Thursday, 17 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

It's December and we are winding up to Christmas!

I love this time of year, I love the mice pies, the mulled wine, carols by candlelight, decorating the tree, feasting on Christmas goodies, mass on Christmas eve and the joy of family gathered round the table for Christmas dinner!

This is the Celtic nativity scene that my father gave me. I get it out every year and every so often I add to it. Note the caganer (Queen) crouching in the background - and this year two Portuguese cockerels have joined the animals in the stable.

So I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a successful and prosperous 2016 and I'll see you all in the New Year.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Choose your Publisher with care.

There are so many options for writers struggling to find a home for their work. So many different routes to publication. Many authors these days are opting to self-publish – either going it alone or as part of a collective. And for some this has proven to be a very successful route.

But I’m not here to talk about self-publishing today. I’m going to talk about the different sorts of publisher out there. Because not all publishers are created equal. And one way of distinguishing between them is to look at their business models and ask yourself – who is the customer?

1. Vanity Publishers
These are full service publishers. They will edit, print, format and design the cover art for a fee. In this business model the author is the customer. Not the reader. Of course you may wish to use one of these services for a specific project such as a memoir or a community project and would prefer to pay someone else to do it for you rather than do it yourself. In that case you’ll have plenty of choice.
2. The Subsidy Publisher
These initially appear to be standard publishers. The author receives an e-mail saying how much they love the book and would like to publish it. However, they then go on to state that they will require the author to make a contribution. This can be in the order of thousands of pounds! The problem here is that in their business model the author is the customer. If you sign with one of these publishers, yes, you’ll have a published book in your hands but the editing may be woefully inadequate and marketing will be non-existent. They’re got their money so why should they do anything else? If you follow this link you will find a thread on the Absolute Write Forum which discusses just such a publisher.
3. The e-book publisher
There was a huge proliferation of e-book publishers that appeared at the start of the e-book revolution. Now some of these have done extremely well and in some genres such as romance there is a huge e-book market and excellent opportunities for authors. But not all e-book publishers are equal. There are some that accept nearly every book submitted to them and push out large numbers of releases with minimum editing effort and basic covers. Here the business model is to sell small numbers of lots of books. This is good for the publisher, but not for the author. Interestingly this business model is not one that can be sustained and I’m noticing more and more of these types of publishers are folding. There’s a thread here on the Absolute Write Forum discussing one such publisher which recently went under. It’s quite shocking to see how low some author’s sales were and how the publisher used unpaid interns to do the editing.
4. The Small independent Publisher
Sometimes these are e-book publishers, sometimes both e-book and print. These publishers may be small but they invest in their authors and titles providing sound editing and decent cover art, but most important they put a good deal of effort into promotion and marketing. Of course if they end up with a big hit on their hands they might struggle to keep up with demand, but the key point here is that it is the reader who is the customer and they will do their best to get your book into as many readers hands as they possibly can.
5. The Big 6.
Again, the reader is the customer, as it should be. Generally these will only accept agented submissions, but occasionally they will offer open submissions windows. It’s worth keeping an eye out – you never know – it could be your break.

So when you are trying to decide which publishers to approach or whether to accept that offer you’ve just received, take a long hard look at their business model and then decide if they are right for you.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

This Little World: stories from Dorset Writers

About a year ago I became involved with an exciting initiative from the Dorset Writers Network. The idea was to run a series of writing workshops across rural Dorset to encourage people to have a go at writing a short story set in the county. These stories could then be entered it into a competition being run by DWN for inclusion in an anthology.

I ran workshops in my local village hall and at a local secondary school as well as being involved in the judging and mentoring for the adult entries.

There have been many people involved throughout the process and on Saturday the project reached its culmination with the launch of the anthology This Little World: Stories from Dorset Writers.

The This Little World book launch and Writers Day took place at Dorchester Library. At the launch event the organisers talked about the project and some of the featured authors read out their stories. A couple were stories that I had picked out which is a lovely feeling, but I have to say I was particularly impressed with the children’s entries! What a wealth of young talent this county has!

As well as the launch itself there was a series of writing workshops covering all sorts of subjects from writing dialogue to poetry and screenplays and The Littoralis (me and fellow local authors Laura James and Kathy Sharp) hosted a panel event where we discussed our experiences with our publishers. Despite all of us being published by small mainstream publishers our routes to publication and our experiences of the process couldn’t have been more different!

The whole event was extremely well attended and the anthology sold out within minutes! But fear not. The paperback version is available on Amazon and an e-book edition will be following soon. It is packed with a wealth of wonderful Dorset set stories and would make a perfect Christmas present.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Twelve Tips for Book Promotion

Ah, book promotion – that ticklish subject – but something that every author has to think about at some point. Whether you are self-published, with a small press or published by one of the big trade publishers, you will find yourself doing book promotion in some form or other.

