Get Connected.

Last week I was watching Carol Vorderman on Room 101 and found myself nodding away like one of those plastic dogs you see at the back of cars.

I don't know about you but I don't find the current format of Room 101 as entertaining as the old one. Turning it into a game show, with three slebs competing, just seems to dilute it and no one gets enough time to really air their predjudices, which is what I always really liked about it. Soundbite culture gorn mad, I tell you.

But I digress. I was (despite the format) agreeing vigorously with the lovely Carol, when she expressed her complete lack of understanding of the attraction of Facebook. Like her, I just don't get it. I mean I understand how it works (well almost) but not what it's for...

Maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't see the point of it. Your friends already know you right? They know your 'status' cos they were at your bloody wedding and clubbed in for the trouser press! They know you have two kids cos they took the piss out of you when your feet were so swollen in pregnancy you had to wear white plastic flip flops from Debenhams!

What your friends don't need to know, or don't want to know frankly, is that you have just baked a banana cake, or the gas man is coming round at ten, or that you are going to spend the morning ironing. Sharing the minutae of your existence is surely the preserve of the deluded? I for one cannot think anyone is interested in the comings and goings of my days. Often I am bored, so why in God's name would I inflict that on anyone else? When the husband asks what I've been up to I only give him the edited highlights. More than the briefest of comments and he starts to glaze over and check the footie scores on his phone.

Thus it was the heaviest of hearts that I finally succumbed and joined up. To be fair, I had no choice. My agent, my editor and more importantly the lovely Jamie-Lee who is in charge of my PR all told me in no uncertain terms that It Was Time. I have a new book coming out in April and I needed to get connected. To stick to my guns started to feel churlish.

So I'm on. I'm hooked up. I'm part of the matrix.

Actually, now that I am, I have no idea what to do. I feel like someone who arrives at the party far too late and far too sober to join the conversation. I have thus far put two things on 'my wall'. Neither of which were that interesting! At this rate I will be forced to inform the ether that the postman has just delivered a pair of Liverpool curtains for my son.

So. If any of you lot are on FB could you please be my friend (was there ever a sadder request from a woman in her forties?) ? I cannot promise anything but gratitude.

Get your tomato ticking


At the weekend I attended the Scattered Authors Society conference in Peterborough. It was a brilliant and inspiring weekend. I caught up with old friends, made some new ones and felt honoured to be among such a talented group of children’s writers.

There were great talks on everything from the editing process by the brilliant Lee Weatherly to how to get the best from blogging and Twitter by the ‘crabbit old bat ‘herself, Nicola Morgan (who is very lovely and uncrabbity in real life).

One that seems to have had us all rushing to try out new ways of working was a talk by Jacob Sager Weinstein, author of the hilariously titled How not to kill your baby, among other things, in which he introduced something known as the Pomodoro Technique.

Ever heard of it? No, neither had we...

The website for the guy who thought this up is here but in a nutshell, the idea is that you set a timer for 25 minutes uninterrupted working time. The Pomodoro bit comes from those cute timers shaped like tomatoes, but I just used my boring old kitchen timer. During that 25 minutes, you are not allowed to do ANYTHING but work. And yes, that means you don't check your email, go on Twitter/Facebook/, make a cup of tea, go to the toilet, Hoover the dog or feed the house (believe me, my procrastination techniques can be very inventive). You WORK.

When the 25 minutes is up, you set the timer for a five minute break, in which you can do all of the above. Then you set the timer for another 25 minutes and get cracking again.

As Jacob said, even the most addicted sadsack can stay focused for 25 minutes.

 I tried this today and I can tell you that it is a brilliant method. I think I got more work done than I have for ages and I really stuck to it. The shame of not being able to concentrate for a measly 25 minutes acts as a great deterrant.

Others have found the stopwatch function on their iPhone to work as well and even on your desktop computer there is bound to be some function of this kind.

 I have to admit to being a bit tempted to buy a proper pomodoro shaped timer...

 But if I decide to go for it, I’ll make sure I do my browsing during a five minute break.

Escaping The Slush Pile: Guest Blog with Kate Kelly

Kate Kelly has had a number of short stories published in the SF and horror genres but is now concentrating her effort into writing children's fiction. She is represented by Julia Churchill of the Greenhouse Literary Agency. Kate lives by the sea in Southwest England and keeps a blog at

The Strictly team have invited me along to tell you about how I managed to escape the slushpile and find myself an agent.

You see, it all began with a comment I read on this very blog.

Wind back the clock to February 2010. There I was with several short story publications under my belt but, despite a couple of close calls, a fairly respectable pile of rejection slips for my children’s novel.

However, I had a new novel on the go and this one, I hoped, would be different.

