Saturday 31 July 2021

Has the pandemic intensified the digital revolution?


To continue to Zoom or not to continue to Zoom?  That is our big question

Where would we have been without TV, radio, the Internet, our smartphones and such video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom during these lockdowns?


Getting back to normal

We’re beginning to slowly go back to some sort of normality. And yes it is good to be able to meet face to face to some extent.  Several groups I belong to have taken to meeting in a nearby park and its well ventilated café.


Semi-locked down 

There are some things I will miss about the semi-locked down state: public transport and the city centre being less crowded, museums having timed tickets / entrances, having space in theatre auditoriums.  I don’t like face masks and I’ll be glad when we can ditch those for good but I’ll carry on for now.


Video conferencing making a difference  

Zoom and similar video-conferencing platforms have enabled me to carry on with my u3A groups and my choir. A local association for which I’m on the committee now holds all of its committee meetings and some of its other meetings via Zoom. I volunteer as a reporter of an online community journal.  We have monthly meetings via Zoom.

I have seen a theatre production via Zoom and another one that was produced by a group of theatres and streamed to their audiences. The National Theatre made many productions available for people to watch.

There have also been some interesting talks offered by the National Women’s Register and the Society of Authors.



And we’ve got to do some things we wouldn’t normally do. I’ve attend a book launch in Florida, been to several AGMs that normally take place in London, joined some online U3A groups and taken part in events that I would not have attended if I’d had to travel to them.


Surprising reaction from the Boomers

Definitely there is a divide. Some people embrace the technology, others don’t.  And the 60+ are generally deemed not to. Yet at Talking About My Generation, the community paper for which I volunteer, we recently said we were ambivalent about whether we would like to meet and attend training courses in person or via Zoom. Either was acceptable. U3A recently discussed “returning to normal” and there was strong support for running hybrid meetings – partly in person and partly via Zoom. This is technically challenging but we were up for it.  Some people are still nervous about meeting in person and people are still likely to be “pinged” and have to isolate, possibly still feeling very well.

Can the value-added continue?

Can we continue with all of those excellent on-line events that have been offered? We ought to monetise them. Maybe ask for a “pay what you feel is right” donation?

Extra revenue from streaming

Theatres and orchestras etc. have lost a lot of revenue during the pandemic. Could they not get some of that back by having a supplementary audience that watch the show from the comfort of their own lounges?

Well, well, - final note

The university for which I worked full time used to spend a lot of time trying to get academics to works a nine to five week in an office. Now academics are very resistant to this. They work much longer hours nine-to five days a week anyway.  They are fortunate enough to love their work so work it doesn’t feel like work. But they don’t want to be confined to a building especially since many live a good way away from the campus. And work takes many forms.  Research frequently takes you away from the desk.

Now they’re asking us to consider whether we really need to be on campus.  They are now   encouraging remote working. They recognise that long commutes cause stress and impact the environment. How this is going to sit with student fees I’m not sure. There is a perception that remote learning is less effective and is cheaper to deliver. This perception ignores the fact that the biggest cost is always staff salaries. There is possibly an argument for some sort of hybrid pattern here. And for allowing academics to work the way they have always wanted to.

And the final final note: my husband spent the last eleven years of his employment working form home.  His employers did well out of him: he was at his desk just after eight in the morning until just after seven in the evening.  So, a ten hour day even if he took an hour for lunch. Yet it was still less stressful than having to commute. We were better off, too, And he could still let the plumber in and take deliveries from Amazon.

Can the digital revolution take another turn?     


Tuesday 20 July 2021

Slow and Steady Now


I’ve recently consumed two very slowly paced novels and an equally slowly paced TV serial. It seems there is something to be said, after all, for slower pace.  

I am Thunder by Mohammad Khan


Muzna Saleem is the only child of Pakistani parents.  Her mother and father have high hopes of her becoming a doctor but she wants to be a writer.  Her father loses his job and a cousin takes pity on them.  They move into a flat above the cousin’s Michelin-starred restaurant and her father becomes a waiter.

