Life Laundry

Julie Lawford Aug 18I’ve been having a bit of a sort-out and a clear-out lately; physical, emotional, psychological – and digital too. It’s come about through a combination of reasons. Dealing with the clear-out of my mother’s life, possessions and paperwork over the last 18 months has shown me, quite brutally, that just like her, I’ve been holding on to much more stuff (of every kind) than I should be.  It’s made me question what I’ve been keeping, and why, and look afresh at everything, challenging it to show me its value or its beauty.  Gallbladder problems over the last several months have made me feel, well… vulnerable… in a way I haven’t felt for a very long time. With this (hopefully) behind me, the need to reassert control over my life and environment has been compelling.  And for the first time in several years, some old stress symptoms were making a most unwelcome return.  Last time they’d proved difficult to shift and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again – ignoring the early warning signs, failing to deal with the stressors.

Time to think

Over the summer I had a lot of time to think, as I spent a few weeks doing little else whilst my insides settled down and my physical scars mended. This pause for reflection  helped me decide to use the remaining months of 2018 to consolidate, reassess and, personally speaking, regroup.

So as soon as I felt my energy levels pick up again, I got on to it.

Out with the old

I’ve been ruthless with the stuff that needed to go. I’ve been back and forth to my local tip with general and recyclable waste, garage, attic and cupboard clearance. I’ve been shredding… and shredding… and shredding more.  Old financial paperwork and old client work formed the bulk, but my philosophy has always been ‘if in doubt, don’t bin it, shred it’.  My local council very kindly told me it was ok to break the rules just this once  and put six bags of shredding out for the recycle collection in one go. My alternative was living with the six bags blocking my kitchen door, whilst I carefully filtered it out a little each week for, oh, I don’t know how many weeks, but certainly until long after Christmas. I’ve been clearing out my wardrobe and bagged-up stock of old clothes too, so local charity shops and Ebay have benefitted. Horror of horrors, I’ve even been thinning out my bookshelves.

I’ve dusted top shelves, reorganised cupboards, glued and sewed loose bits of stuff, consolidated a giant bag of travel-size toiletries and sprayed some noxious pink treatment all over my lichen-stained patio and decking. (I’m not at all convinced it will deliver the results the marketing blurb promises, but time will tell.)

Emotionally and psychologically speaking, I’ve been tackling issues which have lingered in my life for longer than they should have done. In one instance this involved a difficult conversation, but once the talk was talked, the weight that lifted was palpable. Another, a resignation from a thankless voluntary position I’ve been holding because nobody else wanted to do it. After too many years, I’ve decided it’s someone else’s turn, and that’s that. I’m giving plenty of notice, but I’m not intending to make succession planning my problem.

Other changes are taking place, enthralling and unexpected. In recent months one or two friendships have reappeared, repaired or strengthened in ways I could never have anticipated, whilst I’m consciously letting other less enriching connections fall away.

To the administratively mundane… There was the bundle of more onerous desk-based jobs which have clung to my task list for far too long. You know the kind of jobs I mean; the ones which you stare at on your list every day, knowing they’re on there because they need to be done; but you can’t face actually doing them because they’re too complex, or boring, or tricky, so you move on to do something easier instead. Three down, two more to go, and already I feel so  much more in control.

Digitally speaking, I’ve been busy on the keyboard too. I’ve reorganised my data files, culled my contacts list, sliced away at my slew of email folders, sent thousands of pointless photographs to the trash-can and checked my back-ups are working. Phew!

Somehow, I’ve made the time to have major electrical works done at my house too, the list of little things that needed doing having finally grown so large that it involved three precious weeks of my electrician’s time.  Next stop – finding a painter for the top-to-toe domestic redecorating project – and I’m on it!

To blog, or not to blog

One last thing though, and it concerns you, my lovely readers. I’ve made a decision about my blog. You won’t have seen that much from me lately – and that’s because I’ve let myself off the hook, freeing myself from the self-imposed burden of posting regularly.

The decision I’ve now made, is to stop blogging altogether.

I opened this blog to build an audience for my writing. Initially I wrote about the experience of writing, then of trying to get an agent, then of self-publishing. When I ran out of steam on that front, I began blogging about weight-loss and healthy lifestyle, and lately my blog has ranged all over the place – no core topic, no strong stand, no clear message… and perhaps (though I may be being very self-critical here) not much point at all. So I’ve decided, for now at least, to call it a day.

I didn’t want to disappear without a trace, leaving those who care wondering whether something ghastly has happened to me.  So this post will stay up for a while, perhaps a month, before I take down the whole blog and leave a holding page. Not sure if I’ll be back or not, but I think, probably, not.

