Thursday, 29 December 2011

New book!

So how was your Christmas? I hope you had a lovely time, and that Father Christmas brought you everything you wanted. I have it on good authority that lots of people have been given new Kindles for Christmas so I've timed my most exciting news for this post-Christmas period!
I now have a brand new book available on Amazon as a Kindle e-book, under my own name (Sheila Norton). It's called 'Sophie Being Single', it's the first of a series of three books about three sisters - one single, one married and one divorced. And it won't add too much stress to your post-Christmas bank balances, at only £2.29 for a download.
At thirty-four, Sophie Jennings is still single, and that’s the way she likes it. She has her own flat, a good social life and a gorgeous boyfriend, Charlie, who feels exactly the same as she does – settling down, marriage and children aren’t on the agenda for either of them. She also has her own business, ironically doing wedding hair and make-up. While her married and attached friends think she’s weird and her family think she’s selfish, all her bridal clients for some reason seem to want to use her as an agony aunt! Hearing about so many horrible husbands and bastard boyfriends convinces her she’s definitely best off as she is – satisfyingly single. Or is she ...?

'Sophie Being Single' is a feel-good read for the New Year with lots of laughs and some emotional anguish along the way - I really hope my readers will enjoy this new book and will be looking forward to the other two sisters' stories when they've finished reading it.
If you do read the book please let me know if you enjoy it!
And Happy New Year to everyone! Let's hope it's a successful one for us all.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Writers and Libraries feature

Just to let you know, the feature I wrote almost a year ago about Writers and Libraries (A Special Relationship) has just been published in the February edition of 'Writers' Forum' - out now! (I had to look twice at the magazine but yes, it's the February edition!).

I hope it helps to publicise the case for keeping the library service afloat - as well as making other writers realise just how much we do need them, and sometimes take it for granted.

And thanks to Dawn for pointing out to me that the feature was published ... I'd put the magazine aside to read after Christmas!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas memories

Like most of us, I suppose, at this time of year I often think about all the Christmases we've enjoyed with our other halves and our families over the years. Of course, the older we get the more Christmases there are to remember! Some Christmases are particularly special for various reasons - others more difficult - and some Christmas memories just give us a good story to make people laugh! Here are a few of my favourites from our own family archives:

* I met my husband on the 23 December at a teenage dance in the 1960s. I didn't know then, of course, how long it was going to last! But he did see me all the way home that first night (a journey of two bus-rides), even though it would mean a long walk back from my side of town to his afterwards. And he did take me to the Ilford Palais the next night - Christmas Eve - which, as I was still a schoolgirl, seemed like a really glamorous date! So I guess he got off to a good start!

* Our first daughter was 5 months old at her first Christmas, and we thought it would be nice, now we were a family, to have our Christmas dinner on our own with our baby before going to my parents in the afternoon. Our little one sat in her 'baby bouncer' crying all the way through our meal. But we put a paper hat on her and took a photo of her for the album - which seemed to cheer her up!

* Both our second and third daughters were born at Christmas time, so from then on it became both a busy time and a very special one for our family. Johnny Mathis' song 'When a Child Is Born' was released in 1976 when No.2. baby was due to be born, and we bought 3 copies: one for ourselves, and one for each set of parents, as it felt like 'our song'!

* Two years later, our youngest (third) daughter was actually due on Christmas day. We went to my parents for the day, and I was instructed to sit still, not move, and not to dare give birth until at least the dinner was over! In fact we made it home in the evening, and to bed, before things started happening - and she arrived on Boxing Day morning.

* I remember a Christmas Eve when the eldest daughter was playing Mary in her Sunday School nativity at the church carol service. Second daughter was only three, but she wanted a part too so she was allowed to be a donkey. We dressed her in brown trousers, brown jumper and a brown hat with cardboard ears attached - and pinned a tail on her trousers made from plaited brown wool. During the service she became bored and started twiddling with her tail, much to everyone's amusement, especially us - we were in pride of place in the front row, watching her!

* Then there was the Christmas when our oven died, halfway through cooking the turkey. Fortunately my next-door neighbour, a very good friend, had cooked hers on Christmas Eve so when I yelled over the fence for help, she was able to transfer our half-cooked bird to her oven!

* When the girls started school I started teaching music to groups of children after school - including our own daughters. At Christmas time, I'd teach them to play lots of carols on their recorders, and eventually I had some more advanced players who could play the tenor and treble recorders. I got the children playing two and three part harmonies and on the last lesson before Christmas, I always invited their parents to come and listen while we entertained them. Once or twice we were invited to play at carol services, and one year we also went out carol-singing, with some of the kids accompanying us on their recorders. We collected for the local hospice. I think about those evenings fondly now, when groups of kids knock on my door, mumble a couple of lines of 'We wish you a Merry Christmas' and expect a handout - for themselves!

* And then, on a very different note, there was the Christmas Eve when I was working at the hospital, when the after-work drinks party went on a bit, and I was enjoying myself, and ... somehow forgot I hadn't bought any vegetables for the Christmas dinner. The shops were closed by the time I got home. Oddly, I still can't remember what we ate with our turkey that year! I guess I must have had some frozen peas in the freezer!

* There was one year my brother, sister-in-law and their children came over from Australia for Christmas - and it snowed. The kids had never seen snow. We all went out for a walk in the woods and it was perfect - I think my neice still talks about it now she has her own children!

* And now we've come full circle. We're grandparents, and starting all over again with the lovely excitement of Christmas with a house full of little ones. Little Noah might not yet have a complete understanding of what it's all about but I'm sure he's going to enjoy it all this year. And as for our three new baby girls - now 5 and a half months, 4 months and nearly 2 months - all we can hope is that they feed, sleep and smile contentedly for us and that we get through the festivities without too much screaming (from children or adults!). Hopefully this year's will be another Christmas to remember.

I'm sure my daughters will remind me of others - good and bad - that I've left out. Maybe we'll talk about that over Christmas dinner! I'd like to finish off by wishing all my readers a very happy Christmas making your own special memories. And let's hope 2012 is a good year for us all.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Full of woe?

I'm gutted! Devastated! Humiliated! OK, I'll calm down in a minute, but I don't think you can blame me for being upset. For the whole of my life, I've believed something about myself (obviously told to me by my parents) which I've just discovered isn't true!

I'd better explain. The other day we were talking with our eldest daughter about which days of the week the grandchildren were born on. We had a Monday's child first; and the new babies have been Sunday, Saturday and Friday in that order. You know the old rhyme, don't you? Monday's child is fair of face, etc. So we got to discussing how true the various labels were, in terms of our own family. We thought it was most unfair, and untrue, for poor Middle Daughter to be labelled 'full of woe' (being a Wednesday child), but the others (Sunday and Tuesday) have nice, complimentary descriptions attached to them. I was happy to show off about being a Friday's child - loving and giving. Nice one. I've always thought that was obviously a fair and accurate description of my loving and giving self! (!)

