Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Development by Sandra Horn

I’ve always loved working with small children. From nursery age up through early primary school years, when their world is expanding rapidly and they are working at making sense of it, talking with them is a delight. They vary so much in the conceptual  paths they take along the way. For every child who is sad when the autumn gales destroy Tattybogle, there are several more who ‘love the part where he gets blown all to pieces’! While most children accept that, in The Moon Thieves, the cat, the rat, the boy and his Gran don’t know what the moon is when they first see it, I remember one solemn little boy saying, rather anxiously, ‘But surely the Gran would know?’ We write the stories, the readers make of it what they will. Excellent.

I have sometimes asked a class what they would think the moon was if they didn’t know it was the moon. It’s a question Jean Piaget would have said they couldn’t answer, but in any class of 5 and 6-year-olds, there will be one or two who ‘get it’ and when they do, the rest follow suit. JP neglected to look at the capacity of some members of a group to share ideas and thus expand the knowledge of all. 

A colleague was once conducting a classic Piaget experiment with blue and brown, round and square beads. The idea Piaget had was that at a certain developmental age, children can only use one concept at a time.  That’s exactly what they did when he was in the room, sorting the beads either by colour or by shape, but when he left them alone with the video recorder still running, one child said to the other ‘There are other ways of doing this too, shall I show you?’ and proceeded to demonstrate all the combinations of shape and colour.  It’s interesting that the child waited until the Psychologist left before disclosing what s/he could do! It’s as if they were playing a game with him with a certain set of rules they had intuited. When he left, they reverted to their own ideas.
It’s a complex and expanding world when you are young. My oldest son, aged about three, I think, had a nosebleed. ‘What’s this?’ he asked – quite calmly. When we said it was blood, he was captivated. ‘Oh, really? I had no idea it was this colour!’

It reminded me of Ogden Nash’s poem ‘Don’t cry, darling, it’s blood all right’ in which he wrote about how children may consider gore quite nonchalantly, or even with glee, while being freaked out by a crumpled brown paper bag. We have to learn what to fear (possibly except being dropped and snakes, which may be innate).
Sometimes that learning results in strange ideas. I once invited James, my Nigerian post-graduate student and his wife and son to spend the day with us. James was a very strikingly handsome man, with skin so dark it was almost blue-black.

My youngest son Robert, at that time about the same age as his brother had been when he discovered that blood was red, was ginger-haired, with very white skin and freckles.

He and James took one look at each other and were mutually smitten. They couldn’t stop gazing at each other and grinning, like two people rather dottily in love. They sat next to each other at lunch, gazing and grinning. They held hands when we went for a walk, gazing, etc. It was delightful.

Some months later, Robert and I were in the car waiting to pick up another child. Robert was in the back strapped into his car seat. Suddenly, he gasped, undid the straps and hurled himself down into the footwell. ‘Quick! Get down! Get down! It’s an ugly!’ he yelled. He was obviously very frightened. The only person in sight was an African-Caribbean schoolgirl walking towards us. How he had gone from adoration of someone who could not have looked more different, to panic at the sight of brown skin, I have no idea. He was incoherent at the time, and I’m not sure he took it in when I mentioned James, but his new fear seemed to pass quite quickly. We live in a multi-cultural city and all kinds of people are everywhere; seventeen nationalities at his primary school, for example, and all manner of students coming and going to the house. The point is, it was an odd and unhappy and puzzling incident, but it was transient, as so many such reactions are.

Here’s a thing: we are in the middle of a nasty episode locally– well, on the Isle of Wight, in fact, just over the water from here. A couple have removed their sons from a C of E primary school because another boy at the school has taken to wearing a dress, sometimes.  They say it’s against their ‘Christian’ principles and their children are too young to face such issues as transgender people.  An LGBT  spokesperson has waded in on the other side. The couple are also suing the school, although I’m not clear what the grounds for that are.  It makes me want to shout ‘Stop!’ You don’t even know, any of you, that this is a transgender issue! Let him be, both lots of you! Turn the spotlight OFF children as they explore who they are and what that means!’ The boy in question is six years old, for crying out loud!
At that age or a little older, two girls we knew, both daughters of friends from different parts of the country and not known to each other, decided they were boys. This was announced calmly by both mothers: ‘By the way, J is a boy now.’ ‘Just so you know, H is a boy now– and not just any boy; a pirate boy.’

