Monday, 15 January 2018

Writers' retreats

These days I tend to think I don't need them. I've had a daily writing habit now for many years and I mainly manage to stick to it. I've retired from the day job now and although I've somehow managed to fill my time, I've doubled my writing output and have an even stricter regime now that I still manage mainly to keep to. 

So, why would I need to go on a writers' retreat? 

I used to bookmark any I came across and dream of going to them. The contact with other writers they offered was very tempting. What about that one in France where you all meet on the patio in the evening for an aperitif before dining out in a local restaurant? Or that one where a resident writer gives you daily feedback on your work? Or the one way up in the Spanish mountains? Surely the views would inspire? 

When I first started writing seriously I was a Head of Modern Languages in a demanding secondary school and I was also studying for a Masters in Writing for Children. My writing mainly happened after 10.00 p.m. when I managed to get a second wind, at weekends, in the school holidays and when I was actually away on holiday. A retreat then would have been very handy.       
I've actually enjoyed four retreats and they have all been quite surprising.


In the Austrian Alps 


This was a home-made retreat. I took a week-long bargain holiday in a very well-appointed hotel and chose the half-board package. I didn't need to worry then about where I would eat.  Cafés were easy enough to find for lunch. 

I used this mainly to edit a young adult book.  The book had been placed second in a writing competition and the publisher who judged it thought it was worth working on more. It did become published and is in fact out now in second edition. 

I certainly got more work done that I would have at home. I also managed to do quite a lot of other things: swim and go for walks every day, meet up with some German friends, visit a German publisher and break a bone in my hand, thoroughly testing out the Austrian healthcare system with which I was most impressed.     

SCBWI  - near Taunton


This was off the beaten track, difficult to find, in the middle of nowhere, yet once we arrived, we were surprised by how many other buildings were nearby.  We had lovely weather and it did have and open air pool which we were able to enjoy. It also had a glorious, lush sloping lawn that we all longed to roll down but didn't quite dare to.

Yes, we did a lot of writing. It was good also to be connected with other writers. The bar opened before dinner and after dinner we shared work. We also had talks by a published picture book writer and an editor from a children's imprint. On the whole it was a very productive few days.

Retreats for You 


I attended this with two colleagues, the mum of one of them and with my friend and business partner, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt.  There was only one other guest and she fitted in with us very well. The superb home cooking made this one a delight. Six o'clock is wine o' clock and the hostess delivers a glass of wine to your desk.  

There is plenty of time to chat over meals and around the log fire in the evening. Debz and I even went to the pub one evening – it is conveniently right opposite the retreat. 

Again we went for walks and runs as well as spending a lot of time writing. 

I was pleased to note as well that some other writers I knew had been there the week before.  
Interestingly one project I worked on whilst there gained a gold award form my publisher. This means I get 15% royalties. 

Maybe being on retreat helps me to write better, if not more, so might be worth it even for hardened writers like me.            

Gladstone'sLibrary with SCBWI North West 


I attended this retreat immediately after I retired from the University of Salford. So yes, I provided the cava.
You can book into Gladstone's as an individual. This includes meals and snacks and there are tea and coffee making facilities in the rooms. There are no televisions in the rooms but digital radios. Some people like to have music on in the background when they're writing. 
There are many delightful places to write – in your room, in the library, or, if the weather is fine, in the grounds. 
Our writing sessions were punctuated by activities together, meals and walks, of which there are many nearby. In the evenings we gathered in the cosy lounge which has an honesty-box bar and a log fire.
It did kick start me into my new regime. Despite the breaks I completed a lot of writing and found a sharper pace.  

An old dream

I used to dream of owning a big house and offering writing retreats.  Now, I'm not so sure I have the energy. However, I have been invited to act as a tutor on a fully-catered retreat and I'm looking forward to that.
On balance, I would say that even for established writers there is much merit in occasionally going on retreat.        

Friday, 12 January 2018

An Interview With Alyson Faye

We (Chapeltown Books) have just published Alyson's Badlands. In celebration of this event I've invited Alyson to my blog.

