Anyone know how to become a blogstar?

There is a question about blogging that I have often asked and never got a satisfactory answer to. How do you get people to read your blog?
I have read blog posts that have been short, not particularly interesting or well-written and found scores of comments and sometimes hundreds of likes. I’ve written about that phenomenon before, and there are several possible reasons for it. What intrigues me though are the bloggers who post very infrequently, on not specially gripping subjects, have very few likes and virtually no comments, yet they claim, often with the figures to prove it, that they get thousands of views every day. How?
How do you get so many people to pass by your blog when you manifestly don’t write anything that inspires more than one person in a thousand to push the like button? I notice that some of them don’t even reply to the odd comment they do get.
I have heard that as a platform for someone like me, aspiring best-selling author, a blog is useful to create an image rather than to generate sales. I’m trying, I’m trying! I have a blog and a Face Book page, but so do about a billion other people. I’m working at my image, and as images go, it could be worse, but who cares?
An image is fine, but a thousand views a day would also be very nice thank you, even if only a handful translated into sales. So, how do I get them, all these viewers, visitors? By visiting a thousand blogs an evening to get a return visit?
What do other people feel about the thousand views a day bloggers? Are they the norm, or are they freakish? I’m not talking about celebrities, or literary agents, the kind of people who attract a following looking to pick up a few crumbs from the table, a useful tidbit of information, or just a bit of gossip. I’m talking about the ordinary blogger who blogs about gardening, or their pets, their writing, their holidays. Or the blogger who blogs about what they would like to do one day when they get round to it.
What have they got that I manifestly haven’t?
Have you got it?
Are you willing to let the rest of us in on the secret?

Who are the New Adults?

In an earlier blog post I wrote about the difference between Middle Grade writing and Young Adult, often dumped in the same basket. Now there’s a new genre, New Adult to fit into the relatively few years that lie between childhood and adulthood. My first reaction was enthusiastic. Maybe this is the category my books should be in. Then I had a look at what was included under the New Adult heading.

Judging by what I’ve seen so far, this new category seems to be used to add sex scenes to writing otherwise aimed at younger teenagers, so it can be presented to the eighteen plus group who I would consider adult anyway. Is this not just another marketing ploy to point eighteen/nineteen-year-olds in the direction of books with sex in them but no long words? Why can’t nineteen-year-olds read adult books like the rest of us?

When I was a young adult, we didn’t exist. You were either a child or an adult for literary requirements. When you were thirteen you got an adult library card and you graduated from the children’s section, which included books by Alan Garner, Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliff to the fully-fledged adult section. Or you oscillated between the two depending on your capacity to ‘get’ the adult concepts. Contrary to what some parents believe, teenagers read only if they enjoy reading—thirteen-year-olds rarely pick up a book when they are after a cheap thrill, they turn on the computer.

Which begs the question: do we need this kind of censorship in reading matter at all? I am only too pleased to see my children reading anything, and would never dream of riffling through the pages to see if I could find a dirty word or a steamy sex scene. I am much quicker to pour scorn on the quality of the writing than to be shocked at the number of swear words used in it.

But then, I am maybe just a born-again hippie with utopian tendencies, who subscribes to the ideas of out of date educationalists like Piaget and Montessori, and who believes that giving children free access to pens and paper is more important than any electronic gadget you can name. l am probably an irresponsible parent, and it’s not surprising that my children are lazy, happy, under-achievers.

Part of growing up is pushing back the boundaries, testing, and experimenting. If a thirteen-year-old wants to read Anna Karenina, fair play to her/him I say. And I certainly wouldn’t plough through The Brothers Karamazov to see if the language was a bit iffy: my sixteen-year-old read it without me poking my nose over his shoulder to check, and didn’t take any harm from it.

It seems to me there is a growing tendency to keep children babies for longer, to cosset and protect them long after they should be flying with their own wings. Some of this protectiveness is laudable and understandable. We are lucky enough to live in an age when we can expect all of our children to outlive us, and it is the ultimate tragedy for a parent to bury a child. So we can give free rein to all the love we want to shower on our children without fear of losing them. That loving and cherishing shouldn’t retard their independence though. Should it?


Author portraits

A question that has been bothering me for a while is whether it is indispensible to have a mug shot on my author pages.

It isn’t that I am particularly shy, or particularly ugly, but I don’t like having my picture taken. I am horribly self-conscious and take terrible photos. I usually have my eyes closed if it’s a flash, or I’m grimacing against the sun if it’s an outdoor shot. If the aim is to attract readers, unless it works on the same principle as drumming up trade for a freak show, I’m not sure my face will be especially good for business.

