Tuesday 9 December 2014

Little Guide To Unhip - the Christmas Entry!

I don't usually plug my own book(s) but as I've got an updated paperback version of Little Guide To Unhip out, I thought I'd give a little festive taster.

"Once you hit twelve, Christmas loses the magic and gloss it had when you were a nipper: the thrill of a lumpy stocking on the landing, the prodding and guessing of its contents in the dark, the presents under the tree you decorated on Christmas Eve while the carols were playing, the crackers and mirth over turkey and Christmas pudd, the party games in the afternoon with granny and grandpa, Auntie Nellie et al. 

You watch your cool school contemporaries who've grown out of it. Christmas is for kids, they sneer, and the message seeps through your semi-permeable membrane, which you've been hearing so much about in biology. Before long, you daren't own up to the soft spot you still harbour for all that festive glow unless it relates in some way to your romantic life. ‘He asked me out on Christmas Day,’ you swoon to your friends, immediately sensing a new use for Christmas.

But as a rule, the more hip you are, the less you're into Christmas. You detest all the commercialism, the spend-spend-spend, don't you?  All that, What-should-I-buy-for-Auntie-Marj-and-Uncle-Tom-Cobley nonsense? Who was the DJ who used to say boot Christmas back into December? That's you, isn't it? You'd like to boot it out of the year altogether, given half the chance. Failing that, you'd love to go on that holiday or retreat until it's all over. You admire the way your friends come right out and say they don't do Christmas cards or presents. You like the idea of opening cards from Oxfam where a goat has been bought in your name for a family in Africa, or a pile of books, or a hundred school dinners. 

Only the people with kids can get away with a second childhood where Crimbo is concerned. ‘I enjoy seeing little Johnny's face when he's opening his pressies,’ is their excuse. Yeah right, you say if you're inclined in the hip direction. ‘I believe you, thousands wouldn't,’ is what you say if you're in any way challenged in the hip department.

The silly season is just what is says on the sweet tin, isn't it? Silly, uncouth and uncool. All that blowing of feather-ticklers, all that snogging under the mistletoe. Not to mention those ridiculous jumpers with reindeers on them, hand-knitted by some well-meaning relative with too much time on her hands. 

No, the winter solstice is where it's at: the marking of the shortest day of the year with the odd candle or two before the Sun's rebirth (as distinct from the Son's birth); the exchange of home-made cards where the C word has been omitted and replaced with Solstice or Yule. ‘I don't celebrate Christmas,’ your Pagan friends say, and you agree with them in principle, envying the way they shrug it off so effortlessly. The midwinter festival is Pagan anyway, you know that, the Christians just gatecrashed it. What have Christmas trees got to do with the baby Jesus anyhow? 

Reconciled, you can at last enjoy Christmas with a semi-clear conscience. If this is you, you'll look forward to Christmas with a vengeance. Bring on the Christmas tree lights, the tinsel, the carols, the cribs, Slade, the giving and getting of presents, the mince pies, the old films, the silly party games, the whole caboodle. And you'll feel as saggy as the decorations and as deflated as the balloons by the twenty-seventh...."

Merry festivities everyone!

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Kat Ward - A Courageous Woman, a True Survivor and a Very Talented Writer

I recently finished the first part of Kat Ward's harrowing autobiography: 'Keri - The Early Years'.

For those of you who aren't aware Kat Ward is the courageous woman who initiated the disclosure of the Jimmy Savile child sex abuse scandal after appearing on a TV documentary with others about the incidents.

Beginning with her earliest upsetting memories at the age of three, Keri is severely abused both physically and psychologically by a mother who never wanted her and who told her she was wicked. From the outset, we are there with the vulnerable little child as she is subjected to a catalogue of horrific abuse, simply for being sick, wetting herself or having a fear of water. Keri's situation worsens when her mother moves in with 'that man' Terry (later to become her stepfather) who is soon inflicting punishment on her and treating her in the same brutal and abusive way as her mother. Physical abuse soon turns to sexual abuse when Keri is not yet five years old.

However, there are positive people in Keri's life, especially her Nana, who teaches her to read and allows her free rein to be creative. Nana is kind and loving and Keri is heartbroken whenever she has to return home to her mother's and stepfather's. In a way, Keri would have had a very different childhood if she'd been allowed to live with her Nana and we can't help wishing that it had been so. We feel Keri's heartbreak every time she has to leave Nana to return to her family home where her only refuge is the company of the family pets: the dog, the cats - and Lambie - the lamb knitted for her by her Nana, always close at hand to give her comfort during the most gruesome of times.

