Sunday, 11 February 2018

Top Tips on Giving Terrific Book Talks

Once it comes to public notice that you have published a book, or books, you may well find that you are invited to speak to a group about it. Or you may apply to one of the numerous literary festivals to be a speaker. Either way, it is important to plan and prepare carefully in advance, if for no other reason than it stops you panicking as the day draws closer. I have participated in the Edinburgh, Cheltenham and St Albans Literary Festivals as both visiting author and audience, and over the years I have sat through some pretty dire author talks ( I hope I haven't given any!)., so let's look at some of the methods I use to talk about my books.

1. Your session should contain 3 elements

* You and your books ~ how you write, why you write, what you write. With readings from your books.
* Audience questions.
* Informal book signing and chat.

I suggest for an hour's session the ratio should split into: 25 mins talk, 15 mins questions, 20 mins chat and signings. Obviously the last two can overlap.

2. Set the Scene - including yourself

There is nothing more boring than a pile of books on a bare table. Or a bare table. People like to look at interesting stuff while you are speaking. THINK about your genre. I bring a Victorian top hat and hatbox, part of a Victorian tea set, I lay the table with a lace tablecloth, I also have opera gloves, a seed pearl bag and some of my original Victorian books, which I stand up so people can see the covers.
I wear a steampunk outfit. I put my books to sell on a separate table away from the talk area.

Start collecting interesting stuff for a table display.

3. Practice makes perfect

If you have never spoken in public before, or feel nervous, WRITE your talk out in full first. Then SAY it ~ speak more slowly than normal and time yourself. Keep practicing ~ how do you think actors learn their lines? Some people perform in front of a mirror, or film themselves so they can eliminate any unnecessary gestures. Once you know your talk pretty well, reduce it to one sheet of paper with key words.

4. Sit or stand?

Stand. Always. You command the room, and can check the back row hasn't dozed off. Also you can walk about and pick up some of the interesting objects as you talk about your books.

5. Q & A

Have some pre-prepared questions to stimulate a debate, in case nobody asks anything. Things like: what do they think about self-publishing ~ is it just an excuse for poor writing? Do they prefer ebooks to print and why? What was the last book they read that they really enjoyed? Do they think some writers get over-hyped?

Be prepared to divulge all sorts of stuff. Some audiences will ask how much you earn, have you ever got a bad review, etc etc. Laugh it up and don't get insulted. I frequently bring some rejection letters along and read them out to much merriment.

Next week, we'll finesse your technique, look at a few more tips and pick up on any comments left by you that need attention.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Things I learned during Radiotherapy

1. Radiation therapy uses a special kind of high-energy beam to damage cancer cells.These high-energy beams, which are invisible to the human eye, damage a cell’s DNA, the material that cells use to divide. Cancer cells are more easily destroyed by radiation, while healthy, normal cells are better able to repair themselves and survive the treatment. (That's as techie as I'm going to get.)

2. It's not the most dignified of procedures  ... you have to lie with your arms over your head, nuddy from the waist up, and they mark you with pen before the machine zaps you. Yep.

3. Some of the radiographers have Very Cold Hands.

4. The machines break down because they are in constant use and the NHS can't afford to replace them as often as they should.

5. You get extremely tired (part of the tiredness is travelling there and back every day).

6. After three days, everything tastes of lemon floor polish.

7. When you are told to drink as much as possible, they don't mean prosecco.

8. It is amazing what you can endure, both physically and mentally (though see 7 above, which would have helped considerably on this).

9. It seems interminable when you start, but it DOES come to an end.

10. There are lots of very wonderful people on social media: I got sent chocolates, wine, books, pencils, cards, good wishes, and some lovely hand-warmers.

I finish being cooked on Tuesday, and I shall be taking in a big cake for all the lovely hard-working staff. The NHS has been there for me in spades, as it has been for thousands of other women with cancer and, pace this awful government trying to sell it off covertly to US healthcare providers, I hope it will continue to be there for all of us, when we need it, for ever.
I am truly grateful. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

3 Reasons to Self-Publish

With publication of the fifth Victorian Detectives novel, Wonders & Wickedness, and a sixth on the way I have now firmly moved into the entirely self-published category. And I been asked once again by several people why I decided not to go with a commercial publisher.

