Book review – Recovering Apollo 8 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Recovering Apollo 8 book coverMost fiction writers shy away from using real people in their work, but not Katrine Kathryn Rusch (hereafter to be called KKR in this review).

The title story of Recovering Apollo 8 And Other Stories is an award-winning re-imagining of the Apollo 8 launch, examining what would have happened if that space flight had been unsuccessful in its mission to orbit the moon.

By telling the tale from the point of view of Richard, a man who had been a child when the launch took place, she gives the piece a deeply personal viewpoint that makes it identifiable to all, so that the moment when he believes he about to meet the recovered crew for the first time is palpably intense. ‘”He had waited a lifetime for this. He wished the internal mikes were off. He wanted to whisper, “Welcome home, gentlemen.'” Continue reading

Marketing your published book

Man casting stones cr Judy DarleySometime launching a book can feel like casting a pebble into a stormy sea. Author, journalist and writing tutor Martin Cloake looks at how you can make your marketing experience far happier.

Mention the word ‘marketing’ and it invariably furrows the brow of aspiring writers. Its association with spin, with the style-over-substance culture, seems a long way from the creative process. One recent comment on a forum for writers summed up the mood “Sigh… Writers today have to have SO much focus on marketing etc that the writing is becoming the second thing. It’s backward.”

But, at the risk of coming across like a purveyor of marketing snake oil myself, you can make the marketing process work for you. I should at this point declare an interest, I run a one-day course called How to pitch and market a book, but the experiences I’ve had since my first book was published in 2004 have convinced me that writers could and should embrace the marketing process. Continue reading

Midweek writing prompt – snow dog

Okay, not exactly midweek, but yesterday was all about carousing, carolling and Christmas spirit! Now we’re back on track, here’s a pic to perhaps prompt a wintery tale.

Snow dogI encountered this small dog built from snow standing on a war memorial on a particularly wintery day. It made me think of an eerie tale my dad used to tell of a loyal hound standing guard over his master’s grave until he himself froze to death…

The way my dad told it, only his head remained un-iced, so that he became the ‘dog-less head’ – a terrifying ghost story when you’re a small child!

Of course, the snow dog also brings to mind more genial ideas of children playing, and of course, the thought of a lonely boy or girl making him as a friend who might then come to life…

So many possibilities!

If this idea prompts you to write something, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket You could end up published!


Enter Richard and Judy’s novel-writing competition

Tal y Bont cairn cr Judy DarleyYou must, I’m sure, be aware of the Richard & Judy Book Group, which has transformed the fortunes of any published writer who’s novel is chosen as a favourite.

Now the influential pair have their sights set on unpublished novelists, with their Search for a Bestseller Competition.

The closing date for entries is 1st January 2015, but if you already have the first 10,000 words written, I recommend you enter. All you need to do is submit the first 10,000 to 12,000 words of your novel, along with an outline of the rest of the novel (not more than 1,000 words), and up to 500 words about yourself.

The prize is pretty spectacular. In collaboration with Quercus (Stieg Larsson’s publishers), WHSmith, and leading literary agency Furniss Lawton, Richard and Judy will present the winning writer with a £50,000 publishing deal.

Not a bad start to any writers’ career!

There are masses of terms and conditions, so make sure you read them before you submit your work, but the key ones are that you must not have had a novel published previously, or have an agent already.

Find full details and submit your work here. Good luck!

What an artist saw

Bored of your advent calendar? Bournemouth-based artist and illustrator Louise Boulter is running a blog I’ve become addicted to, called WHAT I SAW, that might just be the answer.

Almost every day Louise posts a quirky, gorgeous or slightly disturbing illustration of something she spotted that day – from Louise Boulter is running ‘A very cute little boy having his hair dried into an afro’ to “A dead fox’ to ‘A flustered looking woman sat on the toilet’ (shown below).

A flustered looking woman cr Louise Boulter

Brilliantly observant, endlessly intriguing and occasionally laugh-out-loud weird, they’re a fabulous collection of original works you can dip in and out of at will, and, fabulously, Louise intends to keep posting her images long into the new year.

