A writer’s life is such fun

I was searching through my folder of poems and came across this one, which I wrote about three years ago. I had actually forgotten about it – but I thought I’d share it because it is still as true today as it was then.

I know exactly what will happen,

The path is perfectly clear.

There may well be a few surprises

But from the future I have nothing to fear.

I’ll spend the next few months researching,

Trying to get into my characters’ head.

What would they have worn, where would they have lived,

What is it they might have said?

I’ll stride mile after mile in the here and now,

But my mind will be in a different age.

I’ll write the words inside my head

Then rush home to get them onto the page. 

I’m definitely a plotter, 

but I know that I’ll find

That my characters will have other ideas,

So I will need to keep an open mind.

The garden will grow unrestrained,

And the dust will gather in reams.

The paint will continue to flake,

The house perfect only in my dreams.

In a year or so from now,

When I think it’s as good as can be,

I’ll send it to a reviewer,

For quite a reasonable fee.

It will take a few weeks for him to respond

And he’ll tell me what changes to make.

I won’t open the report immediately

But what I think he might say will keep me awake.

Then I’ll rewrite the bits I’ve been told to,

For what do I really know?

I don’t yet have the confidence,

For the literary line not to toe.

Then I’ll have to write a synopsis,

Which is harder than you think.

For you have to put it all on just one page,

Which is enough to turn one to drink.

Then I’ll search for some literary agents

Who I think sound reasonably OK.

But choosing them is really hard,

At least you don’t have to pay.

Then once I’ve chosen about ten,

I’ll read their submission rules without fail.

Then send the first three chapters and synopsis

And attach them in a begging e-mail.

Then I’ll wait for weeks or months,

Not really expecting a reply.

But if I do receive one

It will invariably make me cry.

For they’ll say it is really quite good,

But unfortunately it’s not their cup of tea.

They’re sure you’ll have luck somewhere else,

And please don’t take it all personally.

For every rejection I’ll die a little,

But continue to live in hope.

For I know the book is good, isn’t it?

Or am I just being a dope?

If I don’t get an agent, I’ll self-publish

Either way, I won’t be able to rest,

For then the really hard work starts

And I have to become a bit of a pest.

I will have to put it on FaceBook,

And tweet til my fingers are sore

And Blog until the cows come home

It really is such a bore.

I will have to tell everyone I meet

That I’ve written a book that’s the best.

And if they read it, can they leave a review

And give it 5 stars, no less.

And whilst I’m doing all that,

Which apparently has to be done,

I will be having to think what to write next

Oh, a writer’s life is such fun!


Out of my comfort zone

You may remember that I am writing a historical trilogy, based on the lives of three generations of women and their attempts at getting published, as well as facing all the other trials and tribulations that women experienced at that time. A Teller of Tales tells Lizzie’s story and is set in the 1820s. A Keeper of Tales tells Harriet’s story and is set in the 1880s. These two books are with a literary agent but despite her efforts she has not been able to find a publisher, although their rejections have been very positive. I was in the process of writing the third book, A Seeker of Tales, which will tell Imogen’s story and is set in the early 1900s. I have it all planned out and had written the first four chapters when my literary agent rang me and suggested I hold fire and, based on feedback from the publishers, write a standalone set in the mid 20th century. She is still confident she will find a publisher for the trilogy but thinks we might be able to hook a publisher with something that is more what they are currently looking for.

I loved writing the trilogy because I have a story I want to tell about the lives of women I care about. I know they didn’t exist, but they are real to me. Having got over the shock I decided that I would take on this challenge and move out of my comfort zone and see if I am as good a writer as I think I am!

My initial thought was that I would tell the story of my mother, who was born in Egypt of Maltese parents (so she was British), married an RAF officer in Alexandria and came over to England after the war. I soon gave up that idea as I don’t want to be constrained by facts but I want to retain the setting of Egypt, a place for which I have always had a soft spot and which plays a big part in my first novel, The Jewel Garden. I also decided to make use of a character I was going to use in the last book of the trilogy, who was brought up in a children’s home in Birmingham. I had to discard this idea as the timings were wrong but I think she will make an interesting and feisty protagonist. I soon had the three characters I wanted to include: Rosie, a young runaway from the children’s home who ends up in Egypt; Evelyn, a diplomat’s daughter living an easy life in Cairo until she starts to help out in a girls’ reformatory (another favourite theme of mine which again appears in The Jewel Garden); Darius, an Egyptian policeman. These three characters made themselves known to me just before I moved to a small estate in the middle of Herefordshire and they have stayed quiet whilst my head has been filled with cardboard boxes, finding new suppliers and workmen to do the myriad of work that is needed. But as I walk Annie, my lovely Border Collie, around the beautiful countryside, they are starting to speak to me again and their personalities and traits are becoming clearer. I know where the story will be set but I still don’t know when and I’m not sure what the conflict will be that unites them all. The stealing of ancient artefacts? A murder? A robbery? Mistaken identity? I’m hoping one of my characters will tell me what it is in due course.

Another element that I am interested in and which plays a major role in most of my novels, is the fairy tale. I’m trying to think how I can include one or two in this book that perhaps act as a trigger.

I also don’t have a title, which worries me – I do like to have one that acts as a sort of guide for me to remind me what I’m writing about!

My literary agent also said I need a one-liner to attract and pull in publishers. This is my initial attempt:

“Seek and ye shall find” – but not always what you are looking for.

Of course, everything I have just described will doubtless change.

I am excited about this new project and look forward to closeting myself away in my new home with Annie curled up at my feet.


How long, oh Literary Agent, how long?

