I was lucky enough to stumble across this wonderful blog soon after I’d made my first tentative step into the maze of Blogdom last May, Beginning my blog about creative writing.
My son had made me a website in 2005, when my first novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society was published, but I had to rely on him for any updates I wanted to make. Consequently, it gradually became as static as a framed picture. ‘You need to have a blog, Mum,’ he insisted, and changed my site into a Wordpress blog, something that I can actually manage for myself.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time at my computer, creating poems, stories and articles, but I know that unless they are printed, or sent elsewhere as an attachment, they’ll remain unseen in a little yellow folder, seemingly filed away somewhere behind the monitor screen where the words first arranged themselves into sentences and paragraphs.
Clicking the ‘Publish’ tab, knowing that what I’ve written will be on view for anyone across the world who happens to land on my site, is a very strange sensation.
At first, I felt every post had to be a mini-masterpiece, otherwise hundreds of critical strangers would be posting scathing comments about the standard of my writing skills. At the same time, my logical brain was telling me that the only virtual travellers to land on my site would’ve arrived there by accident, and would immediately click themselves away to somewhere more exciting.
It gradually dawned on me, prompted by Techie Son, that I was the one who needed to do the travelling. And how instructive, and what fun that has turned out to be! I’ve mentioned several other websites relating to readers and writers in some of my other posts, but as a writer, I think it would be hard to beat Essential Writers for its huge variety of topics, the standard of its articles; its welcoming attitude and support for ‘newbies’ and its ease of navigation.
Personally I have reason to be grateful to Judy Darley of Essential Writers:
for my first ‘author chat’
for my opportunity to talk about the publication of my first novel
for publishing my article about choosing a cover for my new book
and now, a wonderful review of Paper Lanterns.
And just in case you miss her ‘welcome’ page, here are Judy’s own words about Essential Writers
“If you love words, you’re in the right place. This is a website for anyone who makes their living by writing, or who wants to. This includes journalists, authors, poets, short story writers, scriptwriters, graphic novelists, and anyone else for whom the written word is essential.
Although I will be overseeing the site, adding content and ensuring you get all the information you need, the majority of the features, interviews, blogs and tips will be written by the people in the know, as well as anyone who fancies sending their words out into the world.
On the How To pages, you will find valuable explanations of complex issues such as tax, while the Essential Words section is packed with interviews with authors, editors and other inspiring people. The blogs will give you an insight into the lives of other writers, while news will let you know about writing opportunities and what’s going on where right now.”
A writer’s lot can be a happy one, in spite of the frustrations they might experience when they realise that they have to take on a large part of the task of marketing their novel once it’s published. This probably applies to most novelists these days, even if they have a major publishing house behind them. When my first novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, was published by Transita, a small independent imprint (now sadly no longer working in the field of fiction) I was more than happy to do my share of getting my novel into the hands of readers.
Apart from the act of writing itself, one of the main joys for me of being a writer is the feedback from readers, whether in the form of a public review on Amazon, or other people’s online journals or blogs, or a personal note in the post, or an email from an individual.
Since I am co-founder of NOVEL PRESS, and almost all my spare time is focussed on marketing its first product, (my own Paper Lanterns) at the moment have very little time for creative writing.
Paper Lanterns hasn’t been out in the world for more than a few weeks so far, and there are lots of copies already out there, but this marketing business is a hard slog. Novel Press doesn’t have quite the same access to the book distribution services as more established publishers and there are moments when I begin to feel disheartened in spite of the progress I’ve already made.
It’s the feedback which lifts my spirits, reminding me why it is that I write. Not for money, that’s for sure! People sometimes ask me whether I write for myself or for an audience, and I guess the answer is ‘ I write for both’. Before I start, I do have an of idea of my potential readership, but while I’m engaged in the act of writing, all my thoughts are focussed on the process of creating the characters and their stories.
Readers only become a reality for me when I receive their comments, and in a kind of way, this helps to complete the creative circle – the positive feedback is both a wonderful reward for my efforts and a strong motivation to continue, first with marketing, and then, (soon, I hope) with more writing.
Apart from the lovely reviews from Crysse Morrison and Linda Gillard (both quoted on the front and back cover of Paper Lanterns, and on the introductory pages,) and those from Bookcrossers, LyzzyBee and Heaven-Ali, the first written comment I received was in an email from a work colleague. The high from that sustained me for hours!
“I have now finished Paper Lanterns. I am no literary critic, as evidenced here, but, for what it’s worth, I really enjoyed it. I loved the way it felt like you were going on the journey with Ann, both physical and emotional, and having to re-evaluate opinions of the various characters, especially Vivienne. I also liked the contrast between forsaking a true love for the family and, seemingly, abandoning family to be with a true love. There were lots of interesting characters and I felt their stories and the past/present & England/Hong Kong elements intertwined really well. By re-exploring venues with Ann and George, but also by meeting new characters such as Stuart, it all rolled along well and I found myself looking forward to my bedtime reading session to find out where it was all going.”
A fascinating aspect of reviews is the way that different people focus on different aspects of the book. One of my favourite reader’s blogs is Rhapsody in Books, and I was delighted with the insightful review that Jill wrote a few days ago. I wholeheartedly recommend you to browse though her reviews, because if you’ve already read the book you’re quite likely to gain new insights from her comments, and be inspired to read other books.
The next post will feature one of my favourite blogs for writers.
PS - If you were wondering about the significance of the snowdrops, I’ve been meaning to post a nice spring picture, and this is a photo I took when I was down at my mother’s house two or three weeks ago. I emailed this to my mother, sister and brother, who are in Hong Kong at the moment, so that they could see them.
Last Saturday was dedicated to STATES OF INDEPENDENCE, a regional event held at De Montfort University in Leicester, with its main focus on independent publishers and their books. It was organised by Five Leaves Publications in Nottingham and the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort University
I’d first heard about the event via Soundswrite, the wonderful poetry group that I try to attend every fortnight, and I volunteered to help out on their stall.
Although I take great pleasure in promoting other writers, I’m an incorrigible self-promoter too, so my next step was to contact the organiser, Ross Bradshaw, Director of Five Leaves Publications, and see if he could squeeze in a table for my Novel Press.
My experiences in marketing my previous novel had made me fully aware of the difficulties, but my policy has always been ‘try, regardless, and see what happens,’ so as I was driving through the pouring rain yesterday morning, I had no expectations for myself at all in terms of selling books.
What I had planned to do, in between helping with the display of poetry books published by Soundswrite Press, was to browse some of the other forty stalls attend some of the talks and readings. Top of my list was this enticing preview:
Literary forgery with David Belbin
David Belbin’s novel The Pretender is about literary forgery (and small press magazines) covering the forging of stories by Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene and Roald Dahl. For the cover his publisher forged an edition of a non-existent magazine. David will read from the novel, but also touch on that long history of literary forgery, plagiarism and theft.
Unfortunately I didn’t make it, but every cloud.. silver lining etc. In this case, it was because I was too busy talking to interested writers and readers, and by the time I was free, it was too late to barge in. Apart from the enticing nature of the write-up on his talk, I also wanted to meet David in person because he now runs the Creative Writing M.A. at Nottingham Trent University – an organisation to which I owe a lot. (see some of my earlier posts for more details of why I might never have been published without it.)
It’s a shame I can’t be in two (or even more than two) places at one time, as there were lots of other interesting talks on the menu, but I thoroughly enjoyed talking to people who stopped by my table. I sold several copies of both Paper Lanterns,
The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, but it was the conversations that reminded me yet again of how much I enjoy discussing writing with those start of their writing journeys, and others, well on the way to publication, and now, my added interest, all the processes of publishing and marketing. (I didn’t realise I hadn’t reduced the size of this pic enough! Might alter it later)
It was also refreshing to chat to some of the young students who are finishing off the 3rd year of their degrees. When I heard that some of them were giving readings of their own work, I went to hear them (this happened at a moment when there was no one at my stall!). There was an interesting range of short stories and poems, but the highlight for me was from a young man named Nathan (I think?), whose ability to recite a long and very entertaining rhyming monologue perched crossed legged on a table and looking and sounding perfectly at ease, reminded me of the poet and stand-up comic, Luke Wright (see my previous post about that performance)
All in all, it was a great day! Thank you Ross and the team from De Montford University.
If it hadn’t been for Google alerts, Hermann (aka Lamma-Gung - Managing Editor of Lamma-zine, Webmaster & Moderator of Lamma.com.hk) would never have known that his beloved home, Lamma Island, was the setting for my latest novel, Paper Lanterns.
You can imagine my excitement when, on my return from my recent visit to Hong Kong, this email appeared in my inbox: “I’m editing, photographing and publishing the daily online newspaper for Lamma Island, Lamma.com.hk. I found your blog and would be most interested in getting your book reviewed for the Lamma-zine by one of my regular reviewers or myself. We frequently feature Artists and writers living on Lamma or anything written about our home island.”
That excitement now seems almost mundane compared to what I felt on receiving this glowing review from John Cairns, a writer himself.
It’s always encouraging to get a positive review (I was lucky enough to get lots of these for my first published novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society) but I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive when it came to having Paper Lanterns read by people who know Lamma Island and other parts of Hong Kong far better than I do. What if I’d made some major factual errors, or totally failed to capture what the residents consider to be the essence of the place?
Fortunately, this has not been the case, as you can tell from the extracts that he has chosen to include in his review.
As he writes in a separate email, “I enjoyed it a lot and from cover to cover. Admittedly, a big part of the reason to enjoy it so much is the extremely familiar setting. But if Christine had done a bad job with the Lamma setting, it might have been horrendous to read. And in fact, it was very good indeed.”
“Place” has always played an important role in my novels – and I like to read books with vivid descriptions of unfamiliar places that make me feel I’ve been there myself. This was one of the delights in reading Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, for instance. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, set in the Congo, was another.
One thing that interested me when I was reading John Cairns’s review was the way he had picked up on what for most people might have been an insignificant detail:
“Coleman shows a nice touch with details, often inserting meaningful objects at suitable moments. For example, Ann recalls being an angry teenager who retreats to her bedroom and flips through Anne of Green Gables, a classic novel about childhood angst. “
It turns out that John grew up on a farm in Canada’s smallest province, just a few miles from the setting of “Anne of Green Gables, the classic Canadian novel published more than 100 years ago.”
It’s things like this which bring home to me most forcibly how small this world really is!
The review was published on Lamma-zine this Tuesday, 16th March, so there will soon be other articles that push it out of view, so you might need to scroll down a bit before you find it.
I never know quite what I’m going to stumble across when scanning the headlines of the Morning Updates from The Bookseller that accumulate in my Gmail Inbox. Most of these are clearly more relevant to well-established publishing houses than to individual book readers, (or to brand new, very small publishers like my own Novel Press) but the Feed Reader comes up with more variety – the one that caught my eye is from last Thursday’s update, with the heading: A week without books, from The Guardian World News.
Bibi van der Zee is a bookaholic who was going cold turkey for a week. She gives an amusing account of how she copes with the deprivation, but I was more interested in the wider questions that she raises when she wonders if her reading habit is ‘actually is some kind of drug’
I was aware that ‘that our brain experiences what the characters we are reading about experience’ and it was no surprise to learn about a piece of research where scientists got people to read while they were in a brain scanner. ” When readers were engaged in a story, the researchers found that, at the points in which the story said a protagonist undertook an action, the part of the brain which was activated was the part which the reader himself or herself would use to undertake the action”
What I hadn’t really taken on board was the fact that, ‘For most of our history, reading has been done by just a few specialists, and aloud.‘ In the fifth century, Saint Augustine was famously perplexed by the weird habits of Saint Ambrose: ” When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.”
We take it for granted now that fluent readers don’t have to sound out each word. Take a look at this article and remind yourself how novels have changed our attitudes to reading, using them as recreation and an escape from stress.
Reading is such a part of our lives it’s hard to imagine a time when a reader like Ambrose was able to astonish onlookers with his eyes scanning the page. I love the way that this was expressed – especially ‘his heart sought out the meaning ‘.
I don’t read anything like as much as I used to – maybe only one or two novels a month. I feel a pang when I visit some readers’ blogs and read their enticing reviews, adding them to my mental t.b.r pile - but what with my money-earning job, my own writing, and now my publishing venture, Novel Press, there really isn’t much time left over.
At least I know I can last a week without reading. It’s almost a year since I wrote any poetry and I do miss that.
Would you find it hard to give up reading for a week? If not, what would you miss most?