Friday, 29 August 2014

8 Top Blogging Tips

This blog first appeared on my Twitter friend @TerryTyler4's site. I am re-posting it here as it stands alongside the 3 Twitter posts: Twitter For Fledglings. Blogs seem to be falling out of fashion again and I think I am one of the few who still posts regularly, which is a shame. Hopefully, this may encourage a few people to start their own blog, or restart regular blog posting ...

When my first book was published in 1992, the internet was in its infancy, ebooks were a glint in some geek’s eye and Amazon was just a sapling. There was no need to develop an online presence as there was no real ‘online’. And anyway, there were bookshops in every high street.
Fast forward twenty-two years and my, how things have changed! Now the proliferation of self and small publishers, advances in digital publishing, the sad demise of local bookshops and the all-pervasive presence of the internet means that any writer who wants to be seen or to promote or sell their work has to use social media platforms. One of my favourite online platforms comes via my blog.
I started the blog on May 12th 2012 principally because I was planning to self-publish an ebook, Jigsaw Pieces. The kind friendly writer mentoring me told me I needed a blog and I always do as I’m told. The first post was read by three people, one of whom (my mentor) was nice enough to comment. Now, the blog regularly gets 500+ hits a week, rising to over 800+ as it travels gently through cyberspace and can elicit as many as 40 comments.
I don’t sell a lot of books via my blog, but that isn’t its primary purpose. It is an outlet for other types of writing; a space where I can share my thoughts on life and stuff and people can read them and get to know me. Hopefully if they like what they read, they THEN might go on to try one of my books. 
So what makes a “good’’ blog?
Posting regularly. I put up a new blog every Saturday morning at 8 am. This encourages a regular reading clientele.
Responding to comments. People like to know their comments have been read and absorbed by me. Sometimes, whole strings can develop, as people also interact with each other, which is great fun to follow.
Varying the content. I blog about local politics, my writing processes, the madness of life in general and the Adventures of the 2 Grumpy Old Sods aka me and my husband.
Using Twitter hashtags. I use these as ways of targeting the blogs at a specific readership. Some tags are obvious : #wwwBlogs are posts written on Wednesday by (largely) women writers.#MondayBlogs opens the door on Mondays. I also use #UKAD, a generic site for all sorts of writers and artists. Or, depending on the content, I may use #histifc for posts about Victorian life, or #amwriting for advice posts.
Hosting fellow writers. Every month I feature a Guest Post which is a chance not only to draw other people to the blog, but also gives a platform to another writer with a new book to publicise. Supporting my friends is a big part of what I believe in as a writer.
Eschewing advertising. There is money to be made from selling advertising space on one’s blog. I don’t do this, as it detracts from the content. Also I feel we are bombarded enough with adverts in everyday life.
Visiting & commenting on other blogs. Essential. Apart from being a polite acknowledgement that someone has taken the time and trouble to comment on mine, it also helps me to become known by the writing/reading community. And there are some great posts out there.
Writing guest posts. A great honour, as well as another opportunity to get out and presence myself somewhere else. Unless absolutely snowed under with life, I never turn down an invitation because who knows who may be reading my words?

If you would like to download a free sample of Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here. US readers can do so here

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Present Tense

A very frenetic week at Hedges Towers. Those of you who follow the adventures of the Two Grumpy Old Sods will know we recently lost our remaining elderly cat Holly, having said a sad goodbye to her brother Bart in November.

As a house without cats is like a BLT sandwich without the B, I decided to go kitten hunting round the animal rescue places. At first, without much success. Oh, they HAD kittens, were up to their kneecaps in kittens, but that was last week. Two kittens? 'Fraid not.

Then last week, we struck gold. Four out of a litter of five kittens at the Blue Cross had been reserved. The fifth, a little tortie, was still looking for someone to take her home. And, I was told, would be better as a solo kitten. Welcome Halley - called after the man who invented comets.We always seem to give our cats similar sounding names (Honey, Holly, Halley): because as senescence descends, it makes it easier to remember.

