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Monday, 11 May 2020

VEG OUT!


This week (11-17 May 2020) is National Vegetarian Week in the UK.  Whilst I’m not a vegetarian myself, I do have a keen interest in meat-free food, and a few years ago I did some research into the basic principles of vegetarian and vegan cookery.

Officially, a vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat in any form, and this includes fish, shellfish and poultry.  Vegans take this principle one stage further, and do not consume any animal-derived derived products at all.

So how do those who don’t eat meat obtain the protein they need in their diet?

The answer is: surprisingly easily.  Proteins consist of 22 different amino acids, of which eight are essential to our health.  Non-meat proteins contain some – but not always all – of these eight essential amino acids.  The secret of getting all your protein from non-meat sources is simply knowing how to combine foods to ensure that all eight amino acids are present. 

Non-meat sources of protein fall into four main categories:

GRAINS: Rice, cereal, corn, wheat (including bread and pasta)

PULSES: Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts (which, despite their name, are not actually nuts)

MILK PRODUCTS: Milk, cheese, yoghurt

SEEDS (including nuts)

Three basic combinations of these food groups will provide the eight essential amino acids.  These combinations are:

GRAINS + PULSES

GRAINS + MILK PRODUCTS

PULSES + SEEDS

It might sound complicated, but it isn't.  In fact, you might already be eating some of these combinations without even realising it.  For example, beans on toast combines grains and pulses, and cheese on toast combines grains and milk.  One point worth remembering when planning a meal is that all the protein doesn’t necessarily have to be in the main course.

You don’t need to be a vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian food.  To find out more about National Vegetarian Week, click on the link at the beginning of this article.  If you’d like to know more about vegetarianism and/or veganism in general, including some tempting recipes, take a look at The Vegetarian Society website and The Vegan Society website.

Happy cooking!

Saturday, 9 May 2020

FIFTEEN MINUTES OF LOCKDOWN SILLINESS

Yesterday morning I spent some time chatting on Skype with my very good friend and fellow-author David W Robinson.  This was the eventual result:



You can find out more about David and his writings on his own website: www.dwrob.com.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

BOOK REVIEW: 52 WEEKS OF WRITING by Mariëlle S Smith



It's said that everyone has a book inside them. 

As more and more of us face having to stay indoors and avoid social contact, this would be a wonderful opportunity to find that book.

This amazing workbook will be a great help to any writer, from complete beginners to published authors, via any stage in between.  Accessible and understandable but not over-simplistic, it helps you to set your writing goals and - just as important - to keep to them.  I've found it invaluable in combatting the dreaded writer's block.  Highly recommended.

Read on for more details about the book, and news of an exciting giveaway.



52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner

Are you ready to become the writer you were always meant to be?
52 Weeks of Writing will get you cracking by making you plan, track, reflect on, and check in with your progress and goals an entire year long.
52 Weeks of Writing will help you dig deep by offering questions and writing prompts designed to unravel whatever truths about your writing you’re ready for.
52 Weeks of Writing will keep you inspired by delivering a thought-provoking writing quote every week.

-          Do you struggle with setting goals that reflect your daily reality?
-          Do you want to practise breaking goals down into manageable chunks?
-          Would you like more insight into your writing habit(s) and figure out why you keep getting in your own way?
-          And do you want to create a sustainable writing practice that honours your needs and desires as a writer?

Then the 52 Weeks of Writing: Author Journal and Planner is for you.
52 Weeks of Writing brings together every lesson Mariëlle S. Smith has learned as a writing coach and writer. Wary as she is of comparisonitis and unhealthy competition, this author journal and planner was designed to help writers develop and fine-tune a practice that works for them.
If you’re ready to get out of your own way and become the writer you’re meant to be, pick up your copy of 52 Weeks of Writing today.

Purchase Link



Author Bio –

Social Media Links –



Giveaway to win….
·         THREE paperback copies of the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner,
·         ONE coaching session.

          
To enter, just click on this link:



Sincere thanks to Rachel's Random Resources for the opportunity to take part in this blog tour.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

WHAT A REVELATION!

On Thursday evening (27th February) I went to Prestwich Library for a very special event: the launch of Jo Fenton's latest thriller Revelation.  I had the pleasure of working with Jo as editor of this novel, and I can assure you that she's really excelled herself this time.

