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Surrounded by women bloggers: my day at Cybher!

I have never in my life been to a conference in which mothers breast feed babies while guest speakers talk, undeturbed, about their area of expertise. And that pretty much sums up the relaxed atmosphere at Cybher on Saturday – the UK’s only conference for female bloggers – in which 300 were in attendance.

Throw in free leather satchels, a constant supply of coffee and cookies, some talented and inspiring speakers and lots of happy, smiling faces, and you can’t go far wrong.

9am to 6pm is a long day at a conference for me and I’ve always had enough by 4pm – especially given my 6.30am alarm call to trog to London on the train with my sidekick for the day. But I was wide awake and 6pm and returned home to Milton Keynes feeling inspired.


Cookies and coffee and handbags Podcasting session with The High Tea Cast Caz Walton's Cybher badge

Caz and an AVG cupcake Taking notes at Cybher Cybher conference screen in the ballroom


I’ve never attended a conference where I’m not ‘working’ it – and Cybher was no different. My latest MA project on multimedia covers the conference, the stories behind some of the guest speakers and how blogs can change people’s lives.

So I had one eye on the conference and the other on my project but, to be honest, this assignment has been a lot of fun and one thing is clear – bloggers are talented, powerful and most of all, lovely. Not concerned about competing with each other, they’re all happy to share their experiences, their tricks of the trade and their expertise. Very refreshing!

So, enough from me, go check out for indepth interviews with some of the speakers as well as a round up of Cybher in pictures, text and audio.

Five for Friday: Why I'm peeing my pants in excitement for summer

Highclere Castle, Highclere, Hampshire

I wouldn’t usually wish huge chunks of the year away but I positively cannot wait until June. Here’s why…

1) Bye bye studies (temporarily), and hello life (temporarily)
Once my next assignment is submitted in early June I’ll be free of study for the whole summer, which means I get my evenings and weekends back and complete freedom to… DO WHATEVER I WANT! Whether it’s dinner and drinks with the girls, a day out with hubby or clearing out the garage (I’m itching to get in there and unleash my inner Monica) I can do it. Hoorah! I can even spend a whole weekend in my pyjamas watching back-to-back episodes of Murder She Wrote, eating nothing but biscuits and drinking tea from china cups if I want to. It’s not that I don’t love the MA, I do, but a break will be blissful and hopefully well earned.

2) Holiday!
Usually, as January 1st of each year rolls around me and hubby will be booking a holiday, putting a marker in the calendar to drag us through the bleak winter months when there’s nothing much to be cheery about. Christmas behind us, we always need a holiday to look forward to. We’ve planned nothing this year because we’ve been reluctant to spend any money (having a tight arse phase at the mo – and hubby nearly bankrupted us with his eggnog latte addiction) and free holidays don’t exist – or rather, they do, but are at my mum’s house in the Shire. And while we STILL haven’t booked anything, we WILL be taking at least a week off in June to revel in some Cornish sun, make ourselves sick on rum and raisin ice cream and cream teas, eat in seafood restaurants, explore parks and gardens and generally have a bloody marvelously British time.

3) Writing, writing, writing
It’s really not possible to work full time, do an MA part time and manage to eat, bathe and dress myself daily as well. Throw in time with the family, time to read, watch my fave TV programmes and wind down after a long day in front of a computer, play netball and volleyball and try and salvage some inkling of a social life, and my poor old writing tends to fall off the ‘really need to get on and do’ list. I’ve just managed to enter two competitions which, luckily, only require the first chapter or two of my novel (and I await with baited breath!) but it’ll be lush to get some proper time back to focus on writing projects, my blogging, my novel, some freelance work. Bring it on. I’m brimming with ideas and won’t be fulfilled until I’ve put this creativity into action.

4) Afternoon tea and a slice of heritage
To celebrate the handing in of my last assignment of the academic year hubby and I plan to while away a few hours at Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed. We’ll soak up the history, the grounds, the well thought out camera angles, and revel in a slice of British history and an era brought alive by a fictional place called Downton Abbey. And on the way home we’ll stop for afternoon tea a posh hotel in Marlow, using the voucher my delightful friend Bloater (she’s not fat, far from it, but has been known to eat a whole maltloaf in two bites) gave me for my birthday. A lush present and hubby and I will use it to pretend, just for a couple of hours, that we’re civilised.

