Sunday, 14 August 2016

Five Free Books and a Question

Sometimes I look at myself as I race through the to-do list to free up an imaginary spare hour in which I may, perhaps, be able to read, and think that it's a funny pastime: here I go, lamenting that there aren't enough hours in the day and yet I willingly use precious lots of them to propel myself into another reality. 
Some recent gems
And then I start reading books like these, some of my favourites of this year, and the world sort of melts around me as I read the first page and slide into a brilliantly told story. When I know this read is going to be breath-taking, stirring, preferably amusing, generally thoughtful and, of course, I'm falling in love with the characters, that's when I know why I spend more time (and money) on books than I'd care to admit.
If, like me, resistance to the potential for a life-affirming read is futile, you might be interested to know that I have a competition running in this blogpost and the prize is not one, but *five* books of your choice from the entire list of fiction and non-fiction titles in the wonderful Urbane Publications', collection. That's a choice of 78 books – and counting.

But we're not going to make it that easy for you.

Hearing that people have enjoyed Glass Houses warms my heart and the line which often tickles me, is the one about it being a great book group read. Oh, how I'd like to be a fly on the wall for that one! In light of this, we are going to be providing fliers to book groups with a list of questions about Glass Houses to get them started.
Just a few of my Urbane Titles.
More on my iPad's TBR...
And who would be the best people to come up with a list of questions about the book? My loyal readers!
So, to enter the draw for your pick of five books, please provide: 
Either (1) a question about Glass Houses you feel would spark discussion in a book group
Or (2) a question you'd put to a specific Glass Houses character if they were sitting in front of you
Or (3 - if the above seems a little too like a piece of GCSE English homework) the name of at least one of the Urbane titles you'd like to win and a sentence explaining why.  
*Competition closes: Monday 5 September*
  • You can insert your question in a comment below, email it to me here or post it on Facebook or Twitter (including @jaxbees).
  • You can enter as many questions as you like - each question = one entry.
  • If you feel your question may include 'spoilers' (ie you'll give some of the plot away) please choose the email option. 
  • The winner of their choice of books will be chosen at random and the best question – or questions - will be included on the flier.   
  • If you haven't read Glass Houses, you still have time! The closing date is 9am on Monday 5th September. 
  • Glass Houses is available direct from Urbane Publications and Amazon and to buy or order from book shops.
  • For more about Urbane Publications and its titles, click here.
Good luck!

If you would like to ask a question in person, I'd love to answer it for you. I will be signing books and hosting a Q and A session at Blackwell's in Leeds on Saturday 17th September from 2pm.
And I'll be doing similar in Bakewell Bookshop in Derbyshire on Monday 5th September (evening). More details to follow, including news of events in Cardiff (15th October), Ripon and Harrogate.

* In the event of the winning entry coming from outside the UK, the prize must be taken as eBooks.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

No Being Nice!

Some of you will know that I'm a bit of a purist. Or you might call it naïve. Idealistic, certainly. I even recognise it in myself as a bi-product of being away-with-the-fairies, but call it by whichever name you see fit, it means that I would never cheat at Trivial Pursuit. And believe me, never has somebody had more reason to cheat at Trivial Pursuit. I'd never look up an answer to a quiz question on my phone, underneath the table in the pub, amidst much giggling and defence that 'everyone's doing it', and probably much to the disdain of my team mates who'd be grateful that I was at least doing something to contribute to the greater good of the team. I just don’t see the point. I only want to win if it's for real. I've always been like that. I know, I can be so dreadfully dull.  

But no matter, I'm 47 and I don't see any of that changing now.

So, when I bring your attention to the Guardian's, Not the Booker Prize 2016 with its, ahem, esteemed Guardian mug up for grabs, and when I tell you that I appear to be rubbing shoulders with the most revered Julian Barnes and most treasured Maggie O'Farrell on its longlist, please believe me when I say that I am not asking you to vote for Glass Houses if it just doesn't float your boat.

I also wouldn’t want you to vote for it if you hadn't read it. Even though I recognise that it would be a very sweet thing to do.

Now, that isn't to say that I wouldn't love to be on that shortlist of books which is to be read and voted on by readers for the Guardian's somewhat tongue in cheek but nonetheless, quirkily respected, Not the Booker 2016.