When it came to my husband, we giggled pityingly about the fact that he didn't even know which day of the week he was born on. Well, granted we were both born a long time ago! - but my Mum had made a point of letting me know (so I thought) about being a Friday's child. So this morning I got on the internet and looked up the calendar for our year of birth - and giggled a bit more to see that he was actually a Monday's child - fair of face. Ha! Well, I suppose he'll like that!

And then I checked my own birthdate. I don't know why - after all, I knew it was a Friday, didn't I. And I nearly choked on my cup of tea. There it was, in black and white (well, in figures on the screen) - a WEDNESDAY. What??? Has someone been fiddling with the calendar? I was so shocked, I had to exit the page, go back into it and look again. But there's no getting away from it: my lovely mum either got muddled up with the day, or just told me it was a Friday to keep me happy! Fair enough, if I'd gone through life believing I was Full of Woe, I might have turned out differently! (I hope my lovely middle daughter doesn't believe in all this stuff!).

Of course, I don't really believe in it myself, either - but it just goes to show how easy it is to believe something about yourself, just because you've been told it for so long. As a postscript, I had a quick look at the calendar for my older brother's year of birth. I was wondering whether Mum could have got the two of us confused - maybe he was the Friday child! But no - he was born on a Thursday. And for once, this is completely appropriate. He emigrated to Australia at the age of 22 and has lived there ever since. Thursday's Child has far to go!

OK, I'm off to bury my Woeful head in shame. Loving and giving? Well, I did try!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A tale of three babies - and a new e-book.

Well finally, after what feels like a whole year of waiting (and I guess it has been, actually!), we now have all three of our new grandbabies safely delivered. And ... it's a matching set! Yes, history seems to be repeating itself. Thirty-odd years ago we had our own three little girls, close enough in age to grow up together with all the joys, companionship and the odd argument that entails! And now, each of the girls has produced a daughter of their own during the last few months.

If you've managed to wade through my recent blog postings (and I know some of you have followed this on Facebook too), you'll know we had Caitlin Emily in July, Alice Molly in August, and now - last Friday, the 28th October, Kitty Ruth arrived. She's a lovely little sister for Noah George, who has been a specially good boy and as you can see from the pictures below, has welcomed her in the nicest way! Noah is going to grow up as the Big Boy of the family and we're sure all the little girls will look up to him and think he's the Bees Knees!

And here's a picture of the three girls with the three girls! How lovely that the cousins are so very close in age and we hope they'll grow up to be as close as their mummies still are.

Writing news has taken a bit of a back seat as you can imagine, but I do have one announcement: The first of my Olivia Ryan books ('Tales from a Hen Weekend') has now been published on Amazon for Kindle - at the very special price of only £1.14 (even more of a bargain than my Sheila Norton Kindle books!). Here's the new cover image:

And although I've decided to publish this under my own name 'writing as Olivia Ryan' (now everyone knows who I am!), you'll find the e-book on the Olivia Ryan page - there's no facility for being in two places at once on Amazon, unfortunately!

Just a couple of days before Kitty was born, I had a short story accepted by my editor at The People's Friend. It had been under consideration since April so I was pleased it's sold - especially as it's about a grandma whose whole family produces babies during the same year! Although it's not my life story at all, I must confess to having been inspired by events in our own family! So the story will always be a little bit special to me. I'll let you know when it's published.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A 'People's Friend' kind of day.

Hello - how are you all? Just thought I'd tell you about my day today, because it really sums up the life of a short story writer!

This morning I was sitting working on my writing when an e-mail came through from 'my' editor at PF, rejecting a recent story I'd sent her. So far, so all-too depressingly ordinary ... I've had several other rejections recently from other mags.

About half an hour later, another e-mail came through from PF. This time it was one of their routine ones to advise me that a previously-accepted story is going to be in this week's issue. Ah well, that cheered me up!

Went out for a couple of hours, came back - and there was yet another e-mail, from the editor again - but this time it was an acceptance! Yay! A story they'd had since March has made the grade. I'm really pleased about this one, too, as it's about someone whose whole family are producing grandchildren at the same time. Does that sound familiar? No, I haven't just written my own life story, but I can't deny my own situation was the inspiration!

Here are some recent pics of our two gorgeous granddaughters - while we're still waiting for the next baby to arrive - and one of Big Cousin Noah - taken on his second birthday last month - because I think it's such a happy picture of him.

Caitlin at 3 months - Alice at 2 months - Noah at 2 years

Monday, 17 October 2011

Just not meant to be?

Have you ever resigned yourself to something not happening, deciding that the best way of looking at it is that it 'just wasn't meant to be'? That's just happened to me, with a competition I was going to enter.

I think, actually, I was kidding myself a bit, even thinking of entering it. It's the The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award 2012 - which is only open to published writers, so you can imagine how high the standard must be. OK, I'm published, and I write a lot of short stories too, but normally my stories are specifically geared to the womag market and not really the sort that I'd enter for what sounds like quite a 'literary' competition. But it just so happens I've got one story that might 'fit' ... I wrote it just because it was a story I wanted to write, not for any particular market, and I only ever submitted it to one magazine. I wasn't surprised it was rejected as 'unsuitable', and I didn't try it with any others as it just isn't a typical womag story (and at just under 3000 words, it's also too long for most of them).

So I downloaded the entry form and instructions, etc, and then (typically) put them to one side and spent more than a month dithering about it. But for some reason, today, I suddenly decided I was going to enter it. I told myself it was being a bit ridiculous, that with all the Very Clever Writers obviously entering (it's a big prize), I had absolutely no chance ... but equally, absolutely nothing to lose.

I read the list of formatting requirements, and started making a few necessary amendments to my text (no indenting, no page numbers, that kind of thing) ... and then read the rules. Oh yes, I should have done that first! One of them states that by entering the competition, you agree to make yourself available to attend any events you may be asked to, during the lead-up to the awards ceremony, which is part of the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. And the dates are ... when I'll be in Australia next spring, visiting my brother!

Now, I must admit I hesitated. After all, the only people who'll be required to attend those events will be those who are at least long-listed, if not short-listed. And that's never going to be me! But ... after all, what would be the point in entering, if I was so certain of having no chance whatsoever of coming anywhere, that I was prepared to turn a blind eye to that requirement? And it is one of the rules. Supposing they decided to invite the writer of the worst entry in the competition to go along - a bit like the worst performers on X-Factor are publicly humiliated! Not that the Sunday Times are likely to behave like that, of course!

So, needless to say, only a couple of hours after deciding to give it a go, I've had to abandon the whole idea. Being contrary by nature, I'm now feeling disappointed that I'm not entering after all! But of course, the trip to Australia will more than make up for it! And ... maybe next year, I'll dig that story out again and actually enter it.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Big Red Read - the result!

Just wanted to share my excitement with you ... and also my thanks if you voted for me! ... my book 'Sweet Nothings' came second in the Big Red Read fiction awards! Huge congrats to Juliet Archer whose book 'The Importance of Being Emma' came first! I noticed there were some very well received new-release titles on the short list, so the fact that a book from my backlist has enjoyed this little comeback is a real thrill for me.

I was sad to miss the awards ceremony, and wish now that I'd gone! But I understand it was a great evening. I think thanks are due not only to all of you - friends and followers - who might have kindly voted, but also to the library readers who must have made up the majority of the votes.

