Thursday, 6 August 2020

Special Offer on Author Talks

I’m offering special author talks about my book Girl in a Smart Uniform. This might be suitable for your NWR, U3A, reading group or your class at school. 

The subjects of interest are: the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, 1940s, World War II, feminism, disability, sexuality, writing process, research process. 

I’m offering 40 minute talks free of charge, followed by a Q & A. I can offer longer talks for a fee and in any case I welcome opportunities to sell the book. The talks will be on-line via Zoom or a similar platform. They will be recorded and a copy of the recording will be made available to you.  
If you are interested, please contact me via the contact form. 

Details of the book are shown below. Click on the image above to take you to Amazon.

"Girl in a Smart Uniform" is the third book in the Schellberg Cycle, a collection of novels inspired by a bundle of photocopied letters that arrived at a small cottage in Wales in 1979. The letters give us first-hand insights into what life was like growing up in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

It is the most fictional of the stories to date, though some characters, familiar to those who have read the first two books, appear again here. Clara Lehrs, Karl Schubert and Dr Kühn really existed. We have a few, a very few, verifiable facts about them. The rest we have had to find out by repeating some of their experiences and by using the careful writer's imagination.

Gisela adores her brother Bear, her gorgeous BDM uniform, and her little half-brother Jens. She does her best to be a good German citizen, and is keen to help restore Germany to its former glory. She becomes a competent and respected BDM leader. But life begins to turn sour. Her oldest brother Kurt can be violent, she soon realises that she is different from other girls, she feels uncomfortable around her mother’s new lover, and there is something not quite right about Jens. It becomes more and more difficult to be the perfect German young woman.

We know that BDM girls set fire to the house in Schellberg Street but got the children out first. This story seeks to explain what motivated the girls to do that, and what happened to them afterwards."

Monday, 3 August 2020

Stages of revision 15: Overall flow

One down side of completing all of these edits in isolation is that you can lose the overall flow or the essential voice of the piece. The best way to test for overall flow is to read out loud.  Oh yes, that’s right – all 100,000 words of your thick-spined novel.   

A daunting physical task?

Yes it is. But drink plenty of water, limit yourself to a couple of hours at a time and have a few mints to suck.

Some advantages of reading aloud

Because you’re reading more slowly you are more likely to notice typos, missing words, spelling mistakes and punctuation mistakes.

You will also notice odd phrases that don’t quite work.

The rhythm of the piece will also show up.  Are there too many short or long sentences together? Does a paragraph go on for too long?

Should you have an audience?

Well you could try your cat. Mine used to give me a funny look when I started reading out loud but then she would start purring, Unbelievable, perhaps, she would fall asleep or walk out of the room at precisely those parts where the language jarred or where something was amiss and it made me hesitant. Alas, she is no more and we currently have no other pet. I have to make do with my miniature Buddhas.  

But here’s another suggestion. Make a video recording of you reading. When you come across a tricky bit you don’t need to stop and alter the text. You can do that when you go back and listen to or watch your recording. It is good to watch yourself.  If you notice a sudden frown there is probably something that needs altering in the text.

It’s an added bonus anyway.  You can see what you look like when you’re reading and maybe cultivate something that looks really good. 

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Sunday, 2 August 2020

News 2 August 2020

Well today I’m officially out of shielding and I’ve been to the hairdresser’s. “You can go to work on,” say the government – on the day after they’ve partially locked-down Greater Manchester again. Go to work on a Saturday? In some ways I’ll be doing a less work than I normally do, because I’ve been to the hairdresser’s. Did I mention that?
The masks seemed less spooky than I’d feared. Most people are wearing them and there are some very attractive ones about. One young man on the bus wasn’t, but I was behind him so possibly wasn’t exposed to too much of his breathing. It was all very well organised on the bus, in the shopping centre and at the hairdresser’s. Odd thing.  On the whole people were very good at keeping the two metres apart and adhering to the one way system in the shopping centre. Vertically, that is.  Not so good horizontally and certainly not “crossing safely”.  A few youths, without masks, came towards me on the wrong side. I think I gave them one of my school teacher looks, which I must have managed despite the mask. They soon scurried over to the “right” side of the mall.   
I’ve continued to enjoy some excellent on-line events organised by the Society of Authors, The Working Class Movement Library, the University of Salford, National Women’s Register, Home, Classic FM, The Literary Hub and some private book events.  I even managed to join one taking place in Florida. Yes, I’m getting to events I wouldn’t normally be able to attend and these same events are being attended by more people than usual.  Where I can I make a donation. Is this something we could hang on to when and if we return to normal? Is it a silver lining to the lockdown? As well my U3A groups and writers’ groups are meeting via Zoom and similar platforms.  We’re meeting more regularly and meetings are better attended.  Might this be a more permanent solution for that generation that is growing reluctant to leave home and to drive? Some will need to learn the technology but I’m sure it can work.  
And talking of sliver linings, I have a new hairstyle.  I decided not to go back to my very short style but take advantage the extra length I’ve acquired in my hair, which is quite sliver by the way, to have it cut into a neat layered bob.      

