Photo by Salman Raza

Photo by Salman Raza

I like Kamila Shamsie. I enjoy her writing and admire her as a person. This week in The Guardian, she condensed her National Conversation with Writers’ Centre Norwich into a ‘provocation’. Her challenge was this: in 2018, the publishing industry commits to a year of publishing only work written by women, literary critics review only female-penned work and booksellers, bloggers and festivals refuse to include books by men.

She quotes a list of statistics which amply demonstrate “the gender imbalance that exists in publishing houses, in terms of reviews, top positions in publishing houses, literary prizes etc”. Her position was designed to create discussion and it succeeded. Comments erupted and arguments flared. I listened to both sides and to my own gut feeling.

I’m a feminist. Of course I am. I’m a woman. Sexism, just like any other form of discrimination, is unacceptable. Battles have been won but the struggle for equal rights is far from over. Especially as we’re still fighting our enemies (FGM/unequal pay/rape as weapon) and, on occasion, our friends (lazy terminology such as MILF).

As a female writer in a gender-skewed business, I agree we need creative ideas to right the balance. For example, the Women’s Prize for Fiction (was Orange, now Baileys) is controversial in its exclusion of men but something I welcome as a positive affirmation of the exciting achievements of women writers. The A Year of Reading Women concept was an extraordinary door-opener to the wealth of novels, short stories, poetry and non-fiction overlooked by mainstream media. Mslexia, a magazine aimed specifically at women writers is another example of adding, rather than taking away.

Hence I applaud Shamsie for making us think harder about how best to take affirmative action. But I cannot agree with a year of publishing only women.

I believe the way forward is not by excluding, discriminating or preventing any group of people from publishing their work. When faced with a wall, you have more options than knocking it down. Scale it alone, make your own door, tunnel under or do what women do best. Lift each other up.

In the UK/Europe, we have prizes, magazines, websites and a readers’ initiative to promote women’s writing. Why not an international literary festival to do the same? Inclusive: embracing women writers of all backgrounds and genres, inviting supportive male writers, showcasing the prize-winners, the risk-takers, the experimenters, the cutting-edgers of right now and the female icebreakers who first took up their pens to chip away at the glass ceiling.

So taking offensive terms and turning them upside down, I’d like to suggest the very first WiLF – Women in Literature Festival – in London next year. In 2017, the project could spread across Europe with mini-WiLFs on International Women’s Day. And in 2018, we can have a celebration of how much women and men have promoted the range and diversity of writing by, about and for women.

Kamila Shamsie – how do you fancy being keynote speaker?


Joanna Penn nailed it at our CrimeFest panel and summarises it all again here.

Team Indie at CrimeFest15

Team Indie at CrimeFest15

A perfect, energetic, brilliant summary of why we do it our own way.

Yes, that grinner in the middle is me.


In the radio interview with Roz Morris and Peter Snell, bookseller Peter wondered if there could be such a thing as a stamp of quality for indie books. We took his words to heart and thought about it. We realised we already offer such a thing. The stamp of approval from Bookmuse. There are various awards available out there, but ours is a little different. See why below.
So we decided to create an award for books we can honestly recommend, no matter where they come from. If a book carries this badge, one of our team loved it and will tell you why.
This is the Bookmuse Recommended Read Award.

Bookmuse recommends great books to discerning readers.

We read and assess submissions, handpick the ones we love and send out a weekly newsletter to our subscribers. We only feature books we can honestly recommend.

Bookmuse reviews follow this format:

What we thought

You’ll enjoy this if you liked

Avoid if you dislike

Ideal accompaniments

· We read books from trade, small and independent or self publishers

· Our pool of reviewers includes a range of tastes, ages and genders

· Featured books are awarded the Recommended Read Award

· Reviews are promoted across all our platforms

· We never charge for reviews or feedback

The Award

If you’ve been reviewed, feel free to display your award on your website, blog or cover.

If you’d like your book reviewed, check out these incredibly simple guidelines.

