books

Writers – Respect Your Readers #writingcommunity #selfpublishing

angry 1

I’ve seen a few tweets recently about the need for writers to hire professionals, be it editors, proofreaders, formatters or book cover designers. The reactions to these tweets seem to be split 50/50.

As an editor, obviously I believe that authors benefit from having their work professionally edited. I appreciate that the cost of this can be prohibitive. I’m not suggesting that authors shouldn’t write because they can’t afford to hire professionals. But that doesn’t mean you should publish.

I know this is going to be controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway. Unless you are 100% capable of editing, proofreading, formatting or design, then you should hire someone to do those things for you, because if you are expecting someone to pay for your books, then your books should be worth paying for.

Authors – the people who buy your books are not your critique group. They are not your beta readers. They are not your editors or proofreaders. They do not owe you anything. Your readers work to earn the money that they spend on your books. They deserve for those books to be worth what they’ve paid. I hear of far too many authors who say they can’t afford to pay professionals but they’ll publish anyway. I hear of far too many authors who think they don’t need advice. They think they can turn out a perfectly-formed book, without any feedback, any advice, any help.

You don’t have some god-given right to publish a book and expect people to pay for it. And anyone in the creative fields has to expect to spend a little money. Artists have to buy their paints and canvasses. They may have to hire a venue if they want to exhibit. Musicians have to buy recording equipment, instruments, maybe hire a recording studio. They all have to work at their craft. Confectioners and bakers and dressmakers and potters and wood carvers and sculptors, they all have to invest and practice and learn. Why do some authors think they don’t?

Just because you can type a manuscript, put together a basic cover and upload it onto Amazon doesn’t mean you should or that you should expect other people to pay for the privilege of reading it.

Now this might come across as if I have something against self-publishing. I absolutely don’t. I’ve self-published. I work every day with authors that self-publish. Some of them are brilliant. Most of them write gripping, entertaining, fabulous books that I would choose to spend money on – but none of them would publish a first draft. And they’re always the ones who take advice, are willing to learn, who respect their readers.

I am heartily fed up of authors on Twitter saying that they can write what they want, how they want, and if people don’t like it, so what? Ok, that’s fine, until you expect people to pay for it.

Getting a traditional publishing deal is hard, and often not the best way for a writer to publish anyway. There is absolutely nothing wrong with self-publishing. There are thousands of hard-working, talented, wonderful independent authors out there. They deserve to be successful, to have thousands of readers. They work at their craft. And they’re being let down by those other self-publishers who throw out sub-standard work.

One indie author told me that she can’t afford to hire an editor, or a proof reader. So she’s publishing as many books as she can, and using the reviews as free feedback. I find such disregard for your reader and their hard-earned cash hard to fathom.

Bad indie authors tarnish the reputation of all indie authors. Have some pride in your work, some pride in your industry. And above all, have some respect for your readers.

‘You, Me and Other Stuff’ by L.M. Barrett #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

 

I read ‘You, Me and Other Stuff’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

You

Amazon.co.uk

Declan’s a tad annoyed. Not only has the love of his life run off with ‘Superman’ but she’s also unwittingly caused his current hostage situation. 

This is the story between two childhood friends and the ‘stuff’ that always gets in the way of their relationship. Mostly the fact that Sarah is engaged to another man and Declan is being held prisoner.

Find out what Sarah did to cause Declan’s current situation and if Declan will ever forgive her. Can things ever go back to the way they were?

There’s an interesting idea at the heart of this story and two potentially compelling characters. Sarah and Declan are childhood friends, growing up together and falling in and out of friendship.

They argue, they ignore each other, they look out for each other, but then Sarah really lets Declan down, and neither are sure if this is a situation they can come back from.

There’s romance here, and heartbreak and the awkwardness and anxieties of growing up and finding out about yourself – all the ingredients for a great story.

Unfortunately, the execution doesn’t really do the story justice. The structure, with Sarah telling her story to a man she meets in a bar, and Declan telling his to a fellow hostage, Lisa, doesn’t really work. And some of the situations don’t ring true. The hostage situation is treated very lightly (perhaps it’s not a suitable situation for this genre) and Declan is hardly affected by it at all. Secondary characters are treated horribly by the two main characters which makes it hard to root for them. And the writing itself does need some tidying up.

There’s a great idea here, but it needs a bit of a polish.

