Saturday 25 October 2014

The PINK SOFA meets Lorraine Mace

Lorraine Mace, who also writes as Frances di Plino, is another of the Crooked Cat writers. She is able to turn her hand to several genres: crime fiction, children's fiction and very witty articles for Writer's News. Like me, she does the occasional school visit to enthuse children about reading and especially about reading her books. I asked her to talk about one of these visits.

''As authors, one of the banes of our profession is that we very rarely get feedback from our readers. Sure, we get reviews on such sites as Amazon and Goodreads, but if one compares the number of sales to the number of reviews, it is clear that we have no idea what the vast majority of our readers think of our books.

Writing as Frances di Plino, I am the author of the D. I. Paolo Storey crime thrillers. On the first three in the series I have, in total across and, just 81 reviews – and some of those are duplicated, appearing on both sites! As I know I sell far in excess of 81 copies each and every month, it means the ratio of reviewer to reader is somewhat skewed.

Under my real name, I write children’s novels. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit two schools to read to prospective readers – and this is where the point of the above information comes in. Suddenly, I moved from faceless author with invisible and mainly silent readers to a (slightly shaking) real person in front of a hall full of extremely visible (and potentially vocal) students.

If you intend to read to a large group of children, let me warn you here and now: it is not for the fainthearted!

At the beginning, they will gaze at you with such intensity you will be convinced your skirt is tucked into your underwear. Such is the power of their collective stare, even if you are male and know full well you are wearing trousers, you might still glance down to see if a bit of Victoria’s Secret (or Primark’s finest) is on show.

By the time you have stammered out who you are (if you can still remember) and told them the title of your book (ditto), you will be wondering how it is possible that only two minutes have passed out of the forty-five you have been allocated.
As soon as you begin reading, those intent little faces will switch off and you’ll wonder if you’re actually reading to yourself. I can honestly say I have never felt so alone as I did while reading Vlad the Inhaler at the first school. Every few lines, I took the opportunity to look up and engage with my listeners. At least, I would have done, if they had even glanced in my direction.

They looked out of the windows, stared at the ceiling, studied their feet, picked their noses, and generally gave the impression that they would rather be anywhere than in that hall, at that time, listening to my book!

By the end of the passage I’d selected, I felt completely demoralised and was on the point of vowing to give up writing completely. The hall was silent, the intent stares back, and it was with no real expectation of success that I asked: any questions?

The moment when a child put up her hand has stayed with me ever since. Her question? “Please, miss, where can I buy your book?”

That opened the floodgates. Hands shot in the air, attached to squirming bodies intent on gaining my attention. The questions were brilliant – showing they’d listened to every word. Nearly all the children dragged their parents in at the end of the day to buy a signed copy.

The reading at the next school followed that exact same pattern – but this time I didn’t allow myself to be fazed by the stares, or the apparent boredom while I was reading. The time at the end flew past with, once again, intelligent and thought-provoking questions being fired at me from all parts of the room.

I have several other schools to visit this term and I’m still a bit nervous at how my listeners will react. After all, children are the greatest levellers – if they don’t like something, it shows.

But when they engage with a book you’ve written, there isn’t anything else in the world that will provide an ego boost to match it.

A page of great reviews on Amazon? Pah! Give me a room full of excited children asking what’s going to happen in book two, or telling me which character from Vlad the Inhaler they would most like to be, or meeting up with them in the bookshop later and finding out Vlad the Inhaler is now their favourite book in the whole world. No five-star review even comes close.''

Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.

Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending
The fourth in the series, Looking for a Reason, is due for release by Crooked Cat Publishing on 28th October.

Saturday 18 October 2014

Infrastructure Issues

As many of you know, I am a local community activist, or thorough nuisance, depending upon which side of Harpenden Town Council table you sit. Apparently I am known in some quarters as: ''The Coldharbour Lane Witch'' - a label I wear with pride. For the past six years, I have fought the 100% Tory Town Council to preserve a small council ex-allotment site, home to several species of listed Wildlife, from being sold off so a local developer can build ''affordable housing'' - a euphemism for ''housing that only rich people moving from London can afford or investment opportunities for ourselves or our friends.''