I'd love to be on that list. It would be beyond my wildest dreams. [note to self: change that cliché in the edit]

But only if readers wanted me to be there.

So, if you have read Glass Houses and you enjoyed it and if you would like to encourage others to read it for themselves, if I asked you really nicely, would you consider voting for it over at the Not the Booker competition site? 

The link is here:

Once in, you have to choose two books from the longlist, from two different publishers, and include a short review (around 100 words) of at least one of the books you nominate. You put all this in a comment which you can access either at the top of the article or underneath the list of the hundred books on the long list. I think quantity of nominations and the quality of the review will both be used to sway the final decision, but I'm guessing. The emphasis is certainly on this being the readers who decide so please don't think you have to be any way a pro in writing reviews.

One more thing, you only have a few days to do it – the deadline is 23.59 on 14 August 2016.If you vote for Glass Houses, thank you! If you don't, I respect your integrity :)

Did I mention how much I love you all…?

Monday, 18 July 2016

Glass Houses is out there!

It's a strange concept to think that Tori, Etta and all the cast of Glass Houses have broken free from my pc and are now out there, in book form, making their own way in the world. Obviously, now all I can do is hope that they, and their plight, are well-received.

Meanwhile, I've been having a ball on their behalf.

We launched Glass Houses at my local pub last week and I have to say, the evening was right up there with the top nights in my life. Everyone's enthusiasm and support for this book, including those who could be there and those who couldn't, well, it touched my heart.

The realisation...
That isn't to say that the evening didn’t go by without incident (this is me, we're talking about) and let's just say, that this is what I've learnt for next time:

- There is no need to thank the bar staff's dog walker or the trees which were chopped down to make the book.
- Do consult index cards for reminders of the essential aspects of the speech
- Don't stop your speech half way through because you fear you're rambling (the damage is already done)

...I think I'm forgiven... also note amused friend on right!
- Do continue until you have thanked your mum, publisher and husband…

Oh dear.

Still, the 150 cupcakes looked cute with their Glass Houses wafers, if you don't mind me saying, the Glass Houses cake (my only role was in its commission) was so impressive and the 'posh pizza nibbles' provided by he who shall always now be called, 'My Wonderful Publisher' in an attempt at atonement - it is also true - went down very well. My husband's impromptu speech set up beautifully by my omission of his long-suffering support, had a touch of brilliance and will always make me smile.

You know, even though my husband, friends and family find it fairly hilarious, I think I'll always cringe with a touch of sadness that on the day, I bizarrely forgot to thank three particularly important people, not to mention my sisters who are always rushing up and down the motorway to help and generally buzz with excitement. But you know, nobody else seems to mind and my overriding memory of the evening and of this whole publishing process will be the overwhelming support and generosity of spirit of everyone: my friends, friends of friends, family, wider family, students and my fantastically warm community.  

Oh, and we also sold over 70 books – and with people bringing pre-ordered copies, I feel sure I signed over 100. To all who have bought a copy, thank you! I truly hope you'll enjoy the read (and a tear or two would make me very happy, too).

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Audible Secret

Back when the snow was falling (or rather, when it should have been falling. It was February, and the image is so much prettier with flakes of the white stuff tipping silently past the window pane, than the truth of the grey warmth fostering daffodils which, in a world without global warming, would have had at least another month's hibernation) I received an email. It was a secret. Glass Houses was the first of Urbane Publications titles to be chosen to be produced as an Audible book.
It was very exciting because Amazon would whisk away the novel, place it in the hands of the perfect voice for narration, return it to its sales stands and advertise it royally, whilst holding my hand as I tiptoed into this new venture, automatically part of Audible's Author Care initiative. I whooped and danced and drank bubbly and wondered about the chosen voice. I'd told only the hubbie, my mum and my sisters, and then I put the secret away.
I'm very good at keeping secrets. Always have been. It isn't because I'm some superior being. It's simply that if someone tells me a secret it is immediately shelved in the official secrets compartment in my brain and then I forget about it. It's buried, isn't there knocking at the door, begging to come out, crawling along to the end of my tongue, pushing against my teeth to find a way out. No, it disappears and I get on with whatever I was doing before the secret was given.

