Tag Archives: writing

A Folder Called ‘Bollocks’ – Why Authors Should NEVER Respond to Reviews

Regular readers of my blog may recall I celebrated the much anticipated landing of my first one star review as an author, with a light-hearted blog post and a nod to fellow authors to try not to take them too seriously.

In the last month I have seen a few knee-jerk reactions to scathing reviews and am almost always saddened, especially when I find one very talented author I greatly respect saying, ‘I just feel like giving up’. But today I began to read this response to a book review from an author on Goodreads, and found I couldn’t read on. To say it felt like watching car crash TV was an understatement.

The first and most obvious thing that occurs to me here is how the author has succeeded in spending what must have been hours alienating a community of book lovers he will have spent hundreds more writer hours trying to reach – 131 of whom ended up liking the bad review even though I suspect many hadn’t read the book. But also, I mourn for the time lost when this author should have been doing what he clearly feels he was put on this earth to do – some actual novel writing.

I am now indoctrinated in to the world of book publication with a few bad reviews of my own. I say a few, because I haven’t counted and have stopped reading them, particularly on Goodreads, where I find they can be at their most brutal for almost all authors I have read and loved. I made a conscious decisions to quit doubting my ability to write when it became clear that the good reviews far outweighed the bad for my debut novel; only if the opposite had been true was I going to allow doubt to sink in. Only then would I question whether I was in the right vocation, which is just as well because I cannot imagine ever doing anything else. I don’t dwell on bad reviews because that would stop me from working and almost certainly stifle me creatively. I only recall my first on Amazon, for the fact that it was the first, and the last one I was gifted with on Amazon UK, because it stayed at the top of my reviews list for what felt like an age after being posted on the very day of the release of my paperback from my new publisher:

one star reviews

I don’t mind sharing it and have spared outing the writer by blanking out her name. It’s not important; nobody died and everyone is entitled to not like my book. I have very good friends and relatives who I know would not like, ‘The New Mrs D’, yet they remain good friends and the rest can’t do anything about being related to me. The review here only became a momentary annoyance for me because this was the day of my traditional publication. Would this person’s thoughts affect my sales? My livelihood? With hindsight though, I think not.

There is always going to be the understandable worry that in trashing your work the reviewer has affected your business and, more annoyingly, without a second thought. It can also be painful to know someone hated your book – not you, remember, your book – enough to feel the need to try and put everyone off buying it. Okay, it hurts. So if you need to, take a few seconds to acknowledge that then move on. But don’t respond. Don’t, don’t… just don’t.

Writing is a business and vendors on sites like Amazon, Google+ and Trip Advisor are always answering bad reviews, because it is considered good for business for them to state their side of the story. If an author does so, it is up for sharing across social media and blogs as a lesson to us all. So think of this from the point of view as a consumer.

As an occasional frequenter of hotels, I would worry about bad reviews but feel heartened to see the hotelier acknowledge the complaint, accept its relevance or explain how it may have been inaccurate and suggest ways forward for change and improvement. As a reader, I have pretty much decided on whether or not I’m going to buy a book after a recommendation, reading the blurb and briefly glancing at the ratio of good reviews to bad. One ‘this is tripe’ among sixty ‘I loved it’ comments isn’t going to stop me visiting Paypal for another ‘buy it now’ trip. (Nobody tell my husband, okay?)

I have thought this way about reviews since day one of my decision to publish, but I understand more than ever why no author should go down the road of responding to reviews after reading the Goodreads thread above today, which is why I have brought the incident to my blog, not as a seasoned pro with twenty published novels, but as a new writer looking in, sucking in my cheeks like a plumber about to give you a very large quote for your leaky boiler and saying, ‘ooh no, don’t go there. Please.’.

Read it and weep. Answering bad reviews is a waste of your valuable, creative time and readers are always telling us they are rarely swayed from buying a book by the appearance of a couple of stinking reviews.

Yes, it is early days for me and no, I haven’t suffered the joys of a scathing public review yet. But I know this much: if and when that day arrives it will be because I made it to a place that was beyond my wildest imagination when I first set out to write a book. Maybe I might need to come back to this post to remind myself where my head was today when dealing with this. I think we all need a nudge from time to time because writing is hard and putting your work out publically feels beyond scary. But I want to write and if you’re still here this far down, I suspect you do too. Enjoy it as much as you can. Hell, why can’t we have some fun with our poor reviews? I even stuck one of my most cutting ones in the middle of a marketing video for a Kindle promotion I ran last year:

Think on, writer pals, think on. If I’ve learned anything in the five short years since I set out to chase my ambitions it’s this: With inordinate passion for writing comes inordinate rejection and criticism. If this succeeds in making you quit, then perhaps you’re not supposed to be a writer. And if you are supposed to be a writer, focus on the parts you love; all the things that bring you to your writing desk each day. And file every ill-thought out, scathing review you happen upon in a mental folder called, ‘bollocks’.

Chick Lit Books – An Open Letter To Real Book Lovers

george wade

Lucy Kelson: George, I think you are the most selfish human being on the planet.
George Wade: Well that’s just silly. Have you met everybody on the planet?
– ‘Two Weeks Notice’.

This weekend I had my very first book signing event at the Waterstones store in East Kilbride, Scotland. It was a great and pime at my first signing... for a chick lit book?votal day for me, being a newly published author in the shop nearest my home, where I’ve spent many happy hours getting high on new book smell and about three purchases low on cash. And all with my big sister and various other members of my family watching and cheering me on.

The Waterstones staff were fantastic; so supportive and encouraging as well as taking care of my needs and sharing stories of other authors’ come-from-nothing successes to bolster my confidence. All in all, it was a fabulous day – a huge thanks to them for inviting me along.

