Wednesday 31 December 2008

More News from a New Publisher

Well, I’ve just formally taken on a publicist, on a profit-share basis. We never make a loss on our books. The authors get 50-60% the profit pro rata between them. We’re giving the publicist 20% of the profit.

One of the big problems for small independent publishers is marketing. We don’t have the connection that the big guys have. We perhaps don’t have the power. But we do have a quality product and we need other people to see that. We need to tap into the six handshake idea. We all know 250 people who all know 250 people which means we’re just six steps away form anyone else. Question is: can we persuade the 250 people we know to buy our book and recommend to the 250 people they know. Of course, the system does fall down a little anyway because some of the 250 people I know are the same as some of the 250 people you know.

I’ve given the new free-lance publicist a to-do list. There’s a clear month for research as there won’t be a lot to do until the end of this month. Then we’re ready to roll again, hopefully, on the two summer publications.

We’re also planning a Writer’s retreat. A weekend, concentrating on the Short Story – especially for writing for the Bridge House Publishing Anthologies.

And there is one definite advantage about being a small publisher – we don’t have the overheads.

It seems like a good start to 2009 to me.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Producing books

It is actually so easy with something like Lightning Source around. You can produce a very professional-looking books quite easily. The distribution then becomes the most difficult factor, but even this is more a matter of visibility than anything else. Produce a good quality book and it will find its own customers. Word of mouth, in the end, is the most powerful tool.

Some of us too have been talking about the demise of the book and the possible demise of places like Waterstones. I think it may be no bad thing if a monopoly like that disappeared. It leaves way for the small independents again. And if they get the ebook-reader right, it could be a real boon.

Our publishing venture is sort of cash flow protected. We don’t give royalties until the book is in profit and then the royalties we give are very generous ones – the authors get 60% of the profits. We’re pretty well cash-flow protected, though I do risk, especially with bookshops, ordering up-front. However, I shill only do that if I have the cash in hand. Otherwise, people just have to wait. Interestingly, I’ve never made anybody wait yet.

I’m feeling at a slight loss at the moment, because I don’t actually have a book in production right now.

Friday 26 December 2008

Story-time and Hibernation

I am still an absolute sucker for this time of year. I love all those old films – most of them with a story of good overcoming evil. The Santa Clause II got me yesterday. And wasn’t that a bit like the fight in Heaven between Lucifer and Michael? The substitute Santa tries to take over. He gets up a Nazi-like army of life-size toy soldiers. In the end, love conquers all. Then there was Lassie, last week – and broadcast several times since on several different channels - Miracle on 34th Street. We’ve recorded and will be recording several more. There’s The Railway Children and The Chronicles of Narnia this afternoon for instance.

There is something definitely magical about this time of year. For me, it is always a time to catch up on some reading as well. The days are very short. It can be cold and unwise to travel. So you stay in, keep warm and feed yourself both physically and spiritually.

Our northern hemisphere is tilting back towards the sun now. That often brings brighter but colder weather. They had promised us mainly cloud for today. Yet this morning it has been sunny and bright. Cold, but with the temperature rapidly rising. A time for looking with optimism towards the future. And perhaps we visualise it well because of the stories on which we feed our spirit.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Editing the Ghost Stories

Yesterday I finished the other two Ordsall Hall Ghost Stories. It still seems right to do them from the points of view of the ghosts. Gosh – I hope I don’t upset anybody. The final two were about a disturbed ghost looking for his dog and how the spirits of the Hall supported someone there who was standing near to death.

I read them out loud to my husband. He wasn’t too scared. But what I noticed, of course, was all the editing that I still need to do. I’ve repeated ideas across the stories and really, although they’re five separate stories, they will probably be read at a sitting. I’ve even got the idea that if they’re not used after all for the event for which they were commissioned, I’d put them together to make one story which ends in a real haunting.

It does just show, again, how important it is to read aloud as the final edit. There are just some things you don’t notice when you read silently. I spotted a couple of copy editing matters as well. I think reading aloud makes you read more slowly, so you notice typos and grammatical mistakes, but also any awkward syntax.

So, now I go back to them to twiddle.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Procrastination at the Desktop

I’ve decided, holidays or not, I’ll write my 2,000 words a day. But first… I’ll just have a little peek at my emails. I haven’t checked them at all today. You never know, there just might be something really important. Guess what. There was. Someone claims to have paid at last a HUGE some of money I’m owed. I’ll need to check it out later. I hate looking at my bank accounts. They’re always depressing. There’s always less there than I think – even when huge amounts like that go in.

But what’s this? A Jacquie Lawson card? I must play it a couple of times. They’re such beautiful creatures. Did I spell Jacquie right? Better check it again … and I think I’d just like to play the card one more time.

And while I think about it, I’d better send a card out myself to some of my writer friends. I put it off and put it off because it’s a little tedious loading all the addresses in. But it’s great fun playing all the new ones and some of the old ones in order to chose the one which best suits the group.

Eventually I get down to work. But every so often the computer tells me I have an email. I can’t resist checking. Many of them are saying that my friends have picked up their cards. In some cases they reciprocated with another card - Jacquie Lawson or otherwise. They have to be played and if they’re Jacquie Lawson, at least twice.

Later I read the recommendations of another writer. “Don’t work on the computer where you have email – don’t even work in the same room as where you have email.”

She may be right. On the other hand, I find the odd interruption welcome. It gives me a break when I probably need one but haven’t noticed. And it stops the whole lot of cyber correspondence piling up into an unmanageable heap.

Monday 22 December 2008

Artist’s Treat, Chinese Food and Turkish Delight

I do claim that privilege for having a birthday so near Christmas. I will not work on that day – other than perhaps some writing. And I do claim it as a day when I can do what I want to do.

So, I took a day long Artist’s Treat.

It started off with getting up slowly and reading in bed. I’m still on Singing for Mrs Pettigrew and it just gets better and better.

Then Martin and I went to the Lowry on the tram. We looked at the exhibition of his paintings. I now know many of the places which he painted and plenty of his scenes were very familiar. I now teach at the “Technical College” from where he painted many of his scenes. These days it’s called the University of Salford.

We did a little shopping at the Lowry Outlet Centre – saving at least 30% on some M & S goods. We found the gorgeous costermonger I found the other day after the Five Gold Rings workshop. I bought a selection of olives and pickled garlic from him, that day. They weren’t cheap, but they were gorgeous. He’s almost out of the olives now, but still has plenty of the Turkish Delight which was the other attraction.

We found a restaurant doing a Chinese buffet. It was good enough.

Then, back into town on the tram. We wandered around what was left of the Christmas markets and it was still cheery enough. We found some bargain cake and Lebkuchen – the Nuremberg sort – because they all go home tomorrow.

I also managed to take a photo of where I fell the other day. The pavement was indeed very uneven. But can I be bothered to pursue a claim?

Last stop was Druckers. Fantastic cake and drinks Sadly, I daren’t drink coffee so late in the day. But if you don’t know Druckers, you should get to know it. And it might help if you also know that it all started as a family business, started by Albert Drucker who was a Viennese Jew who came over to avoid the Nazis. We knew him when he was starting out. His first shop was in a suburb of Birmingham, the second in the middle of town and the third in out own West Bromwich. It now feels disloyal to go anywhere else.

A nice day. A day that left thinking space. A lot of the time I was reflecting on how I want to live my life. Mort of my time does have to go to writing. Hence writing now. But that is partly what Artist’s Treats are about. It’s a time of doing nothing, a time of just being. And the ideas creep in while you’re not looking.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Jobbing Writing

I talked at length about this yesterday with my students. It is perfectly possible to make a living as a writer, love writing and still end up hating your work. You may be spending your time writing one thing when you’d rather be writing something else.

However, even when we get the dream commission, we have to write to the market. And it is indeed rare that any book gets past a skilled editor completely intact, and you wouldn’t really want a less skilled editor. There’s always some more tinkering to do according to somebody else’s will.

I’m probably grumpy about this at the moment because I’m writing something which is a little tedious. It’s a non-fiction book, a resource for teachers, in fact, and has to be in very plain English – with some French thrown in, and has repetitive patterns. And it is about something I believe in passionately.

