Making Pearls From Grit by Isla Aitken (@IslaAitken) #GuestPost #breastcancerawarenessmonth #breastcancerawareness #breastcancer #MakingPearlsFromGrit

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is a cause that is very close to my heart, as it is only two years since my very oldest friend was taken from us at the age of only 48 as a result of a long and painful battle with the disease, leaving behind devastated family and friends, and two children the same age as my own.

In order to help raise awareness and funds to help in the battle against this disease, I am delighted to be hosting a guest post on the blog today from Isla Aitken, author, and herself a breast cancer survivor. She is going to tell us about her experiences and her book, Making Pearls From Grit. Over to you, Isla.

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Diagnosed with breast cancer while on holiday in Japan, former journalist, environmental activist and one-time politician Isla distracts herself with tourist adventures — including snorkelling in the South China Sea, learning about slipper etiquette and negotiating the three Japanese alphabets.

Back in the less exotic UK, in between chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, Isla considers those other scenes from life – such as depression and farting during sex – and realises how people can be fully constructed by life’s obstacles.

When the family cat dies of lung cancer just as Isla is being cured, her anger at the illness’s victory is undermined by her new discovery of the Japanese philosophy of “ikigai”: reason for being.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer while on what was supposed to be an 11-week trip with my husband and two young children to the Far East. I had already had my suspicions that something might be amiss, but with the trip all booked and organised, I decided to go ahead and, prompted by my GP, see a doctor in Tokyo.

Obviously the Japanese healthcare system had not been on our tourist itinerary but, as it happens, it was… well – not enjoyable, which I was about to say and is clearly the wrong word – reassuring. Reliable. 

It took only one ultrasound and one mammogram in one appointment in the Tokyo hospital for the doctor to confirm that yes, I had breast cancer. What did I do? I went and met husband and children in an amusement park and took daughter on the log flume, while husband, according to son, screamed like a child on the rollercoaster.

What else could I do?

With a couple of weeks until the recommended biopsy, and then another couple of weeks until the biopsy result, we had plenty of time to explore Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as planned. And, cancer diagnosis notwithstanding, that was one of the best, most exciting periods of my life!  

We enjoyed tranquil national parks, and the renowned cherry blossom, bullet trains, earthquakes (!), home schooling, temples and shrines, tempura and other unrecognisable food stuffs, snorkelling in a warm and crystal-clear sea… 

The day after my biopsy result – delivered with detailed care and support by two Japanese doctors – we returned to Edinburgh, and my nine months of intensive treatment began. It took 16 chemotherapy sessions, three surgeries and 19 radiotherapy sessions but I was declared clear of cancer in time for Christmas.

I learned a lot in this period. I learned a lot about my own strength and resilience, and I learned even more about the importance of support networks, of being able to communicate with doctors, of having questions answered, of understanding what is going on. Most importantly, I learned so much about the kindness of people – not just friends, but mere acquaintances. There is such a depth of understanding and sympathy in most people, which leads to them wanting to help in whatever way they can – with childcare, or providing cooked meals, or donating money to cancer charities for research and cures.

That – the good will and benevolence of my community – was invaluable.

While I was being treated, I wrote a blog, to keep friends and family in the loop with regard to how I was getting on (and probably to help me process the experience). The blog was brutally honest. It was often wry, always immodest, and occasionally farcical.  And friends started suggesting I write a book, based on the blog.

Which is what I did.

But obviously I couldn’t just regurgitate the blog, as that was freely available online… So, prompted by the recognition of my own strength – realised during my illness – I started thinking about all those other obstacles, scenes and issues I, and many other women, encounter in life, and which we overcome and assimilate into our very beings.

So the book, Making Pearls From Grit, has ended up being, not just a cancer memoir but also an uplifting story of survival, fortitude, courage and kindness. I hope it can let cancer patients know that they are not alone, and that there are so many of us here willing them on; and it will allow friends and family of those with cancer to understand exactly what they’re going through, without having to ask them personal questions.

My own journey is far from over – while I am cured, the emotional impact of the illness has fairly long-term repercussions. But with the support of my friends, my amazing husband and my brave children, I know how and why to enjoy every single day. 

And we will be returning to Japan, to finish our interrupted trip.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I will be donating money from sales of Making Pearls From Grit to Macmillan Cancer Support, Maggie’s Centres, Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Care throughout the month. To find out more and help support the fundraising, please sign up to my newsletter via www.isla.org.uk or like and follow my Facebook page @IAitkenwriter.”