But there was one moment that threatened to spoil it all at the very beginning. As I sat watching shoppers stroll by, all avoiding eye contact with me as though I had a clipboard and a ‘Market Researchers do it in the Street’ t-shirt on, the very first stranger to approach me smiled, picked up a copy of ‘The New Mrs D’ and glanced at the back cover for all of one second before placing it quickly back down with a scowl and taking off as fast as her legs could carry her.

Being perpetual jovial sorts, my sister and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

‘This is going well, don’t you think?’ I said, showcasing the books in front of me with a sweep of my arm like a model displaying prizes on ‘The Price is Right’ …and knocking my glass of water over them. (Oh yes I did).

Three down, twenty to go…

Don’t get me wrong, I do judge a book by its cover, but never without having read the entire blurb first. So what was it that made a person run away after having a glance at my cover and a read of the first two lines on the back?

I don’t know and I never will. But here’s my best guess. Dare I say, that brightly coloured, cartoon cover and the promise of a light-hearted, comedy novel that screams, ‘chick lit’?

The week before my first signing, I had responded to a comment left on a Facebook book club wall that asked something like, ‘does anyone else here hate chick lit?’ So I bit my lip and wrote what may have been a contender for longest Facebook comment in a thread ever. It went something like this:

‘As a writer of what has been called chick lit, I’d like to defend it if only because it depresses me that it gets such a bad rap, like it doesn’t deserve its place in literature. I read all kinds of genres and regularly have two or three very different books on the go at the same time but I never rule an entire genre out. I love to try something new, dipping in to different writer styles often. Chick lit has its place for light reading, for laughs, for comic escapism. I have had several men who professed to hating the chick lit genre read my book then come back and tell me they really enjoyed it. I was thrilled when science fiction writer Dylan Hearn, who took the plunge into something new for him, read my book then wrote a rave review and blog about it, admitting he had never picked up a chick lit book before.

I want to defend the genre because it is reading all of the dismissals of it that stops many women from writing what it is in their heart to write, for fear of being rejected by the ‘literary police’. Anything new, bold and original is exciting to find and nothing would ever be created if writers didn’t take the difficult step of bringing their stories out into the world. The fact is, we all have different tastes and to me, writing is not just a craft but an art. It should be a joy to bring that which you were meant to do out in to the world and, after all, art is about freedom of expression. It’s about capturing the imagination and taking it anywhere you wish it to go. An individual may hate the work of Van Gogh, but that doesn’t make him any less of the incredible & innovative artist that he was. It’s all a matter of personal taste. What sings to one person can screech like nails on a blackboard to another. And what’s wrong with that?

Perhaps you read one or two bad chick lit books. Perhaps, like me, you’re of an age where you’ve read countless books with will-they-won’t-they, she-hates-him-then-she-loves-him plot lines and think you can’t stand to read another. But then, if you are like me, you’ll remember that you loved these once and now you’re older, you’re perhaps looking for something different. It doesn’t make those kinds of stories any less relevant, they’re just not relevant to you.

I would ask anyone not to discount an entire genre based on some they’ve read or seen, as not all books in any genre are the same. The majority of chick lit writers are women and we should be encouraging more female writers to find their voice. The only thing I have to say that I don’t like about chick lit as a genre is the name. I’m 44 years old, I’m not now nor have I ever been a ‘chick’. I hope it changes to ‘contemporary fiction’ or something equally suitable. I’d like something that says I write commercial, comedy fiction for all genders.

And for the reader, let’s not be afraid that no one will ever take us seriously if we admit to liking a bit of easier reading and laughter – the best medicine there is. There is a lot to be said for so called ‘easy reads’ too. They encourage more people to read and that, we should all be able to agree if we’re true book lovers, is a fundamental and beautiful thing.’

Others have written on this very subject of course. In his article for Huffington Post, entitled, ‘Stop Being Literary Snobs and Embrace Chick-Lit’, Ben Mirza writes, ‘There’s a reason why these people hate chick-lit, and it’s nothing to do with declining standards. It is simply that these people hate escapism and frankly, hate a genre that focuses on the general lives of women.’

The hatred of escapist comedy reading is something I know many readers have and there is absolutely no wrong in this. To each his (or her) own. For me, one of the most interesting things about comedy is the fact that everyone loves to laugh, yet comedy books seem to be the target of the harshest critics, often accused of appealing to a readership of the lowest, common denominator.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a little bit tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t be reading. Overall, I want books that test my intelligence, scare me a little bit, make me think, make me question things, freak me out, make me cry and make me laugh – and I can get all of these things in a year filled with reading a little bit of something from every genre. There’s a special place for all of it in my brain.

Lucy-Anne Holmes sums it up nicely in her 2014 article for The Guardian:

‘I’m not going to apologise for enjoying books that focus on women’s careers, families and love lives, as romantic comedy often does. As a woman – as a person – discovering what I love to do, feeling empowered to do it and falling in love have been pretty seismic events in my life, ones I can identify with far more than discovering a murdered body in a disused car park.’

So let’s not profess to be specific genre haters; let’s continue to be book lovers with open, hungry minds requiring nourishment from a wide variety of sources . And to those who still say they hate chick lit, I say, ‘that’s just silly. Have you read every chick lit book on the planet?’

eb4b1ac0f35d787f936bb2342a160cf5

Authors: Don’t Be a Bloody Statistic

There are people that are writing in the hope of getting rich, and there are people that are writing for the love of the craft. I would firmly plant myself between these two extremes.

I suspect that those writers who are most disappointed are in the first category.

