From 2011: The Year of All Things Wild and Woolly

Talking about sad episodes, it’s time to mention our polytunnel. Our earnings were a little healthier now that we were with Angling Lines, but there still wasn’t a lot of spare cash. Now, we’d been mulling over the idea of getting a greenhouse or polytunnel for several months. We ate a lot of tomatoes and lettuces but these didn’t thrive outdoors. Despite digging lots of poop from assorted animals into the area of ground we designated as the vegetable patch, the soil remained poor. The only things that did grow were courgettes and pumpkins, and you can definitely have too many of those. Hence, the desire to grow a wider variety of veggies. After a lot of pondering, we opted for a low budget polytunnel off eBay. Stop laughing and bear with me. It looked good in the advert, and was the right sort of size so we paid up and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t too long coming and we got it up in one afternoon. Given the number of bits of framework and the unhelpfulness of the instructions, that was surprisingly fast. We chose a south-facing spot behind the barn. It was in the female llamas’ field and they were delighted. They had a very interesting time watching us grapple with poles and plastic. Llamas are so wonderfully inquisitive. Once it was finished they seemed very pleased with the new addition to their field and inspected it every now and again. We’d have to make sure to keep it closed, or they’d be in like a shot.

We got to work constructing some workbenches from recycled building materials and quickly covered them with seedlings in yoghurt pots. My inner gardener blossomed. I spent many happy hours pottering around potting things up in there, and Chris likewise. It started to look very impressive and productive. We took the precaution of wiring the framework to two very heavy iron bars that had come with the farm. We had no idea what their original purpose might have been, but we knew they’d come in handy one day and so we left them where they were, on the grass beyond the hangar, and regularly tripped over them. However, all those stubbed toes were worth it as the bits of iron now came into their own.

They, the bits of wire and a few bits of bent framework were all that were left after the first slightly windy night we experienced after erecting the polytunnel. A few moderate gusts of wind and the whole thing fell apart. The plastic ripped and fluttered off around the farm, sending our seedlings flying, only to be consumed or trampled on by the llamas. What a disaster. All that hard work wasted. Evidently the polytunnel was intended for indoor use only. We sighed and collected up any salvageable pieces of debris, and they weren’t many, ignoring the llamas’ giggling.

We learnt our lesson from that act of cheapskateness and decided we would have to invest in a real, proper, heavy-duty polytunnel with thick plastic and a weighty metal framework. It would be worth dipping into our savings if it meant we bought something that would last longer than a couple of weeks and withstand a gentle breeze. And so our new polytunnel duly arrived. This was more like it. It came on two pallets and weighed a ton. Never mind several hours, it took several weeks to erect. The main supporting framework needed concreting in place, wooden doorways had to be constructed and it took the whole family to help with fitting the rest of the frame together and fitting the plastic over, stretching it carefully to fit and cutting off the excess. Leaving a central walkway, Chris built a raised bed to each side which, over a few days, we filled with barrowfuls of llama and chicken poop. The ten-metre long and four-metre wide polytunnel accommodated an awful lot of poop, I can tell you. We were delighted, and, although a bit late, set to on a second splurge of growing seedlings. We hung up a thermometer and marvelled at the tropical temperatures reached in the polytunnel. On a cloudy day when it was 20 degrees outside, the tunnel clocked up 35 degrees. And when it was hot and sunny outside around the 30 degree mark, the thermometer showed upwards of 45 degrees. Surely our lettuces and tomatoes would flourish now.

Word must have got round about our polytunnel because out of the blue, a young man turned up. He explained he was a neighbour, relatively speaking – he lived a good few kilometres away but there weren’t many other habitations between us and him so I guess that did make us neighbours – and that he’d just taken over Les Chapotiers and planned to make a living growing bio (organic) fruit and veg. We’d detected a hint of hippie. He had a polytunnel on order and asked if we’d come and help him erect it when he arrived. We replied that so long as he wouldn’t object to a good bit of swearing going on during the process, then no problem, count us in. We’d found from our few years of heavy labour in France that swearwords are as crucial an ingredient in constructing something as the physical constituents. Cussing concentrates the mind. We weren’t the first to think so. I remember from my childhood Dad going round to help our neighbour, who I knew as Uncle Will, with a car problem. “Damn, I won’t be able to swear so it’ll take ages,” Dad grumbled as he set off. Uncle Will was indeed a gentle soul. We’d often call round as kids and be treated to a biscuit in the kitchen. I only saw the living room once, and the walls were festooned with beautiful embroidered pictures. All Uncle Will’s work.

