Keeping an Open Mind

Today I’d like to share my thoughts about two books I read recently. My favourite genres are usually thrillers and sagas. I also love a good tale of triumph over adversity, which is a theme that traverses across many genres. However, I try to keep an open mind and try something new once in a while, especially if it’s something that has been talked about a lot or that is performing very well in the Amazon sales charts.

I was going through one of those reading lulls recently when nothing I read really excited me. Although I had read a few books that I thought were quite good, none of them set me on fire and I was eager to discover something that gripped me. Then I found, not just one, but two books that made an impact on me. Neither of them was in my usual genres, which shows that it’s good to keep an open mind. Here are the two books and my thoughts about them:

Me before You by Jojo Moyes

I picked this one up at my local pub (more about that in a future blog post), and the reason why I chose it was because I knew that Jojo Moyes is a very popular author yet I hadn’t tried any of her books before. I was also familiar with the title and had a vague recollection of it being a movie.

Wow! This was one of those books where the appeal lies in the storytelling as much as in the story itself. Jojo Moyes is a brilliant author and I’ll certainly be reading more of her books in the future.

It tells the tale of a young woman, Lou, whose life lacks direction. Will, on the other hand, is a highflyer, ambitious and adventurous, until an accident changes his life completely and he becomes a quadriplegic.

When Lou loses her job at the Buttered Bun teashop, she comes to work as Will’s carer. Finding it difficult to adapt to life as a quadriplegic, Will is embittered and has given up on life. At first he is antagonistic and patronising towards Lou but she eventually wins him round. There is a lot more to the novel than that but I don’t want to give too much away.

I found this book deeply emotional, which really drew me in. The story was told with a sensitivity and perception that only the most skilled of authors could pull off. Jojo Moyes is truly a talented writer.

But the book wasn’t all pathos; there were touches of humour that helped to break up the bleaker moments. I especially liked the author’s witty comments regarding the love-hate relationship between Lou and her sister, and Will’s sense of mischief.

As I read the book I could actually visualise it being played out on screen and it left me wondering whether the movie is in sympathy with the book or whether the producers have altered parts of it. Having read a little about the film since, I note that it caused a backlash because of its insensitive approach. That’s a shame because I didn’t feel that the book was insensitive at all. I can honestly say that this book touched me more than anything I’ve read in ages, and I’ll definitely have to watch the movie version to see what I think.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

I was drawn to this book for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a bestseller, and secondly, it’s the ultimate tale of triumph over adversity.

Heather Morris gives the reader an insight into life inside Auschwitz and Birkenau as seen through the eyes of the prisoner of war camps’ tattooist. The book definitely made an impact on me as it transported me to that time and place and, although most people are familiar with the hardship suffered by prisoners of war, this book lays it all bare. The author actually interviewed the tattooist so the book is told from his point of view, revealing what life was like for him and the other prisoners.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is undoubtedly harrowing but I felt that it lacked the emotional depth of Me before You. Having read the two books in quick succession, it did make me wonder whether this was due to differences in writing styles or whether it was a conscious approach by Heather Morris. Perhaps the emotional depth had to be lacking, otherwise the whole novel would have been deeply disturbing and depressing.

Furthermore, the writer’s matter-of-fact approach may have been a reflection of how hardened the prisoners had become to the harsh regime. As it was based on the tattooist’s own story, it was necessary for the book to reflect his thoughts and feelings. In fact, in the Afterword written by the tattooist’s son, he describes how his mother reacted when, many years after their release, they lost their home. He was curious as to why she was singing and had a smile on her face, and she explained to him that after surviving the prisoner of war camps they could deal with most things.

Both of these books were the types of novels that left me pondering long after I had finished reading. That’s the sign of a really good book, I think, and I highly recommend them both.

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Mind your Language

On a couple of occasions when I have been looking at books on either Amazon or Goodreads, I have noticed bad reviews based on the fact that the books contained a lot of swearing. One of the  Star-12920-medium reviews was for a book that had received predominantly good reviews, and this particular one star review was based solely on the fact that the book contained bad language. There was no mention of the rest of the content.

