SHOW MAGAZINES SOME LOVE…💗

Hello Reading Friends!

I have a confession to make – it’s not only books I love, but magazines too. So it was a fantastic surprise when this month’s copy of Writers’ Forum plopped on my doormat. Why? Not just because it was the first writing magazine I subscribed to, full of practical advice and inspirational articles, it was because several months ago I received a sad email explaining that due to the drop in supermarket sales Writers’ Forum must pause production.

And this wasn’t the only magazine I enjoyed that has been adversely affected by the ongoing pandemic. No1 magazine, Scotland’s glossy – think Hello set in Scotland, shining a spotlight on successful Scottish women, as well as promoting boutique hotels and luxury spa retreats (I love to dream) – announced it must close.

WHY CLOSURES?

Unless you are a subscriber, then magazine purchases tend to be an impulse buy… a little treat for finishing the weekly shop. Or when heading to work, we might grab one to read over lunch.

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

However, over the past months our habits have changed. Wearing a mask and keeping socially distant means we are less likely to dally in the supermarket. Instead, we de-bug our trolley… get what we need… and leave.

Also, many are still working from home. Here in Scotland, at the time of writing, this is still the norm – meaning we cobble together something from the fridge, rather than heading out to buy lunch.

SO WHY ARE MAGAZINE SALES SO IMPORTANT FOR WRITERS?

Well apart from the obvious, providing employment for journalists and columnists, many novelists enjoy their first taste of publication success by submitting short stories to the magazine market – for Prima, People’s Friend, Woman, the Yours Fiction special etc. Some writers simply prefer to create short fiction and continue to make their income from this source.

But it’s not just the direct impact of loss of income that affects writers when a magazine folds. Many women’s magazines contain weekly, monthly and seasonal book reviews. Some, like Goodhousekeeping, Woman and Home, and Yours Fiction run online book groups via Facebook, where readers meet and discuss their favourite reads. Whilst Platinum has introduced a book club with author Adele Parks at the helm.

As broadsheets reduce column space for book reviews, magazines are a vital way in a busy marketplace to help create a buzz around books. No1 Magazine recently introduced a book review section; what a shame that its final issue will be published on 17th September and another space for authors and publishers will disappear.

And it’s not just women’s magazines that support authors. Here is Scotland The Scots Magazine and Scottish Field do great work spotlighting writers too. And let’s not forget the inspiration a writer discovers when reading the personal stories, travel pieces, health columns etcetera. The benefits of magazines to authors and the bookish community go on and on.

So, let’s give a shout out to our favourite magazines in the comments below, showing them some love💗 and doing our little bit to help them survive.

Until next time, happy reading!

RAE’S READING ROUND-UP FOR… AUGUST 2020

Hello reading friends!

One look at my August reads and you may be forgiven for assuming I’m obsessed with Tom Hanks. And perhaps I am – just a bit. I’ve loved his movies for years and found his warm, gravelly voice perfect for the narration of Ann Patchett’s, The Dutch House. Naturally, the next step was to try his debut short story collection, Uncommon Type.

Short stories have featured heavily this month, as I also enjoyed Jojo Moyes’ uplifting feel-good collection, Paris for One and Other Stories. PLUS fans of Moyes’ (and that’s everyone, right?) be sure to click on the link to her new FREE short story, Lou in Lockdown.

Until next time… I hope you enjoy!

THE DUTCH HOUSE by ANN PATCHETT

A novel written by best-selling author Ann Patchett, narrated by my favourite actor, Tom Hanks – who could resist such a stellar combo? From the outset the title sets us firmly within

the Dutch House, a sprawling, stately, slightly ghoulish mansion nestled in the suburbs of Philadelphia. But for young Danny Conroy and his elder sister Maeve, it is the place they grow up and call home. We then follow them through the next five decades, exploring their relationship with the property and why they find it impossible to let go. It’s a slow burn of a novel, examining sibling relationships and family ties, insecurities and resentments that linger long after childhood. It’s a family saga that weaves back and forth in time, until eventually we understand why the players play the parts they do. Hanks is superb as narrator, as he captures Danny’s personality perfectly. Let’s hope the duo of Patchett and Hanks get together again soon. 

UNCOMMON TYPE by TOM HANKS – August 2020

It’s impossible to read Tom Hanks debut collection of short stories, Uncommon Type, without hearing his wonderful, rumbling voice. Before I started reading, I knew Hanks was an enthusiastic collector of typewriters, but what was a surprise was to discover how he weaves a reference to typewriters within each of his tales. In one or two of them, typewriters are central to the story, but most simply include a brief mention.