3-stars-out-of-5

‘Your Closest Friend’ by Karen Perry #FridayReads #BookReview #thriller

closest friend

Hive    Waterstones

Keep your friends close. And your enemies closer.

Cara shouldn’t have survived the attack. But at the last moment, a stranger snatched her to safety.

In the hours that followed, she told her Good Samaritan secrets she’d never told a soul.

Not even her husband. Especially not her husband.

In the aftermath, Cara is home, healed and safe. Which is when the anonymous threats begin.

Someone knows things about her that they shouldn’t.

Cara’s Good Samaritan offers to help – to save her all over again.

That night, Cara made a friend for life. But what if she isn’t a friend at all?

This has a really gripping beginning, and had me hooked from the first page. Radio producer Cara is on her way home when she finds herself caught up in a terrorist attack and is pulled into the safety of a coffee shop by a stranger, Amy.

Frightened, in shock, and still a little drunk from her evening out, in the hours they are hiding, Cara finds herself confiding her darkest secrets to Amy.

This sets the ball in motion for a twisty thriller, told from both Amy and Cara’s points of view.

The writing is really strong, and each scene adds to the slightly surreal, claustrophobic nature of the story. It’s a clever tale, and really intriguing. I got so frustrated with Cara at times, for not being able to see what was under her nose – proof of a storyteller that knows how to keep her reader engaged!

It’s a good, solid, well written thriller, and I’d definitely read more by this author.

4 stars

 

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy #FridayReads #BookReview

Ministry

Hive  Waterstones  Amazon.co.uk

At magic hour; when the sun has gone but the light has not, armies of flying foxes unhinge themselves from the Banyan trees in the old graveyard and drift across the city like smoke…’

So begins The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy’s incredible follow-up to The God of Small Things. We meet Anjum, who used to be Aftab, who runs a guest-house in an Old Delhi graveyard and gathers around her the lost, the broken and the cast out. We meet Tilo, an architect, who although she is loved by three men, lives in a ‘country of her own skin’ . When Tilo claims an abandoned baby as her own, her destiny and that of Anjum become entangled as a tale that sweeps across the years and a teeming continent takes flight…

I absolutely adored ‘The God of Small Things’ – one of the best books I’ve ever read – and this novel, ten years in the making, is just as good.

This is a tricky book to explain; it’s almost impossible to summarise, so I won’t even try. It is so intricately woven and so complicated, but it isn’t difficult to read – in fact it’s an immense pleasure to do so because every single passage is so beautifully crafted. Arundhati Roy is a remarkable writer, a genuine talent and I heartily recommend this book not only to those who love to read, but also to those who write, because we could all learn a thing or two from the writing here.

I didn’t know a great deal about Kashmir before I read this book. The horrors of that ongoing conflict are told through some fascinating and compelling characters – which makes it all so much more disturbing. But the book is also life-affirming and positive, the kindness of strangers, of friends, of family overcoming the bloodshed and the violence.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I hope it doesn’t take the author another ten years to write her next novel.

5 stars

My Ten Best Reads of 2019 #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

johnson-celebration-of-learning-Thinkstock

Well, that’s another year completely whizzed past – and a year of huge changes in the Williams’ household. We’ve moved from busy Basingstoke to a rural village in West Wales. I’ve turned 50 (yikes!), my daughter has turned 21 (big yikes), we’ve celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary (big, big, yikes), and both children are at university and living in London. My editing and freelance writing business has gone from strength to strength and I’ve worked with some lovely authors.

It’s been such a busy year that I’ve not read nearly as much as I should have – and getting through my TBR list is definitely a resolution for 2020. But when I have managed to read, I’ve read some absolute crackers. These are my ten best of 2019 – click on the title to read my review.

Winter’ by Ali Smith

ali smith winter

Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer’s leaves? Dead litter.

The world shrinks; the sap sinks.
But winter makes things visible. And if there’s ice, there’ll be fire.

In Ali Smith’s Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons. In this second novel in her acclaimed Seasonal cycle, the follow-up to her sensational Autumn, Smith’s shape-shifting quartet of novels casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter.

It’s the season that teaches us survival.
Here comes Winter.

‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae’ by Stephanie Butland

ailsa rae

Ailsa Rae is learning how to live.

She’s only a few months past the heart transplant that – just in time – saved her life. Life should be a joyful adventure. But . . .

