Monday, 25 April 2016

A Letter to My Grandson, About to be Born

Mum and big sister

Dear Little Boy

I am writing to you a couple of days before you are due to be born. You are going to enter the world and our lives and it is as if everything is 'on hold' awaiting your birth. All we know of you right now is a blurry picture from an ultrasound and the odd ripple as you move around inside your mum. You clearly like a good kickabout, and you seem to enjoy it when your sister pours water on you in the bath. This bodes well, we hope, for your future relationship with her.

Your cot is upstairs all ready for you. There are tiny clothes in a drawer, and we have a special toy here to give you when we meet you for the first time. As you prepare to meet us, I look ahead to the life stretching in front of you, and I wish you wisdom to choose the right path, and courage to keep on it when the world will try to stop you or distract you.

Always be a leader, little boy, not a follower. Strike out for yourself and make your own decisions. Have the grace to forgive and the humility to admit when you are wrong. Cherish your family and friends and be loyal to those who love you. When you encounter them, look out for and protect those who are weaker, less able or do not have your strength of purpose.

Your big sister will be there for you, as in time you will be for her. Your family is your rock and your shelter, a strong tower of protection surrounding you. But for now, take your time. Choose your own moment to be born. We will wait for you with our arms open wide, ready to welcome you into our lives.

With my love,


Saturday, 23 April 2016

On Your Bike, Mate!

Much rejoicing at Hedges Towers this week: BH has finally been offered a job. As some of you know, his contract was terminated at his previous place of employment at the end of November as he was ''too expensive''. Subtext: too old and too expensive.

Even though he has turned his hand to a variety of jobs since graduating from the Royal College of Music with a degree that fitted him for nothing other than singing for his supper, Bh has never been out of work. Various incarnations have involved a barman, a tax collector (mentioned before the sinners in the Bible - just saying) and driving for Smiths crisps, where he was offered refreshment at every pub on the route and caused some damage in carparks as a result.

And now, suddenly, age 63, he couldn't find work.

And the lack of employment went on. And on. Every day, the inbox filled up with shedloads of prospective jobs. Every day he put in for shedloads of jobs. And nobody responded. It appears that courtesy lies bleeding in some dark corner. I was reminded of the number of blogs written by despairing writers who couldn't get an agent/publisher to reply to them.

And the pain went on. And on. Other career paths were briefly considered: bus driving, working at B&Q - though as BH's DIY skills run to 'avoid at all costs', I'm not sure how much of an asset he'd be. And then five months later, a breakthrough and a job offer. He starts after the May Bank Holiday.

The inbox is now empty. Jobsearch Alert and its various incarnations have been kicked into the long grass. But the time has not been wasted. BH has been able to help me look after Little G, and they have built a lovely relationship on the back of it. He has re-edited all my Victorian books, and formatted and uploaded the YA one. He has now copy-edited the new book Murder & Mayhem. He has proofread a book for a friend. Skills he can use in the coming years when he leaves this job.

Most of all we have had a short pre-retirement run and discovered that on the whole, we can live reasonably amicably with each other. Free bus passes helped. So, ex malo bonum, as St Augustine wrote. Not sure what his employment record was ...

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Phonic Pharce (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Grandma in possession of a small child must be in want of practically nothing. Except advice. Lots and lots of advice. Currently on how I am blighting Little G's academic chances by the stuff I let her do.

Now, anecdotally I didn't 'learn' to read until I was 7 - my parents sent me to one of those knit-your-own-yoghurt schools that were trendy in the 1950s. But I was definitely reading by the time I was 4. I taught myself from library books, because I wanted to know what was happening in the pictures.

Little G has been 'reading' for ages in that she knows the stories in several books, turning the pages at the appropriate time. She can recite most of Slinky Malinki ... saying words like 'rapscallion cat' with evident glee. She can pick out and say letters on shop signs and associate them with words.

But according to the phonics police on Twitter, I should not be letting her. She MUST NOT say 'Dee for Daddy ... Gee for Grandma' etc. because in Year 1 (that's around FOUR YEARS OLD) she may have to take a phonics test. Yep, a test!

