Friday, 30 March 2012

BELIEF


belief  (bɪˈliːf)   n 1. a principle, proposition, idea, etc, accepted as true 2. opinion; conviction 3. religious faith 4. trust or confidence, as in a person or a person's abilities, probity, etc.

This word has been following me around all week.  It’s sniffed at the door, followed me to work, sat on the mat and finally, somehow it’s crept around my legs whilst my back was turned and made itself at home in front of the fire (unlit, of course due to the clement weather).  And now I’m wondering if I should give it a basket or would that be an Analogy too far?

Belief isn’t something that I’ve ever had much of.  In myself, or in anything really.  And actually I’m still not entirely sure I know the difference between Believing and Knowing.  I suppose the Knowing is more definite and the more who Know, the deeper the Truth perhaps?  I don’t know; don’t ask me.

My school reports were littered with comments like: ‘easily distracted’ and ‘must learn to focus on the task in hand’ (same thing?) or ‘should have more courage in her own convictions’.  I’m not even sure I had any convictions pre-pubescently anyhow so I don’t know how that one worked.

The thing I discovered whilst growing up was that my belief in anything was only as strong as the belief of those around me.  After all, who was I to hold any belief of any sort?  What qualifications or knowledge did I ever possess that gave me the right to believe in anything anyway?  

It’s a tired old cliché but I do Blame My Parents or rather my upbringing.  I’m almost certain that had I been given an amount (any amount, I’m not greedy) of encouragement, support, permission to believe in anything other than the rigidity of religion, then I wouldn’t be the nervy, anxious, worrying bumblehead you witness today.  I would be self-assured, confident and strongly convinced that I was doing precisely the right thing at any given moment and forging my Life Path in bare feet because I didn’t need the protection of extraneous things to impede my pace.

Sometimes I bump into her; this confident carefree Me who believes and strides and nods purposefully and asserts herself in all manner of definite ways.  I don’t see her face, but from the back she reminds me of the Harmony Hairspray advert.  She knows exactly what to wear, precisely what to say without causing offence and she knows instinctively the right road to cross in order to get to her destination.  In her wake wafts the unmistakable scent of Belief; hypnotic, beguiling; a perfume that still only others can get away with wearing.

I can stand in the queue at Sainsbury’s after I’ve placed all my goods on the belt, waiting for my turn to be served and be overwhelmed with such a sense of  conviction that I’ve bought the ‘wrong’ things – even though I can clearly see them written on my shopping list – that I have a real need to flee back to the aisles and grab whatever it is that I’ve seen on the belt of the person before me because it seems somehow ‘more right’ than the things I’ve placed there.  Such is the disbelief that I can even perform a simple function like pick the correct foodstuffs for the weekly meals without getting it wrong.

Would it be easier to give into the overwhelming belief that what I have is wrong and cast aside my own nonsensical fripperies believing that mine are the purchases of an idiot?  What makes me believe that the lady in front of me has any more clue of what she’s buying than I do?  These are the musings of that mad curly-haired bint as she stands, casseroled in her own sweat and convinced she has the items of a certified fool on the conveyor belt and that the cashier has already got her finger on the ‘lunatic’ button under her till.

So as the worst ambassador for any kind of Belief system, half of me believes that having the dream of seeing a book that I’ve written in print is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  (Yes, even scarier than Sainsbury’s). As Eleanor Roosevelt suggested, I have been doing something that scares me every day without even realising it.  

Okay, and what's the other half of Me up to?

It’s bashing its silly head constantly against the same brick wall.  It knows it hurts. And yet it’s back for more.  It knows it’s hard and that there’re still bruises from the last time.  And there are internal injuries that nobody can see because it’s watched as others have knocked it down or walked straight through without any apparent difficulty.  There must be a reason this wall seems so hard to get through.  Perhaps it’s the wrong wall… maybe it’s the wrong time… maybe it’s the wrong thing to be doing…. uncertainties build a crazy paving to the wall itself and yet still the path is trod. 

It’s persisting.  It’s sticking its lardy writerly arse down every day after proper-paid-work and pleading that the words will come.  It’s brain is fizzing at night with scenes and conversations that won’t go away until either a tablet is taken or the words are committed to paper and it’s demanding to know what the hell ten fingers will get up to if they’re not busied with the process of breathing life into fictional bodies.

