Monday, 20 March 2017

Book signings and talks: Our authors tell what works best for them!

Appearances at book signings and talks are one of the best ways for authors to get to meet their readers, tell their stories and, with luck, sell some books. At Sunpenny, we asked our authors for their experience of book events. As many of them live in different countries, it is especially interesting to hear what works for them in their own environments. Here is what they told us!

Stephanie Parker McKean (Texas, US and Scotland)

My best result was in the U.S. at a local book store - a Hallmark Card business. They made up gorgeous posters for me since I was still over here in Scotland and had me advertised for a couple of weeks. I sold out of the books I took there and made a couple of new friends who are still friends on Facebook. Some of the folks who bought the book wanted it because it was dedicated to my son, Luke and had his poem in it. They knew Luke, so the book had special meaning for them. Most of the other book store signings Alan and I have done haven't been so successful. But we had a really good one in the Lakehills, Texas Library, close to where I used to live. And another in the Avoch Parish Church Hall for Alan's first book and my first Sunpenny, Bridge to Nowhere. So I find it helps when people know you.

Tonia Parronchi (Italy)

I once had a signing in Waterstones in Chelmsford. There were four local authors there (my parents lived nearby). I sold a couple of books but it was quite disappointing, and I wasn't able to gain any interest at all when I lived in Bath, which is possibly too touristy. At my launch party for both books in Italy, I was thrilled to sell more books than there were guests, around 60 for both books. I suppose the fact that people knew me made a difference. Maybe because they were interested in me and know I make them laugh, they bought! Some people bought more than one copy for friends straight away when I had the second launch for Whisper on The Mediterranean, so I suppose that shows that they liked the first and realised I can write! 

                                            Julie McGowan (Wales)

I've done loads of book signings, and now sell between 16 and 20 each time in a two hour slot. I also find talks are really good for selling books, so do lots of those - and I agree with Tonia about Bath book stores being difficult, but so, I find, are a lot of independent shops, yet they actually need the sales more than the chains! 

Janet Purcell (New Jersey, US)

I've had success with book clubs (rather than book shops).  I've put the word out that I enjoy talking to clubs that have read my books.  Our libraries have a section where they suggest good books for book clubs. They have a copy or copies on display along with the author's contact info.  One or two people borrow the book from the library and the rest of the members buy copies.  I've found they tell their friends what their club is reading and the friends purchase. And the part I love is going to their meeting and hearing them discuss my characters, the plot, etc. I have learned a lot listening to them as well as getting to meet a lot of interesting and fun people.

Val Poore (Rotterdam, the Netherlands)

I've done signings, talks and workshops here in the Netherlands, but the best for me has been talking to clubs, like Janet. I've done three talks to the Pickwick International Women's club here in Rotterdam, and on each occasion, I've sold a dozen or so books. Unfortunately, the bookshops here in Holland that sell English language books are few and they have the luxury of choice for their stock, so it's very difficult to gain their interest unless the books are about the Dutch people. Boat books are a niche market, I'm afraid! However, the book club talks worked pretty well. I would go for these again rather than bookshops, although I must admit the American Book Center in the Hague are very good to me and allow me to use their meeting room for talks and workshops. It's all good exposure in the end!

Perhaps getting to know people and bookshop owners in the area is the key factor when it comes to the success of such events. In the coming weeks, we will do more posts on how to prepare for book signings and talks, as these are still known to be the best all-round means for authors to become known in their home market.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Author interview: Wending her watery ways through life - Val Poore

Val Poore, who writes under her full name of Valerie, lives on a barge in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, so we've travelled down from Cumbria and nipped across the Channel to join her on her boat. Val's memoir, Watery Ways, and her novel, The Skipper's Child, are both published by Sunpenny Publishing. 

Let's get started then:

SP: Val, could you tell us something of your background and how you came to be living in the Netherlands?

