Tuesday 19 January 2021

My New Reviewing Policy


I have a lot of books to read.  There are three waiting on my bookshelf and about 600 on my Kindle. So, I’ve stopped accepting review copies. This may seem at odds with my requests for people to review my book and books I publish for other people.

On the other hand I have resolved to review every single book I read. And so far so good. I know how important reviews are for writers. Reviews don’t have to be long. Two or three sentences are enough. I post them on Amazon, Goodreads, Storygraph and Discovery.  Amazon, Storygrpah and Discovery are technical reads so I’m giving a type of intellectual analysis of them. On Goodreads I’m recommending to reading and writing friends. The latter is more about personal taste than me recognising the merits of some writing - or not. The words in the reviews may be the same or similar but sometimes I give a different star rating on Goodreads.

What if I read a book written by a friend and it’s terrible? So far, so good. That hasn’t happened.  In fact, overall I’ve not had to give lower than three stars but this is in part because I’m only buying the sort of books I’m likely to like. So, I often don’t even mention to a friend that I’ve bought their book because it may take me a while to get round to reading it. And actually, I’ve bought the book. So she has the cash anyway.

I am honest in my reviews. I will give a one star or two star if I have to. By writing a lot of reviews I’m building my reputation as a reviewer. Hopefully people are seeing me as reliable. 

I am fortunate.  I can buy as many books as I like. This is partly to do with being comfortably off. But it’s also to do with having very few wants or needs. Other people are less fortunate so I’m happy to give them books in exchange for an honest review. Of course, it’s great when people buy books and review them. 

I also review for Armadillo Magazine and IBBY. These are longer reviews and I am given a free book for these – sometimes an e-book sometimes a hard copy.

I have also created my own catalogue of books for young people – The Young Persons Library. The reviews here are very neutral. They provide information for teachers, school librarians, scholars, parents and other adults who like reading children’s books.

Finally there is my recommended reads blog where I post each month the book that has impressed me the most.

This is all another addition to how I spend my time in a very enjoyable way.    

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay    

Tuesday 5 January 2021

An interview with Steve Wade

 We recently published Steve's book In Fields of Butterfly Flames, a collection of short stories, so I've invited him on to my blog today to talk about his writing and this book in particular.     


1.      What do you write? Why this in particular?

I write literary fiction, in particular short stories, many of which are centred round characters within dysfunctional families. I also write anthropomorphic stories and fairy tales.


Most of my favourite writers employ literary fiction, so, naturally, I too am drawn to this genre. My interest in using anthropomorphism comes from my love of stories by Richard Adams, Rudyard Kipling and others. Limited as the market seems to be towards short fantasy stories, I especially enjoy getting lost in the creation of characters borrowed from the canon of Irish and world mythologies.  


2.      What got you started in writing in the first place?

I have always been creative, whether sketching and painting the birds I kept in aviaries as a teenager, or building the enclosures in which the foreign finches and parakeets were housed. Not until I went to college and compiled theses on the works of  the playwrights George Bernard Shaw and Sam Shepard did I discover the pleasure to be gained by creating characters and imagining them into predicaments from which I must help them escape or allow them to succumb. This drive to create, to produce something new is summed up perfectly in a quote by Arthur Miller speaking about his own writing. It’s the drive ‘to cast a new shadow upon the earth.’


3.      Do you have a particular routine?

In a perfect world, I would write first thing in the morning after breakfast. This is the period in which my mind is at its most creative. Alas, like most of mankind, there is the need to keep the proverbial wolfpack from prey-rushing me when I open the front door. Ironically, this awful pandemic, which has altered how we live and work, has given me the opportunity during lockdown to indulge my perfect writing routine, on and off, for a few months.


4.      Do you have a dedicated writing space?

There are two places in my home in which I do most of my writing: in my bedroom at a desk, or in the living room on the couch, with my pc  perched upon a laptop desk.


5.      When did you decide to call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?

At the age of twenty-five, I had the dubious success of being awarded First Prize in the first writing competition I ever entered. I say ‘dubious’ because I imagined this would lead to instant publication and further successive wins. Of course, this isn’t how things went. But with quite a few years gone over since then, and with them more than fifty short stories included in periodicals, magazines and anthologies, along with a collection of twenty-two short stories published by Bridge House Publishing, I think I can give myself the title ‘writer’ without inwardly cringing.


6.      How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you’re doing?

To be candid, some members of my family, just like some of my friends, are more supportive than others. In the world in which we now live, a world where technology and handheld devices have, for many, replaced books, not everyone gets the idea of reading the printed page, let alone the dedication of those who aspire to write those pages. But I must give a special mention to my sister, Nessa, who set up my website, and who spends a lot of time improving it and updating it whenever I have a publication or a placement in a competition that needs to be add to it.

