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Thursday, 30 January 2014


 Congratulations to Nathan Filer, the surprise winner of this year's  Costa Book of the Year Award, who is surely a wonderful incentive to anyone who has a  half-written novel hidden away in the attic.

The Shock of the Fall was Nathan's first novel and, according to the judges 'It's so good it will make you feel a better person..'

Speaking to Kira Cochrane in today's Guardian, Filer is 'surprised himself by his win – the bookies had put him fourth in a field of five – and ambivalent about being interviewed. 'Obviously this is brilliant,' he adds, 'but it is also quite unsettling and huge, isn't it? People focusing on the book I'm very happy with, because I'm very proud of it and I think it's good. I'm slightly less comfortable with people focusing on ...(sic) me."

The more you read about this newly successful author, the more you realise that he is very grounded.

 A mental health nurse by day, Nathan has used his work as the basis of his research for the novel whose protagonist, Matthew  Home has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Other issues include the death of Matthew's Down's Syndrome brother and his mother's subsequent devastation at the tragedy, all told with a characteristically dark humour.

'He's clearly still passionate about mental health,' says The Guardian, 'even though his success as a writer is such that he could have left all these concerns behind. When he finally finished The Shock of the Fall, it was subject to an 11-way auction and was sold for a six-figure sum. It is being published in more than 10 countries this year, a tally likely to rise after this win.'

Pretty impressive, even for an established author. On his twitter page profile,  I notice Nathan has written 'Once wrote a very powerful tweet - planning another!'

What still remains to be seen is whether, or even if, he will  write another book.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Wife-beating in 1665? Whatever would Germaine Greer think?

I first read Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch back in the 1970's when her views  were seen as explosive, but I wonder what she would make of a 17th century law book on women's rights that is up for auction next month?

The improbably tittled 'A Treatise of Spousals or Marriage Contracts' advises scholars that 'A Baron may beat his wife,' which proves  how far Women's Liberation has come in the last four hundred years. Just why a man of title should have this 'privilege' is not, however, made  clear from the brief excerpts I have seen. Interestingly however, topics covered include  women's  rights on what we now regard as modern-day issues such as divorce, polygamy and rape.

 This unlikely tome, whose chapters include What Persons Women may not Marry and Of Wooing,  is one of several rare and historic European Law books from the Los Angeles County Law Library collection, which will be sold by Bonhams on March 5.

 Germaine Greer, still vociferous today, was a feminist and  anarchist and an active contributor as 'Dr G' to London Oz magazine, published by fellow Australian Richard Neville. In the early 1970's,  while women were expected to work and be educated, it was considered more important that they marry and become housewives. Women were also paid less than men for the same work, and denied many opportunities because they were women.

According to Australia's State Library of Victoria, 'The Female Eunuch  challenged a woman's traditional role in society, and provided an important framework for the feminist movement. It called on women to reject their traditional roles in the home, and explore ways to break out of the mould that society had imposed on them. It also encouraged women to question the power of traditional authority figures –  and to explore their own sexuality:
Women have somehow been [...] cut off from their capacity for action. It's a process that sacrifices vigour for delicacy and succulence, and one that's got to be changed.
– Germaine Greer, New York Times, 22 March 1971
There had been other books published on Women's Liberation – most famously Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique – but Greer's book was written with a naughty sense of humour and a directness that the others lacked. This witty honesty made the book accessible to a very wide readership, and was perhaps the reason for the book's enormous success.
Greer hoped that her book would inspire women to see themselves as powerful when it came to their own roles and sexuality. In many ways she was successful. The Female Eunuch certainly did push the Women's Liberation Movement forward, and it became one of the world's most influential books on the subject.'

Newspaper article about Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch.



Friday, 17 January 2014

Could YOU write a bestseller every month?

 Every author dreams of  writing  a best seller, but Craig Osso, a retired property developer living in Mexico, produces twelve a year, according to  the Times newspaper this week. Mr Osso has sold more than 450,000 e-books in thirty months by releasing a book every five weeks.  He is currently in sixth place on Amazon's chart of thriller authors behind Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy and Dan Brown.

So how does he do it? 'He frequently works from 8am until midnight using 'a desk attached to a treadmill' and always publishes  his own books. Writing as Russell Blake, he believes that  being an author in the digital age is like being a shark. 'You keep swimming or you die.'

So are e-books the way to instant success? Last year self-published books accounted for about a third of the 100 best-selling-books on leading many traditional booksellers to argue that Amazon is killing their industry.

Take the second-hand bookseller who wrote about his dwindling profits on Facebook in a 'last-ditch attempt to keep his business afloat.'

David Ford was making only £14 a day at his West Yorkshire book shop when he decided to publish the figures online. The response was amazing.  A few days later he achieved forty times that amount from customers who sympathised with his plight.

'There is something wonderful and unique about books,' he told the Daily Mail. 'I am certain they will never go away. We want people to get into books, but this won't happen without book shops.'

This is backed by Lisa Campbell from trade magazine The Bookseller who believes that the independents are starting to fight back. She said. 'Holding events such as author signings, book group sessions and poetry readings are key to their sustainability in their local community as is offering expert knowledge on books and recommendations. They rely on customer loyalty to thrive and many do buck the trend when they get this right.'

Will we go back to our traditional reading habits, or will e-book writers and readers take over the market? The debate goes on.

Sunday, 12 January 2014


The sound of silence

Do you know someone who listens but doesn't get the message?

A man applied for a job deciphering morse code. When he arrived for the interview, there was no-one at the reception desk,  just the endless clack clack of the code machine and a note asking him to fill in his details.  This he did, before sitting down next to the other six applicants.

Twenty minutes later the man leapt from his chair and walked  straight into the manager's office.  The other applicants stared in amazement, waiting for him to be thrown out on his ear.  Instead, the manager appeared at the door to say  that the  'intruder' had got the job.

'That's ridiculous,' said the first applicant. 'He barged in without asking.'
'Yes,' said the second. 'Surely we have the right to an interview, too?
'So tell us why,' said the third, as the others nodded in agreement.

'I sent you all a message,' said the manager. 'I sent it in Morse code. If you want the job, get out of your seat and walk straight into my office.' He pointed to the successful applicant. 'He was the only one who listened.'

So now do you know someone who listens but doesn't get the message?


Monday, 6 January 2014



Carol with Bill and Susannah

Who are the Seven Dwarves of the Menopause? Itchy, Bitchy, Sweaty, Sleepy, Bloated, Forgetful and Psycho, according to novelist Carol E Wyer whose latest book Grumpy Old Menopause caused quite a stir recently, following her appearance on Breakfast Television. The book follows  the success of How to Murder Your Grumpy, her light hearted look at men and retirement.  Carol, pictured above with presenters Bill and Susannah, has agreed to come on my blog today to talk about her writing life  and, of course, the day she sat on that famous sofa.

You’re already a successful author, but your book The Grumpy Old Menopause has thrown you into the spotlight. What was it like to be on Breakfast Television?
It was such fun. I could wax lyrical about the whole experience but that would take up far too much time.  I knew I was going on a few weeks before the date but I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t dare allow myself to get too excited because there is no guarantee you’ll be on air. It only takes one major news story and you’ll be replaced.
I went up to Media City in Manchester the day before the show and was met at the station by a driver who took me to the hotel. I was then phoned by the BBC. They arranged for me to speak to a researcher later that afternoon. It was at that point, I started to feel like a minor celebrity.  The researcher went over my life and background thoroughly, so Bill and Susannah would know what to ask me.
The next morning, I was met at the BBC reception and escorted to the Green Room where I joined the other guests including June and Leon from Gogglebox. They were very entertaining and we all chatted about travel, cricket and television.  There’s food, drink and a large television screen so you can see the show. Half an hour before I was due on, I was taken to makeup where a young lady performed miracles with my face transforming it from a baggy, grey wrinkled mess to something passable. From there, I was escorted to the sound technicians who miked me up and then I waited outside the studio on a settee to be taken into the studio.
The studio is very dark and surprisingly small. It’s dominated by a raised platform on which is the large red sofa. I was aware of cameras and people and wires and of course, the presenters. I can’t remember much of what was going on, only the feeling that it was like being at a huge friendly party and being introduced to some really nice guests. Bill and Susannah couldn’t have been more welcoming or charming. They instantly relax you and you forget what is going on. You’re focussed on what is being said and the people interviewing you.
I was one of the last guests so I was allowed to sit outside the studio until the show ended and have my photo taken with Bill.

