Monday, 14 August 2017

Twitter: the writer's best friend?

This week, we are looking at an important online tool to help authors market their books: Twitter. Several of our authors are active on Twitter and it can be an invaluable aid to spreading the word about their books, blogs and other activities.

All writers who want to sell their work have to put some effort into marketing. It doesn't matter whether you are a big fish in a large genre pond or a very small fish in a small niche pond, some level of marketing is required of all authors. For example, well-known writers like John le Carré and Ian Rankin still have to do book launch tours and make public appearances even though their publishers can afford considerable budgets to market their books.

But where does social media come into the frame? And in particular, what value is Twitter to the writer and publisher? JK Rowling, the Harry Potter author, has a huge Twitter following and is a very active Tweeter; so is Ian Rankin of crime fiction fame. It seems clear that they are aware of its value to them as both authors and public figures, or they wouldn't use it. So how does Twitter work? And how can it help the lesser known authors and publishers?

With Twitter, you can reach thousands of potential readers, not only through building up your own followers, but through the activities of others too. It is a little like a pyramid. You start with one tweet (a brief message of 140 characters). This tweet is then re-tweeted (RTd) by a number of your followers, and may then be re-tweeted again by their followers. If, as can happen, your followers have several thousand followers of their own, the potential reach of your single tweet is enormous.

The trick, however, is to be a person and not just a tweeter and re-tweeter. It is fairly easy to build a large number of followers with a little time and effort. Twitter will suggest like-minded followers to you, and you can also find them by using hashtags that reflect your interest in your query field. For example, those who write and read memoirs will often use the hashtag #memoir to find other writers and readers they can follow, and who will hopefully follow them too. Once you start following others, they will most likely follow you too and you can start interacting with them. Such interaction is very important for the Tweeter. People buy from people first and foremost and if you come across as a friendly, generous and interesting person, you will start to build a following of genuinely interested people, rather than just collecting numbers.

Another important key to using Twitter well is to target your tweets, again by using hashtags. Val Poore, whose book Watery Ways focuses mainly on canal cruising, barges and boating, uses the hashtag #boatsthattweet to reach other boaters who might be interested in reading her book. She also uses other boating and travel related hashtags and she is convinced this has helped her to reach a wider audience than she would otherwise have done. Val has a list of boaters that she talks to regularly on Twitter and she has found they have not only bought her book, but are also generous in re-tweeting her marketing tweets, specifically those with the targeted hashtags.

Lastly, a 'pinned' tweet can also be useful as it helps your followers to support you. Make sure you create a tweet that you want people to RT for you and using the action options offered, pin your tweet to the top of your timeline. Followers visiting your page will be able to simply RT this tweet without having to scroll down to find one that's going to be of help to you. Try and change this now and then as your supporters could lose interest if they have to keep re-tweeting the same message.

As with all these tools, however, consistency is the key. It isn't necessary to spend hours a day on Twitter, but some designated time each day can bring its own rewards. Happy Tweeting everyone!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Travel: food for writers

 As we have mentioned before, one of the special features of Sunpenny Publishing and its imprints is its international group of authors. Although we are a British based company, our writers come from as far afield as New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. Even within Europe, we have writers in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. Within the UK too, we have two authors in Wales, one in Scotland, and others in various parts of England. Location therefore plays a significant role in our range of books and we are proud of being able to bring readers glimpses of different parts of the world through both fiction and memoir.

Our readers can armchair travel to Wales or Zimbabwe, to Scotland or Texas, and to the Netherlands or New Zealand. And the reason they can do that is because our writers are great travellers who explore their countries by land and even by boat.

Debbie Roome, the author of Embracing Change and Broken Shells, grew up in Zimbabwe, spent many years in South Africa and now lives and writes in New Zealand. She loves travelling through her adoptive country and has even written guides for travellers. As she says, what she loves about New Zealand is  "the peaceful lifestyle and incredible beauty of this little country. We have alpine lakes, majestic mountains, hot pools and boiling mud, rain forest, endless beaches, volcanoes and glaciers! Just driving through such scenery inspires me." Debbie has been able to draw on these extensive travel experiences when writing her evocative romances.

