Posted in Personal life, Reading, Travel, Writing

Why I’m Going Underground (And So Is My Book)

Map of the London Underground akak the Tube
Current London Underground (Tube) from Transport for London’s official website

Last weekend I came across a terrific new scheme to entertain bored commuters and tourists as they travel beneath the streets of London on the city’s famous Underground system, commonly known as the Tube.

It’s called Books on the Underground and does what you might expect from its name: it distributes books on the London Underground system for people to pick up and read for free. They may either dip into a book on their journey and leave it where they found it, or take the book home to read in full. The only proviso is that they release the book back onto the Tube afterwards. A branded sticker on the cover makes it clear that each book belongs to the scheme and acts as a reminder to return it.

Who Sends Books Underground?

Inceptio by Alison Morton at Stockwell tube station
Alison Morton’s alternate history novel transports readers from Stockwell to Roma Nova (Photo by Books on the Underground)

Anyone can donate a book, including its author. Many authors I know, through my book promotions consultancy Off The Shelf and the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), whose blog of self-publishing advice I edit, are climbing aboard the scheme. It’s a fun way for an author to gain visibility – literally – for their work.

I’m sending a copy of my own book underground this weekend. As Sell Your Books! has a narrow target market (it’s a self-help book of promotion advice for authors), I wasn’t sure the scheme would want it, but their lovely administrator Hollie assures me that they would. After all, authors travel by Underground too.

My Top 10 Books for Reading on the Tube

I began to wonder what other titles might be appropriate for Underground travellers. Here are the 10 titles I’d most like to find there:

  • Alice’s Adventures Underground (the original title for Alice in Wonderland, seen on old copies) by Lewis Carroll
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
  • Lost Horizon by James Hilton
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • and finally, ending on a lighter note: Are We Nearly There Yet? by Ben Hatch

Action Stations

Lucienne Boyce's historival novel To The Fair Land on the Underground
Travelling To The Fair Land by Tube (Photo from Books on the Underground’s website)

As a former London commuter, I’m well acquainted with the Underground network. I can easily picture the books travelling through the different stations on familiar lines. So it struck me as especially magical if a passenger picked up a book at a particularly relevant Tube stop. I’m longing for someone boarding at Covent Garden to pick up my friend Lucienne Boyce’s fab historical novel, To The Fair Landwhich opens  with a vivid scene in the Covent Garden of 1789. What a great way to escape from 2013 London for the rest of their journey.

Here are another top 10 titles that I’d like to find at a particular station:

  • A Zoo in my Luggage by Gerald Durrell (Regent’s Park)
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Westminster)
  • 1984 by George Orwell (Westminster again)
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle (Baker Street)
  • Peter Pan by J M Barrie (either of the Kensington stops)
  • Babar the King by Jean de Brunhoff (Elephant and Castle)
  • The Adventures of Paddington Bear by Michael Bond (no prizes for guessing that one’s station)
  • Heidi by Johanna Spyri (Swiss Cottage)
  • The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford (Wimbledon)
  • The House at Pooh Corner by A A Milne (just about anywhere on the grubby old Northern Line)

I’m sure you can think of more books you’d love to find Underground. Please feel free to add them in a comment below – I’d love to hear your ideas. And if you’re travelling on the Underground and come across my book, please send me a photo!

London Underground map from 1908
We’re getting there – London Underground map from 1908 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More Underground information:

If you enjoyed this post, you might like some other posts about travel:

Posted in Family, Reading, Writing

Meeting My Hero: M C Beaton

Cover of Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death
Who could resist a book with a title like that?

Walking past my local public library just before Christmas, I nearly fell over in delighted surprise when I spotted a big sign announcing an imminent personal appearance by one of my favourite living novelists, M C Beaton.

Although my nearest public library is in the middle of an old-fashioned  shopping centre, its managers are  up-to-the-minute on what makes modern readers tick. M C Beaton is the author of some of the most borrowed library books in the country (more details here). I’ve been hooked on her mystery  stories  ever since I heard a snippet of a radio dramatisation of the first Agatha Raisin book, Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death. I’ve now worked my way through all 23 books in the Agatha Raisin series, another 28 about Hamish Macbeth, and some of her others too. Always enormously prolific, at the age of 74 she still writes at least two books every year, an Agatha and a Hamish, for which her fans are truly grateful.

