Five ways to support your friendly neighbourhood author

A lot of books are published every year. In fact the UK publishes more books per capita than any other country. So from an author’s point of view, no matter how good your work is, its success will depend entirely on whether it gets noticed.

I’ve been in Writers Unchained for a few years now, and whenever someone’s work finally hits the shelves, we are all delighted to see it, aware of how many years it has taken to achieve. We also know its shiny new cover will be competing with countless others. None of us have money to burn on marketing, so we try to do what publicity we can, often relying on our lovely readers to help spread the word.

So if someone who has written a book you really love, and you want others to find and enjoy it too, here are some ways to support your local authors…

1 Review it

Much as we’d all prefer that Amazon had not cornered the market, the reality is that people buy books there and a certain number of reviews can help boost a title’s ranking.

There’s a jokey adage going around among authors that if you get fifty reviews then Amazon ‘gives you a unicorn’ (ie the algorithm shows it to more potential buyers). I’m not sure how much truth there is in this, but a decent number of reviews is certainly going to improve a book’s performance on the website.

You don’t have to have bought the book from Amazon to review it there, though it will only let you do so if you’ve made other purchases.

If the thought of Amazon brings you out in a rash, it’s also really useful to leave reviews on Goodreads, Google Books, Bookbub, or other bookshop sites like Waterstones and Foyles. Or for a gold star, copy and paste your review to more than one!

2 Recommend it to a friend

Who would enjoy this book? Tell your bookish friends about it. If you use social media, post a picture of it. If you’re in a network such as Mumsnet that has discussion forums about books, mention it. People are more likely to buy a book if they see its cover more than once, so exposure is something that will really help an author.

3 Suggest it to a book club

If, like me, you’re in a book club (or three) then you may get the opportunity to suggest a title. Or perhaps your mum is in a book club and might be thinking about the next read.

Word of mouth is the most powerful form of publicity, so if you think the book raises some interesting topics and would make for a lively discussion, please do mention it.

If you’re a member of one of the many online book clubs (especially on facebook), then there are often ‘recommendations’ threads where you can post pictures of books you like.

4 Request it at the library

With several hundred thousand books published in the UK each year, libraries have a lot of choice. Most libraries give people the chance to request new books – you can often fill in a card at the desk, or request it using the online system. Library sales are of great importance to authors, and even the 8 pence or so that the writer gets from someone borrowing their book all helps.

Photo by Josh Felise on Unsplash

5 Buy it

Sounds simple, but if people don’t buy books there’ll be no publishing industry and we’ll all end up staring at our phones in between clubbing each other to death (can you tell I’ve written a lot of dystopian stuff lately?!)

If you have money, please do consider buying books. If you don’t, you can always tick off number 4, and support your local library into the bargain.

Consider using which supports independent bookshops and allows you to collect your book from a shop of your choice. If you really must buy from Amazon, authors often have affiliate links from their websites.

The added bonus of championing the books you love is that the industry becomes more reader-directed, more people enjoy what they read, and read more of it, people improve their empathy, and generally lead us away from a future of smartphone addiction and blunt instruments. Result!

From the Spanish Civil War to Snakes and Ladders

Book launches

Two book launches in the last month! It’s been a bumper summer for Writers Unchained members.

A Forbidden Love

Kerry Postle launched her fabulous second book A Forbidden Love at Max Minerva’s Marvellous Books in Bristol this July. The audience were fascinated to hear about where Kerry’s research had taken her – into the intricacies of the Spanish Civil War and, in particular, the experiences of women caught up in it. We’re all looking forward to reading this gripping and heart-rending historical novel.

Buy A Forbidden Love

The Undoing of Arlo Knott

This was followed in August by the launch of Heather Child’s second novel The Undoing of Arlo Knott (Orbit), about a man who has an ‘undo’ button for life, at Storysmith books. At this sold-out event, Heather talked about themes of regret and hindsight, snakes and ladders and quantum physics.

Buy The Undoing of Arlo Knott or read an excerpt.

