Sunday, 4 October 2015

Organising A Book Blog Tour - Alice Jolly

Until three weeks ago I had never heard of a book blog tour. I had also never looked at many book blogs. When I was raising the funding for my memoir 'Dead Babies And Seaside Towns' I had some great support from book blogger Isabel Costello at The Literary Sofa. I was also asked to write for various book blogs. But still the whole world of book blogs remained a bit of a mystery to me.

Then I realised that authors now often have a book blog tour and so I thought - why shouldn't I do that as well? It turns out that basically a book blog tour is a schedule of 'visits' which a book / author makes to a number of blogs. It is rather like the traditional book tour but instead of going to physical bookshops you are 'visiting' blogs. These visits might involve a review, an author interview, books being given away or an author Q & A / interview.

I asked a number of writer friends for advice. I soon realised that the problem for me is that not many book bloggers are interested in literary books. Hundreds focus on romantic novels or crime but most are interested in my kind of book. Not discouraged, I continued with my research. I looked at many blogs - taking note of how many people read those blogs, the kind of books they cover, the quality of the reviews etc. By this process I identified a handful of blogs which looked possible and began to get in touch with those bloggers.

So far the response has not been that good. However, the few people who have contacted me have been so full of warmth and enthusiasm that I already feel that the work I have put in so far has been more than repaid. You've got to love the world of book bloggers. Isn't it wonderful that people spend so much unpaid time supporting the world of writers and readers? Such enthusiasm is heart warming.

But I realise that I do need to take care with all this. What exactly is the value of a book blog tour? Or even a one off review on a book blog? The truth is that it is very hard to know. Is anyone reading all these blogs? Many of them are followed by several thousand people but do those people actually read any of the posts? And even if they do, will reading about my book on a blog encourage people to buy it?

The answer is, of course, that I don't know. I also need to look carefully at issues of time management. Is it better to spend time writing an unpaid blog post or should I just get on with writing my new book? All writers, I know, are facing these same problems. And these problems are not new. However, the internet has created hundreds of new marketing possibilities whose value can be hard to judge.

As always, I suppose that it is all a question of balance. And also of experimentation. I'm spending time now on trying to organise my book blog tour but I will be evaluating the process as I go and working out whether this is something I should do again. If others have experience of book blog tours, advice, or recommendations of bloggers I should approach, then do let me know.

Saturday, 3 October 2015


 Not long ago the editor of a literary journal I hold in some esteem expressed interest in running a story I had submitted, while suggesting a few revisions. I know the drill. I sat behind that desk for many years myself,
Shari Lews and friends
back when I was a magazine and small press editor–and even now, part time, as a contributing editor for a local quarterly. I read her email carefully, and with a mixture of enthusiasm and caution. I appreciated her generous praise for my prose and the care she took with her feedback. But I'm always leery about pulling on yarn after a sweater has been knitted.
As a editor, I learned to rein in my writing self and resist the temptation to snatch the pen away from a hapless contributor and show how its done – or how I thought it should be done. I learned that a good developmental editor – as opposed to equally vital copy editors and proofreaders down the production chain – encourages and guides more than corrects. That kind of editor helps writers, when needed, to refine, focus, structure and otherwise get stories and books up to their fullest potential. Of course, this varies with the writer. Some hand in perfect gems every time. As an editor I loved those writers, whose work I could read, check and go home early with a smile. As a writer, I envy them.

