Posted in Writing

Writing for Writers and Artists

Cover of 2014 Writers' & Artists' YearbookA post about my excitement at being asked to write for the website of the bestselling guide for authors, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook

When I first encountered the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook in my teens, I regarded it as some kind of Holy Grail for aspiring authors. Within this vast tome lay an introduction to everyone who was anyone in the world of publishing, including agents and publishers who might in time be my stepping-stone to becoming a published author.

Like so many other aspiring authors, I religiously bought the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook year after year, reading it avidly and highlighting the most likely suspects in dayglo pens.

Ambitions Achieved

Despite a regular W&A habit, my first book was published not by someone listed in its pages, but by SilverWood Books, a publishing services company that had evolved to help writers take advantage of the new trend for self-publishing. Their service was made possible by technology that hadn’t even been dreamed of the day I first picked up the esteemed Yearbook. I’ve since gone on to co-author a book for the Alliance of Independent Authors and to self-publish books of my own.

Exciting Invitation

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Now emerged from its cocoon

Even so, it was with delight that I accepted an invitation to start writing guest posts for the modern face of the traditional Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, its website www.writersandartists.co.uk.

The first article I’ve written for them was an introduction to flash fiction, and it was published to coincide with National Flash Fiction Day on 21st June, when I also officially launched my new ebook collection of flash, Quick Change. Here’s the link if you’d like to read it – or just to share my joy at seeing my name as a byline for this esteemed publication:

https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/advice/673/dedicated-genre-advice/writing-short-stories/

But now, it’s on to the next article: a piece I’m writing for them about the value of writers’ retreats. Watch this space…

Other posts about articles I’ve written recently for various publications:

 

Posted in Writing

Suddenly Butterflies Are Everywhere

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

Why I’m starting to get spooked about my latest book project

My first husband used to call it “Papua New Guinea Syndrome”. I suspect he made that term up, as it’s not recognised by Google. It’s the phenomenon whereby you don’t hear about something for ages, or have never heard of it, and suddenly it’s everywhere, to the extent where it can start to feel a little scary.

In my current case, I feel like I’m being stalked by butterflies. That may not sound a scary prospect – they’re less threatening than, say, man-eating tigers or crocodiles – but I’m still finding it startling to come across butterflies wherever I go.

Butterfly necklace
Found at the bottom of my present box

What’s this got to do with my next book? Well, the cover shows a big bold butterfly as a shorthand indicator that this collection of flash fiction stories are all about transformation.It’s due to be released as an ebook on Saturday, and between now and then I’ve got to put some serious hours into the editing and formatting process.

Butterfly hairclip
My daughter gave me this hairclip

Until today, I’d taken the many occurrences of butterflies to be a good omen, wherever I found them. But then around 11am this morning, just when I was sitting down to do my final edit, our broadband cut out for no apparent reason.

Butterfly pattern bag
Another gift from my daughter

After I’d exhausted the usual turning-it-off-and-on-again procedures, I phoned our broadband provider to investigate. Long story short, they deduced that the router was defunct, sold me a new one for £70, and told me there was nothing more to be done than wait for its arrival.

Already stressed by a plethora of journalistic deadlines this week, I sought to soothe my anguish my embarking on a mammoth clean of my husband’s messy desk and study. This included pulling out the table in the bay window to sweep behind it – and what should I find there but a dead butterfly? My heart sank. Was this a sign that my book was also doomed?

Butterfly patterned bag
My daughter’s new bag

But then, things began to look up. Towards 5pm, after some vigorous polishing near the plugs, I noticed the green broadband light ping back to life. A miracle! So now, to our usual mantra of “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” we’ll be adding “Have you tried polishing it?”

More about Quick Change here.

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Due to emerge from its cocoon this Saturday
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 Personal life, Reading, Type 1 diabetes, Writing

The Alchemy of Chocolate

Logo for the SilverWood Authors Spring Hop

Welcome to the SilverWood Authors Spring Hop!

“Some of SilverWood’s many authors have come together to share a variety of articles and items of interest on their blogs for your enjoyment.

“There are some lovely giveaway prizes, and – to stay in keeping with the Spring and rebirth theme at this time of year – some colourful Easter eggs.

