Cambridge, publishing, self-publishing

How to publish your book (and a trip to Cambridge!)

I admit to trepidation. All these covid stats are off-putting. But I needed a change of scene, a break, and a shot in the arm writing-wise. So I set off on Friday afternoon heading for Cambridge and Saturday’s Independent Christian Writers Conference at Ridley Hall. I’d taken advice and booked myself into next-door Newnham College for two nights and was delighted when my sat nav delivered me to the porters’ lodge! (Admittedly it had chosen to bring me right across Cambridge which required quite a bit of prayer and some white-knuckled steering-wheel gripping first!)

I love Cambridge. I love the beautiful colleges and manicured lawns, the meandering river, the whole lovely atmosphere of the place. And I was not disappointed with Newnham. I was staying in the new Dorothy Garrod wing

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with wonderful views across the college grounds, and access to the old buildings for meals.

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And Ridley Hall was literally a few minutes’ walk away. Another stately collection of old redbrick buildings and inside, books and more books on the shelves of the rooms where the conference was held, and on the book stall. (And of course I came home with some new books!)

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What I’d hoped for was an overview of publishing opportunities for Christian writers these days. The world of publishing has changed so much over the past ten years or so with the rise of self-publishing and indie/hybrid publishing (where the author invests financially in their book – either as an up-front fee for the editorial work etc to produce the book or to buy an agreed number of finished copies at an agreed price).

And so it appears that nowadays it is vanishingly rare to be published by a traditional publisher paying an advance and royalties and taking all the financial risk. Hybrid publishing seems to be the way for most authors who don’t want the hassle – or haven’t the time or expertise required for self-publishing. But there is a surprising number of brave and competent folk out there undertaking the whole process themselves – and they appear to be able to learn on the job, as it were. I am impressed – and awed. It seems like such a lot of work – with so much that can go wrong, producing an expensive and embarrassing end-product.

Or is that simply the jaundiced eye of an ex-trad publisher who was blessed with teams of highly qualified and experienced production and editorial staff, cover designers, proof-readers, and of course sales teams backed by roomfuls of sales and marketing experts! Those were the days…

I can see pros and cons in the new ways. Without the bottlenecks of the time-consuming and heart-depressing submission process, new work can appear much more quickly and writers can be much freer and more prolific. They don’t have to churn out what their publisher – or their sales team – says will sell. But they have to take most if not all of the risk themselves – though one of the blessings of print-on-demand is that you don’t need to climb over boxes and boxes of unsold books to get to bed at night. The other downside is lack of quality control. As a result of early self-publishing having been – shall we say kindly – a bit amateur, self-publishing is still fighting its way out of the woods of prejudice. But here the self-publisher can contribute to raising both standards and the reputation of the self-published book for everyone else. But it does take effort, and the expenditure of a bit more money.

Shiny white paper, narrow margins, a line of space between paragraphs – and all the errors that reveal no copy-editor worth their salt had a chance to go over the book are instant give-aways. I bought a self-published book recently and found twenty glaring errors in the first eight pages. After thirty pages, I was losing the will to live! Every book needs a good copy-editor who knows the difference between its and it’s, your and you’re, and where to put a comma. (And if they’ve never heard of Judith Butcher, it’s time to run for the hills.) Cover design is another area that benefits from professional input. We may love our granddaughter’s drawings and if the book is for family distribution only, may be perfect for the purpose. But if we want to compete with the professionals, we’ll need to up our game.

And that I think is the crux of the matter. How seriously are we taking our work? Do we want our books to sit comfortably beside trad-published books in the bookshops? Because if we do, they have to look as smart – both inside and out – as their competitors. And even it’s only a bit of a hobby, or a small contribution for charitable fundraising, there is true satisfaction in producing something we can be proud of.



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There’s a leopard

on the tree in the next garden.

He lies sinuous on a branch,

his tell-tale tail tucked up beside him

as he watches, Cheshire cat grin.

I love to see him as I eat breakfast

at my little table on the patio.

He watches me.

I watch him,

till driven indoors by the chain-saw

teeth-rattling roar

of the tree surgeons.

Surgeons? Hah!

Destroyers, leaving carnage in their wake,

all for a now naked telegraph pole.

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But no branch

for a make-believe leopard.

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art, East Anglia, Mizpah Ring, travel, Uncategorized

Taking direction

Yesterday I and a friend went to an exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts located on the campus of the University of East Anglia in Norwich. I’ve been there a couple of times before and knew it was a bit awkward to find. I printed out the map provided online which covered the campus and nearest streets. I Googled it and memorised the directions, writing down the main streets I had to find. And of course I had my trusty sat nav in the glove compartment of the car.

