Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thoughts on Book Clubs and Women's Fiction

For many years I’ve been a member of a ladies’ book club. We’re all middle-aged with one or more aspects of our lives in common: teenagers or young adult children, jobs varying in pressures and fulfilment, husbands facing redundancy or career changes, and increasing responsibilities for our parents. At the same time, we're also facing the joint onslaughts of the loss of youth and age-related health problems. We’re a strong, supportive group with individual and yet universal problems that unite us beyond our mutual love of books. Our meetings are filled with lively, vocal discussions that sometimes go on until the early hours of the morning on just about any topic.

Except the books that brought us together in the first place.


It’s not that we never discuss our chosen books; it’s just that we so rarely discover a book that all of us have read and enjoyed to the very end that it warrants discussing it for any length of time. And forcing ourselves to read a novel to impress or to satisfy some quasi-intellectual need isn't necessary: We know each other too well. So, by the time we’ve got past the excuses: “I was too exhausted to read it,” (any lengthy literary novel); “It was too depressing,” (any novel featuring a child killer); “It was so predictable I watched a rerun of The Professionals instead," (any book with “teashop” in the title); and “How did this get on the Man Booker shortlist? My navel fluff is more interesting,” usually we're left with very few books that meet all our expectations.

Now I don’t want to make my friends sound uneducated or overly fussy because they’re neither. We have occasionally talked at length about some great books: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, The Help and so on. But what these particular books have in common, despite their literary statuses, is that they're easy to pick up and put down but are still absorbing enough to be entertaining and informative.

There is, of course, a lot of “women’s fiction” that is worthy of discussion which never grabs the headlines like the more literary novels. Anything by Jodi Picoult ticks that box, as would undercover successes like The Memory Book or Me Before You. These are the type of books that many women enjoy. They're books which don't require a degree or in-depth analysis to appreciate. They're emotive, engaging and frequently explore situations or moral dilemmas that create food for thought and conversation. To women with busy, exhausting lives these easy-to-read but captivating books are a gift because, after a harrowing day, not many of us want to face the challenges of Hilary Mantel or David Mitchell.


It was with these thoughts that I set about writing The Changing Room. But I also wanted to factor in one further element and write not just an easy-to-read and thought-provoking novel that would be appreciated by the ladies of my book club, but a humorous one. It would have an older heroine that readers would empathise with but who also did things they’ve wanted to do but haven’t quite had the courage or opportunity. A woman who would make them laugh and cry and, hopefully, inspire them.

I'm not sure why there is so little meaningful comedy fiction available for older women, but certainly finding any agent or publisher actively looking for any humorous writing that isn't a Christmas coffee table book, chick lit or dry literary humour is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Nevertheless, I was determined that it shouldn’t just be girls or academics who have fun in literature, but mature women too.

And so I created 45-year-old Sandy Lovett: mother, wife, carer and sex-chat expert. A resilient woman with a sense of humour and a strong moral, social and political conscience who was changing direction in her life.  A woman, I hoped, whose character and story would appeal to the ladies of my book club long enough to make it through several bottles of wine and a selection of exotic nuts.



Only time will tell if I have succeeded in my mission. But whatever the reception for Sandy Lovett, I will always hold the same affection for her as I do my book club ladies. All of them ordinary women, just like you and me, living their own extraordinary lives.



This article originally appeared on Random Things Through My Letterbox .

Friday, October 23, 2015

When the simplest things go wrong

Sometimes I wonder if I am cursed as it seems even the simplest things go wrong for me. Take for example, the last 36 hours...

I am the tennis centre working and I get some unfortunate news about one of the boys' tennis coaches which requires my contemplation. Whilst I am contemplating, I get an email from my publicist which is good news but requires my immediate attention. My brain is busy whirring over these two issues so when I get home at about 8.30 pm I discover I have left my handbag at the tennis centre. I ring the tennis centre and luckily they are able to locate it but I am not sure if all the contents are all there. I decide because I've only "lost" it for an hour and it was in the same place I left it that I'm going to trust to luck and honesty that all my essentials are still in my bag and collect it the next day as I've already done 5 hours driving and I'm knackered.

Initial trauma over, I go back to dealing with the publicist enquiry. At 11.30 pm I go to bed. I get up early the next morning, do a little more work and then attempt to get the boys off to school on the bus at 8am. I am exceptionally pleased with myself that after visiting my MP a place on the school bus has miraculously appeared for Master Jacob so I don't have to do the school run and can press on with my work earlier than usual. So the usual frantic pre-school checks begin. I tell Master Jacob to take money from his own wallet as he has overnight school trip and my handbag is still an hour away. I see him take it out of his wallet. Great. Master Ben packs his PE kit. Great. They both get out the door (late) but they don’t come back. Great.

I am free! I sit down to continue my work and...

The phone rings. I hear Master Ben's voice. The phone cuts off. It rings again. Garbled teenage talk. I try to make sense of it but I'd have more luck deciphering the Enigma code. The phone cuts off again. My anxiety starts to rise. I decide to ring back. Master Ben answers. There's more teenage garble and phone interference. I finally work out (whilst my blood pressure is rising) that he has left his PE kit on the sofa and Master Jacob has forgotten his money. By this time I am shouting:

WHO HAS LEFT WHAT? WHERE?  WHEN DO YOU NEED IT?

The phone cuts off again.

So far I have deduced that Master Ben doesn't need his kit till lunchtime. However, then I realise that Master Jacob will need his money before he sets off on his trip at 9.00am and it is already 8.35am. We live approximately 12 mins by car from school travelling at 60 mph for approximately 10 of those minutes. In normal hours. At rush hour that journey can easily take 35 minutes. 

I am about to spontaneously combust. The side effect of this near and very vocal combustion is that Mr T, who is off work, decides he will get up and see what is going on. In the interests of road safety, I give him the football kit and extra money from Jacob's wallet (as I have no idea where Master Jacob has left the original money) and send Mr T off to school.

I decide to chill for five minutes before resuming work. I make a cup of tea and check up on the listing of my children's story Fantasia on the professional review service NetGalley which I have been told will go live that morning. I follow the link the administrator has sent me to its page and see it listed. The cover looks great and has already got 8 "likes". I read through the blurb I'd sent just to check all it as it should be. It reads fine. However, when I get to the bit that says "Advance Praise"  I read this:

Advance Praise

"I don't have any reviews for this book, Kellie. However, I've seen some traditional publishers just pick out general praise for the author in these circumstances So I've done that. If you can beat 'em join them!"

Yep.The admin has just copied and pasted. So everyone knows that the following three (awesome) comments I have listed have been selected by myself.

F***

Eventually I decide that my 8 "likes" are either sympathy votes or a reward for supreme navel gazing. I contemplate a) murder b) spontaneous combustion (again) c) toast heavily laden with butter

I opt for c). Only because I haven't got a shotgun.

Mr T comes home. I ask him whether Jacob has any idea where he left his money as I still can't find it.

Mr T informs me that Master Ben was just joking about that. Master Jacob had his money all the time!

I butter some more toast.

* * * * * *

So today is a new day. I have my handbag safe (complete with contents). Master Ben has gone to school. Master Jacob is still on his trip. Master Sam and Mr T are still in bed. All is quiet. I have just made my tea and checked my netgalley listing to see if the adminstrator has acted on the email I sent her regarding the faux-pas.

She hasn't.

I am going to butter some more toast.





Friday, October 16, 2015

Gransnet and a new experiment from Mrs T

I am on Granset this week espousing on one of my favourite subjects: The Problem With Plumbers. Do pop over and give it a social share or leave a comment if you enjoy it.

This week I have also been busy working on my book promotion and I have taken time out to make a video for my book.




I am also currently putting a few articles together and I'm looking for anyone who has had some bad/funny (or even good!) changing room experiences. So if your knickers have fallen down in public, or you've lost your child while you were trying on a bathing suit in M & S, or you split some trousers and put them back on the rail then I want to know!  Please leave a comment or email me at jane@sweetandsaltybooks.net. You could be immortalized in one of my articles!

*So long as you promise not to sue me*


Monday, October 12, 2015

New Release: Fantasia

Those of you who have read my short story collection for adults, A Modern Life, you may have read my short story, Fantasia.  It was different from the other stories in my collection in that it was a universal story whereas the others were what I considered to be "adult" fiction. (Yes there was even some sex in A Modern Life.)

Yes, I know - shocking! Who would have thought the mild-mannered Mrs T would write about sex?

Ho hum.

Anyhow, I really wrote Fantasia as an educational story for children as a way of discussing climate change and the social responsibility we all have to each other and to our environment. (Alongside the fact that I'm just a big kid and like writing silly stuff.)

Well, at long last, I've finally got around to publishing Fantasia as a separate entity so it can reach its intended audience. Currently, it's just as an eBook on Amazon but long-term I'd like to make it into an illustrated book if there's enough interest. I also have plans for two more children's books. One is a story that I made up to entertain my eldest son in the car when he was feeling travel sick and the other is a recent story that came to mind when I wrote about Johnny Potato VC during the April A to Z blog challenge. Both these books will also have to be long-term projects because illustrated books cost a serious amount of money to produce.

Now Fantasia is finished, my next project will be The Very Best of The Witty Ways of a Wayward Wife where you will be able to read the best (or worst) of this blog in book format edited and proof read. Yep - you'll finally be able to read one of my blog posts without the obligatory typos. I originally intended to publish The Very Best of  The Witty Ways Wayward Wife late last year, but I had a rather nasty health scare which, fortunately, turned out to non-life threatening but meant that I shelved the project and have been somewhat preoccupied with my health this year. It's time though to get back to writing and editing. Life is short and I still have a lot more to do!

So I leave you with Fantasia. It's on Amazon for 99p/99c or free if you're a member of  Kindle Unlimited. However, if any of you would like a copy for your kindle to inflict on your children, grandchildren or on yourselves please email me at jane@sweetandsaltybooks.net and I'll send you one. In return, a few words, good or bad, would be welcome on Amazon.





The year is 2031 and Walt Disney, suspended in cryogenic suspension since 1966, has been brought back to life by Dr Corey, a scientist researching brain function for the purpose of suspending life for space travel. But Dr Corey gets more than he bargained for when Walt awakens. Opinionated, arrogant and still in love with films, Walt is overawed when he discovers what has happened to the world in the intervening years: films are a whole-body experience, all human organs except the brain are replaceable and research is underway to preserve life so mankind can reach the outer edges of the universe.


But what affects Walt most is the shocking news that the world is being affected by catastrophic climate change...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Fashion Rant and My Design for Rick Owen

Yes, it's time for my annual fashion rant. Hoist up the bridges, affix your armour and be prepared to do battle with a host of Mrs T's anti-fashion hyperbole and rhetoric.

Now, as usual, I manage to keep calm about the catwalk most of the time (even though most of the designers are clearly bonkers) until I see an outfit that is truly horrendous and my fashion steam gauge goes ballistic.

This happened a few days ago when I saw these pictures from designer Rick Owen's exhibition at the Paris fashion show. If you feel you can suffer the video footage the YouTube clip is below.



Now I've looked at this video several times. Apparently, the concept of female models carrying other female models is meant to be meaningful and saying something sincere about The Sisterhood. ( etc etc.)

Give me a break! I can read about that sort of feminist claptrap in The Guardian. But at least when I'm reading their diatribes I'm not vomiting over my keyboard.

Now it's not that I have anything against the idea of  The Sisterhood - I mean us girls having been watching each other's backs for years and many of us have been forced to wear sacks and babies on our backs since the beginning of civilization. So what we don't need is some overpaid, pretentious male fashion designer thinking he's saying something new and profound about The Sisterhood whilst his models have the indignity of having each other's backsides in their faces. Because, Mr Owens, us women already know what being a woman is all about and the difficulties we've faced and continue to face all over the world.

Also, Mr "Fashion" Designer, we don't want to see these poor women further humiliated wearing ugly, overpriced, ludicrous, not fit-for-purpose hideous carbuncles of clothing which are falsely masquerading as "fashion."

God, I am enjoying this rhetoric. I should have been a speech writer. If anyone out there needs one, I'm available for hire. Furthermore, you can get me for a reduced rate if you supply me with a selection of this season's designs from Marks and Spencers.

Now, I don't want you folks to think I haven't considered these designs seriously. I have. I also considered them alongside Rick Owens earlier fashion show which had men wearing designs with peepholes in them so you could see their assets.

Glorious. Just the sort of outfits I want to see when I'm picking up my kids from school or a loaf from the bakery.

Now we've all heard the argument that designs like these are just trend setters and when they translate into high street fashions they're more conservative.

So, in other words - the "women carrying other women" concept will become a very small backpack. Made of hessian. However, in Top Shop it will have sparkly bits stuck on it and a machine-stitched patch that says "Love Me, Love My Bag."

Joy. I so need one of those. I must ask Mr T to get me one for Christmas.

And the men's peephole garments will turn into...um.... um...ordinary trousers. Because anything else with a hole in it below the waist will result in being charged for public indecency.

So basically, the original designs don't translate into anything remotely similar and all this silly stuff on the catwalk is just exhibitionist, pretentious, arty-farty, egotistical fashion gibberish.

Rant over.

Anyhow, because it's a Saturday night and I'm in an artistic mood (and have nothing better to do) I've designed my own outfit especially for Rick Owens using his "peephole" concept. Imaginatively, I've called it "Man Wearing Romper Suit.". I am showing the "below-the-waist" rear view. Hopefully, Rick will wear it at his next show.




Wednesday, October 7, 2015

One Small Moment, One Big Tear

There are few words I can say to express my joy at having finally receiving my first press review for The Changing Room.

So far The Changing Room has been wallowing in obscurity. I am certainly not foolish enough to believe one review will alter its future but, for a brief moment in time, it gave me a deep satisfaction to know that for at least for one professional reviewer my story worked. In fact, I couldn't have asked for a better review and it's true to say a tear of joy ran down my cheek. It is only one brief moment, but for me it will be a memorable one.

The review is now circulating up North in the UK and so far appeared it has appeared in the Lancaster Evening Post, The Blackpool Gazette, St Helen's The Reporter and the Yorkshire Evening Post.

You can read it HERE.







Thursday, October 1, 2015

Daily Challenges

I am on Shaz's book blog today doing a Question and Answer session.

I amazed myself by actually giving sensible answers. Well mostly sensible ones - a few rogue answers may have slipped through the net.

In other news, I have been having a fairly traumatic time of late. Luckily, this has not been open heart surgery. However, yesterday it consisted of blocking the sink, spilling caustic sink unblocker over my trousers and visiting my MP to let off some steam about a) Britain's overlooked children in the state school system and b) the lack of school transport which now requires me to do the school run twice a day again. Ugh.

On the plus side, a) I made a lasagna which I didn't burn (too much) and b) the cover for my children's short story Fantasia arrived. More about that soon.

Now I feel I should end this very short post with a Justin Bieber song now I am an official fan. However, I think I'll go for something even more (dis)tasteful and get you in the mood for Christmas.