For my YA novel, Red Rock, my publisher had a dedicated marketing team and allocated a publicist for me to work with. Her help was invaluable. She arranged for me to write articles timed to appear around the time my book was launched. She pitched me to literary festivals and even managed to get me an appearance at the Edinburgh festival. She came up with ideas I would never have thought of on my own. Even so, it was still expected that I would do what I could to help promote the book. Not everything I tried worked, but I want to share with you the things that did.

With my short story collection about to hit the shelves I started looking around at blogs and articles on book promotion, looking for ideas that I could apply. I’ve come across lots of information on how NOT to promote your book, and I could make a whole blog post out of these – don’t spam people on twitter, don’t harass people for reviews or pay for fake ones… But I couldn’t find very much offering ideas on what you SHOULD do. So that is what I’m going to cover here.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that any of these will convert into sales, but you never know where they might lead. Nobody really knows why some books take off and others don’t. Very often it is by word of mouth, and that, I’m afraid is something we don’t have any control over.

So here are my top tips for book promotion:

1. Internet presence
At the very least make sure you have a website or a blog to showcase your books. Include a contact page – this is very important – I’ve had several opportunities arise through people contacting me via my blog. Keep it up to date and keep any blog posts interesting and relevant. Set up author pages on Amazon and goodreads. Twitter accounts and a facebook page can also be useful for some people. Plus any other social media platforms you may like to use. But don’t spam people about your book! If you seem like an interesting person then they may well check it out without any prompting.

2. Media
You or your publisher should put together a press release around the time of your book launch. Local newspapers are often looking for stories to fill their pages and like nothing better than a local author, especially if there is an interesting angle you can take, local history for example. Send them the press release and then follow up by e-mail. The same applies to local radio stations. Again they will be looking for an angle. Don’t forget to mention the title of your book at least once during the interview but don’t overdo it!

3. Launch Party/Book signings
Whether you hold a launch party or not is a personal thing. For Red Rock I hired out my local village hall and invited loads of people and sold a lot of books. Provide refreshments, do a reading, and make sure you have plenty of books to sell! (I ran out). If you are with a mainstream publisher your local bookstore will often sort out a stall for you. Otherwise get a friend or family member to do the selling so you have a chance to mix! Another option is to run an online launch party. I’ve seen quite a few of these on Facebook. It’s worth checking a few out and seeing how they work. It is also worth talking to your local bookshop to see if you can go in one Saturday morning and do a signing. You may not sell many books but the store will probably continue to stock a few.

4. Giveaways
There’s nothing nicer than a free book. I’ve had a few from giveaways and I love it when the package turns up! There are lots of ways to do this, one of the easiest being to run a Goodreads giveaway. Or you can run one from you own website or blog using a tool such as rafflecopter. Try to run it in such a way that encourages people to tweet and share it, or maybe tie it into a blog tour. One tip though – don’t do it in the run up to Christmas – there are loads of giveaways going on around that time and yours will get lost in the noise!

5. Networking
I’m not talking about social media here, I’m talking about the real world, networking with other authors, booksellers, local writing groups. Don’t go into this with the sole purpose of getting people to buy your books, but as they get to know you they probably will. Since getting published I got to know several other published writers in my local area. We’ve now teamed up to offer author events. We share opportunities and support each other when times are tough. I wouldn’t be without them.

6. Literary Festivals
These days it seems that every town is holding a literary festival. Why not check out what is happening in your local area. See what sorts of events these festivals have put on in the past. Then have a think about what you can offer them. It’s no good sending them an e-mail saying, “Hi, I’m an author and I’d like to appear at you festival.” You need to come up with something specific. Think of an event or a workshop you can offer. Then put together a professional looking pitch and send it out. It might be worth teaming up with other authors. My local author friends and I have called our little group The Littoralis and we have been offering a panel event to local festivals. One word of warning though – even a small literary festival gets its programme set up well in advance so you need to get in early. A year ahead is not too soon!

7. Writing Workshops
You’re a published author now, so don’t sell yourself short. Whether you’re self-published or trade published you have studied the craft of writing and have an insight into the world of publishing that other aspiring writers would love to hear about. If you write for children then your local schools will often be interested if you offer to run writing workshops for them. Or perhaps this is something you could offer to local literary festivals or colleges, or even run a course for adults off your own back. All you need is a venue and the will.

8. Writing Group and Book Group visits
I bet there are loads of local book groups or writers groups in your area who would love a visit from a published author! I’ve been to a few and always found them very welcoming. If your book is the type that might interest book groups then why not arrange a tour around the time your book comes out. They’ll probably want to read your book before they meet you to discuss it and they normally do this through the local library, so that will probably be a good way to contact them. Writers groups are a bit different. You could offer them a workshop. They should be happy for you to talk about your book and your experiences of publication and will probably want to buy some copies, so make sure you take some along.