I haven’t written my blog for quite a while. I’ve just checked and it was 24th February 2021, so about 6 months ago, and before that it was 11 months. Basically, I have little to say because not much has happened, which is really the subject of this blog. In May 2020 I managed to get a literary agent, much to my joy. She said she really liked the first book of a historical trilogy, A Teller of Tales.

However, 15 months later she still hasn’t found a publisher. It’s not her fault – what with Covid and publishers seemingly only being interested in writers who have a “name”.

She now also has the second book, A Keeper of Tales, (was called Untold Tales), which she has had since February. I have asked her on a number of occasions if we should go to plan B (whatever that is) but she has always said that she still has publishers to contact and it is a slow process but not to worry. I am trying not to.

I am in the process of writing the third book, A Seeker of Tales, but am finding it hard to get into the writing habit, partly because I am going through a fairly lengthy moving process but mainly because I am not very motivated. Why spend hours on writing a novel that may never see the light of day? But no! I have a good story to tell and the rejections on the first book have actually been very positive and I still think the books are good.

I have submitted the first two novels to competitions in the hope that if they win, or are even long or short-listed, then that may interest publishers.

So, my question to myself is, how long do I wait before going to Plan B – and what is Plan B anyway? Is it to try and find a publisher myself – but if my literary agent can’t find one then I’m unlikely to. Or is it self-publishing, which I have avoided like the plague and I really, really don’t want to go down that path.

Ah, well. Here’s another fairytale from the first book that I am rather fond of.

There was once a King whose beloved wife had died giving birth to their only child, a daughter whom the King could not bear to name. The King knew he needed someone to bring the child up as a Princess so he put an advertisement into the local paper asking for nannies.

The first girl he interviewed was very pretty with an oval face and long, black hair and long, black eyelashes that she fluttered at the King. She was tall and willowy and as dainty as dainty could be and the King was quite convinced that she had wheels rather than feet under her layered, taffeta skirts.

‘And what will you teach my daughter?’

‘Oh, your Majesty, I will teach the Princess to dance so that she is always the belle of the ball. She will be able to pirouette, skip, twirl and glide. She will know how to dance the cotillions, reels, waltzes and quadrilles and she will never be without a dancing partner.’

‘Can you teach her anything else?’

‘Dancing will be enough for her to ensnare and marry a Prince, and surely that is all you want for her? And I will always be happy to teach you to dance, your Majesty, and to be on hand to help you to entertain.’ She fluttered her long, black eyelashes again and gave the most spectacular curtsey and the King said he would let her know, although he realised he didn’t know her name.

The next girl was very pretty with a round face and long, golden hair and long, golden eyelashes that she fluttered at the King. She was tall and dressed in a black and white dress that showed off her impressive bosom and she trilled as she walked.

‘And what will you teach my daughter?’

‘Oh, your Majesty, I will teach the Princess to sing and play the pianoforte so that she is always the main attraction at every musical evening. It will be as if she was a pupil of Bach, Mozart and Haydn themselves and she will sing a Scottish and Irish ballad as if she had been born in those distant lands.’

‘Can you teach her anything else?’

‘Music will be enough for her to ensnare and marry a Prince, and surely that is all you want for her? And I will always be happy to teach you to sing and play the pianoforte, your Majesty, and to be on hand to help you to entertain.’ She fluttered her long, golden eyelashes again and gave the most flamboyant curtsey and the King said he would let her know, although he realised he didn’t know her name.

The next girl was very pretty with a heart-shaped face and long, auburn hair and long, auburn eyelashes that she fluttered at the King. She was tall and had long fingers and a dress of all the colours of the rainbow.

‘And what will you teach my daughter?’

‘Oh, your Majesty, I will teach the Princess all about art and to paint like one of the masters. She will capture each petal of one of the roses plucked from your garden, each whisker on one of your favourite hounds, each hair on the head of your majesty. Everyone will be amazed and say that they have never seen anything so life-like.’

‘Can you teach her anything else?’

‘Art will be enough for her to ensnare and marry a Prince, and surely that is all you want for her? And I will always be happy to teach you to paint, your majesty, and to be on hand to help you to entertain.’ She fluttered her long, auburn eyelashes again and made the most exuberant curtsey and the King said he would let her know, although he realised he didn’t know her name.

By now, the King was very tired and really didn’t want to have to face yet another simpering maid, but he was a King after all and had to rise above such feelings, so he asked for the last one to be brought to him.

She was, well, what was she? Scruffy certainly and she might have been pretty if she had washed the mud off her face. Her hair looked like straw, my goodness, it was straw peeping out from under her slightly askew bonnet. The King did not notice whether she had long eyelashes for he was mesmerised by her blue eyes that pierced him as if he was a butterfly pinned to the wall. He felt unaccountably nervous.

‘Er, and what will you teach my daughter?’

‘Does your daughter not have a name?’ The King sadly shook his head. ‘Then the first thing I will do is to name her so that she knows who she is. Do you like the name Flora?’ The King suddenly realised that he loved the name and nodded his head.

‘Just so you know, my name is Marigold.’ She surprised the King by stepping up to him unbidden and firmly shaking his hand. ‘And I will teach Princess Flora where the worms live and where the stars go in the daytime.’

‘And what else?’ He felt a little braver.

‘I will teach Princess Flora how to feed a motherless lamb and what tadpoles grow into.’

‘What about dancing?’

‘Princess Flora will study the bluebells and the snowdrops, the foxgloves and the lilies of the valley and when they dance in the breeze, so will she.’

‘And what about singing?’

‘Princess Flora will befriend the birds and when the robin twitters and the blackbird chirrups, when the blue-tit whistles and the little wren flutes, then so will she.’

‘And what about art?’ The King felt he had to ask.

‘Princess Flora will learn very early on that God is the one and only artist and that it is sacrilege to even try and copy Him. No person can better the colours of Nature; flowers should be left to grow, not torn from mother earth to die in an ugly vase.’

The King felt inexplicably ashamed. ‘And will she learn to be a suitable wife for a Prince?’

Marigold tilted her head and looked at the King with a disappointed expression. ‘I think the question should be whether there is a Prince who will make a suitable husband for the Princess Flora, don’t you?’

The King realised that, yes, that is the question he should be asking. He also realised he didn’t know where worms lived or where the stars went in the daytime. ‘Can you teach me all these things?’

Marigold smiled. ‘Of course I can, your Majesty. As long as you are happy to get up and come outside as soon as the sun stretches her rays, whatever the weather is; as long as you don’t mind lying in the mud waiting for the worms to peep out;  as long as you don’t mind climbing a tree to put a fledgling bird back after he has fallen out of the nest; as long as you are content to take your shoes and socks off and dangle your toes in a river and listen to it as it tells you of its life.’

The King looked at Marigold and Marigold looked at him. Marigold did not flutter her eyelashes, which, the King noticed, were long and brown; Marigold did not make any sort of curtsey but stood upright and the King did not think he had ever seen a girl so beautiful.

‘When can you start, Marigold?’

The King and Princess Flora learned together and when the King died, as Kings invariably do, he was quite happy to hand over his kingdom to his daughter, knowing that she would reign with patience, love and respect. Princess Flora had not married for she had not yet found a Prince whom would make her a suitable husband. Neither had the King remarried. What? You expected him to marry Marigold? The girl with the muddy face and straw in her hair? Don’t be ridiculous, that sort of thing only happens in fairytales!


Untold Tales

I can’t believe that it is 11 months since I wrote my last blog. They were only ever meant to be intermittent, but that delay is ridiculous! I can’t really blame the lockdowns but rather that I didn’t have anything much to say until now.

In May,2020, two interesting things did happen:

  1. I got a dog and much of my time now seems to be taken up with walking her, which I love doing as I live in the countryside and I do a lot of my “writing” whilst I am walking.
  2. I managed to get a literary agent (Camilla Shestopal) for “The Teller of Tales,” the first book of a historical trilogy I am writing. As of now (February 2021) she hasn’t managed to find a publisher but she is still trying. She has received some very positive rejections and I am still very hopeful that she will find someone. One of the problems seems to be that the early 1820s is not a popular period unless the book is a Regency Romp, which mine most definitely isn’t.

Having handed my baby over to Camilla last May, I started on the second book in the trilogy, called “Untold Tales,” which I have just sent to Camilla. It is set in the 1880s and covers similar themes to the first book, being the silencing of women who have herstories to tell but no-one wants to hear them. In “A Teller of Tales,” a book of fairy tales is written by Lizzy (one of them I shared with you in the previous post), and this book is passed onto her granddaughter, Harriet, who is the protagonist of “Untold Tales.” The themes covered are those that predominated Victorian Society: female education, the rights of women, the fate of unmarried mothers, the silencing of women, sex, marriage and love. Harriet also adds her own fairy tales to the book, which she tries to get published, one of which I have included below.

Once I have finished helping to home-school my 6 year-old granddaughter (hopefully it will end March 8th) , I will start on the third book, potential title being “The Tale Collector.” It will be set in the early 1900s but that’s all I’m saying at the moment.

The following fairy tale is Harriet’s response when she learns about vivisection, which was much debated at the time:

There was once a very clever scientist who wanted more than anything to heal all man’s ills – a very noble cause I think you will all agree. He didn’t, however, fully understand enough about how the body worked or what the body could endure. Being an honourable man, he refused to experiment on humans but saw no reason not to use animals, for they don’t have a soul, do they? And surely, God put them on this Earth for our benefit, didn’t He? To begin with the scientist just used dead animals and opened them up to see what was inside. Then he used live animals, rabbits, cats, dogs; there are far too many of them, aren’t there? He wondered how long they would survive if he boiled them, set them alight, hung them upside down; the list of ways was limitless. And it was all in the name of science, wasn’t it? He carefully recorded the results of all his experiments and he won great acclaim for the articles he wrote. Over time he felt he needed to do more extreme experiments with more extreme animals and he started to wonder, what if….. What if I put the head of a tiger on the body of a kangaroo? Would it act like a tiger or a kangaroo? What if I replaced the front legs with flippers and the tail with that of a shark? What an amazing animal it would be! How famous I’d be!

     So he went to the London Zoo and persuaded them to give him a tiger, a kangaroo, a seal and a shark. He decapitated both land animals and put the tiger’s head on the body of the kangaroo. He then cut off the kangaroo’s arms and replaced them with the seal’s flippers, which he ripped off, leaving the poor seal screaming in agony for days. Last, but by no means least, our intrepid scientist replaced the kangaroo’s long tail with that of a shark. What a strange creature he had made! It roared like a tiger, but didn’t eat meat; it could jump with its powerful hind legs but it kept falling over because it didn’t have its tail to balance and support it; it could swim for short distances but then sank. The scientist kindly donated the animal back to the London Zoo, where it was a great attraction. Thousands of people thronged to see this man-made creature, which the scientist very cleverly called an Ethikass, being an anagram of the first two letters of each animal it was made from. The poor Ethikass was in a lot of pain because the scientist had not been careful when he had sewed on the different pieces and it hated being laughed at all day, every day.

     The scientist became even more famous, although when he sat in the dark, drinking his whiskey, he acknowledged to himself that he hadn’t actually healed any of man’s ills with his experiments and he hadn’t learned anything new about the human or animal body. But he had become rich and famous and that’s all that mattered, isn’t it?

     One day, the scientist went to see the Ethikass. The poor thing was tired and in pain. It recognised the scientist, who was standing on the other side of a high fence, holding the hand of his little son. The Ethikass, driven by pain, humiliation and despair, was suddenly filled with hatred and anger and using its seal’s flippers and shark’s tail it swam across the wide moat that surrounded his little island; it used its kangaroo legs to leap over the high fence that surrounded the moat and it used its tiger’s teeth to bite the head off the little boy. It didn’t eat it though; after all it was a herbivore.

     A zoo warden shot the Ethikass, for which it was very grateful.

     The scientist never did any more experiments and drank himself to death.   


The Teller of Tales

Due to the current situation all my planning to attend book fairs and give talks at libraries and at U3A (University of the 3rd Age) has had to be put on hold. As I don’t depend on book sales for an income this is not the end of the world.

There is one new initiative that has just started: There are 75 writers published by The Conrad Press (who published Song of the Nightingale, my second historical novel) and we have started buying each other’s books to review them. This means quite a few positive things:

  1. We get to sell a few more copies of our books
  2. We get to read books we might not normally have read
  3. We get more reviews on Amazon
  4. We get to know other writers

I am retired, live alone and live in a small village so this current lock-down has minimal affect on my life.  I am looking after my daughter’s dog so it means she and I get exercise each day. I am feel very lucky but also incredibly guilty, but don’t know what else I can do other than do as I am told – and stay at home. I always tried to write as much as possible but now there are no art classes, no visits to children & grandchildren, no book fairs etc I am managing to write every day. Consequently I am almost finished my 3rd novel, called The Teller of Tales.

The Teller of Tales is the first book of a trilogy that will relate how three generations of women attempt to tell their own “herstories” to a world that won’t listen. In it Lizzie writes fairy tales, many of which tell of  girls who go on quests, who spend their prize money on schools for girls, who refuse to marry because they don’t love the man. Lizzie fervently believes that women are capable of far more than they are allowed to do, but she is forestalled at every attempt to escape from the role imposed on her.  She writes her stories down but they are never published. It is this book of fairy tales that is passed to Lizzie’s grand-daughter, Martha, whose story will be told in the second book, Grandmother’s Footsteps, and then onto her daughter, Imogen, whose story will be told in the final book, I have a story to tell. The stories are never told outside of the family until that are discovered in the 1970s by Sally, who gives a paper at a feminist conference and finally the stories her female ancestors had tried to tell are heard.

I thought I would share one of the fairy tales that Lizzie tells.

There was once a family who were very poor. Although they all worked hard there never seemed to be enough money. Mama stayed at home and mended clothes, made bread and tended to the bees, whilst the father, the two brothers and the young daughter all worked in the mines that belonged to Mr Sutton, who was a mean and cruel man.

The coal is not near the surface like it is here, so the miners had to go deep underground to dig it out. They had to work in the tunnels every day, from dawn to dusk, so they never felt the warmth of the sun’s rays nor had to squint at its brightness. Papa and the two brothers chipped at the walls of the tunnel with their picks whilst Alice, the daughter, put the pieces in a basket. When it was full, Alice carried the heavy basket through the long tunnels to the shaft then climbed up a rope ladder to the top, where she emptied the basket onto an ever-growing heap of coal. It was tiring and dirty work but Alice had a beautiful voice and she would cheer herself up by singing of butterflies and bees, sunshine and rain, laughter and tears.

One morning, the family arrived at the entrance to the mine earlier than everyone else. They saw a piece of paper pinned to a post.



       A reward of one hundred, yes one hundred, gold pieces to the man who can rid the mines of the boggarts once and for all.


            One hundred gold pieces was more money than the whole family would ever earn in a life time, ten life times! One of the brothers tore down the poster so that no-one else could read it and win the reward. No, the money had to be theirs!

            That night, after a hard day’s work they sat round the table, eating their bread and honey and discussing how they would rid the mine of the boggarts and so win the reward. The father said he would herd them all into a corner then beat them to death with his pick. The eldest brother said he would herd them all into a corner, build a fence and starve them to death. The younger brother said he would herd them all into a corner then set fire to them.

            No-one asked the mother or Alice what they would do; after all they were only females.

            The next night, after a hard day’s work, the brothers and Alice went home as usual but the father stayed behind in the mine. When everyone had left he took a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. He saw their heels as they ran from him and heard their mocking laughter, but he couldn’t round them up in order to herd them into a corner. He grew more and more tired until he stumbled to his knees, dropped the candle and plunged the tunnel into absolute blackness. The felt something sharp in his legs, his arms, his back and he realised in horror that the boggarts were attacking him with their own little picks, just as he had threatened he would do to them. He was so far underground that no-one heard his cries so no-one came to save him.

            The next night, after a hard day’s work, one brother and Alice went home as usual but the elder brother stayed behind in the mine. When everyone had left he took a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. He saw their heels as they ran from him and heard their mocking laughter, but he couldn’t round them up in order to herd them into a corner. He grew more and more tired until he stumbled over something, his father perhaps, dropping the candle and plunging the tunnel into absolute blackness. He managed to get to his feet again but he didn’t see the opening to a deep pit in front of him and he fell and fell and fell until he hit the bottom. He couldn’t climb out for the pit was too deep. The boggarts stood around the opening jumping up and down and laughing with excitement. They didn’t have to touch this one, he would just slowly starve to death just as he had threatened he would do to them. He was so far underground that no-one heard his cries so no-one came to save him.

            The next night, after a hard day’s work, Alice went home as usual but the younger brother stayed behind in the mine. When everyone had left he took a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. He saw their heels as they ran from him and heard their mocking laughter, but he couldn’t round them up in order to herd them into a corner. He grew more and more tired until he stumbled over something, his father perhaps, so that the candle tipped over and the flame caught the sleeve of his shirt. Before he could blow it out the flames spread over his whole body and the last he heard was the sound of the boggarts laughing and cheering as he burnt to death, just as he had threatened he would do to them. He was so far underground that no-one heard his cries so no-one came to save him.

            The next day Alice didn’t go to the mine but worked with her mother baking bread and collecting honey from the friendly bees. The next night she waited until everyone had left then she went down the shaft, lit a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. She carried a basket of bread spread thickly with honey and she broke off little pieces and dropped them to the floor, all the while singing. One by one the boggarts followed her, tempted by the sweet smell and the sweet sound. When she stopped singing, they stopped following, so she sang on, although her throat was dry and sore from the coal dust.

            She walked slowly along the tunnels going up all the time, the boggarts following meekly behind, totally mesmerised by her singing. She led them to the bottom of the shaft and up the rope ladder, the boggarts following meekly behind; she led them along the road and past Mr Sutton’s house, the boggarts following meekly behind. She led them up hill and down dale, through forest and across moor, along rivers and around lakes, the boggarts following meekly behind. When she got to the sea she continued walking until the water reached the top of her thighs and the boggarts followed meekly behind. But the boggarts were short, shorter than the top of Alice’s thighs and they couldn’t swim so quietly and with no fuss, they all drowned.

            Mr Sutton and his son, Charles,  who was very handsome, had followed Alice when they had seen her leading the boggarts away and when they saw that she had rid their mine of them once and for all, the handsome son carried her on his strong shoulders, telling everyone they met that she was a heroine. When they returned home Mr Sutton gave her a bag of gold pieces (not one hundred though, for remember he was a mean and cruel man), and the son asked her to marry him.

            Alice laughed in their faces. ‘I don’t want the reward Mr Sutton. Instead I want you to give all your workers a decent wage so that they might live in comfortable homes and have enough to eat each and every day. And I won’t marry you Charles, not until you prove to me that you are a kind man, care for your workers and admit publicly that a girl can do anything a boy does, often better. Even then I may not marry you, for I will only ever marry for love.


Wanted: readers

First, some good news that may result in more readers for The Jewel Garden, which was my debut novel. And if they read that and like it, they might read my next novel, and the next ….. In January 2019 I submitted the book for the Chanticleer 2019 Goethe Book Award for post 1750s Historical Fiction, then promptly forgot about it, although it did cost me the princely sum of $75, which is quite ridiculous, but I was working at the time. Anyway, I found out in December that I have been shortlisted. To be honest, I am not sure if this is a big deal or not, but I am hoping it is. I will find out if it gets further over the next few months. Apparently I am entitled to attach a sticker to the book which says I am on the shortlist – as long as I pay  $62 (plus another $30+ for shipping)! This is for 150 stickers – as I don’t have 150 physical books to hand and as I may actually get to be a semi-finalist or even a finalist (which is a different sticker, of course) I will give this a miss.

So, Song of the Nightingale: a tale of two castrati, has been published. If you recall I paid £755 to The Conrad Press to get it published (most of the cost was for the cover, which is absolutely fabulous and well worth the money).

I paid another £525+ for the printing of 300 books, 195 of which were delivered to my house and are now sitting in my study. I have given a few away, sold a few and sent some to reviewers and to competitions, but I need now to find places to sell the rest. I have a long list of things to do to market, which I will share with you.

  1. Book Signings:
    1. Contact Waterstones to see if I can arrange book signings. I have sent many e-mails and even popped into the Nuneaton and Coventry shops, but I have never had a response, when I was trying to do a signing for The Jewel Garden. I will persevere because I think book signings are quite good ways to get your name known. I am hoping that I can use the fact I have been short-listed for the Chanticleer award to tempt them.
    2. I have already done a book signing for TJG in December at Kenilworth Books and as I had just had the new book delivered I took some along. I sold some to my sister (it counts!), 1 to the lead of the writing group I used to attend who came to support me and 1 to a complete stranger who picked it up whilst he was queueing up to buy something else. I will contact Kenilworth books again to see if I can do another signing later in the year.
    3. Find other places I can do book signings.
  2. Submit for awards
    1. I am thinking about submitting to Chanticleer again. I’ll see what results from TJG being shortlisted. Deadline is not until end of year so there is plenty of time. This time it will be the Chaucer Book Award for pre 1750s Historical Fiction. Another $75.
    2. Also thinking of submitting to the Rubery Book Award. It is £37 to enter.
    3. I am submitting to the Encore Awards, which is for a second novel (very unusual). There is no cost but you do have to post 5 copies.
    4. Submit to the Historical Writers’ Association Crown Award for the best historical novel published between 1st April 2019 and 31st March 2020. It costs £35 to submit.
    5. Keep an eye open for other awards that are not too costly.
  3. Reviews
    1. I am sending the book to the Historical Novel Society for a review. If accepted it will be in their on-line (and possibly paper) magazine in Aprilish.
    2. I am also a member of the Historical Writers Association and they will add the book to their “new releases”. I am going to write an article about castration and why/how I wrote the book.
    3. I am waiting to hear if the Society for Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ) will review. If so this is printed in their magazine “The Woman Writer”.
    4. I am thinking about doing a blog tour. I had one for TJG but I am not sure if it resulted in any sales. There will be a cost, of course.
  4. Advertising
    1. I will send a Press Release to local magazines such as Arley News & Your Call, which get sent to very many places but probably doesn’t result in many sales.
    2. I am a member of the National Association of Writers’ Groups and they will advertise in their magazine, “The Link”.
    3. SWWJ and HNS also publish the book details in their magazines.
    4. I am thinking about using a company called Books Go Social Authors (bgsauthors.com) who do different promotion packages, priced at $87 (4 weeks), $229 (8 weeks) and $489 (12 weeks). I have asked some other authors if they have used the company and whether it is worth the money.
  5. Libraries etc
    1. I have asked a couple of people from a reading group I attend if they would recommend both TJG & SotN to be added to the Reading Group List. If this is done then it will be available for reading groups (local or national, not sure) to request. There is no guarantee the books will be added but if you don’t ask….
    2. I will give a copy to Earlsdon library which is now community run and appreciate donations of new books.
    3. I will contact other local libraries, WI, U3A, historical societies etc to see if I can maybe give a talk and sell some books.

