Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography

Saturday, 20 May 2017

IGNITING OUR PASSION by Victoria Cornwall

This week has been a busy time for me. At the beginning of the week I took part in the St.Ives Literary Festival and at the end of the week I was in London attending the Romantic Novelists' Association's Summer Party as I (and my debut novel The Thief's Daughter) was a contender for the RNA's Joan Hessayon Award. I enjoyed the events immensely as they both involve my passion for fiction.

Books have always played a major role in my life. My mother read to me as a child until I graduated to being able to read to myself. Like most British children, I learnt to read through the use of the Ladybird's Key Words Reading Scheme which was used by British primary schools throughout the 60s and 70s. Specially designed for children, the 36 small hard-backed, illustrated books used a reduced vocabulary to help children learn to read and, for some, built the foundation of a love for books that would last for the rest of their lives. However, there was one book in particular which turned on a light-bulb in my head and made me aware that reading a book could be quite magical. In other words, it ignited my passion for reading.

Charlotte's Web, by E.B.White was the first book I borrowed from the junior section of my primary school's library, which was quite a memorable occasion in itself. It was also my first novel, again another first. I proudly took it home and devoured every page.  For the first time I felt quite grown-up as I read the story to myself ... no more reading out loud to practice my reading skills for me!

I loved Charlotte's Web. I identified with the setting (I also lived on a farm) and the little heroine called Fern, however this farm was very different to my own. In Charlotte's Web, the animals could speak, had personalities and faced great hurdles. I experienced a range of emotions as I followed Wilbur and Charlotte's story and I still have a vivid memory of holding it in my hand, when I was about to return it to the library shelf, and thinking how amazing a good book could be. It was truly magical and, on that day, my love of books began in earnest.

I asked my fellow contributors on the Novel Points of View blog to share their light-bulb moment and here are the books they shared with me.

Gill Stewart

I’ve chosen Enid Blyton’s ‘Those Dreadful Children’ as my light-bulb book. We had a tattered old hardback edition which I loved and read over and over again. I think what was special about it was that it made me realise that different people saw the same things in different ways. That was a real wow! moment – and a very useful one for a future writer.

In this book, a harum-scarum family move in next door to a prim and proper family. Both sets of children think the others are ‘those dreadful children’. And, as a reader, you can see exactly why they irritate each other so much. But gradually they become friendly and have to work out ways to accommodate each other’s differences. It might be a children’s book, but it probably has a lot to teach adults, too, especially in the current climate!

Linda Mitchelmore

I don’t remember having a light-bulb moment from reading as a child – I used to read so much and my mother took me to the library every Saturday. Woe betide me if I hadn’t read the books I’d selected the week before. Sometimes, I would have to get an extension on the loan and take it out a second time, getting the little card stamped with the date. What I do remember is loving the non-fiction section as much, if not more, than the children’s fiction section which wasn’t very big in those days. There were some books in there where the paper was tissue-paper thin, and crackled when you turned the pages. Leather bound. Of course, as they were in the adult section I couldn’t take them out with my Junior Library card. But I used to linger. I think, on reflection, it was the feel and smell of books that got me hooked. I still use Paignton Library although its moved from its first floor venue in the old Liberal Party headquarters to a swanky new site near the railway station. Cafe on site – what’s not to like!

Rae Cowie

The first books I remember receiving and treating with great reverence were Twinkle annuals, which, to my delight, magically appeared in my stocking on Christmas morning. I adored all their covers, but the one that sticks in my memory showed Twinkle twirling as a ballerina. Long before I could read, I would row up my teddies, who made for a particularly appreciative audience, prop a Twinkle annual in my lap, and compose stories, which vaguely fitted the pictures.

But the two series that really fired my passion for reading, were both written by Enid Blyton – The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. I loved the adventures of The Secret Seven but longed to belong to the Famous Five. Living along the coast of north-east Scotland, our village had both sandy and rocky beaches, a natural stone stairway known as the Giant Steps, a hermit’s cave to explore, a disused railway station, walks in the grounds of an abandoned stately home, woods surrounding a loch and more... If only Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog would visit Cullen – there were so many places for them to discover! Since joining the Famous Five wasn’t an option, I cajoled my best friend to join me on picnics, long cycle rides, hikes to a temple monument which sat atop a local hill – always on the lookout for a Famous Five mystery-style adventure. So perhaps it was no surprise that when I began reading adult fiction, I devoured Agatha Christie's cosy crime. But my heart was still on Kirrin Island, solving mysteries with the Famous Five.

