Social Media 101 – A starter session

This first session is for those people who are new to Social Media. We will look at the different types of Social Media, and what they do. A PDF of this page is available at the foot of the last page.

We will also look at the pleasures and pitfalls of the different types. What is best for you?

There are SIX main social media platforms.







There are other platforms which you CAN use to gather followers and exchange information. I’m not going to cover them in this session.






Facebook is the giant of the bunch, with over 2 BILLION users worldwide.

Twitter is for sharing shorter messages (up to 280 characters). It is very “transient.”

Instagram is a picture-sharing app designed for use with your mobile phone and its camera.

Pinterest is a “picture collecting” site. I find it useful for research, and it can give you a nice shop-window for your books – WITHOUT you having to update it all the time.

Goodreads is a site you should ALL be on, as authors. It’s a shop window for your books, and, like Pinterest, doesn’t require you to update it all the time.

Youtube is a video sharing site. If you are happy in front of the cameras, this may be for you. It CAN be very effective.

Before you start, pick a “Headshot” for your profile pic. Pick a good one that is unmistakably you. Use this pic for ALL your profiles at this stage. We want consistency. This is your business!

Similarly, write a short bio you can use on all your Social Media sites. You can cut-and-paste it from one to another.

Also, equally important, what name do you want to use?

The choices are           1. Your name.

                                    2. A Nom-de-plume

3. Both.

You may use your name on your personal Facebook page, and restricting your “Friends” to people who are friends or family in the real world. You can then use a Nom-de-plume for another Personal Page.

Set up a simple Gmail email account under your non-de-plume.

You can then use your “Nom-de-plume Page” to set up an Author Page.

For women writers, or teachers and others, there can be a need to keep a degree of separation between your writing life and your home life.

This is NOT as complicated as it may sound.


I thought we would deal with Goodreads first. EVERY author needs a Goodreads page. It is FREE and doesn’t take too much to set up.

Goodreads is a site where you can collect reviews, and also where you can leave reviews of other authors books. The site is owned by Amazon, but there is no direct link between reviews on Amazon and reviews on Goodreads.

Go to

Follow the simple instructions. Check out books you have read, or are reading. Add reviews where you can – even if its only a number of stars.

To get your own Author page, go to

To apply for the Author Program, you can follow these steps when visiting the desktop version of Goodreads:

  1. Sign in or create an account, and then search for your most popular book via ISBN, ASIN, or title.
  2. On the book, click on your author name. Scroll to the bottom of your author profile page.
  3. Click “Is this you? Let us know!” to complete and submit the application.

They will send you an email when you’re approved within 2 business days. Your login and password will stay the same. Follow the (fairly) simple instructions.

Once you have added your personal details, pic and bio, add details of any other books.

Basically, that is it. You can follow other authors at your leisure.

If you have a blog, then you can connect it to Goodreads, so that when you update your blog, it will also show, on your Goodreads page.

If you are having a Launch party or event, you can invite your Goodreads friends to attend or join in.

When you read a book, please, please revue it! Review it on Amazon and then copy that review to Goodreads. Then, hopefully, your friends and readers will review YOUR books.


Facebook is the giant of Social Media, with nearly 3 BILLION pages out there. This is YOUR market!

Everyone starts with a “Personal Page” (Their Profile). I imagine everyone here has a personal Facebook page. This is – as it says – a Personal page. This is where you post pics of your cats, your grandchildren, your holidays and your friends, or in my case, hedgehogs.

Do NOT post your home address or your home phone number on Facebook! You CAN post the town or area. i.e. York, North London, Cornwall, etc.

You SHOULD enter a mobile number. This is NOT shown on your page. It is there so Facebook can send you a Code to reset your password, should you need to.

  1. Click on Edit Profile
  2. Click on About, and add as much detail as you are comfortable with.
  3. Under contacts, you will see: Mobile phones 07123 456789 · Texts Activated · Remove and a small icon.
  4. Click on the icon and select “Only Me” illustrated by a padlock.
  5. Put your birthday in. Ladies may not want to put their year of birth in. That’s fine.

Also, add details of ALL your social media and authors links. This is mine:



Social links
yorksauthors (Twitter) (LinkedIn) (Pinterest)
john5642 (Instagram) jjackson42 (Twitter)  

Remember – this is FREE ADVERTISING for you. Make it as easy as possible for potential readers to find you.

You should now have a working Personal Page. You will start to acquire Friends immediately. You can acquire your own friends as well. Don’t go off and send 200 Friend requests at once though. Do it steadily.

A good place to find Friends is to look at those who belong to your “Peer Groups,” i.e. the Facebook Group “Promoting Yorkshire Authors.” or also, in my case, The Romantic Novelists Association

Click on “Members” and look down the list and send Friend Requests to as many as you feel happy with – especially if you know them.

At the start, if you get Friend requests, feel free to decline any you are not happy with. If you get any spam requests, i.e. from US Generals, or sundry Sheiks, just click on “Mark as Spam”.

In the next session, I will cover having your own Author Page, Facebook Groups, and setting up your OWN Authors Facebook Group.


Twitter is probably the most popular social media among writers. Twitter posts are for immediate short-term announcements. You are limited to 280 characters, which forces you to concentrate on the substance of your message.

Also, because Twitter handles a lot of traffic, you will find your messages scroll up the screen rather quickly.

How to get a Twitter account.

  1. Choose a profile name. This is the name you’ll be known as on Twitter (also known as your @name or twitter handle). Be consistent; have it recognisable as your writing name.
  2. Add a photo of you, not your logo. The same photo as your Facebook account. Again, its consistency, and becoming your “brand.”
  3. Complete your bio. Be guided by your Facebook bio.
  4. Add your website address.
  5. Follow some people. Celebrities, news media, friends, etc.
  6. Get tweeting! Cat pictures are allowed.
  7. Check your mentions regularly.

