Setting Up a Book Club

This time last week the inaugural meeting of the ‘Evesham Festival of Words’ Book Club (ahem, set up by yours truly), was in full flow! Whee!

I was a bit nervous beforehand, I must admit (mainly, in case no-one turned up!) but I needn’t have worried. The 7 people who’d confirmed had, indeed, braved the awful weather, another ‘surprise’ person arrived, plus me and a colleague, so there were 10 of us, which is a respectable number for a book club meeting, I feel and allowed everyone to have their say.

There are more expected for the February meeting which is good but also worrying because anything more than about 12 seems like TOO MANY, so I’m going to have to think about how to manage that. If you’ve got any ideas, let me know!

And just in case you’re thinking of setting up a little Book Club/Reading Group of your own, here are a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way (some of which have not yet been put into practice, of course: we’ve only had one meeting so far!).

Where/When?

First things first, decide on a day and time to meet and find a suitable venue (a village hall, a room in a pub or a library, perhaps?)

Most book clubs I’ve investigated seem to meet once a month. That gives everyone enough time to read the book (although it still won’t be long enough for some! I belonged to a book club once where several members would turn up with the book half read and would insist that we didn’t discuss the ending!).

Which Books?

Other things to consider: How are you going to choose the books each month?

We decided on the first two choices for our Book Club (books written by authors linked to the Festival), just to get things moving (The Hidden Wife in January and The Conjuror’s Bird for February) but from March onwards, the books will be decided by the group. I’ve asked everyone to ‘pitch’ a book next time and then we’ll have a vote (I’m thinking ‘secret ballot’).

The only danger with that, of course, is that the same kinds of books might be chosen over and over (if, for example, you’ve got lots of people in the group who like crime fiction. They’ll suggest it and vote for it). So, we might move away from that once the group’s a little more established and take it in turns to choose the book each month.

We’re going to give the books a score each time, so that at the end of the year we can see which was our favourite. And we might also set up a Facebook group, so people can join in remotely.

The Love Reading website features a different book club each month and it makes for interesting reading! I particularly liked the sound of the Tetbury Book Club.

But the main point of it all is – to read more, discuss books, make friends (hopefully!) and have some fun.

If you’re interested in setting up a Book Club – or you just like books – then Reading Groups for everyone is worth a look.

Happy Reading!

PS: This is what I’m reading at the moment:

Posted in Books, West Midlands | 4 Comments

Tears & Laughter: First Post of the Year

Holkham Beach

Hello and welcome to the first post of the new decade.

We spent New Year in a sweet little cottage in Norfolk and this was Holkham Beach on New Year’s Day. Fabulous.

But since then, it’s been back to serious stuff, like my dad’s funeral last week.

Apparently it’s the ‘done thing’ (who knew?) to have a collection at the service, so we had one in aid of The Salvation Army, a cause close to his heart.

It was down to us to take the donation box home, count up the money and then send it off to the charity.

So, my Mum was totting it all up (over £300, if you’re interested), when she came across a rogue bank note! It said ‘Danske Bank’ at the top. Flippin’ heck! Someone had put a Danish note in the collection! Of all the …! Well, I never! I was not impressed. The air was a little bit blue with my cursing.

It didn’t matter, as my mum pointed out, that someone ‘Might just have been to Denmark on their holiday.’

We went through all the people who’d been there. Who seemed shady? Who might have done such a terrible thing?

And then my OH came into the room to see what all the fuss was about. And pointed out, reasonably, that the note said ‘Twenty pounds’ and was, in fact, from Northern Ireland.

Oh, we said. Oh. And then we remembered that my cousins, who live near Belfast, had been at the funeral. Which explained it. Whoops. (But in my defence, I’ve never seen a bank note from Northern Ireland before. Have you?).

Here it is, in all its glory. With its strange affiliation to Denmark emblazoned on the front… .

