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)

The Mechanic, the Ferrari and Knowing What You’re Worth

The mechanic, the ferrari and knowing what you're worthThe old mechanic looked up from under the hood of a Maserati 250F as a well dressed man got out of a tow truck and came into his workshop.

“How can I help you, sir?”

“ I’ve inherited this old Ferrari Dino,” he pointed to the gleaming red car on the back of the tow truck. “And it won’t start. I’ve got a buyer coming specially from New York tonight. I’ve tried everywhere. Can you help? Please?” He mopped at his brow with a white silk handkerchief.

The old mechanic wiped his hands down on his overalls and walked over to the truck. “She sure is a beauty,” he said. “Don’t make them like this anymore, do they?”

The younger man looked exasperated. “No, they don’t. Maybe because they don’t work.”

“Oh, they work all right. You say you’ve tried everywhere?”

“Well, first I tried to fix it myself, I-”

“You know about classic cars?”

“Well, no, not really. But I read some stuff online, looked at a few forums, watched a video or two. I figured it couldn’t be that hard.”

“And how long did that take you?” said the old guy as he began unloading the Ferrari.

“Don’t ask. Anyway, I realized I couldn’t do it.”

“What line of business you in, sir?”

“I’m in real estate. Been in it for 20 years. There’s not a thing you can tell me about buying and selling property, I just love it.” The man’s eyes gleamed and he looked off into the distance.

“I once tried to sell my house myself,” said the old man. “But I got into such a mess with all those contracts and legal things, I just gave up. Pop the hood would you?”

“Oh, it’s not that hard,” said the younger man as he leaned into the car. “You just have to know what you’re doing, otherwise you just waste so much time.”

“Yup, sometimes it’s best just to stick to what you’re good at,” agreed the mechanic.

“My neighbor’s son Barney took a look at it,” said the man.

“He a mechanic?”

“No, well, you know, he really likes cars. Always tinkering. And the price was right.”

“He fix it?”

“No. Then I tried that big shiny new place in town. They had this offer on to fix anything on any car for $50. Well, $49.99 actually.”

“But this ain’t any car.”


“They fix it?”

“It worked for half an hour then it stopped again.”

“No kidding.”

“Guess this needs a specialist.”

“Guess it does. Now me, I only do Italian cars and only cars before 1970. I had a guy the other day almost in tears cos’ I wouldn’t look at his 1980 Lamborghini. But I told him pre 1970, that’s my thing. Don’t touch nothing else. But some people just don’t get it.”

The businessman nodded quickly, keen to get on with his story. “Then I took it to that guy down the road from here. He sure was busy, line of cars waiting all the way round the block.”

“You mean Arthur? Arthur’s the best mechanic in town. ‘Cept me, of course. We started out together 40 years ago. He works real hard. Ten, twelve hours a day sometimes and no break for lunch.”

“Why does he keep working? He must be rich by now.”

“Well, you know, here’s the thing. He can’t afford to stop because, as you said, he’s so cheap. He only charges $25 an hour. I told him he was crazy, because he’s ten times faster and better than when he was younger so he’s actually making less now and working on more cars. Don’t make no sense to me. Anyhow, I’m surprised he couldn’t fix it.” He took out a torch and began peering into the engine, wiggling at wires, twisting cables.

“Oh, I didn’t take it there. He couldn’t do it today, too busy. Plus I figured if he was that cheap he couldn’t be much good. Sounds like I got that wrong.”

“You did.”

“So can you fix it?” The man looked at him with eyebrows raised high, his forehead wrinkled.

“Yup. I can.”


“Yup. Cost you $5000.”

“Five thousand dollars!”

“You want it fixed today or not?”

“Yes, but $5000…” The man looked at the mechanic, at the Ferrari and at the tow truck then shook his head as he reached for his wallet. “Okay then, guess I’ve got no choice. When should I come back?”

“Oh, you can wait,” said the old guy, pocketing the $5000 and picking up a hammer. He reached into the engine and hit something with the hammer. “Try it now.”

The businessman turned the key in the ignition and the Ferrari growled into life then settled back into a throaty purr. The old mechanic smiled. The younger man stood with his mouth open.

“But you just charged me $5000 for five seconds work. All you did was hit it with a hammer! How can you justify that?”

“Well son,” said the old man. “It took five seconds to hit it, I agree. But it took 40 years to know what to hit and where. And that’s what you’re paying for.”

Then he started whistling and went back to work on the Maserati.

by Fiona Tankard, working on valuing my own experience as a writer. 

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

How to Choose What to Write About When You Love Everything!

In writing, as with everything else, it pays to specialise. Rather than be “all things to all men”, be the one big fish in a niche group pond.

When you have a wide range of passions, this can be hard. You may love everything from alpacas to zen, but having such a dazzlingly daVinciesque array of interests can be hard to market. I know from experience that this just doesn’t cut it out there in Internetland. People want to know what you stand for, which category to put you in, the name written on the box that you so proudly think outside of.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers makes the claim that it takes 10,000 hours or five years to become an expert, to be able to claim you are a professional. This is contentious. you might spend 10,000 hours on something you have no natural aptitude for. Does that make you an expert? I don’t think so.

So when you are faced with  bewildering selection of passions, interests, skill and talents, be ruthless. You are talking about making your living, remember.

