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 Family, Self-publishing, Writing

Writing With Many Hats

(A post about one of my writing roles – as Commissioning Editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ blog of Self-publishing Advice)

Moroccan fez hats in restaurant
Moroccan hats n a Boulogne restaurant (fortunately, they didn’t have to eat them)

Writing my latest post this morning on the ALLi blog, it occurred to me that many people who read my Writing Life blog will have no idea of the double life I lead.

Well, much more than double, really – I am a classic example of a multi-tasker (and that’s probably why I’m permanently tired!)

What is ALLi anyway? I hear you cry. And what are you doing writing on its blog when you’ve got a perfectly decent one of your own?

A Brace of Blogs

Actually, I’ve got more than one blog of my own. Echoing those car stickers that you see in rear windscreens saying things like “My Other Car is a Porsche”, my other blog is about book promotion, offering tips to authors on how to sell more of their books. Which in itself echoes the title of the book I wrote for Silver Wood Books a couple of years ago called Sell Your Books! See what I mean about the multi-tasking? That second blog is called www.otsbp.com – which is short for Off The Shelf Book Promotions. But back to the ALLi blog…

ALLi for One, and One for ALLi

ALLi logo

ALLi (pronounced to rhyme with “ally” rather than “alley”) is the acronym for the Alliance of Independent Authors. It’s the professional organisation for self-published writers and indie authors all over the world, launched by bestselling novelist Orna Ross just over two years ago.

As a self-published author interested in networking with other writers and in improving my writing craft and self-publishing skills, I joined ALLi not long after it was launched. ALLi members may write guest posts for its blog of self-publishing advice (www.selfpublishingadvice.org), and after I’d written a couple of guest posts, I was flattered to be invited by Orna Ross to join her small staff as the Commissioning Editor of the blog. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, and so about a year ago I assumed the role, working from home, at hours that fitted in well around my other work and responsibilities.

Commissioner Debbie

The Young family does Fontainebleau
More hats – this time at Fontainebleau on our camper van tour in 2011

The job of Commissioning Editor is to, er, commission articles for the blog, adding to its extensive resource of advice and information for authors who self-publish their work. There are specific themes for each day of the week, and I’m responsible for filling four slots each week:

  • Opinion (Monday)
  • Writing (Thursday)
  • Publishing (Friday)
  • Reaching Readers aka book promotion or marketing (Saturday)

To fill these slots, I track down ALLi members who have relevant messages and advice to add, and I give them a broad brief on what I’d like their post to be about. I plan the schedule of posts to provide a good variety and range of topics to appeal to writers in all genres, wherever they are around the world. When I receive the copy, images and author bio for each post, I input it to the blog via WordPress and add the necessary metadata and other details.

Keeping Myself Posted

By definition, I have to read every post – so it is a great way of keeping myself up-to-date and well-informed about self-publishing trends and developments, which complements the other writing activities and ambitions in my life.

But it was only when I was looking through the site index that I realised just how many posts I’ve written for the blog myself – some of them composites of comments by other writers, some them exclusively my thoughts. And it occurred to me that they might interest readers of my Writing Life site. So here are links to a few of my favourite posts, for your convenience:

If you’d like to read all the posts I’ve written for ALLi, this link will give you everything that has been published under my byline on the ALLi blog.

And if you’re an indie author who is interested in joining ALLi, here’s the link to find out more.

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collectionBut for now, I’m heading off to slip on one of my many other writing hats – working on my new collection of flash fiction, Quick Change, due out next month. If you’d like me to let you know when it’s available, please feel free to sign up to the mailing list for this title.

PS In case you’re wondering, my other car is a Ford Ka – but more about my vehicles another day!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

The Fatal Attraction of Books to Review

(A new post about book reviews and my reading habits)

Red bookcase of to-read books
#amreading

The decision I made some time ago to read and review books outside my comfort zone has brought many rewards.

None of these has been financial, which is worth mentioning given the subject matter of the book I’ll be talking about further down this post. No, I’m talking about rewards in terms of the discovery of many terrific new books that would otherwise have been off my radar.

Another good decision was to include my email address on my Amazon profile. Since I’ve reached the heady heights of top reviewer status (well, top 1,500, anyway – currently #1,453 in the UK), I’ve received a steady stream of emails from authors asking me to review their books.

With a teetering to-read pile constantly tumbling down by my bed, and the black hole that is my Kindle hiding dozens of downloads, I’ve always got more books than I have time to read, but whenever I receive a courteous, friendly request to review a book that sounds interesting, I do my best to squeeze it in, unless it sounds like a book I’d actively dislike.