The young guy never turned up again.

The author describes this as a dozy mystery, rather than a cozy mystery, which right from the start gives you the idea that the book is likely to be quirky and fun. And it is. It’s a very enjoyable, well written and easy read.

Ron, our laid back hero, who only panics now and then such as when it looks like he’s been snugly stitched up as the perpetrator of the crime, leads us through the story. He’s determined to find out who did actually sink a machete into Old Pete’s head, and so he sets about the task, very unably assisted by Sam, his colleague at The Jolly Jester. He encounters various other shady but fascinating characters along the winding way. He discovers, as do we, that there’s a lot more going on in the village of Duckley than meets the eye.

Well worth a read, and many thanks to the author for keeping me thoroughly entertained.

Available from all the Amazons.

I came across this book via Twitter (so take heart, indie authors, it does pay to Tweet regularly about your books!) and I’m so pleased I did. As a keen cyclist I was immediately attracted by the inclusion of ‘peloton’ in the title. Actually, I liked all of the catchy title with its alliteration, rhythm and assonance. The cover is also not a run-of-the-mill romcom cover, with quirky artwork and fancy italics for the typeface. This one is fresh and clear,and also intriguing. Why when we have ‘two’ in the title do we only have ‘one’ in the image? The hint is that this is a resourceful, independent heroine, who’s bound to be interesting. I had to read this book.

‘Peloton of Two’ is a light-hearted romantic comedy set mainly in rural France. Catherine Pringle, a journalist, has the chance to write her own column whilst cycling around France with her explorer boyfriend Nick. The tour will further her career, she hopes, and also improve her slightly shaky relationship with Nick. However, the tour gets off to a shaky start and most definitely does not go as planned. But all isn’t lost for our empathetic, well-meaning heroine. Life has a way of throwing up surprises.

We get to see a lot of France and human nature on the way, and there are many entertaining characters to meet. It’s a super read, well written and thoroughly entertaining.

Available at all the Amazons for Kindle and as a paperback.

I was pretty certain I was going to like this book even before I started reading it. First up, it’s a Christmassy romcom that manages not to have ‘little’ in the title! The author could have jumped on the bandwagon with ‘Christmas at the Little Village Pub’ or similar, but thank goodness she doesn’t! ‘Little’ is currently one of the most overused words in book titles, or at least I think so. Instead we have ‘Christmas at the Dog & Duck’, and the novel is as unpretentious and down to earth as the pub’s name, although we get our magic sprinkling of festive happiness at the end which we and the protagonists all deserve.

As well as the title, the book cover is also distinctive. There’s a definite craze for Christmas romcom covers to be shades of blue with a snowy house in the centre. At the bottom of this review you’ll see four such covers that I found within a few minutes of searching! Christmas at the Dog and Dog bucks this trend. We have a striking, unique look for this book, and it’s equally as Christmassy as all those snow scenes.

The book turns out to be equally as impressive. The story is beautifully and intelligently written. I notice some reviewers have grumbled about this not being a very Christmassy book as a lot of the action takes place during the months preceding the festive season. The plot of this novel is such that this needs to be the case, and quite frankly it doesn’t disqualify it from being a seasonal story at all. We see characters and their relationships develop over time, and a chain of events unfold. The action culminates on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a superbly warm and cosy way. This is most definitely a Christmas romantic comedy.

Heroine Ellie is smart and sensible, and taking time after a redundancy to sort herself out. She’s returned to the village she grew up in to housesit for her absent parents and sets up a dog walking business to tide her over. She also works at the Dog and Duck, and the pub is central to the story. The main love interest comes in the form of Max, a local landowner. They first bump into each other in less than flattering circumstances, at least for Ellie, and we get our share of mishaps and misunderstandings that are crucial to the romantic comedy. There are some endearing animals in cameo roles, but we stay well clear of the mawkish cutesiness that’s all too rampant in this genre.

This a measured, classy and immensely enjoyable novel. Three cheers for Jill Steeples, and five stars for her book.

