Friday 30 March 2012

Oddest Book Title of the Year Winner Announced...

It's 'Cooking with Poo' by Saiyuud Diwong - and as I mentioned previously Poo is Thai for crab- but apparently Poo is also the author's nickname, so hence the title.

The winner got 38% of the votes, while the second place title (about the chicken sexer in Hebden Bridge) received 22% of the 1,363 votes.

Sadly the Estonian Sock Patterns that I favoured just couldn't compete with the top two titles, garnering only 12%...

For full results see the Bookseller article here.

So if you want publicity and sales for your non-fiction book, clearly an odd title can have its advantages...

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Which Romance Category?

Beside the advice to write about what you know, the other suggestion for undecided writers seems to be to write in the genre you enjoy reading.

While you can't currently go back in time, you can learn about and experience the past in the here and now.
So I can see the logic of the latter. Every writer needs to read within their genre, so they know the requirements of that category, what's had it's time in the spotlight, and other developments.

While I prefer to write historicals, I'm quite happy to read contemporary, or futuristic. I'll even read fantasy- charming vampires, and werewolves.

(But like any book, if the basic plot idea doesn't appeal to me...)

I've experimented with my writing as I've learnt, but no matter when or where I set the story there was always a romance involved.

As a teenager I wrote a romantic saga set in space- there was even a prequel about the parents of my hero. But that didn't have a happy ending- the father died in an air crash during a snow storm...

I can still remember elements of that saga- the hero and heroine's long marriage, numerous children and grandchildren (some were even part alien), but I never kept the hand-written pages. And as I was a bit vague on the scientific theory of futuristic space travel, perhaps it wasn't quite the category for me forty years ago.

Then there's contemporary. I enjoy romances set amidst a mystery or crime- as long as any murders included aren't gruesome, in fact if they are involved then I prefer the murder off the page. I don't want to actually read about it as it happens.

I've always loved history. I'm lucky my family don't mind the occasional trip to historic buildings and places wherever we are on holiday, but too many and I have to go by myself...

Perhaps I've trained my brain to see my characters in an historical setting? They certainly appear in costume; well usually, apart from a character I started developing when I attended Sally Quilford's pocket novel workshop last October. :-)

I have a couple of contemporary characters who popped in last weekend, 'Hal' and his lady- who I discovered is wearing that red and yellow corset I mentioned recently- and why.

I will probably have a use for them when I do the Kate Walker workshop in May.

(If you know of anyone who might be interested and can get to Nottingham on the 19th May, please pass the workshop details on, there are places still available, and it's very affordable.)

Perhaps in the future I'll be able to create contemporary characters, but at the moment the historicals continue to dominate.

Monday 26 March 2012

Cooking and Kitchens...

My usual weekend baking session went a little awry yesterday- me at home with the evening meal almost ready (I was planning to make the lemon drizzle cake after dinner) when my husband rang to say the car had broken down and they were waiting for the recovery service.

So the cake never got done, so one of my sons got to take chocolate cake in his lunchbox today instead of lemon drizzle cake...Not that he minds, but I'd like some of the chocolate cake for myself.

The cake-making got me thinking about the cooks of the past and how hard it must have been providing food every day, even for a small household.

We take it for granted that we can pop to the shops for a loaf of bread, a pint of milk or half a dozen eggs, but have forgotten how much time and effort those few items would have taken to obtain in the past- and that's before you even start cooking with them.

Quite a few larger homes open to the public now have kitchens you can visit and they're well worth spending a little extra time looking around. They echo the past in a way grander rooms sometimes don't.

A long time ago I lived in a house that had a small pantry in the kitchen, and it had the wonderful stone shelf for keeping food cool. It's such a shame that many of the houses that still have them, often rip them out during kitchen modernisations.