I’m just at that point a little over half way through, where you still feel as if you’ve got a lot left to do. Plus I fell over the other day – tripped over thin air in fact –and now have a really colourful eye and a few sore parts elsewhere, all of which takes the edge off life . Plus having to explain to everyone what happened is another pain.

Then the magic kicks in, despite everything. You become absorbed in the work. It comes out well. You don’t want to stop when it’s time to go and do something else. You do have the self-discipline to get down to the work despite yourself, but it helps knowing that it will always work.

That, I guess, is jobbing writing.

Excellence in Writing

I think that is my bottom line. I am here to become the best writer I can ever possibly be. Anything else I do is really a distraction. I don’t think, though, that means writing solidly all the time. I definitely slow down after two hours / 2,000 words. I’m not sure I could actually do more in any one day. Work smarter, not harder has to be the answer.

Just how exactly does one do that in writing? Is it perhaps a matter of studying techniques more? More reading? More reading about what other writer have done? I lap that up anyway, don’t I? Full time.

Maybe it’s a matter of more focus. Well, I’ve certainly decided to do that. I have a day job which recognises my time as a writer and actually pays me in part for just being me. I’m very privileged and I’ll never forget that. I suppose I’ve earned it, but it didn’t feel all that tough, but when I look back, I realise I’ve come a long way. But there’s always further to go.

I’m currently reading Michael Morpurgo’s Singing for Mrs Pettigrew. It’s a collection of short stories, interspersed with details about how he came to write the stories. It almost seems like a book for children’s writers rather than a book for children. But it is, nevertheless, a book of excellent writing. Something definitely to aspire to.

Friday 12 December 2008

Writer's Research

All sorts of things contribute to a writer’s research. Take this morning for instance. I took my usual trip into Radcliffe to pay cheques into the bank. I also picked up my father’s prescription from the doctor’s and took it to the pharmacy to have it put up. It would take twenty minutes. Time, then, also for a wander around the market and a coffee and book a hairdresser’s appointment.

I went to the black and white café. It’s clean. It’s smart. They do the normal range of coffees, but a little cheaper that Starbucks or Costa. The waitress, Radcliffe friendly as usual, dropped my biscuit and got me another. She showed me to a bench seat which could have seated two, but not four and the view to the square was enchanting. The window framed it and its clock and bandstand complied with the golden segment.

“I like your decorations,” I said.

The Christmas tree, and the black and white ornaments hanging from it and the ceiling went well with the rest of the décor and the view outside.

“I had to fight to get that one,” said the waitress (manageress? owner?)

I won’t tell the rest of the story. That’s one to be developed later, but it will be a good read.

See, all sorts of things count as writerly research.

Thursday 11 December 2008


It’s such a welcome, the ugly sixties building with a view to the Pennines. You see, it’s only ugly form the outside. Being inside looking out is fine. And the Costa outlet provides the smell of cooking breakfasts at 8.45 in the morning. It is truly an affirmation that I survived the journey, despite ice on the car and traffic on the road. Not only have I survived it, I’ve enjoyed it too. The beautiful houses, the winding river, the skyscape, forgrounded by the top heavy Hilton and Classic FM on the radio.
I literally bounce up the stairs. I love my work, even though it’s never done and even when a thing is finished, it has generally taken more time that I’d thought it would.
I know I will walk through the door, turn on my computer, log on, go to the mailroom and check my post whilst my settings are loading, then come back and check my email. Nothing is a threat, all is fun, and all leads to job satisfaction.
Much of my day will be spent in writing or talking to colleagues or students about writing and with a bit of luck, a wing and a prayer, I’ll get my daily quota of writing done. What could be better than that?

Friday 5 December 2008

Becoming a Publisher

That’s it, then. I’ve bitten the bullet. I am officially a publisher. I’ve been so pleased with Making Changes that I’m going to go for several more anthologies. The call for submission has gone out to my “Making Changes” authors. Over the next few days, I shall be getting it out to as many places as I can think of. I’m planning two more Christmas ones, making a CD of the first anthology, two summer ones, two autumn ones and two non-seasonal ones. I’m really hoping I can get one of my authors to work full time. This would mean making a profit of over £33,000. But with one book we’re taking about £1,000 per month. If we make several books, are we just spreading ourselves too thinly? Or will one book sell another?

It’s work I’m really glad to do. There is something exciting about producing a book. I could do it forever.

I wonder whether we’ll ever get round to publishing full length novels?

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Making Changes and the Creative Café

Yesterday was the first day of our “Advent Calendar of Short Stories” – Making Changes. I read part of it at the Angel Café, Salford. There was an audience of about fifteen, which felt all right. Half were from the university. Half were from the café culture. I sold a couple of books as well. There was a nice atmosphere in there. It really is the right sort of place to make into a creative café.

There is also something incredibly satisfying about reading the anthology the way it was meant to be handled. A story a day keeps the doctor away. I think that works.

Monday 1 December 2008

Writing Ghost Stories

I’ve been asked to write some ghost stories. This was quite a joy, or so it seemed at first. I found myself sitting in a café in Radcliffe, writing about the ghosts of Ordsall Hall, Ordsall, Salford. It is said to be the most haunted house in Britain.
Anyway, there I was, writing about the ghost of one Margaret Radclyffe. It felt quite right. There must be a connection between her and the town where I now live.
I’ve five stories to write. I’ve completed three, all from the point of view of the ghost. Two are even first person. One is a child and one is a man looking for his dog. Even the dog has a ghost. I have done the child – that is close third person. The man and the dog will be one story – close third person. Then I must tell how the spirits of the hall supported a friend and made her seem transparent.
I believe I have told the stories well, but are they the truth and will the ghosts be angry if they are not?

Thursday 27 November 2008

Ingredients for a story

We crash towards the end of our writing short fiction course. We have almost all of the ingredients now.
We have looked at where stories come from. We have found out how to hook the reader. We have discussed how to keep the drama going. We have constructed endings. We have examined different narrative techniques. We have considered points of view. We have looked at how character is created. We have seen how the textual ingredients – dialogue, exposition, description and action are mixed in differing amounts and in differing combinations, at the whim of and according to the skill of the writer. And you then need to sculpt and tinker. Finally next week we shall look at how to achieve the high dramatic spot. Then we’re done.
All there is left to do then is to write.

Friday 21 November 2008

Common Mistakes

I get to read a lot of scripts. There are my own, the ones I see as an editor, the ones my students have written and the ones I see in various critique groups to which I belong. You begin to see a pattern. There are, in fact, four major faults that people make, and if they could do away with these mistakes, their work would improve vastly.

First, and this is undoubtedly the one that needs to be put right first, is that a story or a non-fiction piece lacks structure. The resolution may be unconvincing and too quickly exposed because clues haven’t been left throughout the text. Often, the story takes too long to get going. Sometimes, there is a jump straight from opening to climax.

Then there is all that telling instead of showing. This probably comes from a need to get the story down. This is fine – but it should only happen in the first draft. Just so that you know, I actually do fourteen drafts of my novels. In each draft I check for one thing. I have one check which involves seeing whether I am telling instead of showing. To show, you need to write with the senses, have dialogue, inner thoughts of characters – but not too many, and actions, and certainly no moralising.

A third fault is shifting point of view. Omniscient author is currently unfashionable, unless you actually make him / her another character, but even when it was in vogue, good writers stuck with that point of view. It really does prevent reader engagement if one flits around from consciousness to consciousness. Slightly more skilled writers do attempt to stay with one point of view, but sometimes slip into a neutral stance, which makes the narrative distance clunky.

The fourth fault is poorly constructed dialogue. Dialogue should sound natural but not actually be too natural. It should always show character or move the plot forward. Many novices produce cliché-ridden dialogue. Sometimes, also, a slightly more experienced writer will produce very good dialogue but which takes us nowhere. The writer has enjoyed themselves. Whilst this is a good exercise for the writing muscles, that particular piece of dialogue may have no place in that text. This is possibly a darling which needs killing.