I spotted an interesting blog post on one of my favourite blogs (this one) about avoiding the slushpile, and some interesting comments followed about networking. Inevitably the subject of writer’s conferences came up - and someone mentioned that agents often give one-to-one consultations at these.

Interesting, I thought. Were there any near me? The answer came back, Winchester and Frome. And then someone commented that Rachel Ward, author of the bestselling ‘Numbers’ trilogy, got her deal with Chicken House through one of these Frome Festival consultations.

Well Frome was nearer (and less expensive). So Frome it was.

I booked my slot with a very reputable Children’s agent. At the time the thought of her signing me was the last thing I expected. Of course I hoped. Don’t we all?

What I really thought I would get out of my slot was an idea about the marketability of my story, trends in the children’s market and any indications as to where I might be going wrong. The way I saw it, this could only be a positive experience. She was to be the first agent to see it, and therefore I should be able to make any major changes before I started sending it out…

Of course things never work out the way you expect.

So thank you Strictly Writing, for being such a useful and informative blog, and to all the people who left those helpful comments.

And for those of you who are looking for agents, remember, it does happen. Be on the lookout for any opportunity and grab it when it comes along.

We're reading...

Here at Strictly, we like to read and our choices are many and varied. Some of us like commercial women's fiction, others poetry and literary and historical fiction.

We're here today to share with you what we're currently reading.

Gillian is still ploughing her way through Half Blood Blues while also reading over the first draft of her current WIP as well as the dreaded synopsis.

Debs has just finished Flip by Martyn Bedford which was a fab YA read about a teenager who wakes up in a different boy’s body (a kind of Freaky Friday for lads) – total page-turner.
"Right now I’m torn between starting Nine Uses for an Ex boyfriend by Sarra Manning (I *heart* SM) or else Jennifer E Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight which is getting fabulous reviews across the globe. SO exciting, all this reading malarkey!" added Debs.

Caroline G is reading a beautiful book called The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.
"It’s a debut, amazingly. It’s based on an old fairytale and about a childless couple living in Alaska in the 1920s, who build a girl out of snow one day and are then visited by a mysterious child. I have a feeling it’s going to break my heart soon! It’s so well written. Am finding myself going back and reading sentences again. Quite sublime," Caroline added.

Susie is reading a non-fiction book called The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters, psychologist to various Olympic athletes. He divides the brain into three basic parts: the Human (frontal lobe, calm and rational), the Chimp (limbic area, emotive and driving) and the Computer which stores all the information from the other two as a memory.
"According to Dr Peters, we are the Human, and our aim is to learn to manage our inner Chimp (who can be our best friend or our worst enemy, but is always five times stronger than our Human). It's an excellent model of the human mind, although I'm not so sure when it moves into the 'self-help' area. But a very interesting read," added Susie.

Rod is reading Her Book by Jo Shapcott (again) having just done a three-day course with her at Faber Academy.


Do you sometimes read like a magpie? I do. I think it's one of the best ways for a writer to read. By flitting from book to book, author to author, subject to subject, I find I can plunder small neglected items of inspiration (old silver teaspoons, hairclips, etc). And it means you don't get steeped in someone else's voice ("the way butter is tainted by garlic in the fridge" sorry, I don't recall who said this, perhaps you can remind me).

Yesterday I was browsing through some Ted Hughes poems. He's been on my mind recently. I came across Ghost Crabs, a poem I've read before but which has never properly entered "the dark hole of the head". It's a strange poem about a bunch of crabs that take over our beings at night, creeping up from the sea.

All night, around us or through us,
They stalk each other, they fasten on to each other,
They mount each other, they tear each other to pieces,
They utterly exhaust each other.

And so on: it's a feel-good piece. Watch out for those crabs!
I wanted to know more and got to work on Google. That led me to an essay on existential philosophy on a now-defunct magazine site dedicated to Colin Wilson. Apparently Hughes is representing ideas about the will from Schopenhauer. Fascinating stuff, but no more upbeat. That cost a couple of hours leading eventually to dusting off my ancient copy of Colin Wilson's The Outsider - that ultimate cult book. I had part read it twenty years ago, but was slightly put off by the evangelical fervour for Wilson Worshipping by certain friends back then.

That led to reading about Gurdjieff and searching the web for whatever I could find about Ramakrishna. By now I had enough ideas for a volume of verse or a couple of novels, but I couldn't stop. Like a runaway mobile library, I ploughed on through the rest of Wilson and that led to Blake. I took down the huge brick that is The Complete Poems, but nearly broke my wrist trying to open it. So I went to ibooks instead - I'd downloaded Blake last year. The internet and ereaders are perfect for the magpie, aren't they? You have access to more sources than a university library, without leaving your chair.

Blake had me reading a strange poem called The Angel, where William becomes a "maiden Queen". Strange thought, and I've yet to research that one. But next to it is The Tyger so we're back on safe ground again.