As an author, it irks me when people leave a one or two star review based solely on the bad language in the book, which, let’s face it, probably makes up no more than 5% of the content. What about the rest of the book? Does it not matter that the author has toiled for months, or even years, to produce that book? And if the book is otherwise excellent, is that overlooked in that puritanical reader’s quest to banish all bad language from books?

The type of approach described above causes me a little concern because my own books contain more bad language than most. Although I haven’t yet had a bad review because of the swearing in my books, I expect that it is likely to happen sooner or later. The use of bad language in my books isn’t because I am being gratuitous in an attempt to shock readers. It is simply because I want my books to be authentic and to reflect the way the characters would have spoken.

SwearingEven if books are fictional, they are often a reflection of real life, and in real life people swear. Anyone who thinks they can eliminate the use of those words from the English language is on a pointless mission. Swearing is used as a form of expression, to convey anger or humour, or perhaps because the character being described in a novel would typically speak that way. This can reveal a lot about the character’s personality or environment. In fact, in my forthcoming novel, the bad language (and violence) are a fundamental part of who my characters are and, to remove it, would be taking something away from the characters.

So, what can authors do about these negative reviews from people offended by bad language?

I have included an introduction in each of my novels explaining why I have chosen to include swear words and slang, and apologising to those readersNo-Entry-12083-medium who may be offended. I did toy with the idea of putting a warning on the Amazon description page, but would this be taking it too far? After all, the books are crime thrillers, targeted at the over 18s, and the book blurbs give a good indication as to the content, with words such as ‘murder’, ‘killer’, ‘spliff smoking’, ‘thug’ and ‘shady dealing’. Surely, the readers of such books would expect some bad language as well as violence?

I would love to know your thoughts regarding this. Is it a good idea to put a warning on the product page, or not? Do you find the use of bad language in books offensive or off-putting? Do you agree with people giving bad reviews because of the swearing in a book?

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Cover Reveal – “Great Places for Kids’ Parties (UK)”

Here it is at last – the cover for my new book “Great Places for Kids’ Parties (UK)”. I’ve finally reached the formatting and proofreading stage so I should be publishing the Kindle version soon. Following that, I’ll be making arrangements to have a print version published. If you want to be informed of the launch dates you can subscribe to my mailing list. I promise not to divulge your details to any third parties and will only use your email address to send you updates regarding my books.
Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00023]

You may have noticed the starburst so I’ll tell you a little more:
There are 13 special offers in the back of the book from 11 organisations and they’re all exclusive to people buying the book. Some of the organisations are big, well-known companies so it’s well worth buying the book to save money on your children’s birthday parties. In my next blog post I’ll be listing the organisations that are featuring offers in the book. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.
The book has a similar cover to my first book, “Kids’ Clubs and Organisations” because they are part of a series of parenting books that I will be writing. However, each of these books can be read separately as well. There are 23 organisations featured in the book altogether. The three photographs shown on the cover were supplied by three of the organisations featured in the book: Wacky Warehouse, My Pamper Parties and Tameside Sports Trust. You’ll also find lots of lovely colour photographs throughout the book, which most of the organisations have kindly supplied. Co-ordinating all the information, photographs etc. was a challenge so it’s good to have reached this stage and I can’t wait to finally complete and publish the book.

Are Amazon Revealing too Much?

I’m referring specifically to Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature. “A great idea”, many may say, both from an author’s and a reader’s point of view. For novelists it gives them the opportunity to display the quality of their work. Hopefully they will also be able to hook the reader so that he or she will want to read more and will therefore purchase the book.

From the reader’s point of view this feature is also advantageous. Often readers can tell in the first few pages whether they will enjoy a book. So, this facility gives readers the chance to sample the product before making a purchasing decision.

A situation where everyone wins, you may think. But what if you are a non-fiction author?

