Sunday, 12 March 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer and world traveller Jo Carroll

The PINK SOFA has played host to writer and world traveller Jo Carroll many times. It is always inspired by her tales of her travels and especially inspired by the exotic snacks she brings with her. Now Jo has a new book out, and this time, it's historical fiction, so obviously, another visit was called for. Sit back, tuck into some freshly baked soda bread, and enjoy the latest episode in Carroll's Literary Travels!

''Many thanks for inviting me back to your comfy pink sofa, Carol, and for some interesting questions. I’ve done my best with them.

Why did you decide to write a novel, when you’re known as a travel writer? My immediate response is – why not? After all, what’s the worst that could happen? If I ended with nothing but twaddle, I could simply delete it. So, after a lot of faffing about, I gave it a go. And once I’d started, I couldn’t stop.

Why this novel? What drew you to historical fiction? Ten years ago, when I was in New Zealand, I retreated into a museum in Hokitika to get out of the cold, and I found the vignette of Barbara Weldon. She left Ireland in the mid nineteenth century and made her way to this bleak corner of the world. Why? I’d chosen to go there, on a plane that whisked me across the world; I could leave as easily if I chose to. But how had she travelled? I knew so little about her, but she rang travelling bells for me, and I couldn’t let her story go.

I googled her when I got home, but found very little. Still she intrigued me. And so, in the absence of facts, I decided to make them up. She needed a story, and I wanted to give her one. The decision to publish now was prompted partly by an editor, but more by the current attention given to immigrants and immigration. I am horrified by the lack of compassion showed by so many towards people who have suffered so much.

On one level this is the story of a displaced women over 150 years ago. But the challenges she faced, and her dependence on the kindness of strangers, has terrible echoes in the trauma of so many refugees today. I know just how much research is involved in writing about the nineteenth century.

How did you approach the research? I loved the research. I have an academic background, and so was unfazed by the piles of books and hours of reading and organising information. At one point there was a risk I’d carry on researching forever and never quite manage to shape all that reading into a novel. But this involved more than reading and googling. I spent time in Antrim, finding her farmhouse; and time in Liverpool, where very little is left from the squalor that housed the Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century.

What next? Another novel? Or back to the travel? I’ve just come back from Malawi, and so my first task is to unpick my diaries and find the story behind them. And then … who knows? I’ve loved writing fiction, and have the seed of an idea, but haven’t made a firm decision yet to let that idea come out to play to see what happens. Watch this space!! "

Buy Jo's book here:

Read her blog:
Follow her on Twitter: @jomcarroll

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Mobile Madness

And so to the continuing saga of one Grumpy Old Writer versus the vagaries modern life. You remember the passport debacle, don't you? And the bank one?

Last week, after Storm Doris had passed over Hedges Towers, I noticed that the uStupidphone was only letting me make 'emergency calls'. This was worrying because a week before, while driving with BH to Aldi, I'd been rung by the police, completely out of the blue. Bit of a shock. Apparently they'd had a 999 call from my phone, presumably to alert them to the fact that it was being kidnapped and taken to Luton.

I was able to reassure the kind policewoman that I was OK and I had not, in fact, called them, but it was slightly disconcerting all the same. Anyway, I wandered into the office, where BH was dickering about on the laptop, and showed him the screen. And of course his phone was working perfectly. So I decided to get the bus & take it to the EE shop.

With hindsight, I think my mistake might have been trying to sort it myself while on the bus. Yes. Because by the time I walked through the EE door I'd managed to lock myself out of my own phone which was quite an achievement, given that it cost under £10 and has a level of complexity so low you couldn't limbo under it. All of which goes to show that nothing is so idiot-proof that it can't be broken in the hands of a real expert in idiocy.

Eventually after a certain amount of button pressing and sighing, the 12 year old in the blue overall behind the EE Tech Support desk told me I had to contact EE itself and ask for the PUK code .. whatever that was. Returning on the bus, I was still locked out of my own phone which might for all I knew, be covertly contacting the Home Office and arranging for me to be deported.