I recommend you use Tweetdeck. This is a good way of displaying your Twitter feed on your laptop. Tweetdeck is owned by Twitter! It’s at

As you can see, it organises traffic into columns.

Types of Tweetdeck columns and what they display

  1. Home:             Home timeline for any specific account.
  2. User:                Tweets from a specific account.
  3. Notifications:   Notifications for a specific account, including when the account’s Tweets are Retweeted, liked, or mentioned, and when someone follows the account.
  4. Search:            A specific search term.
  5. Lists:                Create or connect a list you already follow.
  6. Collection:       A timeline of curated Tweets, hand-selected by you, to share with others.
  7. Activity:           What’s happening with the accounts you follow.
  8. Likes:               Tweets marked as likes from a specific account.
  9. Messages (one account): Direct Messages for a specific account.
  10. Mentions (one account): When someone mentions a specific account.
  11. Followers:        Follow activity for a specific account.
  12. Scheduled:      Your scheduled Tweets.
  13. Messages (all accounts): Direct Messages from all your authorized accounts in aggregate.
  14. Mentions (all accounts): Mentions from all accounts.
  15. Trending:         Specific worldwide trends.

Just click on the “+” sign in the left hand column to set up a new column.

 You will start to build up a collection of Followers quite quickly. If you post your new Twitter handle on the PYA group page, or any other group you belong to, in FACEBOOK, then your friends and co-authors will follow you.


Instagram is VERY popular. It is a photo-sharing site and is particularly oriented towards Smartphone cameras.

When you see people taking “selfies” of themselves, you can be pretty sure they will be posting it to Instagram.

Again, for YOU, as an author, it is Free Advertising.

Why is it so popular?

Instagram is Social: People are social creatures. We like to tell others what we are doing, eating, buying, and seeing. Sharing an image through Instagram not only communicates what we are doing and where we are doing it, it gives iPhone users the ability to add a little creativity into their day and actually share a small piece of digital art.

Instagram is Free: Though it is downloadable from the iTunes store, all the photo-editing bells and whistles of Instagram are completely free to users. Another big benefit to users is the lack of advertisements cluttering up the screen, a common complaint of Facebook users.

Instagram is Easy and Fun: Instagram doesn’t need a complicated help page to get it up and running. Snap a picture, edit, caption, comment, like and share are simple tasks to accomplish, so the learning curve is easily manageable. Through the use of filters, borders and other special effects, people with little artistic ability can drastically change the look of any picture they snap. That is just plain fun.

Instagram is Instant: Clumsy user interface and long loading times were criticisms of other photo-sharing applications, and even of Instagram’s early versions. The current version loads quickly, and in this age of instant gratification this feature alone gets points with users.

Instagram is Creative: While a status update on Facebook or Twitter of “Bought a pair of red shoes” can be boring to read, illustrating the purchase with a snappy photo including a border and a retro filter effect is visually appealing and allows the user to show some creativity.

Anyone and everyone can show their artistic sides with Instagram. Ordinary, everyday objects can be transformed into works of art in a few moments, then shared with the Instagram world and other social media friends to admire previously unknown artistic ability.

To actually get on to Instagram:

  1. Download the app

Instagram is different from other social networks in that it is primarily a mobile platform.

Once your account is set up, you will have a page that can be viewed on desktop, but the majority of your activity will take place within the mobile app.

Click here to download the app.

  • Choose a recognisable username.

You can sign up for Instagram with an email address or a personal Facebook account.

  • Once you sign up, you’ll be asked to choose a username.

Your username will display publicly and will be what people see when they find you on Instagram. Make sure the username you choose is recognisable and is as close to your business or organisation’s name as possible.

  • When signing up, Instagram will also ask for your full name. Here, you can put your business name which will make it easier for people to find you through Instagram’s search function.
  • Update your profile

Instagram lets you fill out a 150 character bio about your business. Use your standard Author bio. You can also add your business’s website, which users will be able to click to visit right from their mobile device.

  • Add your profile picture

Your profile photo can only be updated on a mobile device. If you don’t have your logo saved to your smartphone or tablet, Instagram has the option to import it from Facebook or Twitter.

You can also take a new photo with Instagram.

  • Research. Otherwise known as poking around and looking at what other people have posted.

It might not sound fun, but without having a good understanding of the type of pictures others are posting, you won’t know what content tends to do well. Happily, for you, Instagram research is less staring-at-piles-of-data-wearing-a-lab-coat kind of research and more look-at-pretty-pictures kind of research.

Start by finding a writer in your genre who has a hefty Instagram following and high levels of engagement. What do they tend to send, and when do they tend to send it?

  • Even if you want to differentiate yourself from the competition, it’s essential that you know what others are doing.
  • Post your first photo

Okay, now that your profile is set up, it’s time to take your first photo.

Here’s a quick run-through of how Instagram works:

  1. Take a picture.
  2. Click on “Share”
  3. Select Instagram
  4. Decide whether to Crop it.
  5. Decide if you want to use a “filter” (but its OK to skip this)
  6. Click NEXT in the top right of the screen. Add a caption or description, if you want.
  7. You can also tag people and name the location.

Setting up your location

When you click” Add Location” you will see a list of previously used locations in your general area.

Give a “general location”, i.e. York, rather than a precise address.

After your photo is posted, you will see the location name in blue. When you click on your location name, you’ll be able to see every picture that has been tagged there.

Tell people you’re on Instagram.

This goes for EVERY new account you set up. TELL YOUR FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES!

If you have an email list, you can send out an announcement and ask readers to follow you.

Follow others

Instagram’s search function makes it easy to find people and brands to follow.

