Adding Flavour to your Writing


443px-German_Bratwürste

German Bratwurst at Nuremberg’s main market square,

Something that is often underestimated in fiction is the importance of food and beverages. They are as much part of a nation’s culture and heritage as architecture and art, music and dialects, local costume and customs. Leave out the flavour of food and drink locals like to consume and you’re only telling half the story, robbing yourself of a valuable tool that will draw readers into your narrative by subtle means.

Go beyond mentioning ale, wine, cheese, meat, onions and bread. It is the more intricate detail that helps writers to conjure up an authentic setting, allowing readers to not only see, hear, and feel but TASTE the flavour of a point in time and a real or fictional place.

Food and drink also help writers to characterise protagonists in culinary terms. Think Ian Fleming’s James Bond without his customary shaken but not stirred, super-cool martini or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot without his beloved tisane. Not quite the same, is it?

bierglas emptying itselfPerhaps your detective protagonist is a gourmand, astonishing villains with amazing feats of culinary prowess that hint at equally accomplished execution of public duties? Or your hapless Latin protagonist cannot prepare a chorizo Mexicano with tostadas to save her life and is as hopeless at cooking as she is at recognising a good man in your romance novel?

Be literary foodie detective

A foreign character becomes that much more genuine in flavour and scent when your “I-must-be-trendy-or-die” heroine teeters into a Berlin bar on her stilettos, orders a Berliner Weisse mit Schuss, climbs onto the bar stool and smiles broadly at the barman, only to display remnants of Bockwurst between her teeth.

The words fish ‘n chips alone conjure up a picture of Britain’s seedy and run-down seaside resorts, of screaming kids in prams pushed around by indifferent mothers in white leggings and baggy tops, of wheeling seagulls, drizzling rain and fierce gusts blowing litter everywhere. Add a steak and kidney pudding accompanied by mushy peas, followed by a sticky bun and plastic cup of tea and you have a setting that is unmistakably British and noir.

Permit the scent of crispy bacon and a heap of baked beans on toast in the early hours of the morning to lure your crime-fighting hero’s growing paunch off-track, and your reader can digest the fact that even the toughest detective needs comfort food once in a while and shouldn’t be asked to forego his full English for an early arrest of the villain.

A culinary starting point

A great advantage of researching historic food and drink is that often writers come across stuff like “this brewery has been producing Hefeweizen (wheat lager) and dark lager since 1827”. It provides us with a genuine reference point in history, allowing us to concentrate on a small area within a village, town or city from which we can expand into the wider (historical) world of our chosen period setting.

Why not use the street in which the brewery stands as a setting for a scene? Let the brewery’s day-to-day operations become a realistic background to your main action. Without going into a huge amount of detail, your writing will allow readers to hear the clip-clop of dray horses pulling a heavy wagon full of kegs; readers will unconsciously wrinkle their noses at the manure dotted around in this cobbled street and sense the air is filled with the stink of fermented hops, malt and wheat. The fictional employees of such a business could even become walk-on characters in your story’s secondary plot.

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By the way, the brewery mentioned here is located on the Northern German Island of Rügen. The Stralsunder Brauerei has been supplying Baltic resorts with beer since 1827, when the brewery was founded.

640px-Störtebecker-Glas_(3)Let your protagonist drink a dark lager called Störtebecker Hanse Porter, named in honour of 13th century pirate Nicolas (Klaas) Störtebeker, and readers will imagine your manly hero’s rugged good looks and steely gaze. And if your protagonists munch their way through a platter of hearty Braunschweiger, Kohlwurst and Bregenwurst sausages, served with boiled potatoes and steaming kale, readers know the setting is as northern German, Protestant and rural as it gets.

This simple peasant meal will act as a reminder that your story is set in empty, bleak and entirely flat landscapes, lined by deserted white sandy beaches where icy winds rush through dunes even in summer. In this desolate landscape the air is filled with the scent of smoked fish and ham, and the screech of gulls riding the steely grey Baltic waves drown out conversations between windswept protagonists. This is a landscape made for epic, smouldering love stories that don’t end well, leaving a smoky aftertaste on readers’ palates, when they reach the final page.

fcauliflower with rolling eyesEqually, no literary excursion to Prague in the Czech Republic is complete without an ice-cold serving of a glass of light golden Krušovice, a lager with a dry straw aroma served to the office of Václav Havel, when he was the republic’s president back in 2003. The beer has been brewed in Czech Republic since 1517 and the brewery once belonged to Emperor Rudolf II, who purchased it in 1581 for the Czech Crown. Now there’s already a historic novel contained in that one sentence! Why did Rudolf buy a brewery? Whom could a writer murder to make this a whodunit with beer?

And while your hero and heroine are gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes over the din of Strasbourg Cathedral’s bells and the merciless fall of the guillotine, why not let them have a fruity glass of Alsace wine, while they’re nibbling slices of grilled Saucisse de Canard? It’s a sausage made from duck, for which Strasbourg’s surroundings and Brittany are famous. Oh go on, it’s the aristocrats’ final meal together, before the doomed lovers’ heads get chopped off!

The importance of food and drink production

From fluffy white ducks and geese that waddle through meadows and farmyards in the Alsace and Périgord regions in France to the sturdy peasants working steep vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel valleys in Germany, food and drink production has shaped the way our landscapes look and the way people have traded and dealt with each other over time.

little boy munching chicken legsEven when writing a science fiction novel set on another planet, food and drink production that nourishes the beings living on that planet should therefore be uppermost in a writer’s mind. Agriculture will have influenced that planet’s landscapes. Food and drink will be an integral part of the culture our story is based on. Who eats first in a hierarchical society? Who gets the biggest cut and who gets only the scraps?

Is drinking alcoholic beverages a sin, a feat of prowess for manly men or a confounded nuisance for those who have to enforce the law?

If this article has provided you with a morsel of culinary inspiration for your next novel, be sure to pass it on. Spice up your romance with mulled wine; remove greasy burger taste from your Belgium detective’s palate. Serve him cuisine à la bière with a steaming bowl of mussels with frieten instead, adding a glass of Liefmans, brewed in Flanders since 1679, for a refreshing aftertaste. Squirt a little wine into your heroine’s barley water to mellow the minx.

little green pear yawning widelyBon appetite, writers!

 

(picture credits: all animation sourced via heathersanimations.com,

Picture 1: Nuremberg sausages, By Gerbis – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13280953

Picture 2: Stralsunder Brewery,  CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9768916

Picture 3: promotional Sailing Glass/Segelglass identity for Klaas Stoertebeker lager, Bild Segelglas als Identitätsmerkmal der Biermarke Störtebecker,  von Günter Haase – Eigenes Werk, CC-BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40978499)

 

 

 

Landscapes of my Mind


Fox_Hunt_1893_Winslow_Homerfox cub shaking its headApart from a few references to creating fantasy worlds, my blog posts so far have dealt with how real locations can be used in fiction to make a point about either the underlying theme, the protagonist’s inner workings or any other topic an author would like to present in the sub-text. But sometimes we take our inspiration from very different sources for the landscapes into which we invite our readers. Not from an Atlas, Google Maps or an old-fashioned globe this time, the inspiration for my book cover and – at least in part – the plot for “Master of the Foxhunt” came from a famous painting.

The landscape painter and printmaker Winslow Homer (1836 to 1910) is a preeminent figure in American art. His beautiful painting “Fox Hunt”, falling so neatly into the Victorian era my ghost story is set in, was the inspiration for my novella’s cover. The story itself, which had been maturing in my head for a long time, was inspired by a real family of foxes who had taken up residence in my garden shortly after I had purchased a flat in London a few years ago. Since hardly a day goes by where I don’t see the bushy tail or tufty ear of an urban fox disappear around a corner these days, it was about time they fox blowing hunting horntook on a starring role in one of my works.