Get those four faults under control and you’re a step nearer being published.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Meetings, meetings

Meeting number 1.
I spoke to a colleague this morning about some of the things I’m involved in. I sometimes find it difficult to remember. I’m so close to these. They are so much part of what I do that I don’t see them as important. But there’s BBC Blast, where I delivered two workshops on writing flash-fiction, performing it and filming it. Then I’ll be involved in Aim Higher, working with intelligent but unambitious Y10s who come and stay at the university, just like students, and enjoy the sort of activities they might do when they eventually come to university. I’m actually working on producing a book in two days with them, and it may well involve some of my students as helpers. And of course, I had to talk about the Creative Café. That is the project that is so close to my heart. I’m not sure where it’s going, exactly, but it’s going somewhere, and it’s great fun.
Meeting number 2
I met with Scott over at the Angel Café, where I’m organising a read of Making Changes on 1st December, at 2.00 p.m. I talked to him about the Creative Cafés project. He had a few extra ideas and might also be able to find some funding. He seems to understand the basic idea.
I ate at the Angel as well. Their food is good. And filling and comforting and yet quite healthy.
I wonder, though, if I got too many of my colleagues from the university to go there, whether it might not change character completely. Moderation in all things, I think, is the answer.
Meeting number 3
Three of us met to standardise marking of the Intro to Creative Writing 1 first assignment. This really seems a good system – getting the marks right before we start on the bulk of the writing.
We annotated the texts and then marked together, homing in on each section. We pretty well agreed. Then having a well planned marking scheme really helps.
It was good, too, because we were able to discuss in detail what happens where elements are partly there.
Meeting number 4
Our MA students. We looked at the worlds through the eyes of Adorno. Is our work committed? Or are we adding to popular mass culture.

Monday 17 November 2008

Fabulous Weekend

What a weekend! I’m still buzzing.
First of all, there was the drive to North Wales. What a fantastic drive anyway, one that I always love. The way you follow the coast and then the drama the mountains coming down to the sea. I did my usual trick of allowing an extra half hour for every hour I had to travel. The journey went well and I arrived an hour before I needed to be there.
I went in search of my cousin. Well, actually, she’s the wife of my second cousin. But she ahs bought and renovated a café in the middle of Bangor. Blue Sky. It’s gorgeous. We had a chat. And it’s already running along the lines of the Creative Café. They’ve had a Poetry Wales meeting there. And the novel-writers group meet there for breakfast.
I then met up with the others who were in the Fat Cat, excited as can be. I’ve edited and published the book, Making Changes, in which three writers form North Wales feature: Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, Jean Lyons and Phil Thomas.
We made our way to the Museum and Art Gallery. It is really a nice space for a book launch or reading. The lighting is great. There’s a good atmosphere with all that art work around.
I somehow managed to end up being the one who sold the books. The entire stock went and I’ve had to order another 17 to fulfil preorders. The curator counted 53 people arriving and then was distracted. I think it may have been about 65. Two of my former colleagues for NIECI and it was good to chat to them.
The readings went well and those who hadn’t bought a book on the way in, certainly bought one on the way out. We hooked them. The readings were great, but I’ve a few ideas about how to make them even greater.
The catering worked well. The three writers paid £15.00 each and that bought wine and nibbles and various members of their writing group brought along home made cake. Delicicous!
Debz and I then went back to her place, taking one of the four bottles of wine left over – there had been twelve altogether. We chatted into the small hours and drank the wine.
The next day, we were back at the Blue Sky café. Novelist’s critique breakfast – in my cousin’s café. This is really living the dream. It was good to chat about their work and writing in general.
I had to go home eventually, but only so that I could go out again to get to the evening session at the NAWE conference in Manchester. Interesting journey through the middle of town on a Saturday night and then along the crowded Oxford Road and the Curry Mile. Then the place was hard to find. No matter, though. The speaker had the same problem. But it was all good in the end. It was good to catch up with some old friends, not least of all my former PH D supervisor, Graeme Harper.
Sunday was a choir day. We, the Ordsall Singers, an a cappella group, sang in the Salford museum where a lot of local groups were exhibiting. I found a writing group and chatted to the people from the Imperial War Museum North. But the singing. I think we did well. It was such fun. Well, it normally is. But we sang in the part of the museum which has been made into an old street. Such an atmosphere. I think we did well. Well, we have a good MD and a few good singers. And we sang three lots of twenty minutes. That felt great, but I had a sore throat afterwards.
What a wonderful weekend!

Friday 14 November 2008

A Still Small Oasis of Writing Calm

It is frantic at the moment. Course, meetings, seminars – two in one day, deadlines looming, writing my CV, for a probation review – I’ve had weeks to do that and tinkered with it now and then- quite frequently, actually, - and still had to hurry to finish it. Things to be checked. I was right, but if I hadn’t have checked, I wouldn’t have been – somebody or other’s law, I think.

Now, with gritted teeth, I am going to spend two hours of my “research day” on my own writing. Jabbering away at the back of my mind is the fact that I’m not quite ready for Monday, I’m not even quite ready for today – goodness, an important book came out yesterday, and I haven’t even told my colleagues – maybe you’re one of them and you’re reading this – MAKING CHANGES CAME OUT YESTERDAY. Back of my mind is that I have to get ready to go to Wales, that we’re having a book launch there, that I haven’t read the submissions for the critique sessions on Saturday morning – but that can be bed-time reading – must remember to print it off. And I don’t know where I’m going Saturday evening. Orders are pouring in for the book.

All of this screams at me.

Yet I shall write for my two hours. Because if I don’t write, none of the rest of it makes any

Monday 10 November 2008

Giving a Lecture

Is perhaps the most terrifying thing about being a university lecturer actually having to lecture? Lecture theatres are strange places anyway. You look up at your audience. You often have to compete with noisy heating or air-conditioning.
We have about sixty-five students supposed to be attending our core lecture. I actually counted over fifty today. That is not too bad considering that there are a lot of bugs going round and this is the week in which a whole load of assignments are due in.
My voice doesn’t carry well these days. The desk mike only seems to work if you stand on top of it. I elected to have a radio mike. I was able to collect it on the way for the audio visual department is in the same building as the lecture theatre where I was working. I really recommend them. Teachers at all levels need to preserve their voice.
Well, I think the lecture went okay. They seemed to hear me without straining, though I myself couldn’t tell whether the mike was working properly.
I posted notes for them on Blackboard, our VLE, which gave them the focus of the lecture. I used a version of this for myself, though I actually wrote timings on it as well. The slightly odd situation here is that I am a fiction specialist and I was lecturing on poetry. A colleague, who is a poet, actually lectured on autobiography. It had to be that way, as he is off on a project soon. The poet who wrote the lecture has put more detailed notes on Blackboard and some quotations. I gave them a handout of the quotations but highlighted some of them on a Power Point display I showed via the projector. So, they had plenty of hooks.
I always worry that I won’t have enough material to fill the time. Yet, somehow, it does last. Maybe because even when you’re using a mike, when you speak to a large audience you slow right down.
And I have to admit, I quite enjoy the experience, though I can be respectably nervous beforehand. The oddest part is just being in a room with so many other people hanging on your every word.

Friday 7 November 2008

Creative Language Learning

I’m now steaming ahead with this resource. It is remarkably easy to write, as it is based on twenty-five years of teaching languages and eight years of being creative. It writes itself to a large extent. I’m due to finish it by the middle of March, but I’m hoping to complete a first draft by the end of 2008.

It’s all based on students seeing the bigger picture, taking responsibility for their own learning and playing with the language, not being afraid of it.

I’ve also been in touch with a local school where I am going to pilot some of the materials and also do a little general work on creative writing with the students. It will be really interesting to see if it all works. I’m hoping I’ll also get a few more schools interested.

