Posted in Events, Reading, Writing

My Debut at Cheltenham Literature Festival

A newsflash about my appearance tonight at the biggest and longest-standing lit fest in the UK

Poster for tonight's event
Featuring… me!

Over the weekend, a message flashed up on the corner of my computer screen: “YOU’RE IN!” Clicking to read the full email, I learned to my delight that I’ve been selected to read one of my short stories at Cheltenham Literature Festival tonight, in the 9pm event in the Little Big Top, entitled “Stroud Short Stories’ Greatest Hits”.

Debbie Young at microphone reading Quick Change
Reading from one of my short story collections at Stroud Short Stories event, April 2015

Stroud Short Stories organiser John Holland had chosen 7 out of 120 stories that had previously been read at its twice-yearly story evenings. Each SSS event provides a snapshot of the high calibre of local writing. These 120 stories had themselves been sifted from thousands of stories submitted to SSS over the years.

While the story I read at the April 2015 Stroud Short Stories event was not one of the first seven chosen, Katherine Hunter, one of the original line-up, had unfortunately fallen ill, and so I was pulled off the reserve bench to fill the gap. I’m really sad for Katherine to have to miss this opportunity due to illness, and I hope she makes a speedy recovery.

In the meantime, I’ll be dusting off my gold dress, an appropriate outfit for reading “The Alchemy of Chocolate”, which I wore when I read it at the April 2015 event in Stroud.

Cover image for The Alchemy of Chocolate showing chocolate coins falling out of a purse
If you join my Readers’ Club, you’ll receive a free download of this short story as a welcome gift

I won’t spoil the plot for anyone who is planning to be in the audience tonight, but if you’d like to read the story, you can either buy Quick Change, the collection in which it originally appeared, as an ebook or paperback (ISBN 978-0993087967), or get a copy of the story as a welcome gift when you join my free Readers’ Club.

All that means is you give me your email address and I send you very occasional emails about new books, events and special offers. You can unsubscribe any time you like too, though I hope you won’t want to! Please click here if you’d like to join the Readers’ Club.

Tonight’s Programme

To whet the appetite of the audience, here’s the line-up for tonight’s event, in order of appearance:

  1. Debbie Young – The Alchemy of Chocolate
  2. Philip Douch – Trog and Kron Almost Get It Right
  3. Ali Bacon – Silver Harvest
  4. Andrew Stevenson – A Good Old-Fashioned Cooper
  5. Rick Vick – Seeing
  6. Mel Golding – A Small Change
  7. Bill Jones – The Vampires in the Basement

It will be introduced by the ever-entertaining John Holland, an award-winning short story writer himself.

A good friend of ours, David Penny, a historical novelist and technical manager of the Alliance of Independent Authors, will be attending to video the event, so we hope to be able to share that with you in due course.

In the meantime, you can get a further sneak preview of the event if you tune in to BBC Radio Gloucestershire at 12.30pm today when lunchtime show presenter Dominic Cotter will be doing a quick interview with me. John Holland will also be interviewed on the night by the station’s roving reporter in the Green Room. (I think it’ll be Jo Durrant, who is doing a great round-up of the Festival on a daily basis – catch her on Twitter here.)

Like to Enter the Next Stroud Short Stories Competition?

After all the excitement of tonight is over, it’ll be back to planning the next Stroud Short Stories event, which takes place on Sunday 20th November. You have until the end of Saturday 29th October to submit your entry. Please note admission is free, but only authors who have a connection with Gloucestershire or South Gloucestershire are eligible to enter. Stories may be on any subject, to a maximum of 1500 words. For more details, visit the Stroud Short Stories website. Ooh, nearly forgot to mention – this time I’m the guest judge, alongside John. All entries are anonymised before they reach the judges, so no chances of favouritism. 😉

With thanks to my lovely friend Jacky, who will be in the audience, for flagging up that this week is Chocolate Week – what’s not to love about that?!

 

 

Posted in Reading, Writing

Celebrating National Flash Fiction Day 2015

Happy National Flash Fiction Day!

New cover for Quick Change

If you’re not familiar with the concept, here’s the nutshell summary:

  • flash fiction is another term for the very short story (typically 500 words or fewer)
  • National Flash Fiction Day was founded by author Calum Kerr to celebrate this story format on or around the shortest night of the year (see what he did there?)
  • this year we’re marking it on Saturday 27th June with events in real life and online around the world

Here are four ways that I’ll be celebrating:

  • reducing the price of the ebook of my first flash fiction collection, Quick Change, to 99p for the weekend, on all the digital distribution platforms (it’s also available in paperback for £5.99, featuring two bonus stories)
  • publishing one of the stories in the book, The Comfort of Neighbours, in the online FlashFlood journal that pops up today like a rarely blooming exotic flower
  • reading the many excellent fiction stories that will appear every few minutes in FlashFlood 
  • writing some new stories for my next collection, Marry In Haste
Cover of the paperback showing blurb
The paperback includes two bonus stories set in public libraries

How will you be marking National Flash Fiction Day? I’d love to know!

