Posted in Books, Outings, Writing

Amazon Academy KDP Year 2

As I announced a few weeks ago, Amazon Academy was returning to Scotland for a second year, and bringing the Author Academy along again!

March 17th was a perfect day for the event (not least because I was on a holiday from work, but I’d submitted my third assessment a few days prior), the sun was scorching from first thing in the morning – and it was dry! Well, ish.

The event was held at the SECC out by Finneston in Glasgow, so while it wasn’t quite the schlep to Edinburgh like last year, it still takes me about an hour on the bus to get out to that end of town, plus there’s a bit of an underestimated walk through the tunnel to the conference centre.

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The SECC and the Armadillo

I got there in plenty of time, and was quickly regretting the bundle of coats, though it was raining a little just as I exited the tunnel and had to charge into the main building. There was a little time of waiting around, unlike in Edinburgh where we were welcomed early with seats, this was standing around the main foyer. It didn’t matter too much, soon they let us in, and the event staff were far more vigilant about arrivals this year – each person’s name had to be checked off on a phone/tablet list of guests.

Somewhat akin to last year, I was misdirected. I don’t know if there is something magical that happens when I speak and no one hears what I’ve actually said, or simply if the workers themselves forgot that the Author Academy was an equal yet separate event. So there was a snafu with checking off my name, involving me clarifying to a second person that it was the Author Academy I’d signed up for. I got checked off, but still wasn’t given a name tag, and the first person instructed me to go right into the main hall. Hmm.

Arrived in the main hall area where they were serving coffee and FRUIT?! I’m sorry, as healthy as they were trying to make us, can you imagine how awkward it would be networking and meeting new people while trying to peel a tangerine or talk with a banana in your mouth? Alas, I asked in this room for my name tag and lo and behold, there wasn’t one. A girl with horrendously high-heels shuffled to the far end of the tables to get me a blank one and I was faced with a handwritten name tag for the second year. I asked someone else where the Author event was taking place and it was way back through the main entrance and around… blah blah blah.

I was about to go hunting when a nice lady came up to me to chat; M, she’d heard me talking about the KDP and we quickly struck up a convo about writing, travelling, and writing about travelling (she’s a travel writer and photographer) and before I knew it, the coffee break was over and it was time to head to our conference room.

Can you guess what happened? As we were being herded along another corridor, I was called out by security for not having a GREEN badge on (I knew it was wrong!) but he insisted that I go get the right badge before he’d let me through. Argh! Thus it involved more frantic displays of power from the event staff as I found my right badge with my name and they are yelling at me that I need to be checked in (“I’m ALREADY CHECKED IN!!”) And whoosh! Back through the right door. M and I sat against the back wall of the room as it was fairly stuffy and we didn’t want to be sardine squish in the centre seats. I sighed. Already exhausted and very uncomfortable, plus all the drama meant I hadn’t gotten any coffee at all… Le sigh.

Beyond that, the talks were good, much the same as last year but with a few updates: paperback printing has done fairly well (not a lot of money in it for the writers, but some customers prefer to have the option) and proof and author copies are now available to purchase at cost price.

There were a few familiar faces from last year, Steven A. McKay and Linda Gillard who were joined this year by L.J. Ross and Barry Hutchison all introduced by Darren Hardy, the head of KDP. The whole panel were wonderful and gave plenty of great advice for getting started (Just write!) and while discussing the merits to publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing, they were very sincere that it’s so easy and with 70% royalties you’d be mad to even attempt traditional publishing. Barry gave a great example of this, he thought he’d hit the motherload when Asda wanted to bulk purchase his books to go into their stores, 10,000 copies no less – until six months later when he received the royalty cheque for a measly £200 (£0.02 a copy)!

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The Panellists: Linda Gillard, Barry Hutchison, Steven McKay, L.J. Ross and Darren Hardy

Linda spoke again about how she started as a traditionally published author yet after a couple of books the publisher complained that her work was mixing and crossing genres and could not possibly be sold – yet has become a bestseller on Kindle. Thankfully with Kindle as you are marketing your own work, there is less pressure to write to a specific singular genre. Additionally that was another thing Barry touched on, he had published a children’s book which coincidentally came out at the same time as a David Walliams book and the publisher put all their effort into promoting the latter’s book rather than Barry’s! Might as well DIY it all!

L.J. Ross was the one who surprised me the most, having only published her first book in January 2015 she is about to now publish her 8th book and has sold over 475,000 copies of her books via KDP! Her books are crime fiction set around her hometown area of Northumberland and have proved vastly popular, scaling the best seller lists in their genre and many features within mainstream newspapers. Plus she writes a new book in around 4 months… boy do I feel lazy.