My London flat had been on the market for a while and so the garden was rather overgrown, when I purchased it. Imagine a whole row of Edwardian and Victorian family homes with 90-ft gardens arranged back-to-back and you can picture a ready-made urban heaven for foxes. The dilapidated shed that stood in the wilderness of brambles and tall grass at the bottom of my garden was soon transformed into a look-out station from which Mama Fox and her three cubs would survey their little kingdom each morning, when the sun would warm their pelts, while I was floating in the bath. My large picture window of my bathroom overlooked the garden and afforded me an excellent opportunity to spy on South East London’s urban wildlife.

The family of foxes didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they were quite the little show-offs, yawning widely and stretching out luxuriously of a morning, turning their little furry bellies towards the warming rays of the early sun, reminding me that their work was done while I still had my working day ahead of me!

winking foxWinslow Homer’s wonderful painting is on display at the Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts and is one of three Homer masterpieces on show, the other two being “North Road Bermuda” and “Eight Bells”. Oil on canvas and measuring 96.5 b 174 cm, “Fox Hunt” was created in 1893 – eight years after the setting of my romantic ghost story, but close enough!

Homer was largely self-taught (like me…but unlike me, he was a hugely gifted painter!). He spent a short time studying oil painting in the spring of 1861, before being sent to the Civil War front in Virginia as an artist-correspondent for the illustrated journal Harper’s Weekly, then a fairly new publication. The time he spent at the front had a profound affect on him and he produced many works about the meaning of war, its impact on people. He was greatly admired by his contemporaries, who found the force of his work and fierce beauty, the drama and dynamic of his compositions deeply moving. Many of his later paintings carry hints of modernist abstraction and I feel “Fox Hunt” is a splendid example of this.

He often depicted scenes of hunting and fishing, producing many evocative and much admired seascapes in the process, but here we enter an unforgiving frosty world, an icy countryside that is beautiful, but deadly.

“Fox Hunt” was his largest painting up to that point, dealing with the depiction of survival in the wild – a subject largely inspired by Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and a topic uppermost on many artists’ minds in the final years of the 19th century.  Set in a harsh winter landscape of the Main shoreline, Homer shows us a fox fleeing from a hungry flock of crows. The crow, harbinger of death in mythology for eons, is here not just a messenger but the actual executioner. Looking at the painting one really feels for the fox, its desperate struggle to escape from the trap half-starved crows have sprung on him by ganging up and hunting him as a pack through the deep snow.

Homer surprises us with this reversal of fortune, making the fox the prey. The fox has such a bad reputation as the raider of chicken coops, the cunning hunter of small prey, the sly opportunist who’ll steal your Sunday roast from your patio if you don’t watch out. It is indeed one of Homer’s most powerful and memorable images and a true masterpiece.

My version, of course, isn’t, as is evident from the book cover! However, given that I had to draw this by hand using a mouse pad and my index finger instead of a sweeping paintbrush…it’s hopefully not too insulting to foxes (I challenge thee, Mr Homer, to try your hand on my mouse pad and do better!). No crows this time, although a cheeky reference to them can be found in my story. As the cover shows, the reversal of fortune in my story involves foxes and humans. Since I find “blood sports” abhorrent and regard those who enjoy them as utterly depraved, expect to find foxes who’ll have the upper paw in my novella.

Homer’s “Fox Hunt” was deemed such a powerful work that it became the first of the artist’s paintings to enter a public collection, when the Pennsylvania Academy snapped it up in 1893. What I love about the painting is that our eye is first drawn to the red of the fox’s fur, then the red of the berries of the wild-rose bush, tiny messengers of hope in this harsh landscape, for they signal spring is on its way. With the change of season comes greater availability of food sources for both fox and crow. But then our eye is drawn to the fox’s dark shadow falling across the snow and that implies imminent death – only then do we really take notice of the crows and understand who is the hunter and who the prey in this painting.

Writers are always asked where they take their inspiration from. For once I can actually pinpoint what prompted me to write about a foxhunt and why I set the story in the latter part of Queen Victoria’s reign. Just as Homer’s painting is a complex study of the struggle to survive in a hostile world, how writers get their ideas and are able to create landscapes of their mind on paper is a complex topic and a question that isn’t easily answered.

My story, initially a straightforward ghost story, soon took a different turn, in that the main characters insisted it should be a love story that leaves readers with a warm glow on a cold winter’s day, not a horror story that sends even more shivers up and down their spines. I was rather miffed at first, but hey, when your main characters pull into one direction and you strain the other way, something’s got to give in the end. The wise thing is to give in and let them have their own way!

Master of Foxhunt Book Cover with Title and Author Name

Fancy a slice of romantic Victorian ghost story at $0.99? #ebook #MustRead #fantasy Master of the Foxhunt is out! https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/master-of-the-foxhunt/id1080939714?mt=11 

This is the only sales link I’ve received from the publishing platform I used so far, but the ebook should already be available at Kindle, Barnes & Noble, GooglePlay, Kobo etc. ISBN: 978-3-7396-3465-4

Published well in time for Valentine’s Day and much better for the hips than a box of chocolates…but just as satisfying!

 

(Winslow Homer’s “Fox Hunt” as per Wikipedia commons licence, in public domain, all animations via heathersanimations(dot)com, cover for “Master of the Foxhunt”: copyright Maria Thermann)

 

Writer, Know your Turf


two girls with umbrella in snow stormI’ve been reading my way through some of the wonderful murder mysteries and crimes novels from the Golden Age of this genre, now re-issued by British Library Crime Classics. Among them is the once very popular, now almost forgotten writer John Bude, who wrote some 30 best-selling crime novels in his day which are now all but collectors’ items.

Having just finished “The Lake District Murder”, which is rather different from his other two novels published in this British Library series, I am once again reminded what a huge difference it makes when a writer knows their “turf”, or locality, and doesn’t just work from a map and tourist guide book.

Set in the Lake District in the north of England, the novel is less of a whodunit and more of a how-did-they-do-it. In it, Inspector Meredith must break some pretty solid alibies and solve the murder of a garage co-owner, whose death was dressed up as suicide.

As Martin Edwards says in his introduction to this entertaining novel, John Bude “not only knew but clearly loved his Lake District”. And that makes all the difference, for he knows not just the geographical, but also the social landscape of this part of Britain, allowing his readers a glimpse into what life was like at that time in this desolate but beautiful region. There is the middle-aged woman who cooks and cleans, mends and washes in the household of two men for just ten shillings a week; there are the two garage owners who scratch a living for just £16 profit a month, shared between the two of them – which means that each of them had just about a couple of quid to spend per week in 1935, when this novel was first published. There are numerous hotels and pubs that make an excellent living in spring and summer, when masses of tourists arrive, but whose proprietors must fall back on local custom during the rest of the year. Times are hard in rural surroundings like these, and we are reminded of this at every turn but in an understated, subtle way.

What is also interesting is that John Bude, in an era when the amateur sleuth was all the rage among writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, chose to make the policeman Inspector Meredith the central figure of his novel and the painstaking efforts of the police to make the crime stick to the villains so they could be rightfully convicted. No dashing Lord Peter Wimsey here or little old Miss Marple. This feels very much like a real detective at work, doing boring stake-outs hiding behind hedgerows or sifting through endless paperwork.

