Tag Archive | agent


When Grandma’s Poetry Book was published by Matador in November, I must have been the greenest, most self-absorbed, self-published author on the planet. So I had a website www.dicastle.co.uk and my book was listed on the Troubador site. I had paid for basic marketing packages on both paperback and ebook and I just thought …..

It would all happen …………..

Ha ha, big joke. Briefly, I mused how much better it would have been if I could have secured an agent or a publisher. Then it would have been so easy. They would have done it all wouldn’t they?

Well …. actually no, that is not the case. Even mainstream traditional publishing houses cannot give close attention to every book they publish and it is up to authors to do their own promotion and to ‘get out there’ and sell books.

So there I am last October with some books delivered to me and some waiting in the publisher’s warehouse. I have a website and I do twitter much to the amazement, scepticism even abject horror of my friends. I actually have about 150 followers at the time but I don’t understand hashtags, other author posts with weird abbreviations and I have never seen a DM – isn’t that something to do with being tied up? Well I had some when I was hacked about two years before. To my horror ‘porn’ messages purportedly from me went to my followers but thanks to posting an apology and explanation, several twitter acquaintances helped me out. Change your password, ignore it, get on with life. Yay, thanks all!

In October 2014 I do have a Facebook page with about 100 friends and a writer page with about thirty likes. I have tried getting on LinkedIn without success. I think I am quite a wily bird until I look at the number of followers some authors have – whaaaaat! How do they do that?

I am fortunate that staff at Matador patiently answer all my newbie questions and provide advice about how to increase likes on my writer page and how to get more followers. They tweet my website when it is launched and tell me that if I put @matadorbooks in my tweets they will RT. What is an RT? No, I don’t really understand retweets either and it is some time before I link RT to this.

I begin tweeting, and finding people to follow and my list of followers begins to grow – slowly, very very slowly that I could easily fall asleep at my computer. I follow everything! Regardless.  A few days pass. Suddenly Twitter stops me following anyone. No reason given. Ugh.

Then I remember 2012 at Winchester Writers’ conference when I attended a workshop run by Sally Tickner http://www.sallytickner.co.uk/workshops.html . I had been in contact soon after. I resume contact and she looks at my twitter page. I can only guess at her initial reaction. I suspect she may, in her next workshop, use me as an example of the dumbest way to use Twitter.  I am following too many people. I need to prune my following and up my followers, produce good content and interact with potential readers. So I trawl my tweets and unfollow all those I deem unnecessary. Oh all those holiday places, tourist offices, publishers, famous authors, actors, Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry!! Hoards of accounts which are NEVER going to follow back. A daily trawl takes time. There are about ten accounts connected to the Edinburgh Festival, several for the Lake District, more for the Peak District and anything to do with Swanage doh. I am also following several accounts connected to the Deaf community. I AM passionate about raising deaf awareness but in October I wanted to get people to buy my Grandma’s Poetry Book. I need to get followers who may spread the word, read the book or buy for a relative. Sally gives me a link to justunfollow.com which tells you who is not following you back. I spend evenings tweeting some, pleading ‘pls follow back’ followed by a link to my website. Much later, I learn it is important to provide the link to the BUY page on the site. Keep learning. Gradually my following numbers drop. Good thing as Twitter stopped me following new people once I was up to 2001. I have to get more followers before I can add. So shed a few and add a few.

I am now in twitter fog, my head spinning, my rear end stiff from sitting on my chair. I dream about the @ symbol. I haven’t found notifications. I can’t find my way around my own twitter account let alone someone else’s. Whatever happened to writing? I haven’t written anything for weeks. My blog is about to die. But I want to sell books. Ha! I read that to sell books I should write a second as quickly as possible. I have millions of words on my computer in various manuscripts, drafts and redrafts. But I have lost the will to live where writing is concerned. Actually I have a severe case of Writer’s Block. My life is consumed by Twitter.

Training. I need training. I put myself on any available social media course. A morning here, a full day there. I learn what social media means and write snippets in my notebook which might be useful. Good for networking and handing out my author cards if nothing else. I learn about interaction!  Hmm. I read blogs about spreading the word and using social media. I read advice that I should start conversations but I am not quite sure how to do it. There is a reply button, yes? Where? One of my followers on twitter begins a conversation about my book and Amazon. Interesting but what do I do about it?

