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.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

So many books so little time

Found this quirky site while looking for something else.  Obviously a woman after my own heart, a librarian and book lover.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Lowdham Book Festival

'Woke up this morning witha terrific urge to lie in bed all day and read' Raymond Carver

Instead I'm off to Lowdham Book Festival Last Saturday.  Looking forward to all the bookstalls, (not a safe place to be) and see if I can sneak into some of the events.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Writing a book; how to find positive comments - before you publish

Another good meeting with a client this morning.  She's making steady progress towards having a complete book.

One of the problems when you're writing a book is having of sense of how good the book is.  She's sending me the chapters as she completes them and this morning I complimented her on how strong one of them is.
This surprised her because can't remember what she wrote.

If this sounds odd to you, it's common.  When you're in the flow of writing, often it comes out in a way you don't expect.  Which means that you aren't prepared for it and maybe don't understand it. 

I always advise writers, not to re-read chapters when they're in the creative flow.  Can start doubts in the mind, stop them moving forward and generally screw up the process.

Our discussion led on to considering the value of outside review and at what stage to involve that.  And who do you involve?

For non-fiction you have to choose people who have some reputation, experience in your field or have suffered the problems for which you've a solution.

How do you approach them?

This can be a difficult issue, including as it does, the fear of pestering, not being taken seriously, and not being good enough.

There are three things to consider.
  1. Know what you're asking for?  Be specific, be limited and be polite. 
  2. Be organised.  If you want something to include in the book, such as a review, a case study or an opinion, then you need to make it easy for the person you approach.  Do 90% of the work for them.  Create a list of questions for an interview; show them the template for a case study.  Make sure they know you realise the value of their time.
  3. Be prepared to reciprocate.  Or even better do something first.  Other authors will welcome positive feedback on their work or reference to research you know about.
Will you receive rejections, or no replies?

Very likely but there isn't any point in attaching an interpretation unless they give you one.  The wider your network of contacts, the more likely you are to find the right person to help you.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Ever thought you can write better than what you can see on the screen?

Best selling science fiction writer Octavia Butler did just that age 12.  One of the only African-American women to be successful in a genre dominated by white males.  Author of Patternmaster, Kindred and Fledgling.

So next time you shout at the television because you think the writing is rubbish, pull out your pen and get going.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Writing habits: how much time do you need to write?

How are your writing habits?

Do you scribble on shopping lists, used envelopes and newspaper margins?

Congratulations, you've developed excellent writing habits.

Most would be writers assume that you need perfect conditions to develope as a writer.

They couldn't be more wrong.  The more time you have the less likely you are to make it. 

Remember, activity expands to fill the time available.  Making cups of tea, checking the washing, having a walk round the garden.

All these can be justified by 'I have plenty of time.  I don't need to start for another 10 minutes, half an hour or half a day.'

It's when you've only got ten minutes, that you can be at your most creative.  Don't go for the long essay title or think you'll write a complete article, though you might.

Scribble down the important facts of what you want to write about.

Use bullet points, 1.2.3 format.  Use whatever it takes to capture those ideas.

Then when you have half an hour, expand your notes into the format you want.  An article, the bones of a book chapter, a blog entry.

There's a wonderful short story by Somerset Maugham called the Lotus Eater who goes to a small island to create the definitive novel.  When a colleague visits him several years later, the would be novelist is lazy, drinks too much and hasn't written a word.

Here's to not having enough time.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Writing East Midlands Workshop

Writing ambitions : networking and information day for Derbyshire writers on Sat 3rd July 2010, 10am-3pm at Genesis Business & Conference Centre, 32-46 King Street, Alfreton, DE55 7DQ

for more information check out the website

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Writer's Almanac

I plug this from time to time because I think it's a fantastic resource for writers.  It's expanded my knowledge about writers familiar to me and introduced me to many I've never met before.

when you subscribe you receive a daily email about writng and writers, particularly those who have an anniversary or birthday that day.  In addition they run themes throughout the year and the following extra.

The whole service is free but they do ask for donations given it's a public service.

The Writer's Almanac EXTRA: Resources for poetry lovers Every day of the year, listeners tune in to more than 300 public radio stations across the U.S. to hear Garrison Keillor read a short poem or two and share an historical insight. In The Writer’s Almanac Extra, we survey highlights from the show’s past month, matching readings with books of poetry.

