For those of you who don’t know, i.e. anyone not based in the ever-extending and loosely defined Eurozone, Eurovision is a huge annual song contest for European nations plus a few friends to join in. It began in 1956 as a way of strengthening the ties between countries in Europe, which was still recovering from the ravages of the Second World War. It’s grown and grown since then and as far as I’m concerned is an unmissable spectacle of national pride, fun and lots of talent. As ever, I was watching last night and enjoying every minute.

Now, a lot of people love to rubbish the Eurovision Song Contest, saying it’s naff and amateurish, so that immediately suggested a link to me with indie authoring. Too many people, including a lot of mainstream publishers, are all too quick to denounce all self-publishing writers in the same condescending way. And when you start to look, there are a lot more similarities between this joyous, optimistic musical event and today’s enthusiastic indie authors.

ryannolanLast night, poor old Ireland came last. That was tough, and was felt strongly in our Anglo-Irish household. Ryan Dolan gave a brilliant performance – polished, professional, pleasing – but didn’t pick up the popular vote. That happens so often with indie authors. They do absolutely everything right and have a good product but can’t seem to find readers. Ireland had plenty of points in common with the winners, Denmark, namely a good looking singer, catchy music, a prominent role given to drummers and a well-choreographed stage show. Similarly, an indie author can produce a book that is every bit as good and worth reading as one by a best-selling paperback author but can’t get the recognition it deserves. However, Ireland will dust itself down and try again next year, and that’s what indies do. They don’t give up.

Some countries go for a safe approach in the Contest and jump on the current popular bandwagon. Germany’s song was very heavily inspired by last year’s winner by Sweden, ‘Euphoria’. A musical version of fanfic perhaps? In their case it didn’t win, but they didn’t do disastrously. For some writers, following the trend is enough. Think of all the erotica that’s appeared in the wake of 50 Shades. It may not be what the authors really wanted to write, but they knew it would probably sell, so they had a go. That makes commercial sense, if not artistic sense, some might argue. And by all means, be like Azerbaijan and Georgia and play safe; go for something a little predictable and non-ground breaking but still thoroughly commendable and enjoyable.

Other countries don’t want to fit in with the herd. They go for originality and dare to be different – extremely and dramatically different in Romania’s case yesterday! You don’t get many male contraltos in vampiric oufits. Cezar had incredible talent and an astounding vocal range, as well as showiness, and really shook things up. Fabulous. This is precisely what many indies do, and is why they’re indies in the first place. Their books will never fit in with a conservative ‘traditional’ publisher so they take the responsibility for launching themselves and their unconventional ideas. But they have to write is well worth reading and makes us think. Who wants to be stuck in a reading rut?

Greece gave an energetic performance that defied any categorisation. What else would you expect from a group of men, each dressed in what looked like a sports shirt and a pleated skirt (a traditional podea, I believe)? Many indies are like this. The appearance of their books may be a little unconventional and not very slick, but there’s a lot of heart and soul inside. These authors give you their all, and you can take it or leave it.

Which brings us full circle. Take it or leave it is the Eurovision Song Contest’s robust attitude. And that’s shared by indie authors. Love them or hate them, they don’t care, but at least give them a fair chance. Like the Song Contest, they’re here to stay. They make a valid contribution to culture with their genuineness and the fact that artists who might never make it in the mainstream of their art form get a chance to surprise, shock, baffle, delight, horrify and maybe gobsmack, but above all to shine.


I’ve blogged about using the Kindle as a proofreading tool before. You can use it for editing too. I find this is incredibly useful. As a freelance editor, there are times I have to be away from my desk, but I have some work to be finishing, and it’s not practical to take my laptop with me. As with the proofreading, using MobiPocket Creator I format the Word file of the MS I’m working on – either all of it, or just the section I’m currently working on – into  a mobi document, and then I email that to my Kindle.

