Am I human?

It’s so long since I wrote something on my blog that when I try to log in the site asks me: ‘Are you human?’ and makes me fill in a captcha. I do feel guilty about not writing, but I seem to have been very busy doing other things, and although Lucy and her friends have asked their question, been lied to and have finally escaped from the school library, they haven’t got any further because I’ve been busy painting, decorating, and visiting friends and relations. I also had a lovely time in Grasmere in April, staying at the beautiful Lancrigg Hotel, which is one of my favourite places to stay for a short break. The food, which is all vegetarian was particularly good on this visit, and as usual we were made to feel really welcome, while not being smothered by over-attentiveness.

I still haven’t sold any more copies of The Story Menders, but it’s no good obsessing about it as there doesn’t seem to be a solution to the problem of marketing  without an infrastructure behind me.

Even if I haven’t become a famous author since my last post at least I have achieved something by losing some weight, which is satisfying, though it won’t make me rich or famous.

New Year Resolutions

On my Google home page I have a To Do List, and top of the list is “finish Darkania by Sept 30″. My New Year resolution is to finish it this year, instead of re-reading what I have written and never getting any further. I lie awake at night and think about how the story is going to develop, and promise myself that I’ll get back to it in the morning, but by the time next morning arrives I find other things to do instead, and so Lucy, Ellie and Joe are still stuck in the school library with Phillip Hensby, the author of “Darkania”, and they still haven’t asked the all-important question which will help to move the story on.

I know what they want to ask, but like them I can’t quite think of the correct way to frame the question; even worse, I can’t be sure about what Phillip Hensby will give as his answer. Will he brush them off by offering platitudes or just be dismissive? Or will he give them an answer which has some element of truth in it? I know who Phillip Hensby really is, because I’m the author, but will his answer confirm the children’s suspicions, and might it lead them into danger, as they try to unravel the mystery of the tumbledown cottage; the fate of the boys who disappeared fifty years before; and the connection, if any, with the story of “Darkania”?

I think part of the reason that I stopped writing is because I’ve been disappointed by the fact that only five people have bought my novel “The Story Menders” which I published on Amazon Kindle a year ago, and I probably know all of them. I’ve tried very unsuccessfully to promote my novel, but it’s much harder than writing and editing it, or even self-publishing as an ebook. That’s why it must be so good to have an agent and a publisher to market it for you. However, that was 2012 and this is 2013, so it’s time for me to start again, try writing for the children’s market this time, and once the novel’s finished send it off to some agents, before admitting defeat and publishing through KDP. At least this time I can say that I’m a published author, as long as they don’t want to know how many copies I’ve sold!

Friends Reunited?

I’m trying to write something for my sister’s birthday so I’ve been hunting for photographs to remind me of when we were growing up. While I was looking I found the book containing poems I’ve written over the years, and one of them reminded me of old friends so I thought I’d share it with you.

Friends Reunited?

I wonder where they are;
all those friends from my past,
Barbara and Eileen and John.
I know where Marion is. Dead.
Killed by a melanoma at forty two.
But the others have faded -
just names and vague memories;
faces floating indistinctly in
the mind’s eye.
If we met again would I be disappointed?
Would they?
But I would risk disappointment
to see Margaret again.
Her memory is vivid – face of the
sixties – her letters with
their tiny drawings – her desire
to be free – unfettered by tired

Not someone to join Friends United.

KDP news, and some other bits and pieces

Today I’ve decided to enrol in the KDP Select scheme which allows Amazon Prime members to borrow my book and I get a share of the royalty pot. Fingers crossed, it just might work, though I’m not holding my breath!

Several new people seem to have looked at my book but they haven’t bought it which is a shame. Still, I guess it’s another baby step towards success.

I’m feeling very angry about what various members of the government are up to at the moment; especially Michael Gove, who seems determined to have totally destroyed our state education system by the end of this parliament. I’m just glad that I retired before this lot got into power, because I couldn’t bear to watch all the developments and improvements of the Labour years dismantled while I was still in the classroom. I’m looking forward to Michael Rosen’s next Dear Mr Gove letter in the Guardian. I’ve included some links so you can enjoy them if you haven’t already seen them.

And here’s a very funny cartoon about Michael Gove.

On a lighter note I’m off to London for a week or so, and planning to visit some art galleries, as well as the Turing exhibition at the Science Museum, and the Hampton Court Flower Show.

As usual I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open for anything that I can use in my writing.


Anyone for Smashwords?

I published my  Kindle novel, ‘The Story Menders’, on 9 January, so it’s been on the Amazon site for nearly five months now. When I first saw it on the screen I felt really excited, but at the same time pretty apprehensive, because like all new authors, I imagine, I wondered if anyone would buy my book.

