Tag Archives: author

Book review – Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith

BabyX

 

“Alex Mansfield, the doctor leading a groundbreaking project to grow a human foetus in an artificial uterus, has gone on the run and taken the newborn baby with her. While the child’s parents wait anxiously for news, and the world’s media clamour for answers, Alex’s colleagues are shocked by her actions. Has Alex stolen the baby, or is there another motive behind her disappearance?

Baby X weaves science and medical ethics into an intimate thriller; asking questions without offering easy answers.”

 

I’ve been longing to get my hands on this book for a while, having met its author, Rebecca Ann Smith, last October when Baby X was being edited. Becky described her book as “a psychological thriller about motherhood, technology and medical ethics”, which had me intrigued from the start! Many months, edits and a publication date later, having finally devoured my copy, I’m pleased to say that the book (much like Becky herself) had me thoroughly engaged and captivated.

The novel’s eponymous baby is the first human being to be grown in a medical laboratory, inside an artificial uterus. Apart from that though, he is just an average baby who has grown and developed normally. Because, although an artificial uterus might sound odd, it’s totally safe – a controlled environment designed to provide for the foetus in much the way a mother’s womb does. So there’s no reason to believe that his development would have been affected or altered in anyway by outside forces… is there?

So why has the doctor devoted to his conception and care, run away with him? What does she know (or suspect) that may have led her to such drastic action? Is In Vitro Gestation (IVG) really as safe as it purports to be, or are sinister forces at work?

As we try to unravel the mystery, the story is told from three points of view – that of Alex, the doctor who has taken Baby X, Karen, the baby’s mother and Dolly, the research assistant. All three voices are strong and distinctive and I found myself torn particularly between Alex, whose bond with Baby X grows ever more profound, and Karen who just wants her much-longed-for child in her arms. Dolly’s voice introduces a lighter touch and the backdrop of media scrutiny adds to the tension of the unfolding tale.

A great strength of the story was that the science in Baby X felt totally real. I’m aware that Becky did plenty of research in this area and I thought that it was evident – all the ‘science bits’ felt natural and realistic and integrated seamlessly with the rest of the action. Although the idea of IVG feels, in some ways, a million miles from where we are now, within the book it felt like simply an extension of the medical science we already have – we already conceive life outside of the womb so why not grow it there too if we could? In this way, the novel had a contemporary rather than futuristic feel. I could really imagine the issues the novel explores arising in our society, the consequences they might have and the further questions they might raise. It made the book thought-provoking in a way that has lodged with me and lingered.

Of equal importance was the human side of the story which I thought Becky handled with an extremely deft touch. As a mother myself, many of the scenes with Baby X rang profoundly true and were very moving. The attachment of mother and child, the odd, otherworldliness of the newborn, the trials of breastfeeding, the mind-altering, crushing tiredness… all of this was portrayed so accurately, I couldn’t help but empathise with the central characters. It gave the thriller-aspect of the story an added emotional punch.

Overall, this is a hugely impressive debut, one which wound its way to a satisfying conclusion while leaving me with ethical questions to consider beyond its pages. I very much hope you will read it and please let me know if you do as I love nothing more than a good old chat about books!

Baby X is Published by Mothers Milk Books (a lovely independent press which publishes some wonderful books!) and is available to buy here. I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Writing Bubble

An interview with Emily Organ

The Last Day ebook coverLooking for a mystery/suspense novel (or two) to immerse yourself in this summer? I can recommend ‘The Last Day’ And ‘The Outsider’ by Emily Organ. 

‘The Last Day’ was published in 2014. I was drawn to the tagline – “He predicted when he would die. That day has now arrived.” and read it late last year. It was a quirky tale and one that really drew me in. I empathised with the main character George, was even in tears at the end (which isn’t a spoiler – I cry at happy stuff and sad stuff)!

The Outsider is Emily’s latest novel which she published in March of this year. It’s about Yasmin, a young would-be journalist who meets Daniel, a rich businessman and falls for his charms. His wife died recently though… under mysterious circumstances… eeek. This was a twisty-turny tale and things didn’t turn out as I expected for all the main protagonists which is something I appreciate in a novel!

