Archive | September 2014

What I am reading

I began blogging in February 2012 and decided I would start with some book reviews.

One of my first posts was a review of Ellis Island Kate Kerrigan followed by one on Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall. I enjoyed Clare’s book so much that I requested The Roundabout Man from my library and found that to be enjoyable also. Clare takes difficult subjects which her characters have to face and she does this seemingly without effort.

Over the next year I read a few ‘crossover’ books. These are books which can be read by the 12+ age group, young adult or adult audiences. One example was How I Live Now by Meg Rossof where the teenagers and a younger sibling find themselves alone in the English countryside at the outbreak of a war. The characters have to learn how to fend for themselves amidst alarming developments around them. The book was a quick entertaining read but thought provoking and sad at times.

I had already read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and it was sitting on my bookshelf with How I live now so, on a visit that year, I gave them to my daughter for my grand-daughter Amy to read. Amy was a nearly teenager and has a wide reading range after a fairly slow start to independent reading which just shows how you should not judge someone’s future reading repertoire by their earlier experiences.

Another crossover book is Wonder by R J Palaccio where the main character, a child of eight or nine years of age, with a facial disfigurement, is about to enter full time school after some home tuition aimed at protecting him from the wider world. His first experiences are fairly negative but he does eventually pair up with another boy who, for some reason, is cast as an outsider. August (Auggie) Pullman is aware he is different and the book is mainly written from his POV although some sections are by a friend and also from the POV of his sister Via. It is a lovely, heart warming read and one which will induce a few tears as we see his classmates rally to support and protect him.

While Mr Stink is a children’s novel by David Walliams, I have read this and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mr Stink befriends a girl, Chloe, who is unhappy at home. When Chloe lets him come to live in the family’s garden shed, she begins to unravel some hidden truths about her father. Mr Stink helps Chloe to deal with school bullies, her over-privileged sister and a mother whose main aim is to get voted into Parliament in the next election.

Three years ago, an author friend, Sophie King, wrote to ask me to review the first chapters of her book, Divorce For Beginners.   We are introduced to several characters who all are in the throes of recent separation and divorce. One recently separated girl decides to set up a support group for other people in similar situations. I warmed to the characters and found it a page turner. This is definitely on my ‘to read’ list. Note to self to update Goodreads.

As I am writing my own memoir of growing up, I like to read autobiographies. One particular delight was The Two of Us by Sheila Hancock which deals with her relationship with John Thaw (Morse). When they first meet they each have a daughter from a previous relationship and, after they are married, the have a third daughter between them. Another memoir I read towards the end of 2012 was Great Western Beach – a memoir of a Cornish childhood between the two world wars by Emma Smith. The book covers the first twelve years of the writer’s life and demonstrates how childhood is affected by the behaviour of one or both parents. Emma is her father’s favourite but her brother is constantly the victim of her father’s bad temper. Her father is a failed artist who continues to submit art work each year for the Royal Society exhibition despite being rejected each year. Another good memoir which is a fun, lively read is What the Grownups Were Doing by Michele Hanson.

More recently I have enjoyed The Boy with the Top Knot by Sathnam Sanghera about his Wolverhampton childhood growing up in a Sikh family. Sathnam was my tutor on a recent Masters Class at Winchester Writers Conference.  Sathnam grew up not knowing a family secret but researching his memoir he discovered even more.

Do let me know your favourite reads, recent reads and connect with me on Goodreads

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What Rubbish!

What rubbish! I can hear them now – the purists and the proponents of free verse commenting negatively on my soon-to-be-published poetry book. While there are two non-rhyming poems, the remaining fifty-seven bounce along in predictable rhythm and rhyme.

The title, Grandma’s Poetry Book, came easily and, once it resonated frequently in my internal chatterbox, it helped me create the essence of what my book would portray. In real life, I am not called Grandma but other titles did not work so well. ‘Nanny’s poetry book’ does not have the same ring somehow. The word Grandma, with its similarity to grandmother, seemed apt.

