Thursday, 31 January 2013

Warrior Girls in Historical Fiction - by Pauline Chandler

Of Guns and Fighting…

We were all, I’m sure, shocked and distressed by December’s gun attack on the Sandy Hook primary school in the USA, when 20 children and six adults were killed by a disturbed teenager wielding a gun. 

I was in America at the time, visiting my family. You can imagine what we felt when the headteacher of my grand daughter’s high school texted parents to say that he had received information of a similar attack, to be carried out at her school the next day. What should we do? Send her to school, or not? What would you have done? 

There followed hours of family discussion. It was obviously a hoax, wasn’t it? Or was it? My grand daughter, being a brave warrior girl, wanted to go and show these people they could not make her afraid. Her parents refused to let her go. The arguments ebbed and flowed. At first, I thought she should not go to school. Then, getting some perspective and thinking about the area, which is a peaceful one, I thought she should go. 

Then, my son, her dad, told me how practically every household in the canyon where they live, has guns for hunting - so they’re relatively easy to get hold of.   Besides, as we know, it’s enshrined in the American Constitution that every citizen has the right to bear arms.

My darling girl went to school the next day. Parents and grandparents waited anxiously for her hourly text that all was well. It was. Nothing happened.  It was a hoax. Thank God. 

 In my YA historical fiction, all my girl heroines are warrior girls, skilled and capable with different weapons.  They fight, not because I think that is at all admirable, but because I believe it’s true to the history I write about. 

From the Iron Age to the Middle Ages, women were expected to defend themselves and their homes against armed enemies, especially during those times when the men were called away to fight for their liege lord. 

Heroines wielding bows and arrows have become a bit of a cliché in historical fiction, but I make no apology for my latest 15thc. heroine, Elinor, being a skilled archer.

According to Robert Hardy, in his wonderful treatise, ‘Longbow; a Social and Military History’, every able man was expected to be adept with a bow, and, no doubt, able to make one, from whatever materials were at hand. Would this not also be the case for able and willing women?  

I just thank heaven it isn’t the case today, that we must all attend butts practice on Sundays, and no longer have to stand ready to defend ourselves with weapons.

Though, as my son said, when my granddaughter’s school was threatened, what do you do when someone comes to your home or work place with a gun? In America, after the Sandy Hook massacre, there was a huge surge in the sale of guns, because people wanted to be able to defend themselves. Horrifying, isn’t it?  

At the moment, I’m reading ‘The Death Maze’ by Ariana Franklin and enjoying it immensely. When Henry II’s favourite mistress, Rosamund, is murdered, some say by his jealous wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, England’s first anatomist, Adelia Aguilar, is called upon to investigate. I love the characters and all the historical details.And looking out for any weapons.

Best wishes to all you history buffs!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Moominland: by Sue Purkiss

A couple of months ago, I went into my local bookshop looking for books for my six year old grandson. One of the assistants said, “How about the Moomins? Has he read those?” 

Well, no, I thought. And neither have I. There’s too much text for my grandson, but not for me.

I picked up Comet in Moominland and took it to the counter. “Ah,” said another of the assistants, nodding wisely. “The Moomins.” “Are you a fan?” I asked. “Oh yes. Any book would be better for having a Moomin in it.” (Now there’s interesting. War and Peace, with Moomins? Oliver Twist and the Moomins? I'm not sure it would work, but it shows how much the Moomin books mean to him.)

I read my first Tove Jansson book about four years ago. It was called The Summer Book, and it was on the adult shelves. It was the cover that attracted me first. It’s a paperback, but it has flaps, so you can easily mark where you stop reading. I like that. And I’ve no idea why, but the cover is nice to the touch – soft and smooth, but substantial. It shows a deep blue sky (Aquamarine? Ultramarine?) with just a couple of light cloud trails, and in the bottom quarter of the page is a small wooded island, edged with a pale stony beach, set in a dark blue sea.
On the real island

It’s about an elderly artist and her six year old grand-daughter and a summer they spend on the island. Nothing huge happens. When the southwest wind was blowing, the days seem to follow one another without any kind of change or occurrence… It was just the same long summer, always, and everything lived and grew at its own pace. It’s a small world, with only a few characters, and Tove Jansson simply takes you right into it, so that you come to know the place and the people very well, in all their apparent simplicity. You enter deeply into the way they experience life. And that isn’t an easy thing to do, either as a writer or as a human being.

I’ve read her other adult books too, though I think The Summer Book is my favourite. But the Moomins are what she’s famous for, and until now they have completely passed me by. I had vaguely thought I might have seen a television series, but then realised I was confusing it with something else – was it called The Clangers? About triangular shaped characters who lived on the moon and made funny squeaky noises?