So, currently, I am kitten whispering as she finds her paws and destroys the house. The cosy bed has been rejected, the edge of the carpet substituted for the scratching post and she has turned her nose up at the Whiskas kitten that I was assured she ate. So far so normal.

I was engaged upon yet another 'find the kitten' exercise when, pulling out BH's favourite chair, I discovered a SpaceNK bag tucked behind it. Now, BH, bless him, has a bit of a rep for losing my birthday and Christmas presents. Two years ago, he lost an envelope of vouchers for my favourite clothes shop. Luckily, the owners remembered him buying them, so let me ''spend'' them.

When I say BH ''loses'' presents, what he actually does is hide them so securely that he can't remember where he put them in the first place. This is because I go present hunting. The SpaceNK bag was meant to be last year's Christmas' present. I had carefully written down exactly what I wanted to make it easy for him. (The same tactic, apparently, is currently employed by women all over the country who have run out of that Nars blusher called Super Orgasm. The SpaceNK staff say whenever they see a man creeping cautiously into the shop holding a piece of paper, it's a safe bet that's what they've come to buy).

So, we have a new kitten, and I have reserves of my lovely Nude Treatment Oil. Bit of a win:win situation. I'm now hoping Halley will help me track down this year's Christmas present.....even if it is by default.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Editing with Sue Barnard


Being a writer has often been compared to having homework every night for the rest of your life.  That being the case, then being an editor can perhaps best be compared to having to mark that homework.

It’s a little over the twelve months since I first started working as an editor for Crooked Cat Publishing.  I’d recently completed an online course in Editing and Rewriting, under the expert tutelage of the wonderful Dr Calum Kerr.*  I’d originally signed up for the course with a view to being able to cast a more critical eye over my own work, but I came away from it with two further thoughts in mind.  The first was a burning desire to channel the interminable rantings of my Inner Grammar Geek into a force for good.  The second was that if I can’t make it as a writer myself, then at least I might be of some small use to those who can.

Since then, I’ve been asked several times: What exactly does an editor do?

In short, the editor is the author’s right-hand man (or in my case woman) who works closely with the author to produce a pristine manuscript which will, in turn, become a published work.  One of the biggest problems with being a writer is the danger of becoming so involved with one’s own work that one loses all sense of objectivity.   (Take this from one who knows.  Been there, done that, spilled coffee all down the T-shirt, and then again all down the clean one I put on in its place…) This is the point at which the writer needs an extra pair of eyes.  The editor, who is in the privileged position of being the first person to see the manuscript in the capacity of the reader, is that extra pair of eyes. 

An editor is much more than just a proofreader.  True, an editor does need to keep an eagle eye open for typos, spelling mistakes, punctuation slips and grammar gaffes – but the editor also needs to be on the lookout for other things that don’t necessarily fall within the proofreader’s remit.  These might include:

-       Continuity errors.  For example, an object which is red in one scene suddenly and inexplicably becomes green in another.
-       Factual errors. A large flock of robins is seen happily feeding on a lawn.  Robins are territorial, so this would never happen in real life.
-       Inconsistencies of character.  Why would a lifelong vegetarian be seen happily tucking into a large steak?
-       Loose ends left dangling.  If an object is lost, either it needs to be found, or a plausible reason must be given for its failure to reappear.
-       Dangling modifiers.  “A man in a red car wearing a black coat” could mean that coat is being worn by the car rather than the man.
-       Possible issues of copyright when quoting from other sources.
-       Sentences or paragraphs which need to be split or reformatted because they’ve come out too long or complicated.  Like I’ve just had to do with this one, in fact.
-       Passages where some details might need more clarification.  This happens when an idea has formed in the author’s head, but has never actually made it on to the page. 

This last problem is surprisingly common, and when it crops up, the author (often working in the mistaken belief that the reader automatically knows as much as the writer does) usually doesn’t see it.  I once beta-read a novella for a writer friend who couldn’t believe that I didn’t understand why one of the characters had behaved in a particular way.  Said friend insisted that the motive behind it had been explained – but when asked to point out exactly where, was forced to admit that no, it hadn’t.

