Changing times.

It’s a long time since I started building websites with my husband, Steve. The very first one was –  a children’s book review site that we started to raise the profile of British children’s books online. It grew and grew, attracted thousands of visitors and eventually led us to start The Word Pool: a web design business that specialises in sites for writers. After ten years, I ran out of steam and stopped adding new reviews, but that original site still sat there and still got lots of visitors.

Steve and I have recently decided to retire from web design so The Word Pool is up for sale and we’ll eventually be handing over the domain to the new owner. I didn’t want all those reviews to be lost forever so I’ve spent the last few weeks going through them and moving them to a new home at  a freshly redesigned  It was a huge task but it’s finally finished. I hope you like the result.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to stop writing. Being an author isn’t just a job – it’s part of who I am so I can’t ever imagine giving it up completely. In fact, I’m hoping I’ll have more time to do it now.

How not to fooled by fake news and misinformation.

These days, we are constantly bombarded with conflicting information. Brexit is good, Brexit is bad. Trump has banned Moslems. Trump hasn’t banned Moslems. So how can we find out the truth amongst the bias and propaganda?

The first thing to realise is that almost everything you read is biased – yes, even this blog post. That’s because, when we are writing, we insert bias as soon as we choose one word instead of another. For example, if you’re reporting a big event, saying “crowds of people thronged the streets” paints a different picture from saying “crowds of people clogged the streets”. Similarly, the way we feel about a mother who doesn’t go out to work is affected by whether she is described as a stay-at-home mum or an unemployed benefit claimant.  (Both are true because nearly all mums in the UK claim child benefit and anyone who doesn’t work is unemployed.)  .

Bias can also shows in what writers leave out. Quoting a politician as saying “I hate cats”  is misleading if he really said “I hate cats being cruelly treated.” And it can affect the order of the words makes a difference too. In my first paragraph, I wrote “Brexit is good, Brexit is bad” not “Brexit is bad, Brexit is good” and that may have affected the way you reacted to what you read.

Politicians claim that the spread of bias and misinformation has been made worse by the internet, but I believe they are wrong. Although so-called “fake news” can spread quickly online, the truth can spread just as fast if it’s given the chance. And the power of internet searches helps us discover which facts are lies, which photos are doctored and which dossiers are dodgy.

There are several ways you can help yourself spot propaganda and discover the truth.

  1. Look at the source of the information you are reading. Some websites and newspapers are more reliable than others.
  2. Try to get information from more than one source. Looking at two websites biased in opposing directions will help you spot discrepancies in their accounts.
  3. Be sceptical of quotes and soundbites. Wherever possible, look at the original source of the information in full: the act of parliament, the speech, the leaked email, the executive order. Everything you need is online if you search for it.
  4. Of course, lack of time will stop you doing all of this every time you read something. But treat facts you haven’t checked with caution, and always try to check before you share information on Twitter or Facebook. If we all do that, the people who spread misinformation will find life more difficult and the truth will get a louder voice.

Explaining how to plot

I’m currently writing a book on plotting and I’m reading sections out to my writers’ group because they’re my target market. The most common request from them is to show how how the theory works.  But that’s not easy. I can’t use well-known books as examples because I can only see the final result of the creative process. I don’t know  for sure how their authors  thought up the stories.

At obvious solution was to use my own books as examples. But that doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped because I don’t want to reveal all the twists and turns of my stories to people who haven’t read them. (It would be a spoiler overload.)  Also  I can’t actually remember the ups and downs of the plotting process in enough detail to use it as a good demonstration.

So I’ve decided to create a plot in real time while I write the book. This will allow me to show my readers all the false starts and changes of mind that we all have. I can show step outlining live and demonstrate how to go backwards and forwards in a plot, gradually building up the details, rather than try to create perfection first time from start to finish.

The members of my writers’ group are enjoying watching the process and even starting to suggest ideas on what might happen next. I’m enjoying it too. It’s difficult and demanding but it’s stretching me to create a completely different plot from anything I’ve ever done before. It started as a one-off story and has already developed into the first book in a trilogy with some very deep themes.

If this approach proves successful,  I way well write another book looking at the actual writing process – dialogue, scene building, etc – where I’ll show various ways to bring the scenes from my plot to life on paper. Who knows, I might even end up writing that trilogy too.

Writing reviews

There are so many books available that it’s hard to decide which one you want to read. That’s why the personal recommendations you get in online reviews are so useful. The more reviews there are, the better the system works so, if you’ve read a book you enjoyed, you can help other people enjoy it too by putting a review on Amazon, Goodreads or any other online booksite.

I’ve been writing reviews for many years and ran for 10 of those. (That site is still online but we don’t update it any more.) So here are a few tips I’ve learned during that time.