7.      What are you must proud of in your writing?               

Naturally, none of us writes in a bubble. That my work is read by others brings enormous personal satisfaction. But when I get feedback through comments or reviews, it makes all the hours of effort even more worthwhile. And then there is the socio-political aspect to a work of art. All art, even if its creator claims to be apolitical, is in some way socio-political. In this way some of the themes I explore and interrogate in my work allows me to understand better my own viewpoint or stance on a given matter.


Some themes, even when not being explored overtly are implicit in the way we tackle them. To take as an example a fairy tale I wrote called ‘The Land of the Ever Young’. In this story a fairy mother returns to a family a year on from the time when she stole their beautiful new-born child and left in its place a changeling. The changeling has brought destitute and death to the family with its insatiable appetite. This is the surface of the story, but what I’m really exploring here is the starving Irish families of nineteenth century Ireland. An Ireland where the impoverished farmer, beset by famine, could not afford to rear a child not born fully abled and therefore unable to help out on the small holding. And so came about the superstition that gave them freedom to effectively end the child’s life, fully convinced that their real child had been stolen and replaced with a demon fairy child.


At first, when I read the question about what I’m most ‘proud’ of about my work, I wasn’t sure if ‘pride’ was the correct emotion, but then I recalled a review of ‘The Land of the Ever Young’ from some years back, and I looked up the following by Mel Ulm on his blog:. He Writes: ‘I found his short story “The Land of the Ever Young” fully qualified to stand with the great occult fairy tales of Sheridan Le Fanu or Andrew Lang.’ Yes, as I reread this now, I’m smiling, and my chest is swelled.


8.      How do you get on with editing and research?

For me, the best part of writing is the rewriting. I’m with Hemingway who said first drafts are excrement. Over the years I’ve followed all the advice that tells us to leave a finished piece of writing for a few days before reading over it a number of times to pick up on any inconsistencies, typos, spelling and grammatical errors. Of course, it helps a lot more if you have someone reliable to read the piece too. As we can’t always home in on everything in our own writing.


As for research, most of my work doesn’t call for any in-depth research, other than checking sources relating to specific places, the time of year when named plants are in flower and so on.


9.      Do you have any goals for the future?

Naturally, goals about getting works published depend on the decisions of publishers to whom I submit my writing. I have written a few novels and have enough completed  short stories for another three publications. As for specific goals, there are a number of literary competitions in which I’ve been placed before but would be very happy to be the outright winner – what writer wouldn’t?


10.  Which writers have inspired you?

The writers who I feel most indebted to are Hemingway, James Joyce, Jack London, John Steinbeck, and Cormac McCarthy. And, when it comes to writing fantasy, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm and Oscar Wilde would be at the top of the list.


My book: In Fields of Butterfly Flames

1.      Tell us about your book

‘In Fields of Butterfly Flames’ is a collection of twenty-two short stories. Most of the stories first appeared in anthologies and periodicals. Some of them have won prizes or have been placed in literary competitions. Many of the stories explore the theme of familial dysfunctionalism. Other themes deal with the search for identity and the need for purpose. What the characters in every story have in common is that they are in some way broken or fractured, in search of meaning if not healing.


2.      Tell us about your research for this book.

As mentioned above, because it is a collection of short stories, there was no direct research necessary when writing. The indirect research that could be said to have gone into the stories is life and living itself, the experiences I’ve had or have read about others having; the books I’ve read, the places I’ve visited, the movies I’ve watched. All of it has been grist to my mill.


3.      What inspired you to write this?

Writing is what I do. It’s what I think about when I’m not writing and not distracted by something else. Characters, their plights, their status, where they live, their jobs and background take shape in my head when I’m taking my daily walk on the seafront, standing in the queue in Tesco or lying in bed waiting for sleep to come. Collating the stories into a collection seemed the obvious thing to do.

4.      What’s next?

Currently, I’m working on my third novel. The previous two have not yet been published, apart from one of them being awarded First Prize in a writing competition and subsequently being released as an e-book. The novel I’m writing now is an extension of one of the title short stories from my collection. Apart from the novel, I’m also collating three other  collections of short stories. One of literary fiction, a second of anthropomorphic tales, and a third of Christmas stories.

1.      How can we get a copy of the book?

‘In Fields of Butterfly Flames’ can be ordered directly from the publisher, Bridge House Publishing, or it can be ordered through Amazon.


2.      Do you have any events planned?  Due to the current pandemic, any ideas I had for a book launch have been put on hold. 



Monday 4 January 2021

Dawn Knox and John Guest talk to me about the audio book of 'The Basilwade Chronicles'


Dawn, first of all, tell us again how you came to write the story / stories?