Sue's novel
One of the editor’s other tasks is to make suggestions for improvement to the text, such as tightening up dialogue, or getting rid of superfluous words or phrases, or sometimes changing the structure of sentences so that they read more easily.  This is achieved by judicious use of the “Track changes” feature in MS Word.  This wonderful tool is the e-quivalent of the teacher’s red pen.  Changes suggested by the editor appear on the manuscript highlighted in red.  The manuscript is then returned to the author, who has the choice of accepting or rejecting those changes.  The author then might suggest more changes (which show up on the manuscript in blue), and returns the document to the editor.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.  When both author and editor are completely happy with the result, the final (squeaky-clean) manuscript is then returned to the publisher.

After that, a proof is returned to the author for checking.  This final check is very important, as typos or formatting errors can still creep in at this late stage.   And, without wishing to sound disrespectful to other members of my honoured profession, it is not unknown for editors to make mistakes.  One infamous example of this took place a few years ago, and the unfortunate victim of this particular editorial blunder was none other than JK Rowling.  The first print-run of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire contained a glaring continuity error, which, until it was subsequently explained, baffled Rowling’s readers for a long time.   The mistake (which was corrected in later editions of the book) did not appear in her original manuscript.  It was introduced by one of her editors. 

Come to think of it, editing is, in many ways, a bit like housework.  Nobody ever notices it – unless it’s done badly.

*Dr Kerr has asked me to point out that although the Editing & Rewriting course is not currently running, it will soon be available as a textbook/how-to book. 

As well as being a member of Crooked Cat’s editorial team, Sue is a published and award-winning poet, and the author of two novels: The Ghostly Father (which was nominated for the 2014 Guardian First Book Award) and Nice Girls Don’t.  Both are available in paperback and e-book form.

You can read her blog here.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Women in Cages

Steel Cage Crinoline 1860s

Whenever I mention that I write Victorian crime fiction, people always comment upon the infamous crinoline. Why on EARTH would women put up such a monstrosity? Well, they did, and surprisingly, with great relish. The crinoline, or hooped skirt was actually based on a design from the 1840s. In 1856, the American W.S.Thomson patented the metal cage crinoline and it became a huge hit in the USA, France and Britain. It was the first fashion to encompass all classes - rich or poor, you could still afford to wear it.

Although we find it hard to believe, women really loved the cage crinoline. At the height of its popularity, enough steel was produced in Sheffield to make half a million hoops in one week. It freed women from the constricting 2 petticoats (one flannel, one cotton) they wore and gave them more ability to move their legs. And it was easy to hoick it up at the back when you needed to go to the privy.

1850s crinoline
Crinolines came in a variety of shapes, but they were not especially expensive, retailing at a third of the price of a dress. And if you were a skillful needlewoman - as most young women were in those days, it was easy to transform the style of an existing dress by the addition of a cage.

Spring steel shapes crinolines were light and flexible, and could be pressed out of shape temporarily, a useful attribute when trying to sit down, or get in and out of carriages and buses. Together with the tightly-laced corset, which emphasized a woman's tiny waist, the crinoline gave the wearer a very ''sexy'' shape. This was enhanced by the way women had to walk: placing the foot outwards and describing a semi-circle, which gave a swaying motion to the hips. It was almost impossible to go at speed, so the slow, swaying gait was considered very alluring.

And as you can see from the picture at the top, cages and stays came in very nice colours. In Diamonds & Dust, Josephine King and her fashion mentor Isabella Thorpe visit a big department store, where they are informed by one of the female assistants that: ''We have some delightful articles in scarlet, Mademoiselle ... Zey came in last week, fresh from Par-ee.''   Maybe she was referring to something like this.

However brightly colored and popular, cage crinolines were not all good news however. Sitting down had to be re-learned, and getting through narrow doors or down narrow passageways was a nightmare. And the there was the ever present danger of high winds, which could leave you scrambling to hold your skirt down lest (oh horror!) your drawers were exposed to male passersby. Add to this the danger from open fires and gas lamps and wearing the crinoline could have fatal consequences!

