Do You Write Book Reviews?

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For writers, especially during lock-down when bookshop signings and talks at the local library are impossible, getting on-line reviews are one of the few ways to promote a new novel. And if they are lucky enough to acquire 50 positive reviews, Amazon will feature them in periodic promotional posts, for free.

Yet how many of us write them? I must confess to producing a mere handful myself, though I am striving to do better.

People assume they will be required to produce an erudite outline of the plot, a thoughtful character analysis and include quotes of good (or bad) prose. All the while avoiding those dreaded spoilers. No wonder it seems daunting.

Yet Amazon and Goodreads make the process relatively easy. You simply decide whether the novel you have just read is any good, then give it a star rating out of five. You could stop there, if you wanted. You could also choose to withhold your full name, if feeling shy, by calling yourself something like Bedfordshire Bookworm.

A sentence or two about whether you enjoyed a book would help others decide whether or not to invest in a copy and would at the same time delight the author. Something like the following would be perfect:

**** “A page-turner. Thoroughly recommended.”

*** “Really enjoyed travelling to a different time and place. Perfect for lovers of historical fiction.”

**** “Had me on the edge of my seat at times.”

***** “Loved it!”

Obviously, if you really loathed it, the author would prefer you to refrain from comment. But most authors welcome constructive criticism. That is the way to learn to write better.

If you love nothing better than escaping into a book, why not spend a few minutes supporting those who feed your addiction? It costs nothing but a few minutes of your time, and will have an author somewhere purring with pleasure…

[The above are actual quotes from reviews]

Lest We Forget…

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon wrote ‘For the Fallen’, in Cornwall in September 1914, a month after the outbreak of the First World War. Though not himself a soldier, being in his mid-forties when war broke out, he created some of the most poignant words of the First World War.

We Have Two Winners!

Two names have now been drawn out of the hat to receive free copies of Maggie’s prize-winning thriller about eighteenth-century London: The Servant.

Congratulations to Em, from East Sussex, and Ceri, from Newport, who should receive their prize copies some time next week.

We hope you both enjoy reading them!

And for those who missed out, the Kindle copy is currently on special offer from Amazon at a mere £1.99 – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B087N8H9PB. Rather less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Creative Writing Competitions to Enter in November

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… A time to curl up with a really good book, or maybe even to write one.

The Caledonian Novel Award for an unpublished novel of at least 50,000 words. First 20 pages plus 200-word synopsis. Open to over-18s only. Entry fee: £25. Prize: £1,500, plus trophy. Runner-up from UK or Ireland to receive free place on writing course at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre. Deadline: 1 November. Details: thecaledonianovel-award.com/rules-entry/

Hastings Writers Room First 1,000 words Novel Competition for a psychological thriller, gothic horror or crime novel. Prizes: £100, £50, trophy, signed books, judge’s feedback on the shortlisted entries. Entry fee: £7. Deadline 30 November. Details: http://www.hastingswritersroom.org

Retreat West Novelette Flash Prize for 3,000-8,000-words total, made up of flashes up to 500 words each. Prizes: £150, £100, £50; publication. Entry fee: £14. Closing Date 29 November. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

Betty Trask Prize for published or unpublished traditional or romantic (not experimental) first novels by authors under the age of 35 on 31 December. Prizes: £20,000 total, to be used for foreign travel. FREE ENTRY. Deadline: 30 November. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org

Bath Children’s Novel Award for unpublished and independently published writers of children’s novels. Send first 5,000 words plus synopsis. Prizes: £3,000, manuscript feedback, Cornerstones online course. Deadline: 29 November. Details: http://www.bathnovelaward.co.uk

Creative Mind Horwich Prize for short stories up to 1,500 words or poems up to 40 lines on the theme ‘walking in nature’. Prizes £50, £30 and £20 each category. Entry fee: £3, £5 for three. Closing date: 7 November. Details: http://creativemindhorwich.btck.co.uk

Fish Short Story International Writing Prize, word limit 5,000 words. Prizes: 3,000 Euros; Week at Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat; 300 Euros; 7 runners-up will receive 200 Euros each. Entry fee: £18. Deadline 30 November. Details: http://www.fishpublishing.com

Writers Bureau Flash Fiction Competition for stories up to 500 words, open theme. Prizes: £300, £200, £100, plus Writers Bureau course. Entry fee: £5, £10 for three. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.wbcompetition.com

Do please remember to check entry details in case of last-minute changes.

Someone has to win these competitions, why not you? Best of luck!

The Phoenix of Florence by Philip Kazan

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If you are starting to think of books to put on your Christmas wish-list, here is a suggestion from Maggie. We may put up a few more in the weeks that follow.

The Phoenix of Florence is a vivid evocation of a brutal era in Italian history. We are introduced to a senior member of the forces of law and order in Florence: a man of power who also shows surprising sensitivity and compassion for the position of women in his male-dominated society. Someone who, all the while, is guarding an astounding secret of his own.

