Thursday, 30 May 2013

First Steps, Small Steps

I've just realised it is 18 months since I started this blog.  I re-read my first ever post, which was tentative to say the least.

So many fears; would anyone read it and would that matter? Would it make me vulnerable?
In fact, I have enjoyed blogging, and the best thing about it is the wonderful people I have encountered and met as a result.

In reflecting on my first steps. I came across a site which asked what one small step made a big difference in your writing career.

This is hard to answer because there would an awful lot of small steps.  And some big ones.
I think that indie publishing to Amazon has certainly been the most fun, so far.

What about you?

Related post:

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Does Size Matter?: Lydia Davis wins Man Booker Prize

I recently wrote a post called Does Size Matter, which reflected on whether or not readers measure a book's value by it's size.   A recent Smashwords survey  asserts that readers tend to prefer longer books. So I was interested to read the following:

"Lydia Davis, the shortest of all short story writers, whose works can be as brief as a single sentence, has won the fifth Man Booker International Prize."  Check out the links below for the full report.  I was intrigued enough to download her short story collection to find out more, as I have always been fascinated by short forms in which every single word has to account for itself.

If, like me, you enjoy the challenge of flash fiction, you might want to have a go at this competition to write a story in 100 words.  I'm about to send off my entry now.   Good luck!

PS - closing date May 31st!

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Monday, 27 May 2013

Carnival of the Indies for May 2013

Jolly pleased that two more of my blogs Readers: Does Size Matter and also Is a Book a Commodity? are included in the wonderful Carnival of the Indies.  This is my favourite blog carnival and I'd urge anyone who wants to indie publish to visit. 

Check out some brilliant blogs here:

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Business of Writing Part 2: The Elusive Magic Formula?

Is there a magic formula for selling books?  We all hope so, and many articles and how to books might claim there is.  But, deep down, we know it isn't true.

Publishing is full of surprises - what sells, what doesn't - and despite following certain "rules" that make perfect sense, as writers, we are at the mercy of a reader's personal tastes.  There is no magic formula – either for writing or promoting books - that will work for everyone.

However, statistics can at least inform our marketing decisions.

I'm grateful to fellow writer and blogger Deborah Jay for responding to one of my recent posts called Readers: Does size matter? by sending me the link to the results of a recent Smashwords survey which analysed the common characteristics of bestselling (and poor-selling) Smashwords ebooks.  Some of the questions they posed were:
  • Do frequent price changes help authors sell more books?
  • Do longer or shorter books sell better?
  • What's the average word count for the 60 bestselling Smashwords romance books?
  • What does the sales distribution curve look like, and how many books sell well?
  • How many words are the bestselling authors selling for a penny?
These are all questions I've recently been wrestling with and blogging about and after reading this, I have had a major overhaul of my e-book pricing structure, curious to see how this might affect sales.

Click on the link to read the full list of questions and survey findings.

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Thursday, 23 May 2013

Matty and the Problem Ponies FREE today and tomorrow

Matty and the Problem Ponies will be FREE to download today and tomorrow. Click here if you want to try it.

Normally £2.68 (with all royalties going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary), the story already has 5 star reviews.

Some of the comments from Amazon reviewers:

"This fantastic story, (the second book within a trilogy) that is dedicated to Redwings Horse Sanctuary was a gripping read that all pony-mad children & older equestrian enthusiasts like myself will love........Full of drama and suspense this book has you sat on the edge of your seat throughout as you immerse yourself in Matty and her adventures with two very special ponies; Snowstorm and Comfort.....If you love horses and ponies then regardless of age I would highly recommend this brilliant story, which certainly left me wanting to read more!! "

"A nice pony story for horsey mad girls (even adults)!"

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Monday, 20 May 2013

Deborah Jay Guest Post: What are the 5 Things a Busy Writer Can't Do Without?

I'm delighted that writer Deborah Jay has agreed to write a guest post for The Beautiful Room. 

Thanks so much, Jane, for inviting me to guest post on your blog J
I’m talking today about the challenges of being a part timer, distilled down to the 5 things I simply couldn’t do without as a time-squeezed writer.   My writing has to fit around my hectic day job as a professional dressage rider/trainer/judge which, for anyone that knows anything about horses, is more of a vocation than a job, and gobbles time.  So without further ado, here they are:

1.      My laptops – both of them: Lara Laptop and Nettie Notebook. I’m away quite a lot, flying and staying in hotels and also living in my horsebox at long shows. Without the laptops I’d be left with a whole heap of wasted time between classes which can just as easily be filled with – you’ve guessed it – writing! I should probably also include my smartphone, on which I take audio notes of any plot or dialogue that comes to mind when I don’t have time to stop and write it down, and helps me keep my emails under control when I’m without internet access.