Luckily once he'd stopped eye-rolling, BH kindly rang the EE people for me and they coughed up the code, which he inputted as my elderly arthritic fingers are notoriously unreliable and we only had 3 goes before the whole ghastly lockout cycle would begin again. Then another EE man checked our post code and said that the damage had been caused by Doris knocking out their phone mast and they would, in the light of my total incompetence (implied), send me reassuring updates by text.

Which they did and over the next few hours, I had four texts reassuring me that my phone was now working perfectly, which it clearly was as I was getting the reassuring texts. Isn't it great when things ...just ... work? Even if it is probably only temporarily.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Ten Ways I’m Just Crazy Enough to Be an Indie Author by @saraheboucher

Sarah E. Boucher is a lover of fairy stories, romance, anything BBC and Marvel, and really, really cute shoes. On weekdays she wears respectable shoes and serves as Miss Boucher, the Queen of Kindergarten. On school holidays she writes stories about romance and adventure. And wears impractical super cute shoes.

Sarah is a graduate of Brigham Young University. She lives and works in northern Utah. Midnight Sisters is her second novel.

''I recently made the switch from traditional to indie publishing and I’m just enough of a nutso to love it. Therefore for your entertainment, I present:

Ten Ways I’m Just Crazy Enough to Be an Indie Author

10) I gave myself roller skates for my 30-somethingth birthday. Yep, I hit up cheap skate nights where the oldest people on the floor are teenagers trying to look cool. And me.

9) I love BLING. Because with the right tiara and sparkly sparkly shoes, a woman can rule the world. (Even in her pajamas.)

8) I’ve spent the better part of 15 years taming ankle-biters. I magically transformed hundreds of preschoolers into fully functioning first graders who can read, write, and tie their shoes. Probably.

7) I’m a grown adult who adores fairy tales and princes and princesses. They make for great bedtimes stories, sweeties!

6) I heart books. You might lose an eye or a finger if you get between me and whatever I’m reading.

5) Somehow I survived growing up with five brothers. I’m a lovely mix of tomboy and girlie girl and I can still howl with the best of them! Howwwooooooo!

4) Shoes make me happy. When I moved into my condo, my mom said I couldn’t buy any more shoes because I’d filled the shelf. Challenge accepted, mama! Ooh! Are those on sale?

3) My brother once told me he wouldn’t go to funny movies with me because my loud laughter and/or snorting is creepy. Guess what, bro? No. One Cares. Mwahahahaha! Snoooort!

2) While I’m commuting to work, I get a lot of weird looks. Not only do I sing at the top of my lungs, but I also do elaborate choreography. All I have to say to those people is You’re welcome.

1) I’m a small town girl. While I’ve never accidentally dated one of my cousins, I do wave at strangers, flirt with babies, and flash my dimples at anyone and everyone. (Because dimples mean I don’t have to talk to you but you’ll still find me adorable.)

If I do all of those things without feeling ashamed, surely I can tackle formatting my own books, managing blog tours, giveaways, convincing shop owners to host events and whatnot, right? If cranky five-year-olds or opinionated brothers can’t get in my way, editors, publishers, or people who write crappy reviews can’t either.

Because no matter what negative nonsense comes my way, I can stand my ground and keep my smile pasted in place. (And I’ll probably be wearing fabulous shoes while I do it!)
That kind of down-to-earth confidence reaches people in real life and on social media. Which is fortunate, because I’m a grown woman. And I write fairy tales. ''

Blurb for Midnight Sisters:

The words rattled around Jonas’s head. What was the punishment again? Death? Dismemberment? Jonas, the newest addition to the gardening staff, couldn’t recall the exact penalty for breaking the rule. What does it matter anyway? He would never dream of meddling with the Earl of Bromhurst’s haughty daughters.

Until he comes face to face with Lady Ariela, the eldest of the Master’s daughters.
Her elusive smile and open manner cause him to question his convictions. In no time, he’s drawn into Lady Ariela’s world of mystery and intrigue, a world where she and her sisters will do anything—including leaving twelve empty beds at midnight—to escape their father’s strict rules.

Only Jonas can uncover the truth and save them from their father’s wrath and their own folly, if he is willing to risk everything he’s ever worked for.