I relished Philip Kazan’s use of language and marveled at the complexity of his plot as I raced through the pages of the book. It reminded me, in places, of C J Sansom’s Shardlake – until the story takes a shocking twist into the back story of its main character and makes you question everything you have previously learned about Comandante Celavini.

If you enjoy thrillers, mysteries and historical fiction that transports you breathlessly into a different time and place, this book delivers on all three counts.

The Writer’s Life

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Suffering from Writer’s Block? Take comfort from the following – from the biography of a well-known writer – about her own struggles to put pen to paper.

“…it was not every day that she could write. Sometimes weeks or even months elapsed before she felt she had anything to add to that portion of her story already written.”

Some writers can regularly produce a thousand words a day, but they are in the minority and most of us need to acknowledge there is no shame in putting a project aside until ready to take it up again.

Nor did the above writer’s pain end with lack of inspiration. Even after her work was finally completed to her satisfaction, she bewailed the inevitable disappointment of rejection letters:

“…often not over-courteously worded…and none alleging any distinct reasons for rejection.”

We have all been there. Rejection is bad enough, but if we must be rejected we do yearn for constructive feedback: were the characters weak or was the prose too florid? Did the manuscript need to be cut back, or developed further? Was there anything about it that they liked?

Instead we are all too familiar with:

I am sorry we don’t feel 100 per cent certain we could sell your book to publishers.”

Or the almost-dismissive:

“If you haven’t heard within 8 weeks, assume not interested.”

Writing is not for the faint-hearted. Sometimes even one’s nearest and dearest reveals lukewarm belief in your writing talent. Here is a conversation between our lady writer and her father. She must surely have been tempted to either flounce out of the room, or throw something at the insensitive man:

Papa, I have been writing a book.


Have you, my dear?


Yes, and I want you to read it.


I am afraid it will try my eyes too much.


But it is not in manuscript: it is printed.


My dear! You have never thought of the expense it will be! It will be almost sure to be a loss, for how can you get a book sold? No one knows you or your name.

If you have not already guessed, our author was Charlotte Brontë and the biographer was Mrs Gaskell. The book in question was Jane Eyre.

Would you Like a Free Book?

To mark six months since the publication of her prize-winning historical novel, The Servant, Maggie Richell-Davies is offering free print copies of the thriller to two lucky followers of ninevoices.

Simply subscribe to her new blog: https://www.maggiedaviesiswriting.com (which will cost you nothing), entering the comment that you would like to take part in the free draw. Two winners will be drawn out of a hat at the end of October.

Her offer is sadly only available to those with UK addresses.

What people are saying about The Servant:

“I fell in love with Hannah immediately. Her pain, her humiliation, her desperation reached through the pages of this beautiful book and grabbed my heart.” Jeanie Thornton, The Books Delight

“I am not in the habit of writing to authors, but read The Servant yesterday – all in one go. I couldn’t put it down! It was a joy to read and such a good story.” Thelma H. via email

‘Hannah is an admirable heroine, brave, strong and entirely credible, while the love story is an uplifting thread running through the book. It is also beautifully written, with such elegant language. I found this a compelling read that I continued to think about long after I had finished.” Nicola C., Goodreads.

The Servant is a cracking good read and a very good historical debut. I look forward to seeing what this talented author comes up with next. More of the same, I hope.” Jaffareadstoo, Amazon Review

“A brilliant mix of intrigue, history and romance.” Connie G, Amazon Review

So, what have you to lose? If historical novels aren’t your thing, you could always gift this thriller about 18th century London to a friend or relative. A more lasting present than a bunch of flowers.

Good luck!

Writing Competitions to Enter in October

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness..a time to curl up before the fire with a good book. Or maybe even to write one.

To flex your writing muscles, here are some suggestions for October.

To begin with, why not submit your work to on-line magazine Penny Shorts, which is seeking short stories between 1,000 and 10,000 words. They like ‘thought-provoking, surreal, ridiculous, tragic, tear-jerking, painful, philosophical, horrifying or gruesome stories’ and are particularly drawn to twist-in-the-tale endings. Multiple submissions are accepted. Response time is ‘within 4 weeks’ and ‘there is payment for all writers’. Details from: http://www.pennyshorts.com

The Wenlock Olympian Society and the Much Wenlock & District U3A have launched the Wenlock Olympian Flash Fiction Competition 2020/2021 for original, unpublished fiction up to 1,000 words in any genre on the following themes: Five Rings; Winning; Gold is Only a Colour. Prizes are £150, £50 and £25, plus Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. The entry fee is £5, £8 for two and £12 for three. Closing Date: 31 October. Details: http://writ.rs/wenlock20

