Sunday, 12 January 2020

'Botanical Bards'

Old Sulehay
This was the title of the workshop I ran yesterday with my friends at Back from the Brink. You might recall I did one in the autumn based on the birds of Fineshade Wood (you can read the post about it here). Well, this was the follow-on event, in which we took our inspiration from the plants of Old Sulehay Nature Reserve, a place clinging to the very edge of Northamptonshire.

You might think this is an odd time to be looking for signs of life in the plant world, but you'd be wrong. Once again, Liz, who works for the project, began proceedings by taking us on a short walk and it soon became clear that even in the midst of January there is lots to see, from the extraordinary moss covering through the multilayered scrub, on into the bushes and up to the trees, scratching the sky.

 It was an unusually mild day, so although it was a bit squelchy underfoot it was lovely to be outside. However, we were also there to write, so eventually we retreated into the field station and, fortified with tea and biscuits, we turned our outdoor inspiration into words.

As always on these occasions, I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the participants and their willingness simply to have a go and see what happens. From the simple prompt word of  'PLANTS' our mindmapping took us to all sorts of places, as we made not just botanical connections, but also more unexpected ones, including the reasons one might have for buying a new rug! The group created works of serious political prose, reminiscence pieces, stories and poetry, and it was a real privilege to work alongside them.

Some of our happy band
Friendships were kindled and contact details were exchanged, we breathed in the country air and we exercised our creative muscles. I'd say that was a success, wouldn't you?

Monday, 6 January 2020

Country living: warning - dead birds!

I'm a fan of The Archers, so I know a group of beaters when I come across them on a footpath, and this happened yesterday. Following a route around one of Northamptonshire's many Big Houses that took us into some lovely hidden villages, Mr T and I came upon a group of people who greeted us with a hearty 'Happy New Year' and reassurance that we would be quite safe on our walk because the guns would be pointing the other way. Always good to know.

I love walking in the countryside, but I wouldn't like to live there. I need to be able to pop out for a pint of milk (or beer, come to that) without having to get out the Landy. I also enjoy having street lights, proper drains and reliable broadband. Then there's the animals. I'm not frightened of them, but I'm not over keen. I was holding forth on this when we rounded a corner and were confronted with the scene in the above photo. Not for me, thank you.

We had a bit of a Chuckle Brothers moment with some sheep, too. We walked through a really wide field where there was a small flock of sheep at either end. As we set off, both groups walked towards the middle and it looked for all the world as though they were changing ends at half-time in some woolly team game. However, they all turned to follow us towards the gate, clearly expecting something that we were not equipped to provide. We laughed nervously. Like I said, not frightened, but certainly glad to reach the boundary and put a sturdy barrier between them and us.

I'm such a townie.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Off we go again

Different times.
I don't know if you've noticed, but a new year has started today. Honestly, to look at FaceAche you'd think it had never happened before. I'm SO fed up of people telling me how great 2020 is going to be. I hope they're right and I shall do my damnedest to make it so, but let's wait and see, shall we?

And what's with all these photos people are posting of themselves taken 10 years apart? I mean, what's the point? Of course, I know the answer: it's so that those posting can elicit lots of compliments: 'Oh you haven't changed a bit!' or 'You look even more lovely now!' or 'Looking good,  hun!' It's a brave soul who would comment, 'I didn't recognise you; you're so grey and wrinkled now.'

D'you know what I think? I think if you haven't changed over the last ten years, then you've not been trying hard enough! I'm definitely not the same person I was in 2010, because I've evolved. Sure, not all the changes have been good, but every decision I have made has led me to this place.

How do you think the world will look in 2030?

Monday, 23 December 2019

Happy Christmas

I realise I've taken my eye of the ball blog-wise. I haven't commented as often as I usually do on other people's posts and I  haven't written one for a while either. Perhaps you haven't noticed; indeed, why should you.

I like Christmas, and I'm looking forward to spending time with family and friends, eating and drinking treats and giving and receiving presents. However, I struggle with some aspects of it - the extravagance, the overindulgence, the commercialism and, particularly, the fact that I get caught up in it despite my best intentions, and the way I allow my green principles to be compromised for the sake of not being the party-pooper. I just been in Morrisons (again) and caught myself standing flummoxed by the choice of two boxes of dates. How did it come to this?

However, at the end of business today I'm switching on my 'out of office' message until 2 January and then I'm off to the panto (oh yes I am). It's all good, really.

I wish you a joyful Christmas and a peaceful and positive 2020.

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.