I love writing, have reached a point in my life where I recognise I have always loved it, yet was hampered by an inaccurate belief that making a career out of it was out of my reach and capabilities.  Today I’m ready to pursue it to the death, only with the hope in my mind that I might make a decent living out of it.

Since the moment I first began working on my book, I knew I’d never stop writing again. I know that even if I never sold another word, I couldn’t stop. I’m forty three years old; that’s how long it has taken me to get to this place

Do I hate the idea of getting rich quick? No. I’ve almost accepted around four email marriage proposals from Nigerian Princes in 2014 alone. Do I care if I don’t make my fortune with writing? No, actually, I do not.

I’m not taking my rejections personally, not watching my sales figures hour by hour asking why the world isn’t recognising my genius and I’m not dying inside every time a fellow author has heaps more success than I do. This is my journey; my dream. I’m not going to dilute it or belittle its significance to my life’s journey by making it all about money or the competition. I wish we could live a little (okay a lot) easier and I do imagine that big cheque landing on my doormat, of course I do. But my ultimate goal is having a better, more fulfilled life experience. It is doing what I think I was supposed to do with my life and being in love with it. That, for me, is worth more than gold.

I’m offering you here my best advice on how to overcome your obstacles as a new writer. It is an A for attitude – and the greatest thing about attitude, is you get to choose yours. There are too many articles telling writers to be careful what you wish for and I for one don’t like reading them. It is good to know the pitfalls you might face, but not good to focus on them too much.

Let me break it down in to a simple sentence: Don’t let people tell you you can’t do something.

A few months back, I wrote to hundreds of book shops all over the world, asking them to put ‘The New Mrs D’ on their shelves. I emailed scores of book reviewers, joining what I don’t doubt is an absolute sea of similar requests from self-published authors just like me. As well as the rejections this book has had, I also have the biggest pile of ‘no thank you’ emails you’ve ever seen. The ‘no reply at all’ pile is so big, I’m considering climbing it for charity.  🙂

A submission that sticks in my mind the most is the book I bought and posted, as per the submission guidelines on their website, all the way over to Barnes & Noble in New York asking that they please consider stocking it on their shelves. Their response was (something along the lines of), ‘in our experience, self-published authors only sell on average two hundred copies for the lifetime of the book, many of those to family and friends.’ In case you haven’t guessed where this is going, they declined my request. Yet I had already sold a thousand copies by the time I read their letter, and believe me, I don’t have that many family and friends.

I read this particular line again: ‘Most self-published authors only sell on average 200 copies for the lifetime of their book.’ I’d already proved them wrong in my own case, but instead of internalising this statistic, as some might be inclined to do, I decided to smash it. And no, I haven’t yet. This is not a victorious, ‘I told you so, you short sighted bookshops, agents and publishers’ post. I didn’t sell thousands of copies, but to date over 32,000 people have downloaded ‘The New Mrs D’ and of that 32,000 I gave away just over 29,000 in a free Amazon promotion. It’s not a huge, life-changing income, but it’s a very promising potential readership for book two. Although, in a personal way, it is life-changing. It taught me I’m ever-so-slightly addicted to being read. Thank you for feeding my addiction today.

I can’t offer advice from the perspective of a long in the tooth, experienced writer who has made it to the top. I can only offer the perspective of a long in the tooth person with some years of life experience behind her. And my advice is, if you love it, don’t let it lie.

Don’t be a bloody statistic.

Am I selling dreams of writer success to people who can’t write? I don’t think so. If writing is what you love and truly believe is inside of you to do, even if your first attempt sucked, you are going to work hard to get better. You’ll scrape together your last pounds for proper, professional editing, get the best cover art you can afford and you’ll read your submissions feedback, searching for the common elements and taking at least some of the advice given to make your project shine. You’ll give it all you’ve got and stop wallowing in bitterness and self pity.

(Okay, give yourself an hour on this last one, then move on) 😉

You won’t spend your precious writing time emailing agents that reject you with a stream of profanities telling him/her they have missed a golden opportunity and don’t know what they’re talking about. You are writing all of the time and reading about writing all the time.

So I guess I’m talking to YOU.

Now, get off this page and on to your own. X

carl_jung_quote-002

Standing On My Tiptoes

Today is another day on the emotional roller-coaster known as ‘trying to succeed as a writer,’ because this arrived:

In truth, I had a little cry, thought of my long passed father and looked up to the heavens to say, ‘I did it dad.’

I didn’t sell a million copies, win a book deal or become a famous author; I just made a book I could hold in my hand at last, after a long time of thinking I might never see it in print. And the first thing I wanted to do was tell my dad. The message might well have missed him, because I’m not sure he is flying about up in the sky to be honest, but he’ll understand the sentiment.

So here it is and I’m sad I had to do it myself, but I wrote a book and I got it printed. Now I don’t have to go through life wondering, ‘what if I’d tried?’

At five foot nothing, I have spent many hours standing in crowds on my tiptoes to be able to see and have people see me. To me, self publication feels like that. So, in some ways, I’m experienced.

The New Mrs D is available as an eBook on Amazon and will be available on paperback this week. I hope you will look up to see little me.

Many, many times I have said this but I shall take this opportunity to say it again:

If to see your own work in print feels like something that’s only in your dreams, all you have to do is open your eyes and get to work. You may only sell one copy (to your sister) or a hundred copies (to yourself) and then have to store them in the garage. But you will never again have to wonder, ‘what if I’d tried?’

