Topically Challenged Volume 1 Out Now

I am published in an anthology!

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that I enjoyed doing writing challenges. At the beginning of the year, I took part in two such challenges on Chris Fielden’s website and have now been published as part of a flash fiction anthology.

Topically Challenged Volume 1 Flash Fiction Anthology

I chose to take part for a couple of reasons: I liked the idea of limiting the number of words to tell a story and this was for charity. Both of the challenges I took part in were nearing their end and in fact both finished within a couple of weeks of my submitting my entry.

The first book, Topically Challenged has been published today.

 

Where did Topically Challenged start?

Alice Trump submitted the idea which was to write a fictional story based on a news headline. Stories submitted had to show a strong theme. The limit was 180 words max. Once the challenge had received 100 stories, then it would close. Not all the challenges are published as books, some are simply published on the website. The ones that are chosen to be published will have any profits donated to charity.

You can buy Topically Challenged as either an e-book or a published book. It contains 100 stories based on topical news headlines. The idea was chosen because news headlines can be a great place for writers to find inspiration for their stories. Some of the stories have been left online so that people can see what kind of stories have been written. There has been a great variety of stories submitted to the anthology and it is going to be an interesting read.

Where to buy Topically Challenged Volume 1

Topically Challenged Volume 1 is available from Amazon in print and Kindle eBook formats.

Proceeds from book sales will be donated to BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity. They transform lives by getting children and families reading.

The book can be found on all of Amazon’s websites by searching for the book by name or searching for the Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN):

B08Z8JG2CR

Chris Fielden’s website has direct links to buy the book and you can find out more information such as who designed the cover.

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Book Review: Self-Publish and Succeed

Self-Publish and Succeed: The ‘No boring books’ way to write a non-fiction book that sells by Julie Broad

Thanks to Netgalley for my preview copy of this book

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Self-Publish and Succeed

When reading a self-help book, it is always gratifying to see that the author has taken their own advice in the production of their book. Julie Broad is that author.

Whether it’s making the chapter titles interesting (tick), knowing your hook (tick) or even the important subject of choosing the right title and subtitle (tick, tick) Julie Broad has an opinion on all of these matters, and more importantly, she uses her own self-help book to prove why they are important.

Follows her own advice

Every chapter has something of value to the reader. Every chapter contains interesting nuggets of information and every chapter helps to build a full picture relating to the subject of the book. Julie shares stories of her first self-publishing venture and her second. By the third, she has learned a great deal and is able to share her wisdom to the benefit of non-fiction authors everywhere.

Not only did I find this book readable, helpful and interesting, but I found that what it had to say about self-publishing would also apply to fiction books in a lot of ways. Fiction books also need a good hook to keep the reader reading, an intriguing title and a ‘try me’ front cover. Any aspiring author will learn a great deal from picking up this book and reading it from cover to cover. The book also links with Julie’s website and business, so it helps to plug her business while demonstrating her knowledge of the subject matter.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, yes, I would. More importantly I would actually consider buying my own copy, I found it that helpful. Highly commended. Thank you, Julie.

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Writer – do you plan or fly by the seat of your pants?

For whatever reason you write, there are usually at least two broad ways to do it. Either you are a planner – someone who plans what they are going to write or you are a pantser. This means someone who is flying by the seat of their pants, or someone who has no plan, they just sit down and write.

Many writers can be both, but many have a preferred method.

I came across this term at the beginning of Nanowrimo in November 2020 and I immediately got it. As someone who frequently just takes a writing prompt and launches herself with it, I get that sometimes it can feel a bit scary, but it is also exhilarating. So, how can you tell which you are? And does it really matter?

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Do you plan before you write?

If you are a planner:

You like to have an outline.

You might like to have an idea of where the story might end

You might like to plan out a book, chapter by chapter

You might have a special notebook where you plan things out

You might like collecting tools that help you plan such as apps

You might think on a story for a long time before starting to write it

 

Pros of being a planner:

Easier to begin your writing. You usually have something to write when you start up because you are working to a plan

You know where you are going, so can find interesting ways of getting there

You might have key points in mind for a longer project, such as a novel which will help keep you on track

It is easier to keep going with something when you know the way

 

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Do you dive in or hang back?

Pantser

Or Someone who likes to fly by the Seat of their Pants

 

It’s exciting, not knowing where you are going

Some people like to just see where the muse takes them

If you can’t think of something to write, sometimes it is easier just to launch out

You are totally open as to where this thing is going to go

 

Cons of being a Pantser

It can be hard to start writing on a blank page and even harder if you have no idea what you are going to write

It can make the story uncoordinated or mean that it does not flow as easily

Once you have finished your story it may mean that you need a complete revision of it

You may forget characters’ names or events in the novel and find yourself reinventing the wheel

 

Which are you?

