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.

Christmas gift ideas – a different kind of subscription service

Stack magazine subscriptionsI love magazines, and there are few things better than that moment when one drops through your letter box, apart, perhaps, from the joy of that initial flick through when you get to glimpse the riches within.

But receiving the same magazine month after month is nothing compared to the thrill of getting your mitts on one you’ve never laid eyes on before.

Stack have met this quandary head on with its recommendation and subscription service, which draws together independent magazines from across the globe.

By signing up to a single annual Stack subscription, you will be welcoming in a whole host of titles, with a different independent magazine falling through your letterbox each month.

Stack magazines

Packages start from £18 for three months. You’ll never know exactly what’s coming next, only that it will offer a view from outside the mainstream.

The Plant magazineCurrent titles signed up to the scheme include The Plant (‘A beautiful, poetic and disarmingly strange magazine about plants, flowers and trees’), Elephant (an art and culture magazine, and The Gourmand food magazine, all of which cost far more than £6 per issue when bought in shops.

“When we were researching Stack, people told us that their personal tastes were creative, intelligent and independent,” says Steven Watson, founder of Stack, “but when we asked whether they read magazines that reflected those values, nearly 60% said no. Stack aims to bridge that gap by making it easier than ever for people to get hold of fantastic magazines.”

Without the marketing budgets of the bigger publishing houses, independent magazines have always had to find creative and cost-effective ways of reaching readers, and Stack is just one innovation currently emerging from the UK’s cash-strapped independents. Plus it means you’ll have the opportunity to discover titles to enrich, intrigue and inspire you. Win-win!

For details, visit

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.

Bristol Central Library Reading Room lecternHold 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!

Book review – In The Moors by Nina Milton

In The Moors book coverReviewed by Lee Fielding

Sabbie Dare, the zany, feisty heroine of Nina Milton’s In The Moors, is a city girl of mixed race and lost parentage; as a child she went into the care system and by the time she was twelve was a little fighting machine.

When we meet her, she’s 28 and clear about her path in life; she’s an eco-friendly pagan living in Somerset where she works as a therapeutic shaman. Her clients come to her for last-resort help, and such is Cliff Houghton. He’s been arrested for the recent murder of a child found. The evidence that points to Cliff feels watertight, but Sabbie is determined to trust her instincts and support him. She draws parallels between this murder and the shocking disappearance of four children, twenty-five years earlier. also buried out in the moors. Continue reading

Christmas snowballs – a poetry craft project

Paper poetry snowball cr Judy DarleyLast year I made a collection of Christmas baubles using oversized buttons. This year I decided to use my words as the basis of my decorations.

I’m always rather torn (aptly!) when I see artwork made from old books – while the act of cannibalising pages distresses me, I find the printed word beguiling, and therefore the perfect foundation for a work of art.

But rather than destroy existing novels, why not create words especially for your creations?

Paper Poetry Snowballs step 1 cr Judy Darley

I had written a poem in January 2013 when the streets were hushed with snow, so found a font that seemed sufficiently frosty (Herculanum), and printed the poem out in long strips.

Paper Poetry Snowballs step 2 cr Judy Darley

Then all I needed to do was cut out each strip, curl it into itself to make a small circle at one end of the strip, and glue.

Paper Poetry Snowballs step 3 cr Judy Darley

I then cut a narrow slice into the paper close to this circle, and fed the other end through that, then glue again, and I had a paper poetry snowball!

They look pretty heaped around windowsills, bookshelves and mantelpieces in drifts, but you could pierce them and thread ribbon through to hang from the tree of your choice.

Merry Christmas!

Paper Poetry Snowballs heaped cr Judy Darley

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.

Lit entrepreneur brings indie authors to market

Daisy_White_Pop-Up_Indie_Bookshop_Ashford,_KentIn the run up to Christmas, any marketing opportunity for independent presses and authors should be embraced. One of the most enticing I’ve encountered comes courtesy of literary entrepreneur Daisy White, who runs literary pop-up Booktique.

Daisy White booktique The moveable bookshop ‘pops up’ in empty shops and community spaces, with shelves occupied by the work of ‘indie’ authors, as well as a gallery section for book-related artwork and products.

Daisy White“I count myself as extremely lucky to be able to combine my love of books, with my own home grown business!” says the brains behind the booktique, Daisy White (pictured left outside the pop-up’s Ashford venue). “My initial aim, and this still holds true, was to find an affordable platform for independent authors and publishers to reach readers at a High Street level, to bring books back to a more personal level. By connecting with the ‘pop-up shops’ trend this has proven very possible, and very successful.”

Authors and artists can interact with their readers/customers, hold book signings and launches, and generally enjoy a host of creative chat and advice. “The internet provides a vast opportunity for ‘indie’ authors, but the Bookshop takes their creativity down to a human level, and provides the kind of exposure needed to stand out from the crowd,” comments Daisy. “Today’s readers are knowledgeable and discerning, and this venture enables them to chat to authors before they buy, discovering the personality behind the book.”

booktique logoDaisy’s current diary for Booktique pop-ups is as follows
From now until Jan 12th – Guildford, Surrey.
Jan 25th – Massive Indie author signing in Camberley, Surrey (free to join in!)
Feb 1st – 28th Cranleigh Arts Centre, Sussex.
March (tbc) Gatwick Airport.

A Booktique website is currently under construction, and will allow authors to access the schedule of pop-up diary, and book signings online. “As well as signings, a most popular new addition is ‘Book of the Week’. This is especially helpful to our overseas members, as they can access High Street promotion in the UK, and join our unique brand of creative fusion.”

Authors wishing to be involved, or just to have their books on the shelves, should send an email to

Midweek writing prompt – creative spaces

Iona Pottery cr Judy DarleyHave you ever glimpsed the inner corners of an artist’s studio? Seen the space where all those meandering thoughts unfurl, coalesce and solidify into something tangible? It’s almost like an act of alchemy, with the artist, whatever their medium, acting as the alchemist.

In a curious way, peering into that studio is akin to peeking into the artist’s mind – the things they surround themselves with are all important prompts, tools and workings of the artist’s craft. And the unfinished or discarded works of art are the most intriguing clues of all.

Use this as your starting point, then either write a piece about the artist themselves and their nature (isolated, gregarious, grumpy or serene), or pick on one item spotted in their studio, and follow the ideas sparked by that.

Better still, weave the two together in your own act of alchemy.

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

You can see how my own piece of writing unfurled in response to this idea in the story Pressed Leaves, in issue 18 of The Simple Things.

Book review – Unchained by Bristol Women Writers

Unchained coverNamed for the fact that books were once so precious they were chained to prevent theft, the Unchained anthology celebrates libraries and everything they contain, from the people who visit them, to the myths that lurk behind the scenes, to the tomes themselves.

The book marks Bristol Central Library’s 400th anniversary, and presents tales and poems stemming from within its ancient walls, as well as a variety of libraries as diverse as a prison’s book room, a library on wheels, a chateau’s “stash of rare books”, and a sitting room in a stately home. The variety of voices captured on these pages is just as broad, but each one reveals a shared love of books that holds the collection together.

This love is equally evident in the foreword from Tania Hershman, who says of her own visits to Bristol’s Central Library “when I walk in through the doors I breathe out. This is where I am home.” Continue reading