I have read the advice, to wear nice clothes, pick a venue that will convey a suitable image to the readers, smile, and let them see (the whites of) your eyes. The last photos I took I thought weren’t too bad, until the children said: “But look at what you’re wearing! Why do you wear such weird clothes?” They said I looked as though I was wearing camouflage to hide in a mossy forest. Except for the red jeans. I’m going through my wardrobe now to find myself an image.

Since the aim is to project a particular image, every aspect of the picture takes on a sinister importance. What will people read into my taste in woolly jumpers (it was cold the day of the camouflage moss), that I wear bright coloured jeans, that my front teeth aren’t quite straight? Then there’s the fear of looking completely inappropriate for my target readership. Like the gay cowboy and BDSM writer who looks like somebody’s gran, or the just-out-of-high-school Barbie doll who writes about the final days of patients in a terminal cancer ward. What are you supposed to look like if you want draw YA readers? Their best friend, their gym teacher? Will it put them off if you look like the Pope or a police inspector?

And where do I pose? For the authorly look: in the bureau peering over the top of the laptop? For the natural look: in the garden, squinting into the sun, with the crumbling garden shed in the background? Me, alone is not natural anyway. I am surrounded by people and animals all day, every day. In fact it would be more natural to be snapped staggering to the table carrying a cauldron of steaming pasta.

But does anybody take much notice of author pics anyway? Personally, I only notice the ones that make me bristle, like the pretentiously intellectual ones, or the haughty, glamorous ones. I tend not to remember the cheery, relaxed photos of people who could be my Aunty Molly or Uncle Jim.

Much as I would like to look like my profile pic, I do not in fact look like Sophia Loren. I don’t look like something that lives under the sink either. So, do I take the plunge and expose my real face to the world? Have you? And did it hurt much?

The thing under the sink
The thing under the sink

Pic courtesy of atomicShed/Foter/CCBY-NC-ND

Is blogging worth it?

Having struggled with the whole concept of ‘the blog’, the sheer befuddling mechanics of it, for six months now, I think I’ve got something that looks attractive, the menu works as it should, and the content is interesting. But now I’ve got it, what do I do with it?
I have done my best to make the articles interesting, they’re nicely illustrated, and easy to navigate. But who reads them? I read other blogs where each post has yards of comments. True, many of them will be thanking the blogger for having visited another blog, but they are comments nonetheless. How do they do it?

I don’t follow that many blogs, no time, but there are a few whose posts I read assiduously. Those blogs might get a lot of visits, I can’t tell, but they certainly don’t get the dozens and dozens of comments gleaned over a period of many months that some less well-put together blog posts do. All I can suppose is that those very popular bloggers spend a lot of time visiting other blogs to incite return visits.

As a tactic, it obviously works. My question is: is it worth it? If someone reads your blog because you read theirs, does it have any impact for you at all? As a soon-to-be-published writer, I would like my blog to attract people, to read my words because they are actually interested in what I have to say, and eventually to buy my books. Of course, I hear you say, if you don’t publicise your blog nobody’s going to find you among the hundreds of thousands of other bloggers.

A friend pointed out that most people like to read about personal, everyday stuff, and the point is often made that nobody wants have the blogger’s book thrust in their face in every post. People lose interest very quickly in your struggles with writer’s block, they don’t necessarily want daily wordcounts of the WIP, and get frankly annoyed by constant exhortations to go-out-and-buy-my-book. So, I go easy on the spam and write about Trixie, the cat and her personal problems. Any other suggestions?

What do you do to promote your blog? Anything? Does it work? To put it bluntly, does blogging translate into sales? I’d be interested to know.

PENTAX Digital Camera

The birth of a story

Recently I have been writing short fiction. The first story evolved after jotting down a very strange but vivid dream I had; the second was in response to a magazine’s themed submission call. The next two stories were also written based on a one-word theme suggested by a magazine. Not that I submitted either of them; they were far too long by the time they were finished, but I suppose you either write with a word limit in the back of your mind, or you keep going until the story’s told. I then went on to write a story from a phrase that I thought would make a good title that had been trotting around in my head for years, then another from an image, a girl walking barefoot on a beach.

Looking at all my stories, a pattern emerges: they all grew out of a single idea, a snapshot image or a good line. Sometimes it is a visual image like the girl on a beach, or a small boy stuck on an escalator. Sometimes it has been an idea, the exhibition of human remains in a museum, for example.

