Monday, 18 June 2018

Where we used to read

It's been two months since we posted on the blog, so many apologies to readers who've enjoyed our tips, ideas and author profiles in the past. Unfortunately, blogs take maintenance and when life in both the book world (and outside) gets in the way, the fun stuff sometimes falls by the wayside. And blogging is fun, there's no doubt about it. It's such a great way of connecting with readers all over the world and bringing them together.

Now the summer season is upon us, though, we can't help noticing many other bloggers are slowing down as well. The lure of the sun, the country and seaside walks and just the joy of being out and about can distract us considerably, but then, that's a very healthy distraction isn't it? It's also probably much healthier to be focused on the here and now of the world around us than on social media (and let's face it, blogging is still social media of one sort).

On that note, if we cast our minds back to the days before the Internet, we at Sunpenny know that we did much more reading then than we do now. Granted there was still television, but if you think about where we used to enjoy reading, then you'll probably agree it's largely been supplanted by Internet based activities and interactions. Here are a few examples:

1. On the train, bus or tram going to school, college or work: these used to be ideal times for reading a book, or if not, a newspaper. These days if you jump on any public transport, you're more likely to see people glued to their phones. Admittedly some of them may be reading e-books, but more often than not, travellers will be chatting on Whatsapp, Facebook, or Facetime, or they'll be watching films.

2. At a café table on a terrace or in a lunch bar: It used to be quite common to see workers taking their lunch breaks with a sandwich and a book in front of them; alternatively, they might have been sitting out in the sunshine with a drink, their book perched against the glass. A more common sight nowadays would be a tablet or a laptop in place of the book, and of course the ubiquitous phone.

4. Lying in the bath, coffee on the side and a book in the hand: Again, this is probably much less common now than it used to be. We at Sunpenny can well remember taking long luxurious baths and reading till the water made our skin wrinkle up. There are of course e-readers, but think of the risks in taking one of these with you into the bath! If you drop your Kindle in the water, there's a chance you might lose your whole library, so maybe people just don't do that anymore unless, like us, they still buy real books.

However, one place where books are still often seen is on aircraft. Perhaps because many airlines require people to turn off electronic equipment, it's still quite common to see passengers with books on a flight, especially the shorter journeys where in-flight films aren't shown. E-readers are equally popular, but at least there's a prevalence of people reading rather than watching film clips, listening to chat shows or chatting to their friends.

Is there anywhere you can remember seeing people reading that you don't see anymore? If so, we'd love to hear from you. Tell us about it in a comment below; reminiscences like this can be lovely, so we'll look forward to seeing them!

Sunday, 22 April 2018

100 Little Pleasures: a new edition of anecdotes from William Wood

William Wood's first book of anecdotes 'A Little Book of Pleasures' was published in 2012 and was well received, particularly after winning a Bronze award at the Wishing Shelf Awards in 2013. His new expanded version of the book, 100 Little Pleasures was published at the end of March this year and is full of further delightful stories drawn from his recollections over the years.

William has always kept a diary, but as he says in the Prologue to his book, a diary is not for public view; it is an entirely personal document for the writer's eyes only and any suggestion of dipping into it to mine it for stories of a particular year or event would make him squirm. Nevertheless, in his unique style of writing in the accusative or 'you' form, he is speaking to the reader on a deeply personal level and reminding him (or her) of senses, memories and impressions that might otherwise be lost and might well have been included in his own or the readers' diaries.

William's anecdotes range from The Morning Post, through On Finishing a Swim to On Going Out Without a Phone; hardly world shattering events, but his powers of evocative description are such that the reader will be nodding in agreement and recognition of the feelings and images aroused.

William Wood is the master of the anecdote and as an expanded edition of his original stories, it is a treasure trove of delightful stories, many of which are reminders of a time gone by and a world we no longer live in.

As one reviewer wrote of the first edition: "I found it thought-provoking and it made me contemplate the simple things in my own life that give me pleasure. Some passages were so poignant or evocative that I think they will stay with me long after I've finished reading it and this book is destined to become one of my own small pleasures or treasures."

And another commented that it is "the lost art of essay writing. Brilliant pieces the reader can dip into when he pleases. The book does not have to be read at a sitting. Rather savoured at leisure."