Most of all, the fine art of editing relies upon relationship – something our fragmented postmodern publishing environment doesn't exactly nourish. The legendary literary editors whose names I held in awe as young journalist with literary aspirations all formed close ties with the great writers they were famous for handling – Maxwell Perkins, Robert Gottlieb, Judith Jones, Robert Giroux – the list goes on, and these are only the dead ones. I'm not going to take up the old-guy lament about there being no more “real” editors, because there are still many. But they must swim against stronger currents now – as must writers – in order to connect, if at all. 
Looking back, I realize how fortunate I've been to have worked with some fabulous editors myself -though without always being aware of it. As I wrote this post, I learned sadly that one I've long held dearly, Jeremy P. Tarcher, died, on Sunday, September 20, at age 83. Jeremy was a gem, an enthusiastic lover of new ideas who did things his own way. He was an eclectic master of his trade, starting at Stein and Day in New York, which he helped found, but broke from to start his own imprint. He became an irrepressible, maverick publisher whose fabled, wildly successful, independent Los Angeles publishing house (now part of the Penguin Group) evolved rapidly from celebrity cookbooks to memorable, trendsetting psychological and spiritual titles, including introducing Julia Cameron's widely read Artist's Way books on the creative life. Jeremy edited and published my first book in 1981, promoted it with passion and kept it in print for decades. I was editor of San Francisco Magazine at the time. My phone jangled me
Jeremy Tarcher in 1982
from an almost comatose sleep one Sunday morning at 7, after a Saturday night of partying. A cheery, wide-awake, articulate speaker brainstormed into my fogged ear about how to develop a proposal I had submitted into what he believed, more than I, could be a top-tier book. I hardly remembered submitting it. I feigned alertness as I groped for my robe, gathered my wits, dragged the phone into the kitchen for coffee and wracked my brain trying to figure out who this guy was. It was Jeremy Tarcher himself, not one of his editors or assistants. That conversation began a decade-long, off-and-on but always stimulating creative involvement. And I earned bonus points from my then wee daughters because I got to meet Jeremy's wife as well – zany beloved TV singer, comic and puppeteer, Shari Lewis, who seemed able to transcend ventriloquism and sing in counterpoint with her wisecracking puppets, Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse, and whose Sunday morning show they never missed.
Editors like Jeremy love what they do, love language and love writers. They can make us better writers, or seem so. I put the late Marshall Lumsden in that category as well. He was my mentor and friend at the Sunday magazine of the LA Times, during the 1960s and 70s. Prior to that, he had been editor of Look, the fabled picture magazine where, among other greats, Stanley Kubrick started out as a photographer in the 1950s. 

The global corporate assimilation of publishing over the past twenty-five years has worked against such creative relationships. It's mechanistic paradigms led to slicing and dicing editors and writers well before the advent of the Internet, which only speeded up the process. As in many other fields, massive mergers and technology shifted the focus of publishing from craft to commerce and from commerce to high-velocity finance. Whatever its capabilities and benefits - and we can count many - capitalism poisons many wells as well, notably when unbridled.

Editors and writers tend to be regarded as interchangeable parts of a seamless promotional machinery whose sole purpose is extracting short-term profit for shareholders and overpaid, bonus-bloated managers. Traditionally, book publishing had always been a labor intensive, relatively low-margin business, not naturally suited to being milked as hard as global investors demand today. Something had to give. Dropping mid-lists, laying off or contracting out editorial jobs is the orthodox, bottom-line-goosing remedy. Who needed all those tweedy editors chatting up neurotic writers on company time? How do they up earnings? 

Mike Nichols 1994 horror-satire Wolf summed it all up with droll sang-froid. In it, Jack Nicholson portrays a revered literary New York book editor about to be kicked to one side of the road by an envious underling who has curried their new corporate raider boss' favour. All goes according to plan until the editor finds his inner werewolf! Fits my fantasies perfectly.

Fast forward two decades. We see the top ten book publishing giants commanding more than 55 percent of the $120.19 billion market (as of 2014), while the nature of publishing keeps on changing rapidly, as we all know. More and more of us – myself included – swim in a global, networked soup of independent electronic and print-on-demand publishing. When we work together, it's not in offices, but in pods of necessity, collaborating with other professionals, hiring editors, proofers, designers and promoters ad hoc, when we can afford them, or taking on each role in the process, changing colors like chameleons.

Count me in the latter category. I'd love to hire top-of-the-line researchers, copy editors and designers – not to mention get help with promtion. But for the most part I am a one-man-band, begging help where I can, usually among family and friends whose opinions I trust – and, most productively, trading services with fellow independent author/publishers, complementing each other's strengths. 

Mike Nichol's smart satire
As has been said often, high-tech indie publishing gives authors extraordinary and evolving alternatives, plus hands-on control, up and down the line. Not a bad trade-off for the chimeric security of the old game. As we've all seen, big money doesn't always bring big results. We've all heard the stories about major publishers screwing up their offerings as often as they get them right, or more – banal cover art, slap dash formatting and even proofing, botched promotional campaigns. 