I immediately snapped up tickets for myself and her other fans in my family: my parents and my sister. We were all impatient for the day of her talk to arrive. After giving them a big build-up to the event, I became a little anxious. Would M C Beaton live up to our sky-high expectations? Supposing she wasn’t as fun, witty, warm and anarchic as her books? When I was a child, I met Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear  and Olga da Polga, and found him rather dull. There wasn’t a jar of marmalade nor a duffle coat in sight. (Apologies to Michael Bond, by the way – my disappointment reflects my childish grasp of authorship rather than his personality!)

Top Talk by A Master of Her Craft

M C Beaton addressing audience in library
The audience hung on her every word

Thankfully, Marion Chesney, to use her real name, was even more fun than I’d dared hope.  On the appointed evening in January, we battled through wind and rain to gather in the little local library. The room was buzzing with the chatter of eager fans, yet the minute she walked in, the room fell silent. She progressed  across the room, her Edwardian-style velvet gown billowing about her in a multitude of jewel-like colours. Beneath it shimmered a copper silk shirt. She knew how to create a dramatic entrance. Taking her seat on a plain library chair in the middle of the room, she picked up the microphone and with no more ado began to speak. Without reference to notes or slides, she took us through a highly entertaining account of her career, swiftly moving from bookshop assistant to reporter to theatre critic to novelist, holding the audience completely in her thrall.

It would be easy for a bestselling writer to use library events simply to sell their books. M C Beaton preferred to entertain. She also demonstrated herself to be as prolific a reader as she is a writer, just as all good writers ought to be. I was especially pleased to hear that one of her favourite authors was another of my literary heroes: Dorothy L Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey.

“I’ve even bought Fifty Shades of Gray,” she announced to our astonishment. “I bought it by mistake at an airport when I didn’t have my glasses on. I thought, ‘Oh, here’s a new P D James I haven’t read yet’.”

The Icing on the Cake

M C Beaton shares a joke with my mum
Making my mum’s day

We were putty in her capable hands. Her self-deprecating tales served only to hold us deeper in her thrall. After the talk, not only was the queue to buy her books enormous; many people went back two or three times with further purchases.

Were we the unwitting victims of clever, cynical marketing tactics? Oh no, she was entirely genuine. How do I know? I asked her to sign a book for my author friend Sandy Osborne, whose own debut novel Girl Cop had been published the previous week. As she was autographing the frontispiece, I had a sudden, cheeky impulse to tell her about Girl Cop, and I offered to send her a free copy.

“Oh no, dear, give me the details and I’ll order it from Amazon,” she said with a winning smile. “I believe in writers getting their royalties.”

Cover of Death of a Scriptwriter by M C Beaton
The writer’s revenge!

M C Beaton’s writing career has not all been plain sailing. She is still bitter at the way she was treated by the producers of the Hamish Macbeth television series many years ago. They took extraordinary liberties with her characters and plots, which bear  no resemblance to her creations. Scandalously, they don’t even pay her royalties for repeats. But is she downhearted?

“Oh no, I got my revenge,” she asserted. “My next Hamish Macbeth book was called Death of a Scriptwriter.”

Now that’s what I call a class act.

For more about M C Beaton, visit her website.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read other items I’ve written in praise of public libraries:

A nostalgic portrait of the public library I visited as a child

From my book promotion website, a report on talks by romantic novelist Sarah Duncan and performance poet John Hegley

Posted in Reading, Writing

My Next Big Thing

I’ve been tagged! And I mean that in a good way…

The authors Debbie Young and Helen Hollick
With Helen Hollick at the launch of “Sell Your Books!”

I’ve been tagged in “The Next Big Thing”.

This is a blog hop in which one blogger answers a series of questions about their work in progress before nominating other bloggers to whom they’d like to pass the baton. It’s a bit like a chain letter, only very much nicer!

I’ve been tagged by historical novelist Helen Hollick, whose books take pride of place on my mum’s bookshelf. Helen was a special guest at the recent launch party for my first book, Sell Your Books!,  kindly hosted by my publisher SilverWood Books – the company that also publishes Helen’s many novels. Sell Your Books! – my Previous Big Thing, so to speak – is a book promotion handbook to help self-published and indie authors to (yes, you’ve guessed it) sell their books. Published less than a month ago, my book has already received some terrific reviews on Amazon.

“Every indie author should have one!” says Helen Hollick.

But now I need to tell you about my NEXT big thing by answering the ten set questions… 

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Until this morning, it was going to be called Forever Young, but then I discovered there are already at least five books on the market with the same title, so it’s time to think again. (Book promotion tip: it’s always worth doing a search on Amazon before deciding on your final title.) So now I’m thinking it will be called Young By Name, for obvious reasons.