Tove and a Moomin
Anyway, the Moomins are not at all like that. They are small creatures which look a little like smoothed-out hippos, or possibly – given that they’re Scandinavian – tiny trolls. They go on epic journeys and have great adventures away from the safety of home, but all in a slightly Winnie-the Pooh sort of way; I don’t mean it’s like Winnie-the-Pooh, but the characters have that quite grave way of thinking and speaking. And after the adventures, they come back home again. This is the last paragraph of The Moomins and the Great Flood:

And then she (his mother) took Moomintroll by the hand and went into the sky-blue room. And there in the valley they spent the whole of their lives, apart from a few times when they left it and travelled for a change.

It’s the same voice as it is in the adult books: cool, clear, utterly unpretentious and essentially rather serious. I love it, and though I’ve come a bit late to the Moomins, I intend to make up for it and read my way through the rest of them. Are there any other fans out there? And if so, can you explain what it is that you like about them?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013



You’re publishing a book so you are bound to have a book launch? Right? Wrong. Of the many children’s books published each year, few are “launched” – at least, not in the traditional manner with nibbles and champagne. There may be a flurry of activity on Facebook. Or it may just be that the author buys herself a celebratory cappuccino that morning, or even, sitting at her desk, suddenly thinks “wait a minute, wasn’t my new book out today?”

I’d never had a book launch. But for my 2011 book How Not To Make Bad Children Good, I did have a book signing at Waterstones in Leeds. As it turned out, lots of people came along, the store sold out of the book, and there was a real “buzz” in store. So when Wolfie came out, I decided to take the next step and have an official launch party.

Waterstones very kindly offered me a Friday evening after the store was closed, glasses for drinks, and staff to hand them out. Other than that (my publisher could only support me from a distance) I knew the organisation was mainly down to me.

Was it a wise decision? A few hours before, with my voice a mere croak from a bad cold, no idea of how many people were turning up, no posters in store, no idea where to park (without taking out a second mortgage), and my nearest and dearest stuck on trains across the country, it felt like a very bad idea indeed.

But then... my sister designed a poster and the local print shop printed it in minutes. My baking pal produced lovely eats – and she knew where to park, too. Suddenly there were crowds of little wolves running about the aisles, their parents were happily quaffing, my voice held out...just I did my reading. People were queuing to buy the books and get them signed. I met some fans of my previous books. It was actually fun!

So should you have a book launch for your book? Maybe. Here are some things to consider.


1) It’s a great way to tell people about your book. You can invite not only friends and family, but also schools where you have visited, librarians, reading groups, book festival organisers, bookshop owners, journalists and so forth. Whether or not they come, you are still reminding them about you and your book. And when children turn up because they have loved your previous books, that is very special.

2) Media Coverage. A launch event is more interesting to journalists than simply “local author writes book”. I got coverage in the local newspaper, on various blogs, and local radio.

3) Social Media. Again, a launch is something to shout about on Facebook and Twitter, and is especially good for FB as you can post lots of photos. (So make sure there are photos!)

4) Book sales – I suppose this is the big question. Does it have an impact? All I can say is that Waterstones were delighted with sales on the day, and the Amazon rating was right up in the following weeks.

5) Above all, though, it’s FUN, and celebrates the fact that your book is finally, after so much hard work, in print!


1) It’s a LOT of work. Unless you are in the cushy position of having an event organiser, then you are going to be sending invites (and personal ones are best), writing press releases, organising food, liaising with the bookshop etc. It’s time that could be spent writing.

2) Don’t even think about it unless you know lots of people to invite. Remember, many you invite won’t be able to come. Few people will walk in off the street – unless you are a “name”. And if it’s a kids’ book, then you need to know people in the right age group. If you don’t, it may be better to do a school or other group-based event instead.


1) For a children’s event, you need children, and they like to have things to do. My book is about a wolf, so I had wolf-themed Word Searches, Colouring Sheets, Quizzes and Dressing-Up and a competition to Guess How Many Hamburgers A Wolf Can Eat in One Setting (its ninety, amazingly). For a kids’ event (probably any event) keep readings – and any speeches – SHORT.
2) Photos. Press tend to have quite strict requirements for photos. They like faces, looking straight at camera, and closely cropped. Tell your photographer in advance. If using your own camera, make sure the BATTERY IS CHARGED. Ask children’s parents if they are happy for their children’s images to be used.

3) Exploit your friends! You may not be able to make wonderful refreshments, design great posters, take publishable photos etc, but you probably know people who can. So ask them. And then thank them and pay them, if it is appropriate, or give them a lovely present.

4) Cake. You can now order cakes with your book’s cover from supermarkets or online companies. Easy, inexpensive and delicious!

