Monday, 22 December 2014

Looking Back Thankfully

It's hard to believe, but there are only two Mondays left to this year. Next week, I'm going to be looking forward to 2015 and making some New Year's (writing) resolutions. But this week, in the tradition of many media outlets at this time of the year, here's a quick round-up of the past twelve and its achievements - and a few thank yous.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Publishing Lessons Part 2

Back in October, I wrote about the first part of the publishing project for Gorgito’s Ice Rink. At that point, I’d only brought out the ebook. Now, two months on, I have a paperback edition as well. I’ve been reflecting on the second part of this project, and as always, this is written from the point of view of a small business owner—with the adjective attached to ‘business’ rather than ‘owner’—rather than as an author. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Elizabeth Chats with...Cathie Hartigan

[My guest this month is a writer, a tutor and one of the co-authors of The Creative Writing Students's Handbook. I have known her for a couple of years, since I joined Exeter Writers, which she Chairs. She is always smiling, is generous with her time and her experience, and has a critique style that I'm sure her students would agree is firm but fair. I am delighted to be chatting with Cathie Hartigan]

Monday, 1 December 2014

Birmingham Rose by Annie Murray

As a Brummie born and bred, there was an obvious attraction for me in the title of this book but once started, Annie Murray's wonderful and powerful novel needed no strings to keep me attached. I just had to keep reading.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Taking a Rain Check...

Like many bloggers, I obsessively check my statistics. I can tell you how many people have looked at my blog each day, every week, every month, or indeed ever! I know which of my posts are the most popular ones. Interviews are usually high on the list. My interviews with illustrator turned author Curtis Jobling and Bodicia from 'A Woman's Wisdom' have been fighting it out for top spot for months and were way ahead of anything else. Until now.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Elizabeth Chats with...Jane Bidder

[My guest this month has multiple personalities. Known to many readers for her romantic comedies, written as Sophie King, or her family-based novels, written as Janey Fraser, she also writes non-fiction and gritty contemporary fiction under her own name. I am delighted to be chatting with author and journalist Jane Bidder.]

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Right Under Our Noses

On our final day, we look closer to home, examining the origins of the Parador Hotel in which we have spent the past three nights. Every nook and cranny is stuffed with reminders of its time as a 'convent' although, as it housed Franciscan monks, we are more inclined to think of it as a monastery. 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Gathering Impressions

Today we wander through the streets of Granada, just gathering impressions, then trying to capture them all as future memories:

Friday, 7 November 2014

Engaging Our Senses

The hotel receptionist has booked morning tickets for us at the Palacio Nazaries and warns us not to be late, 'as the tickets are only valid for 30 minutes' although I suspect something is lost in translation there, as they are actually valid for four hours, but we obediently head across the almost deserted site just before opening time. The signage is not wonderful, and without the long queues, that will form later in the day, to show us the way, we wander round in circles several times before finding what we think is the disabled entrance. A friendly guide takes pity on us and lets us in anyway.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Houston, We Have A Problem...

The cultural - as opposed to socialising - part of the trip begins today. I rise early and pack carefully, checking all the travel arrangements and documents. I have always been the organised (or bossy, depending on your viewpoint) one who looks after that sort of thing, There was this incident, you see, in Edinburgh where Michael temporarily mislaid our return train tickets - and even though it was forty years ago, I've never really forgiven him... but that's another story.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Greener Grass, Bluer Sky

We stand on the balcony in the early morning sunlight. It is already unseasonably warm. Gazing at the view and flicking through yesterday's photos, we start to think in the way that I guess every holiday maker does at some point. We flirt with the idea of selling up and moving to warmer climes.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

All About Food...

After a late start and a leisurely open-air breakfast, we head off for Fuengirola in search of bus tickets for later in the week. It is quick, simple and painless - and tickets in hand, we wander into the market where Michael window-shops for spices, fish and meat, bemoaning the fact that 'we don't have food markets like this at home'. [I have the pictures and will remind him of this, when he mocks me, as I'm sure he will, at the handbag and shoe shops.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Sightseeing At The Airport

Since moving to the south-west, we always travel to the airport a day early, even when, as now, our flight isn't until the afternoon. Call it the M25 syndrome - that still makes me leave home an hour in advance of any appointment in Exeter (10 miles away) just in case there's a hold-up in the traffic (well, it does happen sometimes, even in Devon); or call is lack of faith in our public transport system, but a career spent travelling the world has left me with a horror of having to rush to an airport. While this policy adds to the length (and cost) of any trip, it certainly reduces our stress levels. We stroll to the terminal with all the time in the world, smiling indulgently at the harrassed looking commuters who rush from one queue to another.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Travels With My Mother-in-Law's Son