Ah the Purbeck Literary Festival, February 2015; an opportunity for a morning course in the hotel a few doors up the road from where I live in Swanage. I sit numbed and braindead. I don’t understand this Twitter stuff and what is ‘Call to Action’? Oh that’s on Facebook, But the speaker Andrew Knowles begins to get through my fog and his wife explains about scheduling tweets on sites such as https://hootsuite.com/. I leave with her words ringing in my ears that one should not write a blog and tweet it only once. Waaaa that is what I’ve been doing since 2012 when I began blogging. Tweeting it once and getting a couple of likes and one follower if I’m lucky.

Scheduling? It means you can go on holiday and your Twitter feed still churns out tweets as if you are at home. Good for keeping burglars at bay if nothing else. It takes a while to get my head round Hootsuite but boy when I get going there is no stopping me. The same tweet at different times of the day, over the next week or ten days, change it slightly and re-schedule. It is such fun! I slow down when one of my much pasted tweets has an incorrect link – typo! I have to work through the schedule and delete but not before the wrong link has been retweeted to some 100K twerps. Ugh.

Andrew also teaches us Twitter etiquette. Do this or get unfollowed! Do that and get more followers. I begin slowly with a Thank you for following message that I paste into tweets of new followers. It includes reference to Grandma’s Poetry Book and gives my website.

Marketing at Matador suggest asking on twitter for people to LIKE my FB page so I try it. Twenty identical tweets sent at different times. Change the hashtags – yes I do understand them now – and do it all again.  I join a few author forums and friend a few authors. Some have twitter handles (yes I am getting the language now) and I tweet them. They begin to retweet my tweets about my book. I search local organisations, organisations of which I am a member and follow.

Sudden inspiration! An IDEA! If I can follow mothers with babies I might be able to persuade them to buy the book as a present for the grandparents. I now add Ideal gift to my Thank you tweet and I find they are favouriting my tweets as well as retweeting. What’s favouriting you ask. I don’t know. Perhaps so they can find it again? Yes!  I trawl my Facebook friends list as I have been friended by a few people who might spread the word. I message a baby photographer who puts a post and a link to my website on her Facebook page. She has 1600 likes!

Then the realisation that everyone who likes a page gets an update. So her post is reaching out to new parents and new grandparents who may also like the page. She herself buys two books from Amazon for the two grandparents for Christmas and puts glowing comments on her page. She reads them before gifting them. She puts a review on Amazon. I am getting there. I AM finding my readers.

In Part 2 of Finding Your Readers I will own up to getting rather pushy and cheeky and the fantastic results I had. And those hashtags! Great fun!

Grandma’s Poetry Book was published by Matador in November 2014. There are 16 4 and 5 * reviews on Amazon. A nostalgic memoir of a first-time grandmother’s sometimes wobbly journey with laugh out loud illustrations by Denise Horn.


I’m a Writer, yes?

Cover of Grandma's Poetry Book by Di CastleWhen I retire I want to be a writer …….

When I retired I wanted to get published, but without an ongoing project, four years later I was no nearer my goal. I had manuscripts gathering dust and more to say but I couldn’t call myself ‘A Writer’. There is a plethora of discussion on when one can be called this on writing forums.

So at a recent literary lunch, when the author, Sarah Challis, described her route to publication of ten books, all since the age of fifty, I had to ask myself what I’d been doing all these years?

‘It all started,’ she said, ‘when I retired from teaching.’

Well, that made me sit up and take notice. Yes, I’d been retired sixteen years and my aims then were the same as Sarah’s. So what happened after the day I retired and where am I now?

I’ve always had an urge to write and secretly hoped retirement would free me to put words on the page. I was determined that, eventually, I would say whatever it was I had to say.

From the time I could hold a pencil I’ve been writing in one form or another. Someone said that you are a writer if you have to write and if ‘not writing’ causes withdrawal symptoms. That’s me.

Once I’d mastered the alphabet and found letters worked together to give a range of words and that the choice or order of words could change the meaning, I began writing stories. They were lengthy – I never knew when to stop – and they served to save me from outside play on a cold winter day. I made sure ‘finishing my story’, lasted until my red-nosed, blue lipped and frozen classmates returned from the icy wastes of the infant playground before I wrote with abandon – The End.