In the end, it all comes down to personal choice and what works for you. I have tried to start planning my work more but have found that it does not always make for a satisfying story straight away and that it may have needed more work. The stories that I have just sat and written are sometimes more complete stories. That may mean that I prefer more flying by the seat of my pants than planning, but there are times when I have felt that planning is a must.

I first joined Nanowrimo quite a while ago. I had had an idea for a novel for about a year and I managed to write it all during the month. I got the free proof of it, cringed mightily on reading it and shoved it in a drawer, never to see the light of day again.

When I joined Nanowrimo last November, it was a different story: I had no idea what I was going to write. I had spent a few months writing short stories and some had been good, some bad, but I had no idea for a novel, yet here I was, wanting to take part in the novel writing month.

The idea I came up with was spur of the moment, based on a film I had recently seen and in an era I knew very little about. I decided that I would learn on the way. I started the story and managed to write most days, but I did not make the 50,000-word target. I managed around 25,000 words that month. I am now 40,000 words in and I hope to finish this novel soon.

The best of both worlds

Although I began this novel as a pantser, I have, many times, sat down and tried to work out what is happening next. I have kept lists of characters and tried to keep a rough timeline, so I have really had the best of both worlds. I know that the book is going to need some serious rewriting, but I have got to the point when I am enjoying writing it and I know that I am going to finish it. I am then likely to rework it a little before rewriting.

There are other Nanowriting challenges throughout the year. In April and July, they run another two month-long challenges, but this time you set the challenge of how many words you wish to reach. If you are trying to get your writing project off the ground, then this could be a good idea. Check them out and see what you think.

 

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Country Cat Blues Book Cover Reveal

With thanks to Red Dog Press and author Alison O’Leary

This week on the blog, I am excited to bring you the cover reveal of a book that is released next week. Country Cat Blues by Alison O’Leary will be available to buy on 23rd February 2021. It is the second book in the series, but the story will stand on its own. You do not need to have read the first book to enjoy it.

Ta Daa!

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Country Cat Blues Cover Reveal

 

On Saturday 27th February, this blog will be taking part in the book tour for the book. You will be able to read my review of the book. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.

If you would like to catch up with the first adventures of Aubrey, the book is called Street Cat Blues by the same author and it can be found on Amazon in paperback or on Kindle.

Here is a synopsis of the book:

Country Cat Blues

When former rescue cat Aubrey moves to the picturesque village of Fallowfield with his owners and their foster son Carlos, he is keen to explore the delights of the English countryside.

However, all is not as it seems among the villagers. The idyllic peace is shattered when a gruesome murder takes place at the village fete.

Tensions run high as spectres from the past begin to emerge, and Aubrey is particularly upset when suspicion falls on Morris, who may be almost permanently drunk, but is also a good friend to the local cat population…

Can Aubrey restore the peace in the village and help clear Morris’s name?

 Buying Information:

 Red Dog Shop: https://www.reddogpress.co.uk/product-page/country-cat-blues

 Amazon: mybook.to/CountryCat

Publication Date: 23rd February 2021

Author Bio – Alison O’Leary

I was born in London and spent my teenage years in Hertfordshire where I spent large amounts of time reading novels, watching daytime television and avoiding school. Failing to gain any qualifications in science whatsoever, the dream of being a forensic scientist collided with reality when a careers teacher suggested that I might like to work in a shop. I don’t think she meant Harrods. Later studying law, I decided to teach rather than go into practice and have spent many years teaching mainly criminal law and criminology to young people and adults.

I enjoy reading crime novels, doing crosswords, and drinking wine. Not necessarily in that order.

Disclaimer: Although I have received an advance copy of the book for review purposes, all opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way. I have also not been paid to take part in the book tour.

Book Cover Reveal
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PixelScrapper – the Digital Way to Put a Photo Album Together

In the UK, we have all had to stay home more, thanks to Covid-19 but this has created more opportunities for creative hobbies. I have enjoyed reading more books, written more short stories and discovered how to make a digital scrapbook.

Example of a PixelScrapper Kit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was looking for images for a children’s worksheet when I came across PixelScrapper. This free-to-join website has a wide variety of images. This community offers a wide variety of patterns and pictures, similar to real life scrapbook papers and elements. You can use them in your digital scrapbook but rather than using glue, you can just paste on a screen. You can also choose to print them out.

Membership

There are two types of membership. A free membership allows you to download a digital kit for free. The kits contain elements, which tend to be single images of a flower or a butterfly, an alphabet font, sayings or mottos and papers which are similar to the papers that you buy to put in a scrapbook. These have all been designed by the members of the site. You can download kits, mini-kits or individual elements or papers. The kits tend to be a collection of digital scrapping items linked by a theme or colour scheme. Every day you visit the website, you can earn download credits which you can then exchange for more items. There is also a paid membership option which supports the website and enables patrons to download as many kits as they want.

Digital Scrapping Elements Kit

Opportunities

The website offers incentives and opportunities to use the items you can download. You can download free items from a monthly blog train. The designers can opt in and offer digital kits. A palette of colours is offered every month as well as some ideas for themes. There is a number of ways to obtain kits. Some can be downloaded from their own websites, some from Facebook pages and some from the website itself. You can take part in challenges to achieve a certain number of pages. There is an active forum community and help available in the form of videos and posts to the forum.

So, what do you need in order to start digital scrapping?

It is a good idea to have a copy of Adobe Elements to help you achieve the images you want. Other free design software is available but most of the posts are aimed at helping you use Elements. You will also want some way of storing the images. These can be memory-intensive, so investing in an external hard drive or even a good quality SD card can be a good idea. You may wish to buy two so that you can have a double back-up. The sheet size you use may depend on the size that you wish to print. You can send these to a printing company or you can print them out yourself.

Digital Scrapbook Papers Kit

Glossary of Terms:

Digital Scrapping – the ability to use digital elements to enhance your scrapbook or journal

Kit/Mini-Kit – a collection of digital items for the use of scrapbooking digitally. Can include papers, individual elements, sayings and alphabet fonts

Papers – patterned and/or textured papers which can come in colour or pattern themes

Elements – individual small digital images. Could include ribbons, buttons, butterflies or flowers

Layout –Enhancing a photo in a digital or real-life scrapbook or journal. Usually includes 2, 3 or 4 elements or papers

 

If you want to learn more about digital scrapping then do check out PixelScrapper. Let me know if you have already tried it in the comments.

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Book Review: Mamaji by Elisheba Haqq

Release date: October 2020

Mamaji  by Elisheba Haqq, is a sometimes heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting memoir about self-discovery and a child’s journey from babyhood to being an adult without the guiding influence of a mother.

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The loss of her mother at 3 years old provides a poignant counterpoint to the love and laughter that fills Elisheba’s life from her six older siblings. The family have moved to Minnesota from India, and the children find it hard to fit in at school. A year after Mamaji dies, her father marries again and the children have a new stepmother in their lives. Sadly, she is not much interested in taking over the role of mother, appearing disinterested and selfish. The children of the family have a roof over their heads, but very little else and there is no love and affection for the children, apart from the love they have for each other.

Growing up without a Mother

Elisheba tells the story from her own point of view, honestly acknowledging her inability at 3 to understand what has happened, throughout her school years where she must try to fit into a school where she is an outsider, and into college and marriage, eventually having children of her own. Throughout the book, she tries her best to get on with her stepmother and maintain her relationship with her father. When Elisheba is able to visit Chandigarh, the place where her parents had spent their early married years and talk to relatives, she is able to find remnants of her mother and answers to the many questions that she has had. The book is filled with family photographs, which are memories of happy times.

The strength of a mother’s love for her daughter and that of a daughter for her mother, will stay with you long after you have closed this book.

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Do you enjoy writing book reviews? Try NetGalley

heart-shape-formed-by-central-pages-of-a-bookI have always enjoyed reading books. I am a member of a local book club and we meet up monthly to review and discuss books we have read. Reading a variety of books and authors is a really good way to improve your own writing.

An author whose blog I follow, mentioned NetGalley, so I checked it out and liked what I saw.

Read and Review

NetGalley is a website where publishers allow book reviewers and bloggers to read books before they are published, in order to get reviews. It is a UK website where you will need to create a log-in and undertake to review the books you get to read. As part of the profile creation, you are asked where you will review the books, whether on the website or on a blog. You are expected to review the book as part of it being made available to you.

There are a wide range of publishers registered there, including Faber and Faber Ltd, HarperCollins, Hodder & Stoughton and Mills & Boon. All kinds of books are there, including children’s books, non-fiction, fiction, autobiographical books and comics and graphic novels.

For the more popular authors or publishers, you might have to be approved before being offered a book to read and review, but there are also free books that anyone registered can access and read.

