Tuesday, February 28, 2017

My reading this year so far...

There's one advantage (although there a trillion disadvantages) to being in hospital for over two weeks and that is, once the pain and trauma subsides, reading good books helps make it more bearable.

Although I love real proper paper, that is, books, my Kindle was perfect to read in bed in my hospital bed with its handy array of sockets (and of course my trusty charger.) I wasn't the only Kindle reader. The lady in the bed next to me was often reading hers, too. (We compared notes.) Very few other ladies in D bay, ward 36 read anything much apart from  the local newspaper or a magazine left by a visitor. They were all too busy on their mobiles - by the way, I have a bone to pick with hospitals about their current guidelines on phones. They used to ban them in case they interfered with medical equipment; then discouraged therm with a sniff  but now it's a free for all. Some ladies were yacking land laughing on theirs later than 11pm! But that's another subject all together.

Some of the books here I may have mentioned before; I hadn't yet got round to blogging about them before I was whisked away, lights flashing and sirens howling (only when we went through the occasional red light.) Most I read while I was 'inside' or whilst recovering at home.

I usually have several titles on the go- even when all is well - because my brain power waxes and wanes throughout the day. I can read more erudite books in the morning. By afternoon, I'm up for intelligent entertainment. In the evening or later at night, I choose something short and easily-digested. This is when short stories come into their own.

I am in the middle of Essie Fox's atmospheric The Last Days of Leda Grey. How she manages to convey the heat of the summer of 1976 and the sense that the reader is in the middle of a crumbling,  reel of old sepia celluloid film, is amazing. I have loved all her novels but this novel surpasses them all. It is if I am watching one of Jean Cocteau's films, particularly Orpheus, although they of a later date.

As you can see, I have not written detailed brilliant reviews in the style of the legendary Dove Grey Reader who also knits, makes exquisite patchwork, makes jam and pickles, tends her garden and probably, as we speak, is training to be an astronaut, but have done it the easy way and put up cover pictures of the books I have bought and read. I would have done so even if nobody else had  or will do.I am lazy. If you're interested, I am relying on you to find out in your own preferred way.

Chris Nickson's Leeds: the Biography is a series of short snatches of 'faction' which takes speculative snapshots of the expansion of Leeds from its very earliest days to the 20th century vibrant multi-cultural city it is today. It is an easy read and was perfect for me in hospital when my attention span at first was short. When I say 'faction' you might think it's dull. It is not. Several of the stories had me in floods of tears, like the one set in what is called 'The Harrowing of the North' by the Normans after a northern rebellion against the invasion. It was genocide, pure and simple. My belief is that the enduring North/South divide stems from this.

Finally, I am in the middle of writing an article/review about The Last Photograph by Emma Chapman for Historia, the on-line magazine of the Historical Writers' Association. This fine novel completely passed me by when it was published in 2016. Fortunately I came upon by sheer chance recently and have exchanged emails with the author. And I have a question for you. Do you remember the Vietnam war of the 1970s? Were you an anti-war protester? Did you wish you'd been to Woodstock? Were you a hippy or a wannabe hippie as I was? Weren't you glad that Harold Wilson refused to send British troops to fight like the Americans and Aussies?

And finally, in your opinion, can a novel set in the 70s a historical novel? Well I do and so does the author. This is what I will discuss in my article. Meanwhile, I would like you to read the novel. It's not just about Vietnam. It depicts British life in the sixties and seventies more accurately than I have read before. No mean feat.

Monday, February 13, 2017

I really will appraise up to 2,500 words of your fiction free until Feb 28th.

I am not joking. My plan is to set up a small fiction appraisal  business. I am dipping my toes in the water.

Perhaps I did not make clear that I have an email address, I have had to be discreet to avoid any spam. But please email me an attachment at sallyzigmonddotgmaildotcom. I will not read pornography or violence but otherwise am willing to read gay and lesbian fiction. I read romance and literary fiction and can appraise accordingly. I am fair but firm. I have been at the butt end of harsh and useless criticism myself. I will not do it to other writers.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I'm offering free appraisals for 2,500 words of fiction until March 1.

So, am I worth listening to? Firstly, scroll back and read yesterday's blog. 

Now read my whistle-stop CV and make your own mind up. 

Way back in the early 1970s, after graduating from London University with a BA in English Literature, a comprehensive old-fashioned feel for the subject but with little idea of what to do with it, I took a job in a large London bookshop which now 40 years of have passed and after many take-overs (Claude Gill, Dillon’s and now Waterstones.) 