When I started writing the first chapter of The Basilwade Chronicles, I had no idea it would eventually be included in a book. It was simply a short story written to present at one of the Basildon Writers’ Group meetings, where once a month, members read a short story or excerpt from a work in progress. Sometimes we set a writing prompt and one particular month, we were asked to write a story about a man who was socially inept and rather tactless.

I tried to think of a situation which might be considered a social minefield which my character could mishandle, and I came up with speed-dating. The name Derek Carruthers popped into my head (apologies to anyone with that name!) as being perfect for my man and I made a start. Not surprisingly, by the end of the story, Derek doesn’t leave with anyone’s contact details However, he does meet a woman – Mary Wilson, who is as disenchanted with him, as he is with her. (A Question of Timing https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2017/09/a-question-of-timing.html ).

I liked Derek and Mary so much, I decided I’d write another story involving them, to read out at the following meeting of the writers’ group. At the end of that story, a new character was introduced, Florrie Fanshawe, who I included in a third story.

Each month after that, I took one or more people from the previous story and wrote them into a new tale. As well as tactless Derek Carruthers, there were characters such as the selfish vicar with a penchant for pickled onions, the ostentatious clairvoyant with mesmerising eyes, the would-be entrepreneur with an unhealthy inclination to bear a grudge and the couple in the retirement home who had traumatised the young cleaner because they were often found in the broom cupboard together.

Each month, after I’d read a story out at the Basildon Writers’ Group meeting, I submitted it to the CaféLit website, and I was thrilled that each one was accepted by Gill. She suggested publishing them as a book, so I decided I needed a way to conclude all the stories and thought I’d write a final chapter where two of the characters, Sidney Jugg and Betty Bentwhistle get married. In that way, I could bring most of the people who’d appeared in the book back for the ceremony in a grand finale. So, I started to write. I then realised that it was much too long for one chapter and eventually, I divided it into three chapters – The Hen Night, The Stag Do and The Perfect Wedding.




I submitted the final three chapters, which were published on the CaféLit site and to my delight, Gill said Chapeltown would publish the manuscript as a Kindle book and paperback.

Because each chapter is a stand-alone story, which has its own title, I hadn’t considered a title for a book. Gill suggested The Basilwade Chronicles, since the tales were set in the fictitious town of Basilwade – a name I’d made up to be similar to Basildon, and the book was published in December 2019.


And how did we get the idea of making sound files of them?

Jacqui James, chairman of the Basildon Hospital Radio, also presents a show on Basildon’s local radio, Gateway 97.8FM. The Basildon Writers’ Group has links with Jacqui and both radio stations. Throughout 2019, one member of our writers’ group was featured each month in a slot on Jacqui’s show which she called ‘The Book Club’. When The Basilwade Chronicles came out, Jacqui invited me on to the show to talk about it and to read a chapter and after I’d finished reading, she told me she had a regular guest on her show who she thought would be excellent at narrating some of the stories. The guest turned out to be aptly named, John Guest, who, at that time, was the vicar at St Margaret’s Church, Stanford-le-Hope. Jacqui set up a meeting between us so we could discuss John recording several chapters. I checked with Gill and she was happy for them to be recorded for the radio station.

The stories John chose were the three which included the character, Reverend Forbes-Snell, the pickled onion-loving vicar, and he recorded them at the radio studios just before the first lockdown in 2020. Although I was invited to the recording, my family was in isolation so I had to miss it. However, Jacqui sent me the audio files and she was correct, John is excellent at reading in different voices and he brings Reverend Forbes-Snell and the other characters to life.

After John had recorded the first Basilwade story, he asked me if the characters sounded like I’d expected and I realised I hadn’t had any preconceptions about how any of them would sound. In my imagination, I can see the characters acting out their parts in all the stories, and I know what makes them tick, but I hadn’t thought about how they might sound. However, as soon as I heard John’s interpretation of each of the characters, I thought they were perfect and now when I imagine the characters, they speak in the voices John gave them!

The stories read by John were well received and Jacqui was keen to have all the stories read, so after checking with Gill, John recorded all the chapters and either he read them live or the recordings were played on Gateway and Basildon Hospital Radio over nineteen weeks. Having recorded all the stories, we were already half way to making an audio-book and Gill arranged the rest of the process.


Have you had any interesting reactions to the radio broadcast?

Jacqui told me she had a regular listener, Mike, from Tasmania who tuned in to listen to John read the Basilwade stories on her show on Gateway and Basildon Hospital Radio. Apparently, he prefers them to Australian radio programmes!

And also, from the streaming monitors, the stations could see there was someone in Canada who listened regularly.