I remember phonics stuff from the early 1970s when I was branch librarian at Harlesden Library. It was the only way to teach kids reading (sic). We had picture books and simple stories in phonic-type words. Nobody (including the kids) could read them. It was dropped a short time later as it was considered that it hindered rather than helped children to access literacy.

But that was then, friends. Today, trendy educators who never knew any better have re-introduced it. Over my dead body. So, fellow Grandparents, please join me in a corporate act of musical defiance. Altogether now - after three:

W,X,Y and Z
Now I know my ABC, next time won't you sing with me?''

To be continued ... ....

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Top Tips on Terrific Talks

We have now looked at the things you need to do before giving your talk, and some of the ways you can structure and deliver your talk. Let's wrap it up with a few basic tips to make sure everything runs smoothly on the day.

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.' '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 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!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Exciting Times (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

It is 2 weeks until Little G's new baby brother enters the world. She is being prepared as best as those around her can do. You must be mad has bought a selection of picture books about 'Mummy's Tummy House' and a little baby brother that takes up all the time with his crying and feeding. The nursery are allowing her to help in the baby unit so she gets an idea of what might be turning up in a fortnight.

Little G's clothes have been sorted and re-arranged, so I can't find any of her favourite outfits, but I can find tiny things that are far too small for her. The cot has been moved upstairs and she is now in a new big bed with a duvet. We have some presents for him here that will be 'hers' to give.

I have to say, if I were her, there's not much about this prospective baby brother that I'd buy into. I am doing my best to make sure she knows how much I do and always will love her (to the moon and back) and also reminding her that our special days (although it will now be one day) will happen, with all the fun and laughter we always have when we are sharing our adventures.

Last minute finessing is taking place. L-Plate Grandad has done a practice run at the new bedtime routine for when You must be mad goes into hospital. It involves watching a small video from Frozen on his iPhone. This is why he is in charge - my Nokia doesn't do apps. You must be mad will finish work in a couple of days and might then get round to packing her hospital bag: second babies are so much less stressful.

Little G 's life is about to change. All our lives are about to change. But for now, we wait. Even if some of us at the bottom of the waiting pile really don't have much of a clue what we are waiting for.

To be continued ...   ...

Saturday, 9 April 2016

5 More Top Tips on Book Talks

My last post looked at book talks in general and some ideas on pre-publicity. Now I'm going to turn my attention to preparing the actual talk and how to set the scene for maximum audience impact.

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 hat box, 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.

Edinburgh Intl. Book Festival 2007
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, in the final blog, we'll finesse your technique, look at a few more tips and
 pick up on any comments left by you that need attention

Monday, 4 April 2016

Talking to Strangers (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

As Little G and I continue our adventures together, I am becoming aware of a slight problem. She is a rather fetching child - ok, I am biased but I base the observation upon the number of comments I get every time I post a picture of her on Facebook, and the amount of people who try to engage with her in the street .... and here lies the aforementioned problem.

Little G  is not a great engager. Whenever she is accosted by someone, she adopts a thousand yard stare and plays dumb. This, however does not put the person off. They continue to chat to her, coax her, sometimes poke her playfully in the chest, until she responds.

I find it hard to deal with. On the one hand, I don't want her to be rude - people are only trying to be polite after all, (except for the pokers) and if somebody smiles at her or says hello to her in the street, or in a shop, I try to encourage her to say hello back.

And yet, as soon as she is old enough, she will be told NOT to speak to strangers, or go with them, or get in their cars, or accept sweets or food from them. It's a hard, cruel world, sadly. So how do I walk the fine line between insisting she is polite to adults, and making sure she does not grow up believing that every stranger she encounters has her best interest at heart?

To be continued ... .....

Saturday, 2 April 2016

6 Tips on Giving Book Talks

At some point in your literary career, you may well be asked to give a talk about your books. If you are a children's writer, it is expected that you will tour schools doing just that. Even if you are 'just' an ebook author/blogger you could still find yourself clobbered for a local festival/writing panel. It can be fun; it can be nerve-wracking. Most of how it will be depends upon your pre-prep. In this series of blogs, I'm going to share my tips from 10 years of public speaking (Including gigs at the Edinburgh and Cheltenham Literary Festivals). Look upon any invitation to speak as a selling opportunity. You may shift as many as 80 books in one session. You are unlikely to do that via Amazon/bookshops. And you could get spin-off invites.