 

Here are those other covers I mentioned earlier:

nineladiesNine Ladies Dancing by Cat Lavoie is a complete delight!

It’s everything you want from a Christmas novella – a seasonal setting (the office party in this case), charming and quirky characters, a handful of mishaps but a happy ending. The bonus is that the writing is sparkling and witty. The author comes up with some wonderful words – adorkable and Quinn-tervention (they’ll make sense when you read the book!) – and gives us, I suspect, an insight into her own creative process when Casey, the heroine, who is a closet would-be novelist, talks about how her characters ‘take on a life of their own … and move on to another story’!

This is a little gem of a Christmas book and your twelve days of Christmas just won’t be complete if you don’t read it.

Available as an ebook from all the Amazons for 99 cents or as a Kindle Unlimited book to ‘borrow’.

Thomas Ryan is one of the reasons I love my job so much. I’m a freelance editor working exclusively with indie authors these days and relishing every moment of it. There is so much talent out there and Thomas is one of these incredibly gifted writers whose work deserves a huge audience. There are a lot of generalisations made about the quality of self-published writing by people who don’t actually know what they’re talking about. I’m there on the pit face, and have been for 25 years now, and I can tell you that while there is undeniably some poor work produced by indies, there is far, far more of an impressively high quality. Like this book.

thomas ryanThe Field of Blackbirds begins in New Zealand where ex-Special Forces soldier Jeff Bradley has taken over the Boundary Fence, a vineyard he inherited from his Croatian grandparents. (His soon-to-be ex-wife has her eye on this as the divorce settlement between them is thrashed through.) Jeff has hired a Kosovon Arben Shala, an experienced winemake, to be his manager and advisor. He soon becomes his friend. Bad weather has meant a bad yield this year so Jeff sends Arben to Kosovo to source bulk wine. Arben falls foul of corrupt officials and ends up in prison. Jeff and Arben’s family don’t know where he is, only that something is wrong, so Jeff sets off to find his friend.

Once he gets so Kosovo, which is under UN administation, he begins his detective work. He runs into an American aid worker, Morgan Delaney, and UN worker Barry Briggs and his Kiwi girlfriend Bethany and they become a tight team. But Jeff is making as many enemies as he makes friends. as he gradually discovers that a huge property scam is being perpetrated with links to international terrorism. Throw in the Kosovon Liberation Army and a mysterious private security agent, plenty of suspense, action and an intriguing plot, and you have a breathless read that provides a sharp insight into post-civil-war Kosovo and introduces us to some memorable characters.

It’s brutal in places, but also moving and inspiring since although difficult political and economic circumstances can bring out the worst  in people, time and again they bring out the best. This is as much a story about loyalty and self-respect as it is about corruption.

I asked Thomas some questions about his powerful novel.

1.     What’s the story behind the Field of Blackbirds? Why did you write the story?

I spent many years in Eastern Europe, mostly the Balkans. Made many friends amongst the locals and monitored their trials and hardships experienced by all peoples who live in developing nations. Distrust, dishonest politicians and ineffective, corrupted, and hated legal systems.  Money ruled. Those who ended up on the wrong side of the law were guilty until proven innocent, and that came down to bribes – an absolutely brilliant environment for a storyteller looking to create a good yarn. Then, throw in the UN, NATO and organised crime and along came ‘The Field of Blackbirds’.

2.    What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
I wanted to weave a fast paced yet complex story with lots of interesting characters and still be easy for the reader to follow. I wanted the baddies as well rounded as the goodies but a clear line between the two groups. I believe in heroes conquering all and getting the girl. The story should be fun and an enjoyable read. I believe I achieved this.

3.    Who’s your favourite character and why?
This is a hard question. It took five years to write this book and I rewrote it more than fourteen times. I came to know all the characters so well. They’re like family. All have quirky endearing traits. In the end if I have to show favouritism then it must be for my main protagonist Jeff Bradley. It took a long time to develop Jeff. As a character he changed many times. For so long I never really had a clear picture of him. When it finally came I think I created a man I would be proud to call my friend. I think he is best summed up by the words of a reader ‘Not too macho and not too new age, a good mix of masculinity and sensitivity, loyal to his friends. A male character most women would love to meet.’

