Monday, 28 May 2012

A Chat with K B Walker

I have a guest today. American Kim Walker has lived in the UK for the past 30 years, built a family and a teaching career, while dreaming of becoming an author. Her dreams have been realised through two publications, her memoir "A Life Less Lost" and her recently published novel "Once Removed". Having gone through both experiences, Kim chats to us about the pros and cons of self-publishing and finding a publisher.
Hallo, Kim and thank you for talking to us.

You have recently published your book, "Once Removed". Can you tell us a little about it?
In high school, a girl felt close enough to me to reveal the razor slashes she’d made in her legs. I didn’t know what to do. At fourteen, new to the school and recently bereaved, I basically ran away. But I still wonder about that girl and what’s happened to her. In the 90’s, when self-harm was in the media, I did some research and a story was born which explores this complex behaviour. It’s about a young teacher who suspects one of her pupils is self-harming. Abby risks everything to try to help Beth but it all goes horribly wrong.

"Once Removed" is a shade darker than "Playing On Cotton Clouds" or "The Break Up Test". In common with those books, it looks at the impact relationships have on us but also the way in which our own self-image affects those relationships. 

For this book you chose to go with an e-publisher, Crooked Cat Publishing. What made you decide to take this route? How have you enjoyed the process?
"Once Removed" doesn’t fit neatly into popular genres and the subject matter was too risky for mainstream publishers in today’s economy. Having self-published my memoir, I knew what hard work it was to get everything right. Crooked Cat offered that ‘seal of approval’ ~ they thought enough of my work to take a risk on it.

Steph & Laurence at Crooked Cat have been great. And the other authors in the “cat basket” have been very supportive, making the whole venture much more fun.

You have also experienced self-publishing, with your memoir "A Life Less Lost". How did that experience compare to that of having a publisher?

There’s a stigma associated with self-publishing because not everyone has their work edited or even seeks feedback so there is a lot of amateurish dross out there. You have to do everything yourself and it’s very easy to fall into traps.

I had a mentor to help me through the process but it was still expensive, risky and very hard work. Writing the book was child’s play compared to self-publishing it. Then there’s the marketing…
Having a publisher who knows the business and can offer advice and support is amazing. They took my word document, did the editing and cover, prepared it for all the e-formats and help with marketing. The other authors also promote each other’s books, which makes the whole thing less overwhelming.

 What advice would you give to someone considering self-publishing? What do you think would be the advantages and the disadvantages? 
My advice would be to pay for professional editing and/or manuscript appraisal. If your book isn’t well polished people won’t read or recommend it. Createspace is now available in the UK. They offer a fairly low cost, low risk, pod product. You also need to carefully plan your marketing and promotion strategy.

One advantage of self-publishing is being able to have paperbacks as well as ebooks. You can organise an actual book launch and book tours. I’ve sold hundreds of books that way. People who have read my book and/or heard me speak have bought extra copies for friends and family, not so easy to do with ebooks. 

Like me, you “married” into British life having grown up in a different country. How easy or difficult did you find living in the UK? Do you think coming from a different culture had an impact on you as a writer?
That’s a very interesting question, Michela, and I’d love to sit down and compare notes with you on your experiences. It isn’t easy living in a different country, thousands of miles from family and friends. Even now, 30+ years on, when I meet people for the first time and they hear my accent, I can see them stop listening to what I’m saying in preferrence to how I’m saying it. Suddenly I remember I’m still a foreigner.

I think it’s enriched my writing, though. Not everyone gets to look at their own culture from outside. It makes you more observant and curious about why things are the way they are in different places. But don’t get me started on the weather…

Your memoir dealt with a serious issue that affected your family and since its publication, you have given talks on the topic and met people who had gone through a similar experience. What highlights do you take with you and what do you hope your story can offer to people?
I wrote "A Life Less Lost" for many reasons. One in particular has been to highlight the challenges of ‘cancer survivorship’. This is an area that is just beginning to attract research. My son wasn’t expected to survive and has had to cope with a disability as a result of his treatment. I believe many survivors suffer from post-traumatic stress and I wanted them to know they weren’t alone or in some way weak or unusual. The feedback I’ve had from the talks has shown this to be very true.