The real problem has been marketing. I told all my friends and family about it, and sold two copies. I joined Goodreads, Shelfari and an Amazon forum and sold three more, as well as getting some people to look at my book. So now I’m wondering what to do next. I’ve been looking at Smashwords which seems to offer wider distribution and which is recommended by various people on the forums, but I’m uncertain about whether it will achieve very much or whether it just exposes me to another forum.

It must be great to be a celebrity or someone with an influential group of friends, because then one gets an agent, one’s book is published and displayed prominently, and critics fall over themselves to write reviews. Still, it’s no good being depressed. At least up to now it has only cost me, and my wonderful technical expert of course, time rather than money, and if I manage to sell another four books I can get my first royalty payment!

The Ellis Miller House

I haven’t been updating my blog recently because the real world keeps getting in the showing Prickwillow I’ve done lots of interesting things lately: the highlight was staying in a wonderful house in a little village called Prickwillow near Ely.
Ellis Miller house exterior

It was designed by the architect Jonathan Ellis-Miller in the 1960s and he lived in it for a number of years.Ellis Miller House Living Room It’s built mainly from metal and glass, with external blinds, very good insulation and lots of ‘green’ features such as photovoltaic cells on the roof and apparently 100% of its electricity comes from renewable sources.

It probably isn’t most people’s idea of a perfect Engish cottage, but we thought it was wonderful, especially in the evening when we sat on the settee with the blinds open so we could see Ely cathedral on the horizon, and enjoy a glass of wine.Ellis Miller House Fireplace

I hadn’t visited the area since I was young and used to live about thirty miles south of Cambridge so it brought back many memories, and reminded me as well that hills aren’t necessary for a beautiful landscape.

The other thing that we did on the same trip was to visit the house near Hertford where I lived until I was seven. It’s somewhere I’ve always remembered with affection, so I was overjoyed to discover that my memories from all those years ago were accurate. It was just the same; the woods opposite were still there; and I found it immediately. I was expecting to be disappointed, because usually when one returns to a place it seems smaller somehow, but my old house was just as beautiful and welcoming as I remember it. My only regret was that there was no one in the garden because if there had been I might have plucked up courage to say, “I used to live here many years ago.” but as it was I looked, and took a photograph, and drove away.

So although I haven’t been writing my blog, or getting on with my children’s story, which is going to turn into an historical novel if I don’t get it finished soon, I’ve got some inspiration for future settings, and some story ideas, and I’ve even sensed a few characters lurking just out of sight in that space beyond the corner of my eye.


Sarah Wilson’s London

Sarah Wilson, the heroine of ‘The Story Menders’, lives in London, somewhere in Holborn or Clerkenwell. The story is set roughly in 2004 and Sarah who studied at  London Guildhall University/ London Metropolitan University has decided to make her home in the area, especially as her brother Charlie, to whom she is very close, is at UCL and living nearby. At the beginning of the story she’s looking for a permanent job, so she can afford to stay there.

I suppose I chose this area to write about because I know it and like it, and it seemed important to ground the story in a real place."The Lamb in Lamb's Conduit Street" Lambs Conduit Street where a lot of the action takes place is a quirky area with its mix of designer shops, galleries and cafes, and its eponymous pub, The Lamb, with its glass screens and old photographs, where Sarah has her creepy experience. In my story the street also contains Clement Crossland’s publishers and Oliver’s Passage, which in reality is Emerald Street, where Sarah went for her memorable interview in Cartwright Buildings."Emerald Street / Oliver's Passage" If you walk west along Great Ormond Street, past the Children’s Hospital, you will find yourself in Queen’s Square, with another historical pub ‘The Queen’s Larder’, "The Queen's Larder" where Jez takes James Sansum, but if you go north into Guilford Street a short walk will bring you to Russell Square tube station and from there you can travel upto Highbury and Islington, then across the road to Canonbury Square where Clement Crossland lives. Canonbury is a very old area, with its ancient tower and houses, "Canonbury Tower" some of which date back to Tudor times although most of the area was developed in the nineteenth century. Again there is some literary licence in my description of Clement’s house and the alleyway which runs behind it, but I hope as with Lamb’s Conduit Street that if you went there you would capture some of the atmosphere that I’ve experienced on my visits.

Naming of Parts

(with apologies to Henry Reed)

Do you sometimes read the paper or watch the news and get a jolt when you hear someone’s name because it doesn’t seem to fit the person’s personality, appearance or job? This is because unlike fictional characters real people are given their names when they’re babies, long before anyone really knows whether or not their parents’ choice will be appropriate. I sometimes think it would be a lot better if everyone had the chance to select their name, like their career, when they are old enough, and wise enough, to know what would best suit them, rather than having to go through life with something cute or fleetingly fashionable.

