Friday, 30 November 2012

Black Beauty, past and present

I can’t actually remember the first time I read Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty.  I think it was over several sessions when I was staying with an aunt in Kent on a family holiday.  It was on the bookshelf along with other classics like Treasure Island and Little Women.   I was about eight years old, and got very upset about any kind of cruelty to animals.  I loved the illustrations in the book (and wish I could remember what edition it was).  I cried when I read about Ginger’s fate and got so angry I felt like tearing the pages out.  I wanted to attack the people who hurt Ginger.  I also felt like Ginger was being punished for being rebellious, whereas to some extent Black Beauty’s compliance and kind nature helped him to survive.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell is a hugely influential and universally loved story.  The above extract is from a guest blog post I wrote recently, which can be found on Books, Mud and Compost

The story inspired me to create a novella that I began for Nanowrimo.  I've only managed 675 words so far but hope this will be be my Christmas holiday writing project...

Guest Post: Eleanor McFarlane and Chester

Hearing from your readers is the best feeling, especially if they enjoy your stories, so today I'm so pleased to introduce guest blogger and pony enthusiast,  Eleanor McFarlane. 

"I have read all of Jane Ayres' books, and thoroughly enjoyed each one. I don't have a favourite, but I really enjoyed Dark Horses and Matty and the Problem Ponies. I would give all of Jane's books 10 out of 10. Zephyr of Wild Horse Island was also amazing.  This is my pony Chester. He is 11 years old and 12h 2. Chester is a perfect pony, like Snowstorm in the Matty books."

Thank you so much Eleanor - Chester is absolutely gorgeous and this is a wonderful photo!

Related posts:

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cafes, hotels, coffee and writers

Yesterday I spent a stimulating day in London with a wonderful friend talking about books, plots, stories and the future for authors.  More of this in a later post.  

A visit to the London Review Bookshop and cafe
made me think how amazing bookshops are, and how they could never disappear.  Just being surrounded by so many books was actually quite awe-inspiring and reminded me of the reason I became a writer in the first place – because I was inspired by books.

I was looking forward to the lovely cakes but had to decline, since every single cake that day contained nuts.  Walnuts, almonds, pistachios…Even the quiche had pinenuts.  So not a place for allergy sufferers.

However, our first stop for coffee had been the splendid Renaissance Hotel near St Pancras.

St. Pancras Hotel Staircase

Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, this building is a stunning piece of Victorian architecture. The atmosphere, attention to detail and interior design tricks you into thinking you have stepped into the past, with jazz music from the 1930s playing in the background.  A great place to write, both in the smaller room by the entrance and the bustle of the upstairs bar and lounge by the station. 

Cafes, hotels, coffee and writers seem to go together.  Perfectly.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Carnival of the Indies and Backtracking

Delighted that my post called Backtracking: Lessons in Indie Publishing Part 2 – Cover Designs

has been selected for the November Carnival of the Indies on The Book Designer.  Yippee!  The link is below.....

Monday, 26 November 2012

Last chance to get Matty 3 for FREE

Last chance to get Matty and the Racehorse Rescue FREE if you download from Amazon by tomorrow night  (27 November).

The link is here for the UK

and here for the US and India

Finding my Nano Creature

Today you'll find me over at the lovely Anushka's site Finding my Creature.......

Go to the link for the post:

Friday, 23 November 2012

Patchwork quilts and writing novels

Today you'll find me over on Creatabot writing about editing, rewriting and the art of making patchwork quilts....

Writing is hard.  Creating something from nothing, from the recesses of your imagination, can sometimes feel a bit like pulling teeth.  Your own.  But when you’ve overcome that painful first stage of the process and you have pages of words in some kind of structure, you can sit back and reflect.  Then start editing.
I love editing.  It’s fun.  It’s all about refining and sculpting the words until you have the perfect combination.
To read the full article click the link here:

Beautiful patchwork quilt cushion cover made by my amazing Aunty, Mrs Brenda White

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Writing environments and distractions

The environment in which you work as a writer can have a very direct impact on how you work.  When you write, you need to focus.  Writing at home, where you feel safe and comfortable, should be ideal in many respects.  But at home there are usually external distractions, such as the phone ringing, and those we allow ourselves to be side-tracked by, such as checking emails and web surfing, if we have internet access. Or simply busying ourselves with housework and little jobs that need doing. 