Two fashionable ladies
And however attractive it made you, wearing a crinoline didn't make courtship any easier than it already wasn't. In November 1856, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine published a poem called 'Crinoliniana' which ended:

I long to clasp thee to my heart
  But all my longings are in vain;
I sit and sigh two yards apart,
   And curse the barriers of thy train.
My fondest hopes I must resign,
   I can't get past that Crinoline!

The crinoline seems a ridiculous item of fashion to us today, but for the Victorians, with their sense of propriety, it was the perfect device to distance a woman, physically and psychologically from her surroundings, from the real world and to preserve her femininity and chastity for her husband. In a sense, it was the real-life equivalent of placing herself upon a pedestal.

If you'd like to download a free sample of Diamonds & Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so by clicking HERE. US readers can do so by clicking HERE.

Friday, 1 August 2014

THIRD Twitter for Fledglings: Content

This is the final blog in a series of short posts written at the request of some fellow Crooked Cat writers to help newbie writers negotiate their way around Twitter. The first post: Setting up your site, can be read HERE. The second post, on Following & Followers can be read HERE.

So, you have set up your Twitter page; you are interacting and acquiring Followers. Now let's look at what your Followers are going to find on your site that will keep them Following, Retweeting & coming back to check you out.

TWO ingredients to a successful Twitter page:


1.Variety If you check out my site @carolJhedges you will see that I have amusing (sic) statements, pictures, the odd YouTube video, posters, LOTS of other people's stuff, links to blogs, mine & other people's, politics etc etc. To stop myself constantly promoing my book, I have it as a Pinned Tweet at the top of my page - click on the  ...  next to the 'dustbin' at the bottom of the Tweet and you'll see instructions.

I get my stuff from Googling it, nicking it off other people's Twitter/FB pages, and a few special sites that I found and am not going to share - sorry. Do your own homework.

I ''Favourite'' everything I think I may like to re-use, which stores it. I aim to change my top 6 Tweets every 3/4 hours because Twitter is a very fast medium and the more Followers you get, the less they will see your stuff. Also, I make sure that everything I want ReTweeted or seen is at the top of my Timeline before I go off Twitter for the night so that anybody kind enough to RT me doesn't have to scroll down to find it.

I do the 80:20 ratio - 80% of what I tweet is other people's stuff, 20% is mine. Obviously, that changes if I have a new book out - though I'd still showcase my close friends' books and blogs.

2.Interaction I aim to be on Twitter four or five times a day for about 25 mins. Of that: 5 mins is spent Following people (see second blog), 15 mins is spent chatting and 5 mins is spent setting up my Twitter page for my next visit. I don't RT every conversation I have - most are of no interest to anybody but the participants. I do RT conversations that I think others might like to read.

Finally, a word about Hootsuite: Every advice post you read on Twitter will tell you to use this app as it allows you to schedule Tweets during the night. Twitter also has a app. Once again, I'm going to run contrary to conventional advice. Don't Bother. Being on Twitter should be an elective choice, not a default setting. Anyway, people like to interact with a Real Person, not an app generated Tweet and they are not going to buy your books if they can't chat to you.

I get robot Tweets promoing books all the time. I always end up Unfollowing the person. The best way to ''sell'' on Twitter is to ''sell'' yourself. My sales come from people who've chatted to me, laughed with, or at me, cried with me and shared their news with me. And surely, that's what Twitter should be all about. And as if you needed proof:

... I've enjoy reading tweets - so I bought one of her books. :-)

So, here we are at the end of our journey. You, the Fledgling have set up an eye-catching Twitter page, loaded it with appetizing content and are engaging with a steady stream of new Followers. My work is done. Time to spread your wings, and fly!

If you have anything helpful to add to the subject of Content, or if I've missed anything glaringly obvious, please feel free to share it ....

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The PINK SOFA welcomes Rosalind Adam

Rosalind Adam is a Twitter friend, fellow blogger, fellow ex-teacher, writer and researcher. She has cats, a great sense of humour and is always there to support and encourage her friends. I am extremely lucky to have met her, and count her as one of my inner circle. So when she announced that she had a new children's book out on Richard the Third, the PINK SOFA, who is in the throes of updating its ''Sofas & Upholstery Through The Ages'' book, insisted she had to pay a visit to the Writing Attic.

''Thank you, Carol, for inviting me onto your squelchy pink sofa. It’s… erm… very pink, isn’t it! And I see you’ve provided a glass of mead to loosen my tongue. *Slurp* Delicious! *hic*

Thank you for your kind words about my new book. I must admit that I’ve had so many positive responses from people since The Children’s Book of Richard III was published but it wasn’t always that way. It is so frustrating that mainstream publishers don’t have the vision to support this kind of project.

When I first had the idea to write a children’s Richard III, I approached the publisher of my Children’s History of Leicester. They couldn’t commit to it. I wrote submissions to all the usual mainstream publishers. Nothing. Even our local literary agent tried but failed to get it placed.

It took the conviction of a children’s bookshop owner, Lynn Moore from The Reading Shop, Oadby, Leicester, to see that this was a highly marketable idea. She put up the money and, in effect, became my publisher. It was the beginning of an excellent business partnership. I settled down to write the book and, being an ex-primary school teacher, I sprinkled in a little science, two sides of an argument, some detective work and I even included a bit of creative writing; a post-battle interview with Leicester’s very own Witch of Daneshill.

Now all I needed was an illustrator and thanks to Twitter I soon found one. Andrea Povey, known on Twitter as @Richard1483, mentioned, during a casual Twitter chat that her daughter, Alice Povey, had recently graduated from university with a degree in illustration, specializing in children’s book illustrations. I knew then that I’d found our illustrator. Isn’t Twitter amazing!

The exciting part of self-publishing was that Alice and myself were free to develop the book in our own way. Lynn took a back seat at this stage, her contribution coming into its own with the checking and proofreading. There were so many things that we had to learn; registering for ISBN numbers, creating the correct number of spreads, liaising with printers, but by far the biggest task is selling and distributing. We made the decision not to put the book on Amazon. I know that a lot of people find Amazon quick and easy to use but Amazon do not offer a fair deal. After working so hard to produce the book why should we let Amazon take the biggest share of the money and leave us with mere pence per book? If everyone accepts Amazon’s terms then, sooner or later, they will destroy all the bookshops, certainly here in the UK, and that would be a truly sad day for us all.

The book is available from The Reading Shop at but, if you would rather not buy online, a friendly salesperson will take your order and arrange for the book to be delivered by ringing 0116 2717077 during working hours.

Ooh! Carol! I see you’ve already got a copy. Hand it over and I’ll sign it for you. Thank you so much for having me on your very pink sofa. There is just one more thing. I hope you don’t mind me asking but have you got any more of this delicious mead? *hic*''

While mead refilling takes place, you can contact Ros via Twitter @RosalindAdam, check out her blog: or befriend her via Facebook.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

More Twitter for Fledglings: Followers & Following

This is the second in a series of occasional short posts in response to requests from some Crooked Cat writers who are about to launch themselves into Twitter or who are finding it a tad perplexing to get to grips with. You can read the first post, Getting Started  here. This week, having got our Twitter page set up and running, we're going to look at how to acquire Followers, and how and who to Follow.

The first thing the fledgling will notice as they step out into Twitter is that everybody else has FAR more Followers than they have. Some have more than the population of a small Middle Eastern country. This can be disconcerting, but do not be discouraged. Many of these people have been on Twitter for years. And they all started out exactly where you are now. So, let's Tweet ...

A Basic Tweet Guaranteed To Get A Response

Morning/Afternoon/Evening + comment on the weather + comment on what you are doing/eating + question about what they are doing/eating.

Within a few seconds, someone will have Tweeted a reply. You then reply back .... and there you are.
Conventional wisdom would now say: FOLLOW THEM. But I am going to go against conventional wisdom. This is my advice - and it applies to everyone who Follows you:


My publisher
Click on their profile pic.
Click on 'Go to full profile' and scroll down at least 18 tweets. Do not follow if:
1.They only tweet links to their own books.
2. They never seem to chat or engage with anybody.
3. They hold extreme views that you do not share.
3. They retweet links to things you may not want to see reappear on your twitter feed or be seen by your potential readers, such as weird stuff/explicit pornography.

Remember, as a writer, you are a ''brand''. If you have a publisher, you are also part of their ''brand''. It is incumbent upon you to ensure that you do not lose your or their 'rep'. If you check my Amazon page you will see that I write mainly teen and YA books. I have a lot of underage kids following me, plus their parents. I therefore have to be careful whom I follow and what I retweet (a future blog). So I don't engage with people whose site content I deem inappropriate, or whose comments I find offensive.

OK, so you've checked them out, and they seem fine. Click on Follow. You can now, if you wish, click on their Followers or Following icons and find other people. The words ''avid reader'' should get your antennae twitching. Remember the 'check them out' procedure and adhere to it. You can also check out Twitter's  'Who To Follow' list on the left of your screen.

For a more specific search, you can go to the 'Search Twitter' box at the top right of your tool bar and find people in your genre. Use a hashtag #. Type #Crime or #YA etc. Do any of these things for 10 minutes every day and you will soon build up a good list.

If/when someone follows back, spend a few seconds acknowledging. Make it personal.
 Thanks + name + liked XXX in your bio + comment about me + question about weather/life/work/part of world they live in.

Finally, there are loads of links and sites on Twitter promising to get you 1000's of followers free or for a small amount of money. Forget it. Do not buy Followers. Ever. Better to build your own list. Your Twitter account,when used correctly will generate its own Followers. Just give it time and work at making it work.

Next post in a few weeks' time will look at varying content, and other ways of connecting with people. Meanwhile if you have anything to add to this specific topic, please share it.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Twitter for Fledglings: Getting Started

My publisher
Recently I was asked by some Crooked Cat writers who are just launching themselves onto Twitter for the first time, or have not found it as easy as they thought, to share my tips and advice on how to use Twitter. At their prompting, this is the first in a series of short blog posts. Frankly, I am NOT an expert so I will be referencing other people from time to time. Nor do I have the definitive answer.

There are as many ways to use Twitter as there are people using Twitter. Please read on quickly as I'm not sure that analogy worked. Whatever. I hope that those visiting these blogs who are far more expert than I am will chip in with their comments. On Twitter, I've traveled the world, met fascinating people, made good friends and sold an awful lot of books. I love it, and if I can get you, the fledgling to love it too, then it's mission accomplished. For this first post, we are going to look at setting up your Twitter site.

Getting Set Up
There are 3 areas to consider: Your Avi, your Mini-bio and your Header pic.

1.Your Avi
This is the thumbnail picture of you and it is important as it is the first thing people will see. I strongly advise you, unless you are wanted by the police in every known country, continent or galaxy, to use a picture of your face, NOT an egg, a pet,or your kids. Preferably a high res. pic, and with you looking vaguely pleasant and sentient. I do my best, you can do better. As close up as you can get and with an uncluttered background, as it's quicker to spot you. Twitter allows you to zoom, position and crop the picture, which makes it easier.

Some people use their book covers as their Avi. I wouldn't. The reduction is so small it becomes insignificant. Save that for the Header pic. Obviously, there are exceptions to the ''full face''. My friend @JonGardener has a picture of an eye on a red background. It looks scary, but fits in with the fast-paced high-action sci-fi ebooks he writes.

2.Your Mini-bio
This is the second thing people will turn to, so again, it is worth spending time getting it right. Here are three examples to start you thinking.

Getting nowhere slowly. Artist, writer, poet, barn-owl lover and aspiring Spaniard. Novels - Fraud, Simone Simone

Romantic Husband, Heroic Dad, Maker of Mischief and Purveyor of Utter Tripe. Interesting past. Now the author of The Michael Prentiss series of thrillers.

Writer & blogger. Victorian novel: Diamonds&Dust publ Crooked Cat Books. Outspoken local activist. Love 2CVs, cats & cake. Amazon page: 

You will see they all have certain traits in common: First, they define what the person does i.e Writer... artist. This is important as you want, among other things, to draw people to your books. Next, they give you an idea of the person behind the pic: barn-owl lover, Heroic Dad, Outspoken local activist. All these will attract like-minded or curious people. Finally, they reference actual books/sites. The professional bit, but, you notice, stowed away amid the rest of the bio.

I suggest before composing your final bio, you go onto Twitter and read as many as you can. You will soon pick out the duff ones. And remember, nothing is set in stone. My bio underwent several drafts before I settled on the current one. And I will change it again when the new book comes out.

3.Your Header pic
This is the chance to draw attention to your books in a colourful and attractive manner. There are some lovely examples of Twitter header pics that do just this. Check out @TerryTyler4  - I don't know how she assembled it, but I'm sure if you ask, she'll tell you. Lovely and bright and eye-catching.

If you don't want to use your covers, try to relate the picture to your books in some way. I have what a friend kindly describes as a 'dodgy Victorian knocking-shop' as I write Victorian crime fiction (@carolJhedges). Again, Twitter will size up the picture to fit the space, so all you need do is decide what you want. It's your shop-window, so make it the best you can. Experiment. And if you don't like it, you can easily change it for something else.

Once you are set up, you are ready for Following people and acquiring Followers. We'll consider those two topics in the next post.

OK, if you have anything helpful to suggest on setting up a site, or if there is anything obvious that I've forgotten, please add it here ....

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Pink Sofa welcomes Jo Carroll

There are some people who are so amazing that I stand back in awe and wonder! Jo is one of those people. We met on Twitter (where else). Jo has brought up 4 children on her own, and now, free of domestic duties (tho' a devoted grandma) she is a traveller. Jo goes to wonderful places in the world, and then shares her adventures on her blog and in her books. The header pic tells you all you need to know about her! The Pink Sofa is in awe, and is contemplating abandoning its latest oeuvre: More Upholstery for Beginners in favour of a travel book. I have told it that Travels Round The Writing Attic may not have the same appeal as Jo's marvellous books. It remains unconvinced.

In honour of Jo's visit, there is rum and coffee and Cuban Shortbread Cookies on the coffee table.So, lovely lady, the sofa is yours:

Goodness, a seat on the Pink Sofa – I’m honoured. (If I’m very good, do you think she’ll give me cake?) Many thanks to Carol for letting me creep in and tell you about my travels. 

For those of you I’ve not met before, I need to tell you that these aren’t any old travels. After thirty years in Child Protection I threw all thoughts of work in the air, bought a rucksack, sold my car, found a tenant for my house, abandoned my children and went off for a year. What I didn’t know, when I bought my round-the-world ticket, is that not many middle-aged women do that.

So when I came home I wrote a book about it. Well, there were far too many stories to tell and far too few people listening to them.

Then I went off again. I no longer try to understand what this wanderlust is about. I simply recognize days when I dream of hot streets and dust, of the screech if cicadas or the smell of incense, of the roar of tigers or sips of tiger beer – and know it’s time to get the passport out again.

And why would I stop writing? Most winter trips have been followed by a little ebook. So episodes like my drive down the Siddhartha Highway after a cyclone could become a funny story (even though it was truly terrifying at the time). I could share my efforts to understand the horrors of years of bombing in Laos.

Last winter I went to Cuba. I’ve written about this trip with some trepidation. I was given so much advice before I left: it seemed that Cuba provoked strong opinions and anyone who has been there needed to share theirs. But my Cuba is not their Cuba. I don’t pretend to draw conclusions from such a complicated country. But I have found the story of my trip, in all its wonderfulness and contradictions, the teased it into another ebook entitled VULTURES OVERHEAD.

