Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Blogs worth a writer's visit

I've met some very interesting people, all round the world, via books and blogs, so if you're in the mood to browse, here's a few for you...

My Life, one story at a time
Donna McBroom Theriot lives in Louisiana, likes Sweet Tea and says, 'All my life I have loved books; so it was a natural progression to merge that love of books with book reviewing. I also love to write, and dispersed between the many book reviews you will find on my blog, are my stories, my memories, my memoir. I invite you along for the journey, through laughter and tears, and the ups and downs that make up my life'.

Donna's Blog 'My life; one story at a time' delivers what it promises - a mix of interviews, reviews, features, giveaways and some of the author's work. The blog changes frequently, with input from top writers (and I don't mean me!)

I was asked to do a guest post 'something personal, about how you managed to combine writing with  working and being a mother.' That really got me thinking back to the old days.

How to be a not-perfect writing-working-mother

I am lucky. The children are grown up, I no longer have to go out to work, and I can write or take photos whenever I want. But it wasn’t always like this…

Twelve books ago, I was forty, with a nine year old son, an adopted eighteen year-old daughter, two dogs, seven cats and occasional kittens. They all lived with my husband and me. I also had three stepdaughters, a bit older than my adopted daughter, who came over from time to time. As if that wasn’t enough, my husband and I had demanding full-time jobs too.  

In fact, I’d just been appointed Headteacher (Principal) of a school for 11-16 year-olds, to see the school through its last two years to closure. Parents don’t like to send their children to a closing school. This meant that we had a high number of disadvantaged youngsters in our school and teachers didn’t stay long. It was a tough job.

So that was the year I decided I’d write a novel. 

Read the rest on Donna's blog (after the details of 'Song at Dawn')

The Queen's Quill Review

If you like  HISTORICAL NOVELS, check out The Queen's Quill Review. Andrea Connell's site is serious and professional. No distractions here but the reviews are wham-bam to the heart of some very interesting books. A great site to find your next historical read. She's a busy lady but each update is well worth waiting for.

Lindsay's Romantics

You have a heart of mush and love ROMANCE? Check out Lindsay's Romantics - pink, pink and more pink, with plenty of reviews. Again, this is someone who writes herself and reviews the genre she loves.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Top 12 music videos

Christmas music - Jean Gill

My Top 12 Music Videos

This is my selection.  What's yours? How's about sharing, as a Christmas present to everyone who reads this. The rules are that you have to choose a video because it's a special video, not just because it's your favourite song or your favourite singer, and not just because the star is so desirable - or wearing so little clothing - you can't take your eyes off him/her!

1. Bryan Adams - Please forgive me
He had me from the moment he scratched at the door to join in. I just love this dog! I love the way he potters about on set, part of the band. I love the way Adams caresses him so naturally while recording. Great camera-work.This has to be the best behind-the-scenes video ever. I like the song too; love songs sung by scruffy, macho rock stars always appeal :)

2. Sade - Soldier of Love 
High drama and stunning images, with Sade's physical elegance and smooth voice. She has a poise and a presence that grabs attention. I find her beautiful and this video really appeals to me as a photographer, the landscapes, the movement, the silhouettes - and the horse. Isn't that the horse of your dreams?

3. Patrick Swayze - She's like the wind 
The combination of Swayze's beauty, with the romantic lyrics and the clips from 'Dirty Dancing' turn me into adolescent mush every time. I love Swayze's looks and the way he moves. Somehow the video hooks into a mix of nostalgia and romance, and knowing that Swayze's talent lives now only on screen makes it even more of a tear-jerker.

4. Aerosmith/RUN DMC - Walk this way
Makes me smile every time. Turning the competition between differing musical styles into a comic on-stage battle between the two bands was genius as a concept. I love rock, love Aerosmith but most of all I love the combination of great performances with play-acting in this video.

5. Shania Twain - That don't impress me much

She's gorgeous. I would love to photograph her. Drama, elegance, surreal juxtaposition of that desert landscape with the furry outfit. I want a furry outfit like that. But then I'd look like a pretentious muskrat, not like a fantasy queen.

6. Francis Cabrel - Je t'aimais, je t'aime et je t'aimerai

The opening image of the blue layered hills captures our landscape perfectly. Cabrel, one of my favourite singers, comes from the south of France and there is something quintessentially southern French in this video, right down to the old-fashioned touring circus that disappears into the distance at the end. A classic love song - sing it to your partner.

 7. Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman - Somethin' Stupid
So stylish. All the period details, right from the opening frame, are so beautifully created and match the song. Williams and Kidman play the parts to perfection.

8. You can call me Al - Paul Simon/Chevy Chase
Funny :) I don't even know why it's so funny. There's something about Chevy Chase, his expressions and the fact you know he's miming that is just funny.

9. Jean-Jacques Goldman - La-Bas 
Another of my favourite French singers. His performances with Welsh singer/guitarist Michael Jones and American Carole Fredericks are pure magic, especially Ne en 17 a Leidenstadt, in which each of them takes a verse, wondering what he would have done if a) Jewish Goldmann had been a German in Nazi Germany b)    British Jones had been born in Belfast c) Black Fredericks had been born white and rich in Johannesburg. Powerful lyrics.

