Watch Out, Lizzie Borden’s About

What a week. I had so many good intentions that rather than paving a way to Beezelbub’s des res, I’ve built a motorway.

Intention No.1 was to produce 3 blogs this week. So far I’ve managed one. The reason being I got swept up in an impusive decorating frenzy. Having lived with bare plaster walls on my hall, stairs and landing for weeks now, I was bored with it; having lived with an uncarpeted wood staircase where the exposed carpet gripper waited to puncture unwary bare feet I was limping badly; having suffered all this, in silence mind you, I finally called in the Decorating Team. We did a deal. They’d do the painting if I bought the paint and did the prep. Being a bit on the skint side and, as a Yorkshire woman determined to uphold the reputation of that county for “careful” folk, I agreed. I mean it couldn’t take more than a bit of a wash and brush up on the paintwork surely?

Thirty-six hours later the D-team arrived – well actually there was only one of them and he had a bad knee. He looked at my handiwork and at my broken fingernails and my scabbed hands; he hurrumphed like a rhino getting ready for a bit of head-banging but then thought better of comment when he saw the Lizzie Borden axe I was holding. Not that I have psychopathic tendencies (I know, that’s what they all say) it was just that he caught me fulfilling Intention No.2 – the great log chop.

I have been given some huge old logs more suited to a roast-your-own-ox fireplace than my compact woodburner. My own electric saw proved too weak and feeble so the only alternative was an axe. (I expect Lizzie had these problems too). The first log behaved itself and fell neatly into quarters; the second however, had a mind of its own. Clearly it still resented its severance from the mother tree. This log managed to evade the carefully aimed axe blow, roll away down the drive, leaving the axe to whack me on that knobbly bone at the side of the ankle.

Of course this disaster completely threw out any possibility of achieving Intention No. 3 – to add 5000 compelling, sizzling, can’t-stop-reading words to my Ravensgill Saga. Instead it was back to the trusty old sofa, hugging my soft cashmere throw and nursing myself back to a semblance of sanity with a luscious, full-bodied Merlot.

“Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty one.
Close your door, lock and latch it,
‘cos here comes Lizzie with her hatchet.”

You have been warned.
Have a great weekend.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

Why is it that when I’m away during the week doing the day job, when I get to the weekend there’s a more than usual number of “must-do” jobs around the house and garden? These “must-dos” are not tasks that I’ve let slip (well not many really) but are things that have cropped up during the days I am away such as a delivery that I’ve planned. I explained to the courier when and where to bring it only to find that he washed up three days too early and seemed to have left my precious parcel with everyone and his dog in the village. By the time I finally tracked it down it was, shall we say, well handled!

And another thing…have you noticed that the whinge factor of my posts is on the rise? No? Well it’s just not fair. Pay attention please. I’ve been blogging since January this year and over the weekend I took a trip down blogging lane to revisit some of them. Over the weeks I noticed how they’re beginning to sound whiney. Too hard, too difficult, too much work, not fair, no-one will buy my wares blah blah blah. It’s a dangerous thing this increasing whinge factor – for one thing it exacerbates my rheumatism – have whinge will twinge sort of thing – but more seriously whinging raises the victim spectre. Poor me; all I ever wanted to do was write but “they” won’t let me. They insist I pay my mortgage; they insist I write something worth publishing; they say that unless…Oh get over yourself woman.

So there’s going to be a few changes around here. This blog is going to be less about writing, the writing process, Kindle and all the other writing/publishing nibbly-pibblies (bring back “Blackadder” please). Instead it will be more as I originally intended – notes from the coast and will probably not even mention the W word, the K word et al.

If this is not to your liking and you follow this blog (what wonderful refined taste you have) I’ll quite understand if my future musings are not your thing and you decide to “unfollow”. However it’s only fair to warn you that I am the neighbourhood witch and I know where you live.

If You Publish, They Will Come – Ha!

I’ve been tied up with the day job this week so have had little time to blog but did catch up with my Reader items plus read a book that I wish I’d found six months ago – more of that to come.

The posts that go into my Reader have one thing in common – their authors are working their butts off getting their books in print and promoting them. My own efforts look particularly feeble by comparison. If hard work, perseverance and sheer bloody-mindedness count for anything they all deserve spectacular success.