Here are my reasons:

1. Control: As a self-published author, I  have a lot of autonomy. I can do whatever I like, publicity-wise, and if you follow me on Twitter (@carolJhedges) you will know that I do. I had very little autonomy with Usborne and OUP and I gather that some big publishing houses like to keep a close eye on their writers so they don't run amok on social media, which could rebound back on them. Also I gather that many houses prefer writers to promote other writers on their list (possibly why I rarely get promoted by Choc Lit writers, lovely though they are).

2. Choice: I  chose the wonderful Gina Dickerson ( @GinaDWriter ) of RoseWolf  Design to come up with my new covers. They are certainly quirky and different ... just like the stories .. and, dare I say it, like the author of the stories herself! When I was mainstream published, I had to accept whatever their in-house cover people produced whether I bought into the concept or not.

Also, I can choose and change the key words that help readers locate my books, and I can fiddle around with Amazon's book categories, if I want to. As I am an inveterate fiddler, I do.

3. Cash:  As a commercially published writer of adult fiction I was getting 40% of all ebook sales, far less on printed books. As a published children's writer that dropped to 12% of all book sales. And my then agent creamed off 10% on top of that. As Little G Books (my publishing imprint), I can command 70% of sales. The difference in my monthly figures has been remarkable.

Ok, I know it is all too easy nowadays to write a book, cobble together a cover and upload the finished product to Amazon .Advances in technology have opened up enormous opportunities for self-publishing that were never there when I started writing books, and that is a good thing.

I also acknowledge that inevitably, there is a lot of dross out there and it lets the side down. Poorly written and produced books with typos, badly designed covers, sold at rock bottom prices or given away for free, which is not the way I want to go.

Despite the many ''Hey, I produced a book for virtually nothing'' blogs, the writers of the best self-published books have usually used beta readers, then paid out for professional editing, proofreading and cover designing. It is hard work at every stage, and having done it five times now, I can attest to the pain.

But in a world where celebs are sneaking all the good publishing deals, and agents are less and less able to place books, I still think that going solo, if you can, is the best and most lucrative way of presenting your work to the reading public. And there is HUGE satisfaction from holding a book in your hand, or seeing it in a shop and knowing that you produced yourself.

So what's your publishing experience? And as a reader, do you ''prefer'' a book that has a 'proper publisher' behind it? Do share your thoughts ....

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Carpe Natalis (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

So that was Christmas. Little G got the bicycle she desperately wanted, and has spent a lot of time riding round the small grassy island outside the local cathedral. A few falls have also occurred, but give her her due, she has got up and got straight back on.

Mind you, she has a helmet to protect her, as they all do nowadays. I remember 'back in the old days' one fell off a bike, bashed various body parts, and that was life. I still carry the scars of a very nasty fall, age 7. Meanwhile, Small loves watching her ride, and gets very excited and wavy as she passes him, feet pedalling furiously.

But Christmas has been, and it has gone, and any sensible small person fixes their gaze upon the next big event. So it is with Little G, who is now eyeing up the approaching celebration of her fourth birthday. Actually, the next big event is You Must Be Mad's birthday, but apparently that is of secondary importance.

'It's my birthday soon,' she tells me when we pop round to see them, post Christmas.
'I think it's your mum's birthday first,' I say.
Little G waves this irrelevant information away with the contempt it merits.
'Yes, but I'm going to be FOUR!' she tells me earnestly.

She also informs me that she is having an 'Alice in Wonderland/Princess' Party. The second was what she originally wanted. The first is You Must Be Mad's idea. The usual hard won compromise has been reached. We have been given our orders: L-Plate Grandad will make his famous egg sandwiches, and I will try to stop Small from messing up the games, and getting trampled underfoot.

At some point in the proceedings, Little G will ingest too much cake, morph into Sugar Baby and stomp upstairs in tears ~ mind, this assumption is based purely on the past three birthdays.

'What happens after your birthday?' I ask her.
Little G ponders for a nanosecond.
'Small's birthday,' she says. 'Then it will be Christmas again.'
That's how we roll.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Living in Interesting Times

Harpenden in the Snow (pic. Alison Woodley)

We live in interesting times, as the saying goes. For some of us, the times are slightly more interesting that we'd like. Last week, a few days before Christmas, FIVE letters arrived from the two hospitals who are dealing with the aftermath of my cancer operation. Cancermin gone mad.

