Welcome to my website! This is my cat, telling me to get on with my writing! (or if you have only just stumbled across this site) I’m inserting this brief message, just to let you know that I am still receiving messages (and answering them, when requested).
I’m delighted to say that over the last 12 months, I’ve been contacted by several readers and/or writers groups, and other , more formal organisations, asking if I’d like to give a talk about my own novels and anything else about my experiences of the writing and publishing processes.
This was the title of my last blog post (see below) dated July 10, 2011
All the ‘Writerly’ activities that have stolen my ‘Proper’ Writing time!
One of the benefits of writing a book, and better still, of getting published, is the way it opens doors to lots of other writerly activities, such as giving talks, running workshops, and attending Literary Festivals as a performer, as well as being a member of the audience. Another enjoyable aspect of being a writer (with or without being published) is making friends with other writers.
Last Thursday I was able to combine a visit to my writing friend, Crysse Morrison, with an opportunity to be one of eight castaways in an event listed in the Frome Festival Programme as Desert Island Reads. Crysse herself had to step in at the last minute to take the place of a performer who was unable to attend. You can read more about the event on her blog.
I’d left my own camera in her house so thanks are due to Crysse’s camera and to Wendy, one of the festival organisers, who took this picture, which features, from left to right:
Me, Kevan Manwaring,Keely Beresford,
Crysse, David Johnson, Philip de Glanville and Adrian Tinniswood
Desert Island Reads was described as “eight local celebrities share a favourite literary extract and tell us why they chose it.” I felt a bit of a fraud as I was neither “local”, not a “celebrity” but no one seemed to notice. When Crysse had first invited me to take part, I’d thought about including some real-life letters, because of the role that real-life letters had played in my novel Paper Lanterns, but it was proving quite difficult to find something that not only had inspired me in the past, but still lived up to the memories of it.
After searching my bookshelves I found an edition of the letters and poems of John Keats and was relieved to find that the he could still work his magic on me. I’ll quote some of the extracts that I read in a future post. Take a look at the on-line programme for the ten-day Festival and you’ll be amazed by the wide variety of all the events.
Crysse was heavily involved in the organisation of several events, but she’d booked tickets for us both so that she could relax with me for the evening at ‘Cabaret Sans Frontiers’, a totally surreal and highly entertaining event –
and here I quote from her own blog: “the eccentric energy of Cabaret sans Frontieres, this year offering its macabre and madcap medley from a ship bound for ‘the edge of the edge of possibilities, and beyond.’ “
Here are a few more photos of the music
and strange exhibits that we were encouraged to inspect during the interval, such as this ’spider’ appearing to rest on the top of a cabinet, to whom I offered a sip of my white wine spritzer.
The next morning, before I set off for Sussex to visit my mother for the weekend, Crysse insisted on taking me to an amazing exhibition featuring the intricate, imaginative, and brilliantly bizarre constructions and sketches of Ralph Steadman.
If you’re anywhere near Frome, make sure you take a look.
There were no signs anywhere asking people not to take photos of the exhibits, so I’m hoping that no one will object to these.
On my return from Sussex
I was greeted by the sight of multiple copies of The Birmingham Sunday Mercury that Gardening Husband had bought for me to use as marketing material for my novel, Paper Lanterns.
I’d been told that it would be published today, and I was delighted with the double page spread, giving the story of the cache of real life letters that inspired the middle section of the book.
Here’s a photo of the man on the receiving end of the love letters from two different women,
and here’s the young Chinese girl, with a small selection of the letters behind her. It’s fascinating stuff, and anyone who’s read the book is likely to enjoy seeing the originals of the letters that I have adapted for the novel.
No, I haven’t really got the recipe, but right now there are three subjects in my head that in a strange way seem to link up.
1: Getting published.
2: A novel for young adults called Wasted
3: An inspiring poetry Workshop
If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll know that it’s mainly about my writing life as a poet and novelist, and that this can be split into two stages: before and after publication. The ‘before’ part is a good deal longer – I‘m an expert in the art of dealing with rejection: : it took me twenty years from completing my first novel to finding a publisher for my fourth.
