I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed reviewing books. I used to do it regularly for the Cork Examiner back in Ireland, predominantly children’s books. I’m doing it for myself these days regarding books about life in France – go to the book reviews section of this website. And, via Twitter, I’ve picked up on calls by publishers for people to review their books for their blogs. This has led to me reviewing Expat Women, and I’m currently impatiently awaiting a copy of Armand Cabasson’s The Officer’s Prey by Gallic Books to read and review.

I have also joined the Reader’s Favorite team of reviewers. The first book I reviewed for them was 33 Days by Bill See. This wasn’t a book I might have picked off the shelves otherwise, and that would have been a shame, since this is a very gripping, inspiring book. Here’s my review of it.

33 days by Bill See is the fascinating account of what turns out to be a life-changing tour by young, hungry rock group Divine Weeks, who get into their van in 1987 and go and look for fame. Dave, George, Raj and Bill, organized by Ian, yo-yo between gigs with a handful in the audience, to packed-out venues. One moment they’re having TV and radio interviews, the next they are literally begging for food. There are highs and lows, good times and bad. They meet some great people but brush shoulders with the sleazy side of life too. They give their all on the stage. They fall asleep at the wheel. Sleeping on floors or in the van, the band does what it takes to achieve this ambition of getting out there and being necessary, being relevant. Sure, there’s drinks and drugs and groupies, but the overriding note of this book is triumph and achievement.

Along the way, someone asks them what happens if the tour is a flop. The author replies: “We’re more concerned with what happens if we don’t try.” This is a book about going for it and giving it your all. It’s written in diary format that cleverly weaves in flashbacks to childhood times and reflects on moments in the author’s difficult relationship with on-off girlfriend Mary. It’s not just an account of a road trip but of a spiritual journey too. For Bill See, the tour was about “deliverance, redemption and transcendence”. Things would never be quite the same again afterwards.

This book contains swearing and adult scenes.

 

Mindmapping is all about avoiding the disadvantages of making a list i.e. thinking in a non-creative, linear way. It’s about emptying your brain to get ideas which you can tidy up later. This is what makes it such a great tool for creative people e.g. authors. It’s inspirational and keeps those brainwaves pulsing.

If you’re not sure how to construct a mindmap, then look here for a walkthrough.  Using colours and little pictures along the way keeps both sides of your brain busy and therefore you’re working more efficiently.

How many mindmaps do you need? As many as it takes. Perhaps one for the overall plot, and then more detailed ones for each main facet of the plot. I do one for the overall dramatis personae of the book I’m working on, and then one for each character so I know him or her inside out and will always give the correct shoe size or hair colour when it crops up! The moment writer’s block threatens to descend, I rustle up a mindmap to keep me functioning.

Non-fiction benefits as much from mindmapping as fiction, and it doesn’t end there. Do a mindmap for marketing ideas and another for promotion strategies. A third for publishers and agents to contact.

Once you start using mindmaps to help your writing, it’s hard to stop. They’re a very valuable, effective tool that give a great boost to your creativity.

Here’s a list of some mindmapping software packages.

 

 

Gallic's big summer read for 2011

Five years ago Jane Aitken set up the publishing house Gallic Books with fellow Francophile Pilar Webb with the aim of introducing British readers to French literature. A bold move in a country where works by foreign authors make up less than 3% of the market. But it seems to be a gamble that is paying off.

Every year around ten French books make it across the channel and end up on Britain’s bookshelves. The publishers specifically look for books that will make the transition well. Amongst the first books they published were detective novels and historical fiction. However, now anything contemporary goes, after the runaway success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Books have to prove themselves in France before Gallic Books will consider taking them on.

Marketing is of course extremely important, and Gallic Books uses all the tool it can lay its hands on – including Spotify, posters on the Tube, postcards, and tours by authors. It all works closely with book bloggers, book clubs and indie bookstores. And they are beginning to produce Kindle editions of some of their books, very reasonably priced, so that gets a huge thumbs-up from me!

This is the perfect publisher as far as I, a British expat in France, am concerned. I’ve been wanting to read French literature but have struggled with it in the native language and quickly given up. I’m a French speaker, rather than a French writer and reader. I will start with Armand Cabassson I think, in paperback since his Quentin Margont books look like being exciting reads. And in the meantime I  may succumb to a Kindle book too, probably one of the Hector’s journeys series or Anna Sam’s Checkout – A life on the tills. Décisions, décisions !