A pensioner cr Louise Boulter

“I decided to start the blog because I felt that doing a drawing a day would enable me to think about the subject and experiment with different mediums, pushing me to work a little faster and to gain more confidence in showing them on the web,” says Louise. “I feel the necessity to draw on a regular basis anyway so this really is a pleasure for me.”

A dead fox cr Louise Boulter

She adds: “I’ve also become aware that I am influenced by simple interactions between people, animals and objects – my memory is terrible so this is a good way of recording theses aspects!”

A beautiful girl cr Louise Boulter

Louise admits that initially she was only planning to do the blog for a couple of month or so, but outside interest in the blog )and the fact it has led to several commissions) means she will continue with it – hurrah!

“Through it I’m beginning to get a clearer understanding of the narrative of my illustrations, which has been invaluable to me,” says Louise. “Eventually I would like to aim for an exhibition of these drawings as one-off prints, but for the moment I’m just going to keep going and see where it takes me as I am thoroughly enjoying it.”

To see more of Louise’s designs head to WHAT I SAW.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Midweek writing prompt – Christmas inspiration

Arnos Vale Christmas card cr Judy DarleyWith exactly a week until Christmas day, it seems only right that this week’s #writingprompt should be noel-ish in tone!

Arnos Vale card cr Judy DarleyYesterday I was meandering through the wilds of Arnos Vale Cememtery when I came across this wee card propped up on a fence. And it got me to wondering…

Was it dropped by some child, or placed here intentionally? And if the latter, then who can it possibly be for? If you go with the latter, the possibilities are endless – I’m thinking along the lines of ghost, imaginary friend or tree spirit.

Allow your imagination sprint away and let me know what you come up with!

If this idea prompts you to write something, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket You could end up published on!

Stories of social media

FriendFollowText coverEarlier this year I had an idea for a story that was prompted by something I saw on Pinterest. Like most writers I know, I spend an inordinate amount of time dabbling on social media sites, giving my brain a rest while trying to untangle that next thorny sentence, plotline or conundrum.

What I saw was a photograph of an owl. Except it wasn’t an owl. It was a cup of milky coffee that someone had dropped two Hula Hoops into. The salt in the crisps and the crisp potato rings created the illusion of an owl’s face.

I loved it, and thought about who I should share it with.

Weirdly enough, a fictional, half-formed character I’d been carrying around for a while, came to mind as the person who would be most glad to see this.

And so the character consolidated, and the story began.

Shortly afterwards I saw a call for submissions from a anthology seeking tales inspired by social media. Editor and writer Shawn Syms was inviting submissions of stories inspired and about all kinds of social media channels for Friend. Follow. Text. #StoriesFromLivingOnline. It seemed too good a chance to miss.

I sent over my tale, called Coffee Owl, and it was selected for inclusion. Very exciting, but even more pleasing, it was being published by prestigious Canadian literary imprint Enfield & Wizenty. My story was only one of two by British writers published in the anthology, and only one of three by none Canadians.

Proud? Me? Just a little. #understatement!

So now Friend. Follow. Text. #StoriesFromLivingOnline is finally out, and is a thing of beauty. You can buy it on Amazon and find out more on the FriendFollowText website.

How to build an anthology

Unchained book and birdsGail Swann of Bristol Women Writers shares details of how the group decided to create an anthology of short stories and poems, from initial idea to launch.

Four novels and a poetry book either published or in the process of, within roughly two years. As a writers’ group, we were thrilled for those authors and proud that the role we all play within the group had helped them to succeed.

Whilst it came in a spate, such accomplishment had been a long time in the making, not without low points, self-doubt and disappointments along the way. We reflected, before we took our summer break in 2012, that our writing group had ‘earned its stripes’. Yet we had done it so quietly. Bristol Women Writers is over 25 years old, but who in Bristol knew about us?

Of course, with published work comes the hard graft of promotion. We watched our authors invest much time and creative energy into PR, marketing, web and social media. Bristol Women Writers itself had never done any of those things. We had no voice.