It’s clear that being an accomplished writer is just not enough if you follow the self-publishing route. You also need to be entrepreneurial in spirit, a great salesperson not afraid to blow your own trumpet, inventive, think-on-the-hoof type, publicist and self PR and probably much more. It’s not enough to say “all I want to do is write” unless of course you’re happy for your pearls to languish unseen in the bottom of a drawer.

I suppose I was naive when I published Time for Your Life. Actually no I wasn’t naive I was just plain stoopid. I think somehow, somewhere I had this computation that the book would almost sell itself. Perhaps I have this subconscious arrogance that tells me “cream rises”. Whatever delusions I was suffering under they were put to flight with a vengeance when I read “Self-Printed – the Sane Persons Guide to Self-Publishing” by Catherine Ryan Howard (she blogs as Catherine Caffeinated). This book is an account of how she came to self-publish her own non-fiction and what worked for her in marketing and selling. She’s very clear that the book is about the way she did it and makes no claims for it to be the only way but her sales figures speak for themselves. She also is a very funny writer.

Well what an eye-opener. I think I can claim to have made every mistake possible and the really really really irritating thing is that what she writes just makes total sense if you are going to self-publish. At least it does to me…now. Grrrrrrr!

So I’m wondering if there’s some spore or virus that is released into the atmosphere when a writer is about to self-publish that unless you are really smart completely blinds you to the work that lies ahead turns your brain into a soft gooey mush and sucks out any last remnants of practicality and common sense – just for good measure.

Or is it that I have a very active self-deception gene? Please tell me I’m not alone.

Have a good weekend – I’ll be back next week.

What Can You Do with a Belgian Chocolate Mousse (BCM)?

Ha! Gotcha! You only looked at this post because of the title didn’t you? (Note to self it does go to show how a title can draw in the readers). Well, although BCM has a role in this vignette, I confess I’ve deceived you, it’s only a rub-on sorry I mean walk-on part.

Over the weekend I treated myself. It was what I call an anticipatory treat – I was anticipating the arrival of a cheque which would help to make the month go a bit further. So I wandered into WHSmith (a newspaper, book and stationery chain)for a browse. Browsing is my second favourite occupation; my first is lying on the sofa thinking beautiful thoughts whilst eating WeightWatchers Belgian Chocolate Mousse in an effort (as some of you may remember from earlier posts) to rediscover the lost territory of my waistline.

In WHSmith I headed for the magazine sections – something for everyone here from topshelf tit fetishers to solve-while-you-shit sudoku puzzlers. However, I was looking for something specific and found it – a regional countryside mag. I scanned through it and there it was – my article, my photos and my name. Ah Heaven! I get such a buzz from seeing something I’ve written actually make it to print. It’s even better than taking a WW Belgian Chocolate Mousse and smothering…well, let’s move on.

I’m basking in this admittedly minor glory when Inner Crit pipes up;
“that sentence is a bit clumsy;should’ve put a full stop there not a semi-colon”
But for once I have the upper hand. It was good enough for the editor (lovely, lovely man that he is) so up yours inner crit – go back to sleep.

I’m not normally so brash as to bang on about a 1000-word article and a couple of photos (I’m quite shy and retiring really…honest) but this is a milestone for me. Apart from the book (which somehow feels like a different thing altogether because I published it) this is the first bit of my work to make it to the world stage – well UK stage – all right then Yorkshire stage…as part of my second-time-around writing career. It’s the first piece that a third party has looked at and given the green light to. (I know, I know, prepositions-end of sentence and all that jazz)

There’s more in the pipeline so I hope I get free copies of the mags otherwise I’ll be spending a fortune on buying them.
Can you imagine what I’d be like if something I wrote truly went global?
Unbearable – who said that?

Mulling in the Maldives

I’ve had a couple of queries about where I got the idea for my book Time for Your Life – though I’m not sure if the question was asked in admiration or disbelief. The answer is the idea came to me on a beach in the Maldives when I was lolling on a swing-seat with a fierce sun piercing an impossible blue sky. I had a large glass of very chilled something-or-other with a kick like a mule when I was struck by the truly original thought “this is the life.”


All this was back in 2011. I was at a crossroads in my life. My partner and I had split up; I was living in a house I hated and in a town where I had never wanted to be in the first place and running a business that left me little time to do anything else. I was like a demented bluebottle in perpetual motion.