 

 

So, the Kindle Million Club now has its seventh member – Michael Connelly. He joins Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child and Suzanne Collins.

Which isn’t good – I haven’t knowingly read a book by any of these guys! Let’s see what they’re about.

Michael Connelly – he has written some standalone thrillers, some series (Jack McEvoy and Harry Bosch). Said to better than Grisham and Archer.

Stieg Larsson – author of the Millenium Trilogy. His fame has come post mortem as he died in 2004. He is described as using ‘machine-tooled plotting’. I’ve heard of these books but not read them.

Nora Roberts – 190 romantic novels, 300 million books sold. Wow. Again, I’ve not read one of them.

Charlaine Harris – aha! She writes the True Blood series about vampires, which I’ve seen on TV so all is not completely lost. I’m not a particular vampire fan, but if the TV accurately reflects the books, then I think she’s the  most appealing out of these authors for me.

Lee Childs – thrillers, the Jack Reacher series. He apparently prides himself on the plausibility of his settings and characters.

Suzanne Collins – from chief writer for Clifford’s Puppy Days on TV to bestselling author of YA science fiction. Seems to get more mixed reviews than the other authors.

So I’d better start reading these guys to see what I can learn from them. Quite frankly none of their material is really literature that appeals to me. I like modern mystery, some chick-lit, travel memoirs and history. And at present, I’m writing those sorts of stories. This could be why I’m not likely to be number eight in the club!

It all boils down to whether you should write what you want to write, or what people want to read. Decisions, decisions …

At the moment I’m reading The Fashion Police by Sibel Hodge, or at least a sample of it. It’s extremely similar to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels in my opinion. I’d hoped for something more orginal. So I shan’t be investing in that book. Next up on my list is Tourmen by Les Woodland about Tour de France cyclists. That looks promising so I plan to review that and French Revolutions by Tim Moore, another cycling book, in a timely fashion just before the TDF gets going on 2nd July.

 

 

Limousin

I’ve been reading how it’s book festival season in the UK at the moment, so I thought I’d better see how France compares, and in particular, my région – Limousin. Limousin consists of three departéments – Creuse (where I live), Correze and Haute-Vienne – and is pretty much slap-bangin the middle of France. It’s a largely rural area with an elderly and declining population, so it’s not the cultural hotspot of the country. However, a look at this website reveals that is plenty of literary activity going on. There are numerous secondhand book fairs, series of lectures, storytelling festivals, comic book and children’s book fairs, days devoted to schoolbooks and the intriguingly entitled event: Les auteurs vivants ne sont pas tous morts – living authors aren’t all dead! The biggest salon du livre in our area is the annual Brive one. My two eldest children usually go there with lycée each year and enjoy it. I shall go too this October.

Brive salon du livres http://www.foiredulivre.net

I’m glad I did this bit of research because I had no idea there was so much going on book-wise. I’d be fascinated to meet some French authors and talk with French publishers, being an author and editor myself. My main impressions of French books are that they are expensive, but lavishly produced and with a penchant for quirky illustrations. I must look into this in more detail.

And how will e-books fit into such festivals? Very well, I think. Authors can still attend fairs and talk to fans. Rather than autographing paper copies of books, they’ll have to sign good old fashioned autograph books (do you remember those? I got through loads as a child!). The e-books can be displayed on computers or Kindle or whichever platform they’re designed for. In fact, I think this would do nothing but good since may traditional dead-tree readers are badly informed about electronic reading media and deeply suspicious of it. It would be a great chance for them to get up close and personal with it. Ebooks certainly won’t kill book festivals.

 

40K publications have lively, in-your-face covers

40K began following me on Twitter. But before I returned the compliment, as I usually do I had a look to see what they are all about. 40K describes itself as an epublisher that specialises in publishing original short works. By ‘short works’ it means novelettes and essays, things that take 40 minutes to an hour to read. This has arisen because short stories and essays tend to get overlooked by traditional publishing houses, but they an equal right to be read.