9. Articles and blog tours
Magazine articles, guest blog posts and blog tours are all good ways to engage with potential readers. Most of these you will offer for free but you never know. An interesting article will make people want to know more about you so make sure that you include a link to an up to date website in your bio. Some publicists or publishers will arrange blog tours, but this will depend on the audience you are writing for.

10. The Old Boy network
Your old school will probably be interested in the former pupil, now a published author, so, unless you’re writing something rather too steamy, then get in touch with them and offer an author visit. The same goes for Universities. Many have an active alumni programme and would be happy to feature you in their alumni magazine.

11. Opportunities
Take advantage of any opportunities that may arise. For example, I spotted a tweet from a local tourist attraction asking for local authors to attend their opening. This led to a series of lovely author events at the venue concerned and a decent number of book sales.

12. Be a Professional!
Finally remember that this is a business and although you may do some events or write some articles for free, don’t be afraid to ask for a fee and expenses where appropriate. If you act like a professional you’ll be treated like one!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Booker Prize 2015

Yesterday the winner of the Booker Prize was announced – and in case you don’t know it was Marlon James for A Brief History of Seven Killings.

Every year in the run up the award the YCAA runs a Booker Debate at the Octagon Theatre in Yeovil. A panel of six people read and review the shortlisted books, and for the past few years I have been honoured to take part. Some years none of us think we have the winner. This year three of us did, which I think reflects the interest and diversity of this year’s shortlist.

This year I was allocated Satin Island by Tom McCarthy to read.

Now if you look at the reviews for the shortlisted six you might notice that Satin Island comes off quite badly being slated for being boring and pretentious. But I think it is wrong to write it off so easily, because it is in fact a really interesting book.

Yes. It is quite pretentious. For example the name of the main character, U, I think is meant to draw analogy between U the character and You the reader.

The characters we meet are vague and thinly drawn. U has a friend called Petr and a woman he sleeps with called Maddison but none of these characters are given any great depth; their relationship with U superficial. It is almost as if U is swamped with so much else that the real world lacks definition.
U Works for The Company and is tasked with writing the Big Report, both of which are also frustratingly vague. In fact U spends most of his time at work in his basement office surfing the internet and navel gazing.

And yet there is so much more to this book. U is constantly bombarded by images, news reports, the internet. Too much information for any one individual to assimilate. In fact the whole novel feels like it’s buffering – that frustration you get when you try to watch something but it simply won’t get going.

And this is where, in my opinion, this book is extremely clever. We live in an age of information overload. In a way we are buffering as we try to take it all in, and I think this is the effect the author was trying to achieve. In which case it works. Satin Island is a true reflection on our times and the world we live in.

I also found it surprisingly readable – for a book that never actually goes anywhere and has no characterisation, no plot, and nothing actually happens.

This is a book that I suspect everyone will see slightly differently and we will all come away from it with a different perspective. And it is this multi-layering that I think is where the genius of Satin Island lies. Yes, it may be pretentious but I suspect it could also just be brilliant.

And I reckon that sometime in the future someone will be writing a PhD thesis about it and how it reflects this world of information overload we live in.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Getting Published: Ask the Right Questions

There was a time, before I was published, when I would have signed anything to see my book in print. But now I’m much more aware of the potential pitfalls.

I was lucky that my first book deal was handled by an agent. I gnawed my nails as the e-mails between agent and publisher winged their way back and forth across the ether but I ended up with an author friendly contract. Not all authors are in such a fortunate position. Many authors have to negotiate their own contracts.

So how do you work out if you should sign the contract on offer? The answer is to ask the right questions and here’s a check list for you.

Cover art: This is an easy one to check out. Look at the titles on their website. You’ll quickly be able to see whether they’ve put much effort into them or if they are using stock library images. A cover sells a book so this matters.

Editing: The look inside facility on Amazon is great for this. A well written, well edited book is obvious right from the start. But what do the authors themselves have to say? Contact them and ask them. If they tell you their book didn’t need any editing then that is a red flag. Everyone needs editing. They should have gone through several different rounds, structural edits, line edits, copy edits.

Sales: This is a telling one. Ask the authors how their books are selling. I dare say some people don’t care to divulge this information in which case you have to wonder why. It really matters. If you’re books are only likely to sell in double figures then that’s pitiful. Hundreds could suggest that the publisher is doing nothing to market the books themselves and it’s all down to the author. Low thousands are better. Ten thousand is doing really well.

Marketing: The publisher should be able to tell you what their marketing strategy for your book is going to be. How do they plan to promote you? Obviously you’ll be expected to do your bit, but you should not be expected to do it all. If they don’t have a strategy or any clear indication of markets. If they can’t tell you where they will be sending review copies or about any other promotional activities they will take the lead on then you’re unlikely to sell many books.

Royalties: Are these net or gross? Understand the difference. Many publishers these days offer net, so make sure you’re happy with what you’re actually going to get for each title because your percentage may only be on the profits the publisher makes on your title rather than on what your book actually sells for.