Digital Reviews

The downloads offered are known as digital review copies and they are similar to galley proofs. The text has been edited and corrected and proofread too. It is hoped that there are very few errors left as it is almost time to print the book. You might find one or two mistakes, but generally, the book is being offered as if it were an e-book. The aim is to bring the books to the attention of influencers in the book world and people encouraged to become a reader, include librarians, teachers, journalists and booksellers as well as reviewers and bloggers. You are encouraged to link your account to your social media, Goodreads and to verified industry organisations. The website used a NetGalley Shelf app to make the books available but other devices and apps are supported.

Readers and reviewers do not pay to use NetGalley, but publishers do. The website will also work with independent authors and marketing and PR companies. The aim is promote books and help with marketing and promotions.

My first book review for NetGalley will follow shortly. If you have a book blog or enjoy reviewing books, do check them out.

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Stronger Fiction: Should you write every day?

One of those pieces of advice given out to every writer is:

Write every day

It is given out so often that we are in danger of feeling that we are not writers if we don’t write every day. What if you find it hard to find time to write every day, however? What if you are at home with work emailing you, your children asking for help with school work and your partner locked away in another room constantly in another Zoom meeting? How can you possibly find time to write every day?

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The fact is that we are not super-women (or men). We have a lot going on at the moment and that may mean that some things do not happen. But should the thing that gives, be your writing?

To be honest, it depends on how you feel about it.

The thing about writing is that it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more easily it comes to you. So if you can find some time to write as often as you can, then your writing will flow better and you will find more ideas for inspiration coming to you. If you are on the look out for ideas, they will come. Many writers carry small notebooks around just to jot down ideas as they happen, although in these days of smartphones, it is just as easy to make notes on that.

Perceived wisdom has suggested that it takes 100,000 words of practice to make a novelist. That’s a lot of words, you had better get going now. Seriously, though, most successful novelists have a rough novel or two, hiding somewhere in their house, which they have sworn will never see the light of day. That’s a lot of work for something that people will never read, but it was important to achieve to find out how a novel is structured, how you manage to sit down and write words by the thousands and whether you can actually do it. Until you try, you will never know.

Do you need to write?

When you have been away from your notebook or laptop for a few days, do you find that you are itching to write? If you find that you are missing writing, then it will be important to find time for it.

Equally, if you are in the middle of writing something and you have got stuck, then you may avoid writing. You may open up the document, stare at it for a moment and close it again, without any idea of what you want to say. It can be hard to know where to take a story, when the characters seem to have a mind of their own.

If you want to write but just can not find time:

Write down your daily routine for a few days, then look for times when you might be able to fit writing in. Look for quiet times, times when the children are busy and times when the partner is in a meeting.

You could get up earlier, when the children are not expecting to be working, and take 15 minutes for writing

Why not write at a point when you are normally slumped in front of the TV in the evening?

You may have a small amount of time between when the children are finished schoolwork and it’s time to start cooking dinner.  Why not ask your partner to cook dinner occasionally to give you a bit more time?

Your writing time does not have to be every day, but it does have to be regular. It is no good just finding time to write once a month. Writing more regularly than that will help improve your skills. However if you are not working on something that you want to get done, then you may be happy writing 3 or 4 times a week.

Plan to write

If you are working on something that you expect to finish at some point, things may take a little more planning. You will want to snatch 15 minutes here and half an hour there so that you can finish your work. You will find that you do not have time for writers’ block, and that your need to finish the piece might outweigh all other considerations.

If you are stuck at a point and you are not sure where to go from there, then  leave it for a few days and come back to it. Pick up something else for a short while.

Go for a walk or a run to clear your head.

You may decide to carry on with the story for now and then come back to it. This may help you decide what happens next.

Try plotting out what happens next to help you get past the place where you are unsure where to go

If you are not happy with the direction your story is going in, you can always change it.

So should you “write every day”?

I suggest that you take this advice as a guideline. It depends on the jobs that you have got to get completed and how busy you are. Writing every day will certainly help you to feel more like a writer, but far more important is that you are happy with your writing life. You need to be comfortable with what you are achieving.

What are you writing at the moment? Are you finding it possible to write every day? Let me know in the comments below.

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Check out an Independent Book Shop during the Lockdown

This blog post was inspired by a Twitter chat this morning all about helping out independent bookshops.

3 bookshelves containing a mix of colours and sizes of book

Here is a link to the amazing chat:

https://twitter.com/RobGMacfarlane/status/1253073923916402689

although you will have to have an account with Twitter to see it. I know that Twitter can be toxic, but I also really enjoy hanging out there with other writers. On this thread, lots of independent bookshops tweeted back that they were still open for business.