But the video I've chosen is La-Bas, because the story of an immigrant seeking work is filmed so beautifully with Goldman truly convincing in a role that had personal relevance. The sad postscript to this one is that Sirima, the beautiful girl singing in the video, was murdered by a jealous partner because she became 'too successful' after her duet with Goldman. Sirima was born in Isleworth, Middlesex UK, just like my husband. Her murderer got 4 years.

10. Queen - The show must go on 
While we've got the hankies out, here's another tear-jerker, not because of what's in the video but because of the context. This is a compilation of clips from so many great Queen videos that I could have put them all in my list. Remember Freddy as a housewife? And who'd have thunk Roger Taylor would look so good in drag! But Freddy sang 'The show must go on' when he was dying of AIDS and every word in that song is so much what he's doing that I can't believe he had the courage - or the wonderful voice - to sing it. Understatement is not a word that comes to mind with anything concerning Freddy, and this video is a tribute to an amazing performer.

11. Shakira - Objection (Tango) 
Put the hankies away and shake your bootie. I love this video! I hadn't even heard of Shakira when I saw this video and I was mesmerised. I love the way she moves, the energy, the passion. I've always loved to watch dance, any kind of dance and this video just fires me up with the desire to jump around the living-room, and kick some ass. The switch to cartoons and superheroes creates a good story in this too. I haven't got a clue what the lyrics mean - who cares!

12. Bonnie Tyler - Total Eclipse of the Heart (Interpreted)
Bonnie Tyler comes from the Swansea Valley in Wales and when I was visiting schools there, as an English Adviser, one of the ten year olds I spoke to told me 'Bonnie Tyler's my auntie, you know.' Everyone is very proud of her success where she comes from, a rough part of Wales. She made good. I love singing along with 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' but definitely thought the video was over the top. When I saw this version, I understood why :)

Laugh? I couldn't stop laughing when I first saw this. I can't watch the original now without smiling at just how weird it is! The cat is there so the video doesn't infringe copyright - boo to copyright laws, on this one - so ignore the cat and watch the TV screen.

Your turn. Share a music video that you think is brilliant.

Friday, December 7, 2012

An Idiot's Guide to Camera Filters

Misty morning in the Camargue
No, this isn't a guide FOR idiots; it's a guide BY an idiot. A couple of people have been asking me for advice on filters, so here it is. And that's all it is. MY advice based on personal experience this year. If my experience can help someone else, especially BEFORE you decide to spend all that money on buying a filter set, I'm happy to share.

You just want to know what to put on your list for Santa?

1. A Lee filter mount for your camera. Why Lee? Because there's a reason it's so expensive - it's well-made. This matters to me because I'm the sort of photographer who once reversed the car over my full camera bag. I only smashed a couple of cheap screw-on filters - the Nikon camera and lenses took the hit and lived to shoot another day (another two years actually, so far). Now you know why I'm sticking with Nikon. Oh, and my husband does not know about this particular test of my gear - please don't tell him.

2.  A 0.9  (-3 stops) soft graduated N.D. filter.

3. A Circular Polariser.

You've been very very good this year?

4. A Big Stopper     -10 stops Neutral Density filter

Be warned! Santa could have to go on a waiting list for your Lees as they're more popular than a Doc McStuffins 'time for your check-up' doll.

And get this great guide to shooting landscapes here 

Want to know more about the choices you make? Read on!

If you have any questions or comments after reading this, please post and I'll reply.

You want to improve your landscape photos? 

This was my aim, when I went on a joint shoot with nine other photographers in June. One of them was a very talented young photographer, Chris Hepburn,  who specialises in landscapes. Take a look at his portfolio! I was very keen to learn from him, which meant getting up at 3am to get to our chosen location before dawn. A few of us all took shots of the same place, at the same time, and then looked at the shots Chris had taken. Even allowing for his technical and artistic expertise in his specialism, there was no doubt that using filters gave Chris a range of possibilities that I didn't have without them.

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, Camargue

You're wondering whether filters are worth the money?

FILTERS can be physical accessories or various Photoshop layers that modify an image. Some photographers have told me that Photoshop filters do everything they want, so they don't need physical filters. If that's your view, stop reading. You've got what you want.

If you don't want to spend the time attaching stuff and setting up your tripod, get some screw-on filters and stop reading now.

Filters, especially Lees, COST A LOT, so I had no intention of buying anything that merely replicated what I could do in Photoshop. So I ruled out all the prettifiers; coloured filters, fancy patterns, stars etc

I read books and sought advice from the pros. One problem is that if you look for a book on filters, you usually get 90% of it about Photoshop filters. I found this one helpful. The very fact that it's not recent means that it's dealing with the basics - filtering light - and gives examples shot with physical filters. link
This is what I decided filters could do for me that Photoshop couldn't:-


1. balance exposure for an extremely wide dynamic range (very bright and very dark both present), in one shot; for instance, the sky is usually bright and the land is dark, so to expose correctly for both, you need several shots at different exposures (bracketing), a right pain if clouds are moving. With a gradient filter, you can darken just the sky area. With more than one filter you can adjust more areas. It will always be fairly clumsy but it give you better raw material in to work with, in one image.