5) Invite a Group. Library-based book groups, brownies cubs, scouts may all be interested. Schools, though, can be less receptive than you’d think – most teachers are busy, and not looking for extra outings, and head teachers may be reluctant to publicise events that only certain pupils can attend. On the other hand, I invited the Friends group from my local park, where some of my story is set, and although the age-group seemed wrong several came along to buy signed copies for their grandchildren.

6) Think About Stock. If your launch is at a bookshop, bear in mind that they will not want to be left with lots of unsold copies, and will order cautiously. On the other hand, you don’t want people who are keen to buy being unable to do so. So it’s a good idea for you or your publisher to bring along extra stock, which the bookshop can sell (and then replace later) if its own stock runs out.

7) For press coverage you need to get your timing right, and you need to write a snappy press release. Don’t assume that journalists will have time to interview you or write insightful pieces about your work – instead write good copy yourself and provide strong images. Send out press releases in the week before and tweet local media. I found one good tactic was to put the press release on my web-site and tweet the link. Send out photos as soon after the event as possible. And finally:

8) RELAX. You can’t completely control your book launch. So long as you are not collapsing drunkenly in the aisles (this is not the publicity you are looking for) you might as well enjoy it!

Check out Emma Barnes's web-site
Wolfie is available from Amazon and other booksellers

Monday, 28 January 2013

What's it about?

‘What are your books about?’ That’s a question I often get asked when I say I’m  a novelist writing for, or about, young adults. My first book, Vintage, is easy to describe. Vintage is about a 17 year old girl living in 2010 who swaps places with a seventeen year old living in 1962. That seems to satisfy, and interest people, including adults who were around in 1962! 

The second book, Closer, is harder to describe. In the blurb on the back we chose to focus on Mel, the main character - on who she is, her gritty and quirky take on the world, and on her finding the courage to speak out. But I was a bit naive if I thought it would stop there. As soon as the book came out, the reviews on Amazon and in magazines spelt out the story - Closer is about a girl whose stepfather gets too close. It involves sexual abuse. 

Some parents have said that they don’t think their children are ready to read it, and I can understand that. Some young people have said they don’t want to read about incest or abuse (yukk!, as one graphically put it). But the feedback I’ve had from those who read it is that they find Closer inspiring, compelling and not remotely explicit. And some of the best feedback has been from teachers and social workers who have said that it’s realistic - better than reading a case study, one said. I have to admit I'm really proud of that.

There’s something about ‘issue’ books which puts me off too. If I feel I’m being asked to think in a particular way, if I feel lectured or taught, it’s a huge turnoff. I want to be told a story. I want to find a way of getting inside someone else’s world and knowing something I’d never otherwise have known. I want to be gripped, to have to read on, and to be satisfied by the ending even if it doesn’t give me all the answers. I want to be interested in the characters and where they’re going. I want to make my own mind up.

I've learned so much from reading novels about difficult times in their characters' lives. Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar comes to mind, and Roddy Doyle's The Woman who walked into Doors. Most recently, Patrick Ness wrote so movingly about grief in A Monster Calls. When something new comes up in my life, whether it's working out how to knit socks or how to find a way through grief, I'll reach for a book, or the internet, or a friend - or all three.

It’s a conundrum, how to pose questions about an issue without giving easy answers - and then how to describe the book without giving away the story. I wrote Closer partly because I’d read the YA novels I could find at that time about sexual abuse, and the outcome in the stories was often disastrous. I knew from my work as a psychotherapist that this wasn't always the case, or it didn't have to be. 

I imagined a reader, possibly young, who read these books and had gone through something like Mel’s experience - or had a friend going through it. I wanted her, or him, to have a story where there are no monsters, and where there’s a way through. I feel passionately about that. And when sexual abuse has been so much around in the news in the last few months, we need ways of making sense of it, and stories about coming through.

So that's my first blog for ABBA - phew! 
But I still don’t know how to say what Closer is about...

Bloomsbury has published my story about Facebook in their series Wired Up for reluctant readers. It's called Breaking the Rules.

 I've retold three Thomas Hardy novels for Real Reads - The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd. They're read by 9-13s, and by adults learning English as a foreign language.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Gained in translation - Lily Hyde

The first I knew was when I got an e-mail from someone called Leila. She wrote that she had translated my novel, Dream Land, and wanted to publish it.

With someone else, my pleased but surprised response would have been to refer her straight away to my agent to deal with permissions and fees. But Leila is different.

'Like the heroine of your book, I was born in Samarkand in exile’ she wrote. ‘My childhood was often darkened by shadows, because of the deportation of our people. In 1989 we were able to return to our homeland. I lived through everything that you describe in your book. You’ve managed to perceive and impart the reality… I want to tell you that I’ve translated it into Crimean Tatar. I thought that this novel about our tragic fate should be read by every Crimean Tatar.’

