Mind Blown.

Mind Blown: A story from my Year 10 history classroom.

The classroom was quiet although full of students; the only sounds were made by a page turning, someone typing, or the occasional movement of a foot on the carpet as students worked individually on the task that had been set for them.


One boy sniffed noisily. I glanced at him, but he was too focused on his work to make eye contact with me. At the back of the room, another boy sniffed, gaining more traction so that his friend had done. I could almost feel the lump of whatever that was in my throat, and my stomach lurched. The boy at the front of the room sniffed again.


“Okay, guys… the sniffing has to stop. Did you know they make these squares of fabric called handkerchiefs, that you can use to clear your nose? They even make disposable ones, called tissues, so you don’t have to deal with them or their contents again later.”


“Sorry, Mrs V,” said the young man at the front desk, looking suitably repentant.


“Wait!” said another young fellow. “A tissue is a disposable hanky?”


“Well, yes.” I grinned at the obvious surprise on his face.


“I’ve never thought of it that way before!” Caught in the spell of his ‘penny drop’ moment, his eyes were wide and his smile was one of discovery and wonder.


“So, it’s your mind that has been blown, not your nose?”


He nodded, laughing along with his classmates, then returned to his work as industry and silence once again took custody of the classroom.


I really enjoy teaching these kids. They’re pretty great.
And they seem to genuinely appreciate the fact that I am a comic genius.


Branded Short Links.

Branded short links make your posts instantly recognisable as yours.

Promo Seal of Approval Fur Real Nova TPOTNShort links like bit.ly/whatever and buff.ly/something are becoming more and more popular. I’ve been using bit.ly as a link shortening service for my social media posts for some time, and have loved the convenience and the ability to personalise links for myself.

Last week, though, I made a significant discovery: I could have my very own short link domain, and use my own branded short links across all my social media. This makes my posts and products more immediately recognisable. It gives me consistent and affordable branding. And it means the short link I want for a particular book or post is never going to have been taken by someone else!

I read a few blogs and website articles about it to make sure it was something that I understood before I signed up, but it’s really not that complicated. I explored a few different sites to see which ones offered the best service, and although they’re all quite similar to one another, I settled on Rebrandly because it’s very simply laid out and easy to use.

Getting hold of my own short domain name was easy. I clicked on the “domains” tab and then on the “New Domain” button. That took me to a page where I could browse domain names relevant to my branding – jvlpoet – so that I could choose whichever one I liked best. There’s a range of prices, and plenty for $2 for the first year. I chose jvlpoet.link for my branded short domain because it seemed the most straightforward, and it’s easy to remember.

2018-03-04 13.33.13

The slashtag is whatever comes after that link. I can use that short domain name and then the slashtag of my choice, which I set up at Rebrandly on the “links” tab. So, jvlpoet.link/nova is the branded short link for the universal link to my book, Nova, in all digital stores. It’s much more personal, and recognisable as mine, than www.books2read.com/jvlnova.

Now that I have set up my branded short links, Rebrandly keeps track of how many clicks each link has received, and when, so I can see how effectively each one is working.

They also offer a range of apps which enable me to synchronise my links on Rebrandly on my phone and tablet, and in conjunction with bit.ly, goo.gl, Clickmeter, Chrome, and all sorts of other services.

This gives me a tightly coordinated approach to branding and publicising my posts across social media, websites, blogs… everywhere. And thus far, all it’s cost me is $2. Even when my domain costs me $14 for the following year, it’s still a bargain for that level of visibility and recognition.


The links I’ve created with bit.ly still work, so I don’t have to rebrand the images or posts I’ve already made. They’re all still great, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with bit.ly’s service. I just like having my name there instead of theirs.


Author’s note: This post is not affiliated with Rebrandly or any of the other services I’ve mentioned. It’s simply my account of my choices and the steps I’ve made in achieving the desired outcome. 


Thank you, Mary Shelley.

How Mary Shelley Has Inspired Me, Yet Again!

At the beginning of February, celebrated as Women in Horror Month, I wrote about Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, as one of my literary inspirations.


On this last day of the month, a friend shared with me a post from smithsonian.com titled ‘Frankenstein’ Manuscript Shows the Evolution of Mary Shelley’s Monster’ which speaks of a British publisher releasing 1500 facsimile copies of Mary Shelley’s original manuscript notebooks, complete with revisions and edits, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the book’s first publication.


Oh, my heart! I know I’ll never be able to own one of those 1500 copies, but how I would love to read that manuscript!


Even just looking at the photograph of two pages, my author-heart swelled. Here is the work of a woman I have admired almost all of my life, showing that her work, too, needed editing and revising. She understood that no piece of writing is perfect the first time, even if the story itself is brilliant.


This is so incredibly encouraging in the moments when I doubt myself, or my story, or my ability to communicate my ideas the way I want to. It reassures me when the words don’t flow for a time. And it reminds me that I’m by no means the first, or last, to experience these things. The doubts and writers block don’t make me any less of a writer; instead, it’s working through them and in spite of them that makes me a better one.


Through these images, Mary Shelley inspires me all over again.

Serendipity: When Things Just Happen Really Nicely… For Once.

One of the things I really love is when, for even just a brief moment, my favourite things in the world converge.

There are a number of things in life that I’m passionate about. British history, especially the medieval period, has always been my favourite for reading and study, as have the works of Shakespeare, along with a good number of other writers.  A teacher by profession, I love interacting with my students and leading them to those golden “penny drop” moments when something becomes real and meaningful. I have always loved reading. And as an Indie author who understands how hard it is to find readers, and how much harder than that it is to get reviews, I’m committed to reading, reviewing and sharing great Indie books of all genres.  Annie Whitehead To Be A Queen

I was very excited recently to discover, read and review an Indie novel about the life of Aethelflæd, the Anglo-Saxon queen. To my absolute delight, it was well-written and beautifully told. I thought then that several Christmases had come at once.

Now, less than a month after posting that review, it’s happened again, and I find myself at a quite magical point in time where my passions have met and over lapped,  as though life has popped me into the middle of some invisible but very cool Venn diagram.

I’m currently teaching Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ in one of my senior English classes. Not only is the writing and language incredible – there are curses and insult exchanges galore, along with some great monologues – it’s also the one with the hunchbacked evil genius who usurps the throne and has himself crowned king, the princes being murdered in the tower, and a fabulous haunting scene! The historiography of the play may be fairly tenuous, but the audience is left in no doubt of the creative genius of the writer.  All of this means that I am getting paid to be an absolute nerd about the language, the writing and the history, all at the same time. That in itself is pretty darned great.

ScreenHunter_439 Feb. 21 23.43

Tonight, though, as I was browsing through the Wordpress reader, I found an article about a great new Indie novel about the life of Henry Stafford, known in Shakespeare’s play as Buckingham, the ally and “other self” of King Richard III. When I went to a renowned global digital bookstore to check it out, I discovered the same author has also written a novel and several other books about Richard III.

That may not seem very exciting to some, but for me, it’s fantastic. I get to teach ‘Richard III’, indulge myself in Shakespeare and history to my heart’s content, and to read and review a couple of Indie books about two of the most fascinating characters in the play – and possibly in English history, it could be argued – at the same time.

My nerdy little mind is blown. I think I need to go and lie down.


T.S. Eliot’s letter of advice to a sixteen year old aspiring writer

This article is a marvellous piece of writing in itself.  I really hope you’ll take the time to read it. 

Every now and then, I stumble across an absolute gem of inspiration. Sometimes it’s in a book. Sometimes it’s a quotation. Sometimes, as it was tonight, it was a blog post written by someone else.

This article is a marvellous piece of writing in itself.  It’s beautifully put together and composed, and the content is just magnificent.

It’s something every author, whether published or aspiring, should read because it addresses that infernal question with which we all torture ourselves: What’s the right way to do this? And the answers come from T.S. Eliot himself, esteemed 20th century author and poet.

I really hope you’ll take the time to read it.

You’ll find the post titled T.S. Eliot’s letter of advice to a sixteen year old aspiring writer on the Nothing In The Rule Book blog,

Give books, not flowers!