What an amazing story and an amazing initiative. if you would like to buy a copy of Isla’s book and help support breast cancer charities, you can get a copy here. Or make a donation to one of the many charities working to beat this disease such as https://www.cancerresearchuk.org and https://www.wearitpink.org/

About the Author

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Isla Aitken is a former sub editor and PR consultant, who has given up her career to write full time. She is co-founder of a local cancer support group, and has been an active environmental campaigner for many years. Having published two short stories to Amazon, Making Pearls From Grit, a memoir of her experience as a breast cancer patient, is her first full-length book.

Connect with Isla:

Website: http://www.isla.org.uk

Facebook: I Aitken Writer

Twitter: @IslaAitken

Instagram: @readwriteandrave

Kult by Stefan Malmstrom #BookReview #BlogTour (@kpstefan) @silvertailbooks @BOTBSPublicity #Kult

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THE PAST WILL NEVER LET YOU GO…

When a four-year-old girl and her father are found dead in the Swedish city of Karlskrona, the police quickly conclude it was a murder-suicide, a tragedy requiring no further investigation.

But Luke Bergmann, a reformed criminal still haunted by his violent past, believes they are wrong. The dead man, Viktor, was his best friend, and Luke knows he would never commit such a horrific crime.

When more bodies turn up, Luke is certain the same killer has struck again. Alone, he embarks on an investigation which reaches back through decades to his friend’s involvement with a sinister cult and dark secrets are exposed as Luke struggles to keep his own long-buried demons hidden away.

And when Luke finds himself in a killer’s sights, his search for the truth becomes the fight of his life.

Can Luke get justice for Viktor and his daughter and prove his best friend was not a murderer, or will the shadows of the past overwhelm him?

Happily taking my turn on the blog tour today for Kult by Stefan Malmstrom. My thanks to Sarah Hardy of Books On The Bright Side Publicity for inviting me to take part and to the author and publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a really fascinating, if very dark, read that stood out because it was partially based on the author’s own experiences as a young man with Scientology, which leant the story an extra level of authenticity.

I don’t think I am alone in finding cults a compelling subject. The idea that people can be influenced into believing the most extraordinary things that seem totally bizarre to the rest of us, to the extent that they are prepared to distance themselves from their family and friends, devote their lives and money to the cause and enact the most extreme forms of behaviour, including murder, is a topic I find riveting. I have read quite a lot of non-fiction on the subject of cults, and also enjoy fiction books that have this as a central subject matter. The Girls by Emma Cline was a recent novel based around a cult that was very popular, but the attraction of reading a book about possibly the world’s most famous cult, Scientology, by someone who was actually a member was too good an opportunity to miss and this book did not disappoint in any way.

The book is cleverly constructed with three story threads running through it that start off seemingly separate but are gradually drawn together as we go throughout the book until it forms a complete picture at the denouement. One of the threads follows the story of a group of young people as they are enticed into the world of Scientology in a small town in Sweden in the early 1990s. The main protagonist of the book is, Luke, a not quite whiter-than-white American now living in Sweden, who discovers the apparent murder-suicide of his best friend and his friend’s young daughter. However, Luke refuses to believe that Viktor was capable of any such thing and, despite warnings from the police investigating the matter, is determined to discover the truth for himself. The third thread…well you need to read the book for yourself to find out how that weaves in.

This book is gripping, to say the least. I read it in a day and could not put it down. The construct of the book was extremely effective in keeping the reader turning the pages and trying to work out how the pieces fitted together. The characters were cleverly portrayed to make you either love them or loathe them, as appropriate, and they felt realistic and well-rounded. I thought Luke was a great character to carry the story and would be very keen to read further books featuring him. I have to warn readers that some aspects of this book involved extremely disturbing subject matter that some readers may find distressing, but this was not done in a gratuitous manner and was relevant to the story. I found the insight into Scientology the most fascinating part of the book, though. To gain such a glimpse into the secretive world of Scientology from someone who has been there, and hear first hand the kind of damage it can do, was riveting. The author gives us a note at the end regarding how much of the book is fact and how much is fiction and it was eye-opening to say the least.

This is a dark, gripping and tense thriller with a fascinating back story and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bleak but enthralling read.

