Tuesday, 21 February 2017


One hundred and eighty two.

That's how many exclamation marks I had written into a 51K novel. I know; I counted every single one.

Kingstone has been...well, not completely cured, but it certainly looks a lot healthier, thanks to Casey's brilliant editing at Bedazzled Ink. When I mailed her and said I seemed to be suffering from exclamationmarkitis, she said;

Many years ago when I worked for another publisher, the very first book I received to look at had already gone through editing and was in typeset. It was a little book and had hundreds of exclamation points. Nearly every spoken sentence ended in an exclamation point. The author was trying to emphasize bright and breezy dialogue between people on vacation... It read like everyone was constantly shouting at each other. Needless-to-say, it had to be completely re-edited.

It's tricky using exclamation points for anything other than actual shouting because once you start using it for emphasis, it's hard to keep it under control and the exclamation point loses its impact.

Believe me, after going through the edit and having to click the mouse five or six times for every exclamation mark I agreed to taking out (I did ask to leave a couple in), I think I was cured.

I also seem to have a secondary infection: semicolonitis. And a minor case of hyphenated no-ones.

Which only goes to show that an editor is worth their weight in gold for the polish they can bring to your manuscript...

But one hundred and eighty two. Sheesh.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Kingstone edits have arrived!

Delighted to say I'm working on the edits of Kingstone, which popped into my inbox this morning...

Even more delighted to say that, after getting about a third of the way through, there aren't humungous changes to be made - unlike with StarMark. Probably because StarMark had been written and revamped so many times over the years, it needed a thorough going over to bring the whole text together. Kingstone, on the other hand, feels like the text is all together from the off.

As the Bink team noted in their cover email - it's mainly nitpicking to sort out

Oh - and exclamationitis. Or maybe exclamationmarkitis. I seem to have peppered the text with an awful lot of them, and they've now been rooted out. A few essential ones have been left in, of course...

Don't forget that Kingstone is available to pre-order on Amazon, due for publication around July.

Friday, 17 February 2017

When your characters talk back

This morning, I had to get up early; the cat has taken to either scratching at or pushing things off of my bedside chest of drawers in an attempt to get his breakfast served if I'm not awake and his tummy's rumbling.

It was 7am, so not too bad. Although it IS half term and I'd have preferred a bit more of a lie-in, if I'm honest...

Anyway, cat fed, cup of tea made, couldn't go back to sleep, so I left Mr Squidge snoring, went downstairs and picked up the WIP.

I'd reached a bit of a sticky point a couple of days previously; resorted to post-it notes (other brands of sticky notes ARE available!) to try to map out the sequence of some key scenes. I thought this morning, as the house was quiet and there was no one else wanting the laptop, I'd try and write the next scene in the sequence.

Two new characters appeared to do what Zanni needed them to do, which was fine. However, one of them - Tia - said something and - POW!


This minor character, in one sentence, gave me a) the reason why none of the townspeople go into the crystal forest if they can avoid it and b) why my protagonist, Anton (and his dad) hate my main character, Zanni, so much. It's going to racket up the tension no end!

The downside is that there is now a lot of rewriting to do within the 17K words I've produced so far to make what Tia's revealed feel natural and real within what I've already written, but I will tackle that at a later date. For the moment, I just need to work this new information into the story from this point onwards and see how it shapes up...

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Breaking even

Granny Rainbow - although published under the name of Panda Eyes - was essentially a self-published book; I paid for everything except the ISBN number.

Which is fine.

I was willing to invest the money, see where it took me and my little book. I knew it would be a long time until I sold enough copies to break even. Assuming, of course, I could even sell enough to break even.

And then came More Granny Rainbow. Published in the same way, with my own spondoolies, but less attractive it seemed to the reader as sales of this book didn't go as well as the first. Add the two sets of costs together and it would take me even longer to break even...

The other day I was doing my 'author accounts', ready to see how much I'd earned from author talks and the like to disclose to the tax man.

And - incredibly - I discovered that I have sold enough copies of both Granny Rainbow books to cover all their costs. It's taken three years, but I have finally broken even. Hooray!

Having said that, it was never about the money...I published Granny Rainbow simply to see whether my stories would be enjoyed by young readers, and they are. Making a little bit of money on them is nice, but it wasn't why I decided to write.

Reading is important. If I can, through my books, encourage even one reluctant reader to discover the joy of burying themselves in a book - be it fiction or non-fiction - then I consider myself to be one of the richest authors alive.

So hooray! for breaking even, but hooray times ten! if my writing opened a door that would've remained closed otherwise.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Just hanging around...

Yes, it's an old song by The Stranglers... It's also the situation at Maison Squidge.

Nope, we're not waiting for something. Squidgeling T is - quite literally - hanging around.

He's taken to climbing. Indoor climbing. We have a fantastic indoor climbing centre in our town, where he goes two or three times a week. At least one of his peers is an awesome climber, on the team there and everything. T is not quite up to that standard yet, but from what he says after each session, he's not doing too badly.

