Monday, 27 December 2010

Christmas and New Year thoughts

We've had a very quiet Christmas (no great niece so no dawn raids or being submergied under wrapping paper) but it has been full of good food, wine and a great thankfulness to be with those closest to me after the recent bad weather.  And I'm very conscious that here in Nottingham I've been lucky not to be snowed in, stuck with the car somewhere and have plentiful supplies of food.

Over the holiday I've received cds to give me hours of pleasure, a book on breadmaking to extend what I can already do (never thought of building my own bread oven before) and some lovely smellies.  These days I look for experiences not products and I know I have hours of pleasure ahead of me.

I've also enjoyed some films and tv programmes.  One unexpected hit for me was The Nativity on BBC1.  Whilst I couldn't participate in the religious sentiments, the way they treated the story made far more sense to me than anything I was told in my church going youth.  The whole story came together for me with a vision of life for Mary.  Gripping.

Then we watched some DVDs including Nine with Daniel Day Lewis.  Not sure if I read the reviews when that came out but I wasn't expecting a musical extravaganza.  Loved it.

And to get some air we walked to our local canal.  I hadn't made it down there since the snow began but I was amazed to see it frozan over with a coating of snow on the top.  I've lived here for 14 years and have never seen it like that.  The ducks we found were huddled in some open water near a lock and some of the moorhens had migrated to a small stream leading from the canal which wasn't frozen over.

So a lovely time we had and looking back on this year I've been very blessed with loyal clients, interesting work and a widening circle of friends all round the world.

I'm looking forward to 2011; I'm lucky that some of my clients have already contacted me with future work.
I hope that 2011 brings you satisfactions and achievements as well as challenges and I wish you well.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Perfume; all you ever wanted to know

Just spent an hour researching one of my favourite subjects; perfume.  In my twenties I started trying and buying perfume and worked my way through the major perfume brands choosing favourites.  Then in the seventies and eighties I lost interest somewhat as perfumes stopped smelling the way I remembered them. 
It wasn't till later that I discovered they'd changed many of the formulae for the perfumes, partly because of EU regulations and partly because of cost. 

A couple of years ago I came across the indespensable guide for any serious perfume lover. 

Perfumes: the guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

If you want to know about perfume, its history and magic as well as the chemistry then this is the book for you.  Not only is it authoritative, it's fun to read with entries that make you laugh, but will also make you think about what perfume you're wearing and why.

My happy hour has resulted in a list of perfumes to try out after Christmas so I can extend furthe my library of perfumes.  Wonderful

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Candlestick Press Christmas pamphlet 2010

Just been to buy my edition of the pamphlet.  Poems are selected by Carol Ann Duffy and this second volume includes poets as various as Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Jennings and Moniza Alvi.  Available from Waterstones or visit for more information.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

How does the turtle make progress

Just come across this great little story from one of the Indigenous Grandmothers,  Grandmother Mona Polacca, Hopi/Havasupai.

She talks about the turtle having to stick it's neck out when it wants to move ahead and points out that's what we need to do, rather than staying in our shell.

If you haven't come across the work of the Grandmothers, here's a link

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Campaign against library closures

I almost spoiled my breakfast this morning reading Kate Mosse's piece about library closures.  Of all the deliberate nastiness.  So as a former librarian I could as a Big Society volunteer go and issue books at my local library could I?

Well maybe, except we now have self-service machines installed.  I know this has been the trend in many academic libraries for years - my friends have the scars to prove how such a move is the thin end of the wedge in service provision.

My library is one of the original Carnegie libraries that made such a difference to the provision of libraries in this country.  So I'm not against private donations; the problem is these days they don't usually come with such vision.  And I also acknowledge that book provision has to be where readers need it and for some libraries are still too elitist.  But since school library provision is being squeezed at the same time, where would be the place for books and reading that had no  political bias, no private motives and no commercial profit needs.

Seems to me we already have the perfect solution.  But hey what do I know?  I only know that even coming from a home where books were welcomed, the library over the canal bridge opened up a world to me that I had no idea existed.  Even without the career in libraries, my life would have been so much poorer without being at the least a library user.

I've found the following site of author Alan Gibbons and signed up for his petition.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Do you understand critics?

This time of year depresses me when I read the lists of books recommended by people and realise I haven't read any of them. 

When I was in my twenties, I was like a sponge soaking up 'classic' after 'classic'.  Looking back I think now how bored I was with many of the books I read.  They seemed self indulgent, diffuse and prosy.  At the time I felt good for having read them, like ticking them off an invisible list of things to do. Take Lawrence Durrell - I loved his travel books but couldn't get on with the Alexandria Quartet.

These days I read very little literary fiction.  It's as if I can't be bothered to waste my time and energy on trying to find something, anything of interest.  I was talking to someone this week who had some of the same issues as me about the way he reads.

Perhaps these days I'm more comfortable in admitting the level of book I enjoy.  It's not that I don't enjoy a challenge and coming up to Christmas I'm about to find my annual holiday reading.  I already have a couple of books waiting for me, Teilhard de Chardin and Michael Frayn.  But they aren't fiction.

So the search is on for a novel to challenge my preconceptions about 'literary fiction'.

If you have any suggestions, I'm open to ideas.

But this morning I found a quote that made me feel somewhat better about my lack of enthusiasm about critics and their viewpoints(even though it's more about non-fiction).

'In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.'

George Orwell

Monday, 6 December 2010

John Wilson Orchestra

Nothing at all to do with writing, except for lyrics but what a fabulous concert last night at the Royal Centre.

The John Wilson Orchestra with soloists played an energetic, committed concert of music from the musicals put out by MGM. 

Couldn't fault it in any respect and one of the best live concerts I've enjoyed this year.  From the first note everyone in our section of the audience was foot tapping, swaying, and jigging in their seats.  Given the predominant age of the audience was over 50, everyone had a mental and physical workout as prescribed by doctors. 

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and all credit to the musicians and that remarkable man John Wilson.  And if the musicians had worries about getting home after the concert, none of it showed.  Thanks to them for making so many people happy.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Quote for all Christmas shoppers

'People who have what they want are fond of telling people who haven't what they want that they really don't want it.'

Ogden Nash

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Middle of the night reading

Moving is one of the most stressful human activities the experts tell us and even though I haven't been moving, I've had to manage my anxiety on behalf of someone else.  In some ways it's worse helping somebody else rather than being in control completely.  I've had to keep reminding myself that it isn't my move and that how I do things might not work for them.

So that means I've had the occasional patches of insomnia and of course rather than stew in the  middle of the night, I've read.  I've started a couple of books recently, one by C J Sansom a historical thriller that I borrowed after I read an article about him in the Guardian Review.

The other is the latest Elizabeth George, This Body of Death.  She is one of my writing heroines for the way she creates a world and draws you into it.  I'm only part way through it but already I'm in awe of the way she's pulling all the threads of the plot together.  It seems unfair that major literary prizes seem to ignore the crime genre because when you have an expert writer such as Elizabeth George, the books can cover all the emotions of the human heart and throw up all manner of life challenges.

Looking forward to reading the rest of it.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Moving times

Tomorrow's the day that my friend moves and we're keeping our fingers crossed for fine weather.  We've spent the weekend ferrying her goods and chattels between houses and are now taking a well earned rest.

The combined cold weather and activity has sent up my calorie intake into the stratosphere butI feel I have the best possible excuse at the moment.  All that mental energy expended...

Well that's my reasoning and I'm sticking to it. 

We've had some of those 'finds' like when a pair of boots turned up this morning stuck down the side of a wardrobe.  How can you lose a pair of boots?

And yesterday, she came out of the house wearing two coats, several scarves and two handbags draped round her neck.  'To save packing them' as she explained.  Wish I'd had my camera; I could have sent a photo to her sister.

But now she has one last night in her current rented house then it's on to her own home.  Wonderful. 

We've got our priorities right and started a shelf of books, cookery books, in her dining room.  So it already feels like a home. 

Saturday, 27 November 2010

James Agee anniversary

It's my sister's birthday today and I was looking who else was born on this day.  Found James Agee prize winning author of plays and films.

He also wrote the words for one of my favourite songs set to music by Samuel Barber.  'Sure on this shining night'. It makes me want to cry every time I listen to it.  When I took singing lessons a few years ago I tried to sing this so I know how difficult it is to do justice to it even though it sounds very simple.