The other central character, if you like, is the Lake District itself, its peculiar geographical quirks as much part of the investigation as the villains themselves. Loving – or detesting – the location a writer uses as background makes all the difference. Even if you create a whole new world for your fantasy novel, you need to feel passionately about the location in one way or another, or you might as well set the whole thing in a void…or a Tesco supermarket isle. Be as passionate about the location as you are about the characters you drop into these fictional landscapes. Your readers will follow their every footstep, so you need to be the world’s best tourist guide!

I didn’t adhere to this rule too strictly in the first outing for Linus Brown, when he meets the leprechauns in his new Lincolnshire environment for the first time, but location will play a big, big part when Linus and the leprechaun colony set out to visit Ireland and Castle Blarney in the second outing for my 9-year-old protagonist. Thankfully, I have been to Ireland, albeit not to the castle, but having visited a lot of castles in my day, I can “wing” that part of it, I’m hoping. The Castle has its own website, fortunately with lots of history and some pictures…research, even for a children’s novel, is vital.

Finally, at the end of week two of my second promotion for Linus’s first novel, my Copromote adventure bagged me CoPromoters who retweeted my original Tweet with the sales link to Scribd(dot)com to followers of their Twitter networks. A round of applause to all of them and a big, fat thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When About Me becomes all About Them


1 test tubesAs some of you may know, I have been an About.me.com subscriber and had my details on it. It used to be a great site…until I tried recently to update my details and couldn’t. I submitted an error ticket, got a brief reply they were dealing with it…and heard nothing more…until I received an email proclaiming “exciting news, we have changed the design, made everything looking great blahblah.”.

The new design is, of course, utter crap for those who use the “free” option. No idea what the paid version is like, I cannot even progress to looking at other people’s profiles anymore, as I seem to be permanently stuck in “updating mode”. I had planned to upgrade to a $9.00 per month paid option this year, but now I shan’t. Not worth it, as the new style about.me page is awful. They have also done away by the looks of it with our carefully assembled collections of people we might want to collaborate with in future – in my case writers, illustrators and editors. The design options are now more restricted than ever, one can only upload one link per social network, so I had to mention my Willow the Vampire blog in the text, instead of providing the link at the bottom as before among my more detailed bio. Why make us fill out all that stuff half way through last year, when it’s now all been deleted and we had to complete everything again? No warning was given to subscribers beforehand. Customer service is clearly a foreign concept to this outfit at About.me.com.

I was particularly irritated that the minimalist description, which used to show up next to our photographs/artwork is now meaningless, because it won’t be seen anymore or if any of it is left at all, it just sits at the start of the bio without meaning. My photograph, previously part of my page, has also disappeared, leaving just part of my artwork visible. Worse, the site insists on us putting our location in, which appears at the very top with our profession. If any of you were thinking of signing up to the site, don’t bother, it’s no longer worth it. It used to be a great site, now it’s a waste of space and time.

It’s now all about THEM, no longer about US, the actual subscribers. If this was an experiment in marketing their new paid for services, it’s utterly failed as far as this member is concerned!

 

 

Leprechauns infiltrate Twitter?


flying pixie manYes, you’ve read that correctly! A week into their second promotional adventure on Copromote the pesky little leprechauns shy 9-year-old Linus Brown meets, when he explores his new surroundings in rural Lincolnshire, have managed to charm no fewer than 67 lovely Copromoters into given the ebook a 6,700% boost. To their utter astonishment, 212,933 Twitter followers discovered a sales link to the leprechauns’ ebook in their “in-box”. There’s still one more week to go, so who knows what these sneaky little so-and-so’s will get up to over the next 7 days?

While Linus & The Leprechauns are busily marketing their children’s book on Copromote, their long-suffering creator and co-author is still assessing writing contests for 2016. Here’s one from the wonderful people at Narrative Magazine, if you’re coming over all “literary” and want to submit to the magazine’s submission guidelines:

http://www.narrativemagazine.com/winter-2016-story-contest

Writing Opportunities for Spring 2016


Fox Book Cover

Master of the Foxhunt

 

Birds are tweeting their little heads off, the first fresh green leaves are appearing on our trees. A daffodil or two may even be poking their heads out of the soil to say hello….time to sharpen the old goose feather quill and start thinking about entering writing contests again. And just when I’m recovering from my nasty “festive” cold and start contemplating getting back to creative writing, Aerogramme Studio have helpfully published a list of writing opportunities for February and March this year:

 

Opportunities for Writers: February and March 2016

Loverly people that they are!

Since my nose wouldn’t stop running and prevented me from doing much writing this last fortnight, I’ve re-read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and devoured Susanna Clarke’s marvellous “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” books to get me into a “fantasy” frame of mind for my own writing. I managed to write one chapter of my Merlin fan fiction epic “Let The Questing Begin”, despite coughing my guts out during the process, have managed to start another chapter. The epic adventure is nearly at an end, so will soon be published via Bookrix as a FREE ebook . A lengthy writing sample if you will.

I’m still revamping this WordPress site and Willow the Vampire’s own blog, so hopefully there will soon be a few more reading samples appearing here and on Willow’s bloodsucking WordPress site, too.

Incidentally, what I loved about “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” was the wonderful use of location, magical and real, that the author makes in her book. Couldn’t put it down – and while I admit to have at first been slightly daunted by the enormous size of the book (1,000 pages), after the first few pages I was so hooked, I couldn’t put it down. I’d meant to read the book for ages, but never found the time, so this was a real treat. Who’d have thought that sober, grumpy Yorkshire could be put to such magical and fantastical use?

And if you’re wondering about the picture at the top, it’s the draft for a book cover “Master of the Foxhunt” I’m working on. It’s an old-fashioned ghost story with a dash of black humour that I’ve nearly finished (about 50,000 words long as an ebook). So watch out for the sales links appearing for that soon!

Trotting down new Avenues


Goodreads and Scribd cover for Linus and the LeprechaunsAlthough I usually publish via platform Bookrix(dot)com, I’ve long been looking to broaden the distribution. Now my kids’ ebook “Linus & The Leprechauns” is available via Scribd, which is the world’s largest online library, 24Symbols, which is also subscriber-based, and Page Foundry . It will also be available via Tolino, a huge German ebook sales site, but I haven’t received the link for that, yet. I used Draft2Digital, but encountered a few problems because they are so vague about their upload and artwork requirements, which was really irritating.

They give you the option of doing a print version via Createspace…and tell authors in their “step-by-step-guide” that D2D will handle all the book cover stuff as long as authors send artwork in a specific size…D2D then suddenly tell you that you must send book cover artwork according to Createspace’s requirements, when you get to the point of uploading what you had been told was all that was required…

So why exactly should I choose Draft2Digital for this service, when going directly via Createspace means I can sell immediately via Amazon, but I cannot do so, if I publish the print version via Draft2Digital? I still end up doing all the work on the book cover wrap-around artwork…but am disadvantaged, if I use D2D, because they have yet to reach an agreement with Amazon for print books. Grrrrr.

On the promotional front, I am giving little Linus his second Copromote boost with a Tweet about the book’s presence on Scribd. In the first 24 hours, 18 Copromoters chose to retweet my message, which gave me a 1,800% boost for my Tweet and gave me a reach of 129,640 Twitter followers for my message.

Not a bad start – although I ran out of “credits”, so must accumulate more before the campaign can continue. I began this campaign with ca. 132,000 credits on the free program. Once I can see how all this translates into sales, if any, I shall consider taking the “pro” route on Copromote, which costs $49.99 per month for the basic package. Will keep you posted. It only took me a week to accumulate 132,000 credits, so that’s manageable, if I continue to stay with the free version of Copromote.

