How do other people manage to set up their personal websites? It is easy enough with WordPress to get a basic site up and running. But it has taken me days and days to work out how to get social media buttons onto the sidebar of this one. I fly about between screens, chasing URLs and passwords and old memos in the deep caverns of my computer and among the loose notes and notebooks on my desk. The worst of it is that I cannot reward myself with a glass of wine at six o’clock. I’m trying to lower blood pressure through diet rather than medication, so no alcohol for a while.
All these tussles and puzzles need to be gone through in order to regain my mojo for writing. I want to find new readers for the kind of fiction I like to write. In the past when I was lucky enough to be published by mainstream publishers, I received lots of good reviews. I can see no reason why there aren’t a number of readers out there who would enjoy my last three novels. But how can we find each other?
I’ve given up on getting any response from agents or publishers, and am now swimming in the crowded ocean of self-publishers, most of whom – or so it seems to me – write fantasy fiction of one sort or another, with an anything-goes kind of attitude to writing standards.
If anyone who happens to read this and is in the same situation as I am – a writer of literary fiction who has been published in the past by mainstream publishers – do please get in touch.

How did I do?

There may be people  who never feel the need for feedback.  Perhaps even Trappist monks occasionally feel let down when they spend the day in prayer and no-one says at the end “Well done.”  If you cook a meal, and I don’t mean just heat up a readymade, you’re encouraged to repeat the performance if it’s greeted with appreciation.  Even as the daily cook in our household of two, I know I like to hear some kind of response, even if it’s just the question, “Is there any more?”

Yesterday, 26th April, I received the consultant’s report after a CT colonoscopy on March 31st.    During the wait, I’d felt reasonably confident the result would be clear.  Yet it is all too easy to fill silences with imaginary bad news.  So I was relieved to learn that the scan showed up nothing untoward.  Better than this was the consultant’s style.  His letter read like a kindly schoolteacher’s summing up of the term’s work:  “the bowel was well prepared” … “this is a reassuring investigation”.  It made me feel like a praised pupil and led me to think about feedback, how useful it can be, not just for morale but for guidance.

This morning I played around with something that turned up in the (possibly) haphazard way that happens when we log onto our emails.  Google suggested I create a form.  So I’ve come up with a feedback form for “White Lies”.  Whether this will be useful or not remains to be seen.  I’ve had good reviews posted on the novel’s Amazon page but many readers don’t bother.  Others are given the book or borrow it, so they are not ‘verified purchasers’ and therefore not entitled to post a review.

The form may be a way of capturing the response of more readers.  Or I might ditch that form and compose another one for all my novels.  Here’s the link:  If anyone has a view on the questions I’ve chosen to put on the form, I’d appreciated feedback.

At the same time I became involved in a LinkedIn book group discussion.  Someone asked how he could get reviews for the short story he’d just published on Amazon.  His request was not worded well.  He wrote, “We’re there any funny parts.”  I found myself eager to point out how the apostrophe altered his intended meaning.  Later, I worried that I’d been harsh on a newcomer.  I hope he can accept what I consider was constructive feedback.


How to set targets

Now is the time a great many of us make resolutions about how we will improve ourselves and our lives.  We resolve to give up bad habits and/or take up good habits.  My bad habit is eating too much Bombay Crunch and drinking two glasses of wine while watching the evening news.  Just to write that sentence makes me nervous that some bossy part of me will dictate that I must give this habit up.  My rebel part kicks in.  I won’t give up wine and Bombay Crunch!  Even if I managed for a week of abstinence, it wouldn’t last.

A good habit that Peter and I have developed over the autumn is a 20 minute walk.  The target is to go for this short local walk every day after lunch.  Timing needn’t be exact but it’s usually around 1.45.  We turn right along the lane, then up a steep hill to the top; turn round, and back home.  By 2.15 or so we are at work again, P in his studio, myself in my study.  If we have to miss a day, we don’t beat ourselves up.  But the reason for missing has to be justifiable.  It can’t be just “it’s too cold” or “I’m not feeling like it.”