The list is long and I haven’t ticked off many and there is potentially a significant cost involved – I cannot see how I will ever sell enough to cover the outlay.

And I would much rather be working on my next novel……



A new chapter & updates

Not a new chapter in my book, but in my life.

On Friday 25th October I handed back my work’s laptop and ‘phone and was escorted out of the office (only because I no longer had a door pass – not because I was in disgrace), never to return. I’ve finally retired!

I wrote a poem about the last day:

Pale faces staring at windows;

expressions of regret or envy.

Having done my time,

I’m escorted off the premises,

my electronic tools of the trade

taken off me

to be cleansed, reconditioned, ready for re-use.

The door sighs wistfully shut;

its single eye blinks green to red

and I am barred for perpetuity.

I take a step forward,

straining at the cables that had bound me.


There go the processes and policies that had ruled my working life.


There the Vision that was never mine

and the Mission Statement I didn’t make.

Like a hot-air balloon released from its moorings,

I am free.

With each step my data banks are

cleansed, reconditioned, ready for re-use.

A backward glance.

No faces at the windows now,

They will be bent over blinking screens,

each in their hermetically sealed cell,

like robotic bees making electronic honey

for someone else to sell.

Each step is lighter than the last,

each breath of air fresher.

This morning an employee,

this afternoon a retiree.


Security raise a quizzical brow,

“Finishing early?”

“No, finishing.

Full stop.”

I have taken early retirement (just a year) because I want to enjoy life to the full, something work was getting in the way of. I have a great long list of things I want to do and learn (is it too late to learn to play the piano?) but top of my list is to spend much more time writing and marketing my book – soon to be books.

“The Jewel Garden” was published in February 2018 and I have been doing a number of things to try and promote it:

  • Joined FaceBook groups – not sure if this actually results in sales
  • Joined Twitter – see above
  • Given talks at 3 different libraries on Mary De Morgan and why I decided to write both a biography and a novel. Sold 1 novel and 1 biography in total. An excellent way of getting your name out there but probably not for selling books.
  • I went to the Southam Book Fair a few weeks ago (first book fair I have attended) and sold 9 books. Now that is a good result I think so I hope to go to others. Having seen how effective a roller banner is to draw people, I have had one done by Vistaprint (who I use to print bookmarks and A5 cards – both of which I give away free at every opportunity). This is the banner which I am waiting to be delivered soon in readiness for the next book fair in Henley-in-Arden:

  • I have sent copies of the book to journals that do reviews (Society of Women Writers and Journalists, Historical Novel Society) in the hope that someone may buy a book based on the review.
  • I had a blog tour – which is when people get sick of the sight of it for 5 days. As I don’t have access to numbers sold, I don’t know how successful this was – but again it gets your name out there.
  • I did a local radio interview, where I sounded like an eccentric old biddy – which actually is my ambition!
  • I was “interviewed” on a couple of blogs and had to answer some standard questions on myself and my book.
  • I actually mentioned the book in my farewell e-mail. It might prompt a few people to take a look at Amazon and buy it.
  • I have just bought a book called “The Frugal Book Promoter” by Carolyn Howard-Johnson. I am hoping this will give me more ideas on how to promote this novel and my next one.

“Song of the Nightingale” is to be published by The Conrad Press in March 2020. If you recall, I dithered about using them as I had to pay £755, most of the cost going towards the cover design. Well, having seen it, the money is well spent. The designer is Charlotte Mouncey (http://www.bookstyle.co.uk/) and I can’t recommend her enough. The book tells of two young boys who are bought from their families, castrated and taken to a conservatoire in Florence in order to be taught to sing as castrati. My suggestion to Charlotte was that the cover should show the dome of Florence cathedral, overshadowing the silhouette of two young boys who are holding hands. I wanted the cover to show the vulnerability of the boys and a sinister atmosphere. The cathedral dome is so iconic and would show the setting of the book. Charlotte took my idea and put her own spin on it and wow, wow, wow! I can’t share it yet but it is absolutely stunning and I have every hope that people will buy the book just for the cover!

I also had to write the back cover text in about 100 or so words. Simple! However, it actually took 7 attempts before James Essinger (of The Conrad Press) accepted it. The general gist did not change but James explained why certain words had to be re-phrased and it took quite a while before he was happy with it. James explained that the back cover text (he told me never, never, never use the word “blurb”) is more important than the content of the book itself, because a potential reader will not open the book unless s/he is drawn in by the words on the back cover. I am happy with the result – so with the fabulous cover and the enticing back cover text, who will be able to resist buying it??

Charlotte also does the typesetting and sent it to me the final version to do a final check. I had read it prior to sending the full manuscript to James just a couple of months ago, so I was pretty complacent and didn’t expect to find anything.


