You know, this book really works! I was a little worried to start with that it wouldn’t, since it quickly emerges that there’s a magical paranormal element, and yet the book has such down-to-earth characters and a plot that has financial concerns at its core. Can such prosaic realism and such imaginative make-believe act in harmony? With this author, most definitely.

Frank, the heir to the Jamieson ice cream fortune, disappears together with his trust fund leaving his wife, Christy, and his daughter, Noelle, at the mercy of Frank’s trustees. Their marriage wasn’t successful but Christy is genuinely worried about her husband and knows this behaviour is out of character. However, everyone else seems to accept it all at face value. She is desperate to find him.

Christy and Noelle have to make big economies and so move to a smaller house, next door to the Armstrongs. Quinn Armstrong, a journalist, at first pursues Christy for a story since there are suspicions she’s involved in the money’s disappearance. To begin with she refuses to have anything to do with him, but soon she needs his help. In return for a scoop on Frank, he agrees to help her. More assistance comes from Stormy, Christy’s cat, who ends up on Quinn’s doorstep.

There is a lot for Christy and Quinn to deal with, not least the growing attraction between them. It all makes for a very enjoyable and innovative mystery.

My only quibble is with the title. There are an awful lot of books with the same title. I’ve mentioned this before in reviews, but it is vital for a book to be instantly findable. A distinctive, unique title is a must!

Now that the first draft of Haircuts, Hens and Homicide is in the bag, I’ve been able to return to part Deux of my memoir of our lives in France, Total Immersion. To whet your appetites here’s an extract from the chapter ‘2012: The Year of the Pig’.

The Big Freeze of 2017 is going on as I write about the Even Bigger Freeze of 2012 so it’s helping to put me in the mood. It’s brought back precise memories of exactly how flipping cold it was.

The year started off harmlessly enough. Once New Year was over, the kids headed back to école primaire (Rors), lycée (Caiti) and fac (Benj) and Chris and I settled into our daily routine of this time of years of jobs around the farm, lake maintenance and our online businesses. However, Chris’s inner swineherd was proving hard to ignore. He’d been becoming more and more interested in getting pigs, and talking about them to such an extent that some returning angling clients of ours gave him a book about pig ownership. Perhaps that was the deciding factor, or maybe he just felt ready for a new challenge as by now, between us, we’d mastered llama and alpaca, goat, sheep and poultry ownership. It was time to conquer another animal species.

Chris did some research and found someone who did pig management courses in Poitou-Charentes, about four hours away. He booked himself in on the next available session and sorted out a night’s accommodation nearby as there was an early start to the day’s training. All he had to do now was wait.

January was ridiculously mild, to the extent that the daffs were coming up, the chickens were laying fit to bust and buds were starting to appear on many trees. What a lovely short winter we’ve had this time, we thought with a smile. But Mother Nature had the last laugh.

Chris set off on a sunny Sunday afternoon, waved off by me and the two youngest. Once he was gone we pottered around in the warmth, doing the farm chores and getting some fresh air before focussing on getting everything ready for school next day. For Rors this was just making sure there were clean clothes ready and waiting, but for Caiti it was the usual painful process of packing the suitcase for a week of boarding. We should have had it down to a fine art by now, and we had done with Benj, but somehow every week seemed like the first with our daughter. She always left packing till the very last minute, long after parental patience had been ground down. I’ve never been a late night person and since moving to France and taking up a much more physically exhausting lifestyle, then bed starts calling at nine o’clock, sometimes earlier. So things would tend to get fraught on a Sunday evening. But Caiti inevitably produced the proverbial rabbit from the hat and was all ready for the off, although she regularly resembled the proverbial slow snail and reduced me to a nervous wreck on Monday mornings. However, as it turned out miraculously we only ever missed the bus once.

This particular Monday morning was very chilly but with Chris away I had no alternative but to load a warmly wrapped sleepy Ruadhrí into the car to be taken for the ride when delivering Caiti to the bus stop in Clugnat. The road sparkled with frost and it was nippy. One low, hill-bottom stretch of the road was, as usual, particularly cold. We called it the ‘frost bucket’. This arose from a very young Caiti mishearing us using the expression ‘frost pocket’. Well, since ‘frost bucket’ is so much better we adopted that one as a family saying. The car showed a temperature of minus three or so. Brrr.

