A gift

Deep down in my secret self I wanted my books, or someone else at least, to sell


One of the “classrooms” at Arte Umbria

themselves. Like Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, I love to sink, undisturbed, into the depths of my work in progress. I do not like to talk about or sell myself or my books.


My first book, A Life Less Lost, came out in paperback. I was just beginning to give successful talks without having to lie in a darkened room for hours afterwards, when my second book, Once Removed, came out as an ebook. Being slow to grasp a whole new set of promotional skills, impacted on sales and self-confidence. Several false starts on the next book left me paralysed by doubt in my ability to write. And why would I want to, if it meant I had to face the marketing challenges that came with completion?


Mealtimes on the terrace

I tried to fill the void with other things but the ache wouldn’t stop howling. Then as a very special birthday present (for one of those with a zero in it) I was given the chance of a writing holiday in Italy! WOW, I know, I couldn’t believe it.

Arte Umbria, about half an hour from Perugia, up in the hills provided an exquisite venue, Sue Moorcroft provided the tuition and the other members of the course gave endless encouragement and fun. The result? I’m writing again! Full of energy, ideas and enthusiasm. Watch this space…


Thank you everyone!


Paranormal anyone?

I asked Shani Struthers, fellow Crooked Cat author, what drew her to her favourite genre and this is what she said ~

Shani PicFor as long as I can remember the paranormal has fascinated me. Even as a child I preferred darker stories and devoured Ruth Manning-Saunders’ twisted fairytales. I also had a strong stomach for horror films and loved nothing more than cosying up with my family to watch a scary movie on the TV – it was seen as something fun in our house! Although I kick-started my writing career in the romance genre, I quickly switched to paranormal as it’s where my heart truly lies. I’ve also had a lot of knowledge passed down to me from my mother who has a life-long intellectual interest in the Occult, so in a way I’ve grown up with the paranormal all around me. It simply makes sense to me that there’s a spiritual world as well as a material one. Regarding fellow paranormal authors, I’m inspired by Shirley Jackson, Susan Hill, Stephen King and Dean Koontz – all writers I aspire to rank alongside one day!

Shani’s latest book, Psychic Surveys Book Three: 44 Gilmore Street, comes out on Friday, 27th May.YES2-2

“We all have to face our demons at some point.”

Psychic Surveys – specialists in domestic spiritual clearance – have never been busier. Although exhausted, Ruby is pleased. Her track record as well as her down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach inspires faith in the haunted, who willingly call on her high street consultancy when the supernatural takes hold.

But that’s all about to change.

Two cases prove trying: 44 Gilmore Street, home to a particularly violent spirit, and the reincarnation case of Elisha Grey. When Gilmore Street attracts press attention, matters quickly deteriorate. Dubbed the ‘New Enfield’, the ‘Ghost of Gilmore Street’ inflames public imagination, but as Ruby and the team fail repeatedly to evict the entity, faith in them wavers.

Dealing with negative press, the strangeness surrounding Elisha, and a spirit that’s becoming increasingly territorial, Ruby’s at breaking point. So much is pushing her towards the abyss, not least her own past. It seems some demons just won’t let go…

Gilmore multi


I write ghost stories – vampires, werewolves and shape shifters need not apply! Influences include the great Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I’m also a mum of three children, and live in the funky city of Brighton with them, my husband and four mad cats. I’ve always loved reading and writing but occasionally I venture outdoors on sunny days and walk in the stunning green downs that surround us. Other pastimes include hanging out with friends and just having fun – life’s too short not to.

Buy Links

Psychic Surveys Book Three: 44 Gilmore Street

UK http://tinyurl.com/jobnwoo

US http://tinyurl.com/j6jvev5

Social Media Links

Facebook Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/p9yggq9

Twitter: https://twitter.com/shani_struthers

Blog: http://shanisite.wordpress.com

Goodreads: http://tinyurl.com/mq25mav

Website: http://www.shanistruthers.com




Passion and Conviction

Like buses, no posts for months then two come along at once…

Jeff2014Jeff Gardiner is the UK author of three novels, a collection of short stories and a work of non-fiction. Many of his short stories have appeared in anthologies, magazines and websites. He’s also recently signed a three book contract with Accent Press for his ‘Gaia’ YA trilogy, which begins with Pica, a novel of transformation and ancient magic. Today he tells us about the need for passion and conviction in the search for that elusive goal of publication.

The first novel I wrote was ‘Treading On Dreams’, but it wasn’t the first one published. I had to go through the dreaded rejections and yet keep faith in my treasured work of art. My second novel ‘Myopia’ found a home sooner than ‘Treading On Dreams’, and I was even completing a third novel, ‘Igboland’ before my first was finally accepted. Don’t give up on those early manuscripts. They may well need polishing every now and then, but if you believed in them once, then give them another chance.


