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Category Archives: Observations

After working for months on something that won’t see light any time soon, I had the chance to consider what I was going to do; how and if I wanted to move forward.  Aside from the “Stuff it all” knee jerk responses – a regular occurrence no matter what the rejection. One of these was “get out more.”

Not to the pub… I don’t need help there.

I decided to heed my own advice and socialise. Not easy around everything I do, but I missed the regular in-person meetups from university. At the same time I was lucky to be invited to join the Hornsea Writer’s group.

Writing groups can be a simple get together over a coffee or pint, or something more formal.

Yes, the invite was sealed in wax and delivered by messenger. Not only that, but there’s also a secret puzzle you must decipher each week to open the door. *

I know plenty of authors and those starting out who don’t like to do the ‘people’ thing, but there are good reasons to venture into (or in my case returning to) a writing group.

A Reason to Focus on Writing.

From a productivity aspect, I suddenly have face to face accountability. Online you don’t have to login and own up to not doing the words. You aren’t derailed into seventeen other conversations and a Twit-storm. You are there for a reason and with a very good group leader you stick to the reason. Writing.

Turning up regularly also causes me to consider prioritising writing over – oh I don’t know, pratting about on the latest Facebook game, and any other thing that likes to jump the to do queue, like cleaning! Writing is also me time. Something I do for me.  

Taking Care of the Writer: Emotional Wellbeing and Self Care

Something many authors need is the ability to discuss things important to them. I simply can’t hold a meaningful conversation about editors/industry/fonts/covers with my husband/kids/friends/the mum next door. Yet at a group you might find you over run because you’ve all got something to say. All of a sudden you’re not the only one fighting with sentence structure.  If like me your connection to other grown-ups is limited, seeking out that conversation helps reduce your isolation – a vital defence against the dark arts depression. While you can share similar issues in an online forum, it’s also easy to misconstrue things posted there.  Getting out of the house has done wonders for my positivity and state of mind.

Improving Your Writing Skills.

Every writer who takes their work seriously will know what they want to improve, what their weak points are. It starts at a “is this ok” and as you produce more gets to “This is the bit that doesn’t work.” An outside perspective of your work helps you analyse it as a reader would.

The Hornsea group consists of many published writers, Penny Grubb, Linda Acaster, April Taylor, Annie Wilkinson, Karen Wolfe and Madeline MacDonald being the faces I know. Stuart Atkin and Rick Sumner are more “behind the scenes”. While most will agree they aren’t too familiar with the genre knowledge, their understanding of what a narrative needs is most welcome.

Feedback from my group helps hone what I call Glassy Eye syndrome, the point where you lose your captive audience. Going to group also gives me this opportunity to speak aloud. Reading live is something that puts the fear of God in most writers I know. It’s excellent practice for readings.

Book Marketing and Story Promotion.

Most if not all the writing groups I have known of and been a part of have done something to raise awareness of either the trade or their own group as a whole. Hornsea Writers has its own blog (which I have yet to find the time to add content too). Their blog is just one example of promotion, some groups arrange newsletters and provide articles for the local press. Many hold library events, tables at fairs and as such help you get your work out there at a fraction of the cost of having your own table.  Some members if not all have a blog, or a network of friends, helping you get the word out there. If you’re really lucky the group might create their own anthology. Any and all of these allows you to get your work in print, read by others, or even bought by readers.

 Opportunity for the Writer.

As well as the opportunity to promote your work and reach audiences, it’s all about finding a home for the words you write. Going to a group opens more possibilities for you to find new calls for stories, competitions, grants, and writer events happening in the area. Not everything is promoted on Twitter/Facebook.

I became blasé about my approach to my writing, thinking I didn’t need or have time to. I won’t be ditching my online groups, though. For some people it’s the only option. Traveling distances can limit your possibilities.

If you’re happy to see the difference a writing group can make, check out The Writing Magazine’s database of groups.  If a genre specific group is the only thing you’re willing to consider, Allen Ashley recently compiled a Science Fiction and Fantasy group database for the British Fantasy Society, which includes Science Fiction.


*I have also developed a much better skill at parking my car in impossibly small spaces.



When I opened my curtains this morning onto a non-descript autumn day, I found a rainbow waiting outside my window. Traditionally my view is nothing spectacular: a road, and houses in all directions. If I’m really lucky I might get to hear bird song over the new developments’ machinery.

New houses on green land, new houses on flood plains, new roads, new shops. Irritating drivers, thoughtless pedestrians. I might as well live in a fantasy world.

No one listens just outside of Hull any more than they do inside it, I suspect. Yes, City of Culture 2017 lots of things happening, not all of it ‘Hull’.  Yes there’s that stigma again.  An understandable one for those of you from Fantasycon who happened to have survived the meal offerings at Scarborough’s Grand.

Hull? Isn’t that the place the PM just compared to Detroit? There’s a lot about Detroit I like, but I do worry for the city up the road when targets are placed on things so few get. A bit like Shoreditch, and planners designing roads for towns they’ve never been in.

Yet, despite all these negatives and changes – be they wanted or forced upon us – I’m surrounded by endless references to worlds that don’t exist and a culture that cannot be bought in or rebuilt at any price. Even though ‘outsiders’ are trying. Generations ago the town told a king to ‘do one’, a true rebel revolt waiting to be found in the history books. And that’s not the only one.

While the politics at a local level might belong in a dystopian novel along with the rotting boats along its beck, buildings born from fishing wealth inspire Georgian alternate history tales down streets where Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell would be quite at home.

I still expect to see Lord Poppy (Emma Newman's Split World Series) here one day.

I still expect to see Lord Poppy and his entourage (Emma Newman’s Split World Series) here one day. Image by Jon Parkes Photography

Inspiration for Lewis Carroll lies in wait at one church, while Tolkien’s touch is everywhere. Under-crofts and ancient churches treasure their secrets, next to narrow staithes hiding murderous lore of their own. The source of the town’s multicultural world building stares us in the face as we pop in to Maccy D. The essential component to any fantasy novel, the ‘barter town’ market trades under many faces. The nightlife would give Bladerunner a run for its money.

The future veers out across the Humber where its bridges are swallowed in paranormal mist.

Avoiding its miserable mud as the fog rolls on, the ghosts of Romans still search for their missing mosaic. Further along, over lost raised walkways, souls continue their pilgrimage to towering standing stones. Secret rooms buried in rubble uncover the forgotten meeting places of the elite and still standing pubs hold tight to the conspiracies plotted there. Pillar boxes maintain their guard for the airships while buildings draped in tattered canvas plead for a hero to rescue them. Shelters crumbling into an eroding coast are blinded by the hazey sun while pirates saunter back down the estuary.

HMS Bounty approaching Paull. Humber Bridge in background. Image by Karen Constantine. Source BBC.

Not actually a pirate. HMS Bounty approaching Paull with Humber Bridge in background. Image by Karen Constantine. Source BBC.

There’s so much to complain about these days, yet we take so much for granted. Like an unexpected rainbow filling a grey sky with colour.

So I’m quite happy living in my fantasy world, and I’m certainly grateful for the endless inspiration. Its global and diverse population are a great source for characters and conflict. That unsuspecting hero? Hull is one great big community that won’t turn its back on a friend.

Of course the rule for Hull is you don’t mock Hull unless you’ve lived it. Everyone Back To Ours, is the phrase for the coming year so you can’t say you haven’t been invited.

Snubbing it? You can probably do one. 😀




I’m working with some amazingly dedicated small presses across on SFFWorld, and they sff_logo_smallare dedicated to getting the job right. Small but Mighty, a feature due to go live later this week, was set up to highlight that fact, and to give these hard working people a place to shout about the result of their investments.  I’ve long been a fan of the invaluable work the small press industry brings to the reader. But dear writers, be you aspiring, almost there, or still a little green around the gills there is something I really want to draw your attention to.
You have spent every spare moment you can scrounge to write your story. You’ve called in all the favours you can ever remember doing to make sure what you’ve written really is as good as your mum says it is.  You skipped the holidays, avoided the nights out. You edited it at 4am because it wasn’t really quite good enough yet. But now? Look at it. Its proper perfect init? It wants to be read by someone who’ll write fan fiction about the lead character. Or something.
Your best mate’s cousin’s friend knows a guy who does something with books. It returns with a lovely, shiny contract.

Really? I wouldn’t buy a car, computer, phone, pet….ANYTHING this way, so why would I trust word of mouth to find a home for a story I’d spent hours and months writing?

Nope. Don’t do it. All those hours you bled over your words to toss the finished work at the first whisper of something? Seems a bit silly – like firing a gun in a spaceship silly.

I mean. I should know a bit about contracts (I don’t, despite marrying a lawyer) and expectations of the industry (also only from one side). I do know about how to make something look better than it is. I know how to use words to influence, I even get paid to do it from time to time. I know how to gild that lily. I don’t like doing it. I do like helping people, but I learned the hard way not to make promises I can’t deliver on. It’s not a nice life lesson.

