Friday, March 24, 2017

Chatting with Publishers: Clare Hey

We are delighted to welcome Clare Hey to this month’s Chatting with Publishers series.

You join us less than three months into your new role as Publishing Director with Orion. With your feet now firmly under the desk, can you tell us something of your journey to your current position?
I started my career at HarperCollins about fifteen years ago, with a job as the secretary in the Art Department. I couldn’t afford to work for free as an intern and so this was the perfect entry position. I learned a lot about how covers are designed, and what makes a good brief. I then moved over to Editorial, starting as an assistant and working my way up. I left HC after eight years, had a stint working as a freelance editor and then went to Simon & Schuster where I stayed for five years.

You spent several years with publishers you’ve previously worked for. What motivated you to move to Orion?
I was very happy in my role at S&S and had a great list of brilliant authors so it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But the opportunity Orion was offering was too good to pass up. It’s an exciting time at Orion at the moment, with lots of great new people joining, and having the chance to run the women’s fiction and reading group fiction list at a publishing house with such an amazing list was the thing that tempted me.  

In the past you have worked with many outstanding writers. Have you inherited a new list of authors at Orion or will you be building your own? Or a combination of the two?
It’s a mix of the two. There are already some amazing authors on the Orion list and my role is to oversee the publishing of those authors, with their editors, to make sure they are reaching as wide an audience as they can. But I’m also tasked with bringing great new writers to the list – a mix of debuts and more established voices – to complement the authors already at Orion. Our aim at Orion Fiction is to be the home of the best fiction around, a place where readers will find something that will suit everyone, and it’s my job, along with the other editors at Orion Fiction, to make that happen. 

What advice can you give writers who are ambitious to work with you?
For me the story comes first so hone your text as best you can before you submit. I am looking for great storytelling, a strong hook and a brilliant voice. I want to reach a broad audience with the books I publish and am interested in stories that will resonate widely and will speak to people across the country. Also, when submitting, it goes without saying but be professional and polite – people always want to work with someone they can get on with.

We notice you have been particularly interested in women’s fiction and historical fiction. Will you continue working in these genres and are there others you would like to pursue?
Yes, I will indeed. I love these genres and love publishing in these areas. I’ll also be doing reading group fiction and commercial/literary crossover fiction. It gives me great pleasure publishing books that people can escape into – something that’s necessary in this day and age, I feel!

As readers we believe in magic and we would all like to own a crystal ball. Do you have any advice to us as writers as to where we might concentrate our efforts? What are you looking for at the moment?
I’d love to find a big sweeping love story – something with a big canvas and ambitious storytelling. A Chocolat for the twenty-first century would be amazing, or something that feels fresh and new in the way The Time Traveler’s Wife did. I can’t predict the future either and I love to be surprised. But my advice remains the same always: write the book you want to want, one you want to read. Don’t write just for the market.

We would love to know a little bit about the person behind the name, Clare. Do you have any particular hobbies and how do you find time to follow them?
Well, it won’t surprise you to know that I love reading…! But when I’m not reading I enjoy going to music festivals and gigs (I’ve been going to Glastonbury since I was sixteen and still go even though I am substantially older now…). I also love getting out in the fresh air – long walks and cycle rides in the country (via a pub, of course). All very predictable, I’m afraid.

If you hadn’t established a career in the publishing industry, what else if anything would you like to have done?
I have a couple of fall-back career options: I would probably be a kitchen-fitter (I’ve fitted several kitchens myself over the years) or (bear with me…) I would love to be an estate agent. I love nosing around people’s houses and I actually enjoy negotiating so it feels like the obvious fit!

Is there one single ambition you would love to fulfil?
I want to publish that book that everyone has either read or heard about. Often we editors are guilty of thinking that books that have been successful have entered the popular consciousness but when you ask the man (or woman) down the pub they have rarely heard of them. I want to publish a Girl on the Train or a Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – a book that everyone knows. That’s not such a big ask, is it…?!

May your wish come true! Thank you for joining us today, Clare.

Natalie Kleinman writes contemporary and historical romantic novels and has thrown a bit of a mystery into the mix in her recently completed Regency. She is now working on a new contemporary. Her next novel, with Harper Collins HQ Digital, is due for publication at the end of June. You can follow her blog at

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Bloggers and Reviewers: Anne Cater - Random Things Through My letterbox

We are delighted present another in our popular series Book Bloggers and Reviewers by Ellie Holmes where we speak to book bloggers and get an insight into their world.. This month we welcome Anne Cater to the blog.

Welcome Anne, tell us a little bit about yourself and your wonderfully named blog – Random Things Through My Letterbox.