In a world that is overwhelming us all with events of global and somewhat alarming impact, this is a book where you can not only lose yourself, but (as one reader comments) find yourself as well. 

The link to the Kindle version of the book on Amazon is here 
The link to the previous version with all its reviews is here 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Bangkok to Ben Nevis Backwards: a memoir by Phil Hall

Sunpenny has published several memoirs in the past, all of which have been of unique interest in their own area. We are now proud to introduce you to Phil Hall, whose Bangkok to Ben Nevis Backwards has recently been launched as both a paperback and an ebook on Kindle. 

Rather than us telling you about Phil's memoir, we asked him to write a guest post giving us some background into the book. 

Over to you, Phil!

Thank you, Sunpenny, for inviting me along to talk about my book. ‘Bangkok to Ben Nevis Backwards!’ is a collection of my thoughts based on a particularly eventful 18+ months in the lives of the Hall family.

It starts back in 2011 when, debt ridden and simply fed up of chasing my tail, I convinced my wife and son that a move to Bangalore was just what the doctor, and bank manager, ordered. So we upped sticks and made this move without too many thoughts about what we were letting ourselves in for. Sadly though, just before we left the UK, I realised that my father’s Vascular Dementia was at the latter stages and I realised that the poor fellow wouldn’t even recognise me the next time our paths crossed.

The book takes the reader through a somewhat topsy-turvy journey to India, Thailand, and back to Scotland. Along the way I discovered that I could write for money, thanks to an Indian article mill, and I haven’t stopped since. India didn’t turn out to be exactly as awesome as I had managed to convince my wife and son; in fact, it was a major disappointment but that was mainly down to my woeful lack of planning.

So we moved to Thailand, the country of my wife’s birth. Her family were there and we thought that we could start our new lives with the help of those people. However, a few months later, my wife was attacked and butchered like a lamb in the slaughterhouse by none other than a family member. Unfortunately, Thailand and justice are not common bedfellows so they managed to get away with this near-murder with just a small fine and a slap on the wrist.

Needless to say, we moved away from the family and their unorthodox idea of hospitality and I started teaching in a rural school. My lovely wife recovered physically but the mental and emotional scars will never heal. For about a year, we did have a great old time and my son picked up the Thai language very quickly indeed. We also had some rum adventures ranging from a King Cobra in the garden to elephants trying to break into the house in the middle of the night.

Phil, who is also a musician and guitarist, with some
of his fans
Tragically, my father’s condition deteriorated and the day he was taken away from my mother, I knew it was time to return back to the grim reality of life in 2013. The adventures didn’t stop there, though, and on the day that poor old dad gave up the good fight, I decided to share my memoirs with the rest of the world.

As a writer of many years practice, I was happy that I managed to finish the complete book and hope that my dear father is finally proud of his once wayward middle child. I also hope that readers will enjoy my cautionary tales and will either learn how not to do things or be inspired to take the plunge and go travelling!

Thank you so much for joining us here, Phil. We understand you are writing a novel now and that you are also a guitarist in a rock band – a man of many talents indeed.

If you'd like to follow Phil, you can find him here on Facebook 
He is also here on Twitter
And here on his website where you can find his blog.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Tips and suggestions for preparing your manuscript

At Sunpenny, we believe in publishing high quality books with a difference. However, much of the quality comes first from the author. Our job is to do the copy editing, and work with the author on possible improvements. Then of course, we have to check and proofread the manuscript with our experienced eagle eyes, and fine-tooth combs.

A sunpenny novel of note
 But what can the author do to make sure his or her book is as good as it can be before submission to us? There are so many points to watch out for it can be mind boggling. Quite apart from planning your plot, giving your characters personalities and writing dialogue that is consistent with those characters, there are numerous other factors to consider, so here are just a few we think are important. 

One of our delightful
children's books
1. If you are writing fiction with more than one point of view (POV), then make sure you don't 'head hop' mid paragraph or even mid-section. It's always safest to maintain one POV per section or chapter; it's very confusing for the reader to keep switching and it's just not good practice to do so.

2. Check your facts. If your fiction refers to historical events or even recent times, make sure you've done your homework. For example, don't have people watching a TV show that wasn't running at the time. There's always someone out there who knows and will pick you up on it. Added to that, if you're describing a real life place or town, make sure your descriptions are accurate. If you get them wrong, someone will notice that you haven't done your research properly.

3. As far as your plot goes, check your continuity and make sure you don't have characters suddenly doing things they've never done before, or that you've given no suggestion of in previous chapters. Your heroine can't suddenly develop a passion for animals half way through the story if there's been no indication of her fondness for furries before. Every action needs to be logical and believable so if you haven’t prepared the ground for what your characters do, you'll lose credibility with your readers. As a film-maker once told me, every action needs to be properly set up or it will flop.

4. Assuming your book has been accepted based on the first few chapters, complete your draft, and then put it aside before you check it through for grammar and spelling. Do your best to send the best you can do! Editors and proofreaders are human and can get both distracted and irritated if the author hasn't done any spelling or grammar checks and the book is littered with errors. There will always be some; never doubt that. We never see all our own mistakes and you will be amazed at how many you miss. However, it's your job first to get it as good as you possibly can before delivering it to your editor.
Jo Holloway, managing editor
Sunpenny's managing editor is Jo Holloway, who has a lifetime of experience in script writing and editing. Hers are the eagle eyes that check every line of your manuscript and her advice to new authors has been invaluable over the years.

Sunpenny staff and authors at the London Book Fair 2016
We hope these tips are useful to all the authors among our readers. Happy writing, everyone, and remember, more of the time and work goes into editing than it ever does in the creation of a good story!

Monday, 26 February 2018

Book signings revisited: Tips from author Julie McGowan for authors who want to be well prepared

Given that spring is on its way (we hope!), it's time for authors to get out and do some book signings. Last year, Julie McGowan gave us some marvellous tips to prepare for these events, so we thought we'd post these again. Like any performance, a book signing needs preparation, so read on to remind yourselves of what is important!

As Julie has said herself: "I've done loads of book signings, and now sell between 16 and 20 each time in a two hour slot." This is an impressive record, so her tips are invaluable for all authors, both newbies and old hands. 

Julie at one of her book signings

Planning your signings

Planning is an essential part of the book-signing process, as without it, many opportunities for extending your range and therefore the market for your book might be missed.        

  •  As soon as your release date is definite, phone as many book shops in your area as possible and ask if you can do a book signing. Waterstones can be difficult, as they have certain rules managers have to follow, local book stores’ reactions can vary, but I’ve found that WH Smith stores are invariably welcoming.
  • I suggest phoning rather than calling in because I personally find it easier to promote my book to a faceless voice on the phone than face to face, but it’s whatever works for you. Phoning is also quicker so in one morning you could arrange signings for weeks to come. Once you have one store booked, make sure you mention this to the next store as in, ‘I’m arranging signings in all the stores in the region and have already got them booked at ---- and ---- ’ to convince them of how extraordinarily popular you are!
  • Reassure the store manager that you will take up very little space, that you can bring the books with you so that they don’t have to order stock and all you will need from them is a small table and chair.
  • Try to book a Saturday as you will see a lot more people. The benefit of a store like WH Smith is that they have a greater footfall so more people will see your book. Of course it’s good to support the independent book store as well, so there’s no harm in doing a signing   in both, but I have found occasionally that independents can be a bit sniffy about ‘unknown’ writers.
  • Remember that the best sales are achieved within the first 6 months that your book is released, so the more active you can be in this time the better.


Preparations are another key aspect of book signings, so once your appointments are made, the following tips will ensure that you reach the widest audience. They will also help you to present yourself as a well-seasoned professional author rather than as an amateur writer. 

  1. Once your dates are confirmed, prepare a press release to send out, preferably by email to the local press, local radio and regional TV with details of when and where you will be doing signings. (the journalist’s golden maxim: who, when, where, why, how.) Make sure you send it to the appropriate reporter/editor (details can always be found online) rather than just to the newsdesk etc., because a week or so later you should follow up with a phone call to that person to ask if they received the details and asking whether they can use them.
2.    Prepare posters to take to each store at least 2 weeks before your signing date. Take 3 posters at least to each store, to encourage them to give you lots of publicity. Local libraries and info boards will often let you put up a poster too. When you take the poster to the store, try to give it to the person responsible for arranging your signing because you can then talk to them about where you will be placed. Use your charm to make sure they don’t put you in a corner at the back where only people wanting ordnance survey maps may venture. Next to the fiction stands, at the foot of a staircase or at the front of the shop are the best options – impress upon the manager that you need so little space you can fit into your chosen spot easily.

3.    Next, prepare some ‘hand-outs’ to entice shoppers. I make slips a bit wider than a bookmark (so that I can fit 3 onto a landscape sheet of A4 paper) giving a picture of the book, and brief details of the story, RRP etc. If you have access to a colour printer you can run them off on card or thick paper and then spend a happy hour cutting them up!

4.    Other ‘hooks’: You want people to stop and talk to you rather than avoid you, so you may like to offer them something – especially if you don’t have the means to produce ‘hand-outs’. For example, when promoting my Welsh novels I have a plate of Welsh cakes on my table, to offer to people browsing nearby. When I’m promoting my book set in Cornwall I have Cornish fudge.

5.    During the week before your signing, mention it as often as you can on facebook, twitter, any other form of social media, telling people you will be in the store between these times and you’d love them to stop by and have a chat.

Thank you so much for these tips, Julie! Next week, we'll post Julie's 'what to do on the day' suggestions, which are also very useful, especially for the shy and nervous authors!

Friday, 16 February 2018

Master of the Anecdote

William Wood has been one of the Sunpenny authors for many years. His delightful book 'A Little Book of Pleasures' has been a favourite on our list, and demonstrates what a master William is of the anecdotal memoir.

As one reviewer put it:

"William Wood's unusual book is a real gem. Others have already said that it is written in an unusual style, using the "you" instead of I as if the author is talking to himself throughout, and about how one can dip in at any point of the book instead of reading from cover to cover. What I found is that this is a beautifully written book, at times poetic, at times wryly humorous. The author's pleasures are as diverse as a child's smile, silence, a log fire or remembered fragments from his many journeys to far-away lands.

I found it thought-provoking and it made me contemplate the simple things in my own life that give me pleasure. Some passages were so poignant or evocative that I think they will stay with me long after I've finished reading it and this book is destined to become one of my own small pleasures or treasures."

A Little Book of Pleasures did well in the Wishing Shelf Awards in 2014, gaining a Bronze award. It was widely appreciated for its style and the memories it evoked. As the feedback said:

"This book was very much enjoyed by our older readers (aged 45 – 65). They loved the gentle prose and the wide range of ‘feel-good’ yarns the author entertained the reader with. They felt it would make a perfect travel companion, brightening up any lonely moment in a hotel room. One reader put in her feedback, ‘I loved The Morning Post story. It cheered me up as I happened to read it on the day my internet packed up and was driving me crazy. That’s the best bit about this book. You don’t have to read all of it in one sitting; you don’t even have to read it in the order it is written, but, trust me, there’s a story for everybody in here.’

A Little Book of Pleasures can tap into many people's memories of life as it was once lived, a simpler existence where value was placed in the small rituals of the day. Now, however, there is a new edition of William's anecdotes although so far, it is only available in paperback. 100 Little Pleasures can be found here:

William Wood also writes a blog and his most recent post is worth reading as a mini memoir in itself. It is titled 'In Memory of Typists' and is a poignant tribute to the secretaries he has known throughout his varied international career. Grab a cup of tea, sit down and read it here.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Blogging: how it can help authors

In previous posts, we've looked at both Twitter and Facebook as a means of helping writers become known, but another branch of social media is blogging. Many people don't view blogs as social media; they are more individualised, take more time and do not always result in a great deal of interaction, but blogs are one of the earliest forms of internet social media and a lively and regular blog can do much for an author's public profile.

The point with a blog is that it doesn't have to be about the author's books; in fact, it is better to avoid constant reference to them. A blog is a great way for readers to get to know something about the author's life, opinions, activities and interests. Of course, blog posts about writing with tips and ideas are always well received, but in principle, an author's blog is best used for the readers to learn about the author as a person.

Several of our authors are active, regular bloggers and their followers love to read their posts and give comments. While Twitter and Facebook are not designed for lengthy posts and articles, a blog is where authors can expand on a theme, reveal ideas and present themselves to their readers in a more in-depth way than they can on the other social media platforms.