Not all this is new. As a San Francisco freelance writer, during stretches of the 1980s and 90s, I started a tight circle of fellow writers who traded tips, information, editing services and ideas. We also met for racaus lunches once a month and invited guests. We called ourselves “The Ring.”

Now as an Internet indie writer-publisher, my circle remains as select as it used to be, but spread out geographically. My colleagues from Chicago Quarerly Review do much the same as my old San Francisco Ring, but I've also relied on design and formatting help from Gabrielle de la Fair – an independent publisher (HerEthics Books) based in Košice, Slovakia, whom I've never met in person.
Gabrielle designed and formatted the book cover for Ophelia Rising and Milagro On 34th Street, and
Gabrielle de la Fair
I've edited some of her work as well. Her expertise on the  electronic book production technology and practices of book distributors has proved invaluable.
Similarly, although a small scale nonprofit publisher, Chicago Quarterly Review is put out by editorial and production people 2000 miles apart in Santa Cruz, California and the Windy City itself.

Given all this, it's a pleasure for me to find myself collaborating with an editor of the old school, strictly in print. I wasn't sure this was the case with the editor I referenced at the start of this article. Though I respected her, I'd never worked directly with this editor as a writer. At first, we circled and sparred, testing each other out. She worded her suggestions solicitously, encouraging discussion – as I would have in her shoes. But complicating matters, two respected colleagues who had reviewed the original for me had different takes. One loved it as is. The other concurred, but suggested that it would work better if I eliminated one minor section. Neither proposed anything reconstructive. 

So, there I had three divergent takes on the story besides my own. Best to do as I, the author, thought best. But the longer I considered it the more I could also see the editor's point of view as well. Normally, I'm not adverse to making changes in my stories and in fact, I welcome such constructive feedback. The big problem this time, however: a request that sounded easy, but could open a can of worms – moving part of the story to a different spot. If stories were made of Lego blocks, then switching parts around would be easy, but they're not, particularly this story with a complex narrative told from two characters' points of view. Altering the chronology meant reweaving, with no guarantee of the new fabric's quality, up or down. It didn't matter who was right, only what would be right for the story. 

No way to find out except to give it a try. No prima donna, I messaged the editor back the next day to inform her that I would rework the story – with stipulations that took my concerns into account. Great! She emailed back. “I can't wait to read the new version!” That was encouraging. 

I reworked the story over the next several days. Sure enough, the narrative threatened
to unravel as I feared. For a tense while, everything seemed to melt down. With a few sanity breaks, however, I managed to work it through and resubmit the manuscript to said editor, who seemed receptive. 
Now comes the wait. Maybe she will publish the revised story, maybe not. If not, I can submit it elsewhere. Plus, as noted, authors today have options that didn't exist in the traditional publishing world. 

Whether or not it appears elsewhere, I can include the new piece in the short story collection I'm planning to publish in April through Light Fantastic Books, through which I released Ophelia Rising, Milagro on 34th Street and Our Own Kind. I don't pine for the good old days. I've never been the nostalgic type. I much prefer out fluid, fast-moving world of independent creative e-powered publishing.

Friday, 2 October 2015

How many writers does it take to change a light bulb? by Mari Biella

c/o John Webber|Wikimedia Commons
I’m old enough to remember a time when newsletters arrived in the post – the old-fashioned post, that is, as delivered by a postman. You know, post that was actually written down or printed out on paper and stuffed into an envelope. Post that took a few days, rather than a few nanoseconds, to arrive.

How a few short years can change things, eh? The sight of the postman trudging up to the gate at the crack of dawn is becoming ever more of a rarity. It’s not yet quite extinct, since many organisations and businesses seem curiously reluctant to embrace the internet age. (I’m thinking here of some of the utility companies I’ve been forced to deal with recently, most of which seem to have a positive aversion to that newfangled techno-internet thingy, though strangely enough they have absolutely no problem bothering you with pointless telephone calls about five times a day. But I digress...)

Just a few years ago, the idea of running your own newsletter was fantastical indeed, unless you were rich. Back then, running a newsletter would have entailed collecting people’s actual addresses (the place where they actually, physically live, that is, rather than some strange,wraithlike internet residence), which you’d then have to store somehow – often on paper, unless you were one of the first to experiment with those highfalutin database things. Then you’d have to design your newsletter (or get someone to do it for you), deliver your design to a printer, and stuff the result into dozens or hundreds of envelopes, which would then be sealed and stamped and sent off to their various recipients. Needless to say, the entire process would be expensive, in terms of both time and money, and would frankly have been impossible unless you had a very healthy bank balance and a team of dedicated staff.