Summer news: publishing deals for Heather and Ali

Hello fellow writers and readers and apologies for being off the scene for a while. However we have some excellent news to report and can also give you the heads-up for our next  event in October, part of the annual Bristol Litfest extravaganza.

First, the good news.
In between all that short story action last year, our members were labouring over their long-term projects, two of which have come to highly satisfying fruition.

heather_cFirst up for a round of applause is Heather Child‘s debut novel Smartface recently acquired by  Little, Brown Book Group imprint Orbit via the Julie Crisp Literary Agency.

Heather’s book is a high-concept thriller that tells the story of a woman whose virtual assistant takes on the personality of her missing sister.

When her sister vanished, Freya’s life seemed to stop. Eight years later, she is hearing Ruby’s voice again as a ‘Smartface’, so alive and real it seems she could be out there somewhere, feeding updates into the cloud. But should Freya trust this intelligent assistant, which is programmed to give her everything she wants?

The novel examines what happens when smart becomes too smart, when people accumulate so much data online that they can be recreated as data ghosts and lives can be changed by the information they’ve left behind. The book will be out in spring 2018.

Heather, who joined us a couple of years ago, has already been published in MslexiaUnder the Radar, the Storgy 2014 Short Story AnthologyHerCircle, the Bristol Post and Notes from the Underground online. We’ve loved hearing excerpts from the book at our feedback meetings – I can’t wait to read the whole of this fabulously written  novel which takes a compelling and disturbing look at what might be just around the corner.

Ali_ason 4896x3672Hard on the heels of Heather’s success comes Ali Bacon who has signed with Linen Press Books. In the Blink of an Eye is a re-imagining of the life of Victorian artist and photographer David Octavius Hill. This collection of sixteen stories in ten distinctive voices bring together history, fiction and biography. Ali says:

I was doubtful a mainstream publisher would commit to something that crosses so many of the usual boundaries. I was thrilled when Linen Press snapped it up straight away.

You may well have heard Ali reading excerpts from her work-in-progress at Novel Nights in Bristol or at Stroud Short Stories.  In June of this year Ali also won first prize in the Evesham Festival of Words Short Story Competition with one of the chapters from her book.
In the Blink of an Eye will be published in mid-2018 when we’ll get to read all of the stories one judge said  ‘knocked his socks off’.


And finally! (cue blood-curdling scream)

 Night of Crime_cropped

Get out those diaries and sharpen your pencils in preparation of our next Story Sunday which will be A  Night of Crime on October 22nd.

Submission details coming shortly here or on Twitter @bww_unchained

Historical novelist Margaret Skea on how she freed herself from the tyranny of truth

In the second in our series of posts on the theme of Unchained, we’re welcoming award-winning historical novelist Margaret Skea.  I really love how Margaret creates absolute authenticity (fuelled by meticulous research) without ever burdening the reader or losing sight of the plot, which in the case of A House Divided is a real roller-coaster encompassing family feuds, contemporary medicine and witchcraft. Here she explains how neither book might have been written at all if it hadn’t been for a moment of liberation here in the West Country.

Margaret Skea
Margaret Skea

A House Divided, set in 16th century Scotland, is a sequel to Turn of the Tide, for which I was fortunate enough to win two awards – Historical Fiction Winner in the Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition 2011 and the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014.

Although Turn of the Tide was my first finished novel it was not my first novel, or rather it wasn’t the first version of my novel. Here’s how I became ‘unchained’ from the restrictions of writing from the pov of an historic character and discovered the freedom that a fictional main character brings.

It went like this…

I wrote short stories. I’d only ever written short stories (well apart from the poetry of my teenage angst days, but the less said about that the better). Three thousand words was my comfort zone and it was a rut that I was more than happy to remain in.  Until one month I found myself bereft of children, my job axed and our recently acquired brand new house clearly in perfectly good nick. My husband said ‘Forget looking for another job, you’ve always wanted to write a novel, maybe now’s the time.’

Initially it wasn’t as difficult as I’d thought, for the main character had been in my head for many years. Ever since I researched his family as part of a dialect study. And far from struggling to get past three thousand words, about a year later I found myself with 70,000 – approximately three quarters of the way through. Then I began to flounder.

It wasn’t that his story was boring, or that he himself didn’t provide me with enough material to work on, but there was a constant battle going on in my head between truth and fiction, a battle which truth was definitely winning, severely restricting my plot options.
Problem: it was a novel I was supposed to be writing, not a history book.
Solution: An Arvon Advanced Fiction course – combined Christmas present from all my nearest and dearest and a few others besides (they aren’t cheap) ‘for those at least half-way through a novel.’

Totleigh Barton
Arvon at Totleigh Barton


I won’t bore you with the technicalities of getting to Totleigh Barton, a beautiful thatched long house buried in the depths of Devon, but what a fabulous environment in which to write. I went with 70,000 words and high hopes that the four days there would make all the difference. And they did. Just not quite in the way I’d expected.

Day 1: My first one-to-one session with a tutor. I strolled across to my meeting with the opening of my novel which introduced the main character (as it should) and the first page of Chapter 3 in which a two-bit messenger boy who didn’t even have a name was sent to set up an ambush.  I wanted to discuss the differentiation of major and incidental characters.  Which I suppose in a way was what happened. The tutor read the two passages, then after a pause picked up the ‘two-bit messenger boy’ page and said, ‘I think this is your main character.’

As those who know me will testify there haven’t been many times in my life when I’ve been speechless, but that was one of them. After I’d metaphorically picked myself off the floor we talked. About fictional versus historic characters and the huge advantages of a fictional main character. It all made sense, but could I ditch 70,000 words and start again? That was a terrifying prospect.  His parting shot – ‘Think about it overnight and we’ll talk again tomorrow.’

I did sleep, surprisingly, but at some stage during the night Munro rode into my head on his horse Sweet Briar, complete with a surname, and demanding the centre stage.  I woke up buzzing and ready to re-hash that single page of Chapter 3 into the opening of a novel. Of course I had all sorts of ideas about re-using masses of the other 70,000 words too – with a few tweaks here and there to alter the perspective. It would be the same basic story after all. Right? Wrong.

Turn of the Tide
The finished article – an award-winner!

Some of the historical events that featured in the first version did provide a framework for ‘Novel Mark 2’, but it became a completely different story. By the time I went home I had written 3000 words of the new Chapter 1, which, incidentally, made it into the published manuscript unchanged.  I also had a clear image in my mind of the final scene, so a goal to aim for.

It wasn’t just the novel that benefited, the experience has impacted positively on all my writing. ‘Killing my darlings’ one sentence, a paragraph or even a whole chapter at a time is now remarkably easy; after all I ditched 70,000 words and survived. The final versions of both my novels are much better as a result.

And the original 70,000 words? They languish in a box in my attic – maybe they’ll be worth something some day…

Layout 1Both Turn of the Tide and A House Divided are available in paperback, via bricks and mortar bookshops in the UK , online via Waterstones, Amazon and the Book Depository and also on Kindle.



You can also find Margaret on
And her website

A great story from Margaret and one that having recently retired from battle with a historical novel makes absolute sense to me. Maybe I need a fictional minor character – or a writing course!


Meet the writers, buy the books!

Really looking forward to Saturday 5th September when we’re off to Corsham Creative Market where Jo Lambert will be joining the usual gang  to run a book stall with great variety and lots of bargains at Springfield Community Campus.

corshamcornerFor those who don’t know Corsham, the old town centre is a real gem (and recently masqueraded as Truro in BBCs Poldark) but is also blessed with some very tempting tea and coffee shops.

Springfeld Community Campus – with its spanking new library and leisure centre – is only 5 minutes walk away with a cafe all of its own, so no need to go hungry or thirsty.

Hoping to see some old and new friends on the day.



Panning for gold. Gail Swann is resting (not rusting).