I’m really impressed by Emily’s books and the way she has gone about publishing and marketing them. I’ve also loved following her creative journey on her blog. Always keen to pick the brains of an author, I was thrilled when Emily agreed to an interview:

Hi Emily, thanks for agreeing to an interview and congratulations on publishing both of your books!

It’s been a few months since the publication of The Outsider. How did you feel when you hit the ‘publish’ button (and how does that compare to your feelings now)?

Hitting the publish button is a combination of excitement and nervousness. And to be honest that feeling never really goes away. When I hit ‘publish’ I always worry there’s a typo or continuity error which hasn’t been picked up in the endless editing and proofreading process. Or that some chapters got accidentally left out. And I get nervous about people reading too, even though the whole point of writing it is for people to read! I sometimes need to remind myself that writing a book in the first place is a major achievement.

How long did it take you to write each of your books? Was it easier the second time around?

The first book, The Last Day, took me two years to write and the second one, The Outsider, took one year. So yes it was quicker and easier to write the second one. I’ve learnt lots each time I’ve written a book. Second time round I was able to pull myself out of the writing doldrums much easier because I knew I would get there with it in the end. I suppose I had more confidence with it.

How many drafts do you write? What’s your editing process?

About three or four, it’s hard to know exactly because the reworking and tweaking feels rather continuous. The first draft is fairly easy because you can brain dump your story knowing that you’ll come back to it and remove the unnecessary chunks and refine it. After the first draft is done I print it all out and then go through it all with a red pen which is quite time consuming. All the re-reads I do on the next drafts are on my Kindle because that’s how the majority of my readers read my books. I actually find it easier to proofread on a Kindle now, although I can’t scribble on it with my red pen! When I’m editing I’m always looking to see what can be removed – excess sentences, paragraphs and even sections of chapters. I aim to write more than I need then prune it.

What made you chose self publishing over traditional publishing?

I like to be in control! Although writing the book is my favourite bit, I do like working on a cover design, researching the book market and coming up with a marketing plan. I like the thought of a traditional book deal and all the fanfare and kudos that comes with it, but I’m not sure how I would deal with other people making the decisions about my work. Perhaps I’m a bit over protective. Or a closet control freak. I have in my mind an imagined day in the future where I’ll start approaching agents but so far I haven’t got round to it. I’ve spoken to only one and haven’t sent a manuscript to any agents yet.

It’s time consuming to pursue the traditional publishing route and I think the reason I haven’t really done it yet is because I’m enjoying self-publishing at the moment. Perhaps one day I’ll be a ‘hybrid author’ when I do both. I think in the future many authors will be hybrids. Traditionally published authors can get dropped by their publisher and some self-publish after that and become hybrids (that’s such a weird sounding name).

Do you sell printed versions as well as e-books? How does that work? (I’m imagining a spare room full of copies of your books… )

Yes I do, I sell these via CreateSpace which is an Amazon owned company which prints books on demand. The paperback version appears alongside the Kindle version on Amazon. I don’t sell many paperback versions, I find family members and close friends like to get a paperback copy. And I do give away a few signed copies to my loyal e-mail subscribers. 99% of my readers read on Kindle.

Do you have any advice for those of us considering self-publishing our work?

If you want to self-publish then I think it’s crucial you find a professional editor to edit your work for you. At the very least try a manuscript evaluation service. But I think the minimum you need is a professional line edit to remove typos, repetition and tidy up your work. I opted for a structural edit which costs more but the editor gives you feedback on your story structure, characters and gives you ideas for improving them. It’s invaluable. Even if you’re an amazingly talented writer, you still won’t spot your own commonly over-used words and phrases in your work. And you become so familiar with your book that perhaps you don’t emphasise a plot development clearly enough or make a character interesting enough.

Your new book covers look great… but I also loved your old ones – what made you change them?

It was a difficult decision because my original book cover designers have been so hard working and helpful. Listening to designers and publishers at the London Book Fair made me realise my covers needed to change. Firstly, I had to consider who was buying my books. Because most of my readers buy on Kindle, they only really see the cover as a thumbnail image on Amazon. Therefore my covers needed have lots of impact at thumbnail level. My original covers looked very pretty as paperbacks but they didn’t work as a thumbnail.

