Saturday, 24 June 2017

Keep calm and carry on writing? I wish. by Jo Carroll

We live in dangerous times.

Not that you need telling - unless you’ve decided that the news is just too terrible to watch any more. I know someone who rations her news-watching to once a day, as she finds it too distressing. I get that - if we allow ourselves to think about the full horror of everything that is going on (not just here in the west but all over the world) we can easily by paralysed by it.

But where does that leave us as writers? I present this as a dilemma - I have no solutions. For if we are going to write about the fires and the terrorist attacks and the political shenanigans and the civil wars and floods and droughts … where do we begin? Is it possible to write about all this in a way that is new, and different, and enables the reader to think about things differently? Are there any new words for horror, or trauma, or tragedy? Is it possible to tell the story of one man or woman in the middle of all this and let that stand for all the others - when each story is utterly unique? 

I'm sure there are fiction writers, somewhere, constructing novels against the backdrop of this mayhem. How do they keep up? What it is like to weave characters in and out of terrorist attacks, a tower fire, political incompetences - with situations changing by the day?

And what does it do to us? I worked in Child Protection and was good at keeping a distance between my professional and personal lives. I stayed intact, most of the time. But at the moment journalists are racing from one disaster to another and have so little time for personal reflection that they must surely feel permanently bruised.

We can, of course, write fantasy, or history, or crime. We can fill the pages with fiction and entertain our readers. Which is wonderful, of course - we all need to escape from reality from time to time. 

At the same time, how is it possible to write in a vacuum? Is it possible to clear your head of all the contemporary crap and concentrate on something you've made up? 

I don't have an answer - and maybe I'm simply voicing my own concerns. But if anyone has found a way to carry on writing as if none of this were going on, then please tell me. 

I might add your recommendations to my website:

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The mystery of language: Ali Bacon is disconsolate when words fail her on a trip abroad

The  lovely port of Santander, so much better than a bank
Last week on a trip to Cantabria, we visited the museum of Altamira where a startling range of Neolithic cave paintings were discovered in the nineteenth century, dating from somewhere around 20,000 to 14,000 BCE. Yes – they are roughly 16,000 years old.  

In the ‘new’ (replica) cave, visitors can watch reconstructions of daily life  and observe the tools and skills these people are thought to have used in the stone age. But the projected display had no sound-track, and the same thought occurred to myself and a fellow tourist – how did they speak? What language did they have?

Language and communication were in fact pressing concerns on this trip. I used to consider myself a bit of a linguist but it appears I came to Spain and Spanish too late in life to ever feel comfortable with it and have to fall back on a dumb tourist act to get through any holiday, something that grieves me for the duration but which I always forget to do anything about before setting out again.   

Golfing Spanish style - no easier than at home
This time was no different and 9 holes of golf with a Spanish couple, (golf is a less international language than you might think!) did nothing to bolster my confidence. As we left the golf club a car drew alongside us, the window was rolled down and a map brandished. ‘Excusez moi, nous sommes perdus!’ Never disparage school French. Here was a language I could do something with and I took disproportionate enjoyment from knowing my droite from my gauche.

But my travails with Spanish weren’t quite over. Next day, having consulted the not- very-trusty guide book, we embarked on a short(ish) excursion to the valley of Soba – or as it turned out the valley of Ason. So far so confused - and so was the sat nav. 

Soba/Ason - not a bad place to get lost
We stopped at a wayside inn which turned out to double as the local pork butcher. Asking for drinks was just about within my grasp but I was nervous of asking directions. In the end I told him the name of the place we thought we were heading and waved my arms to ask ‘this way?’ (back the way we came) – or ‘that way?’
That way! was the reply, and before long we also had a map, X being where we were,  Rameles where we should be heading and along the way a campo di football (international language of sport) and a - something else. I was mystified but Bar-tender/Butcher hurried off and came back with a slightly faded souvenir biscuit tin bearing a view on the front of a dramatic waterfall. Yay – who needs words?
A bit like Pictionary?
And, said Bartender,  la cascada was right on la carretera – I was getting the hang of it after all.
Now if you are heading to the source of the Ason river, I have to warn you it may be more of a trickle than a cascada, but the road  is spectacular and I was only sorry I hadn’t bought the biscuits by way of thanks. Ignore the satnav, by the way and take the first right after Rameles de la Victoria -  it’s a circular route. Or you can use the butcher's map!

But it makes you think about the ways we use language, written and spoken, and how hard it is to be without the comfort blanket of everyday discourse. For this article I actually looked up the possible dates for the origins of spoken language, which are of course entirely obscure and linked to all kinds of physical, psychological and sociological developments, but 100,000 years ago seems to be a popular stab in the dark.