My creativity had a bad start. After beginning My Life Story, at around seven years of age, my mother discovered my ‘book’ which contained a multitude of family secrets and shocking habits, after which she took me to one side for a ‘talking to’ of the ‘What Would the Neighbours Say?’ type. I was disappointed, having been so pleased with my humorous take on life in our house. My imagination stunted, I realised any talent would have no encouragement from that quarter.

The creative juices were again sorely sapped at Junior School when I came face-to-face with She Who Slaps Legs for every spelling mistake. Such was my fear that every Monday evening was spent preparing twenty spellings for the dreaded Tuesday test. Her regime worked. I was never slapped and became the world’s best speller, especially with family games of Trivial Pursuits, during which my children groaned ‘It’s not fair’. Well, they didn’t have teachers like She Who Slaps in the 1970s, did they?

I didn’t give up entirely, as I had what every writer should have – a den – my own private place. It was made from broken canes – the good ones held up Dad’s runner beans – and hessian sacking which, before the days of plastic bags, came in all shapes and sizes. I created a door with a make-believe lock of string and twigs. In this den I would write – anything. By now, I was more adept at hiding my scribbles in an assortment of tins buried in the mud. So no more ‘what will the neighbours say?’

I continued writing in my teens with classmates taking turns to sit next to me in French to hear the next instalment of my latest novel, usually something fashioned after the Scarlet Pimpernel. I crafted a female character – Adeline – of similar aptitude to Sir Percy, only female, and she aided the escape to England of many. Unlike many authors, whose talks I’ve attended, I don’t have these early masterpieces as at some point these disappeared from our loft, probably to my mother’s waste bin.

The sixties and seventies are a blur of babies, weaning, boiling nappies and the occasional pen in my hand writing a shopping list. But everything changed in the eighties, when, as a single parent with three daughters and a career to nurture, I found time to join a writing group. We read aloud anything we’d written which motivated me to put pen to paper and type drafts on the portable electric typewriter. The result turned out to be the opening of my first novel which was regularly returned from publishers with a large thud on the door mat.

Then my partner bought a computer – an early Amstrad – and I struggled to make sense of it, wasting much continuous stationery and temper in the process. Stimulated by this new experience, I wrote the start of a book about a young mother with toddlers who struggles with a word processor. The plot of the book matched my own tortuous learning curve but adding the toddlers meant I could make bad things happen like jelly tots in the floppy drive. I sent it to an agent whose name I’d been given and she asked for more and then for the whole script. The book went to Headline and Arrow but was not taken up.

My first book was costing me a lot of postage but I didn’t waver. Someone in the group suggested I send it to the then Watson, Little and Brown and they telephoned asking me to come to London. I’m there, I thought. Of course, I wasn’t.

‘It’s not marketable,’ said the person on the line, ‘in its present form, but we would like to see you.’

The meeting was with two of the junior commissioning editors. If I re-wrote the book into articles, perhaps diary pieces, they would market them with newspapers and magazines, after which the articles would be put together in book form. The readership, having been wooed by the diary pieces, would then buy the book. Wow!

I left the office promising I would send the work. I didn’t at the time comprehend the harsh truth that a writer should ALWAYS do what an editor asks. I was about to move house, combining two homes, mine and my partner’s and our seven children. There was much to do, not all of it nice, but worse, once we had a joint household, the freedom to write I’d had when on my own vanished.

Recently I’ve read both manuscripts and am horrified at the sloppy sentence structure, banal clichéd expression and lack of or, worse, abominable punctuation. I broke every rule in the creative writing bible. No wonder they weren’t published.

I began Open University study and for a few years wrote only coursework but I didn’t give up writing. I sent tongue-in-cheek articles about mature students juggling study and family demands which were published in the OU magazine Sesame. I also took on a Village Voice column in the local paper and I began writing press releases promoting new courses and student achievement in my college of further education.

Around 1999 I worked with Helen, a primary teacher, on the Family Literacy Programme. I taught the mothers and Helen taught their children. Once a week we had a combined session. Email was in its infancy – few of my friends had email but Helen and I did. We liaised and our email exchange was hilarious, as were some sessions. We still want to publish, under pseudonyms of course.

