Posted in Writing

The Big Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop

I seem to be going in for tongue-twister titles lately – but don’t blame me for this one! I’ve been tagged in a blog hop that was started by Susie Orman Schnall, author of On Grace (US LinkUK Link).

It’s the 40th Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop, and the premise is that the blogger is going to a friend’s fortieth birthday bash in an exotic island resort. (I should be so lucky!) The challenge is to list a few of your favourite things that you’d like to add to the swag bag for everyone in the group.

You can read the original post HERE. I was tagged by my editor Alison Jack, who is also an author.She recently presented me with my own swag bag – a neatly branded bag containing a lovely hardback copy of her own novel, Dory’s Avengers, which is now nearing the top of the to-read pile by my bed. You can read her post HERE.

Inevitably in this blog hop challenge, one of the items is a book! Read on to see what I’ve chosen…

Book

New cover of One Night at the Jacaranda
A jolly, uplifting romp for a 40th birthday bash

My favourite book of all time is Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, but somehow this doesn’t seem right for a 40th birthday present, nor for reading on a tropical island. I think I’d have to go instead for an uplifting, jolly book that I’ve read recently that struck me as a great beach read: One Night at the Jacaranda by Carol Cooper. Not entirely frivolous, as there are also serious themes in there, but it’s mostly about making the most of life and starting over, following many characters after a night of speed-dating. A great wake-up call for anyone who hits 40 with the feeling that life has passed them by. This book will encourage them to see that it really hasn’t. (As I can also assure you myself, being on the upper side of 40.) The ebook is just 99p on Amazon UK for the month of June, but I’d splash out and buy the paperback – and also get it signed, as it’s written by a friend of mine!

Beauty product

Box of Olay Daily FacialsMy favourite beauty product happens to be one that would be perfect for a tropical island trip – those little single-use facial washcloths made by the Oil of Olay people. It’s a really handy travel product (and good at home too), very refreshing and feels rejuvenating at least, although it doesn’t actually smell of Oil of Olay and it isn’t pale pink either, unlike the classic Oil of Ulay (as it used to be called) that I associate with my mum. (Read more about that in “The Scent of a Mummy”.)

Snack food

Box of Lindor chocolatesWell, that would have to be chocolate. In a cool bag so it doesn’t melt in the tropics. Lindt Lindor balls, the red ones – no contest.

Music album

Album cover of Buena Vista Social ClubThree contendors here – boxed sets of Mike Oldfield, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, or Buena Vista Social Club – all music that I can happily drift away to any time, whatever I’m doing. They’re all largely without words, or at least without words in a language that I can understand. Perfect relaxation music. Not sure whether Cuba counts as tropical, but I guess the Cuban Buena Vista Social Club would be the most appropriate for the setting.

My choice of any extra treat

Spiral bound notebook with Tardis image on coverAs an old-fashioned girl, and a writer, it may come as no surprise that my extra treat would be a beautiful journal of some sort, to make the point that your 40th birthday is the first day of the rest of your life, and that the adventures are just beginning. Maybe a five-year diary, or an undated journal with a beautiful cover. I particularly like my Tardis notebook – I’ve had to buy several of those to give to Whovian friends, and I also use it as a prop when I’m public speaking about social media. (“Think of Twitter as your Tardis, enabling you to reach anyone, anywhere…”)

Passing it on

With my virtual gifts stashed inside, the blog hop now passes on to two more bloggers for their suggestions, from opposite sides of the globe!

First up in England, like me, is Sarah Dale, an occupational psychologist.  Given her career, the bag will be in safe hands with Sarah! She has also written a couple of thoughtful self-help books, one of which, Bolder and Wiser, celebrates the benefits that come with growing older. Aimed at 50+, it’s a book to inspire any woman reaching a landmark birthday, whether 40, 50, 60 or beyond. Sarah lives and writes in Nottingham, where she’s just been appointed head of PR and marketing for the city’s Festival of Words this autumn, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about that.

Then the virtual swag bag will zip round the globe to Australia to Rebecca Lang, an editor and author, whose short story Army Dreamers I really enjoyed reading earlier this year – an evocative, eerie tale set in the outback. Rebecca is based in Sydney. I’ve never met either Sarah or Rebecca in person, but have got to know them through the fabulous Alliance of Independent Authors, which brings together self-publishing writers with high standards all around the globe.

Their posts should go live on Monday 16th June, but you can get to know them in the meantime just by clicking on their names here, which will take you straight to their blogs.