I am missing my fiction, but I guess a rest is good. Perhaps when I’m over the half way point, I might go back to one day fiction, one day non-fiction.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

The Children’s Collection at Manchester Metropolitan University

The Children’s Collection at Manchester Metropolitan University
I spent a fascinating time viewing this collection this afternoon. It is a very random collection and therefore leaves researchers to make up their own minds. There are modern books and books going back to the nineteenth century. There are collections of magazines for children. I was intrigued to see copies of the encyclopaedias that were my father’s and we have only just, sadly, disposed of. I was also intrigued to find a copy in paperback of a book I own in hardback. It was a Sunday School prize for my grandfather.
There is this strange relationship between trade books and education. Books are sold and produced along commercial principles. Yet they have an educational use, and that is part of their commercial value. Does that all come from the time that books had those two very specific educational purposes – to teach children how to read and also to teach them morals?
It’s also interesting to reflect how over time the child was invented, then the teenager, and now the young adult. Will there be something else?
There are some gaps in the collection. No Enid Blyton. Most of the collection middle class, or at least very moral. The collection is continued by picking just books that have got awards. That worries me. I know I too tend to read the books which have got awards or good reviews. But what of those that are not even reviewed? Thank goodness for Amazon, that great equaliser. I don’t know how it communicates with this collection.
Nevertheless, a fascinating place to browse.
It’s just a five minute ride form here, at Salford University to Oxford Road and a five minute walk at either end. I met my equivalent over there, Sherry Ashworth. We had lunch together in The Eighth Day Café. Fabulous food. Good company. And yet it’s great to get back to Salford which seems quiet after the bustle of Oxford Road.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

The Angel Cafe

I had a most amazing time over there this afternoon. The Angel Café is found in the Angel Centre which specialises in well-being and fitness for the ordinary people. I’ve embraced it as one of my Creative Cafés.
I went there to have a chat to Andy, the guy who runs it, about launching Making Changes form there. We’re actually going to do it on the 1st of December, as that is when the first story should be read. We’ve decided on an afternoon, and they’ll have tea and cake on the go.
I meet an amazing guy there, called Micky Docks.
“I’ve travelled thirteen miles to eat here,” he says.
I don’t blame him. The food is really good, Cheap. Good-sized portions. Healthy without being mean. Comfort food without being stodgy. Good hearted.
Micky is a playwright and song-writer. He immediately gives me a list of all the people I should contact.
“Can you cope if we have 200 here?” I ask Andy. I’ll secretly be pleased with twenty.
Andy shrugs and grins.
“We’ll manage,” he says.
Suddenly there’s great enthusiasm. I catch it too.
I decide to eat. The tuna bake is great. And there’s not the usual pushing and shoving and hurry there is at the university. My dilemma is: should I tell everyone or do I keep this little gem to myself?
Another lady joins me. She works locally and is pleased to have found this place. She becomes interested in what I do. She might be able to do our MA course. I give her the appropriate colleague’s details. We arrange to meet up there again.
Yes, I’m definitely going to carry on going there for lunch.

Monday 3 November 2008

Keeping Track of Royalties

Keeping Track of Royalties
Am I just about the saddest person in the world?
I received a royalty cheque last week. It was a healthy three figures and came from an educational publisher for whom I have not worked for about three years, though I wrote for them steadily between 2001 and 2005. They were the second publisher to publish me. They started off as a small press and now are much better known. I’ve probably earned more from them than from any other publisher.
Of course, a nice thing about royalties is that they generally represent a payment for work that you did some time ago. It is particularly nice if you receive them in September, while you’re still on holiday. Your books earn for you while you are doing nothing. And every time you pick up a new royalty, the amount of money an individual work has earned for you goes up.
I actually keep a spreadsheet to show this. That’s what might be sad, in case you were wondering. It shows each individual book’s performance It’s a bit of cheat, because I don’t include books which are not being sold yet. So there are some hours of work which will never earn me anything. It’s great fun, though, to add in the new royalty payments and see the end figure wiz up. The downside is that it plunges when you add a new title in.
Well, I’m above minimum wage now and I earn almost as much per book hour as I do per teaching hour. I still haven’t beaten the 1,000 word article which took me one hour to write and which earned me £100. I have just a few titles which earn me below minimum wage and one is still earning less than £1.00 per hour. I have some real goodies that go to £60.00 + per hour, with most books coming in between £15.00 and £25.00 per hour.
Well, it may seem a strange thing to do, but it helps me to prove to myself that I am a writer.

Monday 27 October 2008

Creative Writing Workshop

I had just two students turn up in my workshop today. They are in heir final year of a BA in English and Creative Writing. I only had work to give to one of them. The normal pattern is that two students out of four email work to me and the rest of the group each week. We all read before the meeting and then give the person who has submitted verbal and written feedback. However, we’ve been beset recently with having to change times and emails and their attachments not getting through.
The other student made some really useful comments. She has come on. I was quite pleased to hear her quoting some ideas from the module she did with me last year. Is there an inciting incident? Are there complications leading to a climax? Is there a structure in this? The work we were discussing is a section of a 30 minute sit-com script. I asked whether every piece of dialogue is either revealing character or pushing the plot forward. We also talked about editing processes. We did manage to fill the 50 minutes.
To think I used to do this as a hobby, often paying for the privilege. It is great, having a day job which pays you for doing things which writers do anyway. And we remind our students that in Reading (Writing?) Week, they are perfectly justified in watching television and reading … as long as they’re thinking about how the writers have grabbed and retained our interest.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Getting “Making Changes” out there

This is getting quite exciting and quite scary at the same time. Money is rolling in for the London party / launch and for author copies. I now have to start the heavy marketing. I love writing and editing the books. I cringe at the marketing because it’s really facing rejection all over again. Yet it has to be done.
Just think of this, though.
Everyone knows 250 people. Would it be possible to see all 250 of them a copy of our wonderful little book? And isn’t it so good that those 250 would recommend it to the 250 they know? This is the theory that we are just six handshakes away from everyone in the world. Can we start the ball rolling on this one?
We are beginning to roll. There is a book launch arranged in Bangor and in London. I’m about to set one up in Salford. Some people are contacting their local press and radio stations. I want to find a radio station who will broadcast readings of the stories. I’m sending out review copies.
What more can I do? Will it work?

Friday 17 October 2008

Finding a New Routine

I’m having to get into a new routine for my writing. For the best part of eight years I’ve been able to get up and do the bulk of my writing at the beginning of the day. Now I’ve become a regular commuter and have to start my writing much later in the day. I do find it harder to start then, though it is good knowing that I’ve got many of the other tasks out of the way and am free to let my mind concentrate on this.

I always start with my blog. It gets the creative juices flowing. It’s a bit like Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” though I am conscious of a readership. It feels a little like talking to a group of friends as well, so is also the equivalent of meeting round the photocopier at the beginning of a day at school.

It doesn’t matter that I have to now write at a different time of the day. The writing still gets done. There are sabbaticals, holidays and eventual retirement to look forward to. Weekends too, when unfinished writing comes to the top of the to do list. My research day, also, must include six hours’ writing. I just love that! I don’t mind what sort of writing – friction, editing, correcting proofs, academic writing, writerly research. It all counts and it’s all joyous.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Book Covers

I get excited about book covers. I’ve had four to be excited about recently. I’ve been sent one for my 9-11 novel Kiters due out next spring, one for my Young Adult book Scum Bag. Also, one for my other Young Adult novel Veiled Dreams and last but not least, the one for our anthology Making Changes. It’s always seeing the cover which gets me excited. I’m not so precious about getting the book in my hands. I might just open it and find another typo or start editing it again. But the fact that some editor has found it good enough to give it a cover – now that is something! This is what my darling is going to look like when it goes out into the world and my darling is indeed going out into the world.
Unfortunately, I can’t share three of the covers with you yet. They’re not released. I can, however, share Making Changes with you. It’s out on 13 November. Preorders are accepted for that now. So take a look.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Writing to your strengths