Before we go there, a piece of advice: Do Not Research Cancer Causing Symptoms on the Internet. Apparently my cancer could have been caused by: cigarettes/weight/age/coffee/alcohol/salt/red meat/smoked food/air pollution/stress. No mention of the current government, but I'm pretty convinced they must be part of it.

Briefly, I shall be spending most of January shuttling between the Luton & Dunstable Hospital (checkups, follow on checkups, bone scan etc) and Mount Vernon Hospital, where I am slowly going to morph into Radioactive Woman. Stand next to me at bus stops at your peril. In preparation for this, I have now been CT scanned and Marked In Indelible Pen. After a while, you just withdraw into your head and let them get on with it.

To add to the fun, the dumbphone has packed up. It started a while ago when it kept locking me out. Then it refused point blank to send any texts. Cue taking it into a local EE shop, where a pair of twelve year olds in blue overalls with the yellow EE logo took it apart, re-assembled it, and informed me that there was nothing more they could do.

Thus acquisition of New Phone. Luckily, the other Grumpy Old Sod is a big fan of Classic FM and knew immediately that the right phone for the non-techie-with-tendency-to-shout-at-and-break-phones was the one they've been pushing as the ideal Xmas gift for the over 80s. So while he has a brand new white Apple iPhone with gold edges, I have a black one with BIG keys and SIMPLE instructions. Happy? Yep, though I'd have preferred a red one.

Life is all about survival in one form or another, isn't it? Sometimes this means adopting a different strategy, sometimes it means adapting to a new one. As the days lurch unsteadily downhill towards the gate of 2018, I'd like to wish all the readers of this blog a Happy New Year. Resolutions? I don't make them. Let's just say that if I and the mobile phone haven't packed up by December 31st, 2018, I shall chalk it up as a success! Cheers!

Sunday, 24 December 2017

It's Party Time!

What is Christmas without a P*A*R*T*Y? So step inside the writing garret, gentle reader, and help yourself to a party hat, a handful of poppers and a tinsel wreath. This party is for all of you - 2017 has been a momentous year for many reasons, and it is time to celebrate!


Ah, you found the box of crackers. No, I don't know what Vampires sing on New Year's Eve..... ''Auld Fang's Syne''. Haha - love it. OK, while you're attacking the sausage rolls, grabbing a drink and introducing yourself to the other guests, I'll just run through some of the events that made this year so special for me. Please share your special events later.

In May I started minding Little G and Small when my daughter returned to work. We have had a lot of fun and adventures and in honour of their dual presence, I re-started The Adventures of L-Plate Gran to tell you all about them.  Here's the first *new* post

The PINK SOFA has played host to some lovely writing guests over the year, including: Jonathon Fletcher, Jan Ruth, Kelly Florentia, Shelley Wilson, Ian Wilfred, Amanda James and Jo Carroll.

The MOST popular blog post, with nearly 6 thousand views so far was this one.

All the Victorian Detectives books were re-issued with brand new covers, designed by Gina Dickerson (@GinaDWriter ). The fifth Victorian Detectives book, Wonders & Wickedness was published in September and has been on several eminent book bloggers' Best of 2017 Book Lists including @CathyRy  and @MrsBloggsReader  @TerryTyler4  Thank you ladies. I am honoured.

I'd also like to thank everybody who reads and comments on my blogs, and chats to me on Facebook and Twitter. You know who you are. I know who you are. In the dark times when staring at a blank computer screen and wondering why I have the effrontery to call myself a writer, YOU have encouraged and cheered me on. Especial affection for all my mad fellow #thearchers Tweetalong mates.

I see someone has opened the PROSECCO! Excellent! And if one of you can sort the play-list, let's start celebrating!

On behalf of the SOFA and myself: A Very Happy Christmas to One and All!!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Cheek to Cheek (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Christmas preparations are underway at You must be mad's house. Little G and Small  have helped to lug home a very big tree which looked a lot smaller in the market, and then helped decorate it. Small's contribution has been to pull off all the decorations within reach on the lower boughs, so the tree now has a rather lopsided look.