5 Ways to Stand Above the Common Herd

  1. Write down everything – yes everything – you like, love, are interested in or feel you are good at. Now be brutally honest. Which of those already puts you in the top one percent? (I love my alpacas, but I’m not an expert by a long chalk, so that rules them out!) That should be your short list. You’re not losing the others, they can be hobbies.
  2. What do you want to be well-known for as a writer? Imagine you can only choose one thing. (OMG! I know, I know!) If that’s too hard choose three – maximum!
  3. Which of those three do you find yourself talking most about? Thinking most about?  Which could you give an informed, impromptu talk on, right now?
  4. If you are still unsure, then which of the topics offers the best revenue? Which is there a real market for? That’s your winner. Your one big thing.
  5. Spend time polishing this one skill, talent, passion you have until it gleams.  Aim to move from the top one per cent to the top 0.01 per cent.

Can you do that? Of course you can!




Turning Tedium into Triumph

We all know the kind of thing. Mind-draining, soul-sapping  routine jobs at work or at home. Your eyes start to glaze over at the very idea of writing 1500 wizardly words on widgets, or doing the pile of ironing lurking in the corner.

As I am a great believer in reprogramming your mind to make life better, I have been trying a new technique recently. I now aim to approach every single task with the attitude that this is the best work I will ever do. It’s a sort of heady mix of two concepts: “living in the moment” and “appreciating what you have”.

It is amazing how this little mind trick works. It takes time to make it habitual and I am constantly having to pull myself up when I find myself reverting to default “this is boring” mode. However, to my great surprise, I am now really enjoying small jobs I used to find incredibly tedious, challenging myself to do them better and better.

It works for all areas of life, so as I chop endless carrots for the alpacas or haul the dogs out on an uphill walk when I don’t feel like it, I think – “do this as if it will be the last time you ever do it, make these carrots the best you have ever chopped, make this walk the most amazing the dogs have ever had”.

It slams you headlong back into the present moment. Makes you appreciate how lucky you are to be working with words for a living, having alpacas to chop carrots for and dogs who love you.

Try it!


The Writer Automaton

Looking for some inspirational writing films on Google videos the other day I came across this short film. It features a writing automaton called The Writer  created in the 1770s by one of the greatest Swiss watchmakers of all time – Pierre Jaquet-Droz.

The narration is exceptionally eloquent and thought-provoking. I love the idea Jaquet-Droz was attempting to “mechanise reason and automate the passions” and that “all his energy was inside him,” in the shape of more than six thousand miniature components. By changing the alphabet at the back of the boy, he can be “programmed” to write anything.

The writer was the inspiration for the automaton in the 2011 3D film Hugo based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Just imagine if the boy could really write…

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.”

Spinning Yarns


A spider's web

The work of a master spinner

My lovely old Italian spinning wheel

My lovely old Italian spinning wheel


As well as being a writer I am also a spinner, courtesy of the fibre obtained from my lovely herd of alpacas.

I am aware of the many correlations between the two crafts of spinning words and spinning wool. These are some that I have noticed.

  • You create something potentially beautiful from raw materials
  • You need many years of practice
  • The process is as enjoyable as the end result, sometimes more so
  • There are many stages to go through to get from an amorphous mass to a pleasing end result
  • You learn the rules and then develop your own style
  • When things go well you can easily get lost in ‘the zone’ for hours
  • You need patience  – lots of patience
  • You never stop learning
  • Good preparation is vital
  • It’s easy to over complicate things – sometimes simple is best

I called this site spiderywriting for several reasons  – a Roald Dahl quotation, a play on the Worldwide Web and web spiders. Now that I have started my journey into the fascinating world of spinning, I love the fact that my site is named after a little creature able to create wondrous, magical structures from  a simple skein.

I am trying my best to learn to do the same.

Is Letter Writing a Lost Art?


From when we moved to Italy in June 1994 right up until a few months before my dear Mum died last December, I wrote her a letter every week. A handwritten letter with drawings, bits cut from magazines and pasted to the paper, sometimes with enclosures like photos, sometimes just plain letters. And she wrote back to me.

Every so often I read through the hundreds of letters she sent me. They make me laugh and yes, cry too, as her humour comes shining through the lines. I’m transported back to her house, her kitchen, her little dog, her daily life and the years melt away.

There’s something about a letter, a proper letter, that forever holds the energy of of the person who wrote it. It’s rather magical really.

Compulsory Letter Writing

And so I read with interest a Daily Mail report on the latest UK government plans for the 2014 curriculum. Key Stage 3 pupils (11-14) should be able to ‘write accurately, frequently and at length, with increasing fluency and sophistication’ through ‘personal and business letters using the correct form’ as well as other forms including stories, poems and essays.

Apparently the fear is that too much texting has caused kids to lose the ability to write a letter. Some teenagers can’t even do joined up handwriting apparently! (Actually I can well believe that as my own handwriting is much worse since I started doing almost all my writing on my computer or iPad.)

So writing a personal letter would kill two birds with one stone: kids can practise their handwriting while also learning things like salutations, dates and even how to spell sincerely correctly apparently.

I actually think this is a good thing. Using text, messaging or email feels different from writing with a pen. There are some novelists, more than you would think, who write in longhand first in a notebook or similar and then transcribe it later, and these include Stephen King and J.K.Rowling.

Handwriting Stimulates the Brain

They are not being old fashioned, as brain scans shows that handwriting uses more parts of the brain than typing does. It also helps us remember better and stimulates creativity.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Gwendolyn Bounds writes: “Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.

She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.”

So dust off your fountain pen and buy yourself some luscious handmade paper, open up your address book and send someone a handwritten letter. Not only will it make their day, it will make you – and your brain – feel good too.