How To Boil An Egg … Or Not!

eggcupGrowing up in a family like mine, the inability to boil an egg was the epitome of uselessness.  It didn’t matter if you had a masters in nuclear physics or worked as a brain surgeon at Barts.  Intellectual genius without the balance of common practicality marked you down as fundamentally flawed and placed an unnecessary burden on others!

Whether or not you agreed with this was of no consequence to the formidable matriarchs of my father’s family who for generations formed the back bone of the Womens’ Institute and Mothers Union.  Cooking ability was not confined to the women of the family either.  My grandfather was a master baker, regularly winning gold medals for bread and pork pies.

He was also a farmer which meant the family was surround by an abundance of fresh, wholesome food, including eggs which were served daily, in various forms, often more than once.

The rambling farmhouse kitchen accommodated three families consisting of five children, a baby and six adults who most mornings sat down to the full English,mushrooms (bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, friend bread), for the adults and boiled eggs and soldiers for the children. My grandmother did all the cooking, (but never the washing up!) and somehow managed to get everyone served at once.

My aunt was also a good cook.  She could knock up a springy Victoria sponge with the flick of a spatular in the morning and take the home bakery cup at the village show the same afternoon.

Alas, my mother was the burnt sheep of the family!  Her main cooking implement was a tin-opener and her idea of culinary adventurousness was a Vesta beef curry.  She could boil an egg though which when we moved from my grandfather’s farm to our own smallholding, we continued to have on a daily basis.

Having a mother who couldn’t cook was somewhat frustrating for a child who couldn’t wait to get her hands on the shiny, (but mainly unused), pans and dishes languishing in our cupboards.  Unfortunately, although she was a poor cook, my mother was extremely house proud and the thought of a ten year old trashing her kitchen usually brought on a migraine which meant my sister and me had to “play outside.”

Where there is a will there is a way and my first cooking adventure did begin with boiling an egg as I shall relate!  I was about ten years old and it was high summer.  It must have been a Sunday as Ma and Pa were both outside sitting on old kitchen chairs under an apple tree.  Ma was smoking and flicking through Womans’ Own, Pa putting a string handle on a bucket.

I could tell it would be hours before any sign of tea appearing so thought I’d take matters into my own hand.  In the kitchen stood a huge old copper which served as a work surface.  Ma kept the eggs here stored in a large mixing bowl, well why wouldn’t you?  She never made pastry!  As the hens were laying like there was no tomorrow, there was also a smaller bowl containing four additional eggs which I assumed were the over spill from the mixing bowl.  Unlike those in the mixing bowl, the shells were scratched and very dirty which was a bit of a puzzle, but I just assumed that Ma hadn’t got around to washing them.

Eager to flex my culinary muscles, I decided to surprise everyone with boiled eggs and soldiers for tea and score a few brownie points from Ma by using the dirty looking eggs in the small bowl.  I carefully washed the dirt from the eggs before boiling the kettle and filling a pan with the water.  It was at this point things began to go wrong!

My pan was so full with water that when I added the eggs what seemed like gallons of the stuff poured over the lip and hissed and spat all over the cooker.  As the ring was on maximum the kitchen filled with steam and poured through the open window.  Thinking the house was on fire, Pa grabbed his bucket and ran to the bath we used to water the calves and both hot footed into the kitchen to be met by a violent explosion followed by the most disgusting smell I’d ever encountered!

What I hadn’t realised, the four separate eggs had spent the past three weeks under a broody hen and have proved to be duds.  Pa had removed them when the others had hatched, but for some reason had brought them into the house instead of throwing then on the muck heap as was his wont.

As you can imagine, these eggs were well and truly addled.  Plunging them into boiling water is not the correct way to boil eggs anyway, it should be simmering and in this case the fermenting gasses inside quickly expanded in the heat and exploded!  The rotten egg smell is caused by the gas sulphur dioxide which I was to encounter with similarly startling results several years later in my general science lessons, but that’s another story!

Several decades later I still keep hens and eggs feature firmly on the daily menu which is how I’ve come to write an egg recipe book.  How To Boil An Egg not only explains how to do it, but has lots of simple recipes for creating quick and easy dishes for almost any meal of the day.   The recipes are my adaptations of old favourites or new ones passed on by family and friends.