The English Edition of Dream Land (Walker) 

Dream Land is about the ethnic group Leila belongs to: the Crimean Tatars, who inhabited Crimea (now part of Ukraine) until 1944, when the entire nation was forcibly deported. It is estimated that up to 46 percent died on the way to labour camps in Central Asia and the Urals. Those that survived had to rebuild their lives from scratch. They were banned from speaking their own language. They were discriminated against in education, employment, housing. And they were not permitted to return home to Crimea until fifty years later, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Dream Land is based very closely on the stories people told me; what happened to them before, during, and after the deportation; their sufferings and struggles and dreams. The book is fiction in that I made up most of the characters. But their fictional lives are an amalgam of the many real ones I encountered. I tried to imagine myself into the lives of the Crimean Tatars, to understand how they feel and where they come from, to be as true as possible to what they told me.

I was aware, though, that not only do I myself not speak the Crimean Tatar language, I was writing this book in English, for a British young adult audience who in all likelihood have never heard of the people it is about.

Moreover, I realised that the majority of Crimean Tatar young adults would not be able to read it. I don’t know what percentage speak English well enough to read a novel, but in my experience it is fairly small.

I do know how many Crimean Tatar children are estimated to speak their own language of Crimean Tatar. It is five percent.

Crimean Tatar is recognised by UNESCO as a ‘severely endangered’ language. During their fifty years of exile, the Crimean Tatars fought ceaselessly to keep their identity alive. It is a sad irony that now the central right for which they fought – to live once again in their own country – has been won, something else is being lost. A physical home gained at the cost of a mental home, perhaps.

If only five percent of Tatar children speak their native tongue, is there any point in publishing Dream Land in Crimean Tatar? I believe so, and want to support the campaign to keep Crimean Tatar alive. Barbara, a volunteer at the Gasprinskiy Library in Simferopol, writes here about what the loss of a language means. She sums up:

Their songs would go unsung, their poetry only read by language scholars, the wealth of their literary heritage only known in translated form. As my counterpart at the library, Nadjie Yagya, said to me when I first came to the library: “If a person does not know the language of his ancestors, the spiritual losses are irreplaceable, and he cannot fully understand the culture of his people.” 

The French edition of Dream Land (Naive Livres)

Leila, and everyone else informed about the situation, agrees that ultimately, Dream Land should be translated into Russian, to reach not only more Crimean Tatars but also the Ukrainians and Russians who now make up the vast majority of the Crimean population. As Barbara wrote to me:
The longer I live here [in Crimea], the more I am aware of the tremendous discrimination the Crimean Tatars face and the undercurrent of ignorance and prejudice from much of the Russian speaking population. Having a Russian version of Dream Land available to school children would give them another side of a story they perhaps hear in a twisted version.  
We’re looking for funding for a small print run of Хаял Мекяны – the Crimean Tatar title – and then, we hope, for Земля Мечты, in Russian. But I want to say thank you to Leila, for translating this book. And to Taner, who is translating it into Romanian, so that the Crimean Tatar Diaspora there can share the story with their Romanian neighbours and perhaps through it more understanding and tolerance can be built.

Dream Land is just a novel, and one I had many fears about writing – that I would get it wrong, that I was appropriating a culture and story in a crass act of cultural imperialism. But I’m so excited and humbled by these translations. It feels like the Crimean Tatars are taking the book back and making it into something bigger, and more important, and their own.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Nature's Mercy - Andrew Strong

I live in mid Wales, on an isolated hillside, miles from shops, roundabouts and mobile phone reception. When the snow comes, and it fell heavily last week, the sense of being shut off from the world increases.  So far the electricity has stayed on, the boiler has kept working and no pipes have frozen up.  When something does go wrong, no one can get to the house to help.  Alone out here on the side of a high hill, this house can be at nature’s mercy.

The wind and rain batter one side of the house, drilling into the pointing, clawing it away.  Long ago the first occupant, a vicar, planted a row of pines, possibly to act as a windbreak but more likely to stop him having a direct sight of the chapel.  The pines are now forty foot tall, and when, last summer, one collapsed, the damage was extensive.

A huge oak stands near the main entrance to the garden.  A bough crashed down a few years ago making the house inaccessible.  No one could get in or out.  I own a chainsaw but it wouldn’t cut through such an enormous girth of wood.  I had to wait three days until the tree surgeons arrived, who fought with the bough for a few hours before they could claim victory.

