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Has the back page blurb gone out of fashion?

As I make a start on the blurb for Dani Bevan 11, this question seems appropriate!

The RetroReview

BookCover5_25x8_BW_330_DARK_TITLE_miniThis statement is a lament rather than a question. I’ve looked at a great deal of fiction titles on Amazon today, either with  presents in mind or holiday reading. After examining the pages of a number of popular titles I was struck by how many authors had eschewed the book description section and added a stream of reviews instead. To be honest, I was perplexed. As a customer, what I wanted to see, most of all, was what the book was about. If I wish to read reviews, which I undoubtedly do, I will subsequently pan down to the customer review section.
I’m sure I can’t be unusual in this practice. When I am getting ready to publish a new book, the ‘blurb’ is the first thing I begin work on. It is the information that will encourage a reader to either take a look at a sample of the…

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BLENDING FACT WITH FICTION

The RetroReview

BLENDING FACT WITH FICTION

There has long been a tradition in literature of combining the real with the imagined. In fact, as anyone who dabbles in creative writing will tell you, it is quite impossible not to do so. Only if you are creating an entirely new universe where you wish to challenge perceived ideas about everyday life might you avoid having to blend truth and fiction.

There is a definite precedence for this within the Sci Fi genre. Even then, authors will find that they still have to use some elements of the familiar, otherwise their readers will not be able to empathise with these newly imagined worlds.
When writing my first novel, ‘Aoife’s Chariot’, I decided to create a fictional Scottish Island called Garansay which would exist alongside real places. The island is based on the Isle of Arran, where my father grew up. There are certain mountain ranges and features that…

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A day devoted entirely to pampering Mum. But which one are we referring to?

The RetroReview

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In the UK we will are celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend. The cards and gift suggestions have been on display in the shops for several weeks already. I have always believed Mother’s Day to be the only genuine article, viewing other related festivals such as Father’s Day and even Sibling’s Day to be simply constructs of the greetings card industry. So I was surprised to discover that Mother’s Day itself is actually a fairly recent construct.
I always assumed that in Britain we celebrated ‘Mothering Sunday’, which is a Christian festival dating back to the 1600s and involves saying prayers in church to honour the Virgin Mary. But according to my research, this festival died out in the 19th Century. The custom of adhering to Mother’s Day was only taken up again when American servicemen re-introduced the concept during World War Two. So, although in the UK we tend to…

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Is it time to re-examine our attitude to the weather?

imageLike the vast majority of the U.K. this week, my schedule has been disrupted by the unusually cold weather and resultant snow. My daughter is still at home with me, as her secondary school is closed for the third day, whilst my son has returned to his local primary (in the same town).

I know that the headmaster of the secondary school will be subjected to criticism for his decision. But in my opinion, his judgment has been correct. The school has a largely rural catchment area, covering tens of miles. Country roads are impassable to the school buses and the large site itself covered in ice and snow.

Despite the severe and unpredictable nature of the weather this week, I feel there is a strong majority opinion in the country that we must be able to carry on exactly as normal. This means that schools and clubs should continue and the roads made passable by the local council and landowners.

But with public sector budgets cut to the bone and the nature of the weather system unprecedented in its longevity and persistence, I’m not sure we have the right to make this assumption any longer. I work from home as an independent novelist, so you may argue that I am immune to the worst effects of the deterioration of the climate and therefore don’t have a right to judge.

But if these freak weather phenomenon keep happening, we are all set to suffer. Power and food supplies will be disrupted if transport grinds to a halt. So, is it time for a re-think to our approach? I work in the digital world and it feels to me as if some of the answers must lie in a better use of new technology.

Schools (who are not required to provide childcare for parents) could easily devise an online curriculum to be accessed on ‘snow days’. Teachers can be available to answer questions during allotted ‘lessons’. Many businesses could adopt a similar practice with their administrative staff. Meetings could be conducted through Skype.

This would remove a huge pressure from the road systems. Emergency services and police could focus on getting essential goods around the country, rather than digging lone drivers out of drifts. It would also be safer for the workforce and their children.

I can sense that many folk would be uncomfortable with this solution. Perhaps imagining that they would be left entertaining their children at home for weeks on end. But this is not how these bad weather snaps tend to work out. We would be looking at a week, max. In some parts of the USA, these lost days are added onto the end of the summer term or in September, which could be another option for us.