Click here for link to paperback

At primary school things are not much better for Keri, where she is bullied for being different - she has bad eczema - and when she does make a friend her mother soon puts a stop to it. In fact, like all bullies and manipulators, her mother needs to keep Keri as unpopular and friendless as possible to maintain her power over her. Once again, when Keri has a new baby brother, the difference in the way he is treated, compared to the way she is treated, is stark. Not only this, but Keri is scapegoated by her mother and stepfather so that her brother grows up believing that Keri is treated differently and punished because she is 'bad' rather than because their parents are abusive. This is another way in which the appalling abuse is maintained because Keri is portrayed as 'the liar' and 'the aggressive baddie' rather than her mother. Time and again, it is her mother who is believed and not Keri. It is the same when Keri confides to a teacher and is referred to Child Guidance. By this time, Keri has already been branded 'a bad child' and 'a problem child' - her own wayward temperament seen as the cause of the problem and her 'poor parents' as the 'victims' rather than vice versa. Thus Keri is the one who's accused of attacking her younger brother, the one who 'screams insults' at her 'poor mother' and the one accused of making 'inappropriate sexual advances' to her stepfather when in reality she is being raped by him and subjected to all manner of abuse.

All Keri wanted was to be believed but she was badly let down by the system and the prevailing and appalling attitudes of the day, for example, by the terribly patronising Child Psychiatrist. It was easier for the professionals to believe that Keri must be lying and bad, rather than accept the reality of her situation. Of course, the manipulation of the authorities by her mother did nothing to help Keri.

For younger people who may be shocked and stunned by such attitudes, in the 1960s and 70s when Keri was growing up, children were routinely slapped, spanked, slippered at home and school, and boys were also caned in the classroom (maybe some girls too). But Keri was subjected to punishment far beyond even what was considered 'acceptable' or 'appropriate' at the time. Regarding the horrific sexual abuse Keri suffered, this was also a time when this just wasn't talked about: there was no ChildLine, and rape and child abuse hadn't been widely exposed for the atrocities they are.

However, although the appalling catalogue of violence and abuse can sometimes seem relentless, the book is powerfully written and acutely observed and the autobiography is interspersed with many more positive or hopeful interludes, for instance Keri's time at boarding school. We see a strong, resilient spirit that refuses to be broken, a feisty temperament that refuses to be cowed. Encouraged by her Nana and later some of the nuns, teachers and friends at the Catholic boarding school she attends when a little older, her love of learning and her questioning nature is fostered and she starts to blossom. At boarding school, away from her family, she gets a different perspective on the world and the family dynamics start to change when she returns home in the holidays, particularly her relationship with her brother, and without Keri to scapegoat, her mother and stepfather turn on each other until their relationship deteriorates. Observing their relationship through Keri's eyes we start to see her mother as a pathetic, weak figure, and very rarely we get glimpses of a woman who is almost human, for instance when she shows solidarity with Keri over her spider phobia.

As Keri reaches adolescence she reaches out and makes some trusted and supportive relationships in the new neighbourhood, and we start to feel the tide turning.

It is impossible not to root for Keri. On finishing this first part, I immediately wanted to read what happens next in Keri's extraordinary life, especially as part two is called: Keri: Fighting Back'. On my to-be-read list for sure.

                                  The next paperback in the series

                                   The next paperback in the series

Both volumes of Keri are sold together as one book on Kindle and called 'Keri'

Not only is Kat Ward a survivor if child sexual abuse, she's also a survivor of aggressive bowel cancer.

You can read about it in her book: 'A Life On The Toilet' in which she gives an insightful and good-
humoured account of her struggle with bowel cancer.
                                  Click on here for the Kindle version


Kat is currently working on the next book in the Keri series.

Away from the laptop, she enjoys tending to her garden (health permitting) and showering 

affection on her 7 "adorable" cats. 

Friday 3 October 2014

Best Served Frozen - the wonders of Gerald Hansen!

I met some very talented writers whilst on the writing site Authonomy and one of those it's been a privilege to get to know is Gerald Hansen. 

His latest offering is 'Best Served Frozen'  and I think it's his best yet! I mean, they're all all pretty sensational but this reached new heights (or lows!) depending on your perspective.

I've read all of Gerald Hansen's books and they just keep getting better and better! This one has to be the icing on the cake and you will see the significance of that remark when you read it! You better batten down the hatches because Fionnuala Flood is back in town. This time, Dymphna Flood is set to tie the knot with Proddy boyfriend, Rory, father to one of her children but not the second child or even the one on the way (possibly). Aunt Ursula, Fionnuala's exiled sister-in-law is on the guest list and we know this will spell trouble. 