There was a mid-morning coffee break which allowed for some more chat and mingling, then an hour for lunch served in the main hall. I had forgotten to message the venue before hand and was a bit concerned that there might not be anything for me to eat. At last year’s event I hadn’t known there would be lunch but the two options were salmon (which I like, but I can’t eat hot fish) and a pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese. I ate with trepidation last year, but since I’ve been completely dairy free for nearly a year now, I knew better than to attempt anything with dairy. Alas, my fears were unfounded as the caterers had provided a wide variety (about 5 different options) of food. They were served in tiny bowls, like ramekins, but I was just so thrilled at there being a vegan option, Spinach and Chickpea curry with rice (I’ve been hunting down the recipe to make this myself and I forgot to take a picture!). It was a mild, creamy curry sauce but with the right consistency I could tell it was definitely vegan, much like my vegan cheese sauce I make at home. As we had entered the hall, M noticed how many name tags still lay uncollected on the tables. I guess that is the problem with free events that people sign up and may not bother to turn up, missing out on all the free stuff allocated to them. Because there were so many no-shows, the catering staff had a ton of uneaten food still to punt, so were wandering around with trays asking if we wanted extras! I did, despite worrying about being polite in company, I couldn’t pretend that one tiny bowl had filled me… so a second was needed. (To be fair, I could have eaten ten!) The vegan desert option was fruit salad, of which I’m not always keen on the weirder fruits but I ate it anyway, still had room to fill.

We got chatting to another lady, much to my surprise I discovered she lives just down the road from me! Lunch flew by so quickly and it was time to go back for the last panel of the day. This was very much a recap of last year as well, dealing with the business side of things, creating a blog, running a newsletter and facebook group, getting the word out about your writing. The most important point made, however, was just to keep writing. Don’t get so bogged down in the business or promotion side of things that you have only one book to talk about – get more books written so ultimately the more you can earn and sell.

A great piece of advice was from L.J. Ross, who said that if you are writing a series, make sure that you have most of the second book done before putting the first book on sale, as fans will be chomping-at-the-bit to read more. It does make sense, including why so many readers are more invested in Kindle series, not having to wait two years on the publisher to hand out the sequel, instead getting it in a few months almost as soon as the author is finished polishing.

After the last panel, we were treated to another networking time, with complementary prosecco and Birra Morretti (vegan). I grabbed a glass of fizz and talked with a few girls I’d met earlier, passed out some business cards and looked at the selection of promo material on the tables.

Now I must point out, I was zonked even though it was barely even 3 in the afternoon, I’d been up since half-five and spent the whole day surrounded by huge crowds of people (far out of my comfort zone). I think the Prosecco hit me a little fast, I could feel my cheeks burning already… but then I noticed someone lying a few books on one of the tables and decided to do my nosy.

Someone swiped one copy right away and I felt bad pawing the only remaining copy, it was Wolf’s Head by one of the panellists, Steven, the first book in his Forest Lord series featuring Robin Hood!

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While I was deliberating to take the book or not, a lady sidled up to me and asked if I wanted it signed, I froze, then she told me, “I’m his mother!” That warranted a laugh, I can totally see my mum doing that in the future.

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So I got the chance to meet Steven, he signed my copy, I managed to speak in English the whole time (had been singing Italian songs on the bus on the way there), mentioned seeing him last year, thanked him for his time and discovered that he also did Creative Writing at the OU (small world, a sign perhaps?). Then the Prosecco and sleep deprivation had hit me too hard and it was time to call it a day on the event.

It was a scorching day when I left, too hot too quickly though, and I melted further on my way back up the tunnel to the bus stop.

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Pure Scorching!
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The Hydro

But you know what?

It was all totally worth it! Great fun, met knew people, didn’t spend a penny the whole day, and I left feeling bouncy and inspired. I have a plan!

Roll on Year 3!

e x

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Posted in Books

Currently Reading – Flawed

So at the time of writing this I’m currently reading Flawed by Cecelia Ahern. I love her writing and her style. To be fair I haven’t read all of her stuff, but of what I have read, I’ve loved. The wit, the whimsy, the unbelievable – she makes it real, she makes you care. Now this is a slight departure from her usual stuff, it’s YA for starters and it’s the first in a series. I should warn you before you read any further, if you are sick to the back teeth of YA dystopian novels, then stop reading and await my next blog, if not then keep reading – but you have been warned!

