Friday, 27 July 2012

Friday Guest: Alex J Cavanuagh

It's a total honour to welcome Alex to my blog today. I came across Alex's blog some time in late 2011, I think. I'd seen his comments on so many blogs that I checked him out. At first, I was too intimidated to comment myself, but I finally did, and his blog opened my eyes to wonderful blogfests and even more wonderful people. In May this year, I managed to comment first on one of his posts! For those of you who follow Alex, you'll understand my joy at this :-)


According to Annalisa, my blog is popular. (When did that happen?) She wanted to know how it became so popular. While I’m still not exactly sure, I think I can sum it up in one word - friendships.

In two and a half years of blogging, I’ve made a lot of friends. With close to1600 followers, I can’t keep up with everyone. But I’ve tried to cultivate and maintain as many friendships as possible.

I follow a lot of blogs and comment on my regulars often. (Not to scare anyone, but I visit over a hundred blogs a day.) With those I’ve made a connection, I’ve gotten to know them better. I know what they write, what movies they like, what music they enjoy, and what they like to do in the real world. I get to know their families, the events in their lives, and how they feel about life. None of that would be possible if I didn’t visit them on a regular basis.

I also try to celebrate with my blogger buddies when they achieve success. The Ninja News has become a regular feature on my blog and there is always so much good news to announce, such as book deals, awards, and new novels. I enjoy having guests on my blog several times a month so they can share their excitement with the rest of my Ninja Army.

A couple times a year I host blogfests and I’m a co-host of the A to Z Challenge. Those events really spur a sense of community. Probably the greatest thing that’s happened came from the launch of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group last September. We post the first Wednesday of every month and hundreds have signed up to participate. Reading those posts and encouraging comments has been a total blessing. And I’ve received many comments and emails of appreciation for starting the group.

It’s not the followers or hits that make a blog - it’s the friendships. Genuine friendship is something that can’t be faked, either. It’s maintaining relationships, supporting others, and making sure one’s blog is a safe and fun place to visit. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do.

I know mine isn’t the normal author’s blog, but I’m blessed and honored to have so many online friends!

Alex J. Cavanaugh

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The author of Amazon Best Sellers, CassaStar and CassaFire, he lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Backworlds Book 2 is Out!

The sequel to The Backworlds is now available. Craze and his friends continue their adventures in Stopover at the Backworlds’ Edge. See what role chocolate plays in the galaxy this time.

The interstellar portal opens, bringing in a ship that should no longer exist. A battleship spoiling for a fight, yet the war with Earth ended two generations ago. The vessel drops off a Water-breather, a type of Backworlder thought to be extinct. She claims one of Craze’s friends is a traitor who summoned the enemy to Pardeep Station. A betrayal worse than his father’s, if Craze lives to worry about it.

Available for all ereaders from:

iTunes and Kobo will be available shortly.

If you haven’t read The Backworlds yet, it’s available as a free read from many outlets. See HERE for links. []

Inspiring the words M. Pax writes, Mary spends her summers as a star guide at Pine Mountain Observatory in stunning Central Oregon where she lives with the husband unit and two loving cats. She write science fiction mostly and has a slight obsession with Jane Austen. Mary blogs at

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Booker and Sunshine Awards

Rosalind Adam and Mina Lobo have both paased the Booker Award to me. I now get to tell you about my favourite books...

This won't be a shock, because I often talk about my favourite books, but here goes...

Pride and Prejudice - Admit it, you didn't expect that one, did you?

Diary by Chuck Palanhuick - It's one of those books I just keep going back and re-reading. A woman is trapped in a loveless marriage, with a child that doesn't seem to like her much, and an overbearing mother-in-law. Seems quite a normal literary situation, doesn't it? But all is not what it seems!

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom - This is a very happy and uplifting book, which gives a new take on Heaven. At the end, I just felt really happy and uplifted!

The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier - I'm not keen on her novels, but her short stories are divine and beautiful, rich and fulfilling... in fact everything I'd like to be as a writer.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - Read it, if you haven't done already... just read it. A great story, a great way of really understanding the plight of Jews during Nazi Germany.