You can search by username, or choose a hashtag that may be relevant to your business.

Following more people and businesses is a great way to make new connections and can also provide inspiration for your Instagram account.

Get social

You’ve set up your account, learned the basics, and found the right people to follow; now you’re ready to start building a presence for you and your books on Instagram.

The key is engaging with the people who follow you. When someone likes or comments on your photo, you will receive a notification.

You can respond within the comments of a photo by including the “@” symbol, followed by their username.

You will also receive notifications when someone tags you in a photo. You can view all of the photos you’ve been tagged in, on your Instagram profile.


Pinterest is another picture-sharing site. You can Pin and keep almost any picture you see on-line – and your own pictures.

I find it VERY useful for research. When writing Heart of Stone, I used it extensively for pictures of costume from the 18th Century. It’s also very useful for pics of the site where your book is set (or where you imagine it to be)

You can log into Pinterest with both Twitter or Facebook, or by setting up a User name and password of your own.

1. Choose Your Topics of Interest

Once you’ve signed in using Twitter or Facebook, you’ll be presented with a visual grid of 28 topics. You’ll be asked to choose your topics of interest so that Pinterest can make better suggestions of who you should follow.

Pick some topics, then click the blue “Follow People” button at the bottom of the page. You’ll see some images of people and Boards based on the selection of topics you just made.

2. Create Boards

Next, you’ll be given a default selection of pinboards (or “Boards”) to choose from, such as “Products I love,” “For the Home,” and many more. You can also click the “Add” button at the bottom of the screen to add your own Board with a custom name of your choosing. These Boards represent topics that you can “pin” pictures to.

You can create as few or as many boards as you like. You can also edit the titles of Boards you’ve created or delete them altogether. Allow other people to contribute to your boards by clicking the “Edit” button at the bottom of your Board. Next, find the option “Who can pin?” and change the setting from “Just Me” to “Me + Contributors.” You have to follow at least one Board belonging to a Pinterest member in order to add him or her as a contributor to your boards.

3. Install the “Pin It” Button and Start Pinning

Once you’ve created some Boards, you’ll be directed to a page where you can install a bookmarklet, called “Pin It” in your browser. The Pin It button gets installed on your browser’s bookmarks bar so that when you find images on a website that you’d like to pin to one your Boards, you simply click the button. The Pinterest application will open, showing you a grid of thumbnails of all the images available on the website.

When you scroll your mouse over any image, click the “Pin This” button to pin the image to your Board. A pop-up window will open and you can choose the Board you’d like to pin the image to from a drop down menu of the Boards you’ve created in Pinterest. Select the appropriate Board, give the image a description (this is mandatory) and click the red “Pin It” button. Another pop-up window will open, confirming your successful pin and providing you the options to “See your Pin,” “Tweet your Pin,” or “Share on Facebook.”

Pinterest takes care of attributing the sources of the images, and every pinned image contains an embedded, clickable link back to the original website from which it came.

4. Get Social

Once you’ve created some Boards and you’ve pinned a bunch of images to them, you can begin the process of finding, connecting, and sharing with other Pinterest members.

You’ll find a search bar in the top left-hand corner of the Pinterest home page. Type a keyword that you’re interested in finding and click the Enter key. You can refine your searches by selecting “Pins,” “Boards,” or “People.” Once you’ve found some interesting matches you can follow individual Boards, or follow all Boards from any Pinterest member you’re interested in. Following a Board places it on your Pinterest homepage so that you can visit the Board any time to see and interact with any updates made to it.

You can “Like” an individual image (or “Pin”) using Pinterest’s own Like button, or you can Like it with the Facebook Like button at the side of the Pin’s page. You can tweet the Pin to your followers, email a link to your friends, and even “Repin” an image to one of your own Boards. Anyone familiar with other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ should have no problem finding their way around, and making the most out of Pinterest, in no time at all.


Youtube is a video-sharing site. Some authors find it very useful and can use it with ease and comfort. It has a VAST number of subscribers.

Promoting Yorkshire Authors has its own Youtube Channel: This is a short video Edwin made for the group.

It’s easy to do this on either the desktop or mobile versions of YouTube. YouTube and Google accounts share logins, so if you have Gmail or another Google account, then you already have a YouTube account as well. You can create a new YouTube account with any email address on the desktop YouTube website, or by creating a new Gmail account on the YouTube mobile app.

If you have already got a Google account:

  1. Open YouTube. Go to in your computer’s web browser. This will take you to the YouTube home page.
  2. Click SIGN IN. If you aren’t signed into a Google Account in your web browser, this option is in the top-right corner of the YouTube home page.
  3. If you’re already signed in to a Google account in your web browser, then you are also logged in to your YouTube account. There’s nothing more you need to do – you can get started using YouTube right away

If you DON’T have a Google account:

  1. Click Create account. It’s a link near the bottom-left side of the sign-in page. Doing so opens an account creation form.
  2. Fill out the Google Account form. Type your information into the following fields:
    1. First name and Last name — Enter your first and last name, respectively.
    1. Your email address — Type in a working email address to which you have access. This cannot be a Gmail account.
    1. Password — Type in the password you want to use to log in.
    1. Confirm password — Re-enter the password you just typed in.
  3. Click NEXT. It’s at the bottom of the page.
  4. Retrieve your email address verification code. To do so:
    1. Open your email address inbox and sign in if necessary.
    1. Click the “Verify your email address” email from Google.
    1. Note the six-digit code in the middle of the email’s body.
    1. Enter the verification code. Type the six-digit verification code from the email into the text box in the middle of the Google Account creation page.
  5. Click VERIFY. It’s below the text box.
  6. Enter your date of birth and your gender. Select your birthday’s month, day, and year, then click the “Gender” drop-down box and select a gender.
  7. You can also enter your phone number here, but doing so is optional.
  8. Click NEXT. This option is at the bottom of the page.
  9. Scroll down and click I AGREE. You’ll find it at the bottom of the list of terms. Doing so will create your Google Account, log you into YouTube, and take you back to the YouTube page.

