Wednesday, 22 February 2012

what would you have inked?

I'm far too much of a wuss to have something like this done. However, if I wasn't, I would probably have 'curiouser and curiouser' at the very top of my back, just under my neck.

Anyway, here are some interesting literary tattoos I've found. If you were going to get one, what would you have done, and where?


 I Go Back to May 1937 by Sharon Olds

 Through the Looking Glass
Alice in Wonderland

 A Tale of Two Cities

 Dylan Thomas
Harry Potter

Peter Pan


 The Little Prince

 The Bell Jar

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Author Interview: C. J. Daugherty

Everyone who replies to this topic by 4th March [no matter where you are in the world] will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of the hat will win a copy of CJ's fantastic new book 'Night School.' Hurray!

Please remember to leave contact details in your comment so I can get in touch if you win! [your twitter name, email address etc would be great, or if your post will link to your own blog and I'm able to contact you there, then that's fine.]


CJ was 22 years old when she saw her first dead body. Over the next few years she saw many more whilst working as a crime reporter for newspapers in the US, and later for Reuters wire service.

When she was offered a safe, dead-body-free job in London editing travel guidebooks, she jumped at the chance - leaving all of the blood and gore behind.... well, sort of.

She wrote the first draft of Night School in one long, hot summer. When she finished, her husband and friends insisted she send it to a literary agent, and she was signed by Madeleine Buston at the Darley Anderson Agency. The rest, as they say, is history. Or maybe it’s the future.


Hi CJ! Make yourself at home. Grab yourself a cup of tea. The blurb for this book is brilliant [I've copied it in at the bottom of this interview]. I read the synopsis for it months ago and made a note of the title and release date so I could grab a copy. It didn’t disappoint. So, tell us about how you got into writing.

Thank you! Mmm, lovely tea.

Let’s see. My path was pretty straight forward. I always wanted to be a writer. The only problem was that, in my family, writing was not considered a viable career path. In fact, it’s not really considered a career at all. So to bypass strongly expressed parental opposition, I studied journalism at university. That was considered sort-of a career. When I graduated I got a job writing for a newspaper in a mid-size city for so little money that I began to understand my parents’ objections. Nonetheless, I stayed a journalist for quite a long time. My editors taught me how to write in an approachable way. How to convey a lot with as few words as possible. How to explain a murder in 15 column inches (that’s about 700 words). A life lost, and you’ve got to describe the victim, the witnesses and the circumstances of the crime in 700 words. Let’s just say I learned a lot. And, after that experience, how could I ever be anything but a writer?

What was the first idea to spark ‘Night School’?

My husband grew up in a small town in Surrey and a few years ago I suddenly decided that we needed to live there. When we were trying to decide whether or not to move there, we drove around a lot, checking it out. Late one afternoon, we drove up to a boarding school at the edge of town. It’s in a huge, gothic building behind a big, iron gate, at the end of a curving drive. Sound familiar? The sun was setting behind the building; the shadows were long and dramatic. It was an extraordinary place. That drive happened two years before I started Night School. So I guess that view, that school and that moment must have lingered in the back of my mind, waiting for a story to go with it.

Which character in the series do you have a particular soft spot for?

Oh, Allie. Definitely. I love her so much. She absolutely breaks my heart. Her search for truth and for people to believe in – I know all about that. There is a lot of me in her. But Rachel sounds the most like me. She is my stand-in within the book, in terms of her dry sense of humour and her pragmatic attitude.

How many books will there be in the series?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t know. If I were a betting woman I’d say four, but I never bet. Because I always lose. Basically, it’s early days, and a lot depends on how my lovely, beautiful, talented and fragrant publisher feels about it in a year or so.

How far ahead did you plan before you started writing?
YEARS. …. Ok, not really. I’m afraid I didn’t plan at all. I just sat down one day and wrote the first chapter. I didn’t even draw up a synopsis until I was 200 pages in. And the first 200 pages have hardly changed after I first wrote them. [Jen: I remember Neil Gaiman saying somewhere that he loved writing because he was excited to read where his own story was going.]

Tell us about your journey from writing to agent to publication.

