The Booker Prize 2022 Book Group challenge

The world would be a better place if more people joined book groups… I have had the immense privilege of being part of one for 20 years now—the Weegie BeeGees* (no-one calls it anything but the Book Group; the moniker was picked for identification purposes) founded by Maryanne McIntyre.

In that time, we’ve had at least 18 members, read at least 167 books and eaten at least 110 cakes. Lucy makes a cake themed around each book, which, given the general love for baking in the UK, most people find intriguing.

Mostly, we have read general fiction (40.7 per cent) and historical fiction (21 per cent). (For more information on our stats, including which genres different members tend to choose, our authors’ geographical spread and when the books we have been reading were published, see Lucy Jane’s 20 years of books and cakes: a book group’s data story.)

This year, the organisers of the Booker Prize along with the Reading Agency decided to invite book groups to apply to be part of the experience. They invited book groups to apply to read the short-listed books and review them—a well-meaning attempt to make literary prizes more inclusive through inviting in we amateurs.

The Booker Prize 2022 shortlist includes the shortest book and oldest author ever to be nominated, three second novels, authors from five countries and four continents, three independent publishers and several titles inspired by real events.

The shortlist consists of

  • Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo
  • Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
  • Treacle Walker by Alan Garner
  • The Trees by Percival Everett
  • The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka
  • Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

The winner will be announced on 17 October.

My friends Lucy and Morag Pavich put in the hard work of applying, and we were chosen. The six books shortlisted were allocated to each of the book groups (so unlike a real book group situation, none of our members chose the book we read) and off we went to read, digest and discuss Glory…

Two members of our Book Group, if we win the reading challenge with our fascinating insights (!) will be invited to attend the 2022 Booker Prize ceremony and dinner at the Roundhouse in London on 17 October.

Lucy and I were interviewed by Radio Scotland’s Janice Forsyth talking about the Booker Prize book we read and our book group in general. It was a nerve racking experience not least because it was live. I coped by pointing at Lucy every time Janice asked one of the more difficult questions (sorry, Lucy!) and waffling on a bit about if everyone joined a book group, the world would be a better place.

You can listen to the audio here: https://lucyjanes.blog/2022/10/06/the-booker-prize-book-club-challenge/

To cut to the chase though, what did we actually think of Glory?

Over the years, very few books have met universal approval or dislike, and so was the case with Glory. Here’s my review of it…

The joy of belonging to a book group is that you read outside your comfort zone, which can turn up gems. The reverse is true as well of course. Personally, I found Glory a struggle to read. I’m not keen on allegory, and sometimes the satire seemed rather laboured.
Having stared off disliking the repetitive nature of some of the book, after a while it became more ‘rhythmic’ to my ear—tuning into the author’s voice, I suppose—and the writing and descriptions were beautiful in parts. You can’t help but admire the author’s ambition in attempting to tell such a ‘big’ story about a nation and I came away from the book determined to read up more on a history and culture I have so little knowledge of.
I enjoyed Destiny’s story (particularly when she returned and had to ‘tune’ back into the place where she came from) and the social media stuff felt very relevant—not just in relation to the fictional country, but as related to all kinds of events these days. And of course it raised a smile when some thinly disguised bigwigs turned up.
This is the first time I have seen George Floyd turn up in fiction, and I found that part of the book incredibly moving. The multiple points of view added to the novel too. Most novels published in this century concentrate on only a few, whereas this technique felt as if it was the only way you could tell a story like Glory.

Wish us luck in the competition!

My own writing

Reading prize-nominated and prize-winning books is inspiring, though sometimes you end up thinking, “I might as well give up now! I’ll never manage to write as beautifully as that.” But I persevere.

My vampire novel, Beautiful Biters, is now in the Paid Stories programme on Wattpad, which is nice from a validation point of view. Somebody somewhere recognised it as ‘worthy’ of publishing.

I have self-published a lot of books, which gives you control over everything—from the blurb to the uploading and the commissioning of covers. When my story entered the Paid Stories programme, Wattpad changed the cover of Beautiful Biters to the one on the left:

I much prefer the cover I commissioned (on the right), which was created by the talented Jennifer Mijatovic (@wee_mij on Instagram). The Wattpad cover is very ‘American’ and with traditional publishing, you often see two different covers for the UK versus the US market, which is an interesting fact in and of itself.