When we moved to Harpenden 23 years ago, there were people who still referred to it as ''the village''. They'd be hard put to do so now. Development has taken place at a ferocious rate, with all the concomitant evils of a high street that becomes Carmageddon during the rush hour, the school run and any problems with the M1. Now the Green Belt is being threatened, and the usual Nimbys who have staved off development in their area for EVER are re-bleating their mantra that ''the council has plenty of land within the town for development'' - ie: push more houses into poorer areas (like mine) so WE - your core voters can continue to enjoy our pleasant views.

Stupid cycle crossing
The picture above gives you an idea of what life is like here when it rains. Thanks to tarmacking a natural path to turn it into a cycle way and the utterly stupid cycle crossing (see right) which funnels all the water down from the main road into the road at the back of my house we now have regular flooding. This is exacerbated by the ''2 for 1'' building nearby and, should the plan to build on my site, just beyond the trees in the 2 flooding pictures, go ahead it can only get worse.

Recent flood with 2CV
And then there are the regular sewage overflows - which Thames Water knows all about but says they are not going to fix as it would mean relaying the whole main sewer which would cost too much. The Tory leader of the Cabinet stated at a recent Planning Meeting that the current building plan for 500 more houses couldn't take into account any infrastructure backlogs - translation for the uninitiated: we don't give a toss about 'small' local issues like drains, potholes, crumbling sewers, overcrowding, flooding, roads, parking, school places etc because they are the concern of the County Council.

State of the art patchwork road
No joined up thinking is being done. The County Council are currently running an infrastructure deficit of millions, so are probably not  - wild guess here - going to spend it fixing our 'small' local issues either. Even if they aren't small to the people who live here and get flooded or who can't park outside their own houses or are worried about future sewage backup if even more pressure is exacted upon the system, or who feed the badgers and care about the Roman Snails.

Hopefully, we can show them exactly how we feel about things next May, when most of the Town Council is up for re-election. A perfect storm is brewing, both in the real and the murky world of local politics. Mops and buckets at the ready.

Friday 10 October 2014

The PINK SOFA meets Andrew French, author

Andrew French is one of the many writers I met on Twitter. He has a wicked and wonderful sense of 
humour and is totally worth following at @AFrenchAuthor. He's also very supportive of other writers, and retweets their stuff regularly. BH took Andrew's first book, Assassin's Run to Italy with him, and enjoyed it immensely. He is now reading the third one. I have just started the first one. The Pink Sofa is reading the second. Says it all.  In honour of Andrew's visit, there is freshly brewed coffee and chocolate cupcakes on the coffee table.
I asked Andrew how he got into writing...

'' I have always dabbled a bit with writing. I wrote comedy scripts when I was at school, some of which I submitted to the BBC. I always fancied the thought of writing a book but always managed to find a good reason not to. For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed reading spy stories, Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, Alistair Maclean and Frederick Forsythe being my particular favourites.

When my youngest son, Matthew was born with some medical problems, I took the decision to give up work to care for him full-time. Once he became fully well and went to school I tried unsuccessfully to resume my career. A man taking a four year sabbatical makes him less attractive to employers apparently. So, no longer being able to find a good reason why I shouldn’t, I decided to write a book

I spent most of my working life in the funeral service. I began making the tea and sweeping up for a few hours a week in the local family-run Funeral Directors. I found the work fascinating. So much so, I became a full-time funeral assistant after a few months. My progression from then on was somewhat meteoric. I qualified as a Funeral Director, then as a bereavement counsellor specialising in children’s grief. The family-run business was acquired by a large independent funeral company and I became the branch manager. Two years later I became the company’s head of operations and two years after that I was the Managing Director responsible for thirty-three funeral businesses across England and Wales.

Michael Prentiss is the hero of my spy novels. I introduced him in the first book, Assassin’s Run set in 1980. Prentiss is a sixteen year old young man attending the army’s selection centre to join the Royal Military Police. He is, however, recruited by a secret army intelligence unit known as The Detachment, or simply, ‘The Det’, for an unofficial operation in Londonderry. The Det’s role is to combat the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland at the height of ‘The Troubles’.  

The Michael Prentiss series
Michael Prentiss is a man born out of time. He believes passionately in chivalry, not as we know the word today, but in its truest sense of courage, bravery, honour and defending the innocent whatever the cost. Prentiss is one of three main characters in my books. Michael Prentiss, Colonel Charles Mabbitt, the CO of The Det, and Richard Jordan, one of its best operators. These are my three musketeers. Although all my books have rather intricate plots with many twists and turns, they are first and foremost character driven. I take the reader on a journey, following the lives of these three men and how their experiences change them, not always for the better. 