Meanwhile Chris was getting up to minus five, which came as a bit of a shock. Fortunately he’d taken plenty of warm clothes with him as a lot of the training was done outside and the day itself was sunny and bright. He had a wonderful time learning about the finer points of pigmanship with trainers David and Lorraine. They specialised in English old breed pigs and so Chris got to meet Gloucester Old Spots, Berkshires and Oxford Sandy and Blacks. He got to eat them at lunchtime too but not the ones he’d just met, obviously! The whole point of getting pigs was to become self-sufficient in pork. We weren’t going to be a pig sanctuary – we were going into this venture with hardened hearts and a love of sausages.  Chris was immediately struck with how much nicer the pork from these old breeds was than what we were used to eating from the supermarket.

Chris learned about fencing, handling and breeding pigs, and about all the relevant legislation. There was plenty of hands-on experience of rounding up and feeding. He was struck with how intelligent the pigs are. You can interact with a pig. Llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep – not so much. The action with them is one way, i.e. from the human, with the creature in question simply regarding you vacantly as The Mysterious Being That Dispenses Food. A pig, though, will come over for a chat. A pig will listen. A pig will scrutinise you and size you up with those shrewd eyes, rather than just gaze dumbly at you. A pig is altogether a different kind of animal from other farm livestock.

Temperatures began to plummet as the day wore on. I distributed extra hay to the animals and took a hat for Rors with me when I walked to Nouzerines to meet him from school. It was the walking-to-and-from school season in the winter, but the rest of the year we cycled him in and out. Despite living the furthest away, and Chris and I being the oldest set of parents by at least a decade, we were the only ones who were able to get to and from under our own environmentally-friendly steam rather than resorting to car or bus. As well as allowing us to feel morally superior to the rest of the world, it kept us all fit and we enjoyed the exercise as a family activity.

Chris got back quite late and reported freezing fog and icy roads all the way. It was by now a good few degrees below freezing, and it was going to be several weeks before it warmed up. The Big Freeze had begun.

It seemed to come out of nowhere. Admittedly we didn’t watch the Météo, weather forecast, regularly. We’d tried and failed to adapt to French television generally. With its love of short and frankly bizarre (‘quirky’ doesn’t come close) vignettes, and its overly-verbose chat and quiz show hosts, it just wasn’t for us. The culturally divide turns into a chasm when it comes to the TV. But we soon started watching it every night. And the news, where ice-bound scenes from around the country filled most of the half-hour slot. However, we were far more concerned with our own ice-boundness, which was dramatic and wholesale.

(The artwork for the cover of Total Immersion is by the incomparable Roger Fereday. The photo is of our own Berkshire pigs, Rosamunde and Oberon.)

We all know how important a cover is for a book or ebook. Well, so is the title, but this doesn’t always get as much time and effort put into it as it should. And especially, authors don’t seem to be doing much if any research to see if the title they want has been used. It’s not a great idea to give your book the same name as one that’s already out there.

Recently I’ve read across the following books with titles that turn out to be very popular:

Scorpio Rising: I read the book of this name that Monique Domovitch had authored. But amongst many others, Alan Annand, R. G. Vilet, Daisy Denman, Rosie Orr, Alex MacDonough, Richard Katrovas, Ms Scorpio N and Mark Sheldon have also written books with this title.

The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson (excellent, by the way): Oral Roberts, Richard Copeland, John Mulinde, Penny Dawne, Edythe Draper, Kristen Bretweiser and Jeff Gunhus have their versions too. Again, that’s only some of the authors who had the same idea. There are a lot of Wake-Up Calls (plural) out there too that could get confused.

Passion in Paris: Rusty Blackwood, Adam Carpenter, Helen Hardt, Robyn Grady all have versions.

Losing It by Simon Lipson (do read this guy) has rivals by Zaria Garrison, Melanie Douglass, Lindsay Rech, Laura Fraser, William Miller, Valerie Bertillini – and those are just from the first page of results on Amazon.