Debbie Roome's New Zealand
 Another of our writers who has transplanted herself to a new continent is Stephanie Parker McKean. Of Texan origin, she travelled from her home of searing heat and magnificent arid landscapes to live in the north of Scotland with her Scottish minister husband. Her entertaining and funny murder mysteries, Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge Beyond betrayal have such a strong sense of place, the reader can tread the dusty roads and feel the burning heat of the Texan landscape. Stephanie has a special attachment for rocks as a result: "I love rocks and am endlessly fascinated by them" she says and she finds great solace in building structures and walls from natural stone.

Stephanie Parker McKean, a Texan transplanted to Scotland

Tonia Parronchi's sailing memoir, A Whisper on the Mediterranean is also inspired by her passion for adventure and travel. Imagine taking off on a small sailing boat with a baby and then enduring Mediterranean storms and sea sickness while trying to care for a child in nappies. Such is her love of the Italian islands (and her husband, of course) that she was prepared to embark on a entire summer of sailing from island to island down Italy's breathtaking coast. In Tonia's words: "I can observe (Italy's) nature in minute detail as it unfolds around me, season by season and take such joy in the small changes which consequently make their way into my writing."

Tonia Parronchi with her husband on their sailing boat

Other Sunpenny writers have imbued their books with their own unique sense of place as well, something they have only been able to do through personal experience and travel. Julie McGowan, whose novels The Mountains Between and Don't Pass Me By are set in beautiful south Wales, glow with her love of her country. Suzanne Cordatos is another, and although  her home is in Connecticut, she has travelled often to Greece, the home of her husband's family. Her children's novel, The Lost Crown of Apollo, reflects both her knowledge and her affection for the country. She calls it her 'love letter' to her Greek relatives. 

Suzanne Cordatos in Greece
In fact, nearly all Sunpenny's authors take the reader to somewhere new, somewhere different: Janet Purcell writes about Cape Cod, Valerie Poore's books are set on the Dutch and Belgian waterways; JS Holloway takes us to Zimbabwe; Eugene Barker invites us to share the French Pyrenees with her. And these are not the only ones, for Sonja Anderson takes us travelling to the Middle East, Sandra Peut to Australia and William Wood shares gems of many of the places and countries through which he has travelled.

Janet Purcell's Cape Cod
Travel has enriched the lives and imaginations of our authors and without it, they would not have been able describe the settings in which their stories are centred so richly. For many others, though, such widespread travel is not possible, so virtual journeys through reading can be an exciting alternative. 

To enjoy a taste of our authors' experiences and the countries they love, visit our website at and see our books for some wonderful novels and memoirs set in glorious and exotic destinations.

Monday, 31 July 2017

The story behind Valerie Poore's memoir Watery Ways

This post was originally published on Val's own blog, but since Watery Ways is a Sunpenny publication, we thought it might interest our readers to learn a little of the background to her lovely memoir. This then is her back story of how she ended up on a barge in the Netherlands.

"There will be many who don't know and might be wondering how I have come to be living on an old Dutch barge in Rotterdam at a somewhat advanced stage in my life. Well, I suppose I wasn't so 'senior' when it all started, but I was definitely on the wrong side of forty five, so it wasn't exactly a youthful sense of adventure that drove me to this wonderful floating life.

I first left my home in South Africa at the end of 1998 to follow my husband to the Netherlands. He was working for a film company in Amsterdam at the time but was living in Rotterdam. He'd been gone for a year and decided he didn't want to go back to SA, so being ready for a new adventure myself, I agreed to shut up shop, leave my job and have a go at life in Europe again. No thoughts of boats and barges ever entered my head. I'd been living so long with SA drought and water restrictions the only boats I knew were the canoes on the  puddle-that-used-to-be-a-lake in the park. But then when I arrived in Holland, I discovered this whole new world of life on the water. I was like a child in my own wonderland.