Rights: Watch out for rights grabs. Make sure you are happy with which rights the publisher wants and check the clause for rights reversion. Do they act on the rights they buy? For instance do they produce the audio books they bought the rights for and do they sell their titles in other territories?

Of course, this is only the start. If all these things are to your satisfaction then you’ll want to delve deeper into the contract. Fortunately the Society of Authors offers a free contract checking service to members, so, if you don’t have an agent to lead you through the minefield then SOA are well worth the membership fee.

At the end of the day you have to ask yourself if what you are getting from the publisher is for you. Some authors are happy simply to have a book available that they can sell a few copies of to family and friends without the hassle of paying for their own editing and cover art.

If not then don’t be afraid to walk away. There are plenty of other options.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Red Rock Character Interviews

Good morning Danni, Gracie and Isaac. To start with please tell us about your home and family.

Danni: I live with my Uncle, Robert. He took me in when my parents died. He lives right out in the middle of nowhere. It’s really boring.
Gracie: My father is a businessman, in charge of a major global corporation. There’s only me and him. My mum left when I was small.
Isaac: I live in Italy with my parents and brother, and before you ask, yes I’m Italian.

Where do/did you go to school?

Danni: My parents were journalists and they travelled all over the world. So they packed me off back to England to this horrid boarding school. I hate it there. I’d much rather they had taken me with them!
Gracie: All over the place. Dad moves around a lot so I went to the nearest International School to wherever we happened to be.
Isaac: Yeah, weird that. I’m Italian and I go to school in England. It was my mum’s idea. She’s seriously into all things English. She thought an English education would be better for me so she sent me to this boarding school there. It’s not all bad though. I met Danni and she’s cool.

Who are your best friends?

Danni: My best friend is Isaac. I met him on my first day at that horrid school. He’s the only reason I can bear it there. He’s a real geek mind, but in a cool way.
Gracie: I don’t really have any. Not close ones at any rate. We moved too often so I got used to looking after myself. I make friends wherever I am but I don’t bother keeping in touch when we move away
Isaac: Danni, I just said. She’s at school with me.

What are your ambitions?

Danni: I want to go travelling. I know the world is a dangerous place and it’s not as easy as it used to be to take a gap year and go off backpacking, but I’m not one to let a bit of danger stop me doing anything. Bring it on!
Gracie: Crikey, that’s a tough one. I have absolutely no idea what I want to do, only that I don’t want to join my father’s business which is what he wants me to do.
Isaac: I’m going to write and develop computer games. I’ve already written a couple. Do you want me to show you? We can all play this one. (Fires up computer, gaming commences, rest of interview delayed by several hours.)

What is your favourite food?

Danni: Pasta – cooked by Isaac’s mum. She’s Italian you know.
Gracie: Chocolate. Yeah, I’m a bit of a chocoholic.
Isaac: Anything cooked by anyone other than my mum. Everyone else seems to think her food is great. Not me.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Danni: Hang out with Isaac. Watch films. I love going to the cinema it’s kind of cool and retro. And I love buying hats!
Gracie: I actually like to draw, you know, comedy cartoony stuff. Caricatures of people I know – but I don’t dare let them see them – they’re far from flattering (giggles)
Isaac: Computer games, writing them, playing them. It’s important to play a lot so that I get to know the competition when I set up in business writing my own.

What is your biggest passion?

Danni: Hats. The madder the better. Hats are cool!
Gracie: Shopping. I love shopping for new clothes. And shoes. Man you should see all my shoes.
Isaac: Err, I think I just answered that – computer games.

What annoys you the most?

Danni: People who tell me not to do things. Like teachers.
Gracie: Boys who come on to me when I’m not interested
Isaac: When I can’t play my computer games! Want to see another one? (Gaming recommences)

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A Bit of Blog Housekeeping

Over the years I've posted a lot of writing advice on this blog and much of it is hidden in the archives. So I thought it was time I brought it all together in one place so that other writers who visit this blog can access it easily.

I've created a new page, Tips for Writers, which forms an index and contains links to all the useful writing and submission related posts I have made over the years. I plan to add more advice on here and so this page will be updated.

I have also hosted many wonderful guests, some at the starts of their careers and some who have gone on to be hugely successful. Another new page on the bar above called Guests provides an index linking to all their guest posts and interviews.

I think you might find some of them rather interesting - as well as recognising a few names!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Victorian Gadgetry

During the summer break we took a trip north, and one of the places we visited was Cragside House near Rothbury, Northumberland – and what a fabulous feast of Victorian gadgetry and technology was waiting for us!

The house is stunning, surrounded by a truly amazing rock garden and extensive grounds. It was built by a very successful Victorian industrialist, engineer and inventor Lord Armstrong (inventor of the hydraulic crane) and his touch was all around, even though the astronomical observatory and laboratory were long gone.

Cragside was the first domestic house to be lit using hydroelectric power and to this day electricity is generated on the premises using an Archimedes screw. In the ancient world the Archimedes screw was used to move water uphill, but in this case the action is reversed, the flow of water from the burn being used to turn the screw which in turn runs the generator that provides electric power to the house.