Posted in Events, Reading

How to Live a Thousand Lives

My column for the April edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News

“The reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R R Martin

Photo of a groundhog
Don’t let your life be full of Groundhog Days (even though groundhogs are pretty cute)

While we may not be able to dictate the course of our own lives, we can control the other 999 simply by selecting the best books.

I tend to choose the kind with happy endings: light-hearted novels featuring characters I’d like to spend time with, in settings that I’d like to visit. But I also like a bit of variety, to avoid Groundhog Day syndrome. After all, what’s the point of living a thousand lives if all of them are pretty much the same?

So I often step outside my comfort zone. This year, between pleasant novels, I’ve enjoyed a history of anaesthesia, the biography of a famous author, an anthology of poems about the sea, and the collected letters of a British comedian. By the time I reached the end of each book, I saw the world in a slightly different way. We are all forever changed, at least a little, by every book we ever read. Even in the age of the internet, the humble book still has almost magical powers.

Surely that’s got to be worth celebrating? If you agree, come and help me do just that, in the company of around 20 authors, poets, and illustrators, on World Book Night, Thursday 23rd April, at the new free Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. (See separate page for details) But, in the meantime, I’m off to read a good book…

HULF FB banner

New cover for Quick Change

If you’re after a good book to read, you could do worse than choose one of mine! Quick Change is an upbeat read for spring, packed with 20 very short stories – 22 if you buy the paperback, with its two extra bonus stories! Now available from all the usual online stores, and can also be ordered from your neighbourhood high street bookshop.

Posted in Reading, Writing

Which Do You Prefer for Reading and Writing – Past or Present Tense?

(Drawing attention to my latest post on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ self-publishing advice blog)

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
My butterfly sits on the fence, with 10 stories written in the past tense, 10 in the present

While writing a novel during NaNoWriMo, as mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been considering an important question for authors and readers alike: which tense works best in fiction?

Modern authors often choose the present tense to add edginess and immediacy to a story, but the more traditional use of past tense is generally better loved by big publishing companies, who are increasingly risk averse for financial reasons.Tales abound of authors instructed by commercial publishers to rewrite an entire book to change the tense from present to past, before thy’ll consider publishing it.

The Influence of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing liberates authors from unwanted intervention from conservative publishing companies, making readers the ultimate arbiters of whether a book works in the present tense. Unfortunately some readers reject books written in the present tense, considering this style pretentious, irritating or exhausting to read. Their attitude irritates authors who have usually selected the tense that they feel works best for their story.

Sometimes this might not even be a conscious decision on the part of the author – it’s just how the story wants and needs to be told. When I wrote Quick Change, my collection of 20 very short stories (aka flash fiction), I happened to produce 10 stories in the present tense, 10 in the past. Although that seems suspiciously neat, hinting at the author’s indecision, I just wrote what felt right for each story.

To be honest, I hadn’t even noticed the 50:50 split until I flicked through Quick Change while researching an article for the Alliance of Independent Authors’ self-publishing advice blog, in which I address the issue in more detail from the author’s viewpoint. Here’s the link if you’d like to read that article: Writing: Past or Present Tense?

I should make it clear that I’m not being snobbish about readers who reject the present tense. I have my own equally irrational foibles as a reader: While I’m open-minded about tense, I am childishly averse to books that feature characters with peculiar names. No surprises that I’m not a big reader (or author) of the fantasy genre, no matter how much others rave about it.

Sorry, Gollum. It’s not you, it’s me.

Useful Information

  • Quick Change is currently available as an ebook for Kindle for just £1.99. I hope its average rating on Amazon UK of 4.6* out of 5* will encourage you to give it a try! If you don’t read ebooks, bear with me – I’ll be self-publishing a paperback later this month.
  • The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) is a fabulous not-for-profit organisation uniting the best self-publishing authors around the world to share best practice, advice and moral support. I’ve been a member for two years, have edited its blog for a year and a half, and strongly recommend membership to anyone interested in self-publishing. You don’t haveto be already self-published to join – aspiring self-publishers will also be welcomed to the fold. 
    Cover of "Opening Up To Indie Authors"
    This invaluable reference book is now available in paperback
  • ALLi membership offers many benefits, including free digital copies of its excellent guidebooks, one of them co-authored by me. ( I’m currently working on another.) Opening Up To Indie Authors, which helps self-published authors gain greater recognition and respect from bookshops, libraries, festival organisers and other influential parties, is also now available as a paperback, and is an excellent investment in your writing career, whether or not you choose to join ALLi.
  • If you are interested in joining ALLi, I’d be very grateful if you do so via my affiliate link, which earns me a small reward every time I recruit a new member – a further benefit of membership. If you’re smart, you can cover the entire cost of annual membership simply by persuading four author friends to join. You’ll be given your own affiliate link when on joining. 

 

Posted in Reading, Writing

The Rewards of Being a Book Reviewer

(Rewards that reinforce my delight in reviewing other authors’ books)

Jigsaw puzzle with last piece missing
Only connect

As regular readers of my blog may know, I love reviewing books and do so in a professional capacity for a couple of magazines in two completely different genres – a British parenting magazine called Today’s Child and an international literary journal called Vine Leaves.

