Sunday 20 September 2020

The Joys- and Woes- of Technology


It’s wonderful isn’t it, what we can do these days with a computer? Earlier science fiction just didn’t predict it. The first time I went to Disney I was amazed that we could make video calls to reserve our restaurant tables. Now Facetime, Skype and Zoom are the norm. Because of the corona virus and lockdown we’ve been glad to have this technology.

A sixth-form lecture

Many years ago, when I was at Grammar School, we had a weekly lecture. Outside speakers were invited. One week we were told that towards the end of our life time we would all be living in little boxes with entertainment and education piped into our homes. We would eat, live, sleep and work in little cells. Well, it’s been happening here and there for a while but in March 2020 it really took off. It’s okay, most of the time, as long as your broadband’s working well.

An early warning

When I was doing my PGCE in 1974 we were encouraged to embrace technology.  This meant slide projectors, language labs, tape-recorders, banda-machines, poor quality and expensive photocopiers and overhead projectors. Our cross-discipline cohort was frequently taught by a double act: two English lecturers who thought they were doing stand-up.


“Always check your technology before you begin,” one of them said.


“We’ll show you what we man if you’ll look at the screen,” said the other. He switched on the overhead projector. Nothing happened. Was this a set-up? I wasn’t  sure. He looked pretty stressed, actually. It turned out the power socket was dead. Perhaps the warning should be, “Always have something up your sleeve in case the technology fails.”


Zoom fail

Like many other people, I’ve been using Zoom extensively this year. I’m quite used to it, though it has been a little irritating when they’ve made changes to the way it works just as you’ve got used to it. This is probably true of most technology, actually. But the one day it did let me down. When I was conducting a workshop where the participants were mainly people I’d not met before. As I loaded my Power Point on to the screen share, everything froze. It actually only lasted a few seconds. I didn’t have a plan B.


Sometimes one arranges events and not everyone turns up. Maybe this is technology fail.


Then there are outages. Zoom had a major one a few weeks back and was down for a couple of hours. 


Mime, not Power Point  

A few years ago I attended a conference with a colleague. We were on a panel with another lady we didn’t know. Just before our session we dutifully loaded our Power Points on to the computer in the room. The other lady did the same – and everything crashed. It was a shame as we all had lots of interesting pictures to show our audience.

We carried on regardless and made such comments as “At this point I would have shown you a picture of ….”


Oddly, we were voted the second most interesting presentation. This was in a break-out group. The presentation that won was a plenary.


So, we did pretty well actually.


Order fail

I recently ordered some books for one of our writers from our Amazon KDP account. I forgot to change the address to hers. Now, you can go into the account and alter the address on the order but it wants you to put in new financial details. I kept doing this and it just wouldn’t accept them – despite the fact that it matches the ones already there. I’ve contacted Amazon and had no reply. It’s now too late: the books are on their way to me.


But it’s not the end of the world. It’s a little inconvenient but I can take the books still packaged up to the post office and send them on their way.


The best technology

“Technology” really means “how to do something”. The best, therefore, is what actually works.


When I was still a full-time lecturer we were invited to a talk by someone who had won a teaching award the academic year before. We were expecting a whizzy, entertaining presentation.


The man simply moved forward so he was actually in the front row of the lecture theatre – after all no one actually sits there, especially in this particular theatre as you get a crick in your neck form that row when you look up at the screen.


He spoke to us softly and in a way that implied he know us well and understood what all the issues were. It was actually exactly what we needed at that moment. He knew his technology.


Don’t underestimate the computer in your head

Yes, we all know you should back up and back it up again. We all do it. Except that one time when were under pressure. Maybe part of the pressure is because our computer is being sluggish and we’re fighting a deadline. It is at precisely that moment that the technology fails and we lose a good chunk of our work.  


At such a point I have to remember the time I wrote my own Famous Five book at the tender age of nine. I had read all of the books and needed another story. So I wrote my own. In a spiral-bound note-book. Even at that age I knew that writing is mainly re-writing and I constantly read it over, making minor adjustments.


I would even work on it as I walked along the street. Then one day the wind sprang up.  The pages were ripped off the coiled wire. They dropped into a nearby puddle. Because the story was written in ink my words just dissolved into the dirty water.  




Or was it? I’d read it so much I knew if off be heart. Writing it out again gave me the opportunity to make even more effective edits.

Thursday 3 September 2020

Last Chance Salon by Fiona McNeill

How we came to publish this one

Fiona McNeil came to us when we put out a call for collections of short stories were delighted to receive a response from Fiona. We’ve since narrowed our call to those writers who we’ve already published on CaféLit or in one of our annual anthologies. But we’re glad we took on this one. The stories here are quite remarkable. They interconnect and there is a story arc that flows through the whole collection.              

The title

This was entirely Fiona’s idea and there is a clear play on words here. But it is apt. Much of the action takes place in a hair salon. 