I was then promoted to the position of hardbacks manager at one of their smaller store at the other end of Oxford Street, Because, I had just got married to Jon and a hefty mortgage, I needed a bigger salary. So I took civil service exams and because I had 'A' levels in French and Spanish I worked as a civilian for the Metropolitan Police at the recently vacated New Scotland Yard, mainly as a translator for Interpol. I also did some admin work there.

Two children later, we moved up to Harrogate and I became a full-time mother, chief cook and bottle washer. When the boys began school, I took a part-time work in Waterstones and renewed my love of book-selling.

More importantly, I also decided to go to a weekly adult class called ‘Writing for Pleasure and Profit.’ It opened my eyes. I learned so much, the first lesson being that writing articles for non-fiction magazines is reasonably easy if you pitch them well. My non-fiction started appearing in magazines as diverse as Practical Caravan, Essentials, The Automobile and The Yorkshire Journal. I soon grew bored with practicalities and switched to fiction. It took time for this to take off. After much trial and error, my commercial short stories appeared in Women’s Weekly, My Weekly, The Lady, The Peoples` Friend and Best but I soon found I found that I was leaning more towards writing ‘literary’ short fiction.

Fortunately it was boom time (before the internet) for small-press print fiction. I reaped the whirlwind and was lucky enough to win numerous short-story competitions. In 1999, I won the ‘story of the year’ prize awarded by World Wide Writers. In 2005, I was short-listed in the Asham Award and also won first prize in the International Biscuit Prize. (Journalist and novelist Jane Wenham-Jones then dubbed me ‘the veritable Queen of the Short Story.’)

In 2006, I won first prize in the annual Biscuit short-story competition which was cash (always welcome) and the offer to publish a novella. Biscuit Publishing then came to an end when its lovely owner, Brian Lister, retired. It was a wonderful Newcastle-based publisher of short stories, poetry and drama, drama. And so, Chasing Angels about the pioneering female mountaineer, Henriette D’Angeville, was published. The BookBag describes it as ‘a delight from start to finish.’ Its publication gave me the understanding that, although I still write contemporary fiction, historical fiction is where my heart is. This is probably because I need perspective to write fiction and the speed of contemporary life makes it impossible to see it.

During these halcyon days, I helped Jo Derrick who was finding publishing the wonderful QWF magazine single-handedly a little overwhelming. I temporarily was the initial reader of hundreds of submissions, the most promising of which I passed to Jo for her final decision. QWF was the only magazine at the time that offered a page long reason for rejection for free. I know exactly why most magazines do not. I wished I’d kept the rude letter I received! It’s not for the faint-hearted. Having said that, most recipients were appreciative. I have since got to know many writers who remember receiving one of my ‘encouraging’ rejections!

My Victorian novel Hope Against Hope was published in 2011. It was long-listed for the Romantic Novel of the Year the following year. Since then I have struggled to gain publication for a novel set in 1920s Leeds. I am proud of that novel and hope to publish it digitally after exhausting many avenues.

I have almost completed my WIP, a medieval novel set in a very small Yorkshire nuns' priory – provisional title: The Thorndale Miracle. It contains mystery, murder, a bloody battle and a touch of magic realism. I’m writing it for myself really. I am enjoying it but only the ensuing flood of rejections will give me any indication of its worth.  

Having been the overall UK Editor for the reviews magazine of the Historical Novel Society for many years, I now only write the occasional review, I am also a member of the RNA and the HWA. I read both commercial and literary fiction. Both have their merits and I never discriminate. Both have different requirements. 
 I don't bite. So what are you waiting for?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's amazing how 2 weeks in hospital have taught me so much (1)

I hope most of my loyal readers already know about my accident. If not if not, here's a very brief summary. I fell down the stairs and broke my left femur - to match a similar injury 8 years ago to my right thigh! There were complications so I was flat on my back and attached to everything for a week before I was able to stand up. So, that gave me loads of time to think especially during the long dark nights.

I've made the following resolutions.

To finally finish my WIP and go all out to get it published. I know I've said this before but I am really, really determined now. I even have got new ideas for it and because I was without paper or a laptop and tablet, everything was fizzing in my head. As a witty friend remarked. Must have been the result of all that morphine!

This is where it gets cheesy and I am in danger of turning into Pollyanna.