(And while we’re on the subject of Northern Ireland, have you seen ‘Derry Girls’?! Oh, it’s good! We have binge-watched the whole of the first 2 series – and the Bake Off ‘special’ in the last week or so and it’s been fabulous. We needed a good laugh and it didn’t disappoint).

Now, on a completely different but writing-related note, Good Housekeeping Magazine (Feb issue) is running a novel writing competition. They do this most years, I believe and this time I am going to attempt to send an entry.(I know, I know: you’ve heard that before).

The closing date is 31st March 2020 and it’s free to enter but you do need the entry form from the magazine, so hasten to your nearest newsagent, if you want to have a go, and buy a copy.

The first prize is a £5,000 advance, an agent of your very own and publication of your novel.

And 5 runners-up will attend a masterclass with a commissioning editor at Orion Books, have lunch with the Good Housekeeping team and have the chance to be represented by the agent too.

Also, the People’s Friend magazine have a special edition out this week: every one of the 7 short stories is written by a new writer (ie: new to People’s Friend).

I think that’s rather lovely and shows how much they encourage new writers and are actively looking for them. Here are the guidelines if you want to know more.

Good luck with either or both of those, if you decide to submit your work.

Bonnie on Holkham Beach, New Year’s Day

Posted in Bonnie, Competitions, Good Causes, Magazines, Television | Tagged | 13 Comments

My Best Books of the Year

As promised, one final post for the decade:

Something I did achieve this year was my Goodreads ‘Reading Challenge’. I set myself the target of reading 30 books (I know, small fry to some of you!) and I achieved it. Hurrah. And I will do it again in 2020.

And, in no particular order, my favourite 5 of the 30 books were:

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty
Ms Moriarty can do no wrong in my eyes. Fabulous characterisation, witty writing and her novels are always full of twists and turns.

I loved this story of nine… well, strangers, who are on a health spa/retreat and things don’t go quite as they’d expected….

Don’t Think a Single Thought – Diana Cambridge

I only finished this a couple of days ago. It’s the first novel by Diana Cambridge, who writes for Writing magazine and it’s quite difficult to say why I liked it but I found it fascinating. Set in 1960s USA, the main character, Emma – an unreliable narrator if ever there was one – is completely unlikeable but still manages to elicit some sympathy. Her story’s compelling. As someone else said, in a review I read, in a world where many books are so formulaic, this manages to be fresh and original.

The Way of All Flesh – Ambrose Parry

This is a medical historical crime novel, set in 19th century Edinburgh. I’d never heard of husband-and-wife duo ‘Ambrose Parry’ before I saw them at an event at Chipping Norton Literary Festival this year but I really enjoyed this, their first novel (and that reminds me, I need to buy their second, which is out now).

Rachel’s Holiday – Marian Keyes
Very dark (it’s about a woman in rehab’) and very funny. Ms Keyes at her best. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t read this before. I loved it.

Conclave – Robert Harris
Strictly speaking I didn’t ‘read’ this – we listened to it as an (unabridged!) audiobook on a long, long drive up the Highlands of Scotland and back. It sounds very dry – it’s about the election of a new pope – but it was gripping and fascinating and I really enjoyed it. Robert Harris is such a great writer.

What books did you enjoy in 2019?

Happy New Year!

Posted in Books | 2 Comments

A Bit of a Bumpy Year

This is our tree! Not bad, eh? (for a fake one!). Carrot family decorations courtesy of Aldi.

If I may borrow the Queen’s expression (apparently, it’s in her speech tomorrow), 2019 has been a bit of a ‘bumpy’ year for me (and the country, obviously – and maybe for you too?).

The Bad:
On a personal note – and sorry to put sad things here at Christmas, but it would seem odd not to mention it – we buried both my husband’s parents in 2019 and my own dear dad died on 8th December, which, although he was 93 and poorly, was still a shock.

And feels very weird to type it and it’s going to be a funny old Christmas without him.

If any of you are missing a loved one at this time of year – and I’m sure many of you are – I’m sending you a virtual hug. It’s bloody horrible, isn’t it?