A friend managed to prise me away from the business for a couple of weeks and we went off on a diving/cruising holiday to the Maldives. About five days in I was just sitting on this beach with this idea flitting around in my sun-addled head; an idea about how to do more of what I wanted to do and less of what I have to do whilst not sending my finances to a critical care unit. I knew that if I didn’t do something to change the balance of my life I would end up a dribbling lunatic.(Just hang on whilst I wipe my chin…that’s better). Now where was I? Oh yes. Well this beach must have been covered in fairy dust because I had a second idea that day along the lines – I am a life coach – if I can’t sort my own life out how the devil can I help anyone else.

So, in between snorkling, swimming, sun-bathing, scoffing and swigging I began to map out what was really important to me and what I wanted to do the rest of my life – not quite a bucket list but heading that way. One thing I didn’t want was to find myself five years down the road, doing the same old, same old and regretting lost opportunities.

Back in Blighty I retrieved from my suitcase the paper serviettes, fag packets, coasters and other bits of ephemera on which I’d scribbled my ideas and I started to develop an approach to managing my life that didn’t require an Einsteinian brain or a second mortgage to pay for staff. This approach provided an outline for the book which eventually became Time for Your Life.

That, in a nutshell is how I came to write the book. There were of course many vicissitudes to bear whilst I tested out the principles now enshrined in the book but darlings, you know I’d do anything for my five readers. I’m not quite perfect yet but I have been fitted for a halo. Now, after that confession, I need to have a lie down. Where’s the beach gone?

Signing off for the weekend – so enjoy yours.


A Tale of Two Editors

One aspect of the feature and article writing I do is research –not just subject research but also market research. At the moment I don’t receive many commissions so I have to pitch most of my work to an editor, once I think I’ve found the right market for it.

Four months ago I sent out two pitches. One went to a specialist magazine, the other to a more general one with a countryside theme. Both have about the same circulation figures although different reader profiles. I read back copies of each mag; I obtained their writers guidelines, followed them to the letter and even phoned up to make sure I’d got the editor’s name correct – they do seem to change fairly frequently.

Editor no.1 – the generalist replied to my email within a week.
Yes he was interested and could I supply photos?
Yes I could, how did he want them?
Email and at 300dpi minimum.
OK. Good – job done. The proofs came through ten days ago and the article appears next month.

Editor No. 2 – the specialist magazine
When I phoned in to check his name and email I actually spoke to him. He said: ”I’ll look out for your pitch coming through my email.”
Great. Six weeks later not a peep from him. Do I/don’t I send a reminder?
I wait ‘til the eight week mark and then send a polite note –“ hope you got the pitch, wondering if you have been able to make a decision?”
Sixteen weeks later still nothing.

I assume that the guy is not interested – fine. I understand :-
– the pitch might not have suited – either through content or style;
– the editor might need to take all submissions to an editorial panel and that slows down the process;
– the concept of “busy” and “overwhelmed with emails”. When I had a “ proper” job 50 emails a day was not unusual and I’ve had clients who topped the 100 per day but still managed to answer them, however briefly;
– the pitch might not have reached his desk…but did lightning really strike twice?

Truly I do understand all of that but what I can’t get my head round is complete silence. I cannot believe that with the electronic bells and whistles that abound these days, it is impossible to send a quick, automated “thanks but no thanks” email.

The question is what do I do next? Shall I be passive and leave it a while longer – but how long? Or shall I start again, find another potential victim and revamp the outline? Should I send him a free copy of my book Time for Your Life – there’s lots in there about managing emails and other “stuff”?

There is some small irony here, in that this specialist magazine, without naming names, is aimed at newbie writers and is packed full of good advice about what to do and not do when approaching an editor with a pitch. What it doesn’t tell you is what best to do when your pitch appears to have fallen into a deep black hole.

John Paul Jones, His Lordship and Me

Last week I went in search of a cannon ball. Not just any old cannon ball but one supposedly fired by John Paul Jones, the scurrilous Scottish pirate or, if you’re a US patriot, the brave heroic scourge of those snotty, tea-swigging English.

It is rumoured that during the War of Independence he used to sail up and down the English coast, harrying shipping and every now and again firing a cannon ball at the local gentry’s houses. One such missile is said to have landed and thereafter resided, in the garden of a country house not too far away from where I live.

Since I’m writing a feature about the adventures of JPJ, I thought I would try to establish some facts and, if possible, get a photo of the cannon ball if it really exists. So, notebook in hand, camera over shoulder and my latest vanity – a biz card that declares I’m a writer – tucked in my bag, I went in search of my quarry.

The house in question is one of hundreds of minor mansions that dot the British countryside. This particular one is inhabited by a peer of the realm,thought to be somewhat reclusive and/or eccentric. Aren’t they all?

Be that as it may, cap in hand and forelock ready for tugging I drove up the winding gravel drive to the imposing front door. There my nerve fled as the shades of his lordship’s ancestors rose up in anguish at such an intrusion. I snuck around the back, looking for (no sniggering please) the tradesman’s entrance.

Before I could track it down my ears were simultaneously assaulted by that cut-glass English accent so beloved of cliché-ridden 1950s films shown on daytime TV and the twanging of an acoustic guitar coming from an outhouse.
“I say, twang, what are you doing, twang, twang twang?

I was confronted by a scruffy figure holding a guitar, wearing torn jeans and trainers that that looked as though they’d gone a hundred rounds with Mohammed Ali. His face, like mine, was all saggy but, unlike mine, he had what those who know would describe as a “good bone structure”. I explained my mission and handed him my card which he scrutinised for a tenth of a second before stuffing it in a pocket.

Then he sneered and I must admit it was one of the best ever; the Full Monty in fact – the raised eyebrow, the look-you-up-and-down glance, the scornful eye and the precise, clipped speech.
“Now let me see, have I understood correctly? You are almost certainly one of those new Kindle writers. What do they call you now, self-publishers is it? Was a time when it was called vanity publishing and produced the most appallingly written rubbish – “Memoirs of a Country Bore”, “The Reticulation of the Cabbage White Butterfly” – all utter fatuous, unreadable rubbish. Am I right? Am I right?”

His voice rose an octave as he almost danced around me. At one time I thought that his guitar and my head were about to meet in unholy union. I backed off a little but take credit for almost standing my ground and I repeated my enquiry about the cannon ball.
“Ha! Never heard of it. You’ll have to come back at the weekend when the house and gardens are open.”

He turned to go and I could see I wasn’t going to make any progress so despite the urge to cripple him with one of my devasting ripostes, I said politely,
“Well thank you for your time, your lordship. Perhaps I will come back at the weekend then.”

Without turning he gave me a dismissive wave and then, just before he disappeared back into the outhouse I heard him mutter,
“And I’m not his bloody lordship either. I am his lordship’s bloody butler.”

Just goes to show you can’t take anything for granted these days.
Oh how we self-publishers suffer for our art.

Kindle Revisited

My exclusive 90-day deal with Kindle Prime for Time for Your Life will soon be up and I thought now might be a good time for a bit of reflection.

The original idea for Time for Your Life was to start to build up a library of articles and e-books on my business website to support my coaching activities. I never expected to sell many copies – just as well really as it turns out.

The book garnered 3×5* reviews on UK Amazon and 1×5* on (Thank you Gwen Bristol) but I have sold very few copies through Kindle. On the other hand I have negotiated three-year licence agreements with a couple of companies for it to be available to the staff via the company intranets. This alone has more than covered my costs and will keep me in jelly beans for a good few months. Both those agreements came about because I sent free PDF copies to Human Resource Directors and two of them got in touch with me. The next step is for it to be available as a PDF via an on-line training and personal deveopment resource website: This will expose the book to a completely different market.

I also had some picture postacards printed with the front cover of the book on one side and message/address space on the other. These I sent out to my past and present individual coaching clients. As far as I know none of those has resulted in any Kindle sales but I have sold PDFs.

So what have I learned?

1. Publishing an e-book takes very little time if you have the tech skills or the right people behind you. However marketing an e-book and getting sales takes a very great deal of time. I haven’t put nearly enough time into marketing. I had a marketing plan but seriously underestimated what time it would need – particularly finding, getting and keeping active on different book forums, blogs etc.

2. Pricing an ebook is a bit of a thorny question for me. I didn’t do enough homework on prices and so, in comparison with other books that appear to be of similar content, Time for Your Life may look pricey. £6.00 as opposed to the £1.99ers. Perception is all here. I have a view that if something is offered for sale at what seems to be a very low price then I have very low expectations of it and am more likely to pass on it. I also hold to the belief that you can always lower a price but if you start low and then try to go up in price, you pretty soon piss off a section of your customer base.Maybe I need to review these beliefs…I’m not sure.