Reading through the document, I use the note and highlighting tools on Kindle to mark where I need to make changes. To make a note, you bring the cursor down to the appropriate spot (I have a Kindle 3 so use the 5-way device, but on the later models you use the stylus I believe) and start to type to make your note. You can also tag a word by clicking the central button of the 5-way to begin a highlight which you end by taking the cursor to the finish spot and clicking again.

When I’m back home, I fire up the Kindle and work through with it next to my laptop. When I reach my note or highlight, I make the necessary change to the MS on the computer. Then, when I’ve finished, I simply delete the document from the Kindle so it’s not taking up valuable space there.

Simple but effective!

Don’t get bogged down at your writing desk. For many of us with limited time for writing, it can easily become stressful when we fire up the computer, knowing that we’ve got to get that next bit written NOW before life gets in the way again.

So here are 5 suggestions to help you stay zen in your writing den.

1. Wear something bright or silly. Don’t just plonk yourself down to write in your work clothes. Pin on a fun brooch or put on a stupid tie or slip into a garish cardi. A bit of fun will brighten your spirits and loosen up your fingers.

2. Smile. Seriously, a little smile will lift your mood and make you feel good. OK, you may be about create a heart-rending scene or a truly horrific one, but a smile will help you get underway.

3. Make your work area pleasant. A potted plant, cheery family photos or a stuffed toy will jolly it up nicely. If it looks nice, you’ll feel happier there and maybe want to put in a bit of extra time if you can.

4. Stay serene and focussed. A scented candle or incense stick or a bowl of pot pourri will make for a peaceful atmosphere and help your concentration.

5. Stash a few secret goodies in a desk drawer or other hidey hole to give yourself a little treat once in a while – when you’ve written those 1,000 words or finally got the plot sorted. Boiled sweets or chocs are just the thing, or for you healthaholics, a handful of sawdust or seeds or whatever is a bit naughty but still good for you!

This week has seen the holiday whirlwind book blog tour by Lauren Clark for her smashing book Stay Tuned. (I reviewed it here.) Here’s a fascinating and inspiring interview with this energetic writer.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes. For as long as I can remember. Of course, my parents always remind that I also wanted to be an Indian princess named Tiger Lily, but that dream was more short-lived. On a serious note, I do have fond memories of spending my summer days toting stacks of books back and forth from my house to our town’s library. It always seemed like a magical place, with endless stories to get lost in.

You worked as both an anchor and producer after graduate school. How did that influence the writing of Stay Tuned?
So much! It was an accident, really, getting into broadcast journalism. I always thought of myself as a behind the scenes kind of girl, but after my first day on the job, I loved it and stuck with it for the next 6 years. Working in television is never boring. There’s always a story, always the next show. The camaraderie in the newsroom is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s like living in a big, loud, mostly happy, very dysfunctional family every day.

What gave you the idea for Stay Tuned?
True story:  A few months before I took my first television job as a part-time health reporter, the two main anchors at one of the local television stations (who were romantically involved) got into a fistfight. They were outside the building, in the station parking lot. Shortly thereafter, they were both fired. In the months that followed, the two of them bantered back and forth in newspaper editorials, threatened lawsuits, and fueled all sorts of crazy retaliation stories. I never forgot about that incident and always thought about what might happen if such a fistfight happened on air, during a newscast. What would happen? How would it be handled? Who would fix this kind of mess?

What did you learn from being on air?
It’s very humbling, really. As a producer, especially, you are in charge of what’s being put out there—the news stories people watch and talk about each day. It’s a big responsibility to get it right. Not just sometimes, but all of the time. There were many sobering days—car accidents, house fires, school shootings—and those stories should be told with sensitivity and care. It’s someone’s son or daughter or parent. Everyone matters.

What was your most memorable experience as an anchor or reporter?  
I was on set during 9-11. I remember sitting there with our weatherman and waiting to be cued to go back on air after the commercial. CBS cut in and showed footage from a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. It was surreal and awful. We were all in shock. It didn’t seem possible. All I wanted to do was go home and hug my son.