The house belongs to jackdaws, at least I’m sure that’s what they think, believing it their duty to protect it from the pigeons and starlings. A few years ago a jackdaw slipped down the chimney and was trapped in the, thankfully unlit, wood burner.  It was like a one channel TV.  This afternoon, on Channel Crow, a jackdaw stares out at you.  I tried to free him, but he escaped into the front room, flapping sooty wings.

Rabbits and hares circle the garden, making plans for when it becomes theirs.  Moles tunnel under the hedgerow and give the lawn acne. Squirrels, polecats, stoats and weasels, they keep at a safe distance, but are no doubt endlessly plotting.  The badgers, nocturnal gangsters, rarely make an appearance, although driving along the lane at night I've caught sight of an albino badger: I told my children it was a dwarf polar bear.

Mice live in the kitchen drawers and cupboards.  They survive on a diet of chocolate and dishwasher tablets.  A colony of bats inhabit the attic and do their best to stay there but occasionally straying, like submariners, into the human world below.  A bat will circle the living room, a black comet, or creep across the carpet like a horizontal mountaineer. 

And then there’s the human world.  I watch them from my window.  The humans leaping off mountainsides on paragliders. Humans hiking, or cross-country running.  The humans working the land, hedging, draining, digging, endlessly digging. 

The farmer who owns most of the land around the house has more diggers than I have socks.  His constant urge to harness and control nature appals and amuses me at the same time.  He is as much part of nature as the trees and the birds.  He is restless in his desire as they are.  He never stops.  This house is in the middle of his field, and I’m sure he keeps his eye on it, hoping to move in when he thinks the place has been left empty for too long.

At night, when the sky is clear I see the wide sweep of the Milky Way.  I know where to find the constellations, the brightest and biggest stars, and where to pick out the planets.  Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn slide across the heavens, following each other in their orbits.  They move along a steep curve, reflecting the angle of the tilt of the Earth.  Sometimes it makes me feel giddy, as if I am about to slide off the world and into space.

A trillion suns, and many, we are discovering, with their own Earth sized planets, the so called ‘Kepler planets’, at last count over two thousand of them.

There must be other civilizations in our galaxy.  One day, when we discover them, the idea of nature will suddenly be transformed.  Nature will not just mean this world, nor even the visible universe.  It will mean the billions of other lives out there, life forms with their own histories, technologies, their own stories. 

And at least one of them must be watching us.  Waiting for their opportunity.  We are at nature’s mercy.  Perhaps, one day, they will come.  They might slip down the chimney and end up trapped in the wood burner.  Or they’ll sneak in at night and feast on dishwasher tablets.  

Friday, 25 January 2013

Stickybumitis - Where Do I Catch It? - Tamsyn Murray

I have a deadline. It's one those scary, imminent ones, the kind that makes my stomach contract every time I think of it. The only solution is to sit at my computer and write. I know I'll enjoy it once I get going. So why will I do almost anything to avoid doing the actual writing?

What I need is something to stick my bottom to my chair until I've done my daily quota (currently around 2000 words; tomorrow, it'll be 2200, because I haven't managed the required amount today). But with so much distraction out there (see Liz Kessler's post yesterday for details), how am I supposed to concentrate long enough to write? I don't have access to an isolated cottage in the woods\by the sea\in the mountains. What I really need is to catch Stickybumitis.

The symptoms of Stickybumitis are very similar to its sister disease, Stickybackitis, where sufferers cannot get out of bed, usually in the morning. With Stickybumitis, you're confined to your seat and can't spend thirty minutes sorting out washing when you should be writing. If you switch off the internet, you're not tempted to Google the people you used to fancy at school and even solitaire gets boring after six or seven hours. Faced with no other source of entertainment, you'll write.

Of course, the main problem with Stickybumitis is that it leads to complications. In many cases, it causes another condition - Writer's Arse. The only cure for that is exercise, which leads you away from your desk and you're right back where you started. But it's a chance I'm willing to take. Where do I catch Stickybumitis?

What extreme lengths are you prepared to go to for writing? And is your bottom print expanding as a result?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Ten Ways To Procrastinate Your Way To Lunch - Liz Kessler

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog called Ten Ways to Put Off Writing Before Breakfast. Always one to push myself to achieve greater and advance further in my work, I’ve decided to revisit this idea. This time, with ten all-new procrastinatory suggestions, I’m taking the bold step of attempting to make it all the way to lunch without doing a stitch of writing.

The following suggestions are all based on what I actually did on one morning, but can easily be adapted across a number of days, to suit your needs. So, as they say on the reality shows, in no particular order…

1. Play Angry Birds. This could be substituted for any mindless game on your phone, computer or other electronic device. If you don’t have any electronic devices handy, you can always resort to doing a crossword or your daily paper’s Sudoku puzzle if you have to. I have recently rediscovered Angry Birds after a long break, and it's a goodie. It’s beautifully addictive and can easily dispense with half an hour’s procrastination, liberally sprinkled across the morning.