What do you write? Why this?

 I write in a range of genres and lengths. I began writing poetry and children’s books, because I tutored children I would read my stories to them. In the last few years I have turned to writing Flash Fiction, (stories under 1000 words), much of them are dark in tone. But I also write 3000 word stories, often supernatural; I love M R James, time slip novels and films like ‘The Innocents.’

What got you writing in the first place?

I was a bookish child; who visited the library a lot. When I was recovering from a serious illness in the mid 1990’s I started to write poetry to help myself heal. Telling stories is exciting, engrossing and wonderful escapism. It is life without the boring bits!

Do you have a particular routine?

I am an owl- so much of my writing is done later in the day or into the early hours of the morning. I write/edit/blog/ most days if only for half an hour or so, but sometimes if I am gripped by a particular story I want to tell I will keep going for hours at a time. I like to work to deadlines, they prompt me to finalize a piece.

Do you have a dedicated working space?

 I write in the 3rd room in our bungalow, which is more of a nook really. I keyboard my fiction on a p.c.  my husband has rehabbed for me, facing a wall covered in pictures and postcards and drawings which are a self made collage representing my interests and overlap with my projects.

When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?

 Interesting question. I think of myself as a writer since my fiction has been published increasingly over the last two years or so and I have given more time to it. I am growing into the title and since I started teaching creative writing classes last year I am identifying myself to the outside world more as a writer.

How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you’re doing?

 My husband is very supportive. He is my tech. go to guy. He’s delighted I have rediscovered my writing mojo. My son is a typical teenager, but he listens to me maunder on and says ‘Well done mum.’ A couple of my friends are so supportive they signed up to my writing classes! Which is amazing of them. Most are a bit interested and will ask what I’m working on.

What are you most proud of in your writing?

 Tough one this- that I have stuck at it for the last few years, of the projects I have completed, that I have improved as an editor of my own work, that I still want to do more. I love my work being published too. I get such a buzz from that.

 How do you get on with editing and research?

I have worked hard at improving my proofreading and editing skills, read books, gone online, used editing tools. It is an ongoing journey of learning. I enjoy researching any facts or historical info I need but I was a history teacher in a former life.

Do you have any goals for the future?

 Yes I do. I have a blog and I have listed there my goals for 2018! I have short term goals like keeping on writing and getting published. I have long term goals like putting a collection of my ghost stories together and perhaps finding a publisher for my YA time slip novel.

Which writers have inspired you?

 Many- from my youth, Penelope Lively and Susan Cooper, Robert Westall; reading at O level poet Wilfred Owen, Liza Cody, Sara Paretsky, Harper Lee, Carol Goodman, Sarah Rayne, latterly Alison Littlewood for her horror /supernatural novels. I think I probably read more women authors than men!!

Click on the picture below to find out more about Badlands. 


Friday, 5 January 2018

Citizens of Nowhere

This book will remain a favourite of mine for a long time, I think. Its sub-title is "stories of the global citizen".  Sound familiar? Yes, that's right, our dear Prime Minister claimed that people who declared themselves to be "global citizens" were in fact "citizens of nowhere".  Sorry, Madam May, I can't help but be a global citizen and perhaps ironically it was my Grammar School education and then my time at a Russell Group university that encouraged me to think that way. So what the heck is going on here? You educate me to be one way and then tell me that way is not valid? 

You see, I have too much of other cultures rubbed off on me to belong just to one. You'll find more about this in the introduction to the book. 

Madam May implies that the global citizen has no loyalty to a community. I argue that the global citizen is in fact loyal to a bigger community. That of the world or even the universe.  

I'm happy to have been one of two editors on this collection. I'm also pleased to have a story in the book. ' The Wedding Next Door' is inspired by some things I noticed  when I was a teenager. It isn't a true story but it is a true reflection of how life was in the 1960s in the West Midlands. 