Secondly, I learnt that a cover needs to show ‘membership’ of your book’s genre. So if you click through the categories on Amazon you will see strong similarities between book covers of the same genre. I had to align my books with my chosen genre. And I have to be prepared to change them again as trends change. If you’re a fan of Kate Atkinson you’ll notice the covers on all her books are re-done pretty much each time she publishes a new one!

I imagine marketing your books is quite a responsibility – what’s your approach in this area? Do you focus on online marketing or ‘real world’ things (like attending events and trying to generate sales in your local community)?

It’s purely online at the moment and it can be tough as many people are suspicious of an unknown self-published writer. I quickly learnt that repeatedly mentioning a book on social media doesn’t sell it! A few lovely bloggers have reviewed my books on their blogs and I’ve recently started using paid advertising on BookBub. BookBub is notoriously fussy about who they feature so it’s flattering to get your book accepted by them. Facebook is proving to be a lucrative place to advertise books too because you can target customers so well on there. I haven’t progressed much with that myself yet, but I do know a number of writers who have.

In the future I like the idea of attending some literary festivals and events. If my books do well enough people might be interested in me. I’ve shied away from doing anything local such as a book launch party or similar. Mainly because I’m shy and hate being the centre of attention but also because I don’t think it boosts your book sales by much. I have to think about where my readers are and at the moment, like it or not, they’re on Amazon. I like the idea of doing something community focused when I’m more established such as chats in schools and libraries.

Are you pleased with how your book sales are going? Are they better or worse than expected?

Sales can be hard to predict when you’re starting out as a self-published author. Your books are competing with traditionally published books which have publicists, editors and agents behind them and all the industry connections they bring. For this reason I don’t think I’ve ever expected a certain number of sales so any number is good! Reviews matter as much as a sale, if not more so. Reviews from real readers can help cement your reputation as a writer. Especially if you’re unknown – readers need to know they can trust you with the money they spend on your book. That said, sales of The Last Day are doing brilliantly at the moment, it’s floating about in the Top 200 on Kindle store right now, when you consider there are over three and a half million Kindle books on the UK store that’s something I’m hugely happy about! I couldn’t have predicted that.

What’s the best thing about being a published author?

The best thing is people reading and enjoying your work. And it’s lovely when they get in touch to tell you they’ve enjoyed your book, you can’t beat that feeling.

… any downsides?

The downside is people not enjoying your work, although obviously you can’t write for everyone. In fact, having no one read your work is probably worse. Someone who’s taken the time to read your book, not enjoyed it and taken the time to leave a critical review is actually a positive because at least your work made them think. If no one’s reading then that can be dispiriting. And makes you question why you’re doing it!

What’s next for you? Is novel no. 3 in the pipelines?

Yes it is and it will be a mystery / thriller with a historical setting. I’ve spent some time on the ideas for it and there’s a huge amount of research to do but hopefully I can start writing it very soon.

What would you say to people wondering whether to pursue their writing dreams?

It’s clichéd, but never give up on your writing dream. If you’re not getting anywhere with it then change the way you approach it. Look at what you can do differently. If you want to make a career of it then you need to take it seriously and be completely determined and learn to get over the self-doubt which cripples all writers. That said, lots of people write for pleasure and may not want the world to read their work. In that case you should just enjoy it. In fact you should always enjoy it, even on the bad days!

Thanks Emily and good luck!

Linking up with The Prompt at Mum Turned Mom – this week it’s ‘To be a…’ which fits nicely with this interview: ‘To be a… published author’.

mumturnedmom
Nikki Young Writes

grandma’s poetry – an interview with Di Castle

As a writer hoping to have my own books published one day, I’m always interested to hear from published authors – there is so much I can learn! So, when I was recently contacted by Di Castle asking if I would like to review her ‘Grandma’s Poetry Book’, I said I’d be happy to (there was a free book in it for me, after all… ) and asked if I could interview her too.

I’m pleased to say Di’s answer was yes! The interview is below (and Di was very generous with her responses so it’s well worth a read) but first, here’s a bit about the book:

grandma's poetry book

Grandma’s poetry book is a collection of poems by Di Castle about her experience of being a grandmother. Each poem is individually illustrated by Denise Horn.

As Di has been been a grandmother for fifteen years and writing since before the birth of her first grandchild, the poems cover a huge range of milestones, from the first pregnancy announcement, through births, toddler troubles, school days and on to the teenage years.