Another thing we have in common is that we are both teachers. How much has your work with young people influenced your work as a writer and viceversa?
A teacher has to be observant and analytical, which helps with writing. You also have to deal with all kinds of people. The main character in "Once Removed" is a teacher so I was able to draw on my experiences to make Abby more believeable, although she’s in secondary school and I mainly taught younger children. But I chose that setting because it was in high school that I came across self-harm and some of the things I learned at that time helped me create the pupil, Beth.

Tell us something about your hobbies and interests.

Reading has been a passion all my life. I also enjoy sports like skiing, swimming, badminton and walking. I’ve a big soft spot for animals and live on a farm, although we’re not farmers. Baking, eating out, cookery programmes and cookbooks fill a big chunk of time and recently I’ve discovered an interest in growing food, losing hours in the garden.

What are you working on at the moment and what future plans are in your writing life?

At the moment, I’m spending all my writing time trying to promote "Once Removed". But next month I plan to get back to my new novel inspired by an agoraphobic woman who vanished.

Once again, I'd like to thank Kim for taking the time to answer my questions.

Kim's memoir "A Life Less Lost" is available digitally in all formats from Smashwords and paperbacks are available directly from her via her blog:

Kim's novel "Once Removed" is available in digital format at and Smashwords 


Suspecting self-harm, newly qualified teacher, Abriella Garside, risks everything for a troubled pupil. An incident with a craft knife and unexplained injuries are not enough to secure help for the girl. Unsure whether Beth is being bullied or has problems at home, Abby tries to win her trust and the two begin a friendship. But has the teacher gone too far?
In the midst of Abby’s own complicated life, Beth disappears. Rumour and suspicion ignite, fanned into an inferno with Abby at its heart.
Two lives hang in the balance.

"Once Removed" is a contemporary novel dealing with the often hidden matter of self-harming in a sensitive, eye-opening way.


A storybook romance swept KB Walker from her American childhood to marriage, life and a teaching career in Yorkshire. Becoming an author seemed as likely as being a princess or an astronaut, but after twenty years at the chalk-face, Kimm left schools behind and set her mind to the dream. She’s had several poems, short stories and articles published, won a handful of local prizes, as well as being invited to speak at events in the UK and US.
Kimm’s two grown up sons have left home now but in 1996, fifteen year old James was diagnosed with cancer and survived against the odds. "A Life Less Lost", her memoir of that experience, was published in 2009.
A foodie, Kimm recently discovered the joys of grow-your-own, loves ‘doing up’ old houses, reading, badminton, skiing and various crafts. Still captivated by the British countryside, she also enjoys bracing walks with her dog.

Monday, 21 May 2012

"Here Comes The Sun"

As I sit and edit my novel, aptly titled “A SUMMER OF LOVE”, the sun seems to be trying that little bit harder today and I’m really hoping summer will finally arrive.

To put me in the mood, I chose ten of my favourite “summer songs” and created a little playlist.

  1. Beatles - Here Comes The Sun
One of George Harrison’s best songs, is guaranteed to chase away any grey cloud weighing on your mind.

  1. Laid Back - Sunshine Reggae
Nothing like reggae to evoke summer and lazy holidays on the beach. Here’s one song that accompanied me in my teenage years, by Danish duo Laid Back.

  1. Bananarama – Cruel Summer
Another staple of my sweet sixteen, a song about spending the summer at home while all your friends have taken off and left you bored and alone. Been there.

  1. Fralippo Lippi – Come Summer
Another Scandinavian act, Norwegian this time. This has a different vibe, a more melancholic, northern type of summer feel. Atmospheric.

  1. Lotus Eaters – The First Picture of You
“The first picture of you, the first picture of summer”… it carries on in the previous track's vibe. One of my favourite 80s songs.