For the second time this year, I am leaving my computer and internet connection behind and heading off for a week of R and R, this time in Spain, with my husband, Michael. I have my notebook and pen at the ready and will blog about the trip as the days unfold.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Publishing Lessons Part 1

Earlier this month, I completed stage one of my largest publishing project to date, when the ebook version of my debut novel Gorgito's Ice Rink  came out on Amazon for Kindle. Work continues on the print version, which will be launched in November, but I thought I'd jot down some of the lessons I've learned so far:

Monday, 13 October 2014

Elizabeth Chats With...Margaret James

[This month's guest was known to me for some years via her articles in Writing Magazine. When I joined Exeter Writers, I was delighted to find she was  also a member. She is very generous with her critiques and is always happy to offer advice from her long experience of the publishing industry. I am delighted to be chatting with Margaret James.]

Monday, 6 October 2014

Review Round-Up

[Two short reviews for the price of one this month: one brand new book and one that’s been out for a couple of years; I gave them both five star reviews on Amazon.]

Monday, 29 September 2014

Gorgito's Ice Rink: Prologue

Moscow, 2005 

Emma Chambers slipped between the oak doors into the hushed interior. The air, thick with incense, grabbed at her throat and threatened to bring back the tears she'd been fighting all morning.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Our African Adventure Part 3

This leg of the trip is all about seeing the 'big five': elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and water buffalo.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Reading Aloud: My Tip of the Week

As some of you will know, I'm about to publish my first novel. I'm deep in the process of proof-reading and cover design at present. Hopefully the whole thing will come together early next month. But this isn't a marketing piece (that will come later!). Today I want to share a tip that has been invaluable to me in the past couple of weeks.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Elizabeth Chats With...C.L.Raven

[I have two guests for the price of one this month. I first met these identical twins from Cardiff when they were shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize. Well, actually, I saw them across the room but was too shy to go and chat to them; they seemed so self-assured (and elegant - although they will probably hate me for saying that). If I'd only known how nervous they were... Then I heard them speak at the East Budleigh Literary Festival and they blew everyone away with their polished - and very funny - double act. This month, I am delighted to be chatting with C L Raven.]

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Wedding Diary by Margaret James

Margaret James doesn’t normally write modern-day chicklit and I don’t normally read modern-day chicklit (well not very often anyway), so we were both on new territory here. But you can’t go far wrong with a book opening with the line: “All chocolate is medicinal. It’s a well known fact.”

Monday, 25 August 2014

Our African Adventure Part 2


Arriving at Kariba, we discover The Cutty Sark hotel is definitely NOT in the same league as the Sheraton, but the room overlooks the lake and the pool is as warm as bathwater. After lunch we visit a crocodile farm. The crocs are numerous, somnolent - and very smelly. Not really living up to their reputation here, not a snapping jaw in sight.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Goodbye Gardening Guilt

I grew up in a house with a beautiful garden. Both of my parents were keen gardeners and my father in particular spent every summer evening and most of his weekends, when not in Church or watching Aston Villa play, tending his flower beds. Each year we would have a wide spread of spring bulbs, followed by trellises covered in rambling roses; walls disappearing behind deep purple clematis; canes bending under an abundance of sweet peas; chrysanthemums the size of saucers; and vividly-coloured dahlias, so beloved of earwigs. The smell of Lilly of the Valley, the sight of green tomatoes; or the touch of a velvet peony petal always takes me straight back to Ryland Road.

Friday, 15 August 2014

#Swanwick66: A Final Chapter

Day six was, as always, a day of 'finals': the final chance for the early risers to gather in the chapel for Lift Up Your Hearts, or by the lake for Meditation. And no, I didn't make either of these - I was too busy slaving over a red hot keyboard, writing yesterday's blog post.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

#swanwick66: A Theatrical Day Five

The Wednesday of Swanwick always seems a little frantic to me; it's when we realise we are more than halfway through the week and time is starting to run out for all those conversations we were planning to have, those photographs we were planning to take or those books we were planning to buy. But, there also seems to be a growing level of inspiration and more people skipping classes to work on their latest work in progress, put into practice what they've learned in a course or from a 1:1.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

#swanwick66: Snippets from Days Three and Four

As the clock ticked around to 9.30 on Monday morning, the screen remained determinedly blank and I realised I wasn't going to get my presentation to run, I grabbed a pen and headed for the flip-chart. It was like being back in one of my training courses in Russia (without the translator, the snow and the vodka, of course). There are some things you never forget! I hope it wasn't too disruptive for the audience - but for me, it was just like the good old days.