Thanks to my sister for her love and support and thanks to James Agee for the song. 

Friday, 26 November 2010

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Independent bookshops - update

Finally caught up with reading the Guardian Saturday Travel section.  On the back page some reader recommendations for independent bookshops so I list them here in the hope it may lead some people to them.

Children's Book Centre near Norwich - founder Marilyn Brocklehurst
Scrivener's Bookshop, Buxton
Barter Books, Alnwick
Westwood Books, Sedbergh
Voltaire and Rousseau, Glasgow

Friday, 19 November 2010

Where do you write from?

Today I scanned The Writer's Almanac entry on American poet Sharon Olds.  One comment I noticed was that she felt writing is physical and for her it come from her lungs.

It set me thinking about my own writing and where it comes from.  The logical place especially when writing factual projects is that it comes from my brain.  I'm assessing what needs to be included, checking the accuracy of what I write; in short it all seemed to come from the logical side of my brain.

But that's not entirely the case because even for such projects, I have in mind the end reader as well as my client.  A case in point is the medical preface I worked on yesterday.  While I had to make sure that it was accurate, I had to take into account what the author stated was his goal for the whole piece.  He wanted to get across the outcomes people can achieve for their patients using the techniques he was offering.

When I was working on the piece, I did have in mind the end user of all of the techniques the writer was talking about. It will be someone who is afraid of the disease that seems to be taking over their body.  Not only at the mercy of the disease but also of the medical intervention they need for their condition.

To that extent, the writing came from my heart because I had this picture of the person on the receiving end of the medical procedure I was editing.  Maybe that seems to be far fetched.  I'm not the one with the condition, It's not happening to me and the piece is aimed at the oncologists and technicians who will deal with such people. 

When I think about other projects I've done recently, such as a brochure for a not for profit training organisation I know my emotions were involved.  I interviewed some of the recipients of the training and tried to include their pleasure and satisfaction with the outcomes of the training organisations work on their behalf.

It's difficult for me to detach my emotions completely because I have to become enthused or I can't inject whatever the piece needs to connect to its reader.

Hmm.  Interesting.  I would have said that my emotions were there at the service of the piece but I hadn't so much connected it to writing from my heart.

Any thoughts about your own writing?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

How about a new alphabet

When I was a child, sometimes my Mum would say, I wish they'd invent a new animal.  Post World War II cooking in our neighbourhood seemed restricte though, not because we were short of food.  We had enough food, thanks to living in a farming community and there was always a good amount of sharing between neighbours and different members of the family.  But austerity measure were still in place.  As an aside I remember the buying of the sweet ration every Friday with the red and gold paper of Holland's toffees.

It was more because my mother's cooking had always been straightforward and plain.  And we hadn't reached the sixties then with its explosion of spices and foreign ingredients.  My Mum was in a routine with her cooking and we knew if it was Wednesday it would be some form of pork.

I think of her sometimes when I'm trying to find the right word or expression for a piece of writing.  If I could only stretch the alphabet to conjure up new syllables.  And then today I came across a Dr Seuss quote about start at Z and seeing where you can go from there.

It's easy to get in a routine of how we approach a piece of writing and the phrases we normally use.  I like things that keep me on my toes and yesterday I had to do a preface for a document I'd checked a few weeks ago.  It was a piece written in English by a Frenchman, but translated by him from his French version.

Most of it was comprehensible just stiff in places and suffering from the inevitable dislocation of tenses and sentence arrangement.  Despite the subject matter, which was medical, it was quite fun to do and although the finished version sounded English English rather than French English, I liked some of his dislocations.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Zdenka Fantlova talks to Michael Berkeley

Listened to this programme on Sunday and it made me feel humbled and inspired about the human spirit.  A survivor of two concentration camps, Zdenka Fantlova's attitude to what happened to her as well as her music choices were uplifting.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

How to connect with your clients: more thoughts

Alongside attending the workshop I've been listening to segments from the Enlightened Business Summit hosted by the Shift Movement.

The Shift Movment has organised several free teleseminars that I've listened to over the last few months.  Of course because it's American based, the majority of the speakers are American but in this last summit there have been representatives from India, the UK.  Listening to a number of teleseminars in a short period can become numbing but it's possible to download the audio which means you have time to reconsider at leisure.

This particular series has been about how to create businesses that are sustainable but working from a purpose greater than merely making profit.  One thing that came up time and again was the question of value for the customer and how to measure the intangible results for them.  It was interesting to hear this echoed at the workshop I wrote about yesterday.

For example the MC for the series Chip Conley is CEO of Joi de Vivre which is a chain of boutique hotels.  He was talking about working out what your company does and how to be successful even in the challenging circumstances we all have, we should ask ourselves the question more than once.

For him, providing accommodation is only the beginning.  Providing a home from home starts to make you think about how you can create a service based on the intangibles of what we need in a night's hotel stay.  As an aside, for me towels are never big enough. 

I can remember reading Stuart Wilde discussing hotels and how to provide service.  He argued that he would build in a cost for all the items that people traditionally liberated from their hotel rooms and how he would positively encourage people to take away bathrobes and towels on the basis that every time someone used them at home it would give them a good feeling about the hotel experience.

Sustaining a business at the moment is tough for many and sustaining your values in the business is even tougher.  Gill Heppell who runs the care company I spoke about yesterday talked about how the hiring process is one of the key indicators for her.  She won't take people with only a care home background because they have become set in their ways of delivering service and what she needs is flexibility.

Many of the people who spoke at the workshop on Friday, talked about how they in their particular sectors felt undervalued.  It's not only the money which of course is important, but being appreciated for the way you work and the effort you put into your job.

Bring it back to writing for business, being valued is an element in thinking about connecting with the customer.  Whatever product or service you provide, if your customer feels undervalued in many of their everyday activities,from work to family to shopping, how can we assure them athey can trust us nd design in care for them in their transactions with us?

Monday, 15 November 2010

How do we connect with our clients?

Spent a fascinating day on Friday at a workshop hosted by Nottingham Trent University Business School.  All about customer service or as was decided by the end of the day customer care.

Perspectives on customer service came from three different sectors:
  1. Retail
  2. Private care sector 
  3. Local authority
On the table where I sat we had representatives from the Probation Service, a call centre, and an academic who also ran a small company.

My interest in going was general at the beginning.  As a writer for business connecting and selling to customers/clients is what it's about for me.  But what came out during the day was how important the relationship now is with the client and how the intangibles of a transaction can be as important as the actual delivery of a product or service.

How you deliver is paramount.

Professer Kay Cassidy who hosted the workshop showed us an example of how an airline dealt badly with a passenger when they damaged his guitar and how they paid when he not only wrote a song about it but publicised it via the social media networks.  The airline saw a dash of cancellations and a drop in their stock market value.  Quite a severe rap on the knuckles.

Whether we like it or not and many companies still don't accept this is the case, the balance of power is shifting.  We're voting not only with our wallents but our opinions.  I recently bought some business cards from Moo and was so pleased with the experience that I've praised them to everybody who now has one of the cards.  Even if those people don't immediately use Moo, they'll certainly remember the name.

Much of what we discussed in the afternoon was about managing people's expectations and being honest about what we can do.  Of course you'll always lose sales to those who are cheaper.  But many people have intangible needs that shopping only by price can't fulfil.  What came across also is that we have different criteria for different goods and services.  As writers and suppliers, that too keeps us on our toes.  We can't assume that if we have two products, our prospective customer is using the same measure to judge them.

It's a challenging market for all of us out there.  The more we can arm ourselves with information and understanding about what our prospects need the more likely we are to get it right.  This was borne out by te success of the care company, established only four years ago but already growing steadily.  That's because their basic stance is to listen to what their clients want, not try to force an already established system on the clients.

Exciting times ahead for those who are prepared to take up the challenge and maybe dismal ones for those who won't change their 'we know what you need' stance.

Friday, 12 November 2010

National Short Story Week

The UK’s first National Short Story Week will take place between Monday 22nd and Sunday 28th of November 2010.

Get involved by reading, listening to, and writing short stories. Find out more on the Short Story Week website.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Kurt Vonnegut

The Writers Almanac  is featuring the anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut's birthday today.  Quite a long piece for them; it includes his rules for writing a good short story.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Sunday, 7 November 2010

How do you cull your books?