This offers Muzna an opportunity to reinvent herself as she starts at a new school.   She is still a  serious scholar and gets on well with English teacher and form tutor, Mr Dunthorpe. And she meets Arif Malik.

She becomes convinced by Arif and his brother Jameel that the Islamic faith is the right one but just in time realises that Jameel is a terrorist.  She goes to the police.

Mohammad Khan’s narrative is very convincing.  We can understand how Muzna almost became radicalized. The issue is complex. Muzna’s teenage rebellion against her parents takes the form of her becoming more religious.

It is the slow pace here that affords us the opportunity to really get to know Muzna and other characters well.


An Obsolete Honor by Helena P. Schrader

This is a complex novel.  It is 548 ages long and has numerous sub-plots.

Many of these characters resist the Nazi regime, one way or another. A few are fanatical Nazis.   Helena Schrader uses fiction as a way of uncovering fact and truth.

This long novel deals with multiple scenarios:

·         Being bombed by the Allies

·         Life on the Eastern Front for German soldiers

·         Why Hitler was welcomed by the working class

·         Why some people chose to help the suppressed

·         What happened to those people who helped Jews and other undesirables

·         Displacement

·         Aftermath of World War II

 Schrader is well qualified to write this text.  She has studied the Nazi era for over thirty years and her PhD thesis was a biography of the German resistance leader who developed the Plan Valkyrie, which included the plan to assassinate Hitler, and details of how the regime would be handled after his death. A coup attempt was made but failed on 20 July 1944.  

The slow pace here suits the complexity of the story.

Blood Pact

This is a crime drama, present in the UK by All 4. It is a will-they get-away–with–it rather than a whodunit.  

One overarching story is told over three episodes. A respected tax inspector, Hugo, befriends a convicted criminal, Marius, recently released from prison, because Hugo’s daughter, Suus, and the Marius’s daughter, Chrissie, have become blood sisters. The crystalizing moment is when Suus goes missing on a school trip.  Hugo, Maurius and Kitty, Chrissie’s mother, have joined the trip as parents who are helping. Marius finds Suus. Nothing sinister has happened.  She simply lost her way during an orienteering activity and slept in the wild. But now Hugo owes Marius.

We get to know the characters slowly. Hugo does some stupid things. He is annoyingly reserved and pedantic. He falls in love with two different women over the three series. He is a widower bringing up two girls; one is a teenager and the other is so spoilt that she is worse than the teenager.

Kitty has lived alone for eight years while Marius was in prison. She longs for a normal family life – and a holiday home in Italy. She has been kind to Hugo and his daughters when Hugo’s; wife, Vera, was so ill before she died, and during the time after her death.

Marius is still involved in the criminal life but many things that happen are beyond his control. We forgive him because he is also a loving husband and father.

Plus there are tantalising glimpses of Amsterdam and other bits of the Netherlands, and some beautiful choral music.

Again, slow development enables us to really get to understand the characters. They do some terrible things so we need to understand them well in order to be able to forgive them.  

It puts me in mind rather of moving by canal boat rather than jet aircraft. You feel the peace and calm and can take in more of the detail.           

    Image by Robert Hall from Pixabay

Thursday 8 July 2021

A few writing “rules” that could / should be broken – occasionally


Show don’t tell

Yes of course, we all know that one. It’s a lovely tool for editors, creative writing teachers and for critique group members.  ‘Show don’t tell.-  you’re  telling us and you could be showing  us.’   Except that sometimes you need to tell otherwise you’re stating the obvious.  Showing absolutely all the time really slows your pace. The advanced skill is knowing when it is acceptable to tell rather than show. And don’t forget: story tellers tell all the time.


Write what you know

OK. So, what about fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction?  So, modify that one: write what you know in order to find out what you don’t know. Write about how the human will feel and act in a world where magic is the norm, in a futuristic world that has done away with money and in a world where there is no water on tap.  