So of course the inhabitants of Altamira did have linguistic communication, although what it sounded like we’ll never know. I certainly won’t be brushing up on my Proto-Indo-European any time soon.  

Waterfall? It's behind you!!
Ali Bacon writes historical and contemporary fiction. Find out more at

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Midsummer 99p Kindle sale - Katherine Roberts

Forgive me, but it's far too hot down here on the beach to write a long blog post. So here's a little Devonshire ditty (please excuse the accent), followed by a few 99p treats for your summer holiday Kindle... enjoy!

There was a young author from Totnes
Who wrote a book about a quest.
It went out of print
When her publisher was skint,
Which saddened our Devonshire authoress.

Along came a site called Amazon,
Champions of digital fiction.
E-book or paperback,
No title do they lack
By authors whose books sell for a song.

Now readers worldwide can rejoice
Because there's never been so much choice.
Many ebooks are free
Or ninety-nine pee*,
Why not download one this Summer Solst(o)ice?


You'll be relieved to hear Katherine Roberts does not make her living as a poet. She writes fantasy and historical fiction for young readers with a focus on legend and myth, and historical fiction with a touch of romance for older readers under the name 'Katherine A Roberts'. 


For one day only, Katherine's backlist Kindle titles are just 99p* each (time zones may differ, so please check the price before downloading).

Echorium trilogy:

Earthaven series:

Seven Fabulous Wonders:

Alexander the Great from the horse's mouth:

Short story collections:

More details of all these books at


Our brand new Authors Electric fiction anthology publishes today, also at the bargain price of 99p* for a limited period!

(*or, with an American accent, 99c)

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The power of words by Sandra Horn

The power of words, eh? I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, partly because of Jo Bell’s ’52 poems’ challenge (I promise to stop banging on about it in about six months). There’s been a lot of struggling to find the most precise and satisfying way to express my response to each challenge – first things, weather, a celebration, a letter, a famous person, and so on. I was moderately happy as I wrote each one, but looking back over them has put a big dent in that. I am managing to say what I want to, but it doesn’t come near the poetry I admire. If poets are born and not made, I’m genetically deficient, but as I’m pig-headed (unofficial motto of Sussex: I wunt be druv) and I also believe that working at something can (sometimes) overcome such deficiency, I plough on. My ‘famous person’ is Nelson Mandela and I’m writing about ballroom dancing on Robben Island, which is an image I’ve always found inspirational. It’s coming slowly! Another recent effort, ‘a letter’  was to Alice Oswald, in which I used the Greek word chrysopoeia.  It comes from alchemy and means the transformation of the base or everyday into gold. It started me thinking about all the other words of power and music and evocation – all the magical things words can do.

I raided the poetry book case for some well-loved pieces to sooth and uplift. Oswald’s ‘may I moften wake on the broken bridge of a word, like in the wind the trace of a web.’

M.R. Peacocke’s heron ‘drawing behind him a long wake of solitude’; Ted Hughes’ ‘woolly-bear white, the old wolf is listening to London’; Eiléan Nί Chuilleanάin’s , ‘you look down where the high peaks are ranging, you see them flickering like flames -  they are like a midge dancing at evening’. 

 Shiver! I went on and on.  I was high! Off on a riff about the positive power of words -  until an incident at a series of writing workshops I attended. They were led by four different facilitators, all of whom gave us exercises to do on the spot and plenty to think about and work on for later. All good.  But then there was one who introduced herself as a journalist -  ‘a tabloid journalist’ she said, with a bright smile, as if proud of herself. Something in me shrivelled. I was there to work and learn so I carried out all the instructions she gave us, but when it came to the invitation to share what we’d written, I couldn’t. Not with her.  
She’d had us working on quite personal stuff, but it wasn’t that – nor did I expect to find our revelations splashed all over the ‘newspaper’ she worked for.  It was that it brought back to me, painfully, an event from the past I hadn’t thought about for a long while.  Neighbours of ours, an unassuming family, had made the most enormous sacrifices to send their son to a very prestigious fee-paying school.  Mad, perhaps – not my business.  At some point he was expelled for bullying. It was devastating for them all. Worse, it was soon in the tabloid press and their minions were outside the house, going through the bins, trying to get them and their neighbours to talk... Their modest semi with no garage and a tiny front garden became ‘£300,000 house’ (which sounded much more impressive then) and they were presented in an unrecognisable way to anyone who knew them.  How did it happen that this personal tragedy made the tabloids? Apparently they have people hanging around places like public schools etc. offering money to anyone associated with them for juicy tidbits, which they then present, suitably distorted, to their avid readers. Words used to destroy people, vilify them, make them into fodder for the ignorant masses.  We’ve all seen them lately.  The power of words...
But then there’s always Shakespeare, the King James’ Bible, the glorious writers and poets of uncountable generations and still coming. So many potent counterblasts to the guttersnipe (now there’s a word!) usages. ‘Oh, brave new world, that has such people in’t!’ Hats off to you!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Keep Calm and Carry On Writing by Jan Edwards

As I type the temperature outside is around 26c, which I quite like, generally speaking, but will concede that it makes it harder to concentrate on the jobs at hand. 

