Guest posts

Reblogged from – the right book for the right place at the right time.


Sometimes you find yourself in the right place at the right time.

For me, it was Portugal in 1991.

A country of history and culture, discovery and adventure, with a personality all its own.

The cities, the people, the food, the music (overlooking that year’s particular obsession with Bryan Adams), the SuperBock, the landscape,and the light.

Oh, that light.

Image by Libby O’Loghlin

Porto was my home for four happy years, with a six-month interlude in Lisbon. Young, adventurous and enthusiastic, I learnt the language and went exploring. Each place boasts its own delights:

Porto works, Lisbon plays.

Coimbra sings, Braga prays.

Image by JJ Marsh

Certain memories are indelible:

A psychedelic sunset behind a student choir in Coimbra.

Falling off the Castelo do São Jorge in Lisbon.

A frisky old goat in Aveiro who tried to grope me from his zimmerframe.

Bom Jesus in Braga, a religious pilgrimage site to scare a sinner.

The unspoilt verdant vistas of Gerês, the natural park of the north.

And Porto. With its wine, sardines, songs, football matches and the festival of São João, where the population spills onto the streets to laugh and dance and hit each other on the head with squeaky hammers.

Portugal pulls me back, again and again, always one of my special places. Hence choosing it as the location for Bad Apples, the last in The Beatrice Stubbs Series.

Why? Well…

Image by JD Smith

There’s an atmosphere, tangible as soon as you get off the plane/train. You’re impatient to dive in. All your senses come alive.

Meander through the streets, absorbing the cobbled pavements, crumbling walls, rusting balconies and that patina of aged wood and cracked leather inside the rattling trams.

Inhale the scent of manjericão or sweet basil, a waft of roasting chestnuts and the startling pungency of dried salted cod.

Eat fresh seafood, drink effervescent white wine (vinho verde) or aged tawny port and relish the coffee at any time of day.

Wander into a café. Listen to commentators and clientele yelling about the football. Or slip into a shadowy fado bar to hear the emotional laments of the heartbroken women of a seafaring nation.

Image by Libby O’Loghlin


Feast your eyes on the fruit market, its riot of colour reflected in lines of washing hung from apartment windows.

Stop and stare at the epic tales depicted in the azuleijo tiles on all kinds of public buildings.

Watch the leaves turn the same shade as the rooftops softened in November sunlight.

Gaze at the waves rolling in and out, each a promise and a threat.



Image by JD Smith


Leave the traffic and the city and hike up the river or into the national parks.

Explore Gerês or the undiscovered glory of the Alentejo or simply stagger, slack-jawed around Sintra and learn the meaning of green.

The Portuguese are legendary explorers while the joys of their own country seem under-appreciated by the rest of Europe.

That’s fine with me.

Let’s keep it our little secret.


Writer, journalist, teacher, actor, director and cultural trainer, Jill has lived and worked all over Europe.
Now based in Switzerland, Jill is a founder member of Triskele Books, European correspondent for Words with JAM magazine, co-edits Swiss literary hub The Woolf and is a reviewer for Bookmuse.
Author of the Beatrice Stubbs series: Behind Closed Doors, Raw Material, Tread Softly, Cold Pressed, Human Rites  and Bad Apples.
Short-story collection Appearances Greeting a Point of View is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.




This is a blog about stories.

Some pretty amazing stories people are being told in the US election campaign. To me, it often feels more like an extreme reality show than politics.

I asked an American, recently relocated to Chicago from Zürich, how she reads the potential presidential candidates’ stories.

Over to Chantal Panozzo


Mostly unfortunate conversations from those attempting to be presidential

“Shoot someone and win”

Donald Trump
I could shoot someone and still win.

Ted Cruz
Great. Let’s test that theory and allow open-carry at the convention.

John Kasich
Should I bring my gun if those guys do?

Hillary Clinton
If Obama thinks it’s a good idea, then yes.

Bernie Sanders
Wealth inequality. Wealth inequality. A little Birdie told me there’s wealth inequality.

“Bird on podium”

Bernie Sanders
This bird is like a dove asking for world peace.

Hillary Clinton
Oh right, a dove asking for world peace. That’s perfect for my Twitter feed.

Donald Trump
Security, arrest this fucking excuse for a bunch of feathers. Now!

Ted Cruz
Ah! It’s an illegal alien. Secure our borders.

Donald Trump
Fuck. Where’s that wall when you need it?

Ted Cruz
Hey, the wall was my idea!

John Kasich
Um, guys, most people here illegally flew into the States and overstayed their visas.

Donald Trump
You are so boring, Kasich.

“Your Wife is Ugly”

Donald Trump
Your wife is ugly.

Ted Cruz
Your wife is uglier.

Hillary Clinton
I am a wife and let me say this conversation is the ugliest.

Donald Trump
Guess you don’t want to be invited to my next wedding once my current wife does get ugly.

Hillary Clinton
I didn’t mean…

Donald Trump
You’re not going to be invited anyway. Last time the only gift you gave me was your presence. Talk about ugly.

Hillary Clinton.
It wasn’t fun anyway.

Bernie Sanders
Wealth inequality. Wealth inequality. A little Birdie told me there’s wealth inequality.