I won’t give away spoilers but to say that at just over halfway through, I can already see the familiar triangle forming, the reluctant teen forced into a situation in which she must give up her desire to flee and instead learn to fight. Everything she took for granted is now gone, those she trusted are no longer trustworthy etc. But, I don’t even care! There is another different edge to this story, it’s not Hunger Games targeting the kids, it’s targeting everyone – a bit more Minority Report in its brand of justice. Effectively, there are a list of things a member of ordinary society must abide by, lest they be tried and condemned as Flawed, at which point they are branded with a perfect F… the irony isn’t lost on the narrator. Celestine is seventeen, and as annoying as most studious seventeen-year-olds are, more concerned with following the rules to a tee and her future life at uni than whether her world is fair and just for all. As she is annoying, this will allow for the greatest character development, she is falling fast and when she hits bottom, then I can feel sorry for her. Too many main characters start off as noble, likeable, honorable, selfless, etc, whereas Celestine is a proper teenager; bitchy, moody, out of her depth, and rightfully pissed off at her treatment.

I’m still trying to decipher the landscape, perhaps like most Ahern books it is set in Ireland or at least a fictional version, thus it already has a different taste than the deluge of American world dystopias. This book has been on my TBR pile for a while but I’m glad I’m cracking on with it, it’s fun and enjoyable! Who decided that there can only be one bestseller of each genre? Who decided that after Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent that the world had tired of YA dystopians? Because according to the sheer volume of such books that are being sold in print and on Kindle, it’s not coming from the readers!

luego,

e x

Posted in Books

Recently read

(This was meant to be my currently reading list, but as the last two books have been A-grade books I just wrote mini-reviews instead.)

The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler

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I found this book to be extremely interesting and useful while I try to figure out the plot and narrative for my own book (in part for my uni course as well). It was serendipitous to note how many points he suggested to create new scenarios and obstacles for my characters were things that I’d already come up with but without the understanding of where and when to place them.

The book is based off Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’ and it does heavily reference films, as it is a source for beginning scriptwriters. However, it is not without merit for any other kind of writer as well. Vogler has provided a movable list of ideas that can be plot markers within a story to help propel it to the next act or chapter. Often a writer can get very stilted in a myriad of ideas without being sure which thread is the best for the plot, not necessarily for the characters, this book has helped me to move past my uncertainties and realise I know where the characters need to go next, it’s just up to me to write them getting there.

I could talk endlessly about this book, but I won’t. There are some low-star reviews on goodreads for it, I understand some feel it’s a ripped-off, dumbed-down version of Campbell’s book, but depending on what you’re looking for the book to give you, you’ll probably find it. It’s not a quick-fix manual, nor is it a cheat-sheet in writing a bestseller, Vogler is completely aware that many of his suggested steps aren’t needed or can go in virtually any order, plus rules are made to be broken. For me, this book was about giving me ideas, supporting my ideas I already had, and helping me find the thread I wanted to follow will still paying some heed to Classical narratives.

Still recommend this book!


On Writing – Stephen King

I love this book so much, I bought it TWICE!

I have the hardback copy, somewhere and I read about a third of it a few years ago, but still in the throes of uni I put it down and moved house too many times to remember where it was. Alas, I bought a new version on kindle, simply because I’ve gone too long on my current course without being able to quote from it. And oh, is it worth the quotes!

There is something unassuming about Stephen King, when you read his fiction you might imagine a dark, brooding figure, deliberately hiding himself from the outside world; pondering on his dark thoughts and making a conscious effort to scramble his readers brains, but he’s not. He’s an ordinary guy who worked his arse off to get to be one of the greatest writers of our generation. He talks candidly about how writing was always a part of his life, as a child, and beyond, but the need to provide financially for his young family meant he had to get a ‘real job’ as an English teacher. He doesn’t diminish this career path at all, nor talks about it interfering in anything – it was a pretty great job at the time – the problem (and his wake up call) was that he could quite easily pass thirty years away being a high school English teacher, all the while having that unfinished manuscript in his bottom desk drawer – like almost every other high school English teacher. The thought scared him into action, and from it came Carrie. Mixed influences from 70s sci-fi, telekinesis, tragic young suicides and tragic young misfits from his own school days, and a time working in a girls bathroom and noticing the tampon dispenser all eventually blended together to form Carrie… Eventually bringing in an advance of around $400,000, hundreds of times more than his yearly teaching salary of around $6,000.

He is clear that it was never about the money. It was about the fundamental human need to create something, and a compulsion that went deeper than everything but absorbed everything. (He mentions ‘The Shining’ and not realising that the alcoholic writer was probably himself.) He doesn’t hold back from much, he is straight up about his addictions and how they developed and to his point of seeking help. He cares greatly for his family and loves his wife without the macho concealment others use under the pretence of privacy. He cares about writing – not the bravado, not the accolades – but that writing as a skill that can be developed, if you take the time to work at it.

The best part of all is that he doesn’t plot. He rarely ever has, and feels in the times where he did, the narrative was more contrived and less spontaneous. I love this admission! This is where I started to breathe more easily, having taken one too many literature classes and a Modernism class where we discussed the superior intellect of Joyce, I became frozen and succumbed to writer’s block. How could I possibly write anything of interest when I couldn’t/didn’t want to spend an extra thousand hours weaving various literary themes and concepts through my story? Turns out Stephen King doesn’t, so neither do I. What he does suggest is many of these things will naturally appear in your work. He likens writing a novel to sculpting or excavating something which already exists. All the themes and plot are already there, it’s just a matter of how you pick it out of the soil. Therefore, his advice is upon reading the first draft, to make note of any recurring themes or motifs and to expand and flesh them out more in the second draft. Solid advice. Just get on with it, stop debating and pontificating. Just bloody write.

After all, you can’t edit a blank page.

Read this book because you’re interested in seeing the man behind the weird and fantastic, and for seeing how the writer saved the man.

 

more soon

e x

Posted in Books, Education, Goals, Health, life, Musings, rant, Shonda Rhimes, University, work, Writing

Confession: I’m a terrible decision maker

I really am. I am either two ways about something: I love making plans to do something then fret and spend time wondering how I can get out of it; or, I loathe making plans and end up making a stupid choice in the end because I was too indecisive and shouldn’t be allowed to make rash decisions.

Story of my life.

I hate to admit it, but I will. I loved starting uni, and the beginning of each term when I could go full on Rory Gilmore and have a ‘legitimate’ excuse for spending £40 on stationary (not that I don’t already have a house teeming with unused pens and notepads). However, as the term progressed and either my insomnia or hypersomnia got the better of me, I found it harder and harder to stick to my class schedule. In my final year I was between 6-8 hours of classes a week AND I STILL MANAGED TO SKIP TWO OF EACH over a 12 week semester of course. Now I know looking back I wonder why I couldn’t just have forced myself to go, I probably did lose some marks here and there for non-attendance but the thrill I got from turning over in bed and going back to sleep was ridiculous. Then I remember the tiredness. It’s not an excuse, but the overwhelming, mind-numbing, soul-draining tiredness that made me fall asleep sitting up at various desks and start to dream while believing that I was still awake, is still such a problem for me that it’s now hard to imagine taking full time classes, constant homework, a part time job, and tutoring as well. I’m actually quite proud then of how I did survive it.

It does bother me, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it now, and it’s why I am the Coffee Queen. And when I go into super sleep mode at night and have wild and fantastical dreams it soothes the creative side of me and gives me such a boost that no caffeinated product on earth has yet managed to achieve. As such, it is mostly an issue on my days off from work, I’ve not been working a lot of hours the last few weeks so realistically I should be managing to get plenty of work done given that I’ve had plenty of off time. NOPE.

I set my alarm early, so I can get up and carpe diem but when it goes off, I have no idea what planet I’m on and flip my phone onto snooze and this routine can last for a couple of hours…. YES, A COUPLE OF HOURS! So that when I do finally remember I had a reason for getting up early, I’m groggy, my eyes are stinging with broken sleep, my head hurts and I feel blah. Plus it’s hours past the time I wanted to get up and I shuffle about like a zombie, caffeine having no effect on me at all.

It becomes a vicious circle, tired and sleepy –> lethargic –> the desire to crawl back into bed –> no creative energy to write or work/no urge to start –> feeling guilty that another day has passed with nothing done when this is my DREAM, DAMMIT!

I know this was something I mentioned in my goals list that I wanted to work on for this year but I’m trying to create a kind of Cheat Sheet of inspiration, things that no matter how tired or blah I am I’ll be sparked into action by reading them. Something that definitely helped recently was reading Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes, that I spoke briefly about in the last post, I just finished it last night and it has had such a profound effect on me. I know I need to start living more YES and hiding away less. Blogging has helped a lot as well. I’ve had blogs before but then really lacked the focus of what I was trying to do with them or I was too nervous about certain people reading certain things, whereas now, I cleaned up my facebook so everyone still there can read or not read my posts but I have nothing to hide. I changed how I approach blog posts, not just travel, languages, writing, but everything all of me, all that is me. I can’t split myself off the way others can, no one interest really takes the lead over the others, they are all important to me and in different ways, at different times.

Anyway, as much as I’d like to say this blogging exercise has got my creative juices flowing again, I think it’s more the venti caramel coffee soya frappuccino next to me that’s done the trick. I’ll implore you once again to read Shonda Rhimes book (99p on kindle) and I’ll get back to writing my script that I’ve been procrastinating on for too long.

Luego

e x

Posted in Books, Education, Fitness, Health, Late Nights, life, Musings, Shonda Rhimes, Travel, University, work, Writing

Battling the sleepies

I’m drained. Zonked. Gone.

I’ve had a few days off work just with how the scheduling goes, and had all these wild plans for what I’d do with all that free time. And yet, it’s been cold, stormy, wet, and blah. They probably sound like excuses and maybe they are but I’m so tired. I’ve caught up with some work in short bursts of effort, usually around 1am when I should be succumbing to the tiredness, but when my creativity works best. The rest of the time I just feel like a sleepy zombie.

I’ve been setting an alarm, but when it goes off in the morning, because I know there’s nothing I NEED to get up for, it’s more of an annoying noise that I flip over and end up snoozing for two more hours. It’s a bad habit… probably, but I think I’m suffering with ‘what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-itis’ and for me, hypersomnia is how I deal with it.

Now that I’m pondering it, there’s an element of SAD involved. It happens every winter, except this is the first time in a zillion years where I haven’t been compelled by full-time education to get my arse out of the house. I’ve ordered a sunlight alarm clock that will arrive in about two months -_- there’s no way I can afford a SAD lamp, plus electricity freaks me out.

In between passing out asleep and trying to wake up with strong coffee and Italian rap music, I’ve been reading Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes book. It’s amazing! I don’t often read autobiographies/self-help stuff, but her words are so relatable particularly about working hard and living/breathing/eating your own work as a writer. Even the parts about not having everything as a parent/writer/woman, it’s finally a relief to hear someone admitting that they don’t have everything sorted out, that they aren’t superwoman and, don’t have all the answers. She needs help to manage her life, she gets it; she needs help to look after her kids while she works, she gets it. Why should anyone be a martyr to a lost cause without asking for help? I’m hopefully never going to go down that merry road of motherhood but I can understand how certain parts of your life aren’t going to be perfect or even balanced while focusing on another part of your life.

I know it’s bad for your health to be stationary all the time, but as a writer, much of what I do requires that I sit writing drivel onto a screen or into a notebook for ages at a time. And in order to work as I need to on that, I can’t always breakaway to go to the gym and I nearly broke my back on the times I went to the gym and carried all my writing stuff and laptop with me… I’ve seen those girls at Uni, they’ll need traction by 25. I’m too old to put up with these pains though, and thus things slide. Plus, sitting/lying/being still is one of my favourite pastimes. I could pass as a statue.

Alas, alak, we’re nearly in February, still a month I hate but I’m hoping the nicer weather will make an appearance and my mood will feel less funky. I’m planning on doing blog posts on my previous trips abroad. I’ve got so many stories to tell, might as well tell you them. Just need to find all my old photographs as well. First trip to Italy was in 2008 and I can’t even begin to think how many different computers I’ve had since then!

A tarde!

e x

Posted in Books, Films, Musings, Outings

Chill Time

Went into town yesterday to run a few errands and hit Starbucks because I wanted my free, extra stars they offered bribed me with. Cover photo is of my yummy soya latte and I started reading Robin Lane Fox’s book on Alexander the Great (which provided the context and inspiration of the Alexander film by Oliver Stone). I’m loving the book thus far and I have loved the movie for years, despite the naysayers. Ultimately, Alexander lived so long ago but left little primary sources behind and much of what we have to read about him was written by people centuries after him and cannot be held as wholly accurate. But neither can all the stories be dismissed, something had to be true. So in this book Fox is giving his own understandings of how things might have gone down, including all the sordid stuff.

Obviously every time I read about Alexander the Great I picture Colin Farrell. Not a bad thing at all.

Starbucks was really warm, which was a welcome respite from the freezing, icy, winter weather which seems to be staying. Couldn’t help overhearing the loud conversation next to me, most of which was boring and inaccurate, but it’s not proper to jump into someone’s conversation to correct them. Most painful part was when one girl gave her friend a bunch of presents (late birthday, I assume?) and then proceeded to ‘giftsplain’ every single present as she unwrapped it while the other girl had to feign interest. Eek!

Hasta luego!

P.S. I got a brand new copy of Robert Graves The Greek Myths for a fiver! From WHSmith in the sale section. So jazzed!

e x