Tuesday 28 June 2016

Saying nothing (Grandma Moments)

In the interests of making sure that she is developing 'normally', Little G has recently undergone her two year checkup with a health visitor. It went as well as could be expected. Meltdown when she had to lie on the floor to be measured. Meltdown when she was asked to perform various tasks. Meltdown whenever the health visitor came near her.

It reminded me of You must be mad's two year checkup, many years ago, during which she was given six bricks and asked to build them into a tower. Having eyed them with total disgust for a couple of seconds, she then handed each one in turn back to the health visitor and wandered off.

We don't do stupid in my family. Apparently the health visitor asked whether Little G could talk (she had refused to speak other than to protest), but was interrupted by Little G who launched into a complicated explanation as to why she was giving up on the (hard) jigsaw she was doing and why she wanted an easier one.

Evasive action is very much the name of the game right now, though Little G has always been good at avoiding answering stuff. I have been trying to find out what she gets up to at nursery since she started, age one. All I ever get told is: painting. And that she eats toast. That's it.

Recently she has advanced this to a higher level. Selective deafness has been added to the repertoire. And a recent inquiry by You must be mad as to how she spent her day elicited the response: 'I didn't do anything at all' which is now her standard reply to most questions.
Clearly a job in MI6 beckons.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Dancing in the Dark

Every Spring the lake near Little G's house welcomes new arrivals. Birds fly in from Russia, the Sahara and all over Europe to spend the Summer feeding, breeding and being peered at by the local RSPB and other bird watchers.

Sometimes there are squabbles with the local ducks who have remained here over the Winter and set up nesting sites on the island, but on the whole, everyone gets on with scrounging bread from tourists and local kids, intimidating dogs, and messing up the path and lakeside grass with copious amounts of bird poo.

Over the past couple of years however, there has been a change. Pollution and the District Council's refusal to shoulder the costly burden of draining and then cleaning the lake has resulted in the water is becoming more and more polluted.

Yesterday when I walked past it, the stench emanating from the lake was really foul. The water was grey in colour and you couldn't see into the depths. Close to the edge, where children formerly played and dogs swam to retrieve sticks, curd-like scum rocked gently in the breeze.

There were still some brave ducks out in the deep part, but not many and the tourists who normally flock to the park to take pictures or eat their packed lunches by its sparkling side, had stayed away. Was this a rather unfortunate analogy? I thought so.

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 three, 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 fractious 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.