Just a few years ago, then, the Authors Electric newsletter would not have existed – but then again, just a few years ago Authors Electric itself would not have existed. Not, that is, unless we all met up in a big room every so often to talk writing, and invited just about everyone we met to come along and join in. Come to think of it, that idea is not without its charms ... Sadly, it’s impossible. We’re a disparate group, not least in geographical terms, and getting 29 authors together in one room might just be asking for trouble in any case...

An actor friend of mine once told me the following joke:

Q: How many actors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Ten. One to change it, and nine to say they could have done it better.

c/o KMJ|Wikimedia Commons

I’ve a funny feeling that a similar gag might be applied to writers. (I’m joking, by the way. I’ve rarely met a more mutually supportive bunch than my AE colleagues. Mind you, if a dispute about whose turn it was to bring the booze erupted, just about anything could happen...)

Happily, in 2015 organising a newsletter is not a great deal more complicated than changing a light bulb, thanks to some fabulous services like the oddly-named Mailchimp. I mean, having an email address and internet access is pretty much de rigueur these days. How else would you get to look at pictures of Grumpy Cat, take pointless Facebook quizzes, and while away hours wandering the streets using Google Streetview?

c/o New York Zoological Society|Wikimedia Commons
Anyway, thanks to our simian friends over at Mailchimp, the Authors Electric newsletter is now up and running! (I should know, since I volunteered to set it all up. I don’t know why, I must have been in a good mood at the time.) In return for your email address, you’ll get exclusives and occasional gifts, and you’ll be the first to learn about giveaways, price promotions, and new releases. In effect, you’ll get virtual access to our very own VIP room. We won’t spam you and we won’t share your details with anyone else. You won’t be bombarded with emails, and you can unsubscribe whenever you want.

If that sounds like a good deal, please complete the form in the top right-hand corner of this page, or click on this link...

...which should, if all is well and the chimps are not on strike, take you to a signup form. And thank you for your support.

I leave you with a riddle: how many writers does it take to change a light bulb?

Answers on a (virtual) postcard, please...

Thursday, 1 October 2015


It's not looking good for your latest submission...

OW. It hurts. Someone, some stupid, bigoted, illiterate, stuck-up barsteward, has rejected your writing. HOW VERY DARE THEY! Quick, get onto facebook, get some lurve from fellow-writers who will understand your agony.
‘Just had a rejection from ‘Crappy Ezine’, so upset! Doubting my entire life’s work. About to set fire to my pile of typescripts. ☹’
Friends zoom in with verbal chicken soup for your infected soul. ‘Ignore them, they are jealous of your genius!’ ‘Never heard of it!’ ‘Editor probs only publishes their mates! Sod them!’ ‘I think you’re brilliant, strong, talented, you don’t need them!’ All hoping you'll not have to say the same to them.
Yeah, right. 
Yes it does hurt to have the outpourings of your inner being, carefully crafted into art by hours of self-scarification, sent back, regardless of how many famous authors we are told were also rejected numerous times. In fact it’s harder to be rejected now in some genres than ever before, poets and short story writers are spoiled for choice with masses of online mags springing up all over the internet as well as the old skool dead tree ones. It’s only a matter of time until a close friend starts 'Me&MyMates ezine', and they won’t risk rejecting you if they want to come to your next birthday party. You hope.
No fair! Wah!
However is it necessary to wail about it on social media? It’s not news, or if it is, if it’s that rare for you, maybe you’re doing very well, and it’s a new form of humblebragging. Such as: ‘Arrgghh! Just had a rejection from ‘The Liminal Soul Suck’ online mag! After a run of 57 accepted poems, 16 competition wins, four agents fighting for my favours and a Nobel prize! My life is over!’