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the difference between talents and skills. Somewhere in there as well is passion and vision, desire and plainly what you enjoy doing. Wouldn’t it be great not to dread Monday mornings, not to cringe at the thought of interaction with particular individuals and to so love your work that weekends seem a superfluity?
It’s also my experience that every job I’ve ever had, every commission I’ve ever got, every / publisher I’ve ever worked with, when I’ve examined what has happened in retrospect, has turned out to be absolutely the right one from a selection. Having said that, there’s always an aspect of any job that one likes least. So you still experience the joy when you’re doing the parts you like most.
So, how does this translate into what I’m doing now?
I’ve had five fiction books accepted recently. One is already with the publisher and I’m doing a final edit on a second. A third is ready to go but will actually only be accepted if the two sequels – it is the first part of a trilogy - are written. Gulp!
I’m also publishing and editing a collection of short stories. I’m having great fun with that, though I hope the authors involved will be happy with the sales. With marketing anyway, I have to be in the mood.
I’ve had a commission to write a resource for teachers of French. I’m basing it very much on my philosophy of how language should be learnt and taught and it’s almost writing itself.
Then there is my job as Lecturer in Creative Writing. It feels like a privilege. I’m being paid for what I used to do as a hobby. However, with that come certain responsibilities and I do feel the weight of them occasionally. The day by day work is fun and comfortable, though. I have great colleagues and students.
So, I guess the passion is in the fiction and the certainty I feel about language learning. There is developing skill and latent talent in the former and developed skill in the latter. I actually enjoy putting my thoughts into words and typing them out via a computer. Fiction drains me emotionally and non-fiction sometimes gives me a headache. I sleep well at night, though, if I’ve done a fair chunk of work in one of these areas.
Talent? Do I have talent? Aren’t our talents birth gifts which fade if we don’t use them and even though they’re given, must be developed? Great of course if talent, skill and passion all line up. I’m working on it.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Vital Signs Neil Campbell at the University of Salford

This visit actually formed part of a module I’m teaching on at the University of Salford. My students on the Writing Short Fiction were invited to attend both a reading and a workshop. I also attended both and I’m really glad I did.
It’s quite nice, when your day job involves putting people through these sorts of experience, to actually sit back a little and have a go at a workshop yourself. I did just that this afternoon.
Neil’s reading was very interesting and he showed us several scenes form ordinary working lives. He admits to having held several uninteresting jobs and he treated us to some of the characters and situations he had met in these.
The workshop began with some reading of short story theory, which I found very useful and shall add to my collection of the same. We then read and unpicked a short story by Hemingway. We were also invited to create our own stories from memories of jobs we had done and funny / sad incidents. Mine was about donuts – based on my remembering working as a Saturday girl at Woolworth’s and being put on the donut machine because I had short hair.
We wrote for twenty minutes and by the end of that time I had about a third of a short story. I think it is one I’ll try to finish. In fact, it’s one I’m looking forward to finishing.

Friday 10 October 2008

Critiquing, Editing ,Abandoning

I have now started working in earnest with our new students. New on all three levels. I’m convening the Level 1 creative writing course. I’ve also got two good groups in Level 2 and Level 3.

I met my portfolio groups for the first time today. They are certainly on the ball, and I think I was also able to give them a lot of detailed feedback on their work. Was it good quality, though? I hope so.

It is amazing how looking at other people’s work actually helps you to understand your own even better. There is always an intensity about it. All those things we talk about: is the structure solid? Does it grab the reader? Are you showing instead of telling? Is the punctuation okay? Are there darlings to be killed off? Does the dialogue work? Is there enough description? Is the writer making use of their senses? Does this character convince?

When is the work finished? Could they come the week they have to give it in and have one last one-to-one? Of course they can. It’s programmed in. What if then, we give them advice and they don’t won’t or can’t take it? Or they think they do and the piece still doesn’t work?

How we go on and on. A piece of work is never finished. Just abandoned. I used to think that that was just so much of a piece of rubbish. There is, in fact, more than enough truth in that.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Ilkley Festival

I had my gig at the Ilkley fringe festival on Sunday. I delivered my Character Magic workshop and the magic worked as usual. It was intriguing that much of the time there was silence in the workshop as the participants scribbled away. They were pleased with what they produced and I have the feeling that they would have liked to carry on.

The Manor House is a beautiful old house and we were lucky to have such a pleasant sunny day. It enhances the mood. Mind you, you actually couldn’t really tell you were in such a beautiful old building as the room seemed much like any other classroom.

It was such a lovely day and the drive over there was very pleasant. I actually sat in the park to have my lunch. Well, there was a nip in the air, and you couldn’t have sat there too long, but considering it was October and I was in the North of England, and considering the terrible weather we had the day before, it was pretty good.

I attended another event at the main festival – all about “The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth” by Frances Wilson.

The Ilkley Playhouse is a treat, and it is so good that they manage to put on such an impressive festival in such a small, out of the way place. There are still some events going on if you’re interested.

It’s a place I could see myself living – small and cosy but lively.

I had a fantastic Balti afterwards as well. Check out

Friday 3 October 2008

Working from Home

I guess one of the joys of being a full time writer is that you don’t have to go out on cold mornings. On the other hand, one of the joys of having to commute to work is being all snug in your car and listening to Classis FM. I find driving good thinking time and an essential part of writing.

I worked form home today and relived with some nostalgia how I used to do it all the time. My husband also works from home and we are actually amazingly good at not disturbing each other. But there is just such a cosiness about it. My office at work is cold. The windows are metal framed and they shrink in the cold and let in a draught. It lacks colour. My study at home has warm colours and my chair is right next to the radiator. Plus I can slop around in my old faded jeans.

It is great that my job at the university is so flexible and that I can work form home now and then. I had to do it today, because I had a man from social services come and help me fill in a form for my dad to get £40 a month. It had to be filled in with the precision we use for filling in bids for funding. Home from home, I guess.

It didn’t stop the flood of emails, but at least I avoided the traffic.

Thursday 2 October 2008

A Productive Day

I had a very productive day in London yesterday. The train journey form Manchester to London goes quite smoothly. It takes just two hours twenty minutes. If you book in advance, you also get reserved seats. So, that two ways, and the odd hour hanging around between meetings gave me time to do the final edit of “Making Changes”. I found a handful of mistakes.

I had a meeting at the British Library with the publisher of Litro, a monthly collection of short stories. 100,000 of these are distributed on the London Underground. We’re hoping to get about 50,000 distributed in the North West. It would basically have the same content as the London edition but localised advertising. It is finding that advertising which may be the challenge. We also looked at having a North West special and a student edition.

And whilst I was at the British Library, I managed to sneak a look at their theatre exhibition. It was very interesting. It was good, too, to manage lunch with my son and a an after-work drink with my daughter. Amazingly, also, they paid.

I popped over to Theodore Bullfrog to see whether they can do our launch for us on 6th December. Apparently they can. I reckon we can do it for £10.00 per head. It’s a good central place, near Waterloo station. They can take up to 100. It could be good.

A very successful and productive day, then.

Friday 26 September 2008

Writer’s Sore Throat

I’ve just been reading a novel out loud. It’s my latest one, and this is the penultimate check. The last read through will be a good old copy edit. It’s amazing how many of those sorts of things I’m picking up. I’m finding detached full stops, “ifs” instead of “ofs”, and sometimes assigning the wrong person to a speech.
It really is to be recommended, reading your work out loud. I have also uncovered some more serious mistakes:
A fight scene was not at all long enough.
Someone said something out of character.
Several sentences were clunky.
Sometimes a bit of dialogue needed to be accompanied by some physical action.
Just occasionally a different word was noticed
Reading aloud is so effective because it slows you right down. You notice far more than when you read in your head. It’s also possible to read aloud silently. You just hear a voice, possibly your own voice, reading the words. This is useful if you’re on a train or somewhere else equally inconvenient.
Why the penultimate check? Well, it needs to be near the end as you’ve made so many changes by now that you may have lost some of the flow. And there is another important check to be done last of all.
Just two words of caution, though.
A few things are better written one way for reading aloud and another for reading silently. That’s another good reason to do a final read through afterwards. You can always put things back to the way they were then.
Reading a whole novel out loud can give you a sore throat!