It has a cover: 

And a blurb:

It’s time for JO CARROLL to pack her rucksack again, and this time she’s heading west, to Cuba.Everyone, it seems, has been to Cuba, or wants to go to Cuba, or knows about it. Cuba, they insist, is on the brink of change. A market economy will finally see off the old cars and rationing. They’ve been saying that for decades. But what face does Cuba present to a tourist in 2014?
She finds salsa, of course, and cigars, and wonderful coffee. But what surprises wait for her when the music stops?

There are pictures on my website here.

This time I’ll not stop there. I know many people who have asked me to produce print books. I’ve resisted that so far, as the ebooks are small and readers could rightly be miffed about being asked to pay a book-price for something so small.

But I now have three ebooks from my last trips. Put together, they are print-book length. So give me a week or several, and you can read about my travels in a ‘real book’. 

Jo can also be found on Twitter @jomcarrroll

Thanks Jo. You are and hopefully will continue to be an inspiration. Right....while Jo has a coffee and a Cookie, it's over to you......

Saturday, 28 June 2014


A change is as good as a rest they say and with this in mind, we have now changed the racy 2-door blue Alfa Romeo for a reliable red 4 door Volvo (with child seat in rear). It is as it says on the tin. Solid, dependable, Swedish and starts with one of those funny block things. The Alfa was none of those. It was an Italian car, and so was built for the wide open Italian roads, where the sun shines down, and the breeze gently blows and where it bowls along at speed with Volare by Dean Martin on the sound system. What it got instead was rain, snow, slush and potholes you could go caving in.

The Alfa used to express its dissatisfaction by continually going wrong, and informing us in no uncertain terms of how it felt. Every time we set off, a series of crisis alerts came up on the dashboard: Rear left sidelight not working, we were informed. Motor control system failure, we were told. Front headlight not working. And so on and so on. And that was on top of the Possible ice on the road and other potential weather hazards that it felt it had to warn us about. Why it couldn't just come straight out with it and say: I hate this sodding country, I never knew, but over the years we had it, its discontent cost us enough to keep a small African township in food for a year.

The other way the car let us know it was unhappy was via the parking sensor. Every time BH backed it into a parking space, or up the drive, a small squat evil Italian Mama clad in black waved her gnarled finger and shouted: No.. No..NONONONO! Or at least that's what it sounded like. My friend Elissa has a similar problem. Her car is one of those people carriers (she has 3 kids and a dog) and it has parking sensors on all sides. Parking it is like being attacked by a trio of smurf castrati.

A further problem with Elissa's car is the colour: it is metallic silver, like practically every car on the road nowadays which means whenever we go out, we almost always lose it in some multi-storey car park. The time we have wasted going from floor to floor, suddenly locating it, but then realizing at the last minute that it is not hers. We have even resorted to walking up and down pressing the key fob in the vain hope that it will beep and let us know where it is hiding - because honestly, that is what it feels like at times. The conspiracy of cars. I'm sure it exists.

My car on the other hand, is French and so it couldn't give a damn. You can kerb it, or park it askew, or scrape it along something, it just shrugs and goes tant pis. It also has this habit of taking on other cars, especially the 'baby on board' black land cruisers driven (badly) by the blonde yummy mummies who live in my town. I call them Harpies (a portmanteau word for Harpenden Mummies).

These behemoths are completely unsuitable for the narrowish streets that surround my house and my 2CV hates them. Seriously. Whenever we get into a confrontation on a bridge or up a hill, it simply refuses to go into reverse. Just waits, sneering with Gallic insouciance, until the other car is forced to back down. Or up. Nothing I can do, honest.

We are thinking of putting my car up as a candidate in next May's local Town Council elections, on the basis that it has no political affiliations, no loyalties to anybody, knows no developers, you can't bribe it and it does relatively little deliberate harm. Has to be an improvement on what we've currently got. And after all, if Caligula could make his horse a consul, I don't see why my car couldn't be a councillor, do you?

If you'd like to read a sample of my novel Diamonds&Dust A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so HERE. US readers can do so HERE