Young adult novels are always fast-paced

Except they’re not all of the time and in fact they include several narrative elements that slow the pace right down:

  • a lot of “show don’t tell” because you’re writing for a reader who has less experience of life
  • a lot of emotional closeness as this reader often reasons with their emotions  rather than the area of the brain that houses common sense
  • a lot of interior monologue
  • The narrative voice anyway is often first person where the narrator is talking to a trusted friend and they haven’t really figured out what’s going on yet.

You lift the pace again by creating very high stakes, plenty of tension, cliff-hangers and some action scenes with very short sentences.

 Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Always write in full sentences and with correct grammar

I’m quite a stickler for this in fact when I mark, edit or critique work. If work is tightly written it is easier to sell to multiple markets.  You should only break these “rules” if doing so will render your work more effective than the correctly written text.  And that is the point. You need to appreciate the norms so that you can measure whether your bending of the rules is effective or not. In particular you need to work out when to ignore “Fragment, consider revising”.


Stay with one point of view

Well Dickens didn’t. Neither did many of his contemporaries and those that wrote novels before him. However, we’ve grown to dislike head-hopping and we favour a first person or close third person point of view.

It is in fact more comfortable for your reader if you only change point of view for whole chapters and most modern readers still prefer the close point of view even when that changes.

Take care also of zooming in and out too quickly.  Modern texts work better if you keep the distance between the protagonist and the reader the same throughout.

However, the omniscient author is currently making a bit of a comeback and one or two writers are zooming successfully.  Again, though, you have to know what you’re doing to do this successfully.

Don’t use too many adjectives and adverbs

But use a few and be discerning. Consider the difference between “walking quickly” “hurrying” and walking briskly”. Can you find something better than “big”, “small” and “quiet”?


Avoid the imperfect

No, don’t. “She sat” is NOT the same as “She was sitting” and certainly very different form “She used to sit” / “She would sit” – other versions of the imperfect.  The imperfect exists in every language for a reason. Why waste the richness of our language?


Avoid the pluperfect

Again, don’t.  It refers to one stage further back in the past and is useful in pinpointing when action took place. I admit, I tend to have one or two and then go to a perfect of imperfect. E.g.

“He had finished dinner and had cleared the table. He was now stacking the dishes in the dish washer. The television was already on.”


So there you have it.  A few justified broken rules. Would you care to suggest some others?  

Thursday 1 July 2021

News 1 July 7 2021


Busy doing nothing 

How about this as a way of getting creative? Do nothing. Stop the chattering mind.  Just be somewhere and let the ideas come - or not.

The mathematician Pointcaré famously finally solved a problem he’d been grappling with for ages as he stepped on to a vehicle that was taking him and his colleagues on a jolly during an important conference. We all know about Archimedes’ eureka moment in the bath. My final class in the first module of my MA consisted of us all walking aimlessly round Winchester cathedral.  It felt like a bit of a lark.  It actually turned out to be very productive.

Is this akin to meditation? You stop overthinking?  You shut up your busy mind for a while. The creative process carries on in your subconscious.  

Well, I’m off the pharmacy soon to collect my medication. I know that the little café at the health centre has reopened. The tables and chairs are out on the pavement. It’s a fine day today.  I shall indulge in a cup of their finest coffee and sit and people-watch and / or day dream for a while.

Big question: may I count this as writing time?        


Current writing

My main work at the moment is my fifth Peace Child novel. Former protagonist Kaleem has now become a minor character. A minor character has stepped up. I’m up to Chapter 24 out of thirty-three.  I’m continuing to get feedback from my SCBWI group.

I’ve now completed the Prompts 2022 book. 365 writing prompts – one for each day of the year. I’ve also almost finished writing my Business of Writing course. This will be a pay what you like course. It should have gone live by the time you get the next newsletter. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out.  