You can find out here about Novel oneand Novel two. I nearly made it with Novel three, when I won a competition to receive a free read from The Literary Consultancy. Several amendments later, the novel was recommended as ‘deserving to be published’ . That was where the luck ran out: although I now had the backing of T.L.C., the agents on their list of contacts turned it down. They loved it, but not enough to take me on.
After at least forty more rejections, Novel Four was recommended for a free read from… The Literacy Consultancy! This didn’t feel like good luck to me. I’d been editing this novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, for over a year, and I knew that it had reached its final form. I wasn’t going to attempt yet another re-write.
I sent it anyway. Was that luck, or chance or sheer doggedness? All I know is that if I hadn’t grasped that opportunity, I wouldn’t have heard of “the new publisher, Transita about to bring out its first novel in a few months’ time”, and I wouldn’t have become the published author of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society in October 2005. You’ll find a mention about the demise of Transita here ,and there’ll soon be more about my second way of being published.
2: A novel for young adults called Wasted by Nicola Morgan which I finished last night, made me think about the role of luck or chance in our lives, and for me, specifically, the chance that led to publication at last. Nicola has an inspiring blog, ‘Help I need a Publisher’ and has set up another for her new novel, Wasted: which, in spite of my reluctance to buy yet another novel for my t.b.a. pile, I bought.
Although when I taught English in secondary schools, I used to enjoy reading fiction for teenagers, I haven’t done so since my own children were in their teens. I’m not going to say much about Wasted here – apart from saying ‘BUY IT!’ and quoting from an email I sent her after I’d read the first six chapters: “ I love the way you kind of dance through the words on the page with such energy and sensitivity. You’re ridiculously, arrogantly original and you’re making me want to write for teenagers. (not that I could)”
Last night I couldn’t sleep until I’d finished Wasted. This morning I visited the Wasted blog and came across this review.. It expresses my thoughts and feelings exactly.On another blog, where Nicola was responding to questions about Wasted, I find her voicing my own sentiments:
“As Jack says in Wasted, “Luck is just what we call it.” I think we very largely make our own luck. Terrible things happen to people through no fault of their own, and sometimes good things happen to those who don’t deserve it, but I believe that there are lots of ways of maximising our chances in all aspects of life. With trying to be published, there are right things to do and wrong things. The more right things you do, the more likely you are to be “lucky”…”
3: Yesterday afternoon I was at an inspiring poetry Workshop in the beautiful Shakespeare Memorial Room in Birmingham, led by Mario Petrucci and organised by Jaqui Rowe of Poetry Bites. I came away feeling grounded again, and with a few notes that might become a poem. I’ve been reminded of what I need to do and, more importantly, not do. I’ll write more about this soon, but meanwhile I shall follow Mario’s advice and do - what might look like to anyone who might see me – nothing!
Please go the ‘Contact Me’ page above, if you’d like to order a copy of one of my novels, but would prefer not to use Paypal
Although I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and the films based on these, I wouldn’t ever have expected to find myself at an event dedicated to his life and work, but there I was, last Sunday in Sarehole Mill Recreation Ground in the Shire Park, Birmingham.
This large grassy space, enclosed with high hedges of flowering May, was filled with marquees, jousting rings and make-shift stalls and tents, staffed by Hobbits, Elves and Medieval Humans.Unfortunately, my camera batteries were dead on arrival, so I’ve had the make use of photos taken from the Middle-earth Weekend site.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I can be relied on to turn up at any event that offers me an opportunity to talk about my writing and I tend to be open to almost any new experiences - as a writer I can never know what unfamiliar sights or sounds might provide useful material for a future poem or story - so when Chris Morgan, Birmingham Poet Laureate 2009, invited me to read some of my own poems at the annual Middle-earth Weekend, I thought, ‘Why not?’
and as usual, said, ‘Yes, I’d love to!’.