The poems have a light touch but capture a whole range of experiences and moods. They’re often humorous but also moving and they feel very honest and real. They are all in rhyming verse so if you’re after a more serious, heavy-weight sort of poetry this might not be the book for you, but personally I found Di’s style very readable and enjoyable.

The book itself feels like a quality product and Denise Horn’s illustrations blend perfectly with the poems. I enjoyed dipping in and out and it was often the pictures that drew me to read a particular poem, which I think is a sure sign of a successful collaboration.

The poems have brought both a smile to my face and, at times a tear to my eye. There is a deep current of love that runs through the whole book and having read it, even though I am many years from being a grandmother myself, I have a genuine sense of what it might feel like. I can imagine it would make a great present for any grandmother!

***

Hi Di, thanks for sending me a copy of your book (I hope you like my review!) and for agreeing to this interview.

The book contains poems about your – many and varied – experiences of being a grandmother. How long did it take you to write them? Did some flow out of your pen more easily than others?

It took 16 years from start to finish. I began writing them before my first grandchild was born – in fact when my friend became a grandmother. My own first granddaughter was born in 2000. I wrote thoughts and rhyming couplets in my notebook which I later developed and eventually realised I had enough for a book. 

Some poems were easier than others. Some had been in competitions so were fairly well honed. Some were done at the last minute to make sure all my grandchildren were included. I struggled with one or two of them but the mothers helped me with ideas. It is true though that some poems seem to write themselves while others have to be crafted.

What is your editing process? Did it vary with each poem?

They all start off in my writers’ notebooks and then after some alterations and additions I put them on the computer, print them out and then carry them around with me when I am travelling e.g to grandchildren by train. I read and reread, scribble over them and put them away. They evolve really and I return to them over and over to re-read, read aloud and polish them.

What made you decide to compile your poems into an anthology?

I really wanted to publish my memoir of growing up with a deaf sister but have run into various difficulties getting agents (although I do have a few interested now). I was impatient then to get into print and realised I had sufficient material in my poems to publish a book. Also I wanted to get them published for my grandchildren as a gift from me. They love them. I am now keen to get my memoir published for them as well but editing and revising takes so much time. Grandma filled the gap really.

Your book contains lovely illustrations that blend well with your poetry – how did you go about finding an illustrator?

I tried a few local artists but some declined as they felt their type of art would not do the poetry credit. Eventually someone recommended Denise Horn. She asked to see my poems then replied by return not to let anyone else do it as she wanted to do it. Right from the start I felt she captured the essence of each poem. The rest is history. She is my greatest fan and I am hers. We now have a fantastic friendship.

Why did you decide to self-publish (rather than go down a traditional route)?

It is very difficult to get an agent or a publisher for poetry. You have to be Carol Ann Duffy or dead! No-one wants your poetry if you are not already well known. It is a chicken and egg situation really. You have to be published before anyone looks at you and no-one looks at you until you are. I felt at my age I could not wait, and heard of other writers who had self published and then had been picked up by a mainstream publisher. That is still my dream! Also, I soon discovered that if I did find a mainstream publisher they may not take Denise as the illustrator but would get their own and I wanted Denise to do it. 

What has your experience of self-publishing been? Do you have any tips or recommendations?

I cannot speak highly enough of Matador. Their staff loved my work from the time I handed over some sheets of poems and some illustrations at the Winchester Writers’ Conference in 2013. I had visited other self-publishing stands and they wanted me to go through hoops e.g produce a PDF of the poems. What? And to get the illustrations professionally scanned. I had already paid Denise and that route would have been too expensive. I was not overly impressed with the quality of the books produced by other self-publishing companies and have been absolutely delighted with the quality of Grandma’s Poetry Book. I see people pick it up and they are immediately taken with it.

The process was so smooth with Matador. Every email is answered within 24 hours and they are so helpful and treat you as if you are the only author they have!! The personal touch helps. It has cost more money but in the end I had a superior product and I am sure Grandma will be around for many years so it was worth getting the best I could for her!

How long did the publishing process take?

It took about 10 months from start to finish. I began with enquiry emails, asking more questions and more and more until we got to the contract stage. All the time I was polishing the poems, reading them at open mic nights to test the water and getting them the right length. Then I had to write the preface and Denise and I had to write our bios which was new to us. I uploaded the files in early May 2024 but it took until the end of October to get the first delivery of books.

