And what do you do?

When we go on holiday Dr H and I always suggest to each other that we’ll try to keep quiet about being doctors, because it seems to alter the way people speak to us. It can certainly change what they decide to share with us about their own lives, but that’s a blog subject in its own right. Anyway our plan often doesn’t work and of course if someone is taken ill we cannot stand back and even though we’re now retired, we soon give the game away. In other situations, if we hear criticism of the NHS or of fellow clinicians, we find ourselves leaping to their defence (even though we can often find fault in the service ourselves). By the end of a holiday the secret will inevitably have come out – after all it’s who we are.

I now have a new dilemma when it comes to the question, ‘and what do you do?’ Do I say I’m a writer? Do I announce I’ve written three novels alongside several short stories (and some travel writing) or does that sound like showing off? Am I still too much of an indie amateur to advertise myself? ‘Imposter syndrome’ strikes all too easily and I can be reticent and hold back about my own writing when I see fellow passengers reading books by established authors on a plane or a train, as was the case on a recent Great Rail Journey trip to Norway.

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Norway’s Flåmbahn

Of course if a conversation turns to books in a more general way, I love to share the  appreciation of books I have read. If a connection then grows I sometimes slip it in that I am an author myself, whilst making apologetic remarks about shameless marketing. Generally I am delighted then at how intrigued people can be. I usually have a few calling cards in my wallet, but in Norway last week I ran out, so had to scribble my name and the title ‘Lawn House Blues’ on scraps of paper. It’s hard to find a professional balance in these situations but I imagine a few folk might google me and the book, and maybe even buy it.

We returned home to find a pile of post on the doormat and amongst the usual circulars and bank statements I found an envelope posted from France. Inside was a lovely card from an ex-patient who had moved to live there some years ago. My name apparently had come up in conversation recently when a mutual contact visited and she was told that I had retired from practice and now wrote books. She thanked me for the support I had given her in the past as her GP and told me she had downloaded all three novels. She really enjoyed ‘There’s No Sea in Salford’, is half way through ‘How they met themselves’, and is really looking forward to ‘Lawn House Blues’. I’ll have to write back and tell the the last is the best and as with so many things one does get better with practise. She was a teacher so will understand.

Perhaps I need to shake off this ‘Imposter syndrome’ label and admit I’m a writer.

Save Our Library

Petitions and protests have been sprouting this Spring, from Wivenhoe to Prettygate, Kelvedon to Coggeshall and beyond, as part of the public consultation taking place by Essex County Council. The County Council is looking to close one third of its libraries and change the way such services are run.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why the people are not happy. Libraries and their trained librarians do so much more than lend and check books in and out. They introduce children to a love of reading, and are sources of information and bright ideas for all age groups. The buildings can be places for social and educational activities as well as being safe havens for the lonely or lost, providing digital services, and signposting for anyone in need of help. They can provide spaces for meetings, talks, book launches, music and so much more. You get the idea.

No decision will be made until later this Summer, when the council has had time to consider the representations sent to them. meanwhile communities across Essex have mounted ‘Save Our Library’ groups. Related activities have taken place such as Read Ins, story telling sessions, concerts, poetry celebrations, the creation of wishing trees, picture boards and posters.

Last weekend ‘Save Wivenhoe Library’ held a Read In in the High Street, to draw attention to their campaign, on a busy weekend in Wivenhoe. The streets were full of people walking round the annual Open Gardens and Open Studios, as well as visiting the Farmers Market. Our library adds so much to our vibrant community, as is the case in so many others, so let’s appreciate them and keep using them.

img_5801   (Reading  from Lawn House Blues!)

Sri Lanka in my thoughts

‘There’s No Sea in Salford’, my first novel, was published in April 2013. It is the story of a Sri Lankan nurse in the UK, whose family have lived through the Civil War, struggling against all odds to get back home following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

How sad it is that in April 2019 our newspapers are full of further tragedy and great loss in Sri Lanka, its people having suffered awful terrorist bombings during the last week.

Thinking of the Sri Lankan people again, and the time I spent there on a three-month elective period as a final year medical student in 1978, has made take my own book off the bookshelf and dust it down, ready to read it again and remember.

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To encourage others to read it and maybe see another (albeit fictional) view of this beautiful country I have arranged for the kindle edition to be sold at the reduced price of 99p for the week, from 1st-8th May. I hope you might give it a try.

What about a book review?

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How useful are book reviews?