Do it X

From the brilliant, indie published poet Erin Hansen
From the brilliant, indie published poet Erin Hansen

In Celebration of the One Star Book Review

In the spirit of sharing my writer experience and journey with you, today I got my very first one star review for The New Mrs D – in Australia where its promotion at $0.99 has just begun. Here is the review in all its glory. I am now author-initiated.

Mrs D

At the same time, I discovered The New Mrs D has gone to no 2 in  No 1 in OZthe Amazon 100 Best Sellers Humour chart, no 2 in the Women’s Fiction Best Sellers chart and is currently – as I type – the Best Selling Kindle eBook on the entire Australia site.

I was expecting a mixed bag of reviews. Comedy is so subjective, therefore I am surprised to have had the luxury of going for two whole months without a one star review. I have held my breath before opening each new addition, waiting for the worst; the slap in the face. But now it has landed, I can confirm that to me it feels no worse than all of the publisher rejections The New Mrs D received. I feel pretty okay to be honest. And of course, am fully aware there will be loads more to come in my career.

Yet for today, on Amazon Australia at least, my book is outselling ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. I understand the Australian site is quite new and small at the moment, but this still feels like a lovely and significant achievement. There is nothing to do but remind yourself of one important thing: the rejections and the bad reviews are just people’s opinions. If they were all bad, then perhaps I would rethink this new commitment to writing. Happily, they are not.

So to new writers, established writers and aspiring writers I say this: You HAVE to concentrate on the positive to keep going. I love to write and I don’t intend to let anyone discourage me. I do think it is important to look at the negative comments as learning tools and search for common aspects in order to inform future works. All I wished to achieve was to make a living, pay the bills and have room to breathe by doing that which I love and I intend to just keep plugging away at it. A terrific writer who is far more experienced than I – author of ‘The Humans’ Matt Haig – put it so well on his Facebook page today:

matt haig

The love of writing and being able to put that work out into the world to be read in itself is intoxicating. I’m 43 and at last and for the first time ever, I love what I am doing. I think it takes a lot to put your creation – your heart – out into the world, particularly knowing you are open to public criticism. Take heart. I did a quick scout of some of my all time favourite books on Amazon, to see what their one star reviews were like. Turns out, these books are all boring too 😉

Let’s have a one star review party!

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
great expectations
Great Expectations – by the great ‘Charles Darwin’ 😉
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert - a book I unashamedly ADORED
Eat, Pray, love by Elizabeth Gilbert – destroying civilisation as we know it according to Voldermort.
One of my favourite reads of last year - 'Life After Life' by Kate Atkinson
One of my favourite reads of last year – ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson What is this? First she has a life, then another life?!? This is NOT as advertised.
jingl;e
Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling – Rubbish! I’m so angry I leaned on my keyboard! Go away, thank you.
pride and p
Damn you Amazon! I came here to buy a horse head mask and accidentally bought a Jane Austen Classic! Clearly deserving of one star and, if Jane is reading this, ‘can I exchange please?’

save

Buy My Book! Buy My Book! Buy My Book!

Screenshot_2014-08-20-11-13-12

This is The New Mrs D on the first page of the TOP TWENTY Amazon UK 100 Best Sellers for Women’s Fiction Humour chart as of five minutes ago. On the same page as Helen Fielding and Maria Semple, author of one of my favourite recent reads, ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette?’.

Maybe for one hour, maybe a day… or maybe it will have fallen off by the time you read this. But thankfully for me, I have captured forever the moment that I WAS there.

My ‘unmarketable’ and now self published comedy novel for women actually reached number 11 on this chart within 24 hours of its release for pre-order for about an hour, but guess who didn’t take a screen print because she couldn’t believe her eyes? Guess who genuinely believed someone had placed it there by accident or that it was some kind of fluke? Guess who made a mock up cut and paste shot of it sitting at number one? Ha! Just kidding on that last one!

Note to self: hide evidence. Other note to self: Don’t forget to delete this bit.

I’m thrilled and so very grateful for the wonderful messages I have received telling me how much people have enjoyed the book. Self publication is no easy feat; it is as I feared, like throwing a fish into the ocean. There are so many great books out there and when nobody knows who the hell this ‘Heather Hill’ is, it is a very difficult business to sell yourself. So, in the great tradition of giving oodles of my comedy writing away for free over these last few years, there’s a sneaky peek of a chapter of the book below for you.

The New Mrs D is currently on offer until 2nd September at just 99p. That’s less than a tube of  toothpaste from the Pound Shop. So why not have dirty teeth, support some exciting, new comedy writing and buy a copy?

PS you may have noticed subtle shades of self promotion in this post. Ignore (pink elephants) them, you are just (pink elephants) having hallucinations after that third (pink elephants) glass of wine last night.  images

Chapter Four

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beeeeeep! This isn’t an episode of The Osbournes… We’re renting mopeds!

At the age of 18, I passed my driving test and wrote-off my dad’s car on the way home. I lost all confidence and handed back my keys, deciding never to take to the wheel again.

I’d only taken my eyes off the road for a second – to throw my L-plates into the back – when a corner had caught in the brushed nylon roofing material and pinged back at my head. But that wasn’t when the crash occurred… the crash occurred when I stooped to pick them up for another go. ‘It could have happened to anybody,’ didn’t seem to convince my Dad as I handed him the now-detached steering wheel of his prized Sierra Cosworth.

From then on, I’d relied on others to drive me around. Following a barrage of ‘Are you stupid?’ type abuse from my furious mother when I got home, and my own realisation that I must be the most accident prone woman on the planet, all the confidence gained in 30 weeks of driving lessons was lost forever.

‘My darling Binnie, I’m going to teach you to drive if it’s the last thing I do!’

With David gone there wasn’t going to be anyone to drive me around or teach me to drive – I was on my own. My driving license was in my handbag ‘just in case’ David could talk me into hiring a moped – though I’d been convinced he’d never be able to do it. My choices were to stay round the hotel pool with a group of unadventurous, sunbathing couples, or to get out and explore the real splendour of the island alone. It was no contest. For the sake of doing everything on the adventure tour group itinerary, I was going to have to take to the open road alone. Never had I needed some freedom to explore as much as now.

The short walk from the hotel to the moped centre took me past shops where I was able to purchase supplies to aid my sickly stomach. Bye-bye sugar low – hello very large bag of mini chocolate croissants, two cartons of orange juice and a packet of mints to stop my breath vaporising the faces of all the new people I was about to meet at the painting class. I downed the first carton of orange juice greedily, but still my suffering, grief stricken belly wasn’t accepting any food callers.

‘Now, remembers Mrs Dando, you drive with bike on the right. It is not like in the English.’ The boy from the hire centre handed over the map he’d drawn to Chris’s villa and searched my face for a glimmer of understanding as I sat astride the moped. Peering through the visor of my oversized helmet at the controls that he’d just spent an age explaining, I nodded… and the world went black. Pushing the helmet around until I could see again, I took the map and his pencil before grabbing the handlebars. This didn’t look so hard; what had I been worried about? Front brake. Back brake. ‘Why would I want one half of me to stop and not the other?’Accelerator.

‘And this button is…?’

‘BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!’

‘Oops! That’ll be the horn,’ I laughed, as several mystified faces appeared from nearby shops to see what the noise was. The boy, who looked about 12, failed to see the funny side. Judging by the look on his face in my rear view mirror, he was pretty worried.

‘How on earth do people manage with the island heat in this headgear?’ I asked, turning towards him but finding one-half of my view of his face missing, as the mahoosive helmet remained facing forwards. I adjusted it again, just in time to spy him rolling his eyes.

‘Don’t they make these things for people with normal sized heads?’ I muttered into the sweaty, foam lining.

‘Mrs Dando,’ the boy began, gravely, ‘do you understand? Do not forget. You drive on the…’

‘… right side of the road. I get it. Really, how hard can it be?’

‘Mrs Dando,’ the boy waved a hand in front of my face. ‘Are you going to be okay?’ he asked.

‘Fine,’ I said, a little more confidently than I felt. I turned the throttle on the bike. ‘Let’s do this!’

‘Okay. And Mrs Dando?’ he continued. ‘Can I have my pencil back?’

Except I didn’t have the chance to respond to that last bit because I was already revving off, giving an awkward ‘I’m okay’ wave to the lad. Which I wasn’t, because I hadn’t meant to move forwards at that moment. Where did he say the brakes were?

Even over the sound of the engine and through muffling headgear, I could hear shouts from behind and risked a swift peek over my shoulder. Seeing the boy waving at me, I waved again but struggled to keep control of the bike, which mounted the curb sending several stray cats scattering up trees to safety.

‘Aww, come on!’ I complained, revving the engine a second time. Looking back to the hire centre, I saw the boy had been joined by what looked like two huge Greek men, and all three were now running after me, gesticulating wildly. Shit, was I about to be arrested for pencil theft?

I turned the throttle to full and, as my head was almost torn off my shoulders with the force of sudden forward motion, I threw the pencil to the ground behind me with a shout of, ‘There’s your pencil!’ The moped charged onwards, bumping up a cobbled side street. It seemed there was no way to stop, even if I wanted to, without crashing into something.

‘Mrs Dando! MRS DANDO!’

Another rearwards glance showed that the sales boy had now jumped onto a rental moped with the beefy henchmen on another, all in pursuit. Oh god, this was it; I was about to be ambushed… maybe even killed! The island newspaper headlines of tomorrow flashed into my head:

BRITISH PENCIL THIEF RUBBED OUT BY LOCAL HITMEN

Would a stolen pencil really warrant such an elaborate daylight operation? Of course not, stupid woman. Maybe I was being mugged. Was it the stash of Euros in my purse I’d flashed while paying for the moped? Oh no, wait – they surely weren’t after my faux diamond emblazoned Primark flip-flops?

In a panic, I kicked one off into the path of an elderly couple as they strolled out from a hotel car park. The shoe shot straight into the old man’s portly, bare stomach with a sickening slap.

‘They have the diamonds!’ I called, mercilessly pointing them out to the gangsters before whizzing onwards to make my getaway.

But it was all for nothing; the roar of bikes continued behind me. I slowed to turn a corner into another side street and heard a shout.

‘Stop! Mrs Dando! You stop NOW!’

What on earth could they want? I reached down with one hand, trying to take the other flip-flop off to throw back as a ransom, but dropping it instead. As I cursed myself and looked up, an ancient Greek woman on a scooter was zipping round a bend straight at me, only swerving at the last second to avoid a collision.

‘What the…’

‘WAAAAHHHH!!!’ We screamed the last part in unison; ‘Waaaahhhh’, it transpired, being the international synonym for ‘OH SHIIIIIT!’ In an instant, her front wheel bounced off the kerb, sending both the old lady, and the basket of lemons balanced on her handlebars, flying, Frank Spencer style through the air towards a couple of teenage boys. Christ, I’m in a Carry On film.

‘Save the lemons!’ I called back, rattling onwards with no time to look behind again or wonder why my first manic thoughts were for Frank Spencer and the fruit – not the little old lady. Speeding away from the increasing chaos behind, I rounded a honking car pulling out from a driveway and yelled at its startled occupants, ‘CALL THE POLICE!’

Despite the throttle being fully open it seemed the tiny moped engine had no more to give and the roar from the biker gang got closer. Turning round once more, I could see the two bikes were still in hot pursuit, and for the first time I noticed the boy had a very fat man riding pillion. So there were four of them! And the fourth had mad lady-killer written all over him. Heart pounding with fear, I grabbed the nearest thing to a weapon from the moped basket and began hurling ammunition overhead at the assailants. However, taking my eyes off the road to lob miniature chocolate croissants was a last, fatal mistake.

Crunch!

The moped bumped straight up a kerb, sending my stomach boinging up to my lungs and my knicker tops rolling back down below my belly again, as the bike came to a near halt. This was it, the end. I waited for my life to flash in front of me… but a massive, spiny bush got there first. Without testing the moped’s brakes and fuelled by an extraordinary burst of adrenaline, I dived off, sending it ploughing, un-helmed, into the bush. This was where, in a moment of TV cop-esque brilliance, I rolled over-and-over onto a grass bank before springing back to my feet.

‘Whoa!’ For a split second, Mrs David Dando was Lara Croft; crime-fighting, tomb raiding stunt rider. That was until My Big Fat Greek Assassin got off his bike and made towards me and I remembered who I actually was. Bawling Binnie – with her knickers rolling down again.

‘Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me! I’m unarmed!’ I yelled, trying – and failing – to get my helmet off before throwing up my hands in surrender to the waiting gang.

‘Other side, Mrs Dando! Other side!’ yelled Zorba the Crook, taking a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe bits of chocolate and pastry from his fat sweaty face. Spying his accomplices coming up behind, I turned around and flung myself face down in the dirt with my hands behind my still helmeted head.

‘Okay, okay,’ I whimpered, ‘just, please don’t hurt me.’

There are moments that should flash through your mind when you think death is imminent; the faces of loved ones, lifelong friends, long-forgotten happy moments, childhood memories. This was my crucial moment – and I was going to die wondering if Greece had body bags big enough for me in this colossal monstrosity of a biking helmet.

The Fat Assassin flopped down beside me and prodded my shoulder. ‘Oh God,’ I thought.‘He’s really mad! Goodbye cruel world!’

Dear Facebook, today I was so hot. Oops, bloody mobile phone typos! I was s-h-o-t.

‘Mrs Dando…’

As I lay there with my eyes screwed shut waiting to feel a gun in my ribs, (please God let it be a gun in his pocket) hearing him huffing like a muddy, wet contestant on Total Wipeout, his voice took on a calmer, more sinister tone.

‘I not kill you. You kill yourself.’

I froze. Oh my God, he was going to make me shoot me.

I heard him take another deep breath and cough. ‘Mrs Dando,’ he said finally. ‘You drive with the moped on the other side!’

‘I didn’t mean… I wasn’t… oh!’ Ah. Right… I rolled back over to face him, but again, met with nothing but blackness. Bloody helmet! So, I wasn’t going to be bumped off for stealing the island’s only pencil. Or for assault with a supersized bag of mini croissants.

Twisting the monstrous headgear off and easing myself upright, I was met by four nonplussed faces caked in, well… cake.

‘Oh,’ I said, smoothing my hair in an attempt to recuperate some composure. ‘Well, er… why didn’t you just say so?’

Porn Addiction IS No Laughing Matter

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It’s just five days since The New Mrs D was released and I have already had some wonderful feedback from readers, most saying they completely associate with her. One Amazon reviewer sums it up nicely:

It is so refreshing to have a main character who isn’t perfect, who is always struggling with weight, self-esteem issues and pants that keep rolling down (due to muffin tops and not sexual behaviour).’

However, yesterday I received an email from someone, who I must point out has NOT read the book, which has led me to sit down to write this blog post today.

The New Mrs D tackles the difficult, mostly unspoken about subject of porn addiction in a work of comedy fiction. The person emailing me asked why I would think porn addiction, which has blown up like a bomb in society, with many innocent people getting hurt every minute of every day, is something to laugh about. I will not name this person; it was a highly personal and confidential email from someone whose identity I am happy, indeed – determined to protect.

But I did feel a need to answer this question, lest anyone else should be misled into believing that this is what my book seeks to do. In fact, its purpose is far removed from making light of the subject. My reason for writing it was to bring the issue to the fore.

Editors called it ‘a laugh on every page’, ‘hilarious’ and ‘very timely in the year of the new Bridget Jones novel’. Yet no one wanted to publish it. They said it was ‘too close to the bone’ and an ‘icky’ subject. One editor said she just didn’t believe anyone would marry a man like that.

I didn’t just decide to pick something controversial to sit down and write a comedy novel about; I felt it needed to be addressed. All of my research and experience has shown me that plenty of people have and do marry men like that. Plenty of people live with porn addiction in their relationship on a daily basis, slowly letting their self-confidence reach the point of shut down without ever telling anyone what is happening, purely out of shame. They think it is their fault. Or, that in some way it makes them look bad for not being able to cope with what is fast becoming acceptable in modern society – the sexualisation and objectification of women in everyday media outlets. I would go as far as to say it is probably more people that each of us know than we realise.

How many people reading this post have been in some way affected by a partner’s porn addiction and never told a living soul? How many people reading this are thinking, ‘pah! Like it’s a real problem?’ Naturally, there are people on both sides of the fence.

What would you think if I told you of women that have left a room in tears after what to most people would seem a harmless, everyday advert, featuring a perfectly toned woman in a state of undress, appears on the TV? Does that sound excessive and neurotic to you? Then you have never been the partner of a porn addict. To the partner of such a person, every picture like this becomes – to their mind– a potential trigger to the addict. Think, ‘sparkly glass of wine in front of an alcoholic’. And you are the grape juice in the dull glass beside it.