It made me wonder what creative process was at work here, and whether other writers functioned in the same way. Do we need something to jolt the creative impulse, a mere germ of an idea that once it is set down in black and white unfolds all by itself into a whole new world? Or do we do our research as the books suggest, fix on a market, aim at an age group, target a popular trend? Can that single, vivid first line become just the first step on a journey that will cover a whole series of books?

How do you create a story? Do you get an idea that encompasses the entire arc from that first, catchy opening line, to a satisfying end? Do you start like I do with a random image or a nicely turned phrase?


A Midnight Visit

Aisha’s eyes opened wide, still full of dream images, her vision lagging slightly behind the sound that had woken her. She thought it came from the street, but her tiny room, little more than a cupboard had no window. Curious, she slid out of bed and tiptoed into the communal room. The sound of marching boots had stopped, but the vibrations still hung in the air, and she felt the presence of the booted men though there were no voices, no shuffling of feet or coughing as they waited.

She raised the window blind a crack and peeped out into the dark street. The lamp at the far end shed a ghostly glimmer that caught the edge of a long coat, the line of a visor, the toe of a boot, but left the faces in darkness. Four men in long, belted coats waited on the other side of the street, cap visors throwing their features into shadow. Motionless in their high black boots, they waited: the Pure Ones.

More boots tramping, this time in a disorderly fashion, spilled into the street from both ends: Black Boys. They spread out to bar the way, forming a roadblock radiating violence.

Aisha had never witnessed a visit of the Pure Ones before. No one who had been visited was ever seen again to tell about it. Neighbours in adjoining apartments must have heard what happened, but they never said. Nobody ever heard the voices raised in fear, or the scuffling as unwilling bodies were pushed down the stairs and into the street.

Midnight. The city slept. Except for the unfortunates in the building opposite, and a girl watching.

The street door opened and the four Pure Ones disappeared into the shadows of the stairwell. They climbed the stair in a silent glide, one floor, another. The street door gaped wide; the sharp rap of a gloved hand on an apartment door floated out into the stillness. The night air quivered as fear settled on the street, and Black Boys muttered and shuffled their feet impatiently. Aisha shivered.

A light appeared at a second floor window, muffled voices, a shrill cry followed by a blow, a slap, a fist perhaps. The light was extinguished, and the air vibrated loudly with the tumbling of unsteady, sleep-heavy feet. Then they were there, the four of them, pouring from the shadows into the dim street, carrying a pale lumpy bundle between them, a bundle that spun helplessly like a poor swimmer caught in a river current. A bald head gleamed dully, feet in slippers stumbled. A hastily donned bathrobe flapped around thin ankles.

Another figure appeared in the doorway, pale and fluttering anxiously. A voice rose, a faint piping that was rapidly silenced by a blow from a fist, and the fluttering figure fell to the ground. Aisha gasped in shock and disbelief, and pushed the blind higher. A head turned and she ducked down. Behind her a door opened, flooding the room with light. Her brother, Adam stood, bleary-eyed and sleep-tousled in the doorway of his room.

Aisha gave a strangled cry, “The light!”

He snapped the switch, but the damage was done, and they both stared at the blind, not pulled tight, the narrow crack a gaping, treacherous chasm. Adam crouched down next to his sister and together they peered into the street.

Black Boys slunk into doorways, waiting to beat back anyone who had the temerity to try and intervene. Nobody ever did. The streetlight shone balefully on three Pure Ones dragging a pale, blundering figure towards a waiting vehicle, a black, windowless van. Their struggling prisoner was pushed inside and the door clicked closed, the sound ringing out in the midnight air with the finality of the last trump.

Framed by the yawning black hole of the street door opposite, a single figure remained. Neon-lit, the Pure One stood statue-still, his shadowy face lifted to Aisha’s window, invisible eyes fixed on the crack in the blind.

In the dark, she felt for her brother’s hand. The countdown had begun to another midnight.



Sugar and spice versus puppy dogs’ tails

There is a very common argument used increasingly these days to explain phenomena that men find difficult to handle, and that is, the fallacy of female domination of the field. We hear it used increasingly in France by divorced fathers over the right of access to their children. Many ex spouses claim that they are denied equal access to their children by female judges who are necessarily biased in favour of the mother. Without going into the details of the reasons for access being denied (violence, abduction, the usual), or of an access that doesn’t suit the father (like during the week when he has to work, unlike his ex wife of course who just sits around twiddling her thumbs all day), the criticism only arises because of female domination of the legal and judicial system. When it was male dominated, I don’t recall that argument being used to contest decisions made against women.

The same argument is used to explain why girls are doing better at school (at some ages) than boys. Boys apparently need male teachers to keep them firmly under control and provide role models, the father figure, and girls are more at home with sweet, soppy women teachers thus gaining an unfair advantage. Again, I won’t mention that woman have always predominated in the less prestigious realms of education (primary school) so it’s nothing new for boys to have female teachers for their formative years. And since until the second half of the twentieth century most children left school at fourteen, I rest my case.

We hear the same argument used for the lack of interest boys show in reading. Too many books about girls, by girls and for girls. Female domination of the industry striking again, banjaxing the pleasure our sons should be getting out of the written word. Where I would agree that there does seem to be a plethora of YA novels featuring on the cover a young woman wearing a swirly white frock such as Elizabeth Taylor wore in Rebecca, it seems to me there is a confusion between books featuring a female lead, and books for girls.

Selene copy

Books, if they are any good, are about an abstract concept; they tell a story. A good story in not about either girls or boys. If this is a recent phenomenon, that female characters take the lead in YA novels, thus putting off a male readership, why is it that women have for decades past been more avid readers than men? Women have managed to derive pleasure from books written by men, and presumably about men since novels were invented. Why should boys find it so hard to get anything out of a story that has a girl for a heroine? If you look at the number of influential nineteenth century novelists to use a female lead (Flaubert, Zola, de Maupassant, Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, to name just a few that spring to mind) I think it becomes obvious that it isn’t the presence of a heroine that determines the durability of a book, but the universal truths it sets out.

This brings us to the question of what is a book about girls, or about boys. Is the book soley about things that interest girls, like nail varnish, cute boys and class bitch problems? Or the things that interest boys: physical appearance/assets, cute girls and class bully problems? If the answer is yes, then the book has no universal appeal and maybe isn’t worth reading: worth meaning that the reader gains something from the experience of reading. But if the book is about a boy/girl confronting difficulties and maybe doing something a boy/girl is not expected to do, succeeding or failing, making right or wrong decisions, then it shouldn’t matter if the protagonist is male or female.

If the parent choosing a book for their offspring thinks that it does, then they are perpetuating prejudices and narrow-mindedness. It isn’t a natural given that if there is a leader, it has to be a boy, nor that the victim, or emotionally fragile character has to be a girl. It isn’t a question of who is leading the field, but how, and most of all why are doing it.

Maybe parents should stop telling their boys that they have to be heroes to be fulfilled human beings. Maybe then we would get fewer boys thinking they have something to prove to the world.

The intellectual sloth of fantasy worlds

Fantasy is probably the form of literature I enjoy reading the most. Having established to my own satisfaction that all fiction is fantasy to a greater or lesser degree, I take exception to being called a ‘genre’ writer, as if some kinds of fiction are more worthy than others.

I would agree though, that sometimes our fantasy worlds could do with a little more ‘realism’. I’m sure everybody has done it, snorted in disbelief, or thrown the book out the window in exasperation, when something really dumb strikes you about the world you are expected to believe in one hundred percent.

My pet gripe must be the inertia of many fantasy worlds. How many fictional world histories refer back to some cataclysmic marking event that happened a thousand, if not several thousand years previously?

Big Battle against Evil: the Dark Lord is defeated
Big Battle against Evil: the Dark Lord is defeated

Fair enough. We have Jesus, don’t we? Where I get rather irritated is that in the time lapse (say the time between the Battle of Hastings and the present day) that absolutely nothing has evolved! No-thing! The wheel had already been invented at the time of the Big Battle against Evil, so had the forging of steel, building of massive castles, and, last but not least, books, education, and easily available means of setting down events.

Since that time, millennia previously, there has been no progress whatsoever. So, what the feck were they doing all that time? Why has this ‘civilisation’ not sunk back into the primal slime? Why, given the generally bloodthirsty nature of these worlds, in the course of these millennia has nobody invented anything more efficient for killing purposes than the trusty sword and the heroic longbow? They have feudal systems and religion but no science. They have shops and two-storey cottages, taverns, inns, schools, books, paper, towns, cities, social organisation, roads, foreign trade, armies, diplomats. So why has nobody got round to discovering electricity, or inventing steam engines, or guns, or the washing machine?

Or am I being disingenuous? Is this all part of the fantasy package that we secretly yearn for: a fictitious golden age with unspoilt scenery, lack of industrial pollution, and no cars? Our imagination though stops short of life without shops and a minimum of creature comfort. I mean, who really wants to knit their own chain mail?

Two thousand years later...
Two thousand years later…

Is fiction ‘real’?

Commenting recently on the growing number of chick-lit vampire novels I’m finding lying around the house, I asked their owners why they never read any other fantasy novels. Their reply was, “Because fantasy’s not real”.