I love writing, you see. But I don’t make enough time for it. And when you have a blog, and you find yourself with a couple of hours to write, the obvious thing to do is to write something for the blog. Net result – no actual writing of actual fiction, no developing of Novel Number Two, happens. And that’s another thing that I want to change in this great Life Laundry period.

The process of clearing out the old, makes room for the new. And that’s what I’m hoping – intending – will happen. That in reasserting control, clearing down some of the clutter of my life, I can make time for the things I want to do more of. One of those is to focus more consistently on my health and fitness, and another is to write fiction, properly, again.

So – and I hope you will forgive me – this is me, signing off. For now, or for good, I’m not sure. But I really, really am so very grateful to those people who have actually read (and hopefully enjoyed) my posts over the months and years. Thank you for reading, for making yourself known, for commenting, for interacting – it really has been a pleasure.

Adieu.

Epistolary Novels – Letters Enjoy These

fountain-pen-447575_1280Having just dumped a prize-winning literary novel I’d been meaning to read for years out of sheer boredom (no, I’m not going to tell you which one it was), I downloaded Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday from Audible. I was immediately caught up in the flow of communications – emails, notes and diary entries – that sculpt this touching story. Despite its lukewarm reviews, I’d enjoyed the film of the book, which starred Euan McGregor and Emily Blunt. The audiobook, with a different narrator for each character, put a smile on my face within the first couple of minutes. I can’t tell you more, I’m afraid, as it’s only had 20 minutes of my time so far.

But it made me think of the other epistolary novels I’ve enjoyed over the years.

I can’t speak for them all but the ones I’ve read are not, by and large, towering literary achievements. Mostly they’re played for humour or gentle sentimentality. But reading isn’t just about literary or intellectual genius, is it? It’s about entertainment and feel-good. It’s about curling up on the sofa or spreading out on a beach towel, and being lifted out of your life and deposited somewhere else for a few hours. Everyone loves to receive a letter; we all jump to the ‘ping’ of a newly arrived email; and as for encountering someone’s secret diary – well, it would be irresistible, wouldn’t it? I think that’s partly why epistolary novels are such fun.

Strictly speaking – and the clue is in the word – epistolary novels tell their story through written communications, letters, notes and more recently, emails. But many lists also include books based around diary entries.  So here, I offer you a glimpse of five of my favourites across both categories, in case you feel like packing them in your holiday suitcases.

  1. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Strictly speaking, not a novel, but a memoir, as the story is true and the characters are real. In 1949 in search of obscure classics and other books she has been unable to find in New York, the author contacts a second-hand bookshop in London. The book chronicles the correspondence between the author and the bookshop’s manager over decades as their friendship blossoms. You probably know that already, but if haven’t come across 84 Charing Cross Road in either its literary, film, or stage play version before, you’re missing a gem.

  1. Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

I first read Daddy Long Legs as a child and re-read it last year in just a couple of hours. Brought up in an orphanage, Jerusha ‘Judy’ Abbot is fortunate to gain an anonymous benefactor who pays for her education. The condition attached is that she write regularly to the benefactor, whose identity she does not know, and whom she has seen only through his distorted shadow – hence the nickname she gives him. The letters unfold into the story of how an independent girl begins to question what she has previously accepted and challenge the status quo, as she blossoms into a young woman. It’s a one-sitting book for an adult, but a gentle and touching read nonetheless.

  1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A heart-warming story, dark in places, telling of the inventive and eccentric inhabitants of Guernsey during World War II, when the Channel Islands became the only part of the British Isles to fall under German occupation. The letters to and from the various members of the eponymous society tell of quirky characters, friendship, resilience and triumph of the human spirit. Whimsical, but never trite; pretty much perfect, this one.

  1. e: A Novel by Matt Beaumont

The strapline brands it ‘the novel of liars, lunch and lost knickers’ and that about sums it up. Not letters this time, but emails, and definitely told for laughs. This is a wickedly funny book, awash with backstabbing and bitchiness but above all, wit.  Expertly plotted, it’s set amongst the corporate climbers and back-stabbers of a London advertising agency. You’ll probably devour it in one sitting, but it’ll leave you with a smile on your face – especially if you work in marketing.

  1. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

Yes, and all the Adrian Mole adventures that followed too. Adrian Mole, stuffier and more pretentious than the average child, diligently records his thoughts and experiences as he progresses through self-conscious adolescence. The seven books which follow chart Adrian’s progress through life. They’ve been around for a while, but are pure gold nonetheless. Every Brit will know of these, but if you’re reading this elsewhere, I urge you to make the acquaintance of Adrian Mole.