  1. If you’re going to say what the book’s about, keep it short and don’t give away the ending.
  2. Sometimes it helps to mention what type of book it is: police procedural, funny fantasy, paranormal romance.
  3. Say why you like the book.
  4. Say who else might enjoy the book. If you wish, you can mention other similar books. (“If you like David Walliams, you’ll probably enjoy this” or “great book for fans of Jane Austen”)
  5. Mention any issues that might make the book unsuitable for some people – graphic descriptions of violence , scary pictures of spiders, lots of elves. (My husband hates stories about elves.)

What about bad reviews?
Authors hate bad reviews. They make us feel awful, but that doesn’t mean no one should write them. Bad reviews can be as helpful as good reviews when people are trying to choose a book, but don’t just write “this book is awful”. Try to explain what you didn’t like so people can decide whether they are likely to think the same.  For instance, saying “I didn’t like this book because there were too many elves” would make my husband choose a different book but it wouldn’t put me off at all. (We agree on almost everything except elves.)

Personally, I only write bad reviews if I think there’s something really wrong with the book – like being full of spelling mistakes or failing to live up to what’s promised on the cover (for instance, a book that claims it’s about elves but isn’t.)

The importance of being honest
The whole review system breaks down if reviewers aren’t completely honest. So I don’t think anyone should give a good review just because they’ve been paid to do so or because their friend/mum/auntie wrote the book. That doesn’t mean you should never review a book by someone you know – it just means you should read the book first and only write a review if you would do that even if you didn’t know the author.

Autumn update

This morning I did something I’ve been meaning to do for ages: I set up a Facebook author page. Maybe you’d like to take a look and add a comment.

I’m sorry there’s been a big lull in blog posts. The summer took over my time and a good bit of that was spent hopping around on crutches  because I broke my ankle. I wasn’t even doing anything exciting like riding a horse. I just slipped in the house and turned my foot right over. Apparently there’s a tendon that runs from the ankle the the outside of your foot which gets over-stretched if you do that and the result is a crack in the bones at either end. (The doctors said I was lucky not to have snapped the tendon which takes much longer to heal.)

After several weeks of poor mobility and pain, I now really appreciate being able to run again. Steve, my husband, was brilliant when I couldn’t walk. He went up to the stables every morning to turn our my horse and muck out his stable and then went back again in the evening to give him his hay. (Someone else brought him in for us.) Kubus was very good for him and obviously a bit confused by the situation. But we’re now back together again and I’m busy teaching us both to long rein (ground drive) . That’s much harder than it looks but we’re getting there slowly.

Now, the days are getting shorter, the horses are growing their shaggy winter coats and I’m finally back to writing again. At the moment, I’m working on a book about plotting in which I’m trying to pass on everything I’ve learned over the years about creating stories. Hopefully I’ll also manage to blog a bit more often.




The Problem with Paper

When I first published There Must Be Horses, I picked the most usual size for children’s books and opted for cream paper because it looked good. However, as soon as I tried to make the book available for UK shops,  I realised I had a problem. Although Amazon’s Createspace prints that size book on cream, the print-on-demand company I wanted to use for non-Amazon orders doesn’t.

One solution was to buy books in bulk from Createspace and handle the orders myself. But I wanted to spend my time writing, not running backwards and forwards to the Post Office with parcels, so  I solved the problem by having a small print run done and using a distributor to handle the orders.

Now that print run has nearly sold out, my initial problem has come back. This time I definitely want to use print-on-demand so I had two choices: publish a second edition that’s a slightly different size with cream paper or keep to the current edition and change the paper colour to white. Having two editions would complicate things so I’ve settled for changing the paper colour.

So, if you buy There Must Be Horses now, you’ll find that it’s printed on white paper, not cream. You may also spot that the spine is slightly narrower than older copies, because the white paper very slightly thinner than cream paper. But everything else about the book is same, including the story inside.

A new way of blogging

When I first decided to have a blog, I decided to have a freestanding one as I wanted to write about a wide range of subjects. However, that hasn’t worked out well in practice. Blogs work best when they are focused on a particular topic (which mine wasn’t) and I still needed to have a news page on my website. Once I added in our new website about self-publishing, life became too busy and I stopped updating my blog much at all.

After a bit of thought, I’ve decided to reorganise the way I work online. Now anything related to my own books, myself  or horses will get posted here as part of my author website. Anything related to writing, publishing and marketing books in general will be posted on And anything about helping youngsters learn maths will eventually be on a brand new website at  Please be patient about that one – it may take quite a while to put together.

Title Trouble

The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul taught me the power of a good title. As soon as I saw it, I was so intrigued that I decided to read Douglas Adam’s novel before I even knew what it was about.

cover of bookAs a result, I took care when choosing the title of my first young adult book. Throughout the months it took to write, I’d called the book Sasha’s Story. However, a quick search of Amazon showed this style of title usually belongs to “misery memoirs” – books about people who have overcome horrendous childhoods.