“Feel free to collect the eggs, and use them where you like. They were drawn by SilverWood author Peter St John who writes the ‘Gang’ series about a boy who was evacuated to a village near Ipswich during WWII. Meet Peter and his characters on the Blog Hop, along with a host of eggcellent SilverWood authors. 😉

“Have fun!”

Helen Hart
Publishing Director
SilverWood Books
www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk

About My Spring Hop Post

Cover of my new book, "Coming To Terms with Type 1 Diabetes"
Cover design by SilverWood Books

My contribution to the blog hop is a light-hearted very short story that takes as its theme every woman’s love of chocolate. I’ve always loved chocolate, though my relationship with it hasn’t always been easy, especially since my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 3.

But it is a complete myth that diabetics can’t eat chocolate – they can, they just need to give themselves enough insulin to offset it before they eat it. So if you know a diabetic and are wondering what to give them this Easter, don’t hesitate to give them a chocolate Easter egg – and not “diabetic chocolate” either, an evil concoction made with a sugar substitute that spoils the flavour and has no health benefit compared to normal chocolate. (Yes, there IS a health benefit – to dark chocolate, in moderation, and it’s a useful source of slow-release carbs, which is why Paula Radcliffe eats a couple of squares before running.)

This and other myths surrounding life with Type 1 diabetes will be dispelled in my new book, Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes,which SilverWood will be publishing in paperback form for World Diabetes Day, 14 November 2014. The ebook edition, for which SilverWood provided this beautiful and appropriate cover (the blue circle being the international symbol of diabetes), was published for World Diabetes Day 2013 to raise awareness of the condition and funds for research into a cure.  and has gathered many 5* reviews and has been called by a leading GP “one of the best things I’ve ever read about diabetes”. The paperback will have new bonus material added. To keep informed about the book’s progress, and for an invitation to the launch in Foyles’ Bristol Bookshop on Thursday 13th November, please click here to sign up for my mailing list.

Prize Time!

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my chocolate-inspired short story below – and if you like it, please leave a comment. As an incentive, one commenter drawn at random on the day my book is launched will receive a free signed copy of the new paperback – plus a slim bar of chocolate to use as a bookmark!

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Image of an Easter egg

 

The Alchemy of Chocolate

If you dip a wafer biscuit into a chocolate fountain enough times, eventually it won’t fit in your mouth. Much the same had happened with Jennifer’s body. It was as if every bar of chocolate that she’d ever eaten had been melted down and painted onto her frame.

Oozing into hidden places, the fat encroached so slowly at first that Jennifer was slow to notice her transformation. Then, one summer’s day while sunbathing on her lawn, she realised that she’d no longer pass the fat test she and her friends had used at school: the ability to lay a ruler flat across her hipbones. (That was the best use they’d found for their geometry sets).

By the time she came to squeeze into an old pair of cords for Bonfire Night, Jennifer observed that where her stomach had once been concave, it now billowed out, like a ship in full sail. No wonder sleeping on her tummy had become uncomfortable.

Trying on a party dress for New Year, she spotted that her waistline only curved inwards when elasticated clothing constrainied her flesh.

By the Spring solstice, the fat had found new places to hide. Her eyelids were thicker, and when inserting an earring, she had to push harder before the post emerged on the other side of the lobe.

Jennifer was glad when spring sunshine came early, because it gave her licence to go bare-legged. Lately, tights had become irksome. Unless she aligned their waistband precisely with that of her knickers, skirt and petticoat, her silhouette resembled the scalloped edge of a doily on a plate of cakes.

At Easter, Jennifer was quick to remove the temptation of her Easter eggs – by eating them. But then, at last, she decided to take action about her surplus fat. Precisely what action, she was not sure. She was unwilling to relinquish chocolate, or indeed any kind of food. Nor did she fancy exercising her way into shape. Poring over a list of how to burn calories, she was horrified by the ridiculous distance she’d have to run to work off a single bar of Dairy Milk. There had to be an easier way. It was just a question of dispersing fat rather than storing it.

Then, lulled to sleep on Midsummer’s Eve by an exceptionally delicious hot chocolate, Jennifer had a remarkable dream. She dreamed of the perfect recipe for weight loss.

Next morning on waking, she knew exactly what to do. She rushed downstairs to her kitchen and assembled in a mixing bowl the ingredients dictated by her dream. Instead of stopping to wonder how this magical formula could require only store-cupboard staples, she got on with beating the mixture, her wooden spoon a biscuit-coloured blur.