4.    Do you prefer creating villains or good guys?
There is no doubt you can have more fun with the bad guys. Within reason, almost anything you have your bad guy character do is acceptable to the reader. Also, when it comes to killing them off the writer can be hugely imaginative in fact readers expect ‘spectacular’ when it comes baddies end. Writing goodies is a tortuous journey. Each word is carefully measured as is the sentence as is the paragraph. For the reader it is the main protagonist taking them on the journey and expectations are high. Early on an image is imagined and any deviation from perceived characteristics will not be tolerated. Any sloppiness with this character and the book is closed and tossed back onto a shelf or sent off to the second hand bookshop. No doubt about it. Baddies are much more fun.

5.    What are some of the references you used while researching this book?
Every location scene in this book is for real and I have visited. In Kosovo I met many members of the UN and still have friends who served there. I spent many nights in the Kukri Bar in Prishtina and walked through the streets and Bazaars. I learned of the legal systems from police friends and as an ex-soldier with combat experience I have an understanding of the nature of violence and how the military works. I have two SAS officers I lunch with on a regular basis and they helped me shape Jeff’s character and personality.

6.    What was the hardest part of writing The Field of Blackbirds?
For any book of this type continuity, planting seeds, and ensuring all data is correct is key. A wrong line, an expectation not met, a storyline or subplot not explained, a key message left out and the mystery falls apart and the reader is let down. The reader needs to be kept on the edge of their seat as the tale unravels. Not able to guess the likely outcome. Obviously the reader knows the hero will come out on top but not how. This is the where the writer needs to be so careful not to reveal too much. Padding, accepted in many forms of literature has no place in a thriller. I overcame many of these problems by constantly sending the manuscript out to readers for feedback. Each rewrite tightened the narration. And finally all the threads of the story must be tied off to satisfy the reader. I believe I achieved this.

ryan blackbirds7.    The book has a very striking cover. Did you design this yourself?
The cover was designed by a company called BookBaby in the USA. I gave them a free hand. The final editorial and formatting of the back page for the print copy I worked on myself with the aid of a formatter.

8.    When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?
I think from a very early age 7yrs maybe 8yrs old I was writing stories. Decades later when I finally had a short story accepted for radio production and was asked for more I looked at the payment cheque and decided it wasn’t worth it. Now years later I’ve decided it’s time.

9.    You’re a member of a writing group. How has this helped you with your writing in general and this book in particular?
I have been a member of a writers critique group for years. All emerging writers need one. If nothing else they keep you focused on producing work. This book would never have been finished without the support of my group.

10.    What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?
Self-publishing pretty much means you have to do everything yourself. The marketing and the writing. My observations to date are that when it comes to the self- marketing of eBooks it is new to everyone. As yet no perfect rules of action have been established and there are many supposed experts ready to tell writers how to succeed. Some good, some not so good. What everyone agrees on however is that just putting your book up on a reseller like Amazon is not enough. Readers need to know it is there. The social media and blogs are a first and reasonably productive step. But writers need to adopt a business mind set and establish long term realistic goals. Unlike print books, eBooks stay in the system forever a writer has time to build a platform. Gain reviews. Write the best book you can. There is a theory the more books on site the more sales and whilst this is true this only occurs in the long term if the writing is of reasonable standard. And most importantly, find a good editor. Without one, you have no chance.

11.    How do you feel about eBooks vs print books and self vs conventional publishing?
I think in reality this question is no longer relevant. EBooks are here and are not going away. The next generation of children are already using iphones and tablets daily. Print books will always be about but in what form remains to be seen. I think print book for self-publishers will be restricted. To successfully distribute a print book the writer would need access to a distribution network. An alternative option is to use a print on demand company like create space and they will make it available on Amazon. The decision on whether or not to self-publish or use a traditional publisher is nowadays a choice not available in the past. Most writers try for an agent or traditional publisher first and then go the self-publishing route. It is great there is the choice. Long may it continue. In New Zealand there was little choice. There are no literary agents.

chardonnay12.    Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?
I think the man occupational hazard is fitness. Nowadays not only do we write on computers but they are the first step in research. No more walking to a library.  I have a daily exercise routine, two big walks per week and a round of golf. Healthy body, healthy mind.

13.    And finally what’s the ideal wine to accompany your novel?
Boundary Fence wines are not on the market as yet so I like to relax with a competitor’s vintage from a neighbour’s winery. I’m a Chardonnay man from way back. So a glass of chilled Soljans Hawkes Bay Chardonnay would do nicely. On colder nights, one of their cabernets.

I recently worked with Don Rush on his delightful and very unusual children’s books which wife Cathy has been involved with too. Robby’s Quest for Seed and Robby’s Quest: Ocean Bound are about a group of courageous birds. We have Robins, Sparrows, Mourning Doves and a Blackbird making up a small loyal flock who find themselves facing very big adventures for such little birds. They face long journeys, nasty cats, lost children and natural disasters. But this tight-knit band of feathery friends overcomes adversity through sticking together and using their ingenuity. Kids will learn a little about birds without realising as they read these lovely adventures.

I talked to Don about his stories.

robbyquestTell us briefly about Robby’s Quest for Seed and Robby’s Quest: Ocean Bound

Robby’s Quest for Seed is a story about a close-knit group of birds that decide to migrate south from Ohio for the winter. Everyone in the group has a role; Robby is the leader and Benny makes sure none of the little birds fall out of the formation. They are diligent about performing their responsibilities. The birds vote on most of the important issues they must decide.  During the trip, Joy is lost and nearly becomes lunch for a cat names Hershey. Ultimately, the searchers save her. Later when the birds arrive in Florida, they find that a hurricane has destroyed the entire area. The birds get some advice from a Dalmatian and they head west. After some drama on the way, they finally arrive in Arizona, safe and sound. Ricky steps up his role and becomes a leader.

Robby’s Quest: Ocean Bound is about the same flock with a couple additions, Ruby and Josie. Ruby is Ricky’s new girlfriend and Josie is Joy’s new best friend. This time Ruby suggests the flock fly to San Diego because the Arizona summer is too hot. Again, they have their roles and a specific formation. They arrive in San Diego and split up to investigate their new home. Ricky and Ruby fly to Coronado Island, the Doves fly to the pier and Jay and Josie fly to the beach. Later Joy and Josie fly out to a cruise ship where they fall asleep and end up lost at sea. They get some help from Wanda the Whale and eventually are found in Mexico.

What’s the story behind these stories? Why did you write these books?

I tried a couple times writing books about management styles but the words escaped me. I’m medically retired and on disability. I had too much time on my hands. My wife and I would sit outside in Arizona and watch the birds. We put up a birdfeeder and the little birds would kick the food to the ground so the bigger birds could eat. The other birds would sit on the block wall and patiently wait their turns. We really enjoyed watching them and one day decided to write a story. We finished the first book the day Riley, our grandson in Minnesota, was born.

Were they easy stories to write?

Once we began writing the books things went fairly well. My wife and I would kick around ideas about the birds and what they might do on a trip like this. Once the characters had a personality it seemed to go pretty well. We tried to come up scenarios that a child would enjoy reading about. We modeled the birds and the other characters in the book from people and household pets. We had a blast writing the books.  I published the first story on Amazon KDP. Several people suggested they wanted a paperback so I self-published on Createspace. We learned some hard lessons like don’t ever publish a book until you are ready. I’m not a patient person and that’s probably why I have health issues. I wanted to publish the books to leave something behind for our kids and their kids. After getting some help from yourself editing these books and building new covers we re-published a nicer looking product than previously.

robbyoceanWhich character are you most like? Robby? Benny? Naughty Joy? Hershey the cat?

I’m more like Robby because I always liked being the manager or leader.  and our daughter in her younger years was like Joy, high-maintenance. Benny was created after my real brother Benny, somewhat grumpy but actually friendly once you get to know him. The cats Hershey and Nomi are our household pets. Hershey actually is a big, fast and strong cat with a mischievous streak. The Dalmatian Sammy was my daughter’s favorite pet.

The covers are fun. Tell us about them.

I was looking for an illustrator on the internet and found Kaui on Craigslist. She actually only lives about an hour from me so I liked the idea of having a local do the drawings. Kaui made some sketches and we agreed on the appearance. She came up with the idea of the U.S. map in the background with Robby and the others on the cover. We were talking about a picture with the maple tree and bird feeder but this cover seemed appropriate. The illustration was actually the front cover of the first book until I learned how to make a cover. Then I inserted the illustration in the cover so it looked more professional. I really liked the covers especially the watermark on the back cover. Our thought is to have a different color cover on every book we publish.

