Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Impromptu Talks

I've started going to a local Speakers Club. Who? Me? Why is a shy, quiet person like me wanting to learn Public Speaking? Well, because I think it'll be good for me. I still sometimes retreat into my shy, quiet mode, especially in a group. Besides, when I start publicising 'The Dark Threads' I'll need to speak out in public, calmly and articulately.

At each session of the Speakers Club, we have to do an impromptu talk. With no time to prepare or think about it, we're given a subject, can be anything, and off we go. Standing in front of about fifteen people, we have to talk spontaneously for two minutes. To me, this is being thrown in at the deep-end. It's harder for me than being told to give a twenty-minute talk but go home first and have a week or two to prepare it. But I decided to be brave and jump in at the deep-end. Would I be waving or drowning?

And I did it. Yes, really. I couldn't have been more lucky with the subject: 'Reading'. Just before setting off that evening, I'd got Ian to give me a topic and to listen to me practise. He gave me 'Books'. So it wasn't too bad. I wasn't exactly waving, but not drowning either. We meet fortnightly on Monday evenings. I'll have to do it again and again. Scary stuff, but I'll survive. Initiation over, I'm on my way. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Indie Bookshops

What do I know about independent bookshops? How often do I purchase from them? Very little, I'm afraid. But I intend to put that right. They need our support. I WILL support them.

So what's brought this on? Well, I visited one a few weeks ago. I didn't even know that the Saltaire Bookshop existed until I came across their website while browsing the internet for possible future venues to give a talk/reading. I found they hold regular events, with local authors as guest speakers. My book, The Dark Threads, doesn't come out until February, but I thought it best to start sussing out possible venues early.

So in I went to look around and chat up the owners. The place had a 'good feel' to it. The couple who run it are lovely; really helpful and friendly. I chatted, browsed the bookshelves, chatted some more, had a cup of coffee... and I said nothing about my book. We talked about how a lot of readers buy from Amazon and the big-chain bookstores, and never come into an independent bookshop. Yes, what a shame, I agreed. And, I was told, sometimes they get authors coming in who are only interested in what can be done for them: authors who want to publicise and sell their books there but never support independent bookshops themselves. Oh, that's wrong, I agreed, shaking my head sadly.

I must point out in my defence that by this stage I was NOT being two-faced. By then it had occurred to me how hard indie bookshop owners work to keep afloat in these days of 'big is beautiful'. It strikes me that the passion, friendliness and personal service of the small independent bookshops cannot be matched by glitzy three-for-two deals. I'm not pretending that I'll never again buy anything from big commercial chains. And yes, to be honest, I'm still hoping my book will be sold at Waterstones, Borders, and on Amazon. But I will also buy from local independents. I don't want them to go out of business. They provide an excellent service.

Ian and I are now regular customers of the Saltaire Bookshop. We've started going to their events - and very good they are too. And, yes, they do want me to give a talk there when my book comes out. Maybe that will be my easiest talk of all because by then it'll be just like home from home.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

A Day in the Life...

Here's an enjoyable day in my life. Picture me in Borders. First, I wander around the shelves of novels, dipping into whatever takes my fancy. I have an eclectic taste in books, so I don't just make a beeline for one or two particular authors. Then, down the stairs to the non-Fiction, where I'm spoilt for choice with all the interesting topics. Armed with a pile of books, I find myself a chair - you know, one of those comfy, black, softly cushioned ones. The younger me would sit on the floor; I used to think those chairs were put there for old people.

Lunchtime soon comes round. But no need to leave. There's a cafe on the second floor. Over a pizza slice and a cup of frothy coffee, I do some people-watching. It's fun to fill in the dots, imagining the lives, personalities, interests, occupations of the people around me. All are potential characters for a short story or (when I get back to writing one) a novel.

After lunch, I lounge about reading magazines for a while, before returning to the books. There's a good selection of magazines here.

I'm back on the non-Fiction floor now, looking for mental health memoirs and day-dreaming about seeing 'The Dark Threads' among them. How would it look? Oh dear, there's a Davies too near the top of the shelves. I can hardly see it or reach it. Authors with surnames that get put at eye level are the luckiest. But you never know, it differs. There are 'D's' on the shelf opposite at eye level, so that's okay. My book in a big-chain bookstore? Could it? Might it? Will it? And if it ever does get there, will I be one of those cheeky authors who pull it out to face the front? Maybe.

And that's when I see it. Right there on a shelf, nestled in between 'known' authors. An anthology called 'Doorways in the Night: stories from the threshold of recovery'. The Local Voices publication. In Borders. I take it down, thumb through the first story in it: my autobiographical piece called 'Give Me Back My Words'. I just manage to stop myself from tugging at the arm of the man standing next to me and shouting in his ear, while pointing at my name, 'Hey, look! That's me!'

Excitement over, I spend the rest of the afternoon browsing, reading, browsing some more, reading some more... Should I take myself up to the second floor for a tea-break now? Maybe in a while when I get to the end of this chapter. This is the life.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention. I do sometimes actually buy books.

