Writers – Don’t Be the Party Guest From Hell

writer from hell

Have you read my latest book?

Most writers understand that social media is like a party. And despite many of us preferring to skewer our eyeballs with our quill pens rather than attend one, in our normal, non-writerly lives, we actually know how to behave at a party.

  1. You don’t stand at the door and scream “Here I am!”
  2. You don’t jump up and down in the middle on a pogo stick yelling “Please notice me, I’m nice! You’ll like me!”
  3. You don’t wear a T-shirt with your life story on it and hand out pamphlets containing all the bits that wouldn’t fit on the T-shirt.
  4. You do converse politely and ask questions without looking over someone’s shoulder to see if someone more important has arrived.

And so on.

Yet something happens to us when we morph into that terrifying creature – The Writer With a Book to Promote. All etiquette goes out of the window. We forget how to behave at parties and turn into the Guest from Hell. We squeeze mention of our beloved tome into every possible conversation, resulting in conversations like these:

Dialogue One

Innocent Normal Party Guest: Hi, I’m Susan, nice to meet you.

Writer Guest from Hell (WGFH): Did you say “meet”? OMG, “meet” is the third word from paragraph two of Chapter One of my shape shifting book “A Vampire Millionaire Ate My Gay Hamster”! You must be telepathic! Do you want to see? Here I’ve got a few copies, I’ll show you…

Dialogue Two:

Innocent Normal Party Guest: Hi, I’m Susan, nice to meet you.

WGFH: Hi Susan, my name is Fiona Cameron Tankard, also known as F.C.Tankard author of “One Tweet and I Was Gone – a Psychic Relates the Last Thoughts of Coal Miners’ Canaries” available on Amazon Kindle for just $1 this week only…

Dialogue Three:

Innocent Normal Party Guest: Hi, I’m Susan, nice to meet you. I’m a Scorpio, what about you?

WGFH: Scorpio – that’s like a scorpion, right? I think they’re found in the desert. Hey – if you add “s” to desert you get “dessert” – that’s amazing because I’ve written about desserts in my new book: “Teach Your Cat to Cook”.

Dialogue Four:

Innocent Normal Party Guest: Hi, I’m Susan, nice to meet you.

WGFH: Hi Susan, I’m Fiona, nice to meet you. I can’t help noticing you’re pregnant. What an amazing coincidence because I’ve just written a book called “Bat Keeping for Teens”. Do you want a copy? It might be useful in a few years when your little one is grown up and you get a bat. Or look, I’ll tell you what, it’s on Kindle, I can easily make some changes. Cross out “teens” put “babies”. I mean, the bats won’t know the difference. Susan? Hello? Where’s she gone?

Then there is the ultimate conversation between TWO Writer Guests From Hell. I use the term “conversation” in its loosest possible sense.

Dialogue Five:

WGFH 1: Hi, I’m Susan, author of “The Glittery Ghost of Tinsel Hill”. It’s number 1 on Amazon in the Sparkly Spooks for Singles Living in Latvia category. I can sign a copy for you if you like. I have a special pen.

WGFH 2: I have my own special pen, thank you very much, which I only use to autograph copies of my book “Detective ‘Red ‘Admiral and The Case of the Cursed Cocoon in the Crypt”. It too is an Amazon bestseller in the Lepidoptery Private Eye category, I’ll have you know!

The moral? Well, you’re not a half wit. At the party that is social media, be caring, be nice, be a good listener, be interesting and maybe, if you’re lucky – someone will ask you about your book. And if they do, only mention it once. OMG, did I just write “once”?   That’s amazing, because that’s almost an anagram of one of the characters I nearly included in my novel…

(Exit, pursued by a bare faced cheek)

Ruby and the Ghost Dog

I have finally finished my children’s novel Ruby and the Ghost Dog. It tells the story of a young girl, Ruby, who moves to Tuscany with her mother and is visited by the ghost of an English Setter who is on a mission and needs Ruby to help him. there are a lot of twists and turns, a few ghosts, a bit of magic, lots of animals … in short, all the thing I hope little girls will love as much as I do!

The book will be available from Amazon in March and is currently with beta readers, who so far have been responding very favourably.

I have just had the cover designed by a fantastic designer Kit Foster, who took my original ideas and then reinterpreted them in a way I think is quite spectacularly good. My own dear rescue Setter Gassi is the dog in the photo and fortunately very much alive. I struggled a bit with the colours on the cover as the book has a very wintry theme, and Kit finally came up with a scheme everyone loved.