Yesterday I spent some time helping a friend pack ahead of a move to a new house.  Exciting for her but since she likes to be organised, the sheer volume of 'stuff' that needs doing for a move is stressing her out.  Hence my offer of help with the packing.

We decided that I could usefully help out packing books.  As long as I knew which ones to pack.  Which then turned into a problem because she couldn't decide what to keep or not.

Which led to me thinking about how to manage a book collection. 

To some extent I guess it depends on your personality.  Unlike my friend, I'm not really a hoarder.  And although I haven't moved in over a decade, I do take a metaphorical scythe so to speak through my books on a regular basis.

Recently I stopped working as a complementary therapist.  So many of the books I collected during the time of my practice, I offered to friends still in the same field.  But I have kept a core selection.  Those I trust most to give me answers to creating oil blends or information about ailments or conditions.

I suppose this approach extends to any type of non-fiction.  Why I bought it in the first place, do I use it on a regular basis or is it good to have around because dipping in when the mood takes me offers me an appropriate thought.

Fiction is more difficult.  Over the years I've bulit up runs of certain authors.  For example, I'll never throw out my Georgette Heyer books.  Yes they're as light as froth on coffee but they make me smile every time and sometimes light froth is all I can deal with.

Classiscs - yes I have some of those but not as many as I used to have.  In my twenties I read like a starving person.  Regardless of author or genre simply pursuing a new experience.  Now I'm more selective and have no desire to read what doesn't suit, even though it might be recommended or lauded by critics.

Having moved enough times in my life I'm more and more refining what I keep or throw out in relation to all kinds of 'stuff'.  After I'd cleared out my dad's house when he died, I'd hate the thought of leaving the decisions and the work to others if I can avoid it.

So what books shall I pass on next I wonder?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Beeston Amnesty meeting 8 November 2010

There will be a Monthly Meeting at Beeston Library, Foster Avenue at 7:30 pm on Monday, 8 November.

Our guest will be Helena Bandoo who will talk about her work with the Women's Friendship Group for Asylum-seekers and Refugees

Amnesty supporters may also be interested in an event on Sunday 21 November, 4:30 - 6 pm, at Round Hill School when Jan Sutch Pickard will report on the situation in Israel and Palestine. See the attached poster for more information.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

How to deal with the review process in writing

Earlier in the year I admitted to my newsletter subscribers that I'd completed a first draft of a novel.

I have to tell you that just admitting this scared the life out of me.  People might call me to account for it!

But I knew I needed outside help with moving on to the next stage so I asked for volunteers to read and give me feedback.  I had one response which I thought was very brave.  I added a few of my friends and ended up with a panel of 6 people.

Over the summer I sent the manuscript out across the country and waited. 

What was I hoping for?  Only one of them was a fellow write; one said she never read critically and the others offered to do their best.

With the manuscript I sent a set of review sheets asking for feeback on specific points; character development, believability, story progression.  From working with clients I know it's always easier for people to have something to check against rather than comment without a context.

What result did I have?

Surprisingly good.  Everyone had very pertinent comments to offer.  Some more critical than others.  Ouch - those took me several days to process and evaluate.  But nobody said it was a complete disaster.  People laughed, (in the right places I hope), recognised situations they had experienced and could relate to and in one instance, one volunteer cried.

Then came the tough bit.  I had to change things.  Some were small details, others major structural changes.

Hmm... took a bit of thinking about.  I sat on the fence, very uncomfortable, for almost a month while I let the creative soup bubble and rumble inside.

Then I woke up one day knowing at least where I could start.  And I began with some real enthusaism again to see how I could improve it. 

Progress to date?

I've reworked the first fifty pages, some of which I've now sent for professional critique via Writing East Midllands.  If it doesn't wing back in the next three weeks then I'll know it's gone for critique and I'll have to wait for another two months.

What do I hope from the critique?

I'm not expecting to be told it's a best seller... though wouldn't that be wonderful!   What I want is to find out is how close I am to having a decent draft and synopsis.  Am I really close and with some more application I can have something worthy of submission to an agent?

Or terrible thought but I have to be pragmatic, do I have to go back to the drawing, or writing board and begin again.

Whichever it is, I'd rather know.  That way I can do something about it.  Making assumptions is dangerous in acquairing any skill.  I remember how tough my tuutors were on my business writing course and the amount of time I investted in improving.  But a balanced, fair review procress against defined criteria worked that time for me.

What else did I learn from the process so far?

That I have some wonderful friends who put themselves in the line of fire for me... and we're still friends.
That people will read into your words things that aren't there.  One of my readers enthused about one section because it reflected something she  had done.  So whatever comes out of a writer's head will collide with the reader's experience and create reactions you never intneded.
That I'm a stronger person for giving it a go.  Even if this novel in the end is only for my benefit, then any future ones will be stronger because of it.

And the most important thing I've learned is I now have even more sympathy for the writers I mentor.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Broxtowe Business Womens Network

Next event
9th November 5.30-8.30pm
Eastwood Hall, NG16 3SS
Cost to attend: £10
Stand Opportunity: £15

For more information call: Stephanie Wilkinson
Economic Development Officer  0115 917 7777 x 3989

Friday, 29 October 2010

Nottingham Trent University ART Future Factory seminars

Have you come across Future Factory seminars?   These are free for businesses in the East Midlands.  I've been to a couple and found the mix of attendees interesting and topics relevant to me as a writer trying to understand the current marketplace.

Forever Together? – Why customers throw away your products given by Professor Tim Cooper

Wednesday 17 November 2010, 12:00noon to 5pm
Nottingham Trent University City Campus

To secure your place please contact Angela Scott in the Future Factory office on 0115 848 8675, or email:

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Writing and muscle strain

How well do you take care of yourself as a writer?

I ask the question only because I'm prompted by a morning spent paying attention to my body.

Here I have to declare an interest.  For 14 years I worked for part of my time at least as a complementary therapist and dealt with a string of people presenting various aches and pains, physical and emotional.

None of them were writers.  Or at least I don't think so, though they may have been keeping it quiet....

just like I was at that time.

But many of them were computer users which led to all kinds of knots in the muscles.

Do you use a computer for your writing?  Or are you a pen and paper lover?

Doesn't matter whichever you favour.  You'll still have shoulder and neck problems... though use of the mouse can outbid the pencil every time.

I'm confident in knowing you're likely to suffer these problems, simply because of my experience.  And your age has nothing to do with it.  Use of large rucksacks for schoolbooks is resulting in a generation of young people already at risk of muscle strain.

Now I'm not here to nag you - well I'd like to but again from experience it's probably a waste of time.  So I'll hold up my hand to say I'm as guilty as anyone about abusing my hardworking muscles but can I at least enter a plea on your muscles' behalf.

Give them some TLC from time to time.  We know about the dangers of eyestrain and all those tiny muscles around the eyes get their own back by producing you a 5* headache when you least need it.

All your muscles ask is an occasional stretch, a bit of a rub down and some rest.  Learn a bit about how you can help them and they'll carry on performing wonders for you... as they do everyday without you realising it.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Nottingham Folk Industry Day 2010

19 November, Nottingham

Join an action-packed and thought-provoking day of keynote speeches, workshops, presentations, discussion, showcase performance and debate across three strands. For more information and to book:

Monday, 18 October 2010

Jenny Swann talks about how she came to start Candlestick Press

Jenny where did the idea come from for the press?

I set up Candlestick Press in 2008 with the aim of broadening out the readership of poetry – I love (good) poetry, and I couldn’t believe that I was in such a small minority. So the idea was to find a way to bring poetry back into the swing of everyday life.

How did you come up with your concept of 'Instead of a Card'?

Lots of different factors conspired to bring together the ‘Instead of a Card’ poetry pamphlet. I had been working as poetry editor for another Nottingham publisher, Five Leaves Publications, and had seen a couple of poetry pamphlets through the presses… and fallen in love with them. There is something about poetry pamphlets, as opposed to full collections, that is so gorgeous – they feel nice, they make a great introduction to a poet you don’t know, without hitting you over the head with more than you really wanted at a first sitting.

And you can wander around with them tucked neatly into a pocket or a bag – for whatever reasons, I feel a great attachment to them as a vehicle for conveying poetry along with pleasure, delight, curiosity.

