Supporting my local library (aka crying in public)…

There’s nothing I love more than getting out and meeting readers so it was a real privilege to be invited to Corby Library for the launch of their Reading Ahead Challenge.

This is the first year Corby has taken part in this challenge although lots of other libraries in the country already take part. The scheme is designed to encourage more people to read. When you sign up you get a card where you keep track of your next six reads (or listen if you prefer audio books). There is a get together each month where you can talk books with like-minded people in your local community and at the end you get a certificate. Although today was the official launch you have between now and October to join in. I met some lovely people including some writers and their passion for books has inspired me to come home and do some work to my own manuscript.

Libraries have always been a huge part of my life. From my primary school who let me borrow far more than the one allocated book per week, to my village librarian who joked when I told her I had exhausted all of their stock that I should write my own book (I went home and started The Sister). I’ve many fond memories of visiting the big town library with my own mum, touching the books, taking ages to choose the ones I wanted, and then taking my own children to pick their bedtime stories.

I was overcome with emotion when today I saw The Sister on a library shelf for the very first time and was told how popular it is, along with The Gift. This has definitely been one of my highlights of being published and I found the thought of library users choosing my book to take home incredibly overwhelming. Luckily before I could shed too many tears at the enormity of it all the cake was brought out and I had to compose myself. After all it would have been rude not to have a slice (or three) wouldn’t it?

You can find out more about the Reading Ahead Challenge here.

Public speaking tips for writers (putting a bag over your head is not one of them..)

I am a writer. I am an introverted writer. The thought of public speaking makes my skin prickle and my head swim and yet it is something writers are often expected to do, and to be honest, despite the fear, it is something I am eager to do. The chance to meet readers. To talk about my books. A couple of weeks ago, on World Book Day, I gave my first ever talk to 250 primary school children on reading, writing and following your dreams (you can read about that here.) Beforehand I was lucky enough to get some tips from my good friend and fellow author Graeme Cumming who is so adept at public speaking he belongs to a Speakers Club (for fun!!!). Thankfully I got through my own talk without fainting/vomiting/crying/all three and I’m delighted to welcome Graeme onto my blog today to share his wisdom with you. 

Getting up and speaking in public is stimulating. For most people, though, that stimulation isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Over the years, research has shown that, when it comes to fears, public speaking tops most lists. Fear of dying tends to rank about 4th or 5th, which kind of puts things in perspective.

Some time ago, it was pointed out to me that, for pretty much anyone to be successful in their chosen career, at some point they’d have to speak in front of others, otherwise you limit your opportunities.

Up to then, I’d been thinking I could get away with it. In meetings, I didn’t ask questions, I never volunteered to make presentations, and the closest I got to being the centre of attention was if I made an off-colour joke. I realised things needed to change, otherwise I’d still be a low-grade building society clerk when I retired.

Fast forward… well, quite a lot of years, and here I am embarking on a new path with my life, that of author. One book out and two in the pipeline. I’m a writer. But does that mean I no longer have to speak? Not a bit of it. Sure, we have social media to help us connect with our readers and the wider world. But that doesn’t mean to say we don’t need to get up and speak to groups. There are book launches, invitations to speak to peer groups, libraries, book clubs or schools. We may even have to make a presentation to agents or publishers.

A lot of people ask me: what can I do to eliminate the fear? The bad news is that it never really goes away – at least, not in my experience. I first started practicing public speaking nearly 30 years ago, and I’m still nervous if I have a new engagement.

But that doesn’t mean to say I have the same fears I started with. Those have been worn down as a result of practice and experience. Like any activity, the first time you try it, you feel apprehensive – usually because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. But the more you do it, the easier it gets, and you even begin to look forward to it.