Jennifer Bohnet

Books that gave one the reading bug! I’m afraid I’m going out on a limb here! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read and neither can I remember the first books I read. The ones I remember are from when I was about ten when the reading bug was already deeply ingrained in me. But I do remember the books that really got my son reading - and also I think influenced him in one of his career choices! It was the ‘Biggles’ series of books by Capt. W.E.Johns. He positively devoured them and the Gimlet stories afterwards. The picture is of half a dozen out of his childhood collection currently sitting in my attic.

Jennifer Young

I used to worry that my favourite ever children’s book was out of print. Maybe it is: you don’t see it in the bookshops any more, which is why I cling so tightly to the tattered old copy (possibly now without its cover) that was mine when I was a child.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively came out in 1973 and I must have read it when it was new. It’s about James, who moves to the country with his parents and finds himself being plagued by (and taking the blame for the actions of) a ghost disturbed during the renovation of the family’s cottage) and for some reason, it caught my attention.

Penelope Lively wrote other children’s books but they weren’t as good. She wrote acclaimed literary fiction for adults, too, and I’m afraid I didn’t think that was as good, either. It’s so long since I read it that I can’t remember what was so wonderful about it; but I do know that it’s clung in the back of my mind for decades and now, when I think of it, I remember the line drawings, the characters, the snippets of descriptions.

It’s as if by disturbing that memory, the book has come back to haunt me — almost, you might say, like the ghost of Thomas Kempe himself.
After a wonderful time at the RNA party (where I also had a chance to meet up with fellow Novel Points of View contributor, Gill Stewart), I am now home ... tired, happy and thoughtful. I have come to the conclusion that although life is a journey, the direction it takes is often decided by, what appears, inconsequential events. In the mid 70's, mine took a direction towards a love for fiction. Oddly, it was a fictional spider, called Charlotte, and a pig, called Wilbur, who pointed the way.

Victoria Cornwall

Friday, 12 May 2017

Hitting the Road

Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe, Argyll

I have been feeling sorry for myself lately because I had convinced myself I did not have time to travel to new locations. The pesky day job was not allowing any time away or so I thought.

A few weeks ago a fellow local photographer Ally Deans suggested a mid week day trip, as I had the day off I agreed to join him. We set off just after midnight so that we would arrive at Loch Awe for the sunrise. It would be a long day but one that would well worth it and it has given me the proverbial kick up the rear end to get out there when I can.

Loch Awe at first light

Fortunately the following week mine and Audrey's day off coincided so instead of spending a rare day together I headed off at midnight for Glen Affric. I am very lucky that she understands.

We had been to Glen Affric a few years ago however the weather was against us with the drizzling rain coming off the hills in fits and starts. This trip the weather was on my side to a degree. The beautiful sunny skies later in the day were not ideal for taking photographs;

Glen Affric
 but photographers are never happy with the lighting conditions.
 I travelled far and wide eventually ending up at Eilean Donan Castle. The tide and light were against me at this point my only option was to start the long journey home.

So from now on with the days becoming longer I will be hitting the road in search of new locations at every chance.



Sunday, 7 May 2017


Every woman knows Lady Augusta Bracknell’s famous line in The Importance of Being Earnest: ‘A handbag?’ said with such disdain everyone instantly knows her true feelings. It’s a phrase my husband has perfected down the years, although he invariably uses the words ‘Another handbag?’ but the disdain is there. The fact that I ignore his remark goes without saying. I need my handbags.

My mother was a shoe and bag addict. The genes were passed down to my sister and I - she got the shoe addiction and I got the bag one. I always carry a bag - usually a largish one - whenever I go out. Shoulder, clutch, tote, but never ever a back pack, I just don’t like them. But I do like quirky bags.

The contents of my bags though has changed down the years.When the children were young besides my own essential stuff, notebook and pen (even in those long ago days I scribbled), purse, paperback, keys, the bag had to be big enough to carry all sorts of emergency kit: wet wipes, plasters, snacks, bits of lost lego, crayons and colouring books - oh, any mum of my generation can tell you what it was like keeping children happy in the car in the days before nintendo. And then there had to be room to carry any things of theirs they tired of holding and handed to me. These days I need a bag large enough to carry a note book, phone, diary, sunglasses, spare pair of ordinary glasses, purse, ipad, spare pen, kindle, tissues, lipstick, comb and some business cards (just in case I meet the agent of my dreams so I can hand over a card.) Invariably too, my husband will say, 'have you got room in there for my glasses and my camera?' I'm seriously considering buying him a 'man-bag' - you can buy some lovely ones here in France.

Occasionally I do try and leave the house with a smaller handbag and feel lost. And invariably whatever I decide to leave out is the very thing I need. I have friends who never carry a bag - how do they do that?

For me handbags are like notebooks - irresistible and one is never enough! How about you - can you resist a shop window like the one below?

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Let's Hear It For The Girls

by Jennifer Young

The Parsonage. (Image courtesy of SMJ.)
Recently I enjoyed a literary weekend away, to Stratford-on-Avon via the Lakes and Bronte Country. There’s material there for a dozen blogs, but I’m going to confine myself to just one aspect. And it’s the one aspect of a wonderful weekend that disturbed me. 

You think of the Brontes and you think, first of all, of the sisters — of Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Of course, there are other Brontes, too — their parents, the sisters who didn’t write and the adored but feckless only brother, Branwell. But it’s the three who wrote the books who are the focus of the whole Bronte experience. Isn’t it?

I’m sure the Bronte Parsonage Trust would argue that that’s what they’ve done, but the subliminal messages I picked up weren’t quite so clear. The Parsonage itself is a strange place, austere as you might expect it to be. In the first room on the left there’s the dining room. Charlotte’s portrait — the famous one — hangs on the wall and there are sheets of paper and a quill on the spot where Emily wrote Wuthering Heights. Upstairs, the sisters’ bedrooms are full of glass cases, letters they wrote, costumes from the BBC dramatisation of their lives. To go out, you go through Branwell’s room. 

On the outside looking in - Charlotte, Emily and Anne.
(Image by Rich Tea.)
And here’s the thing. In the rest of the house the girls and their genius are confined to their glass cases, but Branwell’s tortured spirit is allowed to roam free. His bed is unmade. His desk is chaotic. His room is plunged into shadow. It’s beautifully done — but why this one room? 

When we left the Parsonage itself we were directed through an exhibition space that was devoted…well, to Branwell. There’s a window onto a garden where there’s a statue of Charlotte, Emily and Anne. They’re on the outside, looking in. Symbolic or what? There’s nothing explicit, and certainly no direct claim that he wrote his sisters’ books, but I came away from the whole place with a very strong sense that somebody responsible for the exhibition design felt that poor Branwell was mightily hard done by. 

The theory that Branwell was the author of his sisters’ books or, at the very least, the creator of Heathcliff, is for me an implausible one. Let’s remember: it was so hard for women to get published that the three sisters, literary geniuses all, had to pretend to be men, so why, if Bramwell had written any or all of the books, would he go through such peculiar hoops to avoid taking the credit? 

I’m not an expert on the Brontes, but Haworth did leave me troubled. It was difficult enough for the sisters to find publication and recognition during their lifetimes. It’s all the more awkward to see them overshadowed by their brilliant but troubled brother over 150 years after their deaths. 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

5 Brilliant Podcasts for Writers

I’m a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to listening to podcasts but since discovering them, around 18 months ago, I’ve become a firm fan. Family and friends have grown used to me pressing home the joys of stumbling over a great new show.

But why do I love podcasts so much?

Because whatever my mood or writing problem, there’s a podcast which can help. Whether I’m searching for practical writing advice or marketing tips, interesting features, some much needed encouragement or simply wish to learn what’s ‘happening’ in the literary world right now, there’s a podcast that fits.

Don’t have time to listen to podcasts? Think again…

  •        Why not enjoy a new podcast when preparing dinner? It turns cooking into a pleasure rather than a chore - learning about the publishing industry whilst throwing together a bolognaise sauce.

  •         A podcast of a decent length helps quash the tedium of ironing. The Bestseller Experiment is one my favourites. I’ve popped more details and a link below.

