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!
A week of camping by the river has given me opportunity for reflection about the past year, particularly in terms of my writing. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished – two new books of poetry, two deliciously macabre horror titles, and two reinvented fairy tale novellas in a completely unique and absolutely gorgeous anthology collection. I’ve also had poems included in a couple of themed anthologies and a number of magazines. I have received emails and messages when something I’ve written has moved or helped someone else in a powerful way, which gives me confidence that what I write is actually pretty good. At this point, I’m highly motivated to move on and write more.
There is, however, a cloud in my silver lining. In my experience, the biggest downside of being an Indie author is that the demands of social media can be a whirlwind – marketing, promotion, teasers, creating new material to keep up momentum, engaging so that others don’t think you’re only there to push your own stuff… It’s easy to get sucked into that vortex and start to believe that marketing is the be-all and end-all of your writing career.
Yes, marketing and promotion matters. I want to find readers who will be interested in my books. But it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing for me to invest my time and energy into is writing.
The time has come to redirect my focus. Of course, I will still engage in social media and promote my work there, but I need to do it differently so that I spend more time each day writing than I do trying to leap across people’s screens to get noticed. I’m going to work out how to use Facebook‘s mysterious algorithms, which are set to change yet again, to my advantage instead of the other way around. Furthermore, I’m not going to give them one cent to achieve that. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing on Twitter, as that’s working well for me thus far. My blogs will see some revision, and hopefully some renewed focus there will have good results.
There are so many stories and poems I want to write. Some of the stories are planned and outlined. Some are just ideas at this point in time. The poems happen when the muse overtakes me, but I have quite a few ideas written down so that they can simmer away on the back burner of my mind, developing slowly until they’re ready to go. A renewed focus on bringing my ideas to life on the page for others to read will serve me well: writing is the most satisfying and therapeutic thing I do.
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Lots of people are talking today about New Year’s Resolutions. I haven’t always set a lot of importance upon them, but at the beginning of this year I did make some resolutions.
Today, I thought I should revisit them and evaluate my “performance”.
#1. Get 500 followers on Twitter.
Check! I started the year on about 317. Today, I have just over 3100.
#2. Write a review for every book I read.
So, there were two books for which I did not leave a review. They were… how do I say this nicely? The reviews would not have been positive, nor would they have helped to sell any further books.
I did, however, email both authors with my responses and comments. Hopefully they made some changes, hired an editor, and improved the quality of their book.
Goodreads tells me that I read and reviewed 68 books, so that’s a fair effort!
I’m checking that one off, too.
#3. Develop my book blog.
This is something of which I am very proud. Book Squirrel has spent the year featuring books, authors, new releases, and book reviews. On December 15th, Book Squirrel announced the inaugural Golden Squirrel Awards for Indie books of excellence.
This is a definite check!
#4. Publish two more books.
Done! In fact, I added five (Five! How the heck did I manage that?) more books to my author’s shelf, two in a new genre for me, and two novellas in a wonderful collection of reinvented fairy tales. I also have two poems published in two different anthologies, one on forgiveness and one on fairy tales and folklore. Whew!
#5. Be nicer to people.
In all honesty, I’ve tried. I haven’t always succeeded. But when I wrote this on my note almost a year ago, I had no idea just how much grace or forbearance I was going to need in order to survive some of the treatment I’ve received this year, either.
I want to give this a check, but with a “work in progress” disclaimer.
All in all, I think I’ve done okay. Some of these will feed into my resolutions for 2018. I’ll be posting about those tomorrow!
If you have suggestions, or reflections on your own resolutions, I’d love for you to leave a comment below.
As a reader, I enjoy Goodreads as book-nerdy social media.
I like being able to organise and “shelve” my books so that others interested in those sorts of books can find them easily.
I like being able to leave a review and a rating for those books so that people who find them can know more about them and hopefully choose to read them.
I like the goalsetting element of the “Reading Challenge” where you set a number of books that you plan to read in a year, and then the website keeps track of them for you.
I like it that my connections there can see what I’m reading and when I’ve left a review.
And I like being able to recommend a book I’ve read and enjoyed to friends with similar interests and tastes.
So, I enjoyed looking over the page of stats they collated for me about what I’ve read in 2017.