I think you all know by now how strongly I feel about the library service. As a mid-list author, I rely on PLR for the biggest chunk of my income from writing. My books seem to do well in the libraries and I really appreciate the support I get from them. It's a two-way relationship of course, and I (and most writers I know) do our bit to support them too, by doing author talks and events and waiving our fees.

And by the way, the feature I wrote, quite a while back, on writers & libraries, has now been accepted for publication in 'Writers' Forum' - so I'll let you all know when it's going to be published!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The best and worst things - and East London events.

I took part at a library event at East Ham in East London last night - I was part of an author panel chaired by my good friend Jean Fullerton and comprising of myself, Julie Cohen and Catherine Jones (Kate Lace).

The event was supposed to be about 'chick lit' but I must admit, we ended up discussing all sorts of things about our writing, answering very varied questions including what we consider to be the best - and worst - things about being a writer. I didn't find that one too tricky! For me, the best thing is definitely being able to spend my time doing my favourite thing! OK, getting published is the icing on the cake but how many people are lucky enough to be able to spend as much time as they like, doing the thing they enjoy most? (I suppose that's just because I'm retired, of course - but I enjoyed it just as much when it was my relaxation after a hard day at the day-job!).

The other girls came up with some good answers too. Julie said the best thing for her was that feeling you get when the writing's going really well, it flows like magic and the characters just seem to take over. I think we can all agree with that - although sadly it doesn't happen all the time, does it! Catherine said the best feeling is when you hold your published book in your hands for the first time. Oh yes, I agree with that one too! The thrill never wears off. (But sadly that doesn't happen as often as we'd like, either!)

And the worst thing? For me, it has to be the fact that we never stop getting the rejections and disappointments, however many stories or books we've had published. The waiting, the endless waiting, only to be told it's 'no' again!

Because I'd already agreed to take part in the event last night, I regretfully turned down an invitation to go back to East London tonight, for the Awards ceremony of the Big Red Read - which my book 'Short Nothings' was shortlisted for. It's a pity as I'd like to have gone - but I'm sure I'll hear all about it from some of the other RNA authors who were shortlisted, and who I think are going to be there. I'll let you know as soon as I hear the results.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Exciting news ...

We writers hear so much gloomy news these days - about how difficult it is to find a publisher or even an agent, how hard it is to find a market for short stories, and how heavily the odds are stacked against us when we try to get anything accepted - whether we're new or established writers.

So it's doubly exciting to hear some really good news, especially when it concerns someone who I know has worked hard to achieve it and undoubtedly deserves it. Anne Cameron is the daughter of one of my best writing buddies, Dawn. I met Dawn back in the early 1990s when we both won prizes in the Writers' News story competitions and attended the awards ceremony in London. Ever since, we've been 'pen pals' - originally by old-fashioned letter and now of course by e-mail - encouraging each other in our writing and sharing all the inevitable ups and downs, and we finally managed to meet up again last year.

Dawn has often told me about her daughter Anne, who's also a writer, having produced short stories and teenage romances in the past but who has worked for a considerably long time on an action adventure book for 9 to 12 year olds, about an 11-year old boy called Angus McFangus (lovely name!).

This book has now been sold by Madeleine Buston at the Darley Anderson agency, to US publisher Greenwillow books, who are part of HarperCollins - as the first of a series of four Angus McFangus books! It's a super deal, and I personally can't wait to read the first book -

ANGUS MCFANGUS - STORM PROPHET - which is going to be published in the States next year, and I hope UK publication will follow soon! (OK, so I'm not 9-12 years old, but the first line about the book on Darley Anderson's website: You know something is seriously wrong when it starts raining newts and frogs... has got me hooked already!).

I wouldn't be surprised if Angus McFangus could be the new Harry Potter! And I'll be proud to say I was sharing Anne's success with her mum right at the very start. Huge congratulations to Anne, and I think we can all agree that it gives us some hope ... the deals are still out there, you just need to write the right story, and find the right agent, and above all have the talent and perseverance necessary. I promise to keep you all updated about Angus McFangus!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Baby Days (or Daze?)!

It's all been happening again in our family! Here's our gorgeous latest new addition, little Alice Molly, who was born early on Saturday morning:

I can still hardly believe she's here, having (somehow, ridiculously) missed two text messages the previous evening, telling us that she was on her way - and not finding out till the morning that she'd actually arrived! Yes, I seem to be in a daze these days!

Alice is almost exactly six weeks younger than her cousin Caitlin - here's a really nice

pic of both the new mums with their babies.

We're already imagining the fun these little girls are going to have, growing up together, and how much little Noah is going to enjoy bossing them around - especially when his own new brother or sister (due in October) is here too!

I always liked the idea of having a big family ... but the reality was that three children were plenty to cope with! My girls were really lucky to grow up so close together and maybe now we're belatedly getting that big family!

Just so he isn't left out - here's my latest photo of Noah, too - enjoying a snack at his new home, where they'd just moved into.

I told you it was all happening in our family! They've all been so busy, working so hard - I feel tired just thinking about it! We're a very happy Nanny and Granddad.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Big Red Read

I’ve just found out that one of my books (‘Sweet Nothings’) has been shortlisted for the ‘Big Red Read’ run by Redbridge district libraries as part of the East London Libraries Festival. I’ve never been shortlisted for anything before so it’s quite exciting.

If you feel you'd like vote for the book, please just send an e-mail to: - just saying you vote for Sweet Nothings by Sheila Norton.

If you want to see more about the Big Red Read and the other shortlisted books, here’s the website:

Thank you very much!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Library lendings

I've just found out about something new, and feeling quite excited about it so I thought I'd share it with you! I'm sure you all know about PLR (Public Lending Right) - where authors get paid a few pence every time their books are borrowed from a public library. But did you know there's a new facility on the PLR website where authors can see the statistics for each book, for each edition, for each year and even for each library area? Wow - I was so impressed when I found it, needless to say I've wasted a lot of time looking at it!

It isn't quite as straightforward as it sounds, because PLR is based on a different sample of library areas each year. So, for instance, my own area (Essex) isn't included every year - and I've always assumed that most of my book lendings are from libraries in Essex, because that's where I'm best known. Not that my personal friends run back and forth to the local libraries taking out my books just to boost my income! - but because I do library events and talks in the Essex area, and interviews on local radio and in local papers etc, which I hope all helps to promote the books. So when Essex Libraries aren't included in the PLR sample, I would have expected my payments to be less - but in fact, I'm pleased to say they've been pretty good each year, naturally increasing each time a new book has come out.

Studying the stats on the website last night, I was amazed by the variation in the different library areas. For instance, I seem to do well in Northern Ireland! And in West Sussex. And Lancashire, and sometimes Leicestershire. Each of these areas has sometimes lent out more of my books than Essex. London, Northumbria, Devon and Cornwall are other areas where I've sometimes had a good 'score'.