J and H wore trousers (and a pirate scarf on her head in H’s case), insisted on being called boys’ names, behaved as they decided a boy would. No fuss, no sweat at home or at school. It passed. At some point, they both reverted to girlhood. All part of the process of discovering who they might be, trying out different personae. I accept that a boy in a dress is more conspicuous than a girl in trousers, but even so, it’s the same kind of thing. A developmental phase requiring non-judgemental support from relevant adults while they keep the emotional tone low and even. That way, whether or not children are transgender will become apparent later and no traumas will have attended the issue.
‘They’re all queer but thee and me, and even thee’s a little odd’.  Include me, though. Something for writers to celebrate. After all, we know all about taking on a new persona, and adopting new and peculiar perspectives on the world  and its people and shedding them when they no longer serve.
Just like children.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Displacement therapy - Jan Edwards

House moving looms and we find that BT are unable to supply a telephone line until 14 days after the current house owner has moved out, and can't supply us with a telephone number until then. Our internet provider cannot supply us with a connection until we have our new number - and there is a ten day wait. Well that was the first rendering. My other half spending half a day on the phone has resulted in shortening those time scales a little, with luck, but only time will tell by how much.
Yes, I know most people will use their tablet or smart phone instead but I am one of those people who kill things electronic, meaning I don't have a phone capable of email. The long and short of it is that, as you read this, I shall be languishing in the new house, surrounded by cardboard boxes and unable to get online.
My first reaction was eeek! But given time to think about it this may be a blessing in disguise.

I suspect many of us have come to rely on social media far too much. Many of the writers I chat with appear to check email, Facebook, Twitter and the like every hour on the hour; and though they bemoan the time they spend there readily admit they can’t help themselves.  I will hold my hand up and include myself in that weak-willed collective, and that is before I dive into three hours of research for one line of text. (Which happens more often than I care to admit.)
This constant sliding away from the story in hand to check 'online' is, of course, classic displacement activity. We tell ourselves that we need to be online 'networking' as a part of our job. And that is true to an extent. Editors and agents will always say when giving talks and workshops that they always Google authors, and expect us all to have a healthy online presence. The Indie writing gurus will assure us that being 'out there' is essential for sales and yes they are right.
All of that said I have more than a sneaking suspicion that I used to do an awful lot more writing before social media crashed into my life.  The internet is a chronic thief of time, but with the added bonus that one need no even leave one's desk in order to indulge in an hour or so of chatter and/or research.

Unpacking aside it will be interesting to see how much writing I manage to get done during this enforced hiatus. Or not...

Monday, 18 September 2017

Becoming a book fairy, by Tara Lyons

My book fairy journey: The stickers arrived,
the preparation happened and the six places
I left my books in central London on Saturday 16
September 2017.
Today, Goodreads turns 10 and they've celebrated by teaming up with The Book Fairies. Authors and readers were invited to order some special stickers, put them on the front of their books and then hide those books in plain sight for people to find.

I had visited The Book Fairies website before, and loved the idea (you may have read about actress Emma Watson leaving books on London's underground for people to find, well this is the same thing and she is an official "fairy"). So, when I received an email from Goodreads, telling me about their #hideabookday to celebrate their tenth birthday, I knew I had to get involved.

Throughout the year, The Book Fairies website sells stickers, badges, bags and ribbons that you can use with the books you're gifting. I opted for the stickers, as they had a few for Goodreads and also give all the information needed to the person finding the book. I added my own ribbon and placed the books in clear, plastic bags - with London's weather, I couldn't be sure my books wouldn't get soaked! Once I had wrapped and placed stickers on six of my books, my son and I headed to the station and became Book Fairies (a few days early as we had to travel into Central London on Saturday).

Although my son couldn't understand why I was giving my books away for free, we had a great time. We even hung around and watched one book be taken - the man who found it had such a smile on his face, I couldn't help but feel overjoyed. He genuinely looked chuffed that he'd picked up a "hidden" book and kept looking around... but us fairies stayed hidden. I used my author Instagram account to share up-to-the-second updates of where we had left each book - which included train stations, a library, the theatre and a police station. It created a real buzz on my social media accounts.

Inside the book, I wrote little messages - explaining why I'd left my books and how I hoped they'd be enjoyed. I also wrote the official hash tags and my Twitter handle. No-one has been in touch yet, but it's only been two days. And, if I don't receive any messages, I can only hope the books were found by people who will love them - and maybe even share them again. It was great fun and the book fairies are worldwide, meaning if you want to get involved, you can do. And, they don't have to be books you've written - if you're going through your shelves and want to share your favourite book, or need some more space and had been thinking about getting rid of some, this is a great way. Share the book happiness by becoming a fairy too!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Ins and Outs of Words by Elizabeth Kay

Some years ago Bob Newman had a poem published which included the word ‘rescous’. It isn't in First Frush, but there are lots of other clever and funny poems in there. The poem concerned was a sestina, with the additional complication of anagrams for the final words which are repeated in a different order at the end of each line. The poem was spotted by  George Chowdhary Best who was part of a committee deciding on which words were to be dropped from the OED. George produced the poem as proof that the word was still in current use. It was subsequently retained. This is the poem plus its introduction: (with permission).