Having spent the morning packing boxes in the shed in anticipation of our house move I did indulge in a bottle of cider with (for) lunch and yes I’m sleepyyyyzzzzzzzz

But no time for naps. Packing aside I still have deadlines – one of which being this blog.

So... what to say? The Winter Downs WW2 themed book launch went spiffingly on the 3rd June with tea and cakes and readings, dressed as a Land Girl in honour of my amateur sleuth, naturally. Than came the eight day blog tour. Full on postings to everyone and their dog! Exhausting work.

Now I knows the perceived wisdom is to keep up the pressure but I look at it this way. If I am sick of posting the same stuff over and over I am fairly certain that everyone  of my social media contacts are equally sick of reading it. So time to take a breather and turn to projects neglected for the duration.

The not so short story is coming along, but needs some added pondering.

The immediate task is the beta reading of a novel.  Now I do suffer from a degree of dyslexia so I don't attempt to carry out line edits for typos and punctuation but I pride myself on being reasonably good at spotting continuity and logic glitches -  provided they are in someone else's manuscript and not my own.

Selective glitch-spotting? What is that all about? 

I put it down to re-drafting fatigue. A curious phenomenon that every writer I knows suffers from to varying degrees. A writer can read their own work ten times over  and catch most of the glitches - but fail time and again to spot that one instance where a character leaves the room twice (or not at all as the case may be). Or the classic mysteriously changeable eye colour.

Yet reading work written by someone else and it leaps out at you like a starving rabbit on a carrot!
Which only goes to prove that editors are golden and an absolute must!

I strongly suspect  I shall need to throw my hat into the room when I next meet up with my writing pal - but such is the lot of the truthful beta reader.  

After that I MUST finish that short story I have promised that editor...  So time to get that tin hat adjusted – open every window to let the breeze through - and carry on writing!  (Shouts to husband  ‘is there any more cider in the fridge?’)


Find out more about Jan's writing on her blog page.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The nerves are kicking in - Tara Lyons

Earlier in the year I, foolishly some might say, raised my hand to join an author event next month. Back then, mid-writing my work in progress, July felt like a million miles away. Well, it wasn’t, obviously, and the countdown is now against me.

What’s wrong with attending an author event, you might ask? For me, loads. Especially when you’re fourth in line to stand up and read a chapter from your book. Some writers relish in this time and it comes naturally to them to read aloud the words they silently typed on their keyboard. To share a moment with your readers, when they hear your voice and are given the opportunity to ask you questions about the book, or your writing journey. All of this fills me with dread.

It takes me back to my first year of university and a creative writing module I was studying. Part of our final grade, I think twenty or thirty per cent of it, was marked on each of us standing in front of the class (no more than twenty people, I’d guess) and read aloud a piece of our creative writing. It scared me, but I thought, I hardly knew anyone in the class, I can be anyone I want to be; not that terrified girl of public speaking pre-university. I let the nerves bubble away in the background, practiced reading my piece of writing in the mirror and that fateful morning I walked into campus. My fingers lingered over the door handle and my skin burnt with panic. No one was around, everyone already being in the classroom, so I backed away. I walked down the stairs and back to my halls of residence. I completely understood I was throwing valuable marks away, but my feet were stubborn and lead the way home without a second thought.

The fear of public speaking has stayed with me. So, the idea of joining eleven other Bloodhound Books authors in a few weekends, to read the prologue of one of my books, comes with mixed feelings. I’m much other now and have faced a lot in life that my eighteen-year-old self wouldn’t understand. I’m a mother and want to set a good example. I’m an author and people have not only bought my book, but also the tickets to come to the event – they want to hear me read. These are the positive thoughts I’m allowing to swim around my head, while trying to push the teenager full of fear who’s trying to wade forward with the nerves. I’m hoping the couple of alcoholic beverages I have before the event will knock her back in her place.

So please, think of me on Saturday 1 July and keep your fingers crossed that this time I do open the door and walk through. 