Next Rebecca Bradley has awarded me the Sunshine Award. I've been given this one before, so I'm not going to answer the questions - sorry Rebecca, but thank you for thinking of me. You'll recognise Rebecca's name from my last post, so if you haven't visited her yet, now's your chance!

You'll also notice I haven't, as usual, passed either of these awards on to anyone else. If you'd like to tell me about your favourite books, I'd love to read about them. And everyone deserves the Sunshine Award because your blogs cheer me up. Yes, I'm talking to you right now!

Friday, 20 July 2012

The telling and showing balance

I've been editing some of my previously published stories for a collection I'm hoping to put together. It's a really fun project - some of the stories are pretty darn completely perfect and don't need any editing at all, others needed a bit of updating (a couple were written before mobile phones became common, one needed Facebook mentioned). And one needs a whole rewrite.

And that's the one I'd like to talk about, obviously.

Yesterday, I made a start on it, and realised I tell everything and show nothing. This is bad. All the advice points to showing not telling, and it makes sense - it keeps the prose varied, it draws people into the story, it even breaks up the page because speech and action naturally have more gaps.

So, I got out my red pen and started slashing. It was a massacre!

And then... I read The Beacon by Susan Hill (not all of it yet, so this isn't a review... but I have read the ending because I do that!)

There's an awful lot of telling in this short book, but it works - for most of the story so far, a woman is alone in her farmhouse after her mother dies and she's recalling growing up.

In my story, a homeless girl is telling us what her day consists of. She's so busy surviving that conversations with people don't have much meaning to her... so writing conversations would jar against the story. Wouldn't it?

What are your thoughts about showing v telling?
Have you ever written a story/novel that is mostly telling?
Do you have any tips for me?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A very special award...

I'd like to say a huge thank you - and sorry for taking so long to accept it - to Michelle Gregory who has given me this fabulous, lovely and very special award.

Michelle created this award herself about a year and a half ago, and you can read her reasons for it here.

I am honoured to be included in her thoughts.

If you followed the link and read Michelle's original post, you'll know there is no obligation to accepting. But after reading about this award and what it means to Michelle herself, I knew I wanted to share it with some very special bloggers who have been a source of joy, comfort and enthusiasm throughout my blog's life.

Once I started thinking about, however, I realised that I could actually list a lot more people than I have done, and I hope no one feels offended for not being included. 

Here are my choices - ladies, you've been awarded!
Rebecca Bradley - for being one of my earliest blog followers
Teresa Morgan - for loving Footloose :-)
Kyra Lennon - for making me feel like I'm not the only writer in the South West
Elizabeth Seckman - for being such a big advocate for my writing

This is also my 200th post (and I've just gained my 200th follower) so what better way to celebrate.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Friday interview with Peter and Nele... part 2

If you haven't read Part 1, please read it here

Please ignore the phone in the corner!
Me: Are there themes that keep reoccurring in your songs?
Nele: I think I theme that keeps coming back is the difference between who you are and who you are trying to be - my attempts to be a pop star, for example, I have a song called 'When I Drink I Always Think That I'm Beyonce'. Love is something that keeps coming back, and love sickness - it's such a constant thing in life. So, that, and trying to be somebody else...
Peter: My album 'Six Strings... keep me sane' was themed around moving from full-time teaching to becoming a full-time musician. There are other themes within it - there are songs about love, and about arguments, and about drinking whiskey - Straight JD - which strangely enough I don't drink. I'm actually struggling at the moment over what the theme of my next album will be, but rather than worry about that, I think I'll just write the songs and see what they're about.
Nele: Yeah, I gave up on album themes. Maybe I'll do it one day, but right now I'm just writing songs. But organically they fit together because they are all my songs and they have something in common.
Peter: It does happen like that. I've got a good example - if you listen to Frank Turner's back catalogue, his first album is about 'screw the system, f*** the man, we're going to have a revolution'; the second album is 'hmm, this isn't quite working out the way I thought it was going to'; and the third album is 'I'm too old for this shit'. And you can tell he's just growing up as a song-writer. So maybe that's the way it goes, you just write what's current and what you're feeling at the time, and it's a document of that.