On Mobile

  1. 1.     Open YouTube. Tap the YouTube app icon, which resembles a white triangle on a red background.
  2. Tap the “Profile” icon. It’s in the top-right corner of the screen. A drop-down menu will appear.
  3. Tap SIGN IN. This option is in the drop-down menu. Doing so opens a new menu.
  4. If you’re already signed into a YouTube account, you’ll tap Switch account here instead.
  5. Tap Add account. It’s near the bottom of the menu.
  6. On Android, tap  in the top-right corner of the menu.
  7. Tap the Create account link. This option is near the bottom of the screen.
  8. Enter your first and last name. Type your first name into the “First name” text box, then type your last name into the “Last name” text box.
  9. Tap NEXT. It’s a blue button at the bottom of the page.
  10. Enter your date of birth and your gender. Select the month, day, and year of your birthday, then tap the “Gender” box and select your gender.
  11. Tap NEXT.
  12. Create a Gmail username. You can’t use an existing, non-Gmail address to create a Google Account through the YouTube app, so you’ll need to create a new Gmail address by typing whatever you want to use for your Gmail address’ username into the “Username” text box.
    1. For example, typing in “iamabanana” here will set your Gmail address to “”.
    1. When creating a YouTube account on your mobile, you’ll have to create a Gmail account rather than using a separate email address. If you want to use a non-Gmail address, use the YouTube website to create your YouTube account.
  13. Tap NEXT.
  14. Enter a password twice. Type your preferred password into the “Create password” text box, then repeat the password in the “Confirm password” text box.
  15. Tap NEXT.
  16. Scroll down and tap SKIP. It’s at the bottom of the page.
  17. Scroll down and tap I AGREE. This option is at the bottom of the list of YouTube terms.

You can post any videos you take on your smartphone or with any other camera.

Some people find this very easy, and review books on video. If you want to see other people’s videos, just search in the box for Book Reviews, to give you an idea of what is out these.

What is the quickest way to increase Friends and Followers for ALL Social Media?

There are lots of FREE ways to do this.

  1. Do Follow/Unfollow and accept Friend Requests
  2. Find people who like similar things. Follow them or send them a Friend request.
  3. Comment, Like and Share / Retweet / Repost.
    1. Find interesting or amusing content on your platforms.  Comment on it, then like them and share, retweet or repost.
  4. Build friendships
  5. This is Social Media so BE social! Make friends and follow people.
    1. There is a real buzz when you get a tap on the shoulder, and turn to meet someone new, who says “Hi, John. We’re friends on Facebook*” (*insert Social Media platform of choice.)
  6. Hashtag research
    1. Use #hashtags! Use #hashtags on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. # A good hashtag can bring in thousands of new people a post, and ALWAYS include #yourbooktitle. i.e. for me, I always include #heartofstone.
  7. Post it everywhere
  8. Self explanatory. Post on one platform, and share it to others.

John’s Review of the Year


We are into January, so it’s time for a “look back”. There has been a lot going on – and a hectic year, although not as much as I’d hoped on the work in progress. Still – it’ll come!

Last year was mostly about my friends writing, rather than mine, but it IS coming back. – mostly thanks to a major kick in the a….se from the uber-talented Liz Fenwick!

We started close after the start of the year with the RoNAs, which, for my non-writing friends is the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year awards. The Gladstone Library, in the old Liberal Club, hosted us, and proceedings were led by the Rev. Richard Cole, who we know from Strictly, and from Radio 4’s “Saturday Live”. I had a chance for a chat with him as well and with Jilly Cooper who was given a lifetime achievement award by the RNA.  I’ve been reading her stuff for about 50 years! Very readable, too

We had meetups with my publisher, Crooked Cat Books, in the person of Laurence in Edinburgh, and then in Manchester with Steph, his wife. Crooked Cat is my excellent publishers, and they’ve done a cracking job with Heart of Stone.

 I also belong to North East Authors & Readers. We meet two or three times a year at the Town Wall, an excellent pub in Newcastle. It’s right outside the station. Juliet Butler, who runs the group is also a very active book blogger at She is a delight to be with and does a great job. Several other RNA members also are members.

In the last year, I’ve also found a with a more local group called Promoting Yorkshire Authors which does exactly what it says on the tin.

They are open to all authors who are published by any means and in any genre, if they are living in Yorkshire (like me) or if they were born in Yorkshire. If you’ve got a book published, or “ready to go” you are welcome to join us. They have gone from strength to strength during the year, organising a series of author talks and panels in Harrogate, Ripon and around.

I’ve got a couple more coming up as round Yorkshire as well, and we are literally in the throes of setting a chapter up in York. We are about to have our second meeting in York at the very beginning of February. Hopefully, that will go on from strength to strength.

Image may contain: 2 people, including John Jackson, people sitting and indoor

PYA are very keen to help people improve their writing as well as getting published and marketed. If you self-publish, then marketing and publicity are entirely down to you.  

This year, the RNA’s Summer Party moved to Oxford. We were in the atrium of the Ashmolean Museum. A fabulous venue. Because I was published in the last year and came through the New Writers Scheme, I too was on the short-list for the Joan Hessayon Award.  Last year, there were seventeen authors up for it. I didn’t win, but it was still a fantastic evening.

The winner was Hannah Begbie and her book “Mother”. I have since read it, and it’s a great read, although not easy, and certainly not a conventional romance! Both Hannah and Kate Field (last year’s winner) gave super speeches as well. A real fun-filled evening, and I highly recommend it.

Hannah can also be heard on Radio 4 reviewing the Sunday papers on occasions. Always good to hear; always intelligent and witty

This year’s RNA Conference was full of live wires as usual, and it took place at Trinity and All Saints in Leeds. I hadn’t been there for 45 years since an old girlfriend of mine was doing her teacher’s training there when it was a Catholic Teacher Training College.

A day trip to London in September, for the first Romance in the 21st Century Author Panels, sponsored by David Headley and Goldsboro Books. 2 panels of 4 speakers each. They included Katie Fford, Liz Fenwick, Dorothy Koomson and Jules Wake among others.  The event took place at Browns on St Martins Lane, and they have a very nice large room upstairs The Judge’s Court, formerly the courthouse for Westminster. Great panels – and great to see so many friends there as well. I was able to do it on a “day-return” and although I didn’t get back until 1 in the morning, definitely worth the trip.

There’s a lot of literary festivals in Yorkshire. One of the newer ones is the Indie Lit Fest in Bradford. Now in its 4th year, it’s now already considered to be in the top 5 literary festivals in England! Good progress.

I went this year, and it was well put together, if slightly short on footfall, mainly because of having it on at the same time as the World Cup. I’m back there this year, and I’ve got a table. Several of us from PYA are going in support.

These signing events seem to be the new way to go. I went to one in Leeds on the same day as the “Beast from the East” arrived. They had a few no-shows from the authors, but still mustered almost 50 authors, and an excellent crowd attending. People come to buy books and collect pre-orders. I find them fun. I’m going again this year and also to one in Manchester, equally very well attended. These events seem to be the way to go.

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The RARE event in London SELLS OUT Olympia. Especially when you look at the RARE events (Romance Author & Readers), These attract perhaps 2000 people and sell out of Olympia. Mostly US-based romantic authors but also from the UK. They charge a lot for tickets, but they sell out. It seems to be an excellent way of involving readers with the actual writers and publishers.

Check out the prices!! Early Bird tickets SOLD OUT!

This year’s RNA York Tea was held in the wonderful Merchant Tailors Hall. A great afternoon, and a good-sized crowd. This year, it’ll be held there again, and will also include the Joan Hessayon Awards. After 3 great years, Lynda Stacey has passed to baton on to me!

We are close to the Harrogate Literary Festival, and I’ve been going every year since we came up here. I’ve seen some great people and this year was no exception — great talks from Lindsey Davis, the Roman author, and Conn Iggulden, best known for his Genghis Khan series.

This year they recorded two sessions of Round Britain Quiz. The long-standing mental agility and general knowledge quiz if you like. Perhaps its radio’s equivalent of Only Connect.  On the North side was Adele Geras, also an RNA member, with Stuart Maconie the very knowledgeable DJ. Happily, the North won both episodes. On the way in, I happened to the bump into a friend from Malaysia I haven’t seen in about five years. It was good to see Richard again and shows what a small world it is.

The last significant event was the RNA winter party. Very well attended and held at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. They laid on a delicious spread, canapes etc., of which I got precisely one gherkin. I was just too busy taking pictures and chatting to friends to take time to eat. As ever, great to see so many friends.

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And so to books. I’ve not read as much as I wanted this year. Having a new grand-daughter takes up more time and energy than you might imagine. However, the top three – in no particular order, were.

Liz Fenwick’s One Cornish Summer,

Jane Lovering’s Little Tea-Shop of Horrors (such a brilliant title)

Bella Osborne’s Escape to Willow Cottage.

If you haven’t read them, then do so!! They are ALL outstanding, and all worth the 5* I gave them.

That’s more or less it for 2018. Hopefully this year I’ll get my act together and get writing properly again.

If you think all this looks a bit “busy” it’s because I’m testing out Google Docs Voice Typing. So far, not too bad.

Until the next, have a very Happy New Year

Val Penny Answers Some Questions

It seemed an appropriate way of introducing Val Penny, a fellow Crooked-Cat author, and writer of the very successful Hunter series of detective novels set in and around Edinburgh.

1            What makes a good story? Characters. A good plot is essential, but if the reader doesn’t buy into your characters, all is lost.

2            How have YOU become a better writer? By reading lots of good books in all the different genres. I firmly believe that before you write a word, you should read voraciously.

3            What inspires you? People. I think people are fascinating and a snippet of conversation or interesting outfit can inspire a whole novel.

4            What does your family think of your writing? I am lucky that my whole family is very supportive of my writing endeavours. They turn up at events, tell their friends, share things on Facebook and even buy the books!

5            What were the most surprising things you learned about yourself in creating your books? The amount of bad language I put into them!

6            If you could have written any book, what would it have been and why? I am quite happy writing the novels I write without being envious of those written by others, but I do enjoy the books written by Linwood Barclay and Erin Kelly.

7            How much research do you do? I have to do quite a lot of research into the crimes my characters commit, the language they would use and, at the other end of the scale, I need to research the CSI and forensic expertise and police procedures.

8            How do you relax? I spend time with my family, swim, knit and read. I also love to travel and find much inspiration from ‘people watching’ on my journeys.

9            Do you have any writing quirks? (and if so what?) I suppose we all have quirks, but I had never thought about it until now! I think I am quite organised, I write for promoting my work and write blog posts in the mornings and work on my novel in the afternoons. I am very focused while I am writing, I like to have a quiet writing space so that I can hear the voices of my characters in my head.

10         Why write in your genre? I enjoy reading crime thrillers and I started writing them simply because they are my favourite kind of stories.

11         How is your writing different now from when you started writing? I think it is more sophisticated and the plots are more closely interwoven.

12         What do people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that they don’t? They think crime novels are easy to write! They are not ‘literary pieces’: believe me, they are not a soft option from a writer’s point of view.