You see, the woman in the next bed to me has brittle bones due to life-long steroid use because of arthritis. She only snapped her tibia even when lying in her hospital bed after breaking her shoulder.  Although she could speak to her husband on her mobile, he refused to come in and see her because he has a 'thing' about hospitals. And yet I never saw her tearful or down-hearted. By the window lay a woman who was run over by a speeding taxi. At least he stopped and called an ambulance. He'd run over her pelvis and she'd been lying in bed for a month and was only just ready for physiotherapy And so and and so on...

Yes I am lucky. I'm home and reasonably mobile with one crutch. Which is why I am determined to take every opportunity that is offered to me, particularly with regard to the writing world. My days of attending writing conferences are over. I am not upset. The internet is here to rescue me. I am fired up to take on on-line novel-writing courses and work, work work. I have many good internet writing friends who support and encourage me when I'm in danger of feeling sorry for myself.

Some of you may know that I used to help my very good friend, Jo Derrick, when she became temporarily overwhelmed with submissions to her amazing QWF magazine. (And it was amazing.!) As a writer herself Jo became disillusioned with all those rejection slips that gave no reason for rejection at all. Yes, I know why most editors don't and that Jo she was making a rod for her own back! You should have read the abuse from rejected writers although most women were appreciative.

Having done so, I've realised how much love editing and appraising fiction. It is an amazing way to understand my own writing.  So I have opened the rest of February.to offer short appraisals of short stories of less than 2,500 words of any genre (except pornography or science fiction) or the first 2500 words of a novel for FREE! After March 1st 2017, I will ask for cheque payment. (I am not set up for any other way of being paid.) I will work out a fair fee and see where it goes from there.

Next post, I will write a short CV of my writing experience over the past 25 years. If you are prepared to give me a go, please email me at my name and surname with no dots then gmail dot.com. Please don't fill up my inbox with junk or nasty stuff or I will block you. Don't send me any over-long attachments or fail to respect my wishes and my time commitment. Enquire first and I look forward to receiving your emails. At first,  women writers only, please while I find my feet- literally as well!

Ready, Steady, Go!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I'm taking a Blog Break...

I'm stepping away from my Blog for a while. I'm not abandoning it; only wrapping it carefully in acid-free tissue paper for a while. I may start another or I may not. I'm not going anywhere. I am still around. You can catch me every so often on Facebook and Twitter (@sallyzigmond)

Friday, December 9, 2016

Pamela Frankau

I've been tidying up and rationalizing my bookshelves and cupboards (1970s-published Anglo Saxon text books , anyone?) plus all the books that are beginning to take over my breathing space. In the process I made some lovely re-discoveries.
PAMELA FRANKAU: 1908 - 1969

 I couldn't possibly get rid of my collection of books written by Pamela Frankau (click on the name to read her Wikipedia entry and fascinating reading it is too,) even though I haven't opened them for ten years or so. I put them back on a low easily-reachable shelf. You see, there are too many memories there.

All through the 1950s, my parents and I would make regularly visits to Lincoln Library and would each bring back a pile of books. I rarely looked at my Dad's weekly collection unless they had pictures of steam-trains (a love of which I inherited from him.) But my mum's pile was different. I used to see many authors that are rarely seen today even in second-hand book-shops. Jean Plaidy gave me a basic grounding in English history - far more compelling that Miss Fauld's tedious lessons. It was her books (the eye-opening revelation that history is more about people than facts) that slowly made me turn to writing historical fiction.

When it came to women's fiction - excellent and not trashy women's fiction, I might add - I discovered Pamela Frankau. I read as many as my mother and I could lay our hands on until there were no more. I later collected quite a few second-hand copies in the days before on-line book-selling  became commonplace. I am surprised to see that she is not even popular enough nowadays for someone to reproduce them in digital downloadable form.

 But I still have my collection of old books (including one or two from my beloved collection of those wonderful dark green Virago Classics.

I now plan to re-read my Pamela Frankau collection of books. Among the novels there's this volume - Pen to Paper (A Novelist's Notebook) published in 1961 when I was only ten years old. Of course, I was too young at the time to read it. Now I write, I am glad I rediscovered it. (Don't you find that forgotten books reappear in your life just when you are ready to read them - or is it only me?) When I turned to the first page the other day, I knew I was about to meet a 'kindred spirit' as Anne Shirley would say.