Me: So you mentioned Frank Turner, who are your other song-writing influences?
Nele: In early 2000, when I was about 13, there was this genre called anti-folk... it's not against folk, let me say that first - it's an American genre, New York actually, with people like Kimi Dawson and Jeffrey Lewis who are really obscure names, they never really made it. Something really valuable that they were trying to do was writing about daily life - sometimes it goes too far, sometimes you can hear lyrics like 'Oh I lost my shoe, I don't know what to do'. There's a song by Jeffrey Lewis that goes 'I saw a hippy girl on 8th Avenue, she barely looked at me for a second or two, and I suddenly realised I no longer look much like a hippy'. But for some reason, one day when I was 13, someone was playing a song on Belgian radio, and I kept on listening to it. Daniel Johnson, as well. I really like 60s melodies, close harmonies like the Beach Boys or anything from Phil Spectre. I have a band back home, and that's what we try to do in that. My dream would be to get a sound that's between anti-folk and 60s girls pop.
Peter: My influences are Frank Turner and Ryan Adams, a sort of country-folk. The most pleasing comment I got was at a festival in Saltash last year when a guy came up to me and said I really reminded him of Crowded House, because Neil Finn is my song-writing god. It's fairly obvious, that if he's a major influence I am going to sound a bit like him, but it was really nice that somebody recognised that. I think one of my biggest influences at the moment is Vince Freeman, purely because he's shown me the way forward in becoming a full-time musician - I saw him play, I saw how he used the guitar and it showed me a way of playing it differently. He's also given me a lot of advice. I got to know him as a fan, but the first time I went to his house he picked up his guitar and said 'Look, I've written a new song', and it was a moment of clarity that   that was now my life. Not that a copy any of those four.

Me: Just one more question, what's next? What are your new projects?
Nele: I have a lot of songs I've written and want to record properly. I have an EP out, but I want to record a full album - the problem is I play very simply live (Nele has a great variety of humorous songs) and it works because people laugh and you can see my face. But the album needs to be more, arranged propely - I'm still working on how to do that. I actually have a ten-year plan - I'd love to bring out an album in English and in Dutch for the Belgian market. There's a television programme next year, where I'll write a song every week about things going on in Belgium. And then in a year or three, I'd like to write a musical, in my style - so there would be characters, but they would all be me. It's going to be about love. I still have to live a little to write it, though. One day I hope I can write songs about what's going on in the world, to change the world, to say something, but I feel I'm not ready for that yet.
Me: I feel the same way about my writing - it's very similar. I write about very small things, every day things. But it's those big world-changing events that the big authors write about... I'm not there yet.
Nele: I would love to change the world with my songs. And I want to have a sit-com about my life! And travelling around - I wrote a song called 'I'm Not Famous, But I'm Free' - the way I'm living now I can play my music and see the world.
Peter: For me, it's taking my music around the country, touring different cities. And then we're organising a European tour for next year. We did a gig at a National Trust property last night, so it would be great to tour around National Trust houses. Maybe there'll be another album next year - maybe record that in Germany. And we've just decided on America - land in New York, down to New Orleans, and then drive across and end up in California. And maybe even Australia...

Me: Thank you for your time. (Although they didn't have much choice, they were both sitting in the same room as me and I nabbed them. And at least I discovered I'm going to be a music widow next year... So if you're ever unsure about what's going on in your hubby/wife's head, just interview them, apparently!)

Here are the links again for Peter Crawford and Nele Needs a Holiday.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Friday interview with Peter and Nele... part 1

I don't know about you, but whenever I have a Belgian singer-songwriter staying at my house, I have to interview them!