How have you been marketing your book? Has your focus been with online sales or in your local community (or both)?

As far as online or local community, I have done both. I have done a lot of local signings and have talks booked over the next year in the area with WI and over60 groups plus evening talks at a local hotel in the summer season. I have have booked myself into every available local summer fair and other events which are in a good cause further afield – I think it will be a lovely way to spend a day and I have a willing chauffeur!!

I have nurtured a relationship with my local bookshop which has sold about 30 books since Christmas. The book is also in two other Dorset bookshops and I now have a supplier ID for the National Trust. This has taken time with personal visits, follow up emails and using contacts.

I was very green about social media but I have grown my twitter following from 200 to 1500 in six months by contacting mummy bloggers and mums groups, asking for follows, reviews and retweets. I am now one of the 100 authors on the Henpicked site which publishes articles of informative interest to women over 40+. They have 6000 followers and likes on Facebook and are great at retweeting. I have my own website with more information about the book and also have a Writer page on Facebook. Any social media is good.

Has the experience of writing, producing and selling a book been as you imagined?

It has been better than I imagined. I cannot explain how much difference it has made to my life. It has been a life-long dream to be published and I am lucky to be in the generation where the awful term ‘vanity’ publishing has been banished and the ‘indie’ author term has grown. It has allowed me to be involved with local charities, giving free copies for raffles and I have got to know so many people through this venture, so many lovely people. One buyer is reading two poems a night to her mother who has Alzheimers and they talk about when the children were small and it acts as reminiscence therapy. That brought a warm feeling to my heart. I get so much praise in reviews and via email and it is good to know I have made people ‘laugh and cry’ as they say.

Have you got any advice for those of us writing poetry (or anything else for that matter) who are wondering about publishing it?

I would say ‘go for it’ but think about your audience and how you are going to promote it. I think I have a very receptive target market. The illustrations have helped so I would say do try to get an illustrator or do your own. For poetry, self publishing is probably best although there are poetry presses which may take your work. You can look through Writers and Artists’ Yearbook. 

Further, do build up a good network of writers and people who could be your readers. Join a poetry group and read your work aloud. Find an open mic night. Send poems to the local paper. Enter competitions such as those at Winchester Writers’ Festival. Attend Festivals, read other work (especially in the genre you are writing) and listen to what they tell you in writing workshops. 

If you have produced something creative it should be out there being read and if no publisher wants it that does not mean it is not any good. Poetry now forms a large part of the GCSE English Literature and your work may be welcomed in schools with talks and readings. Have faith in your abilities and just get on and do it. But after that, keep writing. Apparently you are more likely to get sales if you have more than one book on Amazon. So write, write, write and don’t give up. And keep the faith!

Thanks Di and good luck with book sales and all your future creative endeavours!

I’m linking this up with The Prompt at Mumturnedmom. This week it is ‘confidence’ and I hope the confidence that allowed Di to publish her work can inspire others to do the same!

mumturnedmom
Writing Bubble

Become The Best You – an interview with Reneé Davis

Many of us dream of being a published author – the excitement, the satisfaction and (hopefully) the plaudits… but what’s the reality like? I was recently lucky enough to grab an interview with the author, blogger, mum-of-three and all-round lovely Reneé Davis. Reneé self-published her first book ‘Become The Best You’ last November. Here’s a bit about the book:#btby

After her dysfunctional upbringing Reneé Davis knew she wanted more out of life, but had no idea how she was going to achieve it. She lived life in self-destruct mode for years until she eventually made peace with the past, ditched bad influences and behaviour, and got comfortable with what she saw in the mirror.

This book tells you how you can do the same. How you can change your life and break your own cycle of dysfunction.

Anyone is capable of doing it. You just have to want to badly enough.

I read the book myself last year and found it very inspiring. It’s full of practical, sensible advice that makes it relevant for anyone whether you come from a similar background to Reneé or are just hoping to change a few things about your life. The memoir sections make it much more compelling and meaningful than your average self-help book. I recommend it!