Kult is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you check out the other reviews posted by my marvellous fellow bloggers on the tour:

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About the Author

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Stefan Malmström is a former news journalist who has worked for Sveriges Radio and Swedish TV4. Today he works as a consultant, lecturer and author. At a young age, Stefan was manipulated into the Church of Scientology in Hässleholm, a small town in southern Sweden. KULT, his first book, is based on his experiences in the cult. Stefan lives in Karlskrona in Sweden with his family.

Connect with Stefan:
Facebook: Hjarntvattad
Twitter: @kpstefan
Instagram: @hjarntvattad.se

 

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder #BookReview (@TimothyDSnyder) @TheBodleyHead @MMFlint #politics #nonfiction #brexit #OnTyranny #Fahrenheit11/9

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History does not repeat, but it does instruct.

In the twentieth century, European democracies collapsed into fascism, Nazism and communism. These were movements in which a leader or a party claimed to give voice to the people, promised to protect them from global existential threats, and rejected reason in favour of myth. European history shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary people can find themselves in unimaginable circumstances.

History can familiarise, and it can warn. Today, we are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to totalitarianism in the twentieth century. But when the political order seems imperilled, our advantage is that we can learn from their experience to resist the advance of tyranny.

Now is a good time to do so.

Over the weekend, the Irishman and I watched Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, charting the 2016 US Presidential election campaign and how the presidency of Donald Trump came about (I know what you are thinking, what wild party animals we are!) The documentary featured a gentleman named Timothy Snyder as one of the commentators, who was identified as ‘the author of On Tyranny.’ Since I found his comments in the documentary interesting, I decided to buy a copy of the book.

It arrived on Monday and I dove in immediately and read it in one sitting. At only 126 pages long, it only took me an hour to get through but, aside from its length, the things that compelled me to read it cover to cover in one sitting, and then read it straight through again the following morning, were the frightening historical lessons contained within the pages which are now scarily relevant to what is going on in the political world today, and which we need to remember and heed in order to avoid ending up in horrifying places we swore we would never go to again. Although this book is primarily drawing parallels between the European political history of the last century and the current situation in America, unfortunately our country is now facing a lot of the same issues.

The basic premise of the book is that, although history does not repeat itself exactly, in times of crisis it can flag up the warning signs that alert us to the fact we are heading down a dangerous path, and provide us with the knowledge and tools to avoid repeating historical mistakes. The book is in a very easy to digest format, with twenty lessons we can learn from twentieth century European political history, followed by a brief explanation of the context and how it may be currently manifesting in our society. Some of these ideas were not new to me, I have seen them mooted in other places during my reading and research over the past four years, but some were and, reading all of them brought together in one place and explained so clearly and concisely, was a hard slap to the face which will make any reader sit up and think, on whichever side of the political divide you find yourself. In the current unsettled and unsettling climate, this can only be a good thing.

I have seen a lot of extremes in political discourse recently, particularly on Twitter, with one side talking about the rise of fascism and the other saying this is arrant nonsense. Whatever stance you take, this book is a valuable read which might make you take a step back and consider the truth of what is actually happening. In this book, the author seeks not to say ‘this is definitely where we are heading,’ but ‘look, THINK, remember, be aware, decide where you stand and take action.’ Prevention is far, far better than the cure that proved necessary in the past. There is a famous quote, ‘eternal vigilance is the price of freedom’ which the author uses in this book. This is true today and, in contrast, apathy and inaction are surely its end.

Given the events of the last week in Parliament, some of the chapters rang with particularly resounding alarm bells. ‘Defend institutions,’ was the first, as we have seen our Parliament battling with the Executive for sovereignty over the Brexit issue and, in the last 24 hours, the independence of the judiciary being attacked. ‘Remember professional ethics’ is another topic that I particularly, as an ex-lawyer who follows a lot of legal accounts on Twitter, have seen being strenuously debated in relation to the Government’s suggestion that they may challenge or disregard the Benn Law passed this week and how members of the legal profession sitting in Government should position themselves if it takes such a step. The pieces of advice regarding critical thinking, being willing to say what you believe rather than following the herd and about using language wisely, gave me pause. The book will make you question who you want to be in the current climate and what you are prepared to stand for. Only by standing out and breaking the status quo can change be effected. How brave are we prepared to be as individuals in defence of our values?