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Kindle Singles For Unknown Indies? Tell Me Another!

Sue Kendrick with Tam and FlashAs an independent ebook publisher, (Indie author), I came across Kindle Singles late last year and thought, what a wonderful idea!  It’s a fairly recent brain child from Amazon and very briefly it is a separate Kindle list which specialises in short fiction, essays and other hard to place work.  You can read more about it here: Could You Be A Kindle Singles Author?

Crucially, it exercises editorial control which means all work submitted is vetted by human editors so there is some assurance of quality pertaining to the titles on the Singles list.  This means any author included in the Singles list is not competing against a plethora of slush pile rejects whose talents lie in their marketing ability rather than any literary or storytelling aptitude.

What’s In It For Indies?
Significantly, for us Indie authors, Amazon state quite clearly that Kindle Singles is open to pitches and published works from unknown authors which is what made me prick up my ears or rather re-read the passage to ensure I’d got this right.

It’s important to know why I had some doubt over this as I’d already checked the top 10 Singles and couldn’t find any stories from indie authors.  There were plenty of well-known names, Stephen King and Lee Child for instance.  Other names I hadn’t heard of, but on investigation proved to be with main stream publishers.

In fact, the same author names were repeated throughout the top 100 titles so although the list contained 100 ebooks there were far less than 100 authors supplying these!

Hmm.  Maybe I was missing something.  I re-checked the Amazon Kindle Singles submission guidelines, but no …

“Anyone can submit original work to Kindle Singles. We’ve showcased writing from both new and established voices – from bestselling novelists to previously unpublished writers.”

Where Are The Indie Authors?
My next step was to do a web search for any obvious indie authors who might have been included on the Singles programme.  I couldn’t find any!!!  There were plenty of articles about the programme such as the one I wrote, Could You Be A Kindle Singles Author?  but not one article, blog or forum post from anyone celebrating their inclusion and linking to the list!

The nearest I got was an article by the editor of ZDNet, SmartPlanet and TechRepublic who wrote about his experiences with the scheme when Amazon first launched the programme.   Now having published magazines myself and written extensively for them, this smelt very strongly of mutual advertising and free publicity exchange!

At this point, my gut feeling was to abandon the whole idea.  Although I’ve had success in a few short story competitions, I’m mainly a freelance writer of non-fiction articles for specialist and general interest magazines.  I do not have a main stream publisher for fiction and my non-fiction books would not fit the Singles list.

Going For It!
What spurred me on and made me try for the Singles programme were two short stories I’d written several years ago which were too long for most writing contests.   These were:

thumb2The Inbetween – just over 5,000 words

A tale of myth and magic set during the dark ages when Britain was a wild and lawless country beset by war and turbulence.

 

The Digfield Conjuror – just over 7,000 words – A tale of rural nostalgia set at the beginning of the twentieth century.

digfieldlookinsideKnowing what I was up against, I did a lot of reading about ebook marketing which included the importance of cover design and proper formatting which I’m confident I covered well enough.

I also decided my chances would improve if I got some decent reviews.  I got 11 for The Inbetween on the UK site averaging 4.5 stars and 5 on the US site four 5 star and one 4 star.

The Digfield Conjuror, which has only just been published, so far has 2 on the UK site and 2 on the US site, both averaging 4.5 stars.

Both books were promoted for a while and managed to get in the top 100 for their categories without recourse to the Select programme.

The Day Of Reckoning
So far so good!  If the content lived up to the reviews and ratings and the book covers were deemed good enough, I should have a reasonable chance … or so I thought!

Following the Singles guidelines I submitted both stories in one email on the 21st March, 2013 which was a Thursday.  The following day I had a standard acknowledgement informing me that my submission would be reviewed within 4 weeks.

The following Monday morning, (that’s the 24th March!) I received this:

Our editors have carefully reviewed your recent submission  and it has not been selected for inclusion in the Kindle Singles store. Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to consider it.

You’re welcome to publish your work via Kindle Direct Publishing at kdp.amazon.com. For information on how to do this, visit: kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help.

If you already have done so, your work will remain for sale in the Kindle Store.

Again, thank you for your interest in Kindle Singles.

