Monday, 2 December 2019

How I learnt to tell a crumhorn from a shawm

You might recall that I held the book launch for A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line at Kettering Arts Centre. There were lots of reasons for this, chief amongst them being that the place plays a large part in the story. I'm also a keen advocate of the venue because of the quality and variety of acts in brings into the town: music, drama, comedy and art. There were people there on the night who hadn't been in the Arts Centre before, even though for some of them it was right on their doorstep, so in my thank-you speech I encouraged them to come along to an event there and especially to come and see someone they'd never heard of.

On Saturday evening, I followed my own advice. It had already been a long day - taking our turn on an Etsy fair, a bit of promotion for Extinction Rebellion, shopping, trying to ignore the cold weather - so by 7pm all Mr T and I wanted to do was curl up in front of Strictly with a glass of something. However, there was a 'turn' on at the Arts Centre and so off we went. Good decision.

We went to hear A Brief History of Christmas performed by GreenMatthews, who are musicians Chris Green and Sophie Matthews, joined on this occasion by Jude Rees. You can read more about them here. Suffice to say their knowledge of the history of Christmas music and the instruments on which it is played is extraordinary and relayed with humour and energy: and that's before I say anything about their musicianship. They are on tour and if they're coming anywhere near you I recommend you go along.

The point, though, is that if you only listen to music you know, buy tickets for comedians you've seen on TV or read books by authors you've read before - hell, if you never speak to a stranger! - you could miss out on something fabulous. We're really glad we took the plunge on Saturday.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Why marketing matters

Everyone who's published a book, either on their own account or through a conventional publisher, will know that writing the darn thing is the easy part; the hard work starts when you come to sell it. Gone are the days when a publisher would throw an extravagant launch party, organise a book tour and arrange press interviews the length and breadth of the land. Once your book is out there, for the publisher it's a case of 'Done, done, on to the next one.' If you want to shift books, you have to shift yourself.

Actually, my publisher, 3P Publishing, is very supportive, and on Saturday I spent a delightful afternoon in a workshop organised by the company, learning where I'm going wrong when it comes to marketing. It's just such hard work! For many of us, of course, the hardest part is getting over our British modesty. 'My book?' we say. 'Oh yes, it's all right. If you really want to buy it, you can get if from...' We need to be loud and proud, to shout it from the rooftops: 'I've written a book and it's fabulous!' You can do this yourself, you can pay someone, or you can do a mixture of the two. What matters is that you do something.

For example:
  • Maintain your presence on social media, but make sure your posts and tweets say something other than simply 'Buy my book.'
  • Establish a relationship with your local press - newspapers, radio (including community stations), TV.
  • Google 'podcasts on... [your subject]' and get in touch with the broadcaster to offer yourself as an interviewee.  You never know who might be listening.
  • Who is your reader? Picture that person: where will he/she be looking? I've been thinking about the readers of A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line as people retiring or retired, or married to people retiring or retired; but on Saturday it was pointed out to me the book will strike a chord with anyone in a long-term relationship. This opens up a new avenue of magazines etc to explore for coverage.
  • If your book is on Amazon (a necessary evil, it seems), use all the categories and keywords you can to broad the search range for potential readers. What about the 'people who bought this, also bought that' function? Can you buy something at the same time as you buy your own book so the algorithm makes that connection? (I don't really understand how this works, but I'm willing to give it a go.)
  • Ask for reviews. They don't have to be five stars - in fact, it can be very suspicious if everyone who reads your book thinks it's amazing - but they have to be there. Again, it's those pesky algorithms. 
  • Think of yourself as a small business. The writing is one aspect of that business, but the marketing, publicity and, all being well, the sales elements are, if anything more important. 
  • Keep at it.
Now: with this in mind, if you haven't already Liked my author Facebook page (@JuliaThorleyAuthor) could you, please? I will, of course, return the favour.


Sunday, 17 November 2019

Telling stories

I ran out of time on Friday, or I would have posted that I was going to attend a storytelling workshop on Saturday. Had I done that, it is possible that my blogging friend Sally Jenkins would have seen it and then it wouldn't have been a surprise when we both turned up! It was lovely to meet Sally in real life after having followed her blog for so long. We ended up working together and it just felt right, somehow. (The pic isn't brilliant, I'm afraid.)

The workshop was organised by Writing West Midlands and  led by Maria Whatton, who proved to be an excellent teacher. I don't want to do a 'school report' here, so let me just give you the bullets:
  • Storytelling is not a performance; rather it is a way to engage with the people listening.
  • Unlike writing, where we have a reader in mind, a storytelling session depends on who turns up on the night.
  • The more thoroughly you can imagine the world you are creating, the better and more believable your stories will be. Interrogate your characters. Put yourself in their shoes - and heads. Draw the world you are creating - see pic.
  • There is value in the rhythm of the story; it's almost like music. Read aloud, even if your story is for publication.
  • Walk as you think. A change of physical surroundings can stimulate the mind.
  • Inanimate objects can be characters. Push yourself to explore the less usual points of view.
We listened, we wrote, we chatted, we shared. It was an excellent day.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

'Back from the Brink'

My 'office' on Friday
Even if you've never been to Northamptonshire, there is a good chance you've heard of Rockingham Forest. This was once a hunting forest covering over a third of the county; it now exists in isolated patches dotted through a farmed landscape, giving people like me the opportunity to walk in nature and breathe in some good air.  The perfect setting, then, for a creative writing workshop.