How do you use the idea to encourage people to have a go at poetry?
By packaging up our pamphlets with an envelope and bookmark, we found a way of encouraging people to buy poetry pamphlets – namely, as an alternative to the more mainstream greetings cards. Hence, for instance, we published ‘Ten Poems about Love’, knowing that most of our friends and acquaintances would much prefer to be given that for Valentine’s Day than another schmaltzy, over-priced card.

What developments have taken place this year for Candlestick Press?

So – that is the background to the Press. The foreground is that earlier this year, I teamed up with Di Slaney and we are now jointly running the Press. She is a woman after my own heart – someone who can add up, knows one end of a spreadsheet from the other, and keeps hens. Really, I couldn’t have asked for more in a business partner.

What are you currently working on?
As we approach Christmas, we are sending out frightening numbers (but nicely so! I love a little frisson of fear, myself) of our second Christmas poetry pamphlet, published in collaboration with the generous-spirited Carol Ann Duffy. She has agreed to select and introduce a Christmas poetry pamphlet with us for each of the ten Christmases that she is Poet Laureate.

(this is how I first met Candlestick Press, buying their 2009 Christmas collection Eileen)
And what's your next collection about?

Next February sees the publication of ‘Ten Poems about Tea’ with an introduction by Sophie Dahl (this was the brainchild of the Picador poet, Lorraine Mariner, who had been quietly collecting poems about tea for a couple of years).

So there’s never a dull day. And even if there were, it would be punctuated by cups of tea and poems!

Eileen's recommendation:
If you know someone who'd appreciate a Christmas card with a difference or you want to start a new tradition in your family, then head over to and do your Christmas shopping away from the scrum of the high street.
Thanks Jenny.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Why write a book?

Every author I've worked with, including myself, asks the question, 'why would people want to hear what I say?'

When I was talked into writing Writer's Little Book... with Big Ideas, I wondered about doing it.  Make no mistake, writing a book, however much you love writing, needs your determination and stamina.

So you might think, is it worth the effort?

Having done it and encouraged and helped others to do it I'd give you a resounding YES!

Well you might say, I would say that wouldn't I since I have  several books to sell.  (Thanks for reminding me of that and I'll give you the link to go and take a look).  But beyond that...

... stop for a moment and think. 

Of your life experience
Of your unique position in the world
Of your voice

Perhaps you're thinking, I'm not unique.  But you are because no other human being has ever stood in the place you are at this moment, looking at the world from your eyes.

Pretty spooky when you consider it like that isn't it?  I know it makes me think.

So even if you write on the same topic as 40 or 400 other writers, it's not going to come out exactly like anybody else.  Unless you copy word for word and we know that's not on.

Whenever I've started something new, a course of study, a new job, a new project, I've said to myself, 'If I can help someone else just one other person to deal with their life, make progress or find the courage to make a change,  then I'll be happy.'

Just one other person.  That's who you might reach with your book.  And you might be the only person who can reach them.

And if that's the case, what will happen to that person if you don't share what you know?

Whether you're going to lift their spirits, help them learn a new skill or open a door into a different way of life, that's what you're sharing.  Far beyond merely the words on the page.

If you have that book burning away inside of you, let it out.  Until you let it out you have no idea of its impact not only on others but on you.

Because the first person it will change is you.

And if you need help, head over to 

Friday, 15 October 2010


There's a great little poem into today's Writer's Almanac about punctuation.  If you've ever struggled like me to make your mind up, I think you'll enjoy this.

Nottingham Writers' Club: Sci-fi and Fantasy Workshop

Writing Sci-fi and Fantasy Workshop

16th October 2010 10:00 - 16:00

Steve Bowkett is an experienced teacher and author of over fifty books. The full day Sci-fi and Fantasy workshop is hosted by Nottingham Writers’ Club at the Nottingham Mechanics, 3 North Sherwood Street, Nottingham, NG1 4EZ. The cost is £10 which includes morning and afternoon tea and coffee.  Normal concessions also apply. For furher details visit or tel; 9817661.

Beeston International Poetry Festival, 16th - 28th October 2010

Beeston International Poetry Festival, which takes place between October 16th and 28th 2010 at various venues across Beeston, Nottingham.

Poets reading include Roy Fisher, Sarah Jackson, Vassilis Pavlides, Ernesto Priego, Andrew Sant, Michael Schmidt, Sheila Smith, Mahendra Solanki, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, and Gregory Woods.

The full schedule can be found at

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


15th October 2010 18:00 - 16th October 2010 17:00
Author talks, workshops, publishers, refreshments.

Speakers include the Nottinghamshire crime writers Stephen Booth, Chris Nickson and John Baird.


Mike Sharland – Literary Agent and Writer on over 600 TV shows.

Pete Davis – Founder of The Storytellers of Nottingham.

Jeremy Lewis – Editor, Nottinghamshire Today magazine.

Des Coleman – Presenter, Actor, Singer, Comic, Weatherman.

Catherine Cooper – Winner of the 2010 Brit Writers Award.

Bronwen Harrison – Composer of the original film score for 1066 The Movie.

Helen Hollick – Historical/Adventure novelist

Programme available

For further details email

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Lapse in blogging

When I signed on to blog this morning I was surprised and then felt guilty that I hadn't blogged since the 7th.  Now that's not a long time for some people on their blogs but I try to blog at least 5 times a week.

So since I'm always interested when people tell me they can't or won't blog, what stopped me?

I can put my hand up and say on a couple of days I thought, I'll do it later then ran out of time while chasing deadlines for clients.  One day, Saturday, I didn't switch on the computer at all; committed to friends in the morning then watching the Commonwealth Games in the afternoon..

Oh and because I try to make this wider than only my thoughts, I hadn't gathered any interesting information from anywhere to pass on.

I'm still trying to persuade someone to blog for me but for some reason she thinks it's technical and it's freaking her out.  She's another writer, an intelligent person but she seems to have this block about it.  I've long since got over that but still...

For me, there's no excuse so as my school reports told me for 7 years 'Eileen can do better'.

Speak again tomorrow.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Candlestick Press and National Poetry Day 2010

Off this evening to attend the Candelstick Press Poetry Day event at Waterstone's Nottingham. (6.30 to 8pm, Free entry)

Poetry on the theme of Home, real, imagined or emotional.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Books, writers and designers

I had the pleasure of spending some time today with a very talented designer with a passion for books.

Kate Ferrucci is the Creative Director of Quarto Design a recent addition to Nottingham business.  Recent because Kate has moved here with her Italian husband who works at Nottingham University as a geologist.

Her experience in America and Italy has given her an international take on design and her deep interest in those working with their hands created a fascinating story.  She's worked with limestone workers and musicians to create oral history projects, then turned into books.

We swapped ideas about design for authors, particularly that all important cover which should pull in prospective readers like a magnet.

Kate hasn't promised me any commission but take a look at her website and find out more about what she can offer.  I was impressed and learned a heap of things just talking to her.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Creativity and blocks

This morning I've been reading some more chapters of my client, Sarah Dale's manuscript. Since the chapters I'd been checking were about taking lunch breaks and exercise I thought I'd better take her advice.  So I've just allowed myself a short walk by the local canal.  After yesterday's rain, and boy did it throw it down, it was a pleasure to see all the sunny colours reflected in the water.

Sarah discusses the effect of burnout on creativity and she's quite right in what she says.

Can't remember if I told her but I taught stress management back in the 1990s, mostly to parents in schools and even then, they were meeting themselves coming back with all the demands on their time.

And that remember was pre the pressure of the internet and WiFi and so on and still they couldn't cope.

As Sarah again proposes, creativity isn't limited to those who are regarded as 'artistic'.  I place it in quotes because so many of us have refused to believe we're creative because we don't produce pictures, or play an instrument or write Booker Prize winning novels.

Having worked through my own challenges in that area, I can vouch that creativity isn't only for the 'artistic'.
Anyone who can solve a problem can show creativity; anyone who can stimulate a child to learn is creative and anyone who can sew a seam straight is in my book creative.

I'm still working my way through Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way and finding it valuable in opening up my vision of what's possible if and when I remove any limits from what I think is possible.

Here's one exercise she recomends.  Think of 5 careers you might enjoy.  Then watch as you start to get prompts about them.  Once you blow off the dust from your dreams, who's to tell what might happen.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Writing, music and creativity

I came back from Scarborough Jazz Festival as I always do, astonished at the dexterity and creativity of the musicians.