Thanks again to Alison Jack for tagging me – her post is of course already up, so you can read that one now too!

What would YOUR choice be for the 40th Birthday Swag Bag? Do share, via the comments! Or contact any bloggers further down the chain if you’d like to take a turn and be tagged too!

Posted in Writing

Blog Chain: What Am I Working On?

Brooch in the form of a typewriterToday I’m pleased to be taking part in a blog chain. 

Don’t worry, it’s not one of those dreadful chain letters that does the rounds on the internet, imploring you to forward an email to umpteen friends to earn good luck or ward off a curse.  A blog chain is simply a blog post written on a set topic, at the end of which you nominate a given number of bloggers to do the same. Put a lot of them together and – ta da! – you have a chain.

The blog chain is a cousin of the blog hop, which requires a quantity of bloggers post simultaneously on the same topic, including links to each other’s posts. You may have spotted a recent hop that I took part in: Helen Hollick’s excellent Winter Solstice Blog Hop.

I wonder what the collective noun for a group of bloggers is, by the way? Feel free to make suggestions via the comments box at the end!

Why Bloggers Like Blog Chains & Hops

Bloggers like to take part in blog chains and hops because:

  • chains provide a ready-made idea for a post
  • they help bloggers reach new readers via the other links in the chain
  • they’re fun!

But you can have too much of a good thing. A blog with a disproportionate number of chain-linked posts can be dull. But once in a while, I’m happy to take part, because it’s an opportunity to work with author/blogger friends whose company I enjoy and whose work I’m sure will interest my readers.

Passing the Baton to Me: Sally Jenkins

Sally JenkinsThe first of these is the English writer Sally Jenkins, who kindly nominated me in her post a week ago. Sally is a highly experienced, talented and generous writer of short fiction. Two of her story collections have been published on Kindle (I enjoyed them both!) and she is currently tweaking her 2013 NaNoWriMo script into shape. Find out more about Sally  on her excellent blog, on which she often shares useful tips and information about writing: http://www.sallyjenkins.wordpress.com

As Sally’s post explains, the theme of this chain is “What Am I Working On?” Participants are required to answer these four questions about their writing (or at least whichever ones they wish to answer!):

  1. What am I working on?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  3. Why do I write what I do?
  4. How does my writing process work?

Being the garrulous type, I’m happy to answer all of them! I write in two different genres, non-fiction and short fiction, so each of my answers will be in two parts.

What am I working on?

  • Non-fiction I’m just putting the finishing touches to a book in support of ALLi‘s Open Up To Indies campaign, and then – new year, new book! I’m just starting to write  The Author’s Guide to Blogging, to be published by SilverWood Books. Over the summer I’ll be revising my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, also a SilverWood Original, ready for an updated second edition to be published in the autumn. Other plans include: an extended paperback edition of my e-book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, with lots of new material, and Travels with My Camper Van, based on my many blog posts about our family’s travels.
  • Short fiction My first fiction project of 2014 is Quick Change, a collection of short stories and flash fiction on the theme of transition. Then I’ll be pressing on with Tuning In, a volume of short stories inspired by misheard snippets of BBC Radio 4. (I published a taster story as a Christmas ebook, The Owl and the Turkey.)

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

  • Non-fiction My self-help books for authors are exceptionally friendly, positive and supportive, and my readers enjoy my optimistic, encouraging tone. My memoir writing combines my strong sense of fun and of the ridiculous with poignant observation.
  • Short fiction The same combination, really – my writing reflects how I am in real life: sensitive but daft! My stories are also very positive. I don’t “do” sad – I’m an optimist but also  a realist. Readers often remark that they enjoy the “light touch” of my writing, whether addressing serious or light-hearted issues.

Why do I write what I do?

  • Non-fiction Self-help books for authors: because I have a lot of knowledge and experience that I can easily share, and I want to help other writers become more successful. The travel pieces: because wherever I travel, I find inspiration, and writing about it is my instinctive response. Memoirs: because I want to capture the memories for my daughter and the rest of my family, and because I worry that one day I won’t remember them myself.
  • Fiction I’ve always wanted to write fiction and now at last, after a long full-time career in the real world, I have the time and leisure to fit fiction writing in to my daily life – although since I gave up my day job, my non-fiction writing and related freelance work has taken up most of my time.

How does my writing process work?