VP: That's a long story, so I won't bore you with all the details. Suffice to say I was actually born and raised in the UK, but then lived in South Africa for nearly twenty years before landing up in the Netherlands. I came here to Rotterdam to try and save a rocky marriage, which was already failing when my husband left Johannesburg to work in Amsterdam. I followed him a year later, but it didn't work. However, by that time, I'd developed a love for life on the water, so after a return spell to South Africa, I decided to come back and make my own life in this country.

The Oude Haven in Rotterdam and Val's barge, the Vereeniging

 SP: That's must have been quite a dramatic change both scenically and climatically. What most inspires you as a writer about living in the Netherlands?

VP: Well, I suppose it's because it's so different from the dry, warm climate I was used to in Johannesburg. After living at very high altitude in a place with virtually no natural lakes and even less navigable inland water, it was amazing to me to see this country that had been wrested from the sea. In the Netherlands, much of the land is below sea level, and canals and rivers are everywhere. I'd never experienced, or even known about houseboats, so seeing them in such profusion here was very inspiring and piqued my curiosity no end. I bought my own barge in a very special harbour in Rotterdam, and I love the life so much I find it endlessly inspiring.

Val's memoir about life in Rotterdam's
Oude Haven

 SP:  Yes, of course! Your Sunpenny memoir, Watery Ways, is full of those stories about your harbour life, isn't it? What prompted you to start writing and how long have you been writing?

VP: Like most authors, I've been writing since childhood one way and another, but I only started thinking of writing seriously in South Africa. I have always loved radio plays, so I wrote three in fairly quick succession. I submitted them to both the SABC and the BBC, but they were all rejected, sadly. I also wrote short stories, one of which was broadcast on a radio station in Johannesburg. But when I came to the Netherlands, I read Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence and loved his descriptions of French rural people. He really inspired me to start writing memoirs because I feel so lucky to have lived in so many interesting places and had the chance to observe the life and people around me. On the one hand, I wanted to write them for myself to preserve my memories, but on the other, I really wanted to tell readers about the places and people I'd met, so they served both purposes.

SP:  Okay, but you have written fiction too and Sunpenny has published your novel for teenagers, The Skipper's Child. What do you prefer writing? Fiction or fact and why?

VP: That's hard to answer, really. I love both, but they require different approaches and skills. I probably feel more creative satisfaction when writing fiction, but I try and write my memoirs in a creative way as well - with structure and themes that readers can follow throughout the books. I enjoy the different demands of both fiction and non-fiction.

SP:  Val, do you write anything other than memoirs and novels?

VP: If you mean do I write for magazines or short stories? No, I don't, but I'm an enthusiastic blogger and love sharing my experiences and thoughts on my blog. I write a post every week, so it's good discipline and practice, and the reward is in the comments I get from my regular readers.

SP: We'll post your blog link at the end here so readers can have a look, Val. Now if you had to give the readers here a tip about how to get started on a book, what would it be?

VP: As some of the others have said, just start and keep going. Don't let anyone put you off. The only difference between those who write books and those who don't is determination and stamina. There are some brilliant writers out there who have never managed to finish a book, and in the end it's just self-discipline that gets you to 'The End'.

SP: Well it sounds as if you're pretty determined, Val, so what do you see as your greatest strength in life? And then (of course) what do you see as your weakest point?

VP: Good question! Probably that determination to keep going and finish things I've started is my greatest strength, although my sister would tell you that's all part of my stubborn streak, which is possibly my weakest point too. Never giving up on something can also be detrimental, especially if you know that underneath it all you're wrong. I'm afraid I'm inclined to stick to my guns even when I know I shouldn't.

SP: Well, then on the basis of not giving up on something, here's another question for you. If you had to live for a year with only one book, what would it be?

VP: This would be a pretty hard question if I hadn't been asked the same thing just last week. After much thought, I decided I would go for Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote, a book I absolutely adore and have read several times. It was a toss up between that and Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald, which I love too because it's about a community living on the Thames. But Graham Greene won because I could imagine myself continuing the debates Monsignor Quixote has with his friend, the communist Mayor. This would keep me busy and stimulated in my year of one book!