“Women Should Be Punished”

Donald Trump
Women should be punished if they get an illegal abortion.

Ted Cruz
Right. Unless they’re in the top 1%.

Donald Trump
Shut up. That part is our little secret.

Hillary Clinton
Whew, I’ll tell my daughter not to worry then.

Bernie Sanders
Wealth inequality. Wealth inequality. A little Birdie told me there’s wealth inequality.




Chantal Panozzo is the author of Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. Not surprisingly, the sequel, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known is in the works. She blogs at and


Images courtesy of Chantal Panozzo and Creative Commons/US National Archives.


First post of the New Year is from Angela Weinberger, on why and how she chose to self-publish her non-fiction work “The Global Mobility Handbook”. Angela is a professional self-starter who takes risks and shares the lessons learned. I’m delighted she’s agreed to appear as a guest poster with words of wisdom on publishing.


Headshot Angela WeinbergerSelf-publishing sounds like the ideal solution to many dilemmas self-employed consultants, trainers and coaches. A publication gets your name out there, establishes you as an expert in your field and differentiates you from other players in the market. What a lot of us underestimate though is the challenge of working with clients while at the same time running a book project. With this post I would like to raise your awareness to five challenges I came across when I self-published books in the past.


Why I decided to self-publish:

For me the main reason to self-publish “The Global Mobility Workbook – A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing International Assignments“ was speed-to-market. Once I had drafted the book I wanted to use it in trainings and refer to it. I did not want to wait another year until the book was out there. I had only approached one publisher and their feedback indicated that the book was too academic for them and not sellable. In the year before I had experimented with publishing a novella and understood how Kindle Desktop Publishing (KDP) works to a large extent. I thought I should give it a go keeping in mind that it could always be re-published by an established publisher later.

What I underestimated were five challenges and I thought it might help you to read about these so you are better prepared than I was.


1) Professional look-and-feel of your end product

One of the reputations self-publishing has is that you find a lot of badly written and even less well-edited books out there in the sea of electronic publications. This might be true. You have to invest a lot of time and money to make your publication look as professional as if it had been published with a well-known publisher. It is important that the editing, typesetting, artwork and all graphs and images are well done. You have to work with professional typesetters, editors and graphic designers to get that professional look-and-feel.

2) Investments before you make your first Euro or Franc

My upfront investment was about 3’000 CHF (around 3’000 EUR). I only work with professionals I know well. If your editor lives in Switzerland their rates are higher than anywhere else in the world. I also paid for artwork, graphics, typesetting, converting files and ISBN numbers. For me the investment was worthwhile because I got a lot of consulting work due to the book. However, you first of all have to have this amount of cash in your company or pocket. In another project I ran out of money mid-project, had to start with a new editor and probably will spend around 5’000 CHF before the book is published. As a self-publisher you have a higher royalty than if you work with a traditional publisher but you need to consider the upfront investment.

3) US Tax issues limiting your access to global platforms

Assuming you will decide to publish an ebook through a platform such as Kindle Desktop Publishing you will need to fill a few forms to ensure you are not liable for US Tax. KDP has a great process but another platform made it so complicated that when I got a letter from the IRS in the US (sent by post to Switzerland) and they requested further information by post, I gave up the process.

4) Technical hiccups

During the process of publishing an ebook you might come across technical hiccups. A famous one is the linked table of content. You need to have a graphic designer with programming skills who can help you through such technical challenges even if you are technologically savvy. A good tip is to read books on ebook publishing before you start editing your manuscript as a lot of formatting is required for ebooks. My persistence on this matter worked well for a text-based novella but for my workbook we needed a lot of tables and graphics. I gave this task to a graphic designer. You might want to read the KDP style guide beforehand.

5)  Managing a wild bunch of involved artists

It can feel a bit like in a circus when you are managing a bunch of involved artists across the globe for your project. Especially challenging when not all of them speak English and when you don’t sit in the same room to discuss graphics or editing rules. You might also need to agree rules of the game before leaving the manuscript stage. I have a rather high standard of English but sometimes I apply rules from German grammar and I cannot get used to certain style elements in English because they are contrary to German style. I recommend you work with the same team for different projects as with every book the team gets more adjusted to the process and has a better alignment too.

I recommend you read books on how to self-publish, such as the “Triskele Trail”, a book on self-publishing from Triskele to everyone who considers self-publishing ebooks and books on demand.


Angela Weinberger is a Global Mobility Expert and an Intercultural Career Advisor. She worked in Human Resources and Global Mobility during her corporate career. She started out on her own with Global People Transitions in 2012.




Following last week’s reaction to The Casual Vacancy (last week’s is here), three more talented minds share thoughts on young people and the arts; safe places and how much imagination can change and shape a person – hello to John, Jennifer and Anthony. 

John Young

At the age of six I had my first audition for the local pantomime at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal. But due to nerves – I never got the role. At primary school I was always keen to be involved in anything to do with performance and I longed for the end of term school production and Devon’s yearly school choir competition.

Starting secondary school I noticed I didn’t always fit in or people really didn’t understand me – making me feel the outsider, which became a little difficult at times.

john young

John Young

As I moved though school, new role models were introduced in my life. It was amazing to be empowered by their presence and they encouraged me to explore new things through both art and performance.