Now I don't assume that they get there without hard work on their part.  Most musicians don't spring fully formed as soon as they put a trumpet to their lips or sit behind a drum kit.  But even taking into account that hard work, then comes the leap beyond.

Amazes me every time.  And what fascinates me as much as listening to the music is watching the musicians. 

Don't you love watching a group in full flow, passionate about what they're doing and bouncing off each other?

Doesn't matter what type of group either.

Over the weekend here were a couple of drummers whose sheer pleasure at providing the foundation for others produced the widest grins on their faces.  Wonderful to watch.

Of course being a writer I then try and apply what I see in them to what I do. 

Writing's a solitary occupation usually so there isn't that shared joy.  But I know the satisfaction when the words flow in a way which is beyond the practical and normal.

One group I found very interesting, though a lot of the audience seemed indifferent, created improvisations as a response to Turner's sketchbooks.  Slides of the sketches were shown as the music was played and some explanation was given on how the music was created.

What clouted me on the head as far as writing goes was the one piece that had been restricted in musical terms to two tonalities.  The saxophonist explained that the sketch was only two tones and he decided to match it.  And found far from restricting his inspiration, it had produced more freedom than he'd expected.

That I can relate to.  As a practical writer for businesses I often find myself restricted to a short web page or a word limit for an artist statement say.  That forces you to pay attention to every word.

Strips away all the unnecessary fluff and focuses on the key points to communicate. 

I know a lot of writers who find that difficult but for me it's stimulating and challenges me to produce better work than I think I could.  This quote from Igor Stravinsky also challenges me every time I read it.

 “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.”

I've had fun over the years in applying arbitrary restraints in exercising my writing muscles. 

For instance, write three pieces based on the same topic.

Or choose an arbitrary number of words like 173 and write a story that has a beginning, a middle and an ending.  Not necessarily in that order though.

It just turns writing into fun.... A game that a child would play.  And we need that innocent eye sometimes in what we do.

On a more serious note, anything that frees up how we write has to have a positive impact on our development.

How do you free up your writing?

Oh and if you l ike jazz and you've never considered going, it's always amazing value, cracking music and a wonderful atmosphere.  2011 is 23-25 September

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Inspirational quote

"The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action."   John Dewey

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Books and Boots festival, Richmond 24 September to 3rd October 2010

Based on the town of Richmond takes place from 24th September to 3rd October

Indulge your passions for walking and reading, though maybe not at the same time in case you fall off one of the many hills round there.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Allen Lane, creator of Penguin Books

It's the birthday of the creator of Penguin Books, Sir Allen Lane, born Allen Williams in Bristol, England (1902).
Penguins, be it orange or blue played a large part in my personal library in the 1960s and 70s because they made it possible to read a wide range of foreign classics otherwise unavailable to me.

World Peace Day 21 September 2010

Take a minute out of your day today to pray for peace.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Argleton - on the map or not?

Caught a great radio programme, Saturday last with Steve Punt about non existent places on Google maps.  Took us into the realms of maps, data, magic and copyrighting.

I listened because Argleton is supposed to exist about ten miles from where I was born so it was fun to think of this place having been conjured out of thin air thanks to Google. 

And the conclusion was that it will continue to exist in the ether of the internet despite now having incorrect data wiped from Google maps database.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Coronation Street - what I remember

I watched The Road to Coronation Street last night with my sister.  We're old enough to remember the beginning of the soap and the portrayal of its origins had us laughing throughout.

Not only because in itself it was a great story but for the memories it brought us.

At the time Coronation Street began, we were both living at home and we'd had a television for about two years.  My Dad won a work sweep and with the money we invested in a set.  Huge it was.  And quite fearsome looking in the corner of the kitchen (we only used the front room at weekends or high days and holidays).

Next door lived my Dad's aunt known to all the family as Auntie Ann.  And two doors away from her lived my grandmother. 

Now our street wasn't terraced; it was mostly semi-detached on the edge of what was originally a farming village.  And we weren't anywhere near Manchester - in those days it was an hour's train ride from one of the two railway stations our village boasted.  But anyone could have identified with the behaviour and the personalities shown in Coronation Street.

Lace curtains twitched just as vigorously there, and though we didn't have a Mission, we did have a Methodist Chapel where some of the attendees were as fierce and focused on hell and damnation as Ena Sharples.

Of course we were church which to my grandmother was a cut above the Methodies.  And of course we never associated with the RCs because everyone knew what they were like.

Despite the fact that my grandmother was deeply suspicious of television she had been beguiled into watching some improving things and when Coronation Street aired for the first time she was in her seat well before time and waiting for the set to warm up.  Oh the long lost days of patience.

And once it began, both Grandma and Auntie Ann were hooked.  The pattern was set.  Round they came and woe betide anyone who spoke during the transmission.  Even my poor sister coming home from a late shift at the library, had to eat her supper in total silence while the show was on.

Over the years their allegiance never wavered.  They never had their own tvs not trusting the technology.  At that time they still both used ranges powered by coal for heat and cooking and gas lighting that popped as the fittings went.

So many memories.  And now as a writer I can appreciate and celebrate the standard of writing that has been maintained over the years.  My sister and I still watch, though not every episode and sometimes a quite innocent conversation is proceeding in front of us and a character comes out with such a wonderful line it has us marvelling at the expertise of the writer.

Coronation Street - long may it continue and long may its writers be celebrated.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Candlestick Press at Waterstone's Nottingham 7 October 2010

Received an invitation to a poetry event to celebrate National Poetry Day on 7 October, 6.30 - 8pm.  Event is called Home is Best and you're invited to take your favourite poems about home.
Can be about your physical home, or your emotional or spiritual home.

Entry is free.  For more details contact Jenny Swann at

Monday, 13 September 2010

Words and music

Not at all connected but anniversaries today of two luminaries in the world of words and music.

Roald Dahl

Too old to read him as a child but my niece recently bought a collection of his books for my great niece so I had a good time dipping into them.  Feeding my 8 year old self.
Clara Schumann
The trailer for a German film gives a flavour of her success as a pianist, her love for and heartache of life with Robert Schumann and the relationship with Brahms much of whose music was dedicated to her.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Richard Strauss

Heard on the radio this morning that it's the anniversary of his death in 1949.  He wrote some of the most beautfiul music espcially for the female voice.  Having tried in a very limited way to sing a couple of songs I know how simple they seem and how difficult to get right.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Simon Schama

Spent part of yesterday reading bits of Simon Scama's book, Scribble Scribble.

I've watched some of his television series and read the occasional article in papers.  Reading the book gave me more of a sense of the man.

What I enjoyed the most were the pieces about food, cooking and memories of his childhood and food.

If you have the chance look the book out and read the piece on Ice Cream.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Social media for writers

Spent a couple of hours yesterday with Caron Lyon of PCM Creative who I've awarded the challenge of co-ordinating my social media efforts and installing a strategy for using it.

I like working with people who really know their stuff and she is full of bright ideas for helping me use all these platforms efficiently.  That's the thing - for me it has to be practical and as easy as possible to do because otherwise I won't do it. 

What I'm looking for are a few places I can go and schedule appropriate text to go across a wide a spectrum of sites as make sense for me.  It's starting to come together and it has to because it's important that I can make it work for me, then I can pass on tips to others.

For more information about Caron and what she can offer go to

Women's Day Expo 2010 - Nottingham Trent University, Clifton Campus; Sat Sep 11, 2010 to Sat Sep 11, 2010

Not involved in organising this but it sounds like a great way to pamper yourself.

A fabulous event celebrating all things to do with women’s health, wellbeing and fitness.
Includes an exhibition, demonstrations, taster therapy sessions and seminars.
Booking Instructions

Register in advance for discounted tickets by e-mail
or phone 07980000316

Please provide a phone number, your name and how many tickets you require. £8 Advanced registration until 8th September; £10 on the door; £5 for young adults 14-18yrs. NB: No credit card facilities are available on site so please bring cash to pay on the door, and for shopping. Sorry, this event is unable to cater for children under the age of 14.
Contact: Claire Minshull

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Trent Valley Windows Nottingham

This is nothing to do with writing except it's a problem that distracted me over the weekend. 