There followed a discussion about what exactly does ‘real’ mean in terms of fiction. Isn’t it all ‘unreal’? My two vampire fans who don’t like fantasy or ‘imaginary’ stories as they put it, argue that there is a difference between stories that involve magic and imaginary worlds, and ‘Twilight’ type stories that are real and believable. To be honest, the nuance escapes me. I think what they mean is that some stories create a familiar ‘real’ landscape by using characters like the gorgeous and mysterious new boy, the popular rich girl, and a school setting. Add a bunch of card-carrying vampires and you are just adding a bit of spice to the familiar ‘real’ brew.

I enjoy the other kind of fantasy, the kind some of my children dismiss as ‘unreal’. I read to escape to a world I am not familiar with, not to be beaten over the head by misery, misfortune, and unhappiness. Even less do I want to read everyday stories of everyday folk, heart-warming, tender, and humorous. I’m in the middle of living one of those and have no desire to write or read about it. I like my reading to take me somewhere new and surprising. It could take me to Northanger Abbey or Middle-earth, anywhere as long as there aren’t cars and bus stops and all night supermarkets. I don’t mind that the writer’s fantasy world has different rules to ours, that our rules of physics don’t apply, and there isn’t a High School in sight.

Like probably all writers, I write the kind of thing I like to read. It doesn’t even spoil it to know how the story ends, because often I’m wrong. One of the great things about writing fantasy is that sometimes the story runs off on a track of its own, and takes the writer into undiscovered areas of her imagination. In other words, the car turns into a horse; the horse sprouts wings and flies through the invisible boundary of a parallel universe, where a malevolent forest is gradually…

Ford Mondeo with fantasy attachments
Ford Mondeo with fantasy attachments

I won something!


I was gobsmacked yesterday to discover that I had received this award from the dynamic and generous Cait O’Sullivan, who has one romance already published with Crimson Rose Press, and is soon to have her second novel published by Musa Publishing. You’ll find a tantalising excerpt from her first book on her blog. Go check it out.

The Liebster Blog Award is given to upcoming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. The Meaning; Liebster is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing and welcome.

Here are the rules for receiving this award:
1. Each person must post 11 things about themselves
2. Answer the questions the tagger has set for you plus create 11 questions for the people you’ve tagged to answer.
3. Choose 11 people and link them in your post.
4. Go to their page and tell them.
5. Remember, no tag backs!

Why eleven, I don’t know. Is the number eleven significant for lesser mortals? Whatever, here are eleven things about me: I am Irish, I was brought up in the north of England, I live in France, no, not in an ex-pat rural idyll, but city centre with five children, a Spanish greyhound and three cats (I count that as one thing) and husband for those interested. My favourite city is Rome, I hate the cold, love listening to the birds, I’m a sucker for baby animals, I have a simian line on both hands, my favourite book is The Box of Delights, and favourite fictional female character is Moominmamma.

Questions Cait asked me:

  1. Beach or mountain holiday? Mountain though anywhere would be nice.
    2. Where in the family do you come? Eldest of 4
    3. Dog or cat person? Both
    4. What’s your favourite season and why? The early spring, though it’s over so quickly here. It means the year is starting again; the winter is really over.
    5. What’s the last book you read? The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier.
    6. What’s the last film you watched? Amadeus
    7. What’s your favourite weather and why? April and May sunshine and cloud, before the sun gets too hot to be out in.
    8. What would you like to be written on your tombstone? I don’t want a tombstone, I want a passage grave.
    9. How would you like to be remembered? As a pretty good writer who tried to live up to her principles.
    10. When and why was the last time you giggled uncontrollably? Listening to one of my children reading out loud a recipe for ‘triffle’.
    11. What’s your favourite photo on display? A shot of all of us up to the fourth baby in the gardens of the Palais Royale.

This is my list of questions for my tagged bloggers:

  1. Are you Medieval castle or Cinderella’s palace? Do you have one in mind?
  2. Are you wide open spaces or city centre?
  3. Where would your dream holiday take you?
  4. What, if anything would put you off trekking in a rainforest?
  5. Do you have green fingers?
  6. Champagne or whiskey? Or even whisky?
  7. What’s your favourite film of all time?
  8. Which period of history would you most like to visit? I’ll let you take your dentist and a first aid kit with you if you plan on staying long.
  9. If you could ask your dog/cat/rabbit a question, what would it be?

10. Which book would you most like to have written?

11. Do you need absolute silence to work in or do you listen to music?

Bloggers tagged:

Kate Jack

Susan Lodge

Andrea Baker

Michael Matula

Pat MacDermott