I recall a time when rejection was the norm. We all got lots of it, back in the day. There weren’t many small publishers of mags, and nobody would look at your work for anything higher if you had no track record. You had to earn it all the hard way, the equivalent to playing gigs for a man and a dog down the local pub. It was so normal, you’d not have bothered posting about it, had there been any social media. You might swear a bit on your own, and then just get on with it. However high you rise, apart from a few who are beyond it, it never really goes away, does rejection - there’s no way to reject it. Beatrix Potter self-published after 'Peter Rabbit' (her lovely drawing is below) was rejected numerous times.
'So you got rejected again, comfort-eating won't help.'
Anyway, if you have had your work rejected and you are still steaming about it, here’s balm for your pain. Bibliotheca Non Grata (, a new artwork of rejected books. You can submit your rejected books titles to the two artists Måns Wrange and Igor Isaksson for inclusion in this library of the lost, this bookshelf of the booted-out. Their artwork will consist of a pictured bookshelf with the titles of rejected books on the spines, and they even plan to publish the rejected titles and first lines in hard copy, available to borrow from the library. But surely this book will be humungous!

'At last! My name on a book!' Bibliotheca Non Grata.
‘We call for titles of rejected literary works in any language and of any writing genre, fictional as well as nonfictional. Each of the first 365 submitted titles – one for each day of the year – will be represented by a hardbound empty book in the library Bibliotheca Non Grata, with the title printed on the spine of the book. All submitted titles of rejected works will be included in the public online catalogue of Bibliotheca Non Grata.’

What are you waiting for? You can see your title on a spine, of an empty book admittedly, or listed in a catalogue. Get submitting. Though – what if they reject your rejected title? Arrrgghhh! Facebook friends, share my sorrow! How very dare they!

Find out more about my various projects and productions on (books, art installations etc)
Some of my thirteen books are now on Kindle UK US, iBooks UK USKoboNook and more, on all platforms worldwide.
Follow me on Twitter @ValerieLaws or find me on facebook 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Where and when do you do your best writing? Guest Post by Fran Brady

I drift awake as fingers of light probe the curtains. Where am I? Not at home. Then a glow of delight starts somewhere in the region of my belly and creeps up my body. It washes my face in a grin. I remember where I am.

I inch out of bed, reach for my dressing-gown and push my feet into the rubber sandals that will double as slippers and paddling shoes for the next fortnight. My husband is still fast asleep: I know by the click at the top of each breath.

At the bottom of the stairs, my dog stirs in his basket and watches me. Time to get up? No, not yet: just the early shift. He drops his head on to his paws and is asleep again in seconds.

The kitchen is filling with light. Curtains are never drawn here. Moonlight on the water demands an audience. As I wait for the kettle, I watch a corncrake strutting on the handkerchief of lawn. The rest of the garden must be left wild by law to ensure this bird’s habitat and now I reap the fruits of compliance. Later will come boatloads of twitchers with cameras, tripods, binoculars and picnics. Have you seen one? they will ask as I pass them on my way to the shop. They will hear them: who does not? Crek! Crek! The sound is everywhere on the island but seeing is a different matter. I watch as the bird slips into the long grass and begins its mating call, ever-hopeful.

Looking out of the kitchen window
The coffee smells wonderful. I smile at the mug and raid the heap of home-baking by the breadbin. Hurrah for grateful houseguests! I choose a slab of cherry and almond cake. The sitting-room with windows on three sides is also full of light; chilly, though, now that my bed-warmth is dissipating. I switch on two bars of the electric fire and fetch my leggings and thick socks from behind the couch where I hid them last night. I liberate my laptop from its charging cord and settle on the sofa facing the east window. As I sip my coffee and savour the cake, waiting for the computer to boot up, I watch the sun push up behind Ben More. It reminds me of watching my grandchild being born, the head crowning from the birth canal, full of promise.

I finish the cake and blow a couple of crumbs off the keyboard. I close my eyes and let the words, phrases, scraps of dialogue and ideas for plot development that were fermenting in my head as I fell asleep rise to the surface. Then I open them and begin to type. After a while, I stop, read, frown, change, delete, cut and paste. The last mouthful of coffee is forgotten and goes cold. It is not quite seven o’clock and the sun has risen over the Sound of Iona.

The door slides open and, looking up, seeing no-one, I think: Dog. No dog appears. What on earth…?  A small child appears round the side of the armchair: my granddaughter, that crowning head beginning already to fulfill its promise. She sidles in, reading my do-not-disturb signals, and comes to sit at my side without a word. I carry on tapping the keys and stroking the cursor pad. She picks at a few cake crumbs on the sofa and peers at the coffee dregs with disgust. A few minutes pass in which I try to remain in laptop world and she tries to remain still and silent.