What are you working on now? Will it be out soon?

We are writing Robby’s Quest: Return of the Cat. Hershey and his family decided to move to Nevada. At the same time, the birds are traveling to Las Vegas for a few days. At Lake Mead near Vegas, they run into Hershey once again. After they escape (a near miss once again) the birds fly to Vegas and meet a Pink Flamingo named Penelope or Penny for short. Joy wants to see the world and Penny tells the birds where to see the sights like the Eiffel Tower, pyramids of Egypt, skyline of New York with the Statue of Liberty, all right down the street. Joy is excited to be able to visit all these wonders of the world all in one town.

We are not doing very well marketing tour books and with the illustrator, book reviews, editing, promotions, the cost is making publishing the third book more difficult. I’m trying for spring 2013. I already have a sketch for the third cover from another artist. I think she captures the Lake Mead scene very well.

Why do you think there are so few books with birds as their characters?

I’m not really sure. I never paid much attention to birds until I had the time to admire them. I’m hoping to change that if I can get our product in front of the kids.

When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

I don’t think I’m an author just yet. To me an author is someone that can write a novel. I like Stephen King and I really liked the style of Capotes “In Cold Blood”. I can see myself writing crime novels someday. I love CSI, Criminal Minds and other similar shows. I think my books are mainly just short stories for children. Personally, I think my vocabulary is somewhat limited. Even though I took three semesters of English in college, I still struggle with my words. Over the years, I thought about writing a story but never felt I had the ability. I wanted to prove myself wrong. If nothing else, I managed to publish something and I’m proud of that effort.

What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?

I think self-publishing is the way to go. I hate the thought of sending my work to a publisher. These people live in their own little worlds. They are unresponsive and generally difficult people to get in with. A publisher won’t read your work without submission from a literary agent and literary agents won’t even call you back.

OK, I’m stepping off my soapbox. The new author should make sure their product is ready, edited properly and looks appealing. Then get the social media thing going like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, etc. Building a website is critical. The website serves as the hub to everything. Once you have the hub you can direct traffic to it and the reader can learn where to buy the books or what you are working on, all at one site.

OK, enough of the serious stuff. What are your three favorite bloke’s gadgets and why?

I like my cell phone, especially since I learned how to send texts and pictures. I’m like a kid in the candy store.

rushpicI’ve always been partial to computers. Cathy and I use to build computers back in the day. We ran a bulletin board from our computer called the Dawg Pound where people could call into our computer, leave messages to each other, play games or download files. We learned a lot about computers as a result. We had three phone lines and would take 50 to 100 calls a day. This was all before the internet. We just bought a new computer with Windows 8. I hate learning new software!

We love our car. We bought a 2012 Chrysler 200 and it’s awesome.

Can’t forget our pets. Hershey crawls up on my lap and lies across my chest. He is a cool cat.

What food can’t you resist? Probably not seed I imagine!

I like popcorn and that starts as a seed! I really like shredded beef tacos and steak with hashbrowns. I am a diabetic so I have to watch what I eat. I love pie and cake but don’t touch them anymore.

Please describe your perfect day away from writing.

I enjoy taking day trips and driving to San Diego for a couple days is my favorite. I love the area. I use to live there back in the early 80’s. I certainly couldn’t afford to live there anymore but I love the ocean. Coronado Island is probably my favorite stretch of beach in the world. I can watch the ocean for hours and forget everything going on in my life at the time. We use to enjoy driving to Laughlin, Nevada to spend a day or two but gambling just isn’t much fun anymore. It’s very difficult to win anything.

And finally, anything else our readers need to know about you?

I never expected to make a million writing and selling our books. I would be happy if we could cover expenses. I really enjoy doing this and it fills my day. I told my wife that even if we won the lottery I would still write and market these books because it’s been so much fun and I feel good about leaving something for the kids. Our books can stay on the market forever and hopefully our children and their children will keep these titles up and running.

Where to find Don, Cathy and their books:

His website is here.

 

Here’s his Smashwords page.