Submitting novels and stories to editors is a difficult game. It’s never entirely clear what they’re looking for, and you have to have the courage in your convictions, unless you’re happy to compromise and write the book you think they want, rather than the one you feel personally passionate about.

I feel very passionate about all my novels. ‘Treading On Dreams’ is the story of a sensitive man called Donny who becomes Treading on Dreams by Jeff Gardiner - 500obsessed with a young lady he shares a house with, but is hit by the debilitating sledgehammer of unrequited love. It is not autobiographical and Donny is certainly not me, but there are aspects of me in Donny: who hasn’t suffered the woes of loving someone who is either taken or uninterested?

‘Myopia’ is about Jerry, a teenager, who’s short-sighted and bullied. He invents some intriguing and certainly non-violent methods of challenging his bully to change his ways. I wasn’t particularly bullied as a child, but as a school teacher I’ve seen the traumatic effects that bullying can have. This is my response to those selfish, thoughtless individuals who make everyone else’s life a misery.

Ironically, ‘Igboland’ is my most personal book, even though it’s narrated in first person by a woman. Set in Nigeria during the 1960s Biafran War, it follows Lydia who is married to a Methodist minister posted out in a West African bush village. I was born in Nigeria, but came back to the UK as a young child, so Nigeria has a sentimental place in my heart and soul. ‘Igboland’ is a paean to my spiritual home.

My advice is that you should write the book that is forcing its way out of you. Don’t begin a novel unless it’s about something that every fibre within you is desperate to express. It should be bursting from you, because writing is a kind of obsession. Just as Donny’s obsession brings him tears, laughter and much anxiety, so does writing a novel. A novel should be something that challenges and provokes, like Jerry’s actions towards his tormentors. The most powerful novels are personal. When I read novels, I want to get a sense of the author’s or character’s different perspective on life; of what they have learned during life’s tough struggle; and to have my own beliefs and assumptions challenged.

Many people say they have a book in them, but not all of them write it. If you have a story inside you which feels ready to burst for freedom then give it a go. Like anything in life, the experiences that are challenging and which become obsessive are the ones that are life-changing, and believe me – writing a novel will be all those things. But once writing gets its grip on you, it’s impossible to stop.

For more information, please visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffgardiner.com and his blog: http://jeffgardiner.wordpress.com/

“Reading is a form of escapism, and in Gardiner’s fiction, we escape to places we’d never imagine journeying to.” (A.J. Kirby, ‘The New Short Review’)


Treading On Dreams: http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Gardiner_Jeff/treading-on-dreams.htm

Igboland: http://www.jeffgardiner.com/igboland.htm

Myopia: http://www.jeffgardiner.com/myopia.htm

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JeffGardiner1


What are you working on?

What am I working on? Hmmm…

Well, I’ve started two or three novels that have dribbled to a stop.

There’s a frizzle of excitement building around a series of children’s books but they need illustrations so I’m stuck wondering how to go forward…

There are the articles I write for my church magazine, bits and bobs for Two Valleys Radio, poetry for the upcoming cycling extravaganza coming to Yorkshire/Holmfirth Arts Festival and Yurt experience.

My veg plotMy guilty secret? Mostly, I’m working in my garden. Oh, and having a rather remarkable year ~ the christening of my first grandchild in Finland, watching my niece in the Olympics, lunch at Highgrove ~ and it’s only March. Possible inspiration for future epistles?

How does my writing differ from others in it’s genre?

Herein lies one of many obstacles to my success as an author. I’ve never been able to squeeze myself into tiny boxes. Genre, what genre would that be?

cover LLL

This banner was created using quotes from some of Once Removed's brilliant reviews.

So far I’ve written a memoir and a novel.







Why do you write what you do?

The simple answer ~ I can’t help it. My fizzy brain requires me to get things down on paper/screen before I blow up. It can be a journal, story, novel, memoir, letter, lesson plan, poem, article, blog post…

How does the writing process work for you?th-1

Good question. Sometimes it’s a writers’ group that kicks me out of my comfort zone, or a deadline, or a challenge, or inspiration might fire me into action. When I was writing my two books, I sat at my computer every workday morning and wrote for several hours.

What’s this all about?

514HF84FgWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_My friend, Christina Longden, has just published her first novel, Mind Games and Ministers. She fancied joining the Monday Blog Tour and needed friends to take part. Writers of any description answer the questions above on a Monday and pass the baton on to two others. I received the ‘push’ from Laura Ripper, a proofreader and copy editor, to see her post visit http://lauraripperproofreading.com/2014/03/24/the-monday-blog-tour/. I like the idea because it’s more about information sharing than blatant self-promotion. 

