#MusicTherapyThursday #JessieWare #WildestMoments

 

I’m just starting what I hope will become my next novel, and one of the first steps for me is to build a soundtrack that creates the right emotions for the story.

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I go back to this soundtrack over and over as I write, as I find it helps me to keep the emotional feel of the story consistent.

I wrote about the playlist for my first novel, ‘Not Thomas’, in the post ‘Music to Make Me Cry’

My next playlist is quite different. This is one of the songs on the soundtrack for my latest writing project:

#JessieWare #WildestMoments #musiciwriteto

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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Getting Started on a New Writing Project #WritingTips

Getting started on a new writing project

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Well, I can procrastinate no longer – the time has come for me to sit down and begin writing what will hopefully become my second novel.

I think I can hear my editor muttering “about time too” 70 miles away in Aberystwyth, and I don’t blame her. I’m a very slow writer. I need to have the story straight in my head before I’ll consider typing even one word, and percolating a story isn’t a quick process, well, not for me anyway. 

My first novel, Not Thomas, lived in my head for ten years or more, and it was fully formed before I began typing it up. My next story has been growing for around two years – so not very long, relatively speaking. It feels a little soon to begin typing, if I’m honest. 

And it’s a long, long time since I began writing a new novel – 16 years, to be precise.

I started Not Thomas in 2001 and wrote it incredibly slowly (my About Sara page explains why it took me so excruciatingly long) so I’m just a little bit out of practise. To help remind myself of all the things that are good to think about right at the start of the creative process, I thought I’d make this the theme of my blog for the next month or two.

So, to ease me gently into writing novel #2, here’s my first tip to myself for starting a new project:

Get a new notebook or two.

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I write very little long-hand, preferring to type straight onto my laptop, but I couldn’t be without a large A4 notebook. For me, it’s the very first thing needed for a new writing project – after getting the story all sorted in my head and ready to go, that is. And honestly, it’s not just an excuse to buy beautiful stationery – although buying beautiful stationery is one of my favourite pastimes. It’s a starting point, somewhere to commit ideas to paper, and get them out of my head.

I write my synopsis in one notebook, chosen especially for the project, usually spring-bound, so it’ll stay open all by itself on my kitchen table. I also use this notebook to jot down sentences that come to me in random fashion, character sketches and anything else that occurs to me when I’m cooking, washing up or writing something else. As I don’t tend to type up in order, I can just flick through the notebook to find inspiration and a section of the story to write about. 

And the little notebook stays in my handbag, so when I’m out and about I always have somewhere to jot down my thoughts.  

So that’s my starting point. I’d be really interested to hear what preparations you have for starting to write a new novel. What are your must-haves? Are you a procrastinator like me, or do you just dive right in? Drop me a line and let me know.

Diolch yn fawr and thanks for reading,

Sara x

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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When Crying is Good

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It’s a strange thing to have written a book with the potential to make people cry. I knew it made me cry – I could hardly edit some sentences for the tears – but I had no real idea if when someone else read Not Thomas it would have the same effect on them.

Before it went to print, four authors read it and gave Honno, my publisher, some lovely endorsements to use on the cover and inside the book. All four authors said they found it sad, and some of them emailed me and told me it had made them cry. That was good news – maybe.

But what about readers that wanted a book for pleasure, rather than to ‘endorse’ it – what would they think when they read it? Would they find it sad? Too sad? I didn’t know what to think.

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Until the other week…

I was holding a signing event with early editions of my novel where a lovely person called Alli came along and bought herself a copy. I was amazed when she messaged me on twitter close to midnight that same day. ‘It was un-put-downable,’ she said. ‘I started crying at page 30 and didn’t stop until the end.’

The next day she wrote about her teary experience on her own blog, and eight other people who read her account bought a copy of the novel or downloaded the e-book. Wow! I was over the moon. That’s the kind of thing I’ve dreamt about: people getting to know about my book by word of mouth – or word of blog. Whichever, it was fabulous!

It was also really interesting to read the comments left on Alli’s blog. Some people were less than keen on a ‘sad’ book, while others were attracted to the idea of a good weep. And there were definitely more in the ‘crying’ camp.

It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a former teaching colleague in June, when I first had my early copies of Not Thomas. I had taken some into school as gifts and was explaining the setting of the story – how Tomos has been removed from his lovely foster family and sent back to live with his mum; how she’s hiding a drug addiction and so she badly neglects him; and how the story is told from his five-year-old point of view.

And then I gave an apology. ‘It’s a bit of a weepy, I’m afraid. One reviewer said it should be printed on plastic paper so the reader’s tears don’t ruin the pages.’