On the writing front, as usual, I didn’t do as much as I wanted to.

Here are the many ways in which I failed:

* I only submitted 33 stories to women’s magazines (my target, which I’ve achieved for the past 5 years, is always 52, one a week).

* I didn’t complete NaNoWriMo.

* I didn’t send off my novel manuscript to the RNA by 31st August, so missed the deadline.

* Although I won a Writers Bureau course in a raffle in the summer (!) I have yet to complete and submit my first assignment (but I will!)

Christmas Eve sunshine (who needs a white Christmas?)

The Good:

But, in better news – in July we got married! At this wonderful place and I must admit, it was a fabulous weekend and I feel very lucky and – to use another fashionable word (which I doubt Her Maj’ will use tomorrow, but who knows?), I feel very ‘blessed’.

And on the writing front, there were some good things: I did manage 47k of NaNo and it’s still an on-going project; I went on two of Alison May and Janet Gover’s fabulous courses, in January and October and I was a tutor for the first time at NAWGFest in August, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

And I continued to blog, even through the stress and horrible times (yes, I am kind to you). In fact, this is my 39th post of the year and I’ll probably manage another one, bringing it up to a nice round 40, before 31st.

I came second in the Tamworth Literary Festival competition (and, ahem, finally got my prize money 5 months later! Hurrah).

I also interviewed an author for the first time ever, at Evesham Festival of Words and I couldn’t have chosen a better person: it was the lovely and very talented Ms Joanna Cannon. (If you haven’t read her 3 books, do! You’re in for a treat).

And looking ahead, in the New Year I’ve got a new job, teaching 2 Creative Writing classes at the theatre in Chipping Norton and I’m setting up a Book Club for Evesham Festival. Plus, I’m just about to book myself a place on a writing retreat so, there are lots of good things ahead. For you too, I hope. Bring it on!

In the past, I know, I have moaned and whined a bit about Christmas but I’m not going to do that this year.

I’ve just taken the Bonnie baby for a walk in the brilliant Christmas Eve sunshine, had a chat with two very nice dog-walking young men that I met along the way (honestly, they were like romantic heroes! One had the bluest eyes! And, most importantly, they had nice, well-behaved dogs too) and I have reminded myself, that, truly, every day is a gift.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas.

Posted in Blogging, Bonnie, Competitions, Cotswolds | 18 Comments

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…. You Know What

Hello! I hope you’re getting into the Christmas spirit (if that’s your thing) and you’re not too overwhelmed with ‘stuff’.

If you want some tips on how to survive Christmas, as a writer, I’ve updated my annual post on the subject, here.

As you can see, I’ve got my Christmas header on the blog, to get us all in the mood (but I can’t find how to put the snow back on, which is a shame). The blog has also had a bit of a ‘revamp’ – I’ve upgraded it! I’m paying a small monthly fee to WordPress now (it’s been free for the past 9 years), which means – no adverts! Hurrah. I don’t know how obvious they were to you but they were driving me mad, so I’ve got rid of them.

Twitter Giveaway

As you may know, I run the Twitter feed for Evesham Festival of Words and I won a whole stack of brand new books (28 to be precise!) on there, from publisher Simon & Schuster recently.

They arrived in 2 big boxes, each individually (and beautifully) wrapped and I think the idea was that I opened one each day but as they weren’t really mine – and I needed to find out what they were – I had a big splurge of opening them all, which was like an early Christmas Day morning. Over the course of the next few months, the books will be given away as raffle or quiz prizes but I decided to run a little Twitter competition with the 3 Christmas titles that were part of the 28 and if you’d like a chance to win them, you’ve got until 9am tomorrow morning (Tues 17th), to follow and retweet.

The link is here if you want to have a go – but be quick!

Jólabókaflóðið (‘Christmas Book Flood’)

If you win – or even if you don’t – you could try being a bit more Icelandic. On Christmas Eve, the very civilised Icelandic folk give each other books and spend the rest of the night wrapped in blankets, sipping cocoa and reading. Sounds good to me!