I began this collection about ten years ago although many poems had already sat idly in my writer’s notebooks for a few years. While browsing these old books full of jottings, ideas, short story drafts, chance remarks and chapter headings, I realised I had enough material to produce a book. These notebooks represent my writing life. It is in these notebooks that I plan future writing and empty my mind of the dialogues and descriptions churning through my thoughts. And so it was with Grandma’s Poetry Book. I was never short of something to write under this heading. Shortly after the birth of my first grandchild I had blurted lines of rhymes on to the pages, albeit they were not completed or polished until weeks, months or even years later.

Most poems are in the voice of the grandmother who is invariably feeling at sea and ill at ease with her new role while simultaneously relishing the delights of a new baby in the family. Other poems are in the voice of the child as she expresses her own view of what the grandmother is witnessing. One poem is as spoken by the baby’s auntie. ‘Sis’ expresses the feelings of the loss of that special sibling relationship as the proud new mother transfers her attention to her new role and talks of little else.

Unless you are Carole Ann Duffy or dead you are unlikely to obtain an agent or even a publisher for your poetry and I am not a veteran performer or Pam Ayres and trying several small presses resulted in being rebuffed because I was not already published with them. ‘We have our own writers’ they said or I was told they were ‘not taking poetry at the moment’. As I am pushing seventy I do not have time left to spend sending out work for several years.

Therefore, I decided to go for what the Writers and Artists call ‘serious self publishing’ with Matador, an imprint of Troubador Publishing. While I know many may wrinkle their nose at the term, the more popular description in 2014 is Indie publishing, short for Independent Publishing. I am not sure I can call myself an Indie author as I have not formatted my own copy, uploaded it to the likes of Create Space or taken it to a local printer and had several hundred copies delivered for storage in the corner of my bedroom. Matador do all this for me. While there are numerous online self publishing companies these are subject to a variety of complaints. So far all is going well and I cannot speak highly enough of the Matador staff. They are fussy about which manuscripts they take on for their self publishing business as they pride themselves on high quality content and keeping their good name. They are the only SP Company recommended by Writers and Artists and I can well understand why. They certainly aim to avoid the ‘what rubbish’ reviews on their books.

Critics of self publishing abound. Only this month in Writing Magazine the letters page contains a vitriolic attack on SP authors which could be re-titled ‘what rubbish’. The writer has clearly not learnt to read reviews prior to purchase. She mentions typographical errors despite the author’s pernickety editing. Indeed, in this regard I find myself in agreement, although her other harsh remarks about self publishers are totally unfounded. But only last year, a self-published friend was horrified to see her own book in print with errors she had missed. For this reason I am pleased I paid Matador for a proofread. This offered far more than picking up incorrect punctuation or minor errors. There were suggestions on re-positioning of some information. Here’s hoping this will result in few cries of ‘what rubbish’.

This leads me to my fear of a bad review. Writers are quick to let their inner critic attack their creative efforts and minimise their better stories and articles or trivialise the plots in carefully crafted novels. We don’t actually need a bad review to tell us our work is not up to standard as we are constantly reminding ourselves of our limitations and weaknesses. We may fear the bad review will stifle sales and lead our books by the hand to the publisher’s pulp shelf but history shows that many best sellers have initially suffered a bad review. Elsewhere in October Writing Magazine we are told that a bad review can actually increase sales especially in these online times when social media can spread the bad as well as the good and bring about ‘chatter’ which brings a title to the fore. Some readers may buy or borrow from a library in order to establish whether the bad review was justified.

So with all this in mind, I hope I shall remain focused and optimistic when I see a review citing my precious collection as ‘what rubbish’.

Excuse me if I smash your phone

Excuse me if I smash your phone,

And dump it down the drain.

We really do not want to hear,

‘Hello, I’m on the train’.


Excuse me if I smash your phone,

I know you’re on this train.

And I’m really not that interested,

In your week-long trip to Spain.


Excuse me if I smash your phone,

The quiet zone should do it.

I’d like to splice it from your ear,

And let my shredder chew it.


