Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Goodbye from me - by Tara Lyons

I've loved sharing all my bookish experiences with all at AE
I posted my first blog for Authors Electric in April 2016, just a month after I'd self-published my debut solo book. I felt a great sense of belonging - reading other author's posts, having a new monthly "deadline" and sharing my bookish experiences with everyone involved with AE. In the past year and a half, that feeling hasn't changed, although my situation has.
My son finally entered the world of full-time education, and while that sounds like I should have more time on my hands, I haven't. It's quite a surreal feeling to be given more "free" hours each day, yet feel you're still not getting enough done.

But, not only am I using this time to write the fourth book in my series, I've also taken on a new project that will mean I can continue to work from home and keep my working fingers in the proverbial publishing pie.
Sadly, that does mean something has to give. And with the new, increasing deadlines, I'm sorry to say I will be stepping back from my monthly blog posts on Authors Electric. I'd just like to thank the team, who have helped me publish a few short stories in the AE anthologies, and who are a fantastic bunch of people. I'll be stopping by whenever I can to catch up with the posts.
So, in the words of Cilla, ta-ra for now (and if you'd like to follow what I'm up to next, stay tuned to my Amazon Author page).

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Holiday reading habits, by Elizabeth Kay


Cinnamon hummingbird

I’ve recently returned from three weeks in central America. The first part was an organised tour of Nicaragua, with seven participants, including me, plus our guide, and the second part was staying with a friend in Costa Rica.
     I’ve always used these holidays as material for stories, but this time I was intrigued by the differing reading habits of the others on the first trip. Most people brought books, not e-readers, much to my surprise. When you have a 20 kilo weight limit on an aircraft books take up quite a lot of it, so for me an e-reader has been a real bonus as I never run out of something to read.
     What seems to happen is that people read the paperbacks they’ve brought, and then leave them somewhere for other people to read and use the resulting space to bring back souvenirs. It never seems to occur to them that authors get nothing when a book is passed on, or sent to a charity shop. I’ve nothing against charity shops, they do good works, but it does rankle when someone asks you to sign a copy that they’ve bought in Oxfam. Not all authors earn a fortune, the way so many people assume they do, and a few sales can actually be rather important, both for income and rankings. So hurrah for the e-reader, which no one is going to leave behind for someone else to read.
     My husband and I do share books on our Kindles, but that’s just two of us. Charity shops encourage their clients to read something, and then bring it back so that it can be sold over and over again. I wonder how the managers would feel if they were expected to work for nothing? PLR has made libraries a positive force for the writer; we’re all in favour of them as some recognition for the amount of work that goes into a book, however small, is good news.
      I’m always surprised by how much more expensive books seem to be in other countries. Costa Rica is not a third world country by any stretch of the imagination; it’s become a very popular tourist destination, especially with the US as it’s on their doorstep. Books there cost more than they do over here. A lot of countries have English Language sections in their bookshops now, but as the books are all imports it makes them even more expensive.
Howler monkey
Sally Lightfoot Crab, illustration
Sally Lightfoot Crab, taken in Galapagos
        Although I read nearly all my fiction via the Kindle, I still buy field guides in hardback. I’m fussy, too, having illustrated a few myself. There’s a good reason why the best guides contain illustrations rather than photographs. Try taking a picture of an animal from the right angle that shows all its features, doesn’t have a shadow on it somewhere or a bit of foliage obscuring part of a leg. It’s really difficult. Illustrations can be derived from several photographs, or even the animal itself. I used to wonder why, in the Natural History Museum, they have an entire drawer devoted to one insect – it’s so that you know what the majority of the species looks like, because there are always aberrations. Butterflies, with white patches on their wings. Moths that have oddly-shaped antennae. Crickets that never reached full size. Mistakes get made, too. Many years ago I was doing an illustration of a swordfish. Like most people, I’d assumed that the fish was dark on top, and silver or white underneath. Not so. It’s copper-coloured. The books that first showed it were in black and white, and other illustrators simply copied previous illustrations. This is why I always buy reputable guides, and update them every so often. Even using the live creature can pose problems. I was illustrating a stick insect for a T-shirt, and obtained a live specimen. I was really pleased with the result, and a lot of them were printed. And then someone pointed out that the antennae were too short. I couldn’t believe it – the insect I used had clearly had some sort of mishap, and both its antennae had been broken off at the same place!

Friendly mantis

Anyway, here are a few photos from the holiday in Central America, and a wildlife illustration as well, so that you can see the difference. These days, I try to paint from my own photographs, as not only does it avoid royalty conflicts, I also know a bit about the animal concerned. 
Pacific parakeet

Monday, 16 October 2017

A Murder of Crime Writers by Wendy H Jones

 So what do Canada's 150th Birthday and a bunch of crime writers have in common? No it's not a joke. For their 150th Birthday the Canadians threw the crime party of the year, Bouchercon 2017. This conference hosts the glitterati of the crime writing world and it was an honour to be a part of it. The fact it was in Toronto was the icing on the cake. What an exciting city. The vibrancy and fun of Toronto is another blog post in itself.