Best,

Associate Editor, Kindle Singles

This is obviously a standard rejection email as it takes no account of the fact that I submitted two stories and as a UK resident, have to submit to the UK site!  Given the fact that this was received within four days of submission, two of which were non-working days being a Saturday and Sunday, I’m pretty certain neither story was actually read.  Further more, when the programme launched in 2011, it received 50 unsolicited submissions a week.  Two years down the line you can bet it is far more now!

All these submissions are supposed to be read by the Kindle Singles  editor, Dave Blum.  Personally, I can’t see him wanting to read even 7 submissions per day of 5,000 words plus!

Conclusions
From my experience with the Kindle Singles programme it appears to be a fallacy that an unknown indie author will ever be accepted.  If this is correct, then what exactly is its purpose?

This is pure conjecture, but I would guess that the Singles list is just another avenue for Amazon to promote the big publishing houses and their authors.  If the truth is known, I would not be at all surprised if there is not some financial arrangement in place.

Dave Blum makes no secret of the fact that he actively solicits authors to write for the programme and I would further hazard a guess that the only manuscripts he reads are those submitted by publishers and writers from the mainstream publishing houses or by some other personal recommendation.

I don’t really have a problem with this as Amazon is a business like any other and it’s primary function is to sell products the best way it can. What I do have an issue with is the way it seems to suggest that the Singles programme is a level playing field for all authors which in the light of my experience, doesn’t seem to be the case.

If I could have found a sprinkling of real indie authors on the Singles list and I felt my two stories had actually been read and then rejected as not being suitable then it would have been quite a different matter.

As it is, I think the Singles programme is yet another win-win situation for Amazon.  A mutually beneficial tie-up with the main stream publishers and a carrot dangled in front of a lot of hopeful indies, encouraging them to flag up and drive traffic to an Eldorado which they’ve hardly any hope of gaining.

It would be great if I’m proved wrong on this so leave a comment if you have a different experience.

UPDATE:

Since this article went live I received this reply from Dave Blum, the Editor of Kindle Singles:

Dear Ms. Kendrick,
Dave Blum here. I’m the editor of Kindle Singles at Amazon. I saw your blog post online earlier today and wanted to address your concerns.
You’re right that I have discussed our commitment to the discovery of new voices in fiction and nonfiction, and I am proud to say we have accepted many into the Kindle Singles store. It’s true that our top-selling fiction Singles at the moment come from the ranks of well-known writers like Stephen King and Lee Child. But if you dig a bit deeper into our store, you’ll find such works as “Cornbread’ by Sean Hammer, “The Old Soul” by Joseph Wurtenbaugh and “The Trunk Key” by Carolyn Nash, among many others — which we discovered through our submissions process, and which appeared on our fiction bestseller list for several weeks apiece.
We are committed to read every submission we receive, and either I or a member of my team does so . We promise a response to all authors within four weeks of submission. Please know that we take our responsibility to authors very seriously, whether they are famous or unknown. And we work hard to earn the trust of our customers that we are finding the very best work for them to read and discover in our store.
I’m grateful for your interest in Kindle Singles, and I hope that you’ll submit other writing to us in the future. 
Best regards, Dave Blum
Sean Hammer, the author of Cornbread, mentioned in the email,  very kindly spoke to me about his Kindle Singles experience and did confirm his story was accepted through the normal submission process which is somewhat reassuring that there are indeed indie authors on the Singles list.
However, links to this article were posted to a number of writing groups and forums and what is less comforting is the number of authors who also raised concerns about the shockingly swift rejections.
In view of the fact that there are indie authors included in the list, I  would guess that there is some kind of initial vetting process taking place which doesn’t involve reading the whole submission.  Perhaps the cover and description have to pass some kind of criteria and or the quality and number of reviews are taken into consideration.  Or maybe  the work has to fall into a specific genre, currently the Singles list seems to include an awful lot of thriller, crime, horror, paranormal type stories for instance.  This is just my opinion so don’t take this as gospel!
Whatever the selection process, it remains clear to me that the chances of an indie author making the list remain slim, but that shouldn’t put you off trying!  If I was going to have another attempt at this, I would spend some time analysing the stories which are on the list and submit something along the same lines.
You also have to keep in mind that this is pretty much how traditional, main stream publishing operates.  They rarely pick up work from the slush pile.  Most of the books they take on come from agents which is probably what is happening with the Singles, but read publishers for agents.
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The Digfield Conjuror

digfieldlookinside

The Digfield Conjuror is a delightful tale set in a by-gone age when life was slower and moved in time with the changing seasons.  Young Aggie’s tale takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century, but the rural back water in which she lives is still tied to the rustic folk traditions and superstitions handed down through the generations.

