Friday, 25 April 2014

The PINK SOFA meets Simon Grover

The Pink Sofa's guest today is truly 'Renaissance Man'. Simon is an actor,writer, musician and the only Green councillor on St Albans District Council (so far). He is also part of the St Albans Literary Festival (as am I). Simon has been hugely helpful to me in my efforts to stop our urban green space being sold off to a developer by my unscrupulous Town Council, and he has freely helped and advised HIP in our campaign to be elected to the District Council. A man of talent and generosity! I asked Simon to talk about his various roles and occupations......

''I trained as an actor and had a reasonably successful career in theatre for about 15 years. Later I moved in to writing of various sorts, and that's mostly how I earn my bread and butter now. I still do the occasional film or TV job when one comes along, and the one I dine out on most is Harry Potter. I was cast as a Deatheater in Harry Potter part seven. 

Typically for these huge films, I was booked for months, then ended up working for just one day, and am on screen for about five seconds. The money they spend on these films is astonishing - I had two duplicate handmade costumes, all the props I saw were beautifully made, and there were about 200 people on set all day to produce what was a relatively small and simple scene, inside the train. All the Deatheaters had their own personal wands, and mine is now in its specially marked box near the gift shop of the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden Studios in Watford.

I studied politics at university but never thought I would end up being a politician. I joined the Green Party while a student, as I thought their manifesto was amazing - positive and radical, but also realistic. I slowly got involved in local parties when I lived in London, and when I moved back to St Albans I found that there was a substantial level of support for the party even without any local campaigning. Over the last eight years local members have worked to build focussed support in central St Albans, until the point that I got elected in 2011. Now we find ourselves able to achieve all sorts of things in the Council, partly because the ruling Conservatives are a minority. And we're looking to get more councillors in the coming years.

Being the only Green is a challenge, as I don't have the support of more experienced colleagues. And for the party to be represented in committees and in debates, it basically has to be me or no-one. But council staff are very helpful, and I've learnt a lot from members of other parties too. I also have great support from my fellow local party members, and from other Green councillors around the country.

I write for a living - part time for a firm of communication consultants in London, called Quietroom, and occasionally scripts for children's TV. Any parent of small children will probably have seen my work - show like Tweenies, Fimbles, Big Cook Little Cook, Waybuloo and Wibbly Pig. Beyond this, I produce most of the written words that come out of the local Green Party - press releases, newsletters, stories for our website, and the manifesto - things like that. I keep a twitter account going, on politics and local matters, and have a Green-oriented blog too, at, which has a mixture of local stories and commentary. I juggle all of this with being a dad to an 9-year-old, and a husband of course. My wife works full time, though not conventional hours, so between us we get everything done.

I don't have a novel in me, I'm quite sure of that. A sitcom maybe, or a children's play adapted from a book, but not a novel. Last year I was invited me to write a Lego-themed puppet version of Cinderella, that was performed at Legoland Windsor. Which was nice. I'm lucky as a writer in that I always know I'm going to get paid for the writing I do. I admire the motivation of people who can spend all that time and effort producing a novel without knowing a. if anyone's going to read it, or b. if they're going to make any money out of it. I suppose if you get your money somewhere else that's fine, but for me writing has always been a job. A job I really like - don't get me wrong. But still a job.''

You can contact Simon via:

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Are Reviews Important?

If you are following me on Twitter, you will be familiar with this:

Read it? Loved it? REVIEW it!

I tweet it quite regularly to encourage readers to think about putting their thoughts (hopefully positive) onto a review site. There has been quite a furore recently about writers commissioning ''sock puppet'' reviews to boost their popularity, and conversely, people taking 'revenge' on a writer by posting one star reviews.