Our house
We both give in at the same moment. Then we are laughing and hugging and she is telling me about her dreams of the night and her plans for the day. She asks me what I have been writing but, before I can begin to tell her, she is demanding A STORY. I take her over to the window and we watch the fishing boats coming home and the gulls keening over them. Once upon a time, there was a little girl who went on holiday with her mummy and daddy and grandma and granddad and some other people to a big house on a tiny island….

“And Tucky woof-woof” she interrupts. At the mention of his name, Tucker the dog decides it really is morning now and comes through to join us. We will just have time for a story before the first breakfaster invades the kitchen. My writer’s sunrise world has gone for another day.

I spend two weeks every year at a big house on the Hebridean Isle of Iona. Over the past twenty years, my husband and I have taken over fifty friends and family members with us and enjoyed wonderful house-party holidays. My fourth novel (a work-in-progress) is set in that beautiful area (well, it would be rude not to!) in the 1920s. Researching it over several years’ has been enormous fun and I am more in love now than ever with ‘Iona of my heart; Iona of my love.’ (from a poem attributed to St. Columba who landed on Iona in 563 and brought Christianity to Scotland).

Fran has published two novels and one children’s book. She is also currently (and experimentally) uploading her third novel in installments on to her website, advertising it with links on her Facebook author page.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

On the Critical List: N M Browne

 I have spent most of my writing life burying my inner critic, entombing him in concrete, and consigning him to a deep and inaccessible grave.  Too much analysis, too much self consciousness can strangle a nascent idea and kill it dead.  I would never have written a word had I not managed to fool my critic into believing I was doing nothing very serious, just pIaying, lulling him into a false sense of security before sneaking up behind him and disabling him with a sharp hatchet blow to the skull. You will note that he is male. I try not to analyse that fact too closely.
All this psychological aggression is primarily defensive: at  the beginning of the creative process there is nothing, just a murky kind of potential, then gradually, if you are lucky, you may get a glimmering of something, a glimpse through thick fog of a ghost of  a story seed. The last thing you should do is expose these half formed, germinating almost-nothings to the harshness of a critic’s cold gaze: especially mine. My personal critic is a snide, sardonic and uncharitable bastard. Why do you think I buried him so deep? He and I have hammered out an uneasy truce over the last thirty years. Usually he is held captive and silent in his fortified tomb for most of the first draft and then vampire- like arises to suck all my joy and confidence away for a few, grim hours a week as I edit.  
 I have also spent the last few years teaching Creative Writing and it has got me thinking about the usefulness of my inner critic and the balance between self belief, self deception and self criticism. I’ve come to believe that at least a drop or two of delusion is needed to oil the wheels of creativity. Would we ever write if we didn’t believe at some level that we could do it? Of course we have probably all come across  someone with an excess of confidence, so much self belief that they are impervious to the  possibility of improvement. Such  turbo powered assurance makes creating anything that might actual be worth reading significantly less likely. Somewhere between abject, doubtful despair   and ebullient certainty there lies a sweet spot, but I have no idea where it is. 
 That’s why Creative writing teaching is a risky business.
 Obviously it’s risky for the students because they lay themselves on the line and put themselves in my hands, an unnaturally contorted position that isn’t very comfortable for either us. They pay good money to meet my critic  much earlier in their process than might be ideal and, for all his many faults, he does his best to give value for money. Too much honesty too soon can be crippling: too little too late and self belief can set like concrete so that the writer struggles to move forward at all.  
 It’s perhaps less obvious that teaching can be almost as risky for the teacher. We are all vulnerable; teacher and student together on a vast, storm-wracked ocean  in the same unstable boat. Be warned  that the inner critic can be as subtle as he is brutal and there’s nothing he likes better than to sabotage the voyage and scupper your craft.  Once you let that bastard out of his  lead-lined, cast- iron  box  he’s the very devil to get back in. Or is that just mine?  

Monday, 28 September 2015

Silence, Picture books, Editing and Times Journalists

The colour spreads for my next little book with Franklin Watts arrived by post this morning. I usually get to see these online, so receiving them like this was unexpected, but pleasing, as I can scan them in to share them with friends. It's been an exquisitely beautiful Autumnal day here in London, so this added to my pleasure. The illustrator, Inna Chernyak, lives in the Ukraine, and we've already collaborated on a picture book: "Quicker than a Princess", published by TopThat Publishing.