The line "Did he who made the lamb make thee?" stopped me in my seat. Although I've known that line for ages, as I'm sure you have, it brought me to tears.

And that led to this idea for a Strictly Writing post (so I did get something from all that crashing about).

What one-liners can make you cry?

There are many for me. I have to admit to a few in The Lord of The Rings. Also from Eliot's Portrait of a Lady, the line(s)

I smile, of course,
And go on drinking tea.

That always gets me. What about you?

Guest blog by Katy O'Dowd

First of all, thank you to Gillian for inviting me to a do a blog post. When she asked me I was completely stumped as to what to write about. I didn’t want to talk about myself, I mean really, what’s to know? I juggle as we all do, in my case with children, day job and writing.
I didn’t really want to write about writing either, I’ll leave giving sage advice to people more qualified and widely published than myself.
I’m happy to give a little tip, though, one which helps me to write more visually.

I write medical historical romantic fiction, with my Dad (a doctor) as Derry O’Dowd. When writing by myself I also favour historical fiction.
You know the old saying, ‘a picture tells a thousand words’? Well, I’ve found it really helpful actually, when writing about events – made up, true – which took place hundreds of years ago.

I read a lot while researching, but when it comes to sitting down to start writing I use pictures to help me along. For example, the main character in The Scarlet Ribbon James Quinn, took the form of an Irish actor whom I really like, which helped no end in describing how he looked at various stages of the book. A painting of a landscape. A dress or outfit from the era – you get the idea.

It may well not be for you of course, but writing to pictures enables me to really get into a story, emotionally, descriptively. And once I have said story plotted out the first thing I do before sitting down to write – after getting a cup of tea and some chocolate of course! – is to print off some pictures from the internet or take out postcards and other images that I have collected while an idea has been brewing.

The Scarlet Ribbon has been chosen to launch the History Press Ireland's fiction line.
Written by father and daughter team Michael and Katy O'Dowd, the book follows James Quinn, a young Irish surgeon battling prejudice, suspicion and personal demons in his controversial quest to change the face of medicine.

Following his marriage, tragedy strikes, thrusting James into a life of turmoil and despair. Throwing himself into his work, the young surgeon eventually begins to find solace in the most unexpected of places. From the backstreets of Paris, through the glittering social
whirl of London and finally back to Ireland again, this is a story of the thorns of love and the harsh reality of life in the eighteenth century, where nothing is simple and complications of all kinds surround James Quinn, man midwife.

The Scarlet Ribbon is widely available in bookshops and online.

Katy is an arts and entertainment journalist and has worked for Time Out, Associated Newspapers and Comic Relief and her articles have appeared in The Times (London), Metro (London) and many other arts and entertainment publications, paper and online. Alongside writing under the pen-name Derry O’Dowd, whose next book she is working on, she writes under her own name. ‘The Lady Astronomer’ will be out with Doctor Fantastique Books in April/May. She is also reviews movies for STUDIO magazine, and is currently co-editing ‘Nasty Snips II’ a horror anthology which will be out with Pendragon Press at Halloween.

Katy blogs at

And can be found on twitter @katyod

Does my ASUS look big in this?

This post is being written using what my forebearers would have called 'new-fangled-technology'.

Now I'm all for technology, new-fangled or otherwise, so long as it educates, informs or makes a life slightly simpler. The modern microwave, the high definition televisions and boil-in-the-bag-rice being prime examples.
On my last day at school I remember looking back over my shoulder as I left the 6th Form Portacabin (every expense spared in 1980) as four burly men carried a big square metallicy-plastic thing each into our design technology building. Even the words Design and Technology, to me, meant absolutely nothing, let alone give me any clue as to what those bulky machines were going to be used for.

Although come the following September my brother two years my junior became insufferable in his delight at having a new addition to his timetable called 'Computer Studies'.  Ha, I thought, that'll probably be just the same as woodwork but with more metallic bits.  And my parents were convinced it'd never catch on.  New fangled nonsense.  Wasting public funds. Flippin' comprehensives. That sort of thing.
And for the first year he did this weird-sounding course, all he seemed to do was bring back little strips of paper with patterns of holes punched through them and binary numbers written in scrawly biro underneath.
Dullsville or what?
He dropped the subject as soon as he could and took up double skive and extra curricular smoking-related activities.