Was it a difficult decision to leave television?
Yes and no. I loved so many parts of broadcasting. I was able to meet fascinating people – Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro, then-New York Attorney General Eliott Spitzer among many others. I adored the people I worked with, especially the folks behind the scenes. I was also fortunate enough to win several AP awards for anchoring and reporting.

On the flip side, I worked crazy hours (2 am – 10 am) and, as is typical in the industry, I received very little vacation time. I anchored every holiday (Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, you name it) and wasn’t able to spend much time with my young son. After more than six years, I “retired” from TV news. It was then that I really started to get serious about writing fiction.

How long did it take to write Stay Tuned?
About five years, all said and done. I wrote several other novels before that—and those manuscripts will never see the light of day! When I began Stay Tuned, I had just given birth to my second son, so my writing time was very limited. After putting it away for several years, I picked it back up about 12 months ago, brushed it off, and had an editor-friend look it over. We made some changes, tweaked the story, and fine-tuned the plot. A few months back, I was offered a contract with a small publishing company. Another friend introduced me to the talented and fabulous Emlyn Chand at Novel Publicity, who helped guide me through the entire publishing process. It’s been a wonderful journey!

What’s next? A sequel or a stand-alone novel?
Dancing Naked in Dixie is next (stand alone title) and I’m so excited to share that it’s been selected as a finalist for the 2011 Chick Lit Writers “Get Your Stiletto in the Door” Contest (Winner will be announced December 20, 2011).

Dancing Naked follows the story of a talented but scattered travel magazine writer who returns from overseas only to find out she’s on the verge of getting fired. To save her job, she reluctantly accepts an assignment in the Deep South. She’ll be writing an article about Eufaula, Alabama’s annual Pilgrimage event, which is a long-standing spring tour of antebellum mansions (the location is featured in the Reese Witherspoon’s movie, Sweet Home Alabama). Upon arriving in Eufaula, Julia falls in love with the area, its cast of charming characters, and her handsome tour guide. When she discovers that a developer has big plans to buy up many of the historic homes and turn the area into a tourist site, it’s up to Julia to save the day.

What is your writing schedule like?
With two growing, active boys and a busy husband, finding time to write is like looking for a missing Lego piece in a houseful of toys (Moms should appreciate that!) I often get up very early and write while everyone else is asleep or go to the lovely campus of our local university and shut myself in a study room. I love it there because I have to shut off my phone and I don’t have the password for an internet connection! No distractions! Of course, I do frequent two or three local coffee shops and draw inspiration from my daily dose of caffeine and good friends!

Who are your favorite writers? Favorite books?
Gosh, there are so many! My all-time favorites include Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella, Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Bohjalian, John Grisham, Amanda Eyre Ward, and Lisa See. I also love Lisa Scottoline, Janet Evanovich, and James Patterson. Favorite books include: Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (this is a children’s book that I’ve read over and over to my two boys).

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read. A lot. Write. A lot. Revise. A lot. I’m not joking.

Anyone can write. Writing well is different. It takes focus and tenacity and determination. I’ve heard Stephen King quoted as saying, “The first million words are practice. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, says, “It takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to become expert at anything.” Just to be clear, at 4 hours a day (28 hours a week), that’s 7 years. I’m not quoting the experts to scare anyone or be a harbinger of doom. It’s the truth.

Pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s brilliant and so true and funny in so many sections. If you’re serious about becoming an author, learn as much as you can. Read blogs and books about the craft, network with other writers, or go to a writer’s conference. Above all, write!


Don’t Miss Out!

Extension to the photo competition: Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Stay Tuned either in paperback or on an eReading device, tag Lauren Clark’s Facebook page, and you can enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the most creative photo, $50 to the best BFF photo, and $50 to the photo with the most people in it. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. If you need help learning how to tag a photo, you can visit Lauren’s Facebook page for detailed instructions. You now have until Sunday 4 December to upload your photo.

There are lots of posts appearing about how writers can use QR (Quick Response) codes, but to my mind a lot of them are missing the point. (A reminder. QR codes are those square shaped bar codes that smart phones can scan and read if the necessary app had been uploaded.) Many writers are talking about putting these codes in blogs or emails so that people can be directed to where an author’s book is for sale on the Internet, or to a review of it, an interview with the author etc. Well, a hyperlink does that just as well and more efficiently. Not everyone has the necessary hardware yet. Well, I don’t! The point of the QR code is take you from printed media to digital media. There is simply no need to have them take you from digital to digital.

They’re free to create. Here’s one I just created at to take you to my other blog: Blog in France. It took about 10 seconds! I can now print this out and use it on any press releases or posters or such like publicity, were I ever to create any!

So, QR codes certainly have a role to play for writers but do remember that they’re intended to go from paper to digital. Here are 9 non-nonsensical places to consider incorporating them:


Press release


Book cover



Christmas card – well, it’s that time of year!

Promotional notebook, calendar, ruler, pen, mug etc

Business card




I like websites and blogs with clever names. One of my favourites is a knitter’s blog and it’s entitled Dances With Wools. And Le Franco Phoney, a blog by an Australian expat in France, is pretty cool too.

So when I happened across a site called multi-story then I had to have a look. is for authors of short stories of all genres. It’s intention is to support them by helping break into the short story market in both traditional and ebook publishing. The links page here  is a veritable goldmine of info on where to find writing groups, books, competitions to enter, markets, associations etc.

The site features interviews and articles. So far a copy-editor and a magazine story literary agent have contributed. The copy-editor’s article is particularly good in bringing attention to the many but often overlooked tasks this crucial cog in the publishing machine performs – but then, as a copy-editor too, I’m obviously biassed!

The ‘Have Your Say’ section is for readers to voice their opinions, stand on their soapboxes etc, and there are some very interesting veiwpoints there already. Add a competition page, an entry page plus one results, and this new site is a very impressive creation. Most definitely worth a look if you’re a short story writer. is another witty name. However, this site doesn’t appear to have been updated for several years, which is rather a shame as it clearly had a lot going for it. There are some useful articles to check out in the ‘For Authors’ section still, but elsewhere links aren’t always working.

And finally the very aptly named Procrastinating Writers blog, which describes a rather large percentage of us, caught my eye. This is a very good site created by Jennifer Blanchard, for non-procrastinators too. Lots of useful blog posts that will get you off your butt and into writing mode. Thanks, Jennifer!

I recently reviewed Donna’s terrific book Big Backpack – Little Word and am thrilled to bits that she agreed to do a guest post for me. I described her book as “a travel memoir that grabs you by the scruff of your neck and gives you a good shake!” So, over to Donna.

Stephanie has asked me to be a guest on her blog, and now I feel like I’m walking down the runway to accept an Academy Award. It is such a great honor to be here among readers and writers. I promise I won’t bore you with thanking everyone from my children to the pink-haired girl in Spain, but I do want to thank Stephanie for this opportunity.

Big Backpack—Little World tells my stories of teaching and traveling as an older, single woman. It is the stories of meeting new people, seeing countries I never dreamed I’d visit, having fun, and discovering an amazing life as an ESL teacher. It doesn’t tell you about the other doors that opened because of my traveling.

Twelve years ago if someone told  me to write a book, I would have known they were crazy. Today, my book is real. I see it on my Kindle. I see the paper copy. It sits on my desk, and I view it daily, hourly, gazing at the most incredibly beautiful thing in the world. Writing this book was  like packing-up everything I owned and moving to a foreign country, except it was scarier. I was no longer traveling solo. I was now traveling with everyone who picked-up my book. I was showing everyone my personal story, my soul, and it was frightening. Those that have read Big Backpack—Little World can verify I’m not afraid of many things, but this thing had me shaking.

I had kept good journals, and the first several months of writing was incredible. It was  fun revisiting countries, remembering people I’d met along the way, laughing at the crazy things I’d seen and done. Then one day, I knew I needed someone other than a friend to read my manuscript. At that time, I don’t think it could qualify as a manuscript, more like a bunch of writing.

So entered my first editor, who gave me the encouragement to continue. Then she became ill, and I had to find and pay for someone new to begin the ordeal again. My next editor, whacked and chopped my writing into a manuscript. I have to say none of this was fun. I re-wrote so many times I could hardly stand the sight of one more page of red slashes. It was rather like being back in grade-school with the teacher telling you that you could do better. She was usually right, but it still wasn’t fun.

My biggest problem with my editors were they wanted my book to be a soul-searching, gut-wrenching, in search of and finding myself. They wanted me to express the loneliness, or the hardship of being alone in a strange country. This was impossible for me, because I wasn’t searching for myself or a new love. I went on this journey for fun, and I found open arms around the world. I wanted my readers to know that at any age, it is possible to pack-up and leave their country, friends, family and happily go off into the vast unknown.

Writing your own stories, or poems can open a new adventure into your life. It can grab you, shake you, and awaken you to all this wonderful life has to offer. It doesn’t have to be for the world to view, do it for yourself, and see what you find.
Happy writing, my new friends. Thanks, Stephanie!

You can jog on over to my blog and read the incredible review Stephanie wrote about Big Backpack—Little World.

I mentioned blovels in a previous post. These are novels that are being serialised on people’s blogs. Stu Noss’s was the first I came across, and I’ve since discovered another great one here. Misty Provencher is presenting her blovel Cornerstone on her website a chapter at a time.

I love Misty’s attitude. She explains she decided to become a blovellist after losing her literary agent, failing to find another one who had the same vision as she did, and generally becoming frustrated at not being read. She says:  “But I have a million books in me and I’m tired of having so many barriers between us. I’m just looking for those folks who are my people and who will get into the book and find some joy in it. I hope it brings you that. If it does, please let me know. Tell others I’m here.”

It’s all about the writing for Misty and I totally agree with her point of view. I’ve hit my head against brick walls enough times during my authoring career and I just want my books to be read too. That’s partly why I’m putting so many up for free on Smashwords at the moment. And Misty, my house is never clean either!

A third blovel, very new, is here. I shall be following this one too. And am I tempted to do a blovel? Yes, I am, so watch this space.

Almost blovels are ficlogs, or fictional blogs. I’ve heard about these but haven’t found a good example of one. Whenever I do a search on the Net, the search engine is convinced I want clogs and isn’t terribly helpful!

Now, as well as novels on blogs, there are novels on Twitter. Seriously. Here’s a nice article about it. Writing such a story is really a lesson in learning what to leave out. It would certainly be a very valuable exercise in writing concisely to produce such a novel – Twovel, perhaps? A Twovelist writing in this way is Aden Moss. And there’s a book out there called The History of Rock and Roll in 99 tweets  Ebook By Andy Szpuk  but isn’t in Kindle format at the moment. I’m ignoring epub for a while since Barnes and Noble wouldn’t sell me a Nook Book the other day because I don’t live in the US. Crazy.

Books are serialised on Kindle too. The most famous example is Sean Platt and David Wright’s Yesterday’s Gone. As Platt says, “serialized fiction has been around since Dickens. It just means taking a single storyline and breaking it into several parts to fuel anticipation between episodes.” Other authors are doing this too, notably Roz Morris. But there are pros and cons. We’re the instant gratification generation and don’t want to be kept waiting. A lot of readers want all the content at the same time and don’t want to have to wait a week or a month till the next episode. However, there are plenty of fans of serialised works out there too.

So, the modern inventions of blogs and Twitter might be leading to a return of serialisation in fiction. It will be interesting to see how this all develops.