I continue to write for Talking About My Generation. My latest offering is a review of really interesting exhibition at our local Bury Art Museum:   

As ever, I’m keen to get my books reviewed.  In particular this month I’m looking for reviews for Babel, the second story in my YA SF series. It can be read as a stand-alone book. If you’re interested in reviewing,  just contact me and I can send you PDF or mobi-file.  


The Young Person’s Library

I’ve added just one book this month.

The Art of Kate Greenaway by Ina Taylor

This is a non-fiction short biography.  It is beautifully illustrated. It is a useful resource for teachers and older students.  



Current reading recommendation

This month I’m recommending About a Boy by Nick Hornby

This well-written classic has of course been made into an engaging film as well.

Intriguingly Will screams out to be played by Hugh Grant and of course he was.

We have two equally significant main characters in this story, Will and Marcus.  The story shifts between the two of them.  Both have convincing voices and both are rounded, authentic characters. This is not a “happy ever after story” and one of the novel’s many strengths is that it shows us life as it is.

Both characters are unusual.  Will doesn’t work – he lives off the royalties from his father’s Christmas song. Marcus lives with his mum, a single parent who has mental health problems. He is an awkward child and gets bullied. Will ends up being as a bit of a reluctant hero.

Nick Hornby portrays the ups and downs of these complex characters and in the end it’s all About a Boy           

Grab your copy here.     



Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs.  

This month I’m giving away Clara’s Story.

Is this a tragedy and is Clara’s fatal flaw that she has too much faith in mankind? Or is that belief what saves her in the end? And is the story one of human spirit prevailing? This is entirely up to the reader to decide.    

Clara faces many challenges in her life.  A crucial starting point is the premature death of her husband. This incident launches a whole new way of life for her as she also reflects on the life that went before, that also no doubt helps to build what she later becomes.   

The subtitle for this book is “a Holocaust biography”.  It is based on the true story of a real person though I’ve had to use several writers’ tools to uncover some truths.        

Clara’s Story is the second novel in my Schellberg Cycle and uses fiction writers’ techniques to make the characters come to life.  Grab your copy and lots of other freebies here.   


Note: Normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99.  Most on Kindle are about £2.99 and the average price for paperback is £7.00. Writers have to make a living. But I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.


The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust.  They may also be interesting for other readers of historical fiction.

Sometimes I also write about what might be of interest to other writers.

I have been quite busy this month. There are two book reviews:

The Secretary by Catherine Hoken like my own work gives an unusual German point of view. Events of World War II are revisited in the light of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.


V for Victory by Lissa Evans is a novel about a civilian population in London towards the end of World War II.  The V2 bomb figures highly in this and that is also as small sub-plot in the Cycle.

I’m beginning to think about book seven – even though four and five are not yet published and six is not yet written. Book seven will feature the German resistance. So, I’m starting to research that.  I’ve included a few first thoughts in  German Resistance World War II


My father-in-law died recently and in clearing out his house we found some of his photos of Stuttgart. That triggered some memories. Read about them in Stuttgart Revisited    


In  Flowers of Hope I discuss some flowers we associate with the world wars.   


School visits

I’ve suspended these until further notice. I’m now starting work on a series of on-line materials.  

Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.


Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.


The Bridgetown  Café Bookshop where you can buy my book and books published by Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, Chapeltown Books and The Red Telephone.  We’re building up our inventory, so please bear with us. Visit us here.     


Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.


The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   


Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Book recommendations and giveaways. Find it here.   


Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  


Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.


A Publisher’s Perspective Here I and some other editors blog as a publisher. Access this here.   


The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   


CaféLit Stories Find these here


Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.


Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head and a reminder of the ones I’ve highlighted in this newsletter.    


Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.


The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.


Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.     


Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 


The Young Person’s Library The children’s book catalogue. Access it here.


Fair Submissions  Find it here.   

Opportunities for writers are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  

Happy reading and writing. 

Image by György Sabransky from Pixabay