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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor. Working class gal.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

2017 round up

Can't believe it's this time of year already! I try to do a round up every December, it's interesting to look back on my reading year and I know I love having a nose at other people's reading lists... Here's mine!

I read forty books this year (10 December 2016 to date). Not a very impressive total, but I did also read my own forthcoming novel about four times (edits, not being big-headed!); two complete novels that were submitted to Louise Walters Books; and a dozen novels I critiqued this year via The Writers' Workshop. So fifty-four novels (excluding my own) in total. I won't list them all but my favourite was this one (I read it twice):

 Mothering Sunday

Of the forty books I read as books or ebooks, 32 were by women and 8 by men. Thirty-three were novels; six were non-fiction; and one was a short story collection. Three were self-published, and to the authors' credit, all were of a high standard in all regards and you wouldn't have "known" they were self-published. That shouldn't really surprise anybody... but I'm afraid it still does. This one was great: 

Letters to Eloise

I discovered a new writer this year (new to me!): Vita Sackville-West. I read All Passion Spent and thought it brilliant. I think I'll read it again, so it's a keeper. 

All Passion Spent

I read quite a few on Netgalley, and I have to say, none of them really, truly excited me. I enjoyed some of them, and I had positive things to say about them. But I do believe mainstream publishing is becoming more homogenised; more risk averse. A lot of writing styles seemed very "samey". Competent writing... but not really taking flight, like the best writing does. Nothing I read via Netgalley startled me, or thrilled me, or made me want to read it again. I'll keep searching in 2018. 

I did try to read more books from small presses this year. This one was excellent, and deserves so much more attention than it has received. Published by Sandstone Press (and currently only a quid in Kindle. Just saying!):

Wait For Me, Jack

I did have a couple of DNFs, but I won't list them here. Both were high-profile novels, but neither did it for me. I hate not finishing a book, but turning 50 this year has really made me take stock of how short life is. There are many fantastic books I will never get to; so I am letting go of DNF guilt from now on out... 

That's pretty much it! I loved the Bruce Springsteen autobiography, Born to Run (it was very long, although well written, as you would expect). Other highlights were a re-read, after many years, of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; and I loved Sealskin by Su Bristow (Orenda Books), which was beautiful.

Looking forward to 2018 and reading lots of great books.

PS, I received this beautiful homemade reading lamp from my daughter and her boyfriend for my 50th birthday. I love it so much. They should go into business, don't you think?

Merry Christmas! X

Monday, 11 December 2017

Objectivity, objectivity, objectivity - how (not) to react to a critique

Earlier this year I started critiquing novels with The Writers' Workshop. I was looking for work to help fund my publishing venture; I have a bit of experience, having written three novels of my own, and I enjoy volunteering with The Womentoring Project, where I have so far mentored four female writers. Two of them have gone on to find agents and book deals and I'm proud of them and proud I was able to help, even in a small way.

I love editing, critiquing and mentoring. I believe it has all helped me to become a better writer. When you see the same issues cropping up novel after novel - often (but not limited to) structure, plot, pacing and characterisation - I know to look out for these same issues in my own stories and make sure I work doubly hard on these aspects. It is, unfortunately, easy to write badly; and incredibly hard to write well.

Editorial reports are tough and constructive. The Writers' Workshop makes that clear on their website. There is no point in having our work critiqued if honesty isn't applied. If we want to be told how wonderful our work is, we can show it to our mum, our other half, our best friend, our kids. No. Maybe not our kids. They really do tell it like it is don't they?!

I've had great responses so far from the dozen or so writers whose work I've critiqued. Yes, there has been disappointment, and that's understandable. I've had all three of my own novels critiqued and it does take a dash of courage to go through that process. It isn't the best feeling in the world to be told that the story you spent weeks, months or even years working on isn't yet up to scratch. This is where the whole process can go horribly wrong, as I recently found out. So here are my top tips for seeking and receiving a critique. Hope they help...

1. First of all, a critique is not an ego massage. It may sound harsh, but when I'm working on your novel, I don't give a damn about your ego. I don't know you. All I am doing is assessing the project before me. It's an entirely objective process. Very few writers receive a glowing editorial report. There WILL be issues in your work; and those issues WILL be pointed out. Expect this. It's what you are paying for. If I'm mindful of your ego, the risk is I won't be as frank and honest as I need to be when assessing your manuscript. Which, in the end, is detrimental, and will not help you as a writer.

2. Don't respond to your critique immediately. Even if you feel stung, angry, hurt. Especially if you feel stung, angry, hurt. Put the report away. Simmer down. Look at it again in a few days, or weeks. Look at what has actually been advised: which often isn't what you initially think has been advised. It can take time for the report to sink in, to percolate and eventually make sense.

3. Be objective about your own work. Impossible, I hear you cry. No, it's not. It's difficult, but we must apply objectivity to our own work if we are to improve it. Fall out of love with your story. Stop being so damned proud of yourself (temporarily). Plenty of people write, plenty of people write badly. The first draft or even second draft head-rush MUST give way to cool, calm, calculated objectivity. It's one of the few things that separates a professional from an amateur.