"Rescous" is, or was, "the illegal recovery of one's own goods after they have been seized by bailiffs but before they have been impounded". When they are recovered after they have been impounded, the crime is not "rescous" but "poundbreach". A few years ago a report from the National Consumer Council recommended that these crimes be removed from the statute book; I don't know whether the government did as they were told.

Robinson’s Jam

I sing of Robinson, a doughty scouser,
A connoisseur of pubs, and of race courses,
A member of the Bootle clan of Crusoes,
A man of wealth to rival that of Croesus,
(Or leave it far behind him, say some sources)
Who found himself unjustly charged with rescous.

A most unusual crime these days is rescous,
"And one I didn't do," protests our scouser.
He goes off to consult his legal sources,
Who though they learnt from correspondence courses
Know quite enough to get as rich as Croesus
From fleecing clients like the Bootle Crusoes.

But they are baffled by this case of Crusoe's.
"Search me! I've never heard of bloody rescous!"
"Still, take the case. That Crusoe's Bootle's Croesus."
So have misfortunes doubled for our scouser,
His fate now at the whim of those whose courses
Were postal, not the best of legal sources?

According to more reputable sources,
When bailiffs take away some goods - say Crusoe's -
To nick them back is not the best of courses
For then you're likely to be charged with "rescous"
(Or "poundbreach", if you're slower than our scouser).
So will his learned friends save Bootle's Croesus?

Well no, for Crusoe's read about old Croesus:
"Be practical, not ethical", say sources
Of ancient wisdom, well-known to our scouser,
And so he showers money from the Crusoes
Upon the jury trying him for rescous.
"And if they ask, you won it at race courses."

Although it's not the lawfullest of courses,
It's how the law works, if you're rich as Croesus.
Don't worry, if you're charged with fraud, or rescous -
Enrich twelve good true men from secret sources
And that will save the good name of the Crusoes.
Now hear the foreman, who's another scouser:

"This scouser who is twice as rich as Croesus,
"Got so at horsey courses, say our sources,
"So Crusoe's clearly innocent of rescous."

And so from archaisms to neologisms – newly-coined words or expressions. Most of them are to do with computers.

To Google – I think we all know what this means.
App – not sure whether the youth of today are even aware that this is short for application.
Crowdsourcing – getting lots of people to pay for you to publish your book…
Hashtag – a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used mainly on Twitter by Donald Trump.
Meme – coined by Richard Dawkins to describe ideas that evolve and proliferate the way genes do.
Geek – originally a circus performer who bit the heads off live chickens.
Chillax – something all authors need to do now and again (also a portmanteau word, of course. I’ll deal with those later...

There are many occasions when a writer needs to invent a word, especially if they dabble in fantasy or SF.

This is the way I went about it in my alternative world in The Divide. I needed to come up with names for a number of mythical/magical/purely invented creatures, as well as their given names. I tried to suggest each creature by combining different characteristics – a japegrin (mischievous pixie) starts from a jape, which is a practical joke, and a grin is the joker’s facial expression when he or she is watching the result. I liked the idea of ragamuckies being the opposite of what brownies are in this world (sprites, originally from Scotland, who tidy people’s homes in the middle of the night), because there wouldn’t be any human houses to clean. Rags suggest ragged clothing, and mucky for dirty. A lickit reminds you of ice cream, or candy – and lickits are cooks specialising in magical sweets.
A sinistrom is very close to the word sinister. The tangle-folk are elves, who were once identified by their very tangled hair. When it came to the names of the characters, rather than the names of the species, I tended to use themes. All the tangle-folk and japegrins are named after plants – Betony is a pinky-purple flower, and an ancient medicinal plant used in herbal remedies. Snakeweed is a pink flower, also known as Bistort. For the brazzles (griffins), I combined the name of something hard or sharp with a body part – Ironclaw, Thornbeak, Flintfeather, and for the brittlehorns (unicorns)
I used something that suggested a pale silvery colour – Pewtermane, Milklegs, Chalky. The one-off names weren’t accidental, either. Leona, of course, suggests the lion part of a sphinx. Turpsik (a female cyclops, with a penchant for poetry and dance) is an abbreviated form of the muse of dance, Terpsichore.  

Portmanteau Words:
The term portmanteau was first used by Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:
“Well, ‘slithy’ means “lithe and slimy” and ‘mimsy’ is “flimsy and miserable”. You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”
Interestingly, the word portmanteau itself is also a blend of two different words: porter (to carry) and manteau (a cloak).