In the absence of having the opportunity to get loads of practice, though, here are some things to remember that’ll help with the nerves:

* Your audience have come along to see you. They’ve made an effort to come out and they’re interested in what you have to say. They’re already on your side

* Since most people put public speaking at or near the top of their worst fears, an audience will have a degree of sympathy and understanding that it’s a nerve-wracking experience. They’ll forgive your mistakes because they’re just glad they’re not doing it.

* You may be about to make your first ever speech, but the audience don’t know that. They also don’t know what goes into giving a speech, so they have very little to judge you on. Pretend you do it every day of the week, and they’ll assume that’s the case.

* If you’re visiting groups who regularly have speakers, they’ll have seen some dire performances. By coming along with something you’ve prepared well for, you’ll already have a head start on a lot of their previous speakers.

That last point about preparation is important. Don’t go into a situation hoping you can wing it. Only a very few people have that ability. So do spend some time preparing what you want to say. You don’t have to be word perfect – though my own preference is to rehearse – but you do want to know in advance what message you want to get across to your audience.

Something else to bear in mind is avoiding the temptation to give excuses in advance for why you’re about to give a rubbish speech. We Brits seem to have apologetic genes, but we should never say sorry for our performance. Most of the time, the audience won’t know the difference. What you consider to be bungling will seem like it’s just part of your style of presentation.

There are techniques you can learn to improve as a public speaker, and if you do face the prospect of having to do it, they can be useful. Even though I’ve been involved in public speaking at one level or another for nearly 30 years, I still like to practice, which is why I joined a Speakers Club. These are safe environments in which to learn and develop, and are usually relatively low cost. Some people will go on training courses for Public Speaking, which are intensive and you learn a lot quickly. But, unless you practice regularly, you can lose the skills just as rapidly.

I hope these tips and comments will help, but if anyone has any questions or would like to learn more, please do contact me via my website and I’ll be happy to assist.

Thanks so much Graeme for taking the time to share your experiences. I’ve found it really useful.

Graeme Cumming is the author of Ravens Gathering, “a dark and creepy piece of horror and mystery writing”. His talk, “How to Become a Bestseller” gives an insight into the modern world of writing and publishing. For fun, he is also currently Education Director at Sheffield Speakers Club. You can read more about Graeme and his work at www.graemecumming.co.uk.

Louise Walters shares her self-publishing Vs trad publishing experience

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I am delighted to welcome onto the blog the lovely Louise Walters. I’ve been captivated by Louise’s writing since reading her beautiful debut ‘Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase‘ and I was super excited to read an early copy of ‘A Life Between Us,’ which is due to be published on 28th March. Louise carefully weaves a tale of family secrets and effortlessly spans decades in this cleverly crafted story. Tina Thornton lost her twin Meg 40 years ago, but still harbours guilt, but was Meg’s death really an accident? As the tale unfolds Louise slowly reveals the crushing impact secrets and lies can have on a family for generations to come. The tiny details included in this book instantly transported me back to my childhood of Sindy Dolls and Spangles. There’s a complex mix of characters in this novel, some I didn’t like at all, but to me that added to the richness of the story, and I found myself rooting for Tina as the layers of her family history are slowly peeled back. Louise has chosen to self-publish this novel and having also been traditionally published I’m eager to find out Louise’s views on her experience. Let’s read on.

“In January 2016, I made a decision: I was going to self-publish my second novel. It was a tough decision to make, with lots to consider – reputation, workload, sales (lack of?), time, time, time…

I decided I would go the assisted publishing route, and I went with Matador, who are well established, and reputable, a major consideration when you are going to hand over quite a lot of cash! The first thing I decided was I wouldn’t rush to bring the novel out. So I opted for a publication date one year on (originally February 2017, later put back to March 2017). I wanted time to work, to get the novel into tip top condition. I wanted to do all (at least, as many as possible) of the things a traditional publisher would do for my book – copy editing, proof reading, a professional cover design, sales representation and distribution. I didn’t want to hurry myself at any point (although even with a year “lead in” time, there have been a few urgent moments/calls/e-mails!)

