Monday, 20 June 2016

Eating my words


The poet Robert Frost wrote: 'Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/ And sorry I could not travel both.'

I'm sure all writers can relate to these lines. We choose a path to publication: self publishing, via Amazon and its cohorts, or if we take the other road, a mainstream publisher. We choose the format our books will be read in: paperbacks or ebooks, or both.

When I started out, I wrote teen and YA fiction and I went down the mainstream publishing route via OUP & Usborne. Then, when I changed genre and age-range, I moved to Crooked Cat, a small independent publisher who published my first three Victorian Detective books.

As most of you know, last Christmas I 'went off' traditional publishers majorly and made the decision to self publish my Victorian Detectives books (see sidebar to your right). A couple of my Teen/YA books have also appeared as ebooks as I got my rights back from OUP (see also sidebar). I really enjoy the freedom I now have to play with Amazon keywords, alter pricing, do my own publicity and get a higher return for all my hard work.

However, behind the scenes I have been trying to get my rights back on the four teen Spy Girl books. These came out in the early 2000s, were very popular and were stocked in all the main bookshops (ah, the days of Borders!) and libraries.

Children's fiction is a different 'road' to adult fiction. It is essential to be visible. To have 'real books' in shops, to be on school and public library shelves. Children's writers have to be a more visual presence generally. In the Spy Girl days I used to visit loads of schools and do book talks. I appeared at the Edinburgh & Cheltenham Literary Festivals.

However, publishers change their focus and Usborne decided in 2008 that they didn't want to foreground the series any longer. They chose to change the lovely shiny covers for cheaper but less attractive ones, and sales dropped drastically. That is their right as publishers in a fast moving marketplace.

Eighteen months ago I decided to try to get Usborne either to republish the four books with nicer covers, or give me my rights back. It has taken a LONG LONG time for them to respond to my many emails - but I am delighted to share that I now have those rights back. And the icing on the cake? Accent Press have signed up all five books for their new YA list.

Hang on Carol .... FIVE? Yes! There was always a fifth book, which was never read or published by Usborne. Accent Press will be publishing it. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that the redoubtable Jazmin Dawson will be crime-fighting and world-defying once again!

The books will be coming out in 2017. The fifth one in the summer, the others filtering in behind it to build the series. Thy will be published in book format and also ebook. They will have a new series name, new covers, but the same titles (the titles are mine). So currently, I am revisiting the previously published four, rewriting, editing and just changing them subtly so that they are 'new'.

I shall continue to self-publish the Stride and Cully books: the next one Murder & Mayhem will be out in the Autumn. To return to Mr Frost: I am about to take both roads through the yellow wood ... and I hope it will make all the difference.








Monday, 13 June 2016

Sugar, sugar (Grandma moments)


Ever since she was born, Little G has been on a 'low sugar' diet. Chocolate and sweets, cake, desserts and sweetened drinks have been rationed or not introduced. This is mainly because she is not a big fan of brushing her teeth, and will only do it reluctantly and while watching a Frozen video on You must be mad's phone.

Plus we have all seen the news clips of very small children having to have their rotten milk teeth pulled out in hospital. Little G hasn't seen them, of course, but the rest of us have been suitably scared. Mind you, as the wife of a diabetic, I am amazed by the amount of hidden sugar that lurks in most food nowadays. Bread, fish fingers, pies all contain sugar - sometimes disguised as dextrose, maltose or anything else ending in 'ose'.

However Little G is now nearly two and a quarter, and the odd sugary treat comes her way in the form of ice cream, the occasional chocolate penny, and homemade or otherwise cake. Interestingly, if she has too much sugary food, she gets very hyper, which I had never witnessed until last week, when I rashly gave her a big jammy biscuit mid-afternoon for her snack.

Having licked out all the jam, we then set off to get the bus back home. I think it was the loud singing that alerted me. Followed by the 'I don't want this toy throwing', and the point blank refusal to sit quietly and look at the nice cars. Little Hyde was making her presence known.

I wondered fleetingly as I hauled her noisily off the bus, what the rest of the passengers were thinking. I wanted to turn round and tell them: sugar rush! But it made me ponder how many of the badly behaved fractitious children I see every day are suffering from sugar overload.

Maybe a low sugar diet might be better than a dose of Ritalin and a diagnosis of some behavioural problem that will follow them round for the rest of their life? Just a thought.