  1. Crowded House – Weather with You
This song has personal memories of a very memorable summer, one that changed my life. It played non-stop in the car cassette player during a holiday romance that turned out to be more than that!

  1. Bebel Gilberto – August Day Song
A little Latin American feel never fails to warm you up, here with some class and sophistication.

  1. Holly Cook – Body Beat
More reggae! A recent discovery of mine: the daughter of Sex Pistol’s drummer Paul Cook, Hollie’s album is a little ray of sunshine.

  1. John Squire – Summertime
Named after the painting by Edward Hopper, a Beatles-esque song about leaving the crap behind and taking life head on. “This season’s mine, oh, yeah, summertime”. 

  1. Beach Boys – Do It Again
When it comes to sun, beach and fun, no one does it like the Beach Boys!

What’s your favourite summer song?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Trial and Error: a Writer's Learning Curve

About three years ago I wrote my first novel in English. I had a story all lined up in my head and the writing flowed, page after page after page, until I had what I thought was a great book.

I gave it the usual checks for spelling mistakes and typos and then started sending it out to agents and publishers.

All 155,000 words of it.

Naturally rejection letters kept coming back, mostly standard replies of the “remember that this is a subjective business, so don’t be discouraged” kind, which it’s easier said than done.

I shelved the book and moved on to other projects, short stories, a novella, another novel. I published the short stories with Ether Books and started talking to other writers, reading blogs, learning about writing.

It was with my third novel – Playing on Cotton Clouds – that I struck lucky and found a publisher. Or I should say I worked harder to hone my craft and reaped the rewards. 

Because it takes time to become a good writer, it takes a lot of mistakes and a lot of learning.

I am happy with Playing On Cotton Clouds and the way it has been received, but I still have affection for my first story, the characters that had filled so many nights and small hours, I still reckon there is potential for a good book there, if only I could reshape it and improve the style.

Of course that is call editing, another side to writing I had to master.

In the last few days, I picked up the manuscript and went through it. Its flaws finally jumped at me. How could I not see them before? Simple: because I had fallen into the same traps many new writers find themselves in.

More specifically, I now can highlight the following “in need of improvement” areas, which with time have actually become pet hates of mine.

1. Length. 155K words? Seriously? My published novel clocked at around 90K, which is more or less the recommended length for a novel – if at all possible try to keep a book under 100K. So my novel is a good 65,000 words too long for a start and a lot will need to be chopped off. I’ll need to be brutal to be kind.

2. Telling. The easiest trap of all for inexperienced writers. Filling pages with details that could be easily left out, repeating and hammering concepts. 

Just one passage out of a hat-full:  

Sally scrutinised him. Ewan confused her with his habit of changing from indifferent to hostile to friendly in a short space of time. She was never sure of what he was thinking, what opinion he had of her. At times Sally had the feeling he resented her for taking Jonah’s friendship away from him. At that precise moment he was smiling again and she decided to give him another chance to have a chat.  

I would have done better to show what was happening and allow the readers to draw their own conclusions. The middle sentence is completely redundant. I had already said that Sally finds Ewan’s confusing.                                                          

Compare with an extract from my published novel:  

Seth had learnt to tune in to the disappointed nuances of her voice, the flashes of annoyance in her eyes.
They were darting at him now, as she thanked him for the taxi ride.
“I hope you enjoyed the evening,” [Nicole] added.
“I did. Your friends are nice people.”
“I’m glad you liked them,” she continued sweetly, her nostrils opening wider as she inhaled. “You didn’t talk to them much.”
“Yeah, sorry, you know me. I’m not very good with people.”
“Unless you know them, of course,” she simpered. “But then, I suppose, we all do it.”
“I’m sorry.” Seth’s sensed a reproach. “I’ll do better next time.”

There is definitely more showing going on here and the readers can sense the confusion Seth is experiencing while trying to read Nicole’s mind and what she’s really thinking, without me having to tell them.

