Saturday 27 August 2016

So You've Published A Book? Now what?

In a couple of weeks, the sixth Victorian Detectives novel will hit cyberspace. It's called Fear & Phantoms (I'm into linked titles). It features DI Leo Stride, DS Jack Cully and a host of unsavoury lowlife characters, some inspirational young women and two delightful street children.  If you click on any of the five  covers in the side-bar, you can read a free sample of my work and get an idea of what I write about.

 It would be easy now to sit back and preen. Many writers do. The book is soon out. Let the sales start.

Oh no they won't!

Writing a book and getting it published, by whatever conduit you use, is only the start. To get any sales, you have to make people aware of your masterpiece. In this blog, I'm exploring some of the ways I use to promote my work, because unless you are out there, loud and proud, nobody will notice you.

1. Social Media: There are loads of blogs about how to use Twitter to enhance your digital presence . Suffice to say that most of my sales come from Twitter. And practically all come from people recommending the books to other readers, and that comes from me chatting, interacting and posting funny stuff and reciprocating favours. In other words, I'm a friend first, an online character second, and a writer selling books third.

2. Press Releases: The local press are (usually) delighted to receive a press release, a publicity pic and a free copy to review.

2a. Press Releases: Anywhere your book is set will be delighted also.

3. Local Radio: Contact them via Twitter, phone them up, arrange to do a studio interview. Listen, I sound like a 15 year old mainlining helium, but I still do it.

4.National Press: Will be interested if you have a brilliant backstory, particularly if it involves abuse, or hardship. Also if you earned shedloads of advance shekels or you are very very photogenic. I haven't cracked this one yet. Maybe you will.

5. Literary Festivals: Everybody's doing it. Local library will have contacts of yours. Get in touch. I've done the St Albans Literary Festival twice. I ran a workshop on how to get published ... ooh, and I had some books on a side-table. Next year I hope to extend my range a bit and do some further afield.

6. Signings: Local bookshop is worth approaching. Also local gift shops and Oxfam.

7.Talks: WI ~ you have to audition and be approved, but it's worth it. Local book clubs/writers' groups, libraries are also worth contacting. If you write YA or children's fiction, schools are always keen to have a visiting writer. Make sure you get paid ~ the Society of Authors has recommended fees.

As you now see, there is a lot more to being a writer than merely writing. Writing is the ''easy'' bit! And lest you should eye your mainstream published brethren and mutter 'bet they don't have to do all this' ~ YES THEY DO! Big publishers are very selective about who they spend their publicity budgets promoting. If it ain't you, you will still have to do the legwork. I've spoken to some ''famous'' names, and it is so.

Finally: make sure you are registered for PLR - Public Lending Rights: that's the money paid by libraries every time your book is borrowed. You can register at Every little helps.

If I've missed out your favourite publicity medium, then please mention it in the comments. Congratulations on being a published author, welcome to the club.  Now get out there and sell!

Saturday 20 August 2016

Cover me!

They always say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

I have received both praise and 'stick' for my covers. Interestingly, the praise has always come from readers, who appreciate the nuanced designs, with their nod to original Victorian covers. This is deliberate ~ if you read the novels, they are not just fast-paced detective stories, but a 'homage' to the style of novels of that period, which I frequently reference as I go.

The 'stick' has come from various publishers who've approached me to ask if I'd consider letting them take the series over ON CONDITION that they changed the covers.
Original early Victorian book covers

The fact that you are looking at the new cover for Fear & Phantoms (recently published via Amazon in both book and ebook formats) gives you an indication of my response. Thanks but no thanks. My covers are designed by designer and friend Gina Dickinson, thus adding an extra personal dimension to them. They also have background pictures supplied by photographer friends I follow on Twitter. They are now published under the Little G imprint (my own). They are special and it is a joy to share them with you.
It always amuses me, when scrolling through Twitter, to pick out the 'I bought an off-the peg cover' people. It's so easy to do. Frequently you see the same muscled bloke or shapely young lady with accompanying pout in different settings, and wearing different clothes depending upon the genre. There seems to be a smallish pool of cover models out there. And although many of the cover suppliers SAY they do not re-use a design once you have bought and paid for it ~ they do. Believe me. Seen it with my own eyes, Guv.