So what are reviews for? I think they fulfill various functions. Firstly, they help other readers decide whether a book is for them. A slew of interesting and varied reviews (by this I mean at least 3 cogent paragraphs of analysis, not just: 'Ooh, I sooo love this book'/'I didn't get further than page 5') help one to decide whether to download/buy. Or conversely, whether not to waste your time. We are all time-poor. Reviews are therefore an aid to connecting the reader to the right book.

As a writer, I find reviews of my own books useful as a gauge to measure whether or not I am hitting the reader satisfaction button. Are they enjoying the story? Do they get it? Can they follow the plot? If not, how can I improve the reading experience for them in the next book.Reviews are also a personal encouragement - the writers' lot is an isolated lot most of the time. It is good to receive a little praise for one's efforts, especially when the serendipitous happens: a reader finds a whole new layer of meaning that had never occurred to me. Reviews can be a writer's best learning tool, if you let them.

Reviews are also very important in boosting sales.That is why I welcome the way sites like Amazon and Goodreads allow ''ordinary'' people to post reviews, and I get annoyed when some writers are sniffy about ''non-professional'' people expressing their thoughts and ideas,because believe me, the chances of most of us small/self published authors getting our work reviewed in mainstream papers or magazines, which is what we'd all like, are pretty remote.

It seems there is a Catch 22 situation here: you cannot get taken seriously by a ''big'' journal or paper unless you have unbelievably good sales...yes, you are ahead of me. I recently contacted a book reviewer on The Observer with what I thought was a great angle for a story: Book deemed unpublishable by top London Agency ends up on 3 prestigious award lists. Her response: how many copies had I sold and did I get a socking great advance from my publisher?

The other problem is that only a minority of journals will accept a digital review copy. It's a shame, because it offers the most efficient way of accessing the book, not to mention the least problematic way of disposing of it once reviewed. We live in a digital world, but publications prefer print, it appears.

Let's end by going from the ridiculous to the ridiculously sublime: For me, a special and unexpected reviewing source has also come from all those followers on Twitter who tweet a few lines saying how much they have enjoyed one of my books. Or, as someone did recently, treat me (and all my and their followers) to an excellently succinct chunk by chunk commentary on Diamonds & Dust as they read it on a long train journey. Interactive reviewing 2014 style. I never experienced this when I wrote teenage fiction and it has been a revelation.

Reviews. They come in all shapes and sizes. Welcome or unwelcome. What's your experience?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Independents' Day: May 22nd

Six weeks to go. 10 signatures on each of our 2 application forms and now Harpenden Independent Partnership are Standing For The District Council. It needed caps. The alarming discovery we've made as we've been going round collecting said signatures, is the number of people who'd like to sign our forms but are scared to do so in case they get into trouble with certain members of the local Tory Party.

Seriously. First time we laughed it off. After that, we really started sucking in our breath. Das blauen Reitstiefel is alive and well. Apparently. It appalls me that in this age of so-called democracy and freedom of choice, there are people running ''scared'' of some small group of petty-minded bullies with their own agenda who want to keep Harpenden 100% Tory so they can get their own way.

Previously, this has not been a problem for them: the other 2 main political groups regard Tory domination of my town as a fait accompli and don't bother to contest it with any vigour. Harpenden is wittily referred to as ''our friends in the North''. I have tried over the years I've campaigned to get the LibDems and Labour interested. They aren't. Cannot believe their mutual short-sightedness. Nor their claim of 'no money to campaign in Harpenden'. We are self-funding and are managing. There are 8 seats on the District Council occupied by Harpenden councillors and the other parties shrug and look away? Thus the genesis of an Independent group.

Our lovely candidates are standing in two wards: East and North. North is my ward and the local incumbent, Affable Tory Bloke, is standing again. He is as his name suggests. Pleasant enough, but does little. And blends into the background so well that another councillor we know has admitted that he's sat on the same committee as ATB for ages and he still isn't sure who he is.

We now have badges and lanyards (see pic), very useful on the doorstep as Jehovah's Witnesses don't tend to wear them. Also useful when shopping in Sainsbury's for starting conversations and making ourselves known. And we are certainly getting known. I was walking to the station the other morning to catch the London train when a car drew alongside, a woman leaned out and shouted: 'I'm voting for you!' Most gratifying.

Another high point was reached when the local secretary of a mainstream political party, not standing this time round, asked for official permission to vote for us. And got it. Even more fun was had when I and my colleagues turned up to the Annual General Toryfest of our local town council fully badged and lanyarded. The list of councillors who completely blanked me was ... interesting.

So what are our chances? In one ward, East, they are pretty high. In my ward, so-so. It depends upon the weather, and if those who said they'd vote for us turn out on the day. However IF the status quo is maintained by all the other political groups, and we get just one Independent elected, we could end up holding the balance on the District Council. Which might just make those councillors who blanked me, and have spent the past six years opposing us and defying the wishes of the local community take a step back, although I'm not holding my breath.
See you at the count.

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Pink Sofa meets Bodicia

The PINK SOFA is delighted to welcome Bodicia. She describes herself as a mother, and grandmother whose interests include geoscience, planetary science, ancient history and civilizations and chocolate. A woman very definitely after the PINK SOFA'S heart in every respect. Bodicia also reviews books on her site A Woman's Wisdom:  and is an all round supporter of writers. The Pink Sofa has lost count of the number of times she has kindly retweeted links to its new book: All You Need To Know About Upholstery.

In honour of Bodicia's visit to Hedges Towers, there is fresh coffee and a humongous box of Belgian handmade chocs on the coffee table. So lovely lady ...over to you:

BFinding The Perfect Moment by Bodicia

I was a lucky child; I had the most wonderful grandmother. She would read Enid Blytons books to me as I sat on her lap, snuggled and surrounded by her love and transported to faraway lands of adventure and mystery as the Famous Five went on adventures I could only dream of. And dream of them I did.

I found adventures of my own in my grandparents garden. I hunted for broken pieces of decorative pottery left over from another era in the sandy soil. I followed butterflies as they danced over purple buddleias and I tried to capture their essence on to mere paper with my ever present colouring pencils. I wrote of elves in the garden and fairies on toadstools. I lay on my back in the grass and watched the birds flying overhead and I wondered what it would be like to glide so freely, held by the invisible power of the wind.

One day I went outside to collect the hens eggs and as I rounded the bushes I saw something which, to my childish eye, resembled a pirates chest. It was made of slated wood and metal and was big enough for me to fit inside. It was surrounded by bushes and roots and looked as if it had burst from the very soil itself but I reached out to touch it and with mounting excitement I slipped the catch and opened the lid wide, letting loose a musky wooden smell.  As I peeked inside it appeared to be devastatingly empty but a closer inspection revealed a tiny piece of exquisitely embroidered cloth, about three inches square, in the bottom corner.

 I lent right inside and took it back out into the sunlight, running my finger over the faded silks and imagined it a map of places untold of for centuries. I took it to my grandmother who told me her mother had embroidered it and that the chest had belonged to her great uncle who had gone to sea. She gave me the cloth and the chest was taken to my bedroom at home where in times of trouble I would lift the lid, breathe in the perceived memories it held and feel my grandmothers comforting presence. And I would paint those emotions with words in my stories and colour them in until I was gliding free again.

What I enjoy about the written word is the emotions and memories it invokes. I like to touch a story with all my senses, to taste the emotions and feel them in my core. Life goes by at such a fast pace we sometimes forget to make the time to just be and exist in that perfect moment where imagination has no limits and the only thing which exists is the slow beating of a butterflys wings.

Thank you, Bodicia for sharing your story.  And while the PINK SOFA absorbs these words of truth and prepares to copy them into its next book, a quick reminder of Bodicia's review site: where you can read lovely reviews like this
Meanwhile, Bodicia will be here for a while to chat and hand out chocolates - if she hasn't scoffed them all.....