Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Tom Hanks Short Stories - release date 24th October 2017

Set a date in your diary for the release of Tom Hanks book of short stories. I am sure nearer the time he will be on TV discussing the upcoming release, and it will be available for pre-order, but just so I don't miss it I've also put it in my diary.

Hopefully by then, my second novel will be out.

Monday, 27 February 2017

I wonder if I should I do a writing course

From time to time an offer from Groupon drops into my email box that has me pondering... maybe I should.

I remember the day an offer for an online writing course dropped in - Writing children's stories. I was several chapters in to writing my novel, my target audience was aged around 9 or 10. I have no experience of children of any age, other than being one myself... once... a very long time ago, but I felt I was on the right track. The course wasn't very expensive and was run as a series of modules online.You had to pass each one before it allowed you to progress to the next module. In all there was about 16 modules. 

I decided it couldn't do any harm, although I realised it would delay my novel writing while I completed it. I signed up and started Module 1.

Over the course of the next 10 days I blitzed the course. I could effectively 'ignore' the sections on picture books for younger readers, as this was not my age group, although I did need to complete the modules in order to progress. I could also whizz through the modules for illustrated books, as again these were for younger readers than I was writing for. I wanted to write for children who were ready to progress to a novel, where images were created in the minds from the words on the page and not by an illustration I had supplied. I had such vivid memories of some of my earlier novels: Heidi, for example, where other than the cover there was nothing to suggest how scenes looked to me other than the unfolding chapters. Another of my very favourite books at this time was The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown, about a group of school children who put on a play in an old church and want that proper swish as the curtain comes down. 

Finally, I reached the modules that started to cover my age range, I worked through them pleased to see how much I was already doing of what they were saying. I learned something new from each module, but overall I was very comfortable that I was on the right track and didn't need to make any major changes to anything I had already written.

On completion of the course, I signed up for the self-publishing course where I learned an absolute wealth of stuff about kindle publishing. 

I was now ready to continue my writing, confident that I was covering all the necessary elements of writing for my target age range. All I needed to do now was hope that the actual story was good. 

And who wouldn't enjoy reading about time-travelling spaniels on an adventure in 1665 London?


Sunday, 26 February 2017

That's a lot of Cats and Dogs.


From around April 1665 the number of deaths from the Great Plague began to rise at an alarming rate and, although we know differently now, at the time it was thought that the plague was being spread by dogs and cats. And so, the Lord Mayor of London ordered that all cats and dogs within the City walls of London were to be killed. This order was legal and those disobeying could be taken infront of the courts, but so far I haven't found records that anyone was.

This meant if, at the time, you had any cats or dogs in your home you, as the owner, were responsible for killing your own cats and dogs. Unthinkable! In his journal, Daniel Defoe estimated that in the region of 40,000 dogs and 200,000 cats were killed and the domestic cat was almost wiped out in the City of London. (Well done cats, you made a remarkable recovery.) http://www.britainexpress.com/History/plague.htm

Once thought that the rat was the culprit responsible for spreading the disease, it was later thought more likely to be the fleas on rats that were responsible. In either case we can see that killing cats and dogs was the worst thing they could've done, because they were getting rid of one of the rat's natural predators and allowed the disease to get out of control.

Note: there is a variety of estimates over the number of cats killed, I have seen anything from 20,000 to 200,000 being quoted on various websites, 200,000 being the more usual figure used.

My major research tool was a book entitled 'The Great Plague - the story of London's most deadly year' written by A Lloyd Moote & Dorothy C Moote and was a very readable account of the Great Plague year.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

What did I learn?

Google is a great source of information. I remember many years ago, probably around 1999, an IT guy at work telling me about this great new website for finding answers to anything and over the years I have used it extensively. One thing I have found though is the answer depends on knowing the right combination of words to put in. Sometimes it can take a number of efforts to get to the right information.

And so it was when I was researching the Great  Plague of London in 1665. Page after page told me the same thing, and then suddenly I read a sentence that opened up my story. 