Tips on Pre-Preparation

1. Check how long you are 'on'. It is usually an hour. Break that down into: 25 mins speaking, 15 mins questions, 20 mins book signing and informal chat.

2. Check whether you are going to be paid. The rule of thumb is if people pay to come in, you should receive at least 1/3rd of the 'door'.

Cheltenham Literary Festival 2007
3. Make sure you let the venue know exactly what you will need on the day: table for your stuff,  another table for your books, a chair. I keep it very simple. Try not to bring loads of technical equipment. People really react better to just you and your voice.

4. Check who is responsible for the publicity. If it is a Festival, it is up to them to publicize you (see header pic). Make sure you supply organisers with your bio, title of session, mention of signed books being available to purchase (you want to sell, right?) and an up to date picture. Please. I've been to talks where the writer used a MUCH younger pic for their publicity. C'mon people!

5. Offer to contact local press with an interesting press release. This is often a winner if the organisers are too busy or have far more famous writers than you to focus on.

6. Stock up with business cards and copies of your books. Make sure you have at least 2 pens that work.

Next week we shall look at how to prepare a talk and how to captivate your audience by your stunning delivery!

Monday, 28 March 2016

Egg Hunting (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

For the last week Little G has been focused on Easter. Sadly, the religious significance of the death of Christ, the empty tomb and the Resurrection has proved to be a tad outside her mental remit. I have explained some of it - because, like Christmas, I do think that she needs to know what we are celebrating and 'indoctrination' cuts both ways.

She has however, managed to grasp that chocolate is involved in the celebrations and that there will be an Easter Egg Hunt after her lunch here on Easter Sunday. This is a definite step-up on last year, when both religious significance and chocolate related activities passed her by completely.

In the interest of keeping onside with You must be mad, who has an ambivalent attitude to stuffing Little G with chocolate - forgetting her own joyous Easter binges, I have confined the hunt to three small Lindt bunnies, one large Lindt bunny and a chocolate ladybird of strange and terrifying proportions.

A pink tin bucket has been bought from a local charity shop. If the weather is fine, we will be hunting in the garden, if not, we will confine our search to the house. I am currently getting throwbacks to my own childhood, when we also had an egg hunt every Easter. My parents could never remember how many eggs they'd hidden, so we used to find them in odd places for weeks after the event. Good thing I have a little list ...

To be continued ...   ....

Saturday, 26 March 2016

NEW! Read All About it!

Before I started writing the Victorian Detective Series - which wasn't ever meant to be a series but that's another story, I wrote modern stories, teenage and YA fiction. I've decided to go back to writing some modern stuff, and run it alongside the historical novels, to give all you lovely readers who aren't too keen on historical novels something else to enjoy (I hope).

The Final Virus is a 'long novella' (46 thousand words) and will shortly be self-published by Little G Books on Amazon as an ebook. What is it? Well, it could be YA Urban: the two main protagonists are seventeen and live in a city. It could equally well be Sci-Fi: it is set in a future world run by a computer programme. It could be Fantasy: the world I have set it in is not like the world today. 

