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!


As you've probably realised, my blog has been dormant for far too long - well, it's been a long winter.  Although this blog has b...