I'd been using a Petite typewriter for a couple of years at home before I found a job in an office, so of course I had the necessary 'typing experience' when I landed the prestigious role of  Q.A Technician at our local Texas Instruments.  It was like walking onto the set of Space 1999.  Not only did everyone have  badges with their names, faces and codes on them, these 'keys' were also used to enter corridors and areas that I only had the necessary clearance for once a month.  And we'll have no sniggering about the Menses Room, please.
Oh yes, here, on the last Friday of every month I was allowed, permitted, cleared even, to sit at a screen (like a telly - a TELLY!) and tap numbers out on a keyboard and watch them come up in neon green on the screen - and then type in a name and a code at the top and then press a key and it would be sent halfway across the world.  Oh, VDU's where did you go? 
And the day TI started selling the first calculator (a snip at £49.50) was the day I thought I'd died and gone to heaven - not that I really needed one now that I wasn't at school anymore and crying over algorithms and friggin' fractions, but what they hey, I'd have one anyway.
The dawning of a new generation - and I was proud to be part of it.

So I've never been shy of  modern technology.  I remember typewriters being manual, then golf-balled and daisy-wheeled - a different daisy-wheel for itallic font!  Does anyone else recall the machines where one line of text came up on a little screen atop the keyboard and then printed the line out mad-fast when you pressed the 'Return' button? And the first time I was given a proper full-sized screen, keyboard, floppy disk drive and laser printer was the day I could have stayed at work 24 hours without pay.  I loved it.  I lapped it all up, this new fangled stuff that was happening in the world.

And so to celebrate half a century on earth, I have been given what I can only describe as something beautiful and wondrous with which I can just about do anything.  Write, read, mail, listen to music, video-call my Australian family, you name it... well, okay then, it won't reheat a chilly brew but that's a minor consideration and one that I'm perfectly willing to overlook.

Besides which, technology and me and a cup of tea.....?  You just don't want to know.

What we're watching

It's not all work, work, work for us Strictlies. Here's a round up of what we've been watching on television or at the movies. Tell us what's had you hooked lately...

Caroline G has been enjoying Mad Dogs on Sky One and is sad to have reached the end of the series.
"It was a real treat to see some of my favourite actors, including the divine John Simm, having such fun with a cracking script," added Caroline.

Debs is still loving 'Call the Midwife' on Sundays, 'Being Human' and 'Whitechapel' although the family still watches the fluff like 'Take Me Out' and 'Million Pound Drop' (isn't Davina McCall THE most infuriating woman on tv?)

Caro went to see The Artist and found it delightful - she loved the atmosphere and heart-warming humour.
"The dog deserves an Oscar," added Caro.

Helen watched Public Enemies, a Tony Marchant drama about a released murderer and his parole officer. It was so good she watched all three episodes back to back.

Rod watches very little television, only the news and movies. At the weekend he watched a gruesomely realistic British film about marital abuse called Tyrannosaur.
"Amazingly well acted. Brilliant script and deeply upsetting. I wish I hadn't seen it. There are things there I don't want to watch for entertainment. Yes. Very good," added Rod.

Susie watched The TV Book Club which featured Essie Fox's atmospheric Victorian novel, The Somnambulist, along with interviews with actress Sue Johnson and author Ian Rankin.

Gillian is watching Masterchef and this fabulous show on Watch HD called Too Fat For Fifteen. It follows overweight children as they re-establish eating habits at the Wellspring Academy of the Carolinas, USA.
"It shows that not all weight problems are attributed to a love of food. Highly recommended!" added Gillian.

Tell us what you're watching and why.

A Kind of Magic

Do you believe in magic?

I do. You may call it different things depending on your outlook – coincidence, synchronicity, serendipity, chance, intuition, ‘the universe’, flow, fate or grace. Whichever, it exists for me just as surely as the material world does.

A tiny example: yesterday I slept late and switched on the radio at 10am. The first words I heard were the Woman’s Hour presenter introducing journalist Sophie Radice. Sophie’s novel, The Henry Experiment, has just been published by Linen Press Books – my publisher. Coincidence, yes. But it brings something else, a heightened awareness, a sense of something special happening – as someone I know recently described it, it’s ‘the sparkle in the eye of life.’

Magic is what happens when you go ‘into the zone’, whether writing, painting, running, sculpting, singing or speaking. In these magical moments, all that’s required of you is that you turn up and apply yourself – or, the case of writing, you apply the seat of your pants to the seat of the chair and begin. It’s like turning on a tap. Gradually, as you move more and more into your ‘flow’, words come to you. Ideas appear. Where did that felicitous phrase come from? How did that simile work so well? They certainly didn’t come through your thinking them up. They just arrived, seemingly fully formed, on the page. It’s the same with painting. I look back at paintings I’ve made and have no idea how I did them, or indeed how I could replicate them now. They ‘just came’.

It puts me in mind of Winnie-the-Pooh and Rabbit, and how Winnie-the-Pooh sits and lets things come to him, while Rabbit goes out and fetches them. Though perhaps a better analogy is that of the sculptor who ‘knows’ that the finished form already exists within the stone – it’s her job to chip away the extraneous material to reveal it.

Perhaps our stories are already there, deep in the recesses of our unconscious, waiting for us to trust our process enough to begin. Perhaps synchronicities arrive to remind us of this. Who knows?