  •         When heading off on a long journey, whether driving or going by train or plane, why not stock up on some interesting shows?

  •         Exercising – walking in the mountains, running in the park, hitting the treadmill in the gym, all are made easier when listening to a podcast.
I hope that as well as being informative, the podcasts I’ve chosen to share are also entertaining and fun. So here goes…


The Bestseller Experiment – length approximately 1 hour

In this weekly podcast, writer Mark Stay and trainee author Mark Desvaux, challenge themselves to write, edit, publish and market a self-published, bestselling eBook in just a year - and these guys are having a blast along the way.
Through interviews with publishing experts and bestselling authors, they discover the secrets of writing a bestselling novel.
Each one of the Bestseller Experiment podcasts offers gems of writing wisdom. If you’d like to sample a flavour of the show then I recommend episode 29 - Kate Harrison discussing writing both fiction and non-fiction, episode 24 - Liz Fenwick and the Crows of Doubt, along with episodes 03, 17 & 25 by the amazing multi-million selling indie author Shannon Mayer, and the latest instalment (at time of blogging), which features David Shelley, CEO of Little, Brown and Orion Books, who provides an insight into the future of publishing.
Also, if you sign up to receive a free weekly dose of the Bestseller Experiment, and I highly recommend you do, you’ll receive a free how to write a bestseller e-book, The Vault of Gold, which contains all the best hints and tips from the show. And did I mention it’s FREE!

The Creative Penn – length approximately 1 hour

The Creative Penn is the show that first got me hooked on podcasts. A definite must listen weekly treat for me! Shows are posted on Mondays by author and professional speaker, Joanna Penn, who is a positive powerhouse of creativity, describing herself as an author entrepreneur. The Creative Penn is an uplifting mix of author/publishing insider interviews, book marketing news, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, as well as reporting on new technologies in the fast-moving publishing world.

With a back catalogue of over 300 episodes to enjoy, I recommend you dive in and sample what The Creative Penn has to offer.

Also, when signing up to The Creative Penn podcast, be sure to download your FREE copy of the Author 2.0 Blueprint, which provides tips on how to write, publish and market your book.

 The Worried Writer – length approximately 45 mins

The Worried Writer is produced by best selling novelist, Sarah Painter, whose blurb for the show includes the tag line - Creative Writing for the Timid. Painter unearths useful tips and strategies for coping with fear, self-doubt and procrastination, through informative interviews with experienced authors, including Rachael Lucas, Catherine Ryan Howard, Miranda Dickinson, Annie Lyons and more. Painter’s focus is very much on how to get the job of writing done. She begins each podcast by answering a listener’s writing query, before moving on to interview her guest.

As well as producing the Worried Writer podcast, Painter has also recently published her self- help book for writers - Stop Worrying; Start Writing – one I already have on my TBR pile!

Grammar Girl – Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing – length approximately 10-15 minutes

Grammar Girl is my go-to podcast when driving to the supermarket, or collecting teens from school. At 10-15 minutes, each episode is the perfect length for grabbing a grammarly (is that even a word?) workout.

If your memories of grammar lessons are dry and boring then never fear, Grammar Girl - otherwise known as Mignon Fogarty, who creates and hosts the show - specialises in providing quick and dirty grammar tips in a quirky and memorable way.

I already loved Grammar Girl’s posts on Facebook and Twitter, but listening to her podcast makes learning even easier. Grammar Girl provides tips for American English but I haven’t found this to be a problem as she also points out when British English might differ. A short and helpful podcast definitely worth a try.

BBC Radio 4 Books and Authors – length approximately 30 minutes

BBC Radio4’s Books and Authors podcast contains episodes of both Open Book and A Good Read. In Open Book, the journalist, Mariella Frostrup talks to authors about their work and in A Good Read, writer and broadcaster, Harriett Gilbert invites guests to discuss their favourite books. The Books and Authors podcast is my literary fix. It helps keep me up-to-date with what’s interesting in the publishing industry and stretches my reading as my TBR pile always grows after listening to one of these podcasts!

Please share your favourite podcasts too
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick round up and if you’ve yet to discover the delight of listening to podcasts, then I hope this post might inspire you to try one or two. And if you are already an enthusiastic podcast follower,  please join in by sharing your favourites below. 

Happy podcast listening,