Recommended Reads of 2017 – Thank You Anne Williams!

A huge thank you & diolch yn fawr to book blogger Anne Williams of Being Anne for including ‘Not Thomas’ in her list of recommended reads for damppebbles #R3COMM3ND3D2017. Here’s the link for the blog post.

And in a happy coincidence, ‘Not Thomas’ is on special offer on Kindle at the moment – just 99p.

Thank you to Emma of damppebbles for featuring Anne’s choices. Emma and Anne each have a wonderful book blog – definitely worth following if you don’t already:

damppebbles

Being Anne   

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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Not the Booker SHOCK Announcement

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Wow! What a week for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.

Everything was going along swimmingly – albeit with some pretty choppy waves for a couple of us on the shortlist – and then crash! Out of the blue, Ann O’Loughlin, author of The Ludlow Ladies’ Society, gave Sam Jordison quite a shock.

Ann has withdrawn her novel from the shortlist.

In a statement published by the Guardian, she said:

“I feel a great sense of relief to be moving away from a competition that caused so much stress in my life and that of my family.”

Read her full statement here

Ann already has a very large, faithful following of readers, and as she points out in her statement to the Guardian, her novels have been translated into eight languages and are published in the US. As she says, she didn’t ask to be nominated, and she was worried from the start about what she refers to as the “unjustifiable criticism” that appeared in the comments section from people who hadn’t even read the book.

And she’s quite right.

There are a few people on the Guardian page who clearly don’t read the nominated books but still enjoy leaving a barbed comment or two. All that is par for the course, as far as I’m concerned, but then I’d followed this prize for a few years and knew exactly what to expect. Had I been going into this without a clue what it could be like, then I might feel, like Ann, that it wasn’t worth the stress.

And yes, it is stressful at times – and I imagine it will be even more so, now that mine is the only novel left on the shortlist that Sam has been particularly scathing of. 

But for me it’s worth that bit of stress. 

Unlike Ann, who’s been writing novels for a number of years and has a few under her belt, Not Thomas is my first novel for adults. I don’t have a ready-made fan base – although I’m incredibly grateful to my wonderful readers who have championed Not Thomas and brought it to the attention of others, and who nominated it for the Not the Booker prize and voted it onto the shortlist.

I always said that being part of this prize was like building a platform for Tomos – giving him a headstart in a world jam-packed with new books.

Not Thomas is a debut novel, published by a tiny publisher, and Not the Booker has brought it to a wider audience than would otherwise have been possible so soon after its publication. 

I’m really sorry Ann has decided to leave the competition, but I know her novel will do very well, with or without the publicity of Not the Booker.

The other week I went into Easons, the huge bookstore on O’Connell Street in Dublin. Ann’s novel The Ludlow Ladies’ Society was very prominently positioned on a table near the main door. It had a similar position in many of the other Dublin bookstores I visited too. I have no doubt it’s going to fly off the shelves in Ireland and beyond.

So, au revoir and all the very best to Ann.

While the five of us left on the shortlist will be squirming for a while yet – and me in particular – I know The Ludlow Ladies’ Society will be doing just fine. 

Thanks for reading – please let me know your thoughts!

Sara x

P.S. Don’t forget the Narberth Book Fair in Pembrokeshire tomorrow, 23rd September. At 11am I’ll be chatting to Jan Baynham about writing ‘Not Thomas’ and my experience of being on the Not the Booker prize shortlist. It’s free so come along! 

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from all good bookshops.

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#MusicTherapyThursday & Narberth Book Fair

To celebrate Narberth Book Fair this Saturday, 23rd September, today’s Music Therapy Thursday song has a Pembrokeshire theme – it’s by Cerys Matthews, who’s originally from that beautiful part of Wales.

‘Orenau i Florida’

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from all good bookshops – and this Saturday is available from Narberth Book Fair too.

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Not the Booker Part 2 & Sam’s Scathing Review

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What a week and a bit it’s been!

A lot has happened since I last wrote about my experiences of being on The Guardian’s Not the Booker shortlist. The main new event is that my novel, ‘Not Thomas’, has been reviewed by Sam Jordison, The Guardian’s book club reviewer.

And the review is pretty scathing – which is exactly how I expected it to be

In fact, I’ve spent the whole time between being shortlisted and his review warning my supporters, and especially my family, that Sam’s review would rip my novel to shreds. ‘Surely not?’ they all countered. ‘Believe me,’ I would reply, ‘I’ve been following Not the Booker for a few years now, and it’s not a friendly place to be.’

‘Why then,’ a good friend asked me, ‘did you want anything to do with it in the first place?’

Good question.

‘It’s a brilliant platform,’ I told her. ‘Let a reviewer tear my lovingly crafted novel to pieces – if it means Not Thomas reaches an audience it would never otherwise have had, I’ll gladly let them do it.’

She didn’t quite get it

And I guess it does sound pretty weird. I suppose it’s not the path all writers would choose to go down. I’m sure there are plenty of authors who would rather cut off their fastest typing hand than launch themselves into a less than flattering spotlight.