The beautifully addictive, and recently revamped, Angry Birds
2. Walk the dog. For this one, it’s handy, but not essential, to own a dog. You can always borrow someone else’s dog if needed. Or just go for a walk on your own. If it’s a nice day, a leisurely walk along the beach, coast path, woods, countryside – or even just round the block a few times – is a great way to convince yourself that you’re clearing your mind ready for work and not actually procrastinating at all.

Walkies. The perfect way to clear your mind ready for writing.

3. Look at houses on Rightmove. Ohohohoho, boy, can this pass the time! Please note, you don’t have to be actively thinking about moving house for this. I adore my home and have no intention of moving house at all, but still managed to spend a good hour and a half looking at properties, whittling them down to the one I really liked, checking out all the pictures, the exact position on the map and imagining what it would be like to live there. You can also use the handy new facility that tells you exactly how much all the houses that have changed hands near to you recently have sold for. For property geeks and generally nosey people, this site is gold.

4. Eat an apple.* Yeah, this one doesn’t take all that much time, but for some reason I still managed to combine it with ten minutes of staring completely mindlessly into space.

* Apple can be substituted for fruit of your choice

5. Do some back exercises. I mentioned yoga in the previous blog, but you don’t have to be able to do yoga. I certainly can’t, to any standard that anyone who regularly does yoga would recognise as yoga anyway. But you can always do a few back stretches. This one, for me, is genuinely important and if I don’t do it a few times a day, my back feels like concrete the next day. Scatter these throughout the day and they can easily add up to half an hour’s genuine ‘It’s not writing but it supports my writing,’ time.

6. Phone John Lewis about a refund they owe you. OK, so this one sounds quite specific and you might think it doesn’t apply to you. But this is just one example of the many ways you can pass a good fifteen minutes waiting for someone at a call centre to answer the phone. Problems with your bank, electricity provider, mobile phone company, broadband etc etc. If none of those apply, you could always google plumbers in your area to find someone who can fix the dripping tap in your bathroom. There’s got to be something that needs doing in your house.

7. Pluck your eyebrows. We've all been there.** You are literally on the verge of actually doing some work and you just nip to the loo while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. (No one can reasonably be expected to start working without a fresh cuppa.) On your way to the toilet, you walk past the one mirror in the house that has great eyebrow-plucking visibility when the sun catches it in just the right way. Like it is doing now. You have to seize the moment (and the tweezers) don’t you?

** Guys, you’ll have to come up with your own equivalent for this one. Perhaps a beard trim?

My current tweezers of choice. Have also doubled up to be used as a mini screwdriver for emergency tightening of tiny little screws on bathroom shelves that obviously needed tightening before doing any work.

8. Go out and buy a TV magazine. Then go through the magazine with a highlighter pen, deciding on all the programmes and films you want to watch over the following week. A glorious half hour’s procrastination here. And it’s writing, isn’t it? Sort of. You're using a pen aren't you? ***

***Please note, pic shows TV mag from December, which, due to being a Christmas and New Year special, can double the procrastination time for this activity.
9. Phone a writer pal. If your procrastinating is going so well that you’re running out of morning, you can always combine this with point two by taking your phone and a pair of headphones on your walk with you. But if you’re nowhere near lunchtime and you’re down to the last two points, get the kettle on, make a brew and settle down for a good old moan, whinge and writerly chat. Again, a great one for the ‘It’s about writing so it counts as work, really,’ category.

10. Finally, if all else fails, go ahead and write a blog. It could be your own blog, a group one like this, or, if you have a new book coming out, you can really go to town and do a blog tour. This last idea can easily pass three whole days as you supply twelve guest posts for other people’s blogs. (Which, by the way, I’m in the middle of doing RIGHT NOW for my BRAND NEW BOOK, North of Nowhere, which is, in fact, out today!!!)

If you enjoyed this blog, please feel free to succumb to my shameless plugging and check out my guest posts on the other blogs on my tour :)

And there we have it. A good morning’s (in)activity in a nutshell, at which point it’s surely time to break for lunch. My work is done.

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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

An Introduction to Abraham Maslow - Lynne Garner

Recently I treated myself to 'Your Creative Writing Masterclass' by Jurgen Wolff. A section of the book discusses what drives a person and makes them act as they do, important when trying to create believable characters. 

As part of this discussion the author discusses Abraham Maslow (1st April 1908 - 8th June 1970) and his hierarchy of needs. This is often shown as a pyramid made up of five sections. Each of these sections link to the stages of growth in a human and what they seek/need at each level. Maslow believed that the lower levels must be fulfilled for a person to be able to concern themselves with the higher levels. These five levels are:

Level one:
This consists of the basic needs to survive including: food, water, shelter, sex and sleep.