As I said, I'm afraid I spent far longer than I intended, browsing these stats and wondering about them. I can't help wondering WHY one particular book would do particularly well in Devon, for instance, or why they all seemed to be popular in Northern Ireland and West Sussex! (Thanks, everyone in those areas!). Obviously some library areas must have ordered more copies of one, or all, or my books than other areas did - or they've placed them in more beneficial places on the shelves perhaps! But why? I'd love to know whether there were librarians in some places who just liked my books, or whether it really was that readers in those areas were enjoying them and recommending them to their friends. It's a lovely thought but I bet the answer is more prosaic than that!

It was interesting too, to see how the lendings peaked - usually in the year AFTER publication - and then began to tail off, but the earlier books are still being borrowed. My first book 'The Trouble With Ally' was published in 2003, and was still being borrowed a few hundred times during the last year that figures are available for (2009/10). That's quite reassuring and also confirms what I've always said: that when books are actually out there, being seen, people can choose books they like the look of, read them and hopefully enjoy them. But sadly when they're on sale in the shops it's for such a short time, and unless you're a best-selling author they're often tucked away on the back shelves - so they don't even get seen.

Thank God for PLR - thank God for the library service and readers who borrow from libraries!
If you're a published author pop over to the PLR website now and have a look at your stats. And if you work in a library maybe you can help to explain those variations to us!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Competition Winner!

Just to let you know that the draw has now been made, for the competition on my website to win a signed book - and the winner is Katie Bowles from Staines in Middlesex. Katie has chosen to receive a copy of 'Tales From a Honeymoon Hotel' and says she's looking forward to sitting in the garden reading it in the sunshine. As it's an ideal story for a holiday read, set on the lovely Croatian island of Korcula, I think she's made a good choice!

I had 113 entrants to the competition, and I'm just sorry everybody couldn't have been a winner. But thank you to everyone who entered - or at least, any who may be reading this blog!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Author interview

Hello everyone

Just popping in quickly to let you know I've been interviewed for the Romantic Novelists' Association blog and it has been published today. If you want to know all about how I got published, what I like writing, my favourite place to write, my advice for new writers and so on - please go over and have a read at

Hope everyone has a good weekend, whatever you're doing!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Self-promotion - how much is too much?

I was just going to make this a quick post to remind anyone who hasn't yet entered the competition on my website ( to win a signed book, that this is the last week before the competition closes. Just answer a simple question - the answer is on the website - and choose which book you'd like if you win. 'Simples' as they say!

But while I'm at it, I thought I'd also bring up the subject I've been discussing with my Facebook friends today - and which has also been a topic recently on the RNA members' forum. Self-promotion. Of course, you'll realise that the above paragraph is a form of promotion; I'm happy for lots of people to rush and look at my website, and in return I'm more than happy to give away a free book to the lucky winner. But if EVERY post I wrote on this blog - or everything I ever put on Facebook, or every time I commented on a forum or on anyone else's blog, was a blatant bit of promotion for my own books, it'd be too much. Well, it would, wouldn't it - you'd quite rightly all be sick of me! (And I hope you're not!).

But someone made an interesting point the other day, asking if continual postings about someone's own writing work are really any worse than continual postings about the 'minutiae' of life. You know the sort of thing - this isn't a criticism because I think we've all done it - a status update on Facebook saying you're going to bed now because you're tired, or you're going to have a glass of wine, or you've bought a new dress. Or writing blog posts about our cats, dogs, or (gulp!) grandchildren!

Some of us expressed a little concern at this point. Most of us have, as FB 'friends' (and I presume Twitter friends, although I'm still resisting having a Twitter account myself), and blog followers, etc, a mixture of 'real-life' friends, family, other writers, and readers of our books. So it's a tricky act to balance our posts. Of course we all want to share our writing successes and inevitable failures, but we don't want to come across as being self-obsessed or even writing-obsessed, unless promoting our writing is the ONLY reason we're on social networking sites. Equally, like anyone else we like to share snippets of our lives with family and friends, but don't want people who only know us as writers to think 'Who cares if you've got a new kitten or fancy a cup of tea!'

Too much promotion, being too much in-your-face, I think can be counter-productive. But perhaps too much 'wittering on' (as someone put it) can also make people stop reading your posts!

Well, I asked my FB friends to let me know what they thought about this whole issue, and I'm pleased to say the consensus is that people are generally happy to read the anecdotes about our everyday lives ('like we're all working in the same office and stopping for a natter' as one of my writing friends said!) and happy too to read the writing news but not non-stop posts of promotion, copying all our reviews for everyone to read, etc.

So I think we can all pretty much carry on as before (phew!) and with that in mind I'll just quickly let you know I've got a story in the People's Friend Summer Special out now! And my gorgeous new baby granddaughter will be two weeks old tomorrow and is doing fine. There - that's a bit of each for you! Now I'm off to put the kettle on ...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A new arrival !

This is going to be a very quick post ... (that makes a change!) ... just to explain why I haven't been on Blogger recently. I also haven't done much writing! In fact, it's just been too exciting around here to think about much else, because look who's arrived:-

Our new little granddaughter Caitlin Emily was born on Sunday 10th July. She's the first baby of our youngest daughter & son-in-law and she's absolutely gorgeous! They're bringing her round again to see us today - can't wait! And she's the first of our THREE new grandbabies due this year ... young Noah is going to have two baby cousins and a baby brother or sister, and we're going from one grandchild to four within the space of three months!

OK ... needless to say, not much writing news to report apart from several of the dreaded R-words flying back from various magazines; but the e-books are starting to sell on Amazon which is very encouraging! Will be back soon ... hope everyone else is being more productive than me!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Do we want to be alone?

I've always believed that one of the characteristics helpful for being a writer is the ability to enjoy your own company. After all, writing is usually a solitary occupation (I know there are people who co-write books, but personally I think I'd find that difficult!). I wouldn't go so far as to say it's absolutely necessary to be on your own in order to write; I wrote plenty of stories, and chapters of novels, years ago while the family were buzzing around the house. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who has sometimes needed so desperately to carry on with something I've been writing while it's going well, that I've sat working on my laptop even while the TV is on, pretending to spend a bit of time with Himself but obviously ignoring both TV and husband! I've written bits of stories in notebooks on crowded noisy trains and buses, and I've grabbed half-hour lunch breaks when I was at work, to continue with a chapter of a novel on my work computer while my colleagues chatted around me. Yes, it can be done - but I think most of us would agree it's easier to write in glorious solitude.

So is the solitude always glorious? The reason I ask is that this weekend, starting today, Himself isn't going to be around at all. Don't tell him, but I've been quite looking forward to three days of uninterrupted 'ME' time, to press on with editing and re-submitting some short stories, and finally getting down to the next novel. In fact, I actually get quite a lot of time on my own since I've been retired, as Himself has his own hobbies so we give each other a lot of space. Everyone's different, but although we enjoy each other's company, neither of us are the sort of people who want to spend our retirement living in each other's pockets, doing everything together. So I can rarely say that I haven't got time for my writing, or that it interferes with anyone or anything else.

And here's the funny thing. We're such contradictory creatures, aren't we! I think most writers understand Sod's Law of Procrastination. Because I'm sitting here today with limitless time available, and the idea in my head that I'm going to write several thousand words at the very least, what am I doing? Well, apart from writing this blog post and dealing with e-mails, I've been shopping on Amazon, checking my website stats, downloading some photos, reading various forums, have been for a walk, made another cup of tea (!) ... and oh look, it's nearly lunchtime!

When I was a working mum trying to fit in a bit of writing around everything else, I just Got On With It! So is all this solitude really the best thing for a writer after all? Is it too much of a good thing? Do I need someone around me, nagging me for things and interrupting me all the time just so that I can say 'No! I need to get on with this writing!' and actually do it?!

Well, anyway. I'm just off to have a quick look at Facebook and then ... maybe after lunch ... I really will start something! Have a nice weekend everyone.

Friday, 24 June 2011

E-books, a newsletter, and a competition

Hello! I'm back from Blogger no-man's-land, and problems seem to have been resolved - fingers crossed!

Lots to tell you. No, not about the new book yet (fingers still crossed) - but I've been busy with other things. I've now published all FIVE of my Sheila Norton books on Amazon as Kindle e-books, having spent several quite enjoyable weeks (if I may say so myself!) re-reading them all and adding in the copy-editing. And then a bit of fun doing the 'cover' images. And to celebrate finishing the process, I've put them all on a 'sale' price - a real bargain at £2.29 each! So if you haven't yet had a look, please feel free to pop over to and have a browse. And if you have already bought one (thank you so much!) you now have a chance to get another one while they're at such a reduced price!

OK, sorry - sales pitch over! As another little celebration, I've also decided to run another competition. I held one some time ago, to win a signed copy of 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel' - which proved to be very popular. This time, the winner gets a choice of several books. It's very easy to enter, and you don't need to buy anything - details can be found on my website at, and the answer you'll need is to be found somewhere on the website too. To make it even easier, you stay on the website to enter the competition: just send your entry on the 'Contact me' page.
Good luck to everyone who enters! It closes at midnight on 31 July so don't hang around! Sorry to say this is limited to UK residents though.

By the way, all this information about the e-books and the competition, and more besides, is on an e-mail newsletter which will be going out during the next few days. If you received the last 'Olivia' newsletter you should automatically get this one (tell me if you don't!) but if anyone else wants to sign up for it, please let me know! It's not a regular thing (or I'd never get any writing done at all!) - but there will be further mailings from time to time.

Short story news? Well I had one published in 'The People's Friend' in the first week of June, and a further one accepted last week. But I'm still waiting to hear about all the others - I think everyone's in the same boat at the moment: news seems to be filtering through very slowly. It's a tough time for short story writers - sadly, magazine readers seem to be turning away from fiction in favour of celebrity news etc. Let's hope the tide turns again before too long!

And I hope everyone else is having some success with their writing ... I'm off to catch up with some of your blogs now while Blogger is allowing me in!


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Blogger problems

This post is just by way of thanking those of you who responded to my post yesterday. I wrote a fairly lengthy 'thank you' at the end of the list of comments, only to have Blogger refuse to accept it, taking me back to the sign-in page half a dozen times before I lost my patience with it!

I've heard that lots of people are having problems with Blogger at the moment. I don't write on my blog too frequently at the best of times, and I'm afraid life's too short to mess around trying to get Blogger to do what I want it to!

So thank you to Jarmara, Frances, Lydia and Karen for your sympathetic comments - and to anyone else who might, like me, be trying unsuccessfully to make a comment!

Hopefully normal service will be resumed in due course but meanwhile I'm staying away!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Feeling miffed

I've always been a bit too trusting. I tend to think people are nice until proved otherwise. And if they do something thoughtless or unexpectedly selfish, I always think they must have a reason, and give them the benefit of the doubt, until eventually I suddenly wake up and think: No, hang on a minute - they should not have done that, and I'm not happy about it, and I feel a fool for believing in them!

It's happened to me this time with someone who, while not a personal friend, I've known for quite a long time. Someone who asked to buy some copies of one of my books from me (and I let him have them cheap) and then didn't pay me. Simple as that. It was my own fault for handing them over without payment - he didn't have the cash on him but promised it a couple of days later. The days passed, I saw him again, nothing was said. I hated having to ask for the money but figured he must have forgotten, so reminded him in a friendly manner and got another promise. And so it went on. Each time I saw him, there was a different excuse; he'd forgotten, he'd been away, he was skint. I sympathised, laughed it off, said there was no hurry - because I knew him. Or I thought I did.

Eventually I went from sympathising and laughing it off to feeling miffed and upset. Why did he think it was OK not to pay me? Did he assume I'd got those paperbacks for nothing myself? I'd had to pay my publisher for them, and sold them on to him for little more than they cost me. And even if I hadn't been making such a small margin of profit, he'd agreed the price happily and I was entitled to the money! Writing is my business, part of my livelihood. Would he take something from a shop and say he was too 'skint' to pay for it? Or 'forget' to pay his gas bill?

My reminders changed in tone from gentle to serious. His excuses went on. He'd lost his cheque book, he'd meant to post me a cheque but he forgot my address, he'd been mugged. You get the picture. And at long last, so did I. He had no intention of paying me.

As I say - he wasn't a friend, so it isn't exactly a personal hurt. But while I'm as capable as anyone of forgetting something once or twice, I can't imagine doing something like this to anyone - ignoring continual reminders - and I just find it inexplicable when someone does it to me. It's not actually about the money at all - the sum involved is small, and although I don't make much money from my writing I can afford to say I'd rather forget it, write it off, than upset myself any further by continuing to chase it.

I'd like to say I've learnt my lesson, and as far as this particular person is concerned, I obviously have! And yes, if I find myself in a similar position again, I'll ask for the money before I part with the goods. But will I stop expecting people to be nice, and trusting them, and making excuses and allowances for them? Well, no, I think I'd prefer to carry on in that vein, actually! I don't want to become suspicious and distrusting of everyone, and I'd like to think people will make allowances for me if I'm genuinely forgetful, or if I'm not always very nice.

So to the guy who rang my doorbell today and tried to sell me a cleaning treatment for my driveway, I'm sorry I pointed out that we have a 'No Cold Callers' sign on our door, and I'm sorry that when you said 'Well everyone has those signs so we take no notice', I pretty much shut the door in your face.

At least, you know, if I did ever agree to have any work done by your company, at least I'd bloody well pay you!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

E-Books: E-sier than it looks!

Well, the new novel (the Huge Gamble, the Complete Departure from everything I've ever written before), having been read and approved and edited by my three daughters, has now been submitted for the first time. I feel too superstitious to say much more about this, but let's just say it's gone, in the first instance, to someone whose judgement I trust a lot, and who has actually expressed an interest in seeing it. More than that, I won't even speculate on. It could, as we all know, still be touted around for years and end up as another failure. Or it could, just possibly, be successful, and without that tiny flame of hope, none of us would ever bother to pick up a pen or tap another sentence onto our computers, would we!