There were a couple of quotes that really stood out to me. “The odd [American] idea that giving money to political campaigns is free speech means that the very rich have far more speech, and so in effect far more voting power, than other citizens” and ‘The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.” Two similar ideas that, given the controversy that surrounds the electoral spending and social media influencing during the referendum campaign, must make each of us question just how freely our votes are given and how much we are being influenced by people with their own agendas on both sides of the divide.

Is this too dramatic? I don’t know. I, for one, am certainly finding the current situation alarming. It is tempting to hide from the turmoil, assume it will all sort itself out eventually and we can just hide under the covers (literal, metaphorical or book, take your pick) until it does. The message behind this volume is history has shown us repeatedly that this strategy does not work. We have to pay attention and take action or accept that we have stood by while our values are eroded. This book is a wake up call. It really should be mandatory reading, particularly for those in positions of authority. Maybe we should crowdfund a copy being sent to each of our 650 MPs. After all, they have little else to do for the next five weeks.

On Tyranny is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Michael Moore’s new film, Fahrenheit 11/9, featuring Timothy Snyder is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

About the Author

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Timothy Snyder is one of the world’s leading historians of the twentieth century. An expert on eastern Europe and on the Second World War, he has written and edited a number of acclaimed and prize-winning books about twentieth-century European history.

His internationally bestselling Bloodlands won the Hannah Arendt Prize, the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding, and has been translated into thirty-three languages.Black Earth was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the annual prize of the Dutch Auschwitz Committee.

He is Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a frequent contributor to newspapers and journals on both sides of the Atlantic.

Connect with Timothy:

Website: http://timothysnyder.org

Twitter: @TimothyDSnyder

Period by Emma Barnett #BookReview (@Emmabarnett) @HQstories @Charlo_Murs #Period #amreading #freereading

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‘Don’t be revolted, lead the revolt – preferably with a grin on your face and a tampon tucked proudly behind your ear.’

Emma loathes her period. Really, she does. But there’s something she loathes even more: not being able to talk about it. Freely, funnily and honestly. Without men and women wrinkling their noses as if she’s pulled her tampon out and offered it as an hors d’oeuvre.

But somehow, despite women having had periods since the dawn of time, we’ve totally clammed up on anything to do with menstruation. Why, oh why, would we rather say ‘Auntie Flo’ than ‘period’? Why, in the 21st century, are periods still seen as icky? Why are we still so ignorant about such a fundamental bodily process?

Now, in Period., Emma draws on female experiences that will make you laugh, weep (and, most probably, squirm), in a fierce and funny rallying cry to smash this ridiculous taboo once and for all.

Because it’s about bloody time.

I have been waiting for this book to come out since I heard the editor, Charlotte Mursell of HQ Stories, raving about it back in March. Once I finally got hold of my copy, I was eager to start, and I raced through it. Odd, you might think, to be so keen to read a book about periods but, as the tag line says, this is the book we have all been waiting for and it’s about bloody time it was written.

Those of a squeamish disposition may want to look away from this post, because it is going to be blunt and revealing.

No, actually don’t, because the whole premise behind this book is that periods are a natural bodily function and we should be talking about them, loudly and proudly, all genders, and that the stigma surrounding periods and the silence that shrouds the topic is inherently unhelpful to everyone, perpetuates a certain level of female oppression and needs to stop.

Sound a bit heavy? Well it isn’t, this book is brash, ballsy and downright hilarious, as well as dealing with the subject openly, honestly and head on and should be read by everyone. As a 47-year-old woman who has almost run the full gamut of the female reproductive cycle from starting through child-bearing to now being perimenopausal, I could relate to a lot of what was being said here, and found myself cheering along, whilst also being shocked by some of the information imparted, enraged by other parts, questioning why I had never thought of some of the issues, laughing out loud in horrified solidarity at people’s embarrassing experiences and finally asking myself if I really was as open about this subject as I always thought or complicit in the silence that surrounds this final taboo topic.

I always think of myself as being fairly honest, very opinionated and not at all squeamish. I am the eldest of four girls, have two daughters and three step-daughters, all either in or rapidly approaching their teens, so periods are something I have been surrounded by almost continuously my entire life and something I have to talk about regularly. In the spirit of honesty encouraged by the book, and to illustrate that I have had to be open about my periods from the beginning, I will share my own ‘starting my period’ story with you.

