Monday, 5 December 2011

Empty When Half Full

Some writing projects take a moment but are still worthwhile. Writing Magazine columnist, Patrick Forsyth explains:

Getting a new writing project is good, and most of us just want to crack into it; the sooner it’s done, the sooner we get paid. But sometimes … a while ago I saw a notice saying It is dangerous to cross this bridge when this notice is under water. We all see such things sometimes and smile. This time I saw several more examples before I had forgotten it, including a brand of crisps claiming to use Real Ingredients (what else?). I had a fancy that enough similar things might, linked together in the right way, make a book.

I collected examples for more than two years. Doing so took no great amount of time and was fun to do. Most were written by those either trying to sell us things or from government bodies and the like. Some were absurd: like a prescription sleeping pill marked: Caution: may cause drowsiness. Other were downright dangerous (imprecise dosage information) or, dare I say, designed to mislead people into buying something.

So I decided it should be written up in a way that, whilst maximising the humour, also mocked or castigated those involved. I approached four publishers with the idea. Three said no; one gave me a contract within a fortnight. I wrote the book and it is now published, as Empty When Half Full in time for Christmas (it would make a good present; indeed I have already received many orders for multiple copies). It seems to be off to a good start; one reviewer has called in “Hilarious!”

Now I knew when I started that file that it was not going to be a quick project; though examples abound (be careful!) and mounted up quite quickly. I had to collect sufficient material, but I was confident it could work out and pleased when a publisher took it up quickly when I was ready to write it. Now we will see how it goes. This morning I gave a talk (about another activity - my travel writing) and contrived to read out 3 pages of it. The whole room laughed out loud and I sold a reasonable quantity of books there and then.

Perhaps the moral is to be observant, look for – or create - ideas that will sell and not reject anything that might be profitable just because the return is not immediate. The trick after all is to have enough money coming in each month, regardless of just when the initiative that produced it took place. Some things cook quickly as it were, others need more time.

Then of course they need pushing. Copies of Empty When Half Full are available at £9.99 on Amazon, or you can order one at a lower price from me (and I’ll sign it, wow!) contact details on my website or send a cheque for £8.99 to 28, Saltcote Maltings, Maldon Essex CM9 4QP

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Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Monday, 28 November 2011

You May Be Surprised by What You Find

David Robinson shares his thoughts on why we should look deep within to find possibilities.
I read this week that writer Talli Roland has hit 20,000 sales of her e-titles over the last year. Great going, Talli, more power to your elbow.
Then I look at my sales. Nowhere near. Not even a dot on the horizon in comparison to Talli’s and when compared to the likes of John Locke or Amanda Hocking, I’m not even a loose atom floating around the universe.
When I analyse why, it comes down to just one thing: visibility. There’s nothing wrong with my work (according to my readers) the plots are solid, I leave no gaps in them, my covers have improved, and even if I do write in three different genres, crime, sci-fi and paranormal horror, I’m not the only one. My price falls within the generally accepted guidelines, 99ȼ - $2.99 and I plug work in the right places. I guest on other blogs such as this one, I turn out adequate slideshow trailers, and I podcast readings from my work.
In other words, I follow all the rules. But I don’t enjoy the visibility Talli, John Locke, Amanda Hocking and the big hitters do.
How do you achieve that “front”? To coin an English-ism, I have more bottle than the co-op dairy, and I’ve never been shy about putting myself forward, so it’s not that I’m reluctant to do it. I simply don’t know what I’m doing… or where I should be doing it.
There’s a fine line between publicity and spam, and I refuse to stoop to the level of bombarding every forum I can find with my links. According to my reading, it’s not the most productive route anyway.
Twitter and Facebook have their limitations. There’s only so many time you can tweet “buy my book” before people start switching off. Goodreads could be promising, but I can’t even get my books listed on there because of some problem with my identity clashing with my author name.
I need to find other routes.
It’s a problem that’s bugged me for months now. Then on November 22nd I caught a programme on BBC TV, a documentary about hairdressing legend Vidal Sassoon. I’ve never needed his services. I haven’t had enough hair for our local barber to tackle since 1980. Towards the end of the program, Sassoon said something like this:
“Look deep inside yourself. You may be surprised by what you find there.”
It’s something I’ve known for years without actually being aware of knowing it.
Now I look, and what do I find? Not answers, but possibilities.
My tweets will be less “buy, buy, buy” centred. My characters will tweet for me. There will be interviews with Joe Murray, Sceptre Rand, Pete Brennan and so on. I’ve even lined up an interview with Fishwick, the ghostly butler of the Spookies series (how’s that for an exclusive?) and another with Bazill Beatel, who won’t be born until the year 3050.
I’ll put up more free reads, and a few crazy polls. There’s one on my site right now, under the heading What Would You Do. It’s still running if you want to cast your vote.
And there will be giveaways. I’m a Yorkshireman. We keep our wallets closer than we keep our wives, and we don’t part with money easily, but I’m forcing myself. You can read all about it on the prize draw page of my site, but basically all you have to do is review one of my titles and then send me an email with the url for the review.
Beyond all that, I will carry on turning out the titles, and I’m open to suggestions from anyone.
In the meantime, this is likely to be my last guest post on Lorraine’s blog for 2011 so I’d like to thank her for allowing me this space, and to Lorraine and all her readers, let me be the first to wish you every success for 2012.
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Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Penguin Novel Give-away

Amanda Hodgkinson, author of the hugely successful 22, Britannia Road, has kindly dropped in to share some of her experiences of interacting with readers and reading clubs.

The publishers, Penguin, have 50 reading group sets of 22 Britannia Road to give away to reading groups and book clubs. The Reading for Everyone 22 Britannia Road Book Give-away 

Writing 22 Britannia Road, I spent a not insignificant chunk of my life living with my characters.  As I worked towards finishing the novel I found I didn't want to talk about my characters any more as they were, for me, real people who lived and loved and managed in their world as best they could.  I could only talk about them as people I knew and cared about. And I questioned them as I would real people. Was Silvana a good mother? What does it mean to be a good mother anyway? Were her wartime actions understandable? Was what she did an act of maternal love? Would I have done the same thing? And Janusz; was it possible to forgive him for his inability to talk to his wife about the war and their pasts?  Was he a good father to Aurek, the boy with wild ways and habit of calling Janusz ‘the enemy’?

When the novel was published a wonderful thing happened. I received letters from readers who also talked about Silvana and Aurek and Janusz and the other characters in the novel. I went on book tours in the UK and the USA and met incredible people I would never have normally met, simply because they had shared the world of my novel with me.

I met readers who told me they had cried for the Nowak family, been angry with their actions, understood them, loved them, forgave them and hoped for them.  Just as I had done as I wrote the novel.

Reading a novel is essentially a solitary act, just like writing one is too. But then, as you close the pages of a novel, something happens.  Through the reading of a book, you connect with other people.

You and I can read the same book; me here in France, you in Britain, America or even, let’s say, Peru – geography doesn't matter a jot. We can be separated by so many elements, not least distance, but when we ‘share’ a novel we become as close as the pages within it. 

As an avid reader, one of my greatest pleasures is being able to discuss novels with others. I am a member of a book club and the joy of being able to raise my voice excitedly as we discuss the motivations of characters and the consequences of their actions is something I can never tire of.  Discussing novels with others is an essential part of reading novels. To me story telling is a deeply human endeavour. Getting together to discuss a book can be, and often is, the moment where our own stories, our own experiences, are given a voice too. 

Who hasn't attended a book club to find the subject matter of the book generates whole other discussions? A shared novel can make us look at ourselves and our friends, and the world we inhabit, differently.  Over tea and cake or wine and olives, whatever your fancy is, a group of friends discussing a good book can find themselves in conversations they might never otherwise have had.

When my book club met a while back, to discuss We Need to Talk About Kevin, we started talking at 5pm and were still talking at well past midnight...

The other day I read a reader’s blog which I printed out and stuck on the front of my computer.

Let me just say: I LOVED THIS BOOK. I thought 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson was beautiful and heartbreaking and the writing was fabulous and I practically ran in to the book club meeting, clutching this book, saying, “I can’t wait to talk about this book!!”

I just can’t think of a better way to react to a novel…

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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Learn to Earn from your Writing

Making money from writing is not as difficult as it might seem, providing you target your work to fit the market. The Writer’s ABC Checklist Workshops, held on Saturday 19th May 2012, will help you to do exactly that, with a non-fiction session in the morning and a flash fiction session in the afternoon.

Cracking the County Magazine Market covers: analysing your market, finding unique ideas to fit your county, interviewing subjects, quotes and how to use them, the value of photographs, creating an arresting outline and writing a winning query letter.

That Elusive Flash of Success covers: the art of condensing a complete story into 500 words, tantalising titles, attention grabbing opening paragraphs, effective use of dialogue, characters to believe in, tiny touches to bring settings to life, satisfying endings and originality — old themes given a unique slant.

Places on the course are limited. The cost is £135 per person, which includes both workshops, hotel accommodation, lunch and a barbeque on Saturday, plus a full English breakfast on Sunday. Knowing how tight money is at this time of year, we have arranged an option to spread the cost over five months.

For more information, visit the website:

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Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Monday, 14 November 2011

Foreign Flavours: A New Anthology from Writers Abroad

Online writing group Writers Abroad have asked me to announce the publication of a new anthology of short stories and non-fiction articles, entitled Foreign Flavours.

The anthology takes as its theme food, drink and recipes from around the world. It is a tantalizing collection of fiction and non-fiction, full of spice and flavour and sprinkled with mouth-watering recipes. The wide-ranging, sometimes bittersweet contributions show how adaptable an ex-pat has to be to leave familiar dishes behind and venture into the culinary unknown.

This is the second anthology published by Writers Abroad. All the contributors are, or have been, ex-pats living in places around the globe. Alexander McCall Smith, acclaimed author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series who himself was born abroad, has written the foreword.

Following a call for submissions, 64 contributions were selected for the anthology. Since Writers Abroad is a virtual writers’ group, all the work to produce Foreign Flavours was done online.

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to The Book Bus, a charity whose aim is to bring literacy and the joy of reading to children in the developing world.

Foreign Flavours is available from Lulu at this link: from Monday 24th October, price £9.60 (€10.99)

To find out more, please go to the Writers Abroad website,

Writers Abroad is an online writing group, founded in 2009. It provides a forum for ex-pat writers to exchange ideas, views and news on writing and to offer support and constructive feedback on each other’s work. Membership numbers are limited but ex-pat writers can apply to join if they are able to support the group’s initiatives and aims.

Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world’s most popular and prolific authors. He was born in the former Rhodesia and was a Professor of Medical Law for many years. His No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series has sold over 20 million copies. His various bestselling series of books are available in more than 40 languages. He has received numerous awards for his writing and now lives in Edinburgh.

Foreign Flavours contains 64 contributions. Thirty-four are non-fiction articles and 30 are short stories. The anthology also includes 33 delicious and appetising recipes. Writers Abroad members supplied 24 of the contributions; the remaining 40 were selected from 96 external contributions.

Contributors live in and have written about the following places: Albania, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Corsica, Cyprus, England, Fiji, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Malawi, Mallorca, Morocco, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, USA and Wales.

The Book Bus is a registered charity that aims to improve child literacy rates in Africa and South America by providing children with books and the inspiration to read them. Find out more on their website,

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Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Six Useful Articles for Writers

Today I have some links to articles I’ve had published in E-zee Writer, the e-zine for Writers Bureau students. Although the articles are aimed at beginner writers, the content is useful for more experienced writers as well.

Do you know how to find out what editors from hundreds of publications will want throughout the year? Think of the forward planning you could do. Just imagine targeting several magazines, knowing the subject matter is exactly what each editor has in mind for a particular month. That information is available in an editorial calendar.

Why would you want to find an expert? Well, when it comes to articles, editors love pieces with expert quotes. If offered two articles of similar quality, the one containing references from an acknowledged authority on the subject will always be chosen over one without.

How-to articles open up a wide range of freelance opportunities. Trade, craft, cooking, children’s, gardening, arts and many other markets are crying out for well-written articles which teach their readers new skills, or fresh ways to make use of existing ones.

This article covers a range of online reference sites, all of which are useful for those of us who have limited access to English language libraries and museums.

We hear so much about what to include and how to submit novels to agents and publishers, that it’s almost a case of information overload. However, for writers of non-fiction books the information on what to include and when to submit it is much harder to find.

Anyone with a book to promote, especially if self-published, is constantly on the lookout for new ways to get the message across to the widest possible audience. So what do you do when you’ve sent review copies to everyone you can think of, attended book fairs, set up author signings and promotions anywhere some kind soul would give you an inch of space, joined websites, commented on the blogs of others and generally covered every aspect of self-promotion?

The Writer’s ABC Checklist
Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition