A Christmas Gift for you!

As you may know, I set up this blog to promote my children’s book ‘Tortoise Soup’ starring brave little orphan Ruby Tinker and her loveable tortoise Byron. Well, as a special Christmas treat on Saturday I will be releasing ‘Happy Tortoise Christmas’, a new e-book available exclusively from Amazon. It will be two books in one – for younger readers there will be a Christmas poem about how a little torty has to step in and take the place of Rudolph! There are seven beautiful illustrations (in colour as well if you have one of the newer Kindles or read it on a phone or tablet) and it should help the little ones get in the Christmas spirit. Here’s a sketch of the first illustration.

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Alongside the poem there will be a brand new Byron and Ruby adventure – a seven chapter novella called ‘Byron And The Mince Pie Spy’. Can our heroic duo save the day when the village of Auchtinoo is threatened by a rogue santa? Children from 8 to 108 will enjoy finding out! As a special Christmas treat I am publishing the first chapter completely free below. I hope that you are having a wonderful Advent!

Byron And The Mince Pie Spy – Chapter On
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Auchtinoo is a village in Scotland, close to the border with England. The village has a school, an inn, shops, lots of farms and streams where salmon leap playfully from the water. There are woods nearby were deer with big antlers roam wild and free and happy, and the people of Auchtinoo are just as happy and free, even if they are a little less wild.
The village had an air of excitement hanging over it every December. It was looking forward to its annual Father Christmas competition, people would come from far and wide to dress as Santa and the winner would win a bottle of whisky, a huge Christmas pudding and enough crackers to last a lifetime. Little did the people of Auchtinoo know that this year some people were watching from the shadows and plotting – they had a fiendish plan to ruin Christmas for ever!
Ruby Tinker lived in a big house on the edges of Auchtinoo. She lived with her Uncle Peter and Auntie Francesca, and their friends and helpers Eli and Tanya Tigerlily. There was one more inhabitant of Auchtinoo Hall where they lived – he had four legs, a wonderfully smooth shell and a little head with a beautiful tortoise smile. His name was Byron, and he and Ruby loved each other very, very much.
When Ruby had first been brought to Auchtinoo to live with her Uncle she had been very sad. Byron had been left behind in the Children’s Home where they had been staying. Every day at school she would sit silently at the back of the class, she never raised her arm to answer a question – even though she knew most of the answers. Ruby didn’t play with the other children and they never invited her to join in their games. The other children thought that she was strange because she didn’t speak, and she walked in a funny way with metal supports on her legs and she always had such a gloomy look on her face. Only one classmate made an effort to speak to Ruby and her name was Faria.
Faria had come from a country far, far away and because of that some of the other children thought that she didn’t belong in their school – they left her to sit at the back of the class alongside Ruby because nobody else wanted to sit there.
Faria was a very kind girl, if only her classmates had bothered to find out. She could tell that Ruby was sad and sometimes when she could see the tears welling up in Ruby’s eyes she would reach over and hold her hand under the desk so that she knew she had a friend.
Things changed for Ruby after Byron came to live with them. What an adventure he’d had to get there and what a difference it made to Ruby. She became the happiest girl in Auchtinoo, always laughing and singing. She would clap her hands when she saw bright yellow butterflies. When she saw the highland cows in the fields she would wave at them and they would stick their tongue out in a friendly greeting.
‘Those cows are just like me’, she told Byron one day, ‘with their lovely orange hair.’
‘Well if you’re going to be a highland cow, then I want to be one as well!’, said Byron the tortoise.
Ruby told this to Miss Tigerlily and the next day, to her surprise, she saw that Miss Tigerlily had knitted a little coat for Byron to go over his shell – it was made of shaggy orange wool. What fun Ruby and Byron had that day – stomping around their room together, mooing at each other!
Everybody at the school was amazed at the change in Ruby. She never stopped talking now, and the teachers were shocked at how clever she was -Ruby could answer the toughest of questions. She couldn’t run very well, but the children always made sure that they had games that she could play. She became a very popular girl, but there was one friend in particular that meant a lot to her.
Ruby hadn’t forgot the kindness that Faria had shown to her and she spent as much time with her as she could. Faria was very bright as well, but classes were a bit more difficult for her because every time that she was asked a question she had to translate it into her own language, in her mind, come up with the answer and then translate it back into English so that she could tell the teacher. Imagine how difficult that must be? By the time that she was ready with the answer somebody else had usually answered it for her.