Little G keeps dropping hints about my present in a 'not-telling-you' sort of way, eg:

Little G: What is your favourite colour?
Me:        Orange.
Little G: That's the colour of your present!

Meanwhile, Small is starting to push the boundaries, as those books on child-rearing put it. The pushing involves things like dropping food off his highchair/being told to stop/doing his sad 'lip' gesture/ then dropping more food .... slowly and deliberately .... while staring at you. He has also mastered the art of reaching out behind his back to touch something that he has been told not to touch. He is turning into a cheeky little monkey, as the books on child-rearing don't put it.

You must be mad and I are the discipline duo. We absolutely refuse to be defeated by an under-two on a wind-up mission. Small, on the other hand, clearly sees our reactions as part of the game. Neither of us have any experience in raising boys, and the sort of brisk telling-off that would reduce Little G to floods of tears, washes off Small like water off a seal. Frankly, my dear, he simply couldn't give a damn.

We are both hoping it is a phase. Like Little G's phase of ritual burping. She rarely does it now. Meanwhile we continue to admonish Small, and he continues to run rings round us. You can see him sizing us up behind his innocent 'what, me?' face, while L-Plate Grandad (Small's favourite person out of the two of us) tries not to laugh.

It's a battle, that's for sure. But we all love Small too much to let him win. On the plus side though, I am mentally stocking up on a lot of 'when you were very little' stories to use as embarrassing ammo when Small turns into a teenager. My day may not have arrived yet, but it will surely come.
Oh yes.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Spreading Myself Thinly

WARNING: This blog post contains strong language and scenes of a surgical nature that some readers may well find distasteful. Don't say you weren't told.

It is Saturday, and I am back home recovering. Partly from the mastectomy itself, but mainly from 48 hours in hospital. Do not get me wrong: The Luton & Dunstable Hospital is brilliant. The NHS is the greatest invention since sliced bread. But.

They keep waking me up. The first night, they come round every hour to see how I am. Sometimes I am asleep, in which case they wake me up to check if I was asleep. When I  am not, they stick things in various orifices, on various fingers, and mutter to each other. I've been given a nice green buzzer attached to a morphine drip. Somewhere in the course of that long dark first night, I lose all sense of reality, and just empty it. Which kind of accounts for the next day.

I am labelled. My left leg has a label, as does my right arm. Presumably on the basis that if they go missing, they can be reunited with the rest of me. My left hand also has a large blue arrow pointing upwards, allegedly indicating where the sentient bit is. Every time anyone enters my room, they ask me my name and date of birth. After a while, I stop waiting to be asked, and tell them anyway. This means the cleaner, the menu lady and the patient next door who forgot where her room was know who I am and when to send birthday cards.

Hospital time is different from everywhere else. There seems to be an awful lot of 4 am and most of the time it is Thursday. Little G and Small come for a visit the day after the operation and instantly manage to locate the device that raises and lowers the bed. So there is a great deal of 'bed UP - bed DOWN.' They get plied with biscuits and cooed over by the nursing team, which they thoroughly enjoy.

The thing with the drainage bottle honestly wasn't my fault. (The drainage bottle, which contained  me in liquid form, follows me round in a nice green bag.) Look, I just stood up and it somehow became unattached and ended up on the floor, so that there I was, briefly, spread thinly over a wide area.

They load you up with pain relief in hospital. Unfortunately, even though all the drugs say they may cause drowsiness, the staff don't like you lying around in bed, so I spend a lot of time sitting up fast asleep. I have to say, however painful the operation was, the most painful event occurred when they removed the surgical tape attaching the cannula to the back of my hand. Words of an unladylike nature were shouted and I had to apologise.

I have now been sent home with something called Tramadol, which I gather is one of the opiate based pain-killers currently responsible for the majority of drug-addicted deaths in the US. Luckily, this isn't the US, so I reckon I might be OK.

But at the end of the day, whatever day it is, it's great to be home. I have drugs, I have an exercise chart, I have a cat who missed sleeping on me and is now making up for lost time. And, as I keep reminding myself, in Victorian times, my operation would have been performed minus anaesthetics, and my survival rate would be practically nil. Plus I'd have had to pay for it. I could make a political point here, but I won't. You know what it is. I'll just keep taking the Tramadol.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Big C & Me

As regular readers of this blog know, 4 years ago, I was diagnosed, via a routine screening, with ductile cancer, and underwent an operation to remove it. You can read about it HERE.
Unfortunately, it appears that me and the Big C have not finished our relationship. I now have Grade 2 breast cancer, and in 4 days' time (Wednesday 6th) will be going into the wonderful Luton & Dunstable Hospital to have some more of me chopped off.