It’s easy to confuse a successful something-or-other with a one man band preying on the gullible. And writers are very easy targets. I know I am!  I have fallen for the nice guy routine in the past.

Do your best to avoid the misery of dodgy presses, malicious contracts, agents that take the mickey, and loss of earnings by doing a little bit of research. It’s ok, this is just as important as the word count and the synopsis:

  1. Two years to make or break. It takes at least this amount of time to learn the ropes of any business, for investments to show any sign of return, and reputations to be more than good intentions. If your agent or publisher is new you’re risking a lot more than just your story.
  2. Check reviews of other books from the publisher. Are the reviews on Amazon complaining about typesetting? Is the Good Reads account peppered with structured reviews about well-rounded characters, pacy plots and vague about the actual personal connection to the story? A bought and paid for review tends to be ambiguo s. If itncould have been written about any story, be suspicious.
  3. Writer Beware. Check it. Is the planned future publisher or agent listed here? Yes? Is it worth the risk?  Get on the mailing list.
  4. Preditors and Editors. Another good ‘go-to’ while you’re there read this too.
  5. Absolute Write has a thread dedicated to highlighting publishers and agents who aren’t getting it right. Decide for yourself if the dream is worth the risk. There are other sites out there which provide similar lists.
  6. If you must part with money to see your name in print, please, please, please self-publish. You’ll have far more control over what goes out there, and the only person you’ll be contracted to is yourself.
  7. Reading charge? Wait…they want to make money from you before they read anything? Money flows to the writer. Always. Forever. See point 6.
  8. Editing Fee? Money flows to the writer. Always. Forever. See point 6.
  9. Promotion Charge. You did see point 7 and 8 right? Yes, the internet is a scary place, and no, an SEO package won’t save you from it. An advert on an obscure site won’t either.  Not even being ranked 1 on a Google search will do that.

These tips are for the ones who want to do more than kick the tyres.

  1. Get out there. Conventions and writer days are a good starting point to find those publishers who are investing in their portfolio of authors. It is so much harder to pretend a business has 100 employees and that “Everything’s going swimmingly” in a face to face context. Also, hanging out with other writers and authors is good for the soul.
  2. Web-check. If the publishing business is registered in the UK, the website must display the Company Information i.e. the business name, place of registration, registered number, registered office address. It should also let you know if it’s a member of any associations. Sole traders should be displaying the address of their main place of business.
  3. They sound familiar, Whois that? Run a whois on the domain name. Businesses want to be found, and generally the domain is registered to the place of business. It should match the one on their website. ANYONE can own a domain, website and therefore, anyone can reinvent a troubled publication. While data can be held private, it can cost more to do so. A step some skip to save money.
  4. Companies House. Check out the business history. A business in trouble won’t hand in very good accounts. An individual with a very good accountant can make things look better than they are. There are loopholes that allow one firm to buy out a failing one. And the same person can be involved, or related to the person from the previous one. It’s a tried and tested way of avoiding a bad rep, shedding a name and starting fresh. There’s nothing wrong with starting over if lessons have been learned so… back to square 1 they go. Right?

So far we haven’t spent anything on researching but:

  1. Got a contract, but not an agent? Get a lawyer. Freelancers don’t charge the earth for a check, and there are plenty of legitimate freelance sites set up for you to find one. OR become a member of one of the many writing associations that include contract vetting as part of their membership. Society of Authors for example. The biggest advantage of joining such an association is that should something go wrong, they’ll fight in your corner to help make it right.


If all that doesn’t help, grab a cuppa and have a look at a professionally drawn up author contract. This is in the public domain, available to download by ANY publisher wanting to use it, it’s legally binding when signed. Look what rights you’d be signing over.  Fancy your book being a TV Show? Will you see any money from it? Hope you don’t mind them using your name in any form of promotion (Good or bad) without your consent. There are plenty other examples on that site, fortunately they aren’t actually using that contract for anything other than teaching their students.

All this might have made your brain hurt, I know. Don’t take my word for it, figure out what press is best for you, based on your choices. It all gets in the way of seeing your words in  print. I get that.  This book is your baby, this dream is your precious future, don’t just kick it out the door and hope.  Do as much as you can to make the right choice for you and your work. Do your research!

Words are everywhere. We don’t realise just how much we use them, even when there aren’t any actively visible. We need them to communicate, to talk and of course, to insult one-another on Facebook. They are the hidden force behind your favourite TV Drama and the real menace in the mobile contract.