The cover

The image on the cover perfectly symbolizes the type of salon that is included in the text. Is the woman a typical customer or even a worker in the salon? That must be for the reader to decide. Isn’t that deep orange glorious? That must be for the reader to decide. The trick then was to get all of the writing that needed to be on the cover in a suitable font. Sometimes we use wraparound landscape pictures and sometimes we have portrait ones as here, with a plain cover. Naturally we have a blurb on the back cover.       

Some notes about style

I didn’t edit this one but I did proof read it. It was hard to concentrate on the proof reading because I became absorbed in the stories. They are engaging, a little bit quirky and they keep you guessing. The characters are richly drawn.     

Who we think the reader is

These stories are an easy read but at the same time they promote a few thoughts. There is humour an irony. This collection therefore is for the thoughtful reader who also wants to be entertained.     


This book is almost in the black and has almost covered its set up costs. It continues to sell. We could do with a few more sales, however. If you’d like a copy, click on the image and you’ll be taken straight to Amazon.  

What else

A quirky marketing suggestion from the author: why not promote it through hair salons. Well, yes, though hair salons don’t want physical reading materials around at the moment. If there’s Wi-Fi though there’s always the e-book.    


Reviews welcome, as always.

Putting you head above the parapet

Submitting work

Yes, if course, if you submit work you are putting your head above the parapet. You may have a rejection hurled at you. It’s a risk you take. But canny writers just get back up there and wait for the next shot. Eventually they get an acceptance. I can quote a story of mine that was accepted after it had been sent elsewhere four times. And that publisher went on to accept several more. A writer we’ve published tells of one story that was entered for several competitions, not even making the long-list, but then went on to win the Costa short story award.

Publication isn’t the end of it

Once your book is out there, it’s open to reviews. It’s odd, isn’t it, that we agonise over that single one star review and forget to enjoy the numerous four and five star ones? We rage if the reviewer complains that the pages were falling out of the book or the cover was torn. “What has that got to do with me?” we cry. I’d say that rather than ranting at the reviewer you should join in at ranting at book seller or publisher. The buyer has lost more; you’ll still get the royalty but they’ve paid good money for shoddy goods.


And sometimes one star reviews are stupid. I saw one about a book I’d enjoyed where the reader complained they hadn’t been told it would be in French. I think she had.  actually.


Common sense will help you deal with these. Perhaps harder are the three and four star reviews that are mainly positive but involve some criticisms. No matter how much we tell ourselves that we can’t please everyone and that we might learn form these, they still nag at us. However, we must get over this. It goes with the territory of being published.

Publishers, too, put their heads above the parapet

And get spat at.


I read an interesting post on Facebook form a writing friend who had been made even more miserable by a rejection because the publisher had explained what was wrong with the text. “Why couldn’t they just reject it and be done?” I know that we publishers give that extra bit of feedback when we have faith in the writer but that what they’ve sent doesn’t quite fit the present list.


It’s rare for us to reject outright anything for CaféLit. However, we only publish about 10% of what is sent to us and we keep all other publishable material in an archive, just asking writers to let us know if they have luck elsewhere.


I rejected one piece because it was too similar to what happened at the Manchester Arena 22 May 2017. That author was perfectly understanding. 


But not so the one whose work was beautifully written but may have been a little offensive to our female readers. I gently pointed this out. And got spat at. Why wouldn’t I let my readers be the censor? Hang on a minute. Isn’t a commissioning editor a censor in a way. Or do we prefer the word gatekeeper? Either way we have to think of our readers.


Calls for Submission


Prompts 2021

Do send prompts in for the 2021 book.   

Books for children:

Feisty women:

Young adult 


The Opportunities List

Please remember our waiting list is long. Even with six editors it takes a while for your work to get to the top of the list and when one book recovers financially we can take on another.  So, it may be worth looking at this list in detail whilst you’re waiting.      

I often add several items a day. I look for fairness. Competitions must not be too expensive to enter.  Everything must lead to fair payment, decent publication, fantastic exposure or just be good fun.  

Note, I am gradually moving this over to Fair Submissions . It’s wise to check both sites at the moment. There are reminders on both.  On Fair Submissions to find what you’re looking for, click on Labels on the left hand side.  You’ll see a lot of dates to start with.  Then click Show More and you’ll see a list of genres and categories.   Or simply type your search term into search filed. When I send out the list to those of you who have opted to receive it I’ll feature the latest three posts. 

I’ve had to give in and include some who charge submission fees but I’m still only including those who charge a reasonable fee – no more than £3.00 which is perhaps the equivalent of old-fashioned postage, return postage, paper and ink. We currently have no intention to charge. I understand totally that those who charge are doing it mainly because that’s what Submittable software costs.  We are looking at an alternative offered by Duotrope which is more cost effective.    

Note, though, we expect and approve of a reasonable charge for competitions which may be slightly higher than this – they have to pay the judges at least expenses and create a prize fund. 

You always have to remember however that only a handful of people will be named in a competition or win.  But if you do get shortlisted or even longlisted it’s a great line on your CV.      