Excuse me if I smash your phone,

Your ailments make me sick.

You’d better hide it in your bag,

Or I’ll grab it double quick.


Excuse me if I smash your phone,

Your eyes don’t leave the screen.

We’re on a date, our eyes should meet,

Are mine blue, or brown or green?


Excuse me if I smash your phone,

And dump it in the bin.

Its silly jingle woke me up,

And made an awful din.


Excuse me if I smash your phone,

But this is better honey.

I’ll take it, dial NYC,

And cost you lots of money.


Excuse me if I smash your phone,

They should legislate against them.

Make a law, impose some fines,

But for now I’ll gladly smash ‘em.

Life Writing Master Class at Winchester Writers’ Festival

I’m late. These new buildings at Winchester are confusing but the yellow T shirts on legs direct us efficiently to where we should be. On the second floor, I see through the glass door that the room is full – one seat left.

‘Are you Sathnam?’ I now know I may have mispronounced his name but if I did he gives no sign.

A nod and a smile and I feel at ease. And relief! He hasn’t started.

This is the Friday Life Writing Master Class of the Winchester Writers’ Festival weekend in June. My new notebook itches to be opened, christened with words of wisdom and pearls of advice. My pen hovers.

This is make or break for me. I have one overladen memoir and another on the brink of completion. I want to go away and be published.

Sathnam Sanghera joined the Financial Times in 1998 and worked as its chief feature writer and a weekly columnist before moving to The Times in 2007. He is the author of The Boy With the Topknot – A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton. He is our tutor for the day. I’m told he’s the best …… and he is.

Getting to know you? Hmm I’m an ex-teacher of 35 years with countless staff development sessions behind me. I have suffered many indignities in ice breakers. I’ve had to tell a neighbour my most embarrassing faux pas or tell the group what fruit I resemble.

But I’ve never done this one. Two truths and a lie. That’s new.

A useful ploy at writer events is to ensure you are remembered. I take care with my dress not wanting to be invisible but not so garish that I look common. This could be my first marketing opportunity after all.

So what did I say? I have a deaf sister. I grew up in London. I live in Swanage.

This allows me to correct several people before they get to the truth. Why they all think my lie is living in Swanage surprises me the most. So they switch to the ‘deaf sister’ fact. Sorry I DO have a deaf sister. She is the mainstay of my memoir of growing up with a deaf sibling. Eventually they discover the lie is that I grew up in London. So I say I grew up in Harpenden – the essence of my memoir of growing up in the fifties.

Sathnam  tells us how he got published. I love talks by authors where they disclose their journey to publication. His book of growing up in Wolverhampton in a Sikh family sits in front of me waiting for the author’s signature. He tells us his dilemma was what to write that would be acceptable to his large and extended family. Luckily his parents didn’t read but he did sit down to interview his mother. The family history was dark and he needed to rustle up a fair amount of sensitivity. Procrastination followed, then an Aarvon Course. He read books and emailed writers. All this time his brothers and sisters were having arranged marriages but he resisted the pressures to follow suit.

Fascinating exercises followed. The first one was Your First Day at School. Some delegates could not remember so they fabricated what happened. I fell into this category. My account is coloured by the fact that my sister attended boarding school so none of the teachers remembered my older sibling which seemed to elicit some favouritism for some especially if the brother or sister was one of the brighter pupils. My account, which appears in my memoir, demonstrates my horror on not experiencing the same type of school as that attended by my sister. I look for beds, wonder why I haven’t brought a large case and my soft toys and cannot understand the lack of carpet and awful, smelly, outside toilets. It reads as how I might have felt than what I actually remembered.

The aim of this exercise was to teach us that we often cannot remember key dates and events in our lives and the importance of asking members of our family for their memories of us and how we behaved. Sadly, for me, I have no relatives left except my sister but she has memory problems and so my resources are limited. Reading other memoirs, we are told, may give us a frame of reference, a structure or enlighten us on what certain events might be like. Using newspapers and day-by-day encyclopaedias allow us to include world and national events.