The gadgets and devices inside the house were equally exciting. The house was fitted with a lift which which was controlled by a hydraulic pump and in one of the rooms I found this wonderful example of an early Victorian electric fire.

But my favourite was this – ever the practical man - the kitchen was fitted with a Victorian version of a dishwasher!

Cragside House is owned by the National Trust and well worth a visit if you are ever up that way.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Ten books you really ought to read:

I love discovering new books, especially those hidden gems that you stumble across unexpectedly – books that deserve far more attention than they have actually received. So I’ve put together a list of ten books that you may not have come across but I think you really ought to read:

1. Waking Up Dead by Emma Shortt
Part zombie apocalypse, part road trip, part love story.
Amazon UK  Amazon US

2. By the Sea by Henry Gee
Gothic horror meets modern day detectives.
Amazon UK Amazon US

3. Isle of Larus by Kathy Sharpe
Whimsical fantasy with a wry touch of humour.
Amazon UK Amazon US

4. Complicit by Gillian Hamer
Detective drama with a paranormal twist.
Amazon UK Amazon US

5. Saxons Bane by Geoffrey Gudgeon
When prehistory and the modern world collide.
Amazon UK Amazon US

6. The Museum of the Future by Anderw May
A collection of SF shorts to dip in and out of.
Amazon UK Amazon US

7. The Other Side of Here by Shuna Meade
Another collection with a general sense of otherness
Amazon UK Amazon US

8. The Descendant by MG Harris
Techno-thriller set in the same world as The Joshua Files
Amazon UK Amazon US

9. The Boy Who Buried Dead Things by Colin Mulhern
Gritty YA crime that will keep you hooked
Amazon UK Amazon US

10. On Parson’s Creek by Richard Sutton
There’s something mysterious in the woods!
Amazon UK Amazon US

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Skylarks and Storyslingers

One of the main disadvantages for a writer of living in a remote corner of rural England, is the fact that the publishing industry tends to be very London orientated. As a result opportunities to network with agents and publishers are few and far between.

But one such opportunity did arise recently when the relatively new Skylark Literary Agency decided to venture out from the city and visit writers around the country. One of their visits on this tour was to the Storyslingers writers group in Shaftesbury.

I felt particularly honoured because the Storyslingers invited me along to give an author’s perspective on the industry, so I packed up my bag of books and hit the road north.

The drive to Shaftesbury is, for me, a long and winding one, not helped by the fact that Friday is changeover day and the roads are clogged with holidaymakers. Or that this particular Friday every tractor in Dorset seemed to be on the same road as me!

The venue for the talk was in Gold Hill museum, at the top of that pretty hill, immortalised by the Hovis advert of the 1970s. The Room we were in looked out across the fields and hills and the view was stunning.

Amber and Jo spoke to us about the agenting business, what they provide for their authors and what they are looking for in clients. The Q&A which followed covered all aspects from negotiation of contracts to the agent author relationship and the use of pen names.

It was a lovely evening, interesting and insightful, wonderful to see the Storyslingers again and to chat with Amber and Jo. So thank you to the Storyslingers for organising such a useful and informative event, and to Skylark for coming all that way to talk to us. It was really nice to meet Amber and Jo in person –it’s always good meeting an online acquaintance in the real world!

Here’s a picture of us at the top of Gold Hill. We’re standing on a slope though so I’m not as tall as I appear.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Book Launches - Lessons Learned

I’ve now launched two books into the world; my YA novel Red Rock which came out in September 2013 and, just the other week, my collection of short stories The Scribbling Sea Serpent, published by CFZ Publishing.

For both these books I organised a book launch – but the launches couldn’t have been more different.

For Red Rock I booked out my local village hall and invited people who I knew locally, or who I knew had an interest in the book – parents and teachers from my children’s school – a local book group etc.

For The Scribbling Sea Serpent I organised and online launch by setting up an event on Facebook.

Both events were successful in their own way but there were definitely things I could have done better. And so I thought I would share my ‘lessons learned’.

The first problem with the physical launch of Red Rock was working out how many books to have available. I discussed it with the bookseller who was supplying the books and running the stall and we reckoned that, with just over 100 people coming, roughly half to a third would buy books, and so we ordered 50.

We were wrong. What we hadn’t reckoned on were the multiple purchases people made. Often they wanted a copy for each of their children or grandchildren or nephews and nieces. It was September and people were already starting to think about Christmas presents. And of course the book group representatives were bulk buying too. The end result was that the books sold out in 40 minutes and the poor booksellers were subjected to an awful lot of grief!

So lesson 1 – make sure you have enough books!

Of course, with the online book launch this wasn’t an issue. The books were available from Amazon and all I had to do was provide a link. The paperback soon ran out but kindle downloads never do.

But that’s not to say the online launch wasn’t without its issues.