Prentiss in particular has developed into a complex and multi-faceted character. What I love most is the bond the three men develop over the six years over which the four books are set.
I spend a great deal of time research. As the books are set in the 1980’s I have to ensure that everything is ‘right’. From the cars they drive, the food they eat and the locations I put them in, I make sure that it is as factual as it possibly can be. This gives the stories a feel of authenticity and almost one of nostalgia to those reading it that can remember that period.

I felt it was important to publish both in e-book and conventional book form. As popular as the e-book has become there will always be those who prefer to read an actual book. To hold a book and turn it’s pages one by one, admiring it on a bookshelf is a pleasure in itself. No matter how advanced technologically we become I feel there will always be a place for a traditional book.

I am now a permanent stay-at-home-dad. I try and write every day when I’m not doing the washing and ironing and cleaning, you know, all the exciting things of life. If the inspiration light bulb goes on I can write for six hours straight, typing like Jessica Fletcher in the opening credits of Murder She Wrote. Other times I struggle to write a paragraph. I spend a lot of time working out the plot. The trouble with writing about terrorists is that you have to come up with a plot that’s not only feasible but believable. This means the further I get into the book the more absorbed I get with it until it pretty much takes over my every waking moment.

When I’m not writing I love watching TV. Most of my free time however is spent with my wife Alison and my youngest son, Matthew. They keep me sane. Alison is my greatest critic and best friend and Matthew just makes me laugh all the time. I’m a lucky man.''

You can download a FREE sample of Assassin's Run HERE

Thanks Andrew. Finally, someone who publishes in both formats! So, while Andrew tucks into coffee and cake, why not join him on the sofa ... there's plenty of room and ask him a question.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Those ''Little Moments''

Who was it said they wished there was a stair lift that reached the top landing before you'd forgotten why you wanted to go up there in the first place? No, I don't know either, but the first three words of that sentence are currently proving to be rather a leitmotiv for my life. Do not get me wrong: I love entering vintagedom. The hair has never been redder, the attitude sassier or feistier and as for caring what the world and its partner thinks of me, I'm so waay ahead of Rhett Butler.

And yet, over and above all the feist and sass and damn, there are moments when stuff .... well ... somehow eludes me. A realization that was brought home vividly the other week as I stood outside a John Lewis store cursing because it was shut, and suddenly perceived the reason I couldn't get in was because I was pushing a door marked pull. Similarly, when I arrived back home minus the things I'd bought as I'd managed to mislay them somewhere between the counter where I paid for them and the homeward journey. And again the time I had a full-on public row with the Automated EE woman because I dropped my credit card while topping up the mobile on a moving bus and she didn't do ''hang on, just got to pick up the credit card''.

No, I am not going gaga, to use the medical terminology. Just getting a little .... what's the word I'm groping for? Yes, that. Like the other day I was waiting at the bus stop to catch the Luton bus, when I was actually supposed to be catching the St Albans bus which comes on the opposite side of the road and goes in the opposite direction. Fortunately remembered just as it turned the corner. Poor bus driver nearly had a heart attack as I dived in front of his wheels, arm outstretched.

Then there is the mobile phone. I put it down. Somewhere. Most of the calls to my mobile are me ringing it from the landline to find out where it is, having looked up the number beforehand because I can never ... umm ... thingy Thank goodness it's only a cheapo Nokia, suitable for the technically challenged and easily replaceable if I ever flush it down the loo. Which is always a possibility. Gawd knows what might happen if I had one of those £700 bendy i-Phone 6 things.

My best friend Elissa and I have these ... whatsits ... every time we go out together. Sometimes we find ourselves driving along somewhere without the slightest clue where we're supposed to be heading, though we knew when we started out. Or we can't find her silver Toyota in a multi-storey though in our defence there are always so many silver Toyotas in multi-storeys, silver being the go-to colour for most modern cars that it isn't really our fault. We have been reduced to pacing the aisles clicking her key fob in the hope that the car will respond eventually.

It's infuriating, but there appears to be nothing I can do to prevent it happening. And it does seem to be happening with alarming frequency. Whatever it is. So there you are ... who are you again? Anyway, you'll have to excuse me now: I have an elsewhere to be. Or I will have, once I can remember where the hell it is.

SEE ALSO: Aldi Antics
                     Transports of Delight

If you would like to read my short story 'The Fair Infanta' on Wattpad, you can do so HERE