We approached some writers we knew who we thought might feel the same way as we did. Some stories just made their way to us. Thus we have stories from Ea Anderson, Jenifer Burkinshaw, Sarah Dobbs, Vanessa Gebbie, Alan Gibbons, Vanessa Harbour, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, Matevž Hönn, Gill James (that’s me), Karen Kendrick and Jenny Palmer.  

There's a great deal of interpretation of what the global citizen is and they all beat May's idea.

I'm happy to give you one at my own expense to throw at your MP. Just contact me if you'd like that. 

Not that we're being political. We're just doing what writers have always done: showing our readers what the world looks like to us. We see it as full of global citizens.       

Sunday, 31 December 2017

New 31 December 2017

Wishing all of my followers the best for 2018

So now the old year is ending and the new one is just about to begin. I'm pleased to have had a few short stories published and one academic paper. I'm enjoying working on my first play script and The House of Clementine, my fourth novel in the Peace Child series is now beginning to flow.
For my birthday I was given the Scrivener software package. I'm still getting used to driving it but I've already completed one whole project in it - a short story – and I've transferred The House of Clementine and The House on Schellberg Street (play script) into it. I can see how it helps with planning and keeping track of parts of the story. I love the synopsis feature and the fact that you can attach key words to any section you write. It's also so easy to reorder your work.
There's still a lot I have to learn, but so far I'm loving it.  
I've also almost finished my book on marketing. Many of you on this list will soon receive that as a gift.            

1940s Group

I've personally found Virginia Woolf's diaries interesting. They're informative anyway for any writer. They show much of her process and a lot is very familiar even though she was from another time. The later entries are all set in the 1940s and she provides a vivid though intriguingly matter-of-fact view of living in England during World War II. She and her husband lost their house on Tavistock Square. Her last entry was 8 March 1941 and she committed suicide on 28 March 1941.  Read it here.    
Recently also for this group I've been sourcing other books set in the 1940s. There are a lot of these and some of them are better than others. We're really looking for stories and even pieces of non-fiction that give us insight into the era. If they're well written and engaging as well, so much the better. 
This is a Facebook group for those of us who write about the 1940s. This group is for all people who write about the 1940s. Fiction and non-fiction, for young and old. Topics might then be: the Holocaust, World War II, Civilian Experience (all sides) and the battle front. We can exchange ideas about research and marketing. We may promote books and stories, - the last day of every month and on launch / release day. In particular, we might work together to make use of the many 1940s' weekends that take place.
If you feel that is you, do join us:    


The Dream Team continues to grow. Find members here.    
This is a personal recommendation. Initially I intend to use my Dream Team a lot myself but gradually I would add in people that friends and friends of friends have recommended.

What happens?

You sign up to a mailing list and every time a request comes in we mail it out to you or the enquirer contacts you directly via my web site. The conversation then carries on between you and the person making the request. You may also have a page set up on my blog and you may update that once a year. 
Interested? You may sign up for more than one category. 
Beta readers sign up here.
Reviewers sign up here.
Editors sign up here.
Illustrators sign up here.
Designers sign up here.
Proof-readers sing up here.   


Bridge House

Big news. From tomorrow we're accepting submissions for our 2018 anthology. The theme this time is Crackers. We don't mean just the Christmas sort. We're looking for stories that amuse, certainly, though. It would be good to have a few that give us great big belly laughs, but also welcome those that just make you smile. Another interpretation of "crackers" might be madness. So think Black Mirror, Inside Number 9, Kafka's Trial, Yes Minister, Yes Prime Minister, Catch 22. Got one of those in you? Give it a go! Full submission details here.          
We're getting quite a few books out now. Here are the details about our latest books and the links to buy them on Amazon. 
Debz's Canvey Island writers' group, Tales from the Upper Room, retails at £7.00. £1.50 from every sale goes to the Havens Hospices . You can find it here:      
Glit-er-ary is our 2017 anthology. Quote from the back blurb: "You will learn that all that glitters is most certainly not gold. The stories are funny, sad, poignant …. The glitter comes in shades of dark and light. Find it here:
Then there is Citizens of Nowhere. I'll confess that Theresa May both infuriated and inspired me when she said that global citizens are citizens of nowhere. What a great title for a book. So, I approached several writers I know who I thought might feel the same. Not all of them had the time or the inspiration but several have contributed. A few stories that were submitted to Glit-er-ary seemed more suitable for this collection. Jenny Palmer also has a story in here. This will be the fourth time that we've published this one. She is on the CaféLit site, in the Best of CaféLit, in her own collection and in this book. Debz and I have also put our money where our mouths are. We each have a story in the anthology. Find it here:   Whatever your politics are, you shouldn't find anything to offend here but maybe something to make you sad, to give you hope or to make you think.    
We've produced a couple of book trailers. Do take a look and share them.