Yes the books were readily available at the click of a mouse and obviously since all the refreshments were virtual this cost me nothing and there were no glasses or crumbs to clear up afterwards.

But my first mistake was setting the event to private rather than public. Private appears to be the default and once I realised what I had done people had already been invited and accepted. When I tried to change it I found that Facebook doesn’t allow you to. The only thing I could have done was to delete it and start again. I was therefore reliant on guests inviting other guests since I couldn’t share the link to the event in any of my networks. As a result I didn’t get the reach outside my own network of contacts that I could have done.

So lesson 2 – when setting up a Facebook launch event make sure you set it to public rather than private.

Whereas my physical book launch only went on for a couple of hours the online launch was set to run much longer. I ran it from 9am to 6pm at which point I had to head off to the creative writing course I was running. Unfortunately since the book is available worldwide this meant that people in other time zones who were coming online as I was leaving missed out. I’m not sure what I could have done about this one. Maybe I could have co-hosted it. Or asked someone to cover for me when I was away from the computer.

So lesson 3 – plan the timings to run across as many time zones as possible so that potential overseas customers do not miss out.

The event itself went well. I had a series of interesting and relevant links to post throughout the day and a number of discussion topics to start. It was really interesting to hear how many of my friends have seen a ghost or spotted a phantom big cat! There was lots of participation and a visible boost in sales.

But is a Facebook event the best platform for an online launch? The main disadvantage was that once it was over it ceased to be visible, and so all those interesting conversations were lost.

So lesson 4 isn’t really a lesson but more like a question. What other platforms could I have used for an online launch party?

Thursday, 2 July 2015

A Boagane and A Giveaway

My mother comes from a tiny village on the Isle of Man called Maughold (pronunciation Mack-uld). I grew up listening to the tales that she and my grandmother used to tell us – of the fairy folk and strange mythical creatures that prowled the cliffs and woodlands, the moorlands and the hills.

Over the years I’ve tried to track these legends down, but the names of these creatures are words I have only ever heard spoken and never seen written. And that is a problem with Manx words – how on Earth do I spell them to type them into google? Take Maughold for instance? See my point. (Okay, if you’re a Manx speaker it probably all makes sense. But in our family the language died with my Grandparents.)

However, at last I have managed to track one of these creatures down.

My Grandmother used to tell us about a horrible sprite that haunted the village with its screams – and this creature was called a Guv-Na-Scoot. A bit of imaginative googling later – and there it was! A Boagaine (or I believe more commonly Buggane) called a Gob-ny-Scuit.

Bugganes were demonic creatures said to be covered in black hair, with claws, tusks and a large red mouth. This particular one terrorized the inhabitants of Maughold with its terrible screeching when the wind blew in for a certain direction. However, a certain William Kinnish was determined to find the source of the periodic wailing that so worried his neighbours and did indeed  discover the source – a cleft in the cliff face that acted as an Aeolian harp when the wind blew in from a certain direction. And so the buggane was nothing more than a natural curiosity.

The cover art on my short story collection, The Scribbling Sea Serpent, relates to one of the stories inside called The Screechers. And the inspiration for this story was – yes, you’ve guessed it – the Gob-ny-Scuit.

And so on to the giveaway. I am offering up one signed copy of The Scribbling Sea Serpent and to enter please use the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Scribbling Sea Serpent – now out in paperback!

If you’ve been waiting to get your hands on a paperback copy of The Scribbling Sea Serpent then I’m delighted to be able to tell you that now you can.

Yes – the paperback edition is now available both from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)

However, if you prefer the electronic format then I’m afraid you are going to have to wait a few weeks.

I’m planning a number of exciting launch events to coincide with the Kindle edition coming online – I’ll be hosting a facebook party and you can expect there to be a giveaway too!

I will also be appearing at the Yeovil Literary Festival at the end of October to launch it to the physical world – so if you are in the vicinity I hope to see you there!

But more on all this nearer the time…

In the meantime, if you want to know a bit more about CFZ Publishing and maybe check out some of the other titles available under the Fortean Fiction imprint then do visit their website.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Cover Reveal - The Scribbling Sea Serpent

I am super delighted to be able to share this with you all today!

Here it is - the cover for my short story collection - coming soon from CFZ Publishing.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Creative Writing with Kate Kelly

Thursday evenings 18:00 - 20:00 at Dorchester Waterstones
Running from Thursday 4th June – Thursday 2nd July

Topics covered will include:

• Getting started – voice and setting
• Developing rounded characters
• Writing dialogue
• Point of View
• Plotting
• Getting published. Writing for a market.

The course will be suitable for all levels. Bring pen and paper and loads of enthusiasm. Participants will be encouraged to share their work.

Total cost: £80 per person

To book your place contact Kate at:

Places are limited so book now.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Guardian – Eco week and twitter chat

It’s Eco-Week over on the Guardian’s Children’s site, and a variety of authors have been contributing articles on all sorts of eco-related themes, from Piers Torday talking about why Cli-Fi isn’t Sci-Fi to Helen Skelton talking about how her kayaking expedition up the Amazon inspired her new book.