I have read a wide variety of books this year – short and long, popular and… less well known, from a wide range of genres. Historical fiction, adventure, horror, romance, mystery, thriller, contemporary, fantasy, sword and sorcery, magical realism, urban fantasy, kids’ books, Christmas stories and humour… they’re all represented. I’ve found some new all-time favourites and broadened the horizons of my knowledge and imagination.
Reading through the highlights and looking at the great cover art of the books I’ve read gave me a lovely sense of achievement and brought back some great memories of books I really enjoyed.
If you’re on Goodreads and would like to connect, you can find me there at
There are many authors whose work I love reading. My to-be-read list is populated with dozens of books by fine writers, many of them Indies who write every bit as well as traditionally published authors.
Some, though, are on a special list. These are the writers whose book I will buy with the “Buy with 1 click” button on Amazon without needing to read a blurb, check out the cover, or read reviews to see what others have to say.
Without an exception, these authors are brilliant writers who deliver original, interesting and entertaining books every single time. I love the way they use words and the ways in which they stretch and stimulate my mind.
These are my “One Click” authors – in no particular order of preference. They’re all at the top of the list.
J.B Richards – historical fiction
Eva Pasco – contemporary fiction
R.M. Gauthier – mystery/thriller, romance
Aliya DalRae – paranormal mystery/romance
Lyra Shanti – sci-fi/space opera, poetry
Missy Sheldrake – fantasy
S.K Wee – fantasy
T.J. Green – fantasy
D.J. Doyle – horror
Nikki Landis – romance, mystery, horror
Eric Tanafon – fantasy with a paranormal element
Tima Maria Lacoba – paranormal
Miranda Brock – contemporary fantasy
India Emerald – magical realism, contemporary fiction
Today I accompanied my school’s Middle Year students on a trip to the cinema to see ‘Wonder’, a new film based on the bestselling book by the same name about a boy who has facial differences.Jacob Tremblay plays August Pullman, alongside Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson who play his parents. The stage is set when the Pullmans decide that Auggie should start 5th Grade in a mainstream school, having been homeschooled by his mother until then. Mandy Patinkin plays a very wise and empathetic school Principal, Mr Tushman.
What a sad world we live in when a kid gets less attention walking through the city or a park wearing a space helmet than he does when wearing his own face. It’s human nature, I know, but that doesn’t make it okay. This film challenges that “default setting” in a very compelling way.
Auggie’s teacher, Mr Brown, challenges the kids to ask themselves: What sort of person am I?
This movie challenges every audience member to ask themselves the same question. How do I deal with difference? What does my face tell them? What kind of friend am I? What monuments do my deeds leave?
The audience feels sympathetic to Auggie long before they see his face. When he says, “I know I’ll never be an ordinary kid ordinary kids don’t make others run away from playgrounds” it’s like a punch in the stomach that leaves you winded.
As the movie rolls on, we also see that the “regular” kids like Auggie’s sister, Via, have their own challenges with acceptance and friendship, even without the extra challenges that some kids face. Over and over, this film reminds me again just how cruel kids— and people in general— can be, in so many ways.
The journey of discovering who is real and who is not is often painful and traumatic. Together, Auggie and Via realise that they are each other’s best friends, and lean to rely on each other for the support and love that they need to get through each day.
The development of genuine friendship reminds us that looking past the surface to really see someone is what makes a crucial difference to anyone, but especially those who are so aware of that surface. There is also a painful reminder that even the nice kids can make mistakes when they focus on appearances instead of who someone really is.
This movie delivers so many powerful lessons about accepting others and even more about accepting ourselves. In both cases, we need to learn to live according to the precept established by Mr Brown in Auggie’s first lesson in 5th Grade: “When you have.a choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
It sounds simple— perhaps too simple. But is it?
The hardest part may be in finding the willingness to step out of our comfort zones and open our own minds to each other and the possibilities that our differences bring.
Everyone old enough to understand the difference between kindness and judgement should see this film.
Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.
So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.
The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.
It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?
Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.
Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised. Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.
Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess. (Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?)
The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.
The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth” was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf, as told in the oldest English poem in existence.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42
They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.
Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.
It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way. Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.
By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.
If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing.
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.
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.
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.