Fiction fun in Oxford

It’s free, it’s fun and it’s (mostly) fiction.

The Oxford Indie Book Fair (OxIB) is about to welcome one and all to another day of buying, selling and talking books. This year’s fair promises to be bigger and better than ever before and takes place in Oxford’s historic Examination Rooms on Sunday 26th November.

I’ll be bringing along my comic fiction, Note to Boy, and introducing my latest humorous book, A Novel Solution, which is available to pre-order. Keeping me company will be my very good writer chums, Jason Cobley and Eamon Somers. As well as our own books, we’ll be showcasing the short story anthologies, Taking Liberties and the newly released bestseller, Order & Chaos, which the three of us, along with other established writers, have contributed to.

So, there’ll be lots to see and talk about. And buy of course! Come along, meet the authors, publishers, booksellers and other professionals who make books happen, have some wonderful conversations and find your next great read. Entry is free. See you there!

Spring cleaning

The roses are in full bloom. The sun is shining. And young and older person’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of … spring cleaning. Not the house! Of course not! Rather than going to the bother of dusting the cobwebs from the vacuum cleaner and trying to locate the polish, I decided to spring clean my website instead. That is, ask the lovely Jason* to give it a bit of a facelift.

The result is the pages as you see them now. In addition to more up-to-date pictures (and, sadly, my more up-to-date wrinkles!) and information on my comic novel Note to Boy, two new projects have been added: Taking Liberties, the short story anthology I contributed to, which is just out; and A Novel Solution, the comic fiction I am currently editing with the publisher, to be released in early 2024.

Hope you like the bright new look.

*Jason Harvey of Somefolk did all the hard work.

Why Review?

Why review the books you read? I can think of five gold star reasons.

  1. Reviews matter. They really do. Studies have shown that 95% of consumers read reviews before deciding on a purchase. I’m willing to bet that figure is even higher for books. Think about it. How many times have you bought a book without checking the reviews first?
  2. Reviews increase visibility. They are how readers discover new authors and make sure their favourites are up to scratch. Authors benefit from honest reader feedback. And yes, most of us do read reviews – the good, the bad and the occasional ugly – despite what some writers say.
  3. Success breeds success. I’m talking algorithms here. Not that I pretend to understand this dark art. But it seems common sense to me that reviews influence them. The higher a book’s ranking, the greater the number of reviews (and stars) it has, the more likely it is that readers will find it via the algorithms. And being found by new readers is what turns an unknown work into a chart-topper.
  4. Reviewing is good manners. It seems to me, if you’ve read a book, especially one you enjoyed, it’s only polite to let the author know what you thought about it and spread the word to other readers. Reviews don’t have to be long, editorial analyses – though they are welcome too! A few lines saying what you liked or disliked about a book are fine.
  5. It’s good to take a moment. I review every book I read – with the possible exception of the blockbusters that can manage fine without me. I find it therapeutic to sit and think about what I’ve read, and articulate my response to it while it’s fresh in my mind. It’s like when you’ve watched a film and just have to talk to someone about it. The experience isn’t complete without that pause for reflection. Reviews give you that space.

Obviously, here I’m thinking about my own books: Note to Boy and the anthology Taking Liberties. But not only them. Once you’ve read a book, do please share the experience with other readers on Amazon, Goodreads, booksellers’ websites, or wherever you read and write about books.  

Thank you.

Of Madness and Miniskirts

Farewell, Mary Quant, spirit of the 1960s. I owe you a lot. You brightened up my life as a young teenager and twenty-something with your short skirts, hot pants and sharp haircuts. You were there for me when I left home, started my first job, and when I met my husband. And when I got married, I wore a minidress. Of course.

And, much, much later on, you and others in the fashion industry were the inspiration for my debut novel, Note to Boy.

Not that I’m suggesting Mary Quant was in the least little bit like my main character, Eloise Slaughter. Eloise is an unprincipled, egotistical monster who shamelessly uses everyone she meets on her way up the fashion ladder. And I am very fond of her. What does that say about me? In contrast, Mary Quant was a retail pioneer and visionary who brought affordable style to the high street and changed the face of fashion forever.

People – nosy people – sometimes ask why I chose to write about the madness of Swinging London. How could I not? It was a crazy, creative and colourful time. Britain was the hub of all popular culture, with the rest of the world taking its lead from us for films, music, books and, of course, fashion. And I had the inside track on all of this. During the late 1960s and early 70s, when I was single and carefree, I worked for an American film company, shared a flat near Oxford Circus, bought my clothes in Carnaby Street, and went to the sort of parties where you might bump into a James Bond actor. Glamorous, hey?

Not so glam when you’re living it. I was an underpaid office dogsbody at the film company, the occupant of the flat next door to ours advertised her ‘modelling’ services on a handwritten postcard pinned to the door, and the James Bond actor I met was the Australian one whose name no-one can ever remember.*

Ok, so real-life wasn’t quite so ‘fab’ and ‘trendy’. Nevertheless, those times became a rich source of material for me as a writer of humorous fiction. I wanted to explore celebrity, from the point of view of someone who’d had it and lost it. As I had observed that glamorous lifestyle, and the behaviour that sometimes goes with it, from the sidelines, it was the obvious time and place in which to set Note to Boy.

So, thank you Mary Quant. Thank you for everything.

*Oh, and the James Bond actor? George Lazenby

The Things I Do For Art!

Did you know … ?