The warmth and brightness of the sunshine after so many weeks of grey cold days somehow added to the illusion of stepping into a film set, where small family groups in ordinary clothing strolled around holding ice creams and cans of pop, mingling with characters from The Lord of the Rings. These included a medieval lord and lady each with their own pet baby dragon which looked and felt extraordinarily life like, almost seeming to purr as I stroked one under its clammy chin.
The poetry recital was programmed for 1.00 in the Performance tent, where four of us delivered our poems to a small audience which seemed to be split into two groups: the enthusiasts who’d found their way there on purpose, and the bemused who only wanted a a cup of tea and a piece of Victoria sandwich. Nonetheless , they all listened politely.
I didn’t have any Tolkein-themed poems, so I’d selected a few that seemed in some way to fit in with a fantasy theme and started off with one which is usually popular, even with people who aren’t particular fans of poetry, Becoming a Seal
It’s a long time since I’ve posted a new ‘poem of the Week’ so here’s another of those I read on Sunday.
After that startled awakening and chase through the woods
bears lumbered almost nightly
into her dreams
but by the time she married, she couldn’t remember
why even the smell of porridge
could scald her tongue.
She has a baby now, and her broken sleep is invaded
by bears again – their coarse dark fur
smelling of resin and fungus.
Sometimes she wakes with honey in her throat
hands as cumbersome as boxing gloves
flat white nails thickened to ebony .
When she slides from the bed
it seems natural as breathing
to pad across the carpet on all fours.
Grey light seeps through loosely woven
nursery rhymes. She unravels undertones of
talcum powder, sweat-damp hair
and hints of her own milk on sleeping breath.
Her baby. Is he hers? He seems so
folded in on his unblemished self
as though he’s tumbled through a crack in time
and she can’t touch him.
I wrote this several years ago and was delighted when it won a place in a Mslexia competition.
It’s a whole week since my book launch and I still smile with delight when I go over the events of that evening, so I’m about to indulge myself shamelessly by giving a few more details of my conversation with Clarissa about Paper Lanterns, and how my writing career has been linked to our friendship as you can also see in my profile, published last week in the Birmingham Post, and now available to read on-line
As I said last week, we’d been treated royally by the Ikon Cafe staff, and you can read here about Clarissa’s comments on the food.
Friendships forged in childhood, especially those based on shared incarceration at boarding school, can last for a lifetime, and Clarissa felt that the best way of explaining how we’d met was to read a short extract from her autobiography, Spilling The Beans.
Our lives have taken very different paths through adulthood. It’s no secret that Clarissa is a recovering alcoholic, and when her drinking was getting more and more out of hand, I was so worried about her that I wrote a short story based on this.
I entered it for a competition run by BRMB and the Birmingham Readers & Writers Festival in 1985(the forerunner of the Birmingham Book festival) and I still have the clipping from the (then) Sutton Coldfield Times with the account of my prize winning story.
That was my first ever success with my writing, and in 2005, Clarissa was there to introduce me at the Birmingham Book Festival’s launch of my first novel,The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society.
Neither of us could have predicted this wonderful event and the changes in both of our lives 20 years later – Clarissa was no longer drinking and had forged an amazing new career for herself in television, and I was a published novelist at last.
We talked about other events in my writing career, and the ups and downs of my attempts to get published, and then I explained the ideas, inspirations and themes that produced Paper Lanterns. This included the story of how I discovered the original letters from 1920
First I read a long letter from the married English woman, and then the one from the young Chinese woman written 4 years before that to the same man. (I’ll post that one soon, but meanwhile, here’s an extract from the English woman. As I explained during the launch last Tuesday, I brought the dates forward to 1930, and changed the setting from Canton to Hong Kong, as this is a place I know well. In my novel, I’ve kept as closely as I could to the original letters, and have invented a series of journal entries, involving a totally fictional story line for a key section of Paper Lanterns.