Some of them have become so familiar that we’re unaware of their origins:

email (electronic/mail): Us oldies still think of it as electronic mail – I doubt that the younger generation does!
bionic (biology/electronic): artificial body parts that have been enhanced by technology.
brunch (breakfast/lunch): a meal that is eaten after breakfast but before lunch.
dumbfound (dumb/confound): Greatly astonish or amaze.
ginormous (giant/enormous): large, huge.
modem (modulation/demodulation): an electronic device that makes possible the transmission of data to or from a computer via telephone or other communication lines.
smog (smoke/fog): a form of air pollution that has the qualities of both smoke and fog.
workaholic (work/alcoholic): an individual who works excessive hours.
banoffee (banana/toffee)
alcopop (alcohol/pop)

Others still seem strange:

babymoon (baby/honeymoon): denotes a certain enthusiasm on the wedding night
guyliner (guy/eyeliner): eyeliner for men
hazmat (hazardous/material)
listicle (list/article): bit like this, really
ecoteur (ecological/saboteur)
bankster (banker/gangster)
frogurt (frozen/yogurt)
frolf (Frisbee/golf): How on earth does that work?
Cosplay (costume/play): wearing costumes and accessories that resemble those of characters from various forms of popular culture.
insinuendo (insinuation/innuendo)

Although I tend to be a bit of a stickler for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, I can’t resist making up words every so often. Have you come up with any goodies?

Saturday, 16 September 2017

It's not all Writing - There's Marketing Too by Wendy H. Jones


The image of the writer sitting alone, huddled over a typewriter is a long held image. For much of the time this is true, although we now have the modern equivalent - a computer and word processor. However, writers do spend a lot of time in solitary confinement, writing. 

And of course there is editing to be done. This really does necessitate being alone, usually with a vast expanse of table, highlighters, red pen, a Thesaurus and a Dictionary. Most writers will tell you at this is hard slog, and yet somehow satisfying. Often it seems to take longer than writing the book in the first place. Then there's rewriting and re-editing. You get the picture. 

What has this got to do with marketing I hear you ask? A fine question indeed. The above leads me on to the first tip I have for marketing your books. 

1. The most important task you can do to market your book is write a good book in the first place. The better the book, the more likely readers are to buy and recommend to their friends. 

2. Next up is write more books. The more books you have, the more you will sell. Bringing out a new book will sell your back catalogue. 

3. Sometimes I will write in other places and then post photo's of where I am writing. The more obscure the better. Remember to stay safe doing this. When I was buying a car I seemed to spend a lot of time sitting around in car showrooms for various reasons. I whipped out my laptop, did a bit of writing and took photos of myself doing so with flash cars in the background. I then uploaded them to social media. The advantage of this sort of thing is that it's fun, your not saying buy my book, and yet it still gets a buzz going about the next book.

The title of my blog said 'It's not all writing'. So far my tips have all been about writing. This is because writing is our primary task. We must set aside time every day for writing and not let the rest get in the way. However, the rest is still important if you want to sell books. 

4. Step out of the door. Yes, get up and get out. Out of the house/office and out of your comfort zone. Take chances. Ask bookshops if you can have a book signing. What is the worst that can happen? They say no. To my knowledge no one has ever died of embarrassment. I was a nurse in a previous life so I can state categorically that is true. 

5. Think of links to your books and see if you can do a book signing or a workshop there. I have done a workshop for children on the Frigate Unicorn. Some of the action in my book takes place on there. The charity were delighted to arrange everything and I had a fabulous time. 

6. Think outside the box. Yesterday I did a book signing at a local mill for their open day. I had a fabulous time and sold books. What a great way to spend a day. Is there anything happening locally which would fit in with your book.

7. Be prepared to make a fool of yourself, and have great fun. I have joined together with several other crime writers and we are doing The Murder and Mayhem Tour. This involves a dead body and lots of questioning from PC Noir or PC Plod depending on which version we do. The person who guesses the murderer gets a prize of one of our books. This can involve our own clothes or costumes. 
8. Join together with other writers to support each other. This can involve marketing each other books, writing reviews of each others books. Please note I am talking about blog reviews here, or reviews on social media. Please do not swap reviews on Amazon as this will get the reviews removed and may even get your account removed.

I hope you've found this helpful. Please add your own advice and tips in the comments, and we can all help each other. If you would like more marketing hints and tips then I am the author of Power Packed Book Marketing



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.


Amazon Author Page



Friday, 15 September 2017

Come and Get Me: Promoting Books on Social Media, PT. 1

I left the treadmill of traditional publishing long ago. Actually I vacated about the same time I realized that neither my potential readers nor my lifespan could afford to wait long enough for the publishing machine to work: one to two years waiting between acceptance and publication; changing editors with diverse points of view; agents who operate on an outdated publishing model. That was my experience, which prompted me to jettison into self-publishing and never look back. I can say with complete honesty that if a publishing house were to offer me a contract today, I probably wouldn't take it.