So, why am I waxing lyrical about Bouchercon? The answer, it is a chance to hear the top names in the industry talk about their writing and publishing itself. Who can pass up the chance to hear from the likes of Sara Paretsky and Kathy Reich? Not only are they knowledgable, but also extremely funny.

Of course, I had to have my photo taken with them.

Kathy Reich and Sara Paretsky

The Scots were in town in force. Caro Ramsey moderated a panel with her usual flair and bucketloads of humour. Her panellists were equally funny leading to genuinely laugh out loud moments. 

What with a dance, a quiz, networking, panels and making new friends it was a whirlwind of fun and learning about the industry. The Canadians put on a great event and made everyone feel welcome. I am already looking forward to the next Bouchercon. If you ever get a chance to go to one I can highly recommend it. It's not all dead bodies you know. 

About the Author

Wendy H. Jones is the author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mystery series, and The Young Adult series, The Fergus and Flora Mysteries. She is also an international public speaker, the presenter of Wendy's Book Buzz radio show, and runs a Writers Consultancy and Training company, Equipped to Write.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

TARGET PRACTICE: or Waiting to See the Whites of Their Eyes by Jane Thornley

My early indie publishing career had me uploading my first book on Amazon and then sitting back to wait for the readers to flock in. I did have a newsletter list consisting of fans who had been following me from a prior life, and it was to them that I sent the initial BUY MY BOOK message. Actually, buy it they did. In fact, they bought enough books on that first day to jettison me up to within the top 10 of all books on Amazon. At the time (this was 2013), I was unimpressed. #1 would have been so much better.

But after that, I just waited. I thought for sure that after Frozen Angel's excellent maiden voyage, something magic would happen and my writing career would just take off on some fairy-dusted trajectory without my assistance. Huh. Still, I just kept writing rather than marketing because that's what I'd always done.

And then various self-published marketing courses began hitting the scene with stories of authors actually finding readers through social media. Inspiration fired my jets. The first course I took (and the only one I needed) focussed on marketing through Facebook. By then, I'd launched a series that was not only a thriller/mystery/caper hybrid, but featured a protagonist who knit. Knitting anything ends up wedged among the cosies on Amazon, but mine didn't fit. I had blood, guts, high-speed chases, oh, and sex. Besides, knitting was not even a plot factor, making my reviews often petulant and disappointed. No, I needed to go reader-hunting and target my readers right between the eyes. Distinguishing my series from the masses became my overwhelming impetus. Facebook offered just the tools needed.

By now thousands of market-savvy writers had begun proliferating the Facebook feeds with clever ads, most of them targeting broad categories like suspense, mystery, or 'readers who like author fill-in-the-blank'. But, thanks to Facebook's specific audience-targeting capabilities, I could zero in on readers who love thrillers/mysteries but who also knit, or readers who love thrillers but who are also interested in textiles and archaeology. By honing in on age groups, interests, and even gender, I could package eye-catching graphics with a catchy phrase and hit my potential readers right between the eyes. 

Here's the short story: this huntress found her readers. Hoards of them. For the first few months of my Facebook career, I thought I'd be buying a second home in Italy. I was a best-selling author! I say this is past tense because then Facebook flipped the switch. They dialled down the number of ads sent to their subscribers; they offered their peeps the option to turn ads off all together and; they made the exercise of reader-hunting much more expensive. On top of that, world events began spewing vitriole and anguish into the online feeds, prompting many of my readers to simply switch off. My sales took a nose-dive, resulting in me dialling down my Facebook ads before I went broke.

But, hey, I'm back. Now I'm coming in with a new psychological suspense series which should appeal to a broader interest-base, just as the Facebookers slowly begin to reengage with social media. New ads are blooming in my head as I write, and my marketing plan is ready to roll with Facebook and my newsletter list being my prime campaign strategy.

 I will go reader-hunting again, this time with a beady eye fixed on targeting new reader profiles. Beware, dear reader: this time I may be coming for you.

For more information on Facebook advertising, try this source: Resources for Author Marketing

Saturday, 14 October 2017

SHOW ME THE MONEY! - Louise Boland

Last week I heard a shocking story from a writer friend.  It probably isn’t shocking to those writers of the Authors Electric crew who’ve been in the game a while, but I guess I’m still a newbie to this world of publishing, so it was shocking to me.  I’m going to call the story, The Sure Thing, and it goes like this….