Meanwhile, and partly to take my mind off the Huge Gamble, I've been embarking on another project. For some time, I've been considering trying to self-publish my older books - the five novels I wrote under my real name (Sheila Norton) - as e-books. The rights in these books have reverted to me, so I can do what I like with them, and they were never published electronically by my publishers. I've read loads of stuff on forums, in magazines and on other writers' blogs, about doing this, and to be honest it looked so difficult and complicated, I kept putting it off. I was even considering paying someone to do it for me.

Well, I decided I'd have a go, first, at creating my own 'cover' images. The cover illustrations of the original books are copyright, so I couldn't use them. None of my own photos really seemed suitable, so someone suggested buying images on the internet. I spent a pleasant day browsing various websites, finally settling on one that had thousands of images available on all possible subjects. It was fun choosing pictures to suit my books, and wasn't too expensive - at least, I thought it was money well-spent. I then had the problem of putting the title and my name onto the images I'd downloaded. I haven't got Photoshop and didn't want to have to fork out for it, but with the 'Paint' programme I managed to (eventually) work out how to add text to the pictures, and had some more fun deciding where to put the text! I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't make the text quite as large as I'd have liked, but all in all, I was pleased with the results.

Before I did anything else, I had to go through each book, checking my original file copy against the published books. There had been editorial changes made at the proof stage, and as these changes were made on paper, they hadn't been transferred to my file copies on computer. This was a bit of a long job but it's been quite nice to read the old books again, and it also gave me the opportunity to make any very little changes that I felt could improve them in the light of experience.

When I'd finished reading/correcting the first one, I suddenly thought - why am I being such a wimp? I know other writers who have done this. OK, so I might find it too hard and have to abandon the attempt, but why don't I at least give it a try? So I logged onto the Kindle self-publishing site at and just started following the steps. I had to write my own 'blurb' for the e-book as I was worried that the blurb on the 'paper' version of the book might have been copyright to the original publisher. And when it came to choosing a price for the book, I was a bit stumped as I had to price it in dollars, for it to be automatically converted to sterling on the UK Amazon site, so that was a bit of guesswork! But apart from that, the whole process seemed so straightforward, I was convinced I must have missed something or done something wrong! But within 24 hours, my first e-book was there on Amazon for Kindle. I couldn't believe I'd been contemplating paying someone to do it for me!

I wanted to show off about it straight away, but I was still nervous that the first book had been a fluke and that something would go wrong with the next one. (Lacking techno confidence? Me?!).
But last night I was ready to upload the next book, and this time I had the blurb written ready, and the price already decided, and knew how to go through the various steps, so the whole thing took about ten minutes! And I now have two e-books up there for sale! You can see them on

The other books will follow in due course, when I've read them, checked them, finished designing the cover illustrations etc. But I thought I'd share my experiences with you because I know there are other authors wanting to do the same thing, who like me were hesitating on the brink, worried that it would be difficult. Eventually, I'd like to put the books up on other websites as well as Amazon (I can't buy e-books from Amazon myself, because my e-reader isn't a Kindle), but I'll attempt that later, after I've finished creating the Kindle editions for Amazon! One thing at a time!

Meanwhile, I'd love to know what you think of the two I've uploaded. (And, of course, if you have a Kindle and haven't yet read the books ... I think they're a bargain!).

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Other writers' kindness

It was just a bit of a long shot, I thought - posting on this blog about the fact that I hadn't received the copy of 'The Weekly News' with my story in it. I was hoping someone would know how I might be able to get a back issue (and they did - thank you Bernadette!), but I certainly didn't expect Suzanne at come up with a copy of the very issue I needed, and to post it off to me so that I've received it already! It was such thoughtful thing to do, and I'm really grateful to have my copy of the story now. 'An Italian Wedding' was inspired by hearing about my friend's son's wedding - in a castle in Italy - and the fact that the castle was reputed to be haunted. I'd revised the story a couple of times after it was rejected by other magazines, and cut it quite a bit, so it was very gratifying that it ended up good enough to sell. I shouldn't have been surprised at the helpful responses to my query on the blog, or at Suzanne's kindness. Every time I give a talk about writing, I always tell people how generous and supportive I've found the writing community in general to be to each other. There's always a murmuring of surprise at this, and a few raised eyebrows. I guess a lot of people imagine that we're all jealous of each other's successes and are fiercely guarding our own 'territories'. If I'm honest, this is slightly what I expected when I first joined the RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association) when my first novel was published. I was a little in awe of the more successful novelists and 'famous names' on their internet forum, and sure they wouldn't waste their time talking to me or take any notice of me. I couldn't have been more wrong. Over the years I've had such an amazing amount of encouragement and advice from so many people: from the RNA, to other local writers in Essex, from other bloggers, to writing 'friends' on Facebook. One of the first writing blogs I ever read was where Kath has always so generously shared her advice and information for short story writers, including the latest requirements for all the magazine markets and any pertinent news about them. I think most of us have consulted her blog at some time or another and benefited from her postings. It took me a while to wake up to the fact that none of this should really surprise me. After all, it gives me a lot of pleasure myself, as a slightly-successful writer, to help new writers wherever I can with bits of my own advice and experience, such as it is. And if I don't find it irksome to do so (far from it - I'm flattered to be asked!), why would those far-more-successful writers feel any differently? So this is just a big pat on the back to all of us, for being (on the whole!) such a friendly, generous, mutually encouraging bunch of people, and thereby giving such a surprise to the audiences at my talks!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Weekly News

A quick plea today - for help from anyone who writes for 'The Weekly News'. I had a story accepted by them last June, which was very pleasing as I'd tried them for a while without success. In February, I had an e-mail from the editor Jill, explaining that she'd had computer problems and listing all the stories whose contributors may not be aware that they'd already been published. Apparently mine was published in the 1 January edition. Jill promised that any outstanding contributor copies would be posted shortly. I haven't received a copy yet. I politely queried this with Jill a couple of weeks ago, but still haven't had a reply. I realise it might still be 'on its way', but rather than wait and risk not getting a copy, I've been searching the internet to see if there's anywhere I can buy a back issue, but I'm not having any luck. I feel quite sad about it as, in over 20 years of having short stories published I've never missed having a copy of one for my file before. I'm quite happy to pay for it, but as I wasn't aware of when it was published I'm afraid I might have missed out. Has anyone else had a problem? Any ideas how I can solve it? Thanks for your help!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Endings - and beginning again

Well, finally, I've finished the first draft of the new novel. Although it's always a relief to write that last paragraph, (especially if you're pleased with the ending!), this time I feel slightly apprehensive. Is it any good? Well, we always ask ourselves that, don't we - but my confidence has taken a bit of a knock, and this book is so different from my others that I'm finding it hard to judge, hard to know how much editing I need to do before taking that scary step of sending it off 'out there'. It's a bit like submitting my first novel, all over again - but this time I feel more wary of getting carried away with excitement. Times are harder. Rejection is all around us. Will anyone be interested in my new idea ... and even if they are, will they be willing to take a chance on me this time around?

Of course, there's only one way to find out, as we all know: edit, improve, submit. I'll feel better once I've taken the plunge and sent it out for the first time. Onwards and upwards!