In Spring 1996, I auditioned for Plymouth’s Theatre Royal Youth Music Company and I was in! The company was filled with people I could relate to and everything started to fit into place. My confidence became greater and I loved the thrill of this new feeling which resulted with me winning a scholarship entry for one of Europe’s most prestigious dance schools – Laban Center London  – such an amazing adventure!

The arts played a huge part in my growing up. Without it I feel I wouldn’t have had the outlet during those difficult times we all experience as a teenager, nor the confidence to push myself and develop. I met some of my closest friends that I’m still in contact with today.

I would love to think that every young person can access performance and the arts. Whether that person is talented or not, everyone can learn and grow as an individual.

 John teaches contemporary dance in Stockholm’s Balettakademien. He’s working on four contemporary dance pieces to be shown later this year. He’s also a personal trainer at one of Sweden’s best gyms. 

Jennifer Harrison

What did a creative childhood do for me?

Jen Harrison

Jennifer Harrison

Working in Marketing and PR it’s hard to imagine life without creativity, everyone I meet and everything I see tells a story. As a child I was drawn to the theatre, talkative and with an imagination that would run wild, theatre and the arts were a chance for me to be part of a world outside the box. An opportunity to explore the realms of my imagination and meet like minded young people. At school I was neither the prettiest nor the star pupil, a huge fan of science and the arts, I struggled with maths and higher academia. As a student who was both achieving and struggling with studies simultaneously, the arts gave me a chance to excel where there was no right or wrong, just personal interpretation.

The arts became an adventure for my younger self where I could be anywhere and anyone. Auditioning gave me a real taste of the world, sometimes you were successful and sometimes you weren’t. These highs and lows of both achievement and rejection were firsthand experience of some really grown up emotions, which gave me a tool kit for future life and its highs and lows.

The journey that young people go on with a creative childhood stays with you into adulthood, where you continue to explore, improvise, imagine and discover. In a world which grows more digitally sophisticated by the day, the ability to imagine and be creative is more important than ever before.

For me the conclusion is simple: a creative upbringing leaves the individual able live life instilled with confidence, experience and a desire to look beyond the bubble they live in.

Anthony Newell

This week I watched western civilization crumble in Sloane Square. I watched a sister prepare to die for the honour of her dead brother in ancient Greece in east London. The other night I was transported to a digital world where one’s life was programmed online and people lived without consequence in the west end. I literally live for live art and I was asked why.

Anthony N

Anthony Newell

Theatre was my salvation as a teenager. I found school unbearable. I was bullied and taunted daily. Plays and stories opened up a new universe to me and I welcomed the lack of parochial judgement these alternative worlds offered me. They opened my mind to a future that excited me.

Through this passion I found youth theatre which was a safe and explorative space, away from the limitations of the school drama class. I was a loud, wise mouth of the rehearsal space. I had never had a space and somehow, perhaps this is where the magic began, I had a space to find a voice. A room full of peers and a voice. From a rather withdrawn schoolboy I found the instinct to be myself, to be a comedian, a fool, a failure. Every which instinct was nurtured by facilitators who seemed to understand the capacity of this space to let young people nurture their creativity. I was at war with so many elements of my identity and yet in the rehearsal space I was engaging with and developing a core as a storyteller and witness to other stories that would allow me to develop the confidence and tools to equip myself to explore the world.

Last night at the theatre, I went on a journey to the end of humanity with the actors, I was moved, angered, frustrated and in disagreement with friends when discussing the context of the play afterwards. The arts and the people who taught them to me gave me a perspective on the world that I am profoundly grateful for. They have given me a voice and a framework for how I interpret the world.

After gaining a degree in drama I had an exciting career as a stage actor until the age of 27 when I decided I would rather enjoy theatre then constantly fight to be a part of such a competitive world. I am now a professional audience member! By day I manage a patient involvement department at a mental health trust in London. My favourite part of my job is facilitating creative workshops for our young patients where they can share their experiences through drama. 


The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling hit me hard. I love a book that makes me furious, tearful and determined to change.

(For those unaware of the book/adaptation, in the simplest terms: councillor Barry Fairbrother dies, leaving the fate of the community and the future of Sweetlove House uncertain.  Barry was a good guy who tried to help young people and provide a safety net for those in need.)

The TV adaptation made me nervous. I feared it might lose something of the original’s bite. I sent out a social media plea to my friends – can we talk about this? The result gave me a jolt. Not the idle of folk sharing views on a TV programme.

  • Impassioned voices empathising with young people and their alientation.
  • Comments expressing the value of a safe space and connection to the arts.
  • Lengthy emails stressing how ‘Barry Fairbrothers’ had changed their lives.

Many of those opinions belonged to people I met fifteen years ago, at Theatre Royal Plymouth (TRP). From 1996-2000, I was a director, workshop leader, experimenter and all-round bossy cow, formally known as Education Officer. TRP gave us space, technology, experts and permission, so we grabbed it and ran. Kids came from everywhere: Sunshine (9) got dropped off in a Range Rover. Jason (17) brought his baby daughter in a pushchair. I still can’t believe what we achieved back then. I’m still more amazed at what that mismatched, varied, talented, rowdy and creative bunch of young people have become.