‘Don’t apologise,’ the ex-colleague said. ‘That’s a bonus. Sometimes life is a pile of manure’ (I’m paraphrasing there) ‘but in real-life you can’t always let your guard down and have a good weep, so I love books that give me permission to cry. It’s a release – like weepy films.’

And she made perfect sense.

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Of course, we shouldn’t feel we have to hide our tears. It ought to be OK to have a cry whenever we want. But most of us are used to packing away the upsetting baggage and just carrying on with life. So maybe she was right – sometimes we do need to give ourselves permission to have a good weep.

Her comment forced me to think again about my own attitude to having written a ‘sad’ book. So now when I explain the set-up for Not Thomas and someone says: ‘Oh dear that sounds very sad’ I don’t apologise anymore. Instead I say, ‘It is a bit of a weepy, but there are some funny moments too. And reviewers have called it “ultimately uplifting”.’

At ‘ultimately uplifting’ the person I’m talking to usually sighs with relief.

And if they do decide to buy the book and dedicate five or six hours to reading it, I hope in that time their mouths will have smiled, as Tomos might say, even if their eyes have cried.

Thanks for reading!

What do you think? Do you like books that make you cry? Does it help to know a sad book is ‘ultimately uplifting’?

I’d love to know your thoughts,

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 on Amazon.

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An Unusual Book Signing Memento

Just last weekend I held my very first book signing event with early copies of ‘Not Thomas’ at the Waterstones bookstore in Carmarthen. It was my first signing for this book, but wasn’t my first signing ever – I’m used to doing these events with my children’s books and they’re something I really enjoy. As a book lover, why wouldn’t I want an excuse to stand around a bookshop discussing books with other book lovers? It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

 

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But I’d been warned that this signing would be different. The managers of the shops I’d booked events at told me that children’s books and adults’ books are two very different beasts. Children’s books (at least mine) tend to retail for around £5, a good impulse-spend price. You can sell to parents, to grandparents, aunties and uncles. They’ll come in for a browse and go home with a little present for a beloved youngster.

But books for adults are entirely different. They cost more, for a start, and they have a much more limited and specific audience. And sometimes they give the impression that they’re aimed at one sex more than the other – and that halves your potential customers at a stroke.

So, the managers said, be prepared to talk to lots of people on the day, but don’t expect to sell many books – that’s just the way it goes with books for adults. I’d taken all this on board and was thoroughly prepared to sell one book, if I was lucky. And I decided not to be disappointed if I sold no more than that.

But the word fairies must have been on my side because my day went far better than expected. The weather was drizzly – not great for heading to the beach or the countryside – and the shop was very busy, with plenty of people browsing the tables of special offers. I had lots of opportunities to give out ‘Not Thomas’ flyers and to chat to potential customers, telling them what the novel was about. And most people were very happy to stop and talk, particularly when they saw my banner – placed right in the middle of the shop with a huge picture of the book cover on it.

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Two good friends from my writing group arrived near the end of my session, and by this time I was down to my last three copies. As we started to chat, I suddenly had a little rush of customers. All three books went in two minutes. It was surreal to see three people standing at the checkout, each with a copy of my book. My writing friends had obviously brought me extra luck! No copy left for them – well, not until our next writing circle meeting, anyway.

So, feeling extremely fortunate, I very happily packed up my banner and set off to the nearest coffee house for a long awaited cup of chai latte – my reward of choice. To off-set the amount of sugar in a mug of that guilty pleasure, I forwent the cake and had a toasted teacake instead.

As I sat relaxing, waiting for my drink to cool and the butter to melt on the bun, the smoke detectors in the café went off. Someone had burned the toast and the whole place was evacuated. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough hands to take my toasted teacake, so I had to stuff one half into my mouth and leave the other half on the table. All the customers ended up finishing drinks out on the street – haphazard alfresco style.

The staff locked up and waited for the obligatory visit from the fire brigade. As we drained our cups, they handed out tokens for free drinks and told us not to worry about returning their china. It wasn’t exactly practical to leave mugs on the pavement.

So I now have a lovely big Café Nero mug as a memento of my first ‘Not Thomas’ signing. It’s a cheerful and bizarre reminder of the day I spent a few very happy hours in Waterstones – not that I’m ever likely to forget that day in a hurry!

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Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an ebook and is available to buy on Amazon.

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Sending a new novel out into the World

Being a writer is the perfect occupation for a person like me.

I’m someone who likes their own space and enjoys their own company, someone who lives more in their head than in the outside world. Sitting at a desk – or more often than not, before my laptop at the kitchen table – is my natural environment.