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Coming home to a good friend

Do I ever want to move house again? I don’t think so! Not without getting rid of a lot more junk first. It’s been quite a nightmare. Is it always that bad? I can’t remember. I yearn to get back into my writing routines, and yet when it happens, it doesn’t feel quite right. I expect it will come again. I guess I’m seeing that right now.
I like to start off with the blog writing as a kick-start to my writing day, though I guess today it feels more like a continuation. I’ve already done some academic writing. I wonder whether my followers are missing me.
I suppose there are a lot of new things going on, now. The new university semester is about to start. I’m now working full time. I’ve just moved house. I guess all of these things are bound to make one a little unsettled.
I am, however, looking forward to finding my rhythm again.
I guess one good thing is I’ve had acceptance of a commissioned book about creative language learning. I’m just waiting for the contract.

Coming home to a good friend

Do I ever want to move house again? I don’t think so! Not without getting rid of a lot more junk first. It’s been quite a nightmare. Is it always that bad? I can’t remember. I yearn to get back into my writing routines, and yet when it happens, it doesn’t feel quite right. I expect it will come again. I guess I’m seeing that right now.
I like to start off with the blog writing as a kick-start to my writing day, though I guess today it feels more like a continuation. I’ve already done some academic writing. I wonder whether my followers are missing me.
I suppose there are a lot of new things going on, now. The new university semester is about to start. I’m now working full time. I’ve just moved house. I guess all of these things are bound to make one a little unsettled.
I am, however, looking forward to finding my rhythm again.
I guess one good thing is I’ve had acceptance of a commissioned book about creative language learning. I’m just waiting for the contract.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Internet Dependency

I had a shock yesterday. My Internet suddenly stopped working. I had a suspicion that I may have been cut off early. I’m moving in a couple of weeks, and I gave them the required notice. Two weeks ago. I should have realised that something was amiss when a letter from them arrived in my (snail) mail box, addressed “Dear New Homeowner,”. I rang their customer services department, who assured me it had not been cut off. I then contacted their technical department who said it had been cut off. Someone jumped the gun. The ISP is blaming the line provider and the line provider is saying it isn’t them – which is probably true, as my phone still works.
Sure, I can still get on-line at work, but should I be using work’s time and cyber space for my own work? For my writing, perhaps. After all, they employ me because I am a writer. But I don’t feel I can dwell on those messages form my various writers’ forums. Then there are all those silly little things you have to get your head around. For example, I need to get an electronic version of a book over to my publisher. It isn’t on the memory stick I have with me now. I must remember to copy it there tomorrow and bring it with me to send.
How can I safely check my Internet banking? And that trawl through the Net, looking for publishing and marketing opportunities? Okay, so perhaps we rely on it too much. But what we used to use is not longer there or too expensive. It’s a bit like the way all car insurers and break-down services rely on customers having a mobile phone. You’re stuck without it.
How can we still be so primitive? I live within a two minute walk of a big university. And no, I will not go out at night with a heavy lap top. I live in a vibrant city. Broadband should ooze through the walls. BT engineers should crawl like ants all over the area. If they don’t, it should be because everything is running smoothly. It takes but a few seconds to flip a switch.
And here I am cut off. All the best laid plans. It was organised so that we would have an overlap. Now, we’ll have a deficit.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Writing isn't Just Writing

I say this because yesterday was my first day as a full-time lecturer at the University of Salford. Somehow, though, that is part of me being a writer. I’m employed as a writer, and the fact that I have an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing helps.

I spent much of yesterday in front of a computer screen, tapping away at this and that. I was doing all sorts of tasks which belonged to my job as a lecturer, which I have because I am a writer.

I even did some direct writing: I worked for about one hour on a proposal for a book about the Young Adult novel. I didn’t do any direct writing on my own creative projects, though I did check out some blogs of people I met at the weekend. And in my search for conferences to do with creative writing, writing for children and young adult literature, I stumbled across some web sites which gave me some more information about my craft and about other publications in the field.

During the rest of the day, I watched a little children’s television, and did some reading. I think these are both essential for someone who writes for children. I also took up a marketing opportunity. Our local SCBWI organiser is creating a web site showcasing us. She is producing a flyer about the web site for the forthcoming Manchester Literary Festival. I sent her two book covers and some blurb about them, along with links to my site in general, the pages where people can see more about my books and order them, and to my blog.

I did still fit in two hours writing, producing just under 2,000 words. But that is so automatic, it’s like cleaning your teeth. You feel terrible if you don’t do it.

Monday 1 September 2008

CWIG Conference Cambridge

It was good, as ever, to spend a few hours with other writers. It helps to counteract the isolation and paranoia. It was also good to put names to faces of all those people you correspond with in email forums, and even to remind yourself of what those people you do know look like.

The venue was pleasant, with beautiful gardens and Cambridge is such a delightful place anyway. The food was copious, well prepared and well presented. The company was, of course, exquisite.

The first plenary session, Fantasy and Reality, introduced us to William Nicholson. He is an excellent speaker. He told us about how his life as a TV writer actually enhanced his novel-writing, which he considered to be his real work. He’s faced rejection and criticism, just like the rest of us. He pointed out that criticism is actually useful. He did this all as well in such an entertaining way.

Julia Eccleshare and Nicolette Jones gave us some insights into how books come to be reviewed. Of course they can’t review every book sent to them. There was a also some discussion about the difference between a critical review, as they offer, and the lay review such as the ones you get on Amazon. It made me think about my own reviewing process. Yes, I review for Troubadour ( magazine about self-published books) and Armadillo, Mary Hoffman’s on-line magazine. I jut review what I’m sent for those. On my own site, I put details of anything which has really impressed me and try to work out why.

I attended parallel sessions on time-management (Mary Hoffman) and writing historical fiction (Celia Rees). Mary’s session reminded me of how many other activities, apart form sitting in front of the computer, are actually writing. I was very impressed with the note books Celia keeps as she fills in details about the settings of her historical novels.

On Sunday, there was the debate about age-banding took up the second part of the morning. I agree with much of what Philip Pullman says. It is actually a little surprising how many authors are now beginning to waver and think it might not be such a bad idea. Interestingly, Chris Powling also picked up the theme when he reviewed some books on Classic FM, which I listened to on the way home.

It is clear we have a few battles to fight to preserve the book and therefore our livelihood. We also need to look forward. The e-book and e-book reader are well on their way, and we need to take care that we do not face the same problems which crippled the music industry. Alan Gibbons has started a “Charter for the Book” campaign, and naturally my name is on it, though I do also welcome the new technology. And do note, I came back with more books than I had intended to buy.

The conference ended with Michael Rosen, our children’s laureate. He was a joy. However, it is clear that the fragmentation caused by the Literacy Strategy and SATs still exists. Children seem to be being processed, rather than being allowed to develop naturally. Reading is taught thorough phonics now. Well they used that when I learnt to read. But they also read stories to us. Ah, I’d better not get into that too much – that is a whole article, a letter to the minister, a letter to Michael Rosen and comments on Wordpool, SCBWI and NIBWEB.

A great conference, despite the worries, and there were also several causes for optimism.

Friday 29 August 2008

Artist’s Treat

Julia Cameron, in her books The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write describes something called the “artist’s treat”. I’ve tried to programme that into my working life once a week now, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it happens without me planning it. Like the other Wednesday when I met Emma for coffee. She showed me a little quarter of Manchester that I didn’t know existed but that was within minutes of all the places I do know. I was going to the theatre than night and if I’d gone home, I’d have had turn straight back round and come out again. However, that now gave me time to kill. So, I had a good wander around Manchester. It’s a city I love, with a lot of life and buzz.

The whole point, I think, of the writer’s treat is not to have too great an expectation. You just relax and let things happen. You absorb so much subconsciously as you stroll around. I remember once a trip such as this to Winchester cathedral. It followed a surreal day – full day’s teaching at secondary school, followed by a pantomime rehearsal – even our Cinderella was male and he went, still dressed in drag, to the local station to pick up his girlfriend. Then, I and the other members of my MA group were expected to just stroll around Winchester cathedral and ignore each other if we met. We thought our lecturers had gone bananas. It so happens that a half decent short story for children came out of that. Not that one should do this expecting inspiration. It is a way of allowing a gap. Gaps are useful. It gives you a distance form your work, and it does allow seeds of ideas to be planted. Now, I try to create these occasions.