2. allow a slower shutter speed, by darkening the scene, so you can turn water milky, make speeding cars into blurs and create light trails.

3. remove glare/reflection and polarise light, resulting in more dramatic colours.

You can see where my filter choice comes from now, can't you?

1. The graduated ND filter. If you mainly shoot landscapes with a hard horizon (like sea/sky shots), choose the hard filter. If you love wide angle, the received opinion is that soft is better with a wide angle lens. If you shoot scenes with murky divide lines between light and dark, choose soft.  0.6 or 0.9? Personal preference but I have a 0.6 hard grad ND and a 0.9 soft grad ND and it's the latter that's on my lens all the time for a landscape shoot.

Here are two shots, one taken in  Life Before Lee; the other in LAL, with the 0.9 soft grad N.D. and with Photoshop processing too - it's allowed! But if the raw material isn't there (e.g. sky) you have nothing to work on. Incidentally, taken in much the same weather conditions. Obviously I went for a wider shot the second time but from the same very dangerous place on a narrow bridge with my tripod and my knees shaking every time a lorry wooshed past me.

Camares in the Causses region of France, without filter

Camares in the Causses region of France, with filter

2. The Big Stopper lets you get that shutter speed right down for the milky water shots so popular now. I want one! But I might have to get a screw-on for one of my lenses because my precious wide-angle, the Nikon 14mm-24mm, has reduced my options on the mount, unless I buy two sets... and Santa says I have not been THAT good. More later about the practical side of mounts and Nikon.

3. The circular polariser does what it says. It should be on the outside of your stack of filters if you're using more than one. Photoshop plug-in Color Efex offers a good polarising filter and I believe Lightroom does too, but you'll get more mileage from Photoshop polarisers if you start with better raw material.


I love my Nikon 14mm-24mm. Many say it is the best lens ever made. I love it. I love the drama of shooting wide. But everyone knows this is an ugly baby with a big, bulbous impossible-to-fit-filter-to-it end. Lee did it. They made a bulky, awkward contraption with extra large square glass filters just to fit my beautiful baby. So I bought it. No-one puts Baby in a corner when there's a landscape to shoot. Maybe I'm crazy but love cannot be denied so I based my Lee decisions round my impossible, lovable wide-angle.

I also bought the adaptor, and two adaptor rings, so that I can use the same over-large filters with the two other lenses I use for landscape; my 14-24mm f2.8, 50mm f1.8, 70-200mm f2.8, all Nikon

I got the 0.6 hard grad N.D as part of the kit. I bought a 0.9 soft grad N.D. and this is THE one for me. I also bought a 0.9 N.D. (i.e. all over darkening) but if I could have a Big Stopper I wouldn't bother with this. I have a screw-on Circular Polariser and (OK we're all suckers :) a fun star filter that cost me next to nothing  - it's just FUN)

I think I might ask Santa for a B&W  -10 screw-on filter seeing as Lee CAN'T make a Big Stopper for the huge wide angle mount, nor a polariser.

So I've sacrificed a fair bit to use filters on my wide angle. If I was rich, I'd probably just buy the two mounts, but I'm not. Like most of us, I can figure out ways of blu-tacking filters on top of filters. Unlike most of you, who have some manual dexterity, I no sooner had the Lee system screwed together and fixed on my lens than I turned the filter too much, the wrong way and the whole set-up came apart, fell on a rock and scratched the 0.6 hard grad N.D. I suppose it could have landed in the waterfall instead.

Anything that screws on, screws off! Watch which way you turn your filters!

This is what my wide angle does for me. Did I mention that I love it?

Dawn on Camargue marsh - catching the wind

However, if I'm going to take landscape shooting seriously, filters are the last consideration after putting the basics into place.

BASICS of landscape shooting before 'adding on' filters

Get your field guide here if you didn't pick it up earlier, and make cheat sheets from the excellent tips for each landscape type so you can take it with you and use it! There's advice on shooting the coast; woodland scenes; mountain tops; and rural areas.

My advice
1. Choose your place. Get to know your place as much as you can. If it's local, you can check it out at different times/seasons. If it's not, and it's a famous place, you can look at other people's images before you shoot - not to copy but to have pictures in your mind, ideas on 'what works', or on what's been done a zillion times, so you can have a take of your own. If you prefer to be without prejudice, fine. I sometimes do one, sometimes the other, and I'm just a beginner.

2. Find the spirit of the place. Of course it's subjective, but I personally don't relate to vivid, sunny, extreme HDR processed images of Venice. A friend who's been to Venice many times showed me his latest shots, so excited that 'November is the time for Venice!' Blues, mists, moody, ethereal - yes, that's Venice for me too. 

3. Shoot at dawn or dusk, during the 'blue hour'. If you choose a different time, CHOOSE it because of what the light does then. If you shoot at that time just because that's when you're there, don't expect pro quality shots.

4. Match lens and composition. A wide-angle needs foreground interest; a long lens compresses those layers of mountains and tree-lines. A stitched panorama captures the scope of a fifty-mile canyon. What do you want to shoot?