Give Books, Not Flowers!



Everyone knows February 14th is Valentine’s Day, but did you know it’s also International Book Giving Day?

Apparently, that’s been a “thing” for several years now. The first I heard of it, though, was earlier today when I saw a post – one post – on Twitter. Why have I never heard of this before? Why aren’t bookstores and publishers worldwide promoting this? Why have I been conditioned all my life to hope for a rose or a card that usually doesn’t materialise, when I could have been my own best friend and presented myself with a book instead? That, my friends, is absolute rubbish!

An international day for giving and receiving books is an idea that really appeals to me on so many levels.  In just five minutes, I came up with these reasons why books are better than roses, chocolates, and drugs:

Books don’t die like flowers do.

Books don’t make you fat or mess with your blood glucose like chocolates do.

Nobody judges you for showing off your new book on social media.
(Unless, of course, you’re an author and you wrote the book, in which case people complain because you’re somehow pressuring them to support you or asking them for money, which just isn’t the done thing, despite the fact that you’ve supported their careers in plastic kitchenware, fancy saucepans, designer linen ware, boutique underwear, party plan beauty products, and whatever other blarney they’ve asked you to buy. But that’s different, and I digress. And I’m not jaded, okay?)

You can stay home with a book and consume it as greedily as you wish without losing any respect.

Books are budget friendly. Do you have any idea how many books you could buy for the price of a bunch of long-stemmed roses in the middle of February?

Books are an investment in your mind and your soul.

Books are an investment in an author who will be more than happy to write more books for you to enjoy. It’s the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.

Books provide the most budget-friendly and instant escape from reality available to humanity.

Books won’t land you in rehab.

There is no law against driving with stories, ideas and knowledge in your system.

Not bad, eh?

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and give someone you love, or yourself, a book.

Support An Author 3


If you’d like to suggest more reasons why books are better gifts than flowers and chocolates, feel free to leave them in a comment. 

Starting The Year Well.

I’m starting the year well: with great books and reviews behind me, and my pen in hand. 

Indie Badge 2017

At the end of last year, two of my books were included in the ‘Top 20 Books of 2017’ on Amy Shannon’s Book Blog. This was something that readers voted for, so to have two books make it to #7 and #8 respectively was a huge shock to me.

This has led to each book being featured this month, having received a fantastic 5 star review from Amy Shannon, who states on her book blog that “ratings of 5 stars have to be earned to impress me, and I just don’t give 5 stars to anyone’s work. ” That makes it even more exciting!

Her review of ‘Nova’ calls it “masterpiece poetry”. ScreenHunter_434 Jan. 17 09.43


Her review of The Passing Of The Night is equally enthusiastic.

ScreenHunter_434 Jan. 17 09.33

What a great way to start the year! It’s rewarding to read reviews like this, but it’s also highly motivating.

So, I’m starting the year well: with great books and reviews behind me, and my pen in hand.

Two-sday Surprises.

Sometimes, a small surprise can mean a whole lot more than its face value might suggest.

This morning didn’t seem any different than most when I left the house to head to work, but it proved to hold two lovely surprises.

The first surprise came in the form of a shop assistant who remembered me as her teacher from a number of years ago, and happily recalled the things she had studied and learned with me. An adult now, and with a different hair colour, I had not recognised her, but she knew me straight away.

It was nice to hear that she thought the books we read and the lessons we drew from them were valuable, and that history classes were interesting. It was wonderful to see that she had grown up into a confident, friendly and polite young woman with a lovely personality.

Of all the fond memories she recalled, though, one in particular had a profound effect on me: “You were the one teacher I ever had who showed me that it was okay to just be me, because that’s who I was meant to be. It’s something I have never forgotten.”

Wow! What a privilege to hear a former student say those words. I have struggled for many years with self acceptance, and as a teen I knew full well the agony of not fitting in with a particular crowd. Even then, I had the strength of will to resist peer pressure and not buy into many of the pitfalls that offered themselves to me at bargain prices and opportune moments. But that didn’t mean I was free of the wish to be someone or somewhere else – a desire that has recurred several times since.

