A Quick Update…Dear Tosh and Other Things…

I was going to save some of this news for my actual newsletter but I want to keep everyone in the loop as to what has been going on.

First of all Dear Tosh has been shortlisted in The Selfies Book Award in the Autobiography and Memoir category. I am so thrilled about this and look forward to hearing the results next Tuesday 5th April. Watch this space only don’t hold your breath.

Secondly the lovely Clemmie Telford featured my list on her website ‘Mother of all Lists‘ and I had the most amazing response on Instagram with many people saying how much they could relate to the things I wrote. Especially those who have suffered adult child bereavement or sibling bereavement. I was overwhelmed by their comments and the love that poured out. You can read it here if you haven’t already.

Newsletter will be out next week and it will be coming from France! (If we ever get packed!)

Research. . . It’s invaluable to an author if you want to get it right. . .

Town Hall Barnsley. Photo from Barnsley Town Hall website.

I was writing a dual time line novel set partly during the second world war and partly during the 1950s. For certain reasons, I decided to set the story both in a small fictional town in Yorkshire, and in a small district of North East London. My protagonist hailed from the Yorkshire town. As I am not from the north I felt I should do some research before the second draft and editing of said novel.

It was an eye opener!

I spent only three days in the town of Barnsley, in South Yorkshire. I was shown the local sights by a friend who lives there (thank you Helen) and I spent several hours in the museum, and archives department at the town hall. The visitors service assistants in the archives were absolutely fantastic. They searched out old maps, magazines, newspapers, photographs and took time and care to show me how to find the resources I needed. I wish I could have spent longer studying there. It was a joy, honestly, I loved it. Fascinating reading about other people’s lives and their memories of growing up in this town.

But. . .that’s the nub of it: Other people’s lives.

The result of my research was a massive reality check, and frankly a blow to my hitherto confidence in my ability to write about anything and everything. I realised that I had romanticised my protagonist and underestimated what my small town in Yorkshire might actually be like. The more I found out the more I saw massive plot holes in the story and flaws in my characters. I have rethought the whole thing. Even though I had written 85,000 words and now edited 20,000 of them I thought of what my son Matthew said to me a few years ago: never be afraid to put it in the bin and start again.

I realised that writing about the north/south divide with my protagonist hailing from the north and me, a writer from the south was neither ethical nor indeed possible. How could I have the audacity to try and write from her point of view?

It made me see that I should write about the things I know. There would be nothing wrong with me writing a war story set in Greater London where I was brought up. I would still have plenty of research to do but I could draw on my own family history for much of it.

Onwards I go. . . but now with a different genre, different time and different story!

Please leave a comment if you have the time, it would be appreciated. Thank you. 😊

Writing to Someone you Have Lost…

There are a great deal of posts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and podcasts etc., all about loss and grief. It is spoken of more often today than in the past. Especially over the last couple of years it seems. We are encouraged by social media to talk about our losses and share our feelings..

Last Friday, the 14th January, was the eleventh anniversary of the loss of my lovely son Thomas Hartley. Last year I wrote a book about him and for him, for the tenth anniversary. This book is called, Dear Tosh. This year, I didn’t write another book, but The Man and I went to Dartmouth and visited Dittisham where I used to holiday with my children when they were all younger. It was a trip down memory lane. 😊

I try to write in my journal every day. Here I can write what I like and not worry about anyone reading it. . . not until I’m dead anyway. In my journal I can be honest, say what I really think but even then I hold back a little bit, just in case I leave it somewhere and another pair of eyes read it. I don’t like to, pour out my grief on social media, but sometimes I just write a paragraph or two hoping people will understand what it’s like to lose a child, even when that child is 27. Writing about it does help. At least, I think it does. I wrote my book as a tribute to Tosh, I didn’t publish expecting it to become a bestseller. Dear Tosh is slowly finding its way around the world and I’m happy to report that readers have reached out to me, often saying the the book has helped them with their own loss, or they finished it and gave it to someone else they knew who had lost a child.