But two weeks ago, I was dragged out of my comfort zone, forced to make myself reasonably presentable and put centre stage in front of a room full of people.

Why?

Because I had a new book to send out into the big, wide world.

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I needed a pre-publication book launch for Not Thomas – pre-publication because it’s not officially out until the middle of July.

And who exactly was forcing me? Well – me, myself, I, if I’m honest. My bossy self.  I knew I had to get my new book out into the world, and there was only one sure way to do it. (I’m good at pushing myself to do things I’d rather not. As an essentially shy person, I’ve had a lot of practice.)

So how did it feel, being out of my comfort zone?

Well, I knew having the centre of attention focused on me for a whole afternoon would be a tall order. And so when an organiser of another event offered to include me in theirs, I jumped at the chance. It was the perfect solution for me.

Early copies of Not Thomas were launched as part of Spoken Word Saturday, a fabulous event that happens in Llanelli’s Ffwrnes Theatre every second Sat. And I was so grateful to Eleanor Shaw, the organiser, for suggesting it and bringing it all together.

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Eleanor was on holiday that weekend, so her friend & colleague, David Pitt, hosted the event. He was brilliant and I felt I could relax knowing everything was well organised and running to plan. (This photo captures the moment we heard that the last of our participants was about to walk through the door!)

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We had music from the wonderful Liz Crippin, poems and stories from Richard Foreman and Rhoda Thomas, plus readings from my writing circle friends, Mari Dafis and David Wallington.

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Then it was time for cake – yay! – and more cake, and tea all round.

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After refreshments, Jon Gower, well-loved Welsh author and broadcaster who’d written a cover endorsement for Not Thomas, introduced my novel. He did the book proud – he even mentioned Dickens’ Little Nell and my Tomos in the same sentence! (My parents are already treasuring that gem.)

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Caroline Oakley, my editor, gave an overview of the work Honno does, and most interestingly for the writers in the room, what she was hoping someone would submit in the future.

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And then it was my turn.

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I was pretty nervous but by that time, everything had gone so well that I had relaxed quite a bit. Still, I was glad I’d written down what I wanted to say – my brain had totally deserted me.

I thanked people, then read a section of Not Thomas (the part about the Christmas concert where Tomos is singing the solo and trying to find his mum in the crowd). I was delighted with how the extract was received – when you’re reading the words of a five-year-old boy, you don’t know if it sounds right or just weird. But the audience’s reaction was lovely.

To look out and see the sixty or so faces watching and listening intently, and to see all those early copies of Not Thomas sitting on people’s tables was just amazing. The audience was full of friends too, which was so lovely to see.

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So would I do it all again? Absolutely!

But for now, it’s back to the kitchen table to work away at what will hopefully become the next book…

A very big THANK YOU / DIOLCH YN FAWR to Eleanor Shaw, David Pitt, Spoken Word Saturday, Ffwrnes Theatre Llanelli & the staff there, Rhoda Thomas, Mari Dafis, Richard Foreman, David Wallington, Jon Gower and Caroline Oakley. And to everyone who came along and supported me – you are all wonderful!

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Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press in paperback and on Kindle and is available now on Amazon.

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Separation Anxiety

Recently I’ve been waking up in the night, heart pounding, mouth dry, with a searing flash of worry in my brain.

My first thought is that I’ve misplaced something important, forgotten something vital. It’s that ‘I’ve left the baby on the bus’ feeling.

It takes me only a few seconds to realise that both my babies grew up long ago. Then I remember, thankfully, that they’re fine – they’re old enough to look after themselves and, mercifully, they’re safe.

Finally the problem dawns on me. I’m a writer. The baby I think I’ve left on the bus is one I’ve created. Not real, not flesh and blood. He’s fictitious. But somehow that fact doesn’t make me feel any better.

I’ve had this feeling before.

When my newest book was a manuscript, waiting on my editor’s desk to have its fate decided, I spent night after night waking up in a cold sweat.

It’s not that the novel feels like my baby (I wouldn’t usually feel this anxious about a new book). No, it’s because I’ve been writing about Tomos, the main character, for almost 14 years now. He’s been my pet project – tucked away in a file on my laptop and scribblings in notebooks – and he’s seen me out of my forties and into my fifties, while I get on with my other, more cheerful writing.

My real-life children have grown up in that time. Tomos has not. He’s still five. He’s still scared, hungry and alone.

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And now my novel’s been published. It’s out of the safety of my laptop and in the hands of other people. Some of them will be people I know, but most of them will be people I’ve never met.

And that’s the whole point of writing and publishing a book. As authors, we want our books to be read by as many people as possible. But Tomos, he’s five. He’s like my child. And I’ve just abandoned him.

