Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Three of a Kind - Troubled Families and Silent Children

This week on Book It I'll be reviewing Diane Chamberlain's 'Breaking the Silence.'  I found it particularly interesting that my picking up this book about a troubled family and a child whose response to emotional turbulence is elective mutism coincided with a very interesting discussion at academic romance blog 'Teach Me Tonight' about speech difficulties in popular fiction (which mentions, in passing, The King's Speech as part of this phenomenon).

Up until this point, I hadn't given a lot of thought to speech difficulties as a theme, but once it was mentioned, it seemed to crop up everywhere.

First I happened again across a book I'd read a few years ago, 'Overheard in a Dream' by Torey Hayden, the best-selling American author of a whole series of books on troubled children, including several elective mutes.  Although the novel was a compelling and moving story, it didn't quite seem to me to retain the power and simplicity of her non-fiction books, especially the superb 'One Child'.

Then I came across a third book along the same lines, also from Mira, who published 'Breaking the Silence'.  Like 'Breaking the Silence', 'The River House' by Margaret Leroy is also marketed with a 'moral dilemma' tagline, seemingly echoing the hugely successful taglines employed by Jodi Picault's publishers.  'Breaking the Silence' asks, 'Your husband commits suicide.  Your daughter won't speak.  Do you want to know the truth?'  'The River House' challenges, 'Would you reveal a secret that might solve a murder, but ruin your life?'

Interestingly, in 'The River House', the heroine is a therapist working with a mute child, but this turns out to be largely irrelevant to the central dilemma outlined on the cover, except to the extent that the theme of the whole story is the question of when to speak and when to remain silent - a question which is explored in different ways by all three authors.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Read an E-Book Week - My Favourite E-books

Now that, thanks to the ubiquity of the Kindle, e-books are finally coming into their own here in the UK, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favourites.  I'll admit that this is a rather biased list, since it is chosen only from those books which I happen to have read in electronic form, but still... here, in no particular order, are my favourite five e-books.  If you're thinking about taking the plunge into reading e-books by contemporary authors, or you're just looking for something new to read, any of these is a great place to start. 

Slightly Foxed, by Jane Lovering
A deliciously light, funny read, which I loved even more than her first, 'Reversing over Liberace', because this one happens to involve a heroine who loves books, works in a bookshop, and falls in love with dead poets.

Fire and Shadow, by Imogen Howson
I ummed and aaahed for some time over which of Imogen Howson's books to include, because I love them all, but ultimately the winner was Fire and Shadow, a very touching young adult story about two young people growing up with dangerous talents.  Her 'Volcano' series from Samhain is also wonderful.

The Spell of Rosette, by Kim Falconer
Another magical fantasy, this time overlapping into science fiction, featuring an orphaned girl with a talent for magic and a world-hopping sentient quantum computer.  A short summary doesn't do this book justice - it's truly beautiful.

I, Spy, by Kate Johnson
Stansted Airport's female answer to James Bond, Sophie Green is feisty, funny and forever slightly out of her depth in espionage adventures.  The Sophie Green series is a much underrated delight - like a good box of chocolates, it's hard to stop at one!

The Arrival of Lily Curtis, by Rachel Brimble
This is the book that famously made me cry on a train home from Scotland.  Elizabeth's parents have it all planned out for her - the rich, boring husband and society life - but she's determined to find her own way in life.  Disguised as a housemaid, she goes looking for adventure, and gets more than she bargains for.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Read an E-Book Week - Free Books

My lovely publishers, The Wild Rose Press, have some great giveaways for Read an E-Book Week.  I've just downloaded half a dozen to add to my electronic to-read pile.  If your computer/e-reader isn't already groaning under the weight of your wish list, you can access eight fabulous free e-books at:

Unfortunately, my book 'Desperate Bid' isn't among the freebies, but it is only $4.25 at full price.  And if that's too much of a stretch, there's 50% off my two short story collections at Smashwords (full details are in my earlier post) making them just $0.99 each.