4. Not every editor will "get" exactly what you are trying to do with your story. Sometimes it's not easy to see what the writer is trying to achieve, I'm afraid. Often I think the writer herself doesn't know. But if an editor tells you your novel suffers from lack of pace, it suffers from lack of pace. That's an objective assessment and you would be wise to heed it. Lack of pace is an issue I have seen in almost all the novels I have critiqued. Let that sink in. Pace is hard. It has nothing whatsoever to do with genre. The editor isn't suggesting you should be writing a thriller (but if you are writing a thriller, lack of pace is definitely a problem). The editor is merely suggesting you need to create readability, that great gift a talented author gives to readers: the urge to keep turning pages. That's all. That is pace. It's one of the most helpful pieces of advice you will receive.

3. Develop a thick skin. It's the best thing you can do for your work once that first draft is down. My ability to be objective about my own work, to "let it go", has stood me, I believe, in good stead. One star reviews no longer upset me. I can't afford to let them, so I've learned to shrug them off. Sometimes I even manage to laugh them off. (One or two of them are particularly memorable.) And let me tell you, a one star review is worse than a tough critique. A one star review is almost never constructive, thoughtful or sincere.

5. Finally, don't immediately send a rude email back to the person who spent hours working on your novel. That's definitely not professional. And whatever you do, don't email a second time with a string of insults and accusations. It's unlikely to make you feel better; it certainly won't make your story any better. But the report might. As writers we must develop the ability to take lots of things on the chin: rejection, bad reviews, poor sales. Most writers deal with this stuff throughout their careers. Receiving a thoughtful, detailed editorial report is actually one of the more positive writing experiences around. I promise!

I love helping people improve their writing, and I can't wait for the day when one of my critiquees becomes a published author. In the meantime, I will continue to provide honest, tough, constructive and (of course) objective criticism and feedback. It's what I'm paid to give, and it's what the writer pays to receive. Writing and publishing is tough, and we need all the help we can get.


Tuesday, 28 November 2017

How I found my first author (hint: enter writing competitions!)

It's been so long since I posted but I have an excuse: I've signed my first author for Louise Walters Books. She is Laura Laakso and we have signed a one book deal for her debut novel, Fallible Justice; which is the first story in Laura's paranormal detective series Wilde Investigations.

Laura and her dogs

I first became of Laura's work while reading for the 2017 Retreat West First Chapter Competition. Amanda Saint, who runs Retreat West asked me if I would help her read, and I jumped at the chance. She duly sent the stories through to me, and I started to read through them (I wrote a blog post about it here). 

I was bowled over by one of the chapters in particular (well, actually two of them were spectacular) but I was also confused by it. Was it brilliant or was it bo****ks? I just couldn't tell. So I asked Amanda this very question and she said it was brilliant. So we put it through to the long list. Then we put it through to the short list. Then it was picked as one of two runners up in the competition. By this time identities of the authors were revealed and two things struck me: I rather wistfully thought how great it would be to get a submission like Fallible Justice for the imprint I was then forming; and what a brilliant writer's name: Laura Laakso. It's a writerly name if ever I heard one.   

Fast forward a few months: My imprint was up and running, my boiler-plate contract drafted (that took hours of my life, I can tell you) and I was receiving submissions. One day a submission from Laura appeared in my inbox. I was thrilled but didn't want to get too excited. I read the submission and decided it wasn't right for me. So I turned it down, while asking to see the whole of Fallible Justice instead. Laura sent that through to me, I got it onto my Kindle before you could say #amwriting and I read it. Then I read it again, just to be sure. When I offered to publish it, I did point out to Laura that she could (should!) consider trying the agent-bigger publisher route. I feel her work is more than good enough to warrant attention from bigger players. Laura surprised and thrilled me by saying she preferred to work with a smaller outfit. 

The Society of Authors vetted our author agreement, and then Laura and I signed it early in November. I still can't believe I'm working with such a talented author from the very beginning of my publishing adventure. And I really can't wait to publish Laura's work. She deserves to garner an army of loyal fans and I will work my socks off to make that happen. It's going to be an exciting year. 

Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso will be published by Louise Walters Books on 8th November 2018, in paperback and e-book.  


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Road to California extract

I'm kicking off my promo of my third novel today! It's up on my website for pre-order here and the manuscript is currently being converted into an e-book. Once that has been completed I will put the e-book up for pre-order on Amazon and elsewhere.

All copies sold via my website bookshop will be postage-free; they will be signed and be sent with a handmade fabric bookmark.

So, I am delighted to share with you today an extract from The Road to California. This passage is our first introduction to my character Joanna, and her work... my fabric bookmarks are a homage to Joanna really, and I think she would heartily approve! Joanna is a single parent to her troubled teenage son, Ryan. She's principled, dynamic, caring and creative. She can be a little too "earnest" in sharing her principles, at times. But I love her! Hope you do too...