Unless it was a HUGE amount of money and a movie contract! (Joking)

Anyways, I love being in control of my publishing destiny. Like surfing, it requires skill, reflexes, and keeping one's eyes open for the next big wave. Traditional publishing, by comparison, can be more like being a passenger on a cruise ship, destination unknown. The world is bound to change significantly before that ship ever arrives in port.

However, being an indie author does require grappling with change head on. Part of the entrepreneur's job is learning every aspect of the promotion business and then regrouping and learning it all over again two months later. Everything is constantly in flux. Luckily, I find this perpetual rebooting mostly energizing rather than enervating. It means I must spend time reading and researching, taking advantage of analytics, and spending at least 30 minutes a day at my desk tweaking ads instead of writing. That, admittedly, is no small sacrifice given that my prime writing time is the first four hours after I wake up. Still, I am an author entrepreneur and this is just part of doing business.

Every author, whether indie or traditionally published, has a different tale regarding the publishing journey but I'm eager to share mine. In the next few 15th-of-the-month articles, I plan to take you through some of the key points I've learned about book marketing on social media, some of which may apply to my unique circumstances and some of which you may find useful. This story in multiple sections is partially a cautionary tale. I have done it all, and experience amazing success interspersed with dismal failures. I'm in the midst of a major author reset at the moment with the aim being to repeat the successes of my recent past.

First on my topic roster will be very brief, which suits the platform: Twitter. In short, I despise it. To me it's the equivalent of a drive-by shooting. I've taken courses on using the platform, studied the supposed masters, and still see little value in it for the purposes of reaching a new readership. The only positive thing I can say is that it's mostly free unless you pay for an ad. Being free means that anybody can use it to promote anything and they do. Often. Mercilessly.

Sometimes a particularly clever graphic coupled with brief header catches the attention of a few new readers, but generally the effort isn't worth the return. Maybe it's because I dislike being restricted to a set number of words, or maybe I detest feeling like a spammer of limited intelligence. Arn't those hashtags no more that gobbledygook with dual exhaust? Am I sounding like ancient history? No matter, in my opinion Twitter is designed for limited attention spans. Consider this: Trump uses it.

Plus, Twitter above all other platforms right now is proliferating spammers, horn-blowers, and tireless self-promoters. Self-promotion differs from advertising, by the way. True ad copy takes more thought than the standard monosyllabic blast I see in the Twittersphere. So, my final word on Twitter is that there are much better ways to promote one's books, which isn't to say that it doesn't help to have a presence there. By all means, be present. Just don't expect it to give back.

Here's an interesting article that offers yet another perspective:

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Do you choose a story, or does it choose you? - Louise Boland

I heard someone suggest on the radio this morning, that you don’t really choose your favourite song, it chooses you.  And I wondered if the same might be said of the book one chooses to write. 

I’ve no idea what makes one friend wake up one morning and decide to write a detective story set in medieval Scotland and yet another be determined to craft a love story based in modern times – I expect a psychologist could tell me.  The one thing I do know is that the choice one makes (or that is made for one!) has an enormous impact on how much of your life will be left by the time the novel is finished.

I’m talking here, of course, about RESEARCH.  That dreaded beast that can be a joy, a drudge, an inspiration, a way to make new friends, or all of the above rolled into one.

At the moment, I’m groaning about the topic I’ve chosen for a novel. I now have a stack of research reading material that will take me several months to get through, and I can’t seem to stop accumulating more – cutting things out of newspapers and magazines, buying books.  It’s got to stop or I’ll never have any time for writing.  

Fairlight Books
The Glow Worm by Barbara Mercer
One of the short stories we published on Fairlight Shorts last month was The Glow Worm, by Barbara Mercer.  It’s set in England during a time of religious turmoil, just before the birth of William Shakespeare.  The story centres on Shakespeare’s father, John, and his struggle to reconcile his faith with the iconoclasm raging around him, and which he is being instructed to carry out.

When I spoke to Barbara about the story, I was overwhelmed by her vast understanding of the period, including the history of the Shakespeare family and the religious comings and goings of differing faiths that went on at the time.  Barbara told us she was fascinated to consider how ordinary people, those who had to actually carry out the destruction of the church statues, would have felt about it. 

Fairlight Books
Saints and Trinkets - a story's research unravelled
In the end, we published not only the story, but also an article called Saints and Trinkets giving more information on the fascinating research behind it.  You can read both the story and the article on our website, but the links to both are below.