NaNoWriMo Update

I didn’t ‘win’ (horrible expression) NaNoWriMo but I did manage to hit 47,000 words before the end of November and I was pretty happy with that. I’m hoping to get to 50,000 words very soon and then I’ll allow myself to read the whole thing back and see if I’ve got anything worth working on!

Posted in Blogging, Tweeting | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Living The Dream? The Reality of Earning a Living as a Writer 

I’m 44k into my NaNoWriMo-ing and honestly my brain just won’t come up with anything to blog about, soooo, I decided to post one of my previously-published-articles (not seen on here before).

It was originally published in Writing in 2016 under the title ‘Living The Dream?’

I’ve updated some of the original stats, which were based on 2015 figures.

WARNING: it doesn’t make for very cheery reading! And by coincidence, while we’re talking about money and earnings for writers, today the folk at The People’s Friend magazine have written a post on their website about ‘Writing for the Friend’ and how “payment should be the reward, not the incentive.”

Have a read and tell me what you think!

And here’s my article:

Living The Dream? The Reality of Earning A Living As A Writer

Many people imagine that writers lead glamorous lives, working from home, (or perhaps in a trendy café, sustained by lattes), tapping away effortlessly on a laptop. And then, of course, there’s all that money.

Every so often a headline-grabbing book deal appears in the press which perpetuates the myth about how much writers can earn. Which may explain why, in a YouGov poll in 2015, 60% of the 14,000 respondents chose ‘writer’ from a list of over thirty occupations, as their preferred career. If you earn part – or all – of your living from writing, you’re the envy of many.

But in a climate where the average professional writer in the UK earns an average salary of £10,500* (well below the minimum wage), is being a writer really such a dream job?

It’s a solitary business, there’s no pay scale or pension scheme, no guaranteed income and no underlings to whom you can delegate mundane tasks (unless you’re James Patterson, the world’s highest-earning author, who churns out a dozen titles a year with the help of ‘co-authors’).

Of course, there are the lucky – and talented – few who do make millions and who skew both the figures and the general perception of what a writer earns but even best-selling author Ian Rankin has admitted it took him 14 years to earn ‘any decent money’ from writing.

In 2018, the ALCS (Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society) released a study called ‘Authors’ Earnings 2018: A Survey of UK Writers’. It looked at how much writers in the UK earn and the bad news was that earnings from writing appear to have fallen by 15 percent since 2013, when the ALCS last conducted this survey and by 42 percent since 2005.

It’s a depressing picture, attributed in part to publishers being less willing to take the risk of publishing new authors and new genres and more likely to stick with tried-and-tested writers and celebrity authors.

The old adage to would-be writers – ‘don’t give up the day job’ – has never been more true.

As a writing tutor, I want to encourage my students while ensuring that they’re under no illusions about how difficult it is to find someone willing to pay for your writing.

Alarm bells rang when a new student, who’d only been writing for one term and had sold one £100 article in that time, stated in an email to me that very soon her intention was that writing would become ‘her main source of income’ and that it was definitely ‘not a hobby’.

Her ambition was commendable but I had to voice my concerns and explain how hard it is to make a living from writing and that most successful writing careers are built over years.

Even many established and published writers supplement their income by teaching, lecturing, ghost-writing, offering critique services, or writing a column. Some pay the bills by having a completely separate income from non-writing related work.

As for ‘giving up the day job’, even if you are taken on by a publisher, you’re unlikely to be able to write full time straight away. If we ignore those headline-grabbing, exceptional six-figure advances for a moment, the reality is that an author may get an advance of £3,000 or less for a first book. Hardly the stuff of dreams.

Psychological thriller author, C L Taylor says, “It’s only now, after dozens of short story sales and competition wins and two 2-book deals, that I’ve been able to give up my day job. And I know how lucky and unusual that is.”

Being a writer is a precarious business. You can be flavour of the month one minute but dropped by your agent or publisher, if sales are disappointing, the next.