The ovarian cancer charity Ovacome’s first writing competition is for short stories on the timely theme of ‘overcoming’. Enter original, unpublished short stories up to 2,000 words. The ‘overcoming’ theme can be interpreted broadly and stories do not need to be related to either health or ovarian cancer. The competition intends to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, and money for its support services. The winner will get £250 and further prizes will be announced. Entry is £5 per story. Closing date: 31 October. Details: https://writ.rs/ovacome

Writing Magazine feature a Picture Book Prize 2020, with comprehensive advice on how to win the prize given in their November edition. First prize is a consultation with top agent Julia Churchill, a year’s subscription to the magazine, and £200 prize money. Second prize is a picture book critique by Amy Sparkes, via Writing Magazine courses, a year’s subscription to the magazine and £50 prize money. Third prize is a year’s subscription to the magazine. Deadline is 31 October. Details: http://www.amysparkes.co.uk/picture-book-prize/

Observer/Jonathan Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize for graphic short stories. Prizes: £1,000 plus publication; £250. FREE ENTRY. Closing date: 11 October. Details of what is required: penguin.co.uk/company/publisher/vintage/jonathan-cape.html#capeshortstory

Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize for stories up to 500 words – no minimum word count. Prizes: £300, £200, £100, £15 for shortlisted. Entry fee: £8. Closing date: 25 October. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk/competitions/the-rw-flash-diction-prize/

Retreat West 1,000 word Short Story Prize. First Prize, a professional recording of you winning story, worth £150. Second Prize, a year’s Retreat West Gold Author MJembership, value £100. Third prize, a year’s Retreat West Bronze Flash Membership, value £50. Entry £10. Closing date 4 October. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk/

Cinnamon Press Literature Award for 10 poems, 2 stories or 10,000 words of a novel. Prize: publishing contract. Entry fee: £16. Closing date: 30 October. Details: cinnamonpress.com/index.php/competitions/annual-debut-novel-or-novella-prize

McKitterick Prize 2021  for the best first novel, published or unpublished, by an author aged over 40. Prizes: £4,000. FREE ENTRY. Closing date: 31 October. Details: prizes@societyofauthors.org

Flash 500 Novel Opening Chapter & Synopsis Competition for the opening of a novel, up to 3,000 words, plus a synopsis. Prizes: £500, £200. Entry fee: £10. Closing Date: 31 October. Details: flash500.com/novels/

The current situation means that competitions can be cancelled or altered at short notice, so please remember to check the details extremely carefully before entering.

Good luck!

 

 

More coronatime reading

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So, corona virus restrictions are being reimposed.  Less socialising, less going out of the house, maybe worse to come.  But the upside of all that is, you can top up your lockdown reading …   Your Books To Be Read pile might have shrunk in the past six months, but why not add to it now?  Why not choose something new, maybe something you wouldn’t normally touch?

Taking some books at, er, random – you can enjoy historical fiction, thrillers, comedy, romance, novels exploring relationships and the human heart; revel in the settings of London (in the 18th century and today), modern Czechia, Sussex, the Lake District, Alaska, South Wales, Devon and the Cotswolds.

Or you can read biography and moving memoir; and if you are a manager and your staff are all working from home, why not take advantage of their absence and bone up on management thinking?  And if you’re a parent or doting grandparent, get a lovely book for the little one.

Last, but not least, there’s poetry.  What better way to cope with today’s vicissitudes than settling down with some great poetry ‘the best words in the best order’, as I think someone said.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

Love is All you Need

In these troubled times, love is surely what we need. For one another, and incorporated into a good, escapist story.

The Romantic Novelists’ Association has launched the RNA Learning Programme as part of its sixtieth diamond anniversary celebrations.

Online workshops will take place this autumn, with monthly web-based workshops covering writing, craft, technical skills for writers and the business of writing and publishing. They will be open to RNA members, but ALSO TO NON-MEMBERS.

In addition, as part of its ongoing commitment to widening opportunities for romantic fiction writers, a number of RNA Diamond Bursaries are available to new and mid-career writers from under-represented backgrounds for membership of the New Writers’ Scheme, which includes a full manuscript assessment.

Their New Writers’ Scheme is something I joined myself this January and I consider it one of the best investments I have made. The manuscript that I submitted to them had a minor character killed off half-way through, only to mysteriously reappear at the end, fit and well. It also included incorrect information about an inheritance, which my mentor – carefully chosen to be knowledgeable about historical novels – tactfully drew to my attention. There was praise for what I had got right, and constructive suggestions about how I could strengthen my plot. That it was a worthwhile investment can be seen from the fact that the manuscript subsequently went on to win the Historical Writers’ Association 2020 Unpublished Novel Award.

The RNA are not only about light-hearted Regency romances. They simply require an element of love incorporated in your plot. Jane Austen did so, as did Charlotte Bronte and many others.

Why not take a look at what they have to offer?

Website: https://romanticnovelistsassociation.org/