This year I have found the anniversary of his death harder. Many people would say that’s not right, and that by now I should be okay. I should be ‘moving on’ and forgetting about the past. But I just don’t think that’s possible. My daughter and I exchanged text messages yesterday (the 15th January). She was feeling upset about things and I told her this: I feel low too. . .almost worse than yesterday. . .It’s like I don’t want the anniversary to be over. . .it just means I’m even further away from Tosh. πŸ™ She replied: Yes I totally relate to the further away thing. It’s weird isn’t it?

I wonder if other bereaved parents and siblings feel the same way? It’s as though you cannot or don’t want to let go. Clinging on by your finger tips to stop them slipping away.

I miss writing to Tosh, that’s the format of my book, twenty seven letters written to him. I have missed writing him those letters, and I think I’m going to write a few more. I did scribble a note to him while we were away for his anniversary. I used the hotel’s headed note paper and told him what we were doing and how things were for me. I folded it up and put it in my journal and I felt better.

I firmly believe that writing ‘stuff’ down is good for mental health. One can write in a notebook, on a computer or even a scrap of paper. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer or not. It can be so therapeutic; getting things out of your head and onto the page. But. . . I have an idea for my blog readers. Why not try writing a letter to someone you have lost. A mother, a father, a child. . . anyone whose loss has affected you. Write them a letter or two, or more. Tell them what has happened since they died. Tell them things you wish you had said to them when they were alive. Ask them questions β€” you may find the answers to those questions just by writing them down β€” speak to them, tell them your thoughts. I’m sure it will make you feel better.

I’m going to write to my father who died well over fifty years ago. Who will you write to?

Counting, counting, counting…

It is 31 steps from the sofa in the sitting room to the bathroom upstairs in our cottage. It’s 82 steps from my desk, down the stairs and out to the shed and back to my desk β€”Β we have a small garden. How do I know this? Because I have treated myself to a band I wear on my wrist which logs every single step I take. I am trying not to be obsessed but…

The fact is that being a writer necessitates sitting at my desk for a good part of everyday. I do get out for a walk with the dog but I’m apt to cut it short when I’m stuck into a WIP which at the moment is a novel I have been working on for several years and which I am determined to finish editing (for the tenth time) by Christmas.

I am in danger of becoming obsessed with the grey band and black face that sits on my wrist. My 10,000 steps a day goal eats away at me. Whereas before I could tell myself I’d done enough walking for the day, I now find myself running up and downstairs in the evening just to get the steps up to the point where the dear little gadget vibrates in order to congratulate me for reaching the desired walking distance for the day. It flashes at me, and I smile. Happy. It is almost β€” but not quite β€” the same feeling as writing The End.

I know it’s doing me good and I’m hoping that the novelty doesn’t wear off too soon because I must confess to being one of those people who can be enthusiastic in phases, but this time I’m going to try and keep it up. I want to lose some weight and ‘walk’ through my seventies with ease. The dog of course, is delighted with the new gadget as I am less likely to cut her walks short to get back to my WIP. Walking in the country lanes and across the fields is much more pleasant than running up and down the stairs in the evenings β€” at least it is for the moment. I might not feel the same when the weather is less clement.

Now, I’d better get on with that editing if I’m to hit the deadline of completing that novel. Scrivener tells me I’m at 11,022 words edited so far, only another 68,978 to go! I do have the 80,000 words written, I’m just bringing them over from another manuscript and massively editing as I do.

You can just read the title of the book in the screenshot…look out for it in 2022…

That’s if I can hit my targets…😊

My Newsletter for November

I’ve just sent out my Newsletter for November and if you haven’t subscribed yet you can do so from this website on the News Page.

I send out one letter a month and I particularly like November’s

Take a look here:

Ninette’s Newsletter

My book of the month is Helen Garlick’s No Place to Lie read more about it on the newsletter.