Monday, 15 September 2008


Now that I've got 'up to date' I'll blog in and about the present. I suppose that's what bloggers do. But I wanted to write first about my route to getting a publisher for my memoir.

I'm new to this blogging lark, so I'm just finding my way. I'll get the hang of it soon. I'm not new to writing personal diaries, but those were only for my own eyes. I'm not new to writing about myself and my views (well, yes, there's the memoir) but with that kind of writing, I could think carefully in the editing stage about how to phrase each sentence and take plenty of time to consider how I've written things before revealing it to 'the world'. Not so with blogging. Some of my blog might read like 'stream of consciousness' stuff that just comes tumbling out. Why? Because I haven't got the time or inclination to agonise over every sentence and whether or not I've used correct punctuation and grammar, like I might do normally when 'writing for publication'.

Of course I am going to give some thought to what I write here. I'll refrain from the temptation to 'have a go' at my enemies, and so on. And I won't betray people's trust - definitely not. And I'll edit out the boring 'had a boiled egg for breakfast' stuff if any of that creeps in. But what I mean is I feel freer in writing a blog; I don't feel my standard of writing has to be 'perfect' before I dare press the 'Publish Post' button. I'm hoping my blog will interest others (that people will actually read it), but I'm also hoping it'll help me with writing; a good exercise for being more spontaneous but coupled with awareness that it's not just for my eyes. Anyway, enough of my rambling for today.

Sunday, 14 September 2008


Armed with a very positive report on 'The Dark Threads' from 'The Literary Consultancy', I decided to try a small, independent publisher. I'd heard of one with a good reputation called Accent Press and I'd read some of their books. I'd just finished reading 'Wannabe a Writer?' by Jane Wenham-Jones, a great book because not only is it full of practical advice, it's full of humour. Jane's book had me laughing all the way to the post box, and then, Bingo. Well, actually, it was back to the waiting game for over nine months (longer than it takes from conception to giving birth)... And just when I was thinking (sob, sob) that my beloved manuscript would end up growing whiskers in the back of a drawer, the phone rang.

It was a strange time for me when I got that phone call. I was dealing with my late father's affairs and had just been speaking on the phone to a snotty official who'd been insisting my dad owed some money when I knew he didn't as I'd paid it weeks earlier. When the phone rang again, I snatched it up in annoyance thinking it was the same irritating person. And it was Hazel Cushion saying they'd love to publish my memoir. Was it still available? Did I want to be published by Accent Press? YES!

And so here I am.

The Long Haul

The road to publication wasn't easy. A few years ago I had an agent, the late Maggie Noach. I thought I'd arrived, especially when she was so enthusiastic about 'The Dark Threads'. She said she was up late at night reading it, found it riveting and coudn't put it down. Imagine a leading London literary agent saying lots of encouraging things like that about my work. She invited me to her house for a meal and she was lovely. Her cat, Mittens, who jumped on my knee for a cuddle, also helped put me at ease.

Maggie tried to place my book with big name mainstream publishers. I waited and waited... Nothing. Just nice comments and a bunch of what I think are called 'rave rejections'. After I'd become unagented again, two more mainstream publishers asked to see my full manuscript and showed interest but, several months later I had two more 'rave rejections' to add to my collection, and both told me I should 'get an agent'.

Get an agent. Yes, but how? An agent who'd been interested at the time I got Maggie said, no, not now that my manuscript had 'been around'. Okay, I see, all the nice guys want a virgin. I tried a few other agents who held similar views. One did ring me to say she liked my writing and would be happy to look at something else. Trouble is I hadn't got anything else ready to show her then, and I wasn't ready to give up on 'The Dark Threads'.

It's Been Accepted

It happened. They said 'YES!' My mental health memoir 'The Dark Threads' is to be published by Accent Press in February 2009. Back in April I got THE CALL from Hazel Cushion, MD at Accent Press. My head's been reeling with pleasure ever since, though reality is kicking me up the backside right now. I'm finding more editing to do than I realised and can't imagine why I ever thought it was 'ready'. But that's okay, I can edit. Scariest bit comes next when I'll have to get out and about and shout. Helping with publicising doesn't come easy for shy, un-confident me. But, hey, it's great to have these things to bother about. I'm not complaining.

I'm fifty-something, with a rather big 'something' to add on to the fifty, and life is GREAT. I have a wonderful husband who, after 24 years of marriage, still makes my heart go bump-bump-bump when I look out the window and see him arriving home. My work as a mental health worker is interesting and fulfilling (after years of crap, boring jobs) and, since it's only part-time, I've got plenty of time for writing. My work-in-progess (a novel) is going well, or at least it was when I last looked at it before the distractions of April. And my first book 'The Dark Threads', a book I poured everything into I had to say that needed saying, is going to be published. It is. It is. IT REALLY IS.