Email submissions@quinnpublications.co.uk with a brief description of your book. Although we cannot review all books submitted, we’ll do our best to get back to you.

To promote a book, please post on our Facebook page or tag us on Twitter @bookmuseuk.

To get three carefully chosen book recommendations delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up here.

Recent events at Foyles Bookshop (see below) in central London created some multi-media perspectives on indie authorship and author collectives.

Roz, Peter and the Gizmo Gonk

Roz Morris and Peter Snell


First up, audio.

Here’s a radio interview with JD Smith and myself, talking about Triskele Books author collective with Roz Morris and Peter Snell on Surrey Hills Radio. (Warning, contains seriously cool music.)



JJ Marsh and JD Smith



Catriona Troth


Next, visuals.

This take on the collective is neatly delivered by our fellow Triskelite Catriona Troth, speaking here to Ingram Spark.

An author collective in three minutes!

Friday 17 April saw London Book Fair’s first Fringe Festival.

Foyles, London’s biggest independent bookstore, opened its doors to the Alliance of Independent Authors, IndieReCon and IAF15, organised by Triskele Books. A thrilling, vibrant and educational day, not to mention a lot of fun. So what happened?


Bestseller CJ Lyons


CJ Lyons opened the event by using the analogy of a blacksmith.

Forge your first book with love and care, then keep honing your craft.

Engage with readers.

Don’t try to sell a million.

Write something a million people want to buy.



L-R: Peter Urpeth, John Prebble, Nicola Solomon and Debbie Young

Debbie Young of the Alliance of Independent Authors chaired a discussion with panellists Peter Urpeth of Scottish based Creative Agency, Emergents; John Prebble of Arts Council of England Literature Relationship Manager and Nicola Solomon of the Society of Authors.

The theme was how to keep the cash coming in while you write. Grants, prizes, Public Lending Rights, mentoring schemes, partnerships with business development organisations and sponsorship are all potential sources of support for authors.

dan rohan

Dan and Rohan



Dan Holloway and Rohan Quine fired up the audience by speaking eloquently and poetically on diversity in literature.

Read Dan’s poem ‘Because’ here.



L-R: Sharmain Lovegrove, Scott Beatty, Katie Donelan and Toby Mundy




ALLi’s literary agent, Toby Mundy of TMA chaired a panel including Scott Beatty of Trajectory, book-scout Sharmaine Lovegrove of Dialogue Berlin & Fremantle Media, and Katie Donelan of BookBub to discuss how authors can sell more rights.


Porter Anderson introduced SELF-e. Authors everywhere can sign up to get their ebooks into US libraries.



L-R: Dr Alison Baverstock, Robert Caskie, Porter Anderson and Robin Cutler

Much talk centres on what self-publishing should learn from trade publishing. Rarely vice versa. Porter Anderson explored this key question with panellists Robert Caskie, Senior Agent at Peter Frazer Dunlop; Dr Alison Baverstock, Associate Professor, Department of Journalism and Publishing, Kingston University and Robin Cutler of Ingram Spark: how does self-publishing affect trade publishers, editors, agents and bookshops?

Debbie Young and Piers Alexander introduced the new #Authors4Bookstores campaign. All writers and readers love bookstores and want to see at least one on every high street. This new campaign encourages and enables indie authors and bookstores to form mutually beneficial, supportive relationships.

Last session of the day saw Joanna Penn grill a range of successful indie authors, Rachel Abbott, Steena Holmes, CJ Lyons, Mark McGuinness and Nick Stephenson on their tactics, breakthrough moments and advice.

Orna Ross & Porter Anderson wrapped up the conference with a look back at the last three years of ALLi (including a divergence of opinion on how to pronounce it) and hopes for the future.

You can access all this and more via IndieReCon – talks, tips, ideas, videos and vast amounts of resources to peruse at leisure.


The last part of the day was IAF15 @Foyles, organised by Triskele Books. Fifty authors with books, balloons, goodies, quizzes, wine, canapés and smiles welcomed browsers, bookclubbers, friends and readers. The atmosphere was happy, friendly, communal and everything an indie author fair should be.