I’ve just happened across this rather interesting software for writers. It’s called LitLift and its aim is to keep you organised as you create your masterpiece. It’s not a wordprocessing package, but a helpful tool to help you keep on top of the details of your creation. It was developed by Brad Marsh, a UX designer and developer who is also a writer. And he’s made LitLift available for free.

So how does it work? OK, first you create your account with your name and password. The main page comes up with tabs for Books, Characters, Settings, Items and Tools.

Books: you enter the title and a description of what it’s going to be about.

Characters: there are three tabs to start with – All Characters, Major Characters and Minor Characters. Highlight the category you want, and then click on the New Character box on the right. This brings you to a page where you enter the name, their status (major, minor etc) and a description. There’s a useful list of features to consider in your description eg  hobbies, education and so on. If you’re stuck, there’s a button that will generate a character for you! I was offered Wayne Hall, Cullen Ross and a couple of others. Rather useful, that.

Settings: you give a name and description of your setting.

Items: this is to help you keep track of who last had what – the murder weapon, the heiress’s poodle … it’s easy to lose tabs sometimes so this is a nice little feature.

Tools: this is the character generator I talked about earlier. There’s a note saying more features will be coming soon, but I’m not sure how recently that was put up.

I shall be certainly give LitLift a whirl with my next new fiction venture (starting imminently). I find I lose track of characters quite easily, and when it comes to naming them, I seem to have a fairly small pool of names that spring to mind. I end up with multiple Robs and Simons.

Thanks Brad – this is a well thought out and handy program.

I’m delighted to host my first ever guest post. Jo Parfitt, expat author, has just released her latest book, Sunshine Soup which I’ll be reviewing in a few days’ time.

Jo has some inspiring advice for all would-be authors:

Inspired by La Grande Rue

Many years ago I lived in France. I studied French at university and spent my year abroad as an assistante in a school in Normandy. I don’t know whether you know Neufchatel-en-Bray, but it’s pretty small. I was the only English girl of my age living there and I found it rather lonely. I love to eat and so that was how I whiled away the hours. I would wander up and down the high street, looking in the shop windows.   I particularly liked the patisserie.

One day, as I gazed at the tartes aux myrtilles and tartelettes au citron, the words French Tarts popped into my head. That would make a great book title, I thought.

Now, as I had told you, I was a bit bored and I loved to eat, so I hatched a plan. I would ask the people in the town to invite me to dinner and make me a tart and, in exchange, I would put their recipes in a book I was writing. I really believed this would happen, and so, it appeared, did my potential hosts. I got my recipes and solved my social life problem in one go.

Back in my dingy flat above the school boiler, I had no kitchen, in fact I could not even cook, but I was determined to write that book. After graduation, I did a little research and sent a synopsis to a publisher called Octopus. They accepted my proposal and about 18 months later, French Tarts was published in French and in English. I had never written anything before but this lucky break led me to believe that I could follow my dream and become a writer. Today, 25 years on, I have written 28 books, hundreds of articles, teach writing and am a publisher in my own right. I specialize in publishing books by and for people who live overseas.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because I believe that if you have a good idea, lots of passion and some self-belief, you too can achieve your dreams, even against the odds and even in a foreign country. My book succeeded because it was a good idea, with a catchy title, that came at the right time.

Without French Tarts I doubt I would have become the writer and publisher I am today. Neither would I be a decent cook. Living in France back then I would never have believed that I would go on to live abroad for the rest of my life. I have lived in Dubai, Oman, Norway and am now in the Netherlands.  I have become a pretty decent cook too, and wrote a second cookbook when I lived in Oman, called Dates.

This month I launch my first foray into fiction. Sunshine Soup is a novel about expats and expat life. Its protagonist is a cook and there are 20 recipes at the back of the book. French Tarts is no longer in print, though you can buy second hand copies on Amazon.

If you have a dream, however crazy, I urge you to go for it. You never know what may happen.

Jo Parfitt

Jo Parfitt  – author of Sunshine Soup, nourishing the global soul. Out now. Price £8.47 and available on Amazon. Find out more at, and