An unpublished writer sends his first novel to a high-profile London agent who takes an interest in it.  The agent requests some significant re-writes and asks him to be sure to send it back.  It takes the writer a year to make the changes, after which he excitedly returns it.  The days tick by.  We all know how it goes.  Jumping whenever the phone rings, the heart stopping with every message ping.  Two months tick by.  He tentatively rings the agent.  Whoops! The agent forgot to put it on their ‘To read’ list.  Apologies given and accepted.

The days tick by.  We all know how it goes.  Jumping whenever the phone rings, the heart stopping with every message ping.  A further two months tick by. He tentatively rings the agent (with a slightly heavier heart this time). Whoops! says the agent, I forgot to put it on my ‘To read’ list.  No! No! cries the writer. That’s what you said to me two months’ ago.  Did I? replies the agent, nervously. Yes… stammers the writer, his head in his hands.  Oh, well, says the agent, I guess that means I just wasn't that into it.  Thanks, but I won’t take it any further.

What to do about it?

Well I’m guessing quite a few people are shouting SELF PUBLISH! at the screen. And I agree that’s a great way to cut out all the nonsense above. Self publishing has been a revolution for writers – but as we all know, it’s not without its own difficulties.  

For those trying to squeeze their writing in between a job… running a family… friends… hobbies, a social life… figuring out how to create an e-book, understand Print On Demand or set up and run a marketing campaign can seem like one or three mountains too many.  Sending an unpublished manuscript into a submissions process, for many new writers, is still a necessary evil.

Respect for Writers?

So, I have a question for those ‘old hands’ out there.  Has the publishing industry’s submissions process always been so disrespectful to aspiring writers or is this a recent phenomenon? 

As a newbie publisher (, we really want to try to get this right.  We can’t publish everything that we get sent, that would be impossible, but there’s no reason why we can’t run a submissions program which shows some respect to those writers who have been kind enough to send us their work.

We’re thinking maybe we should try and raise the bar on this and have some sort of code of practice for submissions.  Perhaps the following:

Fairlight Books

We agree to endeavour to:

-          Acknowledge every submission we receive
-          Reply to every submitter with a response within three (or two?) months
-       Read everything that we get sent and banish the word 'SLUSH PILE' from our company ethos.

We know we won’t always get it right.  That mistakes will get made and the odd submission accidentally overlooked.  We know that already we often um and err too long about something great we’ve been sent but aren’t sure what to do with, and that currently the process of responding once we have a full manuscript is taking longer than we’d wish as we find our feet.

But we think if we try to stick to an ethos of remembering that there is a person at the other end of that submissions process, we’re starting off on the right track.

I’d love to know other writers’ thoughts on the matter.  What are your stories – good and bad? Should we have a Code of Practise for submissions?  If so, what should it be called? Respect for Writers? A Jerry Macquire-esque Submissions Manifesto? [Hence the eponymous title of this blog] And what should be in it?

You can comment or tweet us on @Fairlightbooks

All thoughts welcome!

Friday, 13 October 2017

A Bit of DIY by Ann Evans

Firstly apologies for being absent last month. I don't know where the time went to. One minute I'd got days to go before I had to write my blog, next minute I'd missed it by two days. I'm hoping it's not an age thing, more a really busy 'up to my eyes' kind of thing.

And one of those things was to try and bring my children's book Rampage back to life. It was published by Usborne back in 2007 as the third book in my Beast Trilogy – The Beast, The Reawakening and Rampage

As publishers tend to do, they decide they are going to let your book go out of print when you least expect it. In my case it wasn't long after The Beast took top place in the 2013 Coventry Literary Book awards in the raring2read category; and Usborne were offering me as a prize in a schools' prize draw – win an author visit to your school, at The Education Show. So it came as a bit of an unwelcome surprise to get the dreaded letter giving me the bad news so soon after all that. 
 Somehow or other, I managed to acquire plenty of stock of The Beast and The Reawakening, but Rampage was another story. I soon realised I'd got about two copies to my name. And despite the publisher losing faith in the trilogy, I know from experience how schools love these books, and as I do school visits fairly regularly I needed stock of all three books to take with me.

With copyright back with me for all three I was able to buy back the licence to use the Rampage artwork for 10 years for a certain fee. However, it didn't include the text/title etc. So once again trusty friend and photographer Rob Tysall did a great job in adding the necessary words onto the image. He also did three new covers for when I put the trilogy out as ebooks – which I'm determined to do soon!

But meanwhile, getting the layout for Rampage via CreateSpace was fiddly to say the least. But I got it done finally and sent for a proof. Only then did I realise I'd sized it incorrectly and Rampage was bigger than the other two, the spacing was all wrong, and I hadn't numbered the pages - so back to the drawing board. I think I've got it right now, and I'm currently waiting for a second proof to land on the doormat. I have my fingers and toes crossed.