IAF buzz

The Indie Author Fair at Foyles

And we’re now planning the next one.

After a cup of tea.


Team Triskele

Images courtesy of Liza Perrat

Happy Easter!

A bunch of treats and goodies for you to indulge in at your leisure:

1. Writing Retreat

Chateau Saint Mère

Chateau Saint Mère

Writing At The Castle is 5 days of professional tuition and private writing time in the inspiring surroundings of a magnificent medieval Château in Gascony, South West France. Award-winning authors Amanda Hodgkinson and Tracey Warr, together with literary agent Andrew Lownie and publishing professionals including Jill Marsh author and co-publisher at Triskele Books and Anselm Audley, will be among the speakers who will lead practical workshops for a small group of writers looking to make that difficult leap from the private and often solitary writing desk, to the world of published success.

Writing At The Castle 2015 will concentrate on fiction and the novel. Wednesday 1st July –  Tuesday 7th July.


Dan_Jones_MG_9611C copy

Dan Jones, presenter of Great British Castles

2. Words with JAM

THE magazine for writers is just out. If you’re new to Words with JAM (WWJ), please pull up a stool and take a look around. We email out issues packed full of interviews with authors and industry professionals, articles on writing, reading, libraries, the publishing industry and indie-publishing every other month, as well as occasional newsletters.

This is the History issue, containing interviews, reviews, info, opinion and a smidge of sarky satire.


w-green-howl3. Indie-Publishing

Jill Indie Pub – Your ALLi rep’s take on indie publishing in Switzerland. These are the slides from my talk at WriteConZüri15 on 21/22 March. A round of all speakers’ presentations will appear in the next issue of The Woolf,  Zürich’s quarterly literary magazine: pouncing on narrative media, dragging tasty morsels home to share with the pack.



4. Here’s A Time & A Place

Today, Triskele Books releases a boxset of SEVEN fabulous novels, taking you wherever and whenever you want to go. Gorge on gorgeousness and feel saintly as it is completely calorie-free. What’s in the box?

A Time and A Place Box Set Cover LARGE EBOOKCrimson Shore: ‘Hamer does for Anglesey what Rankin does to Edinburgh, what Dexter did to Oxford’
The Rise of Zenobia: ‘Packed to the hilt with tension and adventure, it kept me spellbound’
Rats: ‘An absolute treat for fans of SF, dystopian, and YA novels, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves a great story brilliantly told’
Ghost Town:‘Unique and brilliant… not just a compelling read, but also a learning experience’
Wolfsangel: ‘Fascinating, forceful and extremely well researched… will thrill historical fiction fans’
Delirium: ‘Beautifully plotted and written, this absorbing, enchanting novel is one of the best books I have read this year’
Behind Closed Doors: ‘Warning: once you start this book you may not be able to put it down, and you may find yourself talking to it’

A writer friend is helping me out by checking a Spanish translation of my work. I asked how I could repay the favour.

“Encouragement!” she said. “I’m blocked. So many false starts, I need help to get moving again.”

Blocks happen to all of us, sometimes caused by rejection or criticism, sometimes because we need to top up the creative reservoir. Advice often falls into the ‘Stand back’, ‘Take a break’, ‘Do something else’ category. Yes, that works.

But sometimes we get blocked because we’re looking at the woods and not seeing the trees. So get closer.

006 - Copy When I hit a wall, I stop trying to envisage the forest and get right down to twig level. I spend some time doing the equivalent of staring at a blade of grass. I’ve collected a series of exercises from all over and this is how I get past my blocks. After I’ve forced myself to complete a few of these, I return to my ms with an attitude I can only describe as Hell Yeah!

They aren’t for everyone – depends on what the block is – but it might give you a few ideas. Here are ten exercises which have worked for me:

Roll the dice. To generate some writing, start with www.storycubes.com/products. You could use cut out images from a magazine just as easily. Apply genres – whatever images you turn up, you have to fit them into crime/erotica/fairytale… WHY? Remind yourself of the childlike joy of just making shit up.