Book links:
Midnight Sisters is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Visit Sarah at or connect with her on Twitter @saraheboucher   

Thursday, 23 February 2017

A Letter to my Granddaughter, Age 3

Dear Avalyn Grace

Today, Friday 24th of February marks your 3rd birthday. You've had a letter from me every year of your life (this is the one I wrote when you were 6 months old) and you have been the inspiration for a whole series of blog posts describing our rather eccentric adventures together. So here's another letter from me to you.

The biggest change in your world right now ~ well, in all our worlds, is that you have a gorgeous little baby brother who worships you unquestioningly and unconditionally. Make the most of it because as soon as he starts walking, you're in for trouble!

Other changes: we've migrated from the Purple Buggy with a Mind of Its Own to a second hand collapsible buggy with dodgy brakes, which always go at roundabouts when we're travelling to my house, skeetering you across the bus at high speed and sending me into a panic. You find it terribly funny.

You are also a fully paid-up member of the Accessorize Club. You have a box of tiaras, crowns, necklaces and headbands. Yes, You Must Be Mad has tried to bring you up in a pinkless gender-neutral environment, but you have managed to tunnel your way out. Now each one of our adventures begins with a selection of appropriate bling to accompany it. I have to confess to being slightly envious: I'd secretly love to wander round Sainsburys in a tiara and sparkly boots, though I remind myself that I may yet come to it in my dotage.

For your birthday, you are going to the zoo ~ which you are looking forward to huguely as it has a soft play area with a gigantic slide. Animals? Well yes, there will be some animals obviously, but let's get our priorities right. There will also be a party in your house at some future date when the 'hand/foot & mouth' virus that I, in my ignorance, thought only occurred in cattle, has run its course.

As we approach our third year together, I look back and see how much you have taught me: your ability to live in the now; to find amazement and fun in mundane and ordinary things. Your life may be very circumscribed in one sense, but it is crammed with wonder, joy and delight because that is how you choose to experience it.

Happy Birthday, my special girl. You have inspired and entertained us all ever since you arrived in this world. Long may you continue to do so. As for the thought that your next birthday marks the end of our carefree adventures together, and the start of your schooldays ~ well, we're not going to think about it, are we?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Don't Give Up The Day Job!

I am becoming less and less a fan of bookshops. Yep, I know that sounds heretical, but from a writer's point of view ( especially a self-published one like me) bookshops are the reason we are bottom of the financial food chain, even though WE are the reason they exist in the first place. It is unfair and I am miffed about it.

Bookshops do not have the writer's best interest at heart. To get books into any bookshop, a publisher has to offer at least a 48% discount. This means that for them to stay in business, publishers in turn offer writers such measly returns on books (10% - if you are lucky, and that's on the discounted figure) that it just isn't worth bothering. The growth of ebooks is as much the greed of bookshops as it is the development of technology ~ they signed up to the scrapping of the Net Book Agreement, allowing them to discount titles and then discovered Amazon/supermarkets beat them to it.

I was recently in a blog discussion about small publishers and royalties, and one of the participants (Dr Teika Bellamy: @MothersMilkBks) helpfully provided the following breakdown of costs:

On a £10 RRP (please note, these are approximate figures)

50% retailer (£5)
10% distributor (£1)
10% author (£1)
20% printer (£2)
10% publisher (£1) ← That 10% needs to cover things like ISBN costs, advertising, free books that are sent off to reviewers (and postage and packaging), illustrator’s costs, editing, proofreading, typesetting and all the various running costs of the business (including salaries if employers are paid).  
Based upon this, the writer at the bottom of the pile ends up with so little for all their years of hard graft that they might as well go and work in Asda (also selling discounted books).

Large publishers can print books cheaply and in bulk, and take a hit on a couple of titles. Small publishers cannot. And most bookshops still operate their snobby policy that if it's NOT published by one of the big names it is, ergo, of inferior quality. As one who has given up on so many novels by 'famous/hyped authors' because I can't get beyond page 9, I find that, frankly, deeply insulting.

My local Waterstones had a local writer shelf. I was on it. Then it didn't have one. Now it has reinstated it, but they don't take my Victorian Detective books as I am self-published on Amazon and Bertrams & Gardiners (the 2 big suppliers) won't look twice at me.