Have you any more television appearances planned? Not at the moment, but I did twenty-seven radio shows last year, most of them after the TV appearance, and have another three lined up over the next couple of weeks. I’ve even got myself a regular gig at BBC Radio Derby now as one of their ‘Loud Mouths’ where I talk about a subject chosen for me an hour before the show. Should be fun.
You clearly have a strong sense of humour. Where does it come from and how has it helped you in your life?
I blame my parents, the Dandy and Beano comics, seventies television and Ken Dodd. My parents always tuned into comedy shows on the radio and television and my earliest memories are of sitting listening to The Navy Lark or The Clitheroe Kid as a small child. They installed a good sense of humour into me. My dad had a very dry wit and was quite a tease.
Humour has seen me through dark days. I spent some considerable time in hospital in my late teens and early twenties, and at one point was paralysed.  (Only temporarily as it happened.) Humour saw me through that time. I wrote letters and stories filled with amusing events that occurred in hospital and tried to make light of the whole affair.
In Grumpy Old Menopause you intersperse good advice with humour – or should I say humour with good advice? Do you think this makes the book much easier to read?
I have a strong belief that humour helps educate people. They are far more likely to remember something of they found it funny than not. I learned that technique when I taught languages. Imagine, if you can, me teaching a group of accountants to speak German using three puppets and a teddy bear! It worked.
Your regular readers are already familiar with ‘Mr Grumpy.’  How does your husband/partner feel about his reputation?
I think he secretly likes the fame. Seriously, he is very good natured about it all. I have checked with him. He admits he is a grumpy and may as well be famous for being one. He feels he is a role model for all grumpies everywhere.
What sort of books do you like to read when you are relaxing?
Thrillers. I love thrillers.  I like to try and guess who has committed the murder before halfway through a book. If there’s a twist I haven’t spotted, I am extra delighted.
You’ve worked as a teacher, linguist and physical trainer a well as running your own language company. Did have time for writing earlier in your life?
I actually began writing in my twenties. My first stories were set in Morocco where I lived and were for children. Titles included Humphrey the Camel and the Dustbin Cats! I wrote a series of animal stories for children in my thirties. They were used in schools to encourage and help young children learn French and boasted titles like Hurrah for Hugo and Noir and Blanc - Two Naughty Cats.
Following my appearance in Zest magazine and newspapers as a ‘success story’, I wrote a fitness guide filled with advice, recipes and exercises for people to lose weight and get healthy. My timing was poor though and a celebrity brought one at the same time as I was touting mine around publishers.
What advice would you give to someone who is still trying to get a book published?
Be patient! Ensure your work is very well edited. Follow publisher’s guidelines to the letter. Make sure you keep writing while you are waiting to hear from publishers as it can take months to get a response. Build up a social platform online. Persevere. Don’t give up.
Do you have a favourite childhood book?
I read all of the Famous Five and Secret Seven Books. Loved them all. I think I still have them in a box in the shed. Maybe I should get them back out.
We know you wouldn’t change your Mr Grumpy for the world, but what famous person would you like to spend the day with?
It would have to be a comedian. There are so many I would like to meet. If I had to choose it would be either Rowan Atkinson or Lee Mack. I probably would spend the day in stitches with either of them. Rowan Atkinson’s face makes me laugh and I love Lee Mack’s sense of humour. I’d like to spend the day with Jon Richardson too, but I’m sure that would only encourage me to behave very badly as I attempted to flirt with him in a highly embarrassing manner.
Finally – can you tell us about your next book?
I’ve got some short stories coming out next. They will surprise my readers as some are very dark revealing a hidden side to my personality. After that, I have a new light-hearted novel set at a Hospital radio station that involves a couple of interesting presenters, some awkward challenges and a scary moment.  And, my much awaited third Amanda Wilson novel should appear this year. I’ve been promising to release it for over a year and held it back for long enough.

If you want to know more about Carol's books  or see a clip of the show, go to