To me, covers with photographs of people often look cheap, and are cheap because it takes less time and effort to create them than to come up with an original image, such as the one Jennifer did for me, which also does a better job of conveying the adventure element of the story.

I’d love to know what you think, and which cover you prefer…

*We live in and around Glasgow and the slang name for people from Glasgow is Weegies (from the word Glaswegian, pronounced glas-wee-gin for those outside of the UK) and BeeGees from the initials, geddit?

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Reasons to celebrate

I dunno… there aren’t many reasons to celebrate at present, what with the ongoing war in Europe, what’s happening to women in the US, the climate emergency and record inflation levels.

This week, a news presenter on the radio announced that we’d probably noticed how much more expensive our dinners were now than… and I honestly expected him to say, ‘last week’ there, rather than ‘last year’.

Still, I have my own small triumphs. First off, was undergoing tests in hospital that proved I do not have bowel cancer. A great result, eh? A routine bowel screening had shown blood in my sample, necessitating a colonoscopy.

As the literature said, less than 5 percent of those tested actually have cancer and I did not think there was anything wrong with that ‘bit’ of me. However, thanks to the dreaded C-word (the other one), there was a considerable wait for the colonoscopy.

But it went ahead the other week and there was nothing there. NOTHING. Which makes me fortunate indeed, not least because I live somewhere that offers such an efficient screening programme even though our National Health Service is creaking under the weight of backlogs and years of underfunding.

To prepare for a colonoscopy, you eat a low-fibre diet for three days. As a recently converted vegan that posed a real challenge (so challenging, in fact, that I abandoned the veganism for the three days, sorry oh much more principled people than I am). My celebratory post-colonoscopy meal was therefore this:

Tofu, brown rice, lots of veggies, a spicy peanut sauce and picked red onions—every single ingredient the instructions from the Endoscopy Clinic banned on the low-fibre diet.

(Thanks to yummylummy, who let me know about the role sugar-free jelly plays in prep for a colonoscopy… 😉)

Second, I have signed another contract with Wattpad, which will see my vampire book, Beautiful Biters (read the first chapter here) placed in its paid stories programme. While I am under no illusions about what this will do for my income, external validation for the stories I write is more than welcome.

In addition, this week I made my romcom Highland Fling free on Amazon, so that it could be part of a Hello Books promotion and when I checked my sales dashboard this morning, the book had been downloaded a grand total of 2,123 times, the bulk of which were in the US.

(I’m not sure my sense of humour translates. We’ll see!)

The most downloads I’ve ever managed in a week before has been in the 50-odd range, so the figures were a proper, proper ego boost. Let’s hope the good folks who download the book are spurred on to download the other five in the series, i.e. the ones they pay for. If it helps boost my Amazon rankings, it might keep the book more visible for some time, which again should help with sales long term.

If you would like to take part in the Hello Books promotion, which also includes other free romance titles, including this one by Enni Amanda, who created the cover for Highland Fling (and the other five books in the series), you can download the titles for free here: https://hellobooks.com/romance

Third, another small thing, but it feels like a biggie. I’m back into reading again. During the pandemic, I stopped. Not completely, but instead of powering through three or four books a week, it was more like one every few months as I was too busy doom-scrolling through the news and on blasted Twitter (I have a serious love-hate relationship with the platform).

Some gems I’ve read recently include:

Hungry, photo courtesy of my book group chum, Lucy, who also made this delicious tray bake to accompany Grace Dent’s food-related memoir, which came across as very relatable because I grew up in the same era/same sort of world and got invited to a Cosmopolitan lunch too. (A story for another day.)

Small Eden by Jane Davis, which I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy for and read in two days.

The Cut by Christopher Brookmyre, whose writing and thoroughly Scottish sense of humour I’ve always loved.

My writing chum, Caron Allan, is busy putting together the final touches for her book, A Meeting with Murder, which I am very much looking forward to reading.