More evidence of discrimination. Even though the quality of Createspace books rivals many other publishers' stock (and they frequently resort to using POD companies anyway). Same policy with WH Smith. Same with most independent bookshops. Same with their suppliers ~ same suppliers.

I am lucky in that a local gift shop takes my books (at a slight discount) and sells them like hot cakes as I am not in competition with shelves and shelves of other titles. Now I am, let's face it, at the latter end of my career. And most of my sales now come from Ebooks.

But for a writer just starting out, full of expectation and hope, I'd have to say: Be realistic. Love what you do, be proud of your end product, but don't give up the day job. As a fellow writer remarked: 'unless you sell gazillions of copies, writing books is mostly for pleasure, or a little income to subsidise what else you have.'

Is it worth it then? Yes ~ a hundred times yes, as long as your definition of 'worth' is not measured in pounds and pence

Saturday, 11 February 2017


'If I write it, they will read it' ~ thinks many a fledgling author with a quiet smile.
Oh no they won't!
It is estimated that a new author on Amazon may sell as little as 50 copies of their book in a year. 95% of writers earn less than £5k. The 'top earners' are a teeny tiny % of the market, and usually get there on the back of a publicity department. But you don't have one, do you? Nor do I. So where to dive in?

Writing a book and getting it published, by whatever conduit you use, is only the start. To get any sales, you have to make people aware of your masterpiece. In this blog, I'm exploring some of the portals I use to promote my work ~ if I don't mention something, it's because I don't specifically use it for book promotion. Feel free to expound on how useful you find it in the comments section, because unless we are all out there, loud and proud, nobody will notice

1. Pre-Publication: At least three months before you are ready to gift the reading public with your masterpiece, it is good to offer it to a few REPUTABLE book blogger sites to read. I say 'reputable' because you want an honest opinion. One of the best sites is Rosie Amber @rosieamber1  Getting your manuscript to them early means that you will have a few (hopefully good) reviews up as soon as your book is published. And yes, I can vouch for their integrity : a reviewer posted a less than enthusiastic review of one of my YA ebooks. I am sure there are other book bloggers out there. Maybe people could identify them in the comments section.

2. Twitter::  I make Twitter my main platform. Most of my sales come from Twitter  eg:

I have been looking at your books on Amazon and all look great, will buy two of your favorites. Select please.

 I also encourage readers to post pictures of the actual book (and then they get a surprise signature sent to them in the post)
It's next on my 'to read' pile 🙂
And practically all sales come from me chatting, posting stuff etc or people recommending the books to other readers. In other words, I'm a friend first, an online character second, and a writer selling books third.

2a Twitter Hashtags: I use #histfic or #Victorian and #historicalfiction. This places my book alongside the others in the same genre and makes it easier for readers to find them. Your genre will have a #. Or there are general ones #bookboost @IARTG ... check other people's promo posts and you pick them up quickly. You can also follow readers via the authors especially if they have the magic words Avid Reader in their bio. Don't send them promos though. If you want to see some Twitter book promos, check out @TerryTyler4 or @paul_cude (or even me) for ideas.

Make sure you RETWEET other writers and say a general or personal thank-you when people retweet you.

 3. Press Releases: The local press are (usually) delighted to receive a press release, a publicity pic and a free copy to review.

3a. Press Releases: Anywhere your book is set will be delighted also.

3. Local Radio: Contact them via Twitter, phone them up, arrange to do a studio interview. Listen, I sound like a 15 year old mainlining helium, but I still do it.

4. National Press: Will be interested if you have a brilliant backstory, particularly if it involves abuse, or hardship. Also if you earned shedloads of advance shekels or you are very very photogenic. I haven't cracked this one yet. Maybe you will. Also if your partner/family member is 'famous'. However I was told by the wife of someone well known in public life that this could be a two-edged sword as the press can jump on you if said famous person is not liked.
Bernie Steadman in W H Smiths

5. Literary Festivals: Everybody's doing it. Local library will have contacts of yours. Organisers have a Twitter site. Get in touch. I did the first St Albans Literary Festival two years ago and last year. I ran a workshop on how to get published ... ooh, and I had some books on a side-table.

6. Signings: Local bookshop is worth approaching (see pic). Make sure you are professional in your set-up and your conduct ~ do not hassle people to buy your books.

Harpenden Writers, 27th Jan 2017
7.Talks: WI ~ you have to audition and be approved, but it's worth it. They pass you round like a sweetie. Local book clubs/writers' groups are also worth contacting. Library should hold the list. If you write YA or children's fiction, schools are always keen to have a visiting writer. Make sure you get paid ~ the Society of Authors has recommended fees. WI expects you to donate 10% of any book sales to their group.

8. Blogging: Worth a whole post on its own. Maybe I'll write one. Sufficient to say that blogs are great for writing interesting posts around your book. I have blogged on Sex, Food, Child cruelty, Poisons .. did I mention Sex? Some people arrange Blog Tours to publicize their book. I host other writers and write posts for other blogs. It's getting your name out there, building your profile and being part of the writing community.

Writing Magazine
9. Writing Magazine (@WritingMagazine) : The 'bible' for any writer. It has comps, helpful articles, lists of publishers/magazines that are open for submissions, everything you need to stay in touch with fellow writers etc. It also has a Membership Spot where you can happily plug your new novel. I always do them a small write-up. Worth the subscription (which you can claim as legitimate expenses against tax). You can also use their own marketplace to promote your book FREE!

10. Local Shops:: If you are a small published/self published writer with books, it is well nigh impossible to get them into the big bookshops. This is because they get 45% discounts from established publishers and usually only deal with 2 or 3 suppliers. But other shops like gift shops, & craft shops may well be happy to negotiate a better rate. I get a kick from seeing my books in a local shop window (see pic at top of piece). I've never had that happen at Waterstones!

Finally -  if you have published actual books, make sure you are registered for PLR ~ Public Lending Rights: that's the money paid by libraries every time your book is borrowed. You can register here. Every little helps.

What I do not do, and nor should you, is inundate followers, friends on Facebook, or total strangers with 'buy my book' promos 24/7. If you want to read one of my books, great. If not, hey. And I won't be constantly checking my sales figures or Amazon and informing you every hour of the day. That way madness lies. And somehow I have to find time to get on with the next book, (which is the other GREAT way to generate sales), so that IF you bought, read and enjoyed Diamonds & Dust and its three successors, there will be another book in the pipeline for you to read very soon.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Importance of Publicity 1

Excitement is building at Hedges Towers. Reviews of Diamonds & Dust on Amazon UK have just broken the magic 90 in number. This has never happened before in all my years of being published, so is very gratifying. Even more so, as those of you who are aware of the back story know, because I parted company with my agent over it, as she had told me that there was no market for this type of 'Present-tense historical stuff ' book, so she was not going to bother sending it out to publishers; comments that resulted in my almost losing heart and deciding to give up writing altogether. Take whatever lesson you wish to learn from this.

So, apart from sorting out the party fairy lights and discovering they don't work because one of the bulbs has blown, ordering in crates of prosecco and wrapping crepe paper streamers round the PINK SOFA who has been in launch mode since the series started, I am now wondering whether the villa in Tuscany and the black Maserati I promised OH might be a tad nearer. Meanwhile, because complacency isn't in my vocabulary, I crack on with the publicity machine.

Publicity has become vitally important in today's frenetic book market. In the 1950s when I was growing up, there seemed no need for authors to get involved in marketing their books. Nobody was interested in them. I could have passed Ruby Ferguson, Primrose Cummings, A Stephen Tring, Pamela Brown or Don Stanford in the street and not recognised them. Now if you publish a book, unless you are happy just to have achieved publication, and content that only your immediate family, and close friends will buy it, you HAVE to put yourself out there.

There are some myths still going round about publicity. The first says that mainstream published writers don't have to do much if any publicity, as they have marketing wonks to do it instead. Wrong. My own experience, based on OUP and Usborne, my two previous publishers, is that at my level of importance, publicity wonks will send your book out for review, feature you in the publisher's catalogue, and produce press releases, but that's pretty well it. The rest you sort yourself, unless you are a 'famous or favoured writer' - of which more anon. Sometimes, they don't even do that - one year, I was told by OUP that they were going to spend the entire marketing budget on a couple of well known children's writers who brought in more money than a mid-lister like me. Seriously.

The bottom line is always money. If you don't sell enough books, and make sufficient money, big publishers will drop you. Actually, most publishers of whatever size will drop you - so those authors I recently came across on Facebook moaning that ''they can't do publicity, it isn't ''them'' and why doesn't X (their small publisher) do it all for them like big publishers do'' really need to wake up and smell the coffee.

The other myth is that 'popular' mainstream authors get taken on lovely trips and outings to promote their books. Hollow laughter. I recently caught up with one such writer, just back from the US. It was a nightmare. Meetings with publishers, followed by book talks, followed by signings, followed by working dinners, followed by total exhaustion. And one of the famous OUP writers I mentioned earlier didn't get to write a thing for two years, had a nervous breakdown, and had to force herself to inch back into writing again. So there you are. Myths well and truly busted. Next week, I shall explore some of the publicity portals available and how to use them without annoying people too excessively.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Holocaust (Greek: sacrifice by fire)

 Results for:  Last / Maiden Name = Flatauer        First Name = Alma        Place = Berlin
Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany List of murdered Jews from Germany    murdered
Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany Page of Testimony                                   murdered
Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany List of deportation from Berlin                murdered
Flatauer 1889 Osnabrueck, Germany Page of Testimony                          murdered

We live in a 'post fact' (or as I prefer to call it, downright lies) era. In this Holocaust Memorial time,  the internet is ablaze with Holocaust deniers, claiming that the massacre of Jews, gypsies, disabled people and gays under the Nazis did NOT happen.

The survivors of Hitler's 'Final Solution' are gradually dying. Those that are left, frail but undaunted, spend their last few days having to tell their harrowing stories over and over again, as the stinking sewage of denial washes through social media. When they are gone, who will bear the torch?

As many of you know, I am the daughter of German Jewish refugees, and post the fiasco that was Brexit, I have applied for restored citizenship, so that my descendants will never have their 'citizen of the world' status wrenched from them, as mine was by the alt-right German government. At the head of this piece is the visual proof, taken from German documentation, of the 'fate' of my paternal grandmother. 

But this is my mother's story, not mine: she was born in Berlin and as the anti-Jewish laws started coming into force, she was in her early twenties. She had to leave university, where she was studying art & design, and went to work for one of the many Jewish organisation that had started getting Jewish families out of Germany as they could see what was going to happen in the future.

UK Daily Mail pre-WW2 headline
She helped organise Kindertransports and her refugee organisation supplied the papers and documents needed for adults to leave. These organisations also helped make the situation of German Jews very public and were hated as a result. Eventually, Hitler decided to close the borders. The last train was scheduled to leave Berlin on December 7th, 1941.

The way my mother always told it: she sent her own parents to the UK where, as the Daily Mail article shows, the identical 'anti-semitic/illegal immigrant' rhetoric was alive and well then, as now, but she felt it her duty to stay in Berlin and help out to the end.

So it wasn't until the last day that she packed her suitcase and headed for the station. The queue stretched for yards. She stood in line, wondering whether she was too late. Then the German police started going down the line, checking passports and documents. Time ticked on. Finally they reached her, and roughly demanded her papers.

My mother handed them over. A brief scrutiny. A consultation. A list was checked. Then she was beckoned out of the line and ordered to go with them. Her heart sank. Was she about to be refused exit? Was she going to be imprisoned? Tortured? Deported to a work camp?  She followed the police .... along the platform ... past the waiting crowd ... straight to the barrier where the train was waiting.

A curt command and the barrier was raised. She was pushed onto the platform. The barrier was closed. Still not quite believing what had just happened, she took her place on the last train and came eventually to the UK, where she met and married my father, also a refugee. Nine years later, I was born in the UK.

My father's family refused to leave Germany, believing, as so many EU citizens, migrants and refugees believe today, that civilized people would never try to deny them their human rights. They perished at Auschwitz. I am the bearer of their story. If you read a tweet, or an article, or a book by someone denying that Hitler and his military machine ruthlessly and systematically exploited, tortured, and murdered eleven million human beings whose only 'crime' was that they were not ''them'', then remember this: the people who ignore their mistakes are destined to repeat them. Over and over again.
Some 2016 UK Brexit headlines

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Giving Author Talks 2: More tips

St Albans Lit Fest 2016
In the last blog, we looked at the mechanics of presenting a good talk. Now lets finesse this a little further. Here are my 'must-do' tips as the event approaches.