So, Tom Hanks is one of my favourite actors, but can he write? The short answer is ‘yes’. Perhaps unsurprisingly he is excellent at characterisation, focusing on everyday details that reveal so much. Dinner time with the Family Beuell was a show. Davey was in and out of his chair – the kid never sat through a meal. This is a gentle collection with a nostalgic feel, as Hanks looks back to when life seemed simpler. If I have one criticism – and I must clarify that I enjoy many, many American authors, as well as novels set in the States – however I found these stories peppered with references to particular American products, shops, television shows etc., which may resonate with an American reader, but as a Scot, at times, found they dragged me out of the narrative. That said, I loved the sneak peek into the issues Hanks chose to write about – mostly domestic, mostly warm, always entertaining.

THE HEART’S INVISBLE FURIES by JOHN BOYNE

The first fifty pages of The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne was so compelling that I wondered how he could keep up the pace for the next seven hundred – but he does. A word of caution though, as the coming-of-age tale of a homosexual man growing up in Catholic Ireland, the first half of the novel is dominated by sex. Boyne is particularly astute and empathic in drawing women, his characterisation is superb, but the plot isn’t perfect (there are a couple of rather convenient deaths). However, Boyne’s skill as a writer makes it easy to overlook the improbable and simple enjoy the experience of being swept along.

This may give the impression that this is an insubstantial read and nothing could be further from the truth, as we are confronted with the horrors that faced/face homosexual men, who simply want to love and be loved. The cover blurb describes The Heart’s Invisible Furies as a funny novel, and there are plenty humorous moments to savour, but it’s a dry wit, say in the style of John Irving’s, A Prayer for Owen Meany. This was a book group choice that made lively discussion. A moving, thought-provoking read.

PARIS FOR ONE and OTHER STORIES – by JOJO MOYES

Fans of Jojo Moyes bestselling Me Before You trilogy were recently treated to a follow-up short story entitled, Lou In Lockdown, available here. Not only is it timely, but Lou and her mum made me laugh so much that I was delighted when I remembered I had a copy of Moyes’ Paris for One and Other Stories on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. A warm hug of a collection, these stories were first made available on radio and in magazines, brought together to create an easy-to-read coffee break compendium.

Composed of nine short stories plus two that are bit longer (arguably novella in length) they are feel-good tales with a cast of relatable characters, focusing on the everyday issues that beset women, told with gentle humour. Not all are set in Paris, but those that are – Paris for One, and Honeymoon in Paris – were my favourites. Perhaps because I honeymooned in Paris too – although without the fictional drama! An uplifting read, perfect for dipping into when a pop of positivity is needed.

MY MOTHER’S CHOICE by ALI MERCER

When I heard Ali Mercer discuss My Mother’s Choice during a Bookouture Live Facebook event, I knew this would be my kind of read… Dani was only four years old when her mum, Laura, was lost in a mysterious accident. Now a teen, Dani is confused by the secrecy that surrounds her mum’s death and is determined to unearth the facts. The story begins in the present day, as Dani pieces together the puzzle of what led to her mum’s passing, flipping to a decade earlier, via extracts from Laura’s diary.

Part family drama, part mystery, the story begins slowly before the pace picks up, revealing several great twists.  I found myself firmly on Dani’s side throughout, as she seemed a lonely, vulnerable, awkward teen who is desperate to learn more about her mum. Whilst the caring she shows her friend, Josie, felt both poignant and true.   

The only character I didn’t warm to was Dani’s Aunt Carrie, as her coldness felt a touch overdone at times and I longed for her to change. Dani came across as a bright, well-adjusted young woman, who was perhaps wilful at times (a normal teen), and I wished Aunt Carrie would cut her some slack and show her real love. However, it was also Mercer’s skilled writing that meant I so wanted Dani to not only find peace but lasting happiness too. Described as one for fans of Kate Hewitt and Amanda Prowse, this was my first Ali Mercer novel and I look forward to reading more.

HAVING FUN WITH SUMMER HAIKU

Hello lovely readers!

As someone who enjoys learning, one of the pleasures of writing is that there are so many styles to try. I have always been rather in awe of poets, and if I’m honest, was nervous of having a go. But during lockdown, I pulled on my big girl pants and faced my fear by completing Sandra Ireland’s fantastic Poetry Writing series of workshops, which I highly recommend.

And it was during one of those lessons that I fell in love with Haiku, the Japanese short form of poetry. For those not familiar with the term, Haiku is a structured style of poetry where the lines follow a 5/7/5 formation – five syllables, followed by seven syllables, followed by five syllables. The challenge lies in creating a vivid image with minimal words. Like completing sudoku or finishing a jigsaw puzzle, I find it mildly addictive. Traditionally, Haiku relates to the seasons and as I live in rural northern Scotland, I was free to observe nature in all its amazing glory during lockdown walks.

