A week of promotion


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Thanks to all who voted in the “which Plank should I submit to this competition” poll, and the winner (of the poll, not the competition!) is “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat”.  So this weekend I will be preparing the first five thousand-ish words of that for submission, and then it’s fingers crossed until winners are announced in February 2018.

In other news, I have been working in Guernsey all week and so have had little time for writing, but I have managed about 600 words.  I’m still struggling a little with the plot of “Plank 5”, in that I have the basic plot but want more complication – you know how I like to have several strands to the story.  But I am reasonably confident that the additional strands will reveal themselves as I go along – they always have in the past.

On the promotional side of things, I read recently in a magazine that Sophie Raworth (an English news-reader on the telly) has a book review blog.  She seems nice and approachable, and so I tweeted her to ask whether I could send her a copy of “Canary” – it’s set partly in Langham Place, now the home of the BBC, and I thought that might appeal.  I have not had a reply, which perhaps is not surprising.  But I do try!

I have also taken my book of newspaper columns – “Susan in the City” – into the Cambridge branch of WH Smith (a large chain of bookshop/stationer/newsagents), to see whether they would be interested in stocking it on their “local interest” shelf.  The manager seems keen – he said that the sale-or-return basis of my offer was crucial – but he still needs to put the case to head office.  I’m hoping to hear by the end of next week.  As regular readers will know, putting copies in physical bookshops actually costs me money (in other words, it costs me more to order the books from CreateSpace and have them shipped from the US than I make from the eventual sales) but I see it as a promotional move, to get the books being read and – hopefully – recommended.  Although, as with all my promotional efforts, it is all but impossible to assess the success of the approach!

Columns of columns


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Well, here they are, at long last: my first batch of copies of “Susan in the City” – a collection of eighty of the 510 columns that I wrote for my local newspaper over the last decade:


I ordered these from CreateSpace waaaaaaay back on 17 March 2017 and (thinking to save the pennies) chose the slowest and cheapest of the three delivery speeds, being quoted an arrival date of 9 May.  I will never do this again: with the budget delivery option there is no tracking, and so – from the moment I had the dispatch notification on 26 March – I was looking out for the books.  And they never arrived.  The ones you are looking at are the replacement order that CreateSpace put together when I complained on 11 May and sent by super-über-speedy delivery to arrive on 15 May.  I cannot tell you the hours of angst I have had over this delivery, and so my lesson for today is: never order books without a tracking option.

As for the books themselves, I am delighted with them and their lovely, sunny yellow covers.  The interior is good as well: cream paper, clear font and plenty of space (I do loathe books that use every inch of paper and force their text to the edges, so that you have to practically break the spine to read to the end of the lines).

So what is their fate?  Five were donated to the local newspaper, the Cambridge News – where the columns originally appeared – to serve as prizes in a reader competition.  I don’t know whether this will lead to further sales (I never know whether anything leads to further sales!) but I did slip a Plank bookmark inside each, just in case.

And five were delivered yesterday to Heffers, the bookshop in Cambridge that has always been so supportive and encouraging of my Plankish efforts.  They hinted that “Susan in the City” – having local interest – might even make it onto the oak table.  The oak table is, as you might imagine, a large oak table and it is right at the front of the shop – in pole position, as Hamilton and Vettel might say.  Nothing I have written has ever appeared on the oak table, so I have everything crossed that the sunshine yellow might seal the deal.  If it does, rest assured that photos will appear.

Which is your preferred Plank?

I am considering entering the Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition 2017 – it’s for unpublished novels by women, and they consider self-published novels to be unpublished, so that’s the first hurdle cleared.  They want the first 5,000 words, and the novel must be completed, so that’s the second hurdle done.  The third hurdle, however, is deciding which book to enter.  I could – the rules permit me to – enter more than one, but each entry costs £25 and we all know how much profit I am already making as an author…  Back in 2013 I did enter this competition – unsuccessfully – with “Fatal Forgery”, so I won’t try that one again.  But that still leaves three possible entries.

So please may I ask you a favour.  If you have read the other books, please could you indicate which one you think is the strongest – the most likely to win.  The competition rules say nothing that helps us to gauge the Mslexia preferences, beyond telling us that the judges are novelist Philippa Gregory, literary agent Sarah Such and literary journalist and editor Alex Clark, and that the novels submitted must be fiction for adults or young adults.  I can’t promise (as I do with my title polls) that I will definitely go with your favourite option, but I thought it was worth asking in case there is a clear favourite.

Here are your options:


I’ll keep the poll going for a fortnight, and let you know the result.  Many thanks for your thoughts!

A sweet ride


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Yesterday I had a “day at leisure”, as they say, in Hull – that’s Kingston upon Hull, to give it its full name, in Yorkshire.  I visited several museums, and I think my favourite was the Streetlife Transport Museum.  For within this marvellous place I was able to experience riding in a mail coach from 1810 (many of which were still on the road in Sam’s time).  It’s not a real one but a faithful reproduction, and they have rigged it rather like those flight simulators at fairgrounds, so you sit inside and it jolts around realistically.  My photos are poor, as the light was – appropriately enough – low, but you might get the idea from these two (that’s the laden rear of the coach, and then the interior, with two bench seats facing each other):

WP_20170510_11_10_44_Pro  WP_20170510_11_11_18_Pro

The first thing I noticed – and I was in there alone – was how snug it was.  Now imagine it with four adults, knees meeting in the middle, being rocked and thrown about.  Thankfully this was before the days of the large hooped skirts, but still – not much room.  The windows were shuttered during the hours of darkness, making it even more claustrophobic, and it was certainly a rough ride.  There was no heater, and one small lamp, being buffeted around and its dancing light no doubt contributing to any feelings of travel nausea.  The interior was lined with red velvet, which sounds lovely until you think about how the horsehair cushions and lining pads would have been generously infested with lice and worse.  If you ever get a chance to see the opening scenes of the original “Poldark” series, you will see Ross returning to his Cornish home in just such a conveyance – and very uncomfortable it looks too.  I was certainly glad to disembark after only three minutes – but if you’re ever in Hull, it’s a must-try.

Party for poison pens


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Great excitement: I have just been invited to participate in “What’s Your Poison?”, the summer crime party held by local bookshop Heffers.  I missed it last year, as I was away on my writing retreat, but this year the stars are in alignment and on Thursday 6 July 2017 I will be rubbing shoulders with fellow crime addicts and writers.  Do come along if you’re around: they are always lovely events, with some terrific books on show.  And I will be handing out bookmarks!

I have been asked to prepare a three-minute reading from my latest book, which is “Portraits of Pretence”.  I don’t do readings that often; when I am asked to speak (quite rarely these days, as I have not been putting enough effort into chasing speaking opportunities, bad writer that I am) I tend to focus on the process rather than the product.  And people are usually so fascinated by the mechanics of self-publishing and print-on-demand that we run out of time.

But I do know that choosing the right excerpt is quite an art.  You need something that can stand alone (I don’t like doing big explanatory introductions) and yet tempt your listeners to buy the book so that they can read on; that gives a flavour of the main character and perhaps a couple of others; and that hints at the plot without giving anything away.  I’m going to have to give this some thought…

Riches (are still) beyond my wildest dreams


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At this time every year, I have to face learning whether I can retire to a glorious chateau somewhere and devote myself to my Art, to my Muse, to my Writing.  For non-UK readers, we have a bizarre situation where our tax year runs from 6 April of one year to 5 April of the next.  (It’s all to do with an ancient new year’s day being on 25 March, and then the Gregorian calendar getting involved.)  And so around the start of May I dig out all of my records to find out whether I have made any money from being a writer over the past year.  Last year, you may recall, I made a loss of £44.87 – in other words, for the honour of spending hours and hours and hours on writing and trying to sell the blasted things, I had to hand over nearly fifty quid.

Would this year be any better, I wondered?  I added up all the royalties I have received from Amazon, Smashwords and ACX (for the audiobooks), and the lovely cheques I have received from bricks-and-mortar bookshops.  And then I subtracted all the things I pay for in order to create these books.  (I should say that I don’t charge myself anything for office space, heating, lighting, printer cartridges and so on, because all of that is charged to “other Susan” for my day job.)  But I do include, for instance, paying for the design of book covers and bookmarks, and ordering copies of books from CreateSpace to deliver to those bricks-and-mortar bookshops, and subscribing to the Society of Authors.

And I can report – taxman please take note and pity – that this year I have increased my loss to a rather worrying £288.71.  I have gone a bit mad on the covers this year (two paperbacks and two audiobooks), but still, it’s rather sad, isn’t it?  What I shall do is divide it by twelve, and reason with myself that my hobby is costing me only £24 a month.  Ho hum.

A vale of tears


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Once again I was a golf widow for the weekend, and as the weather was not particularly enticing I decided to get in two solid days of writing.  But it has been a difficult two days.  I am writing some sad scenes and so I have been doing a lot of reading about death and mourning.  And this is one area in which I have to be super-pedantic about timing.

The Victorians – as eny fule kno – were Big on Death.  They went the whole hog, with black clothes (Queen Vic herself wore mourning dress for Prince Albert for forty years – a full thirty-nine years longer than the recommended period for a dear departed spouse), mirrors turned to the wall, black crepe draped everywhere, and big funeral processions (for the wealthy, of course, although even the middle classes would get into enormous debt to put on a good show).  And it is very easy, when looking for drama and pathos, to fall into descriptions of these events.  But that would be wrong, as in the Regency things were much more restrained (and, actually, much more familiar to our modern eye).