It happened on my thirteenth birthday. Yes, the actual day itself, heralding in my teens and the start of womanhood at the same time. The only hitch was, I was staying over at my friend Alex’s house for the night and had arrived unprepared. Mortifying. Luckily, Alex and I had been friends a long time and I knew her mother well. She was (I’m sure she still is, I have not seen her for many years) a kind and sensible woman, who didn’t make a fuss but just helped me calmly and quietly, sparing my blushes, an act for which I have ever been grateful. Alex also had an older sister, so her mother had already been through this process and was suitably equipped, much to my relief.

The next morning my grandad died and my parents’ concerns were, understandably, entirely taken up with the fall out of that, so the whole episode went largely unremarked upon by my own family. My highly-anticipated birthday trip to Alton Towers was cancelled and the whole thing did not feel like something to be celebrated. My mother then presented me with a glamorous belt to wear around my waist which went through loops at either end of the massive sanitary towels I was given (the days of sticky fixing, slim towels were way in the future) and not much more was said about the matter. I had crippling cramps throughout my teens, which often made me cry with pain, taught myself how to use tampons and just got on with my life, accepting monthly discomfort as simply something to be endured.

I have tried to be much more open with my own daughters than my mother was with me, talking to them well in advance about what to expect, reacting calmly when my eldest started her periods and encouraging her to talk to me and ask any questions she has about anything to do with her body. I must have done reasonably okay, as she does talk to me, as do my step-daughters, although she does sometimes complain that I am a bit too open about bodily functions. She will probably be horrified by this post if she reads it. Parents are SO embarrassing, aren’t they?

I must admit I have to a degree been guilty of perpetuating the idea that periods are something to be ashamed of by giving her the requisite discreet pouch of sanitary products to take to school. Maybe I should be advising her to walk proudly through the corridors clutching them openly. However, I am not sure at 14 and quite shy, that she is ready to be such a period pioneer and I would not force her to face up to ridicule. We obviously still have a way to go before this topic is one that people of all ages can be open about, and I think the older generation will have to lead the way. This book is definitely a step in the right direction.

You may be thinking, this is all very well and interesting, but is talking about these things quite so bluntly really necessary? Why should I read this book? The answer is absolutely yes. Emma gives many reasons why we need to be more open throughout the book, but one issue really stood out to me as an important reason why we should do away with the shame surrounding periods and anything to do with the female reproductive system, and it is to enable women to speak openly with doctors when they feel something is wrong and to be listened to and taken seriously. I have another personal anecdote that illustrates how important this is.

Several years ago, when I first went back on the Pill after starting a new post-divorce relationship, the tablet the doctor gave me resulted in periods of a duration and severity I had never before experienced in my 27 years (at that point) as a menstruating woman. I knew something was wrong and went back to see the doctor. He (yes, it was a he) told me it was just teething troubles and it would bed down. Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself on a Saturday evening in A&E, having had to leave an evening out with friends because I was soaking through a Super Plus tampon every ten minutes and thought I was haemorrhaging. I have never seen so much blood, even post-childbirth. The A&E doctor gave me a tablet to stop it and told me I had to go back to my GP and insist he change my prescription. He did. We women know our own bodies, we know what is normal for us, we need to listen to them and feel able to talk honestly and forcefully to people when we know something is wrong and we deserve to be listened to and taken seriously. Our instincts are the best way to intercept serious problems at an early stage, and the more open we can be about what is normal for each of us and what is not, the better off we all will be. Emma stresses this point in the book and she is 100% correct.

So, next time I am at the doctors filling my pill prescription, I will be asking why it is necessary for me to bleed once a month (hint, it’s not for my benefit), making sure I think about donating sanitary products when giving to food banks and considering the different circumstances women may be in and how they might feel about their periods when I’m talking about them. This book is eye-opening and thought-provoking and should be read by everyone. I will certainly be passing it around amongst my acquaintances. Baby steps in the right direction.

Period is out now and you can get your copy here.

About the Author

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Emma Barnett is an award-winning broadcaster and journalist. By day, she presents The Emma Barnett Show on BBC Radio 5 Live in which she interviews key figures shaping our times, from the Prime Minister to those who would very much like to be. By night, she presents the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight, on BBC Two and hosts Late Night Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4.

Emma was named Radio Broadcaster of the Year by the Broadcasting Press Guild for her agenda-setting interviews. Previously, she was the Women’s Editor at The Telegraph. She now writes a weekly agony aunt column, ‘Tough Love’, in the Sunday Times Magazine and is a proud patron of Smart Works. Period is her first book.