Recently, I experienced working on my netbook in Caffe Nero for almost 3 hours, along with other writers, as part for a Nanowrimo Write-in.  This was surprisingly productive for me and something I plan to try again. My netbook doesn’t connect to the internet (a major distraction) and there are no phones ringing.  (Mobile is tucked into my bag).  The coffee grinder can be very loud but that just becomes background noise and helps you feel part of the world around you.

Today I sat in the car with my lappie running off the battery while my partner was at the osteopaths.  I had an hour to work and it was a great environment, apart from sun glare on the laptop screen.  I was really focussed, but still felt connected to the outside world. 

Which kind of environment do you find the most productive? 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Matty and the Racehorse Rescue FREE to download from Amazon 23rd-27th November

A missing racehorse. A daring moonlight rescue.

Matty’s in trouble again. Big trouble. 

Just a heads-up that Matty and the Racehorse Rescue will be FREE to download from 23-27 November.   Enjoy!

The link is here for the UK

and here for the US and India

All 3 Matty books are also available via Amazon as follows, where the free promotion also applies:  (Germany) (Spain) (France) (Japan) (Italy)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Time, measures and words: a rant

"It's all about the time we have (left) and how we choose to use it."  

I heard this in a TV drama and it got me thinking.

Time is a currency more precious than money.  Everything is about time.  From the moment we are born we are all on borrowed time.  We are each a ticking time bomb.

I often wonder why time is divided the way it is.  Who decided we measure time by years and that a year is 12 months and a month is 4.5 weeks, and a week 7 days and a day 24 hours.  Why?

And while I'm thinking about numbers and measures, why is a "blockbuster" novel supposed to be at least 100,000 words and a standard novel 60,000 words?  Who decreed this?  Why do competitions state that a short story should be 1000 words, or 2000 or 4000 or 9000?

This obsession we have with numbers and quantification (is there such a word?) is not helpful.  Can't a story or a novel be as long as it needs to be?

Rant over, although it is a topic I will likely return to....

Quote for writers

I came across a lovely quote today, very apt for writers.

"My life has a great cast but I can't figure out the plot."

Friday, 16 November 2012

Horses, breathing and nanowrimo

A short post today.  More of a reflection really.  I'm shortly off to my first write in for Nanowrimo and so far my word count is zilch.  I'm supposed to have written 50,000 words by the end of November.  Right.   Still, I have the title of the story, finally.  

Anyway, all this frantic activity reminds me I should take time to stop and breathe and I recall a riding instructor who once told me that MY breathing affected the horse I was riding and that when I slowed my breathing and heart rate my horse would sense it and slow down.  It sounded unlikely to me but I thought I should at least try.  Could the horse hear my heartbeat or just sense it?  Or feel the vibrations? 

I was astonished when it worked. It's one of those special memories (and a special horse, I suspect).  Soames, a wise chestnut gelding who taught me tons.  He pops up in various guises throughout my later books.  

The power of breathing.   Slowly. Consciously. 


Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Social media buzz.
Likes, followers, fans, re-pins, tweets etc.

There for all to see. Evidence of success and popularity.  If your numbers are low,  you are not just a failure, but a public failure.

The emotions this taps into take me back to being at school.  Specifically in the PE lessons, when a popular student is asked to select a team for netball/hockey/whatever and you are one of the unchosen, the kids they don’t want because you are rubbish at PE/a loner/different in some way.  It’s a popularity thing.  Interesting psychology, from every angle.

Does good = popular and popular = good?  Are sales figures a valid measure?

People need to know you’re there, that your book exists in a vast ocean.  
Invisibility.  Discoverability.  The twin evils of indie publishing.  