I love the buzz of cities like Manchester, but I hate retail therapy, though I do like having and wearing nice clothes. The trouble with shopping for them is it feels like pressure. An artist’s retreat has to be no pressure.

I’m off to meet my editor for lunch and then on to the CWIG conference in Cambridge. This involves negotiating the M25. Even without that, I always allow an extra half hour for every hour of journey. I could arrive one and half hour early, therefore. Also, I don’t know how long lunch will take, so I may not be able to check into the college straight away. Therefore, I’m flinging the English Heritage and the National Trust handbooks into the car. We’re members of both. If I have time to kill… but I won’t force it. It’s all about sitting back and letting something in, whilst feasting your senses and cranking up your optimism.

Thursday 28 August 2008

Editing and Editing and Editing

I am now on the eighth edit of Spooked. Tomorrow I show it to an editor even though I want to do another six or seven edits on it myself. It is gradually growing right, although until very recently I’d thought a novel I finished a year a go – and started about ten years ago – was much better.

So, why am I proposing to show this to an editor before it’s really ready?

It’s actually a matter of geography. I’m in Cambridge tomorrow for the CWIG conference, and the publishing company is based near Cambridge. I’ve never actually met my editor before though we’ve had plenty of conversations on the phone and via email. I’m also meeting the new publicist. It will be interesting.

I’m taking some things along for her to have a look at. My precious The Prophecy – I just can’t get used to that - it used to be Peace Child. I’ve actually had that one made into real books so they are easier to read. - Spooked as mentioned and Miss Maplethorpe – a short novel, perhaps for reluctant readers. According to Microsoft it has a reading age of 4.6. Interestingly that was edited to perfection when I last looked at it, about eighteen months ago. I’m sure today I would find it a bit shaky. I did have a little glance at it, though, as I printed it, and it did look fine.

But when do you stop editing?

I’m keeping fingers crossed for my lunch time meeting tomorrow.

I’m also taking a few extra copies to the conference as well. There will be many networking opportunities there as well.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Revisiting Translation Work

I’ve all but given up my involvement with language work apart form my Creative Writing in Other Languages and the fact that I read the literature printed in other countries. Then out of the blue last night, I get a phone call from an ex-client of mine wanting some help with the translation of a tenancy agreement. I used to teach their son French and he is now at university studying Spanish and about to do a year abroad in Spain. They are renting a flat for him.

Well, I haven’t done translation for a long time, but I always did enjoy working with this particular student, so I guess I felt I could do this, especially as I have come to a full stop with the tidying up the house etc. We can’t really do a lot more until we have a definite moving time.

And actually, I quite enjoyed doing the translation. I wouldn’t want too many – it would be too much like jobbing writing, but in terms of a bit of variety, it was good. I am a landlord. Too, and I’m trying to get myself out of that. Now that I’ve made that decision, anything to do with landlordism seems easy.

I guess it’s just one advantage of having a freelance life. Of course that all stops for me next week, when my university post becomes full time. The downside of that is being answerable to a hierarchy of line-managers again. The upside is the regular monthly salary. Also, when you’re employed as an academic at a university, there is plenty of variety in your work – which is all about writing anyway, if you’re teaching Creative Writing.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Books and Grand Pianos

We have a grand piano. It is over 150 years old Broadwood and both Beethoven and Chopin. It’s a delightful piece of furniture and it’s not bad as a musical instrument. You can’t tune it to concert pitch any more. If you did the repairs it needs it would devalue it as an antique. We’re moving soon, so there’s very little point in doing anything until we arrive at the other end. It does have a good tone. Of course, modern CDs and or MP3s or Ipods can produce fantastic music. Yet, the whole of our move goes around finding a space big enough for our grand piano. We wouldn’t be without it.

Nor would we be without many of our books. It causes us pain to throw any of them away. But we do have to. Although we’re moving form one four bedroomed-house to another, the new one is only two thirds the size of the one we’re leaving behind. So, a lot has to go.

There is some comfort in putting them in the Oxfam box or taking them to the local charity shop. In fact, as I unloaded a set of penguin reference books from my car this morning, someone pounced on them and bought them before they were even unpacked. Good.

I’m actually, perhaps a little unusually for a writer, welcoming the e-book revolution. I look forward to the day when there is no limit to the number of books I can consume and have access to, without having to use them as extra insulation for my home. Just think how easy it would be to pack for a holiday. And you’d never have to give away another book again. You could probably keep them all on a memory stick.

And yet. The books are like the grand piano really. Not all that much sense in owning them any more, but great all the same. So, perhaps my lottery-winner’s dream would be to have a house big enough to include a library that could expand forever.

Monday 25 August 2008

Moving House

Why does anyone ever do that? Is it worse if you’re a writer? Do we tend to try and hold on to things more?

I sort through books not wanting to get rid of them. I hang on to letters from old friends because I think they’re going to be some sort of company from me in my old age. I think it wise to hold on to all those padded envelops so that they can be used again.

It’s a desperate situation, though. We’re downsizing, even though we’re moving to a place where we’ll both have our own studies.

Everywhere is dust and decay. We remove two thirds of what we have and the third that’s left behind seems to take up more room than the three thirds did before. As we think of the dimensions of the new house, we have to strip more and more back.

I’ve decided that this week, as I’ve taken off time form the university, I’ll concentrate during the day on the physical side of sorting things out. it’s a Bank Holiday today. But later in the week, I’ll also take the time to make the necessary phone calls. I’ve done a few already.

I promised myself, though, that I’d spend a couple of hours each evening on my writing. I’ve had my laptop plugged in in the bedroom so that I could listen to a radio broadcast whilst I did the ironing. All right I’ll come clean : I was listening to The Archers omnibus. So, it’s still a good form of story, isn’t it?

I move my computer into my study and plug it in. No little light flickers on to say that it is running off mains electricity. We do all the experiments we can with swapping leads and fuses and establish, just five minutes after PC World has closed, that it is indeed the power pack that has died.

So, I’m currently typing away on an aging PC in my husband’s study.

Bank Holiday Mondays, eh?

Friday 22 August 2008

Age-banding or not

There is quite a lot of debate about this at the moment. Should we put the age of the reader on the book? Straight away, I see a problem. Who is the reader and which of their many ages do we mean? Reading age rarely matches biological age, and then there is mental, emotional and spiritual age to contend with. The combination of these “ages” plus children’s personal tastes will determine which sorts of books they might choose – or even more likely, have chosen for them by an involved adult. That all important cover, blurb and first page will give even more information. But if the child / adult suddenly sees that this book is suitable for 6-8 and they are five or nine yet in every other way the book really appeals, a potential reader is lost. How devastating for the twelve-year-old slow reader, perhaps also a little emotionally immature, to find the book that (s)he finds palatable is meant for nine-year-olds.

This is a world away from general cataloguing and shelving that already exists, and that can be problematic enough. Just think, in a bookshop, you start off at what has roughly indicated as your age group and you move along the shelves to find something harder or easier. You don’t notice, probably, because you’re short and the labels are up high on the shelves that you’ve wandered out of your zone.

Interestingly, it is Philip Pullman who is leading the anti-age banding campaign. Just think, how would you label His Dark Materials trilogy? I’ve said in my Ph D thesis that it is a Young Adult novel. It has the feeling of quest about it that many Young Adult novels do. Lyra and Will are young adults. Many young adults have read and enjoyed it. Yet is has been read and enjoyed by younger people – despite a rather high reading age register. Many adults have also enjoyed it. So, which age band do we put it into and would that put readers from other groups off?

Thursday 21 August 2008

Independent Publishers

There is a reaction to the narrowing of the market amongst the big publishers, where it is becoming very hard to get your work even looked at. Lots of small independent publishers are appearing. They find it harder to get their books into mainstream bookshops and they have less contacts within the industry. The public and those who take an interest in literature are slightly suspicious of them. Yet they do all the same work as a normal publisher. They’re actually an ideal outlet if you’re doing something a little unusual. They edit, copy edit, work with printers, set the book up, have relationships with distributors, deposit with the legal deposit libraries, do some publicity. The author must be prepared to do some of the footwork themselves. Also, if you do eventually become involved with a mainstream publishing house, they may frown at possibly slow sales. If that is bearable, this may be the way to go.

