Voices: Varied, Various and Vocal

Sarah James - writer and photographerA Guest Post written by poet and photographer Sarah James, musing on the theme of ‘the writer’s voice’…

If I admit to having, or hearing, several voices, people might diagnose a medical condition. But as a writer in a busy and often cacophonous 21st century western society, hearing voices means something entirely different.

Traditionally, people often talk of experienced writers having found ‘their voice’. Continue reading

The Writer’s Website: How to Reach Readers and Sell More Books

book blogging

These days most writers have some kind of online presence, whether it’s a simple Facebook Page, a more complex website or a blog. In fact, it’s fairly simple to create a website from scratch, and provide a few links to published work. But getting people to actually visit your website can be extremely difficult. For a start, you need the search engines to recognise it and bring it up in search results, and that’s no easy feat. It takes time… Fortunately, I’ve written a book which provides all the tips you need to create a simple website which will help you reach out to new readers – the perfect base from which to promote and sell your books.

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The Magic of Place – A Creative Writing Summer School

Chetham's Library courtyardManchester Metropolitan University’s annual Creative Writing Summer School is designed to push you into trying out new things. As a poet, I naturally signed up to attend most of the poetry sessions, but it was the ‘place writing’ workshops which I enjoyed the most. A visit to Chetham’s Library, on the second day of the summer school, was definitely the highlight for me – an opportunity to forget the pressure of honing my craft as a writer, to wander about and take photos, scribble down notes and enjoy the atmosphere of peace and tranquillity.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Visiting the Minotaur by Claire Williamson

Visiting the Minotaur - poetry by Claire WilliamsonVisiting the Minotaur plunges you straight into the myth in ‘Swimming with the Bull’, a dramatic encounter across ‘three-and-a-half-thousand years’. This sets the tone for the collection as a whole, exploring the surreal nature of family relationships and crossing the boundaries of time and space, as humans and monsters find their roles reversed. The cover image (a painting by Matthew Grabelsky) is both startling and ordinary – the perfect depiction of what lies between the covers.    Continue reading

What’s your ‘Writer Identity’?

person writing

Are you a Welsh writer? Or an Irish writer? Or an Asian writer? Publishers love pigeon-holing their writers, and writers are often labelled by the media. But how do you identify with a particular location if you move around? Can ‘writer identity’ be a positive thing? And what do the writers think?

Here are just three opinions on the complex subject of ‘writer identity’ – not a representative snapshot by any means, but please do feel free to add your own thoughts using the comments below…

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Beyond Psychopaths: Mental Health in Crime Fiction

Rosie Claverton at Crime Fiction FestivalCardiff celebrated its first ever crime fiction festival last week, and one of the most interesting events explored the portrayal of mental illness within the genre. Local crime writer Rosie Claverton also happens to be a junior psychiatrist, and it was fascinating to hear her in discussion with Matt Johnson, a former police officer who also writes crime fiction, and has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, turning to writing as a form of therapy.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

The Last Hours by Minette WaltersCrime fiction writer Minette Walters has branched out into the realms of historical fiction with her new novel The Last Hours. Set in the summer of 1348, it provides a fascinating glimpse into what life was like for the ordinary folk of Dorset when faced with the horror of the Black Death. Lady Anne of Develish decides to quarantine the demesne, bringing her serfs inside the walls to keep them safe from contamination. But the people soon become restless, as fear of starvation begins to counteract the fear of disease.   Continue reading

Hay Festival 2018 – Part 2: A Constellation Novel, A Musical Odyssey and the Life of Sylvia Plath

AkalaThe Hay Festival always presents a real mix of genres and ideas and, despite a rather long commute from Cardiff each day over the Bank Holiday weekend, the atmosphere of intense literary devotion made it worthwhile. One thing I particularly love about Hay, is the fact that there are plenty of free events alongside the big names, and this year I attended the preview screening of an (as yet unfinished) documentary style film about the life of Sylvia Plath, focusing on her famous autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar.   Continue reading

Hay Festival 2018 – Part 1: Poets, Art, Ambience and the Taste of Words

hay festival 2018I’ve just spent three days immersed in the excitement and inspiration of the Hay Festival, writing about Welsh writers and enjoying the sunshine (with a little mud, lightning and rain thrown in for good measure) so here are some of my poetic highlights from the first few days of Hay 2018…

On Saturday morning I arrived bright and early to get a good parking spot and soak up the atmosphere. It was damp and foggy, but soon brightened up enough for an ice cream (gooseberry crumble flavour – the best I’ve ever tasted!).   Continue reading

Diary of a Creative Writing MA Student – Year 1 of 2

MA Creative WritingI began an MA in Creative Writing in September, studying at Manchester Metropolitan University (part time by distance learning). I chose this particular course because it was possible to fit the work around my paid employment – the seminars are online in the evening (through chatrooms) and you can liaise with tutors via email or phone. It also has a great reputation, with a lot of talented writers teaching on the course, and it’s possible to specialise in a particular area (novel writing, place writing, poetry or writing for children). I chose to specialise in poetry.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas

The Unlikely Heroics of Sam HollowayThe Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway is a rather unusual book, based around the seemingly ordinary exploits of Sam Holloway – a young man who dresses up as a superhero at night. It’s a beautifully written, heartfelt story, which is both hilarious and tragic at the same time. We gradually delve deeper into Sam Holloway’s world, and begin to understand the circumstances which have led him to lead this double life – an incredible weight of sorrow with which he has learned to live.  Continue reading

Book Review: The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond

The Golden Orphans

The Golden Orphans is a stunning thriller in every sense of the word. It is packed full of atmospheric description, set on the sun-bleached streets of Cyprus, where crime and corruption hide beneath a veneer of idyllic island life. The novel begins with a sense of unease, which builds slowly. We follow in the footsteps of a young artist who has travelled to Cyprus to attend the funeral of his mentor and friend, Francis Bentham, who spent the last years of his life painting for Mr Prostakov, a wealthy Russian.

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Crime & Coffee – A Festival of Crime Fiction in Cardiff

Crime & Coffee festival banner

Cardiff will soon be playing host to some top quality crime fiction writers in the capital’s newest literary festival – Crime and Coffee. Taking place over two days – 1st and 2nd June – the festival is organised by Cardiff Council Library staff in conjunction with Crime Cymru, featuring Belinda Bauer, Christopher Fowler, Rebecca Tope, Kate Hamer, Mark Ellis, Katherine Stansfield and other crime writers, for two days of workshops, readings and discussion. I interviewed local crime writer Katherine Stansfield, to find out more about this brand new festival…

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Subscribe for a chance to WIN a Book Blogging Starter Kit!

giveaway how to start a book blogI am very excited to announce that my new book How to Start a Book Blog: A Step by Step Guide is now ready to go out into the world… and I’ll be giving away a FREE copy to one lucky subscriber! I’ve teamed up with publishers Allison & Bushby to create a Book Blogging Starter Kit– so not only will the winner receive a paperback copy of How to Start a Book Blog: A Step by Step Guide, they’ll also receive this fantastic pile of FREE books – the perfect gift for a book blogger!

**This giveaway is now over – the winner is Lauren Carter, congratulations Lauren!**

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How to Write for Children – Advice from the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival

accidental piratesIt was reassuring to hear that Claire Fayers, who introduced this Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival event, was actually in the audience five years ago, when it first took place, wondering if she’d ever get her work published. She now has two children’s books published (the Accidental Pirates series), which proves that these things can happen! She introduced us to author Horatio Clare and literary agent Philippa Milnes-Smith, who shared their advice on writing for children and getting published.

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How to Start a Book Blog – My Book Blogging Story

How to Start a Book Blog

Have you ever thought about creating your own book blog? Or maybe you’ve considered putting together an official ‘writer’s website’ to market your own published books? It’s not as complicated as it sounds. I’ve done it, and so have thousands of other people, so why not give it a try, using my brand new, super helpful guide to book blogging…

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Book Review: Albi by Hilary Shepherd

Book - Albi by Hilary ShepherdSet during the Spanish Civil War, and beginning in 1938, this is a novel which captures perfectly the mixture of fear, excitement and uncertainty experienced by ordinary citizens in rural Spain. Albi is nine years old when the soldiers arrive in his village. Some say the war is over, and some say that it’s not, but it seems like everyone else knows what’s going on apart from him. They say he’s too young, but he’s determined to understand. Told from Albi’s perspective, the story is vivid and, though fictional, it feels very real.    Continue reading

Interview with a Book Blogger: Katie Scott

Book Blogger - Katie ScottBook bloggers are fascinating people, and they each have their own individual story. I’ll be posting a series of interviews with fellow book bloggers, to find out how they began blogging, what they look for in a good book, and what advice they wish they’d had when they first started. This week we hear from Katie Scott, who blogs about crafts (cross stitch, knitting etc) as well as books…    Continue reading

What makes a good book cover?

what makes a good book coverWhat makes you pick up a book? I am unashamed to admit that the cover and title of a book always have an impact on whether or not I decide to read it. They’re what I see first, and first impressions count, to the extent where, even if a book is highly recommended, an unappealing cover will put me off for a long time.