Tara is a crime/psychological thriller author from London, UK. Turning 30 in 2015 propelled her to fulfil her lifelong dream of becoming a writer. In the Shadows is Tara's debut solo novel published in March 2016. She co-wrote The Caller and Web of Deceit: A DI Sally Parker novella with New York Times bestselling author, M.A Comley. In August 2016 Tara signed a two-book contract with Bloodhound Books. The second book in the DI Hamilton series, No Safe Home, was published in January 2017.

To find out more, visit her Amazon and Facebook pages by clicking the links below:

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Pity the Poor Reviewer, by Elizabeth Kay

A Sterkarm Tryst by [Price, Susan]
A Sterkarm Tryst by Susan Price
The first reviews I ever had were for a radio play, and it was a salutary experience. At twenty-eight my self-confidence was not of the highest order, and the column and a half of invective I had in the Times was devastating. Fortunately I had a middling review from The Guardian, and a brilliant one from the Financial Times, otherwise I might have stopped writing altogether, like someone I knew who never picked up a pen again. Rule one for a writer: develop a thick skin. It was good training for online reviews, though, although how objective I manage to be is another matter. I had two kids conducting an online battle for their favourite books, and rubbishing the opposing one. This can seriously affect your ranking. You also get reviews by people who clearly haven’t read it, and say something totally untrue. The one that most annoyed me was when someone complained of a blatant coincidence, and said that two people had “just happened to meet by accident”, when the whole reason they’d been in the same place was to seek one another out. Oh, it’s easy to whinge about what’s said about something over which you’ve sweated blood. But now the boot is on the other foot.
For the last three years I’ve written a regular once a month book review for a magazine. It’s really difficult to avoid the same phrases over and over again – page-turner, well-written, compelling, couldn’t put it down, original, not what it seems… but the main problem is that I’m meant to be recommending books. This means that I can find myself getting halfway through something, only to discover that it’s rubbish after all and I wouldn’t recommend it to my own worst enemy. It’s a time-consuming business, and some months I’ve found myself starting half a dozen novels only to give up on each one and try something else. It does make you concentrate on what makes something a ‘page-turner’ though. I allow myself different lengths of the book before I come to a decision as to whether to continue, and this aspect of reviewing may be of interest to authors. I will persevere with something for quite a long time if I’ve read and enjoyed the author before, trusting that the plot will come good. Usually it does, but not always. I allow probably the same or slightly less time for something recommended by a friend, who knows me, and isn’t likely to suggest a bodice-ripper with limited vocabulary. The next category is other book reviews. The big advantage of the Kindle is that you can do the ‘Look Inside!’ bit, and judge the standard of writing for yourself. The final category is the book you just happen to pick up in a bookshop, when the first paragraph can be enough to make you shudder or want to carry on.
The Hob and Miss Minkin by [Horn, Sandra]The Five Pound Pony & other stories by [Bush, Karen]             Bookshops aren’t what they used to be, though. The little independent ones, such as my local Barton's in Leatherhead, still have proprietors who care about quality and know their stock. If something is advertised as the manager’s pick, it will be just that. In the big chains the manager’s pick may well be the book that the publisher has paid the bookshop to like. Big chains, big business. Independent shops need our support, and can frequently get books you order by the following day. I also use the public library for my material – and asking a librarian which new books they reckon will be good choices is also worth doing. I’m lucky in having Electric Authors who give me a heads-up about upcoming or re-issued titles. I’ve recently reviewed A Sterkarm Handshake (just before the release of A Sterkarm Tryst, to get readers in the mood) The Five Pound Pony, by Karen Bush, and Hob and Miss Minkin, by Sandra Horn. And if that makes your blood boil in a kind of Nepotism! way, have a thought for the poor reviewer who gets sent one self-published book after another with no plot, no engaging characters, hundreds of pages and typos on nearly every page. Be warned. If you’re going to self-publish and send out review copies, you need to make it look as professional as possible.
            When The Divide was first published by The Chicken House I was astounded at the lengths they went to and the care they took to make sure that the book got noticed by the professional reviewers. Because even in the conventionally-published world, competition is very fierce. As my book started off in the cloud forest of Costa Rica, a few copies of the books were sent out in boxes, beautifully decorated with exotic feathers and flowers. The launch was at The Rain Forest Café in London and yes, the reviewers came. People who are self-publishing don’t have that sort of money, or those contacts, but originality is key. I’m waiting for the next book that will leap out at me, and not look like every other book in the same genre. Think about it. Reviewers can be jaded people, desperate for a bit of innovation and style as they read yet another blurb claiming the book to be ‘a gripping psychological thriller you won’t want to put down’. It doesn’t stop with the writing. Catching a reviewer’s eye can be game-changing.