I’ll let you know nearer the time where you can get a copy! A percentage of the profits are going to Afghanistan dogs charity Nowzad and Italian rescue charity Rescue Setter in Difficolta’.
Ruby and the Ghost DogRuby and the Ghost DogRuby and the Ghost DogRuby and the Ghost DogRuby and the Ghost DogRuby and the Ghost Dog

Drama Llama Press

My good friend Kathryn Bax and I have just launched Drama Llama Press, an indie publisher. We aim to produce high quality affordable books that inspire, entertain and inform. How is that for a mission statement?

Our first book is Coloring Diva’s Mandalas which contains 50 intricate mandala designs to colour in. There’s also an inspiring quotation on each page to uplift and motivate you.

We are giving away a free ebook if you sign up for updates. A 23-page book I wrote on how to solve your problems or make decisions in just 24 hours. It’s called slved in a Day and you can pick up your free copy here.Coloring Divas MandalasColoring Divas MandalasColoring Divas MandalasColoring Divas MandalasColoring Divas Mandalas

Anne Rice on Writing

When I need motivation or inspiration, I love listening to well-known writers talking about their craft and passing on their words of wisdom.  In this short YouTube video, novelist Anne Rice (The Vampire Chronicles) gives some great advice, expressed beautifully, including the magical phrases “write the book of your dreams” and “Be brave, reach for the fire from heaven.”

Confessions of a Bookaholic

Some of my books

Temptation is everywhere

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Fiona and I’m a bookaholic.

It started when I was a child and discovered the thrill of being transported to another place by a book. I was hooked almost instantly.  I began to long for time that I could spend alone with a book – or preferably several. I begged to go to the library when other kids wanted the zoo or the cinema.  I got caught reading under the bedclothes with a torch and even (and I blush at the thought) in the toilet.

I have books stashed in strange places in the house, so that wherever I am I can grab a few pages. I even have a book in the car and a book in my handbag, it is that bad.

I have tried to go cold turkey. I  even managed a whole day once without reading, but then had to give in towards bedtime.

The early hours of the morning, I have discovered, are the most dangerous. I wake at around 5am and then spend an inordinate amount of time skulking among the virtual shelves of Amazon, desperate to spend my hard-earned cash on yet another book.

I will read anything, but I do the draw the line at reading fiction during the day. If I started a novel before 6pm I would consider myself in serious trouble, so try to stick to non – fiction during working hours as that way I can pretend it is research, although I am fooling no-one.

I know I should slow down. I read at breakneck speed, sometimes not even enjoying the contents that much. What is frightening is that sometimes I don’t even remember what I have read, unless I check my bookshelves or the order pages of Amazon.

The thought of being in a place or situation where I am not able to get a book easily is very scary. I have to make sure that if I am going anywhere for a long time that I fill up on the written word before I go. Excursions are planned around books – bookshops, libraries, second hand stores, book exhibitions … I think you get the idea. It’s not pretty.

Is there a cure? For a while I thought it might be ebooks. I tried them but they just didn’t hit the spot. They didn’t feel right or smell right. They didn’t flop nicely onto my sleeping face like the comforting open spine of a paperback, so I slid back into my old habits.

What is worse is that I am not just a reader, but I write too. Yes, I supply others with words and pages and books and get them hooked. Writing is the job of choice for a bookaholic, you get to spend time with the object of your desire every day and no-one bats an eyelid.

I am a hopeless case, but I know that I am not alone.

Yes, I’m talking to you. You, with your surreptitious glimpses at concealed pages, with your  voracious appetite for words and your stolen chapters. You might as well admit it – you’re as bad as me.

Aren’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

A Library With No Books?

old fashioned library

An old-fashioned library

I have always loved libraries, in fact, I have always had a weakness for anywhere that you can find books – antiquarian bookshops, charity paperback shelves, the lovely Deanery secondhand bookstall in Winchester with its honesty box…

But today the Independent has a story about the world’s first paperless library, in Bexar County, Texas, USA. They have tens of thousands of ebooks stored in the cloud and, having never had access to even an old-fashioned library with real books, the people of Bexar County are understandably extremely happy.

The county has 1.7 million residents, so providing a library was never going to be a simple task. The advantages are obvious. It’s cost-effective and well-equipped. “According to its website, the $1.5 million (£920,000) BiblioTech currently has 600 e-readers, 200 pre-loaded enhanced e-readers for children, and 48 computer stations, 10 laptops and 40 tablets to use on-site,” says the Independent.

