hurried the animals homewards to their warm burrows and cosy nests.'
So, there we have it - I'm doing my best to encourage the next generation of readers. It's a privilege.