5) Sporting highlights
June to September calendar highlights include: car shopping (hoping my current batmobile lasts that long); Buchy and Bruiser’s birthday bash (these are my husband and wife friends, not a comedy duo btw); the Big Doggie Do – the dog show in which Ralphie was crowned cutest puppy two years ago; Mandy’s wedding in July; Olympic volleyball in August (we have tickets!) and topped off nicely by a weekend oop norf and a trip to the York Festival of Writing (need to run that last one past hubby first).


Pictured above is Highclere Castle, Highclere, Hampshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There's a serious lack of fiction in my diet

My bookshelf

My bookshelf fiction... or at least some of it

Over the past couple of years I’ve worked quite hard to expand my taste when it comes to reading. No longer reaching for the blood, gore and investigative mystery most crime fiction offers, I now touch on the literary, the romantic, the fairytale, the adventure and, most importantly of all, the recommended. I’ve now started to trust the recommendations of friends.

It’s not only expanded my reading list, but also my ability to talk about books, genres, styles of writing and ideas. Good writers have to be good readers too.

But with that said, for the last month I have ditched novels altogether. The start of my Masters signalled the end of my fiction feast, at least for now. I am reading more often that I ever have, at least more regularly – not only because I have to but because I’m enjoying the reading list so far. But I’m reading a different sort of book now: non fiction, educational, informative, historic, technological, eye-opening.

My favourite so far has been What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis, which I quote on a semi-regular basis, and I feel like my current read – Journalism Next by Mark Briggs – should be a permanent fixture in my handbag, a mini guide to my career.

But I am starting to miss fiction, immersing myself into other characters’ lives, problems and stories and taking myself off, completely, to another place; an armchair traveller. And I’m not sure when there’ll be time for fiction because I struggle to read more than one book at a time, like it’s a kind of infidelity to start one before finishing with the other. And it’s such a pleasure to get lost in another world for a few chapters and put the stresses of the day behind me.

The reading for the MA is a permanent reminder of the work I do (good and bad) and sparks a trail of ideas which pour from my brain to my hand to my notebook to my computer, an endless stream of things I want to do, follow up or achieve. And it’s a tad exhausting, an educational reading journey rather than a relaxing escapism.

But I’m not surprised, it’s what I expected really. So, when the Christmas break comes around I’m going to treat myself to a fiction novel and revel in it. Merry Christmas to me!

Anyone got any recommendations?

Inspire and mentor: how to get published

Last week I hooked up with my girl pal and published author Tracy Buchanan to mingle with fellow literati at the Marie Claire UK’s How to get Published event, part of their Inspire and Mentor 2011 series. A jolly good campaign if you ask me! Plus we scoffed champers and canapés, bonus. Apologies for the picture of me and Tracy  by the way (Buchy as I call her) – this is the only one I can find of us together without a wig on or wine glass in our hand). And no, we’re not very photogenic.

Anyway, I digress… so, as we sat on mega uncomfy chairs in a super hot room at the Malmaison Hotel in Birmingham, we listened to a panel of uber nice and informed folk in the publishing business as they handed out stories of their own success, top tips and general encouragement for those of us who want to see our manuscripts turned into best-selling novels.

So it was mildly amusing to me that when Q&A time rolled around, one wannabe author asked Lindsey Kelk to tell us how she got into publishing. Er… she told us like 20 minutes ago in her little talk? Were you not listening? Lesson 1, pay attention.

Another asked if you need a degree to get your book published. Can you imagine it… “JK, we just love your Harry Potter books, they could be massive, but there’s just one thing….

Tracy Buchanan and Robyn Bateman

Christmas hats and cheesy grins... Tracy and Robyn do Christmas

you don’t have a degree. So maybe come back to us in a few years when you’ve got some letters behind your name?” Unlikely.

Another said she couldn’t get published in the UK because she was young, successful and black. I’d like to think the publishing industry represents more than just middle class white women and that it’s your writing and ideas that get you published, not your ethnicity or your degree.

Others said they were half way through writing their first novel and looking to approach agents soon. I wrote my novel over a year ago and am currently on draft 2.5. Given, I’ve utterly neglected it of late, but I’d be naïve if I thought my first draft would ever get beyond an agent’s in tray. I guess I’m lucky enough to have a published author for a buddy and several completely dedicated writing friends who are fonts of all knowledge when it comes to publishing dos and don’ts.

The most telling part of the evening, to me, was how the audience, 70 of us in total, formed an orderly queue to get books signed by Lindsey Kelk when the evening drew to a close, yet very few dashed to speak to the agent – the woman in the room who could actually help get our books published. But maybe the bulk of these girlies aren’t ready for pitching yet, just there to soak up the info.