And finally, the two by-elections in the UK won’t mean much, if anything, to anyone outside the UK but I did a little dance of joy on Friday morning when the newsreader announced that the constituencies of Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton had voted out the Conservative Party.

So, this weekend I will crack open that bottle of Moet my sister bought me for my birthday and hope that soon, very soon, we will all come together and rid ourselves of nasty, populist governments, minority imposed judgements that condemn half the population and the terrible, terrible people who have ended up in power.

Cheers, everyone!

Lockdown laughs

How is everyone finding the almost worldwide lockdown? I hope you and the ones you love are safe and well and finding ways to make this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in bearable.

I’m extremely fortunate. I don’t live in a city, and I have access to a garden and the internet. Interestingly enough, I’ve never spoken to so many people in such a short space of time. From phone chats where I catch up with people I never usually call, to the Zoom meetings that are now a regular part of many people’s lives, I’m grateful for the technology I have at my fingertips. I’m doing online Pilates, yoga and Spanish classes, and every day my family and I catch-up to exchange news

(Much of which is taken up by discussion of what we will be having for dinner—food and the state of our supermarkets the now national obsession. That and what everyone is binge-watching on iPlayer or Netflix.)

And of course there is the new neighbourliness where we chat over fences and wave at each other every Thursday night when we stand outside and clap for the carers.

Anyway, if you are seeking a bit of distraction, I’ve rounded up a few light-hearted spoiler-free extracts from my next book, Highland Chances due out 1 June.

Stay safe everyone.

The perils of online planning

“Same. Can we skip the pub quiz and…?” He paused, finger and thumb gripping the tiny brush and glanced up to catch my eye, dirty grin in place. His other hand slid up my bare leg, fingers sure and warm.

When we got married, I wondered if that would kill lust stone dead. Didn’t couples moan all the time that the wedding ring acted like a chastity belt? In a previous job, my colleagues and I once stumbled on our boss’s online calendar, the one she’d not made as private as she should. Sunday mornings 8-8.30am were highlighted—SEX WITH GREG. She’d added a 15-minute-in-advance text alert too. Josh, the guy I worked with, changed the day to Tuesdays and shortened the time slot to ten minutes. Not sure how that worked out for them.

A hazy grasp of geography

Canada,flag,map,country,nationality - free image from needpix.com

“Oh shut up! He still should hae asked, shouldn’t he? I want a proper boyfriend!”

News to me. Katya, who’d also lived with Mhari once upon a time, reckoned Mhari preferred other people’s love lives to her own. All that opportunity to ask personal questions and not bother with the complicated bits yourself.

“What about Xavier? He’s nice, isn’t he?”

A big sniff. “Dinnae be daft. He’s no’ gonnae stay here. When we leave the EU, he’ll need tae go back tae Canada.”

“Canada isn’t in Europe, Mhari.”

“Is it no’? Anyway, he’s loads younger than me.”

Four years. The same age gap as her and Hyun-Ki. I referred to this. A drunken explanation that this was exactly why she wasnae going to waste her time on younger men. Shallow. Totes immature. She ended the last statement with a loud fart, which made the two of us giggle for ages.

The scramble for freebies

Rubber Stamps Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures

Carnage. A mad scramble started up straight away as hands darted everywhere, trying to snaffle the freebies. Angus ended up with his back to everyone, body hunched over the table to protect the bags. Several of the women tried illegal Rugby scrum moves on him that would have got them blacklisted from the game. He put up with it for a few minutes before straightening up and bellowing, “Oi! Stop that!”

Angus was six foot five and twice the width of me. The yell worked, the crowd of women retreating expressions cowed.

He folded his arms. “Now, everyone of ye is gonnae queue nicely, show us your ticket tae the games and say ‘thank ye very much’ when Gaby and Jamal here hand ower the bags. Agreed?”

Fervent nods from the crowd.

“Anyone who doesnae,” he growled, “will be thrown in the loch.”

Two women looked far too delighted at the prospect of a dookin’. “Does that mean you would put us over your shoulder?” one asked, her smile gleeful.

“And,” her friend threw in, “spank our bottoms?”

“No!”