In the afternoon, a lively debate on ‘truth’ and writing our obituary gave us plenty to think about. The discussion about titles of memoirs also led me to rethink my own book title. I left the room simmering with ideas.

Sathnam’s memoir The Boy with the Top Knot now has pride of place on my bookshelf. It is signed with the encouraging note ‘one day you will write something better than this’. I am not sure about that. However, the book has opened my eyes to aspects of Sikh culture and I am hoping my book of growing up with a deaf sibling, Sharing the Silence, will provide similar insights into the world of the Deaf.

Roll on Winchester 2015. I just can’t wait.

Writing – a solitary occupation or is it?

I was talking to a friend earlier this week who used to come to our Writers’ Group until she became busy with other things and then sadly lost her husband. Since her loss, she has taken up painting and joined one or two groups in the town. I have been encouraging her to come back to Writing Group even if she doesn’t have anything to read and she is, as she said, ‘thinking about it’.

‘The trouble is,’ she said, ‘writing is a very solitary occupation.’ I had to agree and I can see the benefits of going to a meeting of artists who work away at their craft together. They may not say much but they are in company and I can understand that this is a comfort. particularly in the case of my writer friend.

But it did make me think about my focus on writing and whether this isolates us from others. Well, for about sixteen years I was a tutor to dyslexic students. Apart from arriving in the centre, passing people on the stairwell or making small talk at the photocopier, I was essentially alone with the student and, if the student did not appear, I caught up with the admin in my office. True there were meetings occasionally but sometimes on the way home it occurred to me that I had spoken to no more than three people. When I began to use the bus to work I found myself seeking out other passengers, some of whom I knew, to talk to.

How different my life is now that I write. As it is a sedentary activity I try to limit periods at the computer to one or two hours before donning my coat and taking long strides along our local beach or even further afield, where ideas begin to flow faster than ever. I do meet people to talk to and snippets of our conversations may end up in the next chapter or poem that I write on my return. I also am fortunate to still have my partner who, although he does not live with me, is always on hand a few doors away to walk with me, go out for lunch or simply stop off in a café. Since taking my writing more seriously I have attended courses and writers’ conferences, particularly The Winchester Writers Festival, where I have made friends and contacts with whom I communicate all year. This year I spent every weekend in June at writers’ events and was in seventh heaven, coming home, brimming with ideas, spurred on by advice and fired up with creativity. Our Writers’ Group meets three times a month and I make as many meetings as I can and try to have at least 1000 words written on a theme, usually tailored to something that I am working on. I meet some of these writers outside the group meetings and one member encouraged me to an ‘open mic’ night at a local pub where I read three of my poems with a lot of acting involved to cover up my shaking hands. The pub was crowded and I was certainly not alone!

As my ‘baby’, Grandma’s Poetry Book, is due out in November I have begun engaging with social media more over the last year and through this found a writer living in my town who I later met up with and sparked another friendship. I also meet my illustrator once or twice a month. At courses and conferences I collect email addresses, Facebook names and twitter accounts and my writer’s notebook is overflowing with cards, flyers and ‘to do’ notes. Even emailing is a form of social contact and when I do glue my bottom to my chair to persevere with my craft I am engaging with my characters or, in the case of my memoir, the child that I was some sixty years ago.

My novel, recently renamed, Sharing the Silence, about a hearing girl growing up with her deaf sister, has been on the boil for a few years. I have had to take a break from it a few times to push on with other projects such as my poetry book but I have visited deaf clubs, my sister’s old school and attended events related to the world of the Deaf.

I feel I am now reinventing myself as a writer and, at last, losing my teacher identity. I certainly do not feel I am isolated or as if I am participating in a solitary occupation. Each of us needs some solitude and writing is a great way to find it. Also it is a fabulous excuse for sticking yourself away for a while or hiding behind your laptop screen.

I now wonder how many would-be great writers are put off getting into this wonderful activity by the fear they will become isolated. It is all down to balance and scheduling activity.