We’ve found it easy to maintain this habit because the target is so modest.  If we’d vowed to walk two or three miles every day, we’d never have managed to keep it up.  There wouldn’t be time.  We’d sometimes be too tired or we’d have too many other things to do.

Similarly – speaking for myself – my writing targets are modest.  The morning is my time.  I am at my desk from, say, 9 until 1 p.m.  I will sometimes return in the afternoon, but as a treat away from other jobs.  How my study hours are spent vary, depending on what I’m working on at the time: it could be writing fluently while in the middle of a novel, or it might be reading background material, or writing a long email descriptive of some recent event.  That last I consider essential for keeping my writer’s hand in.  Writing is a kind of reflex action to things that happen in life.  Sometimes I can’t do anything else until I’ve understood, in the words with which I describe it, what exactly it is I have just experienced.

I never use word counts as writing targets, although I know many people do.   The important thing is to choose a target that is easy for you to achieve.  It’s the regularity that’s important, not the size of the ambition.

My target for the next month (never mind the next year) is to give up cow’s milk products.  Goat’s milk on my breakfast oats was the way I started today.  If I find this benefits me, I will be motivated to continue for longer.

Another short-term target is to discover how to block the advertising mailing that comes in disguised as comments on this page, sent by organisations or people who have latched on to my open door policy.  One that keeps appearing is about earning money from writing.  It has standard wording but is sent in by many different people.  The other repetitive comment is about bathroom products.   I trash it as soon as I see it, hardly giving myself time to work out what language it’s in, or what it’s about.

But I do click the Approve button for comments on the content of my posts.  Thanks to those people who tell me they find them useful and interesting.    “Please continue”, they say.  And so I resolve to continue into 2017.  Happy New Year.



How to be your own PRO

I’m just at the beginning of this lesson.   I’m not even sure if the job title is still Publicity Relations Officer.  But I have learnt one or two things since I began hoping to sell my books this autumn.

First of all, it’s necessary to have the confidence that what you are selling is worth selling.  This is not easy when it is your own work.

It’s like looking in the mirror.  Do you count the lines on your forehead? Those will surely have increased just by looking at them with a critical eye.  Those of us who regard our own image with lasting satisfaction are few and far between.  The same applies to writing.  Of course it’s right to be self-critical while you are doing the writing.  But if you want to sell your own book, then you have to squash that impish little self-doubting critic and concentrate on what is good.

The next imp that jumps in is the one who tells us not to boast.  I wonder if this imp pesters people of my (elderly) generation more than others.  I know I was brought up not to draw attention to myself.  This attitude is a severe disadvantage if you want to sell your work.

But an advantage we have nowadays is the way we can easily communicate with the world without leaving the safety of our own rooms.  I have decided to run an advertising campaign on LinkedIn.  I’ve placed an ad, with the image of the cover of “A Home from Home”, on a pay per click basis.  Clicks will come through to this website, but will any click on this site result in another click to the Amazon page of the novel?  And will that further click result in a sale?  It seems a long chance.

My early career as an advertising copywriter prompted me to write FREE in big letters in the headline.  The only thing I could offer free was the ebook edition on Kindle Unlimited.  So no royalties there.  But it may bring me new readers.  And that’s my biggest aim.

Malpractice and mayhem in a care home - and the elderly residents triumph.

Malpractice and mayhem in a care home – and the elderly residents triumph.

First past the post?

This is my first entry on the website I’m setting up – a steep learning curve.  My aim in starting this blog is to make contact with people of my generation and in fact any other readers who could be interested in my latest writing project:  “The Cousins’ Chronicle, 1939-1945 and 2015-2016”.  It’s a present-day chronicle and memoir woven around extracts from family newsletters exchanged during the Second World War.  More about this later.  It’s enough to learn how to write posts on a website in the making, without having to worry about what to write.

I spent a good part of this morning worrying about passwords and email addresses and whether to link to existing ones or make new ones.  Finally, I may have got a new email address configured (there’s a word) on my new smartphone, a new gobbledygook password for my aliveinww2 site, access to my btopenworld email, and – swank warning – a link to the website I set up some time ago, mainly for Peter.