My early manuscripts were now a mere memory, yellowing, fading copies and brittle, stuffed in the loft. My Millennium introduction to grandparenting stimulated the latent writer in me and, inspired me to write poetry. At a poetry group, I read my poem about a deaf girl which was harshly criticised by those with no experience of the disability. It was another example of the ignorance of hearing people with regard to Deaf issues. The seeds were sown for a later book. At last, I had something to say. But the time wasn’t right.

However, there was still email. After 2001, other friends were keen to correspond on a regular basis. I was loath to delete these and for several years selected a few of my wittier sent mails each week to copy and paste into a diary. The joy of this, I thought, was that I could refer to it if my memory failed due to dementia. I also planned a book entitled ‘The E diaries of a Downshifter’ based on the e mails. I just needed to find the right voice and I’d be away.

One turning point was that, after some family history research, I was motivated to write a family memoir for my grandchildren, which still awaits completion but from this I developed the idea for the book about a hearing girl growing up with a deaf sister.

Another turning point was in 2009 when Mslexia, arrived and on tearing it open something fell out. It was a flyer advertising the Winchester Writers Conference. This was within easy reach of where I live and the speakers and topics were just what I needed. Immediately I went online to see what I could find and also wrote away for details. I was too late to enter competitions or send work for appraisal in 1-1s but I put myself down for several useful seminars, one of which was on memoir writing by John Jenkins.

So now I had two books in progress and a poetry collection as well as two older corny novels awaiting major revision.

I was back at Winchester in 2010 and took the first prize for one of the Conference competitions which inspired me to apply myself seriously to my writing. I also had a 1-1 with biographer, Bevis Hillier, who said I showed much promise as a writer and asked me to stay in touch. I felt liberated and energised.

In 2011 I attended a Novel writing weekend run by Winchester Writers’ Conference at Shawford. At the course I met a writer who was organising a competition for entries into an anthology of the Royal Wedding. My contribution was selected and in July the collection was all over Facebook and sold on ebay with half the costs going to UNICEF.

My 1-1s in 2011 were helpful but I had other ideas. As autumn approached I jotted down some sketchy plots for a possible novel to write for the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and on 1st November I got cracking. To hit the target of 50,000 words I had to achieve 1700 words a day. It was the most enjoyable month of writing I’d had for a long time. I finished it sketchily and hastily knowing that for acceptance by an agent or publisher, there is much needing development – it has a saggy middle I fear. If I finish the editing before 12 June, I can have six copies self-published, the vouchers for this being part of the prize.

Stephen King says in ‘On Writing’, If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it? Why wouldn’t I indeed?

I do have to write and I’m not as content if I don’t. I am happiest fiddling with words on the screen, flicking pages of the thesaurus and the slog is always worth it at the ‘eureka’ moment, be it a sentence, phrase or merely an elusive word.
The road to writing has taken many turns, roundabouts and dead ends and I still haven’t had a book traditionally published but I am getting there and now I write every day – another definition of a writer. I have no strict routine of writing 9-1 like some, but I can easily manage 1000-2000 words, usually in the evening.

Since writing this article for a competition at Winchester, I found an illustrator, Denise Horn, whose work delightfully encapsulates my poetry written as a new grandmother. Grandma’s Poetry Book took form. In 2013, my task at Winchester was to trail round the self publishing stands asking for guidance, prices, requirements – anything! Some wanted pdf documents. What was a pdf, I wanted to ask? I found myself, eventually, at the Matador stand and their only requirements – a WORD document and Jpeg files for the illustrations – led me to placing my book with them in the Spring of 2014. Grandma’s Poetry Book was published in October that year and has enjoyed healthy sales. We are now working on a new book of more general humorous poetry, Should I wear Floral? Poems on Life, Love and Leaving, which we hope to have ready later in 2015. The marketing of the first book requires a whole blog post of its own. Green doesn’t even begin to describe me a year ago. Steep learning curve doesn’t go near it; suffice to say that I have gained 1200 Twitter followers in six months!

As for fiction ….. This book about the deaf ………. someone at Winchester once said, ‘it sounds like it would work for the older children’s market.’ You know what? I might just have another go.