#Swanwick66: An Extra Special Guest for Day Three

'Fame Starts Here' were the words Aileen Armitage taped to the front of her typewriter to inspire her when she started her writing career. She first came to Swanwick forty seven years ago and became a regular member of the school for many years. It was at Swanwick, sixteen years later, that she met her husband-to-be, the late Deric Longden. On Monday night Aileen returned as guest speaker and held us all spellbound, making us laugh and cry at the same time, a quality also found in Deric's writing.

Monday, 11 August 2014

#Swanwick66: Snapshots of Day Two

Day two started with a traditional Swanwick breakfast: sausage, hash browns, egg and beans. I tried to convince my neighbour that cooked breakfasts on Sunday contained no calories, but I don't think she believed me! It didn't stop either of us partaking, by the way.

The day is still buzzing round in my head, so here are some snapshots from my short-term memory:

Learning from David Hough that editing can be done in a structured manner (music to this scientist's ears);

Trying to feel sorry for Della, when she told us she still gets rejections (and that her file is now too heavy to carry around as proof) just after she told us she'd sold more than 1500 stories in just over 20 years;

Remembering absent friends and mourning ones we will not see again as Diana read out the In Memoriam card in the chapel;

Gathering with 30 other members of the Swanwick Facebook group, putting faces to names and acknowledging how the group helps to keep the family feeling running throughout the year;

Having attendees at my tutorial on Scrivener come and tell me afterwards how useful they found it (thanks guys, that makes it all worthwhile);

Seeing Katherine trying to hold on to her skirt as the pouring rain of this morning was replaced by fierce winds this evening;

And watching Roy and Fliss sing 'If you were the only girl in the world' at the candle-lit WWI commemoration.

This evening's speaker was Shirley Blair, Commissioning Fiction Editor of The People's Friend. She began  by asking how many of us had heard of TPF, and then how many of us had read it. The majority of the audience raised their hands - and I suspect if she'd asked how many of us had ever submitted a story, she'd have had another forest of hands. Shirley had been asked to speak on publishing opportunities in TPF - and she gave us a wonderful run-down of each type of story: short story, long read, and serial plus an overview of what happens to our submissions once they arrive in her office.

But I suspect for many, the best part of the evening was the Q and A session, where all sorts of queries were thrown at Shirley, each of which was answered honestly but kindly. She reminded us that the culture of TPF is for safe, cosy stories - and also gave hints on the types and length of stories that had more chance of being accepted. How many of the audience, I wonder, spent the rest of the evening running through their WIP files and planning their next submissions? (Although, in truth, some of us also spent time to go to the disco - but that's another story.)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

#Swanwick66: Impressions of Day One

The year has flown by: it seems like only yesterday we were waving the coaches goodbye in the rain last August - and here we all are back at The Hayes once more. The first day is always a chaotic jumble, so here's just a few of my highlights to be going on with:

Hugs from old friends that made me forget my stewarding duties;

Meeting 'white badgers' and trying to make them feel less nervous;

Awarding Katie the prize for most fluorescent outfit so far;

Cheering when Fliss was presented with the Quaich;

Seeing Zana looking well and happy;

Noticing that the custard is a paler shade of yellow this year; 

And being thrilled with my thank you present from Diana and the Committee.

Tonight's guest speaker was Christopher Lee (not the dead one!): prolific author, broadcaster, former Archers scriptwriter and adviser to the Foreign Office. His opening comments were that "writers look smug and self-satisfied; they are miserable sods who are not nice to other people." 

We were advised never to marry a writer and more to the point, never be a writer. He went on to say it was a lousy, lousy job and why would anyone do it. But he also admitted it was a great life and a fabulous thing to do. And you know what? I doubt if there was anyone in the room who would disagree with him. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

What Have We Learned?

Yesterday, like many people in this country and beyond, I attended a church service to commemorate the start of World War I. We remembered those who went to war, primarily the men, and we thought about those left behind, mostly the women, whether mothers, wives or sweethearts. We heard of the bravery of individuals, including those who had the courage of their convictions and refused to fight. And we talked a lot about peace: blessed are the peacemakers. 

But throughout the service, there was one thought running through my head, screaming to get out: we have learned nothing from that terrible conflict, from what went before, or from anything that followed. As we see pictures of plane debris and bodies scattered across an unprotected field in Ukraine; as we read of thousands fleeing civil war in South Sudan; and most of all, as we hear the screams of terrified children caught up in bombing raids in Gaza, I can't help feeling history has taught mankind nothing at all - and we should be ashamed.

