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 and on Amazon.
You can find out more about Amanda on her website and follow her on Twitter @saintlywriter and Facebook: …

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?

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!