Her relationship with her mother is at breaking point and she wants to find her father.
Have her friends left her behind?
And she’s felt so helpless for so long that she’s let polls on her blog make her decisions for her. She barely knows where to start on her own.

Then there’s Lennox. Her best friend and one time lover. He was sick too. He didn’t make it. And now she’s supposed to face all of this without him.

But her new heart is a bold heart. 

She just needs to learn to listen to it . . .

‘The Craftsman’ by Sharon Bolton

craftsman

Devoted father or merciless killer?

His secrets are buried with him.

Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.

Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.

Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?

‘The Language of Kindness’ by Christie Watson

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Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years. Taking us from birth to death and from A&E to the mortuary, The Language of Kindness is an astounding account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness.

‘An Empty Vessel’ by J J Marsh writing as Vaughan Mason

an-empty-vessel-3

Today’s the day Nancy Maidstone is going to hang.

In her time, she’s been a wartime evacuee, land-girl, slaughterhouse worker, supermarket assistant, Master Butcher and defendant accused of first degree murder. Now she’s a prisoner condemned to death. A first time for everything.
The case has made all the front pages. Speculation dominates every conversation from bar to barbershop to bakery. Why did she do it? How did she do it? Did she actually do it at all? Her physical appearance and demeanour in court has sparked the British public’s imagination, so everyone has an opinion on Nancy Maidstone.
The story of a life and a death, of a post-war world which never had it so good, of a society intent on a bright, shiny future, and of a woman with blood on her hands.
This is the story of Nancy Maidstone.

‘The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz’ by Jeremy Dronfield

The boy

‘Everyone thinks, tomorrow it will be my turn. Daily, hourly, death is before our eyes . . .’

Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann are father and son in an ordinary Austrian Jewish family when the Nazis come for them. 

Sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 they survive three years of murderous brutality. 

Then Gustav is ordered to Auschwitz. 

Fritz, desperate not to lose his beloved father, insists he must go too. And though he is told it means certain death, he won’t back down. 

So it is that father and son together board a train bound for the most hellish place on Earth . . .

This is the astonishing true story of horror, love and impossible survival. 

‘Lowborn’ by Kerry Hudson

Lowborn

A powerful, personal agenda-changing exploration of poverty in today’s Britain.
‘When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being ‘lowborn’ no matter how far you’ve come?’

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’ by Hazel Gaynor

lighthouse

1838: when a terrible storm blows up off the Northumberland coast, Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, knows there is little chance of survival for the passengers on the small ship battling the waves. But her actions set in motion an incredible feat of bravery that echoes down the century.
1938: when nineteen-year-old Matilda Emmerson sails across the Atlantic to New England, she faces an uncertain future. Staying with her reclusive relative, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper on Rhode Island, Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window on to a secret that will change her life forever.

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy

Ministry.jpg

I’ve just finished this completely wonderful, beautiful book – review to follow very soon!

Happy holidays, everyone – and happy reading!

 

holidays

‘A Speyside Odyssey’ – a lovely Christmas gift #ChristmasBooks #Fridayreads

A Speyside Odyssey - High Res Cover Image

I had the pleasure of working with Dr Norman Matheson on his lovely book ‘A Speyside Odyssey’. I don’t usually do book promotions, but this is a very special book and one that will make a truly lovely Christmas present.

The book has been endorsed in a foreword by His Royal Highness, Prince Charles.

Filled with beautiful illustrations, ‘A SPEYSIDE ODYSSEY’ details the fascinating life story of the Atlantic Salmon as it undertakes one of the most remarkable, and most deadly, journeys in nature.

The story begins with conception in a remote highland burn, and follows the hazardous journey the salmon take through small tributaries to the River Spey, and from the estuary on to distant oceanic feeding grounds.

After gorging for one or more years on the prolific food sources of the North Atlantic, the odyssey draws to its conclusion as, with remarkable accuracy, the salmon complete the long journey home to spawn in the burn of their origin.

The salmon’s life-cycle provides a unique background for a natural history of Speyside. As the year unfolds, the changing topography of the landscape and river, the details of bird and animal life, wild flowers and salmon fishing lore are brought to life in words and beautiful watercolour illustrations.

‘A SPEYSIDE ODYSSEY’ is an emotive celebration of natural history in a breath-taking and captivatingly beautiful area of north-east Scotland.

The author’s profits will go to the Atlantic Salmon Trust – a charity dedicated to salmon and sea trout survival.

