Posted in Personal life, Travel

From Bucket to Bottle

My column for the August issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Bountiful summer garden makes it easy to get our five-a-day

Seeing the progress my husband has made in the garden during my week away in Scotland, I declare I don’t want to go away again this summer, but to stay put and enjoy our home turf.

I do however plan to heed the advice of creative thinking teacher Orna Ross* to go on a weekly “createdate” with self –  a solo outing to a place that stimulates your imagination. The first of these is to Newark Park, a former Tudor hunting lodge now owned by the National Trust, set on the edge of the escarpment that tumbles down into Wotton-under-Edge.

*Orna Ross will be giving a talk about how to live a more creative life at the 2020 Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival.

Newark Park has been on my bucket list for decades. It has all you’d expect from a National Trust property – a fascinating historic house, rambling gardens to lose yourself in, and a teashop to restore your equilibrium. Added family appeal is provided by an exhibition celebrating Judith Kerr’s much-loved children’s story, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, complete with dressing-up clothes and giant toy tiger..

view from Newark Park across to the River Severn

But the highlight for me is the breathtaking view across to the River Severn. An annotated map of the horizon identifies local landmarks, including Hawkesbury Upton’s Somerset Monument, from this vantage point just a tiny, exotic tower five miles away.

map of landmarks visible on the horizon

Returning home, on a bucket list roll, I set about creating a terrarium, a self-sustaining miniature bottle garden, watering itself from the condensation collecting on the interior of the glass. I follow instructions in a book I bought and first pored over when I was about 14, finally achieving another long-held ambition.

cover image of craft book

I start with a layer of crocks for drainage, add cactus compost mixed with gravel, then arrange a selection of tiny succulents. Standing back to admire the miniature view, I realise there’s something lacking.  Then it dawns on me. I fetch the three-inch-high stone pagoda that my daughter gave me last Christmas: the perfect finishing touch for my new creation, Hawkesbury-in-Bottle.

My bucket runneth over.

photo of terrarium with small pagoda inside

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Posted in Personal life, Self-publishing, Writing

The End of an Era and the Beginning of a New One

A post about my new life as a full-time novelist

Debbie with ALLi friends in selfie shot
Celebrating the launch of “Opening Up To Indie Authors”, a book I co-wrote with Dan Holloway (right), at the London Book Fair – with fellow authors Jessica Bell, Hugh Howey and Orna Ross and Kobo’s UK Director Diego Marano

In just two weeks’ time, it’ll be all change for me as I leave the closest thing I have to a day-job to devote all my time to writing and marketing my books.

In some respects there’ll be no change, in that my commute will be exactly the same: from bedroom to study, just six paces. But instead of  working for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi, as in “ally”), I’ll be working entirely for myself.

All about ALLi

ALLi logoIn case you’re not familiar with ALLi, let me explain a little about what it is, what it does, and what I did there. ALLi is a global, non-profit organisation for independent authors to share best practice and support, founded by Irish author and poet Orna Ross in 2012.

Debbie on the terrace of the House of Commons with an ALLi flyer
Raising awareness of ALLi at the House of Commons, July 2015, at the All Party Writers’ Group Summer Drinks Party

In 2013, Orna invited me to be Commissioning Editor of its daily blog (www.selfpublishingadvice.org), and that role soon expanded. I moderated its members’-only advice forum, co-wrote self-help books for authors in ALLi’s series of guidebooks, wrote ALLi-related guest posts on other blogs, helped man its stand at the London Book Fair, and spoke on ALLi’s behalf at various festivals and writing events around the country. As an offshoot, I also started two writers’ groups, one in Cheltenham and one in Bristol, whose membership I had to restrict to ALLi members only to keep the numbers manageable.

With a new blog post required every day, and to a specific deadline, my ALLi work had to take priority – and for a long time I hugely enjoyed it, not least because I was networking online daily with all manner of authors all over the world, and learning an enormous amount along the way, particularly from Orna herself, who had become a real mentor to me in my writing as well as in my role at ALLi.

And Plenty More Besides

Orna Ross (left) has been part of the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest from the beginning – pictured here with Katie Fforde at the first ever HULF (Photo by http://www.pixelprphotography.co.uk)

I also managed to fit in a reasonable amount of writing (I’ve published five novels in the last two years), public speaking on my own account, and running the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, of which the fifth is about to take place (Saturday 27th April). However, around Christmas time, with my work-in-progress novel beset by a series of delays, I realised that if I was to achieve my long-term writng goals, something would have to give. I was operating on as little sleep and as little housework as I could get away with, and there were still never enough hours in the day. A series of minor illnesses (all now thankfully resolved) underscored the message that I was simply trying to do too much.

For years people had been saying to me “I don’t know how you do it all” – it just took me a while to agree with them.

Onward and Upward

Coming soon – honest! The first in my new series of novels.