I was brought up in Nottinghamshire, not far from Sherwood Forest and moved over the border to Lincolnshire over twenty years ago.
I’m 50 and I live in a small market town with my husband and our two cats; Costa and Nero. I’ve worked full time for charities and the voluntary sector for many years and took a short break over the summer of 2016. In October I started work as a Support Administrator at our local Hospice.
I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I don’t remember not being able to read, and can’t even begin to think about not being able to read.

What made you start to review/blog?
I started to write a few words down about the books that I was enjoying around 10 years ago. In the
days before Facebook and Twitter, I was part of an online forum whose members talked about books.   I found that I enjoyed these online discussions very much, and started to write longer reviews that I posted on Amazon.
I also began to write reviews for New Books Magazine and the Waterstone’s magazine that was available instore and to subscribers.  Publishers and authors began to contact me and asked if I would review their books.
I’ve always loved receiving things through the post, and as more and more books arrived, I thought it would be a great idea for a Blog.  I was also inspired by a guy called Ian Carpenter who wrote a book and blog called Guardianwork – I loved that online diary idea, so I thought I’d give it a go, and Random Things Through My Letterbox was born.

Has you blog ever been nominated for any awards?
Until last year, I didn’t even realise that such things as Blog Awards existed!
Last year I was nominated for an Award at the Annual Blogger’s Bash.
This year I’m really excited and thrilled to be a finalist in the UK Blog Awards, I’m in the Arts and Culture category alongside some amazing bloggers.
The awards ceremony is being held at the end of April in London and I’m really excited about it.

Do you have a review policy?
I do, it’s clearly visible on my blog, it has its own page and a little tab at the top of the home page.
However, I have realised that many many people do not read it before contacting me! Review policy
What’s the best and worst thing about running a blog?
The best thing has to be the books!  Without the books, there would be no blog, plain and simple!
Books arriving on an almost daily basis is still a thrill, even after six years. The sense of community within the blogging world is amazing, and I’ve met some great people and made some friends who make me laugh and who let me cry!
Funnily enough, one of the worst things is also the books!  Not the writing, but the choice …. Trying to prioritise according to publication date, or blog tour schedule when really I want to rip open the packets and just read the book now!
Another thing I don’t like is the ever increasing ‘blogger bashing’ that seems to be happening. Some people make huge assumptions about bloggers, and rather than try to find out the facts, they’ll state totally untrue and unfair comments on Social Media – not views, or opinions … things that they think are fact.  How many times do we have to shout this?  BLOGGERS DO NOT GET PAID FOR REVIEWS! 
I also get really frustrated by the lack of Twitter etiquette from some people, but that’s a whole new blog post!

Do you meet up with other bloggers and reviewers?
I do, often!   There are some fellow bloggers who were my friends ‘before the blog’, including Anne Williams, Leah Moyse  and Karen Cocking – we’ve known each for around ten years, we met in an online book forum and have kept in touch.  Anne and I try to meet up every few months or so as we live just an hour apart and I catch up with the others at book events throughout the year.
There are regular meet ups, around the country, arranged by bloggers such as Kim Nash, but I’ve not managed to get to one of those yet.
Bloggers tend to be a friendly bunch, you’ll usually find a few of us at most book events.
I’m also really fortunate to know a few of the Books Editors for the glossy magazines too and see them.  One of my very dearest friends, Nina Pottell, recently took over as Book Editor for Prima Magazine, I also love catching up with Fanny Blake from Woman and Home and Isabelle Broome from Heat, although both of them are very successful authors as well as wonderful reviewers.

Tell us a little bit about Book Connectors on Facebook
Book Connectors is a closed group on Facebook and membership is open to bloggers and/or authors only, and currently has just over 1500 members.
I created Book Connectors in July 2015, primarily as a means of connecting authors and bloggers.  I’d been a member of various Facebook groups and became so frustrated with the long lists of rules that each group seemed to have, especially around self-promotion,
I wondered just how an author was supposed to find bloggers and reviewers, or how a blogger could shout about the books or let an author know that they were open for reviews or features without getting ticked off by Admin members or completely banned.
There’s only one real rule in Book Connectors and that is to ‘be nice to each other’. We do encourage new members to introduce themselves, but we don’t ban self-promotion at all, and there have been some amazing connections made. Authors have arranged blog tours, bloggers have created new features and friendships have been made.  We talk about everything in Book Connectors; new book fads, cover designs, self-publishing, plot ideas  …. there’s very little that we haven’t discussed at some point.
There are another three Admin members, but to be honest, administrating and moderating the group is not a big job at all. Members are polite and considerate, and I can only remember a couple of occasions when there has been differences of opinion that have led to unpleasantness.  On the whole, we are a respectful bunch, and although we may have differing views, we discuss them in a positive way.
The main job is deleting the requests to join from people who are not authors, or bloggers, or anything to do with the book world! Book Connectors