Once the batter was blended, she tipped it into a saucepan and set it over a low heat, chanting the mantra that had also come to her in the dream. When the mixture was smooth and warm as the perfect waistline, she decanted it into a jug and popped it in the fridge. She knew instinctively that this was the correct next step.

When she arrived at her office for work, she was so impatient for nightfall – the witching hour, or so her dream had told her – that she could hardly concentrate on her job.

As soon as she arrived home, she slipped on her nightie, took the jug from the fridge and with a medicine spoon measured out the dose prescribed in her dream. She swallowed the quivering spoonful in a rush, before she could change her mind and retired to bed to await the results. The anxious fluttering in her tummy didn’t stop her from tumbling into solid, dreamless sleep.

Waking next morning, she climbed out of bed, slipped off her nightdress and flung it distractedly on the bed. Reaching with her right hand behind the back of her neck, she grasped what the previous night’s dream had told her she would find just above the nubbly bone at the top of her spine: a trapezoidal zip-pull. She grasped the metal.

Bending her head forward to clear her long dark hair out of the way, Jennifer tugged the zip-pull between thumb and forefinger as far as she could. Then she stretched her left hand up behind her back to meet the right one, and continued pulling the zip down, slowly, slowly, till it reached the base of her backbone.

As the zip-pull stopped abruptly at her coccyx, the thick flesh covering Jennifer’s upper back and shoulders started to feel loose. Soon she was easing off the entire outer casing of flesh as instinctively as a snake sheds its skin. Wriggling her hips and thighs to dislodge this pudgy onesie, she sat down on the bed, peeled it off her calves and finally stepped out of it on to the bedside rug.

Only now did she have the courage to glance in the dressing table mirror. There, to her delight, in a flawless casing of fresh skin, was her slender teenage outline. It was like meeting a long-lost, much-missed friend.

Glancing down at the discarded, Jennifer-shaped fat that lay perfectly still on floor, she wondered what on earth to do with it.

But of course! It was recycling day. She could simply put it in the green wheelie bin. After all, it should compost down as readily as bacon rind. Better to throw it in the wheelie bin than put it out in the garden for the birds.

With a new lightness of tread, Jennifer took a few steps around the bedroom. She felt decidedly different. The top of her thighs no longer rubbed together, her arms lay straighter against her sides, and she no longer felt that her stomach had been lagged, like the insulating jacket wrapped round a hot water tank.

Beginning to enjoy the full effect, Jennifer turned this way and that. But it wasn’t the slim reflection in the dressing-table mirror that caused her to smile. It wasn’t the realisation that her low-cost recipe would fetch a fortune on the heaving market for diet products. Nor was it the recognition that she’d achieving every slimmer’s dream of alchemy, turning fat into gold. It was the thought that she could now eat as much chocolate as she liked, without ever having to worry about gaining weight. It was a dream come true.

 

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Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collectionThis story features in “Quick Change”, my first collection of flash fiction, which you can buy from Amazon here:  Quick Change.

My post is just one of many interesting articles in the SilverWood Spring Blog Hop. To hop forward to read these, please click on the links below. You’ll also find more colourful Easter eggs to collect and some more giveaway prizes!

 

Helen Hollick :  Let us Talk of Many Things  – Fictional Reality http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/fictional-reality-silverwood-blog-hop.html

Alison Morton : Roma Nova – How the Romans Celebrated Spring http://alison-morton.com/2014/04/17/how-the-romans-celebrated-spring-2/

Anna Belfrage: Step inside…   – Is freezing in a garret a prerequisite? https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/is-freezing-in-a-garret-a-prerequisite/

Edward Hancox: Iceland Defrosted – Seaweed and cocoa http://icelanddefrosted.com/2014/04/16/silverwood-blog-hop-seaweed-cocoa/

Lucienne Boyce: Lucienne Boyce’ Blog – The Female Writer’s Apology http://francesca-scriblerus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-female-writers-apology-or-then-and.html

Matlock the Hare:  Matlock the Hare Blog –  Pid-padding the self-published Pathway… http://matlockthehare.blogspot.co.uk/

Michael Wills:  Michael Wills – A Doomed Army http://www.michaelwills.eu/2014/04/a-doomed-army/

Isabel Burt: Friday Fruitfulness  –  Flees for the Easter Hop… http://isabelburt.com/ (her post will go live shortly)