To whet your appetite, here she is, reading the opening pages:



UPDATE: IF YOU ARE HAVING TROUBLE WITH THE PLAYBACK, TRY HERE.


Revelation (A Becky White Thriller) 

Manchester, 1989 

A student, Rick, is found dead in halls of residence.  

His friends get caught up in the aftermath: Dan, who was in love with Rick; and Becky, who is in love with Dan.  

Their fraught emotions lead them into dark places - particularly a connection to a mysterious Kabbalistic sect.  

Will Becky discover who killed Rick in time to save her best friend?

Purchase Links:

Author Bio – Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her husband, two sons, a Corgi and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.

Social Media Links – Website www.jofenton137.com          

Thanks to Rachel's Random Resources for the opportunity to take part in this blog tour.

Friday, 28 February 2020

CROOKED CAT AUTHOR OF THE WEEK - DAY SEVEN: THE NEXT CHAPTER

Today is the last day of my series of posts as Crooked Cat's featured author, and I'd like to bring you up to date with my latest news and my plans for the future.

At present I have six novels published, and all of them started out with Crooked Cat.  Three of them (Nice Girls Don't, Never on Saturday and Finding Nina) are still published by Crooked Cat, whilst Heathcliff: The Missing Years is now with Crooked Cat's Darkstroke imprint, about which I spoke in more detail yesterday.  The other two (The Ghostly Father and The Unkindest Cut of All), following reversion of rights, were revised and re-released through Ocelot Press.



Ocelot Press is a small group of independent authors who publish our books under a collective umbrella.  At present we have 20 books available, with more releases planned for the next few months.  If you want to know more, take a look at our website and our Facebook page.

The Ghostly Father has also recently been released as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by Danielle Cohen and Philip Rose.  This is a brand-new venture for me, and I shall be very interested to see how it fares.

In the meantime, I have a couple of fiction projects on the go, and I'm also working (very slowly) on a poetry collection.   Whether any of these ever see the light of day remains to be seen.  But if you want to keep up to date with what I'm doing, please follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Amazon.

Thank you for keeping me company this week.  And don't forget, you can still buy all my Kindle titles for just 99p each by clicking on the book covers on the right.  Do it now, before the prices go back up!

Thursday, 27 February 2020

CROOKED CAT AUTHOR OF THE WEEK - DAY SIX: OVER TO THE DARK SIDE

After hearing his love say him "Nay",
he runs, broken-hearted, away.
Three years later, he's back,
having made quite a stack.
What went on in between?  Who can say?

Who indeed?  What did happen to Heathcliff during the three years when he disappeared from Wuthering Heights?

This is one of literature's most enduring mysteries, and back in 2018 I set myself the task of trying to solve it.

It proved to be quite a challenge, because the dates in Wuthering Heights are very precise.  Heathcliff disappeared in 1780 and returned in 1783.  My original idea was that he might have spent his missing years as a pirate, but I quickly discovered that the heyday of piracy was several decades too early.  I then wondered if he might have made his fortune in the American or Australian goldrush, but in both cases the goldrush years were not until the mid-1800s.  I eventually found an option which did fit with the correct dates, but if you want to find out what that was, you'll need to read Heathcliff: The Missing Years. (Psst - it's currently on special offer: the Kindle edition is just 99p for this week.)


The novel was first published by Crooked Cat on 30 July 2018, to coincide with the bicentenary of the birth of Emily Brontë.  The original book has now had a makeover and a brand new cover, and has recently moved to Darkstroke - the imprint of Crooked Cat which deals specifically with crime, thriller and horror. 

Darkstroke is currently open for submissions, and you can find the guidelines here.

Please join me again tomorrow for the final post in this series, when I'll be talking about what comes next.  In the meantime, remember that all my Kindle titles are just 99p each for this week only.  Click on the book covers on the right to find out more.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

CROOKED CAT AUTHOR OF THE WEEK - DAY FIVE: VERSE AND WORSE

As well as writing novels, I also occasionally like to try my hand at poetry.  Today I'd like to share some of it with you.  I know that poetry isn't everyone's cup of Lapsang Souchong, so if you don't want to know the score, look away now.


This blog actually began life as a poetry blog for National Poetry Writing Month 2013.  This event takes place every year throughout the month of April.  Each day a prompt appears on the NaPoWriMo website, and poets throughout the world are invited to take up the challenge and post their efforts on their blogs.  The latter probably calls for far more bravery than the actual writing.