So what is it that attracts you to a book? And what puts you off? Here’s a quick analysis of book cover science…   Continue reading

Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Book - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThis book may seem like an ordinary story about a fairly ordinary man to whom nothing particularly interesting is likely to happen, but it’s far more than that. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry follows in the footsteps of its protagonist: a recently retired man who has led a fairly unremarkable life. It is when he receives a letter from an old colleague whom he hasn’t seen in twenty years, that he sets off on a rather long and spontaneous journey, on foot.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Magpie Tree by Katherine Stansfield

The Magpie Tree by Katherine StansfieldThe Magpie Tree begins where Falling Creatures left off, with Shilly (the narrator) and her new companion (Anna Drake) arriving at Jamaica Inn in 1844, looking for a new mystery to solve. There is a strange mix of historical realism and gothic horror, as the pair begin to investigate the disappearance of a young boy. But this is no ordinary detecting duo. Anna transforms herself into an array of different characters, unwilling to reveal her true identity, whilst Shilly sees things in the landscape around her which others do not, things which suggest a merging of past and present, reality and myth.    Continue reading

Open Space with Philip Gross and Robert Walton

Philip GrossLast Thursday night we were treated to a myriad of images and rhythms from Robert Walton and Philip Gross, two local poets whose work covers a wide range of themes. You can tell that Walton has a musical ear, as each of his poems has a certain rhythm to it, from dancing grandfathers to suspicious canaries and stolen saxophones. Sax-burglar blues, the title poem from his recently published collection, combines word and saxophone in a tremendous burst of sound which brings the instrument to life.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett

The Bookmans TaleThe Bookman’s Tale is one of those novels that begins at a deceptively slow pace, building its momentum as the plot is revealed. It begins in the 1990s, as antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly is trying to overcome the shock of losing his young wife. In an attempt to regain some sense of normality he ventures into a bookshop, and discovers an unusual Victorian painting hidden between the pages of a book – a portrait which looks remarkably similar to his late wife. As he attempts to uncover the secrets of this mystery painting, the plot thickens, and we are transported back through the centuries to an incredible book, a family feud and finally to the master storyteller – Shakespeare himself.    Continue reading

Book Review: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

Book - At the Edge of the Orchardby Tracy Chevalier“Sadie is the most monstrous character I’ve ever written,” explained Tracy Chevalier at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, “and she was very fun to write”. Sadie Goodenough, along with her husband James, take centre stage as the characters of Chevalier’s novel At the Edge of the Orchard. Set in 1830s Ohio, in an area known as the ‘Black Swamp’ where farmers planted orchards, the book is an alternative to the idyllic American settler literature. This pioneer couple are engaged in brutal domestic warfare, fighting about everything, including apples.   Continue reading

Verve Poetry Festival – Highlights from 2018

Jane Commane launch at Verve Poetry Festival Last year’s Verve Poetry Festival was an incredible weekend of variety and fun, and this year I was determined to come away with some inspiration of my own. The day began with a mammoth climb to the giddy heights of the sixth floor in Birmingham’s narrow Waterstones store (where I attended workshops accompanied to the sound of church bells and pneumatic drills) and ended with readings from a score of different poets amidst bright pink bunting, free cake and an atmosphere of celebration.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: The Hill by Angela France

Poetry Collection - The Hill by Angela FranceIn writing The Hill, Angela France has created a lyrical memorial, breathing life into old ground and resurrecting the characters of Leckhampton Hill over decades. The poems flit between past and present, nature and humanity, centred around the great battle for freedom that took place in 1902, when the local landowner tried to enclose the area, stopping locals from walking the paths they had used for centuries.    Continue reading

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Book - Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted is one of those books which you will find literally impossible to put down. It transports you into a fairy tale kingdom full of wizards and magic, with a vivid, filmic quality. The story is told from the perspective of Agnieszka, who lives in a small village, in a quiet valley near the Wood. But this is not just any wood, it is a deadly, corrupted place, seething with an evil power that strikes out at those living nearby, corrupting them in horrific ways. The valley is protected by a lone wizard, the Dragon, who demands that he must be allowed to take one young woman to serve him in his tower every ten years.    Continue reading

Book Review: My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

Book- My Name is Leon by Kit de WaalMy Name is Leon is set in 1981, amid riots and celebrations. The story is told from the perspective of Leon, a nine-year-old boy whose mother (Carol) struggles to cope with being a single parent after having a new baby. Leon is mesmerised by his baby brother, and enjoys learning to take care of him, but things get more and more difficult until Carol becomes too ill to look after them.

Leon and his baby brother end up staying with Maureen, where they must get used to living without their mum, but more changes are on the way, and Leon begins to suspect that nothing will ever be the same again.    Continue reading

Looking Forward to Literature Festivals in Wales – 2018

rhiannon hooson poet

Wales is full of literary events, book fairs and writing festivals, from the very small to the very large, and in almost every corner of the country… we love to celebrate literature in all its forms. So here’s a list of all the literary / book festivals taking place in Wales during 2018.

Please use the comments below to add information about any festivals which I have missed out, and I’ll continue to update this post throughout the year.

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Literary Highlights of 2017

Tracey EminLooking back over the last few months I can hardly believe all that’s happened in such a short time. In the course of one year I have gone from blogger to literary event organiser and MA student, and am now fully immersed in Modernist poetry, as I slog on towards my first deadline. But so much has happened in between, including a smattering of literary festivals and events, so here are just five of my literary highlights from 2017:    Continue reading