Are Your Organised? Hmm…

Is being organised the same as being in a routine? I asked myself this question this morning and I decided they weren’t quite the same but there was an overlap. I like a bit of routine. Wake up- cup of tea or hot lemon in bed, read The Independent on my Ipad (well actually glance through the headlines then do the word scrambler…) Get up, walk the dog, have breakfast of porridge which The Man cooks, and then he always clears away breakfast and washes up everything. He does that for all the other meals too and I cook them. After breakfast, it’s time to write. Sometimes I go shopping first or go to the post office with a copies of Dear Tosh that have to be sent off. I’ve discovered the joy of postage online so that I can pay for, and print the label at home, then just drop into the box. It saves so much time.

I write for as long as I can, interspersed with taking my turns at online Scrabble and Lexoulus which I play with a few friends and my sister Jean β€”Β she wins a lot by the way! We eat a late lunch, 3pm usually, I then take the dog out for her second walk of the day, only a short one this time. Come home to a cup of tea and a piece of cake (and at this time of year it’s in front of the fire). I sometimes do more writing, correspondence, Zoom calls, and maybe read or listen to a book. In the evening we settle down and watch something on Netflix or iPlayer or Amazon. At this point, having wandered about most of the day looking a bit lost, because The Man and I work in separate areas of our cottage, Jpeg, the dog, also manages to settle down. She likes nothing better than when we are all together in the evening The Man and I in ‘our’ chairs and she at last gets into ‘her’ bed, happy.

So this is routine, but am I organised? I don’t really think I am. I love starting a new notebook, who doesn’t? Every time I open the first clean crisp page, I am determined that I will keep it tidy and use the same pen throughout the book, but this only ever lasts for a bout a week. I have a different notebook for each project that I am working on. I then have notebooks for a Creative Writing Workshop that I run, then there’s the general notebook, then there’s the poetry notebook etc., etc. The problem is I often grab the wrong notebook when I think of something I want to jot down for later, but then whatever it is I’ve written is lost. I may come across it some years later when I’m reading through my old notebooks.

Next, I would love to have a tidy desk and tidy bookshelves. The Man bought me a new bookshelf to sit to the left hand side of my desk. It was meant to be just for poetry books but that didn’t actually happen. It now has non-fiction, novels, poetry books, files, empty ink cartridges to be recycled, a mug, magazines, leaflets. . . and so it goes on. Here’s a photograph.

What a Mess!

My desk is also a mess this morning and it’s probably like this every morning. I assure you that I did not set this up, it’s exactly as it is while I sit typing this blog. I do tidy it…often…but it only stays clear for about five minutes as I am soon wanting to make notes, check things in some reference book or other, which I then often leave on the desk, whereas if I were organised it would go back into its place immediately. I note my make-up bag and earring box are both sitting there too, right next to the staple machine. πŸ˜‚

Dreadful state of affairs…

Am I ashamed? Maybe a little, but this is how I work and I put it down to being creative. The thing is, because I’m not very organised, I do waste a lot of time looking for things and always have done. Do you remember when all correspondence was printed and came in the snail mail? Masses of paperwork had to be filed. I can remember being very bad at filing and ALWAYS having several documents left over at the end, because they didn’t fit in any particular file in the cabinet. I’m like that now with the computer. I try to file all photos, documents (pdf and word etc.,) into their little blue folders on my desktop but I always have stuff left over; things that don’t even fit into the Sundries folder!

I can be organised if I want to be. I can be ready and relaxed before receiving guests for supper. I can fit a great deal into one day if I plan ahead. I can juggle jobs and meet deadlines. So it’s not all bad. However I do remember being told by the health visitor, after I gave birth to twins β€”Β  I already had three children β€” that I would have to be extra organised to get through my day and to be sure all the children were cared for properly. I was also told that I when I began to give the twins solid food I should have a separate bowl and spoon for each baby…Pah! That went out the window straight away, one bowl, one spoon, two mouths. They survived and so did I. We all muddled through and that’s the word MUDDLED… far better and more fun than being organised. In my humble opinion.

Don’t forget to sign up for my NEWSLETTER if you haven’t already done so. They’ll be one coming out at the end of next week!