5. Use a tripod. Use a slow shutter speed.

6. NOW decide what a filter can to improve the shot!

the highest perched syncline in Europe - Valley of Saou, France

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas book for free

Celebration Time! Free Christmas book

Global Awards winner, historical novel ‘Song at Dawn’

ebook giveaway until 24th December

Visit Sooz says stuff

get the coupon number and use it at the smashwords checkout 

Great site for writers and readers

My short story 'Jailbait' won November's 'Paragraphs of Power' Competition - read 'Jailbait and all the other entries here. But be warned -  my story has teenage content - much worse than adult!

As someone who was teacher for many years, I've come across relationships between teachers and pupils that crossed the professional line. My own view is that a teacher is a position of trust, and it is a betrayal of that trust to initiate or to get drawn into a sexual relationship with a student. The recent example of a teacher fleeing the UK to France with his 15 year old pupil/lover raised all kinds of issues, including the differences between countries as to the age at which it's legal to have sex. My view is that the age difference between the partners is important. A 35 year old - man or woman - who has a sexual relationship with a 15 year old is, again, betraying trust. A 16 year old who has a sexual relationship with a 15 year old is hardly any different from the 'victim' - except in the eyes of the law.

Literature is full of stories where the line was crossed between adult and child, including that between teacher and pupil. All those I can think of are from the point of view of a male teacher, like in the lyrics 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' so I wanted to tell the story from the viewpoint of a fifteen year-old girl...

Paragraphs of Power

Why not enter your own story for Suzy's great competition? The next one is in January. In my winning month, November, there was an amazon book token as prize.You also get to present a book of your choice during the month you win.

Book news

It does look like I'll be able to publish 'Bladesong' early in 2013 - yay!

The verdicts on my new novel, in manuscript form, are coming in from my 'critical friends' and my editor; mostly positive (thank God!) but lots of minor corrections/tweaks. As I work through, I'll let you know the sorts of things that need to be changed. I can tell you the sorts of thing I don't want to change - the idea of any major re-organisation or plot change fills me with dread. But if it will be a better book that way, I will think seriously about every suggestion made.

comment on the Troubadours' facebook page and enter the free draw for a signed copy of 'Song at Dawn'

Dead but not silenced - one woman's true story

My other writing news is about a translation project; I'll tell you more about that when I can. If I say that it's a French autobiography that I'm translating into English,which starts with a fairytale romance, results in rape and a child custody case, and finishes with a young woman's death in suspicious circumstances, you won't believe me. But that's the truth.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Win a rip-roaring 17thC adventure book

Knox Robinson Publishing
see amazon uk page here



ISBN 978 1 908483 24 9

To celebrate the release of the paperback edition of The Chosen Man on the 6th December, 2012, J.G. Harlond is running a promotional competition on her website.
Click on:

Go to 'Competition' on the home page.

Click on 'Read'.

Read the chapter then answer the questions that follow.

Email answers to:

Deadline for receiving answers: 20th December, 2012
The lucky winner will be selected from those submitting the correct answers on 24th December, 2012.
J.G. Harlond will contact the winner for his/her home address via email.

J.G. Harlond - about the author


J.G. Harlond

It is 1635, Ludovico da Portovenere, a charismatic spice and silk merchant, is on a routine voyage from Constantinople to Amsterdam, but his voyage is interrupted; first by a timid English priest with a message from Rome then by a storm, and then by a pirate raid. Ludo’s plans are disrupted, as are the lives of the innocent people unwittingly entangled in his secret commission.

MY Review of 'The Chosen Man'

fun and full of energy; an entertaining read

Imagine Jack Sparrow working for the Vatican to break the Dutch economy by boom-and-bust selling of tulips; and a 17th century Spanish Lara Croft sorting out an English stately home with incidental husband and resident villain. This novel is fun and full of energy; black comedy abounds. The wide-ranging historical background is also very intelligent and well-informed, while in no way slowing down the swashbuckling story.

The slow-burning romance between the two lively main characters, Ludo the loveable rogue, and Alina, the feisty Spanish girl stranded in a foreign country, adds to the enjoyment. However, the two plots are otherwise very separate and this makes for some disjointed storytelling, with awkward jumps in viewpoint.

I've read 'Tulip Fever' so knew some of the historical background, and was expecting this to be heavy,depressing and political, especially in our time of 'financial crisis'. Not a bit of it! I found `The Chosen Man' to be a very entertaining read and I would definitely read another novel by this author.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Win a 19th century murder mystery

amazon uk link



To celebrate the launch of her latest novel, Karen Charlton is running a fantastic promotional competition on her website.

Simply read the extract of Heiress posted on the books page of her website:

Follow this link to the extract

Then, using the form provided, answer the question:
'What is the name of the thief arrested by Constable Woods at the Whitechapel Toll Gate?'
And you could be the lucky winner of a signed copy of her latest novel!

But hurry! The competition closes on December 31st.

The winner will be announced in January.
Full details available on her website homepage:

Book description

Northumberland, November 1809. A menacing figure stalks women through Hareshaw Woods and when Helen Carnaby, a beautiful young heiress, disappears from her locked bedchamber everyone fears the worst. The townsfolk cry 'witchcraft' and the local constabulary are baffled. Helen Carnaby's worried uncle sends for help from Bow Street magistrates' court in London. 

Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods now face their toughest and most dangerous assignment. Convinced at first that this is just a simple case of a young woman eloping with a lover, Lavender and Woods are alarmed to discover a sinister, murderous world of madness, violence and secrets lurking behind the heavy oak door of the ancient pele tower at Linn Hagh. Why did Helen Carnaby flee on that wintry October night? How did she get out of her locked bed chamber? And where is she now? 

Hindered by Helen's uncooperative siblings, distracted by gypsies, rebellious farmers, highwaymen and an attractive and feisty Spanish senora, Helen Carnaby's disappearance is to prove one of the most perplexing mysteries of Lavender's career. Set in the beautiful market town of Bellingham, 'The Missing Heiress' is the first in a series of Regency whodunits featuring Detective Lavender and Constable Woods.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

So you think you've finished writing your novel?

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Book Blogs.

I can't believe it's two months since I last blogged but in that time I've written 40,000 words and finished the new novel, the follow-up to 'Song at Dawn', so turning into a recluse has all been worth it.

How do you feel when you finish your novel? I am always elated, ready to celebrate with a very good bottle of wine, convinced that this is the most wonderful book ever written. I need a print-out straight away so I can see the sheer number of pages, feel the weight of paper covered with my words. After ten months' work, I have finished my latest masterpiece.

A week later, I am suicidal. My masterpiece is rubbish. Why would anyone ever want to read such trash? I should burn it and forget writing. I should take up crochet instead.

Another week later, with some helpful input from the man who always reads my work first and yet has stayed married to me, I realise that my novel needs some work. After I've put in the work, and only then, I think it will be well worth sending out into the world, for my readers to judge its quality. By the time my readers see it, this novel will be as good as I can make it, and I will be proud of it.

This is my fifteenth published book and I go through the same emotions every time, which apparently is a little wearing to live with, but it is just part of the process for me, and it's easier to accept it when you've been through it before.

It seems to me a great pity that more and more writers are publishing at stage one, elated at finishing, impatient to get their books out there, to get the adrenalin rush of seeing their precious work in bookshops, on amazon, on smashwords, on real people's virtual and physical bookshelves. Believe me, I understand the temptation and the impatience. After all, you've followed 50 shades of marketing and done every single pre-publishing platforming networking activity known online - right? 

But your book is not yet good enough to publish.

This is important enough to repeat. No-one's book is good enough to publish the moment s/he puts the last full stop in place. However experienced a writer is, however many million books s/he has sold, this is always true. You haven't 'finished' your book when you write the last sentence. You've written the first draft. 

You think this applies only to self-published authors and the publisher will do the rest of the work? Wrong. Publishers put huge pressure on their writers to meet ever-tighter deadlines, at the same time as expecting ready-to-go typescripts. The days when editors worked with writers on the content of their novels are long gone and high-quality editors are few and far between. When an author sends his/her 'finished' work to the publisher, editing can vary from a proofread to, rarely, 'old-fashioned' discussion about improving the book. Mostly, I see the book going to print pretty much as it left the author, who usually submitted it to the publisher sooner than s/he would have liked, without any revision time.

Advice on 'keeping readers happy' is making this fast-food mentality worse. We are told to keep in the public eye by producing books regularly and 'shorts' in between. No wonder there are so many badly written, badly edited books around, both self-published and from reputable presses. Pressure!

Just suppose you resist the pressure and want to make your book better before it goes out to your readers. What should you do? It depends on what sort of book you're writing but this is what I'm doing:-

the Editor

The Editing Process

1. Read the whole book in one go, noting any technical errors, any inconsistencies, any continuity problems, any lapses in point of view, and any weaknesses in plot or dialogue. I always print out my novel, double-spaced, and sit down in a comfy chair with a red pen, to mark up the typescript. I don't care how teacherly red pen is - it shows up well! I have my own shorthand for picking up on errors but if you want to use professional editing symbols, they can be found online. I thought this was a good list of editing symbols.

When my books have been conventionally published, I've accepted or rejected publishers' editing by both response on printed galleys and on Word in editing mode. If I'm editing/feeding back on someone else's work, I use the editing options in Word.

Technical errors - grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, font

Consistency - names (a big problem for me because 12th century spelling was erratic and I'm using four languages - English, French, Occitan and Arabic. The same historical character has a different name in different languages)
                   - choices on e.g. use of hyphens in words, so that the same choice is made throughout the novel (for instance, I decided on bedroll rather than bed-roll)

Continuity problems - e.g. the knight was holding a dagger but he kills the enemy with a sword. It's very easy when writing over a period of ten months to make these sort of mistakes. Time often trips you up - you said it was night and yet here they are in broad daylight; you said your heroine was pregnant by the hero but they only met two months ago and the baby's arrived! 

Point of View - check for switches of viewpoint too close together. 'Head-hopping' is a classic beginner's mistake - choose one viewpoint and stick with it for a while, regardless of whether it's 3rd person or 1st person. Check that the viewpoint works, both in showing that character and in showing only what he/she could know or see/hear. If you're using an omniscient narrator, check that the voice is consistent.