I found about 43 changes – all my own fault. I honestly cannot understand how I had missed so many fundamental issues:

  • In the first chapter I describe the moon as being new. Just a few pages on it was nearly full.
  • In an early chapter Philippe refers to his father as Guiseppe, much later on as Alberto.
  • Before sending to James I had added a paragraph which described how Philippe and the boys had to ride through a wood. I have had to remove it as just in the previous page I had said how the route they needed to take avoided the wood where bandits are likely to hide.
  • In one chapter I described Father Pietro, who had had his tongue ripped out so he couldn’t speak. Later on, I had him telling Philippe that he had not seen one of the boys.
  • In one scene I called the young girl Tabitha by the name of the other young female character, Isabella.
  • Quite a few grammatical errors (missing full-stops and apostrophes) and words misspelled.

These are all very basic mistakes and I am mortified that I have only found them now, but glad that I have. I think I need to pay for someone to do this in-depth checking of my next book – more expense!

“Grandmother’s Footsteps” has been put on hold since June because of other commitments. But now that I am retired I intend to get down to finishing it. I am currently writing it in first person, present tense which suits the book very well. However, there are potentially another two books in the series and I am not sure it will work so well for these. I want them all to be the same (actually, do they have to be??), so I am going to re-write the first few pages in different combinations (first person, present; first person, past; third person, present; third person, past) and give them to a few people to see which they prefer. I don’t really expect anyone to say any one is better than the other so I guess I will have to make the decision myself in the end – I am just prevaricating!



Paying to get published does not make me a bad writer.

I have decided to go with the publisher who rang me only last Saturday evening (17th August). This is after days of indecision, sleepless nights, numerous calls with the publisher, e-mails galore with the lead of the writers’ group I have belonged to for 4 years, much trawling through the internet and speaking with a couple of the authors in the publisher’s list.

The reason why the decision has been so hard is because I am paying £755 up front.

I can hear the screams of “Nooooooooooooooooooo!” and the mantra “Authors should never, ever pay a publisher” resounding around the country.

I absolutely understand why vanity publishers are reviled and spat on. But The Conrad Press is not a vanity publisher. If it has to be pigeon-holed, then it is a hybrid-publisher – that is, somewhere between a traditional publisher and self-publishing. A definition of a hybrid publisher is:

  • Hybrid publishers must set forth a vision to follow for their company.
  • Submissions must be reviewed, in order to not be classified as a vanity press, submissions need to be vetted.
  • The publisher must publish as its own defined imprint and request its own ISBNs.
  • Hybrid publishers must meet the standards and best practices set out by the publishing industry.
  • The quality of the production (design and printing) and editorial services must be up to industry standards.
  • The hybrid publisher must manage the rights of the works they publish as well as any subsequent rights that are acquired, and work for find additional rights to sell for their authors.
  • Manage distribution services or hire a distributor for the works.
  • Hybrid publishers need to report reputable sales on the titles they publish.
  • Authors who sign with hybrid publishers must be paid a higher royalty than that of standard traditional publisher rates (see royalty payment).

I know I am lucky to have the money but let’s face it, most writers need a shed-load of luck to get published. I have great faith in my novel and just want it out there so that people can enjoy it. Is that too much to ask? Does it make me a bad writer because I am willing to put some money where my mouth is? I think not.

In my eyes I am paying TCP for a service, which is to get a cover professionally designed (they use Charlotte Mouncey), edit the book (he has already made some suggestions, nothing major but small things to make it a better book), getting the book onto world-wide ebook sales sites, getting the book ready for publication and distribution (ISBN number etc) and all the things a traditional publisher does.

What TCP don’t do is take over the rights. This allays many of the concerns I had about the possibility of making a bad decision and then being stuck with it. I can, if I so desire, walk away at any time. I hope I don’t ever feel I want to.

The revenue split is good and does comply with the %s mentioned in a few of the articles I have read.

I am sure there are lot’s of horror stories of authors being suckered in, sending their money and never seeing a page of their book, but I have already received an e-mail that is sent out to all of the TCP authors on a regular basis, and there are 72 e-mail addresses.  They can’t all be gullible fools can they?

I have no expectations of me now sitting back and TCP doing everything for me. I am already doing a lot of marketing and promotion for my first novel, “The Jewel Garden,” and I intend to do as much for “Song of the Nightingale,” if not more. Once I retire (2 months to go) I intend to submerge myself in the world of books and all things literary,  and I am very hopeful that I can work with TCP in order to make this happen.

And it occurs to me that when someone picks up a book and flicks through it to see if they want to buy it they most certainly do not know or care how it came to be published or whether the author made a contribution.

So, I have made my decision, and I am extremely happy with it. I may indeed have made a bad decision (it won’t be the worst I’ve ever made, my exes can vouch for that) but I feel happy and excited.

So, please be excited with me. “Song of the Nightingale” is going to be published!!!!!


One small step for a publisher, one giant step for an author…..

I can’t believe it is 4 months since my last blog.

I want to keep you up-to-date with my endeavours to find a literary agent or publisher for my second historical novel, “Song of the Nightingale.”

Up to yesterday there has been minimal progress apart from more rejections.  One publisher did ask for the full manuscript a couple of months ago, which is always very heartening.  I waited and waited to hear whether they were interested and after about 6 weeks I wrote a very polite e-mail gently prodding for a response. A rejection came the next day.

I have joined Jericho Writers. It is expensive but I wanted to make use of their Agent Match, which provides a relatively easy way of finding literary agents. I had made a list many months ago but not sent out my manuscript to all of them, so I dusted the list off and started sending it out again. I am also a member of the Historical Novel Society and I trawled through their quarterly magazine and did an on-line search for the publishers of the hundreds of books that the magazine reviews. I ignored the US ones, leaving only a small  number of UK publishers, most of which don’t accept unsolicited submissions.