Freelance PR and Admin
For the past twenty years or so I have worked for various charities, I’m a Community Development Worker, trained Volunteer Manager and Funding Advisor and left the NHS to work on projects ranging from teaching Young Offenders basic literacy and numeracy skills to re-developing ex RAF camps into sustainable communities.
I’ve also been a part-time Parish Clerk for fourteen years.
Times have changed for the voluntary sector, funding cuts have been deep and damaging and it has become harder and harder to secure any monies to deliver the extra services that charities and community organisations do so well.
For many reasons, last May I gave up work and took a break over the summer. It was scary, and the first time that I hadn’t been in full-time employment since I left school in the 1980s.  I started a part time job at our local Hospice as an Administrator, in October, and I love it.
Whilst I was off work, I started to talk to a couple of smaller publishers; Orenda Books and No Exit Press. I’ve supported these two publishers for a long time, and they’ve always been great contributors to Random Things too.
Orenda Books took a chance on me, and I’ve been working for them on a freelance basis for a few months now.  I do lots of fiddly admin stuff with spreadsheets and databases, all to do with IPR rights. It’s complicated, but I’ve learned so much.  Orenda founder and book magician Karen Sullivan then asked me to help to organise some blog tours for her.  My first tour was Sealskin by Su Bristow and has been an outstanding success. I’ve enjoyed it so much.
On the back of that, I approached No Exit Press and met with them earlier in the year. I’m now working with them on Blog Tours too and the Desperation Road tour has just finished, and was another great success.
I’m so grateful that both Orenda and No Exit took a chance on me.  I enjoy this so much, and love working with bloggers, publishers and authors.

When I’m not reading or blogging, I like to spend time with my husband and best mate Martin.  We
enjoy music, cinema and theatre and seem to spend a lot of time eating out, be it afternoon tea or fine dining, or a good burger! I’m a very very good shopper too!  Boots, dresses, bags, candles, make up and stationery are my weaknesses.

J Clearly a woman after our own heart, Anne. Thank you so much for being such an interesting guest. We are in awe at all the various plates you are spinning and the best of luck with the UK Blog Awards next month.


Twitter @annecater

Monday, March 20, 2017

Elizabeth Bailey: Learning to Edit for Yourself

Today we welcome Elizabeth Bailey who discusses what she’s learned about editing.

While editing for others, I’ve learned a great deal about editing for myself. At one point I realised
how easy it was to use clich├ęs instead of trying for a different way to say things. I found out how I drop out of POV without noticing; how I’ve allowed the momentum to drop by getting self-indulgent or chucking in unnecessary paragraphs of introspection which are holding up the story.

I have always been conscious of overkill with emphases and deplore my early texts spattered with italics and exclamation marks. Thank goodness I got the rights back to them and was able to edit all that out before self-publishing anew. I remember being told by my editor that a heroine was two-dimensional. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but now I do. The character wasn’t fully rounded. I’ve been able to sort her out as well.

Having begun in theatre, I’ve never had trouble creating dialogue. But I have to watch to make sure it serves a purpose in the story and isn’t just an exercise in impressive stage fluency. Oh, and because I’m writing historically, often the characters tend to sound the same and I have to remember to inject speech differences.

It took me some time to learn how to refrain from intruding as the author. So tempting to tell the reader about the characters, instead of weaving characterisation into the narrative structure.

But I didn’t know all this when I started. I learned some of it just by writing. Having taught drama and learned a great deal about my own craft in so doing, I found exactly the same phenomenon popping up when I began to assess and critique. The learning curve became, in a way, my self-teaching curve. When I came to put it all together in a book about editing, I discovered exactly how much I had learned from helping other writers.

What’s Wrong with your Novel? And How to Fix it” does not set out to be a writing manual. Rather it is based on what I found to be the most common problems arising to stop a novel from getting the attention it deserved from potential publishers. Mostly it’s got nothing to do with story. It’s almost always about how the story is knitted together.

PTQ – Page Turning Quality – is the name of the game these days. Ask an editor or agent what they are looking for and they will tell you they’ll know it when they see it. They may mention genres in particular, but really all they want is a story that grabs them from the first sentence and doesn’t let go. The books that set new genres are exactly that. Stories the editor just couldn’t put down.

And that’s really all this book is trying to help with. What’s getting in the way of the reader reading on? What’s stopping them becoming so involved they can’t help reading just one more chapter before they put the book down and go to sleep? Why are they tempted to give up and just flick through a few more pages to see if it pulls them in again? Why, in a word, has the story lost them?

Losing the reader is really easy. Holding them to the page is the skill. That, to my mind, is the where the writing craft comes into its own. I don’t care what genre it is, literary or commercial fiction. If the reader starts skipping paragraphs looking for the next interesting bit, you’ve had it.