Unlike parents, writers can choose names that fit the back-story of their characters; and if they don’t seem to fit as the work progresses then they can be changed. When I was writing ‘The Story Menders’ the characters and their names  just popped into my head as if they already existed somewhere and were just waiting to have their story told. Even the inhabitants of Earth 6, whose names are related to the three languages spoken on that world seemed to evolve naturally without my having to think about them.

However, it isn’t always that easy. In the book I’m writing at the moment, which is a children’s novel about Lucy and her friends Ellie and Joe, I had to alter her brother’s name because it didn’t fit. I can’t explain why, but Brett, which was my first choice just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t make him behave or think or look like a Brett, but once he became Darren he blossomed, if you’ll excuse the cliché, and became the brother that Lucy needed.

The naming of parts in a novel is not just related to people. Place names are equally important, because they help the reader to imagine the setting for that part of the story. In ‘The Story Menders’ most of the places in London are real, although you won’t find an Oliver’s Passage off Lamb’s Conduit Street, or Cartwright Buildings or Clement Crossland publishers, and the alley at the back of Clement’s house in Canonbury doesn’t exist either. But you will find a Hinton Waldrist near Oxford, although it isn’t the Hinton Waldrist where Marcus Glendenning lives, because he lives in Earth 1 which is in a different dimension.

Sometimes place names relate to the function of that setting, such as the Forest of Fulfilled Dreams on Earth 6 where people are driven mad as their thoughts turn to nightmares, and the local inhabitants, the Dhonnae have evolved into camouflaged beings who take on the appearance of whatever or whoever is looking at them expects to see. This has both saved them from being eaten by the nightmarish creatures in the forest, and made them prisoners of their world, as once they leave they become featureless shadows.

I think choosing names for the characters and places is in many ways as important as developing the plot and the storyline. It doesn’t matter if the reader doesn’t have a detailed description of each character or place, but it is important that the name acts as a guide to how the writer wants them to be imagined.




The Magic of Maps

Ever since I was very small I’ve had a passion for maps. When we went on holiday to a new place my dad, with my help when I was old enough, got out the road atlas and worked out how to get there, carefully noting down the numbers of the roads and also the names of the towns and villages along the route.

Travelling in those days, when there were no motorways and very few dual carriageways was quite an adventure because the journey took so long, and the car, which was pre-war, was very slow and liable to break down. It took about twelve hours to drive from our home in Essex to Morecambe, or to Llandudno, so my dad liked to start in the middle of the night. The car would be weighed down with suitcases, spare parts and tools for the car, and food, both to eat when we got to the caravan or chalet and also to eat en route, because it was too expensive to stop at cafés, even if there were any. Then there would be a flask of tea, a bottle of orange squash, toys and books and of course all the family, yawning and moaning, and secretly wondering why we couldn’t start in the morning like everyone else.

I have vivid memories of those interminable journeys: carefully studying the route plan so I could give my dad directions, though I suspect he didn’t really need them; looking out of the window at all the new places and scenery; and finally the rush of excitement when we saw the sea, found our holiday home, and started to explore.

I’d be the first person to admit that my memories of those times are bound to be faulty, because it’s often difficult to sort out what happened when, or whether it really happened at all as I remember it. Memories tend to be disjointed; little snippets, often accompanied by a vivid visual image, and sometimes an emotional response. Driving through the Welsh mountains holding a biscuit tin to catch the drips from the leaking roof; the vivid blue of Backbarrow on the edge of the Lake District caused by the local industry; the creaking door of Gwydir Castle; the overpowering smell of seaweed on a beach near Falmouth; all these memories are jumbled together in my brain, and they are released when I look at a map and see the name of the place where they happened.

Maps don’t just show routes or stimulate memories; they offer adventures. The contours, colours and  place names create a new world full of excitement and promise, so that it’s possible to have an idea of what a place is like without going there. Of course nowadays thanks to the internet we can see the satellite image as well as the map, and there are links to provide more information about even the smallest towns and villages, but I’m not convinced that on-line maps have the same magic as the paper map spread out on the dining room table, even if they are more convenient.

Part of the fun when I was writing ‘The Story Menders’ was deciding on the real places to be included but also inventing the imaginary places, making mental maps of them, and sometimes sketching them out to make sure that they worked. When I read a novel it’s important that I can imagine the setting as well as the characters, because these are what make the story more believable, and I wanted to achieve the same thing in my writing. It’s up to the readers to decide if I’ve been successful.