So there must be some small sliver of belief somewhere deep inside that keeps me going.  And it’s the setbacks and knockbacks and rejections and blocks and crashes and burns and the bittersweet pain of seeing the successes of others that are there to make certain that my time, when it comes, will feel that much lovelier.

Isn’t it?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

On Location




At the heart of the YA novel I’m currently working on lies a crumbly old stately home that has been left unloved for many years. I had already written some of the scenes from imagination but I felt something was missing . As I was nearing the end the of the first draft, I had a strong urge to go and walk around a real property like the one in the story. I wanted to soak up the atmosphere and find out the little details you only pick up from first hand experience.

I asked all over the place for suggestions and was given a fair number that sounded good on paper. But from checking them out online, nothing felt quite right. The houses were either too far away or too manicured, too big or not big enough. Sometimes they were just wrong even though I couldn’t describe why.

I spent a lot of time looking through Google images and then one day I came across a picture of a house that immediately felt like ‘the one’. There was no name. The website it appeared on turned out to belong to a location company. So I got in touch and explained that no, I wasn’t a television company and no, I couldn’t afford to pay, but was there any chance they could let me know where the house was located? Better still, was there any chance I could pitch up and have a wander round?




They told me that if I put my request in writing, they would pass it on to the owners, who, they said, were lovely people. I sent off my email and crossed my fingers. Very quicky I was told that I could come and visit the house.

Last Friday I set off for the Southeast and was greeted by one of the owners. She was indeed a lovely person who, along with her husband, has raised a family in this amazing house. Over thirty years the couple - along with their sons - have been gradually restoring the property to its former glory.  It's a full time job. When they moved in, some rooms were literally only held up by their plumbing. Pot shots with air rifles had been taken at windows and one whole room, once grand, was filled with rotting mattresses.

Built in the late 1700s the house was originally a hunting lodge; a party house for a rich man and his friends. Over the years it has been through many different owners, including the Army, who requisitioned it for use by soldiers in WW11 ( just like in Downton Abbey).  The current owners have done an amazing job. Most rooms have been restored but more than anything else, it now feels loved.

They like to keep a low profile so I hope you’ll forgive me for not giving the name of the property here. But my day there really was the best and most enjoyable kind of book research.

So if there’s a location you’re writing about but don’t feel you can justify a trip to check it out in person, do think again.  It's really a worthwhile exercise. (And it makes you feel like A Proper Writer too...)




Monday, 26 March 2012

Guest blog by author Annemarie Neary

Today we are chatting to the award-winning writer Annemarie Neary whose first novel A Parachute in the Lime Tree has just been published by History Press Ireland.

Welcome to Strictly, Annemarie – tell us a little about your early life as a lawyer and how you developed an interest in writing.


I was a compulsive reader as a child, and went on to do an English degree before I became a lawyer, so I’d always had a deep interest in writing. Lawyers are essentially words people, though the differences between legal drafting and creative writing are huge. Drafting is all about deploying hand-me-down language in order to trigger the right bits of case law or statute. You are always constrained by precedent and consequences; it can’t be about just taking a line for a walk to see what happens! Having said that, the law taught me lots of things that came in useful when writing short fiction – keep to the point, and try and say what you mean.

You’ve won quite a few awards for your work - did this encourage you to pen your first novel?

My first ever prizes were for two stories taken from an early draft of A Parachute in the Lime Tree. That news, which arrived in successive months in 2009, was a huge boost. I took the novel in hand after that and worked hard at re-structuring it and paring it down so that when the publishing opportunity arose, it was in better shape than it would otherwise have been. Writers plough a lonely furrow at times and it’s all too easy to let things drift. Competitions provide a community of interest as well as the impetus of a deadline and the discipline of a word limit. However, it’s important to choose wisely– not all competitions are worthwhile. For instance, if the winners’ anthology is not something you’d want to read yourself, then don’t enter!



Tell our readers about your book A Parachute In The Lime Tree and how you secured a publisher.

A Parachute in the Lime Tree is part-quest novel, part-love story. It’s set in neutral Ireland in 1941, during the tense weeks following the Belfast blitz. The morning after Belfast is bombed, the unpredictable Kitty Hennessy awakes to find a German parachute caught in one of the trees in her garden in remote Dunkerin, right at the other end of the country. That sets up a chain of events with life-long consequences for four characters, two German and two Irish. While most of the narrative takes place in Ireland, the story’s roots are in Berlin and in the relationship between Oskar, whose parachute Kitty discovers, and his Jewish sweetheart, Elsa. I’d just finished re-writing the book when I saw the call for submissions from The History Press Ireland on an Irish online resource called writing.ie.. It’s the second title in their new fiction line after Derry O’Dowd’s wonderful medical-historical romance, The Scarlet Ribbon.