The 'Lord Mayor ordered all the dogs and cats destroyed' courtesy of http://www.britainexpress.com/History/plague.htm

Wow, I had never heard this, I googled more and more and now I had the key words it came up all over the place. Now, I had my story, my beloved pampered pooches would travel back in time into the Great Plague to meet King Charles II and, while trying to find their way back to present day and the comfort  of home, they had to avoid being killed under the Lord Mayors decree.

Now I had a story to tell!


Friday, 24 February 2017

Finding the story

I had my idea, but I had no knowledge of how to sit down and write a book and that is where my business head kicked in.

My background is in Accountancy. I am used to setting deadlines, planning work, researching policy & procedures and I applied this knowledge to my book writing.

I had my background story to work with and my first challenge was to decide over what timescale I would set the story. The Great Plague of London went on for the whole of 1665, the fire was in 1666 - could I have Brandy & Brinkley running around London for over 12 months, and keep the story interesting? Probably not.

I love computers and spreadsheets, but sometimes only pen, or in my case pencil, and paper will do. I went out and bought myself an A3 artists pad. This would be my record of writing. My plan, my plot. my ideas would all be kept in here. The was to be my 'Big Black Book' not exciting to look at but would be crucial in my writing.

My initial research soon told me that King Charles II didn't remain in London for the duration of the Plague, as with many residents who could afford to he left to avoid catching the plague. Now I had a time scale to start the story, if they were to meet the King they needed to be there before he left in early July. I was keen to have the link with the plague in Eyam, Derbyshire in the story and that took me to early September 1666, so now I had my timeline. 

Now all I needed was the key element that would turned what could be just another book that retold the story of the plague to an adventure story that was fun to read. More time on the internet and I came across a single sentence that opened the whole story up and I knew I now had my story, and that was one of the single most exciting moments in this journey as a new author.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Finding an Idea

It's all well and good sitting down at a keyboard, or settling in a comfy chair with pen and paper in hand, to write a book. But, you have to have an idea.

I had many suggest I write a book about our time in Spain, selling up in the UK, the process of getting the dogs their passports, our trips to Spain to find somewhere to live and then the actual packing up a whole house and moving it 1500 miles. Once there, there is the settling in to a new community, coping with a different language and dealing with the 'official' stuff like where do you take your rubbish (we didn't have a bin at the house). Well, firstly, it was all there already on my blog and secondly, a book had just been published that effectively covered it all in a really good read. @VictoriaTwead has a wonderful series of books starting with Chickens, Mules & Two Old Fools. If you enjoy reading books such as Driving Over Lemons and a Year in Provence, you'll enjoy Victoria's  books.

No, I wanted something different. And that's when good friends and good wine play a part in the process. One night a chance comment got me thinking... 'Wouldn't it be good if my dogs, Brandy & Brinkley, 2 Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, could go back in time to meet King Charles, who they were named after?' asked my friend. And there it was, a tiny worm of an idea that wriggled away at the back of my mind. Glorious battles between Cavaliers and Roundheads played out in my mind, I began to think about the process of time-travel.

Google was about to be a big player in my book writing process, so much research to do. The first night saw the first spanner in the works. Cavalier & Roundhead battles were Charles I, and although he had spaniels, the breed was named after Charles II, who was never without his beloved dogs, and would even be distracted by them in meetings of importance rather than attending to business. OK, more Googling told me that I'm now looking at 1665 & 1666 - the time of the Great Plague followed by the Fire of London. Hmmm, a whole new story to come up with.

The process had begun

Monday, 20 February 2017

I owe Christopher Timothy and apology from 30 years ago

A post on a Facebook Book Group I am a member on triggered a memory from about 30 years ago that I hadn't thought of in a long time. The post asked which authors have people met. Well, other than Terry Pratchett on a number of occasions, there is only one other author I have met. He's actually an actor who was well known in the 1980's for his role in All Creatures Great & Small. I will admit that it wasn't a program I ever watched and at the time I didn't know who Christopher Timothy was.