I’ve pulled together a small summer collection here and would be thrilled if you would share your own summer Haiku in the comments. And if you’ve never tried writing one, please take five minutes and give it a go.

Enjoy!

DROWSY AFTERNOON
GREEN BARLEY
SWAN HILL
SUMMER’S CURSE
A LIGHT LUNCH

RAE’S READING ROUND-UP FOR… JULY 2020

Hello reading friends!


For no reason whatsoever and by some complete fluke, my July reading
round-up is filled with book titles beginning with THE! They are an eclectic
selection including a literary novella, women’s commercial fiction (my go-to
genre), as well as a humorous audiobook focusing on serious themes.

In addition, I was gifted a copy of Kate Weinberg’s debut, The Truants, in
exchange for an honest review which will to be published soon by Scottish online magazine, The Wee Review. As ever, I would LOVE you to share your favourite reads in the comments.

Until next time… I hope you enjoy!

Rae x

THE BEEKEEPER OF ALEPPO by CHRISTY LEFTERI

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri is the most moving novel I’ve read this year. When war destroys the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo, Nuri, a beekeeper, along with his wife Afra, set out on the treacherous journey through Turkey and Greece, searching for somewhere to call home.

And the reader journey’s too, leaving behind the bees and sweet-scented heather-covered hills of Syria, to experience the horrors and loss of the present day, as Nuri and Afra use every ounce of their reserve, enduring the pains and emotional indignity of life within refugee camps. Having worked with refugees in Athens, Christy Lefteri avoids addressing the political rights and wrongs of Nuri and Afra’s plight. Instead, she shines a lens on the desperate experiences of a couple caught up in the shocking turmoil of war.

But it’s also a tale filled with hope and small kindnesses, as Nuri and Afra seek safety and to be with the ones they love. It is not in the least surprising that this touching, important novel has become a book club favourite. One I urge everyone to read.

 

THE MOTHER I COULD HAVE BEEN by KERRY FISHER

Vicky Hall is twenty-one when she travels to Greece and falls pregnant with Theo. Estranged from her family, she vows to always be there for her son. But Vicky is insecure and life as a new mother is tricky, failing to work out as she planned.

Meanwhile, Caro is a grandmother desperate to see the grandchildren her daughter, India, is equally determined she will never share. The Mother I Could Have Been by Kerry Fisher is an exploration of the mother/daughter relationship and how easily words misconstrued lead to tension and heartbreak that last years.

Fisher is skilled at conjuring believable characters with snappy dialogue that rings true, and I immediately recognised and understood Caro, with her heart-wrenching story. However, at times, I became a little frustrated by Vicky and her reluctance to reach out to her vulnerable young son, who endures so much. Despite that, the two halves of the storyline blend expertly, creating a touching examination of family feuds, loss and forgiveness.

 

THE TRUANTS by KATE WEINBERG

From the outset, Kate Weinberg sets the tone in her tense campus debut, The Truants by remarking on the work of Agatha Christie. On arrival at an east Anglian university, determined to shake off the dull restrictions of home, Jess Walker is thrilled to be accepted by a smart bohemian set, equally resolved on breaking rules. At the same time, she quickly becomes infatuated with her charismatic English professor, Lorna Clay, who harbours a mysterious past, with links to her students that step beyond the professional.  

Filled with fierce friendship, obsessive longing and sexual chemistry, the brooding atmosphere of the first half draws the reader in, as Weinberg nails moody, coming-of-age suspense. The plot tightens further as a love triangle emerges, jealousies bloom, and loyalty is tested.

The second section of the novel moves away from the oppressive claustrophobia of the campus setting, switching between South Africa and an unnamed isle off the coast of Sicily, adding layers of shimmering heat and isolation. However, on foreign soil the plot slows as the story shifts to focus on backstory and an explanation of events which, to be fair, Agatha Christie does too but a touch more succinctly, retaining tension until the final reveal. That said, The Truants is a clever, intriguing read with more than a nod to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. A strong, compelling debut, as well as a beautifully written whodunnit.

 

THE CARER by DEBORAH MOGGACH

Whilst on the lookout for something light-hearted to read, I heard Deborah Moggach interviewed and knew The Carer would hit the spot. Don’t be mistaken, The Carer focuses on serious themes – relationship break-ups, grief, the hard decisions that must be made when caring for an elderly parent – but topics that might seem grim are sprinkled with Moggach’s trademark dry humour.

The novel is split into three parts and I enjoyed the first and last sections best, when the reader follows sixty-year-old, self-absorbed siblings, Robert and Phoebe. Each is handling mid-life issues as best they can, whilst blaming the other for shirking familial responsibilities and at the same time watching with both relief and suspicion as Mandy, their father’s new down-to-earth carer, replaces them in his affections.