For Today’s Child, I pick books that will sit well in a feature with a different theme each month (the next one will be children’s diaries). For Vine Leaves, I’m sent a list of books to choose from, all of them written by contributors to Vine Leaves. I’m also able to pick a book a quarter from the Historical Novel Society’s list, as I review for their website too.

Of course these aren’t the only books I read. I get through at least one a week, often more, and I review these books for pleasure, usually on Amazon, sometimes on Goodreads (a site that’s hailed as social media for readers, but to be honest I find it a frustratingly clunky site so don’t go on there that much – and as it’s now owned by Amazon, it may only be a matter of time before my Amazon reviews are accessible from Goodreads anyway). When I have time, I also review books on my own website here.

Rising up the Ranks of Amazon Reviewers

The more books you review, the higher your ranking on Amazon’s list of reviewers. Exactly how it calculates reviewers’ ranking is a mystery, but it is certainly influenced by a mix of the frequency of your reviews, the quality, how often readers click the “helpful” or “unhelpful” button underneath each published review. It is not clear whether it also favours you if you bought the book you’re reviewing on Amazon.

About a year ago, I realised that I was swiftly moving up the list, and I’m now edging towards the top 1,000 (#1,307 today, though I’ve been higher), which earns the reviewer a special label alongside their reviews. That badge is about as meaningful as a child being given a sticker at school for good work or behaviour, but aren’t we all big kids at heart? I’m looking forward to the day I get mine! You can find more about the rules of being an Amazon reviewer on its website.

Complimentary Products for Top Reviewers

Anyone who reaches a certain level in this ladder is likely to start receiving offers out of the blue from sellers keen to have you review their product. At least, that’s if you’ve made your email address public on your profile, which I did a few months ago.

The smart seller goes through the list of top reviewers to search a match for their product – those who have written great reviews for similar products – and emails you a polite request, offering a free product in return for an honest review. You’re obliged to declare in your review that you’ve received the product this way. Since I made my email address public a few months ago, I’ve received some unexpected but appreciated products: a new card game, a bathroom scales, an in-car charger for multiple phones, and more. My latest Amazon package was a compelling autobiography by the American artist Marcia Gloster, 31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction. I was hand-picked by her New York agent. for the quality of my previous reviews. Gosh!

There’s no obligation to accept anything you’re offered this way, but it’s a bit of fun to receive the gifts you like. I can understand why some people become obsessed with reviewing and make it the focal point of their life. One of them has even written a book about it. And yes, of course, I reviewed it!

The More Important Rewards of Reviewing

But public recognition and free gifts are not the rewards I meant to focus on when I set out to write this article. What makes my heart sing after I’ve filed a new review is to receive a message from the author saying that I totally “got” their book. To know that I’ve read and understood and connected with their purpose feels like a creative spark has passed between us. Reviewing doesn’t get better than that.

Without wanting to sound like I’m showing off (ok, so I AM showing off), here are two quotes from authors whose work I’ve recently reviewed:

“Thank you for the insightful review, it captures what the story is really about.” This message came from Charles Booth, whose debut novel Olive Park I reviewed for Vine Leaves here:

This was waiting for me in my inbox this morning:

“Debbie, thank you very much for your wonderful review. You are an incredibly insightful reviewer, I can’t imagine my volume to be in better hands!  I greatly appreciate your fine writing. “

The sender was the Polish-American poet Joanna Kurowska, whose latest collection of poems, Inclusions, I reviewed on Amazon here. I also reviewed her earlier collection, The Wall and Beyond, for Vine Leaves, which is where I first encountered Joanna’s poetry.

The Joy of Discovering Fresh Talent

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Now with 10 4 5* reviews on Amazon – have you read it yet?

And that brings me to another bonus of reviewing: the discovery of new books and authors that I’d otherwise never have come across. My introduction to both Charles and Joanna came from Vine Leaves, which does an amazing job in drawing attention to great authors who deserve to be better known. (Vine Leaves is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to support their work – if you’d like to do so, you can contribute here.)The same can be said of the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Review programme, for which I review books written by self-published authors. The HNS scheme is now blessed with a new Award, thanks to the pioneering campaign by my lovely friend Helen Hollick, herself a bestselling historical novelist with a heart as big as a house.

Speaking of hearts, there’s one last reward of reviewing that I’d like to mention: that as an author myself, I know how heartwarming it is to receive an enthusiastic review for my own work, and the arrival of not one but two glowing reviews for my latest book, the collection of very short stories (aka flash fiction) has made my week already – and it’s still only Tuesday.

So if you’re a keen reader who hasn’t considered reviewing the books you read yet, do please consider it. They don’t have to be long or smart or original – the minimum length required by Amazon is just 20 words. And if you do, I’m sure you’ll find, as I do, that it’s not only the author who will reap rewards.

If you’re wondering about the origin of the jigsaw puzzle photo at the top of this piece, click on the link to read the post in which it first appeared on my blog:

Why Doing a Jigsaw Puzzle is a Bit Like Writing A Book