Fortunately, one can learn what to do and what not to do. It comes with experience, and with being edited by others (also a helpful learning tool). But there are short cuts to learning the tricks of editing your own work, and that’s what I’ve tried to set out in the book.

The mantra my clients likely get tired of hearing is “cut to the chase”, but that’s the single most important skill to learn in my view. Knowing what works and what doesn’t work. What’s relevant and needed? What can be done without? Get that right and you’re pretty much there.


 Thank you, Elizabeth. Your book will be such a help to all writers. Good luck with publication! 

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Kate Thompson: The Wedding Girls

Join Kate Thompson as she journeys back in time to meet with the mesmerising brides who said ‘I do’ to a lifetime of commitment.

With her 22-inch waist and perfect poise the bride could have stepped straight out of a 1930s motion
picture. And yet, this portrait wasn’t taken in Hollywood, but impoverished post-war Whitechapel in

           Half-an-hour after posing for this photograph, the bride was back at her mother in law’s terrace in Bethnal Green, East London, clambering over a Salvation Army trestle table for a wedding breakfast of mashed potato, cold roast beef and beetroot, followed by Thursday to Monday in Canvey Island.

           ‘All top show, nothing underneath as my Mum would say,’ laughs the bride, Pat Spicer, now a twinkly-eyed 87-year-old grandmother living a comfortable life in Berkshire. Pat was working as an apprentice dressmaker, when she met and married the man of her dreams, gent’s barber, Bill Spicer.
‘There was so much poverty in those days, we all craved glamour,’ she says, ‘our chance to feel like a star for the day.'

Pat’s heartwarming story shows the dichotomy between hardship and high glamour that was so prevalent during the grinding poverty of the thirties and forties. In researching my book, The Wedding Girls, I stumbled upon a lost world of innocence and hope. A time when divorce was never a seriously considered option, girls’ married for life and weddings were about love, community and family, not sugared almonds and selfies.

Glamorous weddings were a reaction to the horrors of the Great War and that, combined with the emergence of Hollywood, meant brides were determined to sprinkle a dusting of romance and escapism over the most important day of their lives. 

Nowadays, every wedding guest can be seen snapping selfies with the bride, but back then, formal studio portraiture was de rigueur across all classes. To own a beautiful wedding portrait – in a time when few people owned a camera, much less a selfie-stick, was a badge of honour. During the Depression and the deprivation of post-war Britain, a beautiful wedding portrait was a symbol of hope.

In researching my novel I travelled my way around the East End to meet with many women,
now in their nineties, whose memories and health might be fragile, but who still recall with vivid intensity the most treasured day of their lives.
‘Brian was just back from serving with the 7th Armoured Division, one of Montgomery’s brave ‘desert rats’ when I met him at a dance,’ recalls 90-year-old Renee Stack from East London, who was working as a 17-year-old shop girl in Petticoat Lane at the time. ‘He walked over to me and said, “I’m going to marry you”.’

Renee’s strict Jewish mother was less impressed. “Wait and see what he makes of himself first,” was her sage advice. Brian knuckled down to civilian life and spent three years learning Hebrew so he could convert to Judaism in order to marry Renee. At her wedding ceremony in 1948, Renee was so lusciously beautiful she could easily have passed for Rita Hayworth and her handsome bridegroom, Clark Gable.

‘We had no money so Brian borrowed a suit and my friend Edie, who worked as a sample machinist, made me my beautiful pale blue silk crepe wedding dress as a gift. That’s the way people were back then, helping each other out. I did my own hair and make up and the whole family chipped in to pay for the wedding portrait. We married on a shoestring, but I was the happiest girl alive.’

I spent the most absorbing week in Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives looking through the wedding announcements in back copies of the East London Advertiser from 1936. 

Buried amongst news articles on outbreaks of Tuberculosis and fascist demonstrations were more romantic offerings. Page-after-page of captivating young brides smiled back at me. I was so touched by the immense care each married couple took to look their absolute best and the hope, resilience and pride shining out from their faces. In 1936, the Second World War loomed darkly on the horizon. How many of these dashing bridegrooms I wondered, went on to fight and indeed survive that war? The knowledge of what fate awaited these newly weds, leant a deep poignancy to their spellbinding wedding portraits.

We can never hope to recreate these images, or the chaste innocence that shines out from them, but perhaps we can lose ourselves in them, if only for a little while.

Kate Thompson is the author of The Wedding Girls, published by Pan Macmillan out March 9th.

Kate will be discussing vintage weddings between the wars on a panel with curators, designers and photographers at the Museum of London on March 31st 6pm.

Twitter: @katethompson380

Thank you Kate and good luck with The Wedding Girls!

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