I'm wondering whether other Authors Electric Indie writers find the technical side of producing their books as paperbacks or ebooks easy or not. How do you feel, is this the best bit after getting the writing done and dusted? Or is it the bit you dread?

I'm planning on updating my 'Become a Writer – A step by step guide' soon, and guessing that it will be a bit of a nightmare. Not for the printed version, as I'll be saving that as a PDF before uploading it, but the ebook version, as it has many chapters, sub chapters, bullet points, indents and so on. A local publisher did all the layout previously, but now I'll be re-issuing it under my own steam. Wish me luck!

Have you read Kill or Die. Decisions can be murder.

Please visit my website:

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Rotten Bitch-- A True Writin' Fable by Reb MacRath

In a minute I'll get to the rotten bitch who inspired this true fable. For now, true to form, I'll stand the writin' rules on their little pointed heads and start off with the moral:

Familiarity with writers may breed worse than contempt: neglect.

This moral evolved from three hard-learned lessons. (And don't fret, the rotten bitch is on her way.)

1) Many readers believe the best writers are dead.

2) Most readers prefer living writers to be remote, unreachable, even a bit otherworldly. The less known about them the better, for a myth is as good as a mile.

3) Some readers who are thinking of planning to write enjoy putting down struggling writers they meet. Every put down adds more fuel to the fire of their conviction that they're better off not trying.

All right, all right, already. It's time now for the rotten bitch.

Setting: the Amtrak Empire Builder, a round-trip cross country excursion.

In the dining car I was seated with an attractive older woman. Our conversation took a number of pleasant turns till the subject of writing came up, mysteries in particular-- and I admitted I wrote them. Two things happened then at once: Her eyes lit up. But her questions proved a game of cat and mouse:

I'd heard most of her questions time and again before:
Why am I publishing ebooks? If my stuff is really good, wouldn't I have an agent and wouldn't my books be in stores? How can I be happy to spend thousands of hours on projects and not be able to fly first class, vacation in Madrid? Etc.

I played the role of wily mouse:
My first four books were placed with two major publishers....I won a major international award and was even optioned for film... Those first four books appeared in stores...I have had a number of agents...But the publishing industry has changed dramatically and thousands on thousands of traditionally published writers were orphaned in the process... As for success, I write the books I want to write-- my way, at my own pace.

Before we parted, I gave her one of my business cards. And she promised to buy one of my books as soon as we reached a station with internet access.  I excused myself and hobbled off, badly injured in a fall the week before. I thought I'd seen the last of her. But...

The next morning, she joined me in the dining room for breakfast. She seemed a bit agitated. And her questions had an edge. In particular, she wanted to know why I now live in Seattle. Surely if I were a serious writer, I'd live in New York or L.A.

I started to tell her of Seattle's funky charms. I said I really loved the colors of Seattle: the slightly grunged-out grays and greens mixed with buildings in varied shades of terracotta.

That was it, for her. She slapped my card down on the table and snapped: "Terracotta, dear, is RED. Not brown or orange or anything else. And if you were a real writer, you'd know that!" And with those words, she moved to another table after sneering at my cane.

Well, the point was moot since we had no Wi-Fi. But Google could have told her this:

Reminiscent of a fading sunset or stark desert, terracottas are earthy hues that brings a sense of inviting warmth to any space it touches. Whether it’s a muted clay or a rust orange, this color can suit a variety of home styles and tastes.

One year later, I'm still stung and tempted to cry out at the top of my lungs:


But no. I'd prefer to think that she'd been looking for a train romance. In which case, I offer my belated response:



Special bonus: Umberto Tosi has written a wonderful post about self-promotion and writers interacting with readers. Check it out!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Homeopathy for the Soul: Misha Herwin