Let the wild seeds of your imagination flourish where they will. (Photo by Evolybab)

Gail Swann writes:

Finding myself in a period of writerly pause, or to put it more succinctly, ‘stymied by having too many beginnings’, I have been filling my head with the work of others. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a run of cracking good reads (thanks to Nina Milton for book reviews at, I’ve watched a few outstanding films, too much absorbing trash TV, and dipped in and out of Facebook. Yes, a mixed blessing but it’s all art of one kind and another. Well perhaps not what your mate had for dinner, but that gorgeous photo captured on a morning walk (check out, or the one out of a hundred (mostly irritating) poetic proclamations about life that just hits the mark when you’re feeling anxious or sad. I love it that we can share so easily, even if you have to pan for the gold sometimes.

Larger than life at Comic-Con San Diego*

At the other end of the scale, my business is lucky enough to have the world’s foremost entertainment company as a client. Tasked with translating storylines into commercial graphics, we get to see some of what goes into the making of epic movies. Rising majestically from their comic strip origins, Super Heroes are trending right now

Those early twentieth century cartoonists in their shadowy world of pen, ink and midnight oil had no concept of the cultural phenomenon their work would become.

This summer some of my colleagues went over to Comic-Con in San Diego (strictly business of course!). The scale of this convention is bewildering, and goes to show how much we mere mortals love to escape into a parallel universe of storytelling and dress up, given half a chance! You might say ‘only in America’, but actually we do it here too

So, what am I trying to say (did I mention that I was a ‘resting’ writer – perhaps rusting is more apt)? I think we must appreciate creativity in all its forms and tap into whatever sparks our imagination at the time. It might be a novel, a blipfoto or Facebook post, a cinematic battle to save the world, or a fairytale told to a child. The human appetite for sharing stories prevails. It comes in many forms and it takes all sorts.

*Comic-con photo

You are invited!

We hope that friends old and new will join us on Saturday 11th October at Foyles in Bristol.

If you think you can make it, you’ll need a ticket, so please don’t forget to register
on Foyles’ website 


Coming soon – a new shamanic mystery from Nina Milton

Nina MiltonIt seems no time since we were at the launch of Nina Milton’s In the Moors, her gripping thriller featuring shamanic sleuth Sabbie Dare. I’m delighted to say Nina is back to tell us about her follow-up, Unraveled Visions, and has news of a special offer!



Unraveled Visions coverHi Nina, is this a return for my favourite heroine of last year, Sabbie Dare?

Yes. So many people have said they have fallen in love with her! As the book opens, she’s still pining over Reynard Buckley (*sighs* – ed) and living in Bridgwater with her hens (of course!) The book opens on the evening of the Bridgwater Carnival. After the carnival floats have finished, there is always the traditional ‘squibbing’; a firework display with a difference. Sabbie is there with a girlfriend, and what she witness takes her into trouble and danger (nothing’s changed there, then!)


The cover and title feel ‘stronger’ (and sexier?) than In the Moors – your choice or the publisher?

Midnight Ink made these decisions, but I think they’ve done me proud. I was also happy with their treatment of In the Moors.

 Anything else you can tell us about the new book?

Here’s the back cover;

The day after shamanic counselor Sabbie Dare receives a palm reading at a street carnival, she learns that a police detective has been killed and the gypsy fortuneteller has gone missing. Sabbie’s newest client—a scared woman with an angry husband—has also disappeared. Despite warnings from Detective Inspector Rey Buckley to stay away from the investigations, Sabbie can’t ignore the messages of danger she’s received through her shamanic journeys. But as close as she comes to the answers, Sabbie discovers there are people who want to keep the truth buried forever.

And a tiny snippet from the start of the book…

The two detectives had arrived as the body was trundling on a gurney over to the white tent where the pathologist waited like an adjudicator at some macabre contest. The woman was found stripped of any clothing and the technician had thrown a green sheet over her poor mutilated and rotting body for that short journey, but the gurney jerked as its wheels stuck to the walkway, which was so burning hot it was melting the policemen’s thick soles, and the woman’s head slid to the edge, her heavy locks falling free, as if she’d just unpinned them. Despite the river weed and silt, her hair was still glorious; as black as a nighttime lake, not tampered by bleach or dye. 