Here is one such pathetic effort from that far-off time:

THE BALLADEUSE'S LAMENT

There once was a wannabe poet
whose verses were dire, sad to say.
Then one April, she found NaPoWriMo:
thirty days of a poem a day.

Each morning she looked at the website,
and in the available time
she grappled with form, structure, metre,
enjambement, content and rhyme.

'Twas the twenty-fifth day of the challenge:
"Write a ballad" the task on the site,
but by bedtime she'd still written nothing
and her muse had retired for the night.

She woke up at three in the morning
with a wondrous idea in her head,
but she could not write down this great epic,
for alas she'd no pen by her bed.

Then sleep once again overcame her
and hijacked her poor addled brain.
On waking, her great inspiration
had vanished like snow in the rain.

And if this sad tale has a moral,
it is this: always be on your guard,
for if you let go of the moment
you'll never succeed as a bard.


My blog even owes its title to poetry.  Fans of Robert Browning (I'm sure there must be some of you out there) will probably recognise the sly reference to one of his best-known works.  Here is an unashamed spoof of one of his others:

THE PIED PIPER OF LIMERICK

A small town in a faraway nation
had a terrible rat infestation,
about which the mayor
appeared not to care
(to the townspeople’s rage and frustration).

The plague had become so acute
that the townsfolk were quite resolute:
“We must do something here!”
Then who should appear
but a man in a weird coloured suit.

“I see you’ve a problem,” said he.
“Now listen: if I guarantee
to dispose of your rats,
give me one thousand crowns.  That’s
my fee.”  Said the mayor, “I agree.”

The stranger, with fingers a-quiver,
piped a tune which made all the folk shiver.
But the hypnotic air
made the rats leave their lair
and leap to their deaths in the river.

Oh, great was the joy in the town!
Then the piper said “My thousand crowns?”
When the mayor, looking shifty,
just offered him fifty,
the piper’s smile turned to a frown.

He glared, strode out into the square,
and, raising his pipe in the air,
played another refrain.
The town’s children came
and followed him – Heaven knows where.

The mayor’s desperate pleas went in vain,
for the children were ne’er seen again.
So the lesson inferred
is “You must keep your word”
and to think otherwise is insane!


If you're still with me, well done.  Go and pour yourself a stiff drink.  

Please join me again tomorrow, when I'll be talking about going over to the dark side.  In the meantime, don't forget that all my Kindle titles are just 99p each for this week only.  Click on the book covers on the right to find out more.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

CROOKED CAT AUTHOR OF THE WEEK - DAY FOUR: THE CAN OF WORMS

When I eventually came back down to earth after the publication of The Ghostly Father, it gradually dawned on me that if I wanted to be a serious writer, I'd need to get something else out there fairly soon.

For my next project, I resorted to the safe principle: Write About What You Know.  In my case, this was family history.  Little did I know where this would lead...

I'd been interested in the subject for most of my life - ever since the time when, as a teenager, I discovered a baffling puzzle about my surname.  Unlike most of my dad's side of the family (who all had a nice simple surname which was easy to spell and easy to pronounce), we were blighted with one which I hated so much that I'm not even prepared to tell you what it was.  This anomaly was strange enough on its own, but even more mysterious was the conspiracy of silence which surrounded it.  When I asked how it had arisen, the only reply was a single whispered hint of a possible illegitimacy in a previous generation - followed by the clear message that the subject must never be discussed again.

It took me more than thirty years to find out exactly what had happened.  And when I did eventually get to the bottom of it, it opened up not one but two cans of worms.

Once I'd got over the surprise of what I'd discovered, I realised that the story was too good to simply set aside - and in due course it found its way into the plot of my second novel, Nice Girls Don't.  This book is centred on the search for family secrets, and the discovery that old sins can cast long shadows.



After Nice Girls Don't was published (also by Crooked Cat), I realised that one loose end had been unintentionally left dangling.  Luckily it didn't affect the outcome of that story, but it did go on to provide the plot of the spin-off novel Finding Nina.  The latter is also about family secrets, and is (to date) the only one of my books which made me cry as I was writing it.  That must prove something, though I'm not quite sure what.


I once heard it said (I forget by whom) that once you've opened a can of worms, the only way you can put them back is by using a larger can.  I don't think I've necessarily achieved that, but I hope that capturing them in the pages of a book creates an acceptable alternative.