Here's the first line of the first chapter -

"It comes without warning. I have been watching for it, searching back among old files in my memory: the only files I keep. Here are to be found I have wanted to write and have not yet written. I say "to be found". Not always; not all them them. The files are haphazardly maintained. It is only when the rhythmic creative restlessness comes back that I turn them over to see what I've got there. My thriller with the pretty title. The novel that runs through one day only...The light comedy about The Wonderful Old Lady who was really a stinker...? "

I love this. Her style is so simple; not tricksy or clever-clever but it speaks true to my way of thinking. I particularly like the fact that she keeps everything in her head (like me) and doesn't keep banging on about keeping a notebook handy. (The only one I kept before it disappeared and then reappeared five years later when I flicked through it and found it stuffed full of unreadable, incoherent unusable rubbish and I couldn't see why I'd wasted my time. Yet this is so often mentioned in writing-guides.

Pamela Frankau may well appear on this blog again in the future as I reread her books. So does anyone else remember her novels that were so popular in the fifties and sixties?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wordsworth by Jane Riddell

I only very rarely review books on my blog just because a publisher or an author has asked me to do so, even if I am sent a free copy. So I was a little dubious when I received an email out of the blue from Jane Riddell asking me whether I would be interested in her e-book on editing for fiction writers: Wordsworth

Now, as some of you may know, I'm making a slow job at the moment of editing my novel in progress in my quest for an agent and eventual publisher. Basically, I am procrastinating because I'm scared of total failure. You probably think I will never progress further than my frequent promises here which are mainly gee-ups to myself.

As I was intrigued, I agreed and Jane emailed me a a copy. I first gave Wordsworth a quick read and then immediately went back to the beginning and read it carefully, nodding as I went because it was exactly the guide I needed. I do try to be an organised writer - in fact, those who know me tell me I am. (I wish!) It's true I can't work at anything in a mess. I like a tidy desk when I'm writing, a tidy work surface if I am cooking and so on. Yet, however much I try to be organised when editing my fiction on screen I still end up with scraps of paper with my own incomprehensible  hieroglyphics scribbled all over them spread across my desk and over the floor with all the dust and fluff. And can I find a pen when I want one?

Wordsworth's introduction explains it all really.  "This slim volume has everything a fiction writer needs to edit their work in progress. As the introduction sets its aims clearly: "This guide is not a substitute for the myriad books about how to write. It therefore doesn't give detailed explanations about how each of the aspects it covers. Rather, it provides a brief explanation of each one, a rationale for why it is important and where appropriate, gives examples."

Incidentally, in the helpful bibliography. I was pleased to read Jane includes my all-time favourite guide to self-editing. I refer to it constantly (and smile) as I recommend to other writers: Self Editing for Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. 

Wordsworth is the perfect guide for me. I have reduced all my books about writing to about six of those I refer to again and again. I know the theory of editing but really need to apply it systemically without getting in a muddle; which is why I welcome it. Jane Riddell is not didactic. This clear and concise guise shows you how to organise your own editing process into a manageable proportions. She is a fiction writer and knows what she's talking about.  My only quibble is that the one I have is an e-book and am unable to find it in paperback. I am rather old-fashioned when it comes to digital technology and cope better with paper and ink. I would love to use Wordsworth as a workbook and scribble in the margin and add my own blank pages for the tick-lists specifically geared to my novel in progress, like Jane suggests.

I have waffled on enough and am in danger of padding my post with much more of the dreaded superfluous verbiage. Edit. Edit, Edit.

So thank you, Jane and now, without further ado, I'm off to practice what I preach.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Sunny November Morning


Coming down the hill at the end of my autumn’s walk
I see a distant field grey with frosted stubble, wreathed in mist
Or is it smoke from the fading heather fires?
Leaning on the gate, I disturb a family of pheasants, hiding in the fallen leaves
Bang, bang, their beating wings are shots across the battle field,
Then, silence as the village church clock strikes eleven
On the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Across a pall of orange, gold and fading green, more leaves flurry and
Fall across the gravestones.

Rest in peace.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Remember, Remember...

Having just 'endured' the Americanised, commercial hype that is 21st century is Halloween, I am now taking you back down memory lane to when I was a child. Back in the 1950s, we, of course knew all about All Hallow's Eve. Woe betide us if we ever chose to spend the night in a church graveyard where, at the stroke of midnight, the ghosts of those interred would rise up, wailing and screaming and torment us. Only, I and my friends were good little children and, after having our bedtime warm milk and malted milk biscuits, brushed our teeth and were tucked up in bed. 

And if we stayed awake in our Winceyette pyjamas, plotting and planning, it would be about collecting firewood for the bonfire now being built or finding old socks to stuff sacks for our guys and purloining our dads' gardening clothes - if they'd let us! 