And the writers of these words? It’s common knowledge to those who work with words that it doesn’t pay much, bestseller or not. Anyone can string a sentence together, right? Not everyone can do it with finesse needed to make a business stand out from the crowd or make you believe in the character setting out to save the world from impending doom. It’s a talent. Grammar and punctuation is only one part of the tale. Creating awesome fiction is a skill which cannot be taught. It doesn’t much help when those who are published vie over whose publication format, or words on the pages are best.

Novel, script, play, game or story – the authors will tell you there’s no money in it. Regardless of book deals, acceptances, and best sellers, the financial aspect is a massive factor in a writer’s self-worth and therefore lifestyle and mental health.

A Reader’s Measure of Success?

Perhaps we should stop valuing the stories we read by the money it brings, and the format it’s presented in. Yes, I know it’s an utterly idealistic thought.

Sure, a good review won’t buy a can of beans any more than an “I loved your story” will pay for the heating, but what if your story stopped a person from committing a crime? How does that measure on the scale of worth? There are plenty of novelists out there who point to readers who have claimed their book has changed their life for the better, provided support through the loss of a loved one or simply made them feel less alone in the world. Wouldn’t it be great to pay the mortgage with ‘amount of laughter caused’?

All right, it’s a tricky currency to measure, but can’t we value it? Why isn’t there a national award for “Most Read Book in the Library”? A celebration of the work inside the cover not selected by an award panel, voting system or committee, but purely on the number of times it has been read?  Would winning such an award make a difference to how a book is received? Sheffield’s certainly trying to acknowledge the effort! There’s the Reader’s Choice Award, but this award is based on voting from a nominated list. The National Television Awards uses viewer numbers to propagate the longlist for a public vote.

Less numbers, more words!

While we as writers continue to measure our success by the money we earn, we will continue to come up short in system not designed to value the creative individual. Amazon’s system is designed around numbers, not words.  Words don’t fit into databases and percentages particularly well, they don’t follow the same rules as numbers. Bookshops offer more of a personal buying experience by engaging with readers on behalf of the publishers and authors, but these outlets still have to sell to cover costs. If you write for the love of a story, tailoring your words to fit sales predictions and best seller charts lists isn’t likely to produce you any sense of achievement. I know it doesn’t work for me. Writing for the reader and valuing their praise is still hard to measure because goodwill is no longer a bankable asset. A satisfied readership is something money can’t buy. Their genuine, passionate word of mouth recommendation is irreplaceable and outstrips any marketing budget.

If reaching ‘bestseller’ accreditation causes the stress and anxiety that it appears to, I’ll take the feedback from my readers, thank you very much. I’ll repay that loyalty the way they want-more adventures with words. For those books I read and love, I’ll let others know about it. Loudly.

I’ll also research rice and potato meal plans, I hear they’re a good cheap store cupboard staple.

The Winds of Winter

The Winds of Winter

The fantasy world’s 2016 started with G R R Martin telling the world, “I’m not done yet.”I can’t imagine the amount of stress the post must have caused him. He must have felt the weight of every word he typed, knowing the internet meltdown it would bring.

Question: Does Winds of Winter ever need to happen?

A1: Commercially, of course it does.

A2: For Closure. Not necessarily, the show will give us that.

A3: Creatively.

Not for me.

As expected (sadly) a rage of “how dare you be a living breathing person” happened. Haters gonna hate, right?

Why? Fans have developed friendships because of Game of Thrones, based on discussions and debates about what will come. If all story lines are finalised, all books are completed and all texts analysed …what then?

Those who read and watch get to enjoy two differing story arcs, both set in the same world featuring the same characters. Both ‘universes’ are official, it’s not a case of rebooting the most popular narrative. And both spawn a wealth of creativity in their wake, including a library load of books and comics you can be reading, savouring and interacting with. Quite possibly reducing the pressure on the author. Writing is fun, but not when surrounded by stress, demands and deadlines.

In true epic fantasy style, hate was met by the white knight (dire wolf?) of the loyal and understanding followers, all happy to wait and simply grateful for the update. Perhaps there should be an award for “Best Unfinished Epic” ?

What seems like a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away...

What seems like a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…

Me. I’m still a Sansa fan. I was when I picked up the first book back in the 1990s and will continue to be.

I enjoy discovering books/films/shows that wouldn’t have happened if Game of Thrones had not seen the light of day. I can talk about dragons with people who have never lifted a doorstep from Orbit, Gollancz, Tor, and haven’t a clue who Harper Voyager are and don’t get “Fantasy” in general.

Finished or unfinished, there’s a lot to be said for the awesome that started in Winterfell.

So. Your turn now, what other authors will you discover in the meantime?