So I asked a few of them to expand on one of the central themes of The Casual Vacancy: that connection to a place where you can feel safe to express yourself. The amount of material I got back was immense and of such quality, I’m going to run this over two Sundays.

Here’s Louise and James on what the arts did for them.

Louise Callaghan

Louise Callaghan-329-2

Louise Callaghan – actor

I’m from a small town – exceptionally beautiful and picture-postcard – but not teeming with activities for young people. I was lucky enough to attend a new theatre group that opened up in our town. There was no solid structure to the Saturday afternoons but I remember long hours of free improvisation where we were encouraged to do/be whoever we wanted to be-there was no wrong or right, good or bad. Looking back on this time really tugs at my heart strings, I didn’t know it then but the freedom, bravery and sense of play that I was so easily able to access due to the encouragement of our group leader, is what as an adult I am forever trying to strive towards. As an actor I am always aiming to unearth the elusive fearless child in me.

From this small theatre group where I thrived and grew in confidence, I moved up to The Young Company at TRP. It was here that I found my family- my tribe.

All my odd sayings and quirks that were ridiculed at school became part of our language, we were all different, we were all quirky and we had found our people. I was suddenly thrust into a world where creativity and eccentricity was celebrated. I decided this was where I wanted to be.

My career has been an unpredictable rollercoaster ride. The nature of a career in the arts requires a bucketload of tenacity. That tenacity is like a root planted by the people who championed me from an early age. My experience in youth theatres as a child is truly a part of what has shaped me to this day. It was a time of encouragement, positivity, support, friendship, creativity and play.

Whether I had or hadn’t become an actor is irrelevant. We are all, each of us creating. Every moment we are creating our future, present and past, the choices we make are shaping and forming our lives. As adults, each choice is more often than not based on our experience; risk-assessment comes into play. As young people we are acquiring this new experience, if we are encouraged from this early age to expand our creative minds, not to be limited, Are we better equipped then to make the biggest and most exciting choices for our lives in whatever context that may be? If we load our palette with openness and ambition can we not all paint the brightest and most interesting canvas for our lives? It starts with our first brush strokes- our teachers and Heroes who allow us to ‘fail’ and to grow.

Louise has worked for the RSC, Shakespeare’s Globe, West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Royal and Derngate. For television she has appeared in Booze cruise I&II (alongside Martin Clunes), Poirot, The Commander III (with Amanda Burton), The Bill and Doctors. She will be taking a leading role in an upcoming feature film directed by award-winning Sarah Warren and she works regularly at The Met Film School based at Ealing Studios working with emerging filmmakers.


James Mackenzie-Blackman

Over the last 15 years of practice (25 if you count my own time as a young person in the arts) three main areas define my outlook:

Finding Your Peers

The arts bring people together in a way that is unique from all other forms of self-expression.

Whether you are a young actor being asked to ‘go there’ emotionally whilst creating a role; a contemporary dancer being asked to share complex emotions on stage or a visual artist putting yourself on a canvas the result is a unique partnership between artist and audience. It’s vulnerable and confusing and brilliant and sometimes scary.

When I was 13 and I discovered my youth theatre at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth I found people like me for the first time and this made me feel safe and comfortable in my own skin. Youth theatre also introduced me to peers from other socio-economic backgrounds (in-a-Devon-sort-of-way). My new friends lived in huge houses on Dartmoor and their Dad went to London through the week; or they lived in a council flat in Plympton and their Dad didn’t work. It didn’t matter – because we all loved the theatre and we saw what bought us together, not what stood us apart. I know now, with the perspective of time, that this made me the adult I am today.


The pedagogy of the artists who work with young people in the arts – their teaching methods and relationships are critical to their success. Why? BECAUSE IT’S NOT LIKE SCHOOL! In our sector we underestimate the impact of role models in a young person’s formative years. I have seen the arts achieve amazing eye-popping things with young people who have been written off by the formal education sector. Different people learn in different ways; they respond to different teaching methods and relationships with adults. More needs to be done to recognise this and nurture it.

Cultural Value & Its Impact on the Creative Case for Participation

I think and reflect on this more and more. It sounds like jargon but I’ll try and explain what I mean. Cultural participation has to be learnt, encouraged and nurtured. Yes a £30 theatre ticket is a barrier to access but only if you don’t place value on that £30 and if you don’t understand the impact the experience will have. I got involved in the arts at 13 because I had parents who placed value on the potential experience; they placed value in the arts because my Mum’s parents did. It takes time.

The work that needs to happen to encourage participation and access needs to be holistic and involve a whole family. I feel this more and more – and especially after our 2014 tour of Lord of the Flies that engaged 8,000 young people across the UK and bought dance-theatre into the homes of many families who were completely new to the arts.

There’s a wonderful moment at 01:15 in this very short trailer for the project that sums-up, for me, what I’m trying to communicate throughout this article:

In short there is still much to do because, just like art itself – the possibilities are endless.