I have nothing against the jolly events that turn fear into fun but, as a historical novelist, I do hope we should never forget our past. However, I do also believe we should never retain old hatreds but look forward to a more tolerant future. You see, I am worried that The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 must still be taught in schools. 

Turning now to my own history, here's what Guy Fawke's Night meant to me as a child in the 1950s. This photo does not depict me or my friends at all  but it might as well be because of the happy memories it evokes.

Note the two guys in front of the massive bonfire of which the children were justifiably proud. Looking back to my Bonfire Night, I suspect the local dads did most of the bonfire-building on the nearby waste ground, over which a block of flats was later built. Before then, the community dads would buy most of the fireworks between them to which our pennies contributed a little; they took it in turns to light them safely using the firework code which was drilled into all of us by the policemen who visited the schools. The fathers would also hand out lit sparklers to us children, making sure we were all wearing thick gloves. Meanwhile, the mums would spend the previous week baking traditional Yorkshire Parkin, gingerbread and toffee. On the day burnt sausages were handed out and foil-wrapped potatoes were pushed into the bottom of the bonfire  They would also regularly dish out crisps and glasses of Tizer. (No doubt, they filled their own glasses with sweet sherry and whisky for their husbands. More likely  it was Thermos flasks of tea.) Yes, life were very much gender-divided in those days. 

When the fireworks had all been ooed and aahed at and we children had been hurried home to bed, the bonfire was always doused with water. I never remember any serious accidents. I don't doubt there were a few superficial burns and grazed knees and elbows, but the mums were always on hand with a first aid box.

Why has November The Fifth been overtaken so much by Halloween.? I have a few theories. Firstly, it is a very British event and nothing to do with America which because of its size and influence has taken over our culture. In addition, children pestering adults to give them money is basically begging, whereas handing out sweets voluntarily is far more acceptable - even if somehow it smacks of bribery. 

That said, I always refuse to open the door after dark even to children I do not know or if their parents have not told me in advance. I used to have to explain the "Trick or Treat" phenomenon to my mother and my father when he was still alive because they were frightened and confused whenever the doorbell rang after dark. They were obliging people and so left their warm fireside several times in order to open the door to children they didn't recognise in what they saw as hideous masks. Some were very rude because they too had not grasped the American-style fun and that it is their equivalent of Bonfire Night and for the community.

Secondly, in these days of Health and Safety and a stretched Emergency Services, fireworks are both highly dangerous and can encourage law-breaking. It is also increasingly expensive.  No longer do we tolerate cheap bangers and Catherine Wheels. (And, with reference again to history how many people know what the original Catherine's Wheel was? Here's what trusty Wikipedia says about Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

So, the nostalgic glory days of November the Fifth and Bonfire Night have, in the 21st century, been merged with transatlantic Halloween and has now been enthusiastically embraced by British TV. We are, now a multicultural society. (I have not even mentioned Diwali.) 

You see, we humans have always celebrated light in times of darkness. Perhaps, in the future, that's what the this time of year when the clocks go back, we will still all have fun together, whether we be Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Pagan. We're all human . Let us enjoy light, but NEVER FORGET our histories and cultures.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

As some of you may know, my trusty old steam-powered PC had a major problem two weeks ago. Was it only two weeks? It seemed like forever. Anyway, it's fixed now and works faster and much better than ever and I've lost nothing. Don't ask me what was wrong because I didn't understand a word of the explanation from the lovely young lad who sorted it out for me.  All I know is that it's fine but have so much to catch up with. Nevertheless, I hope to update this blog at least once a week.

As a result of this enforced absence from writing my novel (which actually began in September when I was in the Pyrenees)  has given me plenty of thinking time. And my decision is: I am totally rewriting it. When I say 'totally' don't be too alarmed.  I don't mean, it's being deleted. No way. The words and paragraphs, the characters and the main plot will remain. It merely needs restructuring so that it will end up with more sense and more purpose. I had planned to set it in a recognisable area of England but found that completely straight-jacketed it. There was too much real history and not enough fiction. That doesn't mean it will be fantasy at all but it will have more freedom to use history to tell a story. Novelists and short-story writers deal in story-telling.

The moral of this tale is that it's never a mistake to leave a novel in progress without looking at it. Stand away for as long as you can. It'll be all the better for it. I've been told that many times but couldn't actually do it. Necessity is the mother of...and all that jazz.