Twitter: @dcrushbooks

And you can buy Robby’s Quest for Seed here:

And Ocean Bound here:

I mentioned book bags in a previous post. A book bag is always a nice present. It’s traditionally a bag, hence the name, but you can equally have a book box or book parcel, which contains a book together with some appropriate items to go with it. A book bag for a cookery book, for example, would have some cooking items in it too – perhaps a pinafore and a rolling pin. Now that the ebook is here, there’s no need to include the book anymore. You supply that separately to the recipient. But you can still give the bag of associated goodies.

Here are ten ideas, starting with three of my books, followed by seven great reads I’ve enjoyed this year:

1. Best of Blog in France (Non-fiction about expat life in France.) A bottle of French wine and some French cheese, one of the varieties that comes in a round wooden or cardboard box, would be most suitable as well as practical. But anything French will do!

2. The Smelliest Cheese in the World (Fiction) Now this is a kid’s book, but adults would enjoy it too. If you’re giving it to a grown up, then give them some smelly cheese too – stands to reason! Roquefort or Auvergne Blue are good ones. For younger readers, since the story also features socks, then a pair of those would be perfect.

3. Oh Santa! A chocolate Santa, a skipping rope and a Santa hat would be good choices.

Now for those other ebooks that I’d thoroughly recommend:

4. Big Backpack – Little World: this is a wonderful and entertaining account by Donna Morang of her experiences as an ESL teacher. See the guest post by Donna on this website. The ideal accompaniment would be a rucksack. The author spent a lot of time in Mexico, and in fact now lives there, so some Mexican food like a box of tacos or a jar or guacamole, or a bottle of Tequila would be excellent too.

5. Sunshine Soup by Jo Parfitt: this is a book about expat life with a good bit of cooking thrown in. A soup recipe book, or a set of nice soup bowls would be suitable.

6. Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark: this is about Melissa who works for a TV station. It’s chick-lit/rom-com. I reviewed it here. During the story she revamps her look. Give the recipient some make-up or a voucher for a facial or a massage.

7. A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson: this is rom-com at its best with the Eurovision Song Contest at its heart. A CD of all the songs from one of the Contests would be fitting (2010 and 2006 were really good years). Anything Euro would go well with this book. Failing that, go here  to get souvenirs with the European flag on them!

8. The Lingerie Castle by Markee Andersen: well, lingerie would be good with this book! Or a football. You’ll have to read the book.

9. Lye in Wait by Cricket MacRae, a home crafting mystery. The heroine is a soapmaker so fill a book bag with beautifully handmade perfumed soap.

10. The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson: gritty rom-com starring an overstressed, overstimulated executive, so I’d suggest decaff coffee, bath bombs, scented candles or a lavender-filled sleep mask.

Hope these are helpful!

 

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!

I noticed a Tweet the other day that said: “Someone should write a properly informative article about turning backlisted titles whose rights have reverted to authors into ebooks”.

Well, I’ve done that with quite a few of my books now so I decided to take up the challenge and put together an article about it.

My kids’ books were published by Mentor Press and O’Brien Press in Ireland between 1998 and 2006. My O’Brien titles are still going strong but Mentor pulled out of children’s publishing in 2007 and remaindered all their stock. The rights reverted to me. I bought a truckload of my books – actually, just a palletload – at a bargain price and have been giving these away to visitors to our gîte and fishery.

Coming soon!

Then in January of this year I got a Kindle and very quickly become a total convert to ebooks and indie publishing. I began writing a non-fiction travel memoir, Heads Above Water, about moving to France from Ireland and our experiences in the first few years here. I also got cracking on a racy fishing mystery story. But those were going to take time and I wanted to get something out there in the ebookiverse quickly. So I turned to my backlist. I figured it would be good practice to learn about formatting and epublishing using those, and it would also get my name out there before the new books came out.

I have nearly thirty children’s books to my name and the majority of these are Mentor books so I had plenty to choose from. But having changed computers several times since writing the books, tracking down the files containing them was proving tricky. So, nothing daunted, I retyped the first one. I chose Beat The Hackers. These needed a lot of updating since I’d written it in 1998. (It began its life as Beat The Millennium you see but I was overruled by my editor and had to change it.) Anyway, there were references to floppy disks that needed to be changed to USB keys and I had to move the action into the future. It had been set in 2004/5, but since that hand now passed I rescheduled it for 2013/14. This took some time since it was a 30,000 word book, but it was good typing practice and I enjoyed it.