Ah, Mr McFarlane, you are a disturber! What do you mean by upsetting the equilibrium of two highly respectable (!) ladies in their heretofore blissful states of married and single blessedness? And two at once, mind you! And you so young and all. The poor young idlers that we endeavour to teach to shoot must certainly not have got their money’s worth this morning and now at our first opportunity (recess) we two rush together to weep on each other’s shoulders for what we haven’t got and will never get. It’s a great bond, this being crazy about the same person. I only hope I’ll be able to preserve enough of a sense of decency from the wreck to give her the chance I wish I could take myself.
After these letters I read more extracts from the novel itself, and then went on to explain about the founding of Novel Press. I was delighted with the comments of Jonathan Davidson on the Writing West Midlands blog, where he suggests in his article “New Ways of Publishing” that:
“the means of production is moving away from being held in the hands of one conglomorate… Good writing will surface for us all to enjoy: poor writing won’t be quite so often foisted upon us in an attempt to get a return on investment or to distort our reading tastes for purely commercial gain.”
What a week this has been for me and for my latest ‘babies’: Paper Lanterns, and my publishing venture, Novel Press. On top of all this, I nearly jumped out of my skin this morning when I was leafing through today’s Birmingham Post. I was scanning for an article and a photo that I’d been informed would appear last week.
Although I don’t tend to expect more than my share of luck to land on my doorstep, I have to admit that I was rather disappointed, especially as the photographer had come to take my photo the Tuesday before. ‘Oh well! Never mind,’ I thought. ‘It’s a shame, but they’ve obviously got better things to print.’
However, I never let myself be put off by low expectations , so before I went to work I stopped at the useful shop at the top of the hill. I slowly turned the pages, thinking, ‘Not likely to be in this week with all this election stuff jostling for space.’
It wasn’t in Books, Films, History, Outdoors, Motoring, or Travel. Business Briefing? Not likely! Then, over the page, under the heading, Business Profile there was my face occupying the entire page! And on the facing page, another photo and a whole long article about ME!! AUTHOR AND PUBLISHER CHRISTINE COLEMAN
But I’m running ahead of myself. This amazing double-page spread happened today, and I haven’t yet said anything about Tuesday evening at the Ikon Gallery. What a fabulous venue for my launch! This was all thanks to Sara Beadle and staff at the Birmingham Book Festival who organised the whole event, liaising with the staff at the Ikon Gallery.
They were all keen to help promote me as a local author and publisher, together with my childhood friend, Clarissa Dickson Wright who has loyally supported me in my writing endeavours (more of this in my next post)
When we arrived, Clarissa and I posed for photographs, in the Ikon Cafe and then we and my husband were treated to an excellent meal of tapas and other mouth-watering dishes. Clarissa is well known for her interest in good food, and was genuinely enthusiastic in her praise of our meal.
We were then taken up in a glass lift . Here’s the description from their website
“The dramatic second floor galleries offer 228.2m² of space and are light and airy, retaining the original arched gothic ceiling.”
The Ikon staff and volunteers had to wait till the gallery had been closed to the public before they could bring in the 90 chairs, erect the platform for me and Clarissa, arrange the copies of Paper Lanterns and my first novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society on a table at the far end, and lay out the drinks for the audience at the other end. It was all done with amazing speed and efficiency, ready to welcome the audience at the appointed time of 6.45.
All the seats were taken and everyone in the audience was wonderfully attentive and appreciative. They laughed in the right places and I was amazed and delighted at their reactions to my readings of two of the original letters that partly inspired the novel. I’ll be writing more about this event (including book sales and Novel Press in future posts,) and about the Birmingham Post article.
In the meantime, take a look at this excellent article by Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands, with his hard-hitting piece ‘New ways of Publishing’
If you can’t get a ticket for my book launch next week, you do have a chance to hear me talking about Paper Lanterns, thanks to Radio Wildfire. “The Loop” is always worth listening to in its own right, and not just because it’ll let you hear me talking about the real-life letters that partly inspired Paper Lanterns. It’s a nonstop transmission between their live monthly broadcasts - two hours of lively interviews with writers , musicians and generally creative types from around the West Midlands region.