I had started really early, thinking I’d get parked more easily and maybe even have time for a coffee before our timed tickets demanded our presence. But we were delayed by 5-way traffic lights directing traffic the wrong way round a very busy roundabout quite close to the start of our journey. The minutes ticked by and my generous leeway diminished until it vanished completely.

Foot down, I got us to the ring road round Norwich and off onto the correct arrow-straight road towards the centre. All I had to find was Bluebell Road on the left, a couple more turns and we’d be there.

We found ourselves close to the bustling centre of Norwich, way off-course. One of the blessings of roundabouts is that it’s easy to go back round and head back the way you came. So we did. Still no sign of Bluebell whatever. So I took a left turn into a residential road and stopped. And reached for the sat nav, punched in our destination and set off again, with much prayer, as the minutes ticked inexorably by. Our tickets were for 11 a.m. and it was now 10.45.

Suffice it to say, we got there in perfect time and got the parking space I wanted right at the front door.

In our world, U-turns and doubling back aren’t the kind of manoeuvres that win praise compared with those folk who have a goal, make a commitment and head unswervingly for it. But what do you do when you get that horrible feeling that what you’re doing simply isn’t working, isn’t taking you anywhere near where you thought you were going, or even should be going? You can squash the feeling and grit your teeth and keep going on, doggedly. How hard can it be to admit that you got it wrong? Very hard! Pride combines with stubbornness, the desire not to lose face as you admit to a mistake whether large or small.

But if you don’t admit you’re on the wrong track, how can you ever get on the right track?

I have reams of completed manuscripts, half-completed, part-completed, barely started manuscripts of stories that began in flights of high hopes… and a smaller shelf of published books. Somehow we have to find the courage to admit a false start and work out whether to simply call a halt, or do a U-turn and go in another direction.

In Norwich, I chose the U-turn – and the humility to use my sat nav (which I should have done from the start!). And in my writing life, I’m thinking there is another, better way to tell the story that will become Mizpah Ring book 4.

I was thrilled and delighted that we arrived at the Sainsbury Centre with perfect timing. That everything had turned out perfectly despite me! So I’m hoping the same will happen with Mizpah Ring Book 4. All I need to do is be willing to pay attention to my heavenly sat nav to order my life and my writing according to His route!

Uncategorized, Writing

Running free

So I moved into the new house and on the first Sunday was up at the crack of dawn to go to church at 9 a.m. in a nearby village. I needed to be out of the house by 8.25 so I had laid out my clothes and planned everything to a nicety.

All was going well – until at 8.15 a.m. I flushed the loo. And the water wouldn’t stop filling the tank. I took the lid off the cistern and was horrified to be faced with a completely unfamiliar type of plumbing! I fiddled around with it. There seemed to be a lever. I pushed and the water began to pour out of the overflow… and down the outside of the house in a continuous sheet of water.

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Within minutes my patio was a swimming pool.

I panicked. For a while I sat on the edge of the bath flushing the toilet and praying. Then I came to my senses and went for help. My lovely neighbour had the number for a plumber who came out almost instantly and sorted it for me. Whew! But I was too late for church – well, that church. So I went somewhere else.

All’s well that ends well. The plumber replaced the strange syphon unit, explaining that the limescale from hard water had built up and blocked it. I could see the white encrustations of the limescale. So different from the orange-red rust from old-fashioned cold water tanks where you have to run the tap for a while till it begins to run clear. (If you don’t have the patience to wait, you’ll find the rust-coloured water does strange things to pretty blue bubble baths…)

I used to run creative writing classes and discovered a wide mix of students. Some were already prolific writers like the teenager who blocked out the noise on the school bus morning and evening as he created fantasy worlds and wrote a series of novels. Others wanted to write but hadn’t done any creative writing for a while. These were the ones I told about the rusty water and running the tap.

Sometimes you just have to let it run for a while till it starts to clear. Giving yourself permission to write rubbish may be the step that is needed to clear the way to the good stuff. (I think Anne Lamott said something like that in Bird by Bird – just a bit more robustly!)

Success is getting something on paper! Like success is putting one foot in front of another, taking the next breath, plodding on. Not exactly glamorous – but as another writer (Mary Roberts Rinehart) said, ‘Writing is work!’

Books, Novel, Uncategorized, Writing

Materiel Girl

I enjoyed writing the last four books. I drew on my own life experiences, delighted that they were coming in handy! When Gina drives a little red Mini through a field gate and round the field because she couldn’t find the brake, that was me! The house in Willowbank where she lived was the one I lived in for around ten years. And my habit of falling in love with unavailable men informed my heroines’ search for love too.

It all comes in handy.

My writing friend Pat and I were having our Tuesday get-together. She had just returned from a family funeral where there had been a battle of the eulogies, with the two sides of a warring family putting up teenager after teenager with self-written poems of cringeworthy proportions. My friend was telling me furiously about it when she suddenly stopped and laughed ruefully. ‘I know what you’re going to say!’ she said. ‘It will come in handy one day.’

And it will. It does.

When you write down what has happened immediately or soon after the event, that’s reportage or journalling. But leave it to settle in your mind, to compost into something mellow and rich and useable and you have materiel for your story, your book. It is you – your take on the world, your experiences and how you view them – that make your work unique. That’s why we can read innumerable books by different authors on the 1920s and get something different from every one of them.

I used to be a keen gardener. At one stage we had nine acres of Somerset meadow we were in the process of landscaping and one of my delights was visiting other gardens for planting ideas. A favourite place was the National Trust’s Barrington Court with its fabulous walled potager.

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And compost bins. Lined up in order of filling and making, the contents are covered when the bin is full to allow the heat of decomposition to ‘cook’ the contents, kill nasty bacteria, and turn it into valuable compost for new plants. I admit I find a row of compost bins a beautiful sight!

This morning I realised I could look back at my life and see seven separate compost bins so far. My four novels drew on materiel from the first bin only. The two stalled projects were attempting to continue that process.

But maybe I’d used up the good stuff and it’s time to move on to another bin – not forgetting to start filling bin number eight?!

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Books, Writing


Not writing – for a writer – is pretty much the worst that can happen.

I arrived in Caithness bursting with enthusiasm – for the move, the location, the return to my roots, and for the books I was planning to write. I had been feeling that Mandy, the black sheep of Ring of Truth,

book 3 in the Mizpah Ring trilogy – had not had a fair crack of the whip and I wanted to give her a chance to speak for herself and have a happy ending of her own. And way back in the early 70s when I’d started writing novels while living in Northern Nigeria (doing the trad ‘accompanying husband’ thing), I’d researched and written a first draft of a novel set in my part of Scotland. After a very moving and illuminating talk by Professor James Hunter on the Highland Clearances at the 2018 John O’Groat Book Festival, I’d thought of a way of combining my earlier story with the Clearances to make a much better, meatier book.

Non-writers so often ask ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ Up till then, I never had any shortage – of ideas or sources! And I love research which fuels more ideas and stories, so I set to. Now I was able to ‘walk the turf’, I was sure I’d soon be immersed in my stories and absorbed in writing.

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I bought maps, books, took myself out on long drives. Drank deep of the air and the atmosphere. And when asked what I was working on, I was happy to say. Anticipatory marketing, I thought!

But the reactions floored me. Stopped me in my tracks.

First I was told in no uncertain terms that nobody wanted another Mizpah Ring book. The trilogy had finished perfectly satisfactorily at the end of Book 3, thank you very much. And then – from more than a couple of very reputable sources – I was warned off writing about the Highland Clearances. From the descendants of the folk who had been evicted and driven off their ancestral lands, it was clear the horrors of those times and their aftermath remained fresh and raw and it would take a brave or foolish outsider to intrude. And I was warned that the descendants of the perpetrators had a long reach and it simply was not safe to tell the truth about what happened. It also became clear to me that my calling is to write Philippians 4: 8 books – books that will lift people not depress them, books that will honour God and glorify Him not tarnish Him. And I simply could not see how to do that for a story about the Highland Clearances and the sheer wickedness of the people responsible.

So I froze. The writing stopped, the ideas stopped coming. I hit lockdown and depression. I’m 72 and I’ve been writing stories, poems, plays, articles since I was old enough to hold a pen, and I’ve been published since I was 16. I have a considerable track record – yet I found myself crushed into frozen, unable to write as never before. So if this is where you are, I understand. It happens, only too easily – and at any stage of our careers.

Warmth is not merely the physical temperature of the air around you. Writers – human beings – need more than that to survive and thrive. Roger Rosenblatt in his brilliant Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The craft and art of writing, tells of a brilliant writing teacher, Jack Sweeney who ‘found something valuable in every comment students made, no matter how far off the mark it might be.’ This, Roger said, has ‘a warming effect’.