I was super lucky, I think. I wrote Night School over the course of five months. When it was finished, I didn’t quite know what to do about it. I’d mostly written it for fun. My husband and friends insisted it didn’t suck and really wanted me to send it to an agent. So I spent a few weeks researching agents. I stumbled across Madeleine Buston’s page on the Darley Anderson website and I liked what I read there, so I Googled her. After deciding she was perfect, I sent her three chapters on a Thursday, and by Saturday she’d signed me. She told me from the start she knew just who she wanted to send the book to, but first I had to make some significant changes. I’d initially written it as a paranormal book, but she believed strongly that it would be better as a non-paranormal. So I took six weeks to revise it into a thriller. This was the book she pitched to Samantha Smith at Atom Books, and they signed me on pre-empt. We never showed the book to anybody else – Madeleine always wanted me to work with Sam and I think she was absolutely right. Sam is an amazing editor, and she absolutely gets my writing style and sense of humour. We are like two coffee-addicted peas in the literary pod.

How did you celebrate your book deal?

When Madeleine called to tell me the deal was done I was on a bus in London on my way home from work. I got off the bus so I could jump up and down and whoop without upsetting anybody. So, first I celebrated by jumping up and down like a crazy person at a bus stop on the South Bank. When I got home, though, there was champagne. [Jen: Yey, champagne!]

Now that you have the deal for the books, do you find that your writing routine has changed? I’m assuming now you must be working to deadlines, which you weren’t doing before. How have you adjusted to that?

What’s been really weird is having time to write. I wrote Night School after work, on weekends and on holidays (and to be perfectly honest, on quiet days in the office when nobody was looking). Suddenly, I can write ALL DAY, and it’s been a strange feeling. It feels almost lazy not to have to squeeze in writing time. It took a couple of months to adjust, but now I find I’ve got a schedule in place and it works well. I do admin and emails first thing in the morning, then I move to editing what I wrote the day before. In the afternoon I write. The deadline doesn’t bother me, but knowing the book has a destination – that people are going to read this and that there are expectations – that was a little intimidating at first.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading The Clockwork Angel and The Clockwork Prince, both by Cassandra Clare, and I am ADDICTED. She is an amazing writer. These stories are brilliant. I’m absolutely hooked.

If you were to give one piece of advice to budding writers, what would that be?

Read all the time. Write all the time. When you’re reading a book you are like a musician practicing. When you’re writing you are like an artist painting. And take your time. Don’t expect to write your first novel at 21. Or even 31. But keep writing until the right story, the right characters and the right time collide.

Do you have any projects on the go bar the Night School series/plans in notepads for different books? What do you hope the future holds?

I have an idea for an adult crime series that I’d love to write someday. I also have an idea for a break-up book that has been floating around in my head for years. I don’t know when I’ll have time to write either of them though. Night School Book two is about 75% done, and then there’s Book THREE to think up. And who knows what will happen after that?

Thanks, CJ!


Sometimes school can be murder...Allie Sheridan's world is falling apart. She hates her school. Her brother has run away from home. And she's just been arrested. Again. This time her parents have finally had enough. They cut her off from her friends and send her away to a boarding school for problem teenagers. But Cimmeria Academy is no ordinary school. It allows no computers or phones. Its students are an odd mixture of the gifted, the tough and the privileged. And then there's the secretive Night School, whose activities other students are forbidden even to watch. When Allie is attacked one night the incident sets off a chain of events leading to the violent death of a girl at the summer ball. As the school begins to seem like a very dangerous place, Allie must learn who she can trust. And what's really going on at Cimmeria Academy.

Friday, 17 February 2012

if we're too busy, we miss out on the best things

The Washington Post Joshua Bell experiment...


A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. 

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?


We need to make more time for the beautiful things in life. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

competitions for writers

Exciting writerly things are happening, which I will be able to tell you about in due course. For the moment, this is a nudge to the writers out there: two fabulous competitions:

Short Fiction’s 6th Annual Short Story competition [click]

1st prize: £500 plus publication
2nd prize: £100

Closing date: 31st March 2012.

Stories must be previously unpublished and under 5000 words. All stories will be considered for publication. Entry is £10, which allows you to submit up to two stories, and to receive a copy of the journal with the winning story inside. – Untie your hands and submit!

The Rialto Poetry Competition 2012 [click]

Theme: 'Nature.' The term ‘Nature Poetry’ will be given a very wide interpretation by the judges.

1st PRIZE £1000
2nd PRIZE £400
3rd PRIZE £300

Closing date: 30th April 2012.