Fellow Crooked Cat authors, Ailsa Abraham http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Failsaabraham.com%2F&h=aAQGFEvhG and Carol Hunter www.carolannehunter.co.uk, have agreed to follow me. I’ll post Carol’s links later today.

Bullying ~ what’s the solution?

Jeff Gardiner, fellow Crooked Cat author, discusses bullying in this post, a subject that affects people all around the world and across the age groups. Amongst adults it often takes passive aggressive forms but is still destructive and difficult to cope with.

myopiaMy contemporary novel MYOPIA explores the important topic of bullying, suggesting a number of non-violent responses. Jerry is bullied for wearing glasses and through his own belief that being shortsighted is not a disability but a new way of looking at things, he begins to find himself drawn into the dark world of prejudice and ignorance. People can be loving and compassionate; but we also have the potential to be cruel and brutish. We all need to work together to stamp out this malicious and thoughtless behaviour from all areas of our lives.

Whether it’s physical, verbal or emotional abuse, all bullying is an insidious practice, which we should take seriously. Victims can feel that they are somehow to blame and it certainly affects self-esteem and crushes feelings of self-worth. Bullying can change an individual’s behaviour and view of life. Being psychologically broken is devastating, embarrassing and potentially life threatening; as shown powerfully in K.B. Walker’s poignant novel ‘Once Removed’. If you find yourself being bullied then there are two things to consider: firstly, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT; secondly, you need to act quickly to stop it escalating or happening to others.

Sometimes victims are scared to act, fearing that telling someone else will lead to even worse punishment. This might be true in the short-term, but attempt to think long-term. It’s happening anyway, so why not deal with it? The other thing to consider here is that if you manage to stop the bully then you are also saving others from being affected in the same way you were. By stopping the vicious cycle, you have bravely helped others from being bullied. Therefore doing all you can to stop bullying will improve things for you in the long-term and stop others suffering too.

I believe all responses to bullying should be non-violent – although I do think you should physically defend yourself and protect others from being hurt. Here is something you could try: stand up and stand tall the next time someone tries to bully you. Don’t be aggressive and perhaps stay quiet, but most bullies are cowards and don’t want victims who are confident or who stand their ground. If you can, attempt to remain unaffected; after all, what the bully most wants is a reaction from you. If you give none they may well get bored and leave you alone. In MYOPIA, Jerry invites the bully round his house for a cup of tea. This is certainly unexpected (and potentially stupid) but Jerry has carefully planned something, which will teach him a lesson without hurting him.

Bullies are cowards; picking on what they hope is easy prey. Sometimes bullies are being bullied themselves or are responding to something painful in their own lives. This never justifies bullying which is heinous and needs to be stopped, but bullies are possibly crying out for attention. For some people even negative attention is better than none at all. Jerry learns a great deal, not only about himself, but also about the boy who is making his life such a misery.

If you are a witness to bullying, or you know someone who is a bully, then what are you going to do about it? Doing nothing makes you part of the problem.

Jeff Gardiner’s MYOPIA is an ideal book for teenagers, teachers, youth workers and parents -available from www.amazon.co.uk or www.crookedcatbooks.com. For more information see Jeff’s website at www.jeffgardiner.com and blog http://jeffgardiner.wordpress.com/

Synopsis writing workshop, suitable for writers’ groups

Part 1.           

Select a well-known novel that everyone has either read or seen the film (Wizard of Oz, Sound of Music, or similar). Split the group into 4 subgroups and give each a set of questions from one of the first 4 steps below. Each group will work together to answer their 4 questions. Put the answers to each question on a separate card or paper.

Step 1            Plot Basics

  1. What is the inciting incident?
  2. What events obstruct the story goal?
  3. What is the decisive event at the climax of the story?
  4. Describe the resolution?

Step 2            Main Character’s Arc

  1. Describe the main character at the start of the story.
  2. Describe how the MC is thrust into a situation where they are pressured to change.
  3. Does the MC change, adopt a new approach, take uncharacteristic action or become more entrenched in attitude and approach?
  4. At the end of the novel, is the mc better off because of their choices? Does the reader feel the MC has done the right thing?

Step 3            Consider the Impact Character’s Role (The IC, or characters, provide the pressure for change)

  1. How does the IC express a different approach or attitude to the MC?
  2. How does the IC pressure of influence the MC to either abandon his old ways or learn a new way of doing things?
  3. At the climax, does the IC or the MC change and how is this illustrated?
  4. Is the IC better or worse off at the end of the novel?