‘How much for this?’
      She breathed in the familiar scents of history and age and storage. She crumpled the fabric and buried her nose in it, as she always did with fabric new to her. It was rarely brand new, of course. She only used new fabric as a last resort. This was one of the tenets of her business. She took great pride in using the used, a characteristic of almost all her work. Road to California: her business, her life, her living. Reusing, reclaiming, recycling, upcycling: whatever you wanted to call it — it was what she did. She looked carefully at this latest find, enjoying the funky clash of orange, purple, and green, in dreamy psychedelic swirls, pseudo-flowers, clouds, a strange repeated pattern with a fluid figure that might be a fairy, a girl, a woman. And was it silk? Nylon? She wasn’t sure. The fabric smelled of tobacco, but that only added to its charm.
      ‘It’s a nice big bolt,’ said the beer-gutted stall holder. Bob, she thought. He was a softie behind the gruff exterior. And the most unlikely person she could conceive of to be running a vintage fabric stall. ‘A good five yards, I reckon. Genuine seventies, that is. Twenty quid?’ Bob took a long, thoughtful drag on his cigarette. Joanna effected not to notice. But it smelled good.
      She tried to get to the market most weeks, to pick up interesting finds. She had wanted to get out this morning, for an hour or two, just to get away from the sewing machines (she had two, plus an ancient Singer). She loved her work, but it was important to be healthy about it; and besides, new-to-her fabrics always inspired fresh ideas, exciting new projects. Her business thrived on it, and so did she. So these jaunts to the market were not a waste of time. They were essential.
      ‘It certainly looks to be genuine seventies, doesn’t it?’ said Joanna, in her husky voice. She narrowed her eyes. ‘I’ll give you ten quid. How’s that?’
      Bob looked at her. She knew he remembered her, although they had never engaged in chit-chat. People did tend to remember her. She knew her bright green eyes and wild blond curls were striking.
      ‘Fifteen?’ he said. ‘But I’m giving it to you.’
      ‘You can’t find your way to ten? I do come here practically every week.’
      Bob raised his eyes to the sky and gave a little nod. He took another drag on his cigarette. The smoke drifted towards her.
      She smiled and flourished a crisp note. Bob took it. He didn’t offer her a bag, but she didn’t need one. She had enough bags of her own.
      ‘Thanks so much,’ she said. ‘I’ll see you next week.’ She checked her watch. There was enough time for a quick pit stop. She’d go to her favourite coffee shop, a small, independent outfit that sold no-nonsense coffee and tea in pretty vintage teacups with pot luck saucers, accompanied by a vast array of homemade cakes and biscuits.

As she turned from taciturn Bob and his wonderful stall, her mobile phone rang. She rummaged around for it in her handbag. She saw the caller ID and her heart didn’t know whether to leap into her mouth or sink down into her toes. So it did both, in rapid succession, and she felt sick. There would be no coffee, no homemade cake today. Oh, no, no, no, not again. What now? What now?


Thanks for reading!

The Road to California will be published by Louise Walters books in paperback and e-book in 2018

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Not at all secret self-publisher

I stumbled upon yet another "Let's all laugh at self-publishers" blog post this week on Twitter. It purported to be an advice post about how to, and how to not, approach book sellers if you have written a book and are publishing it yourself. I clicked on it as it looked useful.

But there is no advice. There is just a string of arrogant insults and inaccurate statements. And assumptions that are so wrong it's mind-boggling. I won't list them here, but if you do stumble upon the blog post, they should be apparent. It's the same old, tired old bullshit that snooty types like to trot out for the benefit of their own egos and to delight their acolytes. It's meant to be "funny". You get the picture.

This "bookseller" above all implies that if a book has been self-published, it means the book is bad. Fact is, there are many bad self-published books, and many awkward self-published writers who do approach bookshops in the wrong way. Of course, it's disingenuous to tar all of us with that brush, but more important than that, it's mean spirited to ridicule any self-published author in this way.

Why? Because it takes guts to walk into a bookshop and ask if they would consider stocking your work, knowing in your heart you are probably going to make a hash of it and, crime of crimes, annoy the manager. But do you know what? Simply by TRYING, the self-published author is a better person than this (anonymous, of course) bookseller will ever be, because it takes a lot of time, dedication, and hard work to write, publish and attempt to sell your book, no matter how bad (or good) it is. You are trying to be the best a human can be: creative, brave, enterprising, passionate, vulnerable.

By all means, (anonymous, of course) bookseller, please do give advice. By all means do tell the rude (or just plain inexperienced) self-publishers where to get off. By all means refuse to stock any book you want to refuse. I've no issue with any of that. But don't take the piss out of people who attempt something truly admirable. Something that, by your own admission, you can not do.

Louise Walters (reader, writer, trade published author, self published author, and former bookseller. Not anonymous.)

Friday, 14 July 2017

Reading for a writing competition. My observations!

I recently had the great pleasure to read for Retreat West's First Chapter competition. Amanda Saint emailed me in April and asked if I was available to help her. I jumped at the chance, as I've recently started critiquing novels (writing editorial reports) and reading for a comp seemed like a great opportunity. And was it ever! I loved reading all the chapters, even those that weren't working too well. I firmly believe that as writers we learn and improve all the time, and reading something that doesn't work can be just as instructive as reading something that works well.

The long list was arrived at reasonably easily. We had 29 chapters (out of the original 133) that we both felt merited a place on the long list. Whittling those 29 down to the final 10 this week was a little harder... but we did reach a consensus quite easily.

I scribbled down a few observations as I read, and I thought I'd share them with you. Things that worked, things that didn't. No specific examples and no names, of course.

Some of the chapters that didn't make the longlist were, quite simply, badly written. Not all of them, of course. "Competent" was a word I found myself ascribing to many of these chapters. But to go further in the competition, the chapters needed to be more than competent. I had the feeling that some of the writers don't read much; or don't read attentively; or haven't studied at all, at any level, how to construct a story. There is an art to it, a craft. It takes time, effort, huge attention to detail. It's not a case of just pouring words onto the page. It was easy to spot the no-hopers. And there weren't that many.

So, the next level. Why didn't some of the competent stories get onto the long list?