How I Avoided the Allure of False Paths and Became a Writer

A guest post by Barbara Scott Emmett


Like most writers I scribbled from an early age – poems and stories, homemade magazines for which I was the sole contributor – you know the sort of thing. You would think therefore that I was set on a brilliant writing career before I was out of junior school. Alas, like all hero(in)es my journey was beset by obstacles. Many were the byways I lost myself in before I found my One True Path. The Trolls of Indecision and The Lure of Other Artistic Outlets had to be conquered before I could reach my goal.

It started with The Jezzebels – note the two zeds. This was a girl group I set up with a couple of schoolmates, Sylvia and Hazel. Sylvia changed her name to Cilla, I called myself Bob, or Apples, (don’t ask – it really isn’t worth it) and Hazel sensibly stuck to her own name.

Oh how we entertained the neighbours – Hazel plinking away at my mother’s piano, me on my ten bob guitar and Cilla doing a Mick Jagger impression with the maraccas my brother brought back from British Guiana. Occasionally the brass candlesticks would be deployed – makes a satisfying chink, does brass.

Growing up and other life experiences got in the way of our glittering career. The Jezzebels faded from memory.

Travel, education and some failed relationships later, I took up Art. With Art I could mooch around moodily in paint-spattered jeans and suffer. My blue period John and Yoko was extremely well thought of; almost everyone could guess who it was meant to be.

Copying photographs and album covers was all very well but it was never going to make me the next Hockney. Despite a steady hand and a prediliction for painting in different shades of the one colour, I had to admit the truth: I lacked the spark of originality necessary for greatness.

The battered paintbox was slung to the back of the cupboard with the ten bob guitar.

I met up with writing again. We flirted and dabbled. Created satisfying sentences, felicitous phrases, veracious vignettes. But the Troll of Music hadn’t finished with me yet.

When a singer-songwriter boyfriend upped and went to Germany to pursue his career I was devastated. I coped with this rejection by deciding to outdo him. (I think this is known as the I’ll-get-you-you-bastard form of therapy.) Despite an inability to distinguish a B flat from an A minor, I equipped myself with a Fender acoustic and a Play in a Day instruction booklet. I learned all the chords I hadn’t bothered with in my earlier musical interlude.

In no time at all I was strumming along with my Nigerian friend Bowale while he slapped his congas and shouted in Yoruba. It was a kind of Sprechgesang but a lot louder. Astonishingly, we got gigs in pubs. Some of them actually gave us money. Other friends, inspired by our bewildering overnight success, muscled in on the action. Before long I was a member of a seven piece combo called Nigerian Grass and had acquired an electric guitar and an amplifier. The band now featured at least three real musicians. (Who let them in?)

We played on the then burgeoning Alternative Comedy circuit. (Reader, I shared a dressingroom with Paul Merton!) I put our success down to the fact that African music was becoming popular at that time but no one yet knew enough about it to realise what it should sound like. The highlight of our career was a gig at the Rock Garden. Which just goes to show you can get away with anything if you have thick enough skin. And a good sound engineer.

Sadly, musical differences (the fact that some of us could actually play an instrument while some of us, ahem, couldn’t) eventually split us up.

There was nothing else for it. I returned to my first and most lasting love: writing.

And I’ve never looked back. Well, apart from a brief foray into amateur dramatics but I soon hacked the head off that Troll. (Actually, it was my head that was hacked off. I played Dr Crippen’s wife and was poisoned, shot, chopped up and boiled. I only appeared in the first act.)

So after many adventures, after finding myself lost in numerous dark woods, after fending off all the dragons that tried to steer me from my course, I finally killed the Grendel, found the Grail, and married the princess.

Writing and I have been together for nearly thirty years now. We’ve spawned a clutch of novels, a fistful of short stories and a bunch of miscellaneous other scribblings.

And we’re still very much in love.


:// Scott Emmett’s new novel Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion will be published in association with Triskele Books in October 2014. The ebook will be available from 1st August. Find out more about it here. ( )

Her other work is available from Amazon, Smashwords, and other online stores via Pentalpha Publishing Edinburgh. Find out more from her blog or website.

Check out An Erotic Conversation on this very blog, where Barbara and I discuss what constitutes hot writing.


My Blog


Today, I’m guest posting over at Galley Beggar, a small press with great taste.  While you’re there, do have a look at The White Goddess: An Encounter. I liked that book so much I’ve chosen it for the Triskele Book Club discussion.

My guest today is Pete Morin.

I don’t recall how many years ago it was that I stumbled across the introductory chapters of Diary of a Small Fish, but I know he’s been reeling me in ever since. This is Pete’s story:

Thanks to my dear friend Jill for her introduction to all you writer folks.

Jill asked me to share that part of my journey wherein I decided to ditch my pursuit of the Holy Grail of traditional publication and join the ranks of the Great Unwashed (that’s how Big House editors look at us, I’m told).

First let’s get something straight. I am not a dreamer. I am a cynical, battle-scarred veteran of partisan politics and the trial courtroom. While I briefly entertained a dream of being a novelist back in college, it was quickly squelched by the pressure of parental expectations, economic reality, and the recognition that I had no life experience worth writing about.

So I went off and got some life experiences. The kind worth writing about. But it wasn’t until almost 20 years later that these experiences began to spill out of me in a story. A pal of mine asked back then, “do you have a novel in you?”

“Nah,” I said, and believed it.

Then my father died in August 2007. I’d been helping him with his memoirs when he became too weak to continue. After he left us, I tried to transform the work into a biography. But it was just too painful, and too soon. Still, I needed to find a way to grieve, and I found burying myself in a story was a pretty good way to do it.

One day I found, where Jill’s pal John Hudspith found something within the rough first chapter I’d put up there that glimmered through the crap. I don’t know what it was, or why he thought so, but he invited me to join him and Jill and a lot of other awesome writers at a place called The Bookshed, and 18 months of merciless flogging later, I typed “the end.”

I did not write a novel to become a novelist. I had no illusions of big advances or Hollywood movie deals. I just wrote a novel, and people seemed to like it. I wrote some short stories and people seemed to like them. And I had a blast doing it, so what the hell, right? You enjoy doing something, why not see how far you can go with it? Surely, somewhere not far down the road, cold reality would slap me silly.

I started two more novels, just in case.

Going 0-for-120 on the query trail didn’t really bother me. This novel must not be as good as people say, I thought. Hell, a lot of folks think the food at Denny’s is pretty good, but we know differently, don’t we? It was the same as cooking. A lot of my friends thought I was a pretty good cook, too; but I’d never thought I was qualified to run the kitchen at a five star restaurant.

Then I went to my first writer’s conference in November of 2009, The New England Crime Bake. The first day, I attended a pitch practice session. Fate’s fickle hand at work, you know. I sat at the first empty seat, next to a lady I’d never met. She happened to be the agent. She went around the table, listening to stumbling and stuttering neophytes who hadn’t known what at all to expect. But I had practiced my elevator pitch. I sure had.

“What have you got,” she said to me, wearily.

Diary of a Small Fish is about a virtuous man who gets indicted for playing golf.”

A couple of giggles from the others.

“I want to read that,” she said.

Heh, what can I say? She’s married to a trial lawyer. She read it and loved it. He read it and loved it. Dumb luck. Nothing more.

Six months later, I signed on with Christine Witthohn at Book Cents Literary, but not until I’d spoken to a half dozen of her current clients, published and unpublished (at her insistence). The lady had sold practically everything she’d put her hands on. She must know what the hell sells!

Still, I am a cynic, you recall. I do not entertain fanciful dreams. During the next nine months, I did significant revisions to the manuscript, based upon long conversations with Christine – and her husband, Jeff Mehalic. In that stretch of time, I might have sent Christine a dozen emails. She responded to every one of them within two hours, mostly by phone – except once, when she was stranded in Italy.

I know there are other cynics out there who find this preposterous. An agent responding to an email with a phone call? Within an hour? Like I said. Dumb luck.

These developments occurred, you will note, during the onset of the “ebook revolution.” Self-publishing was developing at light speed, and there were dozens of pioneers blazing the trails. I followed this closely, because many of my Authonomy friends were trailblazers.

In December of 2010, Christine submitted DOSF to editors at 7 publishers – editors she knew. Editors she’d sold stuff to before. But she told me when she did, “I’m not sure I can sell your book.”

You see, it didn’t fit neatly into the mystery/crime/suspense genre. (As Jill’s lovely review begins, “What exactly IS this book? Yes, it’s a political mystery. It’s also a love story. It explores corruption, honour and integrity. And it’s funny. But how to define it?”)

The wait began. That ridiculous, inexplicable, infuriating wait where even your own agent’s inquiries to them go unanswered. Two months, three, four. Okay, that’s to be expected. But more?

In the meantime, Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Barry Eisler, Amanda Hocking, John Locke and dozens of others filled the internet with dazzling information. Bloggers like Robin Sullivan kept tabs on a growing number of self-published authors making a serious living! Selling ebooks at 99 cents!

Get out of town. Seriously. And I was sitting on my hands waiting for a response, 6 months now. June arrived. Christine and I had a heart-to-heart.

My novel is Boston-centric. It involves the shadows of personalities still walking, big names in politics being tried and convicted of the very same crimes my poor virtuous protagonist is accused of. At that very time! There was a market for this fiction, right here, right now! I was missing it! I couldn’t wait!

Christine’s response was simple:

1. When you want to withdraw DOSF from submission, say the word, and I’ll call them.

2. If you want to self-publish, then do these things first: (a) put up a single short story that’s really, really good, for FREE, (b) put up a collection of short stories a month later for 99 cents, (c) bust your ass creating buzz in advance of DOSF release, and (d) keep busting your ass to sell it.

Like a man looking at a break-up with his first true love, I asked, “What about us?”

Seriously! I had snagged one of the hottest agents in the business, and one who not only had a conscience, but a clear one at that. A lady as righteous and morally sound as my own protagonist! How could I take my only property off the market and negate the subject matter of our contract?

“We’ll use DOSF as a platform to sell your next one. And if it does well enough in the meantime, I can still sell it.”

Dumb luck. I’d stumbled upon a literary agent who not only understood the changes that were coming, but embraced them, and encouraged me and several other of her authors to self-publish.

When Amazon announced their genre imprints, she was on the phone to them, grilling them about what they were looking for, and in some cases, delivering it.