The Dürrenmatt Exercise. Write the first 250 words of a short story, but write them in one sentence. Make sure that the sentence is grammatically correct and punctuated correctly. WHY? Same reason as you do yoga – stretch.

Eavesdrop. Sit in a restaurant or a crowded area and write down the snippets of conversation you hear. Listen to how people talk and what words they use. Practise finishing their conversations. Write your version of what comes next. Match their style and try to capture those voices on the page. WHY? Break old habits, learn new ones.

Play with structure. Find a descriptive passage you admire (not from your own work) and revise all the sentences. Write the passage using all simple sentences (no coordination, no subordination); write the passage using all complex-compound sentences; write the passage using varying sentence structure. WHY? The more ways you can think to play with sentence structure, the more you will become aware of how sentence structure helps to create pacing, alter rhythm, offer delight.

IMG_0852Focus on verbs. Find a passage that you admire (about a page of prose) and examine all of the verbs in each sentence. Are the “active,” “passive,” “linking?” If they are active, are they transitive or intransitive? Are they metaphorical (Mary floated across the floor)? What effects do verbs have on your reading of the passage? Now take a passage of your own writing and revise all of the verbs in it. Do this once making all the verbs active, once making all the verbs passive. Then try it by making as many verbs as possible metaphorical. WHY? Make words work harder.

Work on word choice. Trying rewriting this extract using no adjectives or adverbs. Not just taking them out but choosing more powerful nouns, verbs, constructions to convey the same concepts. WHY? Read it and you tell me. (Lest you think I made this up, it comes from Kay Burley’s Betrayal.)

Leaning on the edge of the enormous walnut and leather inlay desk he now slowly began to unbutton her silk blouse … Isla was mightily relieved she had always heeded her mother’s guidance of wearing good underwear, though that advice had no doubt been for other reasons.” It’s La Senza, since you ask.” He instantly turned and swept away every bit of clutter from his leather-topped desk, knocking over a Waterford Crystal water jug in his urgency, which smashed into tiny shards as it crashed to the ground.
At that exact moment, Julian was expertly using his silver tongue to offer intense gratification to Sally as he held on firmly to her taut, tanned thighs, tightly gripped around his handsome face. Lithe and muscular, he effortlessly lifted her from the bed and onto his broad shoulders. Sally felt all the excitement and exhilaration of a fairground ride as he continued to offer intense pleasure before she was finally sated and he lowered her gently back onto the round bed.

Wear other shoes. Remember an old argument you had with another person. Write about the argument from the point of view of the other person. Remember that the idea is to see the argument from their perspective, no your own. WHY? To understand voice and perspective and flex your imagination.

IMG_0853The secret subtext. Write a dramatic scene between two people in which each has a secret and neither of them reveals the secret to the other or to the reader. WHY? To appreciate the power of the unsaid.

“Body English”. In his book on writing, “The 3 A.M. Epiphany,” Brian Kiteley suggests an exercise on paralinguistics. Write a conversation that takes place with no words. Kiteley recommends that it might be easiest to write from the point of view of an observer watching two people. Write only about their movements, gestures and positions. WHY? Challenge your reliance on dialogue.

The Eliot/Gardner Killer Exercise. This exercise is quite possibly the most difficult, demanding and important exercise a writer can ever do. T. S. Eliot coined the phrase “objective correlative”: rendering the description of an object so that the emotional state of the character is revealed without ever telling the reader what that emotional state is or what has motivated it.
John Gardner, recognized in his lifetime as the leading creative writing teacher in the United States, developed the following exercise:
A middle-age man is waiting at a bus stop. He has just learned that his son has died violently. Describe the setting from the man’s point of view without telling your reader what has happened. How will the street look to this man? What are the sounds? Odours? Colours? That this man will notice? What will his clothes feel like? Write a 250 word description. WHY? Because it calls on everything you’ve got.


Photo0030Lastly, I’ll quote Anne Enright on the subject of blocks.

Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.


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