2.      Kindle and kindle apps – I have kindle apps on both laptops – free to download and my whole kindle library accessible on all three machines, meaning I have all my reference books (not to mention motivational readingJ) right at my fingertips.

3.      A thesaurus – I like to think I have a fair-sized vocabulary, but it can always be expanded. I also have a magic little ebook called The Emotion Thesaurus , which details a range of physical actions and internal sensations for all the major emotions – fantastic for a novelist battling with ‘show don’t tell’ syndrome.

4.      Clean fresh air and open spaces – okay, okay, perhaps that’s two, but to me they are inseparable.  I never really have time to just sit and think (plot), I have to do it on the move, while I’m driving, or hacking (only on the more reliable nags!), and I need fresh air to clear out my mental cobwebs, and nature for inspiration.

5.      My beta readers and writers group – both are invaluable resources. My non-fiction gets read by a group of my ‘Essex girls’ – horse-riding ladies I teach once a month in Essex. They let me know if I’ve made anything too complicated, and pose questions if they think there’s something I didn’t cover in enough depth. My writers group do the same for my fiction. How much time can I save by not going down a blind alley with a plot, or getting distracted by a minor character? Answer – plenty.
So there you have it – my essentials. What are yours?

Deborah Jay writes fast-paced fantasy adventures featuring quirky characters and multi-layered plots – just what she likes to read.  She shares her life with a pack of dogs and a couple of horses she competes in dressage. Her love for good food is kept in check by the need to button up her tailcoat, and her complete inability to cook. Living mostly on the UK South coast, she has already invested in her ultimate retirement plan – a farmhouse in the majestic, mystery-filled Scottish Highlands.
This summer will see publication of her debut novel, THE PRINCE’S MAN, the first in a trilogy and winner of a UK Arts Board award. She also has non-fiction equestrian titles published under the name Debby Lush.
Find out more about Deborah at or follow Deborah on twitter @DeborahJay2 .

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Horse Book Reviews: Matty and the Moonlight Horse

Just had a nice review of Matty and the Moonlight Horse from Sharon Miner at her excellent Horse Book Reviews blog:

This delightful tale is timeless - young girls dreaming of owning their own horse - and the characters are engaging. The ending leads the reader to wanting more...

Thank you, Sharon.  I'm so glad you enjoyed the story!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Losing your blogging mojo?

If you are new to blogging or have been a long term blogger, there will be times when you lose your blogging mojo.  Overwork, stress, not enough hours in the day, boredom, loss of confidence, change of focus, not sure what to say - there are so many reasons we might re-evaluate our purpose.  So here is an excellent blog from the wonderful Jane Friedman that you should read.

And if that wasn't enough, this link lists 35 excellent blogs for writers.  Happy blogging!

Related posts:

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

20 dollars worth of art at Creatabot

It's been a while, but I'm back over at the wonderful e-zine Creatabot with a little essay about the way we value the creative process.  Called "Twenty dollars worth of art please," it explores attitudes towards creative producers.

"Growing up in the 60s and 70s it was a treat after school to stop by the corner shop and buy a penny’s worth of sweets.  Lemon bonbons were my favourite.  They were scooped out of the huge jar and carefully weighed out, measured to the value of a penny and then placed in a paper bag.
Fast forward around 40 years and...."
Click here to read the full post:
As always, I love to hear your comments. 
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Sunday, 12 May 2013

Readers: Does Size Matter?

I’ve just had another Amazon review of Beware of the Horse. The reader rated the story “very good” and liked my writing style, which makes me happy.  But her basis for giving it only 3 stars was that the book was much too short.  In fact she described it as a short story.

I’m not sure how you would define a short story but for me, 67 pages and nearly 18,000 words is not a short story.  More of a novella (according to a publisher definition this will be between 15,000-20,000 words).  The book is aimed at pre-teens and teens, and I’ve been told can be especially enjoyed by reluctant readers.  (I’ve previously had stories published in collections for reluctant readers, and most of my novels for teens are around 26,000 words).  Other reviewers have said they read Beware of the Horse quickly and commented on the length so I have revised the description to make it clear who it is aimed at and now describe it as a novella.  I don’t want my readers to be disappointed or to feel cheated. But it got me thinking.