Ruby would help her as much as she could, and when the rest of the class saw this they began to like Faria a little bit themselves – maybe she isn’t so bad after all if Ruby likes her so much?
It was the last day of term before the Christmas holidays began. Everybody was very excited. The teachers were wearing musical antlers and the children were allowed to play games all day long. Ruby’s desk was full of all the lovely Christmas cards that she had received but next to her Faria had only one card. It was from Ruby and had a big jolly snowman on the front.
Faria was so happy when she received it, nobody had given her a Christmas card before, but on the last day of term she looked very miserable. Ruby left the games to one side and put her arms around her friend.
‘Faria’, she said, ‘you look so sad today and everybody else is really happy. What’s wrong?’
‘Ruby, you are such a kind friend – I will miss you so much.’
‘Miss me? We will all be back at school in two weeks time.’
‘I won’t be back at this school Ruby, in fact I don’t think that I will see you again.’
Tears began to roll down Faria’s face. Ruby took a mince pie from her lunch box and handed it to her friend. The mince pies were hand made by Auntie Francesca – she makes the best mince pies in the world, they can cheer up anybody.
‘Tell me about it’, Ruby said as her friend ate into the lovely soft pastry.
‘My dad told me yesterday. There is something called a visa that lets people like us live in this country, and it’s run out. Dad has been trying to convince people to let us stay because it’s not safe where we came from but our last hope has gone. They are going to send us away just after the New Year and we’ll never be allowed into this wonderful country again.’
Faria started sobbing once more, although she did nibble at the mince pie between sobs.
Ruby wiped her friend’s tears away.
‘Try not to worry about it Faria. Come round to my house tomorrow, it’s the big one called Auchtinoo Hall. Eli says that my Uncle Peter is a very powerful man and he can do lots of things – I’m sure that he can come up with something that will let you stay here!’
Faria cheered up a little. She had never been to anybody’s house except her own and her dad had told her that there was nothing more that could be done for them. But Ruby sounded so determined, so convinced that her Uncle Peter could help that Faria allowed herself to become a little convinced as well. She looked at the card on her desk again and smiled. It read: “Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.”
That night Ruby told her Uncle and Auntie that her friend would be coming to visit tomorrow. They were very pleased with the news, whatever made their niece happy made them happy.
‘And there’s one more thing, Uncle Peter.’
‘What’s that, my poppet?’, he said as he peered over the top of his newspaper.
‘My friend Faria came to this country for help but in a few days they are going to send her away forever. I said that you might be able to help her?’
Uncle Peter put the paper down, carefully folded as always.
‘Help her, my dear? I wish that I could, but how can I help her? I’m just a boring old civil servant.’
Auntie Francesca gave him a stern look, the kind that she only ever used on him. He squirmed in his seat.
‘Well, I will see what I can do’, he said.
When she went to bed, Ruby told Byron all about it. Byron thought it was very sad – he remembered when Ruby had been sent away from him.
‘Do you think that Uncle Peter can help?’
‘I don’t know, Byron my love. He keeps saying that he is only a civil servant.’
‘What’s a civil servant?’, Byron asked. He always liked to learn new things from Ruby.
‘It’s a man who works for the government, Uncle Peter says it’s a very boring job – he just sits behind a desk all day tapping things into a computer. But’, and here Ruby’s voice fell to a whisper, ‘Eli told me that there is more to Uncle Peter than meets the eye. He says that he has a very special job, and he does special important things.’
Byron nodded his little head up and down.
‘I bet he does something special’, Byron said, ‘how can he afford a lovely big house like this if he only taps things into a computer? I’m going to keep an eye on him from now on.’
‘Oh Byron, you’re going to be just like a tortoise spy!’
Ruby winked at Byron and Byron winked back at Ruby.
There was a knock at the door and Auntie Francesca came in.
‘It’s an early night for you two adventurers. We’ll all have to be up early in the morning if we are having a visitor. I’m going to bake some more mince pies specially for the occasion! Night night Byron, night night Ruby.’
She turned off the special light that hung above Byron’s enclosure and he yawned and trotted slowly off to bed. His enclosure was a big wooden box made especially for him by Eli. It had slates for him to eat off, and a water dish. It was covered in soil that he liked to dig in and hide under sometimes and there were lots of pebbles for him to push around and play with. At one end of the box was a little room with a roof on top and straw on the floor. This was his bedroom.
Auntie Francesca covered Ruby in kisses, as she did every night, pulled the bedsheets around Ruby’s shoulders and turned off the light. The two friends were soon fast asleep.