If you would like a reminder of when my next book is out, please feel free to sign up for my newsletter via pinkglitterpubs@gmail.com and I’ll give you a free short story in return. All my ebooks are available for free from your local library. Most libraries are closed at present, but you should still be able to borrow ebooks.

Highland Heart – out October 10

Ah, the modern world! Fabulous in so many ways… where once upon a time if you wanted ad images for anything you needed a ginormous budget, nowadays cheap tech solutions will rustle you up something in no time at all…

These images for Highland Heart are via BookBrush.com – you upload your cover and voila! Seconds later, there’s the image. My favourite one is the picture above left because I love the hardback version. But the featured image also appeals because who doesn’t love the idea of a cosy autumn night in, slippers on, hot drink nearby and book in hand?

Highland Heart is the second romcom book in my series set in the highlands of Scotland (as the title suggests), and it explores what happens when the honeymoon stage of a relationship wears off… It’s out October 10.

Wishing you all a great week!

The digital nomad life!

Here you see me (just) pretending to be a chic, hipster digital nomad*… sitting on a balcony in Crete tapping away on my keyboard as I put together the finishing touches to Highland Heart.

It is a treat to be able to sit in the sunshine and type. Even if cheapskate me didn’t bother splashing out the extra twenty quid on a glare-proof screen for my laptop when I bought it six years ago. *Sighs.*

And in Crete, factor in slathering yourself in insect repellent as well as sun cream. Those beasties are vicious. And they hone in on wherever you are unprotected. *Squirms from a bite in a delicate place.*

It is fitting to be a writer in Crete, seeing as the early Minoan populations that lived there were among the first in Europe to read and write—writing systems referred to as Linear A and B, mainly developed to help them document the sheer amount of olive oil, wine, honey and crops those civilisations had.

The writing system is thought to date back to the second millennium BCE.

But yes, dear chums. Highland Heart is now on pre-order on Amazon and is out October 10th, when I hope it will spring to the top of the charts and make me a goodly sum of money. Sprint? I’d settle for a gentle stroll so long as those sales figures always head in the upward direction. It’s the follow-up to Highland Fling and the third book, Highland Wedding, will be published in time for Christmas.

 

*Two weeks away from home a year do not make me a digital nomad.

Six Years of Blogging

Emma Baird picture of a laptop with the words 'back blogging'Congratulations me. This month marks my six-year blog anniversary. Six years of thinking up topics to write about, sometimes coming up with great ideas but most often opting for the lazy option, something I wrote for another platform.

I don’t have a huge following—just shy of 400—but I get good engagement, especially these days. It’s easy enough to like a blog post. You can do it without reading the article. People taking the time to read and then add their thoughts feels much more flattering.

And because I have such a small following, I don’t get negativity. Most of the comments people post are encouraging. Which is good. I’m your typical writer and my skin is wafer-thin.

My following increases steadily. At the moment, I appear to be getting one sign up a day. I’m a smarter blogger than I was when I first started up and I use some of the dark arts. I put my name into the alt text for the pictures I use. I set featured images and I craft my own excerpt. Liking and commenting on other blogs helps as does the intelligent use of tags.

I’ve got my posts automatically linked to most of my other social media platforms, so they appear on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter as soon as they come out.

The life of a blogger can be great fun. I started my working life in journalism and what former journalist wouldn’t want to be their own publisher and editor?

You also get to read amazing content from others. There are plenty of doozies out there and I often wonder what on earth bloggers are doing to get hundreds of likes and comments for badly written guff. On the whole, though, if you keep your own blog following small, you can afford to follow only the good ‘uns back.

This is a friendly community for the most part. I’m hugely grateful to all the folks who’ve read, liked and commented on my articles over the last six years. Thank YOU.