The whole ‘menu’ is there for you to read, so you can see what’ll be coming up next. You can’t predict which part you’ll land on, but you’ll be able to see whether or not I’m next on the list. If you’ve worked out that you’ve just missed me, and my turn won’t come round again for ages , you can decide to go out for a walk or dig the garden and then come back to listen to me. (There are lots of other interesting things though, so you might prefer to listen to everything else (instead, or as well!)
All you need to do is click on this link then click ‘Listen’
So what about those letters? Briefly, the story behind the novel relates to some original love letters that were written in China in 1920 by a married English woman to a young colleague of her husband. There were five letters that related to her, and the final of these had been written by a female friend of this woman, informing the young man why he had not heard from her friend. It turned out that the husband had discovered that ‘something’ was going on, so the errant wife had given up her would-be lover for the sake of her children.
Reading these letters, I felt like an intruder even though the writer herself must have been dead by the time I came across this material. I was intensely moved by this glimpse into the private life of a woman from a different era, but then, when I then found that there were the two short letters in broken English, written in 1916, I was almost in tears for the young Chinese girl as she struggled to express her grief at his absence.
There were a few other accompanying documents in the same package, and when I turned to these I realised that both sets of letters had been addressed to the same young man. In spite of my feelings of sympathy towards both these women, the writer in me was already dreaming up ways in which the stories of those two women could be woven into fiction.
I’ll be writing more about these letters soon, but meanwhile, in case you were wondering why I’ve included pictures of a peacock and pink magnolia, it’s because these were taken on a gloriously sunny day in Kew Gardens, while we were visiting our daughter and her fiance in Chiswick for the weekend.
Getting back to recommending other websites to visit, you might like to follow this link I’ve already mentioned Nicola Morgan (aka ‘crabbit old bat’) in a previous post, and the new link is to her new novel, with lord knows how many exciting competitions etc. What a wildfire of energy the woman is!
I was intrigued by one of the articles selected today by The Booksellers’ Morning Headlines. It made me wonder if Emily Bronte would be turning in her grave if she knew that sales of her classic novel of more than 160 years ago had received a shot in the arm from the Twilight series of Vampire stories.
On reflection, I imagine that she might have been amused to hear that the massive increase in sales from 8,551 copies in 2005, to 34,023 last year, was attributed to the recommendation from Stephanie Mayer’s fictional characters: “ Bella and Edward’s favourite books”.
But I doubt that she’d have been too thrilled to know that her masterpiece was boosting the profits of a well-known bloodsucking retailer. According to the Daily Telegraph’s article, Wuthering Heights “is now one of the bestselling novels at Tesco, as well as more traditional book shops.”
What I found particularly interesting about this, is the huge effect of the ‘Twilight-inspired cover artwork’ for last year’s reissue of the classic novel.
It seems to re-enforce what I have recently discovered for myself, readers do tend to judge a book by its cover: there are all sorts of factors operating on both conscious and unconscious levels as we make our decisions, based on the message(s) we’ve received.
I can’t help wondering if any of the thousands of young people, who bought their own copy on the strength of the visual and written reference to a series of young adult fiction written in the 21st century , had been disappointed in what they found between those covers. But I would hope that many of them would have been enthralled by the world they had been lured to enter under false expectations.
My own ‘Cover Design Challenge’ made me change my mind about my own favourite, and I am now delighted that I went with the majority vote.
Back to the subject of vampires, I’ve just realised that today’s topic links nicely with my previous one: Romania is the home of the first ever vampire, Vlad Dracula. so I’ve spent an entertaining few minutes googling for information about the various origins of the legend.
If you’ve missed taking parting my Book Cover Design Challenge, you can still see the seven covers by clicking here.Even if you did receive one of the one hundred and fifty five I.D. numbers that I sent out to each entrant, you might want to remind yourself of the other pictures.