In four years time, we will presumably look backwards once more, this time, celebrating the end of the 'war to end all wars'. It would be so much better if we had a peaceful future to celebrate as well. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Our African Adventure Part I

[In 1991, I visited Africa for the first time; taking a business trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Zimbabwe was a relaxed friendly country where everyone made me feel welcome and I loved every minute of my stay. South Africa was still in the throes of Apartheid and I felt uncomfortable throughout the whole visit. How things have changed in both countries since then. Later that year, I returned to Zimbabwe with my husband for our first major overseas holiday. Today I found the journal I wrote during that trip and I thought I would share some of those notes over the next few travel pieces.] 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Monday, 14 July 2014

Elizabeth Chats With...Bodicia

[A while back, I wrote a guest post about my ideal writing day and how it differs from reality. Today, I've invited the host of that blog to come and chat with me. So a big Elizabeth's Page welcome to Bodicia from A Woman's Wisdom]

Monday, 7 July 2014

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

[It's the first Monday of the month, which is book review day. I'm in the throes of Chudfest this week, with barely a minute at the keyboard, so here's one from the archives.]

Monday, 30 June 2014

Day 8: The End of the Road

Our plan to spend our final morning on another (more accessible) beach is scuppered by the heavy sea mist that rolls in overnight. So we spend the time chilling out (a necessary part of a holiday that is often missed in the rush to fit as much sight-seeing as possible into the available time).

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Day 7: Now We Are Six!

Today we see a new side of Geoffrey. To the clergyman and the steam buff, we must now add mountain goat. As Margaret is again working, we decide to take a 'gentle stroll' on the hill behind the house. We listen to advice, don sensible shoes and head upwards, taking increasingly frequent stops 'to admire the view' as the slope steepens. But it is worth it for the vista from the top - the nearby Loch in one direction and the sea and Inner Hebrides in the other are jewel-like in the sunshine.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Day 6: Of Monuments and Steam

We start the day at Morar Station awaiting the Jacobite steam train on its journey from Fort William to Mallaig. David Bailey Pearson (DBP) positions herself atop a five-bar gate overlooking the line. I choose a much less adventurous position on the platform.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Day 5: Father's Day

It is as though the mist has never existed! We finally believe we are surrounded by mountains, both on the mainland and on the islands and after church we lounge on the balcony, where the sounds of the sheep are drowned out by the birds and the only decision we have to take is whether to face the sea or the mountains.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Day 4: Blue Skye and Mountains

The mountains are still hidden and the islands are mostly being bashful, but Skye is visible as we jump in the car and head for the ferry. Sheila and I find the short journey across the Sound invigorating, bracing even (although Margaret tells us it's just a gentle breeze). When we retire from our prime viewing point in the bow to a more sheltered position, we are swiftly replaced by a family of four - who stick it out for just a few minutes before disappearing inside - such lightweights!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Day 3: They're Out There Somewhere!

Margaret and Geoffrey assure us the view from their lounge window includes Skye Eigg and Rum. We believe them because our sister, like us, has been brought up to be truthful - and our brother-in-law is a clergyman - but it's hard to credit when all that can be seen is mist rolling in.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Day 2: The Road to the Isles

At 5.15am blue skies and sunshine augur well for our road trip. Our plan to leave "really early" has evolved into "be on the road by eight" and then to "maybe seven would be better to avoid rush hour. In the event, we eat a full English, courtesy of Sheila's husband Simeon; hit the Co-op for cash-back (15p no longer the sole contents of my purse) and make it to the M42 by 7.50am. Belting up the M1 a short while later, we do the sums and estimate we will be there in around eight hours.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Travels With My Niece's Aunt

Recently, my sister Margaret moved to Mallaig, on the north-west coast of Scotland. Earlier this month my other sister, Sheila, and I drove up to visit her. This would be the longest period the three of us had spent all together since we were children.

Being without a laptop and an internet connection is an unusual experience for me these days. I surprised myself by reverting to a notebook and pen, finding words flowing much more easily without the option of continual editing and retyping. Over the next week, I'll publish the results (after just a little bit of editing).

Day 1

Monday, 9 June 2014

Elizabeth Chats With...Jane Wenham-Jones

[This month's guest is a funny lady who is also a talented writer. She was a guest speaker at my first Swanwick Summer School back in 2006; three things stuck in my mind about that evening: multi-coloured hair; the glass of red wine she sipped throughout her talk; and the fact that we all left the hall with tears of laughter running down our cheeks. I am delighted to be chatting with Jane Wenham-Jones.]

Hello Jane and welcome. Let's start by going back a few years: what was your favourite subject at school  and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?