On Saturday I decided to clean the windows and was going along happily when somehow, and I have no idea how I did it, I managed to lock a window with it open.  Of course then it wouldn't close..

Immediate panic because I couldn't find the key.  And after trying all the other keys, I still couldn't find the key.  The fortunate thing was the window in question was at the top of the house and not immediately apparent from outside that it was open.

Searched the paperwork for the installer and on Tuesday was on the phone to Trent Valley Windows in Nottingham.  A very helpful and tolerant, ie he didn't tell me I should have had the key safe, offered to find something in their stores that might help. 

This morning in the mail, some replacement keys. 

Tried them and relief, they worked. 

What a star John at Trent Valley was.  Left him a voicemail message to say thank you.

And the moral of the story?  Next time I won't give in to my impulse to clean the windows.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Frederick Forsyth

I noticed that yesterday was the birthday of Frederick Forsyth.  One of my favourite films is The Day of the Jackal and I've watched it many times.  The first time I went with my cousin, ten years younger than me and by his own admission not up on modern history

I enjoyed the film and thought it made a great thriller.  But when I discussed it with my cousin imagine my surprise when he said that he had no idea how it was going to end.  Right up to the final minutes he thought the President would be killed.

So he was able to enjoy the film on a completely different level from me since I knew De Gaulle lived.

It started me thinking about the ongoing question of read the book first or watch the film.  It seems to be a general point that if you've enjoyed the book, you're unlikely to enjoy the film because you know too much about the original.  Even if I try, it's hard to treat the two things as completely separate but I guess I should because they are differnt art forms.

After one DVD I watched, one of the extra features was about the reworking of the book on which the film was based.  It did give me some understanding of how there needed to be changes because of the different formats.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Making Music East Midlands

Not about writing but if you or anyone you know is interested in creating music this organisation co-ordinates information and events around the region.  You can sign up to receive their email bulletins at:

Snippets from this month's bulletin:

World's Largest Orchestra

On the 24 October 2010 the LG Arena Birmingham plays host to the Worlds Largest Orchestra's record breaking attempt. The event aims to bring together over 7,000 musicians of all standards and all instruments, to play in the biggest orchestra ever seen, all whilst raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care. For further information.
Vocal coaching for teenagers in Leicester

The Peepul Centre in Leicester is running vocal coaching sessions for teenagers at 6pm on Wednesdays. Each session costs £1. Tel: 0116 261 6000 or 07974045661

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

E.E. Cummings: The Writer's Almanac audio clip,mofh,dv,39ve,a30z,e1o2,b2ud

100 Selected Poems

By E.E. Cummings

"To my way of thinking Cummings is, within his field of personal emotion, the lyrical field, one of the inventors of our time. He puts his inventions down with an unexpected refurbishing of phrase and a filigree delicacy of hairbreadth exact statement that is a continual challenge.”—John Dos Passos

“No one else has ever made avant-garde, experimental poems so attractive both to the general and the special reader; since the early '20s, Cummings has been more widely imitated and easily appreciated than any other modernist poet.”—Randall Jarrell

Monday, 23 August 2010

Di Slaney - businesswoman and poet

Last year at a networking event on creating a pitch in business I met Di.  An experienced entrepreneur running a success marketing company, she disclosed that she also wrote poetry and asked for volunteers to review a poetry collection she was finishing as part of a Creative Writing course at Nottingham Trent University. 

Intrigued I volunteered and last month she sent me her work which I found fascinating.  Not being a poet I couldn't judge it on it's poetic merit but as a piece of work about the joys, frustrations and challenges of running a business I could certainly relate to much of the writing. 

In return for my review, Di kindly agreed to write a piece about the challengs of writing, being in business and how to connect the two sides of what she does.  It makes interesting contrasts about  writers and what they bring to being a writer, depending on their backgrounds.

Di Slaney

I haven’t yet been published, but I’m in the throes of putting the finishing touches to my first poetry collection. This is my final stage dissertation project for the Creative Writing MA course at Nottingham Trent University. I decided to do this course in 2008 as a way to get back to writing creatively after 10 years of focusing on building my marketing business and writing commercially for clients.

What was my writing background?

In my twenties I’d written poetry sporadically, been part of a local writer’s group and had viewed it as a hobby, without any real plan or destination in mind. In my thirties, I hadn’t written anything creatively personal at all – my energies had been ploughed back into my business, with nothing left over. But in September 2008 I’d had a little epiphany after convalescing from major surgery – was time running out for me now I was into my forties? Was I always going to be tethered to the coalface of the business, despite my sizeable team? Could I really write anything decent and what would it take to find out?

I thought that the best way to see would be to do a course where there would be deadlines and goals; a structure to work within that would keep me going when the pressures of my business cranked up and even the ironing pile looked more inviting than a writing assignment ...Plus expert tuition and a supportive community of writers to keep both motivation and output high.

So how has it been?

Well, it’s been a tough two years on the course with some real high and low points. I chose to study part time so that I could continue to work full time in the business, and while this has been essential to keep all the plates spinning, it’s been really difficult to juggle personal and commercial priorities. I’ve found the best way to get concentrated writing time is to get all the business stuff out of the way during the day, deal with domestics in the evening (cats, dog, husband!), have an hour watching TV to mentally ‘switch heads’ then head off upstairs to my office to write into the small hours. Midnight to 2.00am has been the most productive time for me, when everything has gone quiet and no one is screaming for attention in my e-mail inbox. And the rest of the household is snoring happily!

The reality of the course...

has been that – as per everything else in life – you get out what you put in. I have to say that I’ve been disappointed by the lack of community spirit with some of my fellow students, but I’ve accepted that writers tend to be solitary, defensive creatures who don’t necessarily network and ‘trade’ in the way that I’m used to as a business person. I’ve made one strong contact who has been fantastically supportive and we swap morale boosting e-mails in times of writing crisis. I hope that we stay in touch beyond the course and continue to support each other in our writing (her fiction/my poetry). It would be great if we could both get what we’re looking for in terms of readership and publication.

Tuition standards on the course have been similarly patchy, but I’ve had great fortune in my poetry tutor who is inspirational, rigorous and generous with his teaching time – traits that I’ve seen to be in short supply with other tutors who are maybe more focused on their own writing careers than on developing their students.

Have I been a typical student?

No, because I’m used to running and controlling my own environment, setting the goals and organising a team to deliver them. I’m also more numerate, clinical and impatient than most of the literary types that I’ve encountered, and have often felt that I’ve been speaking a foreign language in my dealings with academia.

Have I got what I’d hoped for from the course?

Overall, I think yes – I’ve definitely been spurred on to write regularly and have learned a lot about form, editing, the perils of publishing and the literary scene. Will I keep writing beyond the course? Definitely. I’ve got focused energy and purpose now for my own writing and also, as an unexpected by-product of the whole process, renewed passion and enthusiasm for my business.

The irony is that having started the course feeling dispirited about life in general and my business in particular, my poetry collection is all about the process of building and running a business! A business/poetry fusion project, as it were.

Where do I go from here?

’sME – the poetry diary of an entrepreneur will be finished in the next two weeks, and available in pamphlet form at the Prowess conference at The Belfry Hotel, Nottingham on 16th September. Hopefully this will mark the start of a new phase for me as a poet, as well as the end of my time as a creative writing student.

For more information about Di Slaney, her company and her upcoming event go to

Eileen's footnote
Thanks Di for your thoughts about your experiences.  As a businesswoman of many years, I find writers often self absorbed and not very practical in the way they work.  Because I write for business, I'm used to deadlines, being paid and being pragmatic.  Doesn't sit well with me then when I see them throw up their hands because the practical side of writing seems hard.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Verbotomy: a site for lovers of language

Site encourages web surfers to create their own words to fit the amusing definitions provided each day. ‘lexactitude’ (indicating the tendency to unstoppably correct others’ grammar). If you're a syntaxidermist, then take a look.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Resources for writers: The Yellow Room

The Yellow Room

is a place where women writers can gather for support, encouragement and friendship. It produces a smart print magazine twice a year full of short stories written by women in the UK, as well as an informative and welcoming website with invaluable information about how to write a good short story for any market.

Do Send short stories of up to 5,000 wds

Don't send multiple submissions

Friday, 20 August 2010

What's your book about?