But when I was nominated for the Not the Booker, I saw it as a huge opportunity I simply couldn’t waste. I knew my novel would attract negative attention. I knew it would receive a harsh review from Sam. I knew many of the comments from the Guardian’s book clubbers would be damning and brutal, but yet…

I also knew that very many people who had read Not Thomas had praised it.

I knew those readers had recommended it to other people, and they’d liked it too. Word-of-mouth was working well for Not T, but word-of-mouth is a slow process. I needed to hurry things up. I’m over fifty and I may never write another book. This was my one, and possibly, only chance at getting my novel out into the big wide world.

What would you do if you were me?

Well, this is what I did as Sara…

Once I knew I was definitely on the Not the Booker longlist, I set about asking those people who’d already read Not Thomas and liked it, to think about giving it one of their votes.

There were very many worthy titles on the list – some of them from writers I knew personally, some from Welsh writers like me, and some from world-famous authors. I felt uncomfortable asking people specifically to vote for my novel, but I wanted to draw their attention to the fact that this particular prize is voted for by the public. And they had two votes, so if they had a spare, they might consider giving it to Not Thomas.

I sent out that message on Facebook and Twitter, and I waited to see what happened

Thankfully, messages of support started coming in. People who’d read Not Thomas wanted to vote for it, but The Guardian’s Not the Booker voting page was proving a nightmare. At the top of the page it promised a ballot paper below, but at the bottom of the page there was no ballot paper to be seen. Nowhere did it say ‘Vote Here’. You had to click on ‘Join the Discussion’ to place your vote. Even then it wasn’t straight forward.

People who typed their review straight into the comment box often found the review disappeared once they clicked ‘submit’

So I wrote a step-by-step guide and pinned it to my Facebook page. I wasn’t directing people to vote for Not Thomas, of course, but setting out guidance generally about how to navigate the voting page. Despite this, a lot of people contacted me to say sadly they’d had to give up.

But thankfully, so many more actually managed to vote. I had wonderful support from a whole range of readers. Two book clubs in my town had read Not T and they voted for it, and they encouraged other people to read it and vote if they liked it too. A fantastic group of on-line book bloggers, who had hosted a Not Thomas blog tour the week before, did the same.

A group of teachers who’d all read Not Thomas voted and shared the news about my Not the Booker nomination on Facebook. They encouraged more teachers to read it too, and to vote for it if they liked it. Family and friends got on board, of course, and very touchingly, people from my home town who’d read Not Thomas contacted me to ask how to vote too.

There are accusations every year in the Not the Booker comments thread about how publishers get their staff to vote for books on the longlist. This sort of mass voting results in reviews that are a rehashing of the book’s blurb

Well, I’ll just say that Not Thomas is published by a tiny, tiny publisher – Honno Welsh Women’s Press based in Aberystwyth. Four people work there, all part time. I had their total support, of course, and five authors who are also published by Honno did a fantastic job of sharing my posts, and reminding people which box took you through to vote on the Guardian page. But mass voting and rehashing book blurb it most certainly was not.

All week long, I sat at my computer replying to the wonderful, and sometimes heartbreaking, comments that Not Thomas readers sent me via Facebook and Twitter. Teachers, foster carers and social workers contacted me, all pleased that the issue of child neglect had been raised by Not Thomas. One message particularly stands out, from a person who said she had been a neglected child, just like Tomos. She thanked me for giving a voice to neglected children everywhere. Through my tears, I wrote and thanked her for her kind comments.

It was a very long and extremely emotional week

As it drew to a close at midnight on Monday, 7th August, the last vote and review for Not Thomas came in at 11.58. It was from my lovely 21-year-old niece. I crawled off to bed, exhausted by the whole process, but hopeful that the wonderful efforts of all the fantastic Not T readers had got the novel through to the next stage.

At lunchtime the next day, my neighbour rang to congratulate me. I was still in bed, totally exhausted by the week’s efforts. I hadn’t yet discovered what he was about to tell me – Not Thomas was not only on the shortlist but had the most votes. It was absolutely amazing.

And I’m so grateful to every single person who took the time and had the perseverance to vote for my novel. It was a massive team effort, and I’m so glad Tomos supporters are part of ‘the journey’. I know it’s a horrible term, but I think it’s the right one here.

There’ll be more updates soon about this Not the Booker experience, but for now the comments are coming in on The Guardian’s page in reply to Sam’s scathing review. You can read them here and comment too, if you wish. There’s no guarantee your comment won’t be ripped to shreds by the Guardian’s book clubbers – just as they’re shredding Not Thomas – but that’s all part of the fun.

That’s the result of stepping into the spotlight – and this month, I wouldn’t want little Tomos to be anywhere else

Thanks for reading my (very long!) post. Please leave a comment if you were part of the huge team effort to get Not Thomas onto the shortlist, or even if you weren’t.

Love,
Sara x

Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy directly from the publisher or from Amazon.

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