When I first get an idea, I plan a rough outline on paper (chapter headings for the non-fiction books, scribbly random notes for the rest) and let them simmer for a while. I keep a notebook by my bed and in my handbag to capture odd ideas as they occur, for later development. Occasionally I’ll write the first draft of a short story longhand, but I can do it much faster on my netbook or PC. However, this might change soon, as my friend the writer, poet and creative thinking coach Orna Ross has just recommended to me a voice-activated writing software package that sounds a great way of speeding up the writing part.

Once the first draft is down on paper or screen, I redraft and edit, over and over again, until the words are so familiar that I can do no more. If there’s time, I’ll leave the manuscript to one side for a few weeks, but I don’t always have that luxury with blog posts in particular.

 I write best first thing in the morning, preferably in my pyjamas, and better still, in bed, but I rarely have the leisure to do that, as the school run calls. I write best of all when I’ve been in bed ill for a few days, when new story ideas emerge fully formed from my rested brain. I’m definitely at my most creative first thing, and my plan is to spend at least a couple of hours every morning doing creative writing, with the non-fiction work, marketing and related chores saved for the afternoon. I also like to blog as much as I can, but there’s never enough time to do everything – there are as many unwritten blog posts still stuck inside my head as there are online (and there are around 400 posts online across both my websites just now). In the evenings I prefer reading to writing. Every writer should be reading daily and widely.

Passing The Baton On…

So, now to introduce my three nominated writers. I can’t wait to read their answers to these questions! 

  • Canadian novelist Francis Guenette

Francis and I became friends on Twitter on the night of the last papal election, enjoying the banter on Twitter about this historic occasion. When it turned out that the new pope was also to be named Francis, I knew this friendship was meant to be! I have just been bowled over by her debut novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight, published early last year. (Read my review here.) Here’s Francis’s bio:

Francis GuenetteFrancis Guenette has spent most of her life on the west coast of British Columbia. She lives with her husband and dog and finds inspiration for writing in the beauty and drama of their lakeshore cabin and garden. She has a graduate degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. She has worked as an educator, trauma counsellor and researcher. Disappearing in Plain Sight is her first novel.  Find out more about Francis at her always interesting author website and blog: http://disappearinginplainsight.com

  • English historical novelist Helen Hollick

I first met Helen at the launch of my book marketing handbook for authors, Sell Your Books! Helen and I share a publisher, the author services provider SilverWood Books, and we’ve since become good friends, although we live a hundred miles apart. The first book in Helen’s pirate fantasy series kept my spirits up during a pre-Christmas bout of bronchitis, and the sequels are now on my to-read list. Here’s my review of Sea Witchone of my top reads for 2013. She’s also one of my mum’s favourite authors! Here’s how Helen describes herself:

Helen HollickHelen Hollick started writing pony stories as a young teenager. She moved onto science fiction and fantasy and then discovered the delight of writing historical fiction. Helen is published in the UK and the US with her books about King Arthur and the 1066 Battle of Hastings, officially making the USA Today best seller list with her novel Forever Queen. She also writes a series of historical adventure seafaring books inspired by her love of the Golden Age of Piracy. As a firm supporter of independent authors, publishers and bookstores, she has recently taken on the role of UK Editor for the Historical Novel Society Online Review for self-published historical fiction produced in the UK. Helen now lives in Devon with her husband, adult daughter and son-in-law – and a variety of pets, including a dog, two cats, and four horses. Her website is at www.helenhollick.net and her blog is at www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk.

  • American novelist Amira Makansi

Amira Makansi with a copy of The Sowing I met Amira via the Alliance of Independent Authors, whose blog of self-publishing advice I edit, and I was interested to hear about her debut The Sowing, which was co-written with two other authors – her mother and sister. Following her article about the experience on the ALLi blog, I’ve been following her progress with interest – she’s a lively, energetic and talented author and blogger who I’m sure is going to go far. She kindly asked me to be a guest on her blog before Christmas (here’s my post on her blog), and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to return the favour now. Here is what Amira has to say about herself:

Amira loves nothing more in life than reading and writing, except maybe hot wings. As an artist, she’s interested in pretty much anything except the real world. Give her science fiction, fantasy, or even a good historical fiction and she’ll love you forever. Her debut novel, the first book in the Seeds trilogy, co-written with her mother Kristy and sister Elena, is a science-fiction dystopia that explores what happens when corrupt politicians control the food system. She’s also got a bad case of wanderlust and has yet to ‘settle down’ like most normal people her age. You can find her in the hills and mountains of Oregon, the vineyards of France, or the streets of St. Louis. She’s currently working on a reader-driven blog serial in the dark fantasy or paranormal genre, which you can find here , the second book in the Seeds trilogy titled The Reaping, and an in-between novella set in the same world, as yet untitled.