Trotting down this unfamiliar avenue is certainly paying off. I discovered that with some of the ebook sales platforms I even get an author’s page (which I’ve yet to complete), so yay! What is also good about publishing via D2D, despite the irritating teething problems, is that it allows me to whet readers’ appetites with a “next in series to be published on…” date, so readers of “Linus & The Leprechauns” can pre-order the 2nd book in the series, something that isn’t offered via Bookrix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Writer Resolution


bare trees in snowSo there we are, another year, another royalty dollar I probably won’t earn…sigh. In an effort to find better ways to promote my writing, I have decided to enter some short story contests in 2016. Not that I expect to win anything, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and if I won the first prize in the Stinkforth-upon-Avon short story contest 2016, I might get a place in their anthology and get mentioned in the Stinkforth Daily Bugle…(Willow the Vampire readers will get this one…)

Let’s face it, winning a prestigious short story contest does help to win potential book buyers’ attention. People sit up and pay online when your blurb can boast legitimately “winner of blahblah in 2016”. It gives you credentials, it says you’re not one of millions of self-publishing talentless idiots looking for a pat on the back and peer approval from fellow teen writers. Winning an international contest means some literary greats are likely to have read your story…people in the business, people with publishing and critical acclaim clout behind their namefireworks with happy new year messages.

So here are a few contests I’ll try to brave this year:

The Sunday Times Short Story Prize

It is the world’s richest short story competition, with the winner receiving £30,000 (US$45,000). In 2015 the prize was won by Yiyun Li for her story ‘A Sheltered Woman’. The winner of the 2016 Sunday Times Short Story Prize will be announced on 22 April 2016 and entries for the 2017 prize are expected to open in July 2016.

HG Well Short Story Competition

This one is for stories between 1500 and 5000 words. The 2016 competition theme is space. The shortlisted stories will be published in an anthology. There are prizes in three different categories including £1000 (US$1500) for the best story by a writer aged 21 or under. Entries close 17 July.

Manchester Fiction Prize

It is a major international literary competition open to anyone aged 16 or over. The winner receives a cash prize of £10,000 (US$15,000). Stories can be up to 2500 words in length. The organisers also offer a Manchester Poetry Prize. Entries for both competitions close on 23 September.

Seán Ó Faoláin International Short Story Competition

It is an annual short story competition open to writers from around the world. First prize is €2000 (US$2100), publication in the literary journal Southword, and a week-long residency at Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat. Entries are accepted from May to July annually.

And that’s enough to be getting on with. If my lovely clients leave me a bit of spare time, I might write a story for submission to the Bridport Prize and a couple of literary magazines, but more of that in my next blog post. Included in my NY resolution to write more for promotional purposes is also submission to KindleSingle. Since they have an editorial process, there’s a certain amount of street cred to be earned from publishing single short stories via Kindle.

If you’re planning to also enter all or some of the above contests, may the best writer win!

The Ugly Truth of Publishing & How BEST to Support Writers


This blog post gives a great round-up of all the main points: why it mostly sucks to be a writer in today’s publishing world! Readers, we need your support! Write those reviews, don’t just consume, consume, consume. Writers need to eat and have a roof over their heads to keep producing all those wonderful stories you love so much.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Well, I figure I have one more day to drunkenly torch my platform. Sad thing is I don’t drink. I am apparently this stupid when sober 😛 . Actually I am writing this as a follow up for my rant from the day before yesterday, because knowledge is power.

Writers need this. Your friends and families need this. Readers need this. The more people get how this industry works, the more everyone can start working together for everyone’s benefit.

In my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I go into a LOT more detail and I highly recommend you get a copy if you don’t have one. I spend the first chapters of the book explaining how the various forms of publishing work so you can make an educated decision.

All types of publishing have corresponding…

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Linus & the Leprechauns proudly count their Copromote retweets


candles with happy new year messageHope you’re all having a great festive few days! As promised, here’s a final update on my Copromote adventure for my children’s book “Linus & The Leprechauns”:

My original tweet was sent on 11th December and the campaign finished on 24th December. Had I not constantly run out of virtual credits, my Tweet would have been boosted even more, but as it is, 85 lovely copromoters retweeted it to their network of followers, giving my original Tweet an 8,500% boost and a reach of 187,817 followers on Twitter. In addition, I bagged more than 100 Twitter followers, quite a few WordPress followers and also got “liked” loads of times. Most of the copromoters, whose own promotional Tweets I had retweeted via my own network of Twitter followers either thanked me or “liked” the Tweet or retweeted it again, giving me additional exposure. It’s been amazing, so I can honestly say, this is one medium that really, really works with regard to creating a bit of buzz for your book/product.

Ho, Ho, Ho, see little Linus go! I don’t know if the campaign had anything to do with it, but I’ve seen a steady increase of readers on Bookrix, the platform I used to publish my ebook. It has been named as one of their “recommended” reads and is every so often coming up in the top five positions, which means the book covers appears on Bookrix’s own landing page.

I will do another Copromote boost for “Linus & The Leprechauns” when the print edition is out. All in all, not a bad way to finish the year…onwards and upwards, slaving away over part two of Linus’s adventures…

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

 

 

Have yourselves a Merry Christmas by the Hearth


rudolph with glowing noseburning fire in hearthWishing everybody a wonderful Christmas time and every success for next year’s creative writing!

A little update on my Copromote efforts for my kids’ book “Linus & The Leprechauns”: 81 copromoters have retweeted by original tweet, boosting my tweet by 8,000% and giving a reach of more than 161,000 Twitter followers. Not bad for a few seconds work, eh?

Here are two more good sites for book promotions, entirely free, although there are paid-for options which don’t cost much:

http://www.booktalk.org/authors-publishers.html

and

http://www.bookhitch.com/

I’ve not had a chance to add my books, but will do so asasp. They look good sites and the latter is also an info resource for writers.

Ho Ho Ho and all that, and may my Santa wish list come true for next year: Peace, happiness and prosperity for all!

 

 

 

 

Smack in the Middle of Town…you’ll overcome Writer’s Block


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Maria Thermann: Ramsgate Harbour

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Wiki Commons

 

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Copyright Maria Thermann: Spencer Square, Ramsgate

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Copyright Maria Thermann: Westcliff B&Bs and Victorian shelter

 

Provincial towns and sea ports tend to retain their intrinsic character far better than big cities, where greedy developers can’t wait to knock down historic buildings and whole streets disappear in a matter of days to make way for the new. Believe it or not, every brick and cobblestone of your home town is imprinted on your psyche, but you are probably quite unaware of it.

Spotting historic Connections

In small towns like Ramsgate at the Kent coast much of the fishing community spirit has survived to this day. Locals eye newcomers with customary suspicion and don’t like anyone who’s different. Few urban settlements in Britain retain as many historic buildings in their centres as Ramsgate does and this may be one of the reasons why attitudes towards strangers are as crusty and Victorian as the buildings that dominate the town’s two chalk cliffs. In total, there are 900 listed buildings in the town centre, much of which, incidentally, was designed by notable architects Mary Townley, August and Edward Pugin.

Overlooking the sea from their chalk cliff eeries, there are lovely Georgian seafront mansions that would have welcomed royalty like the young Princess Victoria and people like writer Wilkie Collins, painter Vincent van Gogh and, some decades later, actor John Le Mesurier. Today the town is home to actress Brenda Blethyn OBE and Janet Fielding, the former an enthusiastic supporter of the local fleapit cinema, the Granville Theatre, an art deco building much in need of financial support and refurbishment.

But right in the centre of Ramsgate there’s the late Victorian Sailors’ Church and Harbour Mission and the adjacent Smack Boys Home that would have taken in some of the poorest people in town and it is this building that is so inspirational within the historic harbour.