Some of the chapters, many of them in fact, suffered from over-writing. My pet peeve is a list of adjectives that all more or less mean the same, separated by commas. Like this: She was tired, fatigued, exhausted. Just pick the best one and stick to that. It's more concise, and has more impact: She was exhausted. Pace suffered when over-cooked description took over.

Typos. There were typos in all but a handful of the submitted chapters. I was flabbergasted by this. Why would you do that? Check, edit, re-check, re-edit. A typo-free chapter was refreshing and I was more inclined to put those on the long list even if the writing wasn't amazing. OK, amazing writing will always trump a handful of typos. But if the writing is borderline, typos could tip it in the wrong direction. Do everything in your power to remove all typos from your chapters. Seriously. There is no excuse.

Cliches. A surprising number of stories mentioned characters' breathing. It happened a lot. Don't. It's one of the biggest cliches going. Let your reader imagine how a character is breathing in the circumstances you have described. We all know how we are likely to breathe in certain circumstances. Don't ram it home. Also, Rolex watches. Almost without exception the rich characters wore a Rolex. Try another brand. Patek Philippe?

OK, I have to tell you now, clip art was in evidence. I kid you not. DON'T. It's the height of unprofessionalism. You each paid £15 per chapter to enter. That's a lot of money. If your entry is decorated with clip art, it screeches, "This writer is not trying to be professional." It is not getting onto the long list. You wasted £15. I say again, DON'T.

Titles. There were very few good titles. A good title is gold dust, a great opportunity to get readers interested. In some ways it's more important than a good cover. People love a good title. They want to repeat it, talk about it, READ it. BUY it. Always, always do your best to come up with an amazing title, if you can. There were a handful of honourable exceptions, and more than one of them is on the short list. Good titles tell the reader A LOT about the story. They are part of the story. A good title intrigues. Titles should evoke, if possible. There were many bland, meaningless titles. Work on this aspect.

File names.

Umm.. Say no more? Please use the chapter name in your file name. Now, this didn't make any difference regarding getting onto the long and short lists. But it was a pain in the arse and made me lose patience a little quicker than I would have done if the name was obvious. It was hard to find a particular chapter. Remember, as an author a huge part of the job is to consider the readers' experience. You have to strive for clarity from the top down, and that starts with clearly naming your work.

Rules. It clearly states in the rules that prologues can not be entered. There were prologues. OBEY THE RULES. Again... you paid £15. OBEY THE RULES. The rules ask for double spacing. There was single spacing. OBEY THE... you get the picture!

So, I need to talk about the positive stuff too. Why did the final ten chapters make it to the final ten? Well, to begin with, all ten are very well written. (Yes, there are typos here and there!) The writers know how to open a story well, they know how to include enough info to whet the readers' appetite, without over loading the chapter with too much info (another frequent fault). The ten chapters are fun to read! They have a certain confidence... you have to believe in your work and believe in your ability to write. It's that quiet confidence thing. It's how you carry readers along with you. Gotta have it. Believe me, it really shows. You also have to be self-critical. I got the feeling these ten chapters had been well edited, looked at, re-written, re-visited. I felt the writers had been a little hard on themselves, which is essential.


I hope these tips help! It was a great experience to read the entries, and I'm already looking forward to doing it all over again next year.

Good luck to the writers of the ten short listed chapters. They are all worthy winners of the competition and I can't wait to see which one is finally chosen by Laura Williams.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Third novel title reveal and blurb!

Today I'm thrilled to announce the title of the novel I will be publishing on 1st March 2018.

Drum roll please.... my third novel is called... The Road to California

Here's the blurb:

Proud single parent Joanna is accustomed to school phoning to tell her that Ryan, her 14 year old son, is in trouble. But when Ryan hits a girl and is excluded from school, Joanna knows she must take drastic action to help him.

Ryan hasn’t seen his dad Lex since he left home when Ryan was two years old. Ryan doesn’t remember Lex, but more than anything he wants a dad in his life. Isolated, a loner, and angry, Ryan finds solace in books and wildlife.

Joanna, against her instincts and better judgement, invites Lex to return and help their son. Lex is a drifter who runs from commitment, and both Joanna and Ryan find their mutual trust and love is put to the test when Lex returns, and vows to be part of the family again...

I hope you like the sound of it! Last week I posted this photo on Twitter as a clue to the title:

This is a patchwork pattern called Road to California. In the book, Joanna is a talented textiles entrepreneur (think wannabe Cath Kidston!) who specialises in recycling and upcycling. She calls her company Road to California, which is her favourite patchwork pattern. It seemed only natural that I should name the book accordingly.

The Road to California is not an easy story to categorize. It's women's fiction; literary(ish) fiction; book club fiction; a romance; definitely a weepie!! And it could be read as YA, as there are really two protagonists, Joanna and her teenage son Ryan. I quite like the fact it doesn't slot neatly into a genre. Somehow that seems right for this novel.

There will be more news to follow in the coming months, including a cover reveal, character profiles, a look at the opening few pages, and news of a giveaway - which will include the piece of patchwork pictured above, made into an upcycled book bag (oh my, how Joanna would approve!)

More anon!

Louise x

Friday, 30 June 2017

Louise Walters Books

This week I was thrilled to announce news of my latest venture. I've set up my own imprint in order to publish my third novel. It's a scheme I've been cooking for quite a while, held back of course by a myriad of doubts.