Yet, somehow along the way, I managed to communicate something valuable about self acceptance to at least one teen in a similar situation.

I wonder if that knowledge would appease or satisfy those who think I push too many boundaries. Being part of a fairly conservative school, church and family, I take both pleasure and pride in not exactly looking conservative. I don’t intentionally break the rules, but I don’t mind testing their limits. My opinions often differ, and my willingness to assert them can make others uncomfortable. I don’t see that as a problem, though. There is merit in challenging people to see different perspectives and to accept differences. I’d like to think that people might become so used to my differences that I will need to think of something new to do to keep them on their toes.

My second surprise was a note on my desk from ex-students who had a reunion on Saturday night. I attended the reunion: it was a lovely evening of catching up and reminiscing. I didn’t realise, though, that they had left me a love letter on their tour of the school. How gorgeous that they still know how to make their English teacher happy and proud.

One Year of New Horizons.

My Grandpa used to tell me that there were never any guarantees of success, but there was one sure-fire way to fail, and that was to not try.
It’s good advice, and I’m thankful for that lesson – and many others – that he instilled in me. 

Promo New Horizons Cover eBookSIBA 2017 badged

What a surprise this morning to realise it has been a year since ‘New Horizons’ was published.

When it launched, I was nervous about how it would be received. People knew me as a poet. Would they be interested in these stories? Would they find them as meaningful and profound as my poems?

It was certainly fitting that these stories are about how people encounter and respond to changes and new situations in their lives. Heaven knows, I was experiencing that for myself at the time.

Since then, it has sold around the world in paperback as well as ebook, and has won the 2017 SIBA Award for Best Short Story collection. It now has a shiny badge on its cover to announce that recognition to the world.

This gave me good reason for positive reflection this morning. There are times when life feels as though it’s at a standstill, or when it feels like I’m not achieving what I want to as a writer.

Yet in the past year, I’ve achieved more than I ever would have thought or dared to imagine twelve months ago:

  • Three new poetry collections, all of which have been nominated for awards.
    Of those three books, Nova has won awards for 2017 Top Female Author – Poetry, Reality Bites 2017 Best Non-Romance, and the bronze medal for a poetry collection in the 2017 SIBA Awards.
  • Two poems in two different themed anthologies, nestled in amongst the work of some incredible writers.
  • Two macabre/horror titles.
  • Two ‘reinvented’ fairy tales about to be published in a magnificent anthology titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’,  with other stories written by five of the most creative minds I know.

Who knew?

If you’re a writer – published, aspiring, or just for your own enjoyment – be encouraged. You may feel like you’re not achieving much, but you are. You may feel like you’re a small fish in a very large sea, but every small fish has its place and a purpose, too.

If there’s something you feel you’d like to do, or try, but you’re lacking confidence – be encouraged. You will never know what you can do until you try. The only way to find out where any road will take you is to follow it.

My Grandpa used to tell me that there were never any guarantees of success, but there was one sure-fire way to fail, and that was to not try. It’s good advice, and I’m thankful for that lesson – and many others – that he instilled in me.

So here’s to another year and whatever challenges, journeys and victories it brings.

Promo New Horizons Fiji Sunset

A rare and beautiful moment.

Every now and then, as a reader, I experience an incredible moment of revelation when I take in an expression or image of something that is so powerful, it takes my breath away.

Reading Wonder

Every now and then, as a reader, I experience an incredible moment of revelation when I take in an expression or image of something that is so powerful, it takes my breath away.

Today, I started reading as book called ‘Robin Hood: Wolf’s Head’ by Eric Tanafon.

No sooner had I started reading this book than I had to stop and catch my breath. I had just read an extraordinarily beautiful sentence: “The forest clearing was a web of moonlight and shadows.”

What perfect imagery! It is simple and direct, but powerfully evocative at the same time.

In that moment, I was there. I had been transported to that forest clearing and drawn into the world of the story, even before I knew anything else about it.

This is the magic a writer works when wielding the wand that is their pen.