The Ups and Downs of Self-Publishing (or as I prefer to say Independent Author)

The last few months have been interesting. Since the publication and launch of Dear Tosh on the 20th May 2021 there have been great surges of interest and then troughs of nothing. Social media is a fickle friend and I get the distinct feeling that followers on Instagram and Facebook get fed up with too many posts on one particular subject and that Twitter is a complete waste of time. Even though I now have nearly a thousand followers on Twitter β€” only a small faithful percentage of them fluff up their feathers, open their beaks and speak up about, or for me. A tweet flies in and out in seconds. It’s very difficult to be noticed however much seed you scatter and I take my hat off to those independent authors who succeed.

I am not famous, I don’t have an agent or a book deal with a traditional publisher and the stigma of self-publishing is still very much in evidence in the literary world. I am at a loss as to see why every other industry encourages ‘independence’ as a brave and wonderful thing to do, but when it comes to publishing a book, one is generally passed over or ignored. As it happens, I’m not that concerned about selling loads of copies of Dear Tosh , I wrote it as a tribute to my lovely son and sent it out into the world, so I have achieved my goal. The reviews have been amazing and the sales β€”whilst not reaching the Sunday Times Best Seller list β€” have been slow and steady. I just wish I could garner more interest with say the BBC or even local newspapers. Even those who have promised they will give me a corner in a magazine or a spot on a podcast, have yet to seal the deal. Nobody wants to give you a big window display in their bookshop even though you are prepared to lob several free copies their way.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. BBC Radio Devon gave me an interview with Pippa Quelch and the feedback from those who listened was wonderful. The Compassionate Friends printed and article in their magazine Compassion (page 10)and my local magazine The Marshwood (page 56) also gave me a page in their July issue and I am very grateful for that exposure.

I’m going to try and go the traditional route next time, I am sure more doors would open for me and more opportunities arise, simply because β€” if I succeed in getting a dealβ€” I will no longer be painted with the ‘self-published’ brush. But, on the other hand, being in control of everything from the type setting, the cover, the price etc., is very satisfying. Also, do I want to have a ‘two-book-deal’ which would mean having to finish another book by a given deadline? Perhaps the traditional route is not for me β€” we’ll see.

Conclusion: it’s bloody hard to keep going with promotion and keep up the enthusiasm. But, I’m a pretty stalwart person, so giving up is not an option. Maybe one day, I’ll get that elusive interview on a breakfast TV show or lunchtime gig β€” at least I won’t stop trying. Perhaps I have to think of a really outrageous publicity stunt. . . any ideas?

Titles and Covers. . .

This week I tweeted about book titles asking, ‘How much does a title draw you to a book?’ I didn’t get much response but that doesn’t surprise me, Twitter can be a lonely platform even if you have nearly 1000 followers. People are more likely to reply to ridiculous questions such as, ‘ Do you like cucumber or lemon with your gin and tonic?’ I prefer cucumber for what it’s worth. Anyway, back to book titles, or any titles come to that.

I am writing my Italian memoir and although it doesn’t need a title at this very moment, (it has an uninspiring working title, My Italian Memoir) I’m going to pitch it to an agent at the end of September at an event run by Byte the Book You can read about this event if you click on the link but I think it might be sold out now. I’m a member of Byte The Book and they do run some great events β€” I am famous for digressing so back to titles again β€”Β  I think I need to have some sort of intriguing title to catch the agent’s attention so I’ve been wrestling with some ideas, which may or may not end up being used. Thinking up a title is also a great procrastinator and can lead you down all sorts of avenues when googling to see if it’s been used before or what connotations it might uncover.

Here are some bad titles I thought of:

My Time in Italy

Eight Years in Italy

Le Marche Life

I think all of these sound as though I was serving a prison sentence!

I considered β€” for a moment only β€” calling it The Italian Job as titles do not have any copyright but I imagined the stick I would get from family friends let alone the film fanatics so I binned that idea

It was easy to choose the title for my first memoir Dear Tosh , I called it that from the very beginning, it is a series of letters after all. I did try an exercise once when on a memoir writing course, I dug the page out just now, so that I could take a photograph and post it for you to see. There are some good titles here but I’m glad I stuck with Dear Tosh.