It’s been a while coming but I do now call myself a ‘writer’.

Grandma’s Poetry Book was published by Troubador Publishing in November 2014

http://www.dicastle.co.uk/book/4586441911 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Di-Castle-Writer/266866193324409
follow me on Twitter @dinahcas
email me on dcastle32@talktalk.net


I’ve never been a social media geek like some. I’ve only had a Facebook page for just over 2 years and a writers page for much less but I haven’t a clue how social media works. Around the same time I started a twitter account but now when I look at the massive number of accounts I am following I’m left wondering why I followed half of them in the first place.

Apparently I followed a multitude of accounts when holidaying in the Lake District, Peak District and the Gower. Then there were all the Edinburgh sites after visiting the Festival a couple of Augusts ago. Then I followed any site with Dorset in its name. Then I followed all the newspapers when I went through a political phase. Then I followed all the tv stations when I went through a ‘sitting on the sofa watching tv and trying to be intelligent’ phase. It seems that whatever I am doing or whatever is the flavour of my month, I begin to follow people who have absolutely no interest in me and I certainly cannot keep up with the tweets that fly into my feed at the rate of about 3000 an hour.

In desperation I emailed a social media consultant, Sally Tickner, who gave a workshop at the Winchester Writers Conference some two or three years ago. She gave a brilliant presentation and, as you can guess, she is not short of work. But she took the time to look at my tweets and told me to get rid of as many tweets as possible.

Also, she said I must concentrate on tweeting good content. I am not quite sure what she would class as ‘good content’. She gave me some links and kindle books on how to do twitter and increase your followers. You see I am following about 1500 people but only have just under 700 followers. The aim, I am told, is to get people following me especially those who might re-tweet about my soon-to-be-published poetry book, Grandma’s Poetry Book. After a few hours trailing through my ‘following’ list I discovered a quicker way to unfollow people. I now watch the tweets coming into my feed about once or twice a day for a short period. I click on the account and see if I really want to keep getting their tweets and unfollow them. After all I can always find them again if I want to.

So I am now pruning my list down to authors, organisations associated with the Deaf (this is because my main WIP is a book about growing up with a deaf sibling) and bloggers. I have also begun to follow organisations and people connected to older people in an attempt to create some buzz around my new book which, of course, is aimed at older people, although younger people do like it and even children enjoy some of the verses about the baby. I follow Mums and grandmas and older people organisations in the hope they will follow back. Often they do and I thank them – yes I have learnt Twitter Etiquette – and I re-tweet some of their tweets and send them an individual tweet about my book.

This year at Winchester I went to a workshop by Emily Benet @emilybenet and the room was packed. I think most writers have the same problem as I do. What to do on social media and how to do it? She told us to tweet only one promo tweet in ten so I have tried to think of things to say on twitter that can lead people to my book information without seemingly being promotional. So I have started blogging more frequently about the process of self publishing and mentioning my book in the process.
Hashtags are only just getting into my brain! But there are some good ones #amwriting #selfpublishing #newbook and even more. Just try the hashtag and a subject and you will see the choices pop up. I found OlderPeoplesDay last week and they favourite my tweet about Grandma’s Poetry Book. I am also following several areas of AgeUK and a few are following back. Then there is #grandparentsday. Whatever your theme, try the hashtag. There you will find posts that are linked to your own area of interest.

Having found some accounts that might be interested in poetry about being a grandparent I have tweeted some individually with news of the outing of Grandma’s Poetry Book in November and I have had some good results. Re-tweets or following back are happening.

Now at last I am getting somewhere I think. I have been pleasantly surprised that some of the people I have tweeted have ‘favourited’ my tweet and some are re-tweeting my tweets which is brilliant. It can all be only for the good.

Not only twitter but the marketing contact at Matador Books told me to get on to LinkedIn. Easier said than done as I had long since lost my password and been refused access for about the last year. I persevered, found a password in my special book of passwords (aaahh that would be another post entirely. Has anyone managed to organise her passwords in any way that saves time. Poring over scribbled entries in my little pink book is not always helpful as later on I find an updated password. Probably a scare or a phishing email which made me change my password.) Anyway as far as LinkedIn was concerned my marketing contact gave me the link for the Matador Authors group. I then found I could join another Writers group. I found that LinkedIn has improved since I was on it before. It brings up names of people who live in my town, businesses and those working in educational institutions that I have worked in in the past. It was through LinkedIn that I found a girl I met in a local open mic night. She admired my poetry and I admired her singing voice. We are the epitome of a mutual admiration society and will encourage each other. We both suffer angst regarding our own talent.