So I shall continue to have my own bespoke covers, using Rosewolf Designs and referencing Victorian ideas and scenes until I run out of ideas. And if you are interested, here's the blurb for the new book:

When a young man's body is discovered buried deep beneath the winter snow, Detectives Stride and Cully little realise where the discovery will take them. Is his murder a random, one-off event, or could the death be linked to the mysteriously elusive individual who has already brought down one of the City's long-standing private banks?

Mishap, misunderstanding and mystery dog their footsteps as the Scotland Yard detectives find themselves in very murky territory indeed, at times struggling to keep their heads above water in the umbrous underworld of murder and financial fraud. Can they unmask the dark brutal mastermind lurking at the centre of it all, before he strikes again?

A taut, gripping historical crime novel that lays bare the dubious practices of the Victorian banking businesses and entices the reader into the shady world of high-class gambling houses, where fortunes can be made or lost on the luck of the cards.
In the great tradition of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this sharp witty series of detective novels brings back to life the murky gas-lit world of Victorian London

Grab DIAMONDS & DUST, the first in this electrifying series.

Praise for HONOUR & OBEY: 
“Carol Hedges has again delivered a book which is written to be devoured in one sitting.” ~ A Woman’s Wisdom

Praise for DEATH & DOMINION:
''I love Carol Hedges' portrayal of atmosphere .... and her gift for conveying exactly what a character is like.''   ~  Rosie's Book Review Team

So that's my cover philosophy. That's how I roll. How about you ~ what makes a 'good' book cover? And can you really judge a book by it?

Saturday 13 August 2016

Bluestockings:The Campaign for Female Education

In 1971 I graduated from Westfield College, University of London with a BA (Hons) in English & Archaeology. I took it for granted that I had a right to go to university and that following my degree, I would enter the marketplace as a professional woman, equal to any man doing the same job of work.

I started researching the roles and expectations of young Victorian women for my novel Murder & Mayhem (publ this September). The story features bright 17 year old ‘Feminist’ Letitia Simpkins who desperately wants to learn more, but is denied access to further education by her authoritarian father. It made me realise how lucky I was to have been born in the mid-20th century rather than the mid-19th century.

For bright young Victorian women, the doors to further education closed at 16. Intellectual curiosity and thinking skills were considered a waste of time, given that the purpose of a woman’s life was to marry and be the mother of (many) children.

As one contemporary wrote: “Girls are to dwell in quiet homes, among a few friends; to exercise a noiseless influence, to be submissive and retiring.” (Sewell, Principles of Education).

Interestingly as far back as 1694, Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies suggested a type of university education. But of course, the very fact that the proposer was female meant that the idea was not taken up or considered seriously.

Women were just thought of as physically incapable of scholarship. For a start their brains were nearly 150 grammes lighter than men’s brains. So that must indicate that their intellect was weaker. And then there was the vexed question of menstruation, which sapped the body of lifeblood.

Put those two together, and it was quite apparent that women who used their brain too much ran the risk of becoming sterile, as their wombs atrophied, thus negating their purpose in life, or even worse, producing “a puny, enfeebled and sickly race” of children.

You may laugh, or gasp in amazement, but this was a widely held medical opinion at the time. Girls were strongly advised to focus on making their homes a sphere of accomplishment, rather than striving for a higher education. And to wait patiently for some young man (who may well have had the benefit of a university education) to come calling.

That the ‘petticoat problem’ began to resolve itself was entirely due to the actions of a few determined young women who decided that rather than break down the doors, they’d pick the lock and fight for equal education for women.

In 1850 North London Collegiate School opened, followed a few years later by Cheltenham Ladies College. The key word is ‘college’ – these weren’t places to learn embroidery, a smattering of French, some maths and what to do in a thunderstorm. They were seats of learning, encouraging girls to see themselves as capable of entering university and from there, the workplace.

In 1879 London University became the first to admit women undergraduates on the same terms as men. One of the pioneering women who enabled this to happen was Constance Maynard, who in 1863 campaigned for girls to be allowed to sit the Cambridge Locals (the equivalent of GCSEs) and then the Higher Locals (A levels).