The danger with using a title that’s already been employed is that it makes it harder for readers to find and buy your book. They might be looking up your Gardening with Nail Scissors but come across someone else’s tome of this name and buy that instead, not realising their mistake. Or, when they call up the title on Smashwords, they find six other books with the same name, all of which have snappier covers than yours and so one of them gets the sale instead. Heart-breaking isn’t it?

But other people have the same idea as you do, and sometimes at the same time. And there’s nothing you can do about that. My ‘The Witch’s Dog’ came out pretty much alongside Frank Rodgers’. And I’d checked to see if there were other ones out there before I settled on my choice. The stories are completely different, but they’ve got the same name. There’s an ‘Escape from the Volcano’ out there now, very similar to my ‘Escape the Volcano’. My ‘Oh Dad’ of 1999, has been followed by one in 2000 and another in 2008. ‘Oh Santa’, again the only one at the time, is the name of a Christmas collection of songs by Mariah Carey’s. OK, not a book, but the same title which gets in the way when folk are looking for my masterpiece. And ‘Beat the Hackers’ as a search term pulls up CDs by Beat Hackers, a rap group!

So, you can’t avoid the problem happening completely, but I would strongly advise you to come up with as original a title as you can to keep your book totally unique. Maybe others of the same name will come along later, but at least you got in first!

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!

It’s time to meet two strange words. First up, NaNoWriMo, which begins in just 31 days time. What is it? NaNoWriMo is the shortened form of National Novel Writing Month, although really that should be International Novel Writing Month as it’s open to everyone. The aim of the catchily named event is to produce a 50,000 word novel during November, which works out at 1,667 words a day. It’s a tall order, but the thrust is to simply get people to sit down and write. Write rubbish if necessary, but write! It will get you into good habits for the future.

Last year, everyone who completed the challenge got a free proof copy of their book from Amazon’s Createspace. I don’t know if the same is planned for this year, but even the possibility would certainly be an incentive.

I’ve signed up. I’ve joined 1831 other France-based WriMos. I might use the event to get my long-planned YA fantasy novel written, or maybe the upbeat knitting mystery which is crashing around in my brain at the moment. Decisions, decision!

So on to ‘Blovel’, a combo of Blog and Novel. This is a great invention by Stu Noss! Check out his site here. Stu is serialising his novel Life on the Suburban Fringe on his blog. What a great idea. Stu is following in famous footsteps. Charles Dickens’ novels came out in serialised form originally, and he hasn’t done so badly over the years has he? Stu’s a talented writer and I’m sure his Blovel idea will inspire a lot more to appear.

Today is Super Thursday, the day when publishers launch their best hopes for the Christmas market. According to the BBC, more than 500 books in all formats, amongst them 200 hardbacks, are being published today, including a good helping of comedians’ autobiographies, and of course a Jamie Oliver cookbook, Jamie’s Great Britain. This latter is the hot favourite to the Christmas bestseller.

Getting the Christmas books out today gives publishers and authors enough time to do lots of promotion and for word of mouth to kick in and the power of reviews to kick in. The next best day will be in a fortnight, October 13th, so if you were hoping to make it big this Christmas, get your skates on! Looks like I’d better get a move on with my two non-fiction ebooks.

Last year, nine of the books released on Super Thursday sold more than one million pounds’ worth of copies. Not bad. In the 12-week run up to Christmas, a total of 69 million books were sold, with a value of 567 million pounds. This is serious money.

Ebook publishers will be looking to take a share of the public’s book budget this year. You can’t put an ebook in a stocking, though, which will work against them during the festive season. However, you can put a Kindle or other ebook reader in, and with the new Kindle priced at 79 dollars, that’s in normal spending parameters for family and special friends.

It will be very interesting to see how ebook sales fare over the next three months. I’ll be watching closely.

OK, so which groups of Tweeps are the most egocentric? First of all, for those of you not hooked on Twitter yet, Tweeps are people on Twitter.