Level two:
This is the security of the individual, the family and the home. In today's modern world this could include: a safe home and environment, the need for a secure job and the knowledge that close family will be 'looked after' should something happen to us (life insurance).

Level three:
Covers the need and desire for love and belonging. This includes the love of a spouse/partner and family plus good relationships with friends and perhaps even belonging to a group.

Level four:
Once a person feels the needs of the previous three levels have been fulfilled they can start to concern themselves with self-esteem: how others view them, they receive respect from others, they respect themselves and have a sense of worth.

Level five:
In this top layer a person can begin to express themselves creatively, consider their spiritual needs, focus on their morals beliefs and express them in what they say and how they act.

Being introduced to this theory has already helped me with a story I'm in the process of planning. I've placed my lead character in level one for the first chapter, so he has a longer climb to reach level five (where I need him to be by the middle of the story). 

Now I'd like to ask: what have you learnt recently that has helped you with your writing?

Lynne Garner

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Author events from the other side - by Nicola Morgan

No, not visits from dead authors. I mean seeing author events from the other side, the side that's not the author's side. And not from the audience's side, either. From the event organiser's side.

I was thinking this the other day, after writing another blog post about organising author events, which was aimed at organisers. It struck me that sometimes we - the people giving the talk - spend a lot of time working to make sure that the audience has a beneficial experience and also a fair amount of time afterwards fretting about whether we've been given coffee, treated well, introduced properly, paid sufficiently, respected. Those things - how well we prepare and how well we are looked after - are very important to the overall experience of not just us, but our audience, because if we are relaxed and positive we are likely to do a better job. But they are far from the whole story and we may have become blind to something else important and useful.

How about we walk a mile in the shoes of the event organiser? I'm not talking about stealing their shoes, though if they were gorgeous I might well be tempted. I'm talking about looking inside their heads, properly, sympathetically, and then using what we find there to help create a really good event, one that is not only great for the audience and us but great for the person who bridges the void between the audience and us, person who can make a real difference: the organiser. Because just as the event is better when I'm happy, the event is better when the organiser is happy, too.

Let's call the event organiser Mary. (This is not code for "I'm thinking of an actual person called Mary but let's pretend I'm not." As far as I can remember I don't know a Mary who has ever organised an event for me. It's just a name, and a very nice one.)

Mary may be nervous about meeting us. This is apparent from phrases we often hear Mary use when introducing us to people, such as "real live author" or "famous author", or from her high-pitched laugh or her exasperated voice as she tells a group of kids, "I told you five times that the library would be closed at lunch-time - we have an  author visit." To Mary, we are not just a stranger, we are a stranger who has been dominating her emails/work/life for a few weeks or months; we are a stranger who may be strange - and often are; we are a stranger who may wreck her day and reputation by delivering a bad event; we are a stranger whose services take up some of her department's precious money; we are a stranger who may actually be "famous"; we are a stranger who may be judging her and leaping to wrong conclusions about her.

Mary's nerves may also be apparent from the fact that she forgets to introduce us, or introduces us badly, or says, "This is Nicola Morgan, who needs no introduction." She may genuinely think I need no introduction. I do very need one, because without one I feel inadequate, but Mary doesn't know that. She just wants to get the hell off the stage and back into the audience. I had one organiser once who was so nervous that she forgot my name entirely, at the very moment when she said, "I'd like to welcome..."

Mary has other things to do than my event. My event is not actually the most important thing in her life. It may well be the most important thing of that week, possibly even longer, but it's not the only thing she's worrying about.

Mary has no idea what I'm feeling. She has never had to "perform" in front of a large audience of 14year-old strangers. She probably thinks, if she thinks about it at all, that because I've done it for years I am totally relaxed. She would almost be right, but it's that "almost" that's crucial. She certainly doesn't know that there are several innocent things she can do which will topple my equilibrium. Years ago, before I was published, I had to organise an author visit to my daughters' school. I'm cringing as I think about how little I understood what those "famousauthors were thinking or how cack-handedly I treated them, but I know that I was wrapped up in my own stress.

Mary is worried that she might have forgotten something. She's made a huge list on the back of her repeat prescription form, but, although she knows she's done everything on the list, apart from order her repeat prescription, she's still worried she might have forgotten to put something on the list in the first place. Which is worrying.

She is also worried that George is going to do his mad-March-hare-crazy misbehaving thing again and she is particularly worried because she's just noticed that George is sitting next to Michael, which she'd expressly asked the teachers to make sure didn't happen, not least because Michael is supposed to be leaving early for his anger management class.

