Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Getting into and onto sorted

Karen from the Lake District gets confused over into/in to and onto/on to. She writes: I never know whether to write ‘into’ or ‘in to’ and I note that you use ‘in to’ and ‘on to’ a lot. Could you explain to me when they should be joined together and when they shouldn’t be please?

Many people interchange them, but they have quite distinct uses. ‘Into’ and ‘in to’ are different. Basically ‘into’ is a preposition and will form part of a prepositional phrase. With ‘in to’, ‘in’ is an adverb and ‘to’ is a preposition. But there are some easy ways to work out how to use them without needing to think about the grammar.

‘Into is used to indicate movement, action or change.
When it melts, ice turns into water. (Change)
I am going into the shop to buy some chocolate. (Movement)
He charged into the scrum. (Action)

‘In to’ can be thought of as meaning ‘in order to’.
She went in to see if her father was there. (She went in [in order to] see if her father was there.)

When in and to are used as separate words, they should not be combined as one word
He turned his car in to the road. (If he turned his car into the road he’d be a magician.)

‘Onto’ and ‘on to’ work in a similar way, except that there are many instances where both could be used and would be correct, depending on context. You need to stop and think about what it is you wish to say.

She cycled onto the pavement. (She reached the pavement and continued cycling.)
She cycled on to the pavement. (She stopped cycling when she reached the pavement.)

‘On to’ should be used when ‘on’ is considered to be part of the verb.
For example: to move on to pastures new (to go somewhere new)

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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Getting to know … Alan Parks

Tell us a little about your books
My first book, Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? is the memoir of my partner and I, our decision to up sticks and move to rural Spain to breed alpacas.

What made you choose to write about your experiences?
So many people said to me, “You could write a book,” as we regaled them with tales of what had happened to us in the short time we have lived. Last year I decided to try it out, and wrote 50 pages, sent it out to a few people to read. They liked it, so I finished the story! I have just finished writing the sequel, and hope to publish it at the start of October.

How long does it take you to write a book?
About three or four months. But then there is editing, cover designing, promoting. The easy bit is writing it. Don’t forget, as a memoir, the stories have already happened, whereas with fiction it all needs to be made up.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Life gets in the way. We live in an old olive mill. There is always work that needs doing there, plus looking after the animals. Then of course, there are two months of summer when it is so hot you don’t want to do anything but sleep.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
As I said before, the stories surround us every day. From animal dramas to out there local characters, stories just kind of present themselves.

How old were you when you knew you wanted to write and what was your first attempt?
I had never thought about writing before last year.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Just enjoy life, relax and live life to the full. In reality, I spend as much time, if not more, promoting the book once it’s written.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
That people were interested in our lives. We have had emails from all over the world, telling us how much they enjoyed our story, and when the sequel would be out. I thought a few family and friends might buy the book, but animal lovers across the world have bought and read it.

How many books have you written?
The sequel that I have just finished is my second.

Which is your favourite and why?
I think the first one will always be my favourite, because I didn’t actually know that I could write a book. I’m quite proud of myself, for sitting down, writing it and then being able to sell it too.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I was never really sure. Now I look back, and wish I had gone in to zoology or similar, but as a kid I didn’t really know.

What are you working on now?
Final edit of the sequel, plus trying to help my partner Lorna, put the finishing touches on an e-book compilation of her blog posts.

Bio - Alan Parks was born in Eastbourne, East Sussex in 1978. His life changed for the better (he is constantly reminded) when he met Lorna in 2003. Work consisted of fairly mundane, mainly managerial posts. In 2008, Alan and Lorna moved to rural Andalucia, Spain, and now live in an old Olive Mill, off grid and with a menagerie of animals.

You can find his page on Facebook -
Follow him on Twitter -
And his website/blog is at

Blurb for book - Seriously Mum, what's an alpaca?' is the frank and charming story of a brave couple who risk everything to move to Spain to breed alpacas. Their intention is to make a living, but first they must negotiate their way through the Spanish property market, local characters, rogue builders and the worst weather AndalucĂ­a has seen for 100 years. Alan and Lorna experience the joy, but also the heartbreak of alpaca breeding, picking up an assortment of stray animals on the way. It is essentially a story of endeavour and spirit, living each day as though it may be the last.

Buy links - 

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Monday, 21 October 2013

Flash 500 Competition News

Long lists 
The long lists are up for the third quarter 2013. You can find the titles of the flash fiction long list here and the titles of the humour verse long list here.

Competition for Novelists Closes for Entries in Ten Days
Don't miss out on the chance to win £500 and have your novel opening and synopsis looked at by industry insiders. Find out more here.

Competition Judges for the Fourth Quarter
We have been fortunate enough to attract the services of a top notch crime writer for the final quarter of the year. Sheila Bugler (remember the name, insiders say she is going to be a massive success) will be judging the flash fiction category. Barbara Scott-Emmett has agreed to judge the humour verse entries once again.

New Entries on Resource Page
Our page of useful sites for writers has been updated. There are many links listed which could be of benefit, regardless of whether you write prose or poetry. Don't forget to share this page with your writing friends: Writers' Resources

For all of you who have made the third quarter 2013 long lists, congratulations and good luck with the next stage of judging.

If you missed out this time, here’s hoping you make it through in one of the other quarters this year. Both categories are now open for entries. For more information on everything to do with both competitions, visit the websites: Flash 500 Flash Fiction and Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition.

On a Personal Note
If you have read and enjoyed Bad Moon Rising, please could you take a moment to vote for it in the People's Book Prize competition. Voting closes at the end of this month and I would love to see my debut novel make it through to the next round. To do so, it has to garner more votes than Frederick Forsyth's latest! I think I might need help. You can vote here.

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Friday, 11 October 2013

Let’s review Amazon reviews

When it comes to reviews, I don’t believe there is an author alive who isn’t thrilled by a five star thumbs up, or devastated by a one star thumbs down. But with the advent of the internet, and Amazon encouraging every purchaser to leave a review, do online reviews carry the same weight as those in print?

I believe independent bloggers and review sites, who often also post their comments on Amazon, Goodreads and Shelfari, compare favourably with print reviewers. As many of them are genre specific, they usually have a regular following of readers who trust their judgement, which means they won’t praise anything not measuring up to the standard required.

But what of the ‘regular’ Amazon reviews? How seriously can a rash of five stars be taken? (I currently have twenty-two five-star reviews, six four-star reviews and one one-star on the UK Amazon site for Bad Moon Rising, so feel qualified to both ask and answer the question.) Some of these are from review sites, each of which made me dance a jig, a couple are from people I know so, although nice, I didn’t take them seriously, and the rest are from readers with whom I have no contact whatsoever outside of the author/reader pact, resulting in more wild dancing!

As an author and reviewer, I understand the Amazon system, so am constantly amazed and amused when someone insists that multiple five-star reviews are proof positive their novel compares with the best the literary world has to offer. A quick check on the reviewers usually shows the novel in question is their only foray into the reviewing jungle. This doesn’t mean the book isn’t worth the praise, it just means more than a pinch of salt has to be taken into account when reading the reviews.

In the guidelines for submission on my Frances di Plino review site I make it quite clear that grammar, spelling and punctuation matter. If I can’t get through the opening chapters because the book is poorly written or formatted, I won’t post a review, but I always let the author know why I’m passing on a book.

Every time I’ve done so, I’ve had emails back pointing out the number of five-star reviews it has garnered – implying I either don’t know what I’m talking about, or that I have some ulterior motive in declining to assess the novel, such as not wanting to help possible competition. Out of curiosity, I will read what others have said – frequently amazed at the praise heaped on what I’d found to be dire reading. Without fail, the comments are over the top – the type of fulsome wording that belongs only to the very best of novels – and, in every case, the reviewer has only one review to his or her name.

Against the over positive, let’s take a look at negative reviewing online. One of the best things about an unfavourable print review is that it disappears as soon as the next edition of the newspaper or magazine comes out. Unless the author has a strong masochistic streak and keeps the page, there is no need ever to read the damaging words again. The review soon becomes a bad memory and it’s always possible to pull a few words out of context to make a positive quote for the website a year or two after the event. After all, putting ‘I’ve never read anything quite like this’ sounds like the reviewer loved the book. Who is likely to recall that the quote was followed by a derogatory comment?

This isn’t possible with online reviews, of course. The words remain there for all to read – forever! In the case of good reviews – yippee! But the bad ones are also there for as long as the internet survives – not so yippee! With the intense rivalry that seems to exist on the Amazon author forums, it’s not unknown for unsavoury elements to give a one or two star review, purely to get back at someone who upset them on a forum thread.

When one takes into account the fact that even some quite well-known authors have posted less than favourable reviews on rivals’ books (possibly also to even the score over a real or perceived slight), then the Amazon review facility loses a certain amount of credibility.

If you’re on the receiving end of a deliberate attempt to sabotage your sales it must be very distressing. How should the author deal with this? By doing nothing. It is never a good idea to respond to a negative review. If it is impossible to ignore the comment, then a simple ‘thank you for your time’ allows you to keep your dignity, while irritating the offender who was most probably hoping for an outburst of some kind.

Author meltdowns in print are bad enough, but as per my earlier point about the internet lasting into infinity, an author meltdown online could spell the end of a writing career.

It is far better to remember that there isn’t a book written which appeals to everyone and a bad review is only one person’s opinion. Bad reviews won’t necessarily hurt sales, but bad behaviour by the author almost certainly will.

So, to end by referring back to the title of this blog post, let’s review the Amazon reviewing system. I think independent reviews can help to make a title, but are very unlikely to break it. However, as anyone with a grain of commonsense will be able to spot reviews from family and friends, they might make the author feel good, but are irrelevant from the point of view of showing whether or not the book is worth investing a potential reader’s hard-earned cash on.

This is a modified version of a guest post I wrote for in September 2012.

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Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Getting to know ... Hannah M. Davis

What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
My debut novel, Voices of Angels, is young adult with a strong cross-over market for adults. It’s aimed toward 13+ girls but I know women of all ages (including 80!) who have loved it. The themes of love, transformation and death are pretty universal.

What made you choose that genre?
I originally wrote the book without a clear genre in mind but the biggest marketing advice I was given as an author – and which I advise others on – is to be clear on your market. So I rewrote it as YA. Once you know specifically who you are writing to, and in my case these were slightly insecure, bookwormy, teenage girls, then you can really hone the message of your book so it meets their model of the world.

How long does it take you to write a book?
Too long. I have a tendency to get distracted. I was mid-way through my second novel when my boyfriend decided to propose, so I’ve spent the past 6 months focussing on our wedding rather than the book.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I normally try to write first thing because if I don’t, I never seem to get round to it. So I’ll wake up, do some journal writing, some energy exercises and then get straight in. I try to write most days otherwise I lose my flow. I set the goal of writing a chapter a day. My intention is always to produce a first draft quite quickly and then go back and revise it.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
The million dollar question! For me, ideas normally stem from dreams or meditations and then I develop them in my planning stage. I never just jump into a book – I spend a couple of months journaling about it first so I get a strong connection with the world I am creating. This process also allows my unconscious mind to come up with even more ideas – it’s true that writing begets writing.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Around 7 and I got as far as 3 chapters before stuffing them into the back of my wardrobe. I didn’t try again until I was in my early 30s.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
At the moment – hanging out with my brand new husband. At the time of writing this we’re just about to jet off on a magical honeymoon to Bali and then Australia.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Good question. I always ask this to the writing students I mentor. For me, it was the realisation that writing a book is so much more than just writing a book. It’s a massive life achievement and a bit like running the marathon (which I have also done!). It pushes you through your comfort zones which I always think is a good thing in life. I don’t like to live life too safely.

How many books have you written?
One so far with lots more in the pipeline including a whole series of books on how to write.

Which is your favourite and why?
I love the novel I am currently writing as it’s so different from my debut novel – I’m allowing myself to break some writing rules I daren’t break in my first book. But I guess my debut novel will always hold true in my heart – there’s nothing like having a dream and then seeing it come true. Holding the book in my hands for the very first time was an amazing feeling. Plus the feedback and reviews (over 30 5-Star on Amazon) have been beautiful.

It’s not just that someone has said they like your book, but the fact that someone has got something meaningful from your book. I wrote the book not just to entertain but to help others too. Voices of Angels is a real coming of age story and has this powerful message of self-belief. So when I get emails from teen girls telling me that the message really spoke to their heart – this is the best bit abo

ut being a writer and makes up for all the blood, sweat and tears that went into the book. I always try to write from my heart and I think this shows.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Initially because of my love for animals I wanted to be a vet. This was when I was about 6. Pretty soon, I realised I was rubbish at science and couldn’t stand the thought of having to put animals down. So I pursued my other love – reading and writing. I’ve always been a bookworm and had a vivid imagination so loved the storytelling classes at school. It basically just progressed from there and the best bit is there’s still so much to come!

What are you working on now?
I’m currently writing another YA paranormal novel. This one introduces a brand new protagonist and is a lot darker and sexier than Voices of Angels.  And in light of my recent marriage, it’s also about how to find true love.

Hannah M. Davis is the award winning author of Voices of Angels published by Soul Rocks Books in July 2012, and after ten years of living in the South of Spain, now lives in the UK with her husband, Chris and their Spanish cat. She loves mentoring other aspiring writers and is currently writing her second book.

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