Detective Sergeant Gary Abbott had stepped forward, his hand outstretched, and touched the woman’s hair, crying out like a distressed relative. “Take care with her, for God’s sake!”

UNRAVELLED VISIONS   by Nina Milton from Midnight Ink

 Intriguing! Any events coming up?

If you’d like to hear me talk about my writing in the West Country, in October I’ll be speaking at the WELLS LITERARY FESTIVAL.

I’ll be there to give a talk in the Bishop’s Palace on the afternoon of Sunday 12th of October, when the winners of the Wells Short Story, Novel Writing and Poetry Competition Prizes are presented with their prizes. As a past winner of the short story prize, I hope to offer hope to writers who are just setting out.

The festival is packed with amazing names, so why not come for the day and enjoy the buzzing literary atmosphere?

Sounds like a great idea, Nina, and I’m sure a number of BWW members will be hoping for a catch-up while you are back in the West Country.

Meanwhile here’s the other bit of exciting news for Sabbie Dare fans…you can pre-order your copy of Unravelled Visions ahead of the publication date for only £8.05p. (And you can have the book delivered free if the order is over £10). U.K. publication is due mid-October. This is a great opportunity to have the 2nd book in your hands on the day, ready for winter reading. Just go to;

For those who have yet to meet the inimitable Sabbie, Here are some reader comments on In the Moors. Could be a great time to do a deal on both titles!

In the MoorsOver the last 2 years have found it so hard to get a good book. I read yours in less than two days…A compelling read, beautifully written; memorable…

Janette Davies, from Ireland

And Celtic Writer Mara Freeman (Kindling the Celtic Spirit, Grail Alchemy)  wrote to give her thoughts on the first in the series…

A real page-turner, In the Moors cost me several hours of sleep because it was so un-put-downable! An engaging heroine, a landscape at once so real and so menacing, and an intriguing mystery had me enthralled into the wee hours!

Ali B has also reviewed In the Moors on Amazon  and gives it an unqualified 5 stars.

Great to have you back, Nina!




No More Mr Darcy? Jean Burnett and the fascination of historical fiction

Jean Burnett
Jean Burnett

Following her success with the Jane Austen spin-off Who Needs Mr Darcy? Jean Burnett is now working on ‘serious’ historical fiction.



 1. What am I working on now?

I have been putting finishing touches to two completed manuscripts (must stop tinkering) while reading up for the next book. I write historical fiction and the researching part of the book takes several months. I won’t be putting anything much on paper or computer for a while – just filling notebooks with details. This is my second ‘serious’ novel and it’s set at the court of Charles 1 in the run up to the Civil War. There is still an Italian connection through the heroine who is a famous artist. I won’ t say any more because it’s bad luck and I am superstitious about my writing. At this stage I have no idea about a title!

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

It is difficult to assess this. All writers have a different take on history and we all hope that we have a recognisable ‘voice’ that makes us different. I look for quirky historical details or places, perhaps an electrifying incident that makes me think “that would make a good story.”
Most often my imagination is caught by a personality who is either so fascinating, so wicked (as in the case of Gesualdo), or is trapped in an impossible situation. I like what Paul Doherty calls the wrinkles in history; the facts or myths between the lines, the what ifs of history – was Elizabeth 1 really the daughter of Henry V111? Doherty was fascinated by this but I think the Tudors have been done to death.

3.Why do I write what I do?

I suppose I find the past more interesting than the present – that is the quick answer, although if I find a fascinating subject in the present I will certainly write about it. I have written a book set in the 1980s which seems modern to me, although it’s technically historical, which I find absurd.

4. What is my writing process?

It could be summed up as haphazard, but there is method in my madness. I don’t plan things out in detail but a lot of the book is in my head before I start. I always know the beginning and the end but the middle will often take me by surprise. The characters take on a life of their own which is worrying if they are real historical people. I am constantly checking on whether they would really have said or done a certain thing.
The fact is that we can never put ourselves in the mind of someone from centuries ago. We perceive them through a 21st century prism. All I can do is try to make them come alive – resurrect them. This is the fascination of the genre.


Thank you, Jean.