Anyway, apparently one of the things you can do to build up your arm and upper body strength outside of the climbing centre is fit a fingerboard in your home. This is a device that usually is hung above a doorway (note: solid walls only or you could find yourself with a builder's bill when the door frame collapses). Squidgeling T looked up one manufacturer and baulked at the prices. But...Mr Squidge's engineering and Squidgeling T's enjoyment of tinkering in the garage came good.

They have made a fingerboard. It doesn't have all the holes (yet) because apparently if you use them early, while you're still growing, you can damage your fingers and predispose yourself to arthritis.

Mr Squidge installed it this morning.

Right outside our bathroom.

So, if you visit Maison Squidge from now on and need the loo, do check whether there's a lanky teenager hanging around outside first...

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Getting in touch with my dark side

Last night, we had our monthly NIBS meeting. I chose to take the paint sample cards again as we'd had fun with them in the past and after my recent school visits, I have *ahem* obtained quite a few more to choose from... (Mind you, I resorted to sending Squidgeling J into B&Q last time because I think the staff are beginning to recognise me...)

Special mention HAS to go to AT, whose piece had us all laughing again. I've mentioned before that Valspar, the company who produce these paints, have a creative team working on names for the thousands of different shades they produce. In a nutshell, AT's piece was about a member of that creative team; a gentleman who, after years in the job, finally went a bit doo-lally because there were only so many names he could come up with for 'pink'!

I chose 'Skein of Blue' to start with, but nothing gelled so I plumped for 'Ceremonial Ochre' instead. Ended up with this (unfinished) piece:

The priest pounded the red earth, mixing it with great gobs of his own saliva into a paste. Aleeka shuddered, knowing that before long, some of the revolting mixture would be smeared across her forehead.

Payter's grip tightened on her upper arms. "Don't show them you're scared," he hissed into her ear.

"I'm not scared," she growled back.

"You should be."

And yet she wasn't. Even though she knew that smear of paste on her skin would mark her out as the village's latest sacrifice. 

No-one ever came back from the cave. You knew you were as good as dead as soon as you picked out the black pebble from the reindeer skin bag. Aleeka had stared at the stone, numb and disbelieving, looking up only when her mother's ululations broke the silence of the choosing ceremony.

She had since been guest of honour at her own death feast, her face whited out with ash so that all present would know she was not of this world any more. 

Fear had not figured in her emotions then, and now she experienced only raw excitement...

Might be the start of something bigger, I think. Today, I've used some of this and combined it with an older bit of flash (also created at NIBS) into a piece of flash for a competition. That means I can't share it with you yet - but of course I'll share when it doesn't win and I can do what I like with it. *winks*

Our second activity used a rather unusual resource. Have you seen those sets of postcards based on book covers?

I picked a set up from an 'unwanted Christmas present' stall at church; the box contained 100 Penguin classic book covers. I'd thumbed through them and though I'd heard of many of the titles, there were even more I hadn't. Like...The Case of the Curious Kitten. August is a Wicked Month. Vile Bodies. Kiss Kiss.

So I sorted out a few with a darker feel to them and challenged the group to visit their Dark Side. Sweet Danger, Not to be Taken and The Half-awakened Wife were picked by the others for their grisly and gruesome stories, but I chose Vile Bodies... It wasn't really so much a story I wrote as a racist handbook, something that might figure in a dystopian novel. See what you think...

Among a homogenous race, the vile body must be removed. Consistent standards must be maintained at all life stages. Aberrant forms will not be tolerated.

Height charts will be consulted to ensure growth patterns are within normal range. Excessive growth will be curbed and insufficient growth encouraged by compulsory chemical intervention.

Regular weighing will dictate dietary requirements and exercise regimes.

Skin colour will be restricted to shades B26 to B71. And shades outside of this range will require bleaching or UV exposure as necessary.

Sensory perception will be maintained at 90% effective, minimum. Intervention techniques may be used between 80 and 90% effectiveness, but anything under 80% will not be tolerated. 

Bodies which do not meet homogeneity standards will, in the first instance, be corrected. If correction fails or bodies are deemed to be vile and beyond correction, then euthanasia is preferable.


It seems that the writing mo-jo is definitely switched on again,,,even if it is churning out some shadowy stuff! Hooray!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Return of the Writing Mo-jo

At last.

At long last.

I've picked up my WIP again.

I can't remember the last time I wrote anything for the Crystal Keeper's Daughter. Probably last summer?

Continued illness before Christmas and a course which started last September have either eaten up any available writing time or kept me from feeling 'with it' enough to add anything of value to my WIP.

But for the last two days, I've been able to write. What I've written feels like dross, because I've been so long away from the story I'm having to refamiliarise myself with the plot as well as relearn how to write well. But I'll get there. Eventually.

Feels good.

And the rainbow? Because it's a grey day outside, but things are looking a bit more cheerful inside now I'm writing again...

