Sunday, 16 November 2014

Waddesdon Manor lit up for Christmas

I'm lucky enough to live close to one of the National Trust's most beautiful properties, Waddesdon Manor. This year I was invited to their press launch of the Lights and Legends Christmas display.

Bruce Munro, the famous light artist, was present to tell us about his inspiration for his latest creation. As dusk turned to night, he took us on a walk through the grounds to see the installations in all their glory. It's well worth a visit if you happen to be down this way! Here are some of my pics.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Thame Arts and Literary Festival

I was the official photographer for the Thame Arts and Literary Festival this month, and got some great pics of Michael Heseltine and Jonathan Dimbleby on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions. It was certainly a very varied and interesting festival, with a topical focus this year, on WWI. Among the better-known authors speaking, was the author of War Horse, Michael Morpurgo, pictured below.

These kinds of events can be useful for inspiration. The Thame Arts and Literary Festival had writing workshops, film events, a Midsummer Murders Walk, speakers, music, a comedian, and a wide variety of authors present. Here are a few of my pics.


Friday, 10 October 2014

My wake-up call to the power of KDP

I was blown away when I heard that one of our Writers' Group members, Dave Sivers, had sold 5000 copies of his latest crime novel through Kindle Direct Publishing.

Having read reports saying that most self-published ebooks sell less than 100 copies (many less than 10!) I was skeptical about the whole thing, but Dave's work is always impeccable and his success with KDP made me think again. The sales are comparable to an advance from a traditional publishing house!

Of course I've also heard the self-publishing success-stories touted by KDP themselves, but I thought these were very much the exceptions, not the rule. Undoubtedly, for the most part, they are - but hearing Dave's success story so close to home has opened my eyes to the power of self-publishing. You can view Dave's literary collection here.

Or if you prefer something more on the trials and tribulations of freelance writing, why not download Amazon's free sample pages of my own book, Freelance Writing: Aim Higher, Earn More? And if you like it, go wild and buy a copy! The paperback is now available for the bargain discounted price of £5.96/$8.09. The Kindle version is cheaper still!


Thursday, 21 August 2014


We went to Scotland, with a focus on the Highlands. Here is a busy 'A' road at rush hour, between Durness and Thurso...

We visited Fingals Cave on Staffa...

 And saw some puffins! :-)

 Then we went on a wildlife excursion and saw some pine martins. They're extinct in England. Gorgeous creatures.

Inverary Castle was impressive.

 So was the William Wallace Monument at Dryburgh.

We didn't see much of Skye Museum of Island life because it was foggy and shut... but I hear it's very good!

However, we did make it to Iona, where we nearly got blown away in the wind.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Interview: How I succeeded as a freelance writer

I was interviewed by a book reviewer recently who'd been reading my book, Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens. Here's part of the interview.

1. How difficult was it to make the leap from conventional employment to freelance writing?

It was tough. I had no contacts and no idea if I would succeed, but my tenacity and determination paid off. For a long while, I was still trying to get part-time conventional work, but after a while I decided to go full-time freelance. The thing that enabled me to focus on my writing full-time was the sheer volume of work that I started to get in after nine months of pitching. I'd managed to keep the work-load steady for long enough to feel that it was sustainable. Basically, I convinced myself it was more than just a lucky blip!

2. What was your first article on health, food and gardens?

It was an article for Amateur Gardening magazine, titled 'the healing power of your garden'. It looked at the healing power of common garden vegetables on a wide range of health conditions. I drew on my knowledge of nutrition and on recent scientific studies to show how a diet rich in home-grown vegetables can reduce your risk of disease. I pitched the initial idea by email, highlighting my qualifications and experience, and was offered a commission on that basis.

3. The book discusses some writing myths. Tell us a bit about this.

The whole book is based on my own experience and many of the myths highlighted in the book are the misconceptions that people perpetuated all through my youth. The myth that writing is too competitive, so you might as well give up now, is no way to succeed in anything. I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now. The idea that you need a journalism qualification to be a journalist has also been disproven by my own experience. Essentially, believing these myths can hold you back for years. I let some of them hold me back for far too long.

4. How can writers come up with foodie ideas if they're not good at creating recipes?

Think widely about article topics on food. You might consider visits to breweries, stories about vineyards, interviewing the owner of a thriving local cake-making business, restaurant reviews, or food travel writing. It depends on what kinds of stories the magazine you're targeting runs, but there are lots of story opportunities in food writing other than writing recipes.

5. How has writing for a living has changed your life?

It's been a radical career change, because I work for myself now. I don't have to commute any more. I can be creative and write about the things I enjoy, and I can work the hours I like. I get paid on results not on process. Having bosses interfering with process used to really get my goat! I love being my own boss and I'm good at what I do. I also learn a lot more from researching topics for articles than I ever learnt in a conventional job. It's been a fascinating journey.

Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens was published by Compass Books in February. View it on:
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Friday, 9 May 2014

The crazy, but rewarding, world of freelance writing

I delivered a talk at my local writers group last night. It went surprisingly well! I was completely chilled about the whole experience until about 2 hours before I was due to speak, at which point, I suddenly got nervous, sweaty, and my mind went blank! Fortunately, I'd made extensive notes to jog my memory in anticipation of that happening!

At the event, I covered my work history in marketing before leaping into the crazy, but rewarding, world of freelance writing. I showed the audience the first article I'd had published in The Lady, 19 years ago, and the nutrition articles that I'd written for free to help develop a small portfolio. This helped to launch my freelance writing career in 2011.

I outlined my daily writing discipline and routine, and explained how my husband serves as a great proof-reader, photographer, chauffeur, and second memory!

I recalled the days that I sat in the garden with a huge pile of magazines, making notes on what I could write for them, generating ideas for features, and pitching A-Z through the Writers and Artists Yearbook. I hung around magazine stands a lot in those days. I pitched to niche titles and I thought very widely about opportunities.

How to write a winning pitch was of course important – the hook, expertise, photos, why you’re right person to write the piece, and examples of your work/clients. I even explained how to market yourself as a writer, by demonstrating your experience, making sure you have a good web presence, social media and blogs to promote your work.

I talked about how I found inspiration in unusual places, and shared lots of the articles I'd written in the first few years - covering local topics, interviewing local people, and studying the markets for inspiration. How I  turned rejections into sales is always interesting. I even dipped into avoiding legal issues – libel, copyright issues, and avoiding controversy.

Getting paid was perhaps one of the more lively discussions. It's a real challenge as a freelance writer sometimes. We often work well ahead of publication, and have to wait until after publication to see the money come in. I explained how I'd overcome non-payers by holding back the next article until they'd paid for the last four, or simply harassing them into submission. Finally I talked about photography, speculative submissions, and writing for pleasure.

Sorry you missed it? Don't worry. The talk was essentially an outline of my book, Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens. Many of the principles are relevant whatever niche you're writing in. If you'd like to know more, why not buy a copy online? It's available as a paperback or an ebook.

Buy Now on:
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Marketing your book

When I accepted a book contract with John Hunt Publishing's imprint, Compass Books, I knew I’d need to be involved with the marketing. I think all publishers require that to some extent these days. So I wrote an action plan, committing myself to doing what I could to help promote my book.

It’s a niche title, “Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens”, so I didn’t expect it to hit the best-seller lists, but with limited resources, I want to make it as successful as it can be. Here’s a breakdown of some of my marketing activities…

Magazine articles

Writing magazine: I wrote the leading article in Writing magazine shortly after publication. It was about making money in writing and concluded with a little book promo. It resulted in a delightful call from someone who ordered my book on the basis of that article. And someone else tweeted to say the article was really inspiring.

A few extracts of the book have appeared in Compass Books magazines, “Writers’ Wheel”.You can pick up copies FREE here:

My additional promotions have included:

- Blogging in a way that either directly or indirectly, promotes the book;
- I’ve participated in an interview with Women on Writing, which was published alongside a book review;
- I’ve talked at local photography club about my work;
- Talked at my local writers’ group;
- Run promotions in the local newspaper;
- Posted promotional blogs across different social media platforms and in a range of specialist writing groups;
- Promoted the book on my own website;
- Written two articles for writing blogs;
- Came runner-up in a writer of the year competition and used that to promote the book;
- Contributed to Jennifer Bohnet's 'surprises' blog which attracts about 300 readers so I'm told.
- Did the 'My Writing Process' blog hop (chain letter online), which promoted the book.
- I'm getting regular free promotions through ebook universe, a great resource for authors: 

And the results? Sales are steady if not astounding. The publisher's erratic and illogical pricing strategy doesn't help! I now have a second book out, which is helping to build my profile beyond the three genres of health, food and gardens. I continue to appear regularly in writing magazines and liaise with other writers on social media.

What are other writers doing to promote their work? Do tell if you have some great hints and tips.

Check out my books here (also available on Nook and Kobo):

Thursday, 27 March 2014

My writing group - cliques and committees

When I started writing for a living in 2011, I loved the work but felt I needed to improve my social life to make up for being on my own all day. So the following January I joined my local writers group to meet new people and to further my writing career. The website assured me of a friendly welcome and the first meeting lived up to this claim with polite smiles and introductions. But within a few months I was having trouble getting beyond that polite 'hello'. They'd usually rush off to speak to someone else.

By April I'd received a book contract and was really excited. I was bursting to tell people, but the cliquey atmosphere prevailed and I left the April meeting without having told a single soul! I was starting to wonder why I bothered with the group at all. I'd already established that it was unlikely to further my career.

In a last ditch attempt to make friends, I decided to offer my services to the committee, suggesting I could work on the newsletter and deliver a talk on my new book. However the chair wasn't interested. He turned me down flat, saying that the members were only interested in fiction. I was on the verge of giving up, having had only had one meaningful conversation with anyone in the group all year!

However, I decided to give it another chance and joined for a further year. I'm glad I did because just recently, things have begun to turn around. I volunteered to read some work at a manuscript evening and when people heard a little about what I was doing, they started to show interest. Some other new members have now started talking to me, and I've even been asked to do that talk!

So the moral of the story, is to persevere. Perhaps if your writing group is cliquey too, they just need time to get to know you. Offer to help with things and reach out to other new members if you can identify them. As for the committee - I'm thinking about joining it next month at the AGM!

What's your writers group like? Has it helped to further your career? Are they welcoming and friendly?

For an hilarious account of another writer's experience at her local writers' group, click here

Monday, 3 March 2014

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

A friend from my local writers' group, Dave Sivers, crime novelist, asked if I'd like to participate in a 'blog hop', entitled 'My Writing Process'. I agreed and Dave sent me the questions. Last week Dave wrote about his own writing process in his blog here: Read on for my contribution to the 'blog hop':

What am I working on?

In the last few weeks I've been writing about lemurs, a lady who left an investment bank to become a zoo keeper, and I've been writing about the industrial revolution. It's been interesting. I've learnt about endangered species and conservation programmes, about the money-culture in an investment bank, and about the history of industrial growth in England during the 18th and 19th centuries.

I am also actively promoting my new book, 'Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens'. You can view my profile and the book on Amazon here:

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don't really stick to a genre, so that's a difficult one to answer. I write whatever I can sell. However, I would say that my freelance writing book differs from others available. Firstly, it's part autobiographical, which I think makes it more interesting. It's not full of rules and instructions, but instead, it's full of anecdotes and real-life experiences in publishing. Most of these experiences don't fit the traditional rule books or comply with the instructions in writer's manuals! In fact, if I'd stuck to all the rules that writers are supposed to comply with, I'd never have succeeded. Also, the book is clearly focussed on writing for three key markets: health, food and gardens - although many of the principles apply across all non-fiction genres.

Why do I write what I do?

I love writing. It's a great way of learning new things, exploring new ideas, and expressing yourself creatively. The subject matter is largely dictated by commissions from editors, which in turn is driven by what they think their readers are interested in.

How does my writing process work?

I sit down and I get on with it from 8am to about 5pm every week day. I don't spend time procrastinating or worrying about writer's block. If I can't think how to get started, I just write drivel - then I return to it later to improve upon my drivel. Eventually it turns into something good. I am very disciplined. I have to be, or I'd never get anything done.

I do jot down ideas to return to later. When I'm working on a book it usually ends up as a muddle of ideas - a bit of a brain dump. It takes a lot of sorting out later! I write books in my spare time (evenings and weekends) because I don't want books to detract from my journalism work in the daytime.

Blog on...

Now I'm supposed to pass these questions on to three more writers to write their own blogs in another week and keep the chain going. If anyone would like to volunteer, that would be lovely as I haven't found anyone to pass this on to yet!

Update 8/4/14: I've had a volunteer, Ruth Holroyd, who has kindly posted her Writing Process blog, here:

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

My story so far...

After many failed attempts to get published in my youth, I ended up following a career in marketing. Sadly it wasn't in publishing, but the role did enable me to unleash some of my creativity and hone my writing skills. I wrote promotional literature and learnt graphic design.

It was 15 years later, in 2011, that I took voluntary redundancy from marketing, to embark on a full-time career as a freelance writer. I worked long hours, with sheer grit and determination, until I succeeded. In the end, it was simply a return to my roots - writing was the only thing I’d ever been really good at. My husband had faith in me which helped a lot.

Within months I had a regular column with the local newspaper and started to get work with magazines securing commissions to write about gardening, military history, food, nutrition and travel. I found my greatest selling point was my nutrition qualification and diversity of knowledge about natural health. 

Then I got a book deal. Most of my work over the past three years has been in the fields of health, food and gardens. Compass Books recognised this and offered me a contract to write a book on how I'd achieved my writing dream. That was in April last year, and I've just received some advance copies of the paperback.

It's available on my website in paperback, or on Amazon worldwide as an ebook/paperback. It's called, "Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens" and it's a step by step guide to helping people achieve their writing dreams.

Buy from me in the UK

On Amazon UK