When the 9 month anniversary of the DOSF submissions approached, when none of the 7 had even given her the courtesy of a reply, and when Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer took a pass, it was time to go ahead.

[Note: There are now several authors on Christine’s list (some signed to multi-book deals with Big 6 publishers) who have at least one self-published work available. Some shorts, some novellas, some novels.]

I self-published Diary of a Small Fish on October 1st. I worked hard on the launch, had a lot of help from writer friends who delivered some very nice reviews (none nicer than Jill’s), and sold some books. I ordered 100+ paper copies from Createspace, sold most of them in a month, ordered some more. I had a smoking hot launch party in the shadow of the State House, sent out a very smart press kit.

Why did I, the stubborn cynic, the world-weary ex-politician and trial lawyer, decide to go to all this work and trouble to self-publish a first novel? Why didn’t I put it on the shelf and move on to the next, as the Old Guard would have?

Because somewhere in the process – when I’d heard enough feedback from people whose opinions I respect and trust – and when I’d re-read enough of it for the 100th time, I realized how damn much I believe in this novel.

I’m no authority on fiction. I’m just a guy with a little storytelling talent. But I firmly believe that a successful novel is one that touches all of your emotions. Humor, sorrow, anger, hatred, love, hopelessness, panic, fear, elation, etc. I didn’t know that when I started writing.

I think that’s what DOSF does. And I wanted readers to experience it now, today, not in Q4 of 2013.

There is also this:

What is going on in fiction publishing today is truly revolutionary. Seldom is the use of that word so fitting. It was impossible for me to sit idly in the cheap seats, waiting for my prom date, when all that energy was burning on the dance floor below. There are some bad dancers down here, but they’re not stepping on my feet. And there are some really fabulous dancers, too. This is where the action is, here in the scrum. I want to have fun dancing, not compete in a marathon.

Pete Morin has been a trial attorney, a politician, a bureaucrat, a lobbyist, and an astute witness of human behavior. He combines them all in his debut novel, Diary of a Small Fish, and his short story collection, Uneasy Living.

Pete’s short fiction has appeared in NEEDLE, A Magazine of Noir, Words With Jam, 100 Stories for Haiti, and Words to Music. He published many of them in a collection titled Uneasy Living, available in ebook.

When he is not writing crime fiction or legal mumbo jumbo, Pete plays blues guitar in Boston bars, enjoys the beach, food and wine with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two adult children, and on rare occasion, punches a fade wedge to a tight pin surrounded by sand or water. He lives in a money pit on the seacoast south of Boston, in an area once known as the Irish Riviera.

Pete is represented by Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency.

And here you can listen to Pete reading the first chapter of Diary of a Small Fish.

John Hudspith. Writer, editor, Mr Spot-On.

I’ve been reading and admiring Johnny’s critiques for many years and personally benefitted from his hawk-eyed observations on countless occasions. Quite simply, he can make your best even better. How, I wanted to know, does he do it? He generously agreed to share his thoughts as this week’s guest post. Pure gold dust for writers.


When editing or critiquing, I work with the definite knowledge that every word matters. Every single word. To create beautiful prose, or prose that works well; i.e. it gives reader the smoothest and therefore the most enjoyable read he can have, means examining closely, in detail, the true meaning and the order of the words you choose to use, considering above all, reader’s moving imagery in his reading brain.

Misused words bring poor prose. Poor prose brings cloudy imagery and broken rhythm. Being a good editor/analyser is having the ability to perceive the given prose as a reader; to build the imagery via the given words one word at a time. The more considered those words are the better the writing becomes. Attention to the nuance of every word is what matters.

Every word.

The more one delves into the operational processes of reader’s reading brain the greater the understanding of word power becomes; the attention to detail always prevalent.

The craft of writing is indeed a pedantic minefield among multitudinous minefields of hair-splitting (and hair-tearing) possibilities. Adherence to trends, rules (or not), preconceived genre conventions, individual author’s unique style ingrained by his years, his peers, his perceptions of what works and what doesn’t, all add up to one mighty soup of alphabetic entanglement – and that’s because our prose is the human form in words; our diversity as unique individuals inextricably linked to the nuances of word choice and order which identify the individual author.

Get ten editors to analyse the same piece of writing and the results will show varying degrees of perception. Some will see what others do not. Some will disagree with the degrees of distortion.

So how can one produce notes on word analysis when no one perception, (reader’s or writer’s), is definite? I suppose one can only generalise, at best, while trying to get as close to the physics as possible.

Consider the `best` reads. The best reads are those which pull you into the page. Reader forgets, for a while that he is reading, he becomes character, lives the story, and moves through every scene as if he were right there. Note that I have not included `good story`. Although I’m a believer in story mattering a great deal, I do know that a read can be un-put-down-able if the writing is at its `best` even if the story has holes, or a weak ending. How often have you finished a book and thoroughly enjoyed reading it because the characters were amazing, or the scenes beautifully portrayed, or the tension hammered your heart, but the ending was not quite what you had hoped for? Yet you would go back and read it again, purely for the pleasure of the read. That’s good writing.