If you can remember the first time you left your child at nursery, or the first time they walked through the gates of that huge comp, or when you drove off and left them at their college hall of res, you’ll understand how I’m feeling.

Tomos. He’s out there. He’s at the mercy of others. I can’t tell him it’ll be OK anymore.

I want to pull him back. I want to hold him to me and never let him go.

But it’s too late. He’s off into the big wide world and there’s no reversing that.

All I can do is ask – if you find Tomos, scared and alone, somewhere out there on your travels, please take care of him for me.

 

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Thank you,

Sara x

P.S. I wrote this after very little sleep and a large glass of wine – I think it shows! Not feeling quite so worried about my little boy now that I’ve had lovely feedback from some wonderful people who, it turns out, care about Tomos almost as much as I do.  

Sara’s debut novel for adults ‘Not Thomas’ is published by Honno Press in paperback and on Kindle and is available to pre-order now at £8.99 on Amazon.

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Finding that writer’s voice – and losing it again

If, like me, you’ve attended lots of courses on creative writing and read stacks of self-help books on the subject, you’ll be well used to the phrase ‘finding your writer’s voice’. It’s that one thing every writer simply MUST do.

But what’s never clear, when you’re new to writing, is exactly how you do it. A writer’s voice seems something elusive at best, ethereal at worst. It’s enough to stop the faint-hearted at the first hurdle.

I have to admit, it’s taken me a long time to find a comfortable writer’s voice. I set off on this writing trek many years ago, via a creative writing course. And then another. And another. They were wonderful and pretty addictive. They were the ideal place to test out ideas with other people just starting out on their own writing journey too (sorry for using the ‘j’ word there).

Looking back at some of the early pieces I wrote for those courses, I realise that I made finding my writing voice harder than necessary. Instead of simply writing freely, and despite the advice from my excellent tutors, I was often trying to copy a formula.

At one stage, I was quite attracted to writing short stories for women’s magazines. I’d had a couple of poems accepted by one of the popular publications, and the prospect of being paid to write short fiction was very appealing.

Sadly, my attempts at writing uplifting stories were pretty dire. I did send off a couple to the magazine that had accepted my poems, and to some other well-known publications too. But while their replies were politely encouraging – “enjoyable but not quite what we’re looking for” – I didn’t have the know-how to work at improving the stories, and so I soon gave up.

Reading those attempts after many years have passed, I can see plenty of problems with them. An obvious one was that I simply wasn’t writing as ‘me’. I was trying to use a manufactured writing voice, and the stories suffered as a result. Forcing a voice just doesn’t work.

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So how do you find that elusive voice without forcing it? Well, another of the reasons those stories were rejected was because I hadn’t done my research. I’d read a few stories in women’s magazines but I hadn’t read anywhere near enough. It was more than a bit presumptuous to think I could write an acceptable story without immersing myself in the form beforehand. I thought I knew the formula so I could just go ahead and write. Very wrong.

I didn’t have the dedication to read enough short stories to improve my ability to write them. That says to me now that I was barking up the wrong tree all along. I was looking for my writer’s voice in the wrong place. And perhaps I’d have found one, but it wouldn’t have been mine.

When I gave up trying to write those short stories, I discovered I quite enjoyed writing for children. As a teacher and parent, I was reading lots and lots of children’s books anyway, so when I stopped to think about it I already knew the kind of writing I wanted to emulate. Once I started concentrating on children’s stories, my writing voice began to form naturally.

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I started to write stories about children too, and in those stories my central character was a little neglected boy called Tomos. I was much more comfortable writing about him than trying to write uplifting stories for magazines. I had found my topic and, as with my children’s books, the voice came naturally. Finally I understood what it meant to ‘find your writer’s voice’.

Weirdly, though, I couldn’t keep that voice. Very quickly I realised Tomos’s story would have more impact in his own words – and he was a frightened five-year-old who spoke in short sentences and used very simple terms. The moment I’d found my comfortable writer’s voice, I had to get rid of it again. I re-wrote my stories about Tomos and changed them from third to first person – I didn’t mind; I felt I had to keep writing in Tomos’s voice. The stories turned into a novel, and happily I’ll be having my pre-publication book launch for ‘Not Thomas’ this month.

I’m planning my next novel now, with the help of some lovely notebooks.

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Again it has a child as the central character – no surprises there – but this time that child is quite a bit older than five. Just like ‘Not Thomas’, it’ll be written in the first person. So will I be using my own writer’s voice? I guess I’ll just have to start tapping away on the laptop and see.