Following John Locke’s advice, I’ve set up a Twitter account solely to promote my upcoming book, Something Fishy. It’s a fishing mystery story – honestly, it’s far more exciting than it sounds! Anyway, I’m writing it under the pseudonym of Rorie Stevens as it’s a bit racy in places, and I’m known so far as a children’s author. I need an image change. So, I’ve brought Rorie S to life. Like me, he/she (I’m being vague on purpose) is a fishery owner in France, and, less like me, a keen carp and trout angler.

So, I had to find followers for Rorie. To get followers, you have to follow. Over the course of a few nights, I tracked down prime targets to follow, and I duly added them to my ‘following’ list. I put up a good few fishing related tweets to show willing. But certainly to begin with, I got less than a 10% rate of follows back. That’s improved slightly now – 11 followers to 70 following – but it’s not great. However, it’s typical of the fishing fraternity. They aren’t keen on following other anglers. They want to be followed. I was rather surprised by this egotism, but it’s definitely out there. It’s also odd, since surely Tweets are about information sharing. It’s hard to share if you insist on one-way communication. You see, only people following you get your Tweets. Unless you follow them, you don’t get their Tweets. Anglers, it seems, are happy to preach to others but not to listen in return. Shame.

This is in stark contrast to writers. Almost everyone in the authoring field follows a lot more people than are following them. They’re open to advice, hints, encouragement, tips from others. They’re friendly people who are delighted to make new Twitter friends. In a lot of cases, they’re working to build a platform for themselves and their books, but then everyone who Tweets is looking for attention. Picking three people that I follow from my @Booksarecool23 Twitter account and we have one author following 1340 with 998 followers, sample 2 following 1,998 and followed by 1,663 and sample 3 following 75 and followed by 49. (One of them is me, but I shan’t say which one!)

Let’s take scientists as well. They put even anglers to shame. Prof Brian Cox, for example, has nearly 400,000 followers, but only follows 94. Now that’s pathetic! An American scientist, Sean Carroll, has 8,000 followers but follows only 100.  Ed Yong has a slightly better 10,000 to 700 ratio, so Jonathan Eisen with his 6,400 to 1,500 is a quite a breath of fresh air.

So it would appear at a quick glance that the more creative you are, the more generous you are in the Twittersphere. And the more you get out of Twitter.

 

 

Following on from my post about prompt cards  to make sure you don’t waste any valuable writing time dithering, this next tip on being organized is to do with managing your author platform. Here is how Joanna Penn defines author platform: “The author platform is how you are currently reaching an audience of book-buying people, or how you plan to do so. It is your influence, your ability to sell to your market. It is your multi-faceted book marketing machine!”

I talked about building my platform here. It’s increasing almost daily. For a while I managed with the relevant details scribbled on bits of paper, but that soon proved to be insufficient. I was forgetting exactly who I’d signed up with. I now use a répertoire or address book to keep on top of which websites and forums and showcases I’ve joined and this way it’s easy to keep track. I note down on the appropriate page the name of that particular platform, then my user name, the email address I use for that account and the password. I colour code these with highlighters so they’re easy to pick up. This is a French habit I’ve picked up, I’m afraid. We all love highlighters in France!

 

I regularly work my way through my book to update each platform, and I’m almost constantly adding new entries to it.

It works for me. Perhaps it will help you keep on top of your platform too.

My prompt cards to keep me busy

I’m not a very organized person. I’d like to be, but it never quite seems to happen. I’m nearly there, but that’s as close as I get.

I’m the same as a writer, but, since the time I have for all things writing related is at a premium, I’ve had to do something to make sure I don’t waste any of it wondering what to do. Any time I start to dither when I sit down in front of my computer, I now pull out one of these little cards at random.

And I do what it tells me. I’m finding it to be a very good system for stopping me from having a ‘I’m not getting anywhere’ crisis, for which the whole family is very grateful!

My current ten prompt cards are:

  • 30 mins research for a non-fiction project
  • Write a book review
  • Write 1,000 words fiction
  • 30 mins work on author platform
  • 10 minutes on Twitter
  • 1 hour writing – anything
  • Find a new blog to follow and comment on a post
  • Get up to date on Facebook
  • Outline a non-fiction project
  • Edit one chapter

 

Obviously, adapt this list to suit your own portfolio of projects. If you’re on the disorganized side, you might find it helps. Do please let me know.