Themed blogs are often popular too. Bloggers who focus on a specific aspect of their lives will often attract loyal followers and readers who enjoy the topic or approach. For example, some bloggers concentrate on writing humorous posts about their daily lives; others will write about art or music or faith; still others might focus on health, life as a senior citizen, or parenthood. Our author, William Wood writes thoughtful and reflective posts about his observations on life or on incidents from his past; Val Poore writes about travelling on her barge as well as her life in a Rotterdam harbour. The point is that each author has become known for writing blog posts on certain themes and this can encourage a loyal readership of followers who are then more likely to read their books.

Blogs can also be promoted easily on other social media sites. Links on Twitter and Facebook can result in hundreds, if not thousands, of views. Google + is also a worthwhile site on which to post blog links and the value of having posts shared through the various social media networks such as Tumblr, Instagram and Reddit means that although not everyone will comment, there is a strong chance that an author's readership will grow as a result.

Blogging is therefore a hugely worthwhile addition to an author's marketing arsenal, and not only that, it is a great creative outlet for those writers who value the self-discipline of having a weekly or monthly blog to produce.

For those interested in our authors' blogs, see the list in the sidebar at the top right-hand side of this page. We know that all of them would love to receive your comments!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

From PM's secretary to B&B host: Eugene Barker's Blackbirds Baked in a Pie

For our first post of 2018, we are delighted to bring you some background information and reviews about one of our books. Blackbirds Baked in a Pie is an entertaining memoir by Eugene Barker, who used to be the private secretary of Prime Minister Edward Heath in the 1970s. 

About the author:

Born in Penarth, South Wales, Eugene left school at 16 to work as a trainee journalist on two local newspapers. This was in the days when discrimination against women in the workplace made the job twice the challenge it was for male colleagues. Moving on to an assignment in Holland at a Unesco conference, she stayed on for two years, learning the language and working with companies in Amsterdam struggling to get back on their feet after the horrors of the second World War. Studying with the Open University in her late forties, she became a Tutor/Counsellor after graduating, before moving briefly back into journalism. She then went on to work in the House of Commons - eventually becoming Senior Secretary to Sir Edward Heath. 

Not the type to retire in her sixties, however, she took on the running of an auberge in France, and this book, Blackbirds Baked in a Pie, is a lively and affectionate account of her time there.

Eugene is now in her late eighties, and until quite recently she used to travel around Britain with a suitcase full of books and give talks wherever she could; apparently these talks were not so much about her illustrious career at Number 10 (as one might expect), but about her retirement career as a Bed and Breakfast host in the French Pyrenees, which we suspect she found even more interesting.

However, these days Eugene is no longer able to get about and promote her book as she used to, so we decided to give her memoir a blog boost by sharing some of the reviews she's received.

Firstly, the book's blurb:

"Sir Edward Heath's Private Secretary didn't take retirement sitting down... At age 60 Eugene Barter, along with her sister and brother-in-law, moved to a house in the foothills of the Pyrenees to start an auberge. This is the story of her experiences. Humorous and often self-mocking, always gentle and quirky, Eugene takes us on a journey through the countryside and its people, Catalans and French alike, with a good dose of her German and English guests thrown in. Her love of the region shines from the pages - surely a timeless joy for all ages. 

Recipes from Rozinanate: The second half of the book focuses on the recipes with which Eugene used to feed her guests, though still interleaved with her engaging anecdotes. English, Catalan and French recipes, all easy to follow, sit side by side, and there are conversion charts to help step through the metric and imperial standards, and maintain that essential entente cordiale!"

Secondly, Praise for Blackbirds Baked in a Pie from reviews

"I read this book with great enjoyment and an appreciation that the author was already over sixty when she courageously embarked on her new life. It is set in the pyrenees of south west France and is almost as much about the Catalans as it is about the French of the area. Ms Barter has some lovely anecdotes about both the locals and her guests at the B&B she and her sister started. In fact I wished there were more stories and fewer recipes, but that's because I'm not a cook and I love France! Altogether, I enjoyed the book very much and it was amusing and entertaining to read."

"Take a few dollops of Peter Mayle, add a generous measure of Julia Child, drizzle with red wine then simmer slowly under sunny skies for seven years. The utterly charming result is Blackbirds Baked in a Pie, Eugene Barter's delightful collection of tales about her seven years of running a guesthouse in the Pyrenees-Orientales. And she's thrown in her favourite recipes too!"

If you are interested in reading this charming memoir, the link to the book on is here
The Kindle version is currently priced at $2.99 and the paperback is around $12.99