I was sitting in front of a blank screen with no ideas for this post, having just read an email from my father entitled 'Magic'. Why not, I thought?

Do you believe in magic?

Kerry Wilkinson, bestselling e-author answers some Quick Fire Questions

Kerry Wilkinson, sports journalist and self-published crime writer has become the most popular author in the Kindle charts after selling more than 250,000 e-books in six months.

He told futurebook ( “Ultimately, I'm a kid from a council estate in Somerset. I grew up reading those thin Doctor Who paperbacks which were almost entirely written by Terrance Dicks. I love books, I collect them.
There is no way I should be able to compete with a massive major publisher - let alone beat them. How have I done it? I'm not sure I really know. I can only ever continue to act on instinct. After all, I'm a reader first.”

We were thrilled when Kerry said he had time in his manic schedule to answer a few Quick Fire Questions on Strictly Writing.

1. Who is you favourite Doctor from Doctor Who and why?
- I always like whoever the current guy is so, at the moment, Matt Smith.

2. Where do you write?
- Pretty much everywhere. Sometimes, if I'm on a day off, I'll use my netbook in bed and write through the morning. I mainly write on the sofa at home, but I also write on my lunchbreak at work, I've written on trains and on planes, everywhere really.

3. Best writing snack?
- I don't think anyone can function creatively without biscuits (cookies for our American chums). I have, in the past, nicked out the supermarket before settling down to work because the house has been devoid of sugar-based snacks. I'm also a fan of a good old fashioned biscuit tin. There's something endearingly British about all that crumbly crap you end up with at the bottom.

4. Soundtrack (if so, what) or peace and quiet?
- I pretty much need the house to be silent but I'm also a walking hypocrite because I can write on a train, etc, where it isn't quiet at all. The ideal soundtrack is the noise of the ice cream man pulling up outside our house. I always move quickest when I'm trying to find my shoes and some money to get out the door before he pulls away. Then I can settle back on to the sofa with a bonus ice cream to aid my creative process.

5. Which book/writer has/had any major influence on you?
- I don't know really. I don't particularly follow individuals. I read more comics and sci-fi stuff than I do prose fiction. Through that, you could say Ed Brubaker or Brian Bendis but I've read some really great stuff. People are missing out big-time if they don't think comics can tell good stories. Things like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, The Walking Dead, Preacher, Supreme Power, Blankets and many many others. Comics teach you about plotting too because they rely on finishing on a belting cilffhanger every 20-odd pages. If they don't do that, people don't buy the next issue, which means the writer has to stop telling his story.

6. What are you reading right now?
- Chris Jericho's first autobiography. It is very funny and very good. I just finished the Alan Partridge autobiography for the third time. It's the funniest book I've ever read. I think I could read it over and over and not get bored.

7. Has (and how) ‘overnight success’ affected your ordinary daily life?
- Basically, not at all. I'm still the same person I was a year ago. I just now have better excuses for not tidying up around the house. "I've been writing all day" garners more sympathy than "I've been on the PlayStation all day".

8. Laptop or paper?
- What's this paper you speak of?

9. Where do the ideas come from?
- The broad ideas usually come from small stories which you might stumble across in a newspaper or on the radio news or something like that. Sometimes it will just be one line that will sets your imagination off. The whole of book two, Vigilante, was born out of a throwaway line at the bottom of a much wider newspaper feature. The funny thing was, someone left a review saying that certain part of the book was "unrealistic" when it was the only part based on fact! I think people are very quick to call things "unrealistic" because real life will always be stranger at some point. Think of things like the David Kelly saga, or the Stockport saline story. That's far "better" in a story sense than most things you could make up.
A lot of the character stuff comes from incidents I've seen over the years or people I've met, although not necesarily directly. Again, sometimes you might see the startings of an event in real life, then you reimagine them with your characters.

11.The best advice you could give to an aspiring writer?
- Not even a writer, just anyone who wants to do something creative: Do it because you want to. I never feel pressured to write. I only keep going because I have something left to say and pads of unused ideas. It's why I never have writer's block. I've never once sat around wondering what happens next.

12. What would you have liked Q.10 to have been?
- I prefer to think of question 10 as like those 11 days in 1752 when Britain jumped from 2 September to 14 September because the country switched to the Gregorian calendar.
Kerry's website/blog is here: Kerry  and you can read the openings of Kerry's first three books,  'Locked In', 'Vigilante', and 'The Woman in Black' on Amazon.  Look out for the fourth and fifth books in the Jessica Daniels' series, 'Think of the Children' and 'Playing with Fire' which will be out later this year.

The Course of True Love

If I were to get into the spirit of things, I would probably use today's post to give a cringeworthy guide to writing love scenes, or list the top ten best Valentine's gifts for writers, or detail how a caring and tolerant partner is an essential component of the writerly life.