1. Make sure you have liaised with the event organiser. I usually email a week before to check they have got the stuff I need sorted. I then email/call 2 days before to say how much I am looking forward to meeting them and doing the event. I tell them when I will be arriving, and check parking arrangements.

2. On the day, arrive in plenty of time. Do not assume the organisers will have people to unload/help you set up. Be as independent as you can. Smile and thank a lot.

3. A few essentials: Wet wipes/hand sanitizer (stuff gets dusty; you will be signing books later). Water. Float for books. Notebook for sales/useful contacts. Two signing pens that work. Business cards.

4. Make sure you thank the organiser, his/her helpers, and the audience for turning up. I usually do this straight after I've been introduced, in case I forget.

5. When giving your talk, SIGNPOST clearly. 'Now let's move on to the second part: how I write the actual books.' 'Finally, let's look at some of my research tools.'

6. NEVER go over time. It's discourteous.

7. Send the organisers a little handwritten note a couple of days after the event thanking them for hosting you and saying how much you are looking forward to doing another event in the future.

I hope these two blogs have helped. I gather from the comments that many people have found the tips useful. I have sat through some pretty dreadful talks, given by top authors, and have learned shedloads. The main thing is: enjoy yourself! Your audience are there for you. They want to find out about you and your books. And on your success, other writers may be invited!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Giving Author Talks: Top Tips

St Albans Literary Festival 2016

Once it comes to public notice that you have published a book, or books, you may well find that you are invited to speak to a group about it. Or you may apply to one of the numerous literary festivals to be a speaker. Either way, it is important to plan and prepare carefully in advance, if for no other reason than it stops you panicking as the day draws closer. I have participated in the Edinburgh, Cheltenham and St Albans Literary Festivals as both visiting author and audience, and over the years I have sat through some pretty dire author talks ( I hope I haven't given any!). 

So for 2017, let's look once again at How To Give a Good Author Talk.

1. Your session should contain 3 elements

* You and your books ~ how you write, why you write, what you write. With readings from your books.
* Audience questions.
* Informal book signing and chat.

I suggest for an hour's session the ratio should split into: 25 mins talk, 15 mins questions, 20 mins chat and signings. Obviously the last two can overlap.

2. Set the Scene - including yourself

There is nothing more boring than a pile of books on a bare table. Or a bare table. People like to look at interesting stuff while you are speaking. THINK about your genre. I bring a Victorian top hat and hatbox, part of a Victorian tea set, I lay the table with a lace tablecloth, I also have opera gloves, a seed pearl bag and some of my original Victorian books, which I stand up so people can see the covers.
I wear a steampunk outfit. I put my books to sell on a separate table away from the talk area.
Start collecting interesting stuff for a table display.

3. Practice makes perfect

If you have never spoken in public before, or feel nervous, WRITE your talk out in full first. Then SAY it ~ speak more slowly than normal and time yourself. Keep practicing ~ how do you think actors learn their lines? Some people perform in front of a mirror, or film themselves so they can eliminate any unnecessary gestures. Once you know your talk pretty well, reduce it to one sheet of paper with key words.

4. Sit or stand?

Stand. Always. You command the room, and can check the back row hasn't dozed off. Also you can walk about and pick up some of the interesting objects as you talk about your books.

5. Q & A

Have some pre-prepared questions to stimulate a debate, in case nobody asks anything. Things like: what do they think about self-publishing ~ is it just an excuse for poor writing? Do they prefer ebooks to print and why? What was the last book they read that they really enjoyed? Do they think some writers get over-hyped?

Be prepared to divulge all sorts of stuff. Some audiences will ask how much you earn, have you ever got a bad review, etc etc. Laugh it up and don't get insulted. I frequently bring some rejection letters along and read them out to much merriment.

Next week, we'll finesse your technique, look at a few more tips and
 pick up on any comments left by you that need attention.