Monday, 2 June 2014

Crossing Qalandiya by Daniela Norris and Shireen Anabtawi

Crossing Qalandiya, book cover
The early bonds of friendship were forged between Daniela Norris and Shireen Anabtawi before they had time to realise they were, or should be, ‘enemies’. Daniela is Israeli while Shireen is Palestinian. While they could meet in a neutral setting like a party in Geneva, where they were both working at the time, it would not be possible for them to spend time together when they returned to their respective homelands.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Reflections on Ukraine

Travelling to Ukraine was one of my most enjoyable and fascinating experiences in recent years. I first went there in 1999 and, for the next decade, returned several times a year. I saw many changes in the country  some for the better and some for the worse. Ukraine was a young country, developing and growing, just a few years after gaining independence from Russia. Like all teenagers, it was having a few problems  fighting against authority, wanting to be taken seriously by the adults and throwing the occasional temper tantrum. But through it all, it seemed to be moving towards maturity.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Politicians: What's The Point?

Some people blame the global economy; others blame the government; some suggest our regional and local politicians are to blame. Whatever your view, it is a fact that some of the services to our communities, vital in particular to the most vulnerable members of society, are under threat.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Elizabeth chats with...C. Hope Clark

This month's guest is an American author and writers' friend. Her weekly and fortnightly newsletters provide thousands of us with writing tips, leads to competitions and grants and a no-nonsense approach to writing for a living. She also writes great thrillers. I'm delighted to be chatting with C Hope Clark.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Monday, 28 April 2014

Tips for Business Travellers

In a former life, I spent more than twenty years working internationally. I spent more time in airports, railway stations and hotels than I did in the office. If you are one of those people for whom travel is part of the working day, here are a few tricks I learned along the way to make the experience a more positive one.

Monday, 21 April 2014

You MUST Read This? I Don't Think So

I came across an astonishing outburst on Facebook the other day. OK, so this is Facebook, where astonishing outbursts are two a penny, but this one took my breath away.

In scrolling down my wall, I noticed a post in capitals. [Now, I used to write all my email subject lines in capitals, which I thought gave them emphasis, until a business colleague pointed out I was considered to be shouting, so I stopped.] This post was one of three from an author [whom I’m not going to name] informing her followers that unless they not only read her blog posts, but commented on them, she was going to unfriend them. She’d had it with ‘hangers-on’ and they could ‘take a hike’!

As a writer myself, I know where she’s coming from and can understand her frustration. I’ve written blog posts that have included questions at the end; I’ve sat waiting for responses to flood in (although even a trickle would be nice); I’ve wondered if the deafening silence means people hate what I’ve written, or just aren’t interested enough to respond, or haven’t actually found me in the crowded blogosphere.

But as a business woman I was horrified. Writers rely on readers and potential readers not only for primary sales, but unbiased book reviews, recommendations and repeat sales. John Wanamaker, one of the early proponents of marketing is believed to have been the originator of the phrase: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." The same can be said of any marketing or promotional activities. We just don’t know how effective anything we do really is. But I think it’s a safe bet that telling people to go away if they’re not reacting the way we want them to is NOT a good promotional tactic.
I was also shocked by the rudeness of the messages. I do not know this author personally and do not solicit links with unknown people; therefore the only way I could have ended up on her list is through responding to a request from her. So, she invited me into her world in the first place. Now she was threatening to expel me because I didn’t behave exactly as she required. Result? I posted a polite message pointing out why I thought her approach was wrong — and left.
Writers write for many reasons: for ourselves, for family, for other people, for fame, for fortune [good luck with that one!] but often, just because we have to; the words won’t stay in our heads any longer.
No-one has the right to demand anything of readers. So while I hope lots of people read this post and it would be nice if some of you leave a comment afterwards, I promise I won't shout at you if you don't!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Elizabeth Chats With...Tank Sherman

[My guest this month is one of the people I've really enjoyed meeting since moving to the South West. He's a funny man, both on and off stage. Even when he seems deadly serious, you just know there's a punch line coming and his joke phone-calls catch me out every time. But he's also extremely generous with his time and his talent, and a great supporter of the annual Variety Concert and other entertainment we run in our little town of Chudleigh. I am delighted to welcome Devon comedian Tank Sherman to Elizabeth's Page.

Hello Tank; good to see you. Let's start with a memory test. What is your earliest memory — and how old were you at the time?

I was  about 3 years old. My mother would take me to St Thomas Pleasure Park in St. Thomas, Exeter, where we lived, and my earliest memories were of a beautiful warm summers evening being pushed across the grass by my beautiful mum.
And I bet you were making them laugh event then! Moving on a few years, what was your favourite subject at school — and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?

I loved history, something that has stayed with me to this day (big Time Team fan!!) But I always wanted to avoid Cross Country. Never saw the point of running 3 miles through fields, mud and stream to return back to the start line!! My own fault though, healthy eating didn't exist for me back then.

If you had to escape from a fire, what three things would you take with you?

I would hope that my pets would run out anyway, but I would have to take my wife Julia, my son Chris and my daughter Amy.

Well, I can see the dogs running out on their own, but I suspect your other pet might need a helping hand?