In a few weeks’ time it will be Halloween. The supermarkets are already full of pumpkins, plastic cobwebs, spiders and buckets, in which to collect the goodies for trick or treat, skeleton masks and costumes, all of which will be bought for children, who will set off happily on the night of October 31st, to celebrate…what?
Death, the afterlife, the afterlife, the interaction between the living and the dead, these are the themes of All Hallows’ Eve and I very much doubt whether the kids, who knock on my door asking for sweets, have any idea of the meaning of this custom. For them, it’s a chance to get lots of sweet things, dress up and go to Halloween themed parties, where they will eat scorched sausages, toffee apples and possibly play traditional games, like bobbing for apples.
Trick or treating, however, has a long history. Although many people believe it came from the USA, it originated in medieval times, when children and poor people went from house to house begging for money or food, in return for praying for the souls of the departed. Thus keeping the link to the Celtic festival of Samhain and the origin of All Hallows’ Night, when it was believed that the barrier between our world and the next grew very thin.
It was, and still is, a time when human beings contemplate their mortality and the possibility that death is not the end. The fear of what is inevitable and what will follow, or maybe not, is mitigated by ritual. It is also where the ghost story comes into its own.
Ghosts promise us an afterlife. The shiver the stories send up the spine are a way of dealing with the primeval fear we all experience at the idea of: 
“The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns.”
Telling, writing and listening to ghost stories is a way of inoculating us against some of that fear. It is a homeopathy of the soul.
It is also a comfort, as these horrors are experienced through the medium of a book, or a film and, while we might tremble, or hide our eyes, we know that what we are experiencing is fiction and we will soon return to the safety of our lives.
The best ghost stories, however, will not let you go. They grip you and shake you and slide into your veins. There are the classics like Henry James, “The Turn of the Screw” and for me a more recent one, “Nanna Burrows” by Jan Edwards. This story, from her anthology “Leinster Gardens and other Subtleties”, has lingered long in my psyche.
 Equally powerful is her “Pet Therapy”, to be found in “Fables and Fabrications”, which centres around the power of a malign spirit.
The inevitable ending of both those tales of the supernatural is something I fight against. I want a different resolution, just as we strive against the “dying of the light” and try through scores of health and anti-aging initiatives to convince ourselves that it will not happen to us, at least, not yet.
Time slip is another way of coming to terms with change and loss. It brings a sense of continuity, that lives might end, yet still exist in a past which can be visited and, in some cases, what has been tragic can be given a different outcome, by the actions of the protagonist.
So, as the nights draw in, we huddle in the darkness, illuminate our pumpkins to banish what lurks in the shadows and tell stories to chill our blood.

If you are interested in any of the books mentioned, both Jan Edwards’ “Fables and Fabrications” and my time slip novel “House of Shadows” are now on special offer, for this month only, on Amazon. Click here for “Fables and Fabrications” and here for “House of Shadows.”

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

By any other name ... Karen Bush

One of the things I find most annoying about Facebook (apart from the amount of time I waste on it) are the lists that keep doing the rounds. In particular the ones that urge you to "Find Your Hobbit/Elf/Pixie/Reindeer etc etc Name"  Selected on the basis of things such as the first letter of your name or birth month, they are universally dreadful, apparently compiled by someone who possesses little imagination and definitely not the terrific sense of humour (s)he thinks (s)he has ... 

Actually, thinking about it again I realise that these naming lists don't just annoy me: I loathe them. 

I've been  fan of fantasy ever since I started reading, and if I'm going to have a fantasy name, then I want a good one. I've had to put up with my real name for the whole of my life, and this time I want to choose one I like. 

So I'm going to ignore those who feel that Grumblefart Roomclearer or Nosegrinder Earbender is more appropriate: from now on, mortals, you may address me as "Nibwielder" ... although I suspect I'm going to have to make many votive offerings at the altar of the Print Demons to ensure that typos don't conspire to turn me into The Terrifying Nobwelder.

So what's your fantasy name?

Ghosts Electric.
Written by us.
Its good stuff.

PS It's October, the season of ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night ... so get a move on and order up your copy of Ghosts Electric or I'll send round Archie PigeonsBane and Angel VolesDoom. You have been warned ..

PPS Oh yeah ... the results of last months competition! I loved all your suggestions, but rules are rules and there weren't six entries. So no winners. That's right, Nibwielder is made of steely stuff and believes in tough love ... 

Monday, 9 October 2017

No Letters Please -- for Andrea Sutcliffe and others by Julia Jones

“On October 6th, very suddenly, Beedings, Tunbridge Wells, Daphne, dearly loved younger daughter of Francis and Hazel Winstone-Scott. No letters please.” (Sevenoaks Chronicle & Kentish Advertiser 12.10.1945).

Daphne was my mother’s younger sister. She had gone up to her bedroom, that Saturday evening, and shot herself with their father’s WW1 revolver. It was 1945 and she was just fifteen. 

I learn now, from checking old newspapers, (oh, the magic of the internet!) that Daphne had suffered periods of illness from the age of six and had spent eighteen months in bed when she was twelve.  I remember that one of my aunts had told me long ago that Daphne had suffered from kidney disease and committed suicide because she realised she was going to die anyway.  In fact dialysis was already entering the development stage by 1945 -- but Daphne didn't know that. Daily Mirror report dubbed her “the girl who would never grow up.” (8.10.1945)

At the inquest, which was held in the family home, Daphne’s doctor, who had seen her the day before, agreed that her illness would have shortened her life eventually but said there was nothing otherwise out of the ordinary at that time. When he had seen her she had been in good spirits and looking forward to a holiday. “Active and lively, she was a normal child with more than normal intelligence.”  As far as the doctor knew “she was not aware that she had a chronic disease nor did it strike him that she was worrying about her health.” (Kent & Sussex Courier 12.10.1945). Her father, however, who also gave evidence, said that although he had no reason to think that Daphne was aware of the serious nature of her illness “being an exceptionally intelligent child she might possibly have guessed the truth.” (He, by then, must have read the note she left)

But what truth? Was she going to die next week? Next year? Sometime?  She’d not gone away to school like her older siblings but had stayed at home focussing much of her attention on her pony, who she drove when she couldn’t ride. The Daily Mirror article claimed she’d told someone she was worried because she couldn’t exercise her pony properly. Most of the checkable details in that article are wrong and the sources are anonymous – but not being able to exercise a pony properly is the sort of anxiety that could so easily prey on a young girl’s mind when she knew she was seriously ill but no one was talking to her about it.  