The Ten Bonuses of Writing for a Living

Writing for a living—glamorous, well-paid, and sort of sexy and bohemian, right? Bohemian regarding the pay, certainly, but here are some of the reasons why I love being a writer…
1. You get to work for yourself, and most of the time your boss is kind, understanding, reasonable and supportive*.
2. You don’t have to go to meetings. (Well, not many of them.) When I lived in the office world, most meetings I went to were like the ones they show on the BBC show, W1A. Here’s a link to a clip for anyone not familiar with this most glorious of satires.
3. Your fingers get a good work-out every day. C’mon. We’re like pianists, our digits moving at double quick time over the keyboard.
4. As a copywriter, you get to find out a little about A LOT. This week, among other things, I dreamt up sales statements for cars (not bad for someone who knows SFA about horsepower, torque and HUD), dug into the importance of living wills, and entered the world of vintage Danish furniture.
5. Writing every day is great practice for what every copywriter really wants—to write novels (my own wee attempt is here). Yes, being forced to think up lots of different ways to make cars sound exciting, and vintage Danish furniture appealing hones those creative skills.
6. You can do it anywhere. So long as you have a connection to the internet, the world’s your oyster. If you want, you can become a trendy digital nomad.
7. Being praised for your work. This might not always happen—and sometimes the opposite occurs—but when someone says they love your stuff, your heart soars.
8. Doing what you love. Every. Single. Day. Hey, even those car statements. And those blogs about cleaning.
9. Reading. You can’t write for a living without doing a LOT of reading. Sometimes, it’s of the dull variety, but it’s always very varied, and I don’t know any writers who don’t also love reading too.
10. The money. That’s my little joke. My bad. Take it from me, kids. You don’t do this job for the moolah.

*You get the odd day when your boss is the BITCH FROM HELL.

The Discreet Charm Of Mary Maxwell-HumeThe Discreet Charm Of Mary Maxwell-Hume by Gordon Lawrie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s always great when a writer takes an intriguing character from a previous story (The Piano Exam) and further develops them, as is the case here with The Discreet Charm of Mary Maxwell Hume, a mysterious woman with many talents – not least music and the way she wears clothes!

This collection of stories about Mary and her efforts to better the city of Edinburgh (by committing the odd crime, but solving them too) is entertaining and laugh-out-loud in places. The book is peopled with fantastic characters and situations you will probably recognise in part. You might even find the odd reference to a certain Edinburgh department store familiar… Just the ticket for relaxing reading.

View all my reviews

Lessons from Launching a Book

Obsessively checking KDP every day is not healthy. And it makes you feel like the world’s biggest LOSER.

Double LOSER feeling – checking other people’s rankings, which also feels stalker-ish.

Your book will move positions on the rankings terrifyingly quickly. Watch it drop 50,000 places in a few days, for example…

Repeated use of keywords work. I used chick lit 2017 in the tagline and description, and my book appears near the top of that search result.

You definitely need a tagline (or sub-heading) for your book.

You should make full use of the book description and include keywords in there.

Borrow other titles in the same genre or vein for your keywords. Use authors who write similar stuff too.

The 99p promotion works. You’ll just have to do it a lot.

People will read weird numbers of pages through the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Libraries.

Selling outside the US and the UK is HARD.

After the first week, you will be selling your book to strangers. Unless you have TONNES of friends, they are going to be your biggest market.

You will start to bore yourself going on and on about your book on Twitter et al. Self-promotion is very un-Scottish and it makes you want to shut yourself in a darkened room, hide under the bed and pull a blanket over your head.

The Girl Who Swapped is available on Amazon.

Day and Night – a Review

Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery (Dottie Manderson mysteries Book 1)Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery by Caron Allan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do love a good crime fiction novel – and particularly when it’s historical crime fiction. That gives you added bonuses. You get the time period of the Golden Age of crime fiction, but with modern considerations, such as detailed characterisation and stories that aren’t just plot-driven.

I enjoyed Night and Day a great deal. There are plenty of likeable characters that you feel you want to read more about, a plot that moves along well and lots of enjoyable period detail. (I, for one, love reading about what people ate and long to live in a time where the servants leave me out cocoa and sandwiches when I come in from a night out…)

Dottie Manderson is a gorgeous character – sassy, bright and modern (for the 1930s, that is) and very relatable. She’s partnered with a detective and you just know this is going to play out satisfyingly in a ‘will they/won’t they’ way. There’s a Cluedo feel to the whole story, and I love it for that.

A great read and I’m looking forward to catching up with more of Dottie, Flora et al.

View all my reviews