Weaknesses in plot - Does everything fit with what has been written earlier, about events and about characters? Are the characters behaving in character? Think about the action from each person's viewpoint. Have you sacrificed believability for action? Are there big gaps, which need some explanation? Are there parts which are confusing? (In my novel, 12th century politics in the Holy Land is part of the plot and I have to remember that my readers haven't spent a year researching the period - I have to cut out the stories that are fascinating but off at a tangent, the historical detail that isn't needed for this story, and I have to make it clear in a couple of sentences who these historical characters are)

Weaknesses in dialogue - Does it fit the characters and period ( in a historical novel, anachronisms are real clangers and most likely to appear in speech)? Real dialogue is oblique - people don't follow on exactly from what is said before.
 e.g. 'That's the phone.'
'I'm in the bath'
This exchange is not logical but makes perfect sense. Check that dialogue is lively and realistic, without dropping into the boring ums and errs and trivia of real speech. Unless, of course, that's your aim.  

2. Re-write - cuts are as important as changes and additions.

3. Input from others - make critical friends. Writers' groups in the real world and online are a great source of support and critical input. You very soon figure out which people are the right ones to help you with which book, and of course you help them in return (or you pay them, or both). I now have a truly wonderful network of writer-friends and the historical novelists in my network are going to read and feed back on 'Bladesong'. I trust them to find any horrible anachronisms, dialogue or big faults in plot or structure. They might find all kinds of other faults too but I know their feedback will be constructive so that will lead me to

4. Re-write - using the input from other people.

5. Copy edit - the fine toothcomb stuff. Zap every mistake in grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting and technical consistency. Sod's law means that you will have introduced new mistakes with your re-writing.

You think you can do the final edit yourself? Have you ever shown a page of your work to a really good professional editor? Did it pass the test? I'm an English specialist, who used to teach English, and I'm a reasonable editor, but I miss mistakes in my own work. This time, I'm getting it checked by a professional. As I already have three excellent, pro editors in my network of writer-friends, I don't have to trawl through lists of strangers and take a gamble. If you are looking for an editor, talk to other writers to find one they'd recommend. Genre forums are very useful because people writing the same sort of books are sharing their experiences. 

I tried an editing task in the writers' group I run monthly. I'd doctored a piece of writing with a variety of different mistakes and my writers all had time to edit the piece. Then I read the piece aloud and they stopped me any time one of them wanted to make a change. As well as raising issues of subjectivity and ownership (the 'editors' became very possessive of their changes and preferred their version to the writer's), the exercise came up with one unexpected outcome. Not one of the editors picked up on the doubling up of words 'was was' until the piece was read aloud and then they all kicked themselves for missing this mistake - twice.

It is very difficult NOT to read for sense and miss such mistakes - which is why you need a good editor.

6. Finished! Ready to publish.

'Bladesong' will be published early in 2013 and I hope that if you read it, you won't be interrupted by mistakes on every page. I'm sure there will be some mistakes, as the proof-gremlins always create a few. These tiny creatures visit edited works and add errors, for the sheer pleasure of seeing the writer's and editor's faces, when they say, 'I know that was correct when I sent it off!' Every author and publisher I know has confirmed the existence of the proof-gremlins, so it must be true.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Prize-winner in Global Ebooks Award

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Book Blogs.

Some time between 3am and 6am my time, far far away in Santa Barbara USA, at a Gala Awards Celebration, someone announced that 'Song at Dawn' had won the Dan Poynter Global Ebooks Award for Historical Literature Fiction (medieval) category. I'll certainly take a look at the other winners to choose books to read myself, as I judged another category and was very impressed by some of them.

Of course I wasn't physically there. Some of you will remember my previous misses at attending Awards Ceremonies. At least this time I knew it was too far away, too expensive a trip, and too costly in family time to even think about going. My writer friends tell me how wonderful - and useful - it is to attend such events. If I were rich and alone, maybe I would swan round international literary events, dispensing wisdom. And hitching up my new dress which would forever be slipping, wiping my runny mascara (from all those tearful acceptance speeches) and feeling vaguely out of place and foolish. Waiting for the wisdom to arrive so I could dispense it. Maybe I'm just not an Award Ceremony person.

Instead, I'll probably watch the slideshow of the Global Ebooks Awards, when it comes online, and imagine how I'd have swept up to the stage looking all glamorous. I can always sit and gloat over my  'winner' sticker. It's cute but the jacket really wasn't designed to take a sticker. Do big publishers always leave space in the cover design for the prizes? For the killer review quotes? Every time I see white space on a jacket now, I think 'Hah! S/he didn't win anything, did s/he!'