I studied the short story as an undergrad at Oxford and I have to confess I never warmed to the genre. I felt such works of literature had hardly got going before they stopped. Too much was left unsaid. Now, I have as good an imagination as the next person so I was quite capable of filling the gaps, but that sort of DIY literature didn’t appeal.

But essays are a different matter. These don’t leave large holes. These are short because they’re strongly focused and concentrated. You may not agree with them, but you can admire the tight writing that has gone into them.

40K sells books in the following genres: essays for creative life including Any Fool can Write a Novel but it takes a Real Genius to Sell it, which is one I have to read; essays on authoring in the digital age, and fantasy, literary, sci-fi and steampunk short stories. Steam-what? Steampunk is a genre of sci-fi writing. It’s essentially Victorian sci-fi. The best description I’ve come across of it is here. Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine is a prime example of the genre.

The publications have a very distinctive, modern look to them, as the cover at the top of this post shows.

So, this looks like an interesting publisher. I will definitely try out a few of their books. I’m open to reassessing my views of short stories. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn to love the novelette after all.

 

http://www.40kbooks.com/

 

It’s time I rolled my sleeves up and got serious about this blog. I’ve achieved a lot of success with my other blog, Blog in France, which is about the many facets of life as an expat. That success came purely and simply from putting the effort in on it and creating interesting content.

So, I’ll do the same here. I shall endeavour to post every day and settle on a definite direction for this blog. It’s a bit erratic at the moment, but it’s early days yet. So bear with me. I’ll hope you’ll see a definite improvement before too long.

And to give you something to think about today, here are five writing tips from the electronixwarehouse.com website:

It behooves the writer to avoid archaic expressions.

One should not shift from the third person to the second person when you write.

I once read that splitting modifiers was wrong in the library.

It is generally recommended that the use of the passive be minimized.

Write assertively, I think.

Now they're nice!

Nice is a maligned word. Every teacher tells kids not to use it, so you tend to grow up with a paranoid dread of ever employing it. But it’s a nice word. I’m always grateful when someone says “have a nice day” to me, or “you like nice” (it actually happens sometimes!), and I feel good if I say something nice to a friend, or a stranger, or a nice thing happens. We all want niceness in our lives.

Nice is nice.

And that looks nice ...

Nice means pleasing and agreeable, pleasant and attractive, courteous and polite, respectability. All things that make life better. And it’s a word we use a lot every day, like (I hope) please and thank you. No-one has ever complained that we say those too often!

Of course, you don’t want to overuse it in your writing, but you can use it. It’s colloquial, modern and meaningful. Leave it in your vocabulary.

But if you have nice appearing too often, here are 25 synonyms to choose from: agreeable, amiable, attractive, benign, charming, commendable, congenial, considerate, delightful, enjoyable, fair, favourable, friendly, genial, good, gracious, helpful, kind,  lovely, mega, personable, pleasant, pleasing, super, tasteful.

 

You might remember I recently had an article published in what was always my father’s favourite newspaper – The Telegraph. Well, here’s the latest one:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/expatproperty/8547266/Expat-in-France-can-I-have-permission-to-hit-the-roof.html

Enjoy!

I’ve been reading Expat Women: Confessions: 50 answers to your real-life questions about living abroad.

As an expat woman twice over, I was fascinated to find out what this book had to say. Over the last twenty years I’ve learned the hands-on way about moving and living abroad, and while there can never be any better teacher than experience, a book such as this can be an invaluable springboard to the adventure.

There are six chapters which discuss the following areas:

  1. Settling In: This is a very strong, positive chapter, which grabs culture shock by the scruff of its neck and gives it a good shake! There are lots of ideas and tips on how to help yourself settle in to your new surroundings and make the most of this new experience. It deals with minimising culture shock through good preparation; the positives and negatives of living abroad, especially when family ties are strong; managing expectations; coping with being a ‘trailing spouse’; overcoming isolation; setting up a social club; making and mistaking new friends; making yourself feel welcome in your new surroundings, even if others don’t do so immediately, and the pros and cons of hiring help around the house.
  2. Career and Money: The emphasis of this chapter is on retaining your sense of self-worth in your changed working, or non-working, situation. Specifically it looks at how to cope with giving up your job when you move abroad with a partner and how to assess the options and resources that are open to you; coping with a job abroad that turns out to be disappointing through improving your relations at work and thinking ‘big picture’; getting the work-life balance right; dealing with lack of respect at work; networking and volunteer work; starting your own business; getting financial advice and planning for contingencies; dealing with financial dependence on a partner, and sticking to a sensible budget.
  3. Raising Children: Children can be the make or break for a move abroad. I know several families who have either not taken the plunge to become ex-pats because of worries about how it would affect their children, and others whose unhappy kids have been the reason for them returning home. We ourselves moved to France from Ireland with children aged 4, 12 and 14. They each had their own minor problems at various times, but with common sense and optimism we overcame these and all three are now completely French and proud of being pioneering and bilingual! Issues discussed here include pregnancy in a foreign country and deciding whether or not to go back ‘home’ for the birth; dealing with child unfriendly temporary accommodation; international adoption; raising bilingual children with particular emphasis on the value of learning languages; special needs children, and here research and support are crucial; helping teens adapt – the older the child when you move abroad, the harder it can be for them; dealing with teen suicide; overfocussing on the children as a trailing spouse, and, in contrast, dealing with empty nest syndrome.
  4. Relationships: At first glance this chapter might seem rather catastrophic, but it’s simply preparing for the worst-case scenario. Ex-pat life is often nothing but good for a relationship, since you are drawn closer as you deal with the new experiences living abroad throws at you. Speaking for myself, I have now spent 5 years working alongside my husband in our new business, 24/7. It’s been brilliant. Actually getting to spend time with the person you wanted as your life partner has a lot going for it! The chapter contains advice on dealing with a dissatisfied trailing spouse; overcoming difficulties in intercultural couples; adjusting for different needs and aspirations where one half of a working couple is happy as an ex-pat, and the other is not; keeping communication channels open; dealing with divorce, both during and afterwards; coping with domestic violence and infidelity, including online betrayal (here ex-pat triggers play a part – culture shock, cultural differences, one partner feeling isolated etc); ending an affair.
  5. Mixed Emotions: this chapter takes a considered look at overcoming negativity; undergoing medical treatment in a foreign country and culture; adapting to different holiday traditions; dealing with alcoholism; becoming settled as a TCK – third culture kid (someone who, as a child, has spent a lot of time in cultures other than their birth one); missing friends; retiring abroad, and caring for aged parents from a distance. This last issue carries a lot of guilt with it, and is another frequent reason for ex-pats to return home. The authors talk sensitively and sensibly about coping with guilt in this respect and building the life you want away from them.
  6. Repatriation: returning home can be welcome, in which case it should be easier, but it can also be sudden and unwanted. There will inevitably be upheaval on return – reverse culture shock, emotional upheaval. There is plenty of calm advice on how to make the best of the situation and help yourself re-adapt.

The whole book takes the form of 50 questions and answers. I was sceptical of this as a suitable structure for it to start with, but it actually works out extremely well. OK, it may not mean that every single aspect of ex-pat life can get dealt with, but that wouldn’t be possible in any book. (As the authors’ disclaimer says: This book is not comprehensive … .) However, as the chapter reviews above show, this book covers a lot of ground, and in a very sensitive way. The whole book is grounded in actual experiences and this method of presentation lends a conversational, confiding tone to the book that makes it very easy to read.

The conclusion is frankly inspired. It sums up expat life succinctly and expertly:

Expatriate life can be, and almost always is, an incredibly enriching experience. It can stimulate your senses, tantalize your taste buds and introduce you to a world of wonder you might never have experienced had you not dared to pack up your belongings, journey outside your comfort zone, and immerse yourself in the culture of a foreign land.

But the most important phrase of this summary is undoubtedly … ultimately you are the greatest determinant of your own success.

If you are tempted by expat life, or are having it thrust upon you, do read this book, and, as it urges, remember that you are the crucial ingredient. It will be what you make of it.

There are plenty of resources at end of the book: information about the authors – Andrea Martin and Victoria Hepworth, two energetic, determined and go-ahead expats – their acknowledgements, information about the website www.expatwomen.com with 2 pages of testimonials, 4 pages of books for readers to refer to, and finally an exhaustive list of ex-pat-life related websites from The Adoption Guide to Zest and Zen International.

There is a lot of wisdom and information packed into this book, but even more humanity.