Right now, though, I had better get back to the pile of research books, or the writing will never begin…

The Glow Worm by Barbara Mercer is available to read for free at:

The article about Barbara’s fascinating research as told to James Foster, can be found here:

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Come, See Ted Lick Bob's Boots--Reb MacRath

I read of a young writer, years back, who told some friends at a convention: 'Gotta go, There's a bunch of more important people that I want to meet.' The cheek and gall reminded me of someone who snubbed me about the same time, in pretty much the same way. The same guy? No way to know. The type, though, is identical: 100% focused on knowing and stroking the people who count...and shunning the losers who don't. Plus: doing and saying whatever it takes.

Yeah, I know: it's the way of the world.

It goes on in the workplace:

It goes on in bodybuilding:

And it goes on in Vegas:

But in writing it seems more disconcerting. Whatever our genre, we share a blood bond: united by storms of rejections...tens of thousands of hours alone at our desks...the anguish of poor reviews...the battle to make ends meet while finding time to write...and, unlike any other art, the lack of immediate feedback.

Now and then a lone wolf like Howey or Hocking prevails. But the odds are steep; the fix seems in; and gamesmanship runs riot.

1) A writer you've championed while his career was at a low drops you the day you're no longer of use...moving on to new Hollywood friends.
2) Your Tweets Facebook posts are hijacked by 'friends' touting their own wares.
3) A colleague you've interviewed and reviewed won't give you the time of day after he's bled you completely. Turns out he doesn't like your work.
4) Change genres and your former friends may start flying off like fools. 

What to do? Why, go to war!

And in choosing your allies, consider:

1) Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard enjoyed a real bond grounded in genuine love and respect--for each other as men and as artists. Their alliance enriched their work.
2) Real alliances are two-way streets.
3) Allies can be counted on to judge your work as yours, not theirs.
4) Allies are discreet--talk between them won't go any further.
5) Real alliances are two-way streets.
6) Allies don't use or agree to be used.

In the end, a healthy dose of luck and a few like-minded Allies may save you from coming to this:

Monday, 11 September 2017

How Writing a Novel is like Baking a Cake: Misha Herwin

Chocolate cake and cat teacosy

When I’m not writing, or reading, or walking, or being with friends and family, I like to bake. Recently I was trying out new recipes for muffins and scones. At the same time, I was finishing a final, final edit of my new novel “The Shadows on the Grass,” and it has occurred to me that there are definite similarities between baking and writing. 

To write a novel you need a story and just, as a novel is targeted for a specific group, so is cake. Will it be for a children’s party, brunch, an intimate tea for two? Must it be vegan, dairy, or wheat free? Can it sit for hours in the oven, or must it be whisked up quickly for unexpected guests? Will it entail elaborate icing, or be packed into a lunch box?

A novel will not only have a narrative, there will also be a theme. Just as cake might be chocolate, or lemon drizzle, a rich Dundee, or a light as air sponge, the book might be about grief, or love, or what happens when society, as we know it comes to an end. 

Once story and theme are established, then comes the planning, or to continue with the cake analogy, the recipe.
There are books on how to construct a fail-safe best seller. Words of wisdom about structure and key scenes. It is, apparently, possible using a template to write a book in a fortnight. I’ve never tried, but I do have to plan my novels fairly rigorously. Not only do I have the overriding story arc, but I also write down what happens in each chapter.
This is not sacrosanct. As the work progresses things change, as indeed a recipe is modified over time. My scones now have twice the amount of sultanas than the recipe says because that is how we like them.

Scone with jam and cream 
Once you have the recipe, then mix the ingredients. Or to put it another way, sit down and write. Mixing, before the invention of electric whisks and mixers was hard work. Even with the help of kitchen gadgets things are not always straightforward. Especially when it comes to my bĂȘte-noir, ganache. My sister and I once spent a whole evening, this is no exaggeration, beating melted chocolate and double cream, over a bowl of ice cubes, in a desperate effort to get the icing to set.
Next comes the baking. This can be nerve wracking. So much can go wrong, especially at a first attempt. Oven temperatures can vary and what should take an hour can go on and on and on, with endless jabbing of wobbly cake with a skewer.
Rhubarb and custard cake that took hours to cook. 
Books bake too. They either come together successfully, or they have to be tweaked, or even sometimes discarded and started all over again. Even when all goes smoothly, the final outcome is never totally guaranteed. Cakes fail to rise, books fail to take off. What the writer thinks is their best work, is not appreciated by their readers.
Or, like the best of cakes, they can be enjoyed by everyone who tries them.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Wanted: A New Word - Karen Bush

It's right on the tip of my tongue.
Or possibly the end of my nose ...