I'm a cynical sod, however, and don't wish to celebrate Hallmark Day in any other way than to be left alone to get on with stuff, so my only concession to today's occasion is that the title of the following 19th-century poem refers to True Love.

I discovered this anecdote/joke a few months ago, and was impressed by its triumph-of-the-underdog theme and its wry realism. It dates from 1897 and appeared in Judy magazine.


I understand that Rudyard Kipling is paid two shillings a word for his poetry,” said the soulful poet to the hard-headed editor. “Now you don't pay me any such price for my poetry.”

I can hardly pay you two shillings, but look here I'll give you two shillings a line for a short poem.”

Next day, the budding poet returned with this:



The Editor counted the lines, paid the money, saying “I'm beaten for once. I thought you were only a poet, but you've got brains.”


Ah, who am I trying to kid with all this cynicism? Here at Strictly Writing, we really do have something to celebrate, because our very own Caroline Green has been shortlisted in the Romantic Novelists' Association Awards for her wonderful young adult novel, Dark Ride

Caroline's book is up for the Young Adult Romantic Novel Award, and we're all very excited for her as the awards ceremony approaches. Congratulations, Caroline, on such a fab achievement!

The E Debate

I’ve been researching and listening to lots of debate recently with regard to the argument that self publishing would never be the preferred route to go, if given the choice of a traditional publishing deal. It seems the more and more I hear, the curiouser and curiouser the debate becomes.

Let’s face it – if any of us unpublished writers were truly given that choice today, right now, this morning, we would more than likely grab the publishing house, the editor and the future relationship that they bring. We would grab it firmly by the cojones, take it back home, cuddle it under our duvet and never let it out of our sight. We would announce to the world that we are in bed with Harper Collins, Orion, whoever... We would break out the bubbly that's been chilling for years, waiting for our overnight success, and we'd find it hard to wipe the smile from our face. Or would we?

Because it does seem that more and more people are actually making the other choice. Yes, choice. The choice thing has been quite a shocker to me. What? Proper writers really want to do this? I, like many, have always seen the self publishing option as a last resort. The stigma attached to it, I believed, would only ever see me as someone who had to publish their own novel. However, now, having looked into it, discussed it, raped and plundered the world wide web for information, read some really informative books on the subject , I now believe, that just like has happened in the music business with digital downloads, the tide is possibly turning in the publishing industry.

I’ve found several successful writers and by that, I mean writers of good books, who have found success by making the choice to self- publish. I’m not just talking about the John Lockes of this world or the Amanda Hockings - though their experience is uplifting – I mean people who walk and talk in our world, people we know out there in the blogosphere. (Hi Talli, Mel, Catherine)

So why? Why are people choosing the route? And what will happen to the industry if the trend continues? My worry is that the digital world will be overrun with books of questionable writing and this IS a problem. During my own research, I downloaded some books that had never seen a proper edit, had fairly dodgy covers and honestly, I could not read past page three or four. However, I’ve also downloaded some fabulous reads and believe that good writing will win out. Readers are a discerning lot and very capable of finding books that interest them, whether that be via a traditional method by browsing through a bookstore, or choosing an ebook. (Plus, the Amazon ability to ‘try before you buy’ often allows you to download that first few pages, which does stop a few buying errors.)

It’s clear that if you are contemplating self publishing, the worst thing to do is to consider it a last resort, and just upload those old manuscripts you have lying around. Instead, consider yourself an entrepreneur, launching a new business that has to work. You have a product you love and have faith in (your manuscript). You believe that the world should share in it. If so, treat it as you would if you’d invented a new wheel. Make sure the R&D (Research and Development) are thorough (i.e. make sure the ms is the very best it can be). Push it through the highest of standard checks (i.e. hire an editor, proof reader), make sure that the packaging will whet the buyer’s appetite (i.e. make sure the cover is one that someone would want to pick up on the 3 for 2 table in Waterstones.)

What are the downsides? Well, apart from the still existing stigma I mentioned above, there is the lack of an agent (though not always) and a publishing house.Those authors traditionally published claim both are vital. Also, there’s no advance, but the much higher royalty scheme should help compensate. Besides, from what I understand advances are not what they used to be, as industry margins come under increasing pressure. As a self published author, you won’t make it to that 3 for 2 section either. High street stores will not stock self published books. You also have to become your own self publicist and a good one at that, but again, I feel that this has changed in traditional publishing and many authors have to do this anyway.

Upsides? More control over your product (though not necessarily a good thing unless you really know what you’re doing). Instant publication i.e. once you’ve written that very best book it can be, had it edited, designed a cover – it takes hours, a few days at most before its out there in the world. So, little or no lag time... Better royalties, assuming of course you’ve done it right and are making sales.