I was also fortunate enough to be invited to take part and today my top tips for writing an eco-adventure story goes live.

So do head over there and take a look – Here’s the link - and tonight why not join all the authors for a twitter chat #GdnEcoChat between 7 – 8 pm (UK time). I’ll be there and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may like to ask

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Why an Ouroboros?

It is an ancient symbol, the ouroboros, a serpent biting its own tail, as ancient as recorded history, and maybe older. It is a symbol common to many cultures, from the writings of ancient Egypt – where the snake god Mehen coils around the sun God Ra and protects him during his journey through the night - to the Norse legends of the serpent Jörmungandr; a creature so large it encircles the entire Earth, biting its own tail. When it lets go the world will end.

It is a global image, transcending cultures, found not just in Europe and the Middle East, India and China and Japan, but also in the art of Native American Indian tribes, and the Aztecs. The ouroboros truly is a symbol that encircles the world.

But what of its origins? What ancient mysteries does it seek to answer? Did our ancestors stare up at the marvels of the sky and see the Milky Way Spread above them like a serpent across the heavens? Did they wonder at the cyclical nature of the seasons, of day and night, of life itself? Does the ouroboros in some way encompass all these things; life and death, the universe, eternity?

I started keeping this blog shortly before I sold my first short story, to record my journey as a writer and share the things I learned along the way, celebrating each story sale and good review. So, as I bring my short stories together into one volume, it seems fitting that the title of this blog in turn has become the title of my collection – The Scribbling Sea Serpent has come full circle – a bit like the ouroboros!

So it is doubly fitting that this image of the serpent biting its tail, this ouroboros, symbolic on several different levels, should appear, not just on the cover of The Scribbling Sea Serpent, but also as a chapter heading at the start of each new story.

Expect to see the cover on here very soon. I can’t wait to share it with the world.

In the meantime do check out some of the other titles CFZ Publishing has out under its Fortean Fiction imprint.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Tides and Eclipses

Today the UK witnessed a partial eclipse. Where I was it was cloudy, too cloudy to see much, but I stood in the supermarket car park looking up at the sky as the world dimmed around me. It felt like it does on a stormy day as the thunder clouds gather, an odd brooding twilight. It was only as I drove home that the clouds thinned enough for me to glimpse a pale crescent through the haze.

Photo  © Ciara Kelly
The last eclipse, in 1999, down here in the west, was far more dramatic. We gathered round a friend’s house as the light faded and the gulls began to roost and toasted the darkness with champagne. There was the same strange gloomy twilight, but the dimming was much more pronounced since we were not far from totality. The light fell suddenly, as if some celestial being was turning down the dimmer switch. The birds fell silent, and over on Portland we could see the flashes from people’s cameras in the shadow. Then the light returned equally swiftly.

But more dramatic as far as I am concerned – and I am a Marine Scientist after all so perhaps this is not surprising - was the super low spring tide this morning. We walked right out, almost up to the Sea Life tower without getting our feet even slightly wet. I haven’t seen it out quite so far before – and tomorrow’s low tide will be even lower! Of course, there will be a corresponding high high tide in a few hours time, so I might pop down and see how the flood defences are holding up. In the meantime, here a couple of pictures.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Editing Process

Progress is being made with my short story collection, The Scribbling Sea Serpent. The stories were collated and sent to the publisher, and now I am working on the edits.

Editing can broadly be divided into three stages. This applies not just to this collection, but also to longer works. In fact the editing process I went through with Red Rock followed broadly the same pattern.

1. Structural Edits.

This is the stage where major changes will be identified. These may include changes to the plot and the sequence of events. Scenes may be added or removed. A character may need development. Two characters may need to be combined into one.

The degree of structural edits required can vary. It depends on the vision of the publisher, and how much they feel the work needs to be developed.

In this case, with a short story collection, the structural edits consisted mainly of changing the running order, moving some of the more SF stories further back in the collection and bringing some of the more weird fiction or Fortean stories to the fore.

The stories themselves required little in the way of structural edits although I was asked to make some changes to the ending of one of them.

2. Line Edits.

These are the detailed edits, changing the structure of a sentence to make things clearer, deleting repetitions, or making a clarification. Inconsistencies can be ironed out. Does a character’s eye colour change?

Since several of these stories had already been published and therefore edited these were relatively minor, although some inconsistencies did come to light – in particular where I had used American spellings in some cases and British spellings in others.

Factual errors were identified. In one story I had described a font as being porcelain. I’ve no idea why, when I know it’s made of limestone! I also changed the title of another.

3. Copy Edits.

This is the final stage before a book goes off to the printers, and is one where the author makes little input, other than perhaps a final read through, just in case a fresh pair on eyes can pick up on something the copy editor might have missed.