We’re getting plenty of interest in our single-author collections. These are for authors we’ve published before and they may include stories we’ve already published, ones they’ve had published elsewhere and new ones. The description for this is now on the web site. We’ve already had some enquiries and we’re currently working on several anthologies.  You may recycle stories we’ve already included in another anthology, and you may reedit these if you wish. You may also add in new stories. We’re aiming at a total word count of between 30,000 and 70,000 words. 
Dawn Knox's Extraordinary is now out. It is available here.  
If you’re interested in having a single author collection, contact me here.    
Also in progress are collections by Paul Bradley, Phyllis Burton, Jesse Falzoi, Jenny Palmer, Dianne Stadhams and Paul Williams. Several other Bridge House authors have applied and they're in a bit of a queue but I'm sure we'll accept them. After all we know them.    


Stories are now all being posted at 4.00 p,m, Afternoon Teatime,  Kaffee and Kuchen time and it's also when the kids are home from school. Just the right time for a cuppa and a good story.
We're getting quite a few submissions now but still not quite up to one a day. Sadly, of course, we have to reject some.
In December we had stories from Gail Aldwin, Sharon Boothroyd, Alan Cadman, Nichola Cavalier, Derek Corbett, Ann Dixon, Dawn Knox, Roger Noons, Jenny Palmer, Allison Symes, Sandy Wilson and Robin Wrigley. There's one of mine in there, too. We managed to get one for every day of Advent.  Onwards! Let's keep up the momentum and get one out a day in 2018. Have a go and let all of your other writing friends know.
We're always open to submissions. Find out to submit here. Remember, this gives you some exposure, you can add in a short CV each time, and there's always the chance that your work might be accepted for the annual anthology.    
The Best of CaféLit 6 has been produced and copies are on sale. As usual we welcome reviews. I can let you have a PDF or an e-mobi copy if you're willing to review. You can also buy copies here.   I'll shortly be working on The Best of CaféLit 7.  
On offer for CaféLit authors is a page on our web site. See examples here.  The list is growing. Click on the names to find out more about the authors and to access their work. If you're a CaféLit author and would like a web page, use the ones there to get ideas. You need to send me between 250 and 350 words about yourself, an attractive image, a list of up to six publications, up to six awards and up to six links. I then also link the page to your stories on CaféLit. Send to gill at cafelit dot co dot uk.  I'm pleased to have added Gail Aldwin this month.        