Orna and the team at ALLi have been gracious and generous as we’ve worked on a handover, and I’ve been vastly amused to discover I’m being replaced by not one but three people! (Ok, so they’re all working part-time on what I used to do, but the thought still made Orna and me laugh.) I will continue to be ALLi’s UK Ambassador, and to write and speak on the organisations behalf now and again, but apart from that I will be my own person. If I don’t get as many books written as I plan, I will have no excuse, and no-one to blame but myself! So watch this space – and if you’d like me to alert you as I release new books, please click here to join my Readers’ Club, and I’ll keep you posted of progress.

I’ll close now with Orna’s version of this news, over on the ALLi blog. She is very kind!

New Horizons for Our Blog Editor and Self-Publishing Advice Center Manager Debbie Young

Posted in Writing

My Book Launch Speech at the London Book Fair

 

Taking advantage of some of the amazing technology that has helped make the self-publishing revolution possible, I’m posting up today the text of the speech I made to launch the Alliance of Independent Authors’ groundbreaking new book, “Opening Up To Indie Authors”, which I’ve co-authored with the wonderful Dan Holloway, under the wise editorship of the visionary Orna Ross.

More detail will follow on the ALLI blog tomorrow, including an extract from the book, but for the moment, sufficient to say it was a really successful launch, kindly hosted by the fabulous Kobo team in their vast and elegant stand at the heart of the exhibition hall. The picture of me here looking unspeakably pleased with myself is the result of having self-publishing superhero Hugh Howey congratulate me straight afterwards, saying “That was the best talk I’ll hear all year.” (I’d just read the closing chapter of the book, after my speech.)

You can read that chapter on the ALLi blog tomorrow, and I’ll add a link to it here once it’s gone live, but for now, here’s my speech. (You can also read Dan Holloway’s, which preceded it, on his blog http://www.danholloway.wordpress.com, where there’s also a great group selfie that he took of the team with Hugh Howey and Jessica Bell.)

Dan mentioned his theological training, which, although now overwrittten by atheism, provides valuable reference points for the Open Up To Indies campaign. I’d like now to touch on my own background, because it’s shaped the way I approached the task of co-authoring this book with Dan and Orna.

As my bio in the back of the book explains. I fell into self-publishing almost by accident. Like the curious Alice falling down the rabbit-hole, I stepped out one day and found myself in this extraordinary Wonderland in which old laws had been overturned, new rules were rising up, and I could never be entirely sure of what was coming next.

The Alice analogy is particularly apposite because not only are Alice’s adventures my favourite books of all time, but also Lewis Carroll self-published them. And having discovered self-publishing, my life, like Alice’s, will never be the same again. This has to be the most exciting age ever in which to be an author.
Sadly, I was persuaded by my school careers advisors. Long before the heady arrival of the modern self-publishing age, that my childhood ambition to become an author was unrealistic. I therefore channelled my love of writing into a career largely spent in public relations.

Public relations is all about fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between clients and the various parties who determine their success – not only the end-user of a product or service but anybody who may influence that end-user’s purchasing decision: the rest of the industry, the trade media, national press, Joe Public -whatever.

Co-authoring this book required me to tread that same old PR ground again. It was an exercise in stepping beyond my self-published author’s mindset to empathise with the parties that influence that important end-user of all authors’ products: the reader. It was about viewing the bookshop from the other side of the till; seeing the literary festival from the frantic desk of the event manager; perceiving librarians as mire than just the people who stamp your ticket.

Empathising with others is something that comes naturally to authors. But empathising is not always easy or straightforward, as I learned very early on in my first flirtations with PR: when I took on the role of playground peacemaker.

As a child, I instinctively wanted to help people get along. I wanted to unite people in friendship and cooperation and eradicate playground conflict. I remember spending one school dinner time being pursued round the school playing field by two angry groups of previously feuding girls. They were cross with me because in the hope of restoring their friendship, I’d told each separately – and inaccurately – that the other one wanted to apologise for the conflict. Appreciating their former adversaries’ apparent conciliatory attitude, they immediately made up. And then were after my blood when they realised I’d duped them.

Back to the present, I don’t think that my part in this book will inspire aggrieved gangs to chase me around the aisles of the London Book Fair. Instead, I hope I’ve helped build ling-term partnerships between all those parties who aim to bring great books into readers’ lives. Because books change lives. Books change lives for the better. And ultimately, the desire to do that is what unites all the parties served by this book: the desire to present great reading experienced that will change the lives of book lovers all over the world.

I’m confident that ALLi’s Open Up To Indies campaign and the Opening Up to Indie Authors guidebook, will only do good in making the wider world more receptive to self-published authors’ books, and so enable us all to change lives for the better through the power of the written word.

So let’s get out there and spread word about the campaign, and then – spread OUR words. Because together we can.