Soaking up the Spirit of a Place

One feels positively Dickensian as a writer just looking at its red brick facade. Stand along this dockside for a few minutes on a stormy day and feel the wind chill you to the bone. Lick your lips and taste the salt the breeze deposits there; scrape wet hair with icy fingers from your frozen face and squint at grey rain clouds with streaming eyes. Just a mo’ – you’re almost there, all it needs now is for one of those two-storey-high waves that pound the jetty at high tide to soak you to the skin and you’ll know exactly what the life of a young smack boy was like!

Except, nobody would be clouting you around the ears when you’re doing something wrong or the crew and skipper think you’re not pulling your slender weight in a gale force wind aboard one of the fishing vessels that go lobstering or fishing for herring.

You go to a comfy hotel bed with a full belly and rise in the knowledge that you have warm clothing and oil skins that will protect you from the worst of the elements when you join a fishing crew for a day’s excursion. When you leave the harbour, it is to go home to your loved ones. The smack boys had none of that.

The history of this small home for boys is yet to be written and published, but one could come up with at least half a dozen short stories and a really good Victorian murder mystery just by standing there and looking at the home’s mosaic band at first floor level that is inscribed with the important words: The Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys Founded 1881.

It’s the only one of its kind in Britain. It’s handsome plinth with string courses, pilasters, mock machicolations and battlements belies the poverty that the boys experienced and the wretched backgrounds some of them came from. What a wonderfully pushy man the Canon Eustace Brenan must have been to get this project approved by the town worthies! No doubt Charles Dickens, who used to holiday every year in the neighbouring village of Broadstairs, would have made much of such a character in his novels.

Now listed buildings, the charming little Sailors’ Church and Harbour Mission are rarely open to the public these days, but last summer I was fortunate enough to attend a Jazz concert held at this church. The 3-storey Smack Boy Home, which is located next door and also above parts of the church and mission, is no longer refuge to shivering small urchins working on fishing boats. It has been turned into offices and storage space and is sadly not open to the public as a museum.

The church opens its doors throughout the summer months (June to September) on Sundays at 6.00 pm, when sailors and anyone in need of a tranquil, spiritual hour and a cup of tea can visit and see some of the model ships, old photographs and other fishing memorabilia on display. Also, a special Christmas service is held every year for the many people who make a living via Ramsgate Harbour and those who have their boats moored there all year.

A compassionate Victorian with a Vision

Sitting close by the foot of Jacob’s Ladder on Westcliff, the church was built by Canon Eustace Brenan, vicar of nearby Christ Church, in 1878. The Smack Boy Home, Church and Harbour Mission would provide spiritual guidance and physical assistance to the men and boys who made up the crews of the sailing smacks that fished out of Ramsgate Harbour in the latter part of the 19th century.

It was very hard work, especially for the youngest Smack Boys, who were apprenticed to the skipper of each boat. When the boys were ashore, they could look forward to at least a modicum of comfort in the rooms above the church and, a few years later, in the specially built home for them next door.

Over the years the home extended a welcome to sailors who had been rescued, mostly from the wrecks that had come to grief on the notorious Goodwin Sands that lurk beneath the surface of the sea not far from Ramsgate. In World War I. some 3,300 survivors were fed, clothed, sheltered and medically attended to at this small building, an astonishing achievement by anyone’s standards.

When 50 or so registered smacks left Ramsgate Harbour with every incoming tide in 1863, there would have been a skipper and four members of the crew on board, most of whom would have been smack boys of varying ages. By 1906 this number had swelled to 168 sailing smacks – Ramsgate was a popular seaside resort by then and needed plenty of seafood for its tourists. Just imagine how many boys that makes who had no home to go to when they came ashore other than Canon Brenan’s Home for Smack Boys.

Canon Brenan put pressure on the Board of Trade, when he realised that there was nobody looking after these boys when they came ashore. Many of these boys seem to have been orphans and were probably coming from orphanages and workhouses straight onto the sailing smacks, when they were deemed old enough to earn a living (probably aged 10!). No other British fishing port copied this excellent idea, so Ramsgate’s Smack Boy Home is quite unique in its modern and charitable approach to one of the hardest professions on earth.

Recalling Childhood Memories

There are still a few elderly residents around who were smack boys and it would be wonderful if the Ramsgate Historic Society recorded their story before it’s too late and these precious memories are lost for good. We rarely hear from children in history books, and interviewing the surviving smack boys seems such a worthwhile thing to do.

Combined with the Goodwin Sands disasters, the smugglers’ caves all around and the illustrious personages who stayed in Ramsgate at one time or another, there is rich material here for novelists. In this port the past is still casting a long shadow over the present.

The town’s inhabitants have experienced such truly astonishing events since the building of the smack boys’ home that it is hardly surprising many of them keep one foot firmly planted in the mists of time and rarely risk a reluctant toe dipping into the here and now. Our surroundings shape us in many different ways as individuals and communities. The best writers know how to exploit this to their advantage. Still suffering from a blank page and a horror to fill it with words?

Next time you’re out for a stroll because you’ve got a small attack of writer’s block, take a good look at those all too familiar facades in your street. What lurks behind them historically and how has that influenced you? Start with the boy/girl in the mirror and before you’ll know it, that empty page in front of you is no longer staring back blankly. Smack in the middle of your familiar home town, you can discover something new and exciting about your community and yourself.

 

 

 

 

There’s no stopping Linus & The Leprechauns thanks to Copromote


Copyright Sarah Chipperfield

What advice will scarecrow give you for your ebook? A promotional road less well travelled?

 

 

It’s not even been a full week of promotion and my kids’ book “Linus & The Leprechauns” has clocked up some impressive stats:

As of this afternoon, when I’d suddenly run out of credits (only 53 left, yeiks!) and had to quickly top up with some more copromotion Tweets, the tally stood thus:

47 copromoters have kindly retweeted by original Tweet of last Friday to their own Twitter networks. That has given me a reach of 91,404 Twitter followers, enhancing my own Tweet by 4,700%.

Every time I copromote somebody else’s Tweet about one of their books or other product, I find that the Tweet’s originators either thank me with a message or click the “like” button, giving me additional exposure. I’m also having a good take-up rate of both Twitter and Copromote followers.

If you are thinking of going for the “Pro” version, I got a wee message this morning saying that there’s currently an 80% discount for that one. The next step up from “Pro” which usually costs $49.99 per month, is priced at $99 per month, which starts you off with a reach of 500,000 credits, and unlimited “boosts” for either your Twitter/YouTube/Vine or Tumblr promotions (or a combination thereof).

Traditionally, kids’ books don’t do so well when it comes to book promotional sites  – many sites that promote books for free or for a small fee don’t even have a YA or kids’ category, so it can be hard to find a good  launch pad. All in all, I find that “Linus & the Leprechauns” are forging ahead far better than expected with Copromote.

Go Linus, go!

NB: Linus Brown is named in homage of the Peanuts and Charlie Brown’s friend “Linus”. Have been to see the Charlie Brown film currently in the cinemas and it’s adorable. Staying true to the original, the film recaps some of Charlie and Snoopy’s adventures, aspirations and dreams. Lose yourself for 93 minutes in this charming world of childhood traumas and small victories!

 

 

Copromoted Leprechauns


508px-Leprechaun_ill_artlibre_jnlHere’s a brief update on how my Copromote efforts are doing for my “Linus & the Leprechauns” ebook:

As per my earlier blog post, I “boosted” one of my Tweets with the help of Copromote last Friday. Since then, 30 copromoters have retweeted my original Tweet, thereby increasing my original reach by 3,000% and allowing me to reach 62,099 people. I’ve also gained both Twitter and Copromote followers in the process.