I love my logo! Designed by the wonderful Jennie Rawlings

I self-published my second novel, A Life Between Us, in March via assisted publishing company Matador (Troubador Publishing). That was an exciting time, and consumed most of 2016! My sales have not been wildly exciting... but of course they were never going to be. Sales are steady, and regular. I've sold 27 copies through my website (admittedly, at a loss. I'm not charging for postage which is £2.90 per book, 2nd class) and through hand selling. I've given away about 50 copies. My book was left in the wild on Indie Author Day via Books on the Underground. I've heard from libraries and indie bookshops that they are going to stock A Life Between Us. I've also heard from Waterstones, who are not going to stock it. I've been awarded a Chill With a Book Readers' Award (recognising excellence in indie books). I've had lovely support from book bloggers and fellow authors.

There are a couple of other positive things coming up which I can't yet reveal, but I'm chuffed.

I check my Amazon ranking daily hourly, and it fluctuates, but it's OK. More important than ranking, I've been fortunate to receive positive reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Netgalley. Readers seem to be responding to A Life Between Us in a positive way. Some of the reviews are overwhelming. That keeps me going, it really does. There was a dark time just before the book went up on Netgalley where I feared it was a huge pile of tosh and I was about to make the biggest fool of myself, ever.

In the great scheme of things, my second novel is doing OK. Literally, OK. I'll take that!

The idea of bringing out my third novel is just as daunting. It's going to be hard work. It may do "OK", it may not. But if I don't bring this book out it won't do anything at all. I'm 50 this year and I've realised, finally, that life is short, so precious and fleeting, and it's not a failure to try something, even if you fail. The failure is to give in to fears and doubts and not try things. (Paraphrasing Bruce Lee here!)

So here I am, running my own company, setting up my own imprint, and bringing out my third novel.

Life is sweet


Wear the hat! 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Indie author Kathleen Jowitt

Today I'm delighted to welcome indie author Kathleen Jowitt to my blog. Kathleen is the first indie author to be short listed for the Society of Author's Betty Trask Prize, with her debut novel, Speak its Name. The Betty Trask Prize is awarded each year to a first time novelist under the age of 35, writing in a traditional or romantic style. This is an exciting development for all indie authors, and I was keen to hear more about this exciting news. Here's Kathleen...

Could you tell us about your decision to self–publish your novel Speak its Name? I wonder if you tried the agent/publisher route first; or if you always intended for this to be an indie book?  
I did try the agent/publisher route, but I didn't get very far with it. I think everybody – myself included – was a little confused by the genre, and didn't know how to go about selling it. I tend to blame Section 28 for killing the emerging genre of LGBT teen fiction. If I'd been trying to sell to American publishers then things might have been difficult.
When it came to it, the decision to self-publish wasn't particularly difficult. Or, rather, it was absolutely unthinkable until the moment that it was the obvious next step. I found that the confidence, to take responsibility for everything that went out under my name, landed just after I turned thirty. By then I'd already put in a lot of work into making the text as good as it possibly could be, and I was free to concentrate on all the practical considerations that I'd blithely assumed somebody else would be dealing with, and when I dealt with those one at a time they turned out to be much less hassle than I'd feared.


Could you tell us a little about Speak Its Name?
It's part Barchester, part coming-of-age, part coming out. It's the story of an evangelical Christian, and closeted lesbian, trying to navigate the troubled waters of university politics; it's about identity, and faith, and integrity.

What are the advantages of self-publishing?
You can write absolutely anything you like. There's no need to self-censor, to keep half an eye on what somebody else thinks is going to sell. You can go at your own pace, too, setting your own deadlines.

And the disadvantages?
You have to do everything yourself, or, if you don't do it yourself, you have to arrange for someone else to do it. I've had to be my own typesetter, cover designer, secretary and publicist. Fortunately, those are all skills that I've developed in the course of my day job – but there are still only so many hours in the day.

Yours is the first self-published book to be short listed for the Betty Trask Prize. How does that feel?
It's amazing. I've talked about having to develop the confidence to take ownership of my own work, but I must also admit that having had such a prestigious judging panel say such complimentary things about that work has been massively reassuring.
I can't overstate what a surprise it was. I was on holiday in northern Spain when I got the news; I checked into a hotel after a very long day on the narrow gauge railway, connected to the wi-fi, and, among the dozen emails that had accumulated while I was out of range, there was the notification. Reading the header out of context, I didn't immediately remember who or what Betty Trask was. I'd better not repeat what I actually said when I read the email itself! I spent the next week worrying that they'd made a mistake, that they hadn't noticed that I was self-published and that they'd change their minds when they did. That lasted until the press release came out, making it clear that the fact that I was the first self-published author to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize was a feature, not a bug!

Did any aspects of self-publishing surprise you?  (For instance, I found the marketing to be more work and more time consuming than I’d imagined…!)
I was surprised by how much it's changed in the past couple of decades. My parents have both self-published and my childhood memories are cluttered with stacks of books and rolls of bubble wrap. Print-on-demand technology and online ordering mean that somebody else deals with all that – which is a great relief.

Self-publishers talk about the “freedoms” of being an indie. They undoubtedly exist, but what about the limitations? Are there any? Or is the publishing world really our oyster? 
I think our reach is always going to be more limited than that of those authors who are represented by publishers with multi-million pound budgets. We have to fight harder for our credibility, too, though I'm hopeful that things will change there. Whatever happens, though, I think that the thick skin I've developed in the course of self-publishing can't help but be an asset.