So, please welcome Peter Crawford (Hubby) and Nele Van den Broeck to my blog. (Nele is pronounced Ney-la, and is known as Nele Needs a Holiday when she's performing!.) They are touring Cornwall and West Devon until Friday 20th July. Check out their Facebook event page for more information.

Me: How old were you when you started playing musical instruments?
Nele: I started at 10 with the clarinet which I gave up after two years. I played the violin for a while, the drums. But the only thing I kept on playing was the piano. I taught myself - I was in music school for singing, but you had to take an extra theory lesson and I learnt how chords work, and knowing that I just taught myself the piano, and ukelele. I'm not really good at it, but it doesn't matter to my music whether I'm a virtuoso piano player or not, the lyrics and story are the most important.

Peter: I started playing guitar when I was 12. I had a few official lessons, but didn't get on with the silly dots and squiggles, so I taught myself, using music books - strumming chords and singing. But I also play the mandocello, I'm learning the piano - hopefully Nele will give me some lessons. And I'm inventing instruments...

And here it gets far to technical, but basically he's putting different strings onto a Cuatro de Puerto Rico, and... um...

>Me: How long was it before you started writing your own songs?
Nele: I remember I wrote my first lyric when I was 13, but I didn't know how people would get music to the lyric - it was something so mysterious. How would anyone be able to write a song? I wanted it so badly. Recently I re-read that lyric and it was terrible. And when I was 16 I was in a band, a punk bad with guys from school, and we started making music by jamming - they would play some chords, and I would hum, and put some lyrics to that. And I thought, oh yes, this is how you write a song. It's just the melody in your head... once you've got the trick, the melodies just keep on coming. My first actual song, I was 21 - Red Dress Song was my first song... it took me half a year to write it, because I had a very repetitive melody in my head, and bits of lyrics would just pop into my mind so it took so long. Now I'm writing songs in two hours.

Peter: I think I was about 15 or 16. The first one I remember writing was for a band I was in during A-levels - I think at the time we were called Valentine's Failure.

Me: Which one was it?

Peter: It was the one I wrote for you, I think. (Yes, folks, that's how you get girls when you're a musician!) There might have been one or two before that, but not written for a full band. But when you're 17, 18 and you decide you want to be the next Velvet Underground, you don't half write some crap. Looking back on the lyrics, it's just painful, but out of the dozen or so songs we wrote together two made it on to my first album. But those are the two commercial ones that I wrote, but they weren't typical of what we were writing at the time - we wanted to be Bowie and Lou Reed, and didn't have half the talent to be able to do it.

Me: So how has your style changed over time?
Nele: The most important change was when I realised I'm writing song about me and my life. Before, when I was a teenager, I wanted to write a rock song how it was supposed to be, about the rock life or about cool things. But when I realised I'd never driven on Highway 66, or whatever... I'm a girl in my twenties, living in Belgium, I have my own subjects to write about. I don't have to invent cool topics... I can of course - I like singer-songwriters who use beautiful metaphors, but I'm still at the stage where I write songs about my life, and I try to do that as honest as possible. I write literally what happens to me. I don't use a lot of metaphors - when I got kicked out of theatre school, I wrote 'I got kicked out of theatre school'. And when I boyfriend dumped me, I sing 'this boyfriend dumped me'. And people come up to me and say they recognise themselves in my lyrics, so I think there's something in the cliche that if you write something personal it becomes universal.

Peter: Looking at the stuff I've written recently and the stuff I recorded for my albums, it hasn't changed massively, I don't think. It's more the delivery, learning to use the acoustic guitar properly. I don't have a system for writing songs, it's purely if the lyric hits me, or a chord progression - a day later, there's a song there.

Me: Do you want to share the 'Blood on Strings' anecdote? (If you've been to a gig, you'll have heard this one!)

Peter: It was one of my first professional gigs, and I was strumming away, and I looked down and noticed my guitar was changing colour, and I couldn't work out why. And then I realised I'd split the ends of my fingers and was bleeding all over the place. So, it gave me the lyric 'blood on strings'...