Whenever I copromote somebody, I have a look at how they’re doing so far. Some of the more popular products (music videos, fitness and health-related stuff, sci-fi and romance books) are retweeted/reposted by so many people, their reach can be 700,000+, even with the free Copromote package. Not bad going, given that such promotions can result in a 1% sales take-up rate. The paid for package ($49.44 per month) allows authors unlimited boosts and starts them off with 200,000 credits, so it’s possible to “boost” promotional Tweets/YouTube videos/Vine entries/Tumblr posts for several different products every month with the paid for service.

Using the free package, I had only 8 credits left this morning, but with some quick copromoting efforts, I’ve cranked up my credits again, so hopefully my little campaign can continue today with more people retweeting my call to arms.

If you want a good laugh today, why not read “Linus & The Leprechauns”  – a book singularly lacking in pots of gold but making up for it with plenty of farting jokes – or simply start promoting your own stuff via Copromote…the results should put a big smile on your face!

My Type of Book Promotion


 

I’m sure I mentioned the virtues of Copromote before on this blog, but I really have to sing their praises once more. That’s an online promotional “location” I can wholeheartedly recommend. It works on the principle that with every sales link/tweet/tumbler blog/YouTube video or Vine entry you promote for others, you build up credits which you can use to “boost” your own sales links etc. Obviously., by retweeting or re-sending your link, you have a potential reach that far outstrips your own number of followers, giving you greater exposure for your product, but also allowing you to grow your social media network.

Yesterday I tweeted an update for my aboutme.com page with a sales link to my “Linus & The Leprechauns” book. Already 13 people have retweeted it, giving me a 1,300% boost to my original tweet and an audience of just under 47,000 people. You need to build up about 40,000 to 50,000 credits before you can run a 14-day promotion, but you get a “warning notice” when you’re running low on credits, so you can top up with a few hurried co-promoting moves. It’s a friendly place too, where people start following you quickly and you’ll find lots of artists will always promote other artists’ work. The wider the interests you state in the given categories, the greater your chance of getting “good” promotional links that you are happy to promote for others.

The free of charge version limits the number of boosts per month and the number of credits per day one can do, but the next step up, the $49.99 per month package, allows copromoters a far greater scope and therefore a potential reach of millions of people. Try the free version a few times, as I’m doing now, see how it impacts on sales (or not) and then decide which package is best for you.

Copromote used to be linked with WordPress but for some strange reason this is no longer the case, which is rather a nuisance, since I can’t get on with Tumblr at all. Squeezing what I want to say into my 140 character Tweet is a bit of a challenge, but I’ve sussed out now that I can do this quite well via updates to my aboutme.com account. If you’re running a YouTube, Vine or Tumblr account, you’ll have even better ways of promoting your book/product than I have at present. One of these days, this techno-phobe will get her head round opening a YouTube account…

 

 

Places we love, Places we hate


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Broadstairs village centre

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Kent coast, Broadstairs

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Ramsgate Harbour

So far I’ve only posted blogs about fabulous places that inspire our writing, but what about places we loathe, places that we know only too well, locations full of awful people intent on making their fellow human beings’ lives difficult or unpleasant?

Lady with a Van

If you’ve watched “The Lady in the Van”, a film starring Dame Maggie Smith, you’ll know that playwright Allan Bennett used his experiences of living in a particular part of London to pen a wonderful book on which the film is based.

When a homeless lady in a van arrives in a fashionable part of Town, snobbish residents at first want to get rid of her, later they begin to vie for her attention with attempts to be charitable. It makes them feel less guilty about being wealthy and having reached a certain position in life. Some 15 years later, the lady in the van is still there, parked outside Allan Bennett’s home, and she’s just as ungrateful as ever for any type of “charitable acts” inflicted on her.

As Bennett’s book shows, places we loathe, or are made to feel uncomfortable in, can be just as inspiring as the delights of Paris or Venice, Florence or historic Bamberg and serve to illuminate either our own state of mind or that of our fellow citizens (or both, as in the film/book).

The people in such places often deserve to be taken to task for how they behave. Parts of Allan Bennett’s story are set at the Kent coast, in Broadstairs, where Dame Maggie Smith, dressed as a homeless woman, is seen to enter the local fleapit cinema in the film and stand at the beach, looking wistfully out to sea. It’s an area where people retire to, and they don’t like seeing young people, or change or anything in fact that shakes them out of their daily routine. Indeed, the brother of the character Maggie Smith portrays in the film has retired to Broadstairs, where she visits him on occasion. He admits having had her committed to an asylum because she was “just so odd”. Here, being different is clearly tantamount to committing a crime.

With such a population, the place is ideally suited as a setting for a great satire or comedy. Such locations are perfect fodder for writers. Snobbery exposed, or uncaring attitudes or one-upman ship among neighbours…the possibilities are endless.

Other locations are excellent backgrounds for particularly brutal crime stories. One could be describing how society has broken down to such an extent that even horrific crimes no longer shock those who live there, Ian Rankin style. Ruth Rendell often uses the fictional location of provincial Kingsmarkham as a mirror of what’s going on in the mind and private life of her Chief Detective Inspector Wexford and demonstrates how the town’s proximity to London is changing rural societies over time.

Or how about a romance gone wrong – where the location is deceptively pretty but harbours dark secrets? Rural areas are ideal for that. Charming isolated farmsteads and villages, as Sir Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes put it, are often the setting of  unspeakable crimes.

Nasty things that have upset us in a specific place bear within them the kernel for a great story, allowing us to deal with whatever happened to us in a constructive way.

Lady without a Van

I’m still digesting what happened to me, so don’t know yet what fictional work will come of my unpleasant experience. The following is a true story and happened to me just a hop and a skip away from where the sainted feet of Dame Maggie stood in the sand. No doubt at some point I’ll see the funny side of it, but right now, I’m just disgusted.

Because I’m using the Kent coast as background to a series of books (Inspector Beagle), I visit Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate occasionally to do research at local libraries and to take photographs of locations. It made sense to use the area, because I used to live in Ramsgate and know the Kent coast reasonably well. I can honestly say that I hated living in Kent, because the majority of people who reside along this part of the coast, called the Isle of Thanet, are truly awful.

If they’re not criminal and destructive, they are usually snooty and UKIP voters happy to embrace all that is reactionary and anti-foreigner. While I am used to people reacting to a German national with suspicion or even dislike, the Thanet way of “welcoming” visitors goes way beyond that and has little to do with my nationality.  Anyone not being Thanet (in)bred and born is classed as an undesirable intruder.

Here the term foreigner means everybody who doesn’t hail from the Isle of Thanet. That includes even you, Londoners, and people visiting from Canterbury just up the road. There are many Thanet residents who have never taken the train or bus out of Thanet and to them, anything and anyone even slightly different is a threat. No matter that they are residing in what is supposed to be a seaside resort open to tourism. They resent people coming here to enjoy beach and facilities. Sit down with a book at Broadstairs’ Dumpton Gap beach on a sunny day and locals will glare at you until you leave. It is one of the most unwelcoming places I’ve ever been to – and that includes the former East German state.

In the summer, when National Express coaches disgorge South East London’s day trippers, I have seen locals stand around at the seafront and openly make hostile comments about such visitors…tourists who are spending hard-earned money in these resorts to support local economies. Would they bother if they knew how racist are large section of locals are? Doubtful.

So this is what happened to this pedestrian lady, permanently without a van:

I was camping to save money on accommodation. I walked along the seafront early in the morning, when it was still dark. Camping in the cold season isn’t a lot of fun, so one tends to leave far earlier in the morning than one would, when being in a tent is quite comfy. Realising that I was too early for the first cafe to open and serve breakfast, I sat down in one of those shelter things dotted along the Ramsgate promenade up on the East Cliff. I noticed, as I was sitting down, that on the street level (one level up from where I was sitting), a woman and her dog had just arrived for their regular morning walkies.