I know you’ve also been working on the further adventures of Lydia Bennet – I hope we get to see them too one day. 

Nathan Filer and The Shock of the Fall

This week Ali Bacon reflects on what she heard (or hopes she heard) at an evening with Nathan Filer

Nathan Filer There’s nothing like a local hero to inspire us all to greater things, and since winning the Costa Prize with The Shock of the Fall, Nathan Filer is the man whose hand we have all wanted to shake, and so I did just that (pushy or what!) on Monday at an event in Yate Library where Nathan was talking about his book. In fact I discovered his roots are as much in South Glos as Bristol/Bath and there was a great turn-out.

I should say that up to then I knew only the outline of Nathan’s story and had belatedly dashed to only page 21 *blush* of Shock but by the end of Nathan’s talk about the writing of the book I knew a lot more about the book and the man. But then that’s what you might expect since the author and his hero Matthew  had been close companions for a very long time. It was such a lively and inspiring evening I’ve decided to pass on the bits of Nathan’s writing story that stuck in my mind, but I didn’t take notes so I’m just hoping I haven’t imagined too much of it. They do say you hear what you want to hear!

 First novels are rarely first novels.

Nathan has been writing for a long time and has a career as a stand-up poet. No, this is not his first novel, just the first to be published.  Writers know that first novels rarely are just that, but sometimes it’s good to know that the truly great novel – and great writer – have started in the not so great place, and still achieved greatness after all.

 Novels take a long time to write and change along the way

 I think Nathan estimated Shock had 6 or 7 drafts. During that time it changed from a more sensational account – almost a thriller – to what it is now. In fact very many things changed – except the main character. He was the driving force and the insistent voice that wouldn’t go away. Getting Matthew’s story right was what mattered. And Matthew’s character changed only to the degree that the author may have changed along the way. An interesting admission, which brings us to

 Fiction and autobiography, i.e.  my book and my life

nathan filer eventNathan was entirely candid about how much of the novel springs from his own experience and how many of the characters were originally modeled on members of his own family. I thought this was refreshing. How often do writers insist their work is not autobiographical when actually our writing is bound to be shaped by our lives. But, as Nathan pointed out, we put these characters into new situations and suddenly they are new people, they are fictional characters. I’m hoping this will be read by all those people who say ‘Am I in your book?’ because the answer is probably ‘yes of course you are’ and at the same time ‘don’t be ridiculous!’ 

 Do creative writing courses work?

Ah, the chestnut question! But asked by a young writer in the audience who had no academic axe to grind and really did want to know.  Nathan was quick to say that the Bath Spa MA worked for him, but that he knew people who had failed to benefit or even been set back by it. I think his advice was to embark on this style of course only if you are sure of the story you want to tell.

 Road to publication

Shock of the Fall(Well I wanted to know!) After many ups and downs, Nathan finished his first draft on the MA at Bath Spa and submitted it to the Tibor Jones novel competition. Nathan has a healthy cynicism for writing competitions which I am beginning to share, but in this case although the book didn’t win, it was spotted by an agent.  There was another year of work before the final submission, but within a week it was out to publishers and they were all bidding for it. So the long gestation was over very quickly and The Shock of the Fall was soon out in the world. No lessons here except that hard work does pay off, and real quality will get attention even in this mad new world of what often feels like publishing mayhem.

These reflections are hardly news, but sometimes hearing them from someone who has been through the mil and come out the other end reminds us of why things are as they are and what we have to do to overcome the odds.

Finally, with many of the audience asking about the setting and the mental health issues,  I learned a disturbing fact, namely that NHS cuts have been 20% greater in the mental health sector than the service over all. In a world that threatens our mental stability in so many ways, I find that shocking.

So to respond to the South Glos feedback form, yes, I met someone new, learned something new, and in my own little way yes,  I was inspired by the evening. I was certainly moved to buy the very pleasing paperback even though I have the Kindle edition! And if  Nathan should pass this way, he’ll be pleased to know I’m now zipping along on page 90 – and counting.

Ali’s novel A Kettle of Fish is available in Kindle and paperback editions.
Meet her at