There are others… Bridget Jones’ Diary of course; perhaps also We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Screwtape Letters, The Perks of Being a Wallflower – all gems in their genres. The Martian is a newer one which has made its way on to my ‘to read’ list. Goodreads provides an excellent list of epistolary novels too.  But if you have a particular favourite, will you share it with us?

Seven Top Tips for Promoting your Novel as Holiday Read

2015-06-07 15.04.54Would your novel make a great holiday read? If so, now might be the time for a promotion.

Waterstones’ Summer Holiday Book Club list will be out in the next week or two. They pick a bunch of recently published books and through emails and blog posts, market them as great novels to take on holiday. It’s a promotion, pure and simple, but as many, many people do most of their reading on their summer holidays, the holiday season is too good an opportunity to miss.

So here are a few tips and ideas for promoting your novel as a holiday read.

  1. Start now. I know the school holidays don’t begin until late July. But don’t leave it until then, because the cruise ship will have sailed. Apart from anything else, plenty of people who don’t have children take their holidays before the resorts are overwhelmed by families. You don’t want to miss those relaxed singles and couples lazing on beaches in June and July.
  2. Plan a campaign. Run it over a few weeks. Work around a trio of pieces – a combination of blog posts and emails perhaps. Don’t just say the same thing over and over; build your picture by taking a different aspect of your novel each time. Leave a few days up to a couple of weeks between communications, and don’t do more than three pieces – you don’t want to annoy your potential readers.
  3. Think ‘Holiday’. If there’s anything about your book that relates specifically to holidays, travel, foreign lands, journeys or adventures for example, make the most of it in your promotion. It’s an extra angle.
  4. Have a price promotion. Discounting by even a little for a specified and limited time can be effective in boosting interest for practically anything. Everyone loves a bargain.
  5. Think beyond the internet. I know social media gets you a worldwide audience. But you’re a drop in an ocean of authors trying to attract readers. Think about your personal contact list, friends and neighbours, colleagues and the school-gate, clubs and organisations. Everyone belongs to multiple formal and informal networks and knows lots of people. You probably promoted your novel to them all when it first came out, but beyond your most loyal supporters, friends and family, there is still a community of potential readers; people who, with a gentle nudge, will like the idea of a holiday read, written by someone they actually know.
  6. Create a physical promotional piece. Because Singled Out is set on a summer holiday, this was a no-brainer for me. I’ve created a postcard-sized promotion using the image from the book cover. Duh, but it’s meant to look like a holiday postcard sent from a friend. I’ll be spreading it around over the next few weeks. I’m hoping it might end up hanging about on the front of a few fridges over coming months too. I used my cover designer (Alessio Varvarà) and VistaPrint to create the card. Other options – bookmarks (of course!), and for those on a very tight budget, simple home-printed leaflets. If you take that route, all you need is some best-quality paper (high gsm, sheen/gloss perhaps). It doesn’t have to cost the earth.
  7. Compile your own Summer Holiday Book Club list. It’s great to collaborate with other authors and recommended reads attract, guess what, readers. I’ll be putting an indie and small-press Summer Holiday Book Club list together for this blog in the next week or two, so, as they say, ‘watch this space’ for a fresh list of recommended reads.

Is a 1 Star Review ever OK?

audiobookIf you’re a successful mainstream author with a string of big-selling, award-winning traditionally published books and hundreds of 5 Star reviews to your name, does a 1 Star Review still bother you?

I’m ploughing through the audiobook of a well known literary novel at the moment and I’m struggling with it. This book has sold in its millions, won awards and even been made into a film – a dream-ticket for an author. But it has divided critics and readers. Many have hailed it, but a significant number have just not got it.

And I’m one of them.

I tried reading this novel a few years ago but didn’t make it past the first third. The audiobook was my attempt to make the ‘reading’ process easier and to be fair the narration is largely excellent. But it’s a long and convoluted narrative and it’s leaving me with the feeling that the emperor has no clothes.   I know I’m not alone in this thinking, but I am in a minority.

I rate books on Goodreads with stars (mainly to prompt conversations with my reader friends), but I write very few reviews either on Amazon or Goodreads. I tend only to review self-published and small-imprint published books, on the assumption that these writers – as I do – need every bit of positive endorsement and feedback they can muster. I would never write a 1 Star review of such a book. If I read one that I disliked that much, no one would encounter my opinion online.

But what about a mainstream, million-selling novel? Is a 1 Star review OK?