Do readers value a book by its size?  How big it is, how thick the width, how heavy the weight, how many pages?  Of course, with e-books you don’t have this tangible aspect of book buying.  (My recent post Reading Bigger Books refers to this). Pages aren’t numbered in e-books, so how can you tell how many there are? If it’s 800 pages do you expect more than if was 200 pages? Quantity equals quality? Would you expect a book priced higher to be better than a cheap one?  You get what you pay for?  Or does that not apply to books?

It is easy with e-books to have our expectations manipulated when there are so many books for free or less than £1. Recently, the bestseller Life of Pi by Yann Martel was on special promotion for 20p (now back to £2.84).  The large publisher behind it could afford to fund this but how can smaller publishers and indie authors compete?  By lowering their prices even more?  This kind of pricing strategy will eventually devalue books completely and the wonderful opportunities offered to indie writers by the digital revolution will turn round and bite us on the bum, so to speak.    
My e-books are priced between £1.95 - £2.98. Many e-books cost just 99p.  They could have taken 6 months or several years of work to produce.  What else can you get for £1.95?  Not even a cappuccino.

So what is my time worth?  If no-one pays me, is my time worthless?  If my book is available free, is it worthless? And how much does size really matter?

Related posts:

Reading Bigger Books at Digital Book Today

Thrilled that my recent post Reading Bigger Books appears on the wonderful Digital Book Today.  Do pop over and check out the site - and I'd love any comments on my piece!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

A Writer's Journey: Talk for Adult Learners Week

As part of Adult Learners Week, I'm giving a talk about my writing and publishing experiences since the age of 14. Full of anecdotes, it's called  A Writer's Journey and takes place on Tues 21 May at 7pm at Ashford Gateway. (tickets £2)  

For details go to:

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Losing your writing mojo?

In previous posts I have mused a little on the importance of a writing routine and self discipline.  I came to the conclusion that it's important to have both.  For a while now, I have had neither.

I won't bang on about this, as I don't have any solutions, suffice to say that by building some routine into my day (by starting early with a run) I am hoping this will kick start things.  Soon.

This, in turn, may improve my motivation, because I have felt, for some time recently, that the lifelong passion I have had for writing has temporarily left me.  The positive from this is my renewed passion for reading.

So, without further ado (what a lovely expression) I am going to refer you to a couple of pieces by others that throw light on the subject.

The first is a piece in the Guardian:

The second is by my friend, photographer, writer and artist Jan Woodhouse on the importance of routine and how this relates to our sense of achievement.

"I think I’ve always undervalued routine. Nowadays I’m finding that – at the very least – it rescues me from having that ‘nothing achieved’ feeling at the end of the day. And, at best, in focusing my mind, it somehow frees me to be more creative and imaginative rather than less."
Check out the full article on her perceptive blog

Related posts:

Monday, 6 May 2013

Picking Flowers and Childhood Memories

I’m still in reflective mood after my previous post. Yesterday I went for a run.  I only started running again last week, after recovering finally from two debilitating chest infections which led to my asthma worsening.  Running provides a structure and routine that I lack in pretty much most aspects of my life, including writing.  Especially writing.

It was good to feel the warmth of the sun, at last, and for the first time in ages my feet found a rhythm again and I was able to relax. Noticing all the flowers in bloom, I was transported back to childhood, walking home from school across the field and picking wild flowers to take back to my Gran. Everyone walked to school in the 1960s and 70s.  My parents didn’t even get a car until the early 70s, but even when more people had cars, the thought of being dropped off by your Mum at school was definitely not cool!  As kids, we were all far more independent, thank goodness.  

Anyway, back to the flowers.  Lots of yellows; coltsfoot, celandine, pale mustard, dandelions (which for some reason we thought made you wet the bed), golden buttercups, and a sweet pea-like flower that when paired with purple clover we called egg and bacon. Another purple flower, delicate and intricate, which I think we called vetch, was popular with red ants and you had to be careful to brush the angry insects off when you plucked it from the grass.  Daisies grew in every patch of green. Wild flowers were abundant then.

As Mum and Dad both worked, my brother and I had breakfast and lunch with my Gran, or Nanny, as we called both our grandmothers then. Ethel was my Mum’s Mum, a matriarchal figure who had given birth to 15 children, all at home (which for the first three children was a barge on the river Nene).  I used to be fascinated by her long silky grey hair; it reached right down to her waist in a long plait, which she wound around her head.  She had been born in 1900, and I marvelled at the things she must have seen, living through two wars, and enduring endless hardships and challenges. I wanted to know about her past, her childhood, and I was always full of questions which she seemed bemused by.  Why did it matter?  It was past, done.  Life was about the present. She just got on with it. When we lost her to bowel cancer, well into her eighties, she had never spent a day in hospital and passed away in the council house where she had brought up her large family and lived in most of her life. Those women were made of strong stuff.