What are your optimum conditions for creative writing? I am, and have always been, a silence freak - I cannot imagine working against a background of music. It would be an active competition between the world inside my head and sound of the music, and I can't do both. Many, many years ago, when I was writing and publishing short stories for women's magazines, we had an elderly next door neighbour (we lived in rented accomodation back then). She was a thin, bitter-faced woman with brightly henna'ed hair, and she seemed to spend her whole day watching TV VERY LOUDLY - I imagine she was probably deaf. The sound penetrated both the walls of our flat and the walls of my mind. It drove me crazy. We tried talking to her, but got nowhere. Eventually I gave up trying to write, for a number of reasons, this being one of them. The other two? Well, one was that I was pushing boundaries writing-wise and the mags didn't approve. The other one was that I became pregnant, and our landlady decided we had to go, no children being part of the agreement. Happily, David's job suddenly involved us moving elsewhere, so things worked out well for us.

Silence at present is a different kind of problem because David died suddenly two years ago, so I now live alone and have all the silence I could possibly need (or not). It sometimes drives me crazy, so that I have to call someone, anyone, and I'm finding it harder and harder to get into that magical writing space. Before, I found the space through making a quiet pool via quite a lot of interaction; now the silence is unlimited. It's like unexpectedly inheriting a fortune with no idea what to do with it. The result is, that apart from writing to briefs, which are always a joy when I get them, I'm editing/re-writing work that's already there.

Decades ago, I wrote two rather strange adult novels. The earliest, COUNTERPOINT, was on an actual typewriter (remember those?) and was picked up, at the time, by a radically Feminist press (which shall be nameless). Among many of their ideological requirements was the insistence that men would be barred from any launch party. I opted out. Recently, a friend of a writer friend (hope that makes sense) has offered to scan it for me (I'd be paying her), and I'm suddenly confronted  by the prospect of dealing with work written with such intensity - I can still remember being almost 'out of it' at the time. Publishing-wise, I don't think it's a goer. E-book-wise, well, who knows?

As I've published books for Young Adults, via Walker Books, in the past, like  "WOLFSONG" - these days I often nosy around in what's currently out there Y/A wise. Recently, I came up, at random, with two extremely disturbing books, neither of which I shall name. They were both the stuff of nightmares, and both very readable.

The first offered me two dislikeable characters who each had very good reasons for being the way they were, but not good enough for me. These two were set in a cast of other totally dislikeable characters - in fact, there was really no one in this book I would have wanted to know apart from the two protagonists whose story pulled me in, forcing me to side uncomfortably, as a reader, with the two Nasties. I pulled out of the text, and jumped to the end - how was this going to resolve itself? The actual writing didn't seem to matter any more, although the author was a fluent storyteller. The answer seemed to be more of the same, but cleverer. Way back in, I think, the Fifties, there was a very disturbing and controversial novel called: "THE BAD SEED", featuring a child who was, for no discernable reason, simply "bad". Both books raise the eternal question: what is evil?

The second book was pure horror, and a bit akin to Stephen King's work. The writing really grabbed me; the images were terrifying, but unlike the first book, there were people in it I cared about, so I stayed with it until the end, as the author had intended. The first book was certainly a page-turner - it had me turning several pages at a time, sometimes whole chapters. It was pantomime evil, but even in pantos you have to be rooting for someone you care about - Cinderella, Jack or who have you.

Talking writing in general, I always, to the horror of left-wing friends and family, buy The Times on Saturdays - the reason being that there are journalists whose work I love. To mention a few, Matthew Parris, with whose opinions I don't always agree, but he does know his stuff and how to express it. Giles Coren, the son of journalist Alan Coren - witty, erudite and rude. Janice Turner, a common-sense feminist, always deals with challenging issues, and then there's the truly extraordinary Melanie Reid, a paraplegic ex-sports columnist and horse rider, whose weekly column always puts any of my own physical frailties into perspective. All this splendid stuff, however, is invariably let down by the consumerist magazine - last week faffing on about a dress selling for over £11,000 (dear Blog readers - I, of course, bought two).