Competition Results

Now, how many of you actually forgot this was coming up? And how many have been waiting with baited breath for the results?

For those of you that completely forgot, here’s the competition details to refresh your memory…


We had an amazing turnout, and the top 3 fought hard for their spots. It was a very close call when choosing the winner, who is…

10 year-old, George Moore!

Congratulations! You will now have your story featured in our anthology, as well as receiving a free copy of the book!

In second and third places, also receiving a copy of the book, are Hannah Greenland and Olivia Thomas.

A big “well done” to everyone who took part and congratulations to our top three!

Do you want a sneak preview, guys?


catchingsanta front cover



Do you know how to get off the Naughty List?

What happens if you eat too much on Christmas Day?

Have you ever heard of a Christmas Starfish,

or seen a dragon pull a sleigh?

What does Christmas mean to you; Santa and his Elves, or the latest must-have gadgets and toys? For most children it’s about excitement and wishing, and the characters in Catching Santa are just the same. Busy Elves have work to do, can Santa deliver all his presents on time, and will everyone discover the true meaning of Christmas?

Immerse yourself in this wonderful collection of stories and poems for ages 7-12 that will get you in the Christmas spirit.


The book will be launched on 25th October 2014 at Chelmsford Central Library, 11am-3pm. At the launch event, we will have lots of activities for kids of all ages. Why not make a day of it – there are some great activities where parents and children can do things together. More details will follow in the very near future. I hope you can all make it.

Catching Santa poster


Looking for Alaska by John Green

by Sarah-Jane Bird

How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?

John Green’s books have a fandom so intense I was almost reluctant to read his award winning debut novel Looking for Alaska. Social media idolises Green and his characters, and he is the second most followed author on Goodreads, second only to Cassandra Clare. I’m quite a tough sell on YA fiction, but I knew I wouldn’t stop wondering about this book until I sat down and read it. So I did.

Miles Halter joins Culver Creek boarding school, hoping to seek ‘A Great Perhaps’. A self confessed bookish nerd with an obsession with famous ‘last words’, Miles is and dare I say it – your typical so uncool he is kind of cool teenage boy. His roommate Chip introduces Miles to Alaska. Enigmatic, intense Alaska Young.

On the surface, Looking for Alaska is a story of the nerd who meets his ‘Manic Pixie Dreamgirl’ and falls desperately in love. Green has taken an overused trope and twisted it just enough that we get real depth with his characters. Alaska is deeply troubled, and even though she admits how unhappy she is Miles only sees the side of her that he wants to see. Miles idolises quirky and vibrant Alaska, and struggles to accept her as a whole, troubled person.

Looking for Alaska is a funny, touching and very realistic portrayal of a group of teenage outsiders. Beneath the adolescent veneer of alcohol, cigarettes and sex is a story about growing up, in one of the harshest ways possible.  I loved reading this book, Green writes beautifully.


Writing – the (not so) lovely endeavour

by Anna Jones Buttimore

The lot of a writer is one of long hours hunched over a keyboard in a dimly lit room with nothing but a cat for company. Shut away from the real world we pull faces and make hand gestures as our characters do, mutter dialogue to ourselves, and live in a strange environment peopled entirely by creatures of our own imagination. Alone we face the frustrations of edit after edit, and the crushing disappointment of rejection after rejection of our precious offspring. It’s little wonder that many of us seem to be a little eccentric, if not downright mad.

As least, that’s how it used to be. These days writing is no longer the lonely and solitary profession.

  • Today Hellen is coming to my house to work on her novel. She’s coming partly because I have a spare desk and she won’t be tempted to do housework in my house (although I’ve told her she’d be welcome to), but also for the company. And once in a while she can ask me, “What’s that word that means..?” or “How would you describe the smell of..?” Hellen and I have written a book together, and writing in the company of others is a lot of fun.
  • Years ago when my first novel was printed my editor put me in touch with a fellow author I admired, Kerry Blair, and she in turn “virtually” introduced me to several other authors, most of whom I have now met in person. For many years we emailed each other frequently with messages of support and encouragement. We congratulated each other on books accepted and published and commiserated on rejections. We cooed over baby photos and offered support in times of illness and despair. Most of all, though, we shared the experience of writing, its rewards and its difficulties, and we were there for each other. We email less frequently than we once did, but we do now share a blog.
  • Hardly a day goes by without me receiving an invitation via Facebook to a book launch party; probably because around half my Facebook friends are writers. I also belong to many writers groups on Facebook where I find discussions on editing, naming characters and every and any aspect of this strange craft of ours.
  • I belong to two writers’ groups (Writebulb and Rayleigh WINOS) and thus two Saturdays a month are spent writing flash fiction, undertaking challenges and setting goals with other writers. It’s a really wonderful opportunity. One Writebulb member pointed out “We learn far more in two hours than we could at any creative writing class”.
  • Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month – November) sees groups of writers meeting together in libraries for “sprints” on their laptops, badges popping up all over Facebook, and a real sense of solidarity as thousands of writers struggle to write 50,000 words in just one month. I’ve only done it once, and I failed due to poor planning (got 20,000 words in and realised I had no idea where the book was going and needed to do some major research) but I’m going to try again in this year.