Connect with Emma:

Twitter: @Emmabarnett

The 365-Day Writer’s Block Workbook by Morgen Bailey #BookReview #BlogTour (@morgenwriteruk) @BOTBSPublicity #amwriting #writingtips #creativewriting #creativewritingtips #writingadvice

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Over a thousand sentence starts, three per day, with writing tips at the end of each week to motivate and inspire, providing kick-starts to avoid the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. Useful for any writer at any level, whether they have 10 minutes or 10 hours, to start a new project. Also an ideal tool for writing groups.

With a combination of six first-person, six second-person, six third-person and three non-specific point of view starts per week, there are plenty to choose from. Beginning at ‘Day 1’ this book has been designed to be started at any time of the year, and regardless of whether the sentences are used in order or not. With a choice of three per day a writer can select one, two or all and see where it leads them.

Today is my turn on the blog tour for this non-fiction title, designed for writers of all levels, The 365-Day Writer’s Block Workbook by Morgen Bailey. My thanks to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially, and to Sarah Hardy at Books On The Bright Side Publicity and Promo for inviting me on to the tour.

As a striving-but-as-yet-unpublished writer, I was very keen to take part in the blog tour for this useful little book. I have done various writing exercises and prompts before, and have found they often produce some fascinating pieces of work that can be expanded or incorporated into bigger projects, so I was eager to see if the prompts in this book would spark similarly useful creativity in the word-weary writer’s mind.

The book is small but perfectly formed, with three writing prompts per day for a whole year, in a mixture of tenses. Each week of prompts is then rounded off with a writing tip, which cover a multitude of authorly concerns. The format works well for ease of reference, but you wouldn’t necessarily have to stick rigidly to the recommended regime (I was listening to your tips on alliteration, Morgen, but not the one about adverbs – oops.), but could easily choose a day at random, whenever you feel the need of a spur, and work like that. I obviously have not spent a year working through this book on a daily basis in order to write this review, but did try a random mix of the prompts and read all of the weekly tips, and it did produce some fascinating ideas.

With regard to the prompts, I liked the fact that we were given one for each tense per day. I have to say, I am a cautious (possibly lazy) writer, who prefers the comfort of third person past tense, so using the prompts that pushed me out of this comfort zone was a very useful and surprising exercise, and the results may make me a little braver and more experimental in the future. I also adopted the approach of rejecting the very first idea that popped into my head after reading the prompt, on the basis that this was probably too obvious if it came so easily and I wanted to make my writing more surprising, and this worked really well. Some of the prompts resulted in some possibly bizarre ideas, but that is the fun part of writing. I am sure I am not the only aspiring author whose brain produces odd ideas from time to time!

The writing tips were probably my favourite part of the book. Some of them were ones that were not news to me, but some really made me think, and a lot of them will provide a very useful checklist in the process of editing my current WIP, so much so that I am going to summarise them in an editing reference document. For a small volume, this definitely packs a big punch.

This is a great little workbook for any writer who sometimes needs a little push to get the pen to the page, or for anyone who wants an odd thought or sentence from a third party that might spark that new creative connection in their brain that leads to a great piece of writing. A useful tool to have in your writer’s toolbox.

The 365-Day Writer’s Block Workbook is out now and you can get a copy here.

To follow the rest of the tour, please check out the tour poster below:

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About the Author

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Based in Northamptonshire, England, ‘Morgen with an e’ is the author of numerous short story collections, a chick-lit novel (with crime and mystery novels in the works), a series of writer’s block workbooks, articles, and she dabbles with poetry.

As well as being a freelance editor (who offers a free 1,000-word sample), she is a creative writing tutor for Northamptonshire County Council’s Adult Learning (10-week evening and one-day Saturday classes). Morgen is also speaker of anything writing-related, panel moderator, and event tutor, and will be running a two-hour editing course at the 2017 Crime & Publishment weekend, alongside Lin Anderson and Martina Cole!

Morgen is also a writing-related blogger who ‘spotlights’ authors, agents, editors, illustrators and publishers. Other content includes guest posts, flash fiction, poetry, and reviews (crime / chick lit novels, short stories and writing guides).

A charity shop volunteer (dealing with donated books) and regular cinema visitor, she walks her dog while reading (often teaching-related), writing, editing or listening to writing-related podcasts, she reads (though not as often as she’d like and mostly for review on her blog), and in between she writes.