2) Where did the idea come from for your book?

The writer and blogger Laura Zera
My online friend, Laura Zera

As well as writing a book promotion blog for Off The Shelf Book Promotions to supplement the advice in Sell Your Books!, I’ve been penning this  personal blog, YoungByNamefor nearly three years. I’ve put my heart and soul into over 200 blog posts and received some lovely feedback from readers. But blog posts are a bit like newspapers: today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper. Old blog posts slip away into the sunset as new posts are added. When one of my regular readers Laura Zera told me recently that I ought to preserve them in a book,  not least so that my daughter can read them when she grows up, I decided that she was right.  So I’m going for it!

3) What genre does your book fall under?

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. Some posts are sheer humour,  recounting funny things that have happened to me. Others are travelogues. Many are nostalgic bits of family history and memories from my childhood. So that I can get my marketing right, I’m going to have to invest some time in trawling through publishing websites till I hit upon a category that really fits. This will dictate the cover design, blurb, and so on.

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My late English teacher, friend and mentor Joe Campbell, who was a New Yorker, said that the actress Juliet Stevenson always reminded him of me but I think she’d need to put on a couple of stone, like Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones, to play the part convincingly. A cross between the national treasures Tamsin Greig and Miranda Hart would be good: intelligence and ready wit under an outer wrapper of social awkwardness. Miranda in glasses and flat shoes but with her hair curled would be about right. For my daughter, Ramona Marquez, the little girl in the BBC TV series Outnumberedwith her hair straightened, would be fine. For my husband, it could be whoever who played the hero in Dr Finlay’s Casebook or Robert Carlyle in Hamish Macbeth to get the accent right. (“Och, no!” I hear him cry. He’d probably nominate a heart-throb such as Johnny Depp. Well, I could live with that!)

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“These whimsical, witty, moving and memorable observations of family life, written by a Londoner transplanted into the English countryside, are presented in bite-size chunks for perfect bedtime reading.” (With apologies for the excess of adjectives.)

SilverWood Books assisted publishing consultants with author Debbie Young
Team SilverWood with me at my book launch

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

If I had the time and energy to master the technical processes and to organise the necessary professional services such as jacket design and proofreading, I’d do it all myself to save money. But to preserve my time for writing and book promotion, I’m planning to use the services of assisted publishing company SilverWood Books to self-publish. That way, I’ll be confident of a slickly produced, beautiful book that will look at home in any high street bookshop. Yes, it will cost me more, but I think the results will boost sales and so justify the investment.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m aiming at doing a book for each calendar  year of blog posts, so the answer to that is a year to write the original blog posts. I’ll now need to spend a few days organising and subediting the posts before I send the manuscript to SilverWood.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Any collections of essays or articles by bloggers or  newspaper columnists that people are happy to buy to re-read at their leisure in paperback. The best of these are by masters of the art such as Clive James, Alan Coren  or dare I suggest Jeremy Clarkson for those who find his views palatable? Among the younger generation, the actor Michael Simkins, junior doctor Max Pemberton and the wonderful Caitlin Moran are good examples. All completely different personalities, obviously, but each is entertaining and engaging in his or her own way.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always written and always liked to make quips about things going on around me, and the invention of the blog provided the right format for me to set all these thoughts down easily in one place. In my hectic daily schedule, in which I juggle different jobs, family life and volunteering, there is no shortage of ideas for new blog posts!

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There is a serious thread that runs through it about living with Type 1 diabetes – a serious condition that affects both my husband and my daughter. As with my first book, I’ll be donating a percentage of my royalties to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation ( to help fund research into a cure. Behind my flippancy lies this serious, purposeful undertone.

And now it’s time for me to pass on the baton to these writers whose Next Thing is definitely going to be BIG!

Cover of To The Fair Land, historical novel by Lucienne BoyceLaura Zera – a wonderful Canadian writer living in Seattle, who I first discovered via her compelling blog, before reading her terrific travelogue about Africa. Like mine, Laura’s  next big thing is going to be in a completely different genre to her previous book. Over to you, Laura!

Lucienne Boyce – like Helen Hollick, she’s a historical novelist published by SilverWood Books. She was invited to read her debut novel, To The Fair Land, at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival of Literature this year, and she’s now working on her second novel – but I’ll leave it to Lucienne to tell you all about it!

Sophie E Tallis – a local teacher who has just published her first book, White Mountain, but I have a feeling she has many more Big Things ahead of her!

Thanks again to the lovely Helen Hollick for tagging me – it’s been a pleasure and a privilege, Helen!