So I spent a few evenings sending out the 1st 3 chapters and the synopsis and then sat back and waited. Whilst the manuscript hasn’t actually been rejected, there is always hope.

Yesterday evening (Saturday 17th August), just 3 days after sending out, I was sitting reading, and the ‘phone rang. It was a publisher who said he loved the bit I had sent and could I send the full manuscript. How nice of him to ring rather than just e-mail (although an e-mail asking for the whole manuscript is also very welcome). Hence the title of this blog – for minimal effort on his side, the impact on my side was colossal!

He may yet not be interested – he has only read the 1st 20 pages, but he enjoyed it and obviously feels it has potential. Isn’t this what we writers want – just some acknowledgement that we have written something other people might like to read?

I am also a member of the Society of Authors and I have asked for their opinion of this publisher. He claims they are not a vanity press (and to be honest they don’t seem to be) but their business model is for the author to pay some money up-front. I have also messaged a couple of the authors listed on the publisher’s website to ask for their opinion – no response as yet.

He had obviously read it as he asked for some slight changes (I am mortified to say I was inconsistent with how I wrote someone’s name). I won’t jinx it by saying the name – but it is now a waiting game – but I do feel hopeful, although I am trying not to be, especially as I need to know they are not a vanity press.

I also asked if he might be interested in publishing my debut novel “The Jewel Garden.” The current publisher is not well and is not taking an active role and has said he will revert the rights. I will have to change the title and perhaps the cover – although I would like to keep the main design as it was done by a close friend. Also, this will give me the chance to put right the faux pas I made by knowingly changing the date when Mary De Morgan died. Only one reviewer has noticed this but there was such a fuss and bother about it that I would like to rectify it – even if it is just explaining in the postscript.

Other news:

  • I am giving a talk on Mary De Morgan at Earlsdon Library in Coventry (now run by the community and needing everyone’s support) Saturday 14th September 2pm – 4pm.
  • I am giving a talk based around fairy tales at the Southam Literary Festival on Tuesday 15th October – not sure when or where!
  • I am retiring at the end of October. This means that I will have more time to write my 3rd novel, write poetry, submit to competitions, write my three grandchildren’s Christmas stories that have become a tradition, go on more long-distance walks. Won’t I?






A dilemma – wait, send more or chase?

I have felt guilty over the last few months because I promised to write a blog about my progress getting a literary agent/publisher for my second novel “Song of the Nightingale” but I haven’t written one since end of January, basically because so little has happened.

Since October I have sent to 23 literary agents and have had 9 rejections, the last one being early March. Most of the outstanding ones are well past when they promised they would respond by. I have also sent to 5 publishers and have had 2 rejections, both again in early March.

I am almost wishing to get a rejection just so I know someone is a least reading it. I am trying to remain optimistic but really, what are the chances that they are all considering it? More likely it has just been discarded into a big black hole.

I attended the “Get Published Day” a few weeks ago, run by Jericho Writers. I chose to pay £50 for a one-to-one with a Book Doctor, who spent the 15 minutes saying he didn’t have anything to say other than that the book is ready to send out. I have had a good review from a professional reviewer, who also said it is ready, so I don’t know what else I can do.

I must admit I have been feeling a bit despondent, which is affecting the writing of my third novel. I still get a tingle of excitement when I think about it, but I am really struggling to sit down and write it. I haven’t actually thought out loud “what’s the point” because I don’t write to earn money so I suppose it doesn’t matter if I don’t sell any, but I must admit that I do want my writing to be acknowledged and appreciated.

I occasionally take a look at the Amazon reviews for my 1st novel, “The Jewel Garden” with little hope in my heart that the number will have gone up but today it had another one which was so good it has really given me a boost:

I absolutely adored this story. The level of description was consistently beautiful throughout, and the characters were very skilfully built in such a way that they were believable, interesting, relatable and sometimes very irritating! (A sign of a great writer!)
Marilyn has clearly done a lot of research prior to writing this novel, and as well as enjoying the story, I also enjoyed learning about the contextual aspects surrounding the novel too. (The poverty in Victorian London, life in Cairo etc.)
As an English teacher, I plan to use this novel in my teaching so that I can show my students how a piece of beautifully detailed and well crafted descriptive writing should look!
I am excited to read Marilyn’s next novel.

So, here is one reader at least who is looking forward to my next novel – literary agents take note! This review has restored my confidence in my writing, for which I thank her (I assume it is a her) most profusely.

I am also going to see about a blog tour for “The Jewel Garden” – do literary agents follow them?

So, my conundrum is – do I just wait longer for a response (nearly said a rejection – I must be more positive!), send out to more agents or chase the ones I have already sent to?

Other news, for anyone who is interested:

  1. I picked up 2nd prize for a competition run by the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, for a poem with the theme of an anniversary.
  2. I have sent a children’s story called “The Lion who Lost his Roar”  to three publishers – no response as yet.
  3. I am very pleased that I have been asked to give a talk at the Southam Book Festival in October 2019. Again, the talk will be based on Mary De Morgan, fairy tales and my first novel – but hopefully if people like “The Jewel Garden” they will want to read “Song of the Nightingale” – if it ever gets published.
  4. I am working with Cambridge Scholars Publishing to get my biography of Mary De Morgan “Out of the Shadows” out as a paper back and to do some proper marketing. I am excited about this – I think this will always be my favourite baby and it would make an excellent companion to “The Jewel Garden”.