The Alliance of Independent Authors runs a campaign, Open Up to Indie Authors, encouraging bookshops, book prizes and reviewers to include and embrace self-published books. What do you feel we as self-publishing authors can do to seek inclusion?
I think we just need to keep plugging away, to keep knocking at the doors until they open up for us. There seems to be a new openness, a new willingness to accept the idea that self-published authors can be producing good work. My own experience is evidence of that.

What’s next for you?
I'm working on a novel called A Spoke in the Wheel. The narrator is a professional cyclist who's been banned for doping. He's trying to re-establish his life in a place where nobody knows him and he never has to look at another bike. But of course the first person he sees is a cycling fan...
At the moment I've got some knowledgeable friends reading it for me, checking that I've got things right. Apart from all the bike stuff, I'm very keen to make sure that I haven't messed up anything around disability and the way the benefits system works, which is a major theme.

And finally, what are you reading at the moment?
I've nearly finished Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts – the first volume of an account of his epic hike from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. In this one he gets as far as Hungary. It's a fascinating portrait of Europe as it was between the wars, with a flamboyantly rich descriptive style, and it makes me want to be out on the road to somewhere.

A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube by [Fermor, Patrick Leigh]

Thanks to Kathleen for joining me today, it's been fascinating to hear from her. 

Kathleen's blog can be found here, and she tweets @KathleenJowitt

The Betty Trask Prize winner will be announced on Tuesday 20th June 2017. Good luck Kathleen! 

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

From The Other Side: Margaret Bonass Madden

I'm delighted to be returning to my From The Other Side series this week, after a brief interlude during which I interviewed two of my favourite fellow authors, Isabel Costello and Rebecca Mascull. I then invited the hard working Bleach House Library blogger Margaret Bonass Madden to appear next on my blog, and she agreed! Margaret is a student, mother of five (like me!) and a foster carer. She also manages to find the time to read and review lots of books. Awesome. Here's what she had to say...

All book bloggers are surely book lovers. How and when did your love of reading begin?
I have always been an avid reader. My father used to take me to the library in our coastal village. Then children’s section was upstairs and I still remember the wide, wooden staircase and the big heavy doors. There was a large stuffed ladybird on top of the bookshelves and I wanted her SO badly. There were Beatrix Potter prints dotted around the room and the silence was deafening. The counter was really high and I loved the thud of the rubber date stamp and the little cardboard tickets that were inside each book. I thought I would never be old enough for the ‘grown-up’ library, which was downstairs. When the day finally arrived, I was so proud to have a blue library card instead of the child’s green one.


When did you start your blog?
I wrote my first blog post back in July 2013. I cannot believe how time has flown!

Is there a particular genre you enjoy reading and reviewing?
Obviously, I have a love of Irish Fiction. For such a small island, we have a reputation of producing some of the worlds most talented writers. In general, I love everything except sci-fi and fantasy. I appear to be missing the gene.

Do you have a “day job” (work, children, and/or caring responsibilities) - and if so, how do you fit in all your reading, reviewing and blogging?
I am a full-time BA student and a foster carer. I am studying English and History, after returning to education after more than twenty years. I also review books for both The Irish Times and The Sunday Independent. It can be hard to fit everything in but, when it comes to books, I find the time. 

If I don’t like a book, I usually don’t review it on Goodreads, Amazon, Netgalley or on my blog. For me, that’s the kindest thing to do. As a writer, I know how disheartening negative reviews can be. I also appreciate not every reader enjoys every book. How do you stand on this issue?
I am different to you. I review for the readers, not the writers, so I review everything on Goodreads, Amazon etc. I try to find something positive to say, but will be honest. I won’t always put every review on my blog, as they may have been used in a newspaper. It is rare that I read books that I don’t like, these days. I think publishers now know what kind of books I enjoy and the ones I have bought myself were chosen for obvious reasons. I did read a title recently that was so badly written that I ended up chucking it at the wall. I chose not to review on my blog, as I had not finished it, but I did leave feedback on Goodreads and Amazon. I would NEVER tag an author in a negative review. That is just cruel and unnecessary.

Have you ever had a negative response from an author after reviewing their work, and if so, how did you handle it? (No names needed!)
Yes. The author responded to a review link on Facebook. I did not engage. It is not a wise move. My advice is to NOT respond.

How do you feel about indie authors? Do you consider self-published books?
I do review self-published books, but they must be well-packaged and be edited by a professional. I have read some that have been published without either of these being done and it is very obvious. Asking a few friends and family to read your novel before you press publish is not enough. [I quite agree! - LW]

On the other hand, how do you feel about those over-hyped books from the Big 5 publishers?!
I am usually sent very early copies of books from the Big 5 and can see how a big social media campaign can make a huge difference. I can receive up to thirty books per week, so getting a particular title noticed, very early on, needs some clever marketing. However, not all of these books deserve the hype. Again, this is where honesty comes into play. If you don’t post negative reviews, how will people know not to buy certain books?

There has recently been some negative stuff on social media about book bloggers. I know how this feels, as I am self-publishing my second novel, and lord knows how indie authors get looked down upon in some quarters! So - how do you respond to that negativity?
I don’t engage with individual angry/ranty/trolling social media posts. It is pointless. I did write a piece for the IrishTimes about this very subject, as there was an implication that bloggers are not real readers. This could not be farther from the truth. We are doing this for our love of books. We are not paid. We may be the most qualified to have opinions on books.