So there's an e-book for everyone, whatever your budget.  Happy reading!

And thanks to everyone who's shared their experiences of e-books with me this week in honour of Read an E-Book Week.  If you haven't done so yet, feel free to comment below. I'd love to hear your experiences, especially as after years of happily reading books on my mini-laptop, I'm finally thinking of taking the plunge into e-reader-land.  What should I buy?  Let's have your recommendations!

Monday, 7 March 2011

How to Become a Book Magnet

I've posted several times about prizes, and in particular books, I've been lucky enough to win. The most recent book I mentioned winning was The Italian's Blushing Gardener by Christina Hollis - a fresh take on the whole Mills and Boon millionaire thing, with a lovely, reclusive landscape gardener for a heroine, a refreshingly rural setting and of course the requisite sexy hero with dark shadows in his past. Since, then I also got lucky in an online contest for a copy of Sky Purington's Heart of Vesuvius and a $10 ebook voucher - enough to buy several novellas I'd been drooling over for a while.

Having reviewed several of the books I won, it struck me the other day that blog readers might be just as interested to know how the heck I do it. Just why do I keep getting lucky where books are concerned? And it generally is books, although in the past I have been lucky enough to win a pair of jeans... oh, and a holiday, in a writing competition. But mostly, I win books.

Which makes sense, because I love books. I read a lot of books. I hang out with other people who read books. I talk to readers and writers in real life and on facebook, and I comment on their blogs. So if there are free books going, I generally know about it. And if you hang around with readers and writers long enough, and enter enough competitions, sooner or later you're going to get lucky.

Bottom line: if you want it enough, love it enough, think about it enough and talk about it enough, sooner or later, it'll probably show up in your life. Which shouldn't surprise anyone who's read or watched 'The Secret.'

A word of caution, though. Once you've started the process, it can be tricky to stop. The other day I cleared two bags of books off my overloaded shelves and took them off to the charity shop. Then I went to lunch with a writer friend who'd just been having a similar purge, and handed me a big bag full of her recommendations. Which was lovely - but now my shelves are groaning again!

Read an E-Book Week

Did you know it's 'Read an E-Book Week' this week? I love e-books, although I don't think they'll ever replace print books. I love to hold real pages in my hands, but my luggage allowance doesn't love carrying a holiday's worth of reading, so I think it's fantastic that I can load dozens of books onto my mini laptop, which I'd be taking with me anyway. It's also a great way to try out new authors as e-books (at least from most specialist digital publishers) are much cheaper than print books. With Sony readers and Kindle readers and the free software 'Kindle for PC', it's easier than ever to read books electronically, and in honour of 'Read an E-book Week', I'm making two mini story collections available as e-books through Smashwords. They'll be around for some time to come, but if you buy them this week, you can enter the code 'RAE50' and get them at a 50% discount.

Click on the links below to view them, and don't forget to enter your code to get each collection for the bargain price of 99 cents (for UK readers, that's around 62 pence).

Tomorrow's News and Other Stories of the Future

'Tomorrow's News and Other Stories of the Future' is a collection of three short stories imagining ways that life might be different in a future Earth - or even another planet.

Love Now and Then

'Love Now and Then' is a collection of four short stories looking at love in the present and past.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Three of a Kind - Media Novels

Have you ever suddenly and unexpectedly found yourself reading a sequence of books on the same theme? I don't mean when you deliberately seek out books on a topic that interests you, but when you pick up a book to read and find yourself thinking, on page 3 or page 30, 'Well, hang on, haven't I been somewhere like this before?' The first time I can remember it happening was with a spate of books about book clubs a few years ago, and all three books had been published at around the same time. This time it was more unexpected, as not all the books are recent, although I suppose the topic is one of perennial interest.

It started with Toby Young's How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, which I picked up because the title intrigued me, echoing as it does Dale Carnegie's famous self-help book. I enjoyed the glamorous setting and ironic humour for a few chapters, but soon found myself losing sympathy with the main character (or with the author - it's hard to tell just how autobiographical this account of life in the media jungle is).

In contrast, the next media story I picked up hit just the right tone, but that's no surprise, since the book comes from the author of hit film The Devil Wears Prada. Lauren Weisberger's Everyone Worth Knowing follows Bette's foray into the wild world of Manhattan PR party people as she's catapulted into an unlikely relationship while she fights her equally unlikely attraction to a bouncer who turns out to be more than he seems. Like Andrea in 'The Devil Wears Prada', Bette is just the right mixture of gutsy, worldly and naive, and it's a pleasure to watch her finally finding her way through the Gucci and glamour and finding out what she has that's worth fighting for.

Much as I loved 'Everyone Worth Knowing', I was ready for a break from the media world, but then Snapped turned up on my doorstep, and with its eye-catching cover (a girl lounges by the pool in a staid dress and outrageous red heels) and catchy tag-line ('Is the It girl losing it?') I couldn't resist pushing it to the top of my to-read pile. Author Pamela Klaffke does a neat job of steering her insecure style-guru heroine along line between obnoxiously self-obsessed and endearingly bewildered by the youngsters who are jostling for her hard-earned position. As her well-crafted life falls apart, she finds herself leaning more and more on her new assistant - which turns out to be a very precarious position!

Now I really am taking a break from media novels, except to mention one more I've loved, but already reviewed last year: Nell Dixon's Just Look at Me Now. You can read the review here, and all four books are available on Amazon. If you've read any of them, I'd love to know what you thought!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Going Visiting: Find me at Kelly Moran's blog.

Today I'm visiting author Kelly Moran at her blog. She has some interesting questions for me about my life and writing, including what it's like being a UK author writing for the US market, and what are some of my favourite books now, and from my childhood. There's also a chance to win a pdf copy of 'Desperate Bid' (you don't need an e-reader to enter, as it can also be viewed on an ordinary PC, so if you're reading this, you'll be able to read the book!).

If you enjoy book chat, come and visit with me at

And thanks again, Kelly, for inviting me! It's always fun making connections with writers on the other side of the pond!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

'Love Cuts Deep' - A Radio Play

Thanks to the lovely people at Sine FM and Doncaster Little Theatre, my first ever radio play has been performed and broadcast. It's a fun science fiction space opera, although its origins are in a rather older story. If you missed it when it was first aired last week, you can now listen here - start from the beginning if you want to hear Sheila North (presenter of 'Book It') interviewing me about writing the play, or jump in at 7 minutes if you just want to hear the play.


Thank you again to Sheila, David, the actors and the folks at Sine for all their hard work in bringing my play to life. For a fiction writer, it's an amazing experience hearing your characters take on voices!

How to Attract Traffic to your Blog

Yesterday I came across a link to this excellent article:

The timing seemed apt as until recently I hadn't paid attention to my blog statistics, and when I did, I was in for a big surprise. The top two countries of origin for visitors to my blog are, not surprisingly, the UK and US. But the third... I expected Australia. It's an English-speaking country, it's a big place, and I have a number of friends and acquaintances there. But it's way down the list at number eight. Number three is in fact The Netherlands. Why? I have no idea!

Less surprising was the fact that February, despite being a short month, scraped in as the month with most blog hits ever. In February I guest posted on Michelle Zurlo's blog as part of her Valentine's week romance promotion (strategy #8) and was more than usually active in reading and commenting on other blogs (strategy #7). But the biggest change in traffic came about as a result of just one post entitled What is it about 'The King's Speech?'. Which I guess demonstrates why strategy #2 is 'Pay Attention to the Headlines'. Because just after I posted about the surprising popularity of this sweet British film, it swept the board at the Oscars and was catapulted back into the media spotlight.

After my accidental success with strategy #2, I'll be interested to see whether harnessing it deliberately is as effective. I suspect if you're not careful, it can come across as contrived, but when, as this time, there's a natural fit between the blogger's interests and the current media storm, it has to be one of the most effective strategies around.