It is fear and respect that Aggie, her mother and her aunt Maud have for these ancient beliefs in the form of the “conjuror,” Joe Dancer which form the backdrop of the story.

Aggie herself tells the story in the rustic dialect of the not so simple country folk she epitomises.

Once you get used to it, her story fairly shouts from the page!

A thoroughly enjoyable, nostalgic read of simpler times.

Available as a Kindle ebook from Amazon The Digfield Conjuror

If you enjoyed Larkrise To Candleford, Thatched Village or Cranford, you’ll love The Digfield Conjuror, but don’t take my word for it …

READ A SAMPLE!

(HOLD CURSOR OVER MIDDLE OF PAGE TO READ FULL SCREEN)

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The Inbetween

the inbetweenThe Inbetween is a dark age story of myth and magic.  It features ‘Wild Eadric,’ an English nobleman who lived at the time of the Norman Conquest and was one of the few English aristocrats who did not submit to the iron yoke of the Normans.

Although a documented historical character, there is another side to Eadric which tells of his faery bride and the dire consequences of pitting himself against the dark world of faery.

The Inbetween takes place during the dead month of Yule and foretells the coming of this strange lady who will be both delight and doom to the young Lord.  It is told through the eyes of his mother who is nearing the end of her days and who herself has a mysterious past.

Just a couple of the 5 star reviews from Amazon …

“… a beguiling short tale of the Dark Ages and in its rendering, it echoes some of the Arthurian legends. It’s set in Lynbury Hall at the time of Yule and the old blind lady, Arwyn, reminisces as she receives two visitors, one less welcome than the other …”

“… determination, strong-will, magic, power and adventures will drag you till the end of the book. Sue Kendrick, Please keep writing your beautiful, unusual stories. I am now and forever a fan or your work …”

You don’t have to take their word for it … READ AN EXTRACT!

(HOLD CURSOR IN CENTRE OF BOOK TO READ FULL SCREEN)

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Introducing The Amazing Aggie Smeeton

Ann Bates2One of the perks of being a freelance writer is you get to interview some amazing people.  None more so than Aggie Smeeton.  Not only is she the inspiration behind The Digfield Conjuror, but if she was still on this mortal coil she would be 127 years old!

Me: “So Aggie, you must be dead by now, so can you explain how I’m managing to talk to you more than a century after your birth?

Aggie: I can’t say I ‘ave a definite answer fer that, but I dare say that folks ‘ev the wrong idea about death. It don’t be no ending like they thinks. Life be nothing more’n a lot of stories wi’ us playing a part an’ when that be done we goo and find another story to tek part in.  There don’t be no ending likes yoo thinks, just different stories and in some you gits a big part and some you git barely a mention.

Me: That’s very profound Aggie. Where did you get those ideas from?

Aggie: Well weren’t no school, I can tell yer.  Wi’ Father ill most o’ time I wuz growing, I didn’t get to goo much and anyways, most on uz left about eleven.  The boys, they’d goo on the farms and girls, mostly t’ big houses like me as got a place at Beasom Hall.

Me: Ah yes, you mention the big house there in The Digfield Conjuror.  Were they good to you?

Aggie: Well in theer way they were.  We wuz servants and you’ad to know yer place, but if you did yer work and kept yersen clean and daycent they treated you fair enough.  In fact, it were one o’ the young misses who taught me to read proper, though I never did master a pen.  Weren’t time fer it what wi’ scrubbing that theer range and the floors and lighting fires an’all afore breakfast.

Me: So you can read, but not write?

Aggie: Tha’s about size on it, but don’t be no trouble to me when I do be ‘eving you to do it fer me!

Me: Yes Aggie and a pleasure and a privilege it is too.  I am so looking forward to sharing your story about the Digfield Conjuror, but times have change and few now would know the true meaning of a conjuror.

Aggie: So they’ll ‘ev to read me little tale t’ find out then!  (Wicked laughter).  Or else hope they don’t git in a story with old Joe Dancer!  They’d soon see wha’ conjuroring means and it don’t be no trickery wi’ cards ad nekked ladies, I tells yer!

Me: So were there many people like Joe about in your time?

Aggie: Theer’s alwuz people like Joe Dancer, don’t matter what time it be.  Evil be in all stories like a thistle in a field o’ barley.  Try as yer might, yer’ll ne’re git rid o’ the runts and weeds as any on the farm chaps will tell yer!  Joe he knowed things like a lot of folks them times, but he used ‘em fer ‘is own good and in the end it turned on ‘im.  You ‘as a gift and you use it fer others, not fer yer sen, that’s why them ol’ conjurors and ‘edge witches wouldn’t never tek money fer owt.  Only bread, ‘am, eggs, that sorta thing.

Me: I see. That changed after the war didn’t it?

Aggie:  Yer could say that, fer most folks it did.  Most o’ the old country ways were forgot, but a few on uz remembered.  It were a strange thing when I thinks about it.  I didn’t never ‘ev much interest in cures and things, ‘ceptin warts as you’ll know from me story, but when it were all done, a change come over me.

Me: In what way?

Aggie:  Suppose I grew up fer one thing, but weren’t only that.  I got to thinking about ol’ Joe and what ‘e bin up to and it made me sorry to think what he were a doin’ wi’ ‘is gifts so I thinks, well Aggie, me gel, yer maint be much good wi’ a pen, but there be nowt wrong wi’ yer eyes so you goo and git Joe’s books and fer every wrong ‘e did you do a right.

Me: So you became a herbalist?  (More cracked laughter!)

Aggie: ‘erbalist?  Ah … yer could say that, though it were ‘edge witch and cunning folk in my day!  Anyway, me story’s about our Georgie and The Digfield Conjuror so nuff o’ me. When do I git t’ see it?

Me: Soon, Aggie. Just need to find a nice cover for it.

Aggie:  Well don’t you goo printing owt wi’ out me seeing it fust else I’ll put a hex on yer!

I’m not sure she wouldn’t either so you’ll just ‘ev, sorry have to wait a bit longer to read Aggie Smeeton’s tale, The Digfield Conjuror, set in a rural  English backwater at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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OF KESTRALS & CHURCHYARDS

DSC_0018The silence here is absolute. I am quite alone except for a kestrel that has just landed on a grave stone. It looks a bit surprised to see me and I’m a bit shocked too.  We are only a few feet apart.  I’ve never been so close to a bird of prey in the wild and for a long moment we stare at each other.  I’m so near I can see the curve of its beak, glinting like an amber bead in the bright sunshine and I have an uncanny feeling that my search for the last resting place of the Virgin Mary has just got off to an auspicious start!

Yes you did read that right!  According to Graham Philips’ book, The Marian Conspiracy, marianconspiracythe Virgin Mary came to Britain after the crucifixion and founded a church on Angelsey.  Historical fact or the product of wishful thinking?  I wasn’t concerned with challenging the author’s theories, but I was very keen to check out the sites on the island that he claimed supported his theories.

Just to make things a little more interesting, we decided to do it on bikes!  Unfortunately we reckoned without punctures which is why I’m now quite alone in this churchyard with nothing for company but the sleepers under the toppling grave stones and the disconcertingly knowing kestrel.

My nearest and dearest is back down the road somewhere fixing his tyre and I’m uncomfortably aware that I’ve no idea where I am!  We are supposed to be enroute for the village of Lllanerchymedd which is about 15 miles from Holyhead, the island’s chief town, but I’m not so sure.  Best Beloved has the map so it’s a relief when he eventually hoves into view and resumes his position as Patrol Leader.

Angelsey is often described as pleasantly undulating.  This is simply not true!   When you are cycling it is hilly and there is a very stiff one as you approach Lllanerchymedd!  While struggling to ascend this veritable Everest without resorting to the ignominy of dismounting, I have plenty of time to mull over Mr. Philips’ theory that the Virgin Mary’s bones were kept in the village church.

DSC_0020Unfortunately we’re unlikely to be able to verify his supposition because the lych gate is not only locked, but double locked with steel bars at both entrance and exit and the church itself stands several feet above street level so attempting to climb over the wall would look very suspicious and probably get us arrested!