3. POV jumps. I used to do this a lot. In the aforementioned chapter I kept skipping from Sally’s point of view to Ewan’s and back again. Again, that leads to telling, as I’m describing what is happening from the outside, rather than showing the scene through one of the character’s eyes. Multiple POV is fine – I had three main POVs in my published novel - but they need to appear in separate sections/chapters, so that each scene is always seen just from one character’s POV.

4. Too many speech tags. He said, she asked, they replied… It’s easy to litter dialogue with them. Personally I find they slow down the pace. Speech tags are useful when it is necessary to specify who’s talking or we want to better describe how a line is delivered – as in the example above – but often I prefer to leave them out and describe what the characters are doing or what they look like instead. 

Here’s another example from Playing on Cotton Clouds:

“Well…” Aidan lowered his mug back on the table. “He’s not my son and not my brother either or my friend. A friend sticks around. For what he knows, I could be dead.”
“Oh, he knows you’re alive.” Mrs Johnson’s eyes twinkled. “He knows you come here to see me and that you are a good friend to me. I tell him about you and I think he misses you, like you miss him, if you’re honest with yourself. You always find a way to ask of him, when you come here.”
“No, I don’t.” Aidan hid his face behind the mug once more.

More effective.

So, here are four main points to work on to make what I still consider a cracking little story with well developed characters into a better book.

Have you any tips to give? Any mistake/bad habit you have corrected with time and experience?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Fiction or "Faction"?

I have started reading “The Red Queen” by Philippa Gregory, having read a few of her books and enjoyed them.

As I added the book to my “currently reading” shelf on Goodreads, I couldn’t help taking a look at some of the reviews left by other readers, and I was not surprised to find comments about the historical inaccuracy of Gregory’s novels. It’s not the first time I have come across this kind of criticism towards her books and I can understand them, to an extent.

Philippa Gregory’s books fall under the genre of “historical fiction” and to me that word – fiction – really sums up my expectations. Surely, if I wish to read historical facts I would get hold of  books and biographies written by historians rather than novelists. With that I would get accuracy, but probably a less well crafted story.

And that’s what it boils down to: storytelling.

For all her shortcomings in the “historical accuracy” camp, Gregory is excellent at weaving a compelling story that pulls you into the period and the characters’ mind. And that is what I expect from a writer of fiction.

What some readers seem to want is faction: a good story true to reality.

I am sure that in some instances that is possible to attain, but on the whole, truth and reality tend to be far less exciting that we are lead to believe and a good dose of artistic licence should be allowed in fiction, if it serves the purpose of making a story more interesting.

And this is the crunch: how far can fiction go when it comes to fiddling with the truth? And to what extent should facts get in the way of a story?

I don’t write historical fiction, but my contemporary novels often span through years and so a little period setting is required.

I normally research the years I’m tackling to add a little colour and realism to the story: who was in the news, what music were we listening to, which TV programmes people enjoyed watching and so on. I’m quite particular about it and make sure I’ve got the right detail for the right year or even month.

However, occasionally I have fiddled a little with the truth.

One example I can recall is a dialogue between two characters in my last novel – Playing on Cotton Clouds – where reference is made by one of them to an event in the news. The reference worked a treat in the conversation, made it more colourful and even funny. Unfortunately the event happened three months after the time in which the conversation takes place, so realistically, they could not have mentioned it. It bugged me a little, as I really liked the line. I thought of removing it, for the sake of accuracy, but then, on second thought, I decided the story was better served by the line being there and left it.

Luckily for me, not many people will notice the incongruence and I probably got away with it. But if some zealous reader should point it out to me, I’d reply that the book is fiction and so it doesn’t really matter that much if I brought a news item forward a few months.

It’s fiction, not faction.