So, bet you’re dying to know. Have I convinced myself? What I do know is that when I started to think about self publishing as an option for me, I didn’t have a clue what a minefield it is and indeed, how much work would be involved. Part of me was thinking ‘Why not just stick it up on Amazon and see what happens?’ WRONG!

Wrong, wrong, wrong at every level.

Either way? If Harper Collins phone and I head to the duvet smiling, or I decide to use Kindle Direct Publishing as a future route, my own new wheel still has a few kinks in it - I still have some work to do on that manuscript...

What we're writing...

As it's Friday we're giving you all another chance to nose into our lives. And we expect reciprocal rights of course.

So let me fill you in on what the Strictly team have been writing this week:

Debs seems to be spending a huge amount of time designing covers and writing blurbs and pitches now she's leapt into the world of e-publishing. She's all about saturation! She's also writing the first 5000 words for the Good Housekeeping New Novelist comp.

Fi is writing a blogpost for her (not new, more restored) blog and would love some visitors. So get thee over to

Susie has been writing her journal (she tries to do a Morning Page every day) and has sent about 30 emails asking magazine editors if they'll review The Making of Her.

Caroline R is writing a Valentine themed blogpost for The Quack Doctor, but is a bit bah humbug about Valentine's Day so is including plenty of death and skullduggery.

Caroline G is powering away on her next book (working title Molly Stone) and feeling a bit better having renegotiated the deadline!

Gillian is revisiting the first draft of The Dodo Society (the bird not the baby pacifier), reworking scenes and expanding ideas and themes. She's also filling in passport forms.

As for little old me, well, I'm now well into the WIP. I tentatively like the plot and some of my new characters but fear my ed is going to pull a face at my, admittedly, complicated structure. We'll see.

So what about you guys?
HB x

Guest post by Luisa Plaja - My Essential Writing Props

Ah, writing. Such fun to do, so hard to get down to. After I’ve danced the procrastination dance several times – this involves checking Twitter, emails and Facebook in ever-decreasing circles – I then begin to gather my props. I need to make sure I’m surrounded by these things as it’s a total waste of time/completely essential.

Five truly essential things for me are as follows:

- Tea. And plenty of it. I have a really big mug. I also have quite a large tea-bearing receptacle that matches my really big face, ho ho ho. Ahem. Moving swiftly on…

- Notebook. Any old notebook will do. I currently have a scruffy recycled paper one that cost 14p and feels pleasantly rough. It needs to be there for the scribbles I make while writing, which include helpful comments such as “WHERE IS THIS GOING?!”,  “HANG ON – WHAT IS THIS ACTUALLY ABOUT? Work it out!!!!!!” and “Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

- Pen. This is surprisingly difficult to achieve, as pens do not last long in my presence. They get carried away by mysterious invisible breezes and whisked into faraway lands where they roam free, occasionally resurfacing miraculously in captivity in the unlikeliest of places. Has your imagination come up with a really unlikely place? Double it. That’s where I last found my favourite pen. True fact. (Maybe.)

- Phone. This is an odd one if you bear in mind that I’m not a phone person. In fact, I’m bordering on phone-phobic. But the phone has to be there, next to me, as there might be an emergency. Or an (unwelcome, of course, tsk) interruption.

- Tea. Did I already mention tea? Well, this is a deliberate repetition. There can never be enough tea.

I recently read a post that told me I should lose all these props, though, and I think it might have had a point. Read the full article about things that writers should do here.

Do you have any essential writing props? Maybe I’ll get rid of the props above and adopt your suggestions instead…


Luisa Plaja is the author of several triumphs over procrastination, aka books. Her latest is a teen novel called Kiss Date Love Hate, and it’s published by Random House on 2 February 2012. Find out more at her website

Gimme Mawer

Simon Mawer is an engaging storyteller whose style of prose elevates his writing above that of many of today’s authors. I‘ve read many of his books including The Glass Room, an incredibly moving and atmospheric tale of architecture, loneliness and love, The Gospel of Judas, Mendel’s Dwarf, Swimming to Ithaca, set in Cyprus where Mawer spent some of his childhood, and The Fall. I talked about The Glass Room some time ago when I first read it because it was one of those books you feel you have to recommend to friends or indeed to anyone remotely interested in good literature. It blew me away and I immediately got caught up in the turmoil along with the characters.

It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and quite rightly so because the book is a real page turner, one that I couldn’t close even though it was going on midnight. Its central idea is the modernist Landauer House which was constructed for newlyweds Viktor and Liesel. But as World War Two threatens and Nazi troops enter Czechoslovakia, the family, along with Viktor’s lover Kata and her child, are forced to flee. I won’t take you through the whole synopsis, for fear of spoiling any interest I’ve managed to whip up, but I do thoroughly recommend this book. If you choose to read this one, I guarantee it’s one you won’t fall asleep to because of the wonderful intensity of the characters and prose. I was sorry I hadn’t discovered Simon Mawer prior to The Glass Room and I asked myself how he had managed to slip through the reading net.