Its staff, unburdened of the tedious chores of stacking shelves, replacing volumes and cataloguing are free to teach and advise, a clear bonus for those Bexar County residents who are not technology literate.

It’s supremely ironic that the man who set the whole idea in motion, County Judge Nelson Wolff, collects first editions. But good for him, because now BiblioTech is bringing stories and information to people who couldn’t access them before.

But still, a part of me sighs when thinking about a room full of touch screens and laptops instead of bookshelves. There’s something about the feeling of a real book that just can’t be replaced by electronic wizardry. The smell, the weight, the touch – it’s like holding a little bit of magic in your hands.

And we all need magic in our lives, don’t we?

 

Review of A Career in Your Suitcase by Jo Parfitt and Colleen Reichrath-Smith

I approached this book, which comes in paperback and kindle format, with a degree of trepidation and a touch of cynicism. This is a topic I know a lot about, not only through doing it (I am in my 20th year of living in Italy and have created a variety of careers in that time) but also through having read widely online and off about career change and finding your calling.

First off, it's a substantial book both in terms of pages – there are 380 – and in content. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of sculpting a life you love around a portable career that makes your heart sing then you will get a lot out of this book.

CO-AUTHORS – TWICE THE VALUE

I enjoyed the co-authors life stories and backgrounds, I think we all love to get the low down on how people tick and how they have come to be where they are. Jo is a seasoned veteran of international living, having begun her globetrotting in 1987 in Dubai. After a dazzling array of make-your-own-luck work opportunities from cookery to journalism, she formed her own publishing company in 1998. This is the fourth edition of the book she first published back then.

Colleen is a self-employed career consultant. Originally from Canada and now living in the Netherlands, she has a magic toolbox of techniques and tips, some of which will be new to even the most well-read career quester.

The only down side of this talented partnership is the clunky way that the relevant person's name has to be put in brackets in every personal anecdote, for example “How I (Jo) Found My Passions”. I found this small quirk annoying and surely there must be a way round it. But it says a lot about the book that it is the only thing I can find to criticise!

STEP-BY-STEP TO PORTABLE CAREER NIRVANA

The book takes you systematically through every stage of the process of creating your dream job. First of all there is the tricky job of finding your passion and earning money by doing it.

It may sound simple, but discovering what you truly love to do can be surprisingly difficult, particularly if you are drawn to more than one area or if they have been crushed at an early age. Jo and Colleen get you to list key skills and values and uncover the things that really make your heart beat faster through a series of exercises and evaluation tools, some of which I haven't seen before – and I thought I had read every “find your passion” book going!

Once your elusive passions have been captured, your skills pinned down and new, useful ones suggested, the book analyses which portable careers are best suited to your unique set of talents. They suggest a lot, from predictable EFL teaching to less mainstream online trading. There are myriad resources to back up their suggestions, one of the book's great strengths.

BUT GET CHAOTIC TOO!

I loved the link between career development and chaos theory and the idea that you shouldn't get too linear and left-brained about it all. The inclusion of something like this hints at the authors' deeper philosophy and spiritual side, something that really appealed to me about their book. Sometimes synchronicity – or synchrodestiny as Deepak Chopra calls it – takes over, the key is to get to a place where this can happen. Being too rigid and organised doesn't cut it.

 GETTING PRACTICAL

The section of the book on actually creating the career you want is full of gems, a synthesis of common sense – like managing your expectations – and more profound analysis like examining your beliefs about work.

The book once again surprised me by including yet another of my all-time favourite things – mind mapping. It was like the authors had stepped into my brain at times- quite spooky! They suggest mind mapping to brainstorm career ideas as well as an innovative grid system to combine skills and passions.

 They discuss all kinds of ways of working from temping to telecommuting, the purpose being to make this new career of yours the best fit possible for your lifestyle and dreams. I loved the powerful visual of the route map with the star at the top of the stairs and the more organic looking synchronistic star diagram.

NETWORKING

Living in Italy I know it almost always more important who you know than what you do. Personal contacts are everything and the book writes about this at length including everything from LinkedIn and Twitter to breakfast clubs.

Valuable skills like public speaking and presentation are covered too as you never know when you might have to speak at a conference or a workshop. They even cover the elevator pitch, which is one of my personal favourites. (Yes, another one, told you they had got into my head!)

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

This is, above all, a practical book. The authors expect you to act on their suggestions, because if things stay as ideas in your head you may as well not have even thought of them in the first place.

Therefore there are a vast number of tips and suggestions for how and where to find work. They include everything here. You're bound to find some you hadn't considered before.