9 REALLY useful tips for writers

A writer. Not me

1. If possible, write on something that is NOT connected to the internet. That way you aren't tempted to check Facebook/Twitter every 5 minutes. Or less.

2. If you are writing on an internet-free laptop, make sure it isn't in the same room as the internet connected one (see 1).

3. If you can't accomplish 1 and 2 for physical/financial reasons, try to allocate yourself specific times of the day to Tweet/update your Facebook. Do not weaken.

4. Unless specific, dickering about on Google is not 'research'.

5. Checking your Amazon rating and sales figures every two days is liable to lead to suicidal feelings. Ditto reading posts from other writers who do this.

6. Ditto reading the 'I wrote a whole novel today - go me!' claims on social media

7. There is no such thing as 'Writer's Block', it is just a posh excuse for not writing.

8. The only way to write a book is to write a book.

9. If you are not constantly awash with doubt/fear/insecurity/self-loathing/envy/anxiety/panic, you probably aren't a writer.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Dreaming of Ants (Grandma Moments)



Little G and I are sitting in the garden. It is Thursday, 'Grandma Day' under the new regime. The sun is pouring down, we have a plate of chocolate biscuits between us and Little G is doing maths. She is proving, via visual evidence, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

When I have wiped unbelievable amounts of chocolate from her face, hands and left ear, we progress to philosophy. 'I cried yesterday,' she tells me. I ask why. 'I was sad.'

Yesterday, Little G returned to nursery as SIL's two week paternity leave finished. But you like nursery, I remind her.  And you know you come home at the end of the day. You don't stay there. She considers this. I don't cry when you go home, I tell her, because I know I will see you again very soon. She agrees that this is probably true.

It strikes me that we never used to have this sort of conversations. Mainly because Little G didn't do 'yesterday'. Or 'sad'. It is another reminder that she is growing up. The cat now joins us, keeping her distance. Little G comes under 'Small Fur Puller' in her list of people to avoid.

How's your baby brother? I ask Little G, to lighten the mood. 'He cries,' she says. Oh well, can't win them all. The cat rolls over in the grass. What do cats dream about? I ask. She considers this for a while. 'Biscuits,' she suggests, eyeing the last one on the plate hopefully. I break it in two. Little G has a propensity to turn into Little Hyde if she ingests too much sugar.

I point out that cats don't speak, so how would they know that a biscuit was a biscuit? Little G finds this concept interesting so we bat it backwards and forwards for a while. It's like your baby brother, I say to reinforce my argument. He doesn't know any words, so what does he dream about? 'Ants,' she replies without hesitation.

I have no answer to this, so we finish our biscuit in companionable silence.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Those Who Can't Teach, Criticize Teachers


I went into teaching late: I was 46 when I retrained as an English teacher and 47 when I landed my first job at a school. I was thrilled: my own classroom, the chance to convey my love of books and the written word, the opportunity to enthuse and inspire young people. I had imaginative schemes of work I'd made up, with differentiation worksheets, media, the lot.

Two years later, exhausted, disillusioned, and mentally shattered I left full time teaching. To go from a state of euphoria to utter despair in such a short space of time had nothing to do with the kids, my colleagues, classroom discipline, or the school.

What drove me out of the classroom was the constant pressure from assessments, target setting and paperwork. The thing I'd gone into teaching for became secondary. The pupils were backgrounded in favour of bureaucracy and league tables.

Two things finally ended it for me: I was told I could not use my own schemes of work any more - they had to be the ''approved ones'', forcing me to teach in a certain way. And one mega-stressed day I drove all the way to the school without remembering how I got there.


That was in Summer 1999. So have things got any better? Absolutely not. Anecdotally, I read:

1. Teachers are hemorrhaging out of the profession due to stress and overload.
2. Many Academy school are quietly removing SEN and MLD pupils from their rolls as they take up too much time/resources and lower the GCSE pass rates.
3. Teachers are being asked to take on subjects in which they have little or no expertise. (DFE figures show that in 2014, 18% of lessons were taught by teachers insufficiently qualified in that subject)
4. Some Academy schools are employing teachers with NO QUALIFICATIONS at all.
5. The importance of testing and inspection has grown out of all proportion.

And all the time the profession is being told it is truculent, lazy, oppositional, and uncooperative by a government that 'claims' it has the kids' best interests at heart. Parents are being frightened by reports of lower attainment, poor numeracy and literacy skills, global league tables in which the UK isn't in the top 10.

Listen.

Schools are wonderful places. They look after YOUR kids from 8.30am to 4.00pm, often longer. In some schools they give them FREE breakfasts and lunches. They expose them to books, computers, the past, the present, the world of knowledge. They model the global community. They teach behaviour, tolerance and unity. They are staffed by human beings with feelings and families, just like you.

Next time you hear a government minister speak disparagingly, or read an article that slates the profession for some perceived fault, ask yourself: Would I do a job with so little thanks or appreciation? And if your answer is 'never in a million years', then be thankful you don't have to.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Down with Skool!

As most of you know, I was a teacher in my former life, and I now tutor GCSE and A level English, as well as invigilating public exams at a local secondary school. So I have an interest in what is currently happening in education, and some background expertise in commenting upon it.

Since MP Michael Gove and now MP Nicky Morgan took over the Department of Education, the downhill spiral of all aspects of the curriculum, and the morale of the teaching profession has been steep and marked. If you have children or grandchildren in school today, you should be alarmed. Very alarmed.

From pre-primary level, our children are being exposed to unrealistic targets - don't forget, we are not dealing with Lego figures here, but small human beings, each developing at a different rate and with their own personalities. And it starts from the moment they enter the system. I have blogged about Little G and the nursery targets HERE.

From what I gather, the SATS teaching at primary level imposes (a favourite Tory word) a set of grammatical and lexical rules upon children that they MUST learn and apply to everything they read. So no longer will any book be read for fun; now they must spot front-loading adverbs or other such crap.

Make no mistake, I believe basic grammar teaching, spelling practice and punctuation are vital - it empowers children to write and read creatively and helps them learn other languages. But box-ticking arbitrary constructs merely puts them off the written word for life. And I couldn't spot half of them when I checked out the new test (the leaked one).

Anecdotally, primary age children are no longer reading for enjoyment, but approaching books with caution ... can they find all the necessary things they need to pass some future exam? Given that I didn't read 'properly' until age 6, though I was unofficially reading from age 4, that'd be me failed.

Oh, and the failure would go on. I suffer from discalculia, so I failed O Level Maths. Twice. Similarly Science. In those unenlightened days, it didn't stop me accessing higher education. I entered 6th Form with 5 O levels, and then went to University. Fast forward to 2016 and the doors would be firmly closed to this stupid blogger. No Maths/Science = no sixth form. No sixth form = no university.

Right now I have two students in exactly this position. The first, age 18 and a hugely talented artist, is still trying to get a C grade in English, even though he is only ever 1/2 marks short. The second, a future writer, & like me suffering from discalculia, is re-taking GCSE Maths in Year 12. If she fails to get a C grade by the time she reaches 18 (you have to keep on taking these exams in Govegrind's New Kingdom of Education) she is unlikely to go to university.

Please note: both these students have already PASSED, they just haven't passed high enough. And the re-sitting Maths student is contemplating dropping out of Sixth Form as she is struggling so hard and against such odds to master a subject that is completely alien to her.

Something has gone badly wrong with education. Instead of recognising the individuality of children, and celebrating it, a pattern had been imposed by people who do not work with students and only desire to leave a 'legacy' behind them. Woe betide any child who does not 'fit'. This educational eugenics will destroy or crush any latent talent they have, and then spit them out to languish in some unemployable social hinterland. And we as a society will be the poorer.

''Where have all the playwrights, artists, musicians and novelists gone? Gone to the scrap heap every one.''

Next week, I intend to look at the effects all this has upon the teaching profession itself, and the rise of the ubiquitous ''Academy''.

If you are on Twitter, please object strongly to:

@NickyMorgan01

@David_Cameron

@educationgovuk



Monday, 9 May 2016

Hello and Goodbye (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


Big changes are happening in Little G's world. She has now gone from being only child to big sister as You must be mad gave birth to Little GS last week, and we are all watching carefully to see if our extensive baby pre-prep has paid off.

While You must be mad was recuperating from her labour in hospital, L-Plate Gradad and I spent the time teaching Little G the new baby's name, on the basis that it looks bad if she doesn't know who he is when asked by some well-meaning relative or person in the street, who might therefore think it was any old baby, rather than an 'owned and known baby'.

From her point of view, the baby's arrival has been a bit like Christmas, minus the tree and decorations. Little G has been showered with presents 'from the baby', including a baby doll she can feed, dress, nappy change and throw around the room. We just hope she will not conflate the two.

Personally, I was thrilled to see my pet training bearing immediate fruition: Little G stroked the baby's head from front to back, as I taught her to do with the long-suffering cat. So far she has not tried to feed him cat biscuits. It will happen at some point. And in time he may well try to hide from her under the bed.

You must be mad will now be on maternity leave for the next twelve months, so my two eleven-hour days minding Little G will be reduced to an occasional single day. It is therefore time for you and I to say goodbye to L-Plate Gran as she hangs up her L-plates, albeit temporarily. But my, we have come a very long way together - should you need any reminding, HERE is the very first blog I wrote.

If you have stuck with me for the past year and a bit, many thanks. We may meet again some time in the future.





Saturday, 7 May 2016

Twitter Rage!

It is a sad fact of life that there are people who like nothing better than to stir up trouble as in: ''have stick, so will poke it into this hornets' nest'' and Twitter seems to be the perfect forum for such people to indulge their activities. I have witnessed some right car crashes unfolding in the four years since I joined Twitter as a fledgling.

It seems to me that there is something about an impersonal forum, where one can hide behind a screen and a manufactured identity that suits the mentality of certain people, as it permits them to throw out what in the real world might be seen as sheer and unmitigating unpleasantness.

So how do we respond to the snarky comments, the tantrum-throwing and the frankly agenda-laced aggressive nutters that patrol Twitter and other forums? Are there unwritten rules of behaviour? Because if we are writers with books to sell, we have to put ourselves out there and then we are going to meet individuals whose opinions and stances and behavioural 'norms' differ radically from ours.

I firmly believe there is a difference between disagreeing over a particular issue, and launching a personal attack on another Twitter member and their tweets. I am visited by the odd troll every now and then, so I can completely understand why, in such a circumstance, one would want to create digital distance by Unfollowing or Blocking the attacker. After all, if it was real life, you'd certainly cross the road to avoid their company in future.

Blocking/unfollowing/muting someone with whom you happen to have started a lively dialogue over an issue, however strongly you or they feel about it, is in my opinion the equivalent of stamping your foot, storming out and slamming the door. I did it at 13. Maybe you did it too. I don't do it now because I hope I'm more grown up. Thus I am happy to say: 'OK, let's agree to differ on this one. Thanks for the chat,' and drop out of the discussion, which is what I chose to do in the case of the ''Everything's a Blairite Conspiracy'' discussion I got involved in recently.
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Whenever I am sorely tempted to let rip angrily, I remind myself of what happened when I was at the Edinburgh Festival some time ago. There I witnessed a very nasty row take place in public
between two well-known writers (both household names). I remember thinking at the time: if that's the way you behave, then I don't think I want to read your books. And I never have.

Twitter can seem like one's front room. It isn't, and it's important to realise that anybody can and will read what we tweet, and see how we react to 'trolls'. So what do you think? Do you speak your mind - whatever the outcome? How do you deal with Twitter rage? Pile in ... not too heatedly!

Saturday, 30 April 2016

The PINK SOFA meets writer Amanda Saint



The PINK SOFA loves to celebrate a debut novel, so when Amanda Saint suggested paying the Writing Garret a visit, it was delighted. Even though her new book As If I Were A River does not feature upholstery, it is overjoyed to host her and to introduce her to you. (Hint: more sofas in the next one please Amanda)

''For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. One of my earliest memories of writing creatively outside of school work is when I was still in primary school and one summer I took over the garden shed and turned it into my ‘study’. Once I had it all set up how I wanted it I wrote a play for my friends to perform. But I was too scared to let anyone see it so it never made it out of the shed.

But for a long time, from secondary school onwards, I didn’t write much at all. When I left school I worked in a used car dealer office, on call centres, in a pie shop, for British Rail, as a data entry clerk, and did a long stint as a temp office bod flitting about to various businesses all over Berkshire and answering phones and doing a lot of filing, while I spent my out of work hours partying.