'If you are pointing out one of the things a story is about, then you are very probably right; if you are pointing out the only thing a story is about you are very probably wrong - even if you're the author.'
Neil Gaiman

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Essential characteristics to be a writer

If I had to list the top 5 characteristics a writer needs they'd be:

The quote below from Ray Bradbury equates to my Joy plus some extra energy.

'Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.'

Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Fiction Fire writing course, Trinity College, Oxford


offers creative writing day courses, mentoring, critiquing and editorial advice with novelist and experienced writing tutor Lorna Fergusson. Inspiration in the beauty of historic Oxford. Courses include: Making Memorable Scenes (2 October) and Shape Up and Make Your Pitch (16 October).

Trinity College, Oxford

2 and 16 October

£95 for each course, including refreshments and a course pack

07827 455723

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Random thoughts from a consultation with a client

Talked to Sara Dale about her book, books and writing in general last week. 

With her book she's moving smartly on towards the end of her first draft.  She has the last few chapters mapped out and on past experience when she sits down to write, it's flowed well with her thoughts crystallised and focused.

The question then is what to do with the first draft.  Thanks to our combined strategy, she's already started making links with people in her field, and those at the sharp end of managing work and life issues.  These links have provided feedback for her that she's on the correct track with the book and also guided her towards topics that are relevant and appropriate.

It's been a fascinating process as an observer and Sarah certainly thinks she's made more progress than she thought possible in only four months with the help of an outside nudger.

Now she's scanning her network for contacts that might help her on the next stage of taking the book to published stage.  But shaping the book from the beginning has I believe been an important strategy that will pay off for her big time later down the road.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Writer's block

'There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write.'
Terry Pratchett

Friday, 13 August 2010

Writing: do you have special notebooks?

I have a friend who havswhat amounts to an obsession with stationery and can't resist buying, 'just another notebook'.  She's not even a writer!

I came across this article which made me laugh about stationery obsessions and writers.

And then I found a couple of sites devoted to special stationery - and pens.

I met the man from Lincoln Pen Company sometime ago but his pens are a little out of my league.(till I sell my novel for millions that is).

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Have you been published?

"People are certainly impressed by the aura of creative power which a writer may wear, but can easily demolish it with a few well-chosen questions. Bob Shaw has observed that the deadliest questions usually come as a pair: "Have you published anything?" – loosely translated as: I've never heard of you – and "What name do you write under?" – loosely translatable as: I've definitely never heard of you.

Brian Stableford

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Monday, 9 August 2010

Bookshops - home and abroad

Last week I was on holiday in Switzerland. One thing that being out of your normal surroundings offers is the chance to see how other countries do things.

I'm always struck by how many more independent bookshops there are abroad than now seems the case in the UK.  Last year when I was in Palma, Majorca, I walked down a street in the old town and found three of significant size. 

It wasn't any different in Switzerland.  In Interlaken where I was based last week, I saw three among all the tourist shops. 

Now I'm not sure how their publishing and bookselling industry is organised but maybe there aren't the same overwhelming constricting deals with large supermarkets and chains over there.  The two big supermarket groups in Switzerland are Migros and Coop.(no I haven't missed out the hyphen.  That's how they spell it over there.)

And yes they did have books and magazines  like in our giants but that didn't seem to have throttled the smaller shops.  Maybe I'm looking at things through rose coloured glasses but I'd like to believe that the independents are thriving. 

I'm looking to buy some books but I want to browse among the topic before I buy.  On Amazon I need to do searches and even with their search inside facility it doesn't give me the same feeling as having the book in my hand..  In Waterstones I'm looking at what people think is commercial and will sell.  On two occasions this year I've searched for what seem to be significant authors in a certain field.  Not only were they not represented on the shelves in the Nottingham Waterstones, they didn't even appear in their online availability.  This despite them being available on Amazon.

But please, I want to look first before I buy.  Is that too much to ask?

Is it just me or are you as frustrated in your book buying?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

On Writing

'I didn't want to be a writer, but I became one. And now I have many readers, in many countries. I think that's a miracle. So I think I have to be humble regarding this ability. I'm proud of it and I enjoy it, and it is strange to say it this way, but I respect it.'

Haruki Murakami

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Publishers submission guidelines

Following on from yesterday's entry about finding an agent it's important to understand about the format that publishers and agents prefer for submissions.  Anything in the wrong format will be chucked out without reading.  Brutal but you can see their point when they receive so many.

Here's a link to find many submission guides in one place.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Literary agents: how to find one

The question people ask me the most is how do I find a publisher or an agent.  It's a bit like how long is a piece of string.  Depends on your type of writing, their interests and many other intangible factors.

What you have to do is think about what you're doing when you're looking.

Here is a link to offer some advice and the names of some agents.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Business writing: does it feel like work or play?

Found this great quote by Warren Beatty

'You've achieved success in your field when you don't know whether what you're doing is work or play.'

I read an interview about an American copywriter who was asked how he managed to write so fast and with such a fresh approach to his work.

He talked about how he wanted always to have fun writing and he tried to bring a childlike vision to his work.  Not childish but the open mind that children have in the questions they ask and the views they come up with.

And he's right.  If you're writing for your business and it's a slog for you, then that's what will come across to the reader.

You need to feel the joy of what you're doing and communicate to the reader.  That's what get's results.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

On books

'Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.'

Maya Angelou

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

What has poetry to do with business?

Are you replying nothing?

Maybe you're right but what if poetry could be used as a creative stimulus, a breaking down of barriers or a recognition of shared problems?

I've had the chance to read a poetry collection about just that.  Running a business and how you deal with all the challenges.

Fascinating reading and I'm hoping that the poet and business entrepreneur will tell us more about what writing means for her.  I've asked her to blog about her experiences of writing the poems about her business.

When we chatted  yesterday sharing some ideas and thoughts about business and writing I said that the poems had me saying, 'I can remember feeling that' or 'That's happened to me. 

The poetic language and rhythms heightened the intensity of the memories and experience.

Do you have any experience of poetry and your business that you can share with us?  If so I'd love to hear about them and maybe you can write a post also.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Clouds Go Back Home

The Clouds Go Back Home

20th July 2010 19:00

The Clouds Go Back Home tells the story of the tortuous journey towards friendship between an Italian university student, cleaning hotel rooms as a holiday job, and the Albanian sex worker she finds enclosed in one of the rooms.

Each woman demonstrates an instinctive prejudice towards the other that brings them both to a dangerous and challenging conclusion.

Revealing another side to the romanticised view of Italy, this insightful and at times humorous play discusses many of the challenges we must confront in our open-bordered, open-minded Europe.

Directed by Susannah Tresilian, Translated from Italian by Enrico Fink

In collaboration with Envision Theatre

Tickets are FREE, but must be booked in advance as places are limited.
Box Office: 0115 941 9419

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Phyllis Diller annivesary

Thanks to The Writer's Almanac for this information

It's the birthday of comedienne Phyllis Diller, born in Lima, Ohio (1917), and often called the 'Funniest Woman in the World.'

She didn't start her career in stand-up comedy until she was middle-aged. But she had spent much of her life as a housewife, telling jokes and doing impersonations and making groups of people laugh.

At the Laundromat, she would tell other housewives things like, 'I bury a lot of my ironing in the backyard' and 'Housework can't kill you, but why take a chance?'

When she became a professional entertainer, she drew extensively upon her experiences as the mother of five children who struggled to keep her house clean.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Clare Dudman; guest blogger on writing

This blog comes from meeting Clare on Lowdham railway station, both on our way back from Lowdham Book Festival. 

What process do you have when you start writing and is it the same for fiction and non-fiction?

My process is the same for both fiction and non-fiction. I research extensively and intensively, then, when I think I have crammed as much as I can into my little head I go away and leave it for a while. Eventually what I think of as an ideal starting sentence will occur to me. After that I plan how it will go in a series of points (either a novel or a piece of non-fiction) and then get writing.

At what point would you involve somebody else to review your work, help you move it on?

My poor husband looks at every chapter after I've finished it, and sometimes I read a fragment out to my local writing group. From their comments I sometimes revise what I've done.

Do you have a set routine when you’re writing?

Not really. When I'm writing I do tend to do an hour's exercise in the local gym first (if I can make myself), but after that I just write flat out.

What’s the best part of writing a book for you?