 

How I Choose Which Books to Review

Books on the mat by my bed
My Bed (sorry, Tracy Emin, but I prefer mine to yours)

I often use Amazon’s handy “Look Inside” feature to check out the first few pages before saying yes – if the first few pages don’t appeal, it’s unlikely the rest of the book will. That’s a far more reliable guide to a book’s readibility than checking out the other reviews.

I’ve also learned a new trick here: if there is a suspiciously high number of five star reviews, I’ll click on each reviewer to see how many other reviews they’ve left. If there are none, I can be pretty confident that they doing an author friend a favour, and I take their verdict with a pinch of salt.

So, top tip to authors who ask friends to bung up a 5* review for them: while they’re at it, get them to review loads of other books with various star ratings to add credibility to their review of your book. ( I jest.)

Forging Ahead

Cartoon of a burglar with mask and cash box
Not Susan Grossey but @CriminalGenius

And that kind of activity brings me neatly (ok, with a bit of a shove, then) to the latest book that I’ve discovered via this route: Fatal Forgery by Susan Grossey. Susan sent me a very pleasant email asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing it, after she’d discovered me via my recent article in ALCS News. She included a link to an early review in the Law Gazette. It was glowing, but given the context, I was happy to believe that it was legal, decent, honest and truthful!

Cover of Fatal Forgery by Susan GrosseyFatal Forgery is a historical novel set in the Regency period, following the adventures of a police constable investigating a case of fraud.

Fraud isn’t a subject that usually excites me, although it clearly does engage Susan, in a way that is completely above board (although when I followed her on Twitter, it did suggest as “similar to @SusanGrossey” a certain @CriminalGenius!)

Susan writes about money laundering for a living, in publications that surely must be contenders for the satirical TV programme Have I Got News For You‘s guest magazine of the week, with titles such as Money Laundering Bulletin. (“This week’s top tip: how to get your fivers whiter than white” etc. I’ll leave to you invent equally childish quips of your own.)

Forgery, in Regency times, was potentially punishable by death – a fact that 21st century bankers would do well to remember. That would keep them on the straight and narrow. When the promised book turned up in the post, the beautiful, appropriate cover and atmospheric interior design had me quickly turning the pages, and I was hooked. I’ve reviewed the book on my blog, as well as on Amazon UK/US and Goodreads. (I know how to make an author happy!) There’s a link at the foot of this post.

Artistically Inclined

Cover of The Towers of Tuscany by Carol CramAn Amazon-induced email also introduced me to Carol M Cram, another debut historical novelist, whose story of medieval Italian artists, The Towers of Tuscany, kept me entertained on my journey to and from the Cambridge Literary Festival recently. Would a writer working in Canada really be able to conjure up the colourful Mediterranean of times gone by, I wondered? Yes, and in spades, is the answer. Follow the link at the foot of this post to read my review – as always, the reviews on my blog are slightly different to those I post on Amazon and Goodreads.

Africa Bound

Cover of In A Foreign Country by Hilary ShepherdBut now it’s all change again, as my current read has taken me to 1970s Ghana, thanks to In A Foreign Country by Hilary Shepherd – another author who contacted me after reading my ALCS News article. Who needs to go on holiday when you can travel so far – and in time as well – via the pages of a good book, without even getting out of bed? I’ll review this as soon as I’ve read it.

Ithacan Odyssey

Image of setting for Homeric Writers' RetreatAll the same, I’m looking forward to travelling in real life to Ithaca this August, when I’ll be helping other authors at the Homeric Writers’ Retreat. I’m inspired before I’ve even got on the plane: “A dozen authors come together for a peaceful workshop on a tiny, idyllic Greek island.The authors’ ink and the local wine are flowing steadily until….”

You never know, that could become the blurb for my own debut novel – watch this space!

 

Links to book reviews mentioned above:

Other related posts:

Posted in Personal life, Self-publishing, Type 1 diabetes, Writing

International Friendships & Chance Meetings Online

FIS logoA post about making new friends and keeping old friends all over the world via the internet

As the former pupil of an international school, one of the reasons I love the internet is that it has enabled us to reconnect, decades later, wherever we now live.

I spent four of my teenage years at Frankfurt International School (FIS), which in those days was attended by children of around 60 nationalities. Not only did I make friends from countries I’d never visited, I even discovered some new countries that I’d never heard of, and some, in those Iron-Curtained days,which didn’t even officially exist. Yes, Estonia, I’m talking about you. Kudos to Paul who in the school yearbook stated his nationality as Estonian, even though I suspect his passport was either American or Russian.You can take the boy out of Estonia, but…

I asserted my own national status equally proudly, retaining my British accent when my few fellow countrymen in the school acquired the American twang dominated the classrooms. All lessons were officially taught in English, apart from French and German.