Morning came and the house was alive with excitement. Miss Tigerlily was helping Auntie Francesca in the kitchen, she had flour on her face. The strange thing was that when Ruby saw Eli go past the window he also had a smudge of flour on his face.
Byron, who Ruby had brought downstairs with her, laughed. He often saw Eli and Tigerlily give each other a peck on the cheek when they thought nobody was looking.
‘I’ve heard them speak’ said Byron, ‘and I think that they are planning to get married!’
That was the advantage of being a little tortoise, people said things in front of you that they would never say in front of anyone else. Ruby’s heart leaped for joy – perhaps they would ask her to be a bridesmaid?
There was a timid knock at the front door and Auntie Francesca rushed to answer it, wiping her hands on her apron before she did.
The door was opened and Faria walked shyly in. Auntie Francesca hugged her and planted a big kiss on the girl’s forehead. Uncle Peter held out a hand and said, ‘Pleased to meet you Faria. Ruby has told us all about you.’
Uncle Peter liked to be very formal in everything. He could come across as a bit of a stick in the mud but that was just his way – everybody who knew him knew that he had a very big heart.
Ruby and Faria sat on the big leather sofa and watched cartoons, swinging their legs happily as they did. There was a beautiful smell of baking wafting through the house.
‘This is Byron, my tortoise and the bestest and bravest friend that a girl could ever wish for.’
Ruby held Byron up in front of Faria’s face. Faria reached out and touched his shell – it was lovely to stroke and Byron smiled at the new guest.
‘Hello Byron’, she said with a giggle.
‘Hello, little lady. What’s your name?’
‘My name is Faria’, she said.
Byron was surprised to receive an answer. He decided to test her.
‘How many legs have I got?’, he asked her.
‘You’ve got four legs of course, silly.’
‘Wow! You can hear me.’
‘Yes, I can hear you. Shouldn’t I?’
Byron was open mouthed in amazement, it was left to Ruby to explain.
‘Byron and I always talk to each other – but nobody else can ever hear him until now. You must have a special bond with Byron if you can hear what he says. How lovely – now there is no way that we can let them send you away!’
The three friends sat on the sofa playing ‘I spy with my little eye’, until Auntie Francesca called them into the kitchen.
‘Ruby! Faria! The mince pies are ready!’
The kitchen smelled heavenly and the mince pies tasted even better than they looked. A mouse ran across the kitchen floor, unseen by anyone except Ruby, Byron and Faria who let out an eek.
‘Shush!’, said Ruby, ‘it’s a nice and friendly mouse – I drop him a few crumbs sometimes and he seems to like them.’
Ruby dropped a little pastry onto the floor and the mouse gobbled it up, smiled at them and ran off.
Auntie Francesca, helped by Miss Tigerlily, packed the mince pies into two cardboard boxes.
‘Now remember girls,’ she said, ‘the ones in the blue box are for us but the ones in the red box are especially for Uncle Peter.’
‘That’s right!’, Uncle Peter shouted from his study (he always heard everything whenever his name was mentioned), ‘I’m taking the ones in the red box over to the office later, for my workmates to share.’
Ruby, Faria and Byron returned to the living room. Byron was telling Faria about his many adventures – how he had once been swallowed by a snake and how he had flown through the air underneath a big bird, how he had been shot at and how a nasty woman had tried to bury him under the soil. But now here he was in a lovely warm house where everyone treated him as if he was the king of tortoises! Faria listened in awe, she was so excited that she forgot her own troubles for a while.
The girls kept going back to the kitchen and returning with new mince pies, this gave Byron an idea. He would play a fun little Christmas trick on them. While Ruby and Faria were engrossed in a cartoon he walked slowly out of the living room and into the kitchen. I will hide myself in the box of mince pies, he said to himself, and when they come to get one and see me in there what a surprise it will be!
There were two boxes, one blue and one red. Byron tried hard to remember which box it was that was for them – blue or red, red or blue? Ruby’s hair is red, he reasoned, so that must be best! He pushed himself onto his back legs and clambered up and into the red box. Now he had to sit and wait!
The girls were engrossed in their cartoons, they didn’t even notice that Byron had gone. Many minutes had passed when they heard Uncle Peter scream. It had come from the kitchen.
They walked as fast as Ruby’s legs would allow and found that everyone was in the kitchen looking at the one box that remained on the floor. Uncle Peter stood with a horrified look on his face and his hands were on his head.
‘They’ve gone, they’ve gone! Somebody’s taken the red box of mince pies! This is the worst thing that could ever happen!
It was then that they noticed that the kitchen window was open where it hadn’t been before.
‘They’ve broken in and taken the box with the top secret mince pies!’, Uncle Peter shouted.
Top secret mince pies? Ruby was confused, perhaps Byron could make sense of it all? She looked round but Byron was nowhere to be seen.

