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Wednesday 21 February 2018

I've Moved House!

Find out more at https://christinahollisbooks.online
After seven and a half years of blogging here on Blogger, I've now upped sticks and moved over to the Wordpress platform. 

There's a new feel to my blog there, reflecting my love of growing (and cooking) good food, and writing about it. These are all things that save me time, money, and keep me sane. That's reflected in the tagline for my new blog—Writing, Growing and Saving.

It's been lovely meeting you here, and I hope you'll update your links and bookmarks to follow me on my new blog. The address is https://christinahollisbooks.online Drop in for a look round. It's still a work in progress so if you've got any bright ideas, I'd love to hear them! 

You can find my new site here 

Monday 5 February 2018

Review: 'Instant Confidence' by Paul McKenna

Writing is my dream job, and has been from the moment I could hold a pencil. When I discovered I could spend hours shut away on my own thinking about stuff, writing some of it down AND getting paid, without having to do any of that scary human interaction stuff involved in retail (my mother and sister's speciality) or tricky computing calculations (like OH) I threw myself into my career.

That was fine in the days of posting manuscripts out to magazines, agents and publishers. The cycle of sending new work out every week and getting cheques, acceptance letters or rejections in the post was leisurely, and anonymous.

Things have changed. The old publishing model has gone forever. There's so much on offer online for free, writers must become a brand. We have to sell ourselves as well as our work if we're to have a hope of making a living. I've been struggling when it comes to self-promotion.  When I saw a book called Instant Confidence mentioned online on the same day I got a £5 credit from Amazon, I wondered if it could help.

Instant Confidence is a book and hypnotic trance system (yes, I was highly sceptical, too) by Paul McKenna. It  is subtitled The Power To Go For Anything You Want. It was also on offer, reduced from £12.99 to £9.99. With my Amazon credit bringing it down to the positively tiny price of £4.99, I took a gamble. 

I've never seen any of McKenna's TV appearances so I had no idea what to expect. You listen to a 30 minute audio download each day, then read the accompanying book. I listened to the audio every morning before I got out of bed. It's very relaxing and at first I was worried I'd go back to sleep, but that never happened. McKenna wakes you up at the end, in any case. His voice is pleasant, persuasive—and here's the really clever thing—what he says is simple common sense. It's the kind of thing most people put into practice every day.  McKenna's skill lies in peeling back all the layers of uncertainty, misapprehension and self-doubt that stop people like me having a fun time all the time, like the rest of you.

I read the accompanying book each evening, working through the exercises. Although I finished the book within days,  I carried on with the CD for nearly a month. The reason I stopped when I did was because of what happened when I read a business email one morning. It involved some photographs I'd taken years ago, when I was writing non-fiction for magazines. I was asked to contact the magazine, and get some information from them.

Until I read Instant Confidence, I'd have spent a day or two agonising about whether the publication that printed the photos would remember me, then I'd have drafted a detailed email, before deciding the query would be better explained over the phone. That would start me worrying I'd be interrupting them, and they'd be annoyed at having to pay me more money. I'd then write out a script of what I would say, for fear of taking up too much of their time and making mistakes. And I'd have put off the awful moment of actually talking to them for as long as I could. 

This time, I picked up the phone straight away. The amount of time between me reading the initial email, and picking up the phone to get the information was about a minute. I didn't think twice about taking action. That would never have happened in my pre-Instant Confidence days. The conversation I had with the editor on the other end of the line was so relaxed, I found myself pitching for more freelance work, and this was after a decade away from that side of the writing business. From discovering a problem to grabbing a job opportunity in under ten minutes is a record for me.

The Instant Confidence system hasn't only worked well for me in a business setting. Until last week, I always chose the same lunch option at every meeting of the Romantic Novelists' Association's Marcher Group. I'd had quiche and salad every time, from the first meeting I attended. I definitely love quiche and salad (and our venue, the Courtyard in Hereford offers a delicious variety of both), but it's also true it was my default option. I felt uncomfortable with the idea of trying something new—until I read Instant Confidence. When the waiter arrived at our table last week with fish pie for me, the regulars thought there had been a mistake. We all laughed.  

That doesn't sound like much of an anecdote, but only a few weeks ago I would have stuck with my usual option, and the thought of people laughing at any decision I'd made (no matter how minor) would have crippled me with embarrassment. The fish pie was delicious, by the way. Will I have it again next time? I don't know. It depends what else is on the menu—and I wouldn't have said that before reading Instant Confidence!

It's obvious this book and CD approach really worked for me. It may not work for you, especially if (like my son) you relax so well you sleep through McKenna's wake-up call. It definitely won't work unless you can suspend your initial disbelief (my sceptical OH didn't manage that). However, as OH has never lacked self-confidence, he wasn't the target audience.

I do have a couple of reservations about Instant Confidence. £12.99 is a high price to pay for a book with so many blank pages, and very large type. At a rough estimate, I'd say it only runs to 20-30,000 words. If you can't get this book at a discount, only you can decide whether increasing your self-confidence and self-esteem is worth £12.99. I would never have bought this system at full price, but within weeks of shelling out that £4.99, I've obtained some spectacular results. It would have been a good investment for me, even at the recommended retail price. 

My other point concerns the whole Paul McKenna oeuvre.  He is a very clever man, who has capitalised on his skill to produce a range of self-hypnosis systems. Good for him—although I suspect many of the things he says in the hypnotic trance for Instant Confidence could be easily tweaked to create hypnotic trances for all the other subjects he covers.  

Flushed with success after tackling Instant Confidence, I'm going to try another of McKenna's book-and-trance combinations. I'll be posting about my progress on here, and on my facebook author page at http://bit.ly/FacebookAuthorPageCH . Follow me, and like my page to find out what happens...

Monday 8 January 2018

In the Bleak Midwinter...

A young oak tree came down across our track
I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year! It was quiet here at Tottering Towers. The only excitement was a heavy fall of snow. It brought down lots of branches in the wood. One fell onto the electricity cable supplying us, and some other houses on our hillside. It snapped with a huge bang at 4am, waking everyone. While we were all in darkness, the night outside was filled with sparks from the arcing electricity cable. It was quite scary for a while. 
We cook with electricity and it powers our gas central heating, so we had to find alternatives. Housework keeps you warm, but it's not very exciting. We could boil a kettle on our gas hob to make tea, and it was a good excuse to live on soup and cake!
Flares, from Pixabay
So many people were affected by the bad weather across Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties, it was 9pm that evening before we had light and heat. A brave engineer had to repair the damage while standing on top of a cherry-picker in a stiff, freezing wind. 
It's only when there's a break in the supply that we realise how lucky we are to be living at a time when life is relatively easy. Imagine you're a Victorian woman living in a city tenement. In the days before electricity, every morning is pitch black and freezing. The only sounds come from rats scrabbling beneath the bed your wheezing children share. Snow blows in under the door of your single room. Fetching all the water you need from the communal well will be a slippery job today. If your husband gives you some money, your family can eat. If not, hard luck. He’ll go to the pub. You and the children will have to go hungry. 
Women in those days had no voice, and no power. They lurked in the footnotes of history until they gained an element of control, first over their own money, later their vote and finally, their lives. Much of that progress was driven by women themselves. It took a hundred years of hard work, lobbying and violence before their lives improved to anything like today’s standards. The only way was up—and women from my old home town, Bristol, led the way. 

2018 is the centenary of the first British women getting the vote. The publisher Pen and Sword Books is producing a series of books to mark this defining moment. Each volume concentrates on one British city. My contribution covers Bristol.  Struggle and Suffrage—Women’s Lives in Bristol, 1850-1950 will be published later this year, and there will be all sorts of events to mark the centenary. To make sure you don’t miss anything, sign up for my newsletter in the boxes at the tip of this page, and follow my author page on Facebook.

Wednesday 3 January 2018

Review: Women and The City: Bristol 1373-2000, Edited by Dr Madge Dresser

Find out more at http://amzn.to/2Cgv5r0
Women and the City: Bristol 1373-2000 is a collection of essays by respected academics. It’s a lively, absorbing read. A good balance has been struck between well-written prose and contemporary illustrations. The book and its content is presented in a way that invites even a casual reader to keep turning the pages. There’s a handy list of abbreviations right at the front, which is much easier than having to flick through to the index, or notes, each time a set of initials pops up in the text. Other academic works would do well to follow this example.

I bought Women and the City: Bristol 1373-2000 to help with research for my own book, Struggle and Suffrage: Women’s Lives in Bristol 1850-1950, but after studying the sections relevant to my own work I went straight back to the beginning of the book and read it all. It’s a mine of information for anyone with an enquiring mind. I’d particularly recommend it to aspiring historical novelists in search of inspiration. The fact that a woman (Ann Barry) held the lease of that stronghold of “Enlightened” masculinity, the Exchange Coffee House in Corn Street offers all sorts of dramatic possibilities, for example. It’s often forgotten that Bristol women struck a significant blow in the fight against slavery. The formation of the Bristol and Clifton Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society is never as widely reported as Bristol’s part in that terrible trade. This book helps to put that right. 

Women and the City: Bristol 1373-2000 is curated by Associate Professor of History at the University of the West of England and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Dr Madge Dresser. The breadth of its content and unique style of each contributor makes for a fascinating read. It offers great insight into the history of Bristol and its people. Anyone who knows the city will look at local landmarks with new eyes after reading it.  

To sum up, this is an invaluable collection for historians, and anyone interested in women’s studies. It’s also an inspiring read for the rest of us.

Monday 1 January 2018

Season's Greetings!

I hope you've had a lovely rest over the Christmas season. Wishing you a Happy New Year, and a peaceful, productive 2018.

Monday 27 November 2017

Mud, Mud Inglorious Mud...

Blueberry Leaves In Autumn
It's been a funny year.  It's the end of November, but I've only started heating the greenhouse in the past few days. Our cherry trees, whose leaves usually turn glorious sunset colours before dropping, are hanging on like leaden green rags. Out in the wood there's been more in the way of seasonal colour. Birch leaves are small and heart-shaped, hazel leaves deckle-edged discs. With the shortening days they've all turned bright yellow. One or two seedlings have escaped from the beech wood to light up the understorey of the conifer plantation. They make it look cheerful on the dullest day. When the sun shines, they really glow.

In the garden at Tottering Towers, the blueberry bushes always put on a great autumn show. They're the plant with everything—beautiful flowers which bees love, delicious fruit, and each November they turn fiery red, without fail. They grow best in lime-free soil and must never dry out, but as they'll grow happily in containers this isn't a problem. Mine are planted in big plastic tubs filled with ericaceous compost. They stand in trays which I keep topped up with rainwater. Unlike most plants, blueberries don't mind standing in water.

The whole countryside around here is used to wet feet. It's been drizzly for weeks, but a few days ago the weather turned stormy. Torrential rain went on for hours, only relieved by heavy showers. The River Wye is higher than it's been for months. Sliding down banks between forest tracks is like the worst episodes of cross-country running at school. With most of the leaves now off the sweet chestnuts of the bluebell wood and the ground covered with nuts, squirrels are everywhere. Alex, our retriever/labrador cross is far too slow to catch them before they spring up to safety in the trees. That doesn't stop him trying. When we reach a road on our walks I put him on the lead for safety. I have to be careful to spot the squirrels before he does, as he's prone to mad dashes. Yesterday, he saw a squirrel I didn't, leapt forward and almost yanked the lead out of my hand. Next thing I knew, I was flat on my back looking up at the sky through those last few autumn leaves. I'd lost my footing on the muddy ground, and went down splat.  Luckily this happened only a hundred yards from our house. It was a cold, wet walk home!

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Christmas Won't Start Here Until Advent Sunday, But...

Pic #1
Phew, where has this year gone? I promised myself I'd self-publish a Christmas novella last year. It was all ready to go, then my mother fell ill. Everything else was on hold after that.

...the same can't be said for working on Christmas stories. Magazines need copy in midsummer. The biggest publishers schedule their book releases over a year ahead. Independents and self-publishers have more leeway, but Christmas books released in October can build up plenty of momentum before the Christmas-book-buying-market hits the floor on December 26th.

Since January I've been working so hard on my non-fiction project for Pen and Sword Books, Struggle and Suffrage: Women's Lives In Bristol 1850-1950, today is the first chance I've had to look up from my keyboard.

I might be able to manage a release in time for Christmas, but doing anything in a rush is never a good idea, is it? My Christmas novella Highland Hideaway is practically finished, but it still needs editing, and a cover. Both those things take time.

Pic #2
I'm still adding bits to, and amending, the final manuscript for Struggle...  so I'm concentrating on every word, dot and comma of that book at the moment.

I love the autumn It would be a relief to send Highland Hideaway away for editing, instead. Then I can take my time to find a cover design.

The top picture accompanying this blog isn't romantic, but I came across it while I was combing through Pixabay. Isn't it stunning? It reminds me of when I lived in Somerset.

Barn owls love the farmland there. We only get Tawny owls among our Gloucestershire trees.

Pic #3
The second and third photos are more suitable for a romantic novella, but they'll need some work before they're can become book covers. Highland Hideaway is about a city girl who is marooned in a blizzard with a notoriously tough and uncompromising wildlife photographer. You'll never guess what happens...although there are a few dramas, twists and turns along the way.

Which of the pictures do you think would make the better cover, and why? There's a book from my backlist on offer for a comment picked at random on 1st November!