Tell me, Tank, how do you relax?

It used to be Sea Angling out in a boat, but due to work commitments, it is now watching the television, feet up on a pouffe, eyes wide shut!!

If you could change one thing about yourself or your life so far, what would it be?       

To have looked after my fitness (diet and exercise) a lot sooner than I did.

If you were a car, what type would you be — and why?

I would be a Ford Prefect E493A. The reason's quite simple. It had a large chassis (ditto) an engine that plodded on (bit like me) and needed constant servicing (no comment) and love and attention!!!

Ford Prefect E493A (Photo: Jason Vogel)
Watch a film, go to the theatre, read a book or talk to friends — which would you prefer?

Watch a film.

If you could take part in one television programme, which one would it be?
The Royal Variety Show (well, we can all dream xx)

Would you describe yourself as left-brain (analytical), right-brain (intuitive) or a mix of both?

Definitely a mix of both.
Tank, I've set the earlier questions. Now it's your turn. As they say in job interviews, what question should I have asked and how would you answer it? 

My question would be 'What do you love about your chosen career?' I love to go out on stage and make a difference to people's lives. Laughter is the best medicine and to know that for an hour that I  have made someone forget the rubbish that is going on in their lives and to have lifted their spirits - it's a priceless feeling.

And having sat with tears rolling down my cheeks at more than one of your performances, I can testify that it's certainly a great tonic. Tank, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to come and talk to me. 

If you want to find out more about Tank, his website can be found here.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup

Sapna Sinha has already seen more than her fair share of tragedy and hardship. The eldest daughter in a family of three, she has lost one sister and her father. She is the breadwinner and mainstay of the rest of her family: an ailing mother and a self-obsessed younger sister. When she is approached by one of the country’s richest men and offered an unbelievable opportunity, she is naturally sceptical. But circumstances conspire to draw her, against her will, into his scheme. She is told if she can pass seven tests from ‘the textbook of life’, she will become CEO of his company.
What follows is a thrilling, fast-paced chronicle of six months in Sapna’s life. She is challenged, overcomes obstacles, makes friends and discovers enemies. The ending is ingenious and although I picked up some of the clues along the way and guessed some of the minor points correctly, I was completely surprised by the final twist.  

Like most people, I have heard of Slumdog Millionaire and enjoyed the film. However, I had never read Q & A on which it is based. The Accidental Apprentice is Vikas Swarup’s third book and I suspect it is also heading for a film adaptation. Writing in the first person as a member of the opposite sex is not easy, but Swarup presents Sapna’s voice beautifully. We travel with her on her journey of discovery and self-development. We meet some great characters along the way. My favourite was the kleptomaniac Gandhian, Nirmala Ben. The vision of modern-day India is as believable as it is shocking.
This is one of those ‘can’t put it down’ books. I read it late into the night and then woke early in the morning to read the closing chapters. Highly recommended. 
[5* review]
[ If you enjoy the monthly reviews posted here, check-out all my books reviews on Elizabeth's Book Reviews.]

Monday, 31 March 2014

The Business of Writing is No Joke

I've been running my own small business, together with my husband, for twenty-two years and it's been a complete joy (well most of the time anyway). To start with, there were only two of us. He was an education consultant; I had a 'proper job' but looked after the books and administration in my spare time. It took about two hours a month. 

Then we got a bit braver and took on an employee, then another one. Before we knew it, there were eleven of us plus a group of sub-contractors and we had to start thinking about holiday entitlement, health and safety policy and other administrative systems. I left the 'proper job' to join the team full-time. I spent about a third of each month running the company and the rest on my own projects.

The team shrunk back to four and then there were just the two of us. We used sub-contractors from then on to fill the gaps. We moved offices four times, bought (and later sold) what seemed like vast quantities of stationery, office equipment and filing cabinets; at one point, we had nine of those, all full of paper.

The focus of the work shifted several times; the education consultancy waned as my pharmaceutical projects grew.  At one point, we had two suites of computers and provided software training on behalf of Business Link in Kent. My husband moved from education administration into tutoring. I gave up the technical work and began writing full-time. Today we think of ourselves as writers, publishers and tutors.

Soon after we set up the company, we wrote our objectives on a flip-chart. There were income targets, profit targets, client targets - and right at the bottom: "To still be having fun in twenty years' time." And you know what? We are! And for me, part of fun has always been looking after the systems, making the numbers add up,  keeping the papers in order. Over the years, I've learned a lot; made some mistakes; put them right; and identified the simplest way to run our small business. These days it takes me one day a month.

But I know that's not a typical reaction to business systems. And I also know many writers hate the idea of losing creative time working on a spreadsheet or filling in forms. For the past few years, I've been presenting sessions on The Business of Writing at the Swanwick Writers' Summer School. I've also blogged about it.