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Self publishing hints and tips

In my last post I took a brief look at self publishing and how it has become an increasingly viable option for the modern writer. Self publishing, also known as indy publishing, has become a boom industry but many writers are still a bit unsure of how to do it and what the benefits are.

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I was contacted this week by a budding writer on Twitter. (By the way, if you want to talk to me on Twitter then please follow me through @byrontinker). This writer is currently working an excellent collection of stories about cats, I really liked the preview that I read. They came to me for advice on how to self publish, and as I always like to help my fellow writers I sent an email with some helpful information.

After reading through my reply I thought to myself, ‘hey – my friends who read the Tortoise Soup blog could probably use some of this advice as well’. So, I am reproducing an edited version of my email below. In coming weeks I will be expanding upon lots of the points that I have raised so please do keep checking back in here at the Tortoise Soup blog.

“As you may know it’s incredibly hard to find a mainstream publisher at the moment, unless you’re a celebrity, and the economic hiatus means that agents aren’t taking chances on anyone either.

That’s why self publishing is an attractive option. If a book is good (and I’m sure that yours will be), and a lot of love and effort has gone into it then why shouldn’t it be out there in the marketplace? Good books shouldn’t stay locked inside a mind forever.

There are two main options: the first is using a service such as Lulu. This makes everything very easy, but the process can seem a little remote. You simply pay Lulu a fee (I’m not sure how much, around £100 I think – which is very reasonable compared to vanity publishers), send them your text, choose a cover template and hey presto in a week or so you have your book which will then be on Amazon. The quality is okay, but the cut that companies like Lulu take are very high so your book will be quite expensive for people to buy. For example, I have a friend who published a book through this route. It’s a 400 page book, and costs around £15 which is way too high really. They receive around one pound for each copy that is sold.

The other option is to use CreateSpace or Lightning Source. These are really printing companies, you have to do all of the creative work yourself but I liked that. They are similar entities, CreateSpace is owned by Amazon. I used Lightning Source but contrary to some rumours there was no delay in ‘Tortoise Soup’ appearing on Amazon and nor does it get listed as being ‘out of stock’.