Find the theme for your anthology

So, fresh with new term enthusiasm, September 2012 saw us debating the idea of a collaborative project for the first time in the group’s history. There were ten of us in the mix, so generating content shouldn’t be a problem but we needed a ‘hook’ for the collection – both to inspire us and to make the book more widely appealing than a writing group anthology might expect to be.

‘Anniversaries in 2013’, someone suggested, ‘what are they?’ The one that stood out was the 400th anniversary of Bristol’s original chained library. Unanimously, we agreed on our theme and Unchained was born.

Use your contacts

Some of us had contacts within Bristol Central Library, so were quickly referred to the lovely Reading Manager, Andrew Cox, who invited us on a guided tour of the building in October ’12. The library building is imposing and atmospheric. Its architecture, history and tales of the people that have used it and worked in it over the years, provided plenty of fodder for our collective imaginations on that memorable evening.

Fodder of a different kind (soup and cake) at Jane’s followed, over which we avidly discussed our fledgling project. Suddenly it was real, it was going to happen, but how would we manage all of the bits outside of the writing? What useful skills did we each have? Quite a few, it transpired.

Delegate according to skill

With business experience, I was happy to project-manage and made a checklist of considerations. We held an all-day workshop that brought everyone together for discussion and to give some indication of what we planned to write. We didn’t want 10 short stories set in the library archives, for example. Not that we needed to worry; in typical BWW fashion, each person had very different ideas about how to interpret the theme.

We asked acclaimed local writer Tania Hershman if she would read and endorse the collection for us (assuming she liked it!). Tania had been a guest author at one of our meetings and is a great advocate of the short story. She was heartily supportive and her willingness to associate herself with Unchained was a great boost.

Although we had planned to self-publish the book, I started to wonder if we could interest a local publisher. Tania’s book, My Mother Was An Upright Piano, is published by Tangent Books, specialist in local history and popular culture, both fact and fiction. It was an obvious ‘home’ for Unchained. Happily, Richard Jones, Tangent’s chief, thought so too. We sorted out the business end and agreed critical dates. BWW and its authors’ credentials seemed to be enough for Tangent to trust our ability to deliver the book, edited and ready to publish. It was up to us now to do just that…

Find your cover artist

Attention turned then to cover design. A captivating cover makes a big difference to how a book is perceived and very likely to how many are bought. Tangent has some good book covers in its portfolio, so we got in touch with the designer responsible, Joe Burt of Wild Spark Design. I met Joe in a bar (one of those I’ll be wearing a white carnation moments) and talked him through the Unchained project.

From just this one conversation, Joe sent over a stunning design concept a few days later and all ten Unchained contributors loved it from the outset. The uplifting image of the paper birds flying from the open book, with the Bristol Central Library building in the background has become iconic, both to the Unchained book and to the ‘writers unchained’ public image that BWW now has.

Unchained cover multiple books

Whilst the graphic was an instant hit, we put poor Joe through the mill as we ummed and ahhhed about our own wording on the cover, which went through a series of iterations. Joe also designed the inner layout of the book including the ‘in-between the stories’ pages where we have a tonal image of the library, fascinating historical facts about it, and a Haiku poem.

Consider your funding

There was, of course, some financial consideration in birthing this book-baby of ours. Gone are the days when small publishers can fund everything up-front and of course, good design costs money. The members of BWW were serious about creating a quality product and so we each contributed a calculated sum to fund it. Our motivation is to be read, recognised and respected, both as individual writers and as the BWW group, not to make money, so although we hope to recoup our contributions once book sales break even, anything over and above will go to a charity.

We chose the National Literacy Trust, whose aim is to increase literacy levels in the UK – ‘transforming lives through literacy’. All of us in BWW are fortunate enough that books and libraries were a part of the fabric of childhood, so we can’t applaud this charity enough for the work it does for children (and adults) for whom this is not the case.

Get writing!

By early spring we had all written at least one story. We held another workshop day and embarked on the most stringent and intense critiquing session BWW has ever facilitated! We also decided that appointing a team of three expert editors was the best way to approach the enormous editing task that lay ahead.

