As you can see from the date of my previous post below, I’m taking a break from regular blogging.
I started this blog in May 2009 as I felt I’d reached a watershed in my writing, and I wanted to reflect on the ups and downs of my career as a novelist and poet.
I’ve enjoyed all the activities I’ve listed in the chart below, and although these have taken away more time than I’d wanted from my own creative writing, I’m hoping that this semi-fallow period will prove as productive as this wild poppy field!
If you’re new to this blog and want to find out more about me, click here and for more about my novels, click here
If you want to read a few tips about writing a book, click here and if you are interested in poetry, take a look at my Poetry page
In the past two years I’ve spent less time on creating new work of my own, than I have on the business of other writerly activities.
But this doesn’t mean that I won’t be taking part in any of these things!
I’ll still be happy to consider giving talks and/or running workshops, if you’d like to contact me by sending a message via the ‘Contact Me’ page above.
‘WordPress’ will forward any message to my personal email address, so please do let me know if you have read and enjoyed one or other of my novels, or have any other comments on my work. As you can see on this chart, you can still buy my novels at a reduced price from this site
or, if you prefer, Paper Lanterns IS available from Amazon, even though they will tell you it’s ‘out of stock’. All you need to do is click where it says, ‘new sellers’ and then, if you click on the option of ‘Novel Press’, you’ll receive your copy within 2 or 3 days, direct from Novel Press, with my personal signature above the printed name on this label, that is inserted into the front of the book..
This will be my shortest ever post – I just wanted to say ‘HAPPY CHRISTMAS’ to my regular visitors and to anyone who has landed here by chance. The picture above is a small detail of the traditional decorations on my tree.
This one is one I took last Sunday, before a heavier fall of snow on Monday threatened to prevent my sister and family from Cornwall arriving to spend the night with us en route to their destination in snowy Scotland.
I also want to alert you to my new challenge for the start of 2011.
Frequent visitors will already know that the middle part of the novel is set in 1930 in Hong Kong, and that this section was inspired by the discovery of a cache of love letters. The story of that find was so interesting in itself, that the Birmingham Sunday paper published a two-page spread about the find, and included some of the original photographs.
I shall be posting more pictures of the real-life characters involved, as well as some of the handwritten letters, because my big challenge for the new year is to see if I can find any of their descendents.
All will be explained in my next post,
so keep an eye open.
You might know someone
who just happens to know someone who used to go to school
with someone whose grandmother used to know
the daughter of
someone who …..
HAVE A VERY HAPPY
IN THE WORLD
(I saw this swan in my local park - it made me laugh!
(AND Another Library Talk)
Well, it’s in the window of the Sutton Coldfield branch. What an honour to be rubbing elbows with Nick Hornby, Maeve Binchy and Colm Toibin’s Booker-shortlisted novel, Brooklyn, a novel I thoroughly enjoyed.
As in so many occasions in life, luck plays a major role: Brooklyn is one of those beautifully written miniatures which convey deep emotions with the lightest touch, but alas for Toibin, that year it happened that he was up against the vast and colourful canvas of Hilary Mantel’s magnificent Wolf Hall.
My most recent gift of luck was when I found out about the new publisher, Transita at just the right time in their short history. A few months later, and it would have been too late for The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, so I’ll always be grateful to them for their quixotic venture into the cut-throat world of publishing.
I can usually recognise and welcome good fortune when it knocks on my door – the real challenge though, is managing to remain satisfied with what can quickly be regarded as merely the first instalment , in line with the adage, ‘Much wants More.’
My real test came with the runaway success of the novel with an even more quirky title than mine: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. I was reluctant to read it, as I often find that novels which have received a huge amount of hype turn out to be a disappointment. In fact, I did enjoy it, but I felt that it didn’t quite live up to all its rave reviews. Praises that were heaped on that book, matched many of those in reviews of my own novel, and I struggled to ignore the whispers of the green eyed monster – why should Marina Lewycka have received the full lorry load of luck?
When I realised that she was the object of an interview on Radio 4, I was quite prepared to dislike her, but she seemed to have had the same struggles towards publication as I did, and came across as such a nice woman, and was so genuinely enjoying her good fortune that all my resentments evaporated, and I was able to feel happy for her.