13         Your 3 favourite authors? Erin Kelly, Michael Jecks and Katharine Johnson.

14         In what ways do you ’service’ or ‘support’ your books? I try to share my stories by making author visits in real life and online. Support from other authors and all my readers is terribly important.

15         What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews? Everybody is entitled to an opinion. It is lovely to read good reviews but no writer will ever produce something everybody enjoys, so bad reviews are inevitable. I view getting good and bad reviews as a right of passage for authors. I think it was Harper Lee (who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird) who said, ‘I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent, he would be wise to develop a thick hide.’ She was right!

16         What makes your book(s) stand out from the crowd? One of the things I love about my books is the cover. They are produced by my publishers, Crooked Cat Books, but I think they are fabulous.

17         Tell us something about your road to being published. I began writing my first novel when I was recovering from cancer. I did not have the energy to go out with friends and family, travel and I was not allowed to swim during my treatment. However, I had the energy to read, and subsequently to write.

18         Plotter or Pantser. I was a pantser until I attended a course run by the inimitable Sue Moorcroft. She convinced me of the usefulness of plotting. So now I plot quite thoroughly, except for the very end – I never know who done it until I have finished writing.

19         Your main character. What makes him or her so special? Hunter Wilson is calm, thorough and thoughtful. He is flawed but compassionate and determined to uncover the truth.

20         What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Can I make Hunter’s Chase into a movie?

Val Penny isauthor pic 2 an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University.
She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However, she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store.
Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her crime novels, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ and Hunter’s Revenge are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by Crooked Cat Books. The third book in the series, Hunter’s Force, follows shortly.
Hunter's Revenge Cover

A Guest Post – Jane Bwye

This week on the Blog I’m delighted to host my fellow “Crooked Cat” (and fellow RNA Member) Jane Bwye.

 Jane Bwye

Jane writes both contemporary fiction and non-fiction. As a long-term resident in Kenya, she draws on her life and experiences there to people her fiction.

I gave her some questions to answer: (and some good answers came back)

What was the most surprising things you learned about yourself in creating your books?

That I was actually successful in writing four published books. That, although I’ve been an intermittent journalist all my life, I had lots to learn about writing a book, and learning while doing is not the most satisfactory way of achieving.

My first book, BREATH OF AFRICA suffered a string of re-edits and re-writes over thirty-plus years. I believe GRASS SHOOTS is better written – more structured and organised. But Breath of Africa is more popular, maybe because I wrote with my heart.

GRASS SHOOTS is less emotional. It was written with a purpose – a mission, exploring how best to help Africa while at the same time allowing Africa to help itself.

How do you relax?

That’s easy – curling up in my armchair with a good book. Sometimes it’s a novel. I like cosy crime or historical fiction; sometimes an autobiography; it depends on my mood, and what’s to hand.

In bed, at night there’s nothing better than a few chapters to calm me down before going to sleep.

When I need a break from the intensity of my computer, I head off for a walk on the downs. I’m lucky they’re on my doorstep – provided the weather is fine, of course.

Otherwise, I usually have a jigsaw puzzle on the go or do a sudoku. I’ve started playing tennis again – just one or two gentle sets with a rest in between. There’s nothing like it to clear the head, especially when it’s windy.

And to keep my brain ticking over in a relaxed manner with a like-minded partner, a game of bridge is just the ticket.

Why write in your genre? 

What genre? When I set out on the journey of writing my first novel, I didn’t even know what a genre was. I wrote from the heart. I wrote the kind of novel I wanted to read, especially when it came to romance. Because I am a historian at heart, I wrote it like a historical novel, based on fact, with notes and dates heading the different sections and a glossary at the end.

Naturally, I tried to market it to agents and publishers as historical fiction. Then, I had to learn something about genre. It was only when I changed tactics and presented it as contemporary fiction, that I found my publishers.

Apart from my latest deviation into non-fiction (GOING IT ALONE – a beginner’s guide to starting your own business), I’ve stuck to the literary fiction/contemporary fiction genre. It is nicely broad, giving me scope. But none of my books has succeeded like Breath of Africa, which is going out of print in October.

Then, perhaps its successor, GRASS SHOOTS might come into its own under the contemporary fiction genre; although one reviewer stated it isn’t an easy book to categorize, having historical, romantic, travelogue and social elements.

Your main character. What makes him or her so special?

Charles may not be the most obvious main character, but he is my favourite, as his development epitomises the contrasts of contemporary Africa. He starts life as the son of a humble farm guard, then realises his full academic potential by graduating from Oxford University (not a far-fetched feat, as several Africans have followed similar routes). Charles suffers from the natural sexual failings of most men and his life is a roller-coaster of highs and lows as he pursues several women and a career of journalism in Nairobi, before calamity hits.

In GRASS SHOOTS, he is able to come to terms with events from his past, resume his career, and restart relationships he had allowed to fray or break. One of my reviewers, who had not read Breath of Africa, said: “he was the most interesting and complex character, prickly and not always likeable but trying to make things at least better when they can’t be good.”

Jane – Many thanks!

A Guest Blog – Val Penny

I am delighted to host my fellow Crooked Cat author, Val Penny, on the blog today.

Val! Take it away…

I am delighted to be visiting your blog today to chat about so many of the exciting events and opportunities 2018 has offered me and my family.

It was clear by the end of last year that 2018 would be an exciting one for our family, because my husband had learned last May that he had qualified, again, to represent his country in their International Fishing Team. This is his third Scottish Cap for his beloved fishing. We are all very proud of him.

Imagine our happiness when our older daughter and her husband compounded our excitement by making us grandparents for the first time in April. Joy of joys! A beautiful baby girl. Of course, I have never seen a more beautiful baby nor one more fascinating. Time to get knitting.