As I lived and worked in Sheffield, a friend asked if I would attend a book signing by Christopher on her behalf which was being held at a local branch of W H Smiths. Of course, I was happy to and on the due date I found myself in the Meadowhall shopping centre. My only previous book signings had been for Terry Pratchett, when I had queued for hours, out of the various shops and down the street. Hundreds attended, and while I hoped it wouldn't be that bad I did expect some crowds, so I was a little surprised when I got there and the only people at the table of books was Christopher Timothy and, I assume, his publicists. Maybe I was lucky and timed it perfectly between the afternoon shoppers going home and the workers not having yet arrived, but it made me feel quite awkward. I remember walking around the shop a couple of times thinking I had got something wrong.

Eventually, I plucked up the courage to go over and ask for a copy if the book. And then awkward got to a new level. 'Do you enjoy the show?' he asked. I felt quite embarrassed to admit I'd never seen an episode, and that I was getting the book for 'a friend'.

'Do you have any questions for me?' - well, no. I didn't know who he was and didn't watch programs he was in, what could I ask.

I'm not sure whether I asked if I could take a photo for my friend (she will probably remind me one way or the other) but I do remember his publicist asking if I would like a photo taken with Christopher - well, no, not really.

On my! How must he have felt. Having now done a few book signings myself, I know how stressful they are. That feeling as you set up that no-one will come and speak to you, wondering whether you will sell any books... it's massive. Fortunately, mine have been relatively successful in my little world, but I do feel I now owe Christopher Timothy a massive belated apology for my behaviour. My only defense is I was very young and very shy back then.

So, my thanks to the book group for bringing this long since buried memory back to my mind and allowing me to cringe all over again and my sincere apologies to a very nice man, Christopher Timothy.

Oh, that old adage!

I once read that 50% of people believe they can write a book

And 50% of them start to write a book, but get lost along the way, or run out of ideas, or run out of steam.

And 50% of them finish a book, but then don't know what to do with it, or don't think it's any good.

And 50% of them do something with it.

Now, I don't know if those figures are correct but talking to people about writing, it's definitely got a ring of truth about it. So, I still amaze myself that I fit into the final category of being one of the ones who finished a book and did something with it. But it was a long journey and a tough one at times.

My writing career started with blogging. At the time, in 2007, I didn't know what a blog was. I had given up work due to issues with my health and we were relocating to Spain. In October of 2007 my brother suggested I write a blog about our experience, and my first blog was born  http://relocatetospain.blogspot.co.uk/ Having just taken a look at it to find out when I started writing it, I have read a couple of entries and maybe someday it will make a good book. Never say never.

At the same time as starting the Spanish blog we decided that my early retirement would mean we could get a dog, which turned in to 2 Cavalier Spaniel puppies - a-ha, I feel another blog coming on. http://2littlepuppies.blogspot.co.uk/

I loved the randomness of blogging, I loved the interaction and I loved that freedom, but still the idea of writing a book never occurred to me.

In 2012 I had a car accident and as a result of tests I was diagnosed with a heart condition. Fortunately, it was one that could be corrected with a pacemaker. After getting this news from the consultant I went home and started to search the internet for information. Looking back the most immense thoughts then were actually quite trivial in the grand scheme of things, but I struggled to find the answers to quite basic day-to-day questions - and yet another blog was born  http://livingwithapacemaker.blogspot.co.uk/ I am always entertained that the most comment search that brings people to this blog is, 'How soon after a pacemaker is fitted can I play golf.'

When we moved back from Spain I wanted to carry on blogging so my Spanish blog was retired, and my daily ramblings continued on http://acoffeeandachat.blogspot.co.uk/

And so these all kept my writing bug under control, I never felt the need to develop further. But, others who read my blog encouraged me. And that's how my career as a children's author began, a chat with friends over a bottle of wine.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Favorite sentences

Sometimes, when I read I come across a sentence that I would truly have love to have written. These come and go over the years and fade in my (not very good) memory, so I have decided to start keeping a note of them.

My first is from The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley.

The cover drew me to this book, I had seen it in the bookshop several times and each time the cover intrigued me and the blurb was enough to interest me. Eventually, I bought it while it was on offer - buy a book, get one half price.