It has to be better than the uncertainty and risk-taking which currently accompanies bad weather. I have seen much being made on social media about how overcoming the awful conditions is a sign of ‘grit’ or ‘resilience’, yet too often this undefinable concept gets confused with irresponsibility and inflicting unnecessary hardship on yourself and others.

Five years ago, I suffered a nervous and physical illness brought on by overwork and stress. I’ve always been a healthy, ‘resilient’ person who turns up for every appointment and never took a sick day off work in ten years. Until I collapsed with an exhaustion I didn’t even fully know I was suffering from! So when I hear about staff being required to undergo an ordeal to overcome the bad conditions and getting praised for their resilience, it makes me sad.

Everyday life is often already tough enough for most people. It is a misplaced idea of strength to try and battle against a weather event. We need to encourage a shift in perspective that reflects a more respectful appreciation of our environment. If we step off the conveyor belt for a few days, our world will not collapse in on us. In fact, we may be buying ourselves an extra few years of productivity down the line.

I am much better now and still work hard (as I did throughout my illness) But a legacy of tiredness remains. I know my limits and have to stick to them. I will be setting out into the cold wind and snow later to pick up my son. The effort will exhaust me for the remainder of the day. I am certainly not the only person who will have had this experience. It doesn’t make us weak or without value to society.

In fact, I always think there is an old-fashioned machismo to the claims I see on social media from headteachers who proudly announce their school is the only one staying open in the area. That they’ve  been out since dawn scraping the paths. These managers need to put aside their desire to meet and complete a personal challenge to consider the wider picture. Should they be encouraging their staff and parents to take to the roads? Is it of benefit to the local area? To the students?

It will undoubtedly take a long time for attitudes to change and it will have to come from employers and headteachers. They need to look beyond their individual institution or company, viewing themselves as part of a wider network. Perhaps the only way to ‘overcome’ these weather events is to accept their power over us and recognise that we will need to adapt to accommodate them as part of our lives.

 

 

Is the front man (or woman) more important than the show?

With the new series of ITV’s Endeavour starting this evening, I thought it was worth revisiting this question.

The RetroReview

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With the new series of Endeavour starting this evening and the latest instalment of  BBC franchise Top Gear (minus Clarkson, May and Hammond) being imminent, I though it was worth re-visiting this issue.

The many twists and turns of the ‘Clarkson fracas’ debate of 2015  opened up the question of how important a single individual is to the success of a tv show. As a writer, I find this concept fascinating. It is almost like asking whether the Sherlock Holmes mysteries would have been as successful without the leading character (the answer to this being a very definite ‘no’, as Conan-Doyle was required to bring the pipe smoking detective back from the dead after an outcry from his readership).
But occasionally, a popular show, which would appear to utterly rely upon a certain acting star or lead character for its success, actually fares perfectly well without them. There are a…

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Katherine Pathak #books in order

The fully updated list for 2018

The RetroReview

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I realise this looks like an incredibly self-indulgent topic for a blog, but I know that people Google this question and don’t necessarily get the information they are looking for. If I blog it, then the list will be more accessible in searches, so please indulge me!

The Imogen and Hugh Croft Mysteries:

Aoife’s Chariot

The Only Survivor

Lawful Death

The Woman Who Vanished

Memorial For The Dead

The Ghost Of Marchmont Hall

The Flawed Emerald and other stories

The DCI Dani Bevan Novels:

Against A Dark Sky

On A Dark Sea

A Dark Shadow Falls

Dark As Night

The Dark Fear

Girls of the Dark

Hold Hands in the Dark

Dark Remedies

Dark Origin

The Dark Isle

Standalone psychological thriller

I Trust You

If you have any questions on the order of the books or the nature of the two series, please private message me through my Facebook Author…

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Is it really worth attending the London Book Fair?

The RetroReview

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This is a question that many professional writers will be asking themselves this week. The annual London Book Fair kicks off at Olympia tomorrow and today is the last opportunity to buy discounted entrance tickets online. I’ve been to the fair in the long distant past, when I worked in the book trade at the end of the nineties. Then, I was on the other side of the fence from where I am now. In fact, back when I worked at the Good Book Guide, I attended a few different trade fairs, particularly when I was selecting products for the gift supplement. Even then, I had doubts about their worth. Most of the decisions I made were based on the product catalogues I brought back to the office with me, which presumably I could have received through the post (or from the company website these days).
Of course, it’s not…

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Run along and play, darling. Mummy’s finishing her book.

The RetroReview

Run along and play, darling. Mummy's finishing her book.

Finishing a novel is a wonderful feeling. It is the final accomplishment of a creative urge that has driven you along for several months, or even years.
But after the initial sense of elation that flows through your entire being at the blissful realisation the thing is finally done and dusted, some uncomfortable thoughts begin to edge their way into your consciousness. Did the kids do their homework this week? Or the week before, for that matter? When was I last in touch with my wonderful and witty girlfriend who I like to meet at least once a fortnight for a coffee and a catch-up?
Or, worse than this. You may find yourself trying to recall your last walk in the park. Or suddenly observing the untidiness and grubbiness of your surroundings and wondering why the scene you are currently surveying seems so oddly unfamiliar to you.
I am beginning…

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Is it still bad manners to read at the table?

The RetroReview

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My daughter is at that age when she reads constantly. Her books are scattered around the house and she will peruse them anywhere, from halfway up the stairs to sitting on the toilet. And we would not dream of stopping her. It’s what we’ve been encouraging her to do since she first learnt her letters.

But a new dilemma has reared its head. The books now come with us when we go out. If the conversation veers into boring grown up territory, at a restaurant or at somebody’s house, the paperback pops up and the nose gets promptly buried within its pages. So, is this okay? I distinctly recall being told, in no uncertain terms, when I was a child, that reading at the table was bad manners. But these were the days before smartphones and ipads. Now, a book seems like the least offensive article that your offspring could…

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Are they playing?

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As we reach the end of another school holiday, I think I’ve had a revelation about my kids.

They’ve had a great week. A couple of play dates and a mini break by the seaside with Gran and Grandad. Neither had much homework to blight their enjoyment and there was still time to play with the puppy. But my perennial niggling concerns about their play habits still lingered on.

I suppose I’m not the only parent to feel their children spend too long on their devices. It’s become pretty much a cliche to yell at them every half hour to turn off the phone/Kindle Fire/X-box. I even spent some time surreptitiously observing what my daughter and her friend got up to during a recent play date at our house.

I found myself inwardly lamenting,’do they actually play??’. I saw them watch a film, show each other stuff on their phones and chat about school/pets. I didn’t expect them to get the soft toys out and re-create a teddy bear’s picnic, or even dip into the bag of barbies. But I couldn’t help recalling the imagination games I used to play at their age. Our dolls and teddies were puritans or royalists during the civil war. When the weather was good, the garden became a stage-set, where we could enjoy a world of endless imaginary possibilities.

Then the realisation struck me. They are playing. It’s just the platform upon which these imaginative endeavours are constructed has changed. I knew then that I had judged these young people too harshly. They had spent an hour on Minecraft, comparing the complex worlds and characters they’d both created.

I’m overjoyed when my son and daughter play Lego games together, because that’s what I did as a child. Therefore, I consider it proper ‘play’. There’s something very tunnel-visioned about this attitude. When my son is building his Sim City or winning his Forza races in order to buy new cars for his virtual garage, that is play for him. Much as previous generations’ idea of play was to be kicking a ball around outside, rather than building Lego or dressing Barbie dolls in a centrally heated bedroom. The concept of ‘normal’ child play is clearly partly a social construct and based upon the resources available to us.

Times change. Where I was forced to create an imaginary world from fairly limited props and materials, modern technologies mean those worlds can be formulated in a far more visual and stimulating way. No wonder our children want to play there. It’s pretty fantastic to be honest.

So I’ve decided to be less judgemental. My childhood experience wasn’t necessarily the perfect one. My daughter created a treasure hunt on Minecraft this morning for her brother. This concept amazes me. I couldn’t do it. And who is to say that because the game is virtual, it is inferior to a treasure hunt around the house and garden? Apart from the opportunity to get some fresh air, I not sure that it is. And as a parent, it’s our job to make sure the kids get out and about on trips anyway. That isn’t really their responsibility.

During the Easter break I’m going to chill. The kids have their own way of playing, occasionally it overlaps with my memories of what it means, but a lot of the time it doesn’t. As long as we keep an eye on the potential dangers and are ensuring balance, I think that’s absolutely fine.

 

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