Meanwhile, to bolster the flagging ego, I've had THREE short stories accepted by the same magazine within a week! (Thank you, lovely PF!). Two of these had been under consideration for quite a long while and I now have very few short stories 'out there' as I've been concentrating on the novel. So I'm looking forward to getting back to the shorts again soon, for a change. I've also heard from Jill at The Weekly News that the (only) story I've had accepted by them was actually published in the 1 January issue! She's had computer problems and some of us didn't receive notifications, but she's promised to send a copy. I hope I do receive one - I'd hate to miss seeing the first story I've sold them!

And I gave a successful talk yesterday to another U3A group, in Harlow - a lovely, large, receptive audience. I work hard at preparing my talks, and try to make them interesting and fun as well as informative, but I realised yesterday that I don't even get nervous about them any more - which is quite amazing, as I'd never have imagined myself giving talks at all, years ago, and certainly wouldn't say it was something that comes naturally to me! Like most writers, I prefer putting words down on paper than speaking them! But it just goes to show - as we get older, we can get used to anything! Yes: even the rejections!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Stats - and worldwide readers!

Thanks to my new blogging friend Frances (on, I've just discovered how to see the stats on my blog - you know, all the stuff about how many hits you get, and when, and where they're coming from. I know, I know - you'd think it was obvious, wouldn't you: there's a big tab there with 'Stats' on it, but needless to say, I'd managed not to see that and had to be directed to it! I did know how to look at the stats for my websites (I've got two: one for Olivia and one in my own name), but I actually think the Blogger stats are more comprehensive. So I've now spent a silly amount of time studying them when I should have been doing other things (you know how it goes!) - and I'm fascinated by what I've seen.

For instance: obviously most of my hits are coming from the UK - cheers, mates! And after that comes the USA - thanks, guys! (waves!). And third in the list is Russia, and then Holland - both countries where I've had translations published so it does give me a nice feeling to think that there might be people in those countries reading my books in their own languages and bothering to look me up. Germany features too, where one of my newest translations has just been published - but also France, Ukraine, and several other countries where I'm not aware of any of my books appearing.

But of course, there are lots of other reasons for people finding, and looking at, a blog or website - and I'm not so vain that I don't realise most of these hits are probably accidental. One of my websites' stats-page gives the phrases people have put into their browsers when they end up on my site - and often they have only a very tenuous connection to me or one of my books. For instance, I've had a lot of hits on the Olivia website from people planning hen weekends, weddings or honeymoons - something to think about when you choose a book title, perhaps! I always imagine them sighing with impatience when they see that they've landed on an author's website instead of what they were searching for, and clicking straight back to their search again!

I've also been told that some of the hits are from marketing companies looking at websites to see if they're worth targeting. And I know, too, that the name Olivia is very popular now (which is why my editor and I chose it, of course!) and people will inevitably be stumbling upon me when they're looking for other, younger, prettier, maybe new-born Olivia Ryans! Sorry about that!

I'm always thrilled when I receive e-mails, or messages via my websites, from genuine fans who are contacting me to say they've enjoyed one of my books or short stories. I think we authors often suffer from insecurity about our work (not surprising, when the odds are stacked so highly against us and we tend to get rejections like other people get hot dinners!) - and personally, even knowing someone is actually out there reading something I've written makes me feel a whole lot better. The thrill of fan mail from overseas can't be overstated - I've had readers contact me from India, for instance, as well as the States, Australia and various European countries. Taking the trouble to contact an author is such a huge compliment - now that I know how it feels, I sometimes do it myself when I've particularly enjoyed a book.

So - as Frances said on her own blog about her hits - I'd love to know who all these mysterious people are, who 'hit' my blog. Of course, we realise that not everyone wants to become a 'follower', or wants to leave comments - but I'd love to know if any of them are actually reading the posts, or whether they're all just accidental hits. In the absence of any proof to the contrary - I'll choose to imagine them all hanging on my every word, even those from South Korea and Slovenia. I know I'm probably fooling myself but ... well, it does my self-esteem a power of good!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Our blogs and our identities

I've just finished reading a book I heard about quite a while ago - 'Petite Anglaise' by Catherine Sanderson. It's the true story of an English working mum who lived and worked in Paris, and how she started writing a blog in order to alleviate her boredom and her dissatisfaction with her relationship. I won't give away too much of the story in case you want to read it, but if I didn't know that she was among the very earliest bloggers, I'd have been staggered to read how her blog snowballed so that she had thousands of followers - mostly other English ex-pats living in France, but even so!! - and the blog became so popular, even famous, that she eventually got the book deal because of it.

If that sounds like a dream come true for most of us, don't forget that nowadays everyone seems to be writing a blog and I don't think blogging now has the novelty appeal that it once did, nor do individual blogs have such a chance to stand out from the crowd. Nice dream, though!

Catherine Sanderson called herself 'Petite Anglaise' in her blog, and admitted in the book that her alter ego developed a personality of her own, quite different from the 'real' Catherine. When she met people in the flesh, who had followed her blog, she would wonder whether they found her lacking - less confident, less interesting than 'Petite Anglaise'.

Do we all hide behind our blogging identities? Some of you may remember that I first started blogging in the name of 'The Write Woman'. I can't remember now why I wanted to keep my identity secret. I think perhaps it was just because I was a bit nervous of the whole blogging business. Once I got going and got used to it, I decided it'd make a lot more sense to write the blog as myself. But at that time, I had novels being published under the name of Olivia Ryan, so my editor suggested the blog should be in this name. Hence 'Olivia's Oracle'.

Until the third Olivia Ryan book came out, I was asked to keep quiet about the fact that Sheila Norton and Olivia Ryan were one and the same author, so my real name didn't feature on the blog for a while, either.

So am I different in real life from the person addressing you in this blog? Well, I don't think so - but that would be for those of you who know me in person to decide! I've never been very good at pretending to be anyone different from myself - which is why I'm a lousy actress and didn't last very long when I joined an amateur dramatic group!

But I do think - and certainly hope - that I probably come across as more articulate and eloquent when I'm writing, than I am in real life. (It wouldn't be difficult!). I suspect that's true for most of us whose main interest in life is writing! When I was younger, I'd spend hours on end writing letters to people for pleasure, so when we got a computer and I discovered e-mail, I felt like it must have been invented with me in mind! In 'real' conversation, especially now I'm getting on a bit - I find myself forgetting words, repeating myself, droning on and needless to say, like all of us, using bad grammar and syntax that would make me flinch if I read anything like it in print. And of course, as I use a lot of dialogue in my books, that's how my characters often speak too. It wouldn't be natural to have them all chatting away in grammatically perfect English without any hesitations, expletives or colloquialisms.

I'd be interested to know whether other bloggers write as yourselves in your blogs? Or do you feel as though you're acting, presenting a face to the world that isn't really your own? It's a fascinating thought.

Oh, and I did enjoy the book, although I thought the heroine came across as a little bit self-obsessed. But then ... maybe we all do. Maybe that's what blogging (aka writing about yourself) is all about!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Cats & kittens

I mentioned in my last post that I'd had an article accepted by 'Your Cat'. It's the story of how my two Burmese cats went missing when we moved house 6 years ago, and writing it was quite an emotional task as it brought back memories of that difficult time. It ended 50% happy, by the way: we were reunited by Charlie, but sadly not with his brother Oscar.

Charlie is now over 14 and looking his age. He doesn't want much out of life apart from his meals, and to lie in one of three favourite places: on my lap (preferably while I'm at the computer - he's with me now!), on a blanket on top of the radiator in the kitchen, or under the radiator in the lounge. He does occasionally take to his proper bed, too, as long as it's next to the radiator! In the summer, though, he will still meander outside and find a sunny spot to doze in, and might even be encouraged by his much younger, half-Burmese friend Billy from next-door-but-one, to run around and play a bit!

So it's a pleasure that my youngest daughter and son-in-law now have two cute kittens: Fred and Wilma. Seeing them scampering around, playing with their toys and jumping over each other has brought back memories of Charlie and Oscar at that age. They grow up so quickly!

Fred and Wilma, being brother and sister, were taken to the vet last week for surgery to prevent any unfortunate episodes of incest. Wilma returned home in the obligatory head-collar to stop her pulling out her stitches - and I laughed out loud when my daughter described how she was running around the house trying to knock the collar off, while Fred kept going up to her and licking her head!

I felt quite sad to realise we're unlikely to see Charlie frolicking around like that any more these days ... but the other night he did prove there's life in the old cat yet, and that he can still surprise me. I walked into the bathroom, turned on the light and nearly jumped out of my skin. The toilet lid and seat were up (yes, I live with a man!!) and there was Charlie, perched precariously with all four paws on the rim, head right down, lapping water from the bowl! He's lucky he didn't overbalance and fall in, especially when I shrieked in surprise!

I immediately checked his drinking bowl - full of water. I have no idea why he suddenly decided it'd be a better idea to drink from the toilet, and to my knowledge he's never done it before (or since) - although we did used to have a Springer spaniel who made a habit of it! It's a dog thing!
Perhaps Charlie had a sudden memory (as we all do) of his younger days, watching Sophie-dog do just that, and wanted to give it a try. Or perhaps he's just getting old and silly, like his 'mum and dad'!

He's still good company and it's nice now, too, to see Noah toddling around after him, and then sitting down and very gently patting or stroking him. So good for children to learn, early on, to be kind to animals. I'll let you know when the piece in 'Your Cat' is published.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Confession time!

So: how are you all, and how was your Christmas? A long time ago? Yes, and I know I haven't written anything on this blog since November. It's been a long, difficult winter, and without wanting to sound sorry for myself, I've had such a lot of physical pain since October that I really haven't done much with my time. I've had a slipped disc, but the worst of it was the horrible, unrelenting sciatica that went with it. When I finally got to see a consultant, after Christmas, he said it should clear up on its own and normally does so within 3 to 6 months. I'm still waiting for a physio appointment. But ... fingers crossed, the pain is easing, and I can actually walk a little way down the road now. And spring might be on the way soon. So: onwards and upwards! And with that in mind ...

I had a really nice fan message through my Olivia website this morning, from a reader saying how much she enjoyed my books and asking when the next one would be out. While I can't pretend I'm inundated with fanmail, I do get messages like this every now and then, and they really do cheer me up. I normally respond that I'm working on the next book and will let them know when it's out. But today, for some reason, I felt like being a bit more honest. After all, it's been 18 months now since 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel' was published and perhaps I owe my readers a little more than this half-truth, and keeping them hanging on. And perhaps I owe all of you that, too!

It's a common tale in publishing now. 'Mid-list author' produces several books that sell OK but not brilliantly; editor likes her books and is keen to keep publishing her, but eventually the editor is overruled and the author is dropped by the publisher. When it happened to me, I was devastated. Rejection is part of our lives as writers; I'm so used to having short stories rejected, I barely even blink now when it happens, and my first novel was rejected by so many agents and publishers before Piatkus accepted it, I thought I was dreaming when I got that first contract!
But this was a far bigger blow - it actually hurt my pride and made me feel exactly the way I did when I lost my job, all over again. Or even worse!

It did help that I knew my lovely editor had been 'on my side'; she took me out to lunch a few months later and we've stayed friends. And it also helped that, by a stroke of good luck, I'd acquired an agent for the first time just a couple of months before this happened. At least, I thought it was good luck! My agent seemed almost as devastated by the news as I was, and appeared to be fired up with enthusiasm on my behalf. 'Don't worry,' she said. 'I'll find you another publisher.' So, when just another couple of months later I received a very short e-mail from her saying she was leaving the business, giving up being an agent, and wishing me all the best - I was shocked to say the least! I don't think it was anything I said!

For a long while, I only told my family and closest friends about all this. Then I started noticing that I wasn't alone: other writers were freely admitting that they'd been 'dropped', and there was a lot of discussion going on about the economics of publishing, and how the current situation was hitting those of us who were neither 'big names', nor exciting new talent. It wasn't just me! I began to realise it wasn't personal - I shouldn't feel a failure. I've had eight books published, and even if it never happens again, I've achieved my dream.

However, of course, I do want it to happen again! And knowing that I've got fans, readers out there who want me to be published again, really helps to spur me on. So after months and months of fruitlessly submitting my completed novel in all directions, with the 'overcrowded market for this type of women's fiction' being mentioned in virtually every rejection, and after completing the second novel in that series but having nowhere to send it, I decided it was time to change direction. I'm now working on a completely different type of book. It's slow going, because I'm out of my comfort zone and I have no idea whether what I'm writing is any good or not. It's not so much that my confidence was knocked by what's happened (although of course, it was!) but that I haven't yet acquired any confidence in writing this type of book! I'm a beginner all over again.

But I'm a beginner with the advantage, now, of some experience. I'm still being asked to give talks about writing - and in those talks, I usually describe some of the realities of being a writer in today's world - including the fact that the majority of published authors earn peanuts, which is a big shock to some audiences! And in between working on the new venture, I'm still having short stories published (as Sheila Norton, as always) - having been thrilled (not to say amused) to be described as one of 'This Month's Big Names' on the front cover of a recent fiction special! I'm also selling some features - currently working on another one for 'Writers' Forum' and have just sold a short article to one of the cat magazines! I'm also trying to find an e-publisher for my out-of-print titles.

So this isn't a whine, or a complaint: I've been very fortunate to have the success I've had so far, and I never forget that plenty of writers might give a lot to be in my shoes, despite what's happened. On the contrary: the reason I've decided to 'go public' with this story is that I've realised it's more helpful to show how things really are, than to try to pretend everything in the garden is lovely and coming up roses! The reality is that people seem to enjoy my books when they actually get to read them - but like those of most less well-known authors, they're usually tucked away at the back of the shop (if they're in them at all) and only promoted by one person - me! I do my best ... but I can't generate the sort of sales the big publishers are looking for.
But thank goodness for libraries! And that's the subject of the next feature I'm writing for 'Writers' Forum', so I'll let you know when it's due to be published.

Perhaps I should write a new feature about 'how to survive being dropped by your publisher'! Well, thanks for 'listening' and sorry I'm so bad at being a regular blogger. Must Try Harder!