It was a privilege to be asked to run a session in Fineshade Wood under the aegis of a Back from the Brink Project, which as the name suggests is concerned with the conservation and restoration of rare plants, bats, birds, reptiles and butterflies. Our focus was birds and we began with a short guided walk led by Liz, who works for the project. After the recent torrential rain, I was relieved that we had glorious sunshine, although it was a bit nippy. Liz gave us lots of information about what was going on in this patch of woodland. We stood in silence to take in the atmosphere, connecting with our senses and enjoying the cackling of rooks and the call of pheasants.

Back in the warm, I gave the participants some exercises to do to help get the creative juices going, and read various extracts of published works - poetry, fiction and non-fiction - by way of example. Then I suggested some prompts and off they went. Despite some of them saying 'I'm not really a writer', they all produced some lovely work and I hope they will carry on doing so.

From my point of view there were two equally important aims of this workshop:
  1. To encourage participants to create a piece of writing based on the birds in the woodland and the environment in a wider sense.
  2. To bring awareness of the work of Roots of Rockingham, Back from the Brink and all the groups involved in restoring and managing this network of woodland sites, creating more habitat in which a range of vulnerable species can thrive, and to stimulate engagement in this work.
I think on both counts we had a successful morning.

Monday, 4 November 2019

How well do you know your own work?

Bernie and Riley, who was also in the studio
I was interviewed on BBC Northampton this morning (get her!) about A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line. It was great fun and I enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame, but the interview didn't go as I'd expected it would.

The host of the show, Bernie Keith (see page 167 of the book), is a lovely chap and very easy to talk to, and he always does his research. He knew, for instance, that I'd been to Worcester, so he must have read this blog. However, while in my mind my book is all about the funny stories, he came at it from a different angle, homing in on the whole business of diary writing, on the local connections and the rather serious side of adjusting to the 'new normal' when one of you retires.

I've just listened back on BBC Sounds here (I'm on at 1.44.45) and I'm pleased with the result. It is actually more lighthearted than it felt at the time - there were things recorded that I don't remember saying: isn't that strange? - but it has made me wonder if as writers we get so caught up with what we think we're saying that we forget our readers might have a different agenda.

What do you think?

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Wandering in Worcester

For no reason other than that we'd never been, Mr T and I have just spent a couple of days in Worcester. It's less than two hours away, but it was far enough from home to give us the chance to explore somewhere new and recharge our batteries.

Any town or city with a river always offers the opportunity for lovely walks, and Worcester is now exception. There is a huge project going on to rewild part of the Severn that should bring back flora and fauna, fish and fowl, which can only be a good thing. There were lots of people about enjoying the autumn sunshine.

The centre is very pleasant. Despite the inevitable proliferation of chain shops, there is still a lot of lovely architecture to admire and on the day we were there a fabulous market was in full swing. There was also a craft fair in the Guildhall, where I won a bright yellow brolly on a charity tombola. The real reason to go in, though, was that from the street we could see some fantastic chandeliers through an upstairs window. They did not disappoint up close.

Of course, we had to go to the cathedral; it would be rude not to. Not wishing to offend the good people of Worcester, but while it was a fine  example it was nothing special. There was, though, an array of wooden carvings of 20th-century icons. The one of Mother Theresa had the accompanying text:

'Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.'

Sad, then, that my overriding impression of Worcester was that there is a huge number of rough sleepers curled up in doorways.

Our trip finished, somewhat inevitably, with a visit to a National Trust property: The Firs, which is a museum in honour of Edward Elgar. It's a lovely cottage, but very small, and it's the place he lived for only the first two years of his life. The chap on the door told us that Elgar was very fond of the place, however, and wanted it to be the house where he should be remembered, should such a thing be thought appropriate.

In the little garden, there is a bronze of the man himself, sitting on a bench and looking out to the Malvern Hills. I sat with him for a while and enjoyed the view.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Announcing the launch of 'A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line'

Finally, I have a publication date: 30 October. If you happen to be in Kettering at 6.30pm on that day, please pop along to the Arts Centre and help me celebrate.

What's it about? This is the back cover blurb:

I’m sitting at my computer, but can hear the food mixer going, which is encouraging. Then Clive comes in to the office, rummages in his desk and retrieves a pair of pliers. I’ve been known to take a chisel to my pastry, but I’m disconcerted as to why he should resort to such desperate measures. He returns the tool a few minutes later and says simply, ‘Sorted.’ I decide it’s best not to ask.

When her husband retires, Julia Thorley starts to keep a diary for her own amusement. She doesn’t tell Clive, in case he starts to do daft things on purpose. She needn’t have worried.
This is the record of that first year, a period of transition for both of them, bringing laughter, irritation, frustration and negotiation as they find a new way to live together.

Thank heaven for the allotment.

Copies will be available on the night, but if you can't make it you can order one from the publisher or, of course, direct from me.