When I was at Westfield, originally founded as a women’s college, my hall of residence was called Maynard House, a fitting tribute to a Bluestocking pioneer. Without women like her, prepared to step out of the shadows and campaign for their beliefs, I would not have had the benefit of a university education, and the opportunity to have a productive and fulfilling career.

Murder & Mayhem: an extract

In which our heroine Letitia Simpkins discovers an unpleasant truth:

''The pleasant and instructive visits to the Regent Street Ladies’ Literary & Philosophical Society seem a distant memory. The outside world seems a distant memory. There is nothing in Letitia’s life now that she recognises. The joy of it has run out as quickly as it gathered.
Letitia pauses outside the parlour door which unusually, has been left ajar. She leans against the door jamb, bone weary and despondent. She sees her papa and Mrs Briscoe sitting side by side on the sofa. Mrs Briscoe is speaking. It takes Letitia a few seconds to realise whom she is talking about.
“Really, it is a most unfortunate situation. The girl has barely learned sufficient to equip her for a useful life. I do so sympathise with you, my dear friend. That mauvais quart d’heure in between school and marriage is always difficult.”
Her father snorts.
“It was Susan’s whim to send her to the boarding school in the first place. She thought mixing with a better class of girl would help her find a husband. As if any self-respecting man will marry her. She hardly has the looks to attract a suitor. And I cannot offer a dowry - there is the boys’ schooling to pay for, and then their university fees. They must have the best start in life.”
“I do so understand. And of course, you are quite right. But as I wrote in my little pamphlet: How to be Happy Though Unmarried, there are many things a girl can do. The poor are always with us, so there is plenty of charity work.
“And there is no household task that any girl should deem beneath her position to perform, as I have frequently reminded Letitia. All these useful occupations will enable her to pass her days in dignified tranquillity”
Letitia’s eyes brim with tears. She does not know what hurts more, to hear her own father admit her lack of beauty, or to understand that he does not care what happens to her in the future. However Mrs Briscoe’s next remark causes her to breathe in sharply.
“Has she had any more letters from those vile Women’s Rights creatures?”
“Not for a while.”
“I am so glad you managed to intercept them, my dear. A parent must be vigilant at all times. One tiny slip, and a girl’s reputation is gone, never to return.”
“I have locked them away safely, never fear. And I have instructed Mary to make sure the post in and out of the house is always placed directly upon my desk.”
Mrs Briscoe leans forward, placing her hand on his.
“It is no more than your duty as a loving caring father. And now that you are a widower - though hopefully not for too long, you must be even more vigilant on your daughter’s behalf.
“A young girl’s true sphere is in the home, and there she shines brightly. Skill with her needle is the only accomplishment she needs.” ''
                                                                                                              (Murder & Mayhem tbp.)

Saturday 6 August 2016

The Victorian Workhouse: Relic of the Past?

Luke Fildes Admission to a Casual Ward (1874)

Even though Fildes' famous painting was posed (the gent in the top hat was a known street 'character' and was allegedly paid to lean against the wall, looking decrepit), it is still a pretty accurate depiction of life for those at the bottom of the Victorian food chain. When you had no job, no money for food or rent, and nothing viable left to sell or pawn, you had 2 choices: the 'Asylum for the Houseless Poor' or the street.

Henry Mayhew, writing twenty years earlier, paints an equally vivid picture. He describes:

''..the homeless crowds gathered about the Asylum, waiting for the first  opening of the doors., with their bare feet, blue and ulcerous with the cold, resting for hours on the ice and snow in the streets. To hear the cries of the hungry, shivering children a thing to haunt one for life. There are 400 and odd creatures utterly destitute - mothers with infants at their breasts - fathers with boys holding by their side - the friendless - the penniless - the shirtless, shoeless, breadless, homeless; in a word, the very poorest of this the very richest city in the world.'' 
(Mayhew, London Labour & The London Poor volume 111)

Although the Workhouse has had a very bad press - think of Oliver Twist, many poor people had no option but to enter it, even if only temporarily. For a large percentage of the working poor, jobs were seasonal or sporadic. Men were hired by the day (docks), by the season (agriculture) or for a limited time (May-June was the London Season). With no trade unions, no labour laws and no minimum wage, they were unable to budget. No work = no pay. Any work-related accidents at a time when medical care had to be paid for, could spell disaster.