What inspires you?

Like most writers, I’m a magpie. Sources of inspiration are wholly unpredictable, which is part of the fun. Something a Turkish waiter told me he’d seen happen in his restaurant turned into a story about America abroad; a woman with a briefcase on a ferry full of day-trippers became a story about land and greed. Place is important; I’ve written a dozen stories set in Venice and Dublin is an important backdrop for sections of A Parachute in the Lime Tree. Inspiration is fragile and evanescent, so it’s important to catch those butterflies before they disappear. That’s why a notebook, paper or digital, is your friend.

What’s next on your writing agenda?

I’ve completed the first draft of another novel, Siren. The material is all there, but the structure needs attention and there’s a lot of re-writing to do, as always. I’m also midway into another novel, but it’s time to put that down for a while and do some research. I have lots of short story ideas pinned down in various places – but they all need time to find themselves (and I need time to write them!).

Do you have a favourite snack to accompany your writing?

Tea and chocolate, please. Pretty much any tea and chocolate will do, but if I’m allowed to be choosy I’ll go for a big bar of Green & Black’s (Almond) with Twining’s English Breakfast tea.

Have you ever read a book and visualised yourself as a character?

That’s a really interesting question! I can’t think of a recent example, but as a child I definitely wanted to be Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I remember eyeing-up an old mahogany wardrobe outside my bedroom for months on end and convincing myself that one day I’d be brave enough to step inside and there would be the lamp-post and all the rest of it…


Annemarie is a former lawyer who now enjoys the freedom of just making it up. Her first novel, A Parachute in the Lime Tree, was published by History Press Ireland on 1March 2012. She has won prizes for short fiction in international competitions such as Bridport, Fish, Columbia Journal and the Bryan MacMahon prize. Her stories have been published in anthologies and magazines in the UK, US and Ireland. Work-in-progress includes a collection of Venice stories, and a novel, Siren. Annemarie is a graduate of Trinity College and King’s Inns, Dublin and the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Irish-born, she lives in London with her husband and three sons.

Thanks so much for inviting me over, Gillian, and all the best with your own writing and that of the rest of the Strictly team.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

M'wha ha ha ha ha

As I step up the pace of publicising book five (Twenty Twelve), prior to its fast approaching release date, I end up answering the same questions again and again.
Actually, that's not as bad as it sounds.
At least that way I know that a. this is something people might feasibly be interested to hear about (unlike the time I somehow got into a discussion on the radio about making chutney. Especially tortuous as I have never attempted making any type of preserve and was thus unable to offer any practical advice on the perfect chilli jam or indeed even able to offer a 'hilarious' anecdote about a failure) and b. I've had enough practice to make my sound bites short and hopefully sweet. Or at least not coma-inducing a la chutney-chat.
Anyhow, this week I was asked something that hasn't come up before; am I ambitious?
Now there's a loaded question if ever there was one.
The simple answer of course is yes. Abso-bloody-lutely. In fact, I make Lady Macbeth look directionless.
But I couldn't say that. Somehow here in the UK at least, ambition is seen as A Bad Thing. It's become all mixed up with ruthlessness and kids on The Apprentice trampling over one another in an attempt to work for Alan I'm-not-really-in-business-anymore Sugar.
If you admit to being ambitious you need a bit of space and time to explain. Which I have here, so I will.
To me, ambition is a goal. And that goal is way outside the comfort zone. It's a goal that to achieve, you're going to need to stretch yourself like elastic. It's going to be hard. It might even hurt.
For a writer this might mean setting yourself the goal of being read by as many readers as possible, forcing you to do publicity you might not be comfortable with or at the very least using up time you can ill afford.
It might mean setting yourself the goal of writing something totally out of register. A different structure, a different medium or a different voice.
It might even mean allowing someone else to read your work for the first time. Which I remember as being one of the scariest things I'd ever done - and I've given birth to twins!
See, being a writer takes a lot of chutzpah. Only the strongest and most ambitious survive.
So move over, sharp elbowed author coming through...

Monday, 19 March 2012

Sealed With A Click




‘So,’ says the very kind photographer. ‘I can use this lens to take soft-focus pictures, or this lens to make you look thinner.’

Urgh. The reality of this book-publicising business is hitting home. My novel, The Making of Her, will be published in April. My marketing efforts have resulted in a local magazine requesting a Q & A interview and a ‘good photograph’. The interview I can manage. The photograph, not. So a friend introduced me to another friend, and here I am with Jon Leavins, a delightful man who has courageously offered to commit my image to pixels. Little does he know that photographs generally feature me with a) eyes clamped shut and mouth wide open in a ghastly chasm or b) looking stern, angst-ridden and wistful (aka very, very old indeed).

I had a bit of a moment in the run-up to The Day Of The Photo. I found myself leaning desperately over my bathroom basin. Not throwing up - though that would be understandable - but hacking at my hair with rough scissors in an effort to look more presentable. I managed to divest myself of about three inches, though the back eluded me. I hope people will see it as a new fashion in coiffure.

Talking of fashion, the what-do-I-wear problem raised its ugly head. I resolutely ignored it until about ten minutes before the session and then threw on comfort clothes. Bad enough to be wearing make-up – I mean, mascara. This resulted in five minutes of panda eyes and weeping as my contact lenses screamed protest. And let me tell you, concealer doesn’t conceal. It merely highlights the bags.

‘Where would you like to pose?’ asks Jon, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
I dismiss my preferred answer (‘behind the nearest large building’) and while I’m thinking, he suggests that we try a beautiful old Georgian crescent nearby. Good idea, I reply. The readers will be fascinated by the ancient, crumbling structure – and the crescent looks interesting too.

My contribution to the shoot is to suggest that I pose propped against a large pillar-box, in the hope that I will go unnoticed beside all that glaring red.

‘I s’pose,’ says Jon diplomatically, ‘it gives you the air of a Lady of Letters.’

Suddenly, I’m learning something very important: writers are happiest when they’re indoors, clicking away at the keyboard. Authors, it seems, must pretend to look happy out in the street whilst being clicked at by a camera. Authors have to be visible.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m overjoyed at being able, after decades of rejection, to call myself an author. I’m so grateful, in fact, that I’m willing to subject myself to much, much more humiliation. Not from agents this time, but from the media. At least agents (eventually) reply, so you know where you are (rejected). But let me tell you, without Max Clifford batting for you, the majority of national newspapers and magazines simply ignore you. Then you have to decide whether to risk being labelled as a Literary Stalker by following up your request for a review, or just give up.

The photographic session is over. We are both looking somewhat bedraggled. Jon hurries off to his photo-shopping and airbrushing and what-not. But before he goes I have one very important question to ask.

‘Erm, this photo of me with the pillar box… Did you use the ‘make-you-look-thinner’ lens?’

He shakes his head. HE ACTUALLY SHAKES HIS HEAD.

I think we could call this a result.


www.clikpic.com/jleavins

Friday, 16 March 2012

Read all about it on Strictly

Here's a Friday round-up of what we're currently reading. As always we enjoy audience participation, so tell us what you're casting your eye over. One book in particular seems to be rather inspirational at the moment....

Caroline G
I'm reading This is not Forgiveness by Celia Rees, which is very good so far. Just finished the brilliant, brilliant How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

Debs
I’m reading Katie Dale’s Somebody Else’s Life which is a page-turner and a half – can’t wait to get back to it!

Rod
I'm reading How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. My son gave it to my partner for Christmas, but she didn't like it.

Susie
I'm reading How To Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran which is funny, engrossing and cringe-making, all at once. I took a picnic to a beautiful deer park, sat leaning on a tree trunk and read in the sun.

Caro R
I'm also reading Caitlin Moran's 'How to be a Woman' - I've just started it after Susie and Caroline G both recommended it!

Helen
Im reading Dark heart, The Shocking Truth About Modern Britain which is a fabulous investigation into poverty in the eighties.

Gillian
I'm in bed re-reading my recently completed ms, The Dodo Society. I'm also reading The Gruffalo aloud to Baby, even though she's only seven months old!

What's turning your page?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

From Kindle to publisher by Deborah Durbin, freelance writer, journalist and bestselling author

When I decided to publish my novel, Oh Great, Now I Can Hear Dead People on to Kindle in March of last year, it was more of an experiment for an article I had been commissioned to write than anything else. I had written my novel four years earlier and since finishing it, it had done the usual rounds of agents and publishers, had secured an agent twice and very nearly got signed by one of the ‘Big Six’ publishers, but for one reason or another that elusive publishing deal was always just out of reach.