Connect with Morgen:

Website: https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com

Facebook: Morgen Bailey Author

Twitter: @morgenwriteruk

Instagram: @morgenwriteruk

Ten Things I Learned From The Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme by Helena Fairfax (@HelenaFairfax) #GuestPost #RNA #NewWritersScheme @RNATweets #amwriting #amwritingromance

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Tonight I have a slight departure from my usual Friday Night Drinks post. Instead, I am delighted to welcome fellow RNA author and New Writers’ Scheme alumni, Helena Fairfax, to the blog with a guest post on ten things she learned from participation in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.

So, let me hand over now to Helena:

Every year the Romantic Novelists’ Association offers an opportunity to 300 unpublished writers to have their work critiqued by an experienced romance author. I joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme ten years ago. I look back now on how much I’ve learned since posting off my first manuscript (yes, it was all done by post then!) and I continue to feel an enormous debt to my RNA reader for giving me a grounding in what makes a great romance novel.

I passed through the New Writers’ Scheme twice.  The first year I sent off just the first three chapters and a synopsis of my novel.  I knew the story was going astray, and I was right to have reservations.  I received a four-page, detailed report highlighting where the reader felt the manuscript wasn’t quite right, along with some constructive suggestions on how to improve it.

So, back to the keyboard I went, to do what all successful writers do – rewrite. And this was the first lesson I learned:

  1. Writing is rewriting. Writers need to be able to look at their work dispassionately and not take a critique personally.
  2. My fictional characters are real. I take this for granted now, but I found it exciting and strangely alarming to have someone else talk about them as though they were actually living beings and not just creatures in my head.
  3. Because the characters are living and breathing people, they MUST have a clear motivation for their behaviour. What is it in a character’s past that has made her this way? As my reader advised, ‘Keep asking yourself why/why not?’ If you give your characters a solid past, they become well-rounded people your readers can believe in.
  4. A romance story revolves around conflict. My reader said, ‘It’s about why the hero and heroine, so obviously attracted to each other, not only won’t admit they have fallen in love, but feel that they can’t…Your hero and heroine should have goals that are in direct opposition to each other.’ The greater the emotional tension, the more the reader will want to keep turning the pages, desperate to know how these two will ever get together.
  5. There must be a situation which FORCES the hero and heroine together. If not, then why not just part on page four, if they are in opposition to one another?
  6. Romance novels are all about character. ‘When you’re structuring a romance, you should be thinking about the plot not so much as moving your characters from A to B, but as a series of situations that test their fears and bring their goals into conflict.’ Take it from me, this focus on character rather than plot makes it very difficult to sustain the tension necessary for a page-turning read. Anyone who thinks writing a romance is easy should try it for themselves!
  7. Romance novels aren’t about the perfect heroine. Readers don’t take to the heroine who is beautiful, successful, has lots of friends, and always does the right thing. We can relate to someone who has flaws. Lizzie Bennett, one of the most famous romantic heroines of all time, spends almost the entire book being prejudiced, but we all love her. (On the other hand, don’t make the heroine too silly, or readers will put the book down. Again, romance writing is a tricky business.)
  8. The synopsis needs to encompass all the above points: the characterisation, motivation, goals, source of conflict, how the hero and heroine are forced together, and how they overcome the demons that are keeping them apart.
  9. Handling rejection. Of course I was disappointed the story needed more work, but the letter that accompanied my critique stated: ‘Always bear in mind that most published authors have experience of rejection. All writers, published and unpublished, need to be tenacious and determined…Have faith in yourself!
  10. And so back to the dreaded rewrite. I resubmitted the entire novel the next year. This taught me another valuable lesson – that if you want to write a book, the only way to get it done is to put your bum in the chair and type. I had a deadline, and I stuck to it.

Since receiving my first ever developmental edit, I’ve written a further four novels, contributed to and edited a best-selling anthology , and written a non-fiction history of women’s lives in Yorkshire. My first critique helped me to focus on the craft of writing. Two years ago I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. I’m now an intermediate member of the SfEP and an associate editor at the Betterwrite Literary Agency.

Nowadays I work with both new and established authors, and I find it a great pleasure passing on the lessons I learned from my own first critique from the RNA.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the New Writers’ Scheme with us, Helena. Despite not yet being published, I have already found it invaluable to my writing and would urge any aspiring author whose novel has a touch of romance to consider applying to the Scheme. Details of how to do it can be found here.