I went on to seek out more books penned by this talented writer and opened The Gospel of Judas. It was a fantastic read, fast paced and cleverly written, all about papyrology. The story involves Father Leo Newman's discovery of a lost papyrus scroll near the Dead Sea which looks to contain a fifth gospel, one that follows Jesus' life and crucifixion from the point of view of Judas Iscariot. And it has a love story thrown in for good measure – the choice between God or a woman.

For the scientists among us, there's Mendel's Dwarf with the central character, Dr Benedict Lambert, a top geneticist who is a descendant of Gregor Mendel, the Austrian monk. Essentially, Lambert is a dwarf and he attempts to isolate the gene that gives rise to achondroplasia (dwarfism) but while his public life revolves around scientific issues, his private life is centred around pornographic magazines.

Simon Mawer was born in 1948 in England, but has lived for more than 30 years in Italy with his his wife and two children. He graduated from Oxford University with a degree in zoology. If you haven't read any of his books, I implore you to just dip into one and read the first chapter.

And on a final note, Simon Mawer’s literature has been endorsed by a celebrity - Britney really IS singing Gimme Mawer, because she’s so well read.

And here is the weather forecast . . .

I hope you are snowed in and unable to go to work or to do any chores: forced to spend a day writing.

And if you do, will snow feature in whatever you write? A few weeks ago when we had the big winds across the UK I wondered if wind was cropping up in scenes in novels and stories all over the place. I wrote a poem called City Wind partly in answer to the wonderful and very rural Ted Hughes poem Wind (This house has been far out at sea all night).

There's a strange zeitgeist of the moment when a common event affects us all and is translated into our creative work, or so I imagine. Come on, own up if you've written about snow in the last twenty-four hours.

When I sat down to do my post for Strictly Writing on Sunday, all I could think of was . . .

Silent Sunday

Today we venture out of our front doors
like visitors in a foreign land
to find the greatest cover-up of all;
our cars are painted uniform
white and our gardens have dissolved.
To some this is the biggest show in town
presenting troupes in gloves and coats and hoods
up for play fights; you may talk to strangers.
London is one giant sculpture park.
A chance to walk the centre of the road.
To another this is inconvenience:
tubes are out and all the buses dead
a struggle just to go and get the news,
a danger to the old folk and the sick,
best to stay inside all day today,
fret about the walk to work tomorrow.
Others marvel at the change of scene:
how beauty has descended on this city,
softened every perpendicular
to moulded curves of crystal,
frozen foam that shines to dazzle and
yields with a delighted crunch.
Pass the camera, point it at our hedge.
Arching over all this, it is the sound
that enfolds this city in its thrall,
every human voice a lonely cry,
a closing door echoes down the street,
the squawk of a magpie hangs in the air
as we are transmuted to a London
of a hundred years ago or more.

Friday Reading Round-Up

So what are we all reading?

I’ll kick off by saying that I’m thoroughly enjoying ‘Sister’ by Rosamund Lupton, and as a total contrast I’m also reading Luisa Plaja’s latest Young Adult book, ‘Kiss, Date, Love, Hate’ which is making me grin with girlish delight.

I'm reading ‘Half Blood Blues’ by Esi Edugyan which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011 -   I'm ploughing my way through the entire shortlist!
I'm reading ‘Weaveworld’ by Clive Barker to my kids. We've decide to keep reading aloud en famille, even though they're twelve. So we've moved on to the books on our shelves that my husband and I have enjoyed and which are (vaguely) appropriate...
Caroline R
I'm reading ‘Crusade Against Drink in Victorian England’ by Lilian Lewis Shiman. I just looked on Amazon to check the author's name and discovered that the book is listed in the category 'The Crusades'!

Caroline G
I’m reading ‘The Book of Human Skin’ by Michele Lovric, which is strange and very good. I thought it was going to be a bit heavy going when I started but am gripped now.

I’m reading the local planning laws because the f*****rs are refusing our planning application! I’m also reading ‘Dead Good’ by DA Cooper - a YA book by an up and coming author - very much enjoying it!
I will lower the tone: I'm reading Alexander McCall Smith's 'A Confederacy of Friends', together with Jane Wenham-Jones' 'Wanna Be A Writer We've Heard Of?' (hah!). I've also been reading my novel through before it goes for typesetting.
I am reading ‘The Cambridge Companion to Feminism in Philosophy’. Edited by Miranda Fricker and Jennifer Hornsby.

If any of you have read/are reading any of the above, we’d love to hear your thoughts (we’d also LOVE to know what you’re reading right now too –  we’re a nosy bunch!) Happy weekend, Strictly Followers! :)