SP: So leading on from that, do you have any favourite authors? If so, why do you admire their work?

VP: I do indeed. I'm a huge crime fiction fan and my absolute favourites are Deborah Crombie and Donna Leon. Both of them write with such a strong sense of place (London and Venice respectively) that I feel I'm there with them. The characters are also incredibly believable and well developed and there is always much more to the stories than simply solving a crime; they bring in social, political and even environmental issues too. They both write such evocative and thrilling stories that as soon as I know either of them has produced a new book, I have to buy it.

SP: Val, are you writing anything at the moment? Can you tell us what it is?

VP: Oh goodness, yes! I'm writing a novel set in South Africa, which has been on the back burner for a while, but I keep coming back to it to stir it up again. As I've just finished a travelogue about my partner's and my trip to France last summer on our barge, I'll definitely be going back to the novel again now. Who knows? I might even finish it this time.

SP: Right then, last question. If you had a bucket list, what would be in the top three positions?

VP: Hmm, if this is about things I would really, really like to do at some time in the future, then here's a short (but long) list of my top three dreams:

a) The first would be to have six months to cruise the English canal network; something I've never done and would just love to do.

b) The second would be to have the money and time to spend visiting all those lovely people I've 'met' on the internet. The first stop would be Tuscany in Italy to visit Tonia Parronchi, another Sunpenny author; then I'd like to go to Scotland to see Stephanie Parker McKean (also from Sunpenny). After that, I'd travel down through the UK and visit all the other fantastic people I've struck up cyber friendships with, especially in Wales (notably Julie McGowan, yet another Sunpenny author) before crossing the Channel into France where there are several special contacts. Lastly, I'd head for Australia and New Zealand, where I have a number of friends I've met online and have also met in real life but would love to see again. Phew! Sorry that was so long!

c) The third, well, this is a real pipe dream - I'd love to have the independent financial means to give up teaching before my official retirement age so I could concentrate on writing...but that one is the most unlikely of them all to happen!

Val, thank you so much for joining us on the Sunpenny Blog.  It's been very interesting to be here in Rotterdam too; it's such a modern, dynamic city.  However,  before we leave the barge and reach terra firma, here are the links to Val's books and blog.

Val's memoir: Watery Ways
Val's young adult/all ages novel: The Skipper's Child

Monday, 13 March 2017

Val Poore's Spotlight Sunday on We Love Memoirs

Book events cover a multitude of different forms: signings, readings and workshops are some of the face-to-face, real life occasions for authors to meet their readers. However, there are increasingly opportunities for writers to meet their public online, and on Sunday, 12 March, Val Poore was in the hot seat answering questions all afternoon and evening in a special Spotlight Q&A session on the Facebook group, We Love Memoirs. The banner below is the type of header used for the Facebook page and all other promotional advertising. This was the one used when Val was talking about Watery Ways the first time she did a Spotlight Sunday*

Here's what Val says about this kind of event:

"It was actually inspiring and tiring in equal measure. Because this particular group has a membership of approaching 4000, all sorts of people from all over the world come and ask questions in a steady stream throughout the day. The one thing they all have in common is that they enjoy reading (and in some cases, writing) memoirs. Many of those who asked questions are readers of my own memoirs, so as I wasn't always aware they'd read them, it was lovely to hear their comments and questions about my books and my life. There was interest too in my Sunpenny published memoir, Watery Ways, this being the first of my books about my watery world.

By the end of the evening, I'd probably answered around 150 questions. There were nearly 400 comments in total, but of course around half of those were my responses and included the photo quiz questions I put up myself. To keep things lively, I'd prepared a folder of pictures of the places, people and pets in my life which I could use to illustrate my answers, and also have 'where is this?' mini competitions. It was great fun, immensely heartwarming and a marvellous way to become a known figure in my market.