Hansen's larger than life characters always have me in stitches with their fresh and gritty Derry wit. If they're not tripping down steps, they're standing on abandoned toilet seats or otherwise getting clonked at some inopportune moment. Hansen's timing for comedy is spot on and there's not many who get it down to such a fine art. His characters are often getting their wires crossed which adds to the tragi-comedy. I've said it before but it's always worth a another mention - Hansen is a master of plot and no scene goes to waste. As if all this wasn't enough, the author still manages to make every sentence fresh and full of literary gems. Here is one example: 'her body was like an ageing sofa you'd want to dump on a skip, shapeless and uncomfortable, with lumpy bits...' This isn't an isolated example either. The book is full of such startling treats. I learned about Irish Alzheimers' which is 'they forget everything but a grudge'! Then there are the usual wacky and wonderful names such as Top-Yer-Trolly (an old friend), Pence-A-Day and Eat-So-Yum. Hansen knows how to poke fun and revels in it. So sit back, enjoy the ride and hilarity and the nail-biting climax. You won't be disappointed.

Other books in the series:

An Embarrassment Of Riches
(Semi-Finalist in ABNA 2010)

Hand In The Till

Fleeing The Jurisdiction

You can find out more about Gerald's books and where to buy them from:

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Awesome Indies Quality Site

I decided to write this blog as part of a drive to raise awareness about the Awesome Indies website dedicated to quality in self-publishing. There are always discussions about the quality of indie books and without a gatekeeper it is inevitable that some substandard books will slip through thereby lowering the name of indie books in general. There is a big demand for sites such as Awesome Indies in the new publishing environment. 

The idea of the Awesome Indies site is to promote independently published books that meet the same standards as mainstream books and provide a place where readers can browse for books assured of their quality (as determined by editors and authors against a clear set of criteria). The Awesome Indies team hope to raise the opinion of such books in the general readers' perception and to encourage and support self-publishing authors striving for excellence. The site ethos is one that strives for comprehensive, objective, editorial reviews and abide by a strong set of ethics, such as complete honesty in their reviews and no favours for friends.

Below is an Awesome Indies Badge for approved authors to use on their websites:

They also have similar badges for your website and the much coveted 'Seal Of Excellence' Badges.

The idea for such a site was the brainchild of Tahlia Newland at the end of 2012. Says Tahlia, 'It started out as a WordPress blog. I was so sick of reading substandard books that I also wanted recommendations from people who knew the difference.'  This is when she came up with the idea of authors submitting 4 or 5 star reviews and approving such reviews by trusted reviewers in a similar way to industry professionals. Tahlia contacted approved reviewers and asked them to check submitted books against criteria before accepting the book.  However, after a while, Tahlia found that even this system wasn't rigorous enough so she decided to have a clean slate and only approve those books that she personally knew and trusted.  Authors were asked to resubmit their books with three approved reviews or to submit their book to the AI Team for review.  Another valuable team member joined - Brain Sfinas and the new look site was launched. The Awesome Indies initiative has raised issues particularly in those whose books that don't meet their criteria, but they have discovered that though some Self Published authors do not want genuine critical appraisal, there are many out there desperate for it, and the site seems to be getting a name for giving it because there's a big demand for such reviewing services.  They began to offer more to authors than  a simple review and as a result they have expanded their author services to meet authors' needs. 'Our reviews rapidly became the most comprehensive and editorial in nature of all the review sites and authors began to really value that level of feedback,' explains Tahlia. 'Brian pointed out that we were providing a valuable service and that some authors would be happy for us to pay to give their review some kind of priority. This came at a time for me when it was either this beast had to start paying me at least somthing for the huge amount of time I put into it, or i'd have to shut up shop and get a job, so I agreed to charge for priority reviews so long as there was always a free review option as well. The One Stop Submission is very popular. A lot of authors request this service as soon as they publish a new book and before they publicise it, knowing that after we have pointed out any issues and they have fixed them, their book will be top quality. The editorial services are just getting going with our first major edit and a couple of proofreads and mss appraisals.'

Awesome Indies is about to enter another phase, beginning with a revamp of the site including a simplified menu and a new design, and new ways to attract the discerning reader.

My other reason for writing this blog is that I also wanted to put something back. I have had two of my books (so far) awarded an Awesome Indies badge of approval at no cost to myself.  I agree that you should always have a free option alongside the paid priority options, even if you have to wait a bit longer. Having said that, I would gladly support the site with donations as I think what they're doing is unique and very worthwhile. 

One of my books 'Fall Of The Flamingo Circus' with Awesome Indies with approved badge to show this book has been placed on their list of independent quality fiction.

Thank you to Tahlia Newland for the background information to the site.

For more information about Tahlia Newland and her books please visit:


More information about Awesome Indies books and the site please visit: