Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wordy wednesday with Mary Kendrick

Today's Wordy Wednesday is with my friend Mary Kendrick, aka @mamacrow. Mamacrow is a busy mum and home educator of 7 children. So the fact she finds time to write as well is pretty impressive and testament to her organisational skills! Mary is an as yet unpublished writer, so I was intrigued to see how her answers to my questions differed to other. Is success all down to biscuit choice? Well let's find out.

When did you start writing?
I have always made up stories - I remember long times spent in front of my mother's full length mirror, being different characters and carrying on long dramatic adventures and I would make up magic spells which were essentially short rhyming verses. I was a massive bookworm and learnt to read before I went to school, pretty much by osmosis I think, and as soon as I could write words down I was writing stories- I still have an exercise book from primary school somewhere with a long involved story in it about a family of potatoes who lived in a vegetable rack! I would write poetry too, or rather, attempt to, and the one class I would always win at the local annual Schools Arts & Drama festival was the story making class.

I did English at GCSE and A-Level and both involved creative writing, then I ended up doing a Library and Information degree and working full time for about six years, before becoming the stay at home parent. I carried on writing stories down now and then when the urge took me, and started blogging when we started home educating. I ended up taking a second attempt at Nanowrimo in 2013 and triumphantly completing it! That was such a turning point for me, I realised I could write something of length after all, and got the book writing bug after that - I've just completed my fifth. I can't NOT write really, it's a compulsion more than anything else.

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?
Uninterrupted time is good, not always easy to find with seven children! A decent chair - my pelvis doesn't like sitting on the floor any more. Music is important too, but I more use that when I'm not writing, to think to and work out plot ideas. I pick really carefully for each new project then I can whack it on when I do write and it's easier to slip into that particular world - its not essential though, I can do without it if I have to. Really I just need my laptop, enough charge in it, and a decent chair.

Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?
When writing a book I try and only take one day off a week, two at the most. Writing time is essentially in the evenings, after about 8 or so when the younger ones are all happily in bed. I also take my laptop along to me to various sports that the kids do - yes, it's only an odd hour here or there but it all adds up plus in many ways it's easier to get the words in then because I have no internet to distract me!

The money question, as I know that you are as yet unpublished, I assume you don't live from your writing earnings!
No, I make no money yet. I'm working on submitting my work to publishing agents and plan to self publish. When I can I fit in part time work to help keep our collective heads above water. I would LOVE to make enough money from writing to live - mainly so that I could spend more of my time writing! At the end of the day it's almost immaterial because I'd write anyway, paid or not.

What are your favourite biscuits?
I'm not actually that fond of biscuits, but you can't go far wrong with a bourbon, and I do quite like a pink wafer biscuit from time to time... Oooh, and anzac biscuits! I love those! (don't like biscuits, names three...hmmmm a secret biscuit eater?)

Where do you do most of your writing?
Upstairs in the bedroom, at at desk in the corner. It's a really nice little corner actually, the windows to one side so I can have fresh air but not be distracted too much and I have a notice board on the wall in front of me with various pictures and things out of National Geographic mostly, that I've been inspired by, and lists of things and also a huge pile of CDs. My darling husband (also an author) got me a commemorative glass book ornament with my first three book titles (a trilogy as it happens) engraved on it, and that's on my desk too.

What book are you reading at the moment?
Book? Singular? *manic laughter* I nearly always have several on the go. Currently I'm mainly reading Elsa Shciaparelli, a biography by Meryle Secrest, and Memories of Old Sussex by Lillian Candlin. I'm also picking my way through Hanging out with the Dream King, conversations with Neil Gaiman and His Collaborators but it's slow going because I'm not enjoying it as much as I thought I would, and I'm also labouring through The Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge which is AMAZING but very DENSE if you know what I mean, in a thinky, layered kind of way.

Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore?
I've been on twitter for ooh, about seven years now I think. Whether it helps with sales or not we'll have to see but the support of other writers and artists is wonderful, and it's helped me find some volunteer test readers too.

Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?
I'm the proud and happy owner of a kindle. Not only did my husband buy it for me, but he replaced it when the first one died AND he has it linked up to his amazon account so he can keep on buying books for me! Genius! I LOVE it. Not only is it instant - buy a book and PING! it's there, but you can switch between books and carry HUNDREDS around in it in this light little thing you can hold easily in one hand, perfect for reading in bed or while breastfeeding. I still love paper books - you can leaf through them more easily, and the smell - the feel! The touch! I love both, they're both good for different reasons. Funnily enough, my dissertation was regarding paper versus electronic books.

Do you dream in colour?
Yes. Do people really dream in monochrome? I'm so intrigued by that! I have really vivid, involved dreams and often write them down and turn them into stories.

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?
Um, I'd break the law a lot?! (you could join Andy Stanton and his secret band of underground writers) I love music and singing, and used to play the violin so I suppose I'd take that up again and maybe learn the cello too, I've always wanted to. I could practise the piano more as well, and do more art... I like watercolours, and boy do I need more sketching practise. And I dance - I do a couple of adult ballet classes, which I love. So long as I can do something expressive. I'd still want to read and write though, and no one could stop me making up stories in my head, I'd still do that.( a rebellious streak, I like that)

What is your ideal holiday?
We've had a couple of very happy family holidays to Cornwall, I'd always be pleased to go back there. Mine and my daughter's current 'when we win the lottery!' dream is two weeks in Disney Land!

Here's hoping then that your writing brings you the riches required for your Disneyland trip! Thanks for the answers. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for publication dates!

Wordy Wednesday

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Night Circus By Erin Morgenstern - A Book Review

I have been struggling to read books lately, and yet my book pile keeps growing! Luckily it is moving into summer festival season where I have time off and sunny days in a tent away from digital devices and usually lacking a phone signal. This weekend was the first of many summer festivals and I was able to finish a book I started a while ago. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which I confess I bought mainly because of its intriguing cover and when I dipped into it at random (a technique I favour in book selection) I loved the style of the writing.

Having finished it I was keen to review it so you can share the joy. First things first, this was not my favourite story. I have read stories that grabbed me more. There is a story but it's quite mixed in time and place and it didn't grab me and drag me along as some books have. That said, the dreamlike style of the writing matched the smooth and ethereal feel of the plot.

The tale begins with a competition between two people who we barely know, though of course we learn more about them as the story builds. The competition is not played out by these powerful characters though, but rather, by young stand-ins that themselves don't know all of the mystery, or of the full scope of the competition.

The Night Circus is the chess board and we are drawn into its magical collection of tents and acts, of art and scents, of music and melody. For someone that loves festivals I was really taken with the images. The writing itself is gorgeous, creamy and rich. I normally hate books that focus on description too much but I could honestly have read this forever. I reread several paragraphs just because they were so perfect, so beautiful.

I don't want to spoil anything in the book for you (because you simply must read it if you haven't already) but I did tweet this...and was excited to receive a reply.

And I'm not lying, it was scorchingly written, but not over the top or flowery, just wonderful.

But I'll leave you with something I loved from the beginning of the book. And then you can run off and grab yourself a copy, make some hot chocolate and popcorn, and enter the Night Circus, weather permitting. Take a red scarf.
"He had expected it to be a show.
Something to sit in a chair and watch.
He realized quickly how wrong he was.
It was something to be explored.
He investigated it as best he could, though he felt woefully unprepared. He did not know which tents to choose out of dozens of options, each with tantalizing signs hinting at the contents. And every turn he took through the twisting striped pathways led to more tents, more signs, more mysteries.
He found a tent full of acrobats and stayed amongst them as they twirled and spun until his neck ached from staring up. He wandered through a tent full of mirrors and saw hundreds and thousands of Baileys staring, wide-eyed, back at him, each in matching grey caps.
Even the food was amazing. Apples dipped in caramel so dark they appeared almost blackened but remained light and crisp and sweet. Chocolate bats with impossibly delicate wings. The most delicious cider Bailey had ever tasted.
Everything was magical"

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Word Wednesday with Zaro Weil

Today's Wordy Wednesday is with Zaro Weil, author of Journey Back to the Great Before. You can find out more about today's mysterious guest at

So I began with the usual questions...

When did you start writing?

Very young…maybe around 7 or 8.
What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?

A view, cup of tea/coffee, lots of pillows
Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?

I write any time any where. It could be in my cabin in the woods, or on a train, or in bed, or on a bench in the middle of a park.
Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone? if not, what else do you do?

I don’t write for money although it would be great to have a film made from my book and use the money to take a trip around the world. (As research for Volume 2 of Journey)
What are your favourite biscuits?

Little Spanish cookie donuts made of almonds with icing on the top.(ooh sound nice!)

Where do you do most of your writing?

In bed or on a sofa.(I'm impressed you can write like that, I'm sure I'd fall into a fantasy world of sleep!)
What book are you reading at the moment?

“Swerve” by Stephen Greenblatt

Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore? 

I wish I knew how to use it better, but in fact I find it a little embarrassing. But I guess it does really help sales if one is good at it.

Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?

I own an e-reader. Two. But I prefer a hard copy and love to turn pages.
Do you dream in colour?

Of course.
If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?

Eat and cook and watch films and make films
What is your ideal holiday?

Going to new places with other languages and seeing things that amaze me.

Massive thanks to Zaro for taking part, her book Journey Back to the Great Before is available now, find out about other books she has written at GoodReads

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Compassion Fatigue - I'm guilty

BBC News - The direct mail that tugs the heartstrings

This rant was brought about by a reminder via the BBC News site of the way charities target people.

I realise that charities need to be given money and time and often old clothes to work, and I know about the argument that the money spent on advertising and promotion is regained in donations but one thing that is annoying is that it's not fairly spread.
For example. I see an online request or a TV advert for a specific event (in the last year this has happened to me at least twice) I respond with a donation - usually using a website, my name and address and details are given. Over the next year I receive numerous 'news letters', 'updates', requests for more money, asks for direct debits, pens, coasters, in short I receive in 'junk' mail well over the value of the original donation I made. So while over all, the advertising is paid for by donations, I feel that mine is wasted and hasn't gone to the thing I intended at all.
And usually, unlike with an email, I don't have an easy opt out on the paper mail. There is no 'send the enclosed card back to stop future mail'. Last year after about the 7th mailshot I finally tracked down, via an online search, an email address and asked to be removed from the mailing list. So far I have had no more mail from that charity.

Christmas is also a high pressure time for charities with certain charities insisting on sending 'gifts' of pens, stickers, wrapping paper, cards etc and then asking for a donation. The idea here is presumably to make you feel so guilty at having received a gift that you donate more. It's horrible to add such pressure in a donation request in my opinion.

The people in the cases the BBC highlights feel pressured to give and I feel that too sometimes, though the final effect too much 'bumpf' through the post actually has, is to harden me to charity requests.
Because I do support several charities (on a regular basis) I now find it easier to disregard letters that fall on the mat begging me to stop child abuse, help battered woman and feed the starving elderly. I send these letters straight into the recycling. I am not proud or happy about this hard hearted attitude, I would like to be soft and kind and care lots but as the BBC has reported, it doesn't stop, it increases. Donate £5 and next you will be asked to donate £20 and then set up a direct debit and then a new, equally worthy cause will fall onto your mat.

I don't know the answer. For me it is picking a charity or two and setting up a regular donation. I do respond sometimes to world disasters but luckily my main charity is also a member of DEC so I don't get extra requests subsequently. Otherwise, for local charities I donate in cash only, so they don't have my details or know who I am. Perhaps charities could look at online and phone donations and ask at the time "Is this a one off donation or should we contact you in the future?" and make that a large and clear question, not a vague check box buried amongst the terms and conditions in a way large corporations would be proud of.  Don't even get me started on the 'chuggers'; the charity muggers that accost you on the street and try and guilt you into donating, showing you pictures of starving cats and beaten dogs.

Have I got 'compassion fatigue'? Is it possible that the constant attempts by so many charities to wear me down, to get me to part with money, has actually had the opposite effect? Maybe.

How do you cope? Do you give regularly? Not at all? Cash only? Or are you a sucker for a good cause and give as often as you can?

For information you might like Give as You Live - an online scheme (which costs you nothing) where you sign up and many online purchases cause charity donations to be given on your behalf, Amazon is part of their scheme for example.

The charities I support regularly are CMT UK (as I have Charcot-Marie-Tooth it's rather self serving of me) and World Vision - where I sponsor a child in Uganda.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wordy Wednesday with Stephie Chapman

Hello! This Wednesday you are going to meet and find out about the delightful Stephie Chapman who has just written Getting Over Jessie Franklin

What happens when you find your 90's boyband crush on Facebook, and then add him?

Years ago, Cassie loved Jesse. But he was the bass player in her favourite band and didn't know she even existed. Fourteen years on, the band has broken up and she's found him on Facebook, and it turns out that after finally meeting in London, he quite likes her, too. Their relationship quickly intensifies and Cassie and Jesse find themselves in a long distance relationship spanning five thousand miles. But just as she's beginning to think all her dreams have come true, a misunderstanding tears them apart and as she tries to piece her life back together in London, Jesse is planning a way to win her back with the help of her best friend... and a ukulele.

Sounds like a perfect summer read to me! But let find out what makes Stephie tick...and what biscuits she likes...

So Stephie, When did you start writing?

When I was about 5 ;) I've blogged on and off since I was 17, and have had ideas for novels swimming about in my head since around then, too. But Getting Over Jesse Franklin is the only one I've ever finished.

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?

1) A nice glass of wine.
2) Some peace and quiet.
3) More wine. And maybe someone to bring it to me, so I don't even have to get up.

Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?

More the latter really... But that's pretty much every day. I even took my laptop on holiday so I could write Jesse Franklin. Obviously I felt like Colin Firth's character in Love Actually, minus the falling in love with someone I couldn't really converse with part.

Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone? if not, what else do you do?

It's not exactly a great money spinner at the moment, and I supplement our family income with some social media bits and pieces. But I don't think you write for money, you write because you love it. Because you can't not write. It's the same with an awful lot of creative careers. You do it because it feels innate, and if you can make some dinero from it, then that's a bonus.

What are your favourite biscuits?

GOOD question! Err.... I'm very partial to an Oreo. BUT my absolute favourite are stroopwafels - but that's playing fast and loose with the word "biscuit". - ooh you trickster, but I'll let you off, they are good, and I have allowed other writers to choose jaffa cakes, so the field is wide open!

Where do you do most of your writing?

At the kitchen table, for easy access to aforementioned stroopwafels, and the kettle. Or, in the evenings, on the sofa, plugged into Spotify.

What book are you reading at the moment?

Coming Up Roses by Rachael Lucas, and I'm loving it.

Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore?

Yes, I enjoy social media a lot. I like Twitter and Instagram more than Facebook, and the instagram community are, on the whole, really lovely and supportive. I don't find it a chore, but I do find them all enormous time suckers.

Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?

I have the Kindle app on my phone, and I've read heaps more since getting it. I'd like to say I prefer kicking it old skool with a paper copy of a book because there is something wonderful about opening a brand new book for the first time and feeling the spine crack, however, for ease I do like reading digitally. I'm a fence sitter with that one.I think a lot of people feel the same!

Do you dream in colour?

Yes. Vividly. And sometimes in Dutch... which is weird, because I can only speak a very little Dutch.

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?

Sing and dance and play my ukulele.

What is your ideal holiday?

Wondering around a European city (or maybe just Amsterdam, because it's my favourite place in the world) with a friend, and no kids, stopping off for a beer by a canal. Eating really amazing food, in the sunshine. Just walking and people watching and having a good time and putting the world to rights. That's what I absolutely love to do. European city breaks. Try them.

Thanks for taking the time for some interesting answers, I am now tempted not only buy the book and the stroopwaffel but also by a trip to Amsterdam, so good selling! haha

If you'd like a copy of Stephie's Book you can get it here  Getting Over Jessie Franklin is £1.99 on Amazon for Kindle or Kindle app

Wordy Wednesday

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