I was commissioned to write an article about the new Kindle that had hit our shops just in time for Christmas and I decided to upload my novel to see just how easy it was for someone to publish with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system. Within four weeks my book had hit the number one slot in the supernatural category and number 37 in women’s fiction and I started earning 70% in royalties – a much bigger percent than any of my 11 traditionally published books.

My digital sales are around 150 copies per week, but I still wanted to see my book as a proper paper book, so when I spotted an announcement in a writing magazine, just before Christmas last year, announcing that Soul Rocks, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing were looking for new titles in the paranormal romance genre, I sent Oh Great to them.

At the beginning of February I received an email from John Hunt offering me a publishing contract for my novel. Part of the contract included digital rights, but because my ebook sales were already doing well for me I managed to negotiate to keep those rights and signed for just print rights. My novel should be out in print at the end of the summer. The fact that Oh Great had good digital sales helped I think, in the publisher’s decision to take it on under their wing and I can’t wait to see it in print form.

The moral of this story is if you have a book that has done the usual rounds of publishers and agents in the Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook and has come bouncing back faster than a boomerang, try it on Amazon Kindle, market it on social networks, price it under the £1.99 mark and it’s highly likely that you will generate good sales, which you can then show to a mainstream publisher.

The key to remember is that agents and publishers do not always know what will sell. Each agency or publishing company can only take a chance on a small amount of new titles. The people that do know are the readers and if your books are available to a worldwide audience, waiting to read new titles, you can prove that your books are being read and enjoyed, which in turn might persuade a mainstream publisher to take you on.

Deborah Durbin is a freelance journalist and author. She writes for many of the women’s national magazines and several national newspapers and has 11 non-fiction books published.


She is also a mum to three lovely daughters, eats far too much chocolate to be considered good for her health, is addicted to gadgets and avoids cooking as much as she possibly can.
Oh Great, Now I Can Hear Dead People is available as a Kindle download for £1.53 and will be available in print at the end of the summer.


Samantha Ball is not only broke, she's £22'000 in debt and soon to be homeless if she can't get the money together for her rent, so when she's offered the chance to earn some money for a hotline to the heavens by giving tarot readings, she jumps at the chance, despite the fact that she doesn't have a psychic bone in her body - or does she? When Sam starts to hear voices of real dead people her psychic career really takes off and she soon becomes a psychic to the stars with her own slot on a prime time TV show. Someone however doesn't share Sam's joy and it's only when they set out to destroy her reputation does Sam really need help from the other side...

'I knew I would love this book from the title, but even so, it still had me giggling out loud. You'll love this book. It's laugh out loud funny, yet warm and touching and very modern. Well done Deborah, can't wait until the next one.'
Mary Cummings - Editor, Work Your Way Magazine.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

All The Time in the World


That's how it felt once upon a time, didn't it?  Every weekend lasted a month, every half term holiday felt like a year and as for the six week summer break - well, sometimes I actually thought I'd DIE through sheer boredom.  How could something with the words Holiday and Summer in it be so interminably dull?  Of course these days there're Playstations and Facebook and Kindles and recreational drugs to be filling the time in with, but back then?  Entirely different story.

I'm surprised I didn't self-combust or implode with the sheer monotony of the summer holidays.  I can still 'feel' the massive sighs that used to wrack my teenaged, slouched torso and made me sag lifelessly from living room, to kitchen and back to the bedroom ad nauseum.  I'm now not surprised I threw my mother into a mid-life menopausal monster with the amount of "I'm sssssoooooo bored"'s I must have flung at her on a daily basis.

"Go and draw me something" she'd say.  And I'd momentarily be flummoxed.   Really? Mummy wants me to draw her something?  Oh goody.  What should I draw?  What would she like me to draw?  What really good drawing could I possibly draw for her?
Having no idea what kind of anything my mother liked - like, EVER - I would invariably never know what I should draw for her and so I'd sit sucking the end of my 2HB wondering if she'd like flora or fauna, building or landscape, portrait or still-life.  Eventually I'd do what I always did and infuriate her further with a: "Muu-uuuummm?  What should I draw?"

So I'd end up doing the one thing I always ended up doing; watching ants in the garden.  Wondering what they were thinking.  IF they could think and if they could think, then wondering if they had names and families and what their homes looked like under the earth and if they had the ant-equivalent of furniture and shops and jobs.  I'm a little surprised I never actually ended up being an Ant-iquarian with the unhealthy amount of ant-based interest I amassed during my formative years.  And when my brother dropped his heavy boot on my little project, I'd become even more fascinated as I watched the little ants race about in astonished circles crying "oh my god, Dave's just been squished, quick, send for the Ant-bulance" (in my head, anyway) and then I’d be absolutely awe-struck as they overcame their confusion and rallied around Dave, lifting him high above their little ant-heads and off to the nearest operating theatre in their burrow/hive/warren.  Actually, I’m not sure if I read it or dreamed it or saw something on the telly but I did hear somewhere that the ant kingdom is the only other species in the world that can perform life-saving surgery on their own kind.  [Bearing in mind this information is brought to you courtesy of a fairly overactive imagination, feel free to disregard this idea as totally insane.  Which is how it looks to me now I’ve written it down].

Those ant years I’ll never get back.  And the time I spent watching those manic little insects rushing about over and through and under the mounds of dry soil in our back garden I shall never see again.  Were they wasted hours? Could they have been hours better spent doing something constructive – like the vastly superior-of-mind-ants were doing before my very eyes?  I don’t know.  But I’ve never forgotten the feeling of being so desperately bored out of my skull that I was happy to sit on a warm garden path with ants (very nearly) in my pants, waiting, waiting, waiting for something to happen.  I never knew what and I never dared even ask what in case it upset me to hear the answer.  But I do remember that back then, knowing that I had all the time in the world felt like a painful, horrible torture of mind-numbing proportions and now…. well, it worries me that I don’t have that luxury anymore and sometimes I feel a bit like Dave must’ve done seeing the shadow of my brother’s Doc Martin looming ever-closer.
So, I'm guessing if Tempus Fugit, then Carpe Diem...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Spring

It is spring now. It's so much easier to write in the spring. For a start you don't have to struggle with the early morning frost at your writing desk. That's on top of all the other disincentives. Secondly there is more to see outside the window - more to write about. Thirdly, spring is symbolic of the creative process. Little birdies are laying little eggies. Crocuses are peeking their heads tentatively through the grass, daring to dot a little colour across the barren cityscape.

In the warmer months we eat less and wear fewer clothes. Less time dressing and undressing means more time for running and jumping and more time for writing. Everyone wears white tee shirts and turns to sport. I plan to turn to windsurfing, and writing, of course. And, as the days grow longer and the night recedes we can sit in the warmth of the evening, maybe as late as 10p.m, sipping long cool drinks at a bar overlooking the river with a notebook on our knee.

You can trust people in summer; their clothes have less room in which to conceal weapons. The tube trains run on time. In summer you can drink more alcohol without adverse effects. In winter, drinking is a self-protective measure and the safest bet is to drink yourself into the warmth of a stupor and then to bed. In summer, people drink for refreshment and taste, and are thus more prepared to dilute the alcohol, for example with lemonade or tonic. These activities remind them of their childhood, and that is finally what summer is all about. Something to write about.

Friday, 9 March 2012

What we're reading















Susie
I am reading 'Pip' by Freya North.  Comfort reading.  And I've just finished 'Summer of Love' by Katie Fforde.  Ditto.  At least this kind of comfort doesn't come with calories...

Debs
Have just finished "Two Week Wait" by Sarah Rayner ("One Moment, One Morning") and am about to start "Somebody Else's Life" by Katie Dale who signed it for me at her brilliantly entertaining book launch last Friday in Cambridge ;)


Helen
I'm reading Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith, the third and final installment of the series set in the former USSR. Bloody brilliant so far. 


Rod
I am reading a book of baby names. No, I'm not pregnant again. I'm writing a piece that needs 52 names - one on each line.


Gillian
I'm reading Baby and Child Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Timperley, as Little Miss likes her spinach, potatoes and lentils.


Caroline G
I’ve just started the new Sophie Hannah book, Kind of Cruel. I always have an audio book on the go too and just today finished Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Such a lovely book..I can’t believe I haven’t discovered her before now.


Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Female of the Species...

Today, if anyone has missed it, is International Women's Day.

If you're a woman have a great day. If not, still enjoy your day. We are a broad and catholic church here at SW.

A mate of mine says she doesn't much like these days of celebration and thinks we should avoid being sexist year round. I know what she means. All those couples who bicker day in day out, then shower one another with cards and novelty items on Valentine's Day seem idiotic to me.

But I suppose the reality is people are sexist and women around the world are getting a raw deal, so if an International Day of Womanly Stuff makes everyone think, if it focusses the mind, then can only be a good thing can't it?

So I've been thinking. And given what I do for a living, my thoughts have inevitably turned to books. And given how self absorbed I am, my thoughts have inevitably turned to my books.

Why, I've been wondering, do folk read 'em? And more interestingly for today's purposes, why is it that the majority of those folk are women?

I'm often asked why I write crime fiction, and if women crime writers do it differently to men. I'm sure most of you remember the hoo-ha between Ian Rankin and Val McDermid about just this issue. But more interesting, to me at least, is why women read crime fiction. It's violent, ugly and gritty. Often the violence, ugliness and grit is directed towards women. Isn't this everything we're supposed as a gender to loath?

I'm sure someone somewhere has written a long and important thesis about this very topic, but I haven't. So the conclusions I've drawn are not worth the paper they're written on. Feel free to log off now, by all means.

I think women read crime fiction because they offer a clear sense of order. Crime fiction provides this in spades. Yes, there is murder and chaos, characters behave in inhuman ways, but ultimately the story is about the resolution of that chaos. The story may leave the ground littered with the dead and damaged but order of some description will have been restored.

Wanting a sense of order and structure is more often seen as a male trait, but if you think about it, women still, even now in 2012, fifty years after the introduction of the pill, take on far more responsibility within the home and family than men. Before any of you guys out there get all affronted, every survey says the same thing. We tend to do more than our fair share of the housework and child rearing. You may think your weekly run round the lawn with the hover mower is an equal contribution, but it aint.

Women therefore are often in charge of domestic order and structure. That they should seek this familiar sensation in their fiction makes perfect sense.

Women, also, in my humble opinion, are analysers. We pick problems apart. If I meet up with the sisterhood, we tend to open several bottles of wine and turn over our lives in the tiniest of details. Men, my other half reliably informs me, tend to discuss the footie. Not a great shock then, that the gender taken with analysis choose the genre where each and every page requires concentrated dissection skills.

Look, I'm not claiming an expertise in the field, I'm just an author chewing the cud. By all means tell me if you think I'm talking utter balls.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Our very own Strictly winner!


We're delighted to announce that Caroline Green WON the Young Adult category of the Romantic Novelists' Association Awards for her book, Dark Ride.

Huge congratulations to Caroline from the Strictly team - we're so proud of you!
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Monday, 5 March 2012

Just Do It - Guest post by journalist Rin Simpson



People simply don’t understand how much work goes into being a writer, do they? They fail to comprehend the many and varied activities that fill up our diaries. If only they knew what our schedules looked like, right?

First there’s the internet work: emails, Twitter, Facebook. After all, a writer needs to engage with social networking. Next: GoodReads, writers’ forums, endless blog subscriptions on Google Reader. And of course we’ve got our own blogs to update.

We have to go on courses and read writing guides so we can learn how to write better. And attend conferences so we can find out how other people write. And writing groups, so we can get feedback on writing we’ve done and ideas for writing we’d like to do.

But hang on a second. Have you noticed a common theme? While there’s a lot of talk about writing in this list of activities, lots of learning about writing and discussing writing and even writing about writing… are you actually doing any writing?

Are you sitting down and putting words together to make sentences, weaving those sentences into paragraphs, stitching paragraphs into chapters and chapters into the novel you’ve been meaning to write for the last decade?

Whether it’s due to fear, laziness, insecurity or a combination thereof, most creative writers are much better at procrastination than practise. I include myself. It’s fear that drives my inactivity – fear I’m no good, that the last decent piece I wrote was a fluke, that if I do sit down and start writing, I’ll produce nothing but drivel and it will feel horrible.

And so I have often avoided writing. I have buried myself in writerly things, waiting for “inspiration to strike” i.e. for the fear to dissipate. Until a few months ago. That’s when I realised I needed discipline, something to make me sit down and write, regardless of the fear.

I knew I wasn’t the only one. I had spoken to plenty of other writers who felt the same. An idea was forming. How about if we disciplined ourselves collectively, gathering together to write for one evening every week?

And so The Steady Table writers’ group was born. A place where there would be no feedback or critiquing, no writing exercises or tuition, simply a dedicated time and space where writers could get down to the business of writing, in the comforting presence of others doing exactly the same thing.

If you’re based in or near Bristol, we’d love for you to join us – we’re very nice, honest, and there’s no cost (although you may want to bring money for cake). All you need is a laptop or a notebook and pen, and a project you’d like to work on.