Part 2 - here

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Right hand/left hand

This is my attempt at a useful post. I've moaned about mentioned my tendency towards writers block since this blog was born. And today I thought I'd talk about a method that really helped me with one story in particular. The story Omelette won third place in the inaugural Words with Jam short story competition a couple of years ago, so I feel confident in sharing this method with you.

What you do is swap the hand you normally write with!

That's it. How easy!

This isn't my invention - I read about it, but I can't remember where.

The theory behind it is that writing with the wrong hand makes you concentrate much harder on the actual mechanics of forming the words on the page, which leaves your subconscious mind free to be creative.

Try this:
Start with the sentence When I was younger my favourite toy was...

Remember to write it with the wrong hand, and don't analyse the content - that's very important: don't censor yourself!

When I tried it myself, I managed to pull out a long forgotten incident involving my mum, which was nothing to do with my favourite toy. It's a great way to stop writers block in its tracks.

Part of Omelette written normally...

... and with my left/wrong hand

So, how did you get on?

Friday, 6 July 2012

Friday interview with Amy Cockram

Photo credit: Deirdre McCulloch

I met Amy during A Levels - the girl who always had her nose in a book, and relished English lit essays. She now reviews books at her blog Stuff and Nonsense, which seems such an obvious step! I thought it might be fun to hear what goes on in the head of a book reviewer when they've got their hands on your book!

At school, I remember you were a voracious reader. At what point did you decide to write reviews and create a blog?
I spent most of my adult life being a student, and after that I wanted to relax for a while and read what I wanted. What started as relaxation became stagnation, and I decided I needed a challenge and somewhere to write. So I started a blog without, at first, an idea of what it would be about. It evolved quite quickly into being about what I was reading and my relationship with books because books are quite possibly the thing I love most in the world after my husband, my family, my friends and my cat. Oh, and chocolate.

Chocolate goes without saying on this blog. Do you review all the books you read, or do you choose the ones you’ve got most to talk about?
When I decided that the blog would be about what I was reading, I decided to write something about every book I read - which means even things that I felt a little bit ashamed of reading. I wanted it to be a complete and honest record of my reading. I decided that I would either write a blog post or, if I felt like I didn’t have much to say about a book, a pithy tweet.

What is your favourite genre, and do you read outside that for the purposes of reviewing?
I read crime novels most of all and, within that, I prefer the mystery and detection element to a straight thriller. There are some blogs out there that specialise in reviewing crime, and do that excellently, but I like to move between genres. If I feel like I have read a few similar books in a row, then I like to switch to reading in a different genre for a while.
I also have a bad multi-reading habit, so I am usually read more than one book at once, normally from different genres. I like to read something more literary alongside something for pure entertainment and switch between them.

Who’s your favourite author, and why?
I have a few favourite authors who I collect in hardback: for pure entertainment value Terry Pratchett or Janet Evanovich; for something a bit more challenging, Michael Ondaatje and Howard Jacobson.

If I have to pick a favourite, it would probably be Howard Jacobson. I discovered his writing when I was in my early 20s, long before he won the Booker. He’s everything that I want in a writer: passionate, articulate, thoughtful, funny and frequently a little bit filthy. He is a great chronicler of male middle-aged angst, and more than any other man he is probably responsible for my twisted view of the male psyche.

Which book would you recommend everyone to read at least once?
I don’t read short stories very often, but I love The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Tim O’ Brien was a soldier in the Vietnam War, and most of his writing refers back to the war to a greater or lesser extent. I don’t tend to like war writing in general, so please don’t be put off the book if you also think that you don’t like war writing. There is an element of black humour in some of his writing, but also moments of great insight and tenderness amidst the violence.

If you don’t want to read the whole collection, just read How to Tell a True War Story. It’s a brilliant piece of writing.