I didn't make it to the USA but the Internet is a wonderful thing and the USA is coming to me, in the form of author and Editor J.T. Hinds. Yes, the Impeccable Editor herself is visiting me, my writing group and my little French village. It won't be a big event but we've planned a joint workshop to give feedback on work to local people of all nationalities who write in English. There won't be many there but already I'm getting such enthusiasm about the event. 'The Impeccable Editor's Guide to Writing' is en route to publication and I'll let you know when it comes out. You can get a preview, with free advice from a professional writing coach and editor, here

Otherwise, the heat here is brain-frying and I'm cutting myself some slack from writing and photography to cater for summer visitors and chill out with the dog. With regard to the new novel, I'm starting to sound like Bon Jovi 'Half-way there and living on a prayer' but the more I hear from readers that they love 'Song at Dawn', the more determined I am to get on with 'Bladesong', the follow-up.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


UK Supporters in hot tub

I've been home and busy for three weeks after a fantastic shoot with nine other photographers and nine models, in a luxury house we rented in Yorkshire. One of the scenarios we shot for stock use was flag-waving by supporters - on the couch, in the hot-tub, in the field. Only now, when I'm looking over my final versions of shots, with the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony due to start, am I really taking in how much people enjoy waving those flags.

National pride is double-edged and every group creates exclusion. Maybe, because of my migrant background, I'm too aware of this and of the historical abuse of national symbols, and maybe I should look more at my own photos. People like waving flags, they like supporting their team and it's all fun.
French supporters

Of course, the fun turns sour quickly if you're on the women's football team of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and they've introduced your team with a video on the big screen showing the flag of the Republic of Korea. North/South/Democratic or not - easy mistake? Not if it's your flag and your team. Imagine you're playing for Wales in the USA and up goes the St George Cross. My American readers have no idea the outrage that would be felt. You have to be inside the group to feel it. And there's no doubt the Koreans felt it! No way were they playing with that flag on the screen above them.The first cock-up of the 2012 Olympics (as far as I know) is over waving the wrong flag.

Scotland the Brave

There will be more and bigger cock-ups as the adrenalin flows and the cultures clash. But there will also be those stories of personal triumph and tragedy that touch the soft spot in us all. I was moved by the successes of 'British boys' in the Tour de France but interested in Wiggins' forthright response to (French) interviewer that he had done it for himself, not for Britain. I am currently being congratulated by everyone from the doctor to the cheesemonger in my small French village for 'my' success in the Tour de France and although I'm happy to take the credit and bask in the glow, that means I'll also take the blame if a British athlete is a 'bad sport' (especially in any activity involving a French person). I hope that the French insistence on how 'English' fair play is, will be born out by events.

I suspect I will be spitting at every mention of the word 'English' by the end of a hundred French commentaries on UK competitors,  as will every good Welshperson - or Irishperson or Scot.
Wales supporters

I won't be waving any national flags but I do support Wales, Scotland, UK, France, England as teams - in that order. My own brand of flag-waving is reserved for the personal successes and moments of cameraderie and support, both between team-mates and across barriers. I know someone who has reached the team for the opening ceremony, after a tense time as reserve,  and I know that just being there is a special moment for him. I'm waving my flag for him, and the others in that Opening Ceremony, who had to apply for the privilege and are all good at something in the sports world. I'm waving my flag for that friend.

 What I love best in competitions are the friendships and support that happens. Which brings me back to the shoot I mentioned at the start. Ten photographers, who will all be competing to sell our photos, and who all helped each other to achieve results none of us would have got alone. Now I'm really waving my flag. Let the Games begin. Or rather the J.O. as we call them here in France, making them sound like a sexy film star.

Parents asleep while supporter cheers

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Alice and anorexia - interview with author Fiona McClean

amazon link

Alice loves to paint pictures of fish. Her only problem is her addiction to cakes and pastries. To feed this obsession, she steals ...and to rid herself of her spoils, she makes herself sick. Stick thin, Alice puts her fragile mind into the care of a psychiatrist, Professor Lucas, and tries to learn the rules people should live by. But her recovery soon brings a new and dangerous addiction - Brendan. As Alice struggles to cope with Brendan's violent outbursts, her dying father and poverty, she takes solace in her job at a massage parlour where she finds comfort with motherly Helen. But these are just temporary respites as her life with Brendan spirals downwards becoming a nightmarish maze.

When I first met Fiona McClean I didn't know that three years later her debut novel would win the rare double of  praise from literary critics and  from readers who relate to the anorexic character, Alice - but I am not surprised. Fiona turned up at the writing group I supposedly run, in this small French village, and told me she was following a distance course in Creative Writing but wanted to learn from our group too. I was daunted at the prospect of being challenged over everything I said that clashed with the university certificated voice of authority but I needn't have worried. There are indeed clashes of opinion within our group but it is typical of Fiona that she enjoys diversity and certainly never claims the voice of authority to be on her side. She writes instinctively and originally but wants to learn all of the craft that she can, to improve her writing. From my point of view, it's like teaching anatomical drawing to Van Gogh.

Fiona McClean - photo Jean Gill

I have this fantasy that in the future, some biographer will look back on the mix of writers and artists who form our group, and marvel that such a small French village fomented all this creativity. Our tiny bookshop venue will be as famous as the Left Bank Parisian cafe where Sartre and de Beauvoir argued. If it is, it will be thanks to the work of Fiona McClean, although I know she'd rush to contradict me and point out the others' talents.