I was brought up in a late Victorian terrace house which still had a small scullery attached to the kitchen- with a view out to the coal bunker... I became quite adept at cleaning the ash out of the living room fireplace and laying a new fire. :-)

You can see an abandoned Victorian kitchen that was discovered in a basement of an old stately home here. Or on a grand scale there's the Tudor Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace.

For some good illustrations of kitchen objects have a look at this website- Old and Interesting.

Shire books has a section, Household Bygones, which has a selection of books- fire grates and ranges, old cooking utensils and table knives and forks among them.

If you want to look at some old recipes or 'Receipts' as they were called, then you'll find 'English Housewifery' by Elizabeth Moxon, on the Gutenberg website, interesting.

If you've visited any old kitchens open to the public, then please share your recommendations for a visit.

Friday 23 March 2012

Flash Fiction Competitions...

Did you know that there is a National Flash Fiction Day this year?

Well there is. Don't worry you haven't missed it, it isn't until May the 16th, but you can read more about it here on the website.

You'll find a list of competitions on this page too. Most have a closing date of April, so you have time to get your entries in if you're interested.

There's even a blog where you'll find news and discussions.

As I've done a few pieces of flash fiction before I might have a go at some of the competitions listed.

If you want high profile, the Bridport Prize has a section for flash fiction. Their maximum is 250 words, though there is a £6 entry fee; but Bridport is a prestigious competition and wining would be good for the writing CV. (Do note the slightly earlier closing date for this year.)

Flash fiction takes skill, and just like a longer story, 250 words still need a beginning, middle and end. But that shouldn't be hard for a writer...

So if you enter any of the competitions listed, I wish you luck.

If you've written or read any flash fiction, what do you think of it?

Thursday 22 March 2012

Editing and Motherhood...

You may wonder what editing has to do with motherhood, but for me they're interchangeable at the moment.

I'm having a short break from the novel to work on a short story-it's been waiting for me to get back to it for over a year. I knew it wasn't quite right, and I think I was lacking confidence in my ability to produce a saleable story, so the more I tried, the more the story went into reverse or that was how it felt. So I left it, believing it was never going to work.

I've also felt like that whenever I've gone to the parents consultation evenings at school. But yesterday (Wednesday) the milestone of the last ever consultation evening was reached. Never again will I have to go with my long list of teachers to talk to (would I ever get through them all), with my notebook and pen to record the comments from each one, so I could then report back the (correct) details to the appropriate son...

(This is the one aspect of multiple birth families that never gets mentioned in books- parents evenings post primary school are long, tiring and require a lot of brain energy.)

In a few months the GCSE exams will be in full spate- in fact next week it's the art exam. With all the revision classes coming up, stress is building, but there is, as they say, light at the end of the tunnel...

I'm making the most of any calm spells to concentrate on shorter projects, hence the short story editing.

I can now see the light in the story too. The structure problems that I couldn't solve previously are resolving themselves as I change sentences, choose a different word here, adjust a description there, and take lines out- or put them back in.

I'm finally starting to gain that confidence I previously lacked.

I know I'm competing in a tough market with a high standard, so my story will have to be as good as I can make it.

Then it will be up to the sifting readers/editor whether it's a yes or no.

My previous attempts have always received the standard rejection letter, so I can either improve or get the same rejection letter again.

I'll let you know when I finally send it out, and no matter how long I have to wait- and I know it will be months-which type of reply I get. :-)

Monday 19 March 2012

When Characters Interrupt...

Over the weekend I was being creative- making cakes.

Now I have to say I feel calmer than I usually do on a Monday morning after a few days of not having peace to write-having my other half and teenage children around is not conducive to my ability to concentrate on writing anything.

(My weekend blog post is usually written late Friday night when it's quiet.)

So it was quite unexpected when Sunday morning one of my characters interrupted me while I was brushing my teeth.

Now Jago is a secondary character in my Dorset novel. He is most definitely an alpha male, and he does have his own story, but that's for the future- even though he'd prefer his story done now. But as I don't know all of it he will have to be patient.