I have four of my books with Willow Bank Publishing, under their imprint Butterfly. They have done everything correctly and the first book out, The Lombardy Grotto, looks good. I’ve promoted it myself, like mad and it’s done okay but isn’t exactly a best seller yet.

Publish America is another and has had a lot of bad press. However, I’m very pleased with what they have done with my Nick’s Gallery. They do produce the books without any charge to the author, but leave the promotion mainly up to you.

A friend of mine may be about to be published with Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie. You can’t fault them on being a traditional publisher and they are completely upfront about the likelihood of sales being slow. They don’t ask for payment. Their web site looks good.

All of these are better than self-publishing or subsidy publishing. Their books do tend to be more expensive than those of mainstream publishers. That isn’t always a bad thing. They lead to a book on a shelf. They will probably allow you into the Society of Authors. Most importantly, they may allow you to produce something which is not what the mass market wants but for which there is nevertheless a market.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Getting an Accountant

A writing friend of mine contacted me recently and asked me whether I thought it would be a good idea for her to get an accountant. I said it would. Her circumstance are a little different from mine. She has a full time day job and writes-four hours a day. (Yes, four hours a day.) She has her first short story published in November. I, on the other hand, have been registered self-employed for eight years, have a 0.5 post which is about to become full time, have over 30 books in print and own eight properties.

Of course, I really need an accountant because of the properties. He charges me just over £1000 a year and saves me I guess about £6,000 or £7,000. He fills in my tax return for me. He knows what I can claim against tax for my writing expenses and my properties. If I only needed him for my writing, I guess I’d be paying him about £300 a year and he would save me a couple of thousand.

By rights, even if you are fully employed and paying PAYE, you should register as self-employed the moment you get anything published. There’s even an argument that says you should do that before you start earning from your writing, because you are actually incurring costs: that Arvon course, that conference, the heating and lighting in your work room. And yes, you do have to pay tax on your royalties. Some publishers, apparently at the request of the Inland Revenue, even ask you to invoice them for royalties – including a statement to say that you are responsible for your own tax arrangements. That is where your accountant can be really useful. And his / her bill is allowable against tax, too. It can almost get to the stage where you think with glee every time you spend something that you are going to get 25% - 40% back.

Just one word of caution, though. It can sometimes look as if you don’t earn a penny. Not so good if you’re trying to get a loan or a mortgage.

Monday 18 August 2008

Subsidy Publishing

There’s been quite a bit of talk about this on forums I belong to. Is “subsidy publishing” another word for vanity publishing?

I would argue it actually depends on exactly what your publisher does. Willow Bank, an imprint of which, Butterfly, has published one of my novels and is working on three others, actually does both.

I would say, that if the publisher just takes the money and does nothing, publishes everything offered to them, then they are vanity. If they edit and select, do much of the publicity and distribution work which the self-publishing author does not have time to do, then they really are doing something different from the old vanity publishers. It has to be at a reasonable cost to the author.

It is certainly true that writing well and in a way to appeal to your target audience is no longer enough. You do have to get yourself noticed one way or another.

There are temptations about self-publishing. It is becoming respectable. You do have all of the control. The big draw back is that you do not sell the vast numbers of books that a mainstream publisher can. You do not have the same access to the market. The outlay, if you use a company such as Lightning source is minimal, but not free. Typically, title set up is £35 - £47. You need a cover designing – that could be £250 and you need to create your own PDF file. The actual cost of each copy of the book is about 70p plus 1p per page. It’s always good to have a proof copy made and that’s about £25.00. Then you have to think about discounts to bookshops. It becomes quite difficult to keep the cost down to what the normal book publishers charge. But if you have something rather special it can be worth it.

Friday 15 August 2008

"Making Changes" - an Advent Calendar of Short Stories

The first “Advent Calendar” anthology of short stories, “Making Changes” from my publishing imprint, Bridge House, is coming together. It is beginning to look very good. I’ve just six more stories to put in, then I must do the introduction and the contents.

It doesn’t sound like too much work – just find 24 stories, edit them a little, put them together and then get on with the marketing. It is amazingly time-consuming but tremendous fun.

I’m impressed and delighted with the stories I’ve managed to find. Also, all of the authors are working together proactively. There is tremendous excitement. It is good to be part of this.

I do have a day job, which becomes full time in September. I am also self-employed. I think this fits in almost as a hobby, but reflects my “day job”. This is the problem with loving your work. You don’t actually have hobbies and there are no contrasts.

I’ve decided the book is going to retail at £8.99. This is common sort of price for anthologies of short stories and implies a slightly literary take. Popular ones will sell at about £4.99. But I think you get what you pay for. This book is quality. It has a good mixture of stories, with elements of fantasy, thriller, children’s real life and mystery. It is going to be a good read.

We have a suggested cover design, though it may not be the final one and any minute now, I’m registering it with Nielson. Progress indeed.

See link under "For Your Information"

Thursday 14 August 2008

Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

This is a play I know well, having been co-producer of it at one time. It is an extremely funny play, with the larger then life eccentric Bliss family, made up of actress mother, writer father and two wild grown up children. This particular cast – Belinda Lang (Judith Bliss), Ben Keaton (David Bliss), Fiona Button (Sorel Bliss), Dorothea Myer-Bennett (Jackie Coryton), Simon Bubb (Sandy Tyrell), Lysette Anthony (Myra Arundel), Simon Treves (Richard Greatham) and Tessa Bell-Briggs (Clara) really pushed the characters quite over the top, in an almost Brechtian way, making it even funnier without letting it become ridiculous. It was quite touching to see the flip from eccentric overdrawn character to professional actor as they took their bow at the end. This was also a very well synchronised event – not always easy to manoeuvre in a theatre in the round.

The play had been so successful that they decided to extend the run by a week. Then there were fears that they wouldn’t be able to fill the seats. It is, after all, August, and many theatre-goers are away on holiday. They needn’t have worried. It was almost a full house last night and last night was a Wednesday.

This amazing theatre is housed in what used to be the Cotton Exchange. That retains much of its former glory. The ringing of a hand bell to warn that the show is about to start is nicely reminiscent of the sounds that would have been heard there in the building’s former life. An almost transparent “in the round” medium-sized pudding basin of a theatre seems to have been dropped into the middle of it, right underneath the main glass dome. This makes for a beautiful foyer, with plenty of atmosphere, two bars, a cafeteria, all open plan, with a full blown restaurant sectioned off. There are also other opportunities for buying chocolates, ices and coffees during the interval – or two intervals in this case. The building tends to be open almost all day everyday and is worth a visit even if you’re not going to see the play.

It’s a little difficult trying to decide where to sit. If you’re downstairs, you’re almost too close to the actors and you can’t admire the set. If you’re on one of the galleries you tend to need to lean forward, especially if you’re short like me, in order to be able see across the EU approved-height railing. It’s a little short on leg room, too. I often wonder why they can’t make theatres as comfortable as cinemas. Still, this is only a minor niggle in what is otherwise a very impressive space.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Other Creative Writers

We were interviewing yesterday at the university for another full-time creative writing lecturer. I wasn’t on the interview panel, but we are all invited to watch the candidates make presentations about modules they might introduce. We saw six altogether, so that meant three hours of watching.

It wasn’t at all boring. These were six really busy, really creative people. There are so many exciting projects going on at the moment. It also showed how writers do have to be versatile these days. Goodness, we have to run ourselves as businesses. A little paid employment here and there is handy in the extreme.

What a variety we had there – playwrights, a poet who is turning to prose, people involved in radio, theatre, film and new media. It was good to be able to talk, though, to people who are involved in similar issues to myself.

It’s made me think about my own interview. I remember that day so well. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I came away feeling that I’d be delighted if I got the post, but also that I could quite understand if one of the others got it. I hope our candidates yesterday felt the same way. I do believe that our interviews are very friendly, though no less rigorous for that.