However, if you face the same problem of missing files, I would suggest you scan the text of your books in. I got my eldest son onto doing this over the summer for me. He was cheap, and it saved me a lot of time. Luckily I’ve since come across some back-up CDs with my stories on them, so that’s speeded things up even more. There are plenty of OCR programs out there, many free to download, and they’re easy to use.

Caiti's cover design

So, the text was taken care of. What about the cover? The artwork for the book belonged to Mentor. I could have contacted them to ask if I could use it, and hopefully for free. It’s always an option to talk to the publisher and negotiate to use the original artwork. They may or may not co-operate. However, I wanted a new look for my updated book, and I’m lucky in having a daughter who can do very cool things with computer graphics. She created a super new cover for me. I’ve also had some lovely new covers drawn for me by a family friend, the talented illustrator Roger Fereday. I admit I’ve been very lucky in having such artistic family and friends.

But if you’re not a designer and don’t have access to one, and can’t afford an artist to draw you a new cover, don’t despair. You can create a perfectly acceptable cover using a photo and some nice typeface. I have done several using Paint, which isn’t very high spec as graphics programs go. Aim for 600 x 800 pixels wide and you can’t go far wrong.

Next I got to grips with converting my files into a format suitable for uploading to Kindle and Smashwords. This wasn’t as tricky as I feared, but first time round it took a while. I went for Kindle first. Files need to be in web page filtered format. This isn’t hard and if you follow the instructions on the Kindle Direct Publishing website, it’s very straightforward. I make use of MobiPocket Creator and Kindle Previewer to check that the finished product is going to look good on Kindle. I convert the file I have ready for Kindle using MobiPocket which leaves you with a .prc file. The Kindle Previewer opens this and simulates how your book will appear on a Kindle so you can go through and spot any layout or other errors and correct these before submitting to KDP. Both MobiPocket Creator and Kindle Previewer are free downloads. The ebook takes around 24 to 48 hours to appear on the Amazon websites.

Formatting for Smashwords looks a bit scarier since there are more instructions, but basically, get your file into .doc format – not .docx – and you’ll be OK. The Meatgrinder, the conversion tool, tells you if there are any ‘Autovetter’ errors that you need to put right. I only ever got those the first time I formatted a book for Smashwords. Since then, I’ve been spot on every time. A tip – go for what Mark Coker calls the ‘nuclear approach’, i.e. you paste your original Word file into Wordpad to strip out all the underlying formatting that Word loves to shove in, and then you repaste into Word and start from scratch. Once you get the hang of what to do, it’s a piece of cake. I’m no techno-junkie, but I cope fine. Your ebook appears on Smashwords’ site very quickly.

You can create a great cover with a good photo

Smashwords will distribute to Barnes and Noble, Apple and Sony providing there are no Autovetter errors in your book. It also distributes to Kindle, but this is an extremely slow process so I always publish directly myself to KDP.

Pricing is an issue to consider. I have made most of my ebooks free. I’ve made money out of them already and I want to get my name known. Plus it’s sad but true that many readers are reluctant to shell out even 99 cents for an ebook! There is a lot of free content out there at the moment. I think this trend will die down eventually, since it’s unsustainable, but it doesn’t hurt to jump on the bandwagon in the meantime to get out there.

So, in a nutshell, here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to turn your backlist book to which you retain rights into an ebook:

  1. If you don’t have an electronic version of your book, retype or scan it.
  2. Update the text if necessary.
  3. Proofread it carefully yourself and get at least a couple of other people to read through. Since it’s already been published there should be a minimal amount of typos etc – in theory!
  4. Commission / create a new cover if you can’t get permission to use the old one.
  5. Ditto for any illustrations if you intend to include these.
  6. For steps 3 and 4, consider using photos instead of illustrations to save money.
  7. Create accounts at Smashwords and Amazon KDP if you don’t already have them.
  8. Convert for Smashwords and Kindle. This is very straightforward and quite achievable with a bit of time and effoet, but there are folks out there who will do it for a small fee for you (such as me!)
  9. Upload your files and then get busy with publicising your book!
  10. Tell EVERYONE how clever you are.

So go for it, and good luck!