Opening International Doors

The author graduating from her American-style high school in 1978
As valedictorian at the 1978 FIS graduation ceremony: “And in 30 years time, I’ll come back and tell you how I became a writer”

Despite spending most of my first 14 years in a sheltered London suburbia (Sidcup, to be precise), passing the next four years in an international community made it second nature, once the internet had been invented, for me to make new international friendships online, as well as renewing old connections from my schooldays.

I get a particular thrill when friends from different parts of my past hook up with each other online, such as a Becky, former neighbour befriending Janet, a past Californian classmate, and Katherine, a Sidcup schoolmate meeting – yes, meeting in real life – Jacky, a newer friend from recent years. They’d got into conversation while replying to my Facebook posts and something just clicked between them, if you’ll excuse the IT pun.

I now look out for and encourage such connections, loving the feeling that the internet is turning the world into a village. As an optimist, I prefer that rosy view to the more cynical notion that the internet’s turning global citizens into international spies. (Don’t get me started about Google Earth…)

Publishing Connections

Glu logo

Decades after leaving school, my career and family developments have caused me to join many new networks. Occasionally these also spark serendipitous connections. Just lately, in my role of commissioning editor of The Alliance of Independent Authors’ blog, I was pleased to receive a request from Christine Frost, a self-published author who’d written a blog post for me about the Boston Book Festival. She now invited me to write for the website of a US-based online community called GLU aimed at those affected by Type 1 diabetes.

Cover of "Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabte
Now out in ebook – paperback to be published later this year

I’d had no idea that Christine had any interest in diabetes, but she’d noticed my ebook, Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes. Long story short: the result was the publication earlier this week of my article on Glu’s website. Being a British writer, I was very pleased to have this opportunity to reach a largely US audience, and also to find out about this interesting diabetes-related website that otherwise might have passed me by. Thank you, Christine, for this opportunity – another fine example of serendipitous connections on the internet!

Global Presence

My friend Norio in front of Mount Fuji with my book
Our man in Japan, near Mount Fuji

For any author, getting your books into foreign parts is always a thrill, and I couldn’t close this article without thanking Norio, a former classmate and good friend from my FIS days, for taking my first book on his travels, like some kind of global ambassador. Thank you, Norio – old friends are pure gold!

  • Who have you connected with from your past on the internet?
  • What’s the most obscure place the internet has helped you reach?
  • Do tell, I’d love to know!

 

 

 

Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

How I Came To Write for ALCS News

ALCS News logoI have to thank Hereward Corbett, proprietor of the equally wonderfully named Yellow-Lighted Bookshops in Nailsworth and Tetbury, for his personal introduction to Caroline Sanderson, editor of the ALCS News.

I thought I was busy till I met Caroline. Not only is she newsletter editor for the ALCS, she’s also non-fiction editor for The Bookseller (the trade paper of the British book trade), chair of  literary festival events, book award judge, and a respected author – and she still finds time to volunteer in the local community, choreographing a fabulous Book Week for one lucky primary school in the neighbourhood.

A meeting with Caroline in one of my favourite coffee shops, The Olive Tree in Nailsworth. resulted in her commissioning me to write this overview of self-publishing in the March issue of ALCS. (The best author meetings happen in coffee shops, something I blogged about here.)

So what’s ALCS? I hear you cry

ALCS logoThe organisation’s full name is the Authors’  Licensing and Collecting Society. This marvellous membership organisation for authors is much-loved by writers of all kinds because it looks after their rights and ensures they receive fair payment for the various uses of their work.  Membership costs just a one-off fee of £25 when someone first joins (this usually comes out of the royalties they collect), and in return members receive a regular income stream in addition to the earnings received directly from their writing (advances, royalties, etc).

The ALCS News is issued monthly online to keep authors abreast of developments affecting their rights and earnings.

Caroline asked me to write about self-publishing to raise awareness of its potential as a further source of income for members. My brief was to help ALCS members make informed decisions about whether or not to self-publish any of their work.

The reason Caroline asked me to do this is because I am more or less her counterpart within the Alliance of Independent Authors, for whom I edit a blog of self-publishing advice.

And ALLi….?

ALLi logoThe Alliance of Independent Authors is the professional, non-profit organisation for self-publishing authors. Not surprisingly, there is a significant overlap between our membership groups. As time goes by, I’m hoping that overlap will increase. I should point out that ALCS is a UK organisation, and ALLi’s membership is worldwide, but there are equivalent organisations fulfilling ALCS’s functions all over the world.

How wonderful – and appropriate – that such a quest was kicked off in our local indie bookshop! There’s so much more to bookshops than just books. Use them or lose them, folks!

To read my article about self-publishing in the March issue of ALCS News, please click here.

For More Information

To keep up to date with news about my writing life, and for advance notice of new publications, events and special offers, click the “Join My Mailing List” link in the column to the right of this post.