Have you made “real life” friends as a result of your book blog?
Have I ever! Since I began bleachhouselibrary.ie, I have met the most wonderful, like-minded people. From authors, bloggers, publishers, booksellers, librarians….
There is always someone I can call on if I am travelling to an event, home or away, that will be more than delighted to meet up. I get to launches/festivals/readings in both the UK and Ireland so I have been fortunate to meet many, many wonderful people. I wish I could attend more events in the UK, but it's financially impossible. Flights are not expensive, but hotels are!

Tell us about the art of writing a review. How do you avoid spoilers but manage to convey the sense or feel of a book? I find it difficult, so any tips will be gratefully received! I’ve seen some fantastic reviews, which I suspect were pretty tricky to write…
It can be SO hard. The short newspaper reviews are the hardest! Trying to get the story across enough to pique interest can be harrowing work. Seriously. Spoilers are an absolute nightmare and are a pet-hate of mine. I read a review last year, which gave the whole story away. I have not bothered to read that book since. What is the point? The only tip I have is to concentrate on the bigger picture; the characters; the location; the feel of the book. Some reviews can take me a long, long time to get right.

Big question: Have you ever been tempted to write, or have you written, a novel (or any kind of book) yourself?
I love short stories. Both reading them, and writing them. I love how you can get straight into the characters heads and compress an idea into 2000 or 3000 words, yet still have an impact. Often the endings are ambiguous, so this is a genre that not many choose to read. Maybe readers fear that short-stories are ‘arsey’ (my favourite word) but this is not the case. If done correctly, they can be both enjoyable and extremely memorable. I have no interest in writing a novel in the foreseeable future. I completely adore writing reviews and still get massively excited to see them online or in print.

Quick fire: E-reader or print?

Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
Letters from the Suitcase by Rosheen and Cal Finnegan. It is non-fiction, which I aim to read as much as possible.

Letters From The Suitcase by [Finnigan, Cal, Finnigan, Rosheen]

Big thanks to Margaret! Fascinating stuff, and a refreshingly uncompromising attitude to book reviews. As Margaret says, they are for readers, not the authors or publishers. I also like the sage advice for us self-published authors about the importance of decent editing and covers. 

Margaret blogs at Bleach House Library

... and tweets @margaretbmadden (bleachhouselibrary)

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello

Today I'm thrilled to welcome author Isabel Costello to my blog. Isabel cuts quite a dash in the book world with her wonderful blog, The Literary Sofa. I've twice been a guest on the sofa, and felt it was about time I returned the hospitality!


Isabel is now also an author, with her debut novel Paris Mon Amour, published in ebook and audio in June 2016 with Canelo. Isabel made the decision to self-publish the print version of Paris Mon Amour, and that's what we're talking about on my blog today. Here she is...

Could you tell us about your decision to self–publish your novel Paris Mon Amour in print?
There are two sides to this.  Firstly, from the very start (even at the launch!) there was something about this novel that made people want a print version.  That’s largely due to the stunning cover by Dan Mogford, which we kept for the paperback. And like most authors, my dream was always to hold a book I’d written in my hand!
What actually made it happen was one of those random strokes of luck.  The Fiction Buyer from WH Smith Travel read the novel, loved it and wanted to stock it. For that, there obviously needed to be a print edition and when my and my agent’s attempts to find a print publisher didn’t succeed (the tight timescale didn’t help), I couldn’t let the opportunity pass and decided to do it myself.  It was a daunting prospect, but I really believe in this book and it would have felt like unfinished business not to.

What are the advantages of self-publishing?
It’s fantastic to be in control – you hear so many stories about authors being less than happy with their covers, blurbs, marketing efforts, etc. and I got to make those decisions and have everything just the way I wanted it, right down to the font size. I was lucky to have the support of everyone I needed to make it work: my agent, my digital publishers Canelo and the very impressive indie publishing team at Clays printers, who specialise in guiding the uninitiated through every stage.

And the disadvantages?
I suppose it’s the flipside of the above.  When you’re in charge, the buck stops with you. It was a massive learning curve and I worried about making some terrible mistake that wouldn’t come to light in time because nobody was looking over my shoulder. (It wasn’t until I’d read the finished paperback that I was fully convinced I’d sent the right version to print, despite checking a hundred times!) There’s so much to stay on top of and it’s hard work, but fortunately I’ve always enjoyed project management and collaboration and am fairly organised by nature. Finally, although the printing costs per unit are surprisingly low, overall it’s an expensive and risky venture.  Let’s just say I am not on the waiting list for any yachts!

As a self-published author, did you feel that any doors were closed to you? For instance, press coverage?
No, I have been pleasantly surprised - it was far more of an issue when my book was digital only. However, I’m not sure how representative my experience as a self-published author actually is.  This is a very unusual situation with the novel having first been commercially published in digital and audio a year ago. Wearing my marketing hat – I used to work in that field – I was able to make a virtue of the novel’s track record and the response from readers. Over half of the independent bookshops I approached individually with my Advance Information Sheet got back to me showing an interest – I was delighted.