3. I’ve mentioned this in other posts but for non-fiction it still may be better to bite the bullet and go for hardcopy publishing. I’ve been asked so many times for a hard copy or “proper” book as many have called it. I think this is an issue of disposable v for keeps.

4. I’m not totally convinced of any advantage Kindle Prime offers for this type of book other than the % rate. With hindsight I would have preferred to have offered the book from the get-go in as many ways/formats as possible.

So just something to chew on this Friday morning. I’d be more than happy to hear your thoughts/experiences – perhaps between us we should put an ebook out on the definitive way to self-publish.

Anyhoo – signing off for the weekend which is predicted to be warm and sunny – so have a good one.

The Constant Editor

When I did A level French Lit, one of the set books was La Peste by Camus. There’s a character in it who wants to write a book but can’t get past the first sentence. He keeps editing it, re-reading it and editing it again.

Whilst not quite as troubled as Camus’ character I do find I have something of that problem. I can’t let a piece of my writing make its appearance on the world stage unless it is perfect, fully formed and a non pareil of its genre. This requires editing…lots of editing.

This habit probably accounts for both the length of time it takes me to write something (blog posts included some days) and the irrepressible urge to write and rewrite and write rewrites of rewrites.

All advice for novice writers is to get it all out of the head and onto the page before starting the edit. I’m sure it’s absolutely the right thing to do but how hard is that?

I faff and fiddle as I write. A couple of paragraphs written…oops, no that doesn’t sound right…have to change that to…and so on. Thus it is that 250 words may take me a couple of hours to pen and it still won’t be quite as I want it.

I try to write every morning – day job permitting –and usually start the session by reading over what I wrote the previous day. If I confined myself to just reading it and picking up the thread it’d be fine. But I don’t. I can’t help myself – it’s addictive – I start editing, pruning, tacking and titivating so nothing new gets written until late morning – if I’m lucky. Often it is at this point that I decide that what I’ve written and edited is trash anyway and bin it.

Let me give you an example – this is the opening sentence or two of a novel I’m working on:

“At the Manoir de la Trinite, perched above the village of Brussac, all was still in the midsummer heat. Yet the gravel carriageway leading to the front courtyard showed signs of hasty passage with scattered pebbles and crushed stems of the lavender that bordered it giving off their last scent.”

Now in the moments after cutting and pasting this little para I’ve already edited it twice and even as I read it again I’m itching to make another change. See what I mean?

This leads me to my next problem – when to stop editing. There has to be a law of diminishing returns surely – something that tells me that even if I delete a comma and change the word order in sentence 715, nothing will add to the quality of the work in a meaningful way.

The only remedy I can think of (and I’d be happy for legal, decent and honest suggestions here – well don’t worry too much about decent) is to go back to writing longhand, away from the PC or laptop, away from the all-too-easy mark, delete or cut & paste.

But can someone please tell me when is enough good enough?

Signing off ‘til Monday so have a good weekend.

Wrestling with the Heroine

So far, so good. The Easter weekend actually felt spring-like at moments but I wish they wouldn’t fiddle with the clocks – it upsets my natural sleeping pattern. However sleep has been disturbed of late as I wrestle with my leading lady.

If anyone has been paying attention, they will be aware that I’m writing (struggling with) a novel; a family saga in three parts, starting in France, moving to England and ending in both. It covers the century 1820 – 1920…ish. This is the longest piece of writing I’ve contrived ever and to some extent I approach it pretty much like my life…what will be, will be. But actually what is, is that I’ve realised I don’t like my heroine. Even taking into account 19th century French culture and restrictions, she’s a wimp, a wuss, a mademoiselle sans gumption. Sacre bleu, how can this be?

She started off as a personable young lady living a sheltered life in difficult circumstances. At one time I thought her a little too feisty for the period so I toned her down. Result…I don’t actually like her any more. In fact she’s so feeble she’d struggle to take the skin off a rice pudding. I don’t feel like rescuing her from her grasping Uncle who may well (if I have my way) lock her up in a nunnery.

The truth is I infinitely prefer her ambitious, ruthless uncle and her rakish, philandering cousin. They are far more real to me. I confess I talk to them, just now and again, nothing serious you understand.

But what does that say about me? Is it proof of some deep psychological misalignment? Wish fulfilment?Perhaps I do need to get out more. But what is to the point, is what on earth am I going to do with Mlle Prissy. From where I sit, the nunnery looks enticing but then who is going to star in the next two books? Somehow I have to redeem her. Any ideas?