Writing may once have meant working in glorious solitude, but it doesn’t have to any more. We authors can support and encourage one another, get together and share our experiences and goals, either online or in person. Even if, at the end of the day, we like to retreat to our dimly-lit attic room with our laptops to immerse ourselves once more in the worlds we create.


Chinese Whispers

by Carlie Cullen

chinese whispers 1

Do you remember playing Chinese Whispers when you were young? It’s that game where one person whispers something to a friend who then passes it on, the next one does the same and it continues until it gets back to the person who started it, who then compares what they are told with the original version to see how different it is. I can remember having more than a few giggles with that game.

So now you’re scratching your heads wondering if I’ve lost the plot and what the heck this has to do with writing and what our group is about. Let me explain.

After spending untold months writing a book and revising it until it’s in a reasonable shape, then going through the lengthy process of editing and finally proofreading, you can now publish your book. You get the book formatted, put it on Amazon Kindle, get a few paperback versions from Createspace or Lulu and you sit back and wait for the royalties to come pouring in.

You’ve written this fantastic book which is worthy of being published by the big six and deserves to be top of the New York Times Bestseller List yet three months later you’ve sold two copies; one to your best friend and one to Auntie Flo. So what’s gone wrong? Why aren’t you selling more copies?

The answer is simple – no one knows it’s there!

You have to distance yourself from your work and the characters you’ve lovingly created and view it now as a product. As with any product, consumers can’t buy something they don’t know exists. So you need to start the game of Chinese Whispers.

Let’s take our anthologies as a prime example. We are trying to raise money for a really worthwhile charity that needs every penny they can get their hands on. As a group we plan the launch/signing event at the library, get posters placed at various venues, spread the word around friends, family, and work colleagues and then after the big day, nothing much happens. One or two of us might occasionally mention it on Twitter but that’s about it.

They key to selling any book or product is advertising. It’s not the sort of thing you can just do once, you have to keep the name in the public eye to create more sales, and you can do it without it costing you a penny!

This is where social media comes in. There are loads of sites on the web now where people interact and I would guess most of us have at least one of these accounts. Let’s just look at a few of them: Facebook; Twitter; Instagram; Pinterest; Flikr; My Space; and Linkedin. All of these sites give you the opportunity to advertise your book or product for free, so all you need is to put your creative juices to work and come up with three or four short, interesting and intriguing ads and post them on a regular basis on the sites you have accounts on. The more people see the name, the more curious they will become and eventually some of them will buy the product. If they like it, they will recommend it to their friends and now the game of Chinese Whispers begins.

It’s very difficult to keep up with all the social media sites out there and still make plenty of time to write so it’s best to stick with just a couple to begin with. If you make your ads exciting enough, people will share them on other sites for you and so your reach grows. Also, look for specific times of year where your particular book would benefit from extra advertising, i.e. if you have written a romance, good sales periods for you would be around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, summer holidays, and Christmas, so in the weeks leading up to those periods, advertise a little extra and put in the suggestion that it would make a great/unusual/wonderful gift for, say, Mother’s Day.

So start playing your own game of Chinese Whispers – you may be surprised by the results.


Jane Austen

by Beverly Townsend

Jane Austen

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’. So begins the first chapter of Jane Austen’s famous novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’. She considered this her best loved novel, calling it: ‘My own darling child’. Indeed even Alan Titchmarsh has said it’s his favourite book!

Jane Austen was an English novelist whose books, set among the English middle and upper classes, are notable for their wit, social observation and insights into the lives of early 19th century women.

Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 in the village of Steventon in Hampshire. She was one of eight children of a clergyman and grew up in a close-knit family. She began to write as a teenager. In 1801 the family moved to Bath. After the death of Jane’s father in 1805 Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother moved several times eventually settling in Chawton, near Steventon.

Jane’s brother Henry helped her negotiate with a publisher and her first novel, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, appeared in 1811. Her next novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’, received highly favourable reviews. ‘Mansfield Park’ was published in 1814, then ‘Emma’ in 1816. ‘Emma’ was dedicated to the prince regent, an admirer of her work. All of Jane Austen’s novels were published anonymously.

The strength of Jane’s novels was her ability to gain penetrating insights into the character and nature of human relationships, from even a fairly limited range of environments and characters. In particular, she helped to redefine the role and aspirations of middle class women like herself. Through providing a witty satire of social conventions, she helped to liberate contemporary ideas of what women could strive for.

In 1816, Jane began to suffer from ill-health, probably due to Addison’s disease. She travelled to Winchester to receive treatment, and died there on 18 July 1817 aged 41. Two more novels, ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ were published posthumously and a final was left incomplete.