I now find myself looking forward to doing book signings, visiting book shops and libraries and, who knows, I may even be bold enough to give a talk. Writing has opened up a whole new world for me.

Why not try it yourself?

Grandma’s Poetry Book, by Di Castle, illustrated by Denise Horn is published by Matador in November.

Social Media – It’s Not A One Size Fits All World

Elyse Salpeter

one sizeYou see a lot of people on social media posting the same thing over and over, across multiple platforms. It could be book links, or promotional blogs, or here’s what I made for dinner, or the same rant about the world. You know, the tweeter who only posts his books and then on google+ does the same thing. The FB friend who only posts photos of her daughter and discusses her beauty over and over. There are definitely people that after awhile when I see their posts, I cringe, because I know what’s coming. You don’t want to become that poster.

The fact is, social media is not a “one size fits all” world. People go to social media for different things, the same way readers love different genres, and magazines are niche. Here’s a quick synopsis of some of the social media outlets and what their participants are looking…

View original post 431 more words

Grandmas Poetry Book

COVER PICWhat I’ve learnt so far

So it seemed so easy … and it was, eventually. After a year of agonising and researching how to self-publish my poetry book I was ready.

I am self -publishing with Matador. Why Matador? While they are the only self-publishers recommended by the Writers and Artists’ Year book, I had other reasons. My decision was partly based on the fact that, for a beginner and someone with little computer expertise save for basic social media, internet, email and Word, Matador carry out as much or as little of the publishing process that you require. While other self-publishing companies or printers want PDF files and ready-to-go layouts, Matador will accept a Word document uploaded by email and take it from there.

After talking to staff on the Matador stand last year at the Winchester Writers Conference and browsing their sample books on show, I was impressed by the superb quality of their finished product so there was no doubt that I would use their services.

So what have I learnt? The importance of seeing in advance what a finished product is like is at the top of my list. I have seen several other self-published books which appear amateur and cheap. Matador like professional covers and do not guarantee to use author-provided images. Fortunately, after a nail-biting wait, they agreed to use my illustrator’s drawing after a plea from myself that if my illustrator had 57 illustrations in the actual book then her picture should be used.

Lesson two was to look carefully at the publisher’s website. Matador has a sample quote which was useful as I knew immediately what costs would be involved. Some of these attract added VAT and, I have to admit, I initially forgot this when doing my maths. My final quote, when it did arrive, was identical save for the number of pages and unit cost. Other costs such as marketing packages are standard.

Lesson three was to post questions on authors’ Facebook pages including members of the Independent Authors Association. Feedback indicated good experiences with Matador even if the author had not used them subsequently. I also looked through their list of publications to see if I recognised any author names. I did. There were a few who were linked to some of my author friends via Facebook. This seemed recommendation enough.

Lesson four was to have a list of questions to ask prior to the signing of the contract. Also, I have been proactive about asking questions during the process. Matador staff respond quickly and helpfully.

Lesson five is to have the manuscript as polished and pristine as possible. If using their marketing services the publication date is set six months down the line, something to bear in mind, although my own copies should arrive earlier. While I have obtained offers for book signing venues I am advised to wait until my books arrive before making firm dates.

Lesson six was to allow plenty of time to read through all the written information, procedures, and guidelines. Once I had uploaded the final document and signed the contract indicating which services I would use, I received acknowledgements and further information. Being of a certain age, I do not trust my memory so I printed out all the attachments and emails.

Another milestone is when the Type Set proofs arrive. These initially came via webtransfer, a file sharing program, and while I did manage to view the files on screen, I asked for hard copies which they do offer to send out. Paper copies enabled me to see how the final pages will look with the left hand page aligned with the right hand page. This is particularly helpful when images are placed in the work as you get a view of what the reader will see on turning the page.

I have paid for a proofreader and this copy is still to come. I am told I can wait and mark up corrections according to both sets. I only have to post back hard copies of pages requiring corrections.

It would seem we are almost ready to roll.

Grandma’s Poetry Book, written by Di Castle and illustrated by Denise Horn is out in November.