A little while ago I blogged on here about how there was a word for everything - and even words for things that didn't exist. It turns out that this isn't totally true ... there are things that as yet have no words. I found myself groping the other day for a word to describe that moment when you reach that point in a book when it becomes unputdownable. When you just have to keep turning the pages ... dinners are burnt and appointments are late or missed altogether, because you absolutely cannot stop reading it. As far as I know there is as yet no word to describe that moment when you reach that point in a book.
So I'm looking for suggestions - let's put our heads together and be responsible for getting a new word out in circulation. One that is to do with books and reading, and which is a lot nicer than that horrible word twerking which recently got given a berth in the OED.
Answers in the comments below please, and (provided there are 6 or more entries) the best suggestion will be awarded this magnificent Game-of-Thrones style white wolf's head brooch. Winners will be announced in next month's blog.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Sometimes I have to Pinch Myself: in praise of medical innovations by Julia Jones

Georgeanna at the Grand Canyon: Sept 7th 2017
A year ago today (Sept 9th) I posted An Apology for Absence.  September 8th had been a crisis day: bewildering, a nightmare, the terror muffled only by my slowness to catch on – every time that I realised the full extent of the danger to my daughter’s life was the moment when that particular immediacy had passed and we were into the next phase of risk.  An estimated 10-15% of patients die before reaching the hospital. Moreover, mortality rate reaches as high as 40% within the first week, and about 50% die in the first 6 months”. Or, as Wikipedia puts it “The death rate for SAH is between 40 and 50 percent but trends for survival are improving. Of those that survive hospitalization, more than a quarter have significant restrictions in their lifestyle, and less than a fifth have no residual symptoms whatsoever.”

I hope you will have realised by the photo heading this post that Georgeanna has made into the “less than a fifth” group. Did I ever really doubt it? I don’t know – sitting with her in the hospitals, in the ambulance, watching her, talking to her, deciding mutually that we were going to switch off the phone and not read past sentence one of NHS Choices (Choices...??) A subarachnoid haemorrhage is an uncommon type of stroke caused by bleeding on the surface of the brain." STOP. DON'T READ "It's a very serious condition and can be fatal.”

By 2330 in the evening of September 9th 42 hours after the initial “thunderclap headache”, when I was finally home and remembering the blogspot, Georgeanna had come through a miraculous operation in which a catheter was inserted into her groin and guided up through the femoral artery to the burst aneurysm. A number of small platinum coils, each of them approximately twice the width of a human hair and varying in length, had been passed through the catheter, into the ruptured vessel, packing it full. There were still real dangers – called "vasospasms" -- but I was ignoring them. I was Charlie in the Great Glass Elevator and they were Vermicious Knids – they weren’t having MY daughter. Not now her aneurysm had been bunged full of platinum coils, shutting it off from its desperate attack on her brain (and her life).

This life-saving procedure – endovascular coiling -- had been developed by Dr Guido Guglielmi in the early 1990s and was only fully licenced for use in the middle of the decade. Before then the treatment was “proper” brain surgery: a piece of her skull would have been removed, then the aneurysm would have been clipped, a much more delicate and dangerous operation -- “more like a blood sport than a calm and dispassionate technical exercise,” says surgeon Henry Marsh in his brilliant book Do No Harm. (Here’s an extract This was the operation “akin to bomb disposal work” that initially inspired Marsh to become a brain surgeon in the 1980s – before Dr Guglielmi took so much of the intensity away.

Later last year, I was chatting with a distinguished (retired) eye surgeon at a Christmas lunch. I mentioned the relief of discovering that Georgeanna’s ruptured aneurysm could be coiled by a radiologist, not “hunted down” for clipping by the neurosurgeons. My companion made some wry comment that it was that sort of thing that shocked his profession – brain surgery performed by a radiologist? It was the monkey taking over from the organ grinder! Henry Marsh makes a similar point:  “All the skills that I slowly and painfully acquired to become an aneurysm surgeon have been rendered obsolete by technological change.” (It's better for the patient, he concedes.)

Previously I’d probably have tended to assume that the main thrust of medical innovation would be making interventions more extraordinary, more hi-tech, specialist and expensive but Dr Guglielmi's coiling is an example of down-skilling, making the risky and remarkable become (almost) mundane. I realise now that there are many more innovations of that nature. Next weekend Nicci and I have been invited to present the principles of Johns Campaign at the Royal Society of Medicine’s Innovations Summit. That’s what inspired this month’s title – I have to pinch myself, just as I did when I walked up the steps of the Royal College of Nursing to address an audience of end-of-life professionals. WHAT AM I DOING HERE?

The splendour of the Grand Canyon, the scientific distinction of our fellow speakers at the Innovations Summit , the professionalism of delegates of the Gold Standards Foundation are eclipsed (for me) on the totally-awe-inspiring-and-emotionally-overwhelming scale by a great hospital at night time that happens to contain someone as dear as your daughter.  That's how I feel about Queen's Hospital. Romford, the specialist neurosurgery hospital where Georgeanna was taken for treatment.