Frozen and unable to write, physically frozen in a hostile climate, I decided that my Facebook interactions would, from now on, only be positive and encouraging. I wasn’t willing to add to the depression, the iciness, the discouragement that so often afflicts writers, young and old. And there is so much to praise and encourage! And even when we can’t find it, we can take a leaf out of Jack Sweeney’s book and determinedly say something encouraging.

The very fact that you’re reading this is testament to the kindness and encouragement that has thawed my frozenness and encouraged me to get started again. I don’t know what the next book will be, but I have moved somewhere physically warmer… physically and writingly!

Caithness, Scotland, Thurso, Uncategorized

The adventure continues…

The first Lockdown was maybe not so bad. I was grateful for the unexpected time off from all the commitments I had permitted to overwhelm me. So I slept long and deep and gratefully! The world of writers and writing blossomed amazingly via Zoom and I ‘went to’ all the Festivals I’d never have managed – or maybe even afforded – in the ‘real’ world. Society of Authors, Hay on Wye, Edinburgh Book Festival – and lots of smaller ones too – I lapped them up, delighting in filling my diary with ‘things I just had to do!’

But I didn’t write. Didn’t even blog.

England suffered a second lockdown in autumn 2020, Scotland with a tighter grip on its citizenry and the virus didn’t declare a second lockdown till December. And then it was winter and dark for two-thirds of the day and cold. When I say ‘cold’ – one morning I was determined I really needed some exercise so I wrapped up as warm as I could (think Michelin Man for those of you old enough to remember!) and managed to get to the end of my not-very-long street before the pain of the cold drove me back indoors. I was hurting with cold!

How could I have forgotten that I Simply Do NOT Like Cold?! I do wonder has it got noticeably colder up north in winter, just as it’s got noticeably warmer down south in summer? Global warming?

Whatever. I don’t like it. I hate being so bundled up in thermal layers that I can barely move. I hate huddling next to radiators and shivering. And when every night is a two-hot-water-bottle night and the central heating is never turned off…

So I’ve called it quits. I’m too old to be making myself miserable! I’ve sold the bungalow in Orkney View, I’ve lots of lovely photographs to treasure – but I reckon it’s time for the adventure to continue, somewhere a bit warmer!

God, Uncategorized

Factoid Friday: Taste and see

We weren’t allowed to be fussy eaters. Mum, who was an excellent and adventurous cook, used to say ‘You don’t know you don’t like it if you haven’t tasted it. Just take one bite. If you don’t like it then that’s ok.’ And of course, when we’d taken one bite, we loved it!

Her recipe book was well-used with lots of inserts and hand-written notes. It is a huge joy to me to have it and still use it.

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There is a scientific reason (this Friday’s Factoid!) why children so often dislike things which later, as adults, they don’t have a problem with. They have many more taste-buds than adults, so the taste sensation is that much stronger, more intense. Adults have between 3,000 and 10,000 taste-buds. They regenerate every ten days or so, but that slows down with age so maybe it is true that food doesn’t taste quite so wonderful as it did when we were young. (And Mars bars are definitely smaller!)

I like my food spicy. This may be because of the years I spent in Northern Nigeria when everything we ate had a good spike of chilli pepper. The only veggies you could get were onions, tomatoes, yam or cassava, plantain, spinach, black-eyed beans, and peppers. They looked just like sweet peppers till you rubbed an eye or licked a finger! Fire lurked everywhere.

Hungarian friends we met in Nigeria introduced me to the delights – and varieties – of paprika. And so I always cook with spice. And for spicy interesting food, you need a good supply of fresh herbs and spices. I currently have a pot of basil on the windowsill but rely on dried herbs and spices for everything else.

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The sharp-eyed among you will spot that my herbs and spices are arranged in alphabetical order, from top left through to bottom right! It makes it easier for me to grab what I want, without thinking!

I think I’m eating better during these days of lock-down than ever before. I’m enjoying cooking up a storm of something really delicious that I can then freeze for lazy days ahead. And I’m loving my new well-equipped kitchen! I always wanted a pull-out drawer for my pots and pans. (And there is a good reason for why I have two steamers!)

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And yes, a fridge-freezer isn’t just for magnets!

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But then came the day I ran out of biscuits to go with my cup of tea in the afternoon. Tragedy! Or not when you have the internet at your fingertips. BBC Good Food came to my rescue and provided the perfect recipe for a chocolate cake made in moments in the microwave! It is totally yummy, foolproof, and uses tablespoons to measure ingredients not scales. But you need a really large mug!!!

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Just click for the link. Try  it and see.