I have to thank the wonderful, main moderator of the group, Julie Haigh, who is tireless in her work for We Love Memoirs and is an amazing organiser. Without her, none of it would have been possible.

The immediate spin off benefit was a sharp spike in my Kindle sales of the day, so it has an instant and positive impact on widening the readership. Obviously, this isn't a massive increase, but it all helps to spread the word and is a great incentive to participate in this kind of online promtional activity! But best of all, it's a way to connect with other readers and writers, so I often follow other authors' SS days too."

For those interested in Val's memoir, Watery Ways, here is the link
And for anyone interested in joining We Love Memoirs, here is a link to their page on Facebook

*Photo banner courtesy of We Love Memoirs Facebook group, used by members to post on Twitter, Facebook and all other online media.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Author interview from the Cumbrian hills: William Wood

In this week's author interview, we are flying back across the Atlantic to Cumbria in the very north of England.  William Wood is another Sunpenny author, whose lovely collection of reflective recollections, titled A Little Book of Pleasures, is a literary gem worth keeping to hand and dipping into. William has recently moved to his Cumbrian home, so we asked him to tell us about it and his writing inspirations.

William Wood

SP: William, could you tell us something of your background and how you came to be living in Cumbria?

WW: I was born in the UK, brought up on the Kent and Sussex border, worked in France before going to Nottingham University, emigrated to Australia as a £10 Pom and did an MA at Monash University, Melbourne where I was a Teaching Fellow. I returned to the UK, before spending a career overseas mainly in aid or cultural relations. I lived in India, Norway, Sudan, Belgium, Senegal and Ghana before returning to Sussex. I spent 4 years caring for my parents (about which I have written an unpublished, perhaps unpublishable, book) and when they died in their nineties we decided to move to pastures new. We have a daughter in France, another in Spain, one in Rutland and a son in Cumbria. We were tempted to move to France but wisely thought we would await the outcome of the referendum, never really thinking the Brexit side would win. The result was probably more difficult for the future of our children and bilingual grandchildren, but it ruled out our own move to France or Spain

We have visited all our children and grandchildren in all these places and know the areas where they live well. Last October we upped sticks and moved to Cumbria to a village we have often visited and dreamed of living in. Our house is on the banks of a river in the centre of the village. We have four grandchildren in the next village, accessible by footpath door to door. We are currently renovating the house and hope to move in next month.

SP: What a fascinating life you've had! Could you tell us what you find most inspiring as a writer about living in Cumbria?

WW: I have not lived here long enough to answer this question. I have written about the Lake District in that there are scenes set here in some of my stories, but I am no Arthur Ransome or Wordsworth. My writing is plot and character led and the setting is circumstantial. I keep holiday and travel diaries and I draw on them for local colour if need be. I have one novel based in Sudan, one in Brussels, lots of short stories set in Norway and Africa. The most recent collection, Stories for Sale is published by the Circaidy Gregory Press. My current work, see  Q9 below, roams the globe but one chapter is set in the Lakes, written before I moved. The real inspiration, I suppose, is the peace and tranquillity and the time to sit down and get on with my work (well, when we have completed the house move).

Willam in his Cumbrian garden
SP: Ah, I can imagine those were very inspiring travels! So what prompted you to start writing books, and how long have you been writing?

WW: I have been writing all my life. I still have my first story, written when I was six, about a boat trip in Cornwall. In my third year at school we had to write weekly compositions. The teacher, Miss Dickson, was strict but inspirational and she would often read out my effort to the class. I never looked back.    

SP: Again, a wonderful memory to cherish! So what do you prefer writing?  Fiction or fact and why? 

WW: At university I put on my own plays, easy when you have a captive audience. Later I turned to fiction. And like everyone I wrote poetry whenever my heart was breaking! In Australia, when I should have been doing a Ph.d. I wrote my first novel, believing I would publish it and write for a living. I never did publish it. I do not remember trying but I still have it somewhere. When I got a real job I had time only to write short stories and some journalism. I had some stories on the BBC World Service while working overseas.