Please join me again tomorrow, when I'll be showing you something completely different.  In the meantime, don't forget that all my Kindle titles are just 99p each for this week only.  Click on the book covers on the right to find out more.

Monday, 24 February 2020

CROOKED CAT AUTHOR OF THE WEEK - DAY THREE: FROM EDITOR TO AUTHOR

It's said that everyone has a book inside them.  The difficulty is finding how to get it out.

For me, the trigger was finding one of those lists of Things You Must Do Before You Die.  The one which caught my attention was Write The Book You Want To Read.

I've always loved the story of Romeo & Juliet, but I've often thought, This is the world's greatest love story - so why does it have to end so badly? The book I've always wanted to read is the alternative version of Romeo & Juliet - the one in which the star-cross'd lovers don't fall victim to a maddeningly preventable catastrophe.

Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book?  And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed?  And if it doesn't exist, then go ahead and write it.

I mulled over the idea, but it took a while before anything definite happened.  I'd dabbled with Creative Writing in the past, and had taken a few courses on the subject, but I'd never attempted to write anything longer than poems, articles, short stories, or the occasional stroppy letter to The Times.  The thought of tackling a full-length novel, even one on a subject about which I felt so strongly, was a daunting prospect.  Then, in one of those serendipitous moments which really make one believe in Guardian Angels, I was browsing in a bookshop in France when I came across a novel which took the form of the lost diary of a woman who had been the secret lover of Count Dracula.  A voice in my mind whispered, "A lost diary?  You could do something like this..."

The eventual result was The Ghostly Father.  When I started writing it I had no real aim to have it published; I was writing it for myself, because it was the outcome I'd always wanted.  But when I'd finished the first draft (which took about six months) I showed it to a couple of close friends.  They both said, "This is good.  You really ought to take it further."

I'd recently joined the editing team of Crooked Cat Books, and I realised that here was a publisher who would consider taking on new authors.  When I noticed they were open for submissions, I took a large swig of Dutch Courage and pressed SEND.  I wasn't very hopeful, so when I received the email from them telling me they wanted to publish it, I had to print it out and re-read it four times before I could convince myself that I hadn't imagined the whole thing.



The title is based on a quotation from the play (it's how Romeo addresses the character of Friar Lawrence), and the story, which is a sort of part-prequel, part-sequel to the original tale, is told from the Friar's point of view.  I've always been fascinated by the Friar and have often wondered why he behaved as he did - and by giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I've tried to offer some possible answers.  Plus, of course, I wanted to reduce the overall body-count, and give the lovers themselves a rather less tragic dénouement.  In the six years since its original release, judging by the number of people who have bought it, read it, and  been kind enough to say they've enjoyed it, it seems as though I'm not by any means the only person who prefers the alternative ending.

The Ghostly Father was officially released on St Valentine's Day 2014.  It spent four wonderful years with Crooked Cat, then (following reversion of rights) it was revised and re-released via Ocelot Press.  I'll tell you a bit more about Ocelot later in the week.

Please join me again tomorrow, when I'll tell you what happened next.  In the meantime, don't forget that all my Kindle titles are just 99p each for this week only.  Click on the book covers on the right to find out more.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

CROOKED CAT AUTHOR OF THE WEEK - DAY TWO: THE RED PEN

Being a writer has often been compared to having homework every night for the rest of your life. In which case, being an editor can perhaps be compared to having to mark that homework.

In the seven years since I first started working as an editor, during which I’ve edited more than 40 books in lots of different genres (historical, contemporary, crime, thriller, romance, fantasy, YA), I’ve been asked quite a few times: What exactly does an editor do?



Authors, your editor is your friend, not your critic - someone who will work closely with you to produce a pristine manuscript which will, in turn, become a published work. One of the biggest problems with being a writer is the danger of becoming so involved with one’s own work that one loses all sense of objectivity.   Take this from one who knows...

This is the point at which the writer needs an extra pair of eyes. The editor, who is in the privileged position of being the first person to see the manuscript from the point of view of the reader, is that extra pair of eyes.

