Way back in April, I blogged about the fact that my husband, Steve, and I were planning to retire from web design. It took a long time to find the right buyers for our business but we’ve now happily handed The Word Pool over to Joe and Aya Ratzer – another husband and wife who are planning to continue with the same friendly, personal service that our customers like. They are also continuing to run Contact An Author – a website where authors advertise their availability for talks and workshops.
They took over in July and, since then, we’ve been adapting to our new lifestyle. It seemed strange at first but I’m loving having more time for my writing. I’m back at work on my book about plotting, creating a print edition of A Special Child in the Family and trying to redesign my website. But the most exciting project at the moment is creating an audiobook version of There Must Be Horses. I considered reading it myself but decided I wouldn’t do it well enough so I’ve commissioned Becky King to read it instead. She’s a professional actress/voiceover artist and it really shows. She’s bringing the story to life beautifully and I’m impressed at how she manages to create different voices for each of the characters.
Creating an audiobook takes is a big task. The book is 49,000 words long so reading it takes quite a while. Then the files have to be edited to make sure the result is perfect. So I’m not sure when it will be on sale, but I’ll tell you as soon as it is.
Have you seen the film called Bend it like Beckham? It’s a funny story about an Indian girl who wants to be a top footballer, and it’s well worth watching. But the reason I’m mentioning it is that I’ve bent my foot like Beckham and cracked a metatarsal just like he did. (That’s one of the long bones in my foot.) Luckily it’s getting better very quickly, but I don’t think I’ll ever be fit enough to play for the Premier League!
To be honest, I’ll be content to just get back to taking my horse out to his field again. My husband, Steve, is looking after him for me at the moment, but I really miss doing it myself. Kubus was very wary of my crutches the first time he saw them, but he is used to them now and keeps trying to chew them.
While I’m healing, I have lots of time to write but I’m finding it hard to concentrate because of the niggling pain in my foot. So I’m doing all the little jobs that go with being an author: writing letters, doing accounts, writing blog posts and making plans. Part of the planning is working out a redesign for my website. I want to reorganise it so there is space for the books about writing that I am working on at the moment. I wonder if I should change the colour scheme too, and I’m sure I need to change the picture of me because it’s very out-of-date. If you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know.
I’m looking forward to this event at Cowes library. It will be fun to meet some of my readers and the other authors.
Whenever I go to events like this, I’m always happy to sign books and I’m thrilled if someone brings in a copy that they’ve read lots of times. It’s a big compliment to know that they’ve enjoyed the story so much that they want to read it again and again.
It’s a long time since I started building websites with my husband, Steve. The very first one was wordpool.co.uk – 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 wordpool.co.uk 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 ukchildrensbooks.co.uk. 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.
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.
- Look at the source of the information you are reading. Some websites and newspapers are more reliable than others.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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 www.wordpool.co.uk 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.
- If you’re going to say what the book’s about, keep it short and don’t give away the ending.
- Sometimes it helps to mention what type of book it is: police procedural, funny fantasy, paranormal romance.
- Say why you like the book.
- 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”)
- 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.
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.
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.
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 helpwithpublishing.com. And anything about helping youngsters learn maths will eventually be on a brand new website at mathsed.co.uk. Please be patient about that one – it may take quite a while to put together.