It could be an extended political allegory like 1984: the scenarios of ruthless governmental control posited are all nascent in our own time. It could be a Romance: Will and Amber's relationship develops over the course of the book. It could be Dystopic: the universe is on the brink of catastrophe.
You will have to decide for yourselves what it is if you choose to read it .... and it is coming soon.
Meanwhile, here are the main characters, as we meet them in the first two chapters: 
''The summer afternoon was fading fast. The sun was already sinking westward into a pink and golden sky. A little breeze cooled Will's face. He pushed back a lock of sun-bleached hair, and wiped his damp forehead with a tanned forearm. His shoulder muscles were aching again. For a moment he squinted up at the sky, his blue eyes remote and thoughtful. Then he attached the bucket to the makeshift rope pulley.
            ‘Haul away,’ he commanded. Sam pulled up the bucket, tipped the earth out and sent it back down. It was better with Sam helping, Will thought. Before his arrival, he had to shift the earth himself.
            ‘Look, I know it's a stupid question,' Sam began.
            ‘Go on.’
            ‘Why exactly are you doing this?’
            Will dropped a spadeful of earth into the bucket. ‘Geography project,’ he said abruptly. He didn’t look up. He dug the spade in the earth again, shovelled some more into the bucket.
            ‘Geography project?’ Sam frowned. ‘We gave that in last week.’
            ‘Biology, then.’
            ‘Respiration in mammals?’
            ‘Yeah, that.’
            ‘Respiration,’ Sam repeated the words slowly and emphatically, ‘in .... mammals. You don’t have to dig a hole. Specially a big one.’
            Will stopped digging, and looked around him. Sam was right. Dead right. It was a big hole, as holes went. And as holes went, it was going well. The hole is always equal to the sum of its parts, he thought. Some of its parts were boredom, anger and frustration. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. The not-allowed outness was getting to him big time. The hole, which he'd started some time ago to get soil samples for a school experiment, had become an outlet for his pent-up feelings. A way of two-fingering the system: if he couldn’t go out, he would go down. Nobody could stop him doing that. Could they?
            ‘Mate, you are crazy, you know that,’ Sam shook his head sadly.
            ‘Maybe ...’
            ‘What’ll your mum say when she sees this?’
            ‘Nothing,’ Will resumed digging, ‘because she won’t see it.’
            Not in a million years, he thought. She never came out into the garden. Not since his dad had gone. He’d been the gardener. And the rest. Always pottering around after work. Therapy, he'd called it, getting in touch with his roots. His mum had little interest in the garden then. None whatsoever now.
            That was the other reason for digging the hole: the great gaping void in his heart that couldn’t be put into words. A sadness so vast and deep that the only thing he could do to block it out was exhaust himself. When it first hit him, the pain of loss, he’d gone running. He ran miles, head down, his breath ripping out in rags, feet pounding the unforgiving streets. Until the night he was picked up by the police at two in the morning running round the perimeter fence outside his dad’s work. Now he was grounded. Temporarily. So the only way to tire himself out was to dig. Maybe it was stupid. Maybe Sam was right. But at least he slept nights.''

''Amber. Am-buh. It was a stupid name, she thought. Why on earth had they given her such a stupid name? Amber sighed. As if she didn’t know, she thought. As if they hadn’t told her. Time after time after time until she could repeat it like a mantra:
            It is the name of a precious stone (“it is very beautiful.”)
            It has magical powers (“it releases negative energy.”)
            It is very rare and expensive (“we spent months finding the right clinic.”)
            Chosen child.
            Miracle of genetic engineering
            Tuesdays, Amber thought to herself. She could never quite get the hang of Tuesdays. This Tuesday followed the same pattern as the others. She woke at six after another nightmare-ridden sleep. It was the one about the world coming to an end and the four horsemen again. This time it had been so real that when she opened her eyes, she could still hear the drumming of hooves, still see the colours of the four riders; so clear that she could hear the sounds of the battle, the high-pitched screams of the dying.
              Amber had woken suddenly. For a few seconds she had lain, dislocated, in the pale primrose light of dawn. Her heart beat wildly and fear held her in its icy grip. It was always the same after waking from this one: a deep terror, a feeling that the world was ending around her and that she could do nothing to prevent it. Then she saw the familiar outlines of her bedroom. She had rolled onto her back, arms folded behind her head, letting the horrors of the night fade away.
             Amber left it until the very last minute before she got up, showered and dressed. She shrugged into her clothes, which were the same ones she’d worn the day before. She ran a brush a couple of times through her long black hair, which she always left loose and hanging down her back. The other girls in her class were currently into braiding every tiny strand of hair, before decorating it with ‘natural found objects’, feathers or flowers or tiny stones with holes, but Amber had neither the time or the inclination to do her hair like everyone else. 
             Nor was she bothered about what she wore. Any old top and trousers sufficed. Amber went downstairs. She got her own breakfast. Her parents left for work early. She would get her own tea too. Probably she’d be in bed long before they arrived home. It was lonely being chosen.''

The cover has been designed by Michael Lindley (@fruitbatwalton). The editing is by Mr Detail. There may be a sequel.