It took me a while to get into the style, it is a very gently paced story, as is fitting for the period it is set. I was intrigued by the mechanical octopus and would dearly love one of my own, but preferably without the 'sock-stealing' habit.

It did take a while for me to latch on to the main characters but it always held enough intrigue for me to continue. Then I came across the sentence that made me stop, think about it and enjoy the very feel of how the words fitted together to build a picture so brilliantly. I'm happy that this will be the first of my favourite sentences.

The spare room was crooked, as though it had planned to be L-shaped but changed it's mind at the last minute

A Glimmer of an Idea

I have a memory of walking through WH Smiths one Saturday afternoon more than 20 years ago and seeing a whole display of books by Jacqueline Wilson. Now, at the time I was in my early 30's so way too old to be a reader, but that image stuck with me because at the time, that was my name too.

I remember thinking how cool it would be to have a book on a shelf in a shop that you'd written. At the time I never gave it a second thought that I could achieve that, I was so convinced I was not an ideas person and couldn't make up a story.

The moment passed, but the memory never did!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Early writings

I have one over-powering memory of writing at school. I was always fairly good at writing exercises, would've loved to learn about grammar properly, but we didn't do that in our school. English literature was another thing altogether. What we were reading didn't matter, I always seemed to have a different understanding of its meaning than the teacher, and to be fair the rest of the class.

Over the years at school the constant correction of teachers trying to make me see what the author had intended began to detract from my love of the written word. How could I be so wrong all the time and too stupid to understand what the author was trying to portray. In the end I withdrew from class participation and began to read for private enjoyment. If a friend wanted to discuss a book with me I would simply express whether I had enjoyed it or not, but not go into any form of analysis as to what I enjoyed about it, how it made me feel, what emotions it raised.

I found the same began to happen with films. When Pink Floyds 'The Wall' came out a group of us went to see it. The usual post film discussion took place afterwards and what I took from the film was the complete opposite of the rest of the group. These days I would see this as a plus, individualism, outside-the-box type thinking, but back then I didn't have the confidence to think like that.

Maths was a strength at school and, with the belief that my grip on the written word was wrong, my whole career was based on numbers. I followed a route in Accountancy, although I was always good at writing reports and letters. Over the years the creative part of my mind went to sleep and the logic side took over.

School has a lot to answer for. Fortunately, present day learning seems to be much more supportive of abstract thinking, and I listen to Chris Evans' 500 words story writing competition for children with total envy that there was nothing like this back when I was at school.

Friday, 17 February 2017

It's all in the name

I seem to have spent my entire life spelling my name to people. My birth certificate tells me my name is Jacqueline, a name chosen by my parents as there were no other 'Jacquelines' in the village where I was born in North Yorkshire. Everyone (except my family) shortened it to Jackie, a very popular teenage magazine at the time. Donny Osmond on the cover was definitely a reason to buy a copy.

I read a lot as a child and at the age of twelve I read an article on names. I learned that Jackie was the shortened version of Jacklyn, my spelling was shortened to Jacqui. There are now a variety of spellings with a Q, but back in the early 70's I only saw the spelling I have used since 1970. When asked for my name I always replied, 'Jacqui with a Q'.

My surname was no better, although simple when you know how, it was always beyond me how a combination of 3 letters in a 7 letter name could cause so much confusion.

Fast forward a few decades and I am sat at my laptop needing a profile name. Easy, my dogs names were Brandy and Brinkley so I amalgamated the 2 and came up with Brindy. A few more years on and I am faced with a decision on publishing my first book. Do I go with a name I have been having to spell and pronounce to people my whole life or do I choose an easy name to spell, say and remember. Writing a children's book focused my thoughts even more - keep it simple.

So, first name required no thought - Brindy.

Now I needed a surname to go with it. Easy, mum's maiden name was simple. It would be a lovely way to involve mum with my book publication, she was instrumental in teaching me to read and write and died when I was only 11. Brindy Cox seemed a bit short so I chose Brindy Wilcox.

And so my pen-name was born, a pseudonym for my Children's stories.