I have heard people say that CreateSpace is easier for beginners to use but Lightning Source was easy enough for me – and I’m not really a computer wizard. To use Lightning Source you have to set up your own publishing company. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds – you buy ISBN numbers in a block of 10 for £120 and assign one to your first book. The purchasing of ISBN’s varies from country to country (for example in Canada it’s free), so to all my blog followers overseas Google should be your first point of call.

You then fill in a form with Lightning Source who, unless you make a hash of the form, will accept you as a publisher client. They then send you a template to fit your cover on and tell you what format the text must be in. Send it to them and again, hey presto – your book will soon be out there but this time under your very own publishing label! It’s a lot easier than it might sound.

Lightning Source gives you a choice of a gloss or matte cover and cream or white paper, I don’t think that CreativeSpace gives you that choice.

The overheads are much lower with CreateSpace or LS and you have complete flexibility on pricing. For example, my 234 page Tortoise Soup sells at £6.99 and over half of that comes straight to me from each sale. If I had gone the Lulu route the book would have cost more and I would have received less.
It costs around £40 to get the book registered with these companies, again much cheaper than using Lulu or similar companies.

There is more work involved though. I’m no graphic designer and it took me a long time to get the cover to fit their template and specifications, I managed it eventually though. I used completely free software to do it: GIMP and a free trial of Quark Xpress. The text has to be in a PDF format that Word doesn’t produce so I used a free word processing package called Open Office Writer.

Can you draw? If so then great, make your own illustrations. I can barely draw stick men but I found a great illustrator on Gumtree who did my drawings completely free. Everybody comments on how quirky and lovely there are. Keep your eyes peeled on Gumtree Artists – there are often budding illustrators on there looking for opportunities to do free work to build up their portfolios.

The other thing to consider is editing. The experts advise that you should always use an editor. You can read your own book a dozen times and because it’s so familiar you can miss glaring mistakes. If you do want to find an editor/proofreader there are lots out there so get some quotes. For Tortoise Soup I had quotes from £200-£500 – I went for the cheapest (Patricia Alderman) but I think she did a really good job, and she also helped me with my cover design. You could edit it yourself if you so wish of course, that’s your decision. I have an English language degree but I still made lots of little errors that Patricia corrected.”

I hope that there may be some points in the email that can help you, and I hope that my Tortoise Soup will continue to be useful to you in the weeks and months to come. As fledgling writers we have to look out for each other and help each other up whenever we can so if you want any specific advice then please contact me!

A lot of you have been asking about my own novel ‘Tortoise Soup’. It is out right now on Kimono Press, and can be bought directly from Amazon in either paperback or Kindle versions. It should be in some independent bookstores as well soon. I am pleased to say that it is getting some great feedback, such as this review by a book mad girl: http://mychildrensbookreview.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/tortoise-soup.html

You can buy copies right here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tortoise-Soup-Nick-Holland/dp/0957557205/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367345532&sr=1-1&keywords=tortoise+soup

Tortoise Soup out now!

These are exciting times for me as besides creating the Tortoise Soup blog, my children’s novel Tortoise Soup is now officially released!

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In my blogs I have shown how to find a publisher or how to publish your own novel. In future blogs I will be looking at publishing essentials such as editing, cover design, the use of social media, ebook choices, and fonts and typesetting. I have learned a lot about publishing in the run up to the release of Tortoise Soup, and I hope to be able to give you lots of good advice so that you can see your book in print as well.

Nothing feels as good as holding your own book in your hand, seeing the birth of your own print baby. Early reviews have been fantastic, and the feedback from readers has made all the effort worthwhile. I wrote Tortoise Soup to appeal to children aged 8-11 but the feedback that I am getting shows that adults love it just as much and that really makes me happy.