She is not only worried: she is also excited. She has a lot invested in this day. She had to bid for the funding and she's going to have to justify the outcomes. She really wants it to go well. She wants the pupils to be inspired by the talk, library borrowings and reading interest to rise in the ensuing weeks, the teachers to feel it was worthwhile and me to be happy and impressed with the school, the pupils and the library and...and...she's studying my face as I arrive and I'm looking a bit tense and now she's worried that I've just had the experience of walking through the foyer while Year 9 were stampeding to lunch. Or meeting Shannon and Donna from Year 10, who she's pretty sure are waiting outside the Head's office. Because they often are.

So, Mary is nervous, worried and excited and that's a recipe for things not to be completely perfect.

How can we, the authors, help Mary and therefore help ourselves? In my view, it's simple, as soon as weve have recognised what Mary's shoes feel like to walk in. Here are my five tips:

1. Prepare Mary. Make sure that she knows exactly what we need, in advance. In my case, these needs are on my website, on the page which I have asked her to read, and can be summed up as follows: a) she (or someone) will give me an introduction which makes the kids feel they are going to have a great event b) the kids will have been prepared and at least some will have looked at my website and thought about questions c) a few minutes of peace and quiet just before an event and between events. That's all. If Mary knows that, she can stop a whole load of her worrying.

2. Remind Mary. Mary may have forgotten everything in point 1 above, so remind her a couple of days before the event.

3. Forgive Mary. Because you have walked in her shoes and noticed that they are a bit leaky in wet weather and not really as comfortable as they could be. Especially the bit pressing on the toe that the pile of books fell on last week.

4. Smile at Mary. Smile at everybody you meet, even George and Michael and Shannon and Donna. Smile when you arrive. Smile when you shake Mary's hand. Smile as you walk with her to the library and after she's told the kids yet again that the library is closed because there's an author visit. As the well-known saying almost goes: "Smile and Mary will smile with you." And then everything will be all right and, if it isn't, smile anyway.

I honestly think point 4 is far more important than we might think. It's about first impressions, chemistry, putting people at ease. You're a bit anxious, but Mary is more anxious; take control of the situation; don't be a victim of Mary's anxiety or your own - cure it with a smile. Even if Year 9 did stampede all over you on their way to lunch and you met George on a mad March hare crazy day and Michael when he'd forgotten his medication and Shannon and Donna when they were just being Shannon and Donna. George, Michael, Shannon and Donna are probably nervous, too. And Mary. Besides you get to go home and not come back; they don't.

And you have chocolate in your bag. Because that's the fifth tip: Have chocolate in your bag.

You could even share it with Mary.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Getting it Wrong! - Ruth Symes/Megan Rix

5 Misconceptions I used to have about writers and writing:

1. I used to think all writers were rich.

Now I know that most writers barely make a living from their work - so cash-wise they're poor.

But they're also rich: Rich in having time to do the thing they love, the pleasure of knowing they're doing work that their innermost core calls them to do, flexibility of working space and flexibility of working hours.

2. I used to think a writer could write anything they wanted.

But I soon found out if you want to be published by a regular publisher you need to take into account the word count publishers are looking for (especially for younger readers) and if you want to use your writing to express your ideals and be published by a regular publisher its better to do this subtly. (Of course with e-boooks you can do what you like!)
Bella Donna's favourite meal

My first book published was very close to my heart and expressed my life view and because it got published relatively easily I thought I could do that all the time - but my manuscripts then started to turn a bit crusader-ish and got turned down. I still want to share what I believe in but I put it within a fun story. My Megan Rix books are all about how amazing I think animals are. In November I took part in the World Vegan Month and blogged for Animal Aid. I realised that my characters in the Bella Donna books (apart from the cats) only ever eat vegan or vegetarian food - and that's how I'd like to be (I count myself as a nearly vegan as I can't always manage it.)

 is Munchkin

3. I used to think once your first book was published it'd be plain sailing.

Hohoho! How wrong could I be. But not having my second or third novel manuscripts published was the best thing that could have happened because it meant I learnt to diversify and write for a range of ages and media and publishers rather than just one slot.

4. I used to think the writing life was easy.


5. I used to think you needed an agent.

But that isn't true. I think I'm up to my fifth agent now - one for children's books and one for adult non-fiction. I like having an agent because it lets me have more time to write and also gives me professional back-up, editorial help, sorts out my contracts and makes sure my finances are in order. But my first three books were published without having an agent so it isn't always true (and certainly not true now when you can publish yourself.)

What misconceptions did you have or maybe you went into writing with your eyes wide open - and if you did then good for you!

Ruth Symes website is and her Bella Donna website is

She also writes as Megan Rix and her latest book 'The Great Escape' has been shortlisted for the East Sussex Children's Book Award.