Roll forward three months when I'd almost forgotten about the Audible version and I happened upon a tweet alongside the cover of Glass Houses. My wonderful publisher was announcing that Glass Houses now had its voice: Lisa Coleman. 
Lisa Coleman!
Now, I've listened to a few Audible books and I'll be honest, the tone of voice is intrinsic to my enjoyment. I once listened to the first few hours of an incredibly successful American author's novel until I could listen no more; the scratchy, squeaky narration irritating me just too much. I picked up the book instead which I really enjoyed. But I've listened to other Audible books where the reverse is true and the voice of the actor has been every bit as captivating as the words themselves. So, fizzing with excitement, but also a little trepidation, I took a wander around the net to find a sample of Lisa Coleman's voice. It would seem that Lisa isn't very active on social media but she is certainly prolific in her work. I listened to a sample and breathed out. Her voice was sumptuous, silky, soft but educated, enthusiastic and sassy and I thought that would suit Glass Houses just fine.
Assuming the Audible book would 'go live' along with the official publication of Glass Houses the paperback, I settled back to wait for the 7th July. The second the link was available, I'd sit with my face behind my hands, praying the narration was as wonderful as I'd dared to hope.
Time for an admission. I spend more time than is healthy flitting around Amazon between the Glass Houses and Tea & Chemo pages - paperback, eBook and latterly, the Audible version - seeing if I can catch their Amazon rating at its daily high point. I like to play guess-how-many-copies-have-sold that day when the ranking goes up and console myself that it simply means that lots of new books have been released when the ranking goes down. The ranking is linked to pre-orders and so I can play the game equally well with Glass Houses these days. It reached the dizzy heights of 4,000 a few days ago. Granted, it's not vying for the top spot just yet (!) but when it started life with six noughts after it, you can imagine I was pretty happy to see that figure.
Too much flitting, and the stats whisper that I should get a life, but I can always move to the reviews. There are few things in life more satisfying than clicking on your book's page to find another review. We all love great reviews of course, but in the case of Tea & Chemo, just reading that the book has been useful is enough to make me well-up and the idea alone that somebody would take time out of their busy day to post a review about any words I've written, well, that is very humbling.
So, imagine my surprise in a stats scrolling moment last week when I see a link telling me to, 'Go to my Audible Library.' Yep, it's there, Glass Houses, the whole Audible book, not just the sample. It was the first I knew of it. It seems Audible is good at keeping secrets, too.
I braced myself, then listened to it all.
I wish I knew Lisa personally so I could give her a hug. Not only is her voice easy to listen to, her pacing perfect and the tone as I'd intended but very best of all, she has absolutely 'got' my characters – showing exuberance for some and measured calmness for others. She's even given Doug his soft Geordie accent and Gerald his brash Wiltshire speak. 
The secret is officially dribbling out. The Audible version is ready and waiting. If you're someone who likes to listen to a book as they drive, clean, decorate, garden, or even run (it doesn't jump) you can find it here. If you'd prefer the paperback, Glass Houses will be published on, or before, 7 July and can be pre-ordered here.
I think it's fair to say that my writing life is pretty exciting at the moment. Thank you for all the massive enthusiasm and support and for joining me on the ride, I really do appreciate it. Details of my launch party coming up next…

Thursday, 16 June 2016

This Is Not A Thriller

Many moons ago, when Glass Houses was still a large Word document, the object of editorial battering, red pen exclamation marks showing my displeasure at the over-use of one of my over-used words, and loopy arrows to denote sentences still in the wrong place, my attention flipped over to Amazon. I caressed the blurb for Glass Houses, marvelling at the brilliance of my publisher to be able to capture the essence of the novel in one tiny paragraph. Scroll to the end and it suggests readers of the wonderful Liane Moriarty (she of The Husband's Secret fame, and many other wry but meaty page-turners), not to mention the great Marian Keyes and Kathryn Croft, might enjoy Glass Houses. I had a little chat with the screen - pretending here that this is uncommon - Oh, yes please, it would make my day, year, goddamnit, my lifetime if readers of those three authors enjoyed my novel just as much. I scrolled a little further, paused to smile at the book which-could-not-yet-be-bought languishing at about 3 billionth in the Amazon Bestsellers Rank (not so now it can be pre-ordered, my friends) to see the Product Details. And there was Glass Houses, squarely in the 'Thriller' category.
Glass Houses is a thriller? you ask, incredulously. 
Me, too!  
Yes, I hope it might induce a bit of a chill in the, 'Oh, but for the grace of God,' kind of way, but there's no staring in a mirror and seeing your name written in blood. I love a great thriller, but I'm far too much of a scaredy cat to ever sit alone at my desk writing something like that. I jump even if a member of my family walks into the room. No, Glass Houses is contemporary fiction or general fiction,more designed to disturb perhaps, to make you smile, gulp and even cry real tears, but not to scream.
The thriller category is waking me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat for all the wrong reasons. I seem much more worried about this than my wonderful publisher so I cross everything that my fears are little more than the workings of an over-active imagination. But I do have an unsettling image of a rack of 1* reviews appearing with the title, 'This is not a thriller' and going on to say that they've been more scared watching Rugrats. My publisher is on it, has been on it for a while, but the wheels of big companies turn slowly, it seems.
Meanwhile, I'm off to re-write Mansfield Park as a thriller, Atonement as chic lit, Bridget Jones as Bradley Johnson… now, there's an idea.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

How do You Feel about Mistakes?

This isn't a loaded question, or even a thinly veiled excuse for a rant, I promise. I genuinely want, nay, need your views on this.

I'm currently reading a range of titles with a view to recommendation in the Summer Reads pages of the July issue of Chase Magazine. Even though I was hooked by the blurb, barely a few chapters into one novel, I discounted it. It was sprinkled with grammatical errors. At first I'd hoped they were typos which the publisher might pick up in the next print run. But the mistakes were too consistent; the author didn't understand the correct usage of apostrophes and capital letters, to name but a few examples.

This isn't me being a pedant or feeling superior (I'm constantly reaching for The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and toss and turn at night in fear of typos in my own writing) it's just that mistakes of this kind ruin the reader experience for me. You see, I start to picture the writer sitting at their desk which takes me away from the world of the characters in which I want to be immersed. In the case of apostrophes used to denote a plural noun, I'm looking for what the noun is 'possessing' and not what the noun is 'doing', and it's confusing. It spoils my read.

However, regarding this particular novel, there is much to commend the plot. The section I read made me smile and choke in equal measure which is a good barometer of potential enjoyment. And so, after closing the book early and stomping downstairs to the kettle, it occurred to me that I might enjoy this story if I could get beyond the mistakes. Moreover, it may be that other readers are perfectly able to do this, losing themselves in the story - mistakes included.  Maybe by not featuring these books on my review pages, I am depriving the readers of a novel which they might love?

My question is this: do you, as readers, manage to gloss over a writer's errors and still stay engrossed in the story? If the answer is yes, then I feel I need to re-address my book reviewing criteria. I'm not saying I will say a book is wonderful if I don’t feel it is - I only review books I enjoy, preferring to spread the love, rather than ruin the day for a fellow writer whose work may simply not be to my taste – but I might try to push further on into the novel before discounting it on account of sloppy presentation. If the answer is no, then I shall continue in much the same vein as I do now.

I'd love to know your thoughts!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

My Life in Books

I was very honoured to be invited onto the lovely Ruby Speechley's blog this week, to talk about My Life in Books. It meant I got to spend an indulgent few hours choosing my favourite, most meaningful ten great reads. I can only compare it to finding a box of photos in the attic and thinking you'd spend half an hour sorting through them, only to find yourself still there, two days later, having totally forgotten to eat, drink or work as you ambled through a range of emotions, losing yourself in times gone by. 
Eventually, totally forgetting Atonement by Ian McEwan and reluctantly leaving out the writing god, Maggie O'Farrell's, After You'd Gone, this was the list I came up with. 

Read more about the titles here on Ruby's blog.

1. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
2. The Devil’s Music by Jane Rusbridge
3. Defending Jacob by William Landay
4. Flying Under Bridges by Sandi Toksvig
5. Perfect by Rachel Joyce
6. The Humans by Matt Haig
7. Alphabet by Kathy Page
8. Crossing the Line by Christian Plowman
9. The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson
10. Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown

I wonder how many you've read and what you thought of them. And I'd love to know what your Top Ten would be. Please share!