Five go on a writing retreat to Builth Wells

Five members of Skelmersdale Writers’ Group, including myself went on writing retreat in two pine lodges sited on the edge of the river Wye the week before last.

This was our second retreat and it was so good I’m sure we’re going to make it an annual event. Last year there were four of us and we stayed in one lodge at Hay-on-Wye. This year there were five of us so we needed two lodges so that we could have a room each to ensure privacy to write.

We had  a routine established from the previous year that we would write all  morning, meet for lunch, then either go for  a walk in the lovely surroundings or have a trip out to one of the local towns, then more writing before sharing dinner and a few glasses of wine before having a joint feedback session  on the day’s work. We usually finished off by relaxing with a film or TV programme.

This worked very well as it is important to balance work with rest and leisure and time to think. A writing retreat is a fantastic opportunity to focus on a specific project. I took with me a completed novel that needed final editing and revision and I managed to finish that but I was also keen to do some new writing so I allocated part of each day to a partly-written novel that I  had left hanging while editing and preparing other work for publication.

We did have to cook but we managed this by joint shopping trips, taking turns to prepare meals and making simple meals so that we were all able to relax. I think we all really enjoyed it and I was pleased to come home with a briefcase full of work and plans for the future. The seven days went over so quickly. Our hosts at Boatside Holiday Accommodation were wonderful and we had everything we needed and absolute peace to get on with our work. November is an ideal time because the holiday season is over so we  more or less had this beautiful location to ourselves and the accommodation is more readily available and less expensive than earlier in the season.

I came home energised and refreshed and I can’t wait to go back again next year, perhaps even more of Skelmersdale Writers will be retreating next time!

 

 

 

 

 

The Museum of You and some thoughts on possessions

I’ve been reading Carys Bray’s book The Museum of You and it made me think about the relevance of possessions in our  lives today.

Before industrialisation, possessions were few and most people had no need of keys and locks but now, because our economies are driven by production and consumption we amass hundreds? thousands? of objects in our lifetimes. Do they actually mean that much to us?

I occasionally sell off a prized doll from my collection but the loss of the loved object is soon forgotten in the desire to acquire something else. At the end of the day, how many of my possessions, things I think express who I am, will be valued and kept by my family?

Every weekend at the house clearance stalls at Prestatyn car boot sale I see the concrete evidence of people’s lives chucked on the ground for bargain hunters to scavenge. It’s not just the everyday objects like furniture and cooking utensils but their hobbies and interests are laid bare (books, garden tools, photography equipment, knitting wools and embroidery items etc. etc. etc) and quite often treasured birthday and Christmas cards, family photographs, even letters and bank  statements. I’ve even seen photo albums containing locks of baby hair, all carefully saved by someone  who never dreamed where they would end up.

And the sight of these pathetic heaps brings home the realisation of the sheer mass of stuff with which we are cluttering our planet. While half the people in the world starve, the rest of us waste resources on stuff that mostly has no functional value whatsoever.

The other thing Bray’s book made me think about is the way artefacts are treasured as records of history. In The Museum of You Clover mistakenly catalogues items in her museum collection as belonging to her mother or having been bought for her by her mother because that is what she wants them to be. It’s a jog to the mind that our knowledge of the past is only an interpretation of relics, not a statement of facts.

History is perhaps, like our passion for possessions, a way of  making ourselves feel important, when it is arguable that our only significance is the danger we bring to the rest of the ecosystem in which we live.

 

Meet local authors night with Skem Writers’ Group

2016-09-05 17.55.49Another great night for Skem Writers. Many thanks to everyone who turned up and stocked our impressive book table and wowed us with their readings. Special thanks to Ishbel and Tricia from Ormskirk Writers and Literary Society for coming along to support us and also to Tony Daley for his informative talk on Ormskirk clocks. Cheryl Cole, Graham Walker and John Payne’s Cartoons also came to visit and it was great to hear some new readers who are not members of our group (yet!). Many thanks too to our own members who helped to host the event, Rita for doing the drinks and Elizabeth for manning the bookstall as well as giving some very professional readings. Cath, Trevor, David, Joe you all did us proud and very special thanks go to Skem library staff who provided the venue, drinks trolley and put up with us keeping them late after a hard day’s work.2016-09-05 18.03.13

First experiences with Kindle Direct Publishing

I published a short story collection with FeedaRead recently and having waited for it to appear on sale  with Amazon and other bookseller sites, I bit the bullet and published it in ebook form with KDP, choosing KDP Select, which limits your ebook to the kindle platform but pays higher royalties.

I didn’t find KDP as user friendly as FeedaRead. I got a bit confused with all the tax stuff and I think I’ve ended up agreeing to pay 30% tax on earnings rather than get something called a TIN number which I didn’t really understand. Also when I uploaded my book file I didn’t see any way of checking the uploaded content before publishing, but that may be just me getting computer overload and maybe I should have taken more time to suss it all out before doing it.

Once I’d clicked the publish button, I was informed that the book would be online in a short time but days passed with my book  status showing as ‘publishing’ with nothing happening. Eventually I emailed KDP and good enough I got a reply within 24 hours saying they would look into it and I would hear something within five days. A couple of days later I got another email telling me the book was now online but when I checked it wasn’t linked to the print version. Looking up the FAQs it said to wait 48 hours but it still didn’t link and I had to email again. KDP did then sort it out and the two were linked within 48 hours.

My main concern is that although I  uploaded the book file complete with introductory pages, dedication, contents etc. none of these have appeared in the kindle version, not even the title page. It just plunges straight in with the first story title. Apart from this I am pleased with the kindle version, it has separated the stories as I wanted so maybe there was something wrong or unacceptable about the introductory pages.

After the publication, I found it quite difficult to set up an author page as I couldn’t see how to access author central. I could only get to it by clicking on the email KDP sent me welcoming me to KDP. Eventually I discovered author central has a separate URL which I have now bookmarked. It also took me a while to find my way around the dashboard etc. but overall it’s been a satisfactory experience and definitely a learning curve.

Over the next few weeks, I expect to become more familiar with the KDP community and hope I will have solved some of these problems by the time I come to publish something else.

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Dipping into self-publishing waters.

I’ve been standing on the shore looking out to the sea of self-publishing possibilities for a long time and now I’ve finally taken the plunge. My short story collection Triple Death was published on the Feedaread platform last month.

The main reason I’d dithered so much was that I was quite put off by the technology and all that formatting and uploading. However, fellow author Elizabeth Brown kindly helped to see me through the initial stages of setting up an account and the file. With Feedaread it really was much easier than I expected and I found Feedaread very efficient at managing me through each stage of the process to publication.The formatting is fairly simple, standard word documentation and Feedaread fixes the margins so that the pages fit properly. The main things to watch are a) that you start with an odd-numbered page so that you page appears on the right at the beginning and b) that you insert a page break at the end of each chapter otherwise the chapters run together. I used my own photos for the cover and used their design template but you can also upload a professionally designed cover if you  like.  My book was on sale on the Feedaread website almost immediately, within a few days my book appeared on Amazon and on other major bookseller sites and I had a box of print copies within a week of ordering them.

Unfortunately Feedaread doesn’t do e-books so I’m doing a separate publication on Amazon kindle and this should be available shortly. In the meantime you can view the book, read an extract and buy at a reduced price on the Feedaread website , check it out on Amazon or any major bookseller site or order from your local bookshop.I’d definitely recommend Feedaread to anyone thinking of self-publishing for the first time.

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Writers’ Holiday 2016

Recently returned from another wonderful week at Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard, South Wales.  I really did make a holiday of it this year, stopping overnight at Caersws on the way and visiting Powys Castle at Welshpool. The next morning I digressed to Lampeter hoping to visit the Welsh Quilt Centre but it was closed. I spent a couple of pleasant hours pottering round the town before heading to Fishguard along the coast road, arriving at Fishguard Bay Hotel around 3 pm.

018 I got the customary great welcome from Anne and Gerry who run Writers’ Holiday and was soon settled in my room. The Fishguard Bay Hotel  is a fantastic venue for writers  with lovely views across the bay and plenty of good walks round the headland. I had the first two days free before teaching my own course, so was able to take advantage of some quiet time for writing, as well as engaging in some of the taster sessions and evening activities on offer. First night is the annual quiz which I certainly didn’t want to miss, and I also took part in the poetry tea time sessions which end in a final evening performance.

The main courses consist of 8 hours teaching on specific subjects, mine was on serendipitous writing, and we had lots of fun playing word games with spoonerisms, Oulipo exercises, splicing and cut up techniques but on the serious side, some excellent plots and characters emerged and I was delighted with the work produced over the course. The courses on offer are really varied and cover many different genres, there is even a painting course for those interested.

Over the years, I have made so many friends at Writers’ Holiday and many of us keep in touch via Facebook. I would really hate to miss it. Fortunately I have been asked to lead another course next year, this one will be titled ‘Writerly Desire’ and will cover writing erotic scenes in a number of genres. For more information about Writers’ Holiday, click here

 

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Fishguard Bay view from the hotel

Review of Jonathan Coe’s The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

A typical entry into the crazy literary world of Jonathan Coe, this book doesn’t disappoint with Coe’s usual play with form, digression, stories within stories and metafiction, delivered with hugely comic panache but at the same time imbuing the major characters with pathos and a powerlessness with which most ordinary mortals can identify. If there is a problem it is that Coe’s facility with the English language and literary form, his ability to twist and turn the narrative in so many different ways, creates such admiration in me as a fellow writer, that I was sometimes lured away from the plot. <br> Maxwell Sim, the protagonist of this story, is a nerdy, somewhat anal character but his dilemmas and loneliness are common to many people in our modern world. Although often poking fun at the character, Coe at the same time creates sympathy for him and the hope that things will turn out well for him in the end. Coe uses coincidence, missed opportunities and possibilities to the extreme in this novel building up a higgledy piggledy narrative of fantastic proportions which climbs to its unforeseen conclusion in a somehow logical manner. Maxwell Sim is, despite, the fantasies, an eminently credible character – until you get to the end.