Did any aspects of self-publishing surprise you?  (I found the marketing to be more work and more time consuming than I’d imagined…!)
The thing that surprised me most was how tricky typesetting still is.  Like many people, I na├»vely assumed that in the digital age you just run the text through a programme and it comes out looking lovely. In reality it’s an art requiring patience and painstaking attention to detail; solving one issue (such as crazy hyphenation) often causes another (‘widows and orphans’, anyone?). I am so grateful to Simon Collinson of Canelo for bringing his talents and sense of humour to the task. 

You set up your own Literary Sofa imprint to release the paperback. Do you think readers care who a book is published by?
In a word, no. I think readers mostly care about two things: whether a book appeals and whether it is any good, both in terms of content and presentation.  One of the biggest challenges self-publishers face is ‘discoverability’ – getting it onto readers’ radar in the first place.  Once that’s achieved, it’s down to us to prove we can compete.  One thing that seems to have surprised a lot of people is that the quality of my self-published book matches traditionally published ones, and I’m really proud of that.  Self-publishing has come a long way and is now an important part of the industry; disparaging it is an easy way to look out of touch.

What’s next for you?
When things calm down, I am really looking forward to making a start on my next novel, also set in Paris.  I have a detailed outline but bringing Paris Mon Amour out in print has taken over my life these last four months; it’s certainly true that self-publishing has a major impact on writing time. Otherwise, I am busy preparing for my new Perseverance and Motivation for Writers workshops with psychologist Voula Grand.  Without those ‘resilient thinking’ skills, I might not have had the nerve to tackle my paperback project, but I’m already very glad I did!


Many thanks to Isabel for joining me today. Her route to publication is a fascinating story in itself! Paris Mon Amour is a fabulous novel, which totally deserves to be available in print as well as in ebook and audio.  I wish her every success and can not wait to get my hands on a copy. 

Published on Monday 22nd May, you can buy it on Amazon, and of course in all good WHSmiths Travel bookstores. It is a perfect holiday read!

Next time I'm returning to my From the Other Side series of posts, in which I interview book bloggers. See you then! 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

I'm taking a short break from my "From The Other Side" feature to chat instead this week to fellow author, Rebecca Mascull. 

I got to know Rebecca back in 2013 when we had both been signed to Hodder with our debut novels (Rebecca's The Visitors and my Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase). We became online friends, and soon met in real life. I was thrilled to go to Rebecca's launch party for her second novel, Song of the Seamaid, where we found a few moments to hug and say "Hi"! 

Rebecca's third novel, The Wild Air,  is out this Thursday, 4th May. (May the force be with her!) Let's hear from her now...

The Wild Air is your third published novel. Tell us how that feels please!?
I feel like a proper author now. One could be a fluke, two a coincidence, but three? Well, it’s a magic number, innit!

How did you come by the idea for The Wild Air?
I saw a documentary on the Wright Brothers and loved the idea of it. Once I started researching it, I discovered about all these Edwardian female pilots I’d never heard of. I fell for all of them! I wanted to tell their story, especially since it was so unknown.

Your level of research is legendary! How much did you do for this novel?
Bless you! I did the usual obsessive amount. Dozens of books, documentaries, films, unpublished letters and diaries at the Imperial War Museum and even a flight in a light aircraft! That was the best bit and really made the novel. It became real at that moment, up in the air.

Wow, that is research extreme! How did the flight go? 
I was really nervous before, then frightened to death in the first 5 minutes, which then dissolved into absolute, unalloyed joy. To see the earth like that, to be at one with the air…It was utterly magical and it changed my life. I’ll never forget it.

All your novels have been historical. Are you considering writing anything contemporary? Do you think that would lessen the research workload?!
I do, I do! I’m thinking about it now, actually. Watch this space…

Now that you have written several novels, do you have a favourite among them?
I don’t actually. I love them all in different ways, for their beautiful bits and even their faults. A bit like children! The three heroines are all very dear to me, though very different women from each other. I’m so fond of all of them and each time I’ve finished the drafting, it’s been a terrible wrench and I’ve missed them awfully. Lately I really miss spending time with Dudley Willow, who’s in The Wild Air, and based on my grandfather.

You’re having a third launch party. Will you be as excited and/or nervous at this one as you were for the first?
I was sick with nerves at the first one and only very slightly less at the second one. So I hope this time to actually try to enjoy it a bit more and remember that everyone’s there because they are interested in the book or because they’re supporting me, so why be nervous? I’ll tell myself that on the day, anyway!

What’s next from you?
I really don’t know, is the honest answer. I feel like The Visitors, Song of the Sea Maid & The Wild Air are a kind of historical trilogy about the hidden histories of determined women. So I’d like to do something completely different, I think…

Finally, what are you reading at the moment?

I’m a teacher presently, so I’m reading very little except mock exams and homework! I haven’t read a novel for months. I do miss reading terribly, but I can’t find time for it in my head. I’m sure it’ll come back some day, maybe in the summer holidays, when I have a bit more space in my mind. And then it’ll be all my author friends’ books, with yours at the top of the list! Can’t wait. I’ve heard such great reviews! 


Rebecca blogs at Tumblr

And she tweets @rebeccamascull

Big thanks to Rebecca for joining me today. I've now read all three of her novels, and they are splendid reads. The heroines are all fighting in a man's world to live the life they want to live, and do the things they want to do. Adeliza, Dawnay, and Della are a trio of inspiring heroines, and I'm sure you will enjoy spending time with them. The Wild Air can be bought here

Next time on my blog I'll be chatting to another fellow author, Isabel Costello. After that all will be resumed with From the Other Side...!