Hi Reneé, congratulations on your book! How did it feel to hit the publish button? (Is there even a publish button? I’m imagining it big and shiny and that when you press it a mini firework display is activated? ;)

To be honest it’s all a bit of a blur! There’s definitely a button on Create Space (submit perhaps?) that you press once you’ve done all your uploading and filled in all the forms. It then goes off to be checked by them and usually goes live on Amazon 3-5 days later. It was pretty thrilling I have to say, but my book went live within 24 hours which took me by surprise. I wasn’t anticipating it being available to buy quite so fast, and had to rejig time off work to bring my launch day forward. It was all fab in the end, but is worth taking into consideration if you are thinking of self-publishing.

How have things gone with the book since? Are you where you hoped to be at this point?

Funnily enough I wrote a post about this recently. The book did amazingly well in it’s first couple of weeks and even made it into the Amazon Bestsellers Top 50, which I’m so very proud of. Since then I’ve hardly had a moment to breathe between the kids and work, so book promotion has been bottom of my list. My 3yo has just started nursery though, so I’ll have a little bit of spare time to work on my plans for world domination.

How long did it take you to write (and edit)?

From start to finish it was almost a year to the day. I began writing bits and pieces when I went on maternity leave in the January, then it all ground to a halt after my son was born on Valentine’s Day. I took two months off while we all adjusted to our new addition, and started writing again in the Spring. By the end of Summer I had a first draft on my hands, which I then paid handsomely to be critiqued by an editor at a top literary agency. He had some great advice for me which I took on board, and spent the next three months editing and filling in the gaps. Once I was happy with the manuscript I sent it away for a second edit to ensure it didn’t have any glaring typos or grammatical errors. After it came back I had to do some tweaks here and there, then it was ready to be published. I’m sure I could have carried on editing it forever, but there comes a point where you have to say ‘this is good enough’.

The book is built on your own experiences – was it painful to write? 

As I explain in the book, I made peace with my dysfunctional past a long time ago, and feel very emotionally detached from it now. I find writing about the things I’ve been through really cathartic, and I get a great sense of pride knowing that I’m also helping others to help themselves by sharing my story.

How did you find a balance between self-help and memoir?

The structure of the book changed several times throughout the course of me writing it. I don’t think I was too aware of the need for  balance, it just naturally worked out around half and half.

What made you decide to self-publish rather than go down the ‘traditional’ route?

Time was and is my biggest constraint. I have very little of the stuff going spare and didn’t want to sit on my manuscript while I trod the long treacherous route of trying to find an agent. A book like mine is so niche, and there aren’t going to be many out there willing to take it on. I firmly believe that if you have the talent as a self-published author an agent/publisher will come to you.

Is self publishing a difficult thing to do? Is it expensive (especially having paper versions made)?

Not at all, especially now that Create Space are an Amazon company they make it very easy to self-publish. As well being available on Kindle, they print orders on demand so there is no outlay for printing, and they have various distribution channels to help get your book into shops and libraries. In terms of cost, I spent a fair bit of money on the book. Having two professional edits and a professional cover designed, doesn’t come cheap but was worth every penny in my opinion as my book looks every bit as good as the next book does. Of course the flip side of this is that all the royalties are my own.

What have been the best and worst parts of your whole writing/publishing/marketing experience so far?

Just not having any time to dedicate to book promotion. I’ve had moments of real frustration over it lately, but this is the reality of life with small children, and I have three of them (including a baby who is still breastfeeding).

Do you have any advice for writers out there?

Just write write write. Even if the words don’t really make sense at first, the only way you’ll ever get better at anything is by practicing. If you truly utilise every single opportunity you get to write, you’ll be sitting in front of a first draft before you know it. I used to stay awake after the baby had his early morning feed around 4am which gave me an hour and a half to two hours of writing time each day before the rest of the house woke up. Who needs sleep?! Oh and don’t be fearful of the editing process. I would say half of my original content didn’t make the final book, but I didn’t shed a single tear because what was left was much better.

What’s next (for both the book and you)? 

Next step for Become the Best You is getting it in front of people that could take it further. Not necessarily literary agents but mental health charities, magazines, influential self-help authors. I’m thinking well and truly outside of the box on this one. Next step for me is to start working on my novel. Guess I need to take my own advice and get writing! Watch this space ;-)

Thanks Reneé and good luck!

mumturnedmom