Although Sasha is in foster care and her childhood has been pretty miserable so far, this book wasn’t about her past. It was about her future and, in particular, about her love of horses. As my target readers were horse lovers, I realised that I needed to change the title to one that would appeal to them and show up on relevant searches they made on Amazon.  I decided to concentrate on the keyword “horse” and, after a lot of trial and error, I settled on There Must Be Horses – a title that’s worked well and proved as effective as I’d hoped.

Unfortunately, in my case, a lesson learned isn’t necessarily a lesson remembered.  When I published my children’s novel about an alien who comes to earth disguised as a green sheep, I forgot about the importance of finding the right title. I’d called the book The Green Sheep while I was writing it so, without thinking hard enough, that was the title I used when I published the book towards the end of 2014,

I soon realised my mistake. My book didn’t show up at the top of Amazon searches for “green sheep” because there’s a picture book called Where is the Green Sheep? and there’s The Little Green Sheep range of organic baby bedding. Worse still, it didn’t show well on searches about aliens, and there was nothing about the title to suggest the book was funny science fiction.

cover of Alien SheepThe obvious solution was to change the title to Alien Sheep,  and I found a useful article by Joanna Penn describing how easy it is to do. I was encouraged by her success and thankful that I’d used print-on-demand for the paperback so I didn’t have a pile of unsold books with the old title. However, just as I’d decided to go ahead with the change, the  book was shortlisted for and eventually won the children’s category of the Rubery Book Award. As that was under its original title, I decided to delay the change until 2016, just to be sure.

I finally started the change this month, and it took far less time than I’d expected. Changing the title of the ebook was ridiculously easy. I just had to replace the original cover and content for The Green Sheep with the new ones for Alien Sheep, complete with updated copyright info, and change the title and publication details in my KDP account. I also updated the book description to make it clear that Alien Sheep was originally published as The Green Sheep to avoid anyone accidentally buying it twice.

The print book was slightly trickier as it’s not possible to change the title of a book once it’s been allocated an ISBN. I had to write to Createspace and Ingram Spark to ask them to turn off the original book and then upload a new edition on both systems with a new ISBN. (For this book, I’m using Createspace to supply Amazon, and Ingram Spark to supply wholesalers and other bookshops.)

Time alone will tell whether the change was worthwhile, but I’ve enjoyed doing it. I like the new title and the new cover. I also like the fact that, as an independent author, I can take my time, fix my mistakes and experiment to see what works.

Hopefully, with the next book, I’ll get the title right first time!

Do you believe you can’t do maths?

Long before I became at author, I was a maths teacher and, since I left the classroom, I’ve helped quite a few people with maths on a one-to-one basis. Over the years, I’ve heard the phrase “I can’t do maths” many times, but the people who said it were always wrong. Their problem wasn’t that they couldn’t do maths – it was that they had not been taught it well enough.

That wasn’t necessarily the fault of their teachers. I know from experience how hard it is to give individual attention to each student in a large group. You have to decide to move on to the next topic when most of the class understand what they are doing – you can’t hold them all back because one person has failed to grasp a new topic or has fallen behind because they’ve ill.

That doesn’t matter in many subjects. You can still learn about the Second World War, even if you’ve failed to learn about the first one. Not having read Private Peaceful doesn’t stop you studying Of Mice and Men and, even in science, you can learn about plant reproduction even if you haven’t mastered human nutrition.

Maths doesn’t work like that. The individual topics build on each other like bricks in a tower so, if one of the lower bricks is missing, the higher ones wobble or fall down completely. Then another difference between maths and other subjects kicks in: it’s possible to get it completely and utterly wrong. There is nothing as effective as a page full of crosses to make a student declare “I can’t do maths”. Continue reading

Looking forward to 2015

For the last few months, my time has been swallowed by home educating our granddaughter who has been too ill to go to school. But she’s now back at school part-time so I can get back to writing.

I haven’t been completely idle during that time – I’ve published The Green Sheep – but I haven’t created anything from scratch. So my New Year’s Resolution is to be a proper writer and tackle fresh projects. I’m starting with a pantomime for our local theatre. Then I’ll have to work on something completely different, but I can’t decide what that should be.

The options so far are

  1. Another story about Sasha and Meteor (from There Must Be Horses)
  2. A new horse story, not featuring Sasha and Meteor.
  3. A young adult fantasy with horsey connections but not actually about horses
  4. A book for homeschoolers about algebra.
  5. A book for writers about creating plots.
  6. A series of short novels about a world with dragons

As you can see, my head is teeming with ideas. I’d welcome your opinion on which ones to work on so please add a comment to tell me what you think.