John Rigg: An Ordinary Spectator – Television Lines http://www.anordinaryspectator.com/news-blog%20

Peter St John: Jenno’s Blog –  My Village http://jennospot.blogspot.fr/2014/04/my-village_16.html

Caz Greenham: Caz’s Devon Blog Diary – Springtime and Flowering Baskets http://www.wp.me/p3oYnS-n1

Helen Hart: SilverWood Books Ltd http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Travel

A Question of Priorities

The first in a series of posts about our half-term trip in our camper van to France, Belgium and the Netherlands

Debbie and Laura at TIm's house
Sometimes only Mummy will do. Me and Laura, when she was less than a year old.

On the first Saturday morning of the half term holiday, Dover-Dunkirk ferry departures are running seriously behind schedule, following a night of Force 10 gales in the English Channel.

Slowly our camper van edges through immigration control, where we learn that the ferry we’re due to catch has been marooned outside the harbour for 10 hours as the sea was too rough for it to dock. In those circumstances, I’m happy to wait the predicted eight hours before we can expect to board.

In the meantime, we have needs which must be attended to. As soon as our camper van reaches its allocated parking space to await departure, my ten-year-old daughter Laura and I nip across to the port’s Food Village to use the loo.

Disappointingly, the enticingly-named Food Village turns out to be exactly like the inside of any British motorway service station. The upside is that we can easily find the Ladies’. Our mission accomplished, I’m just waiting for Laura to finish washing her hands when a wide-eyed lady, aged about 30, dashes in crying “Where can I put my baby down?”

The little girl in her arms is about nine months old. Wearing a plum-coloured hand-knitted jumper and a pink hat shaped like a flower, she looks like an Anne Geddes photo. Someone’s Grandma loves them.

The lady’s eyes become even wider when she realises there’s no playpen or baby seat in which to secure her little flower while Mummy uses the facilities.

“Here, would you like me to take her for you?” I offer, thinking wistfully that it’s been a long time since I’ve held a baby that small.

Without a moment’s hesitation the lady thrusts her baby into my arms and dashes into a cubicle. After a moment, she starts talking loudly to me through the door, and I realise that she’s seeking reassurance that I’m still there. I answer immediately to make it clear that I haven’t fled with her baby and leapt on a ferry to parts unknown.

Baby Laura reading a grown-up book, aged less than 1
Laura, seeking wisdom from books at a very early age.

Her baby, meanwhile, is unperturbed, responding to the unfamiliar setting as if it’s a giant activity centre. She turns her little head towards the source of each new sound, open mouthed with wonder – roaring hand-driers, fizzing taps, sliding door bolts and slamming doors. She is too preoccupied to notice that I’m not her mum.

After a minute or two, the lady emerges from her cubicle at a more relaxed pace than that of her arrival. Then on catching sight of me with the baby, she goes rigid with horror.

“Oh my god, I’ve just realised what I did there!” she gasps. “I just gave my baby to a total stranger! I was that desperate!”

I smile indulgently.

“Don’t worry, we’ve all done things like that,” I tell her, nodding towards Laura to indicate that I’ve been there, done that, and that my baby lived to tell the tale.

Laura on the Dover-Dunkirk ferry
Laura on the Dover-Dunkirk ferry at last, pulling out a few stowaways from her bag

But I know very well how her heart must be pounding, as mine did one day when Laura was tiny, and I left her outside a shop in her buggy in the care of her father. When I came out, they were gone, and I fell into a wild panic. Logically I knew that nothing terrible could have happened – they hadn’t really been kidnapped by aliens and there was a rational explanation for the empty space where I’d expected to find them. Even so, I started running tearfully from shop to shop, stopping only when I found Laura safe and sound a few doors down. She was cooing happily in her buggy in a men’s clothes shop, overseen by the shop assistant, while her Daddy was calmly trying on a pair of trousers in the changing room. I was horrified. It was at that moment that I realised the full force of maternal instinct and the power it had to overwhelm reason.

In Dover’s Food Village, the flowery baby, perhaps suddenly realising the enormity of the situation, starts to cry. I’m relieved to return her to the familiarity of her mother’s arms and to lead my own child back to the haven of our camper van.

Coming next: how our lack of forward planning means we end up in Belgium instead of France. 

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