…. that gin is actually flavoured vodka? That archaeobotanists use straw from the thatched roofs of old buildings to research ancient heritage grains? That indeed, there is such a job as an archaeobotanist?

These and other gems I discovered on a visit to The Oxford Artisan Distillery (TOAD). Once again, the lovely old barn that is TOAD’s home was the venue for a gin-flavoured hour of information and inebriation. Well, someone’s gotta do it!

All in belated celebration of the publication of Note to Boy which, you may have noticed, features quite a bit of gin tippling.

Tipples, nibbles and giggles were on the agenda, as we listened to our guide Sarah, who provided just the right mix of historical context and (increasingly) hysterical laughter. My thanks to her and the rest of the TOAD crew, and to Sheila, Louise and Michael for their company, and for backing me over the years.

TOAD is well worth a visit if you’re in the Oxford area. While you’re there, don’t miss the picture of our new king, complete with improvised crown, being let into some of secrets of TOAD gin making.

Sarah explains about the copper gin stills and how they are cleaned. (Someone climbs inside!)

A rapt audience learns about base spirit and botanicals – and immediately forgets everything they’re told!

TOAD’s lovely old barn.

The Three Muskgineers! Making the ultimate sacrifice for literature – Louise, Sheila and your author.

Charles III and his improvised crown.

Goodbye 2020. Welcome 2021, but only if you behave!

No need to state the obvious about the weirdness of the year. I’m going to take this chance to look back and find some positives and say some thank yous instead.

The biggest positive of 2020 for me, of course, is that Note to Boy was published. Yaay! Eloise and Bradley have been out ‘in the wild’ for five months and seem to be thriving. Certainly, reviews have been kind.

‘Comedy gold’, ‘brims with humour’, ‘wonderfully entertaining’ and even ‘genius’ are some of the generous comments received by this blushing author. It means a lot to know I’ve made some readers laugh and a few shed a little tear. Thank you, readers and reviewers. 

Here I must mention my publisher, Unbound. Throughout the many difficulties, they have been marvellous. It cannot have been easy to see my book through its final stages and into production and distribution during this strangest of summers. But they did it, and I shall be forever thankful that my launch wasn’t postponed, as so many were. Thank you, Unbound.

Let’s also hear it for the independent bookshops. Times have been hard for them but they’ve been a great support. Getting on for forty, from Bristol to Edinburgh, Bridport to Hampstead currently stock Note to Boy, and the list grows weekly. It’s also listed by bookshop.org, the new ethical way to buy books online. Thank you, all. 

People seem to have fallen in love with books again. The upsurge in the popularity of reading has been wonderful to behold and some compensation for the restrictions we’ve been enduring. Readers have not only been tackling the classics like Austen and Orwell, and weighty tomes like Tolstoy, Hugo and Dickens, but also turning to comedy, as we often do in times of stress.

Great to see comedic works such as Cold Comfort Farm, the Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones series, Nick Hornby and Nina Stibbe books and, of course, Richard Osman’s cosy crime debut, all enjoying success. Let’s hope humorous writing will get the industry recognition it deserves from now on.  

With time on their hands people have been writing too, turning the pandemic into a PENdemic. See what I did? Aside from hastily written celebrity books, there are bound to be some gems. I’m looking forward to reading some stimulating lockdown literature during the coming year. 

Another plus is, through necessity, I’m verging on becoming competent in various videoconferencing systems. If you want to be frozen just as you come to the punchline of a joke, or muted when you have something fascinating to add to the discussion, I’m your woman! 

Talking of which, the Note to Boy virtual book launch in July attracted more than fifty people and reached friends and supporters as far afield as the USA, Italy and Chipping Sodbury. A similar number signed up for an author talk I gave in early December to the Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster libraries, with one participant joining in from Riyadh. The international reach of virtual events is another big positive. I’m planning more for 2021. Thank you to those who work so hard to make them happen.

That’s it. I’ve run out of positives except to say, it’s been a funny old year and it’ll be a funny old Christmas but we keep on smiling, reading and writing. Merry Christmas to you all. 2021 will be better. Won’t it? Cheers. 

Love

Sue 

   

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Staying in with Linda

That was fun! I’ve been ‘staying in’ with the lovely Linda Hill of the multi-award-winning blog, Linda’s Book Bag. What a pleasure that was! It was an honour to be in conversation with her, particularly as she has been so supportive of Note to Boy since we first ‘met’ almost two years ago.

Back then I talked about London in the Swinging Sixties and the business of crowdfunding through my publishers, Unbound. This time we chatted about – well, why not have a read?

I’ll just say, maybe it was the biscuits and the gin but it all got a bit surreal. Enjoy!

Publication day!

It’s here! Note to Boy was launched into the world – and the bookshops – on 23 July 2020.

No actual champagne and nibbles party being possible, the splendid people at the independent bookshop, Mostly Books, arranged a launch via Zoom. More than 50 people crammed into the virtual venue, tucking into the imaginary cocktails and macaroons. Great to see so many smiling faces – some from Italy, Germany, the US, not to mention the wilds of Cornwall. But they weren’t just there to enjoy themselves. I had to answer some of their probing questions too!

Star of the evening was the comedy legend that is Paul Mayhew Archer, who interrogated me most charmingly about bits of the book I hadn’t even noticed myself. You can see the interview here.

Thank you for helping me celebrate. I had a great time. I hope you did. Now it’s up to Eloise and Bradley!