Whitechapel workhouse

Once they entered the Workhouse, personal possessions were taken away, and families split up. Inmates quickly became institutionalised and neglected. The routines of hard physical labour, the poor quality food, the feeling of belonging nowhere and having no future must have been devastating upon their sense of self.

In Honour & Obey, the Clapham family are driven out of their slum tenement by their ruthless landlord, Morbid Crevice. Here, they encounter their first taste of Workhouse life:

The family are led through a series of dark passages, then across a dismal yard to a bare unlit room. Cold from stone flags seeps into their thin shoes.
      ''Women and children in there,'' the porter says, pointing at a closed door.
      The woman clings desperately to her husband's arm
      ''Come along old gel,'' the man says. ''It won't be for long. I'll go out and find work tomorrow and we'll soon be on our feet again.'' But the hunch of his shoulders and the hopelessness in his voice belie his cheerful words.
      The girl tugs at her skirt.
      ''C'mon Ma,'' she says. '''Best not to linger, eh?''
      The man gives the girl a grateful look. She stares back, her eyes hard like stones. She isn't fooled. She knows that it is the end of the road for her family. That her little brothers and sisters will be sent elsewhere, that her father will sink even further into drink and her mother into despair. That is what always happens.
      What she doesn't know is how she is going to get revenge on those who did this to them. Not yet. But she will.
(Honour & Obey by me)

Couple the sense of utter despair with the knowledge that society regarded the poor as 'undeserving' - it was widely thought character defects, drink or sheer idleness meant that people were reduced to beggary, homelessness or reliance upon the meagre provisions of the Workhouses. Reading derogatory articles in the press about the 'underclass' that inhabited the less savoury parts of the city, one can see how many on both sides of the poverty line regarded the workhouse as one step away from actually being in prison.
Workhouse dining room
The Workhouse was a relic from the past. One that we look back upon with some horror. But have attitudes to the poor changed? I think not. Consider the 'zero hours' contract. The exploitation of workers by firms such as Sports Direct. The ruthless cutting of housing and family welfare benefits. The gradual privatization of dentists and many NHS services, denying the poor access to basic health care. The recent scrapping of university maintenance grants now closes the doors on tertiary education for all but the well off.

Consider too the demonization of the poor via TV programmes like 'Benefits Street', the rush to condemn 'improvident' parents who have too many children/feed their families on junk food. The eagerness with which private landlords and councils now employ bailiffs to turn whole families out of their homes because they cannot afford to pay the extortionate rent.

This Autumn, one in five 'low-waged working parents' will go without food to feed their kids. Many people will visit Food Banks, or be reliant upon the charity of friends and relatives. We may have moved away from incarcerating the poor and elderly in barrack-like Workhouses, but little in our public attitudes towards them seems to have changed much.

As one inmate of Poplar Workhouse plaintively said: ''Poverty's no crime, but here it is treated like a crime.'' (quoted by Will Crooks, Poplar Workhouse guardian 1893)

In our time too.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

#AugustReviews: Ready, Steady, Review!

If you  follow me on Twitter, you will be familiar with tweets like this:


❤ Read it?
❤ Loved it?  
❤ REVIEW it!  

#Writers make the world go round

I tweet it quite regularly to encourage readers to think about putting their thoughts (hopefully positive) onto a review site. One of my writer acquaintances @TerryTyler4 has now started #AugustReviews with the idea of encouraging readers to write reviews of books they have enjoyed on Amazon, and then tweet the link so that we can all share it.  

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 writer's 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.

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 2016 style. I never experienced this when I wrote teenage fiction and it has been a revelation.

So over the next four weeks .. and beyond, may I encourage you to read and review  -  it needs only be a paragraph or two. Long essays not required. But it will make a HUGE difference to the writer.

Thank you.