So, the purpose of this post is three-fold: to remind writers they are not alone in wanting to make their business as simple and time-efficient as possible; to reveal my shiny new cover; and to say that if you see an advert on 1st April for the first in a new series of ebooks on The Business of Writing, it's not a joke.  It really does exist - and there will be more later in the year!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Sun, Sea and Suits

[For twenty-plus years I travelled the world, helping companies make pharmaceuticals safely. Most of my trips were to Russia and the former Soviet Union countries. Occasionally, I got invited somewhere completely different.]

In the daylight, after a night when I didn’t get eaten alive by mosquitoes, as I’d expected to, things start to look a little better.  However, I still can’t get over the feeling: ‘wrong time, wrong place’.

We reached Mahe yesterday.  If I was on holiday, I’d be ecstatic.  This tropical island has exotic plants and birds, constantly high temperatures, wonderful fish both in the sea and on the barbecue  and a relaxed atmosphere.  Unfortunately, I’m on a business trip, complete with smart suit and laptop.  This is certainly not a typical business destination and frankly, I’m feeling outside my comfort zone.

There are no business hotels here.  My bungalow is a gentle stroll up the hill from the ocean.  At dead of night, when the birds and insects are quiet, I can hear waves breaking on the shore. 

My room is clean and functional.  I’d found it occupied by a small gecko that disappeared into the roof as soon as I arrived last night.  Rather worrying, that.  I’m much happier when I know where my room-mates are.  Pillows, towels and shelves are decorated with waxy orchid petals.  There is no wardrobe, just a small alcove for my clothes.  The bathroom is tiny, and I am sharing it with more wild-life including a giant beetle.  It’s a friendly co-existence so far, although as the newcomer, I’m treating the original occupants with respect. 

At six fifteen in the morning, I sit on the veranda, surrounded by trees and plants whose names I can only guess at.  I recognise the coconut palm, plus several plants I am used to seeing in pots at home, but that’s about it.  Birds fly around my head without fear.  The sun is rising and a gentle breeze blows which will keep the worst of the heat at bay.  Maybe things are not so bad after all.

For breakfast, we enjoy fresh paw-paw, coconut, banana and avocado.  Fascinating to think most of these were picked this morning from the surrounding trees. The other (human) residents of the property wear bikinis and trunks to the table. They smile at my formal attire and I feel their sympathy wash over me as I pick up my briefcase and head for the car.

Working in Seychelles is an interesting experience, with little or no formality.  Our host, a government minister, meets us in open-necked shirt and no jacket.  At lunchtime, we head for the Pirates Arms, described as the place to eat.  My colleagues look over-dressed in their suits and ties. 

After work, I take a long swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, surrounded by small silver fish seemingly fearless.  I walk the length of the beach with my companions, watching the sun go down before heading off for another wonderful fish supper.  My phone call from home, listing the day’s messages, is an intrusion.  I realise how quickly this idyll has won me over.

The next morning it is raining hard and the islanders are delighted. They are desperately short of water, although this seems hard to believe when one looks at the lush undergrowth.  These rainstorms are short-lived; no doubt we are in for another hot and sunny day.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Writerly Thoughts: A Round-Up

Usually I have no difficulty finding something to blog about, especially now that two weeks each month are taken up with interviews and book reviews. But this week, my head's full of so many writerly thoughts, I haven't been able to sit down and compose a full article. So instead, here's a round-up of a few writerly things going on in this part of the country at the moment.

Romantic Novel of the Year Awards

Good luck to all the authors shortlisted for the RNA awards, which are being announced this evening in London. Special wishes to Margaret James, member of Exeter Writers, who is shortlisted for the Romantic Comedy Novel, for The Wedding Diary.

Exeter Novel Prize

The team at Creative Writing Matters are busily baking cakes (at least that's what they've promised us) and buying champagne ready for this Saturday's announcement of the inaugural Exeter Novel Prize. The winner will receive £500, sponsored by Exeter Writers. Good luck to all the shortlisted novelists, especially Exeter's own Su Bristow. The ceremony will take place in St Stephen's Church in Exeter, starting at 2pm.