It has also been, well, interesting, to research what they did with all those dead bodies at the start of the nineteenth century.  London was overflowing with people, both alive and dead, and cremation was very much not the fashion, so the corpses all had to go somewhere – sometimes several deep, and often (prepare yourself) disturbed (that’s something of a euphemism) during later burials.  In fact, some medical men thought that the graveyards and burial grounds were sources of “miasma” that caused all sorts of disease.  It turns out that they did cause a lot of sickness – but through polluting the water course and not through spreading “bad air”.

So that’s my Bank Holiday weekend: death, mourning, burial and disease.  Hope yours has been a bit cheerier!

Sex on the brain


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I imagine you think I’ve stopped writing.  Certainly my decision to take eighteen months to write “Plank 5” – as opposed to a year each for the first four books – has taken away some of the urgency I used to feel about word counts and deadlines, but rest assured that Sam and I rarely go more than four days without spending some time together.  (For new readers of this blog, I am not the world’s laziest novelist: I actually have a full-time job, and the novels are my – somewhat overwhelming – hobby.)

Anyway, I know you like to hear about the mechanics of writing historical fiction, and recently I have been thinking and reading a lot about sex.  Well, to be more specific, about contraception, pregnancy and fertility.  I don’t want risk any spoilers, but if you have read earlier Sam books you will know that Sam and Martha are childless – and not by choice.  In “Plank 5” I look into this a bit more deeply, and this has proved quite tricky.  For instance, did Sam and Martha know what caused babies?  Of course they knew that sex had something to do with it, but did they know about sperm and eggs?  What did they think was going wrong for them?  Did they blame themselves, each other, God, fate – or did they not see it in terms of blame, but rather simple destiny?  Even today people are reluctant to discuss these very personal matters, so you can imagine that diary entries, newspaper articles and learned discussions about them from two centuries ago are, to say the least, thin on the ground.  I’m reading some pretty peculiar stuff – hope no-one’s analysing my borrowings from the rare books collection at the library…

And you know my fixation with etymology – in essence, making sure that the vocabulary I give to Sam is not too modern.  Surprisingly, it is tricky to find the words that nice people would have used to refer to pregnancy and childbirth.  As ever, there is plenty of rather coarse language, but that’s not what Sam would have recorded in his books.  “Pregnant” was in use, but (and this nearly caught me out) both “expecting” and “in the family way” are much too recent, dating only from the 1950s.  French was back in favour, so “enceinte” could be used in more refined households.  And when no-one could miss it, you were “great with child”.  But the one I had never heard – and I’m still in two minds about using – is “lumpy”.  I mean, not terribly flattering, is it?

And the winners are…


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Thanks to everyone who took part in the competition to win a free download code for the new audiobook of “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat”, the second Sam Plank novel.  (The audiobook of the first, “Fatal Forgery”, was released last year, and work will soon start on number three, “Worm in the Blossom”.)

The answer to the question Which world-famous department store is now located on Great Marlborough Street in London, opposite where Sam Plank was based at his magistrates’ court police office in the 1820s? is Liberty.  Of course it was not there in Sam’s day – it did not open until 1875 – but if you toddle along to that part of London you can still see a small part of Sam’s place of work.  The Courthouse Hotel is now on the same spot as Great Marlborough Street Magistrates’ Court, and one of the hotel’s restaurants is in the old court-room.

Sorry: always thinking about Sam!  Back to the competition.  And the winners are:

  • Graham Thomas
  • Leigh Moss
  • Susan V
  • Edward Murphy
  • Peggy Denk

Your emails with Audible instructions and your personal download codes are on their way to you – many congratulations.  And if any of you feels moved to leave a review…  Well, you have to ask: regular readers (and fellow self-published authors) will know that reviews matter enormously, for morale, guidance for improvement, and seduction of new readers, and for Amazon ranking purposes.

Competition: Win a download code for the new audiobook of “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat”

I have five download codes to give away for the new audiobook of “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat”.  This is the second book in the Sam Plank series, although each book is a standalone story.  In this book, Sam plunges into the world of investment fraud.  And the narrator is Guy Hanson, who, well, just is Sam.

I have codes for both Audible.co.uk (for UK readers) or Audible.com (for the rest of the world) – please specify which you want when you enter.

To be in with a chance of winning, fill in the entry form below with the answer to this question:

Which world-famous department store is now located on Great Marlborough Street in London, opposite where Sam Plank was based at his magistrates’ court police office in the 1820s?

The competition will run until midnight BST on Wednesday 19 April 2017, and the five winners will be selected at random after that.  Good luck!