You could also try a search on Facebook, as lots of bookshops will have pages there too. The aim of this post is to encourage you to use your spending power to support smaller businesses.

In this lockdown time, why not support your local small businesses? You can find a good-sized list at Indie Bookshops.

One of Jane Austen’s characters said,

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Caroline Bingley may not have been entirely honest when she said this. She was trying to compete with Elizabeth Bennett for Mr Darcy’s attention by reading a book, at a time when Elizabeth was really trying to avoid conversation with people that she felt uncomfortable with, by reading a book.

Reading a book is a great way to get away from our tablet screens.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading ‘The Tennant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Bronte. It was bought it when we visited the Bronte’s old home last year while on holiday in Yorkshire. I had previously read ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’. It is a great read – took a while to get going, but now I am really into it and not far from the end. I am already planning which book to read next.

Five reasons to look at a smaller bookseller:

  • They really appreciate your custom
  • You may find some unusual books that you may not have found anywhere else
  • It is so easy to place an order and pay online – good for socially distancing too! Check with each shop how they would like you order – some take orders by phone.
  • Browsing books is so similar to the actual experience except you are probably wearing the right glasses already
  • You can often find unusual or specialist books at smaller bookshops.

Some Midlands independent bookshops that are open for postal business:

The hive offers a selection of books and supports local booksellers through the purchases made. You can choose an independent to send some money too. The hive offers both books and ebooks and book-related gifts.

AbeBooks offers a network of independent booksellers which offer rare, used and out-of-print books which can be posted to people through internet orders. Books are shipped directly from the seller.

  • Astley Book Farm in Bedworth, Warwickshire offers the ability to buy online. It looks an amazing place to visit and seems to have a vast array of books
  • Warwick Books in Warwick are currently selling books online. You can request books through email from this page, and they are putting together book bundles too.
  • The Chaucer Head Bookshop, Stratford-upon-Avon are selling through AbeBooks or you can call them directly from the number listed on their website, including a number for overseas visitors
  • The Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham is able to sell existing stock. They are also offering mystery boxes. You can email them from their website.

I have only been able to include bookshops with an online presence. Many independent bookshops have bricks and mortar only and so I could not include them. This is a list for Midlands-based booksellers and I will be doing more blog posts about other areas of the country. If you have had good service from an online bookseller, do let me know in the comments below.

The fact is, that we need independent sellers as well as the big giants. If the big giants are able to capture all our sales and shut the independents down, then the lack of choice will make us all captive audiences. Bigger is not always better.

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Stronger Fiction: Should you write what you know or know what you write?

One of the oldest pieces of advice for people who want to write fiction is that they should “write what they know’. This sage piece of wisdom is passed down from teachers to young pupils, from tutors to college students and in many creative writing classes. Yet, what does it actually mean? And is it a piece of advice worth following?

Write what you know

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Writing what you know suggests that the writer can not step outside their own experience. It suggests that their writing should be autobiographical in nature and always include a piece of themselves. While it could be good advice to write about what you know, if you were a former pirate, sailing the high seas who accidentally kidnapped a prince, more normal people may find it more difficult. Most people’s lives are fairly ordinary and there doesn’t seem to be much room for excitement.

Directing someone to write what they know, ignores the rich imaginations that most writers have. We can imagine what it is like to walk on a strange planet or to dive deep in the oceans. We can imagine how things could turn out when you meet the one person that you have always wanted to meet – even if it has never happened to you. I would not recommend that writers always stick to writing what they know or what they have experienced.

Knowing what you write is a different thing. Here, writers research before they write and use it to help create the story. You may not know everything before you begin to write, but you may have done some research and use it to help the story along. You may need to stop and make notes of further knowledge you need, but you can begin the story and leave gaps. This will enable you to slot in extra research, which will enrich the story. The best research fits seamlessly in the story.

Call on your emotions for your writing

We have all experienced emotion in one form or another, even if we have not experienced a specific event such as losing a parent or having our heart broken. Most people understand what it can be to fall in love, to like somebody who doesn’t know you exist or somebody unattainable like a celebrity. Using the emotions that you have felt during your life is a good use of writing what you know. It can enrich your writing and bring your characters to life.

Another variation on this rule is to write what you read. This is some of the best advice that a writer could be given. If you already read and enjoy a particular type of genre, then you will enjoy writing it too. If you don’t read, then how will you know what you enjoy and which type of book calls to you on a deeper level? Being a reader is the first step to becoming a writer.

Do you write regularly? Do you think that you should write what you know or were rules made to be broken? Comment below.

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