I also made a New Year Resolution this year. The first one I have made in many years, and it is one I have found very easy to keep. I resolved to read more books by authors with whose work I was not familiar. This has been a fabulous resolution. I have been thrilled by a historical romance, ‘Heart of Stone‘ by John Jackson, spooked by the ghost story ‘Woman in Back‘  by Susan Hill and intrigued by the mystery that is ‘The Silence’ by Katharine Johnson. The book that I have found most compelling book so far is the autobiography ‘Born a Crime‘ by Trevor Noah. He is a South African comedian and presenter who grew up during the period of Apartheid. As the son of a black South African mother and a white Swiss father his tales of life as a child in his native country are fascinating.  This is the best resolution I have ever made.

But the thrills of 2018 continued to roll in. My debut crime novel, the first in The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series, was ‘Hunter’s Chase‘. The book, set in Edinburgh was published by Crooked Cat Books on 02.02.2018. I was excited and nervous about that, in equal measure. So, when my publishers confirmed that they were accepting the second book in The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series, ‘Hunter’s Revenge‘, with a view to launching it on 09.09.2018, I really did not think things could be any better.

I was wrong. In a good way, but I was wrong: things could and did get better when I was asked to lead a session on publicising your work at the prestigious Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in England in August. I have no doubt that the magic of Swanwick gave me the confidence to show ‘Hunter’s Chase’ to my publishers in the first place, so it will be a delight to be back.

All in all, 2018 has been an extraordinary year for me and my family. I hope it will be similarly exciting for you and all your readers.

vicky edinburgh 2

Val Penny is the author of The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries. The first on the series, ‘Hunter’s Chase’, was published by Crooked Cat Books on 02.02.2018 while the sequel, ‘Hunter’s Revenge’, will be published on 09.09.2018. Both books are available to order from Amazon.

Hunter's Revenge Cover

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Hunter’s Revenge 

Hunter by name – Hunter by nature: DI Hunter Wilson will not rest until his friend’s death is revenged.

 DI Hunter Wilson is called to the scene of a murder. He is shocked to find the victim is his friend and colleague, George Reinbold. Who would want to harm the quiet, old man? Why was a book worth £23,000 delivered to him that morning? Why is the security in George’s home so intense? Hunter must investigate his friend’s past as well as the present to identify the killer and identify George’s killer. Hunter also finds a new supply of cocaine from Peru flooding HMP Edinburgh and the city. The courier leads Hunter to the criminal gang but Hunter requires the help of his nemesis, the former Chief Constable, Sir Peter Myerscough and local gangster Ian Thomson to make his case. Hunter’s perseverance and patience are put to the test time after time in this taught crime thriller.


About Val:

author's photograph

Val Penny is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her crime novels, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ and Hunter’s Revenge are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by Crooked Cat Books.

The third book in the series, Hunter’s Force, follows shortly.

photos the persevere

Val Penny’s “Hunter’s Revenge”

Today, I’m hosting my friend and fellow-Crooked Cat author, Val Penny, on the blog.

Hunter's Revenge Cover

Hunter by name – Hunter by nature: DI Hunter Wilson will not rest until his friend’s death is revenged.

DI Hunter Wilson is called to the scene of a murder. He is shocked to find the victim is his friend and colleague, George Reinbold. Who would want to harm the quiet, old man? Why was a book worth £23,000 delivered to him that morning? Why is the security in George’s home so intense? Hunter must investigate his friend’s past as well as the present to identify the killer and identify George’s killer. Hunter also finds a new supply of cocaine from Peru flooding HMP Edinburgh and the city. The courier leads Hunter to the criminal gang but Hunter requires the help of his nemesis, the former Chief Constable, Sir Peter Myerscough and local gangster Ian Thomson to make his case. Hunter’s perseverance and patience are put to the test time after time in this taut crime thriller.

Here’s a taster:

Much of the action in Hunter’s Revenge revolves around the car showroom and garage Thomson’s Top Cars. Here we meet Jamie and Frankie who are running the business while Jamie’s father, Ian, is in jail.

“I’m glad we’re doing this together,” Jamie said to his cousin. “I know having to leave us in charge is stressing Pop out!”

“Aye, probably more stress than his time in prison could ever have done. But at least you’ve passed your driving test now.”

Frankie could have been reading his uncle’s mind. Ian Thomson had just under two months to go before he was eligible for parole, and in the meantime could only hope that Jamie and Frankie didn’t do anything too stupid to ruin his business. At least the wee receptionist, Jenny Kozlowski, seemed to have a bit of common sense.

“I’ll be a bit late in today, Frankie, can you hold the fort?”

“Aye. What you up to, then?”

“Nothing much. It’s just that it’s Jenny’s birthday, and I’m going to pick up cakes for all of us for coffee break.”

“If it’s her birthday, she should buy the cakes. That’s what the rest of us all do,” Frankie protested. “You fancy her, don’t you?”

“Don’t be stupid!”

“Aye you do. Well, I won’t tell the guys in the workshop, if I can get a chocky doughnut.”

“Piss off, Frankie.”

“Am I getting a chocky doughnut, then?”

“Aye,” Jamie grinned.


Jamie was disappointed to see Frankie at the reception desk when he walked in.

“Where’s Jenny, cuz?” he called over to Frankie.

“Dunno. Not even a phone call. And she’s well late now.”

“Well, she must be somewhere, her coat’s here. She looks good in red.”

“Well she’s not anywhere, as far as I can see.”

“She’s usually early. Wonder what’s up.” Jamie rubbed his hands together. It might be spring according to the time of year, but with its wide glass front and the open garage at the back, the showroom was cold.

“She maybe went to get cakes,” Frankie suggested hopefully.