In fact his story starts a few weeks after his last appearance in the main novel. I know how he meets the future love of his life; I know her name and some of her back story, but that's about it. It all goes in the notebook specifically for his story.

So there I am, toothbrush whirring in my mouth and Jago springs into my conscious to tell me why he goes against his own rules at the start of his story. It's all to do with his sister.

And then, assured I was eager to go and write this insight down, he strode away, back into that area of my brain where my characters wait and continue developing until I'm ready to work with them.

Now I know to a non-writer all that would sound like I'm a little crazy, but to those of us who write, our characters don't always wait until we're at the keyboard to arrive.

Quite a few of my past characters have popped in to give me information when I'm in the middle of cooking a meal, or doing some other domestic chore.

(A few have even intruded while I've been writing a completely different story.)

So next weekend I'll make sure I've got a notebook and pen handy just in case one of them turns up...

Have any of your characters arrived at an unsuitable or inconvenient moment?

Friday 16 March 2012

Costume Heaven for the Writer of Historicals...

The Dictionary of Fashion History by Valerie Cumming, C W and P E Cunnington published by Berg (an imprint of Oxford International Publishers Ltd). This is a revised and updated version of the latter two authors dictionary.

(When I saw the cover image of the Victorian, red and yellow corset, close to, one of my future (but unknown) characters flitted by wearing it...)

Now admittedly I do have quite a few books on historical costume on my bookshelves, some are general, other specific to certain time periods such as the 18th or 19th century. But they each have elements that the others don't.

The newer books have beautiful coloured illustrations, which allow you to see detail, while the much older books relied on old illustrations and black and white images to accompany the text. But old copies of books by Phillis and her husband can be very expensive second hand- and I've picked up a couple in charity shops, but still had to pay quite a bit for them.

The updated dictionary gives a general date period, and a description of the garment, sometimes even a relevent quote. I like the mid-19thC term Howling bags, a slang term for trousers which sport a very 'loud' pattern. I've seen some modern trousers that would certainly fit that description!

If you've ever wanted to know what a particular fabric looked like, or what fibres it was made from, then there's an A-Z covering 50 sides; a glossary of laces- again with dates and descriptions, and a page of obsolete colour names.

Now I don't think anyone would question why the (16th C) Yellowish-green Goose-turd became an obsolete colour...

There's a comprehensive Bibliography too- and I do have a few of the books mentioned.

As many of my characters inhabit the 18th and 19th centuries, I can visualize their clothes better and appreciate the effect on their movements, as well as the texture.

In my Dorset novel my heroine sometimes has to wear clothes that are completely different to her normal attire, and I know that when she first puts them on it will feel strange to her...

Ideally I'd go and look at costumes on display, but costume museums are few and quite a distance from me, and won't necessarily have garments from the time period I need. So books, the web and costume postcards are very useful.

If I chose a particular costume item I'd like for using now, it would be a Calash- especially when I've been to the hairdressers and the weather is breezy... :-)

From any century, what item of clothing, footwear or headgear would you choose?

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Carol's News Round-Up: March/1

This is it, the first of my new posts covering interesting writing or book related items.

It was International Women's Day last week (8th March) and writer Linda Grant used her Twitter account to discuss the (continuing) need for feminism. She received a very large numbers of tweets and retweets in response, sharing their experiences of sexual discrimination over the years, that proved why the feminist movement was needed.

They are now available to read on a website called A Thousand Reasons. For anyone interested in social history, or wanting an insight into the lives of women in the 20th century, then read the responses- I thoroughly recommend it.

If you are in the UK and want to hear Linda Grant speaking about this, then listen to (14th March) Radio 4's Woman's Hour on the BBC 's Radio IPlayer. Linda's piece is 24 mins 30 seconds into the programme.


The latest trend in the range of social websites is Pinterest. It enables you to pin a pictures from your computer or elsewhere on the web to a virtual pin board, so you can share an interest with other users.