Coastal Zoo Launch

At the same time as the ENP is being announced, Exeter Writers will be launching their latest anthology Coastal Zoo. Featuring pieces from many of the members of EW, it also contains the winning entries from the short story competitions run over the past five years. Get your copy from St Stephen's on Saturday afternoon or direct from Exeter Writers

Chudleigh Literary Festival

Planning is in full swing for this year's Chudleigh Literary Festival. Several years ago, I stood on the lawn at Dartington, celebrating the 20th Ways with Words. At the time, I noted on my blog it would be good to do something similar in our own home town, Chudleigh and in 2011, we ran a low-key, one-day event, which was a great success. And now, the Chudleigh Literary Festival is 4 years old! This year we have a one-day history writing workshop; a second day of short workshops for writers; a 'meet the authors' supper; a guest speaker for all lovers of words, both readers and writers (in previous years, we've had Ann Widdecombe, Simon Hall and Nicholas Parsons; this year it will be writer and comedian Tony Hawks); and poetry workshops and a poetry competition for the children in the primary school.  We're nowhere near as big as Ways with Words, but we're growing! 

Monday, 10 March 2014

Elizabeth Chats With... Author David Hough

[My guest this month is author and fellow Swanwicker David Hough.]


Thanks for dropping in, David. Let's start at the beginning; what is your earliest memory — and how old were you at the time?

It was the late nineteen forties and I would have been about four years old. The war was ended but housing was difficult. We lived in a Nissen hut on a disused RAF airfield just outside Bath. I had a toy truck which I took apart and asked my father to rebuild as a working engine. No way, was the essence of his reply, but I didn’t understand. I wasn’t in the least technically minded then and I haven’t been ever since.

What was your favourite subject at school — and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?

My favourite subject was English. We had no television at home and in my spare time I immersed myself in books. Was it any wonder, then, that I loved anything to do with literature when I was at school? My parents thought I wasn’t up to a grammar school education so I went to a technical school in the City of Bath. It was fortuitous that the school (in those days) had an excellent academic record. And we had an excellent English teacher (a Welshman) who was able to capture my imagination in class.

The subject I hated most was mathematics. My parents were wrong, I was an academic at heart and anything beyond the written word bored me. Ironically, I had to work so hard at trying to understand mathematics that I won the school prize for maths after getting outstanding GCE results. Which probably proves nothing at all, except that pure slogging hard work can achieve results.

That's interesting, David. I suspect most people would have avoided the subject and thereby done badly, not well.  Next question: if you had to escape from a fire, what three things would you take with you?

Firstly, my laptop because it has all my writing stored in its memory. It also has the most important family photos and videos stored in its memory. Such things, once lost, cannot be replaced for future generations. Secondly, my wallet because it has all the necessary cards and ID that I need to survive in the modern world. Thirdly, the nearest of a number of books I have inherited from previous generations.

David, I have three things to say to that answer: back up; back up; back up! (Having said that, that's something I tend to let slip on occasion; must back up my files when I've finished this post. So, David, how do you relax?

With a book. If I don’t have a book in my hands I have to be doing something.

If you knew you only had 24 hours left, how would you spend them?

I would choose to spend the time with my family. It doesn’t matter where, as long as I could be with them one last time. Of all the things I have in this life, nothing is more important than the family that will carry my genes into future generations. They are all individuals in their own way, all special in their own way, and all important to me.

If you could change one law, what would it be?

I would make all social drug-taking in any public place  or any other place where children are present  illegal. And that includes the use of the drug, nicotine. Apart from protecting children, probably the most important reason, I also see it as a way of setting them an example.

If you were a car, what type would you be — and why?

Photo: Norbert Schnitzler
I would be a rather aged and run-down Ford Sierra. A good family run-around in its day, but now past its sell-by date and needing a lot of attention to keep it vaguely roadworthy. In its heyday it carried my children to and from school and outdoor activities, carried them to and from teenage assignations, took us all on holiday. Now, the paintwork is dull, the springs are worn and the upholstery shows signs of wear and tear. But it still plods along in its own sweet way.

If you could meet one person from history, who would it be — and why?

I would want to meet Charles Darwin in order to ask him how he coped with the ridicule he was subjected to after the publication of his Origin of Species. He was a pioneer in his field, but was treated by many as a charlatan. How did it affect him, how did he come to terms with the criticism he received? Did he ever regret putting his theory in the public domain?

Upload a picture or a photo that best represents you, and tell us why (and it doesn’t have to be a portrait, although it can be).

This is my family; my wife, my offspring, their partners and our one gorgeous grandson (second one due soon). Without these people I wouldn’t be the person I am. Without me, they wouldn’t exist. So I choose this as a representation of me, and what I am. My happiest times are when I can be with my family.

What would you have printed on the front of your T-shirt?

Get on with it. Life is not a rehearsal.

Of the books you have written, which is your favourite?

King’s Priory. It’s my favourite because it encapsulates my personal philosophy that we each have a purpose in this life. That purpose varies from person to person and most people never do get to work out what it is. The ones who do stumble upon their life’s purpose are the lucky ones. They have the chance to achieve something special while in their earthly existence.

Thank you David for sharing your thoughts and memories with us. Readers: you can read more about King's Priory and David's other books here.