Do you read other people’s reviews to compare them with yours?
I try not to, as it only tends to make me feel less confident. I felt a few months ago that my blog was starting to feel a bit samey, and I read a book (Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist) that I didn’t feel sure about. I didn’t know what to write, so I made the mistake of looking up other reviews and only ended up more conflicted and less sure of myself. Since that experience, I might read reviews by other people out of curiosity after I have posted a review but I would try to avoid reading them before. In theory it is a good idea of read other reviews because you can learn from other people, but in practice it just gives me reviewer envy.

You’ve mentioned on your blog that publishers are sending you books to review. How did that come about? (I assume large publishers don’t just send books out randomly!)
If you love reading, then Twitter is a great resource. I follow quite a lot of publishing houses, and it is a good way to get information about new books that are being published. Through their tweets I found that there are some publishing houses who keep records of book bloggers and will send out review copies, so I sent them my details. Twitter is a good place for a book addict to make friends and find book gossip and competitions.

And finally, some of my followers have had bad experiences with either one-star reviews and no explanation, or bad reviews aimed personally at the author rather than the book. Is that the mark of a bad book or a bad reviewer?
I personally rarely write a bad review - mainly because I decided that my bookshelves are too overstuffed and my life too short to read everything, so I no longer force myself to finish something if I’m not enjoying it. I’m very aware that a work of fiction doesn’t spring from nowhere; it is created by another human being who has put a lot of time and effort into what they have made, and I have a great respect for that act of creation. So I would never want to write something which the author might feel hurt by.

I’m inclined to think that a one star review with no explanation or, even worse, a personal attack on the author probably says more about the reviewer than it does about the book itself. Of course not everyone will like the same things, but it is disrespectful to condemn a book as being a one star read and not be able to constructively justify why you didn’t rate it higher. No-one likes to hear criticism - I know I take it very badly - but it is even worse to be dismissed with no explanation. I can think of absolutely no justification for directing an attack at the author: it achieves nothing, and certainly wouldn’t help someone reading the review decide if it is a book in which they might interested.

You make a really good point about the reviews being aimed at helping readers choose books not for writers to sell more!

And with that, thank you Amy for visiting my blog today – I’ve found it really interesting to see books from another point of view, and I hope my visitors have as well!

Unfortunately, Amy is currently snowed under with books to read, and cannot accept books for review.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Today's IWSG is brought to you by the letter O

Posting today because Alex is! :-)

Oh dear.

I've come to a realisation.

My writing has definitely improved! Yay!

How do I know? Well...

It all began about a month ago when I realised that I have a good number (about ten) short stories that have been published and/or won prizes over the course of the last... ahem... eighteen years that very few people would have ever read. This is because they were published in very small press magazines, or they won prizes but weren't published, or they won prizes and were published in little more than commemorative booklets.

So, I thought I'd gather them together and ebook them. Easy, I thought, they've already been published so I won't need to do much to them. And in some cases that's true - some of them don't need anything more than a little updating (I've got at least two stories where the characters are queuing to use a phone box!).

In others... oh dear...

You might remember me mentioning one particular story where I dreamt the opening lines, woke up, wrote the story without stopping, barely re-wrote and had it published within the year. I've spoken about it on this blog, I've mentioned it in my comments on other blogs...

Yep - that story is awful! Okay, not awful, but not very well done. The prose is clunky and repetitive, and there's a lot of telling and not showing; some of the sentences make no sense. And yet it was published - I earned the grand total of £12 for it!

The premise is brilliant - I still love the idea, and the characters, but it needs some serious red-pen intervention before I'll let anyone else read it. I've already gone through it once, cutting and adding, and moving and slashing - and now it's in a folder waiting for me to be strong enough to go through it again.

So, this month's insecurity is that as a writer I have never been as good as I'm going to be, and yet those stories I think are not so good will always exist. Someone, somewhere might have a copy of the magazine - as I do - because their story is also featured. Which means one day, they might find it and flick through it and find my story before their own, and possibly even read it... and I have no control over that.

My advice: always be as good as you can possibly be, and then maybe you won't have an oh dear moment of your own!


It's been a while since I included the list of IWSG participants, so here they are. If you want to know more, please follow this link to Alex J Cavanaugh's blog.