OK, so I haven’t been able to give up my day job, but there have been numerous pleasures in becoming a ‘published novelist’ that I am still enjoying. One of the best of these is being invited to visit reading and/or writing groups to talk about my books. Last Friday I was at Weoley Castle Library in a cosy meeting room with every chair taken and a beautiful, working ‘blind’ dog at the feet of its young owner. As usual, I probably talked too much and didn’t give enough time for questions, but everyone (except the golden retriever) seemed to be interested, and several bought copies of both my books, after one had announced that Paper Lanterns
would make a good Christmas present.
What a clever idea – it would make a great Christmas present and a warming good read in this icy weather!! Maybe I’ll produce a Christmas postcard from this photo - it looks suitably festive. If anyone wants to order a copy of Paper Lanterns (or The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society) from this site before 24th December, I’d be happy to enclose a card with it. Just let me know, via the ‘Contact Me’ page above.
BY THE WAY - CLARISSA’S INTERVIEW, featuring my tiny contribution, (see the post below for more info) WILL BE SHOWN AT 10.00 IN THE MORNING ON SUNDAY 5TH DECEMBER.
(The first programme of the series starts tomorrow and features June Brown (Dot from Eastenders)
I love the act of writing fiction and poetry, but can never be quite sure which of the two I enjoy most, as they each have their own rewards and frustrations. One of the unexpected pleasures of becoming a published novelist is the way that it’s led me to giving occasional talks to readers and other writers about my own writing experiences, and being invited to attend other ‘writerly’ events.
Event Number One was at Selly Oak Library, as you can see from this picture.
I’d just given a talk about my writing, an enjoyable way of spending a Monday morning.
For those of you who don’t know Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield (my home) is in the far north of edge of the city,
while Selly Oak is ten miles away on the south side.
On Wednesday evening, it was back to Selly Oak again, this time giving a talk to 30 members of Open Circle, a Ladies Group who meet once a month at the Methodist hall – an attentive and generous audience. In my previous post I wrote about my visit to Castle Vale, where I met a flourishing Reading Group, most of whom had recently read my first published novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, and it was wonderful to have an opportunity to hear their comments about the characters and the story-line and to answer their questions.
Meeting a new group of people who know nothing about me and my writing is equally rewarding – especially when I know that 75-year old Agnes Borrowdale, and all the other characters from that first novel, will be introduced to a new set of readers. It’s nearly five years since that book was published and I find it strange how I can still be so attached to these invented characters, especially as I now have the cast of Paper Lanterns alive in my head.
I’m lucky enough to still find interest and enjoyment in my job with Adult Education after nearly 30 years, and I’m sure that this is partly because of my career as a writer. As I’ve explained above, it’s not only the writing itself, but also what I call ‘writerly stuff’. Starting Novel Press, my own publishing venture, is a recent addition to those activities, and on Friday afternoon I’d been invited to attend a meeting for local publishers, organised by Jonathan Davidson of Writing West Midlands, at The Custard Factory.
I often feel that I don’t merit the title of ‘publisher’, since mine is still the only product of Novel Press, so I find it very encouraging when Jonathan and other experienced people ‘in the know’ take my publishing venture seriously. Alan Mahar of Tindal Street Press reminded me that when they started up ten years ago, the lottery funding for the arts was in a much better state than in this difficult financial climate. So maybe I should feel at least a little bit proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.
That was a nice feeling to take away with me on my journey down to Sussex for the weekend. I felt particularly lucky to be there on Saturday, enjoying a quiet morning in brilliant sunshine with my mother, strolling up a country lane to an ancient church which I’d hadn’t been near for decades! Click here to read more about the history of this building, and why the windows appear to have no glass!
One of my sisters lives nearby and she encouraged me to go to Seaford in the afternoon, our nearest beach.
It was almost hot in the sunshine and out of the sharp wind, but even in the shelter of the wall it wasn’t nearly warm enough
for me to venture into the sea – my sister is more hardy than I am, as you can see from this picture.
The brilliant white of the cliffs behind the beach and the bright blue green of the sea
almost convinced me that summer was still with us, but the wind gave a different message.
This might not have been her last swim of the season,
but for me it definitely seemed like the last day of summer.
I had a wonderful morning last Thursday, talking to a lively group of enthusiastic readers. I never know quite what to expect when visiting different reading and writing groups, though one thing I can be pretty sure of is that it won’t be boring. Not for me, anyway!
Giving talks about my writing is second only to the pleasure I have when I’m at my desk creating characters in a novel, or finding the words to express my thoughts and feelings in a poem. This has been one of the unexpected benefits of finding a publisher for The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society nearly five years ago (October 2005). I’d already had a small collection of poems published (Single Travellers, Flarestack, 2004) but I was amazed by the difference in people’s reactions when they heard I was now a published novelist. Suddenly, I was being invited to give talks to reading and writing groups and a range of other organisations - I’m still receiving requests for these types of events.
I feel so lucky!
Thursday’s visit was particularly enjoyable for me, as most of the group had only recently read the Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society and were keen to give me their comments and ask me questions. It was wonderful to know that this novel is still being appreciated by readers, especially those who know and love Birmingham, and liked the positive image of the Brummies in the book. Here’s a link to Sheila Arthur’s reviews of the book and her reflections on the event on the Active Arts website, and her own blog.
After introducing the ideas behind my new novel, Paper Lanterns, I read a few extracts, which gives me the opportunity to present the voices of different characters, something that I love doing. It reminds me of how I felt when I was part of the poetry ensemble, Late Shift, reciting in front of audiences at Literary Festivals across the country – a skill that I acquired to my great delight, in my early fifties, after experiencing painful self-consciousness in front of groups of strangers for most of my early life. What a gift that was – as you can see in : “ How I didn’t get Stage-Fright “
I always have a box of my books in the boot of my car – not because I have any expectations that people will want to buy a copy of one or other of my novels, but as part of my ‘Just-in-Case’ approach to life. So I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who were happy to hand me some cash in exchange for a copy of Paper Lanterns. There was even a huge display board with information about me and my books, and including a copy of the Sunday Mercury article about the Chinese letters. Thank you for arranging this display, Lesley!
Funnily enough, when I browsed the headlines from the daily on-line Bookseller, I came across a link to an encouraging article that seemed particularly relevant to me in my guise as Novel Press: Re-inventing Book Marketing, by Dave Weich, who tells his readers,
“In the next ten years, book marketing will radically reinvent itself.”
And guess what? His closing paragraph states,
“Word-of-mouth will always drive book sales…”
I was pondering the impact of place names yesterday afternoon as I drove down the M5 to Worcester for a writers’ networking event, organised by Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands. When I first moved to Sutton Coldfield with my family, more than thirty years ago, the county of our address was Warwickshire, a name with a rural and picturesque ring to it, but soon after that, it was changed to West Midlands, which conjures up a distinctly urban and industrial landscape.
It was only quite recently that I fully realised that the term, ‘West Midlands’ has two meanings:
(1) the West Midlands metropolitan county,
(2) The West Midlands region which encompasses many rural shires, from Staffordshire to Herefordshire.
A meeting room had been booked in The Guesten (a beautifully restored Queen Anne House) in the grounds of Worcester Cathedral – a lovely setting. Jonathan introduced the proceedings by asking everyone to give a brief account of themselves as writers. I felt very privileged to have been invited to give a short presentation about my own writing and my publishing experiences to the 20 or more other writers present, many of whom were published authors and poets with decades of experience themselves.
After a brief welcome by Peter Spalton, who had helped organise the event, I was interested to learn more about Apples and Snakes, a national organisation which promotes the spoken word and describes itself as Poetry with Bite.
The presenter was Bohdan Piasecki, Programme Coordinator for the West Midlands, based at The Drum, in Birmingham. For me, the highlight of the afternoon was Bohdan’s response to a request for a demonstration of ‘performance poetry’ by delivering a poem of his own.
After a short pause, he announced that he’d try out a brand new piece that hadn’t yet been tested. It was brilliant. The silence that followed his performance spoke volumes – it took me a while to step out of the space he’d created, back into the reality of the present. My only complaint is that I haven’t got a paper version, or better still, a video clip, so that I can see and hear it over again.