News about my writing and other creative projects

I was delighted to be involved, as a culture champion and also as a creative writing teacher, with Bury Art Museum. I ran the three hour workshop I mentioned last month, using some of the resources at the museum and some that participants can find at home. The participants have produced some excellent writing some of which will be showcased on the BAM website. I’ll also post some on my Writing Teacher Blog.   
I’ve also provided my own creative response to a talk held by the museum so that will also be published later on the site.

I’m still carrying on much as before: The Round Robin, the fifth book in the Schellberg Cycle, Not Just Fluffy Bunnies, and I’m still working on The Business of Writing.  And of course I’m interspersing this with short stories and flash fiction.
I’m also continuing to write stories relating to what might happen after the virus leaves us – if it does. This is Aftermath, an invitation to write speculative and near future fiction about what may happen after the virus. Reflective writing about what is actually happening now is also welcome, along with stories set now or a little into the future.  

The Young Person’s Library

I’ve added new this month:  


Goggle Eyes by Anne Fine   

YA and slightly dated but taking a look at the step-parent.



Suitable for primary school children and with a forward form Michael Morpurgo. I had the privilege of editing this one.  

An iconic timeless classic and at the same time a modern picture book. 

Suitable for fluent readers and younger teens. Another James Bond type thriller,

An illustrated text for emergent readers inspired by paintings, letters and diaries of the Swedish painter Berta Hansson.  

Anne of the Island L M Montgomery

Another of the Anne Shirley books, this time suitable for young adults.  


 A slightly dated book about a teen pregnancy but non-the-less useful and authentic.

Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz

The third of the Alex Rider books.  Alex grows up with his readers.  There is a mild love interest in this one.  


Current reading recommendation

I’m making my way through the full series of the Anne Shirley and the Alex Rider books and also the 2019 short list for the Man Booker prize. I bought these three collections at a very reasonable price ass par to The Book People’s closing down sale. Some of my writing friends may be relieved at the demise of this company who sold books very cheaply.  I have mixed feelings. Yes, I believe that writers should be paid properly.  But you could also argue that The Book People sold many more books than other retailers so writers got the same royalty in the end as from other sellers. Also, they did encourage some people to read who otherwise wouldn’t. They delivered books to people’s places of work and so made buying books easy. And it was a company that loved books anyway. So, I remain ambivalent.  
I’m really enjoying the books for younger readers but thought I should offer something more for adults.
My favourite to date form the Man-Booker list is Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other.    
Bernadine Evaristo uses a type of prose poetry to introduce us to a variety of women whose stories interweave and who come together at the after party of a play written by one of the women. Evaristo presents us with a multitude of concerns that these women face. They are all black or mixed race except one who nevertheless finds she has mixed ethnicity when she takes a DNA test. The women are from diverse backgrounds. We get to know them really well and Evaristo has given each one her unique voice.    



Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs.
The month I’m offering my Build a Book Workshop which is a manual for teachers and writers about how to publish a book with a group of school children. I have worked with several schools on this and it is very rewarding.    
You can download it and lots of other free materials here.
Please, please, please review it if you read it.     
Note, that normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £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 I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.


The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust and also for other writers of historical fiction.
The month I’ve written a little more about Girl in a Smart Uniform and some of the issues it deals with.  You can read the post here. You can also read an extract of it here. I have all three paperbacks on offer at the moment. Find the details here.     

In writing The Round Robin I’ve found that there were other problems part form the war and the Holocaust for people living in these times.  One of them was TB and so I’ve included a character that falls victim to the disease.  See Hardships other than war.


School visits

I’ve suspended these until further notice. I’m now starting work on a series of on-line materials.  

Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.

Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.

Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.

The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   

Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Book recommendations and giveaways. Find it here.   

Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  

Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.

A Publisher’s Perspective Here I blog as a publisher. Access this here.   

The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   

CaféLit Stories Find these here

Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.

Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head and a reminder of the ones I’ve highlighted in this newsletter.    

Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.

The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.

Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.     

Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 

The Young Person’s Library I am gradually moving the children’s book catalogue over to this site.  Access it here.

Fair Submissions I am gradually moving the Opportunities List to this site.  Find it 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.  

Happy reading and writing.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

In conversation with Paula Readman after the recent release of her single author collection, Days Pass Like a Shadow

We have recently had the privilege of publishing Paula's single author collection. Here's what she had to say.   

Thank you for inviting me to your blog Gill to talk about my book, Days Pass like a Shadow a collection of thirteen dark tales which are all linked by the theme of Death and Loss. This collection features my most favourite stories that I have written so far. Though I’ve been busy writing almost every day since finishing working full-time nine years ago, it has only been in these last couple of years that my confidence has grown enough for me to feel I fully understand the process needed to create stories to a high enough standard that they are selected for publication.
Each of stories in Days Pass like a Shadow has its own story behind its creation. The first story in the collection The Meetings began life as a submission for the magazine, People’s Friend. I received some positive feedback from their editor but he didn’t like the ending and wanted me to rewrite the story. I did, but then he told me it had lost its sparkle in the rewrite. Shortly after its rejection I came across a writing competition and decided to change The Meetings back to its original story line and entered it. To my utter delight and amazement, it was overall winner in the competition. It proved to me; if your work suffers rejection in one place try somewhere else.
The idea behind On the Streets of Kabul came to me in a dream. It seemed so real and shocking it woke me. So not to wake my husband, I got out of bed, went to the kitchen and turned on the light so I could write down the dream while it was fresh in my mind. It seemed so real I could feel the heat, taste the dust and smell the fear. For Days Pass like a Shadow, I extended the story to give it a rounded ending.
Perfect Justice is another story that came about under extraordinary circumstances. When I was working full-time in an electronics factory, I would go in early so I could get a parking space. Before it was time to start work, I would either make notes of plot ideas or read books on how to write to be published. I did the same during my lunch breaks too. Of course, my work colleagues knew about my crazy dream to become a published writer.
One day I noticed a supervisor was always watching me. My job was to hand-build units. If I had shortages of parts, I had to make notes of what I needed, and then go and collect the parts from the storeroom.  On three occasions my supervisor called me out for writing in company’s time.  So Perfect Justice was born. As they say, don’t get mad, get even.  The surname Perfect came about when my work colleague, Kathy told me about a girl she knew who had the same surname. She said, she wasn’t Perfect, but horrible. 

What’s next for me? Now my focus is more on writing novels, though I won’t be giving up writing short stories, Gill. I’m busy constructing a new novel, which is a follow-up of my novella, The Funeral Birds. It’s the continuing story about a failing private detective agency, but it has a twist as there’s a four hundred year old witch in the story. I do have a couple of other projects I need to finish first before I can concentrate on it solely.

I had planned to do a garden party at my home to launch my book but unfortunately, the Covid-19 put a stop to that. My writing group was going to get involved with the local radio station. They were to come to the group to do an interview with us but again that was cancelled. I’m hoping by next year things will be a lot easier and the village WI will want speakers to come along again as I had put my name forward. I’m busy marketing online with thousands of other writers but I’m not sure whether it will reap the rewards we all hope for.  

  To buy a copy of Days Pass like a Shadow, you can purchase it from the publisher at Bridge House, from Amazon online or order it through your local bookshop.

What got me started was the need to prove to myself that I could.  I left school poorly educated and it was a comment made by a Polish colleague who laughed at me when I said I didn’t understand the working of English grammar. She explained that they learnt English at school. I felt ashamed as English was my birth language yet I didn’t understand how it worked when written down.  That’s when I decided to teach myself from the second-hand books bought off EBay by my husband as we couldn’t afford to pay for a writing course at the time.
Reading about English Grammar was like reading a foreign language, I had no idea want they were talking about, but I persevered and now I think I understand though I do have moments of doubts.
Do I have a routine? Yes, I suppose I do. I’m at my most productive in the morning. I have a small office at the top of the stairs where I work facing a wall of books. I sometimes have music on in the background, a mixture of classic and new age music, but mainly instrumentals. I find it helps me to stay focused. The winter months are the best for writing long pieces of work, as I don’t have to worry about the garden.
My husband has always been supportive of me, but was mainly friends to start with. Now the rest of my family are on board once my work became more widely published.
What am I most proud of with my writing? That I never gave up and kept the faith in my ability.  

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Writing Girl in a Smart Uniform

About the book

The story is based on something that really happened but for which we have a yet had no real explanation. A house in Germany held a special class in its cellar. Disabled children and children with learning difficulties came as day students to a little school in a house that belonged to woman by race defined as a Jewess even though she was no longer Jewish by religion.  There is an irony there.  The school survived and continued to operate from the house until the 1960s and only moved because it became too big.
We believe that the equivalents of Dad’s Army were asked to destroy the house and its occupants. They refused. The Hitler Youth were then asked to clear the house and they also refused. So it was down to the BDM girls. The BDM was the girls’ version of the Hitler Youth. They really were threatened with dire consequences if they didn’t obey.  So, they set fire to the cellar – but got the children out first.
The story came to us via my mother-in-law who was the granddaughter of Clara Lehrs, owner of the house where the school was held.
In this instance I’ve used fiction as a way of uncovering the facts.
We’re not even certain if this is the school she used to tell us about but some of my further research had led us to believe that this was the school she meant.

Research for this book

It all started with a sabbatical from the University of Salford and was based on some letters my mother-in-law received in 1979. Renate James (nee Edler) started to write her story but sadly lost her life to breast cancer in 1986. I decided to finish the story for her.
The letters were from her classmates at a school that she went to in Nuremberg. The school had to close because it wasn’t teaching the Nazi curriculum. Renate thought she was going to Stuttgart. In fact she was sent to England on the Kindertransport only days after her parents told her she was Jewish.  That has stopped many a publisher wanting to publish the books. How she could have not known, they asked. Well, she didn’t. So, I’ve published them through my own publishing company.
The girls kept a round robin letter going for several years and they filled three exercise books. One lady had found the middle one in her attic and made it her duty to contact every single one of the girls, including Renate.
The letters give a real insight to what it was like being a young woman during World War II in Germany. Before I started writing I transcribed all of the letters- some of them were very difficult to read - and then I translated them.  I really got to know these young women quite well that way.   
As I worked on telling Renate’s story as a novel, I found out more and more about her grandmother, who became the subject for the next book, Clara’s Story.            


Why I was inspired to write this

I wanted to explore a little more how young German women thought and why there was this resistance to authority just in time. Have I got it right? Who knows? I’ve given the protagonist a hard time: her parents separate, she has a Down syndrome step-brother, an abusive older brother and a nicer older brother who is killed in the war.  And there are many other problems as well.

What's next?

Well Face to Face with the Führer is the story of Renate’s mother, also a remarkable woman. The cover has a handbag and an antique pistol on it.  I say no more. But what might have been one of her achievements?  That is waiting in the queue to be published.
I’m also on my second draft of The Round Robin. I’m exploring in more detail three of the girls who were involved in the letters and their class teacher. The book is really fictional and only very loosely based on the original girls.
Then I’m planning a book about Helga who is a fictional character in Girl in a Smart Uniform. She is another Holocaust survivor but her story will be mainly in the 21st century.
As I wrote the first draft of The Round Robin I encountered another interesting character. One of the girls has an aunt who is involved in the German resistance. Will this series ever stop?        

How can we get a copy of the book?

Just click on the picture above. Links to the other two books are down below.

Do you have any events planned?

I have a whole workshop for schools. See details here. I’m happy to adapt to facilitating this via Zoom or other similar video-conferencing facilities.