So what do you think? Should fiction remain faithful to the truth no matter what or can allowances be made?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A Review - The Stone Roses And The Resurrection of British Pop: The Reunion Edition

The newest edition of this "must-have-book" for any fan, not only brings the tale up to date to include the long awaited reunion, but also beefs up the old chapters with new bits of interviews from the fab four and many associates, which were missing in the 1997 and 2001 editions.
I really enjoyed it, even if Robb's style is a little bit too prone to repetition. But the subject matter more than compensate for the shortfalls, as well as the fact that Robb has a first account knowledge of the story, which lacks in other biographies of the Roses, he was there to witness the rise of the band.
And that is the best part of the book.
The later part is skimmed over a bit too quickly, without really adding anything much new to what we already know about the reunion and how it came about. 

The solo careers could also have done with a bit more in-depth details.
Still, it remains a classic for Stone Roses and music fans.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Seth - An extract from Playing on Cotton Clouds

 Three o’clock in the morning.
The words on the page had started a funny dance, jumping up and down, messing up the orderly lines of the fine print, switching places and mocking him as Seth tried to get them to stay still, so he could get to the end of the paragraph.
He was sure they were laughing.
Seth leaned his elbows on the desk, in the dim light of the lamp resting in one corner of the work space, among the piles of books and papers that covered it. He held his head and inhaled deeply.
Three o’clock in the morning.
Thoughts of sleep were clouding his brain. He tried to shake them, to stop them from taking over, fighting tiredness by squeezing it out of his head with his hands. 
 One more hour… two at the most. He had made it without sleep for nearly twenty, a couple more would not kill him.
It will kill me.
Maybe he could grab an hour…
Seth passed his hands over his face.
The night before he had fallen asleep for five, when he only had meant to have a short nap. He had woken up at midnight and had just kept going since then, all through the morning, the afternoon and evening, well into the night, surviving on coffee, water and pills.
Dina had come to his aid around four o’clock in the afternoon, when he thought he was just about ready to collapse.
“I’ve got them,” she told him, extracting a white, cylindrical, small plastic container from the pocket of her military green jacket. With the clothes she wore, her short, bleached spiky hair, the lack of make up on her pale freckled face, there was very little femininity in Dina’s appearance, so much so, that the five boys who shared with her the old student apartment had grown to think of her as one of the guys.
Seth had closed his fingers around the small box, the rattling sound it made playing like music to his ears.
“Great, you’re a saviour. How much do I owe you?”
“Twelve quid.”
“Twelve? It was eight last time.”
“Look, mate, those are prescription. It ain’t easy to get them without one. If you want them, it’s twelve quid.”
“Alright.” Seth stopped her explanations to hand her the cash.
He went back to his room and swallowed a couple, before sitting at his desk to reprise his studies.
It had become a routine, in the past couple of months. Coffee was great, but the pills would keep him going for hours. He would not feel tired or hungry or needing to relieve himself. He could just sit and go through the work he had neglected for too long. 
He really had been given a prison sentence.
He had been cooped up in his room for weeks with very little sleep or food. If hadn’t been for Dina and her miracle pills, he would not have made it, though Seth suspected he had probably turned a dangerous corner. In the last week or so he had found himself taking them more often or in larger doses. Alarm bells had gone off in his head and he had forced himself to close them in a drawer and forget about them. But he had already developed some form of dependence, whether physical or psychological, he was not sure. He just needed to take one more. And then one after that. As soon as he stopped taking them, tiredness would assault him and punch him into submission, rendering him a wreck in permanent slumbers.
Seth lifted his head.
He had fallen asleep at the desk, his head slumped on the open book, and the clock on the wall just above him was now telling him it was quarter past four in the morning.
Slowly, he straightened up. He only needed one more hour… two at the most.
He opened the drawer on his right and out came the white plastic container. For a few minutes he held it in his hand, waiting for his brain to reconnect with his thoughts. Then he unscrewed the top and dropped a pill on the palm of his hand.
One more.
The last one.
He’d sleep tomorrow night.
“I swear.”
Seth placed it on his tongue, tilted his head backward and swallowed.

find Kissing the Cotton Clouds on and