I loved the part about creating your own opportunities and your own personal brand. This is so important. Jo and Colleen follow through with solid marketing advice covering everything from creating your own website to writing the most brilliant targeted CV in the world!

The book has a rich section on entrepreneurship and working for yourself and again, they have over delivered in every way. Everyone even considering starting a business will benefit from reading this, I know I did.

ALL CHANGE

The final section of this magical compendium covers change – leaving, travelling, starting again. They discuss what they call the “challenge of change” and it is here you can really see their personal experience of global travel come to the fore. They discuss culture shock and language learning, work-life balance and spirituality. No stone, personal or professional, is left unturned.

WHO SHOULD BUY THIS BOOK?

Anyone who is thinking of living abroad, currently lives abroad or even just knows how to spell the word “abroad” should read this, it's just brilliant. Even if you are staying put in your own country or relocating within your own borders, you will learn a lot. It's a wonderful book and the one I wish I had written!

To Hell With Nightclubs – Give Me a Book!

Whenever I go to people's houses I make a beeline for their bookshelves. Apart from telling me their real interests (unless they are doing the 'bookshelves-as-decorating-accessory' thing with colour co-ordinated volumes), I am constantly on the lookout for new authors, compelling biographies, fascinating facts and I hope that if I ask nicely they will lend me a copy or two, or ten.

On trips back to the UK the first place I head for is a bookshop. In charity shops (of which there is a real dearth in Italy) I go straight to the shelves at the back of the shop with their tatty treasures, waiting patiently until those already there move on, because selfishly, I prefer browsing freely with no-one breathing down my neck. My heart races with excitement as I scour the piles of books, hopeful for a gem that will keep me spelbound for a few hours.

Then there is the library – don't even get me started on the joys of the library! Yes, this former girl-about-town who used to party until dawn readily admits going weak at the knees at the sight of all those books waiting for me in one place. The fact they are handily divided into categories is even better. Oh yes, happiness is a sparsely populated,well-lit  local library on a winter's afternoon…

Books have their own smell too. New books give off that freshly printed, come-hither perfume, whereas old book shops have a musty and wonderful scent that is unmistakeable and evocative. Maybe someone should capture and bottle Eau de libre, except you might start getting followed by earnest middle aged men in raincoats with Tesco bags!

I once read about collectors of rare books. These tomes can exchange hands for many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds. There are special exhibitions, shows and trade fairs where people source new additions to their collections and exchange gossip. All fascinating stuff, but for me the most extraordinary thing about this group of people was to learn that they don't read the books. Sometimes they barely even open them, except to check no-one has ripped pages out or faked the age. For them the thrill is in the chase and the discovery. It's like those fine wine collectors who never open the bottles.

To me it is incomprehensible that you would own a beautiful book and never read its contents. Because the real value is in what you discover between the covers. The secret of a good book is what is can do for your mind and your soul,  not how much it fetches at auction or how rare it is.

So when it comes to three wishes or desert island possessions, birthday presents or Christmas gifts I am a pushover. Books, books and more books please. Because they can take you anywhere and teach you everything. What more could you want?

 

 

A Cure for Writer’s Block

As a professional writer I never get writer's block when writing my clients' stuff. I can't afford it! It has been said many times before, but you don't hear about people getting builder's block or doctor's block, do you? 

But I do suffer from it sometimes when writing my own stories. My block takes the form of a kind of quiet but inexorably rising flood of panic at the thought of too many ideas and not knowing which to choose to work on. This can get so bad that I sometimes end up not writing anything, and that makes me feel worse than ever.

Well, I think I've just found a cure and every time I'm blocked I swear I will read this for inspiration. The following is not only a breathtakingly good piece of writing from Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize Lecture speech, but the content itself makes me realise how lucky I am to have the luxury of even contemplating writer's block when some people have so little at all.

You'll see what I mean when you read this and I defy you not to have tears in your eyes by the end. And to be reaching for your pen or pencil or keyboard …

Doris Lessing Nobel Prize Lecture 2007

So You Want to Write a Book? Free Ebook!

I have spent this week writing my new free ebook:  So, You Want to Write a Book? You can get your copy by filling in the form on the right of this page on the site.

The book was inspired by all the questions people ask me about ghost writing and getting published and so I thought I would gather all the information together in one place and compile what I hope is a useful guide. It includes information on how long typical books are, genres, writing a proposal, how to work with a ghost writer and more.

I hope you find it useful. If you do – pass it on!