And just to prove it is book related, you can even show book covers...

Now, it's a great idea, but this is one of those times when you really do need to read every term and condition carefully, rather than just clicking 'I accept'. Their copyright section is based in the USA, and they operate with reference to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act- so if you've not seen it then look here.

In Pinterest's indeminity section by signing up, you are agreeing to pay all costs if someone should take legal action for any infringement (despite there being a system in place for notifying of copyright infringement and removal)- as the other section clearly says you're agreeing not to infringe any third party rights, and you have the right to post the images etc.

So if you intend to use Pinterest, make sure the images are yours, or you have permission to use the images and give credit where it's due. I know most of you reading this already know that, but just in case there's anyone who doesn't...

Two quite hefty subjects to start with, but I promise I'll try for shorter items later this month...

A New Type of Blog Post Coming Today...

As those who know me well will tell you, I find useful or interesting news items on books, words or related publishing aspects, and relay them to my writer friends, who may also find them of interest or useful.

Since I joined Twitter I've found a lot more digital sources of opinion and information.

So as part of my rethink, on how I'm blogging and using other social media, I've decided to have a blog post specifically for writing/book related news/issues. Just in case you've missed the pieces on your own travels.

I will probably do this twice a month- dates to be decided- and give you the links to help.

I hope you'll enjoy this and find it useful, and perhaps contribute your thoughts in the comments section, or just say you've enjoyed-or not- reading it...

Monday 12 March 2012

Deadlines and Decisions...

Over the past few days I've been pondering my Good Housekeeping Novel Competition entry- well my would-be entry that is.

I'm still not happy, and I have to be realistic- as I said last week, I won't submit a sub-standard entry; and at the moment it's not good enough and time is running out- with the closing date the last day of this month, and as entries have to be posted.

 I spent most of February coughing and unable to think due to uncontrolled asthma that had been triggered by the bad chest infection at the end of last year. (I never realised you could develop asthma when you are older.)
I'm still in the process of getting the right inhaler regime for me, but it takes time, and I'm not quite there yet.

I'm not sure how I managed to blog at all last month, considering my brain felt like cotton wool!

In the meantime I still have the rest of the novel to get on with, and that's what I'm going to do for the rest of this year.

As I also have the novella and a few short stories to get on with too, I'm not going to be wasting time.

In a few months I'll be telling you more about the (e-book) anthology in which I have two pieces of flash fiction; one piece under my own name, and the other- historical- under my Serena Lake pen-name.
It's still a work under construction at the moment and I don't yet know the expected date of availability, but when I do, I'll let you know.

And of course, you'll have to meet Serena officially... :-)

Friday 9 March 2012

Is the Recession Good for Some Writers?

As I was out food shopping today, I noticed more price rises. By making a few changes in my weekly purchases, I can still afford the occasional book- their prices don't seem to be rising the same amount.

In fact, there seems to have been a surge of small pocket type recipe books covering, baking to quick meals, and all aimed at showing the consumer how they can eat well but at reduced cost...

A couple of days ago, I went to a publisher's website intending to browse some cookery books- I'd received an e-mail newsletter.
I came across a few of these pocket type books (to be published very soon) and looked to see who the author was. Well I was a bit taken aback when it said the author was to be announced...

Now it's only my suspicion- but have they rehashed an older work/s, updated it and added some enticing pictures of the completed recipes? Are they looking for a recognisable 'name' to go with it to boost sales?

I could be entirely wrong, but that's the lurking cynic in me!

But when there's a trend that will last for some time (as this recession surely will) publishers are sure to join in. It's business and they're part of it.

For the average (but brilliant :-) ) writer, the current recession is going to be a challenge, when magazines are either paying less than a few years ago, or doing more in-house. Then there's the reduction in short story markets; with the 'only previously published' restrictions implemented by a few...