Now that we know what a good read can do, we best ask what makes a bad one; what causes an editor to pounce? Simply: he detects distortions in the connection between reader and writer. We’ll call these `distorters`, and imagine them as ghastly Death Eaters sucking the soul from your prose.

Let’s identify the main distorters.

Main distorters:

  • Weakened connection through over-writing.

The grandest, most slap-happy distorter of them all. He zooms about with pots of paint, daubing pretty much everywhere. Responsible for a massive 80% of editorial pounces. We’ll name this monster: The Pollock.

  •  Loss of pov through over-writing.

A nasty side-effect of the Pollock distorter.

  • Word rep, echo or clash, causing a blip in the reading flow.

A rhythm distorter. Hops around like a flea. Nasty little fella. Often wears a cloak of invisibility and can hang around your prose for years. It usually takes fresh eyes to spot these buggers.

  • Poor use of page space diluting the scene effect.

This one’s a magic puzzle distorter. Like those puzzles where you have to shift the blocks around before you see the picture, this distorter will mix your puzzle. Quite amazing how one single white space on the page can make a difference to reader’s perception of the scene in question. Be aware of effective use of page space to nab this distorter.

  • Loss of tone, momentum or tension through poor word choice.

The mad-eye distorter. This distorter is a flimflam man. He’ll tell you not to look too closely, that it doesn’t really matter – that word – that one word. But it does matter.

  • Loss of pov depth through dubious dialogue.

Mad-eye’s brother. This distorter chuckles a lot. Not only does he tell you not to look too closely, he laughs at the results. Pummel this distorter by getting real, by acting it out loud, by saying it with the passion that is meant, BUT not only with the words that match mood and situ, but the words which retain rhythm, flow, and pace whilst keeping other distorters from leaping in. Do all that, then you can laugh at the banished distorter.

  • Loss of continuity through misuse of props.

The disgruntled runner distorter. This distorter looks like a decent enough stage hand, but turn your back and he’ll change the coffee for tea, a she to a he, a cat to a dog, and even make the sun set in the east. Never trust a runner. Always, always check the props. Every last detail.

  • Loss of setting through poor continuity.

The dunce hat distorter. A close relation of the disgruntled runner distorter, this is one magical wiz of a distorter. He’ll play with your mind until you believe the impossible. He’ll make it night when it should be day, bring nesting birds in November, daffodils in December, turn shine to snow and give you frost which does not melt. You only realise he’s been when you find the dunce’s hat plonked on your head. Say duh, triple check your facts, and move on.

  •  Plot holes and storyline weaknesses.

The digger distorter. Keep a tight leash on this one. He will have your story riddled in a blink if you let him. This distorter despises any form of planning. Fix him by doing just that, and know that there is never a plot hole that can’t be filled or a story weakness that can’t be made stronger. Take the distorter’s shovel and do some digging yourself. Sometimes you have to dig deep, but the answers are always there.

  • Dubious character actions/reactions.

The twisted director distorter. He’ll make punished characters laugh, hungry characters abstain from food, angry characters happy, and vice versa. Related to the dunce hat distorter. Deal with this one by wearing your character’s shoes and triple checking his actions and reactions.

  • Lost or weakened reader connection through unconvincing character mood swings.

A side effect of the twisted director distorter. Overlying mood is so easily overlooked. Triple check, wear the shoes, live the mood, fix, remove the dunce’s hat, say duh and move on.

Spotting (or perceiving) the distorters when editing, requires the editor to read with the mind of the reader; that is: to open the book with an empty stage like any new reader does, and rely on the author to bring on the best settings, characters, and props with which to move story along smoothly.

Editing (or critiquing) fresh prose from a fellow writer is a whole lot easier than editing your own, sweat-soaked stuff. And that’s because your editing brain accepts unseen prose with ease, filling that empty stage with moving story from the intake of fresh words. When editing/analysing your own work, however, there is one important factor to success: Time.

Published writers have their own ideas about how long to shelve a first draft before going back to edit. Some say three months. Stephen King reckons on six months being a decent enough time for your neural pathways to rid themselves of the imprinted first draft program. But the truth is, the `best` time between drafts will be different for each writer. How often have you gone back to read something you wrote only to be amazed that those words came from your fingertips? Sufficient time has passed for your reading brain to rid itself of the old imprint and you can read again – fresh. Or at least as close to fresh as it gets.

So it’s easy right? Simply use fresh reader perception, a list of distorters to help spot the bad guys, leave sufficient time between drafts, and fanny’s your aunt?

Not so.

To perceive one’s own work with complete unbiased freshness is, I suspect, near enough impossible and that’s when truly fresh eyes are needed. Whether employing an editor or a fellow writer to help you with your work, remember that doing so is akin to inviting a fellow sculptor to wave his tool, providing nicks and cuts as to where distortions might be smoothed out. So be sure you can trust that this fellow craftsman is apt in the art of catching distorters.

Is `perfect` prose therefore possible? No. Individual reader perception prevents such a thing.

Is `good` prose therefore possible? Absolutely. Discover the distorters and how they exploit your weaknesses. Pay attention to the detail and the fixes will come. Every word matters.

The more attention paid to the detail, the more distorters are caught.

Fill your nets!