As for my own talk, I enjoyed myself enormously. Somehow, when I’m addressing an audience of writers, I come away with renewed energy, and today was no exception. Talking to a group of readers produces a similar effect, but there’s something about sharing the experience with other writers that gives me an extra boost, especially when I’m explaining how and why I started Novel Press.
Yesterday’s event made me focus on my achievement in transforming a manuscript into hundreds of copies of a beautiful and totally professional paperback book, a good proportion of which have already been sold – and are still steadily making their way across the UK and around the world. Who knows what the future will hold for Novel Press?
One of the many things about the internet that I enjoy, is the way I can gather snippets of interesting information that wouldn’t normally have caught my eye. The daily on-line headlines from The Bookseller are a useful source of book-related news. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of reading about one of my favourite authors, David Mitchell –
I say that Mitchell is one of my favourites, but so far I’ve only read two of his novels, Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green. Some people might question my use of the word ‘read’ since I listened to the unabridged versions on CDs during my frequent long car journeys and numerous short ones. Cloud Atlas was amazing, and one of these days (once I’ve got round to reading his others ) I’ll read it again.
I can’t pretend that there’s the remotest similarity between my novels and those of this hugely talented and successful Booker-nominated novelist, but as a writer, I found it refreshing to see that he still takes delight in hearing how people have reacted to his books. Interviewed at the Edinburgh Book festival, he refers to a man who told him that his wife reads Cloud Atlas (2004) every year and “she finds something new each time“. When asked about the possibility of winning the Man Booker Prize he says, “I felt honoured and pleased (by the nomination), but it’s the guy who approached me to tell me his wife reads Cloud Atlas once a year that I think is just so great.”
It’s worth reading the whole article to find out more about his books and his own approaches to writing, many of which I can also identify with.As I’ve said on several occasions, the positive comments on my own novels is what helps to keep me going, especially now that I am in charge of all the marketing of Paper Lanterns.
Here’s another enthusiastic email that arrived via the ‘Contact Me’ page above. It’s from a reader who knows and loves Lamma Island, confirming that I’ve ‘got it right’!
“Since I was introduced to your book via the Lamma Website, I have been dying to read it as I have been a frequent visitor to the Island since my son moved there 14 years ago. Like you it holds a special place in my heart being a place like no other. I have not been disappointed by your book as for me it evokes the spirit of Lamma brilliantly and is a great read. I loved your references to places on the Island, I think it was really clever of you to weave such an intriguing story onto a mere spec in the South China Sea and evoke such a sense of place.”
And here’s one from one of the Bookcrossers I’ve mentioned in my previous post. It clearly demonstrates how this wonderful organisation encourages its members to read more widely:
“This was a book which is out of my usual genres, though through Bookcrossing I have once again embraced many types of book and new authors, which I had got out of the habit of reading… I liked the gentle flow of the storyline peeling away the revelations ~ whether from the letters of Ann’s grandmother, her mother and her own self discovery ~ until the three time lines all dissolved into one as the story ended…the descriptions of the scenery and the people in the community were very vivid and evocative and reinforced my imaginings from my relatives’ tales…A wonderfully engaging tale which I enjoyed and as I do know someone else who would enjoy this book I intend to get a copy as a present…”
This is something that I find quite difficult to do because:
(1) that old chestnut of ‘not having time’
(2) I don’t find it easy to write a summary of a plot without giving the game away.
(3) When I’ve finished a book that I’ve enjoyed, I need to let it ‘settle’ in my head for a while, as I work out what feelings I’ve experienced while reading and how the author has achieved these effects.
I love reading detailed reviews on other people’s blogs, and that brings me to number (4) There are often so many excellent summaries and insightful critiques of a book that I’ve read, it seems a better use of my time to direct people to the relevant sites, as in this previous post so I’m delighted that there are so many enthusiastic book readers and reviewers out there. And yes, of course I’m doubly appreciative of reviews for my own novels!
Yesterday I was thrilled to get this wonderful review from a highly accomplished writer, Robin Lewis of Left Lion, a printed and online culture and listings magazine which covers Nottingham, with a specific focus on the local music and arts scene. (I love the first statement: “Unhappy families are always more interesting than happy ones”, though for me, it’s only ‘true’ in fiction!)
(The Lion logo makes more sense when you know that it was named after a stone lion outside the Council House. )It’s the place where I did my MA in Writing (and also where my son was born, over thirty years ago) so I have great affinity with the city. You’ll also see Robin’s detailed on-line interview with me, if you scroll down after the review.
Getting published is hard enough, but marketing your book is even harder, especially when you are your own publishing house. So I’ve been very heartened recently to find yet more insightful critiques. It’s fascinating to find how different people react to the characters in Paper Lanterns – I can see that it makes for a lively discussion for book groups, as you can tell from this extract below from the friendly group in Tennessee (holding their own paper lanterns on the evening of their discussion).
I’ve mentioned them in a previous post but I’ve just realised I haven’t explained how they discovered this novel. It’s not (yet!) available in bookshops in the U.S. so I’d thought that Tammy must have found out about it from the review on Rhapsody in Books, but no. Tammy explained how she’d Googled for Book Club Reads and then had arrived at a new on-line book group based in Birmingham (UK)
They’d wanted to choose a book by a local author, and Paper Lanterns was one of them. Tammy had followed the link to my Amazon page and had liked what she saw, so she contacted me via this site, and the rest is history.(I’ve hidden a few phrases that might have given awat too much for those who haven’t yet read the book)
“Everyone could relate to the family drama– we had a deep discussion about how things were probably hidden in every family from different generations, and which generation we could most closely relate to at this point in our lives.
Most thought that at first it was hard to keep up with the characters (who was who) until we kept reading and then it all fell in place. We also talked about how it took a talented writer to be able to pull that off like you were able to do. (smiles)
Ann was a huge discussion– we wondered if there was a reason she was made to sound so homely looking.
Also, the way you portrayed Vivienne as such an uncaring mother, xxxxxxxxxxx was a big discussion. No one could relate to how a mother could be so cruel to her child (the negative remarks she would make). It takes a great writer to be able to evoke these kind of emotions in the reader.
We all loved your writing style and thought you did an excellent job with the descriptions of Hong Kong and the surroundings. And, the way you left xxxxxxxxx (the ending) left the reader thinking long after the novel was finished…..We have all passed our copy of the book on for others to enjoy. (so many people in our area will enjoy your talent)
It’s so nice to know that my novel is being read so widely - though anyone reading this on my blog will see that my books can be ordered here from anywhere in the world with free P&P. I’ll soon be sending off a package of 13 copies of paper Lanterns to a book group in Italy.
And of course, there are the wonderful Bookcrossers to spread the word!
– I’ve been given links to the ‘Journeys’ that several copies of my book are making and it’s been fascinating to read their responses.
The arts pages of newspapers and magazines often have recommendations for holiday reading but I haven’t come across a travel webpage that gives a link to a novel that is set in an exotic holiday destination. Well, not until Google opened up a lovely surprise for me.
I was engrossed in one of my favourite displacement activities: Googling for links to a random range of topics that happened to have caught my attention that day – anything from Aardvarks to the Zodiac . In this case, it was ‘Lamma Island’, for reasons that’ll be clear to followers of this blog, and as I scrolled down the first page that Google had led me to, I found this link.
There was a photo that I recognised and it immediately attracted my attention. You can guess how amazed I was to find a direct reference to my novel, Paper Lanterns, under the heading Lamma Island Holiday Read
“Looking for a book to take on your holiday to Lamma island? Want to read a book that is set in, and captures the spirit and charm of Lamma Island to give you a taste of what to look forward to? Or do you want to relive happy memories of a previous visit? Then take a look at the Christine Coleman’s latest novel, Paper Lanterns.”
As you can see in the review by John Cairns, a resident of Lamma Island himself, I have received the seal of approval for my representation of the island and the lifestyle of its ex-pat inhabitants.
This has made me wonder if there are any other travel sites that have caught on to this idea.
There are a couple of authors in particular whose books immediately spring to mind as ideal for promoting the places in which they are set.
Linda Gillard is renowned, not only for her brilliant writing and strong themes but also for the way she draws the reader into her landscapes and entices them to discover the Isle of Skye for themselves.
Emotional Geology is a novel in which the landscape itself becomes a key character in the story.
On her website, this photo aptly illustrates her explanation of the title:“Rock is a concrete record of the past, of what happened to the Earth – a build-up of pressure, seismic upheaval, erosion. When you look at rock you’re looking at layers of time. I think our minds and our memories are like that - a record of what we’ve been through and the toll it has taken - so the “excavation” of the past (which is what happens in the novel) becomes emotional geology.”.
The heading on the review page of her enthralling second novel, A Lifetime Burning,
would be perfectly at home on any travel webiste: “FIND A PLACE FOR IT IN YOUR HOLIDAY LUGGAGE!”
Among the accolades and prizes for her third book, Star Gazing,
is one that the Scottish Tourist website should include: STAR GAZING was shortlisted for the UK’s first environmental book award, the Robin Jenkins Literary Award, promoting writing inspired by Scotland’s landscape.
(Oh, and as well as being shortlisted for the romantic novel of the year (2009) it was also shortlisted in 2010 for Woman’s Weekly’s “Best Romantic Novel since 1960!)
Adrienne Dines is another author whose novels evoke the differing moods of the geographical and cultural settings of an island –her landscape is rural Ireland with its humour and hospitality and its dark side of shame and buried secrets.
Her first book, Toppling Miss April,
has been described by the Irish Examiner as ‘A cross between Father Ted and Ballykissangel…hilarious!’ There’s no doubt about Adrienne’s wicked sense of humour in this novel,
but her next book, The Jigsaw Maker, moves from affectionately gentle fun and romance to something far darker.
Her third novel , Soft Voices Whispering,has been described as “Hard to put down and impossible to forget, this is a book with a big heart. (And the cover is so bleakly beautiful, it’s worth framing.)”
If you’re planning a holiday anytime now, you couldn’t do better than order some of these books to take with you!
So what’s the connection between Rhubarb Crumble and getting published? The first clue is: The Custard Factory. I guess that won’t help much unless you’re familiar with Birmingham’s revolutionary new arts and media quarter, opposite the Coach Station in Digbeth.
For me, the relevance of that former factory building, is the fact that it’s the home of Radio Rhubarb – of which the jewel in its crown is The Crumble, a weekly broadcast presented by the multi-talented Jan Watts
I was delighted when she invited me to be interviewed on The Crumble. She’d already emailed me the link to her programme so I knew she’s a highly competent and enthusiastic presenter.
The last time I visited the Custard Factory was several years ago (It was when I handed over the complete manuscript of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society to Luke Brown of Tindall Street Press – although they eventually rejected that novel, it was through them, in a roundabout way, that I found a different publisher.
Yesterday, as I approached the entrance to the Custard Factory, the narrow street seemed even more colourful than before, and I don’t remember ever having seen this amazing sculpture of a giant Green Man. (You can get an impression of the scale from the man at the bottom of this picture, on the left of the green wall.)
Here’s Jan in the studio (affectionately called The Fish Bowl – as you can see from the photo above) with Kip, the calm and very efficient producer.
After an amusing pre-recorded poem about Ants (or Aunts), I was fascinated to hear Steve Ball,
Associate Director (Learning & Participation) of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, talking to Jan about his work, which he describes as “the best job in Birmingham” and he made it sound as though that could be true.
You can listen to Steve and the rest of hour-long programme by following the link. If you can’t spare a whole hour, you can click the right-hand arrow below the bar, until the orange strip is about an inch along (just above the ‘r’ in ‘player’ in the sentence: ‘Open in popout player’.) Here,
you can listen to me reading an extract from The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society. After that, Jan asks me about getting published that first time, and what happened with my next book, Paper Lanterns. I mentioned the cache of real-life love letters
(see the Sunday Mercury article)
and I read the heart-breaking letter from the young Chinese woman. You can also hear me reading the prologue to Paper Lanterns, which is set in Sutton Coldfield in 1971. This is one of the three significant periods in the novel.
You can read an extract from the middle section of the book, in which I’ve used these letters to invent a whole new storyline, in the on-line magazine, Cairns Media.
If you’d like to read the first extract published by the same on-line magazine, you can see it here.