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2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,600 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 60 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The power of adolescent fiction on the subconscious mind.

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I started writing novels in my late thirties but have been an avid reader all of my life. When I began penning my eighth book, The Ghost of Marchmont Hall, I knew that I wished to recreate the magic that I’d experienced when reading adolescent fiction such as, A Pattern of Roses by K.M Peyton and The Autumn Ghosts by Ruth M Arthur.

Both titles are now long out of print and I must have read them getting on for thirty years ago. But the effect these stories had upon my subconscious mind was clearly profound. Both novels explore a mystery from the past and interweave these events with the present day. The author then skilfully  shows how the resolving of the puzzle has impacted upon the main characters.

To a certain extent, all of my twelve novels play with similar themes and style of plotting. There is always a time shift between events past and present in my books. Of that much I was already aware.

But after finally tracking down a copy of The Autumn Ghosts this afternoon, I discovered something which made me gasp. This particular book was without a doubt the most evocative of my youth. I recalled certain elements of it – that the book was split into two parts; one exploring the summer that Millie spent with her grandparents on their country estate and the love affair she formed there, and the other half exploring the experiences of her granddaughter, returning to the same estate several decades later. What I did not recall, was that the place Millie visits is called Karasay.

When I read that, my heart skipped a beat. In my Imogen and Hugh Croft Mystery novels, the fictional Scottish island that Imogen comes from I named Garansay. I had no conscious awareness that the two locations had such similar names. When I was selecting an appropriate name, the idea must have presented itself from deep within the part of my brain which housed those long forgotten adolescent memories.

My intention was certainly not to plagiarise these works. In many respects, my books are quite different. They are adult mysteries and not YA fiction. However, this coincidence has illustrated just how powerful our adolescent reading experiences can be. Books read and re-read in our youth can have a significant impact upon our future creative endeavours and maybe even the way in which we approach our personal lives.

I hope that through my writing I am paying a compliment to those wonderful writers like K.M Peyton and Ruth M Arthur, who had the skill to touch me so deeply with their storytelling. If my books had the power to affect their readers in such a way I would be really very proud.

How small publishers and independents should prepare for Christmas

This is a blog that I wrote in the run up to Christmas last year. Is it now the run up to Christmas? Well, it’s November, so of course! It’s amazing how many of the observations still hold true, even with the book trade changing so rapidly as it has done in 2016.

The RetroReview

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As I am now a small retailer, having been up and running for over a couple of years, I know that Christmas is a crucial selling time and I need to be fully prepared for it.
First and foremost, I am a writer and an editor. Fine. That declaration is out of the way. But, I design and publish my own books so it is essential that I adopt a pretty good business head too.

The busiest season for ebook downloads tends to fall over the summer months and some independent author/publishers may have felt the sting of lower paperback and hardback sales as a result. Don’t worry. This is a perfectly natural pattern and will only become more pronounced as the ebook market continues to grow, as it inevitably will. This phenomenon is a good thing for independents. We are blissfully free of pen-pushing middle-men and can keep our…

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The Christmas period means something quite different now for authors and publishers

A reflection on the book market at this busy time of the year. Merry Christmas!

The RetroReview

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With less than two weeks to go until Christmas, what should an author’s marketing strategy be?

I’m busy with my own festive preparations right now and with completing the Christmas present shopping, but I am also aware that this is one of the busiest times of the year for sales of my books. So, how best to optimize this? As a consumer myself, I am very careful not to pay too much for books. On the High Street, prices for a new release paperback and certainly for hardbacks can be very high. I might seek inspiration from the shelves for gifts but then I tend to purchase online, where I will get a better deal. What this means, is that it’s now pretty much too late to order books as gifts for Christmas, unless I was prepared to pay a lot for postage and even then, it would still be…

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Writing your Christmas cards is an art

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Whilst writing my Christmas cards this week, it suddenly struck me that there aren’t many opportunities these days for corresponding with another person by hand.

I rarely write letters any longer. As a teacher, I recall the days when our reports for students were penned by hand. I was quite disappointed when word processed programmes replaced pen and ink. I’ve always felt there was something infinitely more personal in the hand written comment.

Now, I write my books using Word and only rely upon notebooks for plotting and character profiles. So writing a card feels like something of a novelty.

Like most festive traditions, the Christmas card was first commercially produced in 1843, during the Victorian era. The custom has been flourishing ever since. In fact, I’m quite amazed it hasn’t been replaced by a digital alternative. The purchasing of the stamps, ensuring up to date addresses and depositing the envelopes in a local postbox seems reassuringly antiquated as a process.

My children spend a great deal of time perfecting their handwriting at school. I often wonder why so much attention is devoted to the art educationally. Within a few decades, there will surely be diminishing circumstances  in which writing by hand will be required.

Despite busy modern lives, I hope that the Christmas card tradition continues to live on. We may now be in contact with our friends and family on a daily bases through social media but to receive the card, hold it in your hands and run your finger along the indentations created by the script, the effect is far more profound. Long may it continue.

How close should writers get to real life?

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Watching an interview with journalist Quentin Letts about his new novel ‘The Speaker’s Wife’, I was interested to hear him quite comfortably discuss how the current speaker, John Bercow, and his wife were the inspiration for the characters in the book although he stressed that the piece was purely fiction.

This statement fascinated me. Recently, I had looked into all the legal aspects of novel writing and publishing having now released 12 novels of my own plus several short stories. Quentin Letts made the issue of libel and defamation sound entirely clear cut. If it’s fiction, you can write what you wish. I suppose that as a regular columnist, often highly critical and ascerbic about certain individuals, he should know what he’s talking about.

My understanding of the issue was that it wasn’t so black and white. If you are basing a character in your published work on a particular individual, you need to take care not to mirror their life and experiences too closely.  You certainly must be careful about names. If you give a character in your book the name of someone you know, they might reasonably assume you’ve based it on them. A court of law  may also agree.

This doesnt mean you can’t use real life to inform your writing, but I would make each protagonist a blend of many characteristics, then they will shine out as believable and real to a reader. If you lift their personality directly from a living person then you’ve produced a satire or a pastiche, which is quite different from fiction.

Writing about true crime, sport or current affairs is another matter entirely and legal advice should be sought before embarking upon these projects.

Social media has led to a trend towards openness of expression in digital print, but libel laws still apply here too. So writers take note. We may seek inspiration from real life, but it is important to remain firmly in the world of the imagination with the stories we create.

No element of this piece should be interpreted as legal advice.

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