The question on whether this is really a problem is an interesting one. In ‘The New Mrs D’ it most certainly is, as the partner uses porn instead of making love to his wife. He, in fact, is unable to make love to his wife but can reach ejaculation whilst watching porn. An editor who wrote a feedback report on my manuscript asked the question, ‘would porn use really cause a sexual dysfunction?’

Norman Doidge of The Guardian wrote a very interesting and revealing article on the Brain Scans of Porn Addicts. It told of how ‘scan images show that watching online “adult” sites can alter our grey matter, which may lead to a change in sexual tastes.’ He concludes with this story:

‘In her book, Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion, Izabella St James, who was one of Hugh Hefner’s former “official girlfriends”, described sex with Hef. Hef, in his late 70s, would have sex twice a week, sometimes with four or more of his girlfriends at once, St James among them. He had novelty, variety, multiplicity and women willing to do what he pleased. At the end of the happy orgy, wrote St James, came “the grand finale: he masturbated while watching porn”.

Here, the man who could actually live out the ultimate porn fantasy, with real porn stars, instead turned from their real flesh and touch, to the image on the screen. Now, I ask you, “what is wrong with this picture?”.’

Porn addiction in a commercial comedy novel may be considered by many to make uncomfortable reading. Bringing the issue of what many people consider virtual adultery is, I grant you, different and edgy. I believe difficult subjects can be made more palatable and accessible to a wider audience in works of commercial comedy fiction. It is not easy and it is a work that has taken me almost two years to complete in the hope that I have handled it sensitively.  But what if I can help people to be able to say out loud, ’actually, I hate this porn culture we live in’? What if I can trigger conversations about matters that were once kept behind closed doors?

In my search for publication, I was asked if I would remove the porn addiction element. In edits, I was advised to try altering the age of the protagonist to a woman in her thirties (Mrs D is in her forties) and maybe consider changing my name to a male pseudonym; anything to make its subject more comfortable and marketable.

I wanted to write about a real person, in a very real situation. I also like to make people laugh and offer something different in an increasingly androcentric world.

The comedy part of my novel is not around the subject of porn addiction, it is around a women’s

Wonderful review from Amazon Australia
Wonderful review from Amazon Australia

life altering honeymoon alone in Greece where she discovers a lot about herself. I sought to speak to women, empower and educate them. It follows the laughter, tears and moments of clarity in the life of the partner of a porn addict. If I’d have removed the porn addiction element of the story, The New Mrs D may well have been published traditionally. I chose not to, because then my reason for writing the book in the first place would have been lost.

I’ll let the readers decide if I did her – and this very timely subject – justice.

You can buy The New Mrs D HERE. And please do come back to tell me your thoughts.

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Blog Tours – What To Wear

I was recently invited on a blog tour and my first honest-to-God thought was, ‘ooh, I don’t know if I can afford to travel.’

More seasoned writers will be smirking at this, but for anyone not familiar with the world of blogging, (hi there!) a blog tour is purely virtual. You don’t need a suitcase, new frock or train tickets.  All you need is the ability to write a blog post and share the link building, book marketing love online. I am lucky to have been invited to two for this month now; one with writer and marketing consultant for the arts, Anna Mansell and the other with ‘This Family Life’ author Jon Rance.

Blog tours are one of the things I’ve got to learn as I go along in the world of being a newly published author, along with:

‘Amazon sales rankings’

Me: ‘#11,000! Woop woop! I’ve sold eleven THOUSAND books!’
Learned person: ‘Erm, nope. That means there are 10,999 books selling better than yours…’

Using Twitter To Sell My Book

What? I never use Twitter to sell my book!

buy the book

Being Braced For Book Reviews

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Me drowning, with whisky, water, paracetamol and a machete. Pretty sure this is the title of a Morrisey song…

I’m fine, really I am!

No pacing. No rocking back and forth hugging mysel&%4$$$

Oops, knocked the laptop off my knee there… whilst rocking and hugging myself.

Having Realistic Expectations

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Basically, I’ve got it all figured out absolutely one hundred percent not at all…

Next week, I’m off to Sutherland for a week. Please let it be sunny and warm! And while I am away, please buy my book TheNewMrsD

Also.. I’m very grateful to have also had my first two author interviews this week. You will find them on the links below:

CHICKLIT UNCOVERED

JACQUELINE WARD’S BLOG

Matt

The ‘Let’s Have a Break From The World Cup and Talk About Death’ Blog

First – NEWS! The New Mrs D is now available
to PRE-ORDER on Amazon! Hooray!(Follow the link)
Here it is again in case you missed it – LINK

And second…

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I have a confession. I’m drawn to graveyards. Which is just as well because there are no less than
two in the lane where I live and sometimes – just sometimes – I take a detour walk around one of them with the dogs.

I don’t know why, but they hold a certain morbid fascination for me. In particular, the very old gravestones. The inscriptions can tell so much about someone’s death, but also, they make me ponder how they lived.

The nearest one to me is where they bury people that have more recently passed. And by that I don’t mean just strolling by as Sally the lab cross and I do now and again, thankfully.

The other is Stonehouse Old Kirkyard, which is a fabbie – if spooky – place full of real historical significance. Here is where I really like to hang out, trying to decipher some seriously old headstones. My family will tell you I don’t often go out and visit the living, so they’d be amazed if they knew how much time I spend visiting the dead.

Stonehouse is in the heart of old Covenanter country, so the old Kirkyard is full of people that died in the name of religious freedom. (Covenanters were a Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland). But even more interestingly, it has a witch’s stone. Yep, at the end of my road.