But I’m not here to drum up members. I want to encourage you to find the discipline you need to write. If you know there’s more in you than you’re producing at the moment, get together with a writerly friend and commit to meeting each week, solely in order to write. Don’t think about it, don’t talk about it, just do it!

• Rin Simpson is a freelance journalist, teacher and creative writer. Her short story In Her Shoes was published in Honno’s anthology Cut On The Bias, and she is currently working on a collection of her own. You can follow her on Twitter @RinSimpson or on GoodReads.
• The Steady Table meet weekly between 6pm and 9pm in the café area at Bristol Folk House (http://www.bristolfolkhouse.co.uk/). You can follow the group on Twitter @TheSteadyTable or email steadytable@yahoo.co.uk for more information.

Friday, 2 March 2012

What We're Writing...

It's always interesting to know what fellow writers are up to, so here's a taster of what's flowing from the nib of the Strictlies right now:

Caroline G:

I’ve been writing notes for my for my first ever schoolworkshop, which was at Campsbourne School in Alexandra Palace with the yearsixes. It went really well and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The staff and childrenwere lovely and some of the children’s ideas blew me away!

Gillian:
I'm revising the first draft of my WIP while also composing a 'Dear Mr Top Agent' letter! And I'm still grappling with the passport forms!

Fi:
I'm in a writing fug, but reading War Horse for book club. It's a shortbook so I left it until the last minute to read it, thinking I'd fly through itbut... So far, the jury's out - watch this space!

Debs:
I'm struggling with formatting the third book I'm publishing on Kindle Direct ("Let's Go Round Again" by D A Cooper if you're interested) It's a real 'mare. Luckily the cover is beautiful *if only everyone was so easily pleased!*
Helen:
I am writing a radio play aboutliving a virtual life via Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Caroline R:
I'm writing a presentation for next week's MAseminar - it's about Victorian lesbians.

Susie:
I've been offered a Q & A interview with alocal magazine, so have been answering their Qs - great fun!

Rod:
I spent three days last week in The British Museum and The National Portrait Gallery, with my poetry buddy, looking at objects and then writing about them. I am now trying to finish some of the ideas for poems that came out of that. He has already written an amazing poem about seeing his face reflected in the glass of a famous portrait, so I need tocatch up.

... so what are YOU writing write now...?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Celebrating World Book Day


Today (Thursday) it's World Book Day when children of all ages celebrate authors and books by dressing up as their favourite characters while developing their interest in reading. This is the 15th year of World Book Day and it has brought pleasure to many children who otherwise may not have had access to a wide range of reading material.

To mark today in a different manner, I thought I would talk briefly about the appeal of international literature and how it has gained a stronghold in the UK. You'll probably recall one of the most popular and talked-about reads, A Thousand Splendid Suns, the 2007 novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini which follows two women whose lives are intertwined. It swiftly gained a following in the UK and was a firm favourite with book clubs. Another of my favourite books which has received interntional acclaim is by JM Coetzee. The Booker Prize winning Disgrace is a touching, yet utterly bleak story of animal and human misery in post-Apartheid South Africa, its central character, the sex-obsessed David Lury, an academic whose daughter is gang-raped. A powerful book and a deserved winner of the Booker Prize.

We're British and the British like their British holidays, their British food and their British music - cue The Beatles. But, I don't think I'm alone in saying I like to take a journey into overseas lit as I enjoy savouring the flavour of the country and seeing incidents through other people's eyes, those immersed in a culture very different to our own. I like to soak up the atmosphere, visualise the scenery, taste their food (vegetarian dishes only!) and smell the surroundings.

A book I particularly enjoyed and which ticked those boxes was The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney. Despite being a British writer and having never visited Canada, she managed to evoke the time and place so fittingly for this book. The frozen plains of northern Canada were so authentic that readers there thought she'd accessed 1867 via a time machine.

For World Book Day I made a pledge to add ten more 'international' books to my Amazon list. So far I've added A Thousand Years Of Solitude, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, The Long Song and The Saffron Kitchen. I know The Long Song is a popular book and it so far has escaped my reading clutches.

As a final thought for World Book Day, I often wonder what other people are reading around the world - I'm sure they won't be sitting down savouring Bleak House or Wuthering Heights. Are books just as widely read in Hong Kong, Australia, South America, Romania, Russia and even China, a country of emerging literature?

What are you doing for World Book Day? Are you dressing up as Harry Potter? Tell me.