But it’s just occurred to me that maybe writing in the voice of a child is my writer’s voice.

Are you searching for your writer’s voice, or have you found it? What tips could you give a new writer to help them find theirs?

Thanks for reading – I’m working on finding my ‘blogging voice’ at the moment!

Please leave me a comment if you have the time,

Sara xx

(aka children’s writer, Wendy White!)

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ is published by Honno Press in paperback and on Kindle and is available to pre-order now on Amazon.

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Proofs & Launches

So I’ve sent the proofs of ‘Not Thomas’ back to my publisher and that’s all my input for my first (& hopefully not my last) novel for adults done. For the last week and a half, I’ve been reading those proofs very carefully – for ‘reading’ read ‘rereading and rereading and rereading’ (and I could probably add on a few more too). I was determined to be thorough as I knew this was my very last chance to change anything that wasn’t quite right. I knew it wasn’t possible to make big alterations at this late stage, so I thank my lucky stars I didn’t come across anything major I felt needed changing.20170402_151043

But something did surprise me – surprise isn’t quite the right word, shock is probably much more accurate. While I was reading through the proofs for what I expected to be the last time, I came across a description of a man called Fly. He’s definitely a horrible character, someone who bangs on the doors and scares Tomos. Fly has a web tattoo on his face, so Tomos calls him ‘the man with the web tattoo’. Nice & easy – hard to get wrong, or so you’d think.

And yet, after reading the book so many times, I spotted a place where Tomos calls Fly ‘the man with the spider tattoo’. I came out in a cold sweat. I’ve been working on this novel for a long time (a ridiculously long time in fact) and I probably wrote that scene at least four years ago. So I would guess I’ve read that description over a hundred times. And every time I must have read ‘web’ not ‘spider’. Scary. Thanks be to St Anthony for Word’s ‘search & find’ tool. I searched and was very relieved to find no other spiders lurking. But by now my confidence in my own ability to spot obvious mistakes was thoroughly shaken. What if there were other things I’d missed? So I started at the top again – reread, reread, reread.

Finally, I posted the proofs back to Honno along with my notes, and I was extremely relieved, a few days later, when my editor confirmed she’d changed that one ‘spider’ to ‘web’. Of course, there were plenty of other typos that needed changing, but none of them bothered me as much as that spider.not-thomas-front-cover-for-ai-1-12-16

And that’s all the checking and changing done, as far as I’m concerned anyway. The next time I see ‘Not Thomas’ it’ll be as an actual book. That feels exciting and a bit nerve-racking too. But it’s very comforting to have had some lovely comments back from the authors who’ve been reading the manuscript. ‘Heart-wrenching’ & ‘an affirmation of the human spirit’ are quotes I’m particularly pleased with. And all the readers so far have called it an ‘emotional read’. I’m delighted with that. It means, for those readers at least, I’ve achieved my goal.

 

As a distraction from all that proofreading, I went to not one but two book launches. The first was for Helen Flook’s wonderful new picture book, ‘The Great Dinosaur Hunt’. The launch was in Cardiff Museum, where the opening of her book is set. Helen illustrated my first two children’s books and although we’ve exchanged emails over the last few years, we’d never met. So it was really lovely to finally put a face to the name, to chat and to thank her, in person, for designing the cover of ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’. I loved it from the very first time I saw it, and so many people have commented on how eye-catching it is. Covers are so very important, and Helen did a brilliant job.20170405_124448 (1)

The second book launch was for Eloise Williams’ gorgeous new children’s novel, Gaslight. That was in Carmarthen’s Waterstones – with wine and nibbles. And yes, cake too! (I have a thing about cake at book launches – see my earlier blog!) Eloise, who along with writing also acts, got us all involved in reading from her novel. It was great fun and a lovely afternoon. I was especially pleased to meet Janet and Penny again. They’re the force behind the excellent Firefly Press which publishes Eloise’s books. I’m looking forward to reading my signed copy very soon.20170408_150716.jpg

And from Carmarthen I dashed the 20 miles or so to Llanelli, and storytelling at Spoken Word Saturday in a very atmospheric converted chapel. I caught the second half and was just in time to hear my very own book launch being announced for the afternoon of June 10th at the Spoken Word event.20170408_171023

So what with that announcement, and having sent off the proofs, ‘Not Thomas’ seems very real now. Like I said, it’s exciting and a bit scary – my first (& hopefully not my last!) novel for adults is almost ready for the big, wide world (well, Wales at least!).

What’s your favourite sort of book launch?

Been to any interesting ones lately?

Or have you had any shocks when you were proofreading?
My debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press and is available to pre-order now on Amazon.

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