This is a warm domestic drama with several surprises and one major twist, but Moggach is an astute observer of class, and it is the superb characterisation, rather than the plot, that makes The Carer speed along.

 

THE CALL OF THE WILD by JACK LONDON

When I noticed The Call of the Wild by Jack London had been made into a movie starring Harrison Ford, I recalled reading it, and White Fang, at around the age of 11 or 12. First published in 1903, the reader roots for Buck the dog, as he is stolen from his comfortable domestic life to work the gold trails in the wilds of Alaska, facing down danger, loyal to those he loves. A classic novella, The Call of the Wild doesn’t shrink from the brutality of the Klondike life, but it is beautifully written and the ending so poignant that when Buck makes mistakes we can’t help but will him on. Will I be brave enough to watch the movie? – I’ll need tissues at the ready!

5 TIPS FROM THE ROMANTIC NOVELISTS’ ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE 2020

Hello lovely friends!

Writing a debut novel can be a lonely business – all the false starts, never-ending drafts, the rollercoaster as confidence grows then plummets again – so it was a real treat last weekend to feel part of the writing community, as the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) held their first online conference. This year is extra special for the RNA as it celebrates its 60th anniversary, and although many of the festivities have been postponed until next year, it was wonderful that the conference went ahead. I’ve attended several conferences over the years, where I learnt loads and made new friends, so would a virtual conference offer a similar experience? Would I finish the day happy, exhausted, my mind buzzing with ideas?

The short answer is YES! And to share ALL I learnt would take WAY too long, so I’ve summarised what I took away into 5 TOP TIPS (in no particular order!)  

TIP 1 – The synopsis is a helpful resource, but the pitch is KEY

Therese Keating, Commissioning Editor at Bookouture explained that if an author pitches their novel well, then it shows they understand where their work sits in the market.

Here’s what she looks for in a GREAT PITCH –  

  • It MUST tell the reader what it’s about (sounds obvious but remember when a writer spends months amongst the weeds, it can be hard to step back and enjoy the wider view!)
  • It must include a compelling HOOK
  • The GENRE must be distinct, unambiguous, CRYSTAL CLEAR
  • Include examples of authors who write in a COMPARABLE STYLE (Be realistic here)

TIP 2 – Plunge your reader into your character’s world and SHOW what they are like through actions…

Bestselling author, Julie Cohen led an excellent, practical workshop on how to create characters out of thin air. As a writing tutor, her enthusiasm for the topic was infectious and this is one tip in a whole host she so generously shared. Her latest novel, Spirited, is a Woman & Home book of the month.  

TIP 3 – Create A Habit (Write Every Day)

Being a fan of the Bestseller Experiment podcast, it was a real thrill to hear from podcast co-host, author and script writer, Mark Stay. Mark shared the eight and a half things he’s learnt in over three years of interviewing BESTSELLING authors but the one tip that ALL bestselling authors share is to WRITE EVERY DAY. And if that sounds impossible because of other commitments, Mark recommends setting aside 20 minutes EACH DAY to at least think about your novel.

TIP 4 – Add body language to create snappy dialogue

Historical romance author, Virginia Heath explained how body language (including facial expressions), pauses and internal thoughts are all ways a character communicates, adding meaning to what they say (or don’t say), in a session entitled The Dark Art of Snappy Dialogue… Interesting to note that babies are fluent in body language from about four months old!

TIP 5 – Be CREATIVE when engaging with book bloggers

Julie Morris, who blogs at alittlebookproblem.co.uk explained that as book bloggers are readers on steroids, they should also be an author’s best friend… However, there are limits on a book blogger’s time (most blog as a hobby, fitting reading around family life and the day job) so they can’t review every book they are sent. But bloggers LOVE bookish content and there are a number of ways authors can help bloggers too…

  • Take part in a blog tour (Remember tours can be arranged for cover reveals, ebook publication, paperback publication, hardback publication etc…)
  • Offer to take part in interview slots
  • Guest posts are always welcomed
  • Offer Promotions and Giveaways
  • Volunteer to take part in Special Features (e.g. Julie’s Friday Night Drinks feature)
  • Consider Blog Takeovers (When an author takes over a book bloggers blog for the day)
  • Share extracts of your work
  • Offer exclusive content
  • Link a post with upcoming events
  • Invite a blogger onto your blog and interview them (remember they will re-blog and share)
  • Collaboration – put a series together with a group of author friends and approach a book blogger who may be happy to host

Before signing off, I would like to send huge congratulations to Linda Corbett in winning the Katie Fforde bursary 2020 and Celia Anderson on winning the Elizabeth Goudge trophy. I also send a heartfelt thank you to Alison May and all involved in the RNA in organising such a fantastic conference.

Until next time… happy writing!

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