Posted in Writing

My Butterfly Mind

Following my recent appearance on BBC Radio Gloucestershire to chat to presenter Anna King about the notion of a butterfly mind, I’ve been asked to post the gist of my views about the notion here, for anyone who was unable to catch the broadcast.

Paper butterfly
Spotted in a craft shop a couple of weeks ago (it followed me home)

The term butterfly mind is usually applied to people whose thoughts flit about all over the place, never stopping in any place for very long.

It’s often used as a derogatory term, but I think it is better described as the pessimist’s description of a lateral thinker. It’s a bit like the old glass half-empty/half-full analogy. Butterfly minds are not necessarily the sign of a scatty dimwit, but of someone who is interested in everything. The butterfly isn’t moving around because it’s got a low attention span – it keeps going because it gains a little bit of nourishment wherever it alights.

With a natural butterfly mind, I’m always shooting off at tangents in conversations, drawing parallels and connections with other things, as the diversity of posts on this blog testifies. Here’s a list of the most popular recent posts:

Why Do We Eat Turkey at Christmas?
New Respect for Old Fishwives
Why Doing A Jigsaw Puzzle Is A Bit Like Writing A Book
Why I Named My Daughter Laura (For Lauras Everywhere)
Let It Snow: My Best Childhood Christmas Memories
The Sixpence That Changed Into a Swimming Pool
Meeting Our (Rugby) Match Provides A Family Outing
The Ceremony of the (Bubble) Bath – Ancient and Modern
My Book Launch Speech at the London Book Fair

The Laterally Thinking Butterfly

Butterfly hairclip
My daughter gave me this hairclip

Having a butterfly mind makes me a very good lateral thinker and, if you’ll forgive what might sound like boasting, a great ideas person. In my long career spent in the hard commercial world, before I became a full-time writer, I had two key strengths – my way with words and my propensity to come up with new and original ideas.

These were offset by an awful lot of things I was very bad at, such as financial planning, wearing a suit without feeling imprisoned, and not falling asleep in meetings.

The Best Career for the Butterfly Minded

PR consultancy, which accounts for the bulk of my career, was a great niche for someone with a butterfly mind, because it actually requires you to delve into lots of different businesses and activities, applying the same set of skills in very different scenarios. When I was in PR, my clients ranged from public sector (NHS trusts) to retailing  (retail pharmacy, grocery superstores), from food manufacturing (frozen food) to consumer goods (cat litter!)

Journalism can be much the same, whether in print or broadcast on radio or television. The anchors of magazine programmes must to flit about on lots of subjects every day and find links between disparate subjects when segueing from one topic to another. Whenever I go on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, I’m always bowled over the their consummate skill and deceptive ease with which the show hosts ply their trade.

Where Do Butterflies Go On Holiday?

Butterfly necklace
Acquired on St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall

Our main family holidays are taken by camper van, which enables us to flit about from one place to the next whenever we like, rather than stopping in one place. We seldom spend more than one night in the same place. We don’t use campsites but opportunistically find free places to stay without troubling anyone. When I get a moment, I’ll be writing a book about that too called Travels with my Camper Van.)

The Butterfly Minded Matchmaker

Butterfly pattern bag
A gift from my daughter

Another benefit of having a butterfly mind is that it makes you a good matchmaker – not necessarily in the romantic sense, but in terms of networking. Often when I meet someone new, I immediately think “Ah, I must put you in touch with such-and-such”. Examples:

  • I met the cameraman David James on Chris Baxter’s show recently and when realised his service would be just right for Read for Good’s purposes and also for the authors who use SilverWood Book’s publishing services in Bristol (who commissioned one of my books). I’ve since sent introductions to the directors of both companies.
  • Meeting Katie Fforde last year when we were both on a panel for Chris Baxter’s radio show segued into a gig at the Romantic Novelists Association’s annual conference, of which Katie’s president, to talk about self-publishing.

Having access to the internet makes it easier than ever to capitalise on the powers of a butterfly mind. It’s quick and easy to ping off emails and social media updates to connect people. But the internet can also easily sap the time of any networking butterfly: there are too many honey-traps, such as trending topics and intriguing hashtags on Twitter. Before you know it, you’ve got umpteen tabs open on your computer and you’ve wasted an afternoon.

Having a butterfly mind also makes you an opportunist. Butterflies spot opportunities more easily and seize them, making their own luck. I’ve done that a lot during my employment, both in formal jobs and in freelance work.

Having a butterfly mind is part and parcel of being a short-form writer, as I am, churning out short stories, flash fiction, blog posts and  journalism, never dwelling on any one project for long. When I’m writing a book, the only way I can get it done is to break it down into chapters and tackle each one as if it is a short project. Before I tackle my first novel, which I’m hoping to do next year, I’m going to have to build up my stamina.

What Makes a Butterfly Mind Happy?

Constant stimulation of interesting things, new experiences, changes of scene – and that magic moment when disparate things in my life all come together:

  • Butterfly patterned bag
    My daughter’s new bag

    For example, I discovered recently that my the flash fiction author Calum Kerr, whom I befriended via his National Flash Fiction Day event, and who comes from Manchester and lives in Southampton, has an aunt and uncle who live round the corner from me in my tiny Cotswold village.

  • Discovering that when I was in Fraserburgh, on the far north west corner of Scotland this summer, not only my brother-in-law and my nephew, were, separately, in town the same day and only metres away from us, but the next day when I was a few miles further down the coast in Aberdeen, my friend Cherry from ReadWell in Nailsworth was too. None of us saw each other, but we were all there!
  • I also get very excited when friends from different parts of my life become friends with each other in their own right – something that happens more easily because of the advent of social media, such as when Katherine, an old friend from my London primary school who now lives in Spain, got chatting on my Facebook page with my Gloucestershire friend Jacky, who lives in Cheltenham. Last year we ended up getting together in person and spent a lovely day together!

The Disadvantage of Having a Butterfly Mind

It can be hard to get things finished when you’re constantly getting distracted. I often find myself inadvertently overpromising and underdelivering, because I find it very hard to say no to things that sound interesting. For example, I’ve just got involved with the new roof appeal for our local church roof at St Mary’s Hawkesbury, even though I’m not religious, hardly ever go to church and know nothing about church rooves. But t’s a beautiful building with a fascinating past and it’s an important part of our heritage. What’s not to love?

Perfect Reading for the Fiction-Loving Butterfly

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
My latest book of very short stories is perfect for the butterfly-minded reader

So now you know the real reason behind the beautiful butterfly on the cover of my new collection of short stories, Quick Change. With some stories as short as just 100 words, and none longer than 1,000, this has to be recommended reading for any literary butterfly. Mostly humorous, tempered with the odd poignant moments, it’s been gathering some fabulous reviews, and I hope you’ll want to read it too. It’s currently available only in ebook form, but there’ll be a paperback coming out shortly – just as soon as I can settle down long enough to make it happen! To find out more about the book and to see what others have had to say about it, flit over to its Amazon page via this link: Quick Change . And if you’ve read it and enjoyed it, you’ll make this butterfly’s day if you take a moment to leave a brief review of it on Amazon!

Do you have a butterfly mind? Do you love them or hate them? Feel free to join the conversation by leaving a comment!


Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

Training My Dragon (Dragon Voice Recognition Software, That Is)

Picture of a dragon reading a book
How I’m training my Dragon

A post about my new toy: voice recognition software

As a multi-tasking, overloaded author who still hasn’t mastered the art of saying “no”, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my productivity and time management.

Recently I was introduced by my author friend Orna Ross, founder and director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, to a new way of squeezing more words out of each day: using voice recognition software.

To my amusement and delight, the software she recommended is known as “Dragon”, manufactured by Nuance, and to increase its (already impressive) accuracy, you are encouraged to “train” it. The training consists of reading specific extracts of text to help it get used to your voice.

I’m still at the early stages of using Dragon (and also a free speech recognition programme that was included with my other new toy – how spoiled am I? – my tablet). But I have to say it’s great fun, and much more reliable than whatever they use to produce the subtitles on news programmes, which are always full of amusing errors. To be fair, part of the problem there may be that the software has to respond to an ever-changing variety of voices and accents, rather than acclimatizing to one.

Not Just for Authors

Voice recognition software is useful not only to authors, but to anyone who types a lot of text on computers – business letters, blog posts, emails, even social media updates. If you’d like to find out more about it, you may like to read the blog post I’ve just written in my capacity as Commissioning Editor for the Alliance of Independent Authors on their blog of self-publishing advice here:

Rather pleasingly, when I was first starting to use Dragon, it interpreted the name “Orna Ross” as “Order Rocks” – and I’m hoping that now that I’ve mastered it, order will indeed rock, in my study, if not throughout the house.

Posted in Family, Travel, Writing

Inspired by Young Writers

A post celebrating the joy of young writers wrapped up in their stories

Inspiration for a three year old girl's fan fiction

One of the many highlights of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat, which I had the pleasure of attending earlier this month on the Greek island of Ithaca, was witnessing a young boy, aged about five, shyly but proudly approaching our group as we sat chatting by the hotel pool, to share with us the story that he’d written.

He’d dictated it to his mum, she’d written it down, and he’d subsequently provided the illustrations. He regaled us with his fan-fiction story about Angry Birds. His tale seemed as real to him as we were. Even Homer would have been impressed by his passion for his story. (Perhaps we should have asked for his autograph; in a couple of decades, we might be boasting that we’d “discovered” him.)

My Daughter’s Early Stories

On returning home, clearing out a dusty box of papers from beneath my desk, by chance I came across a trio of stories dictated by my daughter Laura before she started school. Reading them now at the ripe old age of 11, she finds them terribly funny, but I’m touched by how completely that young storyteller, like the boy in Ithaca, was immersed in her own world of make-believe. I’m reproducing them below for your entertainment.

Long may children continue to write with such obvious passion and pleasure, their imaginations and values undimmed by the abundance of distractions in our modern age.

The Family Choice
by Laura Young aged 4

There was a family and they lived happily together and that morning the postman came and the birds were singing and they went to the playpark before they had their breakfast and they loved to go on the slide and it was very lovely and they played and played and played. They really liked it at the playpark so they went on the swings and on the slide and on the roundabout and they were singing “halalalloo” and they were doing a show in the afternoon to their friends and they loved to go on the swings because they kept standing up on the swings and they didn’t fall down. They were always going on the slide and on the roundabout because they were so lovely and the postman came every day.

The Lovely Pony and the Horsey and the Unicorn
by Laura Young aged 4

There was a horsey.
There was a pony.
There was a unicorn.
The old lady looked after them.
The superlady was coming and the superman in case there was any trouble and there wasn’t any trouble.
The Tumbletots lady and the Tumbletots little girl came and played with them and tried to help at school with them.
Then the man which didn’t like the pony and the horsey and the unicorn came then the superlady and the superman came and got things off him then the naughty man liked them.
The End.

Milly Molly Mandy Goes Yukky
by Laura Young aged 3

Once upon a time a big frog came and ate Milly Molly Mandy all up and Billy Blunt and Little Friend Susan. They couldn’t go anywhere and had to stay in the frog’s tummy. Another frog came and ate other people all up. Another frog came and ate the boys and girls up. A cat came (Milly Molly Mandy’s cat) and ate all the frogs up and Milly Molly Mandy and Billy Blunt and Little Friend Susan. Some other people rescued them and they went home for tea.

(More feedback from the fabulous Homeric Writers’ Retreat to follow soon.)

Posted in Travel, Writing

Like Buses… A Second Post on the Writers’ & Artists’ Website

Cover of 2014 Writers' & Artists' YearbookJust a couple of weeks ago, I posted here an announcement that I’d started writing for the esteemed Writers’ & Artists’ website (the 21st century manifestation of the the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook).

And like buses, as soon as one post opportunity came along, a second swiftly followed.

All About Writers’ Retreats

My second post went live at the end of last week while I was off in the Forest of Dean with my daughter’s school residential trip, (oh, the magic of modern technology!) This one shared my take on writers’ retreats – that they shouldn’t be seen as self-indulgent holidays for writers who want to hide from the real world, but as valuable opportunities for ambitious authors to improve their art, focus their ideas and build their confidence. “Constructive escapism” is how I preferred to phrase it.

As I type this post, my guest article is currently featured on the Writers’ & Artists’ homepage, with an illustration of a Greek beach. Why the Greek beach? That’s because the post includes a reference to the Homeric Writers’ Retreat and Workshop that I’m helping to run on the island of Ithaca at the start of August. Not only does that setting offer blissful escape from the pressures of the modern world, making it easy for the authors taking part to focus on their art – it also includes the notional presence of perhaps Greek literature’s most famous author: Homer, whose Odyssey focuses on the mythical Ithacan isle.

Image of setting for Homeric Writers' Retreat

My post will be bumped off the Writers & Artists’ blog’s top spot after a few days as new articles are added to the site. (A few more are coming from me over the next few months.) After that, you’ll find my post in praise of writers’ retreats here:

The Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop

If you want to find out more about the Homeric Writers’ Retreat and Workshop, check out its website here – and lose yourself in the gallery of Erika Bach’s stunning photo gallery of Ithaca. And in case you missed it, here’s my previous post about writing for Writers’ & Artists’.

Posted in Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

Why Beta Readers Make Books Better

That tongue-twister heralds news of my new flash fiction collection, Quick Change, due for launch later this month.

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Due for launch as an ebook on 21 June 2014

It’s a nerve-wracking time for any author when their precious manuscript is packed off for final editing and proofreading before publication. This week that’s what’s happening to Quick Change, the collection of flash fiction that I’ll be publishing as an ebook later this month. By the power of the internet, the final draft has zoomed across the ether to the other side of the country, for my editor Alison Jack to give it her expert treatment.

Last week it was the turn of the beta readers to read an earlier version of my manuscript. No, that doesn’t mean I’ve written my book in Greek.

What Are Beta Readers Anyway?

Beta readers are volunteers who read a manuscript prior to publication to alert the author to anything that might be improved. A great beta team will pick up inconsistencies and glitches that might spoil the flow of the story, e.g. a character whose name changes, an unbelievable  plot detail, or excessive use of the author’s favourite words.

  • One of my lovely beta readers spotted that I apparently have an obsession with recycling bins: the frequency of their appearance in this book has now been reduced. Or you could say, I’ve put out the bins.
  • Another reader pointed out that Belisha beacon should be capitalised because it’s named after the first Baron Hore-Belisha, a former British Minister of Transport. Well, did you know that? By the way, I can understand why they plumped for his second name.
  • One person alerted me to a recent change in the law that had made one scene in my book illegal. It was news to me. (And I bet that’s intrigued you – but no plot spoilers here, sorry!)

Interestingly, none of my eagle-eyed friends spotted the blind man that I had checking his watch. That anomaly only jumped out at me when I was inputting their suggested changes to the copy.  Which only goes to show that you can never have too many people checking over your work before you hit the “publish” button…

Publication Date Alert

I’ll be sending out a special newsletter to my blog subscribers nearer the launch date, Saturday 21 June, along with a free bonus story. To receive this alert, do either of these things:

  • If you don’t already subscribe to my blog,sign up here, and I’ll send your free bonus story with the next newsletter.
  • If you don’t want to join the blog subscribers list, but would like to be alerted when Quick Change is published, please add your email address here.

(If you’re already a subscriber to my blog, you don’t need to do anything – I’ll send you the newsletter anyway.)

In the next day or two, I’ll be posting here about how to find beta readers – useful for any authors reading this post, but also an interesting insight for non-authors behind the scenes of book production. In the meantime, I’d like to say a big thank you to my fabulous beta readers and editor by posting their links here: