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Thursday 31 July 2014

Challenging Traditional Views

Today I have the honour to be the blog guest of my dear friend Ailsa Abraham.  I'm talking about how my two novels both throw down the gauntlet to traditional (and sometimes inappropriate) attitudes.  

Click here to hop over and take a look!

Monday 28 July 2014

Not the Booker Prize

I've just been told that The Ghostly Father has made it to the longlist for the Guardian 2014 Not the Booker Prize award!

There's some pretty stiff competition out there, and I'll be very surprised if it gets any further.  But all the same, I'd like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who nominated it, and to everyone who (I hope) will cast a vote for it before the deadline of midnight on Sunday 3 August.

All details (including how to vote) can be found here.

In the meantime, I'm off to pour myself a very large drink...

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Goodreads Reviews

I haven't looked at Goodreads for a while, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the lovely reviews for The Ghostly Father.  Thank you everyone! 

Tuesday 22 July 2014

WHO WRITES ABOUT PLACE? - A guest post by Miriam Drori

Today I'm honoured to welcome on to my blog my great friend and writing buddy Miriam Drori.  

Miriam and I first "met" back in 2012, when we were students in the same online romance-writing workshop.  Since then we have met in person twice, when Miriam has visited the UK.  And our novels from that workshop have now both been published by Crooked Cat.

One thing I noticed particularly about Miriam's novel, Neither Here Nor There (set partly in Jerusalem and partly in London), is its wonderful sense of place.  So I asked Miriam if she might like to write a blog post about place.

Over to you, Miriam…


Who writes about place?

This is the first of two posts I’m doing about place. The second will probably be on Tim Taylor’s blog (although he doesn’t know it yet).

Place is important for us all. It defines our roots and our bases. It goes a long way to defining who we are. It affects everything we create, whether it’s writing, pictures, music or anything else. Off the top of my head, I came up with several song lines about place:

Songs using the word ‘place’

·         There are places I remember – Beatles
·         I had to find the passage back to the place I was before – Eagles (Hotel California)
·         There’s a place for us – West Side Story

Songs about home

·         I’m coming home, I’ve done my time (Tie a Yellow Ribbon)  - Tony Orlando & Dawn
·         The Green, Green Grass of Home  – Tom Jones
·         Homeward Bound – Simon & Garfunkel

I can think of songs about specific places: London, Marakesh, Paris, California.

Of the songs I know in Hebrew (my second language), there are some about Tel-Aviv, Beit She’an, Galillee, the Dead Sea and of course Jerusalem. Also London, San Fransisco, Cairo and other parts of the world. Other songs that invoke place are: Things you see from there, you don’t see from here and Closed kindergarten.

So what about place in writing? Several writers have been quoted as saying, in different ways, that without a place there is no story. The place in question can be real or imaginary, as small as a room or as large as the universe. Whatever it is, our job is to make the reader see it and understand our story in terms of it. So one answer to my question is: all writers write about place.

While that is true, place features more strongly in some stories, even becoming an additional character, while in others it is not so important. Writers who delve deeply into place, it seems to me, are those who have moved countries at least once, or those who have travelled widely.

Last year, I attended an Arvon course in a wonderful setting in Devon. Both the course tutors, and the guest tutor too, have travelled. Ben Faccini has lived in three countries, giving him the right background to write The Water Breather, a novel about a boy and his family who are constantly on the move. Jean McNeil moved from Canada to the UK and has travelled extensively. Her stories are driven by settings all over the world. Anjali Joseph, who is from India, has studied in the UK, and her novels also span countries.
One of several writing seminars I attended this year, called “Wish you were here,” discussed writing about place. The Israeli tutor, Ayelet Tsabari, now lives in Canada and is very conscious of place in her writing. She gave us plenty of good advice, and also mentioned one problem when she read out a scene from one of her stories. She said Canadian and other audiences find the Israeli scene exotic while for us (those attending the seminar) it would seem ordinary.

I had the same thought when I described the setting of my novel, Neither Here Nor There, as exotic. There will be some for whom the setting of Jerusalem is not at all exotic. However, seeing a familiar place through strange eyes can be enlightening, too. Things you take for granted can take on a different light.

Esty, the heroine of Neither Here Nor There, sees familiar places from a very different perspective, now that she has drastically changed her way of life.

 Machane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem, one of many places featured in Neither Here Nor There

Miriam Drori was born and brought up in London, and now lives in Jerusalem where her daughter has left her to hold the female fort against three males.

Following careers as a computer programmer and a technical writer, Miriam has been writing creatively for the past ten years and has had short stories published online and in anthologies. Neither Here Nor There, published on 17 June 2014, is her first published novel.

Miriam began writing in order to raise awareness of social anxiety. Since then the scope of her writing has widened, but she hasn’t lost sight of her original goal.

Miriam’s website:

Neither Here Nor There is available from Crooked Cat BooksAmazon and Smashwords

Tuesday 15 July 2014

POCKETING THE EXPERIENCE - the story behind Nice Girls Don't

Back in 2008 I did an online Creative Writing course with the Open University.  It was called Start Writing Fiction, and lasted for about three months.  As part of the course the students were set two tutor-marked assignments, one of which involved writing about an emotion. 

The choice of emotion was left up to us, but were advised by our tutor that it was much easier to write convincingly about a negative emotion (such as anger) than about a positive one such as happiness or contentment.  Having tried both, I very quickly discovered that she was right; my attempt at a “positive” piece sounded trite and shallow, whereas the “negative” emotion produced a powerful passage which was so toe-curlingly harrowing that I still cringe whenever I read it.  But the tutor did give me full marks for it, so in that respect at least I must have done something right.

But for a very long time after that, I found I couldn’t write anything which wasn’t dark, or brooding, or in some cases downright depressing.  This wasn’t, I hasten to add, because of any serious angst in my own life – it was purely and simply because I’d got into the mindset that the only way I could write anything “serious” was by going over to the dark side.  Even when, a couple of years later, I made a tentative start on writing a novel (more about that later) I still found it very difficult to shake off that doom-laden mantle.

Then, in January 2012, I chanced across an advertisement for an online workshop run by Sally Quilford, on the subject of writing Pocket Novel romances.  Romance writing was something I’d never had the courage to tackle, but this six-week course looked interesting, manageable and affordable – and I desperately needed to learn how to lighten up my writing.  Despite (to my shame) knowing next to nothing about Pocket Novels, I signed up.

Before the course began I bought and read a few of the DC Thomson Pocket Novels.  It didn’t take long for me to realise that a Pocket Novel offers a lovely dose of escapism, and is usually intended to be read in a single sitting (ideally whilst either lounging on a sunny beach or curled up in front of a roaring log fire).  I ought to be able to write something like this, I thought.  After all, how hard can it be…?

How naïve of me.

I very quickly learned that writing a Pocket Novel is nowhere near as simple as the experts make it look.  Despite their modest price and unpretentious appearance, Pocket Novels are no less “proper” novels than those costing several times as much.  So much so that they are recognised by the mighty Romantic Novelists’ Association.  No trivial matter, then.

As I’d found during the OU “emotion” exercise, easy reading makes for very hard writing.  The story needs to be light but not bland, readable but not simplistic, and with likeable and credible characters and enough action and conflict to keep the reader’s interest until the last page.  Not easy, when the Pocket Novel Rulebook is (or at least was at the time) a long list of Thou-Shalt-Nots.  All plots need conflict, but how on earth can a writer produce a convincing plot when so many of the usual sources of conflict (crime, infidelity, divorce, death) are totally off-limits? 

And yet, under Sally’s expert tuition and kind encouragement, I eventually began to learn that yes, it is possible – if one regards conflict in terms of a problem that needs to be solved.  This can take the form of (for example) fear, or insecurity, or separation – all of which can be tackled without recourse to any of the traditionally more traumatic themes.  As one of the rules for a Pocket Novel is that the Happy Ever After ending is non-negotiable, the story is all about the journey towards it, and how those problems are overcome along the way.

By the end of the six weeks I had a title (Nice Girls Don’t), a hero, a heroine, a few secondary characters, a basic storyline and a selection of scenes.  Plus a whole new set of friends and writing buddies – all of whom are every bit as valuable to me as everything I learned during the course.  It took me another few months to produce the rest of the book – during which time one of the characters completely floored me by saying something which went on to change the entire course of the subplot.  Until then I had no idea that my fictional creations could take on personalities of their own!  Clearly I still had a lot to learn.

And that learning curve included one of the hardest lessons of all: rejection.  Nice Girls Don’t was turned down by both of the DC Thomson outlets – probably because it didn’t tick all their very stringent boxes.  I remain full of admiration for anyone who can manage to crack that very hard market.

So Nice Girls Don’t was relegated to the murky depths of my hard drive whilst I turned my attention back to the novel I’d started a couple of years earlier.  This was a retelling of the traditional Romeo & Juliet story, but a version in which the star-crossed lovers didn’t die.  At that stage I was writing it mainly for myself, because it was the ending I wanted, but I was now able to go back to the manuscript with a fresher and more critical eye, and a better knowledge of what a publisher might look for.  In short, the Pocket Novel workshop taught me how to take my writing more seriously and how to develop a more professional approach.  As a result I was able to fine-tune the manuscript and eventually submit it to a publisher.  The Ghostly Father, published by Crooked Cat Publishing, was officially released (very appropriately, given the subject-matter) on St Valentine’s Day 2014.

After Crooked Cat accepted The Ghostly Father, I was inspired to resurrect the manuscript of Nice Girls Don't and submit it to them.  Once again, they have been brave enough to take me on as an author.  Today, Nice Girls Don't (a romantic mystery set in 1982) is officially released.  And it still hasn't fully sunk in.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Gobsmacked, proud, and humbled - and a favour to ask please

Hello again, dear friends.  I wonder if I could ask you a HUGE favour?

Yesterday I discovered that The Ghostly Father has been nominated for the Guardian First Book Award for 2014, in the "books nominated by readers" category.  Needless to say, I was gobsmacked, proud and humbled, all at the same time.

But this is only the start.  If it's going to stand any chance of getting even to the longlist stage, it's going to need a lot of support - and that apparently includes the number of nominations it gets at this stage. So, if any of you (and/or any of your friends) have read it, enjoyed it, and think it stands any chance, please could I ask you to add your own nomination to the list?

Here's the link to the site.  All the instructions are in the main article, but briefly, you need to make your nomination in the "Comments" thread at the end of the article, beginning with the word "Nomination."  All nominations close at midnight on 13 July 2014.

Thank you all in advance :-)