Monday, 12 November 2012

Backtracking: Lessons in Indie Publishing Part 2 – Cover Designs

Before I launched my titles on kindle, I kept reading how crucial it was to have good professional cover designs for the book.  Amazon is my shop window and the first thing people see is the cover design.  If they like it, hopefully they click on the thumbnail to find out more about the book.  If they see it has some good reviews then they might scroll down to look at the book description.  Then, hopefully, they will click to look inside, or download the free sample.  The overall aim is to get the reader to buy – not easy when they have so much choice!  I studied best selling books, and also the popular titles in my category (horse and pony stories for teens) to see what other writers did.

I played about with some stock images myself before contacting the designer I now work with.  I’d recently had some A6 cards printed to promote my author talks and was introduced to stock photo image sites, where you pay to use an image you like.  What a revelation!  So I chose a few images I liked and then played with some typefaces.  I soon realised that I was not the right person to create the cover – and it was a lot harder than I imagined! 
The designer I chose to collaborate with was someone I had previously worked with, on other design and marketing projects, so I knew we could work together.  However, he had not designed either print or digital book covers before, so this was a first for both of us. We had a meeting where I spread out many of my existing backlist paperback books on the floor and outlined what I wanted my new covers to do, and what they should evoke.  I also stressed that I wanted the trilogy to work as a unit, and to have a recognisable “branding” which I believed could be achieved from the typography.  We looked at the stock images I had chosen, then Klaus went off and started work.

I have to say that when he emailed me the first pic, which I was first saw on my blackberry phone, I nearly cried with emotion.  I loved it! 

With the whole set of 3 titles, I especially like the way the font choice links them, and also the  silhouettes, which I had specified,  and the white constant of the orb moon and sun which also connects them.  My favourite is the 3rd title, Matty and the Racehorse Rescue. I think the dark blue background combined with the lightning by the jumping horse, and the subtle rain beating down,  really creates the perfect atmosphere for the story.

Despite my long history of being traditionally published, I had never, for any of my many titles, been consulted about the book covers, which is standard practice unless you are a big name author.    In some cases this resulted in a cover photograph which made it clear that no-one involved in the process had read the book or been given an accurate brief, since both the horse and the girl looked completely unlike the descriptions in the book, ie your character is blonde but there is a dark haired girl on the cover, with a chestnut horse when the heroine’s horse is grey.  Some covers I had liked, but many I didn’t, and since they are the first thing people see when thinking about buying a book, you feel helpless and frustrated if you feel the cover doesn’t do it justice. I have also worked in the Sales team of a major publishing house and the sales reps, when they visited the book stores, usually sold the titles on the basis of the proof copy of the cover design before the book even existed.

So for me the most satisfying aspect of the indie publishing experience has been the element of choice and control over every aspect of the book’s production.  

What about lessons learned from the process?  We had a few issues around the resolution of the images but the beauty of publishing to kindle is that you can go back and change things as many times as you like until you are happy with the result. I have realised that there are downfalls to using stock photos.  The one I chose for the first title, Matty and the Moonlight Horse, was a horse silhouetted by moonlight.  I loved it – and so do other authors!  Only 24 hours after I had launched the book, I came across another writer who had also used the design for a book with a similar title!  I felt my stomach lurch.  Bad luck or what?  When I had calmed down and compared the two, I could see that Klaus had sufficiently tailored his design (adding and subtracting elements) to differentiate the two, but the similarities were still apparent.  Next time, I won’t be using stock photos.  I have found an amazing artist and think I will make a bigger financial investment and have original illustrations in the designs.  This, luckily, wasn’t such an issue for the next 2 titles in the series.  I had seen a photo I liked for the cover concept for Matty and the Problem Ponies, but the girl in the photo was too old, with long hair, and the horse too big.  So Klaus worked to change that.  

He says, I think the hardest bit is finding suitable images to start with. The Problem Ponies was tricky. I think I’ve got about 40 layers in Photoshop where I've merged water and ripples and shadows and highlights and girl and hair and so on! For The Racehorse Rescue, in the end I had to find an actual image of someone and trace round freehand in Photoshop and fill with colour to make silhouette.