Witchcraft was (allegedly) rife here in Stonehouse between the 16th and 18th  centuries. Kirk 1In fact, at one  time people would only  dare travel through the village whilst carrying a  branch of Rowan, said to keep bad spirits away –  and a handy thing for swatting all the midges. The  Rowan  tree  remains ever present in some  of our  gardens to this day, swaying quietly in the breeze while keeping us safe. That  is, if  you  believe in all that mumbo jumbo, which I,  being of  sane mind and character of course, do not.
The witch’s stone, or ‘bloodstone’ is, to put it in my own words, ‘a stone that bites you when you prod it.’  It’s a table stone with a skull carved on, that has a hole below the mouth. It belongs to one James Thomson,  who died at the battle of Drumclog in 1679. And one day, a wise person, let us call him, ‘Thomas McThumb’, came  along, poked their finger in the hole and pulled it out to find blood on it. Gasp!

Now, thanks to Thomas running home to tell everyone about it, this eerie phenomenon brings visitors to the village, queuing to have a go at getting their own fingers bitten too. NB: This has nothing to do with the red ocre running through the stone – nothing I tell you! The witch’s stone is spooky and it maims you. Keep coming here, the local Coop needs your sticky plaster buying business.

What is the Covenanters’ grave to do with witches? Legend skul 2would have us believe that Stonehouse, being almost encircled by the river Avon, has its ancient witches trapped, due to their inability to cross running water; hence why they are still here biting folk in the Kirkyard.

Where am I leading you with my historical tales of witchcraft and bleeding fingers?

Well, the last time I was there, leaning in for a little look and wondering if the witch would bite me if I just, poked one little digit into…..

Garghhhhhhh! (That was me by the way).

There was a snuffling, scratching sound that made my heart stop.  Then a clod of earth hit my back. This was it; the Stonehouse witch had got me and I was going to die here, with my finger stuck under the mouth of this skull like a sort of gone wrong game of Operation.

BBBBBBBBUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

‘You touched the sides! You touched the sides! Your cardboard patient with the boozer’s nose is DEAD.’

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Sally – with witch grave on her nose.

Without removing my finger, because you never know, it could have been plugging the way for a few more escaping ghosties, I turned round to see Sally enthusiastically kicking back earth, attempting to dig up the body of James Thomson.
I. Kid. You. Not. So, let me tell you, he may be mysterious and have a spooky witch sleeping on his head, but his bones smell delicious.

I snapped Sally back on her lead and we  ran home to hide… behind our Rowan tree.

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Our very own amulet against witchcraft.

Exciting Project For New Women Writers

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I’m delighted to share some information about the exciting new WoMentoring Project, a scheme which seeks to help new women writers in their quest for publication. Their new website has been launched today! Good luck to all involved.

Below is some more information for any women writers, or interested mentors who may wish to get on board to use or support the project.

About?

The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project – from the project management to the website design to the PR support – is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project.

Why do we need it?

Like many great (and not so great) ideas, The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers – largely writers, editors and agents – who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.

Applications

In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn’t possible. So instead we’ve tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time.

Why our mentors are getting involved

The reason I’m doing this is simple: mentoring can mean the difference between getting published and getting lost in the crowd. It can help a good writer become a brilliant one. But till now, opportunities for low-income writers to be mentored were few and far between. This initiative redresses the balance; I’m utterly delighted to be part of the project. – Shelley Harris, author of Jubilee

I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don’t have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give. – Marie Phillips, author Gods Behaving Badly

I’m so pleased to be involved in the WoMentoring Project, and I can’t wait to meet my mentee. I know from my own authors how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work. – Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker

The WoMentoring project is the kind of opportunity I would have relished when writing my first novel. It’s founded in the spirit of paying it forward, and I’ll take real pride in sharing whatever experience I’ve gained with a mentee. I’ve benefited from the advice and encouragement of some truly inspirational writers, the right voice cheering you on can make all the difference when you’re in your solitary writing bubble. The formality of the mentoring arrangement also gives a sense of responsibility and focus – something that’s invaluable when you’re lost in the sprawl of a work-in-progress – and it’s beneficial to mentors too. – Amylia Hall, author of The Book of Summers

My career as an editor has been immeasurably enriched by working with inspiring women writers, yet the world of publishing would have been inaccessible to me without the time and support I was given when first starting out.  The WoMentoring Project is a wonderful, necessary thing and I’m very proud to be taking part in it. – Francesca Main, Editorial Director, Picador

I wanted to get involved with this project because I’d like to help authors feel that whoever they are, and wherever they come from, they have a right to be heard. – Jo Unwin of The Jo Unwin Literary Agency

Why female writers feel they need this opportunity

I’m interested in being mentored because although I think you have to make mistakes to learn, having someone who’s been there help you work out the ones with no value can be really useful. Most of all I’d like to have someone to push and challenge me on what makes me and my writing tick. 

The idea of women sharing their skills and experience in a dynamic, nurturing way is a really important one given the lower profile given to female writers. Even though the mentoring is one to one a collective voice and resilience is still being built up – I think it’s a great idea that, for writers like me, will help get rid of some of the layers of doubt and creative loneliness that come with being a beginner. – Clare Archibald

I’m on my third novel; I’ve had good notices from Faber, HoZ etc. but still not quite there. What I need is that final push. I especially need guidance on pacing, keeping the action pulsing along. I feel a mentor could be hugely beneficial in this process. – Suzy Norman

Find out more:

Twitter: @WoMentoringP on twitter and to find the latest buzz, follow and use hashtag #WoMentoring