We can’t help but judge a book by its cover

The old saying says we shouldn’t but we do it all the time. Judge a book by its cover, that is. Publishers and marketing departments rely on it. That first impression that piques your interest or puts you off completely. The distinctive hallmarks of different genres. A certain style that brackets a debut novel with the latest bestseller. I’m talking fiction (and creative non-fiction) here although no doubt there are similar criteria that dictate the covers of non-fiction and academic books even if the specifics are different.

Picture the scene. You’re browsing in a bookshop, pennies burning a hole in your pocket, on the look out for something murderous or challenging, or perhaps you’re in the mood for a few laughs, or maybe you want a fast and furious thrill, or to chill with a light, easy read, and there’s a table of new fiction laid out before you. What do you do? Continue reading “We can’t help but judge a book by its cover”

Talking Crowdfunding Howlers at the Brontë Festival of Women’s Writing

 

Photo of the signatures of the Brontë women using their pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell

I’m very excited to be taking part in the opening event of this year’s Brontë Festival of Women’s Writing on Friday 22nd September at 7 pm. Yes, that’s tomorrow. Between house moves and dodgy phone lines, I haven’t had a chance to mention it here before now. If you are in the area, please come along. There will be a panel of us discussing self-promotion and marketing for writers. Useful for writers of all types, whether you have a traditional publishing contract or are going along the non-trad route. Writer and academic Laurie Garrison will be sharing her digital marketing expertise, novelist Sarah Dunnakey will be talking about her experience in a traditional setting and, instead of passing myself off as a crowdfunding expert, I’ll be confessing to my worst mistakes that I made during my campaign to fund The Backstreets of Purgatory.

The venue is Cobbles and Clay Café in the main street in Haworth. Other events in and around the Parsonage over the weekend include YA author Liz Flanagan running a writing workshop for girls, Adapting the Brontës with novelist Rachel Joyce and playwright Deborah McAndrew who will also be running a Writing for Stage event. The headline event on Saturday evening is Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent which was Waterstones Book of the Year 2016.

I can’t wait to meet the other participants and attendees. And you, if you can make it. Directions below.

 

 

Chris McQueer answers my Sprout questionnaire

Surviving on the run with his granda, turning invisible, signing up for NASA and reinventing the diary, meet Chris ‘say aye to everything’ McQueer, a man with some very valuable secrets.

Sprout questionnaire? Yes, for once this isn’t bad spelling on my part. My Proust questionnaire has been put through the mincer and this is the result. A Sprout Questionnaire. Nothing at all to do with leafy green vegetables or European capitals, but hey, that’s probably a good thing.

[Actually I got the idea for the title from a game I’m playing by myself (I repeat, by myself) on Twitter #authoranagrams. The clue is in the hashtag. You can join me if you like @TaylorHelen_M.]

The first willing (I think he was willing) victim of the revamped questionnaire is Chris McQueer.

Chris is a 25 year old writer and sales assistant from the east end of Glasgow whose debut collection of short stories ‘Hings’ has been published by 404Ink and is out now. His work has also appeared in Gutter magazine, The Skinny and The National and he has performed at Glasgow’s Aye Write book festival, Belladrum Festival and on BBC Radio Scotland. His stories are riotously, brilliantly funny and more than a touch surreal, and show Glasgow in all its irreverent glory but, (and maybe I should whisper this bit) beneath the spurt-your-drink-out-your-nose laughs and the don’t-let-your-granny-read-it swearing, they address serious issues like class division. Everyone should buy a copy if you haven’t already.

I’m really chuffed that he agreed to take part in this piece of ridiculousness.

Over to Chris…

1. You are a superhero. Who are you and what can you do? Continue reading “Chris McQueer answers my Sprout questionnaire”

Simone Veil

Squint a little and perhaps you can see a young Simone Jacob there with her fellow students.

Simone Veil, grande dame of French and European politics, Holocaust survivor and champion of women’s rights, died 30 June 2017. At her funeral at Les Invalides on July 5th, President Macron announced she would be interred in the Panthéon, one of only five women thus far to be granted this rare distinction.

Simone Veil, French politician, women's rights activist and Holocaust survivor

Veil was originally from Nice which is not far from where I live. When she died, I realised I knew only the headline facts about her, despite the fact she is probably the most celebrated and revered women from this city. To correct this lack on my part, I read as much as I could find about her. And what I discovered was both inspiring and terrible, and fed several of my obsessions as a writer.  Continue reading “Simone Veil”

Are you a plotter or pantster?

A fascinating insight into other writers’ working practices

Do you plot your novel to the last detail or do you fly by the seat of your pants? Do you know where you are going when you put pen to paper or are you winging it for the entire journey? In other words, are you a plotter or pantster?

Pantster is a great word, isn’t it (even if my spell check objects to it)? But, like all my best ideas, it is stolen. The question was raised by Tabatha Stirling, author of Blood on the Banana Leaf, during a discussion at our recent Unbound event at Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh. I’ve already written a little about the way I planned The Backstreets of Purgatory: a detailed plan for the first draft before the characters took it upon themselves to thwart Continue reading “Are you a plotter or pantster?”

Finding my inner feminist

When my debut novel, The Backstreets of Purgatory, was taken by Unbound I was forced to face a dilemma that had been bothering me for a while. Should I use my own name or should I use a pseudonym? I’ve written a piece about the very subject for the outstanding  The F Word, a webzine of contemporary UK feminism, which has just been published.

It was a great experience working with their fiction editor, Harriet Kilikita. It is the first time I’ve worked like this with an editor (if you don’t take into account my reports on the netball league for the local newspaper in Oxford; my masterpieces of sports journalism tended to be slashed to one or two lines—it was crippling). This was an altogether more positive affair.

Thanks to all those involved. It is great (if pretty scary) to get exposure on a site with as many engaged readers as The F Word. Especially when my feminist credentials were in desperate need of a good dusting down.

 

Featured image by Syd Wachs, Unsplash. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence.

Writer’s Block: How to generate your own writing prompts and never be short of ideas again.

I want to share a method that always works for me. It comes with a health warning because it is addictive.

Writers, we all know that awful feeling. The blank page or screen waiting expectantly for our brilliant words to fill it. And us, ready, desperate to flex our writing muscle or whatever the current expression is.

And…

nothing.

How can we get past that terrible block and just start writing? The thing is—I don’t know if it is the same for you—but the more I write, the quicker the ideas flow, but it is that getting started part that’s tricky. Of course, you’ll find loads of advice all over the internet on how to get those precious words down on paper. We’re talking free writing, dream diaries, character studies, writing prompts and the like. But honestly, if all that was needed from a writing prompt was any old word, we could—would—simply pick our own at random from the dictionary. True, these are all great ways of practising your technique (and like any craft, writing demands regular practice), but they don’t always give you a real connection to a piece of work. And that is because there is something fundamental missing. Continue reading “Writer’s Block: How to generate your own writing prompts and never be short of ideas again.”

Sugar and Tobacco

Individually we may not be able to atone for the past, but we must acknowledge it.

Fiction is often the gateway into fact for me. The books that stay with me longest are frequently those that have changed the way that I look at the world, taught me something fundamental or submerged me in an unfamiliar culture. Books like Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which centres on the Nigerian-Biafran war of 1967-1970, a war about which I was shamefully almost entirely ignorant until I read the book, or Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits which, even though the Latin American country in which it is set is unnamed, was my point of discovery of the history and politics of Chile and led me towards the more factual (but beautifully written) books about South American history and politics by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy—one of my favourite books of all time—not only evoked the most profound memories of the short time that I worked in West Bengal Continue reading “Sugar and Tobacco”