I wonder if this particular author still reads their reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I wonder, with all the success the author has enjoyed, whether they care a jot when the occasional reader fails to appreciate this novel. Given that so many credible sources have endorsed it, does it matter when the odd reader has such a negative response to their literary endeavours that they pen a review layered with peevish criticism, or worse?

On balance, I think it probably doesn’t matter to an author in that position. But I can’t be sure.

Reviews exist to help other readers decide whether to buy. In that respect you could argue that all reviews are relevant – and oddly, I wouldn’t disagree. Quite apart from anything else, I really value reading other people’s 1 Star reviews of books I’m contemplating reading. Occasionally they will dissuade me and I can thank the writers of those reviews for redirecting me.

However, I doubt another 1 Star review on top of the mountain of plaudits which exist for this particular novel, would make the least difference to anyone considering a purchase. So for that reason alone, it seems a waste of my time to pen a review.

But the truth is broader; I’m an author as well as a reader, and I simply can’t do it to a fellow author, whoever they are and however successful they are. I just don’t want to be so publicly unappreciative of anyone’s writerly endeavours.

I realise this is perverse of me. I know I’m saying I want to benefit from other people’s 1 Star reviews, yet not offer up my own.

That’s how it is – I just can’t do it.

So how do you see it?

On a summer reading list – and an unfortunate omission

Bookshop chain Waterstones (no apostrophe these days, harrumph) has announced its Book Club Summer Reads this week. The list is varied and for avid readers, promises a luscious literary experience across the coming months.

Unfortunately, my debut novel, Singled Out, has – I can only presume, in some hideous accidental oversight – been omitted from this list of good and great summer reads of 2015.

I can’t begin to understand how this ghastly blunder could possibly have happened. I am dumbstruck. I can but apologise, because this incomprehensible failure means that instead of a simple ‘click to buy’ from a colourful e-mail landing in your inbox, you’re going to have to embark on a hunt for Singled Out, trailing through the Amazon, all by yourself.

singledout_kindle_656x1000pxIf you’re into sinister tales taking place in delicious settings, your search for Singled Out will reward you with a gripping read. It’s a gritty psychological story about one woman’s struggle to overcome her demons and snare a dangerous stalker. It all takes place on a summer holiday for singles in Turkey, where strangers come together and nobody is quite who they seem.

Yes, you read that right. Summer… summer holiday. Hey, you guys at Waterstones…. summer holiday! Wouldn’t this alone qualify for a place on your Book Club Summer Reads list? Wouldn’t it? No?

Oh.

I know. It’s hardly selling in its thousands. It won’t make you book-business guys rich – at least, not overnight. But what about when the bidding war breaks out over those options on a movie or a TV mini-series – when world-renowned production companies are fighting over the rights and A-listers are begging for a role? Maybe then? What was that you said? Cloud-cuckoo land? Oh, don’t be mean, guys. Don’t hit me when I’m down.

Fair enough, I can’t deny it; demand has been, well, modest. The truth? Singled Out has yet to attain three figures in the Sales column – but it’s close, it is. Sort of. Close-ish. But just think what a place on that Book Club Summer Reads list would have done for it. And I’m not just saying this out of blatant self-interest either. I think I could safely argue that, with a little display ingenuity, there’s a profit to be had for any bookshop from my modest literary endeavours. What about those magic tables – the ones that everyone, but everyone, makes for when they come through the doors? Imagine for a moment, how appealing that sultry sunset on the cover of Singled Out would look on one of those tables by the entrance – the one that says ‘Hot New Authors’ or better still ‘Sizzling Summer Holiday Reads’ perhaps. Imagine all the book-buying money-spending hands that would reach out for it.

Yes, that would work.

But hey, the list is written, the emails are out and it’s too late for all that business. So all I can do is grumple away under my breath and shake my metaphorical fist at the Book Club selectors. It gets it off my chest a bit at least.

So, friends, followers and readers – an apology: I’m sorry you’ll have to go a-hunting for Singled Out. I’m sorry you won’t ever find it at Waterstones or Barnes & Noble, or even your quirky little independent bookstore. I’m sorry it’s only on Amazon and that – for the time being at least – you’ll have to go further than Amazon’s Top 100 lists to track it down. But if you look, you’ll find it. It’s there for your Kindle (a perfect medium, if ever there was one, to take with you on your… holidays), and for the traditionalists amongst us, it’s there in paperback too.

As for the Waterstones Book Club recommendations, I cannot tell a lie. Notwithstanding that single sloppy omission, it’s a great selection. If you’re an avid reader like me, it’s worth a look – and it’s worth a few of your pennies/cents (only the ones you’ve got left after you’ve picked up Singled Out though).