‘A SPEYSIDE ODYSSEY’ is available from Troubador, Hive, W H Smith and Waterstones, as well as Amazon.

About the Author

Norman Matheson, a retired surgeon, has been captivated by nature since his boyhood in upper Speyside. As a lifelong salmon fisherman, he is known throughout the Spey and Aberdeenshire Dee. He has published extensively. As an artist, he has illustrated children’s picture books and the illustrations in this book are his work. He was awarded an MBE for voluntary work in the visual arts.

 

 

‘Not My Father’s House’ by Loretta Miles Tollefson #BookReview #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Not My Father’s House’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Not my father

Amazon.co.uk

Suzanna hates everything about her New Mexico mountain home. The isolation. The short growing season. The critters after her corn. The long snow-bound winters in a dimly-lit cabin.

But she loves Gerald, who loves this valley.

So Suzanna does her unhappy best to adjust, even when the babies come, both of them in the middle of winter. Her postpartum depression, the cold, and the lack of sunlight push her to the edge.

But the Sangre de Cristo mountains contain a menace far more dangerous than Suzanna’s internal struggles. The man Gerald killed in the mountains of the Gila two years ago isn’t as dead as everyone thought.

And his lust for Suzanna may be even stronger than his desire for Gerald’s blood.

This novel is part of a series, but it works very well as a standalone – you very quickly get to know the characters and their backgrounds and what has brought them to the mountains.

Suzanna is that rare thing in an historical novel – a woman who doesn’t fit in with the requirements of the time, who rails against the constraints of her life, but who isn’t allowed to overcome them. She has to conform, as women did, but this leads to frustration and misery.

There is some wonderful description in this novel, description that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and it is very easy to picture the beautiful, but often hostile countryside. There are some really horrible and upsetting moments, written without melodrama, that bring home the reality of the fragility and danger of life then, particularly for women.

The writing is polished, professional and technically sound. Characters are authentic and consistent. It’s refreshing to see themes like post-natal depression examined so sensitively here – something not often tackled in historical novels.

My only gripe is that some of the scenes of the mountain man are rather repetitive. He thinks the same things, does the same things, and I did feel that these episodes could have been cut. There is some repetition throughout the novel – while it is undoubtedly well-written, it could do with being cut back a little. I did find myself skipping over some parts.

That said, this was a really interesting read and I’ll definitely read more by this author.

4 stars

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’ by Hazel Gaynor #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

lighthouse

Hive   Waterstones

1838: when a terrible storm blows up off the Northumberland coast, Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, knows there is little chance of survival for the passengers on the small ship battling the waves. But her actions set in motion an incredible feat of bravery that echoes down the century.
1938: when nineteen-year-old Matilda Emmerson sails across the Atlantic to New England, she faces an uncertain future. Staying with her reclusive relative, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper on Rhode Island, Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window on to a secret that will change her life forever.

I remember learning about Grace Darling many years ago when I was at primary school, and for some reason he image of her rowing across the wild sea in the moonlight has stayed with me. I loved Hazel Gaynor’s ‘The Cottingley Secret’, another novel that mixes fiction with reality, and this novel further establishes her as one of my favourite authors.

This is a really gorgeous book, beautifully and sensitively written. It tells the story of Grace, living with her close-knit family in the lighthouse on Longstone, who helps her father in a dramatic and dangerous rescue one night, which leads to an unwanted celebrity. We also follow the story of Matilda, alone and scared, sent by her family across the sea in shame, to live with an aunt she doesn’t know – a lighthouse keeper. The two women’s stories are threaded together, the narrative moving from 1838 to 1938 effortlessly, with compelling and honest characters and a poignant, arresting storyline.

One of my bugbears with women portrayed in historical fiction is that they often act outside of what wold have been allowed without repercussions. Often they are ‘feisty’. Grace and Matilda are definitely ‘strong’ women, but their lives are controlled and defined by convention – the author portrays them as finding ways to live within that and be true to themselves rather than allowing them unrealistic happy endings.

I loved the portrayal of Grace especially. There’s a real warmth and respect that comes across very clearly, without Grace being perfect. The ramifications of her bravery and celebrity are shown honestly, and shed a whole new light on her story.

A really lovely book and definitely recommended.