I started writing again in my late 20s after I got married in December 2000 - initially this was for my day job working on magazines writing features and news. Then I spent many years moving about often for my husband’s work. Three years were spent in three different cities in New Zealand where I did a range of temping jobs again that were completely unrelated to writing, from working as a logistics clerk in a wheelchair factory to being a PA, albeit not a very good one!

When we moved back to England I started working with words again as a communications manager – first for Microsoft UK then for a high-profile Labour government quango in Westminster. But the desire to tell my own fiction stories never went away and in the end I had a virtually constant stream of characters writing themselves in my head, so I finally started putting them to paper again.

Amanda's debut novel
The first short stories I wrote really weren’t very good and they always felt like the start of a novel rather than a standalone piece. I realised I needed to do some writing classes and luckily I was living in London at the time so there were plenty to choose from. After trying out a few, I found the Complete Creative Writing Course and that’s where my dabbling with fiction turned into me taking it seriously.

In the first class I went to in 2010, I write the first scene of what turned out to be my first published novel. I’d gone there with an idea of a woman whose husband went missing and it just started from there.  I had no idea of where it was going or what I was doing, but I learned along the way. Since then my short stories and flash fictions have been longlisted, shortlisted and won literary competitions and widely published in magazines and anthologies.

I became self-employed and started working as a freelance features journalist, mainly writing about green issues and sustainability as these are subjects I am passionate about. Then a few years later I started my own creative writing business, Retreat West, running retreats, courses and competitions. I also became homeless in 2014 and have been moving around house sitting for people ever since. My husband’s work again enables us to do this and he manages the land and animals we look after while I write.

All of these experiences, and more, appear in all of the stories I write. Including my debut novel, As If I Were A River, which was launched on 11th April 2016. It starts in England and ends in New Zealand; my main characters live in London and Lancaster – both places I have spent a few years living in. It does tell the story of a woman whose husband goes missing but in the writing it turned into much more than that and it’s about choices, and whether we live the lives we want to or the ones that just happen to us.''

‘Amanda Saint’s debut novel is a juicy Pandora’s Box of mysteries and revelations.’
                Alison Moore, Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author of The Lighthouse

You can get a copy of As If I Were a River on the Urbane Publications website urbanepublications.com and on Amazon.
You can find out more about Amanda on her website http://www.amandasaint.net/ and follow her on Twitter @saintlywriter and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmandaSaint.Author/ …

Friday, 29 April 2016

'Bookshops are not the only fruit'


I was reading this excellent blog post the other day (sorry can't re-find it, have looked) in which the writer said that eventually there would only be a couple of publishers left, as writers were fed up of the measly 10% or less royalty rates being offered, when they could get 70% by self publishing.

I've heard this being said for years, with publishers complacently affirming that they will always take first place in book production. Not any more. There are now so many easily downloadable publishing programmes, and people on Twitter offering to help the self-published that it is VERY EASY to get a good product out there. (Anyone reading this, contact @GeorgiaRoseBook one of the many who can guide you through the process).

The other decline, which is becoming very evident, is that of bookshops. Once the go-to literary purchasing spot on every high street, they are now becoming a rare species. Most people attribute this to the rise of Amazon, and the scrapping of the net book agreement, which allowed shops to undercut each other on prices. I blogged about the subject HERE

The lack of support bookshops give to most Indie writers and the inconsistency of their policies means that writers who want to sell paper books as opposed to ebooks urgently need to seek other retail outlets, just as they sought other publishing outlets originally.

I can't get any of my books into my local Waterstones -  even though Honour & Obey actually features St Albans as a location, because I am published by Createspace, the publishing arm of Amazon. Even though the quality of the books is superb and they have proper ISBNs .

But a lovely up-market gift shop, Serena Hart @SerenaHartGifts stocks signed copies and sells them consistently. I also sell lots of books via library talks, local Literary Festivals, book groups, the WI, and am currently exploring other gift shop venues around my area. Libraries may be prepared to stock your books too, especially if they have a local ambience.

If you are happy to be your own rep, arrange your own discount (and remember, Amazon Createspace gives you a members' discount if you order in bulk; I imagine it's the same for other publishing companies) and offer extras like signing the books, it is possible to supplement your ebook income. I love seeing my books in 'non-bookshops' as they are far more visible than when they were just one volume on a shelf. And I get books in the window too (see pic). Never ever happens with Waterstones.
What's not to like?