The hold of the Hoop with Sindy as a puppy
In those early days in Rotterdam, my husband had an office in one of the city's working harbours and I was fascinated by the commercial barges that came in to offload. They often moored up against the quay outside the office and I would walk along them surreptitiously peeking through the net curtains of the windows in their back cabins. I was so taken by the idea that people both lived and worked on their barges that when said husband suggested we buy one ourselves, I never hesitated - this being in spite of the fact I hated sea travel, loathed being wet, and abhorred the cold. I suppose I conveniently forgot about all that. In wonderland, you don't usually do rational stuff like pros and cons, do you?

In any event, we bought an old barge that needed renovating some time that year - I forget exactly when. By that time, we'd got to know some people in the Oude Haven, a harbour designated for restoring historic barges and we managed to find a place there. However, this all took some time, a great deal of stress and more money than we'd ever imagined. The strain took its toll and to cut a long story discreetly short, we as a couple didn't survive.

Rescue for me came with an invitation to go back to South Africa to work at my old company. So in the course of 2000, I found myself back in Johannesburg. I loved being in my old home town again, and I was lucky enough to travel all over the country too,  but as time went on I knew I had to make a decision about life. I had nothing of my own in SA anymore; I was staying with friends; and the end of my contract was looming.

The Hoop as she is now. Still in Rotterdam, but
a different harbour

At the beginning of 2001, I headed back to Holland. This was, I thought, my chance to make something new for myself and of myself. I'd also found myself missing the boats and the barges, so I had a plan. It was to work, save money, buy my own boat and go to France.

A Godsend had come in the offer of a barge to rent. My dear friend, Philip, who saved my day rather often in those early years, had one I could rent. It wasn't very luxurious, he said, but it would be a roof when I had none. It was also a floating home. Since I hadn't had much chance to get a feel for life on the water before I hotfooted it back to South Africa, I wouldn't have cared if it had nothing of life's luxuries at all. As it happened, it didn't, and that's where the story of Watery Ways begins.

The wheelhouse of the Hoop - where the toilet remained
throughout my residence

The lovely Hoop on which I lived for a year and a half had no running water, no electricity, and no toilet when I moved on board. The electricity was my first challenge, the water came later, and the toilet remained where I found it for the duration of my occupancy - upside down on the seat in the wheelhouse. But that was all part of the charm.

And I never did get to live in France - although I haven't given up that dream yet...

Thank you so much, Val. You don't do things the easy way do you? If you'd like to read more about that first year of Val's watery adventure, my book is on

Monday, 24 July 2017

The story behind my character invention by Tonia Parronchi

This series of back story blogs is so interesting that we've decided to do another couple of posts. This week, Tonia Parronchi tells us what inspires her characters when she writes fiction.

Tonia Parronchi
People always wonder about how a writer invents characters. I find that each book and each character is different. Of course, in the case of a non-fiction book one writes about real people so no imagination is needed. A novel on the other hand is all about a writer's imagination. A while ago I wrote two blogs about different aspects of character creation which show how the process works for me. The first, from Feb 2013 published on my website (, talks about my literary novel set in the beautiful Tuscan valley where I live.

"Twilight" The beautiful painting by Caroline Zimmermann
which I used for the cover of "The Song of the Cypress"

In this blog I explain that after reading my book, The Song of the Cypress, a friend of my mother's said that she assumed that I had drawn on my experiences as an English girl living in Tuscany when writing. That is both true and untrue at the same time. Living here gives me a realistic viewpoint and the ability to describe the area in accurate detail. However, none of my characters are based on myself. The third comment I had was from a lady I met who had read my book. She amazed me by launching into a detailed discussion of the plot and characters as if they were real people - a bigger compliment I cannot imagine! She asked me if my heroine was based on me and my reply was, absolutely not. There are only two characters who have some basis of reality, Rita, who is a neighbour of mine and a wonderful source of stories from the war years and Luna, the dog. Luna looks different from my Stella but every delicious doggy moment in the book is based on her. Now that she is no longer with us, every time I reread bits of the book I want to laugh and cry at the same time - I miss her so much!

However, the characters in my book grow with me as I write. So much so that sometimes I have to go back to the beginning and rewrite scenes to add details about them that I did not know when I began. At the moment my head is full of new characters. I am not at the sleepless-night phase but the washing-up gets frequently interrupted as I dash to dry my hands and write down some new idea that presents itself to me from within the soapsuds. I love this process, this complicated double life I live, where my new "friends" seem almost as real as my family at times.

The second blog from my website is about my new novel "The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow", a funny story set in the UK but with a very Italian hero who is unashamedly based on my friend Tonino. Anyone who has read my sailing Memoir "A Whisper on the Mediterranean" will remember Tony as the owner of the beautiful sailing boat Elisir with memorable  mirrors in the bathroom.

" Elisir, a splendid boat with shining woodwork and gleaming bronze fittings, which looks as if it should be used as a movie set.  Tony is the most erudite person I have ever known. The tatty, well-thumbed copy of Dante's "Divine Comedy" left casually by the sink in the head is an unusual aid to concentration but Tony has put it to good use and is capable of quoting huge chunks of it after a few glasses of wine."

We had many splendid sailing adventures together but life took a nasty turn when he died a few years ago. I couldn't accept his death, couldn't bear to think that his adventures were over and, without planning to do so, I found myself writing him into something new that I was working on. In this case my fictional character (because inevitably the real man gradually became absorbed by the fictional character) looked like Tony, dressed like him and spoke like him too.

Tony "Tonino"
This is a photo of my dear friend Tonino. He died in tragic circumstances a couple of years ago and I have never come to terms with his death, so much so that I found myself using him as the main character in the book I am writing at the moment. 

In "The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow" I have tried to keep his personality just as it was; grumpy, sarcastic, caustic, super-intelligent but also kind and very, very funny. I am giving him the life that he should have had, letting him recover his health, retire and move to a new country and eventually fall in love with his extremely daunting estate agent. 

Sometimes (when I'm writing) I can hear his voice in my head and remember the look he would give me whenever I said something daft. He keeps me from getting too wordy or too romantic and makes sure that I stop work at the right moment to open a bottle of wine, or why not two!

I miss my friend a lot more than he would have imagined. I am not sure if he knew how much I cared about him but I hope so. It was hard to write the opening chapter, taking the accident where Tony drowned and turning it into a near death experience that is almost funny instead of tragic. After that however the book began to unfold really quickly, other characters made their presences felt and became my constant companions as I moved around the house or tried to get to sleep at night. 

I am so lucky - writing is fun and wonderful. I disappear inside my own head completely at times but fortunately my husband, Guido, is always there to remind me that it is dinner time. If I am lucky that news will be accompanied by the smell of a yummy garlicky pasta sauce and the sound of a cork popping.

I carry a notebook with me and jot down lines or impressions that come to me. Often I throw these away at a later date when re-reading them doesn't trigger any emotion. Other times these notes can become big writing projects. I also fix things in my mind by describing them to myself if I don't have a pen and paper handy. This is my way of remembering. I pretend I am writing a scene and create sentences in my head to fix the memory.

One of the things that I love most about being a writer is the way even a chance meeting or fleeting glimpse of something or someone can be elaborated on until it comes to life in words on a page. In "The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow" I write about a girl called Grace. When I needed to create a character, who would be the counterbalance for a rash, adventurous young man, I suddenly remembered a beautiful black woman who walked past me on the beach one summer. She was slim and naturally pretty, with none of the make-up and jewellery that Italian women love to wear to wander up and down the seafront. She walked alone with her head up, gaze far away as she observed the sea and I though how very lovely and graceful she was. And that is all that I needed. I had found "Grace" in a fragment of memory.

Thank you, Tonia. What a lovely tribute to your friend! For anyone interested in Tonia's books, you can visit her author page on Amazon, which is where you will also find her Sunpenny publication, A Whisper on the Mediterranean