The Five Minute Writer

by Sarah-Jane Bird


“I’ll teach you how to write. I will. You’ll use me all the time. I have all the tricks hidden up my sleeve, and when you think about it I’m an investment.”

You pay for your shiny new book, and leave the shop with it tucked under your arm. With a clever title and a promise to make you a better writer, you feel inspired already. So you buy it, and there it will sit proudly on your bookshelf, or perhaps on your desk. And there it will sit. And sit. And – well you get the idea.

The hard fact is, none of these books will make you a better writer and they certainly won’t force you to write the novel you have always wanted to write. They can’t force a pantser to become a planner, and they won’t have you write your best seller in thirty days.

That being said, there are some books out there that can provide you with a little motivational kick when you need it. One of my favourites is The Five Minute Writer. If I was ever going to judge a book by its cover or indeed its title this would be it. But the reviews were pretty positive, so I impulse purchased and this book found it’s place on my desk. And then this strange thing happened, I used it. And I used it again, and again. And then I realised what a wonderful little book it really was.

The Five Minute Writer is full of short five minute (funnily enough) exercises that are there when you need a little inspiration, motivation or a simple kick up the backside! The book contains fifty eight exercises, short enough to tackle when you are pushed for time. The exercises themselves vary from character development, to dialogue, points of view, clichés and many more besides.

On a personal level, I found the book to be most helpful when I took on the exercises in the mind of my characters. Exercise 26 is all about two faced characters, and how people may be perceived from one person to the next, which is much more beneficial when you take on the task with your characters in mind.

I found this book to be one of my favourites, and one I will always go back to especially when I am in need of character development. By seeing the task through my characters eyes, they became layered in ways I hadn’t considered before. And the book is ideal for those who have busy schedules. Priced at £6.99 from Amazon, this book is a hidden gem with a lot of potential.



Why I Prefer Traditional Publishing

by Anna Buttimore


The ebook revolution is upon us, and with free publishing now available to everyone the landscape for writers has changed dramatically over the last ten years. Anyone, anywhere, with any level of skill can now write a book and publish it, at no cost to themselves, and it will be indistinguishable from a book published by a large, established publisher, like Penguin, HarperCollins or Macmillan.

Many authors, including established authors with traditional publishers, are celebrating and embracing self-publishing. Some are putting out their out-of-print back catalogue in ebook format, while others are eschewing traditional publishing altogether and going for the bigger royalties percentage promised by self-publishing.

And yet I continue to send my work out to agent after agent, publisher after publisher, again and again. I have now clocked up fifty-seven rejections for my sci-fi magnum opus, Emon and the Emperor, and despite the regular assurances (often on the rejection slips) that publishing is a very subjective business and someone else may love my work, it’s hard not to become disheartened and lose confidence in my own abilities.

So the obvious question is why? Why do I continue to chase that elusive publishing contract, or enthusiastic agent, when I could just spend an hour on Kindle Direct Publishing and have Emon and the Emperor for sale around the world by this evening?

I have experience of both types of publishing. My first five books were traditionally published by small presses primarily serving the American midwest. My first two were very successful and even made me a nice bit of money. The next three, not so much. By that time the number of available books had grown considerably (partly due to the self-publishing revolution), but the number of readers hadn’t, and the amount of promotion the publishers did had dropped to almost zero, so the royalties didn’t break the £1,000 mark.

My sixth book, co-written with Hellen Riebold, was self-published because of its controversial subject matter. Royalties from that, so far, are zero. Well, not quite zero, but Amazon only send you a cheque once your royalties reach a certain level, and we’re not there yet.

So if I make no money from either my traditionally published or self-published books, again the question has to be why am I still holding out to get my next effort traditionally published? Why not just self-publish it?

I’d like to say it’s because I like getting my book professionally edited multiple times as part of the package. I like having professional cover designers, typesetters, etc., make my book look as good as it possibly can. With my first two books I really liked seeing them in catalogues, end-of-aisle displays, and on posters in bookstore windows. I like not having to do any complicated stuff, and having a team of professionals make my book as good as it can be, then send me twenty free copies. I like having my book actually appear on real shelves in real bookstores where people can browse through it and maybe even take it to the cash desk. (And that aspect shouldn’t be underestimated – my books have all sold far more copies in stores in paperback than they have as ebooks online.)

Those things are all very nice. But actually the reason I like traditional publishing best is because of the validation. I like knowing that someone believes in my work enough to invest in it. I like imagining that industry professionals think I’m good at what I do. I like being taken seriously as an author: when anyone with any level of talent (or none) can put out a book, I like being set apart from them and recognised as someone whose work was actually put into print based on its own merits.

I love this book. Ultimately I believe it is good enough to be traditionally published and to be a success. But I really need someone in the business to agree with me. So I will keep on sending Emon and the Emperor to agent after agent, publisher after publisher, until I run out of agents and publishers to send it to. With fifty-seven rejections already, that might be quite soon.