Once on LinkedIn I updated my profile. Oh dear, not another profile!  I am getting rather bored of trying to remember all my BIO information so now I have made a WORD document with a short bio, a longer bio and an even longer bio as well as a passage about my book. Now I can go to that and do a quick copy and paste. Anything to save time, methinks.

So now I have several platforms as I believe they are called. I have a blog on WordPress, my author website – ww.dicastle.co.uk, my author page on the Matador site and then when I asked on the Indie Authors page on Facebook about Goodreads I was told I could put my book on there and become a GOODREADS AUTHOR. WOW! So I did and I am!

I have an author website hosted by Matador and I keep emailing the web designer with new links to social media and she patiently adds buttons to my site but sometimes I want to scream,


But I know I have to if I am to publicise my book as well as I can.

So, if you are still sitting there with a self-published book that you can’t distribute, my first advice would be that you should have published with a company who did distribute the book for you. It is the major complaint of self published authors that it is difficult to get their book recognised and distributed. Somehow with my website, Troubador’s website, Amazon and Goodreads I don’t think that will be a problem for me.

But watch this space. I might not be so confident after a few months.

But ………. I don’t give up easily. You won’t get rid of me that quickly!

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’.


I have learnt a bitter lesson in the last few days about how easy it is to lose contact with an agent who likes your work. Let’s face it, to find an agent who likes your writing is an achievement. To lose contact is disappointing. How could I be so careless? But a variety of reasons can bring about this situation from the agent disappearing on to maternity leave, retirement, moving to another agency or long term illness. When at a writers’ conference in June I heard the words ‘I’d love to see more’ my hopes lifted – well, actually I went WOW!  I thought perhaps now someone would look further into my book about two sisters growing up in the fifties – one deaf, the other, the narrator, hearing.

But, over the next few months, I became distracted by a brilliantly hot summer, a seaside home town with the nearby sea swimming, a constant stream of school holiday visitors and the lure of the beach, cliff walks, ice creams and coffees in local cafes with friends. Recovering from a serious illness I put quality of life ahead of tapping away on the laptop polishing the next few chapters. All this ensured I did not work as hard on producing ‘more’ at a required standard as perhaps I should. The interested agent was covering someone’s maternity leave but had she assured me she would be at the agency until October and would then talk to the returning agent when she had seen the ‘extra’. She had seen the synopsis, first two chapters and assured me, when I asked, that I was ‘doing it right’ and that she loved the voice of the child narrator which she found strong and engaging.

How time flies. When in late October I did eventually send the first third of the ms off I received a short reply from the other agent now back from maternity leave saying that she would read it when she had caught up on everything. Her later response did not echo the first agent in any way other than her use of the word ‘engaging’.  She cited a lack of narrative thrust, the problem that it fell between memoir and fiction and that it read more like memoir whereas I had sent it as a novel. In fact, I am not sure I had called it that. Imaginative memoir is more like it. Everything in the book has been experienced by myself or others related to deaf people and even by deaf people themselves. To add these dimensions gives the book more depth and covers more issues about the lack of deaf awareness in society and the rift between the oral education favoured in the 1950s and the schools that used signing as a medium of learning. This great divide has lessened in recent years while cochlea implants cause young literati some bemusement at the concept of profound deafness and the devastation caused to the person and their family.

So I was heartened to read Melissa Benn’s article Survival of the Fittest (SOF) in the current MsLexia, Issue 59 that she has, in the past, similarly lost her champion.  To quote her ‘the most significant difference between a writer and a would-be writer is simple bloody-minded persistence.’

Benn’s words have reaped results. I have, at the moment, three of her books borrowed from my local library. Her latest, What Should We Tell Our Daughters, is so popular that I shall not be able to renew it so must fire away with my reading specs. Not that it will be difficult to do. She writes fluently about topics close to my heart and her style is easy to read.