Meantime, I hope you’ll forgive my shameless opportunism. When I got that Waterstones Book Club email this morning, I just couldn’t resist it.

Just one more thing… of course… Singled Out is available to purchase on these and all other regional Amazon sites:

A big thank-you to Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Every time my blog goes bonkers, it’s because Chris Graham over at The Story Reading Ape’s Blog, has re-blogged one of my posts. I thought it was time I said thank you.

I’d been at it all daytsra-white-bg on Sunday, essentially trying to write a blog post but in reality, procrastinating like mad. Eventually the post emerged, a quirky list of… yes… what I’d been doing instead of writing a blog post. I uploaded said musings, shut down my PC and came down to the kitchen to make my tea.

As I messed around with ingredients – salmon baked in a tinfoil parcel, watercress sauce, broccoli and rice, since you ask – I could hear in the next room, my iPad dinging merrily away as my WordPress App announced a succession of readers liking or commenting on my blog. That’s nice, I thought. I have to say, it was above averagely active – a veritable melody of dings – especially for a Sunday evening. And especially for, if I’m honest, an inconsequential, albeit mildly amusing post.

Salmon baked, watercress sauce warmed through (I know, I should have made it from scratch), broccoli blobbed with butter (don’t say it… don’t), I repaired to the lounge to take a snoop at who was liking my Peevish Procrastination Post.

What greeted me was unexpected, but wholly delightful.

It turns out that round about the same moment that I’d uploaded my list of procrastinations, the lovely Chris Graham over at Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog had re-blogged a post of mine from a couple of weeks ago – Ten Top Tips to Instantly Improve Your Writing. The surge in hits and that concerto of dings was all down to the readers which Chris had so very kindly pointed in my direction.

If you haven’t come across Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog before, I recommend you take a look. It is a veritable cornucopia of writerly musings, humour, advice and great material about books, authors, the world at large and reading in general. Chris scours the blogosphere seeking out posts he thinks his rapidly expanding readership will enjoy, and he’s a great supporter of indie authors.

When he picks a post of yours, stand by for a busy few hours! I like to respond to every comment on my blog and that’s not usually a particularly demanding commitment. But when you get a re-blog from Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog, things go a bit crazy – in a good way. I had fun, responding to comments from new readers, and it was wonderful to see new subscribers sign on too. I had to cut the sound on my iPad and go dark for an hour for Poldark (as any warm-blooded woman would, you understand, don’t you?) – but I was back later and again this morning, to enjoy the blogging conversation with more visitors from Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog.

Apart from the two occasions when I’ve been fortunate enough to be Freshly Pressed courtesy of the team at WordPress (another post on editing, strangely enough, and one on Marmite and sex – oh, just check it out, you know you want to), The Story Reading Ape’s blog has been responsible for the biggest surges in hits and subscribers to A Writer’s Notepad, since I began blogging.

So, this post is the least I can do, in offering a big thank-you to Chris, and an urging that you check out The Story Reading Ape’s most diverse and engaging Blog for yourself.

#Shelfies for World Book Day

Where Dylan Hearn at Suffolk Scribblings leads, others follow…

In honour of World Book Day, I present… a series of #shelfies which will probably tell you far too much.  I’ve posted fiction #shelfies before, so here’s a glimpse at the non-fiction in my bookcase.  I may live to regret this…

(1) The ‘How To’ Shelf: Here’s a nice, easy one to start with.  It’s the shelf that every writer has, right? How to write, how to write better, how not to write, how to find an agent, how to get published, how to stimulate your creativity, how to develop a writing habit, how to write like Stephen King, and so, so, so on.

2015-03-05 17.16.56(2) Food, not-so Glorious Food: Were you expecting recipe books?  Nope. This is my food paranoia shelf. It’s a combination of aversion therapy and the expression of a hope, that, one day, I might do more than read about dieting.

2015-03-05 17.16.32(3) Why, oh Why: This is my psycho-paranoia / please love me shelf. In my defence, this used to occupy three shelves, now, just the one, most of which I keep for posterity and to remind me that despite everything, I’m a warm and wonderful woman, alright? Alright?  ‘Nuff said.

2015-03-05 17.17.14(4) The rest… is fiction: I’m a writer, but I’m a reader too. See any you recognise from your own shelves?

2015-03-05 17.17.59Do you have a World Book Day #shelfie to share?  If you do, feel free to do a pingback here, or check out Dylan Hearn’s post, and the source of the original WBD #shelfie: Suzie81 Speaks, where I can see we have Bryson, Hornby and Haddon in common.