The winning poems will be published in The Rialto, Britain’s leading independent poetry magazine.
Judges: Sir Andrew Motion and Mark Cocker.


Have fun! xx

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

big love to book lovers

Valentine's day. Calling all book lovers. I love your book-loving. Here is a post on book love for you. x


Reading Kills from Beto Gomez on Vimeo.

competition: two signed copy of 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops'

So, today is Valentine's day. It's also 50 days until the publication of 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops,' so here's a competition. There are two signed copies of 'Weird Things...' up for grabs, and anyone can enter. I want to hear the weirdest/worst chat up lines you've ever heard. You can Tweet them, with the link #weirdchatuplines. If you don't have Twitter, you can enter the competition by leaving a comment on this blog post, or on the facebook page.

One signed copy of the book will go to my favourite weird chat up line, and one will go to the best literary weird chat up line. For instance, some guy once came up to me at my desk at Ripping Yarns, holding a copy of Romeo and Juliet, and said: 'Baby, let's write our own romantic novel.' Ew. [Once I'd controlled the nausea, I pointed out that Romeo and Juliet is actually a play.]

So, go forth, lovely people. Shock me...humour me...make me worried about the human race. Your deadline is midnight [GMT].

NB: If you post your chat up lines here or on facebook, they still have to be Tweet-length [that's 140 characters or less including #weirdchatuplines]

Go, go, go!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Author Visit: Nicola Morgan

Calling all budding writers! Nicola Morgan is an award-winning writer with over 90 books published. She blogs over at 'Help, I need a publisher!' and, as well as all of her fiction writing, has recently published several books to help writers: 'Write to Be Published' [Snowbooks, 2011] and now 'Write a Great Synopsis.' Her advice is invaluable. So, writers, pay attention!

All those who reply to this post will be entered into Nicola's synopsis competition - the winner [name pulled out of a hat] will have their synopsis critiqued by Nicola herself! Now, that's a pretty awesome prize. 


Hi Nicola! It's a year since I interviewed you on here. What have you been up to since then?

Oh, well, in between buying boots and eating chocolate and such important things, I’ve been doing far too many talks and workshops for anyone’s good, writing and publicising Write to be Published (Snowbooks June 2011), writing and publishing Tweet Right and Write a Great Synopsis (WAGS), re-publishing my original debut, Mondays are Red, and writing but not yet publishing (it’s with a publisher) another YA novel.

That's a lot of things! Right, Nicola. Write a synopsis for 'Write a Great Synopsis'. Now, there's a challenge.

Ha! Actually, in the absence of instructions, a synopsis would be about two pages and you REALLY don’t want that, so I’ll do something much nippier: “WAGS has as its starting point the fact that writers hate writing synopses. It shows why they are not to be feared or hated and covers every aspect of how to tackle then, removing all stress or resistance. There are examples, critiques, quotes from agents and publishers, and the answers to every question I’ve ever been asked about synopses. There’s even a challenge involving champagne.” OK?

OK. If you could go back in time and give yourself a copy of 'Write a Great Synopsis', 'Write to Be Published' etc, would you do it?

I’m struggling with the existential aspects of that. Actually, I wouldn’t need WAGS because I’ve never had a problem with synopses. But gosh I did need WTBP. On the other hand, if I’d got published easily, I wouldn’t empathise so much with writers, so I wouldn’t be writing all this stuff to try to help them, and doing that makes me happy. Ergo, not being published more quickly has made me happy. 

You're self-publishing and publishing the tradition way for different things. How do make the decision as to what should be published where?

I gather everything I know about publishing and writing, including my experience of what publishers do well and what they do badly, and what I do well and what I do badly, mix it up, add some bats’ wings, and see what answer I get. Then divide it by three and add some chocolate.

I saw in an interview that you said you feel you owe your agent morally, and so give her royalties for your self-published work. How important is your agent to you, and how important are agents in general? 

My agent is very important to me. If she stopped agenting, I’d have to find another and it would have to be someone as good, which would be tricky. I know many writers who have had lots of books published and who know as much as an agent about how to read contracts (etc) but they still want to have an agent. 

What's the most common mistake you've heard re. writers sending submissions to publishers/agents?

That’s like asking you what’s the most common weird things people say in bookshops! I do think sending toffee is right up there, though. “Together we can be rich” is another one – it may not be common in those exact words, but the underlying message of “Listen up, hotshot agent: this is seriously the best thing that’s ever crossed your desk” is quite common. [Jen: as a side note, folks, Slushpile Hell is worth a read]

What is the single most important piece of advice you could give to a budding writer?


What are you working on at the moment? And what do you hope for, for the future?

As usual, I’m working on lots of things. Preparing lots of new events; writing two new Crabbit Publishing titles – Dear Agent and How to Promote Your Book Without Bugging the Pants Off People; and a top secret possible project which, if it happens, you will SO know about! What do I hope for? Not to bug the pants off people.

Now, folks, listen up - 

Any of your readers who are also writers might be interested in the Big WAGS Competition – all commenters below this post will be entered and prizes include synopsis critiques. (If you’d like to comment but don’t want to enter the competition, just say!) Details on my blog, where you’ll see details of the other blog tour stops – and the more participating posts you comment on, the greater your chances of winning.

Thanks again for letting me visit! 

Thanks, Nicola!  

For details about the book, including buying options, go here

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Bookshop Spotlight #1: Ripping Yarns Bookshop

Before Christmas I said I'd like to do some blog posts about individual bookshops across the world. I've had lovely emails from bookshops all over saying that they'd like to to take part - bookshops in the UK, America, Africa, Australia, Japan... So, I'm cracking on with organising those. But, first, I'm starting here. A blog post about Ripping Yarns bookshop, an antiquarian bookshop in North London. I've worked here for two and a half years, and it's where I started writing 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops' properly.

 [photo by Iona]

There I am, surrounded by books.

We were also very excited yesterday when Andrea Riseborough said that Ripping Yarns is her favourite British shop. Hurray! Thanks, Andrea!

Celia Hewitt is the owner of Ripping Yarns. Yesterday, when she came in, I sat her down and got her talk about the history of the bookshop. It's a lovely story. So make yourself a cup of tea and have a read!

So, Celia, tell us about the history of the bookshop

"I was an actress [well, I still am an actress], and I used to do a lot of touring. I spent a lot of my time in secondhand bookshops all over the place. I accumulated all different kinds of Victorian books, as well as schoolgirls books, such as Angela Brazil, and childhood favourites like Biggles and Jennings. And then, when I was out of work, someone advertised for help in an antique shop on Archway Road. It was next door to a run-down bookshop from the 1930s that had recently closed down.

While working there, I found that people would come with suitcases full of books, looking for the bookshop next door in the hope of selling them. Partly out of curiosity, I eventually started buying them and, in the end I had so many that I decided to take the lease on the derelict bookshop next door - that was over twenty five years ago. We redesigned it, painted it, made it look clean, and in the window we had a model of Just William, because I had a lot of William books. We haven’t got him anymore because he got very old and dirty. I put him in the outside bin at home and it scared the dustbin men out of their wits. [laughs]

 [photo by Laura Braun]

I had no idea how to run a business but my husband and I both loved books. He was a writer and a poet [Adrian Mitchell], and whenever he had a new book out, usually near Christmas, he’d come in to the shop do a reading. When I bought books for the shop, he would to go through them first and say ‘No, I need that one; I need it for research.’ I did say to him that he wasn’t going to live long enough to write all the plays that he wanted, and in fact he didn’t, but all the Pushkin books he bought have indeed come in very handy, as Michael Boyd at the RSC is doing Adrian’s version of Boris Godunov as his final production.

Anyway, at the time I got the bookshop, we were living in Hampstead, and we wanted someone to help with the house and the children, and then these two girls turned up on our doorstep looking for work. So, they came, these two jolly Australian girls, and made cakes for the bookshop and we had a big press launch. In those days we didn’t have the bookcases in the centre of the bookshop, so we had a lot more room to move around. Michael Palin and Terry Jones came and opened the bookshop for me because Ripping Yarns, of course, was the name of their television series. They both read aloud from Biggles and Just William books, and I think I made a lot of money that night… and not much since [laughs].

We specialise in children’s books but, because of where we are as a neighbourhood shop, I can’t afford to do just that. If we were somewhere else then perhaps, but that’s not going to work here. So, I have a lot of other fiction, history, politics, music and poetry - a much bigger poetry selection than you usually find, mainly because I’m interested in it myself.

We have the books, and the bookshop itself, because we like having them. We don’t make much money – in fact we usually just about break even - and the people who work with me don’t make much money either. However, we all love books and that’s the main thing, and we have quite a jolly time.

I also have a dog, Daisy - a very old golden retriever who comes and sits in the shop quite often. She’s quite used to books because they’re all over our house. The only trouble is that, sometimes, she does lie down in the middle of the shop in customers’ way. She’s not dangerous, just a little hopeless [laughs]. But she is rather beautiful."

How many books does the shop have?

"In the shop I would think we have at least 10,000 books. Online we have 6000, and we’re adding to it all the time.  In our storage spaces we have at least another few thousand and, at my house, we have many many more. In the days when we began, of course, we didn’t have computers."

How did you manage to keep track of everything?

"Well, we didn’t have as many books. And then we had Hugh working here [Jen: Hugh now works in publishing and is the editor of 'Weird Things...'] who persuaded me to buy a very primitive Apple computer and set up the system. We all had to learn how to use it when he left, and it took us a while."

What about the people who have worked here in the past?

"A lot of actresses have worked for me, as well as musicians, writers and artists. People in the arts, really. There was our popstar, Daniel, who was in a little band which is now a very big band, Yuck. They’re doing frightfully well. He still stops by for a cup of tea. He’s writing poetry now, and I’ve given him some poetry books to read. He was very charming in the shop."

What’s the best book you’ve had in the shop?

"We had an amazing eighteenth century cookery book once. But I don’t really know; we’ve sold so many books over the years – you forget them all. We have sold books for over a thousand pounds, but not too often. We've sold collections of books to a Japanese children’s library, and at the moment we do have that wonderful eighteenth century collection of etiquette."

Who’s your favourite author and illustrator?

"I have to admit I read a lot of detective novels, especially Penguin green crime. Sylvia Townsend Warner is also somebody I’m quite keen on, and I read a lot of poetry, too. I love Walter Crane and James Thurber, and Ralph Steadman is not only my favourite living illustrator but a dear friend as well. He’s been very supportive of the bookshop. We have quite a lot of interesting people who’ve come in to the shop over the years. Sylvester McCoy, who was Dr. Who, and Peter O’Toole came in when he was writing his autobiography, looking for Boy’s Own magazines and some old annuals that he had as a boy. We often have John Hegley stopping by to do readings, and Michael Rosen, who both love the shop, though events are a little difficult for us because of the lack of space."

What’s the strangest thing a customer has said in the past?

"Well, we have had several stalkers in the past. One was obsessed with gardening, and he’d come in and speak to Zoe, a very beautiful girl who used to work here who had never really been to the country and knew nothing about gardening. Anyway, he used to come in here repeatedly and ask her lots of questions about tractors, even though he knew she didn’t know the answers."

What about the future?

"There’s a lot of local love for the bookshop. We especially appreciate the parents who bring their children in regularly, encouraging them to read. To be realistic, in the future as well as our normal stock, we’re going to have to start focusing on more valuable books, music papers, comics and ephemera. Things that you’re never going to be able to get on Kindle. But it’s so difficult to say that we won’t stock one thing or the other when we would like to stock everything. But I will say that, if you want to keep your local bookshops, you cannot take them for granted and assume that they will always be there. Especially not now. So, please go in, look around and have a chat. You may very well be tempted."


Opening times:
Tuesday-Friday 12-5pm Saturday 10-5pm Sunday 11-4pm. 
Closed Mondays. 
The bookshop is opposite Highgate tube station. Free parking on Archway Road for one hour outside.
For all enquires email 
Online inventory can be found here


More bookshop stories from other places to come!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

good morning!

Quite possibly the most beautiful thing, ever.

ETA: This won the Oscar for best short animation the other night. Hurray!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

you are very lovely people

This morning I went to the bank and transferred the money raised from the 100 Poem Challenge to EEC International. The total raised was £4250 [which is €5100/$6740], and will go to the research centres looking for a cure for the degenerative eye disease associated with EEC Syndrome. Hurray!

So, THANK YOU so much to everyone who donated, bought a postcard or a pamphlet [or both!], and to those who tweeted about the project, and who sent encouraging messages during the weekend of the poetry writing itself. If you want to read the poems, they're still online over here if you scroll down.

Y'all are lovely. Thank you. xxxxxx