Gah, maybe I’m coming across as bitchy and what do I know, I’m so far from being a published novelist I might as well be writing from the moon. The panelists were surprisingly unbitchy (given the competitive industry they work in) and highly likeable and composed. The theme of the evening was Inspire and Mentor, after all, and they certainly succeeded in both. I loved Rowan Lawton from PFD and would love for her to be my agent; she was nice, informed, passionate and fun. And she takes a lot of commercial women’s fiction (chick lit – considered to be a dirty word these days), which is what I write (despite my mostly hate-hate relationship with the genre). So Rowan, when I get my novel to a ‘fit for public consumption’ state, I’ll be coming for ya!

The over-arching theme was to GET AN AGENT, so much s that I had to write it in capitals. Your agent is a friend, your champion and the one person who’s going to work their sweaty butt off you get you in print. After all, they don’t make money of they don’t get you a publishing deal so have to believe in you and your work.

Anyway, here’s a round up of what was said, hope you find it useful…


Lindsey Kelk

Get an agent! Be passionate, believe in what you’re doing and keep trying are Lindsey’s key themes. Working as a copywriter she took a pay CUT to work in publishing, to be closer to her passion, and when she decided to start writing her own book she was determined, made contacts and opened the right doors. And now she has a series of published books with more on the way.


Helen Russell, online editor, Marie Claire magazine

  • Do your research – editors are impressed by salient facts
  • Know your audience! Who will love your ideas, who will love reading your story?
  • How to pitch – catchy title, snappy synopsis and spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck
  • When contacting an editor, know their name and how to spell it right and call their assistant to find out if you don’t already know
  • Include your CV and examples of any work you’ve had published when you make your pitch
  • Don’t hide behind email, face to face works too. Get to know an editor by offering to take them for a coffee and learn more about their personality, their tone and their interests – they’re more likely to remember you that way
  • A great idea is a great idea so don’t get disheartened
  • What Marie Claire is looking for now –  what readers are doing now that they wouldn’t have done six to 12 months ago, for example, infidelity via Twitter; cultural zeitgeists; emotional first person stories; and the wow features that make people talk
  • If you want to work online you need to be online already – so get on Facebook and Twitter and start blogging etc
  • Make contacts and connections and have a USP (unique selling point)


Rowan Lawton, Peters Fraser & Dunlop (PFD)

  • Get an agent! Most publishers don’t accept unsolicited submissions so you will need one, plus they’re your first champion, someone who’s always going to be on your side
  • A good agent will be honest and may disagree with you
  • How to get noticed – you need a compelling submission, a high concept idea with strong plot and characterisation
  • A strong title will get noticed and needs to tell the reader exactly what the book’s about.
  • Know your market!
  • You have to really want it. Agents get bombarded with submissions so you won’t have long to get an agent’s attention
  • Do your research so you approach the right agents – Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, online, author websites and the acknowledgement section of authors’ books. If your writing’s similar to a published author, check out their agent
  • It boils down to the quality of your work in the end but the first step is to get noticed so do something bold
  • Write a stellar covering letter, make it personal to the agent’s client list and pitch your idea in a couple of sentences
  • If you have friends or contacts who are authors or journalists, mention it but don’t make your letter too long
  • Treat it as  career, be dedicated


Kate Bradley, Harper Collins

  • The publishing world is challenging, book sales are in decline and the market is poor. So it’s a tough nut to crack!
  • Traditional booksellers are fading fast with Tesco is currently the biggest bookseller in the UK. With the price of books so low it’s hard for publishers to make money so they have to be certain they can sell your book; it’s all about profit. Publishers want books that Tesco will want to sell.
  • Out of the 70 people in the room, one is likely to get published
  • Make friends with other writers, they can help and support you and possibly even write a quote for the back of your book should you ever get published
  • Sign up with something like the Romantic Novelists’ Association
  • Authonomy – useful site where you can grade each others’ books, make connections and possibly get noticed
  • Do you have a personal story to tell, something to pitch about you? Use your USP to set you apart
  • Editors WILL pick your work apart
  • Practice. There’ always something to learn

On expanding my literary horizons…

Until recently I’ve been pretty disappointed with some of the reading choices I’ve made. It makes me cross to invest hours only to be utterly disappointed 80,000 words. There’s some real pap out there, which makes me wonder in a competitive market how it ever made it into print. Last year I decided I needed to pull myself away from the crime fiction I love and expand my reading horizons. What else is out there that I’m missing? And I found it hard to have literary conversations with my writer buddies as my own reading list’s so restricted. And if a crime were to happen on my estate I’d be the prime suspect. Save for notes in the margins and highlighted passages of kill scenes, my bookshelves probably paint a picture of a twisted crime fanatic. Er… yeah, that’s me.