It is quite a major op, and like most major ops, it has generated an incredible amount of paperwork (known, rather wearily, to us sufferers & survivors as Cancermin).This week alone I have received:

* A BIG booklet on primary breast care
* Results of my biopsy
* A letter explaining about my healthcheck, pre-op
* A report of my 2 meetings with my Macmillan nurse
* Letter from the Photography Dept re appointment to take pics
* A form for the Implant Registry
* Info about the above
* A questionnaire to fill in post op
* A survey to fill in about Breast cancer and 'older women' (optional)
* A report on my initial diagnosis and meeting with consultant, sent to my GP cc. to me
* Information about my Outpatient Department appt. post-op
* A treatment plan outline sent to my GOP cc. me
* Various leaflets about stuff

Worried about the operation? Heck, I don't have time. Too much reading and box-ticking to do!

Last time I was chopped, I noticed a few people backing away into the undergrowth. They have not re-appeared. So, in the interests of being helpful, here are some things to say/not say when a friend/family member or work colleague announces they have breast (or any other) cancer.

* 'Aren't you lucky you don't need chemo': yes, probably I am, but I'm not feeling lucky right now. Why not ask me about my treatment instead?

* 'Let me know if I can do anything' (I had a text that said this). Translation: Don't let me know, please. Better to say: 'Can I cook you a meal? When shall I bring it round? Can I hoover the house for you? What would be a good day?' Most treatment involves being unable to lift anything lighter than a feather for weeks, so cooking/cleaning is a bit of an no-no.

*  How are you? If you can add 'today' it helps us respond. Today, I am feeling tearful. Yesterday, I was fine.

* But PLEASE PLEASE ... at the end of the day, the worse thing that one can do is to ignore. I have been told several sad stories of women taking cakes into work, to get colleagues to speak to them. If all else fails, drop round a card. With a nice Boots/Space NK/MS voucher inside ... 'to treat yourself when you are better'.

And finally, coz I want to leave room for other far wiser people to pile in with their words of wisdom: to my fellow cancer friends: Whatever your deeply held beliefs, if someone offers to: pray, light candles, send blessings, plant a tree, or ritually sacrifice a politician, be grateful (especially the last one). It shows they care. xx

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Cold Comfort (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

It is nearly the beginning of December. Everywhere is gearing up for Christmas: lights are being strung between High Street lamp posts, Christmas goods are enticingly displayed in windows, shops have placed twinkly trees in pots outside their doors in precisely the wrong place for a passing double-buggy, and we have all gone down with coughs and colds.

Small brought it back from nursery first. Little G then caught it, and with the loving generosity displayed by all small children towards their adored grandparents, they gave it to us. We are both fuzzy-headed, bleary-eyed, badly-slept, runny-nosed, coughing and generally under the weather.

Meanwhile Little G and Small, perfectly accustomed to living with a wide variety of minor ailments, forge through the day, mopped up at intervals, waiting expectantly for us to provide the next entertainment. All we want to do is curl up under a duvet without being used as a slalom or a trampoline. It doesn't happen.

L-Plate Grandad has cunningly mastered the ability to sit with his eyes closed and zone out for 5 minutes, but I am too worried about Small's ability to run amok to relax. I am like a coiled spring, constantly monitoring him for incipient catastrophes involving stairs, drawers, plugs, doors, small found objects on the carpet, the cat, sharp objects, or cupboards, for which I will be held accountable by You Must Be Mad. I do not remember feeling this heart-lurching sense of responsibility when she was growing up.

In an effort to corral the wagons pre~CBeebies time, I sit them both at the kitchen table, give Small some crayons to eat, and help Little G compose her letter to Father Christmas. I write to her dictation: ''A crown, a wand, a dressing-up box and a police outfit.'' She signs it. I am impressed. Little G is clearly going to rule the world when she grows up.

If she could also find a cure for the common cold, that'd be great too.