Both Moving and Inspiring


How did I get a beautiful quote for my book from one of the best writers in modern British History? It was thanks to Barry Stone.

Whatever happens with Andalucía, whether it sells thousands upon thousands, or not much more than the few hundred I’ve already reached, at least I have that quote from Pat Barker, winner of the Booker Prize.

“Told with courage, humour and love, Andalucía weaves past and present with great skill so the pace of the narrative never falters. There is a zest for life on every page of this book which I found both moving and inspiring” – Pat Barker

To think one of my books, indeed the most important and beautiful book I will ever write, would have such a stamp of approval, such a quote on the front cover – well, I could never have predicted that. Pat Barker even came along to my event and reading at Durham University the other week, along with the wonderful writer Fadia Faqir, another supporter of mine.

It’s all down to Barry Stone in truth. Barry, a local writer from Holywell just up the road, agreed to read the manuscript of Andalucía, loved it and gave me a quote:

“Tender and potent: a beautifully crafted narrative, rich with love and free of sentimentality. Triumphant! A story for every family that has been menaced by cancer” – Barry Stone

Barry Stone

He accepted the cup of tea I’d made him, then asked which star name I’d targeted for a quote for the front cover. I didn’t tell him what I was thinking; that he was the one. He might not be a household name but he’s written a wonderful book, Barking at Winston, self-published it, sold thousands through perseverance, through charm and word of mouth that followed peoples readings, then had it snapped up by Constable, a leading independent publisher. And of course he’d got a quote from a big name:

“My tail’s wagging! Barry Stone achieves the almost impossible: he writes from the point of view of a dog and makes me care about the canine and the people he comes into contact with” – Ian McMillan

And so I’d told him I’d met Pat Barker once, at an event I’d participated in about the worth of creative writing in prisons (where I teach). She’d even bought a copy of my first book ‘Kicked Out’ afterwards.

“That’s it,” said Barry, smiling and taking a sip of his tea, then fixing me with a knowing glance.

And I knew then that the opportunity was too good to let slip, that yes, perhaps it might be a little cheeky to ask her to read a proof copy of ‘Andalucia’, given I’d only met her once. But ‘Andalucía’ is a special book, and shy bairns get nowt. I trawled through my e-mails. I was sure I had her e-mail address from a couple of years ago, sent in a group message from someone we both knew. Eventually, I found it. If I could have held it up like a piece of lost treasure I would have. An hour later a carefully crafted e-mail was on its way. Two hours later the reply came back: “By all means send me a copy. The book sounds fascinating.”

Now the book’s out and the feedback has been wonderful. Amazon reviews say the following:

“Andalucia is the most beautifully written book I have ever read”

“At times this story really does stop you in your tracks; sometimes to laugh out loud, at other times to catch your breath because it feels like you’ve been punched in the stomach”

“It made me yearn for the beach and dene, the prose and descriptions are beautifully done”

“It’s beautifully and skilfully written, so moving but funny too. It had me crying in places, laughing in others – I couldn’t  put it down”

But I’m after a not quite so literary stamp now, that of Richard and Judy. How do you go about getting one of their stickers on your book? An internet search reveals nothing but reams and reams of questions from desperate writers asking the same thing.

I’m meeting Barry Stone tonight. He’s invited me over for a cup of tea and a chat. He knows I want to find out how he manages to sell so many books at his Waterstone’s signings. He’s turning himself into a legend; in thirty six signings around the country he’s sold nearly three thousand books. I’m hoping he’ll let something of his secret slip. I might even ask if he knows Richard and Judy, but I guess if he did, then he’d have one of those stickers on his book as well as a quote…

Summer Holidays


Summer Holidays – Memoir, Men who live Under the Drains and Mango Stones with Googly Eyes…

Well, it’s five in the morning again, and everyone else is still asleep upstairs.

I’m presuming you’ve all heard that saying: “I can’t see the wood for the trees.”

It’s a reasonable metaphor for the last couple of months, that’s for sure. Or perhaps something about treading water, not realising the undercurrent is ready to drag me under. Mmm…maybe something about drowning…

And yet it really was all so simple six months ago. The publishing industry is changing. It’s on its knees. Every e-mail I get regarding publishing is obsessed with the dangers of the digital world; how e-books, i-books, kindles and the like are going to strip them of their paper based products, leave them sitting on a mountain of old books that nobody wants to buy anymore and they can’t afford to pulp. We’re in the middle of these two huge publishing worlds and I wanted to jump to the world that had the future on its side rather than the past. And I don’t mean write a book, prepare it for kindle and wait for the millions to come flooding in. I don’t actually know anyone who has a kindle yet. I’ve never even seen one. I decided to start my own publishing company. No more sending out manuscripts to agents and publishers and crossing fingers for six months. No more feeling let down because others aren’t putting as much effort in as you think they should. No more months and months of uncertainty, of the woman in the post office raising her eyebrows as you arrive with yet another bundle to post away. Of exhaustive relief at having secured a contract and then needing to wait a year before the book comes out because the publishers are too busy with dozens and dozens of others.

A Lapwing down the Dene (not in summer)

I settled on a name, eventually; Lapwing Books. They visit the dene at the bottom of my road every year. They symbolise beauty and freedom. I walked by them so often when Anna was diagnosed with cancer. They represent the healing power of nature; illustrate how you pay so much more attention to detail, to the things that used to literally fly over your head beforehand – when you think someone you love is going to die.

And so; printing and distribution of ‘Andalucía’ – my soon to be published memoir about falling in love and surviving cancer, that alternates between Israel and the English coast, spanning two decades of excitement, adventure and friendship…

The first company I chose was the cheapest. Their website looked good. But someone told me they were terrific or terrible and never anything in-between. And then I found a wave on and jumped on it; a company called Lightning Source. But this wave, one that ensures good quality books, decent profit and just as importantly shipping with Amazon within 1-2 days all over the world, has started to crash. Amazon has pulled the plug. They’ve started their own printing and distribution company and presumably are trying to force authors over to their side. Now, many books with Lightning Source don’t ship from Amazon for 2-3 weeks. Sales, understandably, have plummeted. My timing could have been better. This wave had been going strong for ten years.  Amazon’s CreateSpace meanwhile, offer terrible profits if you’re not selling primarily in America, or not selling your book at an inflated price to scrape something back for yourself. And so, with recommendations from Red Squirrel Press and Barry Stone (who self-published and sold thousands of his great book ‘Barking at Winston’), I’m trundling up the road to Berwick, to Martins the Printers, an independent family owned printers who’ve been in the game since 1892. I’ll have to sort out getting books to Amazon myself. I have, however, signed contracts with Lightning source for Australia, America and EBooks. And I’m going to turn ‘Andalucía’ into a kindle book myself, somehow. Do I understand what I’m doing? Well, some of it. There seems to be some light up ahead at least.

And it’s not just ‘Andalucía’ I have to concentrate on. In four weeks I need to have finished compiling my book of writing and art from three Durham prisons – ‘Shattered Images and Building Bridges.’ I’ve been writer in residence at HMP Frankland for over three years, at HMP Durham for a year, and I’ve done three creative projects at HMP Low Newton. That’s a maximum security prison, a local remand prison and a woman’s prison; all completely different in their set-up and atmosphere. The writing and art I’ve collected is fantastic; some beautiful, some hard-hitting – the best collection I’ve ever seen. That should be published in October, the month after ‘Andalucía.’

And then there’s the kids. We haven’t got any money for a holiday this summer, and I can’t afford to take time off work anyway. The most we’re getting is a weekend camping in the mother-in-laws garden. Any money there was went to Gibraltar and Andalucía with us, when we got married in April. The kids have decided they want to write a book too. I’ve told them I will spend at least one morning or afternoon with each of them these summer holidays. And if they finish their books I will publish them properly. Isla’s dressing up mango stones with googly eyes and chocolate wrapper dresses, using seeds as stones, rice as snow. Joe’s writing about people who live under the drains because the pavements stink of rotten cheese.

Mango Stones with Googly Eyes

Hopefully their books will be finished and published by Christmas. And that will be four books published by Lapwing Books within four months. I think I’ll have earned a week off by then. Has a five-year old ever had a book published before? Or an eight-year old? I haven’t got time to look into it. The rest of the family are beginning to stir. I have to make tea and warm milk. Then it’s off for a cycle to Tynemouth and back at seven o’clock. I’ve signed up to do the Great North Bike Ride in a few weeks and promised to do the Coast to Coast at the end of September. Like I haven’t got enough to do. It looks like these summer holidays are going to fly by…