Amazon Look Inside FeatureThe Disadvantage for Non-Fiction Authors

This feature can cause problems for non-fiction authors. I will cite my first book “Kids’ Clubs and Organisations” as a specific example to illustrate my point. I think that the ‘Look Inside’ feature was detrimental to my first book and I remember feeling displeased when Amazon automatically added it. Although I had a good look around the author area I couldn’t find a way to opt out of this, but I am a self-confessed technophobe so it may just be that I couldn’t find the instructions. If anyone knows how to remove the ‘Look Inside’ feature I would be eternally grateful for your guidance.

The reason why I feel that ‘Look Inside’ has been detrimental to my first book is because one of the book’s selling points is that it introduces parents to kids’ clubs that they may not have realised existed. The contents page describes exactly what type of clubs they are, so some people, having been given the idea for free, could decide to do their own research. Of course, there will be many details that they won’t find on the Internet as I gained a lot of input from the organisations involved with the book. However, this is something that people won’t realise when they view the contents page. I think this disadvantage may have influenced the fact that I sold far more books outside of Amazon than I sold through the site.

I am not saying that this is the only factor that influenced my Amazon sales. Another factor may be because the title is quite formal and may make the book appear more like a library reference book rather than a book that parents and children can read together. I have addressed this factor with my new book by making the title more parent and child friendly. I also hope to include lots of lovely colour images. There is no doubt that self-publishing teaches you a lot and I have taken on board all the lessons that I learnt during the publication and promotion of my first book.

How my Second Book will address the ‘Look Inside’ Issue

With my second book I am avoiding the above situation by making my chapter headings more cryptic, then putting a sub-heading inside the book, which expands on the main chapter heading. The cryptic headings are also intended to add to the fun factor so that the book will appeal to parents and their children.

I have noticed that some authors put the contents page at the back of their Kindle books and I wonder if they do this so that readers don’t see the contents until they buy the book. From a reader’s perspective, however, I prefer to see the contents page at the start of the book, and this is the reason why I have decided not to follow this path.

N.B. My second book is nearing completion and I will be sharing more information about the book on this blog and on the books page of my website in the coming weeks.

If you have a view regarding the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature, I would love to receive your feedback in the comments box below.

My Favourite Books

I love reading and am one of those people that passes on books after I have read them (unless they are on my Kindle), then I tend to forget them. There are a few books, however, that I haven’t forgotten and a couple of these are so good that I have even kept a copy. My two particular favourites are:

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

We studied this book for ‘A’ level English Literature many years ago, and I still remember my English teacher raving about it. His observation was that every time you read the book you come across something you missed previously because it is full of imagery and symbolism. I agree with him. I have read the book several times now and periodically return to it every few years. The one disappointment for me is that it has a tragic ending.

Guests of the Emperor by Janice Young-Brooks

I had never heard of Janice Young-Brooks, an American author, before I read this book and, from what I recall, I think I just stumbled on the book by chance. I had heard that the 1980s TV series ‘Tenko’ was based on this book, which tells the story of a group of women taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War Two. However, as the book was published after the TV series was screened, it might well be the other way around.
The appeal of the book for me lies in that classic theme of triumph over adversity. Right from the opening, when many ladies had to swim to shore after they were shipwrecked, the book had me gripped. It is a tale of resilience, bravery and resourcefulness, and it is amazing how dire situations can soon become accepted as the norm even by those used to a life of privilege. I enjoyed the book so much that I got hold of other books by the same author and read every one of them. Unfortunately though, I didn’t find any of them as enjoyable.

Favourite Genres

Bookshop I also like to explore different genres but there are a couple of genres in particular that I always come back to. These genres appeal to me at various times; sometimes I’ll fancy reading a good thriller and at other times I want to lose myself in a saga, especially a tale of triumph over adversity or rags to riches. Some cynics may say that this type of book always ends the same i.e. the heroine wins through in the end. In fact, my son enjoys teasing me about my love of sagas. My mother in law also enjoyed sagas and when my son teased her about their predictability, she replied, “It’s not about where the heroine ends up in her life, but what she went through to get there.” Well said!