I’ve noticed writers in the writing community on Twitter often ask readers to submit book reviews – sometimes with a discrete nudge, sometimes with a direct request, occasionally with a blatant bribe. It has set me thinking about the usefulness of reviews, the value of them and indeed the ethics of reviews. It’s turned out to be a more interesting subject to consider than I expected. (I was just planning to write a quick 5-minute blog!).

Most of the reviews I read are published on commonly accessed online sites such as Amazon and Goodreads. When it comes to writing one, every time I finish a book on Kindle I am asked to rate it on Amazon and a review is requested. Often as not I might press the rating stars but then ignore the request for an actual review. Isn’t that what most people do? Of course it might be different if I feel very strongly about the book (or if it has been written by a friend). If I’ve read a paper copy, bought from a bookshop or borrowed from the library, I’m more likely to rate it and maybe comment or recommend on Goodreads, rather than on Amazon.

I realise there are many other online sites on which to post or read reviews and also a myriad of review magazines exist, ranging from ‘The London Review of Books’ to ‘Book Club Bible’ and ‘Self-publishing Review’. A review can be a literary analysis or a scholarly essay, a summary review, an opinion piece or simply a comment based on personal taste. I imagine the formats used by the publishing industry may be different from those used by the average reader.

So what makes me write a review? Sometimes it could be to do a favour for a writing friend, or more often I will simply be passing on to others the recommendation of a book I’ve loved. I’ve often had the feeling when I’ve enjoyed a particular book, that I want friends to enjoy it too. I want to be able to talk to them about it. Sometimes I feel sad, even a little lost, when I’ve finished a special book and I want to recall my own thoughts and feelings about it before I let it go. Sometimes I genuinely want the writer to know how much I’ve enjoyed their work, especially if I’ve felt a special connection with their characters or subject matter.

I’ve looked at the last twenty book reviews I’ve posted on Amazon and was surprised to note that seven of the books I’ve responded to were actually written by friends. The thing is, I have many talented friends!

In terms of the ethics of book writing, I think it is important to be honest but also kind – not every book deserves five stars and not all genres or styles are to my taste but most books have some merit that can be recognised. Good teachers always say it’s good to balance any negative comments with positives – I suggest in book reviews always look for the positives and handle negatives gently and with sensitivity. If the writing is truly awful, I would consider avoiding doing a review at all. (If it is offensive, pornographic, or downright rude, rather than reviewing it, I’d say report it). In most cases I would acknowledge that the writer has worked long and hard to create their 80,000 or more word masterpiece. They probably have battled through umpteen rejections before getting their book published, be it traditionally or independently, so most will appreciate some consideration.

Having said all that, if any of you readers out there have read and enjoyed reading ‘Lawn House Blues’ do feel free to submit a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Please regard this as a gentle nudge, as I’m not going to bribe you. Be assured it’s quite an easy and straightforward process to write and post a brief review and you might well make a writer’s day. I look forward to reading your kind comments!

Happy Birthday – time passes

It just happened to be my birthday this weekend, but more relevant to this blog it was also the 6 month birthday of Lawn House Blues. How time flies! Time plays tricks on us, stops and starts, breaks down and builds back up (like my husband’s watch).

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It seems like only yesterday that I was fretting over the book launch, but then again it seems a lifetime ago that I was writing, editing and re-editing the book. It was hard work and I’m still delighted to hear every single positive comment that comes in about the story. I still wish more people would read and enjoy it and hope as time passes the interest and readership will continue to grow. I have another novel in mind but will not be rushing it so meanwhile will press on with writing short stories and flash fiction. This will keep my hand in and hold the dreaded writers block at bay.

Have book, will travel

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This week I’ve had some lovely, appreciative messages from readers – a couple of them too good to keep to myself. From the sandy beaches of Sri Lanka, relaxing after a yoga class and feeling the gentle breeze from palm trees waving in the background, A.H. is here enjoying Lawn House Blues. She kindly sent me this picture ( shown with her permission) with a comment attached.

“What a place to read this book! Beside the Indian Ocean. Can’t put it down!!!!!!

Shortly after that I received a message from J.B.

‘Just in the Caribbean and I have read your latest novel. Thought it was fabulous.’

Getting messages like this is what this writing business all about. They have also made me realise that Lawn House Blues is a brilliant holiday read, with a nod to historic events, a smattering of suspense, a degree of intrigue, some sadness along the way maybe, but running strongly through the story a lot of love and some great friendships. Look no further for the perfect book to take on holiday this year.