My bookshelf

My bookshelf... or at least some of it

So, not only was I going to try new genres I was also going to try new authors; it’s a habit of mine to find an author I like, read everything they’ve ever written, find another author I love and repeat. So my bookshelf is limited and my knowledge needed growing, especially if I’m to pursue my own hope of one day being a published author. And I don’t think the poem I had featured on page 187 of a poetry compendium really counts, does it?

But this year my reading choices were poor, or at least for me they were. It’s all subjective isn’t it but, for me, I like books like I like my movies; they need to have a point and be believable.

I read some bad chick lit, so bad I couldn’t bring myself to review it (research for my own novel, a genre I have a love-hate relationship with); and some ropey crime-type stuff (I couldn’t help myself  with the crime but the untried authors thing didn’t work for me. Even Patricia Cornwell’s latest, an old fave of mine from years ago, left me disappointed and a little bit angry.

But the last three books I’ve read have left me in awe. Amazing storytelling ability with an emotional depth that not only tugged at my heart strings, it pulled them tort to the brink of snapping.

And I came to realise that books, the ones that are really, really good, aren’t the ones that keep me turning pages because I want to find out whodunnit, or who the serial killer’s next victim is, or what that little bit of evidence is likely to reveal, but the ones that connect with me emotionally, striking a match in me, a warmth, a glow; something that makes me look into my soul and see my life from the inside out. Deep huh? Yeah, sorry, I don’t know what came over me, but these books move me, sometimes to tears, with their true-to-life characters and the stories that unravel around them.

The books I’m talking about – and I’m lucky to have read them back to back – are Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson, Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton and The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell.

All three were completely amazing and two of them, the latter, forced tears from my eyes which is a tad embarrassing when reading on a crowded beach. Thank God for sunglasses! The former moved me in another way, in the realisation that the things we take for granted, like our memory, make us incredibly vulnerable if we were ever to lose them. Who could we trust if we lost everything? Who’d have our back?

Anyway, reviews of the above are all in my book review section on this blog but I just felt it worthy of giving them an extra mention.

And am I pleased to be stepping away from the old forensic pathologist/detective with a ‘tude style novels? I’ll always be a crime lover and continue to try new authors and support the ones I love, but it’s been refreshing to read something different and experience new ways of writing and expression. I hope my own writing with improve because I’m better read. After all, variety is the spice of life… and I do like spicy.

Next up on my reading list is Hunter by Tom Wood, The Hating Game by Talli Roland (reading on kindle app and been meaning to get round to for an age) and this Platform Book Club choice, A Balance To Survive by Lisa W.B.

Finished the novel yet? Er, gimme another 90 years

Edit Ruthlessly - image by by Dan PattersonA dictionary of the extinct language of ancient Mesopotamia has been completed after 90 years of work, according to the BBC. Wow, 90 years. At the rate I’m writing, my own novel won’t be complete for another 90 years and, unless some life enhancing drug is made in the next half century, I’m pretty sure I don’t have 90 years left.

The first draft was easy, my motivation was to write THE END after 80,000 or so words and there, draft number one is complete. I did a sort of edit – let’s call it edit 1.5 – and now I need to do a thorough edit, edit 2.0, the kind of edit that means cleaning up the inconsistencies, tightening and developing the plot, kicking out characters and making my protagonist just a tad more likeable.

Oh, now doesn’t that sound like a lot of hard work to you? Yes, yes it does. But don’t feel sorry for me – there are squillions of writers out there working on their books in a bid to get published (I just typed, punished instead of published – Freudian slip?). They’re at it day and night,  slogging over prose, paragraphs and pages. Because they’re passionate and they want their name in print.

I want it too, but do I want it badly enough? Hmmm. I know that once I sit down and start reading my script, ‘cos it’s been a good long while since I did that, the enthusiasm will come flooding back and I’ll return to my writerly ways – and the numb hand I get from using the computer too much. But I keep delaying it, it feels too much like homework now and there’s always a distraction. So, my mid-year resolution is that I’m going to start work on my writing – either on this script or the beginnings of a new idea (and I don’t have many of those!) by the end of July. This is TOTALLY achievable and if I haven’t popped a post up to say “Yay, I’m writing again!” by then, feel free to kick my cyber arse into literary purgatory.


Picture by Dan Patterson via Flickr under Creative Commons Licence