You can buy Tortoise Soup on Amazon, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tortoise-Soup-Nick-Holland/dp/0957557205/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365876289&sr=8-1&keywords=tortoise+soup

Or you can get a signed copy here: http://kimonopress.com/buy-a-signed-tortoise-soup/

I hope that you will enjoy the book, I’m sure that you will, and I look forward to reading your books in future as well. If you have a book out then why not tell me about it in the comments box below?

Oh, by the way – I am a contestant on the UK TV show ‘Countdown’ on Channel 4 on Monday – I talk about tortoises a lot but forgot to mention the impending release of my Tortoise Soup book! I still have a lot to learn about generating publicity!

Self Publishing

In my previous blogs I have looked at traditional publishing and vanity publishing, well today I am giving the Tortoise Soup treatment to self publishing.

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Self publishing is becoming big business. More people than ever are writing, and why not? They say that everybody has a book in them so it makes sense to let it out. Unfortunately, the recession that has our planet in its vice like grip is making it increasingly difficult to find a publisher but many people are finding self publishing to be an ideal solution.

Self publishing is sometimes called indy publishing because it gives a writer the chance to be truly independent without having to follow the advice of agents and publishers: if you want a pink cover, just go for it. If you want to write a sci fi cowboy novel featuring vampire goats, well nobody will stop you.

Let’s be clear about one thing: self publishing is very different to vanity publishing. As I said in my last blog, no writer should ever pay a publisher to have their work publisher. There are costs involved in self publishing but on a much smaller level, and the costs are clear and justified.

There are two ways to self publish. The first way is to use one of the many ‘self publishing’ companies such as Xlibris. These companies do a lot of the hard work for you, all that you have to do is supply the text. They also often have ready made covers that you can adapt and use. For a relatively modest fee (compared to the vanity publishers) they will make your book available online, but will offer next to nothing in the way of support or promotion.

The second option is the true essence of self publishing – going it alone! To do this you will have to strike a deal with a printer, find a distributor, design the cover and the book itself and become your own marketing and PR consultant – to say nothing of essentials like editing.

If this sounds too daunting then maybe this option wouldn’t be ideal for you, but if you love the freedom that self publishing can bring – and if you have a creative and entrepreneurial streak a mile wide, then you might find self publishing your book to be the most rewarding thing in your life. And because you are doing nearly all of the work yourself, the costs are surprisingly low and the potential rewards can be very high.

So have you decided which publishing option is for you? Let me know your thoughts below. In the coming days and weeks I will be giving lots more hints and tips about getting your book into print. I will also be looking at the technical side of getting your book into print such as which design packages to use, and how to format your work.

Keep tapping away at that keyboard, Tortoise Soup friend, and remember that your only enemy is procrastination!

Finding A Publisher

Writing a book is hard but fun, getting your book into print is harder still and not as much fun. As Tortoise Soup nears publication, I will look at the three main options once your masterpiece has been completed: finding a publisher, using a vanity publisher or self publishing. Over the next few days the Tortoise Soup blog will look at each in turn, starting with mainstream publishing.

Tortoise Soup took me two years to write (admittedly I did have an 18 month ‘writer’s block break’ in the middle so the writing process itself took around six months). Once you have completed the last word, it is tempting to think that you will soon see it in print. Whoah there – the difficult part is just beginning and the path to print can be frustrating and interminable.

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Most new writers will want to be published by an experienced publishing house: perhaps Bloomsbury will sign you up to become the new JK Rowling? This is the most difficult, time consuming and frustrating option. Most publishers, especially the large ones, are profit driven. They won’t care what the book means to you, they care about what the book will mean in pounds, shillings and pence.

So how do you find a publisher? The best place to start is with the Artists’ & Writers’ Yearbook. This book is essential for any writer: as well as containing oodles of good advice it lists publishers and agents in the UK and abroad. It is worth taking time looking at their websites and finding a publisher that suits you: if they don’t publish your genre of book then don’t waste your time approaching them.

My golden rule is to approach several publishers at once: most publishers will take between 3 and 6 months to respond so if you approach them one at a time once ten have rejected you (if they do, of course) you could have wasted over five years! I told you it was a long, frustrating process. The websites will list the publisher’s submission process: typically it will involve sending a one page covering letter (a ‘query’) and a one or two page synopsis along with the first one to three chapters of your masterpiece.

Spend a lot of time on the query and the synopsis – they need to be perfect. Any spelling mistakes here and your book is toast before a page has been read. Publishers receive a huge amount of submissions, and it is so difficult to get over this first hurdle so do all that you can to make your ‘sub’ stand out.

Here is another important point: as Baden Powell once said – be prepared for rejection. I know that we all dream of getting snapped up by the first publisher that we contact, but in all likelihood that isn’t going to happen. Don’t take rejection personally, you could have written an absolutely fantastic book (you have, haven’t you?) but unless it reaches the right person at the right time then you will struggle to get accepted.

You may get five rejections or twenty five rejections, but keep going. Perseverance and indefatigability are your main weapons, because one day you might just strike lucky! Many publishers will send you a one or two line standard rejection letter or email, some won’t even reply at all. Some publishers will reject you but send a detailed reason why: these are the exception rather than the rule and they are something to treasure because they provide both encouragement and pointers as to how your work can be tailored or improved.

Should you look for an agent before finding a publisher? Agents can be harder to find for an unpublished author than finding a publisher. Again, the good ol’ Writers & Artists is the place to look for contact details. I wouldn’t put you off approaching agents as well as publishers, but in my opinion contacting publishers directly can be the best option.

Independent publishers are a good target for new writers. They don’t have the financial clout of a Hodder or a Random House but they are very committed to what they do and have an eye for spotting potential talent as well as potential sales. Some of these independent publishers are gaining mainstream success themselves – for example Salt Publishing gained a Booker shortlist place last year for their excellent novel ‘The Lighthouse’ by Alison Moore.

I myself found an excellent independent publisher for my children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ – they loved the story, appreciated what I was trying to achieve with the novel and were prepared to do all that they could to get it to the audience that it deserved. There was one drawback: they wouldn’t be able to publish it for another two years. Did I agree to wait or did I take another route? For the answer you will have to wait until the third part of this series.

I hope that this article, and the forthcoming articles, has been of use to you. Coming soon is my article on vanity publishing, I hope that you drop by to check it out. Remember to keep going – your book is great and I look forward to reading it one day! Please share any hints and tips below.

Snow

The snow has returned like an unwelcome yet relentless visitor. Just a few years ago it seemed that snow would be a thing of the past, we had gone years without seeing any of the swirling white menace.
Whether it is down to climate change or not I couldn’t say but snow is back in our winters with a vengeance. Transport stops, noses and fingers turn red, bread sells out within minutes of reaching the shop shelves.
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But snow can also be such a wonderful thing, it makes even the ugliest scene seem enchantingly beautiful. And of course snow has featured, starred even, in some great works of literature.
James Joyces seminal short story collection ‘Dubliners’ ends with a long story, a novella itself really, called The Dead. Here is how it ends:
“Yes, the news­pa­pers were right: snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, fur­ther west­wards, softly falling into the dark muti­nous Shan­non waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely church­yard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and head­stones, on the spears of the lit­tle gate, on the bar­ren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the uni­verse and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the liv­ing and the dead.”
In this reading snow represents the death of Gabriel’s dreams, the end of what he had thought of as reality, the freezing of the love that he thought he had shared with his wife.
The incredible Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata tackled a similar theme in the achingly beautiful ‘Snow Country’ (check it out – it deservedly gained Yasunari the Nobel prize for literature). Again, snow represents the flip sides of one coin: beauty and death, the thing that makes beauty so extreme and powerful is the very knowledge of its fragility – the certainty of its death. Beauty and love will dissolve away like the all encompassing snow that will soon melt away leaving no traces behind.
My new children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ (coming soon – check back here for details) also contains a scene where the poor little tortoise Byron battles in vain against a blizzard:
“It was a cold night on the moors as Byron continued his slow walk northwards. The great north wind had begun to howl across the desolate landscape and at times it blew Byron back so that he seemed to be getting further away from Ruby rather than closer to her. The sky had been darkening for some time but suddenly it began to grow lighter again. A solitary white flake floated down from above and landed right upon Byron’s nose.
‘Brrr, what was that?’ thought Byron, but as he bravely struggled on against the wind the flakes began to fall faster and faster until the air itself looked completely white. Byron panicked now, he had never been out in snow before, but he could feel himself growing colder and colder. Snow was settling onto his shell and his legs were growing heavier and slower. The little tortoise tried to carry on walking but soon it was a struggle even to move his limbs.
Byron had no strength left, he flopped his head down onto the cold moorland floor and lay sprawled out as the snow piled up on top of him. ‘If only I could have seen Ruby again, just one more time’ he thought and the image of her pretty face gave him one last burst of energy. He began to dig into the ground with all his strength but he made slow progress with the frost covered soil. He dug and dug until he toppled into the little hole that he had made but all too soon the snow fell in upon him until there was nothing to show where he had been except a small white mound.”
The great Finnish writer and artist Tove Jansson wrote a short story about snow. It was called ‘Snow’. Here is a recording of me reading it.