I like writing fiction best. I think all writing is mainly fiction in that you are selective and use poetic licence. I do not think autobiographies are actually factually true. We choose what we wish to remember and embellish it. At least I do! My Little Book of Pleasures comprising essays is mostly factual but even there I have had to give shape to the essays, whereas real life is shapeless. That is why we write: to give form and meaning to our experience, perhaps. 
SP: If you had to give readers a tip about how to get started on a book, what would it be?

WW: I would hesitate to give advice to other writers. Some of the best novels I have read have been by people who know that I write and ask for an opinion on their own unpublished attempts.  I am happy to encourage, to give my opinion and painfully sometimes to point out how seriously bad they are, but I would not tell anyone how to approach the agony and the joy of actually writing.

SP: Encouragement is perhaps the only spur some writers need. So, William what is your greatest strength in life: and then (of course) what do you see as your weakest point:

WW: My strengths and weaknesses? I don’t know. What is this, a job interview? (SP: chuckle) A weakness, I suppose, is that once I have finished a work I lose interest in it. I hate the self publicity, the promotion. I just want to get on with the next project. I live by and for writing. I have no business sense.

SP: Many writers feel the same, we know, William. Now, this is a standard question, but if you had to live a year with only one book, what would it be? And do you have favorite authors?  If so, why do you admire their work?

WW: I have tried to read A La Recherche du Temps Perdu but it does not grab me. Perhaps if I lived alone with it for a year I would fall under its spell as so many others have done. As for favourite authors, that would depend on where and when. I have always tried to get under the skin of the country I am in by reading their literature. In Australia it was Patrick White and Henry Handel Richardson. In India I made quite a study of Indian writing in English. There are too many good authors to mention.

On the lighter side, like Graham Greene, I enjoyed RK Narayan immensely. In Norway, once I became competent in the language, I was bowled over by Knut Hamsun. If you count playwrights no one yet has surpassed Ibsen for tight story telling as well as the actual drama. I try to keep up with the latest writers, too. There are serious novelists as well as good detective story writers, not all of whom have yet been discovered by the “scandi noir” fad on our TV screens. I also try to keep up with the latest French literary fiction and have quite a library. It is invidious to single out one writer. They are all different and offer different pleasures. Even the lighter works have a sophisticated, literary quality. My love of French literature began when as a teenager I fell under the spell of the existentialists and read Sartre and Camus.

Of English writers I read all Thomas Hardy over five years of commuting to London on the train. However, I still think Graham Greene is the best story teller, and of recent writers Graham Swift, Ian McEwen and Sebastian Faulks continue to dazzle. Then there are the Americans! Last night, mesmerised, I finished reading the most honest, evocative and devastating account of a love affair that I have ever read. The addiction of physical desire, the dread that it all must end …. I shall write, as I often do of books that impress me, a critique of  James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime on my own blog in the next few days. Were I to answer this questionnaire tomorrow, no doubt quite other authors would appear

SP: What a rich literary selection! Are you writing anything at the moment?  Can you tell us what it is?

WW: Yes, I am writing a novel. I am two thirds of the way through a second draft and am leaving the ending open for now. As a change from the British scene, I am writing the novel in French. I have bought an Azerty laptop, got a French pseudonym and am on-line at least leading a double life. I expect to be working on this all this year as I am a slow writer and an even slower polisher/editor of my work. I actually have several English MSS unpublished. 

SP: How marvellous to be able to write in French at that level of proficiency. Okay, the final question, William. If you had a bucket list what would be in the top three positions?

WW: My bucket list?  My parents both ended up with dementia, so I would hope to keep my mental and physical health until the end. Secondly, despite Brexit, I hope my grandchildren thrive in Europe and the wider world.

Thank you so much for joining us on our blog, William. It's been so interesting to hear about your life and literary inspirations.

William's book, A Little Book of Pleasures can be found on Amazon here
His writing and reviewing blog can be found here