Because of my strong belief in the importance of the cover design, I have given the designer a credit both in the kindle edition of the book, as expected, but also on my book description on Amazon. And everywhere else I publicise the books. I have not noticed any other writers who have done this.
(In fact, with a series of mini short story collections for adults I currently have on kindle, the business model I am using to work with the designer is a 50/50 royalty split.)

Everything we have both learned from the process should inform us when we work on the next few titles and hopefully it will result in some even more stunning cover designs, especially if we incorporate original illustrations.  I love working with a professional designer and seeing the pictures you imagined  in your head finally made real is truly thrilling.  

Related posts:

Sunday, 11 November 2012

E-books and writing for children

There is a lot of helpful advice available on blogs and how to sites that is relevant to most genres of indie published fiction.  But when you look at the Amazon bestseller lists, most of the blockbusters are romances or crime thrillers.  Or a combination of both.  I write for a niche market; novels about horses and ponies for the 8-15ish age group.   

When I started to publish my backlist onto kindle, what didn’t occur to me was because you need to be 13 to have an Amazon or Facebook account a high proportion of my target readers wouldn’t have access to the books; either to browse, buy or find information about them on some of the social media networks. It made me realise that although indie publishing works brilliantly for most genres, there are some drawbacks in this genre.  If they were print books, assuming (a big ask!) that a bookstore would stock the titles, anyone, whatever their age, could walk into said bookstore, browse and buy the books. Simple.   So how do I access my core readership? I am working with organisations and blogs for horse-lovers, and I am grateful for the wonderful support I have had from this generous community.

I realised that the books had also to be marketed to the parents and adults who might be looking for gifts for their younger family members. Does that mean marketing to everyone then?   A mammoth task.  I am not expecting the books to become bestsellers in the blockbuster sense – I don’t know any pony books that are, however popular with readers.  But I’m aiming for steady, consistent sales over a long time period.  Since my royalties are being donated to Redwings Horse Sanctuary it is important to achieve good sales.

So this is proving to be quite an unexpected challenge.  I would really like to hear what other writers think, and what their experiences have been.  Things may be different in the future, of course, and I do see a day when everyone, whatever their age, will have access to e-books.

As a postscript, I’ve been thinking recently about the Young Adult category.  What exactly does this mean?  When I was a teenager, this category simply didn’t exist as a marketing tool.  And like most avid readers, I just read whatever interested me, be this an adult or children’s book.  Should I consider re-categorising the books on Amazon?  Or is Young Adult a completely different ball game?

Related posts:

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Garrets and Gatekeepers in Creatabot

Really pleased that my post (or rant as my brother called it!) about the difficulties of visibility for creatives is in

Do check it out as I would love your views.  And here is the cool pic taken in Tallin that my talented brother took which I used to illustrate the article. 

Photograph by Chris Ayres

Friday, 2 November 2012

Matty and the Problem Ponies is FREE between 7th-11th November

Just giving a heads-up that Matty and the Problem Ponies is FREE to download from 7th-11th November. 

Aimed at children, teenagers and nostalgic older readers, Matty and the Problem Ponies is the second story in a exciting trilogy. 

Matty has a new pony. 

Sweet. Placid. 100% in every way. 

Well, at least that’s what the ad said. 

Luckily, Matty likes a challenge. Which is just as well, because this will be a holiday to remember….

Now that fun-loving Matty and her intrepid teenage friends Spike, Gina and Ronnie have got a pony to share they no longer have to call themselves the Ponyless Club! The gang look forward to meeting a new member when Matty’s glamorous penfriend, Silke, comes to stay for the holidays.

Unfortunately Silke isn’t quite what Matty had expected and seems more interested in Mark, Matty’s boyfriend, than the horses and ponies! It takes a lot of Matty’s time to keep an eye on her, when what she really wants to do is help the others with Comfort, their new pony, who is not quite as perfect as they were led to believe. In fact, Comfort is turning out to be more of a problem pony and Matty’s hopes of competing in the local show look increasingly unlikely.

But little does Matty know that a twist of fate will bring her back into contact with Snowstorm, the beautiful pony that she loved and lost - and this time, Matty isn't going to lose her again. Even though getting Snowstorm back seems like an impossible dream.

Available from and

All profits from sales of these books are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary
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