The stories must have been well received because now The Macaroon Chronicles has been published, John will start reading that book in January on Jacqui’s show, Good Afternoon, on Wednesday at 1pm on Gateway 97.8FM and also on Basildon Hospital Radio – lockdown permitting, of course.

On Gateway and Basildon Hospital Radio, during December and the lead up to Christmas, John was invited to record and read two Christmas stories I ‘d written which include several of the Basilwade characters, Hetty’s Basilwade Christmas https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2020/12/hettys-basilwade-christmas.html and Mr and Mrs Jugg’s First Christmas https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2020/12/mr-and-mrs-juggs-first-christmas.html. If everyone had heard enough from Basilwade, I imagine those stories would not have been broadcast!

 John, how did you get the idea for how each character should sound?  

First I read through each person to see if there were any clues to how they might sound from what they said, then I checked them out with Dawn to see if she liked them and were how she "visualised" them. The key was that as it is a humorous book the characters need to be fairly comical and so the accents were exaggerated!

 Do you have a favourite character?

Dawn: I rather like Hetty, the sister of the selfish vicar, Wilbur Forbes-Snell. Although at first, she’s downtrodden and unappreciated, Hetty reaches a milestone in her life and realising that if she doesn’t do something soon, she’ll be trapped in the vicarage being the dogsbody forever, she makes plans to escape the drudgery. One of the Christmas stories I wrote carries on with Hetty’s story and we find out what happened when she returned to the vicarage at Christmas (Hetty’s Basilwade Christmas https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2020/12/hettys-basilwade-christmas.html. But as well as feeling sympathy for Hetty, I also loved Mrs McSquirtle, Wilbur’s lazy housekeeper, who does very little other than drink the vicar’s sherry and cause mayhem, especially in her story A Meal of Biblical Proportions, https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2018/08/a-meal-of-biblical-proportions.html when she gets her own back on the vicar by showing him up in front of the bishop! She’s so naughty, I find her quite lovable!

John: If I can cheat and pick two, I'd say Auntie Edie and Florrie Fanshaw. They are strong women who don't suffer fools gladly and both have distinctive voices - one from the north and one from the south. They are quite bossy but know their own minds! They remind me of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg in the Discworld books.

John, which was the most difficult character to give a voice to?  
None of them were that difficult because they were all comic characters but I suppose the peacock was the hardest!

John, how did you come to do this sort of work?  

I was "headhunted" by Jacqui James from Gateway as I had already worked with her for BHR doing inspirational stories for patients. I had always planned to do some part-time audio work following retirement as I love to use my voice for reading, especially with children. I have written several books of stories and often use them in school assemblies.
John, what are the technical challenges? Now I am also doing the editing of the readings I had to get up to speed very quickly on the best way to do it. I now use a high quality mike and a great sound editing programme called AUDACITY. I am fortunate to have a room in my garage that is naturally sound proofed by having the walls lined with books. I am learning all the time and now offer a full editing service along with my audio reading.

Do you have any other similar projects lined up.

John: Yes - I hope to audio read Dawn's follow up book The Macaroon Chronicles which has even more scope for comic voices and accents. I am currently engaged in an extensive project audio-reading 8 plus books by an Algarve-based published author called Trevor Holman. It usually takes two to three hours to prepare and edit one hour of reading. I am also reading on Gateway radio live once a week on Jacqui's programme.

Dawn: Yes! I have another set of stories about the gardens of a stately house and the garden gnomes, marble elves and other garden ornaments who live there. The stories were written in a similar way to The Basilwade Chronicles and The Macaroon Chronicles which is the next book in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’, in that they both started life as one story and I carried on using characters from that story to write others. I call the manuscript ‘The Crispin Chronicles’ – Crispin being a marble elf, who is the main character throughout the stories.

Why do you think audio-books are becoming so attractive?

John:  Audio books are so convenient and people can listen on phones/ear-pods etc. whilst doing other things indoors and out. The important thing is to get a good clear reader who brings the narrative to life. Audiobooks are inexpensive and highly convenient and can be accessed by everyone, especially those with special needs.
Dawn: Audio-books are far more widely available now than they used to be and so convenient for people who are on the go. They’re definitely my favourite format for books. I’ve found that spending so much time on my computer means I often get headaches and since I haven’t been able to have an eye test during this pandemic year, I’ve had to limit my screen time and my reading time. But of course, audio-books are perfect as I can ‘read’ a book without even looking at it. And it’s great to be able to multi-task and to ‘read’ while I’m ironing or chopping vegetables!

Thank you Dawn and John.  You can find the audio book here.  

We have some review copies to give away. Contact us for a code for a one time listen. Here a sample  here.