I love the whole process: I love the planning, the actual writing, and the editing and revising. The only bit I dislike is the business side - the contracts and marketing.

What writers have influenced your writing development?

Ian McEwan, Peter Carey, J M Coetzee, W G Sebald, Margaret Attwood, Carol Shields, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Graham Swift, Angela Carter, Ray Bradbury - it is almost an endless list of modern writers and changes all the time. I read a lot.

What’s the funniest feedback you’ve had about your writing?

It gave me some wry amusement to see my novel on someone called Jeanie's 'truly dreadful books' list on some internet site - and one chap decided to send me an email with a bit of a rant telling me he wouldn't recommend my book to anyone. At the time it upset me a bit, but once I got some distance I decided that it was quite flattering - it couldn't have been that bad because they'd read it to the end, and at least the book affected them. No work is going to appeal to everyone, and luckily other people have liked my books much more.

How do you motivate yourself when you’re stuck?(if you get stuck that is)

I find listening to soulful music or just reading other people's writing a great inspiration. I don't really get writer's block though - I just keep writing. Sometimes it doesn't turn out very well, but then the next day I have something that I can improve or maybe throw away and start again - when it's usually much better.

You can find out more about Clare at:

Clare's new book has just been published.

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees

and you can see a 2.53 film about the book which tells the story of the Welsh who crossed the world to find a better life in Patagonia..

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Screenplay writing workshop

When I arrived home on Saturday evening, my sister looked at me and laughed.  Because I said to her that my brain was fried.

I'd had a completely brilliant, exhausting and mind expanding day at a workshop on how to write screenplays with the brilliant Michael Eaton.

What an encouraging faciliator he was, helping us to take ideas and by the end of the day see them as more fleshed out and in some cases almost a complete outline of a film.

Since I'm always banging on about structure to my clients to help them write more easily I was heartened to see that Michael had a very clear structure of how he works and creates such powerful plays such as the ones he did on Lockerbie, Harold Shipman and the Stalker enquiry.  But he has done adaptations as well and he talked about using the process for that too.

All in all an excellent day and interesting to meet other writers who all shared their thoughts and ideas so generously with the group.

This workshop was put on by Nottingham Writers Studio based in The Lacemarket.  It's the first of three, the second being headed by Nicola Monahan on Planning and Developing you Novel and the third headed by Jon Mcgregor on Editing Fiction.

For more information go to

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Poetry and business or this poetry business

At a networking meeting earlier this year I met up with a business entrepreneur running her own marketing company.

Not unusual you might say.  This one came with added interest for me as a writer because she was taking a creative writing course at Nottingham Trent University and was about to finish a collection of poems about her life running a business.

At the meeting she asked if anyone might be interested in reviewing her collection when it was ready and I signed up for that. 

This week I received the collection.

Now I have to say that I don't writer poetry.  I did in the past, very bad poetry so gave it up.  So reviewing someone's poetry is a stretch for me.

But I'm thoroughly enjoying the task.  As you might expect of an effective entrepreneur, she's approached presenting the collection in an original way like a diary of her life. 

Which makes the poems related to the incidents that she deals with.


I don't at the moment have permission to tell you more but she will be writing a blog for me when the collection is finished and in final format.

Promises to be an interesting read from her about how becoming a writer has affected how she views the creative people in her organisation.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Language and how we define words

Recently I started a training course to become a volunteer at a local hospice.  The course, the people and much of what happens on it has to be regarded as confidential.

However much of the course has focused on making us think more deeply about how we view certain people and situations. 

And about the language we use and how we define certain things.

We're a mixed bunch in terms of ages, but not in diversity terms so it might be thought that we'd have similar approaches to many of the subjects under consideration.  That's not always the case so there have been some interesting debates. 

We're all guilty of using words in an imprecise way and since I spend my time weighing words, trying to decide between this word and that, not using language with intent makes me cross that i'm not paying enough attention to it.

Being in a different setting, made me think about using words again.  The course has taken me out of my comfort zone in many ways, not only my language zone and that can only be a useful event.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Writing diary

This week has shot past me.  I think everyone's trying to be up to date because of holidays coming up.  So I've had lots of bits of things to clear up for people.

Plus some larger jobs.  Edited an information bulletin for one of my regular clients.  The problem that often occurs with their work is the issue of spacing.  Text is  written or revised, then it's dropped into a format with pictures and the sentence spacing goes haywire. 

Not the designers' fault, it just happens.  And when you're checking, particularly with some fonts, it can look correct on screen but comes out wrong in print.  And vice versa.

Perennial problem to solve with every edition.

What else this week?

Doing a sample chapter layout for a client.  Again very difficult when you're writing at speed to decide if you're giving the words enough space for the reader to process the words. 

Everyone reads at a different speed and absorbs information in a different way.  So in a layout you have to include those who speed read and want the most important facts, fast; then you have to allow those who read in their heads, almost like reading out loud time to work through the text.  And last you have the fact people.  Those who like statistics, references to research and extra information that's real.  Not only the writer's opnions, but what really happened.

Easy isn't it!

I also quoted for an editing job for a regular client.  Not sure if this will happen but if it does, then it will be needed fast.

And I contacted the writers and publishers I met at Lowdham who offered to guest blog for me.  I've already received one article from Clare Dudman and that will probably appear next week.  It's a down to earth look at how a writer operates.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Writing - professional development planning

At the meeting at Alfreton, they gave us a copy of a professional development document that would be useful for any writer at any stage. 

For more information visit

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Writng - getting real

Great day out at Alfreton attending the writers' event put on by Derbyshire County Council.  Hosted by Ali Betteridge it was a chance for local writers to meet up and swop ideas and thoughts... and fears.

One of the things that's essential for writers to do these days is to network.  Which is hard for many writers, because all we really want to do is sit and write.

And be discovered as the next masterpiece.  Doesn't happen these days, or not often.

It's tough to put your writing to the test.  I know how scared I was when I first took my business writing course.  Because wanting to do it, doing it and being judged on writing are very different things. And now I'm just as scared about putting my fiction to the test.

This morning I was talking to Di Slaney of Diversity about the same thing.  We need different hats on to perform all of these tasks.  And the getting in front of others is the scariest task for most of us.

Back to the day at Alfreton.  Such a mixture of people attending.  Poets, playwrights, those who were publshed in one fiction genre and trying another.

People at every different stage of writing development; from raw beginner to published author with large mainstream houses.

What they all had in common was this passion for words and how to communicate that passion best.

One of the reasons I went was to take part in a couple of sessions about writing projects in the community.  For as much as writing is powerful for us with a voice, it's also powerful for people who seem not to have any voice; like those in prison, either real, or the prison of the mind.

It was intesting to hear other people's steps in their development, like Cathy Grindrod fisrt Derbyshire Poet Laureate and River Woolton, second Derbyshire poet laureate. 

From the outside it may seem as if they know it all but inside, they've faced the same writing and personal demons as most of us.  And in the panel discussion, local poet Wayne Burrows made a strong case for using lack of self belief in our writing to make us stronger writers.  As he said,'If you think you know how to do it, you'll never improve.'

Excellent day, enjoyed meeting all those writers and look forward to the next event they organise.

For more details and to receive their newsletters go to and

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Writing ambitions: workshop for writers

Off this morning to a workshop in Alfreton.  Always good to meet other writers and find out more about what's happening in the world of writing.

I'll let you know on Monday how it went.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Lowdham Book Festival - notes

Enjoyed my visit to Lowdham.  First trip so wasn't sure what to expect.  Well organised, plenty of activities, very friendly atmosphere.


Lots of fun working on Amnesty Book stall.  Enjoyed talking to people about what they liked reading.

Met up with some people I know including Jenny from Candlestick Press and Di Slaney helping her on the stall.  I admire Jenny for her enterprise in setting up the press and Di ( a marketing expert) is now helping her with strategies to gain more publicity.  Also Di has her own poetry collection on the way.  All in all a match made in heaven for the two of them.

I'm hoping to get some guest blogs from one or two people I met at the festival.  More on that later in the week.

Also sitting on Lowdham station waiting for the train back, I had a delightful conversation with Claire Dudman author of A place of Meadows and tall trees..  This is a story about the Welsh in Patagonia which came about after Claire's brother visited there.

Oh and I managed to tell Stephen Booth how much I admire his work.

Great day out.