5 stars

‘Lowborn’ by Kerry Hudson #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

Lowborn

Hive   Waterstones  Amazon.co.uk

I bought this book because I read some of Kerry Hudson’s articles in The Pool and in The Guardian. She’s a fabulous writer, and I recognised in her writing some aspects of my own childhood (that could be me and my sisters on the cover!).

Reading some of the more negative reviews of this book actually shines a light on how those who have no idea of what it’s like to be poor continuously misrepresent and misunderstand poverty. There are plenty of reviews putting the blame resoundingly on Ms Hudson’s mother and her mental health issues. These reviewers completely miss the point that mental health issues are exacerbated by poverty. How much harder is it to cope with anxiety, depression, addiction, etc. when your life is so enclosed? When you are frustrated at every turn? When there is no help because of cuts? And inevitably there is the review that cites the poor families with their plasma screen TVs and consoles – because god forbid poor people should have any pleasure in life at all.

There’s a whole lot more I could say about poverty and childhood and inequality, but this is supposed to be a book review.

While difficult to read at times, this book has an enormous amount of warmth. While parts of Ms. Hudson’s life were harrowing, there are moments of joy too, and it’s so interesting to read about her feelings as she confronts her past and revisits those places where she grew up and that helped form her.

These stories need to be told because society wishes to look in the other direction, because we do not want to think of the children a few streets away who have eaten rubbish food and not nearly enough of it, in a house where the heat isn’t on and they don’t own a single book, in threadbare clothes that are too small for them, being cared for by a parent who desperately requires help themselves.

Perhaps it’s easier, though, because if we did look at what was really happening, surely we wouldn’t be able to live with that?

Reading this though, and some of the reviews, and the comments on Twitter whenever anyone mentions poverty or foodbanks or people on benefits, I wonder if it’s less that people don’t want to acknowledge the reality of society in 2019, or that they really just don’t care. Books like this are so important, because people need to know – you can’t keep turning away from children like Kerry.

5 stars

 

 

‘The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz’ by Jeremy Dronfield #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

The boy

Hive    Waterstones

‘Everyone thinks, tomorrow it will be my turn. Daily, hourly, death is before our eyes . . .’

Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann are father and son in an ordinary Austrian Jewish family when the Nazis come for them. 

Sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 they survive three years of murderous brutality. 

Then Gustav is ordered to Auschwitz. 

Fritz, desperate not to lose his beloved father, insists he must go too. And though he is told it means certain death, he won’t back down. 

So it is that father and son together board a train bound for the most hellish place on Earth . . .

This is the astonishing true story of horror, love and impossible survival. 

There are a huge amount of books being published at the moment based on the stories of those who suffered in concentration camps at the hands of the Nazis. And while I strongly believe that these stories must be told, must be kept alive, there are problems with what seems to be a bit of a ‘trend’.

I think it’s important to always remember that these terrible things happened to real people. These stories are not fiction; these things actually happened, and, as such those involved should be treated with respect, dignity and compassion. Their stories shouldn’t be used for their shock factor or as material for that rather horrible human trait that has people slowing down when they see an accident on the motorway. I do sometimes have the decidedly uncomfortable feeling that this is sometimes the case.

There is a very popular book out at the moment that is ‘based’ on a true story but has caused a great deal of pain to the relatives of the people involved. I’m not sure that anyone should be writing a story based on a real victim of the holocaust without the permission of their family. It leaves a rather nasty taste.

So I chose to read this book because it used the actual words and experiences of Gustav and Fritz and was written with the full permission of and in collaboration with the family.

And it is a book that should be read by everyone. It doesn’t hold back in detailing the cruelty of the regime, and neither should it. But this is, more than anything, a story of the extraordinary strength of human beings, their resilience, their ability to survive in the most dreadful of circumstances. We talk a lot about heroes these days, and it sometimes seems that not a lot is involved to become a hero, but in this book you’ll find multiple examples of people helping each other at great risk to themselves – real heroes.

It’s beautifully written too. There’s no sentimentality here, just crisp, clear, honest writing. The dialogue and excerpts from Gustav’s record of events means you become really involved in their story, and you never forget these were real people.

There’s a real rise in nasty politics at the moment, and the resurgence of the far right is particularly terrifying. Books like this serve as a reminder of how easy it is for things to turn ugly, and very quickly too. Gustav, Fritz and their family and friends didn’t realise how badly things were going until it was too late. It’s up to all of us to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

5 stars