Benn reminds us of how long it can take to get published. She cites Kerry Young who struggled for a decade to get Pao published. Young described her novel as a gift for her father of a better life than the one he had. This resonates with me. My own novel Deaf not Daft is a gift to my long-since dead mother who was a founder member of the Deaf Children’s Society, a charity formed by a handful of parents in a meeting in Westminster in 1944. The parents present refused to accept that their deaf children could only aspire to manual, boring work. In fact it was difficult in the 1950s to get these young adults into rewarding and satisfying occupations. Telephones and face-to-face communication were essential in any career. These days, internet, twitter, facebook, blogging, websites and email have made a difference to opportunities. As well as the technology, attitudes and legislation ensure that many deaf school-leavers can work in the field of deaf education as support assistants and interpreters. However, there is still much ignorance about deafness and what deaf people can achieve. This is the essence of my book. As I believed I was emailing the agent who had, of all the submissions she received prior to the conference, selected mine and two others for further consideration, I did not attach the synopsis as she already had that. This may have been my biggest mistake. Without the synopsis the returning agent had no idea about the problems caused when an oral deaf girl falls in love with a signer, the rift that would arise between two families and why this would occur. Another writer mentoring would-be published writers at the same conference also read a chapter of the book and the synopsis and heralded it as a wonderful idea and very much suited to the YA market. My other work, a nearer the truth memoir of growing up in the fifties in a working class background without the benefit of private education, was also heralded by another publisher as ‘worthy of readership’. So, I tell myself, I must be doing something right.

I am not deterred, although my Facebook status did read ‘two declines in one day. I shall sulk for a while and  move on. Like falling off a horse I will get back on. Pity the keen agent had finished her maternity cover.’

Which is exactly what happened to Melissa Benn. She lost her champions on more than one occasion through retirement and maternity leave, agents moving jobs and other reasons. She describes the agent who inherited her two-book deal as a chicklit agent who was not interested in the slightest in her books and gave them scant attention or marketing opportunities.

So perhaps this is a good sign. I really didn’t want an agent who inherited what someone else liked and who would only give half her attention to my work. Now I think I would rather self-publish and market my own work.

I know that out there somewhere is someone who is interested enough in disability and particularly in deafness to see that this book shows both how devastating and isolating this sensory loss can be and how a family can be affected. In the 1950s people stared without any remorse at my sister. These days there is more awareness and politically correct behaviour where disability is concerned but there is still a stigma and much prejudice when it comes to getting deaf people accepted in the hearing world of work and in society as a whole. Neighbours agree to have a phone number of a relative but rarely pop their heads out of their own front door to pass the time of day and find out how their deaf neighbours are faring. Most are frightened they will not be understood or that they will not understand the deaf speech. People still refer to my sister as ‘deaf and dumb’ regardless of her oral education, the fact that she can speak and that she makes appropriate tonal expressions such as surprise, anger and sorrow. My mother would be furious.

The book is almost finished. The first three chapters will be winging their way to another agent and then another and then another until someone sees that this could be a popular read – one that reading groups will choose for discussion on the ‘Cinderella’ of disabilities, the little-known deaf experience and how to relate to deaf people. Hopefully they will then have some understanding of how different life is for someone brought up with a sibling with disabilities. Because there is one difference, above all. Those of us who are brought up with disabled siblings are more sensitive to those both with and without disabilities. We make good teachers, especially teachers of those with special needs. We are more caring and we listen – something many hearing people seem to have forgotten how to do. We don’t need to go to church to profess our faith. We do it each and every day when we interact with our siblings, their friends and relations. We interpret badly-worded official letters and can fire-fight the advertising material that these relatives receive and believe.

Hopefully, in time to come, people won’t look so surprised when I say ‘I faxed my sister.’ Amazingly, many I know cannot understand this.  Aren’t there special phones? Well yes, but I actually don’t need a minicom as I only deal with one deaf person and others are on the email these days.

Doesn’t she wear a hearing aid? They’re wonderful these days. Yes hmmmm but you don’t understand profound deafness. Here the nerves are completely dead and older people who have lived with such profound silence are not suited to a cochlear implant so

 …………….. don’t suggest that either!


You can follow Melissa Benn on @Melissa_Benn or visit her website www.melissabenn.com

You can also donate to the NDCS on their website.