Monday, 6 February 2017

A Tale of Two Schools

In my last post, I blogged about the first three days I'd spent at Wolsey Hall Primary School in Leicester.

Last week was definitely a tale of two schools because I spent another three days at Wolsey, followed by an afternoon at Stamford High School in Lincolnshire.

First, Wolsey. The children were beginning to recognise me and greeted me with smiles and waves when they saw me. I had a gift brought to me on Monday - a pencil with a handmade topper - by three of the older girls, and then I had another young lady read me a couple of stories she'd written in her notebook.

As we worked our way down the years, the sessions changed and I used simpler ideas to stimulate the creative writing. Mind you, once again it proved that I'm not a teacher; despite my best intentions to make the activities suitable for all abilities, there are still improvements to be made. I take my hat off to teachers everywhere who do their utmost to engage children of widely different abilities within the same class. Having said that, where activities didn't quite go according to plan for some of the children, the teachers were generous with their suggestions as to how I could create the necessary structure to help the pupils - suggestions which I've taken on board for next time.

On Wednesday, my last day, I'd been allowed to take the two Granny Rainbow books in to sell to anyone who wanted them. The queue blocked the foyer at breaktime...I had a steady stream at lunchtime...and after school, the line wiggled its way from the activity area up to the foyer. It took half an hour to clear it! And even then, one child came back because her mum'd forgotten to bring any money. (I left a box behind at school for anyone who had forgotten their money, and there have been a few more sales since!) Talk about writer's cramp, nearly one hundred books later!

I've had some smashing feedback from staff and pupils, which indicates that in spite of a few minor problems, the children were enthused and inspired and encouraged in their reading and writing. And I've been invited to go back at some point in the future, which is wonderful.

A thank you from Wolsey

 And so to Stamford.

I woke Thursday morning with a bad head (probably due to not eating and drinking properly the day before because of all the book signing!). Fortunately it had cleared sufficiently by 10am, when I packed tens of copies of StarMark and a few Granny Rainbows into a suitcase, organised my sheets and directions to the school.

The journey out was...interesting. A major diversion on the way out added on quite a few miles and about twenty minutes to it, but I got there. Once I'd found the school reception I dropped my suitcase off and went in search of lunch. Stamford is a lovely town, all honey-coloured brick and church spires. It's also got a lot of arty designer and antique shops, so I was relieved to find a Pizza Express which did takeaway nestled among them.

Lunch was eaten in the cemetery of St Michael's Church(the one in the forefront of the photo above), with the late Mr or Mrs Stokes for company.

Then it was back to the school to meet the Stamford High School Book Club in the library.

Huge thanks to the girls, who'd brought flapjack and cookies and sweets to share over a pot of tea. I was quizzed with some really good questions before they headed off to the studio to meet up with the rest of Year 7. Did I mention their  library is in the roof space of a fabulous old building? It's light, airy, and there are brilliant displays by Miss S, the Learning Resource Manager. It was a really lovely place.

The welcome banner the girls had made

The talk to Y7 - all 70 of them - was a brief account of my author journey so far, and then we got stuck into writing.

Remember my paint samples with wonderful titles? We started with those - and the ideas were amazing. Here's a small selection...

Puddle Jumper: every puddle you jump into transports you to a new place or time
Fire Within: a dragon, whose lost her fire
Luck be a Lady: a girl called Luck, who does NOT want to be a lady
Ginger Kitten: a poor kitten who someone tried first to drown, which then got run over (!) and eventually the kitten turns nasty (not surprised!) and attacks people...
Moonlit Pebble: something that looks like a pebble but is in fact a dragon's egg - and it needs moonlight to hatch.
Eye of Horace: an old man (Horace) has had a watch (the eye) all his life, and the watch tells Horace's life story.

Then we used the antique glass bottle story, where more fabulous plans and openings to stories emerged, although I can't remember them! Wish I could... I'm hoping the girls will be able to finish them off at some point in the future - I'd love to read some when they do.

At the end, the girls had an opportunity to buy books - I sold a few StarMarks and a smattering of Grannys and realised I could've taken a considerably smaller suitcase... (On the bright side, at least I have some copies to take to whatever I do in future).

Then it was home again - another eventful journey when I got mixed up between the A606 and A6006 which led to another diversion via Oakham to Melton Mowbray, with a stop off in a Sainsbury's carpark to work out where the Asfordby Road was when I couldn't see any signs for it...

One thing that came out of both school visits is that I need to put my prices up. I've tried to keep them reasonable up to now, as although I'm a full member of the SoA and they recommend what to charge for author visits, I haven't felt that, as a relatively unknown author, I could justify charging hundreds of pounds each visit. But the feedback is coming through loud and clear that what I'm delivering, I should be charging more for. So there's an increase in booking fees on the cards as a result.

But until I get another booking, I'd best do some writing and practise what I preach! Catch you later, Scribblers!