Friday 29 August 2014

8 Top Blogging Tips

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

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

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

Saturday 23 August 2014

Present Tense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 16 August 2014

Editing with Sue Barnard


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read her blog here.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Women in Cages

Steel Cage Crinoline 1860s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 1 August 2014

THIRD Twitter for Fledglings: Content

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

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

TWO ingredients to a successful Twitter page:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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