Taking out my little torchlight, I checked my watch to see what the time actually was and whether it was worth getting out my glasses and book to while away the time until the cafes opened. I heard the woman get out her mobile to make a call, but didn’t take any notice. Little did I know that my turning on the torch had alerted her to my presence and sent her inbred Thanet pea-brain into overdrive. No, deciding I might as well be comfortable and warm for the 20 minutes or so I had to wait, I took out my little travel blanket that I use when I sit around in underfunded, freezing cold Thanet  libraries, and draped it across my legs.

What happened next?

Van overboard!

A police car arrived and I was questioned at length. Their opening gambit was, if I’d seen a suspicious man with a large backpack. But this turned rapidly to my being questioned  about my identity and what I was doing there. Why? Because the idiot dog walker had called them, reporting me as a potential suicide who had been “spotted near the railings overlooking the cliff edge”. I wonder, did Dame Maggie Smith have the same problem when visiting Broadstairs on a windy, rainy day? Ah, she’s a smart woman, she probably didn’t risk sitting down anywhere other than the ice cream parlour we see her patronising in the film.

I hadn’t been anywhere near the railings overlooking the cliff edge, having walked in a straight line through a small park, along the landscaped garden area that formed the dog walker’s level of promenade and directly up to the little shelter where I sat down. The dog walker would have been quite aware of this, having seen me arrive at the shelter at the same time as she arrived on the landscaped level overlooking the promenade.

However, mistaking me for a homeless person who was sitting where she obsessively walks her dog (in the pitch dark!), she needed a valid reason for the police to scare me off. How dare a person sit in a spot where she walks every day!

Why a woman should choose to walk her dog (without a torchlight) in a pitch dark area, when she could simply walk the beastie along the lawned area on the upper level lit up by streetlights is anyone’s guess. To me it simply proves that she has little common sense.

Had she simply reported me as a “homeless” person sitting there, the police wouldn’t have bothered to come out. Reporting me as a potential suicide made sure of their immediate investigation. I had seen the dog walker a couple of times before, so knew she always walked her dog there at roughly the same time every morning. My presence, a small change to her routine, frightened her so much, she risked lying to the police.

A Van of mistaken Identity

Ironically, her arrival was what had prompted me in the first place to check my watch with my torch, because I realised I had walked faster than usual and arrived far too early. I normally saw her depart, not arrive. And it had also made me feel safe, seeing another woman and knowing dog walkers were around. Otherwise I wouldn’t have sat down for a little rest where the shelter was, in the dark, but would have walked on to the harbour where there are lights and benches and CCTV.

She had reported me “as a man with a big backpack”, yet I was wearing a floral skirt so couldn’t possibly have been the person she claimed to have seen – nor did I have a backpack. Had she really seen me standing under a streetlight by the railing, she couldn’t possibly have mistaken me for a man. The police should have been able to work that out for themselves, and also noticed that one cannot actually see the railings from where the woman claimed to have seen the alleged suicide attempt. However, they chose to ignore these obvious facts. Doesn’t leave one with a lot of faith in Kent’s police force to do detective work, does it?

Lady ready to drive her van the hell out of Dodge

Instead of questioning the veracity of what was clearly a false claim made by the dog walker, the police (2 of them!) insisted on taking down my details, asking me where I was headed, my address etc etc. Throughout this procedure, the dog walker, who was quite obviously “the concerned member of the public” referred to by the police, stood there cool as a cucumber and threw in morsels of polite chit-chat such as “that’s a nice bag” (pointing at my large bag which was full of books I as going to review that day) and “where did you walk from this morning…oh, that’s a long, long walk, no wonder you wanted to sit down.”

She may have felt guilty about reporting a blameless member of public at this point, but still not guilty enough to apologise for the hassle caused to me. Why? Because I have a non-Thanet accent.

When I voiced my annoyance that a member of the public who had sat down harmlessly on a park bench for a couple of minutes (literally!) was being harassed in this manner, the police got stroppy and of course, having a foreign accent in a place famously anti-visitor, didn’t help matters either. They actually checked their records if anyone had reported me missing! Presumably from some institution where all foreigners should be detained as dangerous lunatics. I’m the first to admit that as a writer I’m as loopy as the next creative person, but this really is taking things too far. I sat quietly on a public bench at 6.25 am, not rampaged around the seafront at 3.35 am, roaring drunk, toting a gun!

Nothing, not even a handout of £5 million by some local benefactor would induce me to move back here. If I had had a van in 2007 when I left Kent to move to Wales, I would have erased Kent from my sat nav map to ensure my little van would never be able to find its way back.

Nothing but a Van-load of Trouble

It really was farcical to be told by the police that they are “concerned about everybody’s welfare” and must investigate claims of persons liable to harm themselves or others, when they clearly don’t give a damn and never turn up when hordes of youths (mostly grammar school uppity types) regularly rampage through the town centre smashing windows or throwing paint all over shop fronts. I know this as fact from talking to local cafe and shop owners and my own observations.

Throughout the summer gangs of youths from wealthy homes, sometimes as many as 20 or 30, party along the West Cliff every night of the week, leaving huge amounts of litter everywhere and keeping long-suffering residents awake with their shouting and screaming, loud music and revving of motorbikes.

Do the police turn up for that? No, they do not.

Instead, both the council and police apparently told West Cliff residents to put a sock in it and put up with normal “seaside resort” summer activities, even if these “activities” involve drunken brawls and public drug-taking in the streets. Indeed, I was told by one resident that the council told them off, when residents rang up to say they had formed a committee to clear the rubbish on a daily basis, as they were fed up seeing the mess every day those youths left behind. How dare residents take initiative was the council’s response. Clearing rubbish away was strictly council business. Residents were apparently ordered to stop cleaning up the lawned areas immediately!

Nor do the police bother to help homeless people sleeping in doorways in sub zero temperatures or in torrential rain conditions. There’s an old homeless man sitting regularly on a bench in Ramsgate town centre – does the police come and ask him, if he’s alright? No, they do not! I have seen them walk right past the old man without so much as a glance in his direction.

So why investigate me?

This is why: the dog walker lives on the well-to-do Ramsgate/Broadstairs border, where homes are large and rather expensive….where people are posh and have double-barrel names, and send their obnoxious offspring to local grammar schools to raise them in their UKIP image. The shelter I sat in was closer to Broadstairs than Ramsgate. Which is why the police never bothered to query the dog walker’s report. A general consensus to hide local poverty, homelessness and other problems caused by chronic corruption among those who should ensure there are jobs and housing means false reports like the one made by the dog walker are apt to be believed, when the person making the report is from Broadstairs (where those in charge of local finances apparently live).

Her call to the police was taken at face value, especially as the person she reported turned out to have a foreign accent. Broadstairs is Kent’s big draw tourism-wise and “The Lady in a Van” film will obviously ensure a new generation of tourists will come next summer. Broadstairs postcodes call the shots around here, their hotels, restaurants etc pay large amounts of business taxes.

Ironically, given the subject matter of the film, the presence of homeless people or emotionally unstable persons is strictly “verboten” and must be stopped. I’ve even seen local vigilante gangs walk along the cliff top in summer, wearing night-vision goggles, so they can find homeless people sleeping rough in the undergrowth of parks and along the seafront and drive them off.

When I questioned how I could possibly be the person the “concerned member of the public” had reported, I was told by one of the police officers, I “fitted the description”! Hang on, your colleague said the report was about a man with a large backpack…isn’t it therefore ludicrous to suggest a short middle-aged woman in a floral skirt without a backpack should suddenly fit that description?

Oh, the fear of the unknown…the sudden appearance of change in our lives.

Lady dismissing the Van of Oblivion

So let me offer an official statement to Kent police and all dog walkers along this stretch of coast – and please do take this at face value: If I ever feel like committing suicide at any point in the future, it won’t be in a dump like Ramsgate, Margate or Broadstairs. I  wouldn’t want to be seen dead anywhere in Kent!

That’s why I sold up and moved away and am busy writing a series of books that ridicule the area. Sorry to disappoint, but I really am not ready to get into the van of oblivion and hurl myself down a cliff, especially as I’m neither called Thelma nor Louise.

However did Dame Maggie Smith get away with walking around Broadstairs dressed as a bag lady? She must have had a huge entourage protecting her from Thanet’s unpleasant dog walkers. Possibly a solicitor on stand-by to bail her out of jail in case Dame Maggie fitted somebody’s description of a suspicious looking man?

I wonder how the dog walker would feel, if I rang up the police and reported a “dangerous dog had tried to attack me at the seafront”, even though the claim giving a description of her dog would be false. She would be upset and disgusted. Now you’re getting it, Thanet pea-brain. Please hold on to that thought.

(In the interest of fairness, I would like to stress that many of the younger residents, the new generation of adults if you like, are quite different and rather ashamed of the attitude their elders display towards visitors. I have met some lovely young people here, who are as helpful, friendly and tolerant of foreigners and non-Thanet visitors as can be.

But I still wouldn’t want to be seen dead – or alive- in Kent.)

 

 

(copyright for photographs: Maria Thermann)

 

 

 

Pumpkins, Pumpkins everywhere!


Happy Halloween Everyone!

First draft illustration for The Little Book of Halloween short story "Cooking with G Ramsey Beelzebub"

First draft illustration for The Little Book of Halloween short story “Cooking with G Ramsey Beelzebub”

Since the rejection on technical grounds of my ebook, I’ve been busy scribbling away at pumpkin and Halloween related facts in an effort to make the children’s book even better. Now it will have pumpkin dishes, pumpkin-growing tips and even more illustrations in it than before. Am also working on a companion piece of The Little Book of Halloween, a book devoted entirely to the topic of ghosts, spectres, apparitions and ghouls.

The illustration you see here is the first draft for a picture that will appear in my short story “Cooking with G Ramsey Beelzebub”, an adventure four little girls have when out trick-or-treating.

They come across a real witch and things take a turn for the worst from the moment they cross the witch’s threshold…pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere…shooting out of one of the little girls, when the children are magically transformed to become the costumes they are wearing for real. A little bit scary, a little bit funny, the story was written a few years ago for the grandchildren of a former colleague of mine. His grandkids and their friends loved it. Having put the story away for a long time, I looked at it again, worked it over to make it even better, and now it feels right for publication somehow. Hope the girls in question, who are now also a few years older, will like the story just as much now as they did then.

From The Little Book of Halloween

From The Little Book of Halloween

What else is in the book? A recipe for pumpkin soup, my very own, of course, and how to grow champion pumpkins without the help of witches. Have a great Halloween, everyone!

Tricked-N-Treated well before Halloween


Cover for The Little Book of Halloween

Cover for The Little Book of Halloween

To my intense irritation I discovered that uploading and publishing anything with illustrations or photographs on Bookrix is a challenge too great for this techno-phobe. Bookrix publishes ebooks and so far I had no problems with them, since all I ever did was uploading a cover and manuscript.

Things changed drastically when I wanted to upload my latest book project, obviously well in time for Halloween, since it deals with the origins and folklore of this ancient festival. It also features several children’s short stories inspired by the colourful festival of Halloween.

The draft book was rejected on the grounds that two – or possibly 3 chapters, the emails I got were a little misleading – were not indented as they should be. Something that was not MY fault. Believe me I tried to set things right. It was the publisher’s software fault.

Naturally, there was nothing in the publisher’s style and upload guidelines about this issue that might have helped me to avoid further uploading problems. When the book was rejected on technical grounds, I was invited to revise…but since the overall result looked “pants” and the illustration upload problem remained, I asked for the book to be deleted instead. I had the child-like believe, you see, I could simply publish somewhere else…

And this is when I discovered that I would have to put the book on “sales stop” first and then wait for a whole 14 days before I could actually delete the thing and publish somewhere else. Given the book is called “The Little Book of Halloween”, not “The Little Book of Easter” or “the Little Book of Christmas”, it seemed utterly ridiculous to even suggest such a thing to me, the person trying to sell in time for a seasonal event.

Still, you cannot keep a good woman – or determined author for that matter – down for long. I decided to use this set-back as an opportunity instead. I had plenty of research material left, hadn’t I, on ghoulish, ghostly, witchy-woo things, things that go bump in the night and howl to make you shiver…? Why not use it for a whole collection, I said to myself…

Bookrix’s mean trick-or-treat prank has resulted in a whole series of “The Little Book of…” now, starting with “The Little Book of Ghosts” to be published shortly. So there, take that with a pinch of frog spawn and ground eye of newt, publisher, and gargle well with pumpkin juice afterwards. Wash down the bitter taste of one author voting with her virtual feet!

You have been warned, young readers!

You have been warned, young readers!

All of these highly desirable books (from a kid’s point of view) will be uploaded and published somewhere else now. Release date to be announced shortly.

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

#765 – Ketzel, the Cat who Composed by Lesléa Newman & Amy June Bates


Just in time for National Cat Day comes this wonderful blog post from KitLit here on WordPress. What a lovely story and amazing cat-human relationship the book describes. The illustrations are as adorable as this real-life event. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face and want to make you purr. Thanks for this, KitLit!

Kid Lit Reviews

Today is National Cat Day!In celebration of this day and the four-legged, furry creatures it honors, I would like to introduce you to a famous cat; one who changed a man’s life and possibly a few classical music fans as well. Here is Ketzel, a cat who actually composed music. Enjoy!

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Ketzel the Cat who Composed
Ketzel, the Cat who Composed

Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
Candlewick Press      10/06/2015
978-0-7636-6555-5
32 pages      Ages 5—8

Junior Library Guild Selection
“Moshe Cotel lives on a noisy street in a noisy city. But Moshe didn’t mind. EAs a composer, everything he heard was music to his ears. One day, while out for a walk, he heard something he’d never heard on the street before. It was a tiny kitten!

“Come, little Ketzel,” Moshe said. “I will take you home, and we will make beautiful music together.”

“And they did.”

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A Look Back At The Evolution Of Publishing With The British Library (kind of)


What an amazing resource WP blogger Tara Sparling has alerted us to here – just had a peek at the children’s book illustrations uploaded by those diligent British Library people. Marvellous stuff! Thank you so much Tara.

Tara Sparling writes

That sounds awfully highfalutin, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s Saturday morning. Who wants to read about the history of publishing at this hour of a bank holiday weekend?

Don’t worry. I wouldn’t do it to you. I just thought I might share some resource news with you before I go into hibernation, because the clocks are going back on Saturday, all the leaves will be off the trees by Monday, and because, well, Ireland.

I read recently that the British Library made over 1,000,000 images(taken from old books) free to any and all users on the marvellous Interweb. It’s a fantastic resource for bloggers in particular, and I couldn’t resist fiddling around with some of them. So in the interests of passing on this marvellous information, here we go.

A Look Back At The Evolution Of Publishing With The British Library (kind of)

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A Look Back At The Evolution Of Publishing With The British Library (kind of)

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A Look Back At The Evolution Of Publishing With The British Library (kind of)

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Have a lovely weekend. Zzzzzzzzzz.

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