For more information go to

Monday, 14 June 2010

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Amplified Leicester’s event next Wednesday 16th June. This is the latest in a great series of free talks that Amplified Leicester have been hosting in the last few months.

Full details are below, you can sign up using the website link at the end of the invite. If you have any further questions, please contact the coordinator Ravinder Kaur

Contact: Jayne Childs: Project Coordinator,CreativeCoffee Club 07932 591964

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Transliteracy Group, De Montfort University Leicester

Check out the Transliteracy Research Group blog which is updated every week or so by a group of transliteracy researchers and practitioners. The current TRG writers are Tia Azulay, Heather Conboy, Gareth Howell, Anietie Isong, Jess Laccetti, Kirsty McGill, Kate Pullinger, Sue Thomas and Christine Wilks.

Recently they have been writing about:

• transliteracy in China

• a new Master’s module on New Media Narratives

• the launch of the Electronic Literature Directory

• an MA in Performance Writing at UCF/Arnolfini

• a discussion of Site Specific Stories using Layar on the iPhone

• a link to a video ‘Transliteracy as Blueberry Smoothie’ by Brian Hulsey

• an account of telling stories of belief and disbelief in Africa

• and a clever way to test your level of transliteracy in A Quick Code...

There’s also this community, Transliteracy Notes. for the discussion of ideas and projects. And you can follow all kinds of threads via the Twitter hashtag #transliteracy

Transliteracy is attracting interest from many disciplines and they welcome your involvement.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Writing business books : the role of an editor

Your know how you meet people at networking events and of course they always ask what you do?  Telling people you write for a living is easy.  Most people can relate to that.

Even if their reactions range from awe (thinking I'm a superhero which is to be encouraged) to dismay (thinking I'm about to criticise their grammar).  Most people have had a go at writing something, particularly if they have websites and had to produce text for their web developers.

What's not so straightforward is explaining what my role of editor is when helping people write books.

Do I write the books for them?

Not directly but I can add in text that helps their work flow.  But the most important job in that respect is to make sure that their voice comes through loud and clear.  Not mine because it isn't my book, my life, my topic.

Do I plan the books for them?

Yes that's a large part of the skill I have because I'm good at working out structure and layout.  It's not that people don't know what they want to say.  It's more that from the inside they're not always good at presenting it in as clear a way as possible.

One major tendency for business writers is that they want to cram too much in too small a space. 

That's never a good idea because it's offputting for readers. 

Are you dumbing down by providing text in short paragraphs?  Not at all.  Remember that people absorb information in many different ways and you have to address that when laying out text.

Text will drop into logical formats and sequences.  Varies from book to book and subject to subject.  But the bottom line in thinking about it is always...

'How can I make it easier for the reader?'

Do I proof read the books for them?

Yes but you have to realise that there are several stages in what many people think of as editing which includes proofreading.

There are major editing issues which normally happen when you've avoided thinking about structure.  Then you're left with acres of text and no divisions of it.

There are minor editing issues which happen no matter how well you structure the book.  Often when you finish your book, then and only then do you realise that some text, perhaps examples or resources might fit better in a different part of the book. 

There are proofreading issues;  always, all the time and right up to the last possible moment before publication.

What's the advantage of using an editor for any or all these stages?

First and most important, you need someone outside you to monitor what you're doing.  Having written my own books I can tell you that at some  point you'll be sick to death of your writing. 

Yes honestly.  You will.  No matter how much you might enjoy writing, there comes a point where you don't want to see it ever again.

Which means you need someone else to point out, professionally, where your book can be improved.

They need to point out what is working and what can be strengthened.  And if something really needs to come out they have to be detached enough to say so and tell you why.

What else do I bring to my work?

Encouragement, laughter and perspective.

Being an editor is like being a combination of coach, mentor, grammarian and professional friend.

Make no mistake, writing a book consumes you.  It nags away at you.  And it exhausts you.

You need someone to cheer you on, stick up for you and remind you that someone out there needs your unique insight on your subject.  You need to remember that you can transform someone's life with your writing.

You have to show up as a writer and be vulnerable.  But being vulnerable through the medium of your writing can bring you as the writer so many gifts too. 

You may not realise till later how much writing the book changes you.  But change you it will. 

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

How to write a business book: constructing the layout

At the moment I'm helping a client organise material she already has written in various forms.  Her book is aimed at people who own their business but are new to running a business and people who are given a role in business but haven't done it before or want to upgrade their skills.