I also have my favourite authors for each of these genres:

Thrillers

I think that I have read virtually everything written by Geoffrey Deaver, Nicci French, Minette Walters and Val McDermid. The first time I ever read a book by Geoffrey Deaver I just couldn’t put it down. He’s brilliant at building up the tension and suspense. Minette Walters is another great writer and one of my favourite Minette Walters books was ‘Acid Row’, another one that I couldn’t put down. Nicci French is actually the name used by a husband and wife team who write together. Their real names are Nicci Gerard and Sean French, a couple of Oxford graduates who also write individually. I haven’t tried any of their individual books yet but I’ve read most of the ones that they have written as a duo. They are excellent at psychological thrillers. Val McDermid has also written many good books, some of which have been adapted for television. I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever read a bad book by her.

Sagas

When I go on holiday to Spain there are a few English second-hand book stores in the town where we stay, and I love to rummage through for what I call my ‘granny books’. I can really lose myself in Readinga good old rags to riches story whilst chilling on my sunbed – total relaxation! There are so many well-known authors that write for this genre; Catherine Cookson, Meg Hutchinson, Anna King etc. My favourite by far though is Sara Fraser who wrote the Tildy series. Surprisingly the writer is actually a man; Sara Fraser is the pen-name for Roy Clews, a former Marine Commando. The Tildy series recounts the struggles of Tildy, a strong, resilient woman who survives a life of hardship during 19th century Britain. Clews does an excellent job of writing from a woman’s perspective; perhaps the male touch is the reason why the character he has created is so tough.

I am also discovering a wealth of new books by independent authors. The beauty of these books is that there is so much diversity and they are introducing me to a wide range of genres and cross-genres. In the last few months I have read chic-lit, thrillers (both from a male and female perspective), a Western, literary novels, comedies, true life accounts and non-fiction.

I hope you have enjoyed finding out about my reading habits; I’d love to hear about yours too. What type of books do you like to read and why? Do you have any favourite genres or authors? Please feel free to share your views by leaving your comments below.

The Legal Deposit Scheme for UK Books

As I am nearing completion of the first draft of my second book I’m starting to think about all the little jobs that I will have to do. When I published my first book “Kids’ Clubs and Organizations” I chronicled all the jobs that I had to do and you can still find many articles in my Blog Archive relating to such matters as copyright notices, ISBN numbers, the publishing process and book promotion. If you page down to the blogs from September 2012 and October 2012 in particular, you will find lots of useful information.

Legal Deposit SchemeAs it is now a year since I published my first book I have forgotten a lot of the detail. I recently had a conversation on Twitter regarding the Legal Deposit Scheme and, unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information in my Blog Archive relating to it. Perhaps I’ve mentioned it as part of a more comprehensive blog, but just in case I missed this topic the first time round I thought I would recap on the process now. That way I can help other authors as well as refreshing my tired, middle-aged memory.

By law every publisher must send a copy of any printed material to the British Library. So, if you’re a self-published author, that responsibility falls on you. The law was extended this year to also include e-books. However, this extension is in the early stages so if you only publish books in digital format you will be contacted by the British library with instructions regarding the new procedure. The intention for the future is that authors who publish in both digital and print will be able to deposit their books digitally instead.

The law also now applies to other electronic media such as websites, but if the information is freely available then the British Library will attempt to collect the information itself. By freely available that means that it is not password protected and doesn’t require a subscription or any form of payment to obtain the information.