Outwardly Saturday October 6th 1945 had been a normal day. Daphne and her parents had been to a Victory Fete in aid of a maternity home part-funded by her father. Then there’d been supper with older sister June (my mother) down from London for the weekend and older brother Rivers home on leave but out playing bridge with neighbours. After supper Daphne went upstairs, locked her bedroom door and shot herself. A note was later found “in the child’s handwriting”. 

According to the newspaper report of the inquest the family downstairs (my mother and her parents) heard a “crash”, went up, found the door locked, got no answer from inside and called the police. Detective Sergeant Curling “effected entrance” through the window and discovered that Daphne had fired two shots, one to blow out the middle pane in the window and the other in her own forehead. The coroner came to the decision "that she took her own life while the balance of her mind was disturbed but he wished to make it clear that there was no question of insanity."  The doctor too was at pains to point out that her illness was “physical, not mental."

Daphne’s shadow has affected my life since I was a teenager myself.  Aunt Ruth (my mother's oldest brother's wife) told me the story when I was staying with her – and warned that Mum would not be able to speak of it. Two details from that conversation stuck indelibly in my mind: firstly that it had been Mum who had run to fetch a ladder and climbed up to her sister’s bedroom as soon as the shot (not “crash”) was heard and secondly that her parents had mixed Daphne’s ashes with the horses’ feed. Ruth had been shocked. I was horrified.

I repeated that part of the story to one of my cousins a few years ago. He’s a racehorse stud manager in Australia and was so utterly, instinctively, appalled (looking at it from the point of view of the horses) that I found myself needing to question my memory. We were talking after the funeral of his father, Rivers, who had been brought rushing back from his bridge party by a phone call. Rivers rarely spoke of that night (recorded two hours of taped memoir without mentioning his younger sister at all) but did once mention that, in his old age, he found himself, reluctantly, thinking of her more. It sounded painful and I didn’t press him.  I had it in mind that I would find an opportunity to ask Gloria, his partner, what she knew. But I didn't and Gloria died last week (Oct 3rd 2017). 

I couldn’t ask my mother. Daphne’s death has remained lastingly traumatic for her.  She suffered a breakdown and was sent on a long trip to visit relatives in Kenya and the Sudan. Her parents also left Tunbridge Wells and did not return until the following autumn when they leased a different house. While we were growing up my mother never spoke of her sister. Had it not been for Ruth I’d have known nothing until recent years when age and illness have dismantled Mum's defences and she is sometimes overwhelmed by the emotions of the past. Would ignorance have been a good thing? I have certainly found the knowledge troubling – it sent me to join the Samaritans aged 18. But my mother’s life was indelibly marked by her sister's death and that key information has helped me to understand her better. So, thank you for your confidence, chatty Aunt Ruth.

My cousin and I talked dates and reassured ourselves that the detail of the ashes and the horses must have been wrong as that part of the family’s life was over. Horses had been part of the pre-war golden time of polo and skiing: tennis, amateur dramatics and summer camps. Prosperous, happy, busy family life in a lovely house with generous hospitality and staff who were also friends -- all that was gone by 1945. We didn’t know, until I read those newspapers, that there had been one pony left. So, perhaps that detail was right … I hope not. But was Ruth also right on the more important fact – that it was Mum who went up the ladder immediately – before the policeman arrived – and saw what had happened. “How could they have let her go up?” But my mother was 21, quick and active. For some forgotten reason there was a ladder lying around that day and it would have been completely in character for Mum to have run outside, fetched it and propped it up to reach her sister’s window.

Only in her most recent years has she wanted to describe those events. Daphne’s chronic illness has gone from her memory, facts vary at each retelling: all that is constant is her pain and anger. But I have heard her, in her father’s voice, shouting at herself to "COME DOWN! AT ONCE! Don’t Look!!”  So I believe she did go up that ladder. And I think she had a glimpse of her sister’s body before she came down and waited those few more moments for the police to come. She has struggled to describe the impact on her mother that night. It leads to fury. “How could she do that to our mother? The little BITCH!!!” She has also, with hatred, described Daphne playing with their father's revolver, tricking him into showing her how it worked – and how to load it.  If I remind her that Daphne herself was ill and only just fifteen years old, she sounds mildly surprised and wonders why “no-one told her”.