It means the competition for both previously published, and those trying to get accepted for publication is going to be high.

Even simple things like entering competitions, your writing skills can give you an edge.
E-books are a different matter- especially if you have your own back list. If you've published to Kindle, or other digital outlets, you can control your asking price, up or down; even offer your book free for 24 hours and promote, promote promote.

For many writers these tactics have brought increased sales, so there's income from royalties- but there's no guarantee, and some genres sell better.
Though in long term planning, hopefully many of those readers will go on to buy the writer's other books- and I'm sure it's a good idea to be able to demonstrate a following for your work when you get the interest of a publisher.

The public may not be buying as many tree books, but e-book sales are on the rise, so a little judicious planning by digital authors can pay.

If you have any views on the subject, then you're welcome to share them in the comments section.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Social Marketing -the Talk...

I spent most of Wednesday answering the phone, exchanging e-mails and putting together a hand-out on social media, and a mini talk sheet on blogging, for myself -because the speaker who was booked for Wednesday night at Nottingham Writers' Club was ill, and as I was also going to be the chair that night, I needed to get an alternative arranged.

Aware that writers of all ages and experience need to make the most of current technology, I contacted fellow member David Bowman-writer, e-book publisher, and proficient in social networking-and between us we agreed a format for the evening.

Now my part was very small, I covered blogging, so anyone at the meeting who might be considering a blog would (hopefully) realise that it isn't hard to do and is a great way to start making themselves known. I talked about free blogs, building up followers and the types of posts a writer might use their blog for- such as announcing a competition win, or a short story sale/publication date...

David talked about Facebook and Twitter, and also author websites.

The recommendations that I picked up, relating to Facebook, was keeping your account for personal, fun things, and your writing for your author page- (your name) writer; so book news, links and photos relating to your writing goes only on that page, so your readers go there for the information. And of course if you have different pseudonyms, it makes it easier to distinguish between different genres, if you write in more than one category- so that's more than one writer name for me then.

As I recently joined Twitter and was discovering for myself, hashtags # are not only useful but important; retweeting can be helpful. That there is a fine line between over promotion and sharing good news, so its clearly something that you learn by actually doing once you're on Twitter.

But never underestimate how widely your tweets can be seen. Every tweet seen by your followers, is seen by the followers of each of them- so you never know who and how many will see that interesting piece of information...

Now websites. This was interesting; having a press area that was kept up to date, so the latest press release was available was important. As David explained if a journalist wants to interview you they'll have gone and checked out all the information on your website so they don't need to waste time asking basic questions- which is logical when you consider modern day journalism.

We finally talked about Amazon and e-book ratings, and how a writer promoting their books on Amazon can use these various methods of social marketing to bring potential book buyers to their work, by promotions and free book offers- so get high up in the Amazon rankings and it will enable you to get Amazon to promote your book which could be very useful if you're a relative unknown.

I'd not considered all these various methods being used together to maximise exposure- but then I'm only on stage 2 of my marketing plan at the moment... Yes, apparently you should have a marketing plan.

The words I did take take away from the talk were as follows: politeness; being professional and start this networking before you have the publishing deal...

I've got a long way to go, but at least I've started.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Successful Evening...

Just popping in to let you know I'll be blogging later tomorrow about my part in a talk about social marketing at Nottingham Writers Club this evening, and the information that has encouraged me to expand my social networking this year...

Monday 5 March 2012

An Antsy Monday...

I usually find it difficult to write on a Monday. Basically it's the start on the week and there's a long to-do list- both writing and domestic. Then there's chores still hanging over from the weekend to complete.

Over the weekend I decided to do some baking and it went very well. Choc chip muffins, lemon drizzle cake and bread and butter pudding were made for individual family members. It's a way to use that creative buzz when there's no quiet to write- and often ideas and characters emerge when I'm cooking.

Then I had a mad urge to defrost the kitchen freezer on Sunday afternoon- there was enough ice to make bricks! In fact some of the pieces are still visible on the grass outside and they haven't melted yet...

I think this is just another part of my gradual process of getting better organised, so I can make the most of the time I do have to write.

My brain is whirling with so many ideas and thoughts at the moment that I can't settle. So I'm going to get through as many things as I can today, so tomorrow I'll be ready to sit down and get on with the important work- writing.

Do you have off days like this? What helps you get back on track?

Saturday 3 March 2012

Infidelity and 'Forced Seduction' in Historical Romance Novels...

I decided to blog about character behaviour after reading a couple of items on the Heroes and Heartbreakers website- they came up on Twitter links; then today I was in my local Waterstones branch glancing through a couple of new romances, and one of them brought these articles to mind.

The issues of infidelity, and 'forced seduction' (so wrong, in so many ways) have more relevance to historical than contemporary romance fiction. And perhaps mostly related to books produced for the US romance market.

A romance novel doesn't have to have a sex scene- or more than one of them- to make a good story with believable characters. But some of those characters will do it- it's part of who they are and it would be daft to deny it.

Personally I consider it's up to the individual  author whether they show that aspects of their characters. In my stories, sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. My characters are usually quite clear about that point in their developing relationship.

Women today have freedoms and advantages that their sisters in earlier centuries didn't; so I don't feel it's right to apply modern day thinking to stories set in the past.

So let's start with Infidelity.

Here's Limecello's piece on the H&H website: 'When Going Strange...Isn’t: Adultery in Romance'.

Read any social history of the aristocracy covering 200-300 years ago and you'll quickly discover that infidelity was accepted if it was carried out discreetly. A number of  younger aristocratic children were actually fathered by other men- not the man whose surname they carried through life.

The ideal is fidelity within marriage- I believe in that myself. 

But in the circumstances of the two novels mentioned in the article, I could understand and agree it's not infidelity- when both partners know and agree to the situation for their own reasons.

Yes it goes against my personal view, but I can't impose my morality on another writer's characters/story.
If a storyline offends me, or just doesn't appeal, then I won't buy the book.

'Forced Seduction' is another thing entirely... It truly belongs in the past of the so called Bodice Rippers- horrid description.

Here's a list on Amazon that gives you an idea of some of the titles from the last thirty years- and yes I can confirm that over the years I've read a few of them- especially those by Johanna Lindsey...

Sexual violence against any woman is wrong. Sexual coercion is wrong. Seduction is not coercion.

( I'm not including erotica, bondage and associated preferences in this category, as it's legal and it's between consenting adults.)

I have to say that the line between coercion and seduction can be very thin for some writers. As I saw today when I was looking through the improved romance section in my local Waterstones.

I picked up a book by a US author whose name I recognised (but her stories have not appealed to me previously) and after reading the blurb on the back of the book, I did my standard routine of opening the book a couple of times at random pages and reading on.

Unfortunately I found myself on part of the story where this very thin line between coercion and seduction was on show. Perhaps it was tied up with the author's word choices in that scene, but I decided not to buy it.

Fortunately there are still a lot of good books from both the UK and US on the romance shelves that don't see the need to walk that fine line...

Friday 2 March 2012

I've Been Tagged and Tweeted...

Just a quick post tonight before my planned post for tomorrow.

Earlier this week I was tagged by writers, Seaview (also a wonderful artist) and Teresa Ashby- thank you both.

Now the idea is to answer 11 questions, create 11 questions and nominate another 11 people to answer those questions, but as all the people I would have tagged have already been taken, I'll have to pass...

And if I answered all 22 questions I will never have anything stunning/amusing/insightful left to reveal (when I finally get my novels published). :-)

Meantime, I've been learning to Tweet and I'm enjoying it- though I doubt I will ever be prolific.

I've discovered how much information there is at my fingertips- and it's fun.

Now I'm off to check up on some info...