You can sign up to have the list drop in your in-box every time it is tidied up i.e. every three to four weeks.  Sign up here: . “Tidied up “means removing the out of date entries i.e. when it is past the call for submission date. I don’t have the time to actually monitor whether the web sites mentioned are active or whether a publisher has gone out of business.  So, if you come across anything like that, do let me know.   

Writers’ News


Dawn Knox

Basilwade and Dawn’s creative journey with that is featured at:  An interesting read indeed.

Alyson Faye

 Darkness Calls: Tales From The Shadows  In Darkness Calls there are ten tales of the supernatural, the macabre and the weird for you to enjoy. They are set in Yorkshire - in a museum on Christmas Eve night where an ancient evil stalks, in a derelict church in Halifax where ghost children roam, in a Gothic cemetery where a boy finds himself stone-struck, and in other stories, women transform into magical powerful beings, and Krampus visits a Victorian family. In two new stories, never before published, Plague visits a village riding a dragon and a little girl takes a trip on a ghost train at the funfair, which is a once in a lifetime experience.

Alyson has also co-authored Shadow Bound: A Gothic Quartet with Stephanie Ellis. This is their debut publication. She and Stephanie are also working on latest anthology form The Infernal Clock - Inferno, doing it for “love and chocolate biscuits”.

She has also been involved in Diabolica Britannica: A Dark Isles Horror Compendium which raises money for the NHS.

Madeleine McDonald

Madeleine has had a further piece broadcast on Radio Leeds, entitled The Marriage of True Minds (from Shakespeare's sonnet). More a meditation than a story, says Madeleine:  

Just four minutes long. Worth a listen. 

Clare Weze

Clare has news of her debut children’s novel coming out in 2021. It sounds a fascinating story and can’t wait to read it. You can read the feature article in the Bookseller here:

Advertising events



I once worked with a colleague who could persuade anybody to do anything.  She was a great event organiser and her events were always fully attended.  I went to a few that I might not have visited if I’d only seen a flyer and in the end I was glad I’d decided to go.  It was her absolute enthusiasm that made her events great and that persuaded people to attend.

When I used to organise German cafés when I was a high school teacher I was amazed by the response though I wasn’t sure what I’d done right.  And guess what: the original idea had come from this very colleague.  It was almost as if her enthusiasm carried me on for years – I ran these cafés annually between 1986 and 1999.

I’m organising three writers’ events in September and am intrigued to observe a steady trickle people registering.   Is some of Gerda’s magic at work? We can take up to 100 at each event and anything over six is acceptable with 25 being extremely comfortable.  Well, we have more than six in all three cases.  The trickle consists of people I already know and people I’ve never heard of which is exactly how it should be.  

Some of you I know have already registered for one of the events.  More details of all three are included below in Events .  

I’ve devised a list of groups of people to contact and each day I’m contacting one of them. Here’s my list. Do use it if it’s helpful.

·         Twitter and Facebook at regular intervals  

·         Facebook Gill James Writer Page

·         Bridge House writers’ mailing list

·         Gill James Writer’s mailing list 

·         Author central  

·         Bridge House Publishing Writer’s Page 

·         Gill James blog  

·         Linked in time line 

·         Linked in Salford group   


·         Colleagues at Salford

·         Cousins

·         Individuals

·         Schedule Twitter posts  

·         Events on Facebook

·         Facebook – schedule on time line   

·         Facebook CafeLit Page

·         Facebook Creative Cafe Page 

·         Facebook Red Telephone Page

·         Bridge House Publishing Blog

·         U3A Creative Writing Group

·         U3A Forum

·         Colleagues at University of  Salford

·         SSF Facebook page

Of course, the most effective and probably the hardest to do is approaching individuals.  That is what Gerda was so good at. 

An Afternoon with Nick Oldham 12 September 2.00 p.m.

This is organised by the Lancashire Authors Association. Nick is a local (to me) writer and publisher and will talk to the group about his work. There will be an opportunity to ask questions and for people to read out some of their own work.  If you would like to attend this, email me and I will send you the Zoom link.     

!940s Readers and Writers 17 September 8.00 p.m.

This is for all of you who are intrusted in the 1940s. Dawn Knox, Stuart Larner and I plus one writer from my 1940s Facebook  group, will be reading from and talking about our work. There will be an opportunity to ask questions and also a chance to read from your work as well, time permitting. There will be free materials for all. There is also the opportunity for you promote work even if you are not one of the key speakers.  You can sign up here:

An afternoon with some of our writers 26 September 3 p.m.

Similar to the 1940s evening , Dawn Knox, Allison Symes and I will be reading from our work There will be an opportunity to ask questions  and also a chance to read form your work as well. There will be free materials for all. There is also the opportunity for you to promote work even if you are not one of the key speakers.  You can sign up here:

There is actually room for one more reader at this event, so if you would like to be involved please let me know.  First come, first served.