Because I’d been “off duty” from my emotionally dependent mother in the week before Georgeanna’s emergency (I’d been recovering from eye surgery: GA had been doing the essential bed time stint) I couldn’t again abandon Mum (92 then, mixed dementia complicated with mental health issues, very vulnerable and volatile). I couldn’t install myself by GA’s bed for the duration of hospital visiting hours. Anyway, there were others of her family and her many friends who wanted a share in that space.  So I pleaded with the ward sister of the High Dependency Unit to allow me to come late in the evening, once Mum was safely tucked up,  to sit silently in the whirring, clicking, blinking semi darkness holding Georgeanna's hand and feeling glad she was alive. There are pieces of music on my car CD that will for ever encapsulate that feeling of driving up to that bright lit building in the darkness knowing that it was the scene of innumerable human dramas.

Of course I thought of Nicci Gerrard's and my John’s Campaign as I found my way from the lofty atrium. through the colour themed corridors to the Acute Stroke unit and I imagined what our somewhat amateur “Carers Welcome” posters would look like, sellotaped to the ward doors. I felt embarrassed at our hubris – that we unqualified  women had set ourselves to change an aspect of the culture of this great institution, the NHS, to which I was so profoundly indebted.

Yet I will never forget how much those late evenings with Georgeanna meant to me. Georgeanna is in her thirties, she's a survivor, her cognition is unimpaired, even by this potentially devastating event.  But we were shaken and vulnerable. I think we both needed that time.

I looked across the ward to Miriam (not quite her real name) an elderly Sinhalese lady, distressed and mumbling incoherently. I noticed how different she was when her family were beside her. She was not necessarily calmer but she was more herself, more communicative and more confident. She knew her family understood her and she was telling them how afraid and uncomfortable she was. Miriam was living with dementia and now a brain tumour had been discovered -- benign or malignant was yet to be discovered but her prognosis was not good. Miriam's family were affectionate and numerous:  some had flown from India to support her through this crisis. They were running some sort of informal rota and spilled over into the lounge outside, but always sticking to the official visiting times.  I thought it was a pity that they hadn’t been encouraged to spread their companionship further into the long hours of the night. Not just for her sake, I thought that it would help Georgeanna sleep better when I left.

Often, when I am at home, safely with my computer, I ask myself how it is that we have handed over the right of access to those who are closest to us at their time of greatest need? Hospitals are public spaces. There should be no restrictions as long as we behave appropriately and act always in the best interests of the patients. When I was there in that overwhelming building, however, I was a suppliant, my daughter’s life was in their hands. I didn’t do as much as drop a JC leaflet anonymously in the PALS office.

Next week we will be joined on the RSM platform by a nurse who also believes in change. Jo James works at Imperial College Healthcare Trust in London – in the hospitals that have become familiar to many of us through the recent TV series. The first time Nicci and I went to St Mary’s Paddington to meet Jo,  I was shocked by its crowded complexity of the place and felt acutely nervous. But Jo is lead nurse for dementia across the Imperial College Healthcare Trust and nothing daunts her. Since our first meeting she and her colleagues have written a book Excellent Dementia Care in Hospitals. One of its main recommendations is that medical staff must discover and use people’s strengths. These are very often in their personality, in aspects of their life experience and in the people who are closest to them. It was obvious, as I watched Miriam interacting with her family, that they had a real effect on her well-being and resilience. And where would Georgeanna be now if she had not happened to be staying with us on the morning of her collapse, and if Francis, who is not her father but has known and loved her since she was ten years old, not been alert to that single cry for help as the thunderclap headache struck? Not perched jauntily above the Grand Canyon, perhaps?

So think of Nicci, Jo and I, next Saturday at the RSM Innovations Summit two medically unqualified writers and a single nurse. Monkeys challenging the organ grinder? Of course not. The passionate high level expertise of Mr Henry Marsh, the technical brilliance of Dr Guido Guglielmo will never be undervalued or obsolete, and neither will the calm consistent care of the nurses who were checking Georgeanna and Miriam’s vital signs every four hours, reading the dazzling array of monitors that surrounded each bed, dispensing the life saving medications. But we, their families, mattered too as we did our best to help our loved ones gather their strength and express their inmost fears.  A full formal acknowledgement of that role is all the innovation that we need.

I think it was Jo who put me in touch with Geraldine Rodgers, a dementia nurse consultant who lives in Essex and normally works in the North East London Foundation Trust, a mental health partnership. Geraldine is an outstanding nurse  and has recently been working on secondment in Queens Hospital, Romford. And yes, you’ve guessed it, just this month the John's Campaign "Carers Welcome" posters will be starting to find their way onto those ward doors.