So, I started out this post running and then moved on to the death of my Nan. That’s what fascinates me about the way memories work and how they are triggered.  I run outside, I see wild flowers, they remind me of childhood and I am back in Nanny’s kitchen presenting her with yet another straggly bunch of wild blooms which she puts in water in a reused jam jar.  And as I write, I am crying for what has been lost.

Not long after Nan’s passing, I wrote my second children’s book, Wild Horse Island, and she found her way into the story – a different version of her, but with the same heart.  She reappears in a more recent book, Always in my Heart.  A writer can immortalise that which is precious.

We are constructed from memories.  We are making new ones every second.  How, what and why we remember some things and not others is a mysterious process.  I’ve mentioned before the visionary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, who was obsessed with the concept of memory and explores it in much of his huge body of work.  I can really relate to this.  As writers, our memories are a treasure trove of data, sensory experiences, adventures and emotions that we can process, translate and re-invent to create new stories. 

Related posts:

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Run Wild, Run Free: memories, imagination and nostalgia

Recently, I returned to the Isle of Wight for a weekend.  I remember, over 40 years ago, wonderful childhood holidays spent there with my family; carefree days on the beach in the sun (remember sun?).  On the train to Lymington Pier to catch the ferry, I felt the old thrill of excitement as I watched the wild ponies in the New Forest, and I recalled a book I read as a child called The White Colt which was made into a film called  Run Wild, Run Free starring the young Mark Lester.  It was a tear jerking tale of a mute and emotionally damaged boy whose life is changed when he befriends a wild colt on the moors. This got me thinking about the reasons we revisit books and places that meant something as a child; those precious happy memories.  

I had a penfriend on the The Isle of Wight as a child; David, who lived in Newport and had a pony called Copper.  Most of my penfriends had ponies and my childhood dream was one day to own a house in the country with a paddock and stables attached for my future horse.   

Do memories play tricks on us?  Or is it just that so much changes over the years?  Including dreams.  I enjoyed my visit to the Isle of Wight, despite the chilly winds and cloudy skies, but left with a tinge of sadness.  Like so many seaside resorts that depend on tourism, it has suffered from the recession and the popularity of cheap flights, and holidays where the sun is guaranteed.  It seemed smaller and lonelier somehow.  I wondered how it will look in another 40 years.  

Hopefully, whatever the future holds, ponies will still be running wild and free in the New Forest.

Experience has taught me that it's not always a good idea to go back, to revisit special places.  Better to preserve those wonderful memories intact. 

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Reading bigger books

I’m a slow reader.  I don’t think it was always that way.  When I was a child I would take 5 books a week out of the local library and they would all be finished by the weekend, after which I would walk the 2 miles into town and spend all my pocket money on three paperbacks.

Somehow, as I got older, my reading became slower.  As a result, I was put off by the physical appearance of a doorstep of a thick paperback, the sheer weight of the object, and anything with “epic” in the blurb was an immediate turn-off.   I had a psychological response which revolved around, “It’ll take ages to read,” or “I’ll never finish it.” I lost confidence, so I missed out on some wonderful stories.

Of course, when you download a book to your kindle, you can’t visualise the size and length, so you don’t have that tangible obstacle.  In fact, I’ve surprised myself recently when I’ve seen the print equivalent of books I’ve completed and enjoyed.  For example, I loved The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which is over 500 pages; if I had seen the paperback in a bookshop I wouldn’t have bought it, not even tried.

To some readers, 500 pages is nothing, the words to be devoured in a single sitting.  I tend to fit in reading with everything else, only occasionally allowing myself the luxury of spending an afternoon with a book.  A heavy paperback won't get taken out with me in the way that my kindle, which can be fitted in my handbag, does.  I take it to work, and I can dip in during breaks for half an hour here, ten minutes there, and before I realise it, I'm 300 pages in.

So reading bigger books feels like an achievement, and my confidence in my own reading ability has been boosted. This has, in turn, changed my reading habits in positive ways, allowing me to escape my self-imposed limitations.  Another way in which the kindle has opened my mind and challenged my assumptions. 

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