Print BooksPrint books

If you publish print versions of your books in the UK then you must submit a copy to the British Library within one month of publication. The purpose of the scheme is so that the British Library can keep a national archive of all published material. There are six Legal Deposit Libraries in the UK, which are:

  • The British Library
  • The National Library, Scotland
  • The National Library, Wales
  • The Library of Trinity College, Dublin
  • The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford
  • The University Library, Cambridge

PostageThe British Library is the only one that must receive a copy within a month of publication but the others can also request a copy. If they ask for a copy then you are also legally obliged to forward it to them. Unfortunately, you will not receive payment for these copies and will have to meet the postage costs yourself. However, on the plus side, most of the books will be listed in the British National Bibliography (BNB), which librarians and book traders often refer to when selecting book titles to stock. N.B. the scheme also applies to other printed material such as maps, sheet music, magazines etc. but this article focuses on books in particular.

If you publish further editions of your book then you will have to deposit each of the editions. Additionally, the scheme doesn’t only apply to books that have an ISBN number; it relates to all UK published books. You can find full details about the Legal Deposit Scheme including the 2013 updates at: http://www.bl.uk/aboutus/legaldeposit/index.html.

Writing Plans Update

A couple of weeks ago I outlined my writing plans for the future. I had returned from holiday all fired up and ready to get my books out there. Well, it’s been a busy couple of weeks since then so I thought I’d share my progress with you.Free Book Promo

Free Book Promo – I’ve set the date for 21st August and here is the link that you need to visit to get your free Kindle download www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008IG41DU. Since I set the date I’ve been working very hard on getting the word out. Free book promos do not have the miraculous results they used to have on Amazon so I realise that it’s important to let as many people know about it as possible if it’s to be a success. In addition to that, my readership for “Kids’ Clubs and Organizations – A Comprehensive UK Guide” is UK only, as confirmed by the sub-title. This means that I have to work extra hard on spreading the word as my readership is substantially smaller than that for novels etc., which sell worldwide.

So what have I been doing up to now to publicise the promo?

Sending emailsWell, to start with I’ve notified over 20 websites that advertise free book promotions. I’ve also emailed a couple of sites that specialise in parenting promotions although I’ve not had any response from them to date. A few of the book promotion sites have kindly agreed to feature the book though. Next, I’ve mithered the life out of friends and relatives and asked them to share any posts on their Facebook pages. I was really pleased with the response and send a big thank you to everybody who offered to help.

I’m currently scheduling lots of tweets to book tweeters and parenting groups to try to build up a big buzz in the couple of weeks preceding the promotion. I’ve also joined Facebook groups and Google+ communities that will allow promotional author posts, so I will be adding mine a few days before my promotion. I really need to get more active on Goodreads as well so that I can utilise it to greater advantage. For those of you who are non-authors, Goodreads is a vast writing community with a massive following. Consequently, independent authors are constantly advised that having a presence on the site is an absolute must.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank my lovely author friend Alice Huskisson in advance for showing me the way to manage my free book promo. This will be the first one I’ve done so all the information I found through her blog and her one to one advice have really helped. Alice is the author of the brilliant The Man in a Haystack. If you read and enjoyed Bridget Jones’ Diary then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this book, which logs Alice’s experiences of Internet dating. You can find out more about Alice at: http://alicehuskissonauthor.wordpress.com/.Writing Books

My Second Parenting Book – As I’ve been so focused on the free book promo and client work, my second book is still 70% complete as it was a couple of weeks ago. However, I have now received information from all but one of the 23 organisations that will be featured in the book. This means that once I get back to writing the book, it shouldn’t take too long to finish. I’m so looking forward to publishing my second book and I’ll update you as we get nearer to publication date. For this parenting book I plan to include colour photographs but I haven’t quite ironed out how that will work in practice so I think there will be fun and games ahead.

My Debut Novel – I originally planned to publish my first novel “Slur” towards the end of 2013, but it may now have to wait until early 2014. It’s difficult to predict at this point as it depends on my client workload and how long it takes to complete my second parenting book. Again, I’ll keep you updated via the blog.

I enjoy receiving feedback from readers of my blog so if you have any questions or comments regarding any of the above, feel free to let me have your comments below. If you’ve enjoyed reading the blog, please let me know by hitting the ‘like’ button.