This afternoon I spent a happy couple of hours in Hudson’s Coffee House in the middle of Birmingham, drinking hot chocolate and chatting with a group of Bookcrossers. Because five of those I.D. numbers were going to be randomly selected, I wanted to make sure that all the entrants would know that everything had been conducted in a fair and proper manner,
so five of the group each drew one number out of the nice warm hat I’d been wearing:
From left to right: Matth3w, LyzzyBee, Heaven-Ali, Paraglider(that’s me!) Megmac and Nordie. (the little strips of paper they are all holding are the winning ID numbers)
With a big THANK YOU to Beckydore for volunteering to take this photo!
The winners (who will receive a free copy of Paper Lanterns as soon as it’s ready in a few weeks’ time) are:
ID no.16, Marilyn Ricci from Soundswrite, Leicester poetry group)
ID no. 27, Giles Osborne (from Cannon Poets, where I first ‘came out’ as a poet)
ID no. 51, Helena Brooke Carter (a friend from our long-ago school days)
ID no. 66, John Payne (latest book: The West Country: a cultural history )
ID no. 153, Sarah Jakeman, a gifted novelist and friend
When I set up this challenge, I didn’t want to ask people to vote for their own favourite, because I already knew which one I was going to use. Therefore, the only fair question seemed to be, ‘Which cover do you think that the author likes best?’
As an after thought, I added (truthfully) that I’d also be interested in hearing their views. Although I also said, ‘I might need to think again if enough people choose a different version!’ it honestly hadn’t entered my head that I might have to do just that!
Although I was delighted by the quality and thoughtfulness of the responses, I was becoming increasingly uneasy with each new entry – the cover which I had liked the least was leading the field from the start with seven out of the first ten entries.
I tried to convince myself that this would change as more entries came through, and I clung to that hope while 17 out of 30, then 22 out of 40, 26 of 50 and 32 of 60 consistently followed that preference. By the time the 100th came through, and 56 people had selected that same one, I knew I had to take notice of what was being said.
‘It’s your book, you should use the one you want,’ my friends said, but my brain doesn’t work like that. I can start off by being very clear about my own opinions on all sorts of things, but when I’m presented with other views on the matter, I look more closely at the basis for my decision in the first place and try to weigh up the various pros and cons.
In this particular case, one of the things I hadn’t fully considered was the importance of the instant impact: one of the main purposes of the front cover of a novel is to attract the attention of the viewer - either in the bookshop, where they’ll pick up the book itself, turn it over, read the blurb and the first page, or on-line, where they might scroll down for more information, and maybe click on Paypal, and add it to their basket.
I’ll be posting more soon about the different choices and comments, and why I had to change my mind, but didn’t mind it.
BEFORE YOU READ ABOUT Paraglider’s Three Times Lucky December,Click here for my BOOK COVER DESIGN CHALLENGE and give yourself the chance of winning a FREE copy of Paper Lanterns(CLOSING DATE: 31st December)
DECEMBER HAS BEEN A LUCKY MONTH FOR ME, SO FAR
1) I was invited to take part in a live broadcast on Radio Wildfire to talk about my novels, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, and the soon-to-be-published Paper Lanterns.
2) I received a lovely recommendation for the back cover of Paper Lanterns from prize-winning author, Linda Gillard . She is writer of uncompromisingly high calibre and her third novel, Star Gazing, was shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year 2009.
I have great respect for her judgement on literary matters, so I’m delighted that she enjoyed my novel enough to name it in the same breath as the two novelists she mentions below:
“A vivid and absorbing tale of family secrets and illicit love, observed with the keen eye of a poet. You can almost smell and taste Hong Kong. Recommended for fans of Margaret Forster and Penelope Lively.“
3) I’ve just had an article published in the Bookcrossers’ monthly newsletter. You can read it here, and see why I think that all authors should love Bookcrossers.
It’s exciting enough to think that some of the 829,653 members from all around the world might read my article, but on top of that I’ve been awarded a month’s free membership of ‘Members Plus’, and this means that my Bookcrossing name, paraglider will now display wings for the next few weeks. (It does bring other privileges, but I might not have time to take advantage of these.) Still, I feel very proud when I click on my Bookcrossing name and see those wings - the nearest I’ll ever get to being angelic!