We did another exercise when we ‘transposed’ other well-known, book/film titles into ones that worked with our memoir. For example, Brideshead Revisited became Porto Revisited and The Pursuit of Happiness became The Pursuit of Painting Neither of which were very good. But a great exercise none the less.

In my opinion the cover image and design, are just as important as the title and the two things should complement each other. I need to get Will Hartley working on a photograph ASAP. It’s a good idea to have some kind of mock-up of the cover stuck up on your wall where you write, it can keep you motivated. When you look at it, the project becomes real and you have a goal.

I’ll leave you with this thought. . . Do you have a favourite book title and cover? I think I have several but I’ve just picked three from my bookshelf:

Of course my absolute favourite cover to date is this one!

Sorry. . . just had to put that on. Also a reminder that my first author talk is next Thursday 2nd September at St Anne’s Arts and Community Centre in BARNSTAPLE EX31 1SX. Hoping to see lots of you arrive around 18.30. It’s free and hopefully worth turning out for! BARNSTAPLE EVENT

PR Pressure. . . It’s Getting to Me. . .

This is me thinking….

I am tired this week as I was very busy during the end of July and beginning of August. I set up a subscriber list in MailerLite, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought. I updated my website and I wrote something everyday. It’s now Friday evening and The Man is away cycling in Northern Ireland – I’m joining him at the end of next week β€” not cycling I might add!

Weather looks better in NI than Dorset!

I planned to write thousands of words of my Italian memoir, but it hasn’t happened, mainly because I went to the drawer (metaphorical drawer) in my computer’s filing system and dragged out a novel that I wrote β€” and that has been hanging around for years β€” I finished writing it in 2019 before I did the MA. I actually began writing it way back in β€” so long ago I can’t remember. Anyway, it’s set in WW2 in Yorkshire (I’m planning a visit soon in person rather than the online stuff I’ve been doing for ages). It’s all there, the characters, the plot, the scenes etc., but it needs a lot of work.

The first thing I decided to do was to change it from the past to the present tense…ha ha ha ha. . . I hear you all laughing after my comments (if you read them) about not liking the fashion for the present tense that many authors use today. But, I have to say, I think it’s given the writing a big kick and made everything more ‘immediate’.

I couldn’t decide which genre the novel slotted into, so I did a bit of digging and having decided the tone and theme were very much like Colm TΓ³ibΓ­n’s Brooklyn, I searched to see in which genre that sat. It appears to be comfortably placed in the historical fiction department. Hmmm I would have thought it might lean more towards romance but hey, who am I to judge?

Brooklyn by Colm TΓ³ibΓ­n

This might be a little controversial of me but I think the reason for this distinction is because it’s written by a man and apparently (according to some people. . .) men don’t write romance, but you know what? I think they do β€” but the ‘powers that be’ don’t label it romance Why would that be? Any ideas? Answers on a postcard please.

If you are in or around Barnstaple on the 2nd September then please come and find me at St Anne’s Arts and Community Centre where I’ll be talking about my book Dear Tosh, reading a few excerpts and then there will be a Q&A session. I would so love to see you. IT’S FREE and you can book a ticket here or just turn up on the door.

If you haven’t signed up to my newsletter yet please do. They’ll only be sent out once a month so you won’t be inundated and you can easily unsubscribe.

Bye for now…hope you’re all having a fabulous weekend x

Things Have Changed. . .

There’s been a few changes to the WordPress website. It’s grown and is no longer just a blog…The domain name has changed but hopefully it won’t make any difference to blog followers. Just keep a lookout for NinetteHartley rather than Ninette90. Any problems then use the contact form here to send me a message.

The blog will continue in just the same way so please keep following or if you’re not signed up yet then please do.

Today is just a quick update but look out for another post later in the week.

Ninette x