That’s the dementia talking – her memories have become increasingly selective and only those with a strong emotional charge come through.  And there are very few of those now. I begin to hope that even Daphne may have gone from Mum’s mind, though her capacity for fear and anger stays strong even when there's nothing left to focus them. 

I know that Mum did know that her sister killed herself because of her illness because she was once responsible enough to share that knowledge with someone else who needed it, my Aunt Cecily, who also died last week (Oct 2nd 2017). (This is a tale of many aunts, much loved.) Cecily was married to Peter, the youngest brother, closest to Daphne in age. He had not been at home the night she died because he was at boarding school but in the long-ago happy days, pre-war, they had been in the nursery together, sharing a nanny and a nursemaid. Peter, I think, had been a somewhat clumsy and short-sighted child; Daphne notably bright and an immediate favourite. By all accounts they were inseparable and devoted to one another.  Peter later became a highly respected racing journalist, passionate about his sport, an acknowledged expert. I asked Cecily how had he weathered this terrible blow, when he had been so young himself? “Peter never mentioned Daphne’s death, throughout our marriage. If your mother hadn’t once told me what had happened I would never have known.”  

When Daphne was in bed for that long time, aged 12, she wrote a pony book, Flame. This was in 1942-43 – when all her brothers and cousins who were old enough were away on active service and her sister (my mother) was doing war work in London, enduring the bombing . “Flame” is stolen, increasingly ill-treated, stiff and starved. But as in all classic pony tales of that era, there is a happy ending, the boy from whom the pony had been stolen returns from the war, a young man now. He sees his pony tethered, almost unrecognisable, in a fair ground. “Flame” wickers: there is a joyous reunion. 

Flame was published in September 1945, just in time for Daphne’s 15th birthday. And after the end of the war, when there could have been true family reunion --  if her death hadn't blown everyone finally apart into their private worlds of pain. Flame meanwhile was a mild success. There was a hard back reprint in September 1946 and a paperback edition but no indication that the author had died. Here’s its entry in pony book historian Jane Badger’s catalogue.The book was illustrated by Lionel Edwards, and was popular enough to merit a reprint. Daphne Winstone did not, as far as I know, write another book. Presumably once she recovered, life itself took over.”  If only ...

Andrea Sutcliffe, CQC chief inspector of social care, lost her brother Adrian to suicide some years ago and now, with the support of their parents, speaks and writes openly about him. It would have been Adrian's birthday on October 1st so this post is for them, as well as for my family and myself.  A few weeks ago I was asking a new friend, who had been supported by Andrea,  why her husband had been allowed to refuse jury service. “Because that was the week we discovered that our 16 year old daughter had killed herself,” she answered. It could have been a total conversation stopper but was not. Our attitudes are changing and people like Andrea make a difference. 

Teenage depression and suicide in young people is a problem for our generation as it was not for the families of 1939-1945. Writing often helps. I’ve recently been reading Paul Heiney’s One Wild Song: Voyage in a Lost Son’s Wake. His son Nicholas committed suicide in 2007, aged 23. I’d previously read Nicholas's mother Libby Purves’s edition of their son's writings, The Silence at the Song’s End. Now I’m reading my friend Kate Saunders’ Secrets of Wishtide, her first novel since Five Children on the Western Front, which was written out of her grief at suicide of her son, Felix Wells, who killed himself when he was 19.  I read it on a sunny day on board Peter Duck, tears streaming uncontrollably down my face.

Five Children on the Western Front won the Costa Prize and may have brought Kate some comfort: The ending of the book made me realise what I was looking for – what all bereaved people are looking for: a distance and a setting right. Which is the best you can hope for, really.” Meanwhile her own level of disability from Multiple Sclerosis increaszed sharply, a fact she attributes directly to Felix's death. “Events like that change the brain chemistry.” I have no hesitation in saying that the evening my 21 year old mother climbed that ladder and glimpsed her young sister so brutally dead changed her “brain chemistry” for ever. But no one spoke or wrote about it so the “distance” never came – nor the “setting right”.

Please Tell Me is my own small contribution (with Claudia Myatt) to more general information-sharing. It's a slim, simple life story "structure" booklet for people living in care homes or ageing with dementia.  It'll be published later this month so, if you'd like a copy, send me an A4 self-addressed envelope with a Large stamp and I'll send you one.
Julia Jones, Sokens, Green Street, Pleshey, nr CHELMSFORD, Essex CM3 1HT 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

With a LOT of help from my friends • Lynne Garner

Over the last few months I've been working on two new short story collections, the first of which came out just under a week ago as an ebook (paperback to follow later this month). Now, the thing with being an indie writer is you have to think about things that when traditionally published you don't have to. This is where being a member of the Authors Electric team makes life that bit easier. You see between us we have a diverse and huge pool of knowledge, which over the last month I've found invaluable.

For example, the question of double or single speech marks was raised by my proof reader/editor. I was taught to use double and automatically use these. However in the last few books I've read single speech marks have been used. After some research I was still scratching my head. So, I put the question to the Authors Electric team, many of whom are also traditionally published. As per usual I received lots of replies. These replies included:

"I prefer to use single, they look neater."

"I had a publisher take all double speech marks out and replace with single. The publisher who sub-published the same book took out the singles and replaced with doubles."

"I was told UK publishers prefer single whilst US publishers prefer double."

"Either, as long as you're consistent."

As the feedback was echoing the results of my research I decided to stick with double.

ebook just 99p  
I asked for feedback on the first version of the cover being designed by a very talented friend (Debbie Knight). As usual the Authors Electric team came up trumps (thank you Karen, Dennis, Debbie Y and Debbie B). And with their comments the cover you see here came into being.

My next question was "what are the benefits of purchasing my own ISBNs?" After receiving some good reasons for purchasing ISBNs off I went, signed up to Nielsen UK ISBN Agency and purchased my first ten ISBNs.  (Thank you Chris, Katherine and Debbie B). This led onto a question about bar codes and again I received some great advice from Debbie Young, about CreateSpace's new barcode policy, which saved me a lot of time.

So with a LOT of help from my Author Electric friends I was able to publish my new book and am well on the way to publishing the second in a few months time. So THANK YOU folks for being willing to share your expertise and offer advice.


Saturday, 7 October 2017

Where Did We Come From? by Bill Kirton

What happened, the title of Hilary Clinton’s recent book, was not a question. Had it been, I’d have offered the following answer, based on evidence from an article I read quite a long time ago in my newspaper.

First, though, when I write the word ‘Neanderthal’ what springs to mind? I know that readers of the AE blog are cultured sophisticates whose only prejudices concern grammatical issues and linguistic niceties but, for at least some of you, I’d guess that, despite your determination to avoid it, there might be some speciesism in your reaction. You’ll see creatures of indeterminate gender with no foreheads who sit in caves grunting monosyllables and tearing raw meat from bones with their prognathous jaws. Perhaps now and then, one will stand, rise to his (this one’s a male) full height of 4 feet 10, club a neighbouring creature (this one will be a female), and drag her off to procreate. The more enlightened among you will probably envision noble savages sitting around a fire listening to their equivalent of Brahms.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Bizarrely, the Brahms faction may be nearer the truth because, according to the article, it seems that Neanderthals wore make-up. Not only that, they also made bracelets and necklaces. For me this is a welcome discovery because something about illustrations of Neanderthals going about their business has always puzzled me. We see them sitting among their scraps of meat and discarded bones looking, frankly, not unlike straightforward apes. There’s no sign of a shower cubicle in the recesses of the cave, no shelves, not even any dishes to put on them. And yet, and yet… they’ve taken the trouble to fashion, out of skins and fur, things resembling skirts. Why? Did they have a rudimentary Bible which told them about Adam biting the apple, noticing that either Eve or himself was malformed and covering up the bits that had gone wrong? Why does someone content to eat raw meat and show affection by clubbing a woman feel embarrassed about his genitalia? Was the obsession about size already a factor? It’s always been a disturbing riddle, a profound mystery simmering insolubly in our past.

Well, not any more. If they wore make-up, they must have been more self-aware than we imagine. They cared about their appearance because (as the journalist noted in his article), ‘they were worth it’. All homo sapiens did was daub graffiti on his walls. Neanderthals, however, decorated themselves, they were proud of their appearance. So pre-history will have to be rewritten and, consequently, our evolutionary notions of our own origins must be modified. Look at today’s TV, our celebrities, our icons – for the most part they consist of appearances. I don’t mean at openings of galleries, first nights at the opera or red carpet premieres, I mean they are what they look like – beautiful, painted constructs, wrapped in luscious fabrics.

And so to the evidence on which my thesis depends. While it would be stretching a point to call today’s leader of the Western world beautiful, his barely comprehensible grunts, the artificial tones of his epidermis, his brow-concealing coiffure, his treatment of women, his aggressive preference for violent solutions, and his general overall brutishness betray a lineal descent which is clearly not from homo sapiens.

The more one follows this line of argument the more persuasive it becomes. It’s evident in most of the alpha male images of Putin and conveyed also by those old daguerreotypes of Bush and Blair at Camp David. Random, unthinking violence is still preferred to reasoned debate, and as long as things look right, they are right. For those of us who are puzzled by the apparent lack of progress in the promised perfectibility of humankind, we can stop worrying – we were looking in the wrong direction. Forget Brahms. Think Homo neanderthalensis.