Copy edits are the final check for typos and formatting errors, for example, are straight or curved quotation marks being used consistently throughout? This is the fine tuning stage.

A good editor is the writer’s best friend. However perfect we may think out work is when we send it off to the publisher there’s always something that can be improved, and this is where a good editor is so essential.

But of course, remember that this is a two way process. If your editor suggests something that you really don’t agree with then discuss it with them. Remember, it’s your story at the end of the day. 

Monday, 23 February 2015

A Short Story Collection

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been busy pulling a number of my short stories together into a collection. This is something I’ve been thinking of doing for a while, especially since a good number have already been published but have now gone out of print. I originally thought I might self-publish them, but then a friend of mine told me about a publisher he had been doing some work with, CFZ publishing. Like many small publishers they are quite niche, but their niche is one that fits well my style of fiction. So I’m going to give them a try.

But pulling your short stories together into a collection isn’t such an easy task, and here are a couple of things I’ve had to take into account:

Running order: This is a tricky one. The stories need to be sufficiently distinct from the ones they are adjacent to but not so different as to be jarring. I also wanted to mix up the previously published with the new material.

Opening stories: These are the ones that will appear on the kindle ‘look inside’ option and will determine whether the reader clicks the buy button or not. Therefore they need to give a good representation of the anthology and also be some of my better stories.

Final story: The collection needs to finish on a high note so the final story needs to pack a punch. This was quite easy. I have a piece of flash fiction that I feel rounds off the collection quite well.

Character names: I never noticed before that I have a tendency to reuse names. So for example where I had two stories featuring a character called Lucy, one of these needed to be changed, otherwise the reader might think the characters and the two stories are connected.

Editing: Some of my earlier stories, when I re-read them, needed a bit of tidying up since my writing has improved a lot over the years. Even some that have previously been published!

Title: Finally what should I call my collection? I thought about using the title from one of my short stories but none really stood out. Then my friend suggested I use the title from this blog. It is certainly fitting with the style of stories – science fiction and mild horror that could well be described as ‘weird fiction’, as well as echoing the cryptozoological bent of the publisher. So The Scribbling Seaserpent it shall be.

Early days yet – but I’ll keep you up to date with developments.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Dorset’s Digital Stories

On a bright but bitter February morning I was joined in my local village hall by thirteen eager writers. The reason for this? Well, the Dorset Writers’ Network is running a competition for local writers. The aim is to produce an e-book with stories up to 500 words, which reflect the diversity of the county. In order to encourage people to put pen to paper a series of workshops were scheduled at rural locations during January and February, and I was one of the writers involved in running these.
As sunshine streamed in through the windows of the Old School Hall we explored setting and sense of place. We then went on character development and touched on dialogue and self-editing. I could see some really interesting stories starting to develop and I do hope the participants go on to complete these and enter them. Workshop participants can enter their first story for free but even if you didn’t attend a workshop you are still able to enter.

The Dorset Writers’ Network is run by professional writers and arts facilitators and its aim is to promote events, projects and training opportunities for writers in the county. The Dorset’s Digital Stories project is funded by Arts Council England's Grants for the Arts and Dorset Community Foundation and the book is scheduled to be published later this year.

For more details and to check out the competition rules visit the Dorset Writers Network website.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Look Again

Over the next few weeks the Dorset Writers Network will be running a series of short story writing workshops in various rural locations across Dorset. These are leading up to the launch of Dorset Writers Network e-book competition for short stories of 500 words or less set within the county.
One of the main things we will be discussing in these workshops is sense of place. All the stories are to be set in Dorset, and so sense of place will be a major component of any work produced. In fact capturing a good sense of place is essential in any story. The reader needs to feel grounded and be part of that setting. Place can become a character in its own right.
But what of Dorset? What sense of place does the county conjure up for you? Is everything quite what it seems?

Do you imagine a sea front, golden sand and donkey rides, children eating ice cream and splashing in the sea, easy laughter and sunshine?

Look again.

A homeless person shivering under a sleeping bag in a bus shelter. Desperate. Alone.

Perhaps you see a pretty harbour, yachts with jolly flags and trawlers sporting bunches of pink buoys? Sitting eating chips and watching children fishing for crabs?

Look again.

An empty mooring with floral tributes. Memories of fishermen who did not return. The sea is not kind.

Maybe you see pretty cottages by a stream, honeysuckle and thatch, kingfishers darting over the water?

Look again,

Sandbags in front of the doors that were still not enough to hold out the floods. Boarded up windows, garden a tangle of weeds.

Or do you see green fields and grazing cattle, swathes of poppies beneath the summer sun, clouds of butterflies along the footpath?

Look again.

Crops flattened by a storm and rotting in the field. Another farm up for auction.

Look again. What do you see?

For details of Workshops and to see if there is one close to where you live check out the Dorset Writers Network website, and do join us for the launch of the e-book competition at Dorchester library on 24th January.