CL Taylor adds, “Once you give up your job there’s no guarantee you’ll continue to make a living as a writer. The industry is fickle and it’s always a good idea to have a back-up plan if it doesn’t work out (my ex-boss said I am welcome back any time!)”

Perhaps the message is, to write for the love of writing, rather than in the hope of fame and fortune. But if your aim is to make a living from writing, just be careful when – and how – you give up the day job.

Posted in Blogging, Magazines | Tagged | 8 Comments

Another On-Line Column from My Personal Website

NaNo

A quick NaNoWriMo update: I am still on target but as we’re not even half way through November yet, there’s plenty of time for it all to go terribly wrong!

Yesterday, I didn’t know what to write. Yes, I was stuck. So, I set out to write 1677 (the daily target) words on the weather (the weather in my novel, I hasten to add, not just what it was doing outside).

But after a couple of lines about the rain and cold (hmm, which actually was what it was doing outside. Funny, that), I got an idea, so I was off, into a whole scene that had nothing to do with the weather at all.

If you’re doing NaNo, how’s it going? If you’re feel like you’re flagging – like I did yesterday – there are lots of ‘pep talks’ on the website to gee you up!

Competitions

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (x 2)

Do you write for children or young adults? The lovely people at the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook are running a free competition on their website for unpublished writers of children’s MG and YA fiction. (Apparently, MG – Middle-grade fiction = books written for readers between the ages of 8 and 12, while YA – young adult – = books written for readers roughly between the ages of 12 and 18).

NB: They’re NOT looking for picture books (but there may be something coming soon, so keep an eye on the website).

All the details are here and you’ve got until midnight on 9th December to submit your entry. Good luck!

If writing for children’s not your thing, don’t despair: the Writers’ & Artists’ annual (free) short story competition is still open to entries until 13th February 2020. Scroll down a bit on this page and you’ll see all the information about it.

Evesham Festival of Words

And talking of competitions, once again I am a ‘reader’ for the Evesham Festival of Words Short Story competition, which has just been launched for 2020 and has a closing date of 20th March.

It’s not free – entry is £5 – but sometimes (turning a negative into a positive, now), when your hard-earned cash is involved, I think it makes you work harder on your entry. First prize is £150 plus trophy and there are cash prizes for 2nd and 3rd place too.

Three particularly fabulous things about the Evesham competition (yes, I am biased):

1. The writers of all 10 shortlisted entries are invited to the awards night in June and will have the opportunity to meet the special writer guest (we haven’t announced who that’ll be yet but in the past we’ve had Katie Fforde, Prue Leith and Mike Gayle).

2. We also run a junior short story competition which is FREE to enter.

3. If you win or are placed, you have the option of having your story published on the website, or not. In other words, unlike many other competitions that publish not only the winners but often the shortlisted stories too, you are free to do something else with that story, if you so wish.

All the details are here.

Go on an ‘Artist’s Date’ (for free!)

You know how I witter on sometimes about ‘Artists’ Dates’?

Well, if you buy a lottery ticket or scratch card (so it’s not completely free, obviously), between 23 and 30 November, there are lots of lovely places you can visit for free – or at a reduced rate – thanks to the National Lottery.

Some National Trust properties are taking part, for example, so you could save yourself quite a bit (some NT properties cost over £20 to get in!).

Have a look at what’s on offer by putting in your postcode and let me know if you head off anywhere on an Artist’s Date (don’t forget your lottery ticket!)

Knobbly Monsters

And finally, do you know what a ‘knobbly monster’ is? (Sounds a bit rude but honestly, it’s not). And yes, it IS to do with writing! In fact, the title of this blog post is an attempt at one. Clumsy and a bit stupid-sounding? Yep, that’s right!

I didn’t know what a Knobbly Monster was and neither did fellow on-line columnist of a personal website, Alex Gazzola, until recently. Read what he’s got to say about it here and all will be revealed!

Posted in Artist's Dates, Competitions, Short Stories, West Midlands | Tagged , | 2 Comments