Hop over to their websites now to find out more about them – and if you visit them again this time next week, you’ll find out more about what they’re working on too.

So, back to my question at the start of this post, what IS the collective noun for bloggers? Answers in the comments section please!

Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Travels With My Blog

Our camper van outside Linlithgow Palace, Scotland
Our camper van, precariously parked outside Linlithgow Palace, Scotland, last summer

As regular readers will know, one of the most frequent topics on this blog is travel, usually involving our family motorhome (posh name) / camper van (what we usually call it). But when I was giving my website a New Year makeover, it  occurred to me that there’s one sort of travel that I’ve neglected to mention here – and that’s virtual travel.

Have Blog, Will Travel

No, I haven’t devised a Star-Trek style teleporter – though I’d love one of those, if I could be confident that on arrival at my destination all my molecules would be reassembled in exactly the right place. What I’m talking about is guest blogging – where I’ve hopped across the ether to write a guest post on somebody else’s blog.

Just before Christmas, for example, I managed to appear both in the USA and Greece on the same day, thanks to two blogging friends, the US author Amira Makansi and writer/musician Jessica Bell, who is based in Athens, Greece, but comes from Australia, which pleasingly allows me to squeeze another continent into this conversation.

About Amira Makansi

Amira Makansi
Amira Makansi

I met Amira via the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), whose Self-Publishing Advice blog I edit. I was intrigued to learn that she had co-written her debut novel The Sowing with two other writers  – her mother and her sister. She kindly wrote about her experience on the ALLi blog, then invited me back to hers to be interviewed about my own book, Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes. You can read my interview – and lots of interesting posts by Amira and other guest bloggers – on her blog here.

Introducing Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell
Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell is another ALLi friend, a live wire with endless creative talents: she writes brilliant novels, poems and music. Though based in Athens, she also runs an annual Writers’ Retreat in Ithaca, mythical home of Odysseus and Penelope. Not quite as mythical as, say, Atlantis – it does actually still exist, as I can personally testify – I went there quite a few times in my pre-motherhood sailing days. It’s hard to imagine anywhere more peaceful or beautiful to pamper your muse. This probably makes Jess just about the coolest person I know.

One of the many other plates that Jessica spins is her blog The Alliterative Allomorph (yes, I also had to look up Allomorph in the dictionary), and every Wednesday she invites a guest blogger to sound off about any writing-related topic of their choice. Just before Christmas, she hosted a festive-themed post by me,. I realise this does not have the same topical appeal in early January, but it was great fun to write, allowing me to segue from my own frivolous, hot-off-the-virtual-press Christmas ebook to what in my opinion is the greatest ever Christmas novel – Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There’s something about Jess’s blog that makes me want to talk about the greats, because last time I was on there, I talked about Tolstoy.

A Virtual Paper Chain

Helen Hollick
Helen Hollick

I also took part last month in a mass blogging event, known as a blog hop. This requires a number of bloggers to blog on the same theme, at the same time, and link to each other’s posts, leading readers on an ethereal tour. This one was held on 21st December, the shortest day (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), and took as its theme “Casting Light Upon the Darkness”. Historical novelist Helen Hollick kindly organised this mass blog, which meant coordinating 30 bloggers in different locations and time zones, and it was fascinating to see each author’s individual take on the subject. You can see Helen’s starting point here, but if you want to hop straight to my post, you’ll find it here.

So those were my December outings. In future, whenever I write guest posts or am interviewed on other people’s blogs, I’ll be adding links here so that you can read them in situ – and while you’re at it, you’ll gain an introduction to another great blog too!

By the way, I also regularly host or interview other author bloggers on my Off The Shelf Book Promotions website:  www.otsbp.com – but more about that another day. 

Follow That Blog!

If all that blog-hopping is making you dizzy, there are two simple ways that you can keep up with my online wanderings without having to remember to click on my blog every week:

  • sign up to receive each new post in your email inbox by clicking the “follow” button
  • subscribe to my new e-newsletter, which provides will give you a monthly round-up of my online activity within a single email, once a month

You’ll find instructions on how to do both of these things in the right hand column on the home page of my blog.

And finally… happy New Year, wherever you happen to be, online or in the real world!