Gamely, Jane, Sally and Shirley sacrificed themselves (and a lot of time over the following months) to the cause. Their proficiency and attention to detail was outstanding. I was quite bewildered at the extent I was constructively coerced to tweak and hone my short story, but as a result I am happy with every single word, and that’s a good feeling.

So, finally, we hit ‘send’ and off went the manuscript, via Joe, to a printer in Scandinavia.

Spread the word

So, what next? A website, of course, and Facebook, Twitter, spreading the word, organising the launch event… there was still a whole lot left to do!

Ali did a brilliant job of building us a WordPress site. We launched and the associated social media, in summer ’13, with just a few months to publicise the book before its official launch. The online side of things is time consuming, and has been a steep learning curve for some of us. We’ve taken turns to write blogs for the site, and continue to try and keep lots of fresh content feeding in.

Hold a launch

The final ‘biggie’ in our collective journey was the launch event at Bristol Central Library on October 23rd 2013. We were thrilled that Bristol Festival of Literature had included our launch as an event in the festival programme and promoted it widely. We drew on Jenni’s PR experience to write our own press release and circulate it as widely as possible. The event took place in the grand Reading Room at the library and, as it was open to the public, we had no idea how many people would attend. Jane had worked out the order of proceedings: who would talk when, how long readings would take, etc. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we were all quaking with nervous anticipation!

Following lively warm-up contributions from Andrew, Richard and Tania, we spoke about the background to Unchained and the library connection, and read from the book to an audience of circa one hundred people. It was a magical evening and a fitting end to a year of planning and hard work. We were even invited to do a couple of radio interviews soon afterwards. We are very proud of our achievement and the positive feedback we have so far received on Unchained. It’s gratifying to see our book being bought by libraries, on sale in various Bristol book stories, and available to buy online.

So now BWW has put itself firmly on the Bristol writing map, has an online presence, and in a way, its own unique brand, ‘writers unchained’. So what next? Well, we do have some emerging ideas about that, but for now we all need a good run at our own writing projects (got a bit of catching up to do!). So keep an eye on us, and in the meantime we hope that many of you will get to read and enjoy our book.

Read a review of Bristol Women Writers’ Unchained anthology. 

Unchained books spine


Gail SwannAbout the author 

Gail Swann is an owner/director of a Bath based graphic design company and mum to two teenage girls. She completed a novel, One Of The Few, landing herself an agent and some flattering rejections before conceding to the demands of babies and business for a few years. This ‘midnight oil’ period produced an assortment of shorter work but she lacked the time to try and do anything with it! Gail is now full steam ahead on a brand new novel and is also co-ordinating the Unchained project and the BWW group’s emergence (and hopefully her own!) into a more public light.


Midweek writing prompt – the umbrella

Imagine the scene. It’s a rainy blustery day. Your umbrella is on its last spokes. You retreat into an art gallery you’ve never noticed before, and find yourself draw to the abstract paintings riddled with rivulets of colour – not unlike a vibrant version of what’s happening outside.

Umbrella in gallery cr Judy Darley


As you meander, you drop your sodden umbrella in reaction to something unexpected – a painting that reminds you of something from your past, a mysteriously familiar stranger, a doorway opening onto…

Well, you fill in the rest. Happy writing!

If this idea prompts you to write something, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket You could end up published on!

Pressed Leaves in print

Pressed leaf cr Judy DarleyI’m very excited this week because my short story (actually an extract from a novel-in-progress), Pressed Leaves, has made its way into the pages of gorgeous ‘love life’ magazine The Simple Things, issue 18. The magazine goes on sale today and is packed with delicious ideas for relishing each day, plus, of course, my very short story.

The Simple Things 18 magazine cover‘Pressed Leaves’ is a moment in time, in which a young girl, Anna, helps her mother clear out the artist’s studio of the grandfather she’s never met. See a midweek writing prompt about creative spaces here.

If you head to any WHSmiths or look online you’ll be able to get a copy of The Simply Things 18, and if you do, make sure you turn to page 77 where my story nestles, waiting to be read.