What have I learned about publishing?

Publication is expensive. Publication is a gamble. It is multi-tasking, it is hard work.

Profit margins are minuscule; balancing the books, as it were, is a precarious business. I’ve no idea if I’m going to make a loss, break even, or make a profit. I’ll take either of the last two; I’ll even take the first if that’s how it turns out, because I have learned so much this year. It’s been a valuable exercise, and there are worst things to spend money on!

What have I learned about myself?

I love to project manage, and I’m good at it. I really am. I had no idea. Such a useful discovery! Still much to learn, of course, but I’m on it.

I’m also a dab hand at setting up a website. Again, something I’d thought I would never be able to do. But I have. It’s not brilliant, but it’s mine, it’s me, it ties in nicely with my “brand”.

I now subscribe to The Bookseller and I know a little more about what’s going on in publishing. I actually feel I’m part of it now, whereas before I felt as I suspect most authors feel – I was hovering on the edges, not really “of” the publishing world.

I have also realised something about myself I only suspected before: I love to be in control creatively. The whole shebang. That kind of ties in with the project managing thing! For instance, my involvement in the book’s cover was fantastic. I didn’t design it, but I wrote the brief for the designer, and my word was the last word in which design to go with (Matador had to approve it too of course, as they have their own reputation to think about).

Would I self-publish again?

Yes. YES. I would. Despite the snooty attitude that still prevails towards self and/or assisted publishing (but is slowly disappearing thank goodness), despite the endless work, the expense, and the fear that you are going to make an absolute arse of yourself, I would do it again. I would also consider publishing traditionally again, should that opportunity ever arise. We live in a plural world and there is no need to confine ourselves as authors to one method or another. It’s all there for the taking and it’s exciting to be an author right now. I think we could be on the cusp of big changes. For instance, I would from now on try very hard to hang on to e-book rights. There is little for an author to gain from handing those over for 25% (less print book returns!) when we can bring it out ourselves, get anything from 30 to 70%, and control the pricing. Just sayin’!”

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Thanks so much Louise for the fascinating insight. You can find out more about Louise here and buy her books here.

How? A Mother’s Tale.

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How can I love you more?

I gazed in wonder at your ten tiny fingers, your ten tiny toes and I knew that I was hopelessly, irrevocably lost.

How can I love you more?

Your first smile made my heart swell, your first illness sliced me to the core.

How can I love you more?

The memory of your first day at school etched forever on my mind as your tiny hand slipped from mine and you took the first faltering steps towards independence.

How can I love you more?

Standing tall, and proud on your first day at work, no longer a boy but a man.

How can I love you more?

It is incomprehensible that I could and yet with every second, every minute, every hour, I do.

 

This post was written for the Saturday Streams of Consciousness challenge hosted by Linda G. Hill. Write the first thing that comes to mind following a prompt and post. No editing allowed. This week’s prompt was ‘begin your post with how.’

B.A. Paris – The Breakdown Launch Lunch at The Ivy Club, London

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I had the pleasure of first meeting the lovely B.A. Paris at an author event last year. At that time I had just released my debut, The Sister, while hers, Behind Closed Doors had been out for several months. We bonded over our shared experience, our genuine bewilderment of both finally being published later in life and having No.1 Bestsellers and have championed each other throughout the process of writing our second tricky novels. She was thrilled for me when I published The Gift before Christmas and it shot to No. 1 and I was delighted to be able to join her at The Ivy Club yesterday to toast the launch of her second novel, The Breakdown, which is already soaring up the charts. fullsizerender-5It was lovely to catch up with old friends and make some new ones, over one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten. But first lets talk about the book.

img_9388The Breakdown is good. Not good in a ‘my friend is the author so I’m obliged to say that’ good, but ‘I started it last night, couldn’t put it down and have just finished it,’ good. From the opening chapter I was gripped by the story of Cass, a woman who is driving home late one night and passes a car that has broken down. There’s a raging storm, isolated countryside and I could feel Cass’s anxiety as she tries to decide whether she should stop and help, worried she could be putting herself at risk. Eventually she decides to drive on, a decision that ultimately haunts her throughout the rest of the book as the driver of the broken down car is found murdered and Cass has a creeping sense of unease throughout the story that she might be next on the killer’s list. The tension builds and builds throughout the story and anyone who loved Behind Closed Doors (and with over a million sales there’s rather a lot of people who did!) should love this story too.

img_9378The launch lunch itself was intimate, in a private room at The Ivy Club. I ate mixed beetroots with whipped goat’s curd, mixed seeds and moscatel dressing, followed by macaroni cheese and I finished with a cheeseboard. We drank champagne and red and white wine and chatted about books and writing. Being an author can be such a solitary existence sometimes, I really do treasure the time I get to spend with other writers.img_9380

The Breakdown is the WH Smith Book of the Week which I know B.A. Paris was very excited to discover, her ambition has always been to be able to visit a W H Smith’s store and see a copy of her book. The demand is so high W H Smith’s do keep selling out! As well as in all good bookstores you can also buy The Breakdown on Amazon UK here or Amazon US here and follow B. A. Paris on Twitter here.

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Meet Guest Author Louise Jensen…

Big thanks to The Story Reading Ape for inviting me to take part in a ‘Meet the Author’ series.

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louise-jensenMy name is Louise Jensen and if you ask me to define myself I’d probably say mum, wife, daughter, sister, almost anything but an author, and I think that’s because I still feel a bit of a fraud.

I’ve dreamed of being a writer all my life, but for much of it that’s all it was, a pipe dream. A ‘I don’t have the time,’ a ‘one day I’ll write a novel’ but honestly the only thing that stopped me putting pen to paper was myself. The fear of failing. The overwhelming sensation that rose whenever I thought about writing 90k words.

In my 30’s I lost a huge chunk of my mobility overnight and as a result of my new enforced physical limitations and the chronic pain I found myself in I became depressed. Big black hole depressed and the future looked bleak. My confidence drained away and I…

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My New Year Writing Resolution

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This morning I was delighted to receive my issue of Newbooks Magazine featuring Writing Resolutions from a group of authors, including myself. Our very own Claire Fuller features on the cover of the winter issue, who has been an enormous inspiration to me since I joined the blogging community.

When I was asked to take part in this feature I didn’t have to think for too long before coming up with my list. The first thing I wanted to do was to STOP  setting myself targets. Over the past couple of years I have learned that working around a family and a chronic health condition means that there will be days I get lots of words down, and days that I don’t get any words down and that’s okay.  In the past I have been quite hard on myself, aiming for a daily word count, and this isn’t always achievable or realistic. There was a point when I was writing, I spent so much time checking my word count I ended up turning it off and only then could I relax and tell the story I wanted to tell without worrying it was too long or too short. That’s easily sorted out in the editing stage.


The second point I made was vowing to read in as many different genres as I can. I had fallen into reading within my own genre, with a critical eye, and I couldn’t remember the last book I read for pleasure. There is nothing quite like curling up with a book, and I decided to make a conscious divide by reading on the Kindle for work, and buying paperbacks from my local bookshop to read for fun. I have already made a head start on this one by reading ‘The Return of Norah Wells‘ by Virginia MacGregor and ‘The boy made of blocks‘ by Keith Stuart (both authors are also featured in NewBooks Magazine this month). I can’t tell you how much I ADORED both of these stories.

I also want to donate some time to mentoring fledgling writers this year. At the early stages of writing The Sister I was mentored by Louise Walters via The WoMentoring Project for a few weeks and it really did make an enormous difference to me. I am a great believer in paying it forward and I’ve already volunteered my services.

Are you making any writing resolutions this year? I’d love to know what they are.