An editor is much more than just a proofreader. True, an editor does need to keep an eagle eye open for typos, spelling mistakes, punctuation slips and grammar gaffes – but the editor also needs to be on the lookout for other things that don’t necessarily fall within the proofreader’s remit. These might include:
  • Continuity errors. For example, an object which is yellow in one scene inexplicably becomes blue in another. Or a character previously seen in one location suddenly appears somewhere else with no plausible explanation.
  • Factual errors. These could be anything from glaring historical inaccuracies to something as mundane as a particular plant being in flower at the wrong time of year.
  • Incorrect local references. A story set in Portugal would not have the natives speaking Spanish.
  • Loose ends left dangling. If an object is lost, either it needs to be found, or a convincing reason must be given for its failure to reappear.
  • Dangling modifiers.  These are phrases where the word order has a direct bearing on the meaning. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the old chestnut I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith – to which the standard response is What’s the name of his other leg?
  • Passages where some details might need more clarification. This usually happens when an idea has formed in the author’s head, but for some reason has never actually made it on to the page.
  • Possible issues of copyright when quoting from other sources.
  • Ensuring that the presentation of the manuscript complies with the publisher’s house style.
  • Sentences or paragraphs which need to be split or reformatted because they’ve come out too long or complicated. Like I’ve had to do with this one, in fact.
Another task for the editor is to make suggestions for improvement to the text, such as tightening up dialogue so that it doesn’t sound stilted, or trimming superfluous words or phrases (such as repeated use of “he said/she said”), or sometimes changing the structure of sentences so that they read more easily and clearly.

All of this is achieved by judicious use of the “Track changes” feature in MS Word. This wonderful tool is the e-quivalent of the teacher’s red pen. Changes suggested by the editor appear on the manuscript highlighted in red. The manuscript is then returned to the author, who has the choice of accepting or rejecting those changes. The author then might suggest more changes (which show up on the manuscript in blue), and returns the document to the editor. Rinse and repeat as necessary. When both author and editor are completely happy with the result, the final (squeaky-clean) manuscript is then returned to the publisher.

After that, a pre-publication proof is sent to the author for checking. This final check is very important, as typos or formatting errors can still creep in, even at this late stage. This happens more often than you might think!

Come to think of it, in many ways editing is a bit like housework: something that nobody ever notices unless it’s done badly. But it’s a fascinating and very worthwhile profession – and it also means I’m never short of good stuff to read!

Please come back tomorrow, when I'll tell you a little more about how I became a published author.  And don't forget: all my Kindle titles are just 99p each for this week only.  Click on the book covers on the right to find out more.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

CROOKED CAT AUTHOR OF THE WEEK - DAY ONE: HOW IT ALL BEGAN

My lovely publisher, Crooked Cat Books, is putting one of its authors in the spotlight each week for the next few weeks.  This week, starting today, it's my turn.  I'll start my run of daily posts right at the beginning, with a few words about how it all started.

If someone had told me, ten years ago, that by now I would be a published author six times over and the editor of more than forty other books, I would have seriously questioned their powers of prediction.

I’d dabbled with writing, on and off, for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until after a life-changing event in 2004 that I began to take it more seriously.  I took several courses in Creative Writing in its various forms, but even then, much of what I wrote was of a personal nature, either kept private or shared only with family and a few close friends. 

The turning-point was when I decided to take an additional course – this time in Editing and Rewriting – early in 2013.  My original aim was to learn how to cast a more critical eye over my own work, but one skill which was taught during that course was how to edit what other people had written.  By the time the course had ended, I found myself thinking: Maybe I could do this.  Even if I can’t make it as a writer myself, I might at least be of some use to those who can.  And it would also be a perfect opportunity to channel the interminable rantings of my Inner Pedant into a force for good.

A few weeks later I noticed that Crooked Cat Publishing was advertising for new people to join their editing team.  I applied, they were brave enough to take me on, and it wasn’t long before I was working on the first of what would be many editing assignments.

The step from editor to author took a few more months.  I’d been secretly working on a manuscript which began life in response to the prompt Write The Book You Want To Read.  At the time I was writing it just for myself, but a couple of close friends suggested that other people might want to read it too.  Crooked Cat agreed, and my debut novel was released in February 2014.  Nobody was more surprised than I was when it achieved bestseller status.

Here I am, six years and five more books later, still not quite able to believe that any of it really happened.

Join me again tomorrow, when I’ll tell you a little more about what it’s like to be an editor.

In the meantime, all my Kindle title are just 99p each for this week only.  Click on the book covers on the right to find out more.