Applications for the Scheme in 2020 will open on 2 January.

About the Author

Helena Fairfax photo

Helena Fairfax is a freelance editor and author. She was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors and the home of the Brontë sisters. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Helena’s latest release is a non-fiction historical work called Struggle and Suffrage in Halifax: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality. Women’s voices are all too often missing from the history books. This book looks at some of the key events in the fascinating history of the mill town of Halifax, West Yorkshire, from the point of view of the women who shaped the town. It’s available on now from bookshops and retailers and from Pen & Sword Publishing and you can buy a copy here.

Connect with Helena:

Website: https://helenafairfax.com

Twitter: @HelenaFairfax

Facebook: Helena Fairfax

 

 

Chickens Eat Pasta: Escape to Umbria by Clare Pedrick #BookReview #BlogBlitz (@ClarePedrick) @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #ChickensEatPasta

Chickens Eat Pasta

I’m very pleased to be taking part in the blog tour today for Chickens Eat Pasta by Clare Pedrick. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Chickens Eat Pasta Cover

Not just another romance, but a story of escapism, coincidences, friendship, luck and most of all… love.

Chickens Eat Pasta is the tale of how a young Englishwoman starts a new life after watching a video showing a chicken eating spaghetti in a mediaeval hill village in central Italy. 

“Here I was, 26 years old, alone and numb with boredom at the prospect of a future which until recently had seemed to be just what I wanted.”

Unlike some recent bestsellers, this is not simply an account of a foreigner’s move to Italy, but a love story written from the unusual perspective of both within and outside of the story. As events unfold, the strong storyline carries with it a rich portrayal of Italian life from the inside, with a supporting cast of memorable characters. Along the way, the book explores and captures the warmth and colour of Italy, as well as some of the cultural differences – between England and Italy, but also between regional Italian lifestyles and behaviour. It is a story with a happy ending. The author and her husband are still married, with three children, who love the old house on the hill (now much restored) almost as much as she does. 

Chickens Eat Pasta is Clare’s autobiography, and ultimately a love story – with the house itself and with the man that Clare met there and went on to marry. If you yearn for a happy ending, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a story that proves anything is possible if you only try.

Regular readers will know that I am a sucker for a good piece of non-fiction travel writing so I was really looking forward to reading this book. Now, having done so, I can say this is one of the more extraordinary travelogues that I have read.

This book reads like a piece of fiction, to the extent that at times I forgot I wasn’t reading a novel. The story contained within this book is quite remarkable, even more so because it was true. I read the entire thing from cover to cover in one sitting on a trans-Atlantic flight and was captivated from beginning to end.

The author took the kind of risk most of us imagine taking only in our wildest dreams, and at an age where it would be unthinkable to the majority of us. She embarks on a project that would be daunting to the most seasoned property developer in a remote corner of Italy, alone in a place where women are still seen to need a man to look after them. I was quite staggered by the gumption this must have taken and was firmly rooting for everything to work out for her from the outset, particularly as most people seemed to think she couldn’t do it.

The author’s long experience as a journalist shows in her writing, as she manages to pick out the most interesting and illuminating episodes from her adventure, and draw them with a clear eye for detail and bringing the people, the landscape and the atmosphere of Italy fully to life. I think you can tell from reading it that she is used to writing shorter pieces, as the narrative does jump around in places, but I personally did not find that this detracted at all from the narrative and immersion in the story for me.

By the time I have finished the book, I felt that I knew the author and the other inhabitants of this tiny, mountain top village intimately. I mourned with them, I celebrated with them. I could taste the food, feel the heat of the sun, smell the warm earth, hear the birds in the trees. It was a fully sensory experience and I really enjoyed immersing myself in that world.

If you would like to take a non-fiction journey to the rural heart of Umbria, and indulge in a true-life love story at the same time, this is the book for you. A great piece of writing that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.

Chickens Eat Pasta is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you follow the rest of the tour as detailed below:

Chickens Eat Pasta Full Tour

About the Author

Chickens Eat Pasta Author Photo

Clare Pedrick is a British journalist who studied Italian at Cambridge University before becoming a reporter. She went on to work as the Rome correspondent for the Washington Post and as European Editor of an international features agency. She still lives in Italy with her husband, whom she met in the village where she bought her house.

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Pedrick

Twitter: @ClarePedrick

Blog: https://chickenseatpasta.wordpress.com