Step 4            The Major Relationship

  1. What is the relationship at the beginning of the story?
  2. How does the relationship develop or is tested during the story?
  3. What happens at the climax (what is the decisive change)?
  4. What is the relationship at the end of the story?

Part 2

Share and discuss the answers from part 1. Together, work on Step 5.

Step 5: Include Thematic Considerations

Consider any issues, themes, messages and or morals of the story. If they are a crucial part of the novel, write them on separate pieces of paper.

Part 3

Collect all the number one questions and answers together (beginning of the story), number twos and so on. Finally put the step 5 notes into the appropriate piles depending on where they’re illustrated in the story.

Each group to compose a paragraph or paragraphs of the synopsis, which covers the portion of the story they’ve been given.

Important points:

  •  “All synopses are told in omniscient present tense.  There are no exceptions to this rule.” Sheila Kelly
  • Always check the publisher’s guidelines for format, length and content, as what is required in a synopsis varies a great deal.
  • Do not staple or fasten pages together. Include a header/footer on every page with page number, author’s last name and title.
  • Do not use excess adverbs and adjectives.
  • “Present ideas in as short a form as possible. Example:  “She was raised by nuns until she came of age to inherit her family fortune” can be converted into “convent-schooled heiress.” Sheila Kelly
  • Study TV guide & movie listings – this sounds funny, but it’s an excellent way to learn how to condense.  Hollywood can reduce a two-hour movie into a single ten-word sentence and still make it sound exciting. Sheila Kelly
  • Go on the internet and critically analyse sample synopses
  • “The biggest mistake most people make when they try to write a synopsis for the first time is to create a bare bones plot summary, along the lines of “First this happens, then this happens, then this happens…” Synopses written this way tend to be so dry and boring even the author would have trouble understanding why anyone would want to read the full novel.” Glen C Strathy

Information, for this workshop, was taken from Writing the Novel Synopsis by Sheila Kelly and How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel by Glen C. Strathy and From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake.

Related articles

The Farther Shores of Historical Fiction.

La Hougue Bie Photo credit: Man Vyi

Is it possible to write historical fiction where there is no history to base it on? If a writer wishes to set a story in prehistoric times, he or she has to find a way through this dilemma. When I came to write my novel, Undreamed Shores[i] (set between Southern England, Northern France and the Channel Islands in c2400 BC), I was consciously inspired by writers such as William Golding (The Inheritors, Faber & Faber 1955) and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (Reindeer Moon, William Collins 1987), but still had to find my own way of approaching the task. Where history has nothing to say, one falls back on archaeology – an easy option for me, since I have a PhD in the subject, and have taught it in various universities for many years. Many of the places in Undreamed Shoresare based on real archaeological sites, and many of the objects mentioned can be seen in museums. Even some of the characters are based on skeletons excavated by archaeologists. In all of these cases, I have tried to be as faithful as possible to the evidence as I understand it.

Undreamed Shores

Archaeology, however, only takes us so far, and not nearly as far as a novelist wishes to go. It tells us nothing of the languages spoken in prehistory, of the etiquette of prehistoric peoples or their modes of courtship. It has little enough to say about their clothing, the way they dressed their hair, the sorts of medicines they used, the sort of music they enjoyed. Some of this, of course, I simply made up (it’s what fiction writers do, after all), but I drew inspiration from a variety of disciplines, ranging from social anthropology to linguistics, herbalism, the psychology of myth, the craft of oral story-telling. The story-teller, Sally Pomme Clayton; natural food expert, Robin Harford; and survival guru, Ray Mears probably all deserved credits in a list of acknowledgements that could easily have got out of hand. I drew also on my personal experiences, especially in my youth – sailing, open-water swimming, hiking, bird-watching – the reader will easily spot these!

Ancient hair clasps

A lot of my inspiration came from the countryside, which one might almost consider a character in the book (my characters walk from Chesil Beach to Stonehenge, and I actually did the walk myself, making copious notes along the way about the plants, birds and animals that I encountered) but, as a Londoner, I also took full advantage of the museums that enrich our lives in the capital. The lyre played by one of my characters is based on an Ethiopian lyre in the Horniman; the painted jackets that some characters wear are based on Native American examples in the British Museum; even the map which plays a crucial part in the plot is based on an object in the British Museum – one of the earliest maps made in the Americas.

Novelists draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, and this is as true with the remote past as it is with contemporary fiction.

[i] Undreamed Shores is published by Crooked Cat Publications, 2012. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Undreamed-Shores-ebook/dp/B0084UZ530/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1337840626&sr=8-6)

Related articles, if you’d like some inspiration for your historical fiction:

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