“Without her coat? I doubt it!” Jamie retorted.

“Well, she was probably out on the lash last night and slept in.”

“Could be, but I still can’t see her leaving last night without her coat.” Jamie shrugged and turned away, trying to hide his disappointment. “It’s fucking freezing in here. I’ll make us a coffee first to warm us up, then I’ll try phoning her.”

“Phone her first, Jamie. You know you want to.”

When Jamie wandered back to reception from the office he plonked a mug of coffee in front of Frankie.

“Her mam says she never went home last night. Do you know if she was going out with pals or the like?”

“I don’t know. You gave that guy a test drive in the Bentley and I went home. A fellow came in just as I was leaving, but Jenny said she would see to him because she would stay on and lock up with you.” Frankie smiled. “I thought, aye aye, nudge nudge, say no more. So off I went. I picked up the twins from their child minder on the way home. You know?”

Jamie frowned. “She wasn’t here when I got back, and the showroom wasn’t locked up. I was pretty pissed off about that. But I couldn’t see nothing missing, so when the guy said he wanted to think about the Bentley, I just locked up and came home.”

“Nothing was missing except Jenny, you mean.”

“I didn’t know that. I thought you’d both just buggered off.”

“Like we’d ever do that. Your pop would skin us alive when he got hold of us. Do you think I’ve got a death wish?”

“Funny accent the man had,” Jamie said. “European or something.”

“Jamie?” The head mechanic, Gary, called across the showroom. “Where’s that old blue Volvo that was waiting to go through its service?”

“What old Volvo? I don’t know. Don’t you keep a log of all the cars you work on?” Jamie asked angrily.

“Aye, but we didn’t get to this one yesterday. It was just waiting outside for us to get started this morning. The customer asked us to give it a service, then put it up for sale. Said he had a buyer for it who’d pay eight grand, but he might need a test drive first. I told him he’d need a brain test if he was paying that much for that car. But it seems like he was right; it must have been sold. ”

“So what happened to the paperwork?” Jamie shouted. “We’ve not sold any fucking old Volvo. Where is the damn thing?”

“No idea.”

“So what do I do now? Jenny’s not in, and a fucking car has gone missing. This is a truly rubbish start to the day. Pop is going to bloody skin me.”

Frankie shrugged, “Phone Jenny’s mam back? Maybe the man she spoke to took the Volvo.”

“I suppose I should. I don’t fancy it though. She shouts. I don’t think she likes me. Then what do I tell Pop about the car?”

“I think you’ll need a chocky doughnut before you do that. I know I will!”

“I’ll need more than a fucking chocky doughnut, Frankie, if we’ve lost one of his customer’s cars.”

author pic 2

Val Penny is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her crime novels, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ and Hunter’s Revenge are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by Crooked Cat Books.

Hunter's Revenge Banner


One Cornish Summer! (or “What we did on our Holidays”)

A Blog post celebrating the paperback launch of Liz Fenwick’s latest book, One Cornish Summer. (her best to date!)

Cornwall is firmly linked in my childhood memories as THE place we went to on holiday. My Grandmother and Great-Grandmother bought a tiny fisherman’s cottage in St. Ives for £200 in 1948 after my Grandfather had died.

Every summer we would drive down from south Manchester, long, long before motorways existed. We would start at 5 in the morning and stop for a picnic breakfast on the A36 outside Gloucester, then Bath and the south-west, arriving as dusk fell. At that age, the journey was part of the holiday, although we always stopped at the same places through the day. I’ll gloss over the time my parents left me in my portable high chair, hanging from a farm gate. (they realized I wasn’t in the car after about 100 yards).

The A30 going into Cornwall was no better then than now! The road was slower, but the traffic was a lot lighter. There were some famous bottlenecks along the way; some of them are still there, re-designated as “road improvements”.

Holidays in St Ives were one long beach day after another. Porthminster, Porthmeor, Westcott’s Quay, the Harbour.

John - Cornwall - 1955
On the beach near The Island, St. Ives


A family of four can’t fit in a tiny cottage, so half the family would decamp to stay with my uncle and aunt at their farm in Leedstown. A real old-style small Cornish mixed farm where my Aunt and uncle ran a herd of Channel Island cows, kept pigs and raised chickens. I still remember the year my uncle got a tractor! It was Dobbin the horse before that.

Just after the War, there were still fields being cut by scythe by a gang of miners when they came off shift. The farm had no electricity then, so taking a candle to bed was a real adventure.


My Uncle, Ralph Harvey James, came from a long line of Cornishmen, and his grandfather was the last Purser of the Botallack mine on Cape Cornwall.

A modern shot of the front of Horsedowns Farm

Of course, when you are aged six, summers lasted forever, and the sun always shone. I have no memory at all of it raining! It seems we only remember the good times at that age.



A couple of years ago, we started holidaying in Cornwall again. While the family members are long gone, the magic still remains.

Perhaps with all that history, it was inevitable I would fall into writing historical romance. There is a book coming eventually featuring the Harvey James family!

John’s first historical novel, Heart of Stone, was published in October 2017 by Crooked Cat Press. Set in Ireland, and about more of John’s ancestors, it continues to garner 5* reviews.

~ About Liz Fenwick ~

img_0087Liz Fenwick, award-winning author, ex-pat expert, wife, mother of three, and dreamer turned doer, was born in Massachusetts, and at the age of twenty-six moved to London where she fell in love with an Englishman. After nine international moves, she now spends her time in Cornwall with her husband and her mad cat, writing stories inspired by the beautiful Duchy.

Find out more at, follow her on Twitter @liz_fenwick or visit her Facebook page

~ Where to find One Cornish Summer ~

Goodreads            Amazon UK          Amazon US

And, from today, in bookshops everywhere!