Which reminds me of a text from the Bible: Psalm 34: 8 ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are the people who take refuge in Him.’ That’s where I’m hunkering down during the lock-down. I hope you’ve found somewhere comforting and safe too!




Berriedale, Caithness, Cats, History, Perth, Scotland, Social history, Uncategorized

Factoid Friday: Caithness

Caithness has been Scottish for only a few short years of its history, and British even less. It began as a Pictish kingdom. The wild stretch of water to the north known nowadays as the Pentland Firth should more correctly be called the Pictland Fjord.Digital Image

The area was occupied by the Norwegians in around 800AD – and Norse it remained till the Treaty of Perth of 1266 when the Norwegians accepted it should now be Scottish. (The Treaty of Perth also decided the nationality of the Isle of Man.)

Caithness was Scottish then for another 400+ years till the 1707 Act of Union which brought Britain into being. It has therefore only been British for the very short period of around 300 years in over 2000 years of recorded historical existence.

The original Pictish tribe which inhabited this land were known as the People of the Catt – or Cattii – possibly after the wonderful wildcats who made their home in the county.

I remember as a child, tucked up in bed, hearing the wildcats scream in the woods behind my grandparents’ house in Berriedale.

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The old smithy, Berriedale

The Norse tweaked the name to Katanes – the ‘ness’ meaning a headland, which Caithness is. It juts out into the sea like a cat’s inquiring nose.

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The Norse influence on the county is strong with lots of the place names and surnames derived from  Norwegian. This is reflected in the county flag that was designed and registered in 2016. The galley with the raven on its sails is a familiar emblem of the county, and the gold and blue colours represent the golden beaches and ever-present sea.

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The Norse influence is still strong in the way we speak up here. The name for the local language – our form of Scots – is Norn. To the south – and from here everywhere is south! – they speak Doric or Lallans, while the Norse influence is even stronger further north in Orkney and Shetland.

In Scotland today, we are realising afresh the richness of our  heritage and what was maybe discouraged by our teachers – who set themselves up as our elders and betters – is now being rediscovered and encouraged. Children’s books are being ‘translated’ from the foreign southern tongue into the local languages by the wonderful publishing imprint, Itchy Coo and writers, poets and music-makers are working once again in their native tongue.

As an older poet, John Horne, declared:

‘O, southern lands hev richer fields,

Wi’ floorags, trees, an’ a’ that;

I wouldna gie a tattie bleem

O’ Kaitness soil for a’ that.’


art, Books, Caithness, Cats, Jesus Christ, Spring, Thurso, travel, Uncategorized, walk, Wick

One more step along the road

A while ago I wrote a book called One Day at a Time sharing my experience of caring at home for my husband who had dementia. One of the things I learnt in those years was the importance of making the most, the best, of what we had – and not fretting about all the stuff that doesn’t matter. That lesson is coming in useful these days. It’s amazing just how much stuff doesn’t matter! I am not bothered by a reduction of brands of pasta or tinned tomatoes – so long as there is some on the shelves (not to mention toilet roll!).

And I am discovering that the ‘permission’ to go out once a day to take some form of exercise has become a daily delight. I am someone who is, quite frankly, a couch potato who would usually rather stay home with cat and book, and looks forward to rain, snow etc as validation of her laziness!

When the self-isolating began, I started off with a daily twenty-minute circuit of the estate. But as unused muscles begin to flex and strengthen, my ambitions have increased. And with them, my sense of adventure and exploration. So instead of just circling the neighbourhood, I struck out today up the hill and was rewarded with stunning views over the town:

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out to the Orkney Islands – you can just see the Old Man of Hoy poking up above the furthest landmass on the left:

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across to Dunnet Head and that wonderful sweeping sandy beach:

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I recalled childhood walks with my sister up Newton Hill in Wick when the challenge was to spot the earliest signs of spring. Today I spotted gorse in bloom, nestled beside the flagstones that edge the fields:

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a cheerful cluster of daffodils (and another lovely view of the estate and the sea beyond):Digital Image

and some beautiful drumstick primula outside someone’s house:Digital Image

Finding beauty on our doorstep is a joy – and you don’t have to live close to the countryside like me to find it. There’s a suggestion that we put a picture of a rainbow in our windows for children on walks to spot.Digital Image

I noticed four or five on the two streets of our estate this morning and I’m planning to paint one and put it in my window.

Like the candle I light each evening to affirm that Jesus the Light of the World is still with us at this terrible time, maybe a rainbow will add a bit of brightness to someone else’s day.