To say I’m bitterly disappointed is an understatement! Lllanerchymedd itself is as far removed from its meaning, (church in a clearing where mead is made) as you can get. It’s full of grey, box like council houses and the church stands next to a chip shop.

I’m just about to suggest that we move on and try and locate the well, which is our next port of call and where, according to Mr Phillips, VM’s bones were finally laid to rest, when Dearest, who is famously more observant than me, points out that in spite of the prominent display of iron gates and padlocks, the gates themselves are not actually locked!

As this is my quest, only I can enter the church. I’m afraid Dearest has to remain on guard duty, (we have forgotten our bike chains), while I attempt to find any residue of the VM’s residence. Unfortunately the only sign I see of it is the name, Mair on the, yes you’ve guessed it, iron bars that are most definitely locked barring the entrance.

I remember from GP’s book that Lllanerchymedd was the centre of an import crossing of trade routes during pre-Roman and dark age times and later came under Viking attack which possibly resulted in the bones of the VM being relocated to the church of Llanbabo which is derived from the name of King Pabo, a local ruler and the guardian of the VM’s bones. In view of this I console myself with the knowledge that the present St. Mary’s is relatively new, built during the nineteenth century, replacing a much older church and any traces of former occupants would be long gone.

Feeling a bit like Hyacinth Bucket, I order Richard … er … Dearest to lead on to the Well!

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Happy Birthday To Me And A Present For Everyone!

the inbetweenI think the hobbits have the right of it when instead of receiving presents on their birthday they hand them out to their guests! To celebrate mine I’m giving away free copies of my Kindle book, The Inbetween.

Set during dark age Britain, The Inbetween is a story of myth and magic woven around a known, historical figure, Eadric The Wild who was one of the few English noblemen who never submitted to the Normans.

The story foretells the coming of his faery bride who will bring him both joy and doom!

The Inbetween is free from Amazon for the whole of Monday, 18th February, 2013 so download here:
THE INBETWEEN

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Trust In Me

wadingthewaterwebTrust In Me  A3 Canvas Boxed Print (16.5 in x 11.7 in)

Features exclusive photograph and inspirational poem

Trust in me when the way grows weary,

when singing rivers lure the unwary

far away from the beaten way,

over broken plains and ragged mountains

echoing to the fell dread cry

of carrion circling empty skies.

Trust I say when night becalms,

I will keep you free from harm

and though the dark winds shriek and wail

never fear that I will fail

to carry you safely home

no matter where you choose to roam!

PRICE: £24.99 PLUS £2.50 p & p

PLEASE ALLOW 7 DAYS DELIVERY

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What They Say About The Inbetween

thumbIt’s a little over a month since my dark age short story, The Inbetween hit the Kindle books shelves and I’m pleased to say it’s been very well received with no less than seven very positive reviews received so far!

Here’s a few quotes from some of them …

“… a beguiling short tale of the Dark Ages and in its rendering, it echoes some of the Arthurian legends …”

“…lost myself in a quite wonderfully told, rather eerie tale, filled with intrigue and some beautiful characters …”

“…From the beginning I was lost in the magical, but spine chilling, atmosphere …”

“…If ever a tale was written to be told on a winter’s night in the light of a fire’s glow this is it …”

“…A magical little morsel that begs to be read by an open log fire on a winter cold winter’s eve …”  

You can read them in their entirety and all the other reviews on the Amazon Inbetween page.

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Are You Struggling With Your Novel?

how to write a novel and finish it

How To Write A Novel & Finish It –
available as a Kindle ebook from Amazon

Almost everyone thinks they can write a novel and almost everyone will fail!  Not through lack of ideas or writing skills, but through poor planning.  It takes tenacity and dedication to add the final full stop to a novel which calls for something more than the feverish enthusiasm engendered by a great idea!

How To Write Your Novel & Finish It is based on the ideas and strategies used by a group of authors to produce a novel in a day for a local Arts Festival.

I had the job of setting it all up and ensuring it delivered on time, which it did! Anyone who is thinking of writing a novel or is struggling to finish one will find the ideas in How To Write Your Novel & Finish it a huge help in clarifying ideas and completing the manuscript in the shortest possible time.
Click the link to read all the details: How To Write Your Novel & Finish It

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