I hope that you enjoy it and if you are going out remember the Norwegian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
Please post any snow related comments below!

Book Shop Saturday

I love books – you may have guessed that. Quite probably you love books too and well done to you for that. But books and book stores are coming under threat and it’s time for us to fight back.

I don’t like to blame the Kindle, the Nook and all of the other e-readers but they are at least partly culpable for the decline in independent bookshops. I have a Kindle myself, although it was given to me rather than purchased, and it is quite a lovely bit of kit. It feels nice in the hand and yes it does come in handy on trains and on holidays. I also like the idea that a popular piece of new technology is dedicated specifically to reading books.

But are they actually books or are they just collections of words on a screen? To me a book is beautifully tactile, it smells of wonder, the spine becomes lovingly creased. The actual physicality of the book is beautiful and moving, not just the content within it.

Nonetheless e-readers are here to stay, and so my forthcoming book ‘Tortoise Soup’ will be out in both physical form and e-form. To clarify my position there is nothing wrong with reading books on a Kindle as long as you actually buy physical ‘real’ books as well – we cannot let this artform slip away.

A more immediate danger to our bookstores are the supermarkets and Amazon. When supermarkets sell books at a pound each they are losing money on them but they are ‘loss leaders’ designed to bring shoppers into their aisles. These deals are killing bookstores that cannot compete with the deals, that can’t afford to lose money on the books that they sell.

Amazon also discounts books, although not to the same apocalyptic level, but the problem with Amazon is its sheer convenience. We are becoming a lazy and impatient society, so many people think: ‘why should I waste time heading to a shop when I can simply click a button and have it delivered into my hand?’.

Let me tell you why. Because we need book shops. Book shops where the staff know our name. Book shops where the staff all read books themselves and can make genuine recommendations. Book shops where the staff actually love books, just like you do. Book shops where they are prepared to take a chance on books that they will stock, that will champion new and independent voices rather than giving over all of their space to celebrity tie-ins and over-hyped blockbusters.

Let us promote this great idea of ‘Book Shop Saturday’. Make an effort to visit a real bricks and mortar book shop every weekend. Let your eyes wander and pick up something that will make your heart soar. The idea wasn’t mine – it came from the talented writer Claire King but let’s all get onboard before it’s too late. Use the hashtag #BSS on Twitter to spread the concept.

I went to a great little bookshop today – or at least I tried to, but it has closed its door for the final time. Once these shops have gone they have gone for good, let us hope that we can create a future where bookshops can flourish.

And, later this year, we will find my novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ in these lovely little bookshops. I have really appreciated your support and encouragement. To say thank you here is a cover reveal:

gtortoisesoup

This cover will look even better in the surrounds of a beautiful, independent bookshop – I hope that you agree!

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