Sorry I can't be more precise about the exact topic but it's confidential.  But there are some general principles I thought it might be helpful to lay out.

You know what you're writing about but your reader doesn't

This is a problem I see all the time.  We tend to write our books from our perspective.

That won't do because someone who picks up your book may be many steps behind where you are.  I know it may seem like a chore but you have to approach this from a beginner's mind if that is the kind of book you're writing.

If you are writing an advanced primer of some kind then fine.  But even there you have to make clear where your baseline is.  What are you assuming they already know? 

Terms of reference if you like.  Because I can guarantee if you don't make it clear, someone will have an issue with it.

When I worked as a librarian, I taught new staff how to manage our book issuing system, part of which was based on alphabetical order.  Simple you might think. 

Not so.  You wouldn't believe how many queries people have about alphabetical order.

So it's never as easy as ABC.  Assume you know nothing about your subject and start again.

You may process information in a different way from others

Have you ever noticed how people read out phone numbers or read them back to you?  Some break them down into blocks of 2 or 3.  Others read them straight through.

We all have a unique way of absorbing and processing what we see or hear.

What that means for you as a writer is that you have to provide different ways of absorbing information.

One way I like to offer as a suggestion is the basic talk structure.
Tell them what you're going to tell them.
Tell them.
Tell them what you told them.

In a chapter you can break this up by creating summaries at the beginning or end or create action plans that underline what you said. Too much material on a page without white space is difficult to absorb.

Material you've written before can be adapted

People who want to write books often have written other material.  Articles, blog entries, course material.

There's no point in reinventing the wheel if you already have many of the spokes there.  It's a matter of finding some structure that connects them together.

Yesterday we had a breakthrough because I offered her a way of working through the processes in the subject.  It's often difficult for you if you're inside your subject.  An objective view is always helpful.

As soon as she heard my suggestion, she understood how she could 'borrow' material already available in her writing elsewhere to drop into the proposed layout.

AHA moment.  I love it when I help people find one.  Now she'll make faster progress because she's not struggling thinking she has to start over again for the book.

So if you want to write a book and have no idea where to begin, look what you've already done.  You may be pleasantly surprised about how fast you can turn it into a book format.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Quote for Monday

'Compassion and love are qualities that are of tremendous importance for the individual, society, and the community at large.'  Dalai Lama

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Encouragement for writers

If you're told people don't want your style of writing anymore take heart in the story of Barbara Pym.  Between 1950 and 1961 she published 4 successful novels then was told her writing was oldfashioned and wouldn't sell.

Quiet books where not much happens yet everything happens; like Jane Austen and Stanley Middleton, she was championed by Philip Larkin in 1977 after sharing a correspondence for 16 years.

She came back into 'fashion' , won the Booker Prize and was re-published.

So publishers aren't always right about writing.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

E-books in publishing

Carrying on the theme from yesterday I had a look at the Jacket Copy Blog and found this entry by an attendee at Book Expo with a discussion about e-books, technology and writing.  Check out comment about Jennifer Egan and use of Powerpoint in a novel..

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The iPad and the future of books

Read an interesting article from The New York Review of Books, reprinted in the Guardian Review of Sat 29th May.

Sue Halpern author of 'Can't Remember What I Forgot:: The Good News from the Front Lines on Memory Research. contrasts the virtues and vices of the various Kindle/Nook/iPad products. 

What interested me in the article was her musings about how it affects the way we read, what we expect from electronic helpers in reading and the effects on authors.

With the advent of Google's own tablet computer and the ePub format available on all devices except Kindle, the revolution in publishing opens out still further to those outside the mainstream of the literary world.  She quotes Jacket Copy Blog in the Los Angeles Times;'Theoretically, an individual author could create and ePub e-book and publish from home.'

I've talked before about the way the Internet is transforming what is possible for authors.  Yes it's easy to say that if our book is any good it will find a mainstream publisher.  But that's to be naive about the commercial pressures on publishing now and their own agendas. 

As authors or would be authors, we have to write the best book we can.  Then we have choices:

  1.  work the system the best we can to find a mainstream publisher 
  2. look into what's possible for us to build a loyal following for our writing that allows us to maintain control and value from our writing.
I believe the writing and publishing world has never been more open to us if we'll find out what's available and possible.