I'm now trying to build up the Chapeltown readers list. I'm giving away a free copy of my January Stones 2013 to anyone who joins. See details here:
I'm also having an audio version of this book made. This is going well so far. If this continues to go well, we'll roll it out to other authors. The profit share will equal 10% of the cover price of the audio file.      
Christopher Bowles' Spectrum, a challenging but very satisfying read. Again reviews welcome. The Kindle version was quite a challenge. He has some fabulous reviews. See them here. More are welcome. I can send you a PDF or mobi file. Be warned: there is some adult material in this. There is also a lot of beautiful writing. If you would like to buy the book, see details here.  You may also be interested to read that Christopher secured himself a new job recently. In the part of the interview where they wanted to know about other aspects of his life, he mentioned Spectrum and his performances. He will now be using this in his work.        
Chapeltown has now successfully published its first picture book. Colin Wyatt’s Who will be my friend? – is a delightful story about friendship and accepting others. Yes, Colin is Debz’s dad. He is a Disney licensed illustrator and his previous publication is The Jet Set. We feel very honoured to have published him.
The book is out now and available at  Reviews welcome. We can provide the PDF. 
We’re very pleased with this book and now aim to publish more picture books. We're working on an illustrated book by Philippa Rae and we've offered two more contracts for picture books.   
If you're interested in reviewing any of the above, just email me.
Coming soon: work by Anusha VR, Gail Aldwin, Alyson Faye, Mandy Huggins and Roger Noons.  There are a couple waiting in the wings as well.  
Chapeltown is now going to publish all of The Schellberg Cycle. A new version of The House on Schellberg Street is now available. Details are here.  

Creative Café

I've added just one new café this month and one a little closer to home than the other recent additions.  This is another one I found via Twitter. Take a look:   
I'm continuing my tour of creative cafés where I collect stories for an anthology. In some cases, writers may offer them and in others maybe customers may tell me their story and I'll write it for them. Do you know of a café that might be interested in this? Let me know if you do.         
Remember you can now buy merchandise for the Creative Café project. The profit on anything you buy here goes to the Creative Café Project. Check this out here.    
We’re always looking for new cafés.  If you visit one of the cafés in the project and would like to write a review of between 250 and 350 words – nice, too, to have a couple of pictures – send it to me here. Do the same if you find a new café.
I’m also now proactively encouraging cafes to stock The Best of CaféLit. Do you know anyone who might like to stock it? We can offer a 35% discount to retailers. Query gill at cafelit dot co dot uk.     


The Red Telephone

Our mentoring programme is now full. I’m working quite closely with three very different authors: Charlotte Comley, Dianne Stadhams, and Nina Wadcock. They are all presenting some fascinating material. University of Salford graduates Lauren Hopes and Christian Leah have also joined our happy band.        
I was delighted to see Lauren at our recent Celebration Event in London. She read from her novel.

Book tours

If you’re a Bridge House / Red Telephone / CaféLit / Chapeltown author and you want to get serious about book tours, consider our author’s kit. We provide twenty or so books (exact number is up for negotiation) you take to the bookshop and the bookshop can put these through the till. We then invoice the bookshop, with a 35% discount for any sold and top up your supply to twenty. At the end of the tour you can either pay for the remaining books at cost + 10% or keep them until you’ve sold them and then pay the normal price of 75% of RRP. The latter can in any case be set against royalties. You need to allow at least ten days between events. We must be able to invoice a retailer later for this to work. Contact me here if you’re interested in this.           

School Visits

I’m proactively promoting my school visits associated with The House on Schellberg Street project. I’ve now developed a whole workshop for this. It starts off with a board game, includes some role play and creative writing and ends with a discussion.
I did a presentation about my work on this at the 2017 NAWE Conference.  It became apparent as I talked and partly from the reaction of one of the delegates that the workshop has more impact than the book. Mind you, that had partly been the intention.
Costs for my workshops = travel expenses plus £400 for a full day and £200 for a half day. This includes all materials and some freebies. Two schools near to each other might consider splitting the day and halving the travel expenses and fees. This is open to negotiation in any case.       
I also offer a free half day visit, though you pay my travel expenses, if you allow me to promote my books.       
I’m continuously adding materials for schools to the site that are different from the ones I use for the workshops. I’ve recently added in resources and books to do with the topic. See them here:       
Query for a school visit here.
I’m also happy to tailor a visit for your agreed donation. This can be for either a Schellberg Cycle visit or a creative writing workshop. Any monies raised this way will go specifically to a project I have for a non-fiction book about a journey that will follow the footsteps of Clara Lehrs. I’m hoping to do the whole journey by train, including departing via my nearest Metrolink station. It’s important to feel the rails beneath my feet.       
I offer as well standard author visits which include readings from my books, Q & A sessions and creative writing exercises.
It is now possible to purchase the kit to work on on your own. Find details here.
Please remember, with these as well, I’m open to negotiation if you can’t afford the full price.


Upcoming events

More specific details of the following will be posted later.
  • I'm hoping to run a workshop on marketing for indie writers / publishers. This will be free of charge but you may make a donation if you wish. This will enable me to put on further events.
  • A Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher Master Class about writing the young adult novel.
  • Manchester event in the summer.
  • London event 1 December 2018 (Save the date!)

Past events

Our event on 2 December at the Princess of Wales went well though twenty delegates had to pull out, all for good reasons: illness, awkward trains, family problems, job inductions etc. and I too suffered from "awkward trains".
Nevertheless, we all had a great time. We also sold half of our stock of books within the first five minutes and quite a bit more later on. I didn't have to bring all that much back home.
I actually managed to join in the "speed-dating" this time. The little bell that I bought worked really hard. She is a young woman in a crinoline dress. Esmeralda. It was good to put names to faces. I read a little too from January Stones. We also had readings from Margaret Bulleyment, Penny Dale, Shanta Everington, Lauren Hopes, Dawn Knox, Paula Readman, Allison Symes and Robin Wrigley.   

Writing opportunities

Remember I keep a full list of vetted opportunities on my writing blog. See them here. New ones are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I go through it and take out all of the out of date ones. At that point I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.    
I have recently revamped the way this works and made it much more user friendly. Let me know what you think.


Current reading recommendation

The Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman  

Well of course it was going to be good. What else would we expect?
Interestingly I did not initially take to Northern Lights, the first book in Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. It was recommended by my tutor on the Southampton University run Writers' Register. I could see it was well written but it didn't engage me. However, The Subtle Knife did, partly because there were some scenes in Winchester, where I was at the time studying for my MA in Writing for Children, and on the same course was one Marcus Parry who had a son called Will – the same age as Pullman's Will Parry. By the time The Amber Spyglass appeared I was well and truly hooked.
I insisted that my husband should read the Dark Materials books. He has a PhD in particle physics. He grumbled when he started reading them. He couldn't get enough sleep. He couldn't put them down.
I was given this first volume of The Book of Dust by my son for my birthday. I read it over the Christmas holidays. Pullman has done it again. The setting is strong. The characters are well drawn. There is plenty of pace and tension. There is also enough to keep many a particle physicist awake at night.
I enjoyed reading this big hardback version of the book. Often I struggle holding these but this one worked. It opened easily and the font was clear and big enough.
Recommended.  Find it here.               


Calling all writers

I'm running an occasional series of interviews on my blog. Take a look at my interview with Allison Symes and Dawn Knox.  If you would like to be on my blog just answer the questions below and send them with appropriate images to gill dot james at btinternet dot com.
Please feel free to pick and choose which of these to answer. 
1.      What do you write? Why this in particular? 
2.      What got you started on writing in the first place?
3.      Do you have a particular routine? 
4.      Do you have a dedicated working space?
5.      When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?
6.      How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you're doing?
7.      What are you most proud of in your writing?
8.      How do you get on with editing and research?
9.      Do you have any goals for the future?
10.  Which writers have inspired you?
Please write as much or as little as you like for each section and supply as many pictures as you like. Also let me know your latest publication and supply me with a link if it's not on Amazon.      



This month I'm giving away January Stones, my own collection of Flash Fiction. Sign up to have this Newsletter drop into your inbox.    
You will also find in this dropbox:
·         An extract from Clara’s Story
·         Some seminars for schools about The House on Schellberg Street
·         Some fiction writing exercises
·         The opening chapters from my manual for writing the young adult novel  
Note, that normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage, sell for anything form £0.99 to £10.99, with most on Kindle being about £2.99 and the average price for paperback being £7.00. We have to allow our writers to make a living. But we’re offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.   

Sign up here.


Happy reading and writing.