It was fitting that the launch of Fiona's novel 'Under the Bed' was in that same bookshop, so crowded that people spilled onto the street outside to hear Fiona read extracts and answer questions, with Lesley, a friend from the group.

Book launch - photo Jean Gill

Bonjour Fiona,
Your first novel is now out in paperback and had a rave review from 'The Bookseller' so it seems a good time for me to interview you for my Blog. Although 'From Under the Bed' is fiction, you've been open that it draws on your own experience. What was it like for you to write about those experiences, some of them very painful?

My experience of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia happened a long time ago. I was curious to rediscover that difficult period and see it in hindsight, with a new perspective. I don't remember writing about it being traumatic, but yes I did feel tired sometimes and I left long gaps between writing each chapter. It was not so traumatic for me perhaps as the book is partly autobiographical and partly fiction. I saw my role in writing it as a storyteller.

Alice intrigues me as a character because, as I see her, she is so fragile and yet she doesn't want to be rescued. How do you see Alice?

Alice doesn't want to be rescued because her illness is her identity and she is afraid to lose that. Without it she may feel empty and lonely. Alice at the beginning is not mature enough to cope with responsibility and her illness provides an escape from that. Like many illnesses bulimia and anorexia are addictive, leaving the person helpless and if without resources, unable to give up the addiction.

Like Alice, you are a talented painter. How did you discover you could paint? How did you career as an artist progress? How does your visual art combine now with your writing?

I discovered painting at school and was encouraged to paint by my parents. Since school my dream has been to be a painter. I had an experimental period at art college when I specialised in performance for my degree, but afterwards I continued to paint. After several years I was taken on by The Merriscourt Gallery and the New Grafton Gallery, both of whom encouraged and supported me. Recently I have concentrated on drawing a series of sketches based on life at the hairdressers. I hope to do some paintings based on the drawings.

My writing is visual, using metaphors and descriptions directly as an influence from painting. My paintings are partly inspired by colours and the work of the Fauvists

What do you hope readers will take away from reading your novel?

I hope people who have read 'From Under the Bed' will be aware of how fragile life can be.

When you've given readings, what questions arise? What are your answers?

During readings people often ask if its autobiographical.
It is so far as I had the illness anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Some of it is fiction, though I often don’t know where to draw the line between them both. Alice is not me nor does she completely represent my experience of anorexia, but yes there are many parallels, her love of painting being the main one. 

Why are the characters in the book written without depth?
Alice didn't relate to people in much depth showing that she was not yet capable of mature relationships. Her relationship with her parents was detached as she was unable to connect with any real feelings for them. She was a person obsessed by her illness and art.

What is the reason for the anorexia in Alices life?
There are many possible reasons for anorexia including, chemical imbalance, problems in the family, fashion related, work related- if you are a model for instance or a ballet dancer you are already on a severe regime which may tip the balance. Alice was obviously affected by what is fashionable. I did not want to specify any particular reason and especially did not want to point a finger at the family.

In these changing times, how did you find a publisher?

I put my book up on an online creative writing group created by Harper and Collins. It was read by the publisher Roman Books who after seeing the manuscript accepted it for publication.

You belong to a local writers' group. Would you recommend other writers to join one? What are the advantages and disadvantages of online writers' groups versus those which meet up in the real world?

The writers' group is a life line and the once-monthly meetings the highlight of the month. You don't get tea and biscuits and the chance to chat live in an online group but you do get many more readers reading and reviewing your work. In my local writing group I find it is more likely I will continue to attend; with an online group I am less motivated. There is something to be said for seeing people rather than reading about them.

What are your writing habits?

I often write in a friend's house as at home I am distracted. To limit distractions when I do write at home I write in the night or in bed even. Caf├ęs are a good place to write too. I often stop writing for the day, at a place in the story unresolved so that I have something to work on the next day.

What are your other top tips for other writers?

Read books on how to write a novel, this helped me a great deal, especially one book called 'Stein On Writing'. Go for walks whatever you need to recharge your batteries. You need breaks. I allow people to read my novel as I write because to some extent I lack confidence and need good criticism and encouragement. Be careful who you show it to! And definitely join a writers group.

What have been your best moments as a writer? Why do you do it?

In the night, after a glass of wine – just one or two though! Helps the writing flow and of course giving talks, nerve wrecking but they are rewarding. I feel good though after finishing a chapter I am pleased with. The best moments are when someone contacts me to say they like the book and even better if they say why.

I am three-quarters of the way on my second book called 'The Cappuccino Kiss'.  It is about Juliet, a woman afraid of dust. I am working on it every day and hope to finish by September. I have heard the second book is the hardest and certainly I am finding it a challenge.

Thanks for dropping in, Fiona, and for the scoop on the new book. Good luck with 'From Under the Bed' and with the next novel. See you at the Writing Group.

 My review of 'From under the Bed'

Surprisingly enjoyable, given the themes of anorexia and domestic abuse. The central character, Alice, might be naive, and at times there is the urge to 'sort her out', but the reader learns to appreciate Alice as she is and question the society that wants to change her. It is a pleasure to see life through Alice's eyes. The style is very much that of an artist, finding exactly the right image to bring a character, a place or a detail alive for us. Highly recommended - a book that you won't forget.