Archive | February 2020

I’ve just met a man who makes me feel young!

And as you can imagine, that takes some doing! His name is John White and he lives in Tooting and I’ve met him on Twitter and he’s a hundred years old.

Here he is celebrating his 100th birthday and talking to The Furzedown Project about growing up in London during the 1920s and 1930s. Images shared from @tootingnewsie on Twitter.

He joined the RAF in 1939 – which was three years before my old darling joined – and was a navigator, flying missions across the Mediterranean including the time when Malta was under siege. That talk must’ve been fascinating, I wish I could have been there to hear it, but with luck I might meet him when I go to Tooting in June to talk to the Furzedown Project myself. That would be fun! It isn’t often I can meet someone who can make me feel young. Usually when I meet new friends I’m very aware of how old I am.

There’s only one snag and that is that he will be a difficult act to follow. I shall be talking about growing up in Tooting in the 1930s and taking a look at the houses that I lived in and the schools I attended and probably taking a sideways look at what it was like to be in Tooting during the Blitz.

Tooting breeds ’em tough!

This entry was posted on February 20, 2020. 1 Comment

Dixie versus the hooley!

Dixie is suffering from a major disgruntlement.

He was not impressed when the gale began to blow because it curtailed his hunting and he was reduced to sitting my the window and glowering at it. But eventually he had to go out into the storm to answer the call of nature and at that point things went monstrously wrong.

I went with him to the cat-flap just to encourage him a little, but it took a while for him to walk into the tunnel and he’d barely gone four paces before everything went terribly wrong.

The wind howled down the tunnel of the cat-flap very loudly and something was banging and crashing. Then suddenly and without any warning, my poor cat was blown backwards into the house. I’ve never seen an animal look so surprised! Poor old thing.

I had to coax him out very carefully and let him out through one of the conservatory doors, where he ran wildly and at full tilt into the rain and was back again really quickly, poor old love. He then decided to spend the rest of the day in my bed.

Since then he’s been very wary indeed of the cat-flap and would much prefer to go out through a nice solid, dependable door! But he hasn’t forgotten his duties as a cat, he is now spend the night sleeping on my feet in case I’m afraid of the noise.

How’s that for heroism.

This entry was posted on February 13, 2020. 1 Comment

Self publishing versus traditional publishing

I spent most of yesterday afternoon with two new friends, Irene and Caroline – who are planning a literary festival in Chichester, because as Irene said ‘there are so many writers in our area.’ 

They’d come to see me to ask if I would take part in the festival which of course I will. And Irene showed me a list of local writers so that I could see who they were. One was Rosaline Laker who was a very old friend of mine and a very good writer, now sadly dead. Others ranged from published writers to self-published and that set me thinking.

For so much has changed since 1980 when my first book appeared in the shops, that I now feel I’m living in a completely different world. In those days, self-publishing was rarely heard of. It didn’t come in, in a big way until 2009 when Amazon Publishing was launched. There had been vanity publishers of course, which published books at a price and couldn’t get them in the shops and established writers like Virginia Woolf who were able to set up their own publishing houses. But the majority of writers had to jump through the established publishing hoops.

But then, for the thousands and thousands of people who want to write and be published, Amazon was suddenly the obvious outlet and it was free. Now all a wannabe writer has to do is write the book, count the words, write the end and put it up. As Wikipedia puts it ‘the publishing industry as a whole is in a great deal of flux, in a sort of “Wild Wild West” state’. 

So is there any difference between being published by a reputable publishing house and self-publishing your book? Yes, I’m afraid there are a lot of differences and some of them are formidable.

The ‘big’ publishers pay a great deal of money (and we’re talking thousands or even millions) to get their books on the shelves of the big bookshops. They also spend thousands of pounds on very visible and public advertising like posters in railway stations and magazines and ad-shell sites, so that the public will know that the books are there. Spending like this is totally beyond pretty well every self-published writer there is. They can’t compete and have to get used to the fact that book shops will not stock their books, which means that the income from their writing is very small, even though they go to as many book fairs as they can and pay a fee for a stall where they can display their stories and shout their praises very loudly ‘read my book, it’s great, etc’. You need considerable stamina to cope with it.

But there is another and more subtle difference between self-published and being published the old fashioned way and that is the fact that in addition to a publicity team, the publishers provide editors to support their writers. And editors are very useful people, for they will point out, kindly and subtly, all the most obvious faults they find in your manuscript and expect you to correct them. It is a salutary experience because you are up against somebody else’s knowledgeable opinion, which will certainly not be as glowing as your own, unless you are a modest writer. It is good for the soul and very necessary. It’s a great handicap not to have a reputable opinion of your work to back it up.

I’m quite sure that all writers need to be self-critical and to aim at the best possible writing that they can and it’s sad to say that that is not always the case with those who are self-published. I admire the time and energy they put into self-publicising their books but I often wish they could have had attention of a full paid editor in a publishing house. They’re the guys who hold the mirror up to your work and make you see it as it really is.

In our wild, wild west state, I don’t know what the answer to it is.

This entry was posted on February 7, 2020. 12 Comments

What was the author of ‘Little Women’ really like?

louisa-may-alcottThis blog is for people who have seen the latest film edition of ‘Little Women’ and loved it and would like to know more about its author.

I’ll bet a lot of you were like me and went straight back to read the book again. The copy I read when I was young has long since disappeared but I got Charlotte to put an e-book version on my iPad and I gobbled it up happily. At the end of the story there was a further piece of writing called a ‘biographical after word’. So I read that too and found it fascinating.

For a start I discovered that Louisa M Alcott was prolific and wrote best sellers. Little Women was published in September 1863 and was an immediate success. The first print run of 2,000 sold out very quickly and she was into a re-print before she knew where she was. By the time she wrote ‘Good Wives’ which was the sequel, it was given a print run of 13,000 and that sold out equally quickly.

The second thing that I found out was that she was the person who supported her family, not her father. The father in the book and the film was the great support of his family but in real life he couldn’t provide a steady income. His name was Amos BronsoAmos_Bronson_Alcottn Alcott and when she was two, he set up a ‘experimental school’ founded on the principal that children should enjoy themselves while learning at their own pace. Much maligned by critics of course, then as now! His school was so very heavily criticised that it failed and that meant that the family were very, very poor.

Later on he taught his own children using the same method and introduced them to his friends who numbered some very impressive, now famous, people one of them was Ralph Waldo Emerson – who was a lecturer, essayist, a poet and a teacher, Henry David Thoreau, – another essayist, poet and philosopher, Margaret Fuller – american journalist and publisher, who was an early advocate for womens and Nathaniel Hawthorne American novelist and a renowned short story writer.

Nathaniel_Hawthorne

Unlike the father in both the novel and the film – he did not go to war, but Louisa did and she was horrified by what she saw there. Her biographer says she got a position on the front line and joined the medical service where she changed bloody dressings and assisted in amputations.

It was a costly and terrible war lasting from from 1861 to 1865. In that time it is estimated that 620,000 to 750,000 soldiers died, along with an undetermined number of civilians.

The Alcotts were passionately on the side of the slaves and wanted to see slavery abolished. Their home was part of the ‘underground railway’ which helped escaping slaves to leave the south and get to the north.

When the war was over Louisa wrote three anti-slavery short stories and went on to write  ‘Gothic novels’. She made quite a lot of money from them, which was just as well, as she had a family to support, but she didn’t put her name on  any of them.

Her sister Lizzy died of Scarlet Fever just as Beth in the story does and she herself caught typhoid fever during the war and was dosed with mercurous chloride, which probably gave her mercury poisoning later in her life.

In many ways Louisa was very much like Jo in the book and the film, she wrote that she was old for her age and didn’t care much for girlish things. ‘People think I’m wild and queer but my mother supports and helps me.’ But unlike Jo, she never married.

It’s a fascinating story and made me like her more than ever, especially when I discovered that she was one of the early American Suffragettes and was one of first women who registered to vote, when she voted in a school board election in Concord, Massachusetts.

Just my kinda gal!

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on February 6, 2020. 1 Comment

Tuppenny Times is re-published today!

Tuppenny Times Twitter Banner

Agora are re-publishing yet another book from my back-list today. This one is slightly different from all the others, because it’s the first book in a trilogy, which is called ‘The Easter Empire Trilogy’ because it is about the foundation of a great book selling empire like WHSmiths and was in fact based on the book about the WHSmith family, which the company very kindly sent me to help me with it. I must confess I was not truthful to the original. For although the founder of Smiths like my heroine, started the newspaper empire after her husband died and left her penniless, by selling the ‘tuppenny times’ on the streets for two pennies and a farthing, she was exhausted by her endeavours and died relatively young, leaving the burgeoning empire to be run by her children.

But I was writing fiction and got fond of my heroine, so I followed her adventures in two more books: ‘Fourpenny Flyer’ which was based on the years when the newspapers were dispatched all over the country by train and were taken to the station in carriages called ‘flyers’ which cost fourpence a time and ‘Sixpenny Stalls’ when the company set up stalls in railway stations which sold popular books at sixpence each. As one of my reviewers said when the third book of the trilogy originally came out, ‘she’s inflationary, but she’s worth it.’ That tickled me pink!

I hope new readers will be as entertained by my heroine Nan Easter and like her as much as I did.

You can purchase a copy of Tuppenny Times here.

Happy reading!

Tuppenny Times Final