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Year of the Rat. ‘Beautifully written with a dry sense of hum...


In the blink of an eye, we’ve sailed through the stormy (and seriously skint) days of Blue January and are on the cusp of Red February – aka St Valentine’s Day – the silly season of 3 course set meals at double the usual price.

All too soon the loved-up Mrs Smug McSmugersons will be proudly waving their expensive bouquets hand-delivered-to-the-office-at-triple-the-usual-cost in everyone else’s faces. And those of us that couldn’t give a monkeys about all that romantic clap-trap will be forced to over-egg our ‘couldn’t give a monkeys’ attitude to prove we really couldn’t give a monkeys until our colleagues are convinced we aren’t ‘protesting too much’… God, its exhausting isn’t it?

So, here at @TeamBATC HQ we’ve decided to do things a little bit differently to celebrate St Valentine and all the lovey-dovey sentiment associated with him.

As friends of our little book community might know, 14th February 2015 will be our 4th birthday (happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us, happy birth….oh, you get the gist), so instead of buying a bunch of roses, eating a box of Roses chocolate and drinking a gallon of Rosé till we pass out, we’re gonna be all about these 4 Things we Love instead.

Thing 1 - #ReadWomen

At the beginning of last year, Joanna Walsh wrote a cracking article, encouraging us all to take a stand against The Man, and start championing the female authors who’s books we adore.

I wrote at the time, that as someone who has almost exclusively read novels by female authors for 30 odd years, I felt as well placed as the next (wo)man to throw my two pennysworth into the mix.

Given I am a reader of ’women’s fiction’ who also happens to work for a publisher – I can see all the sides of all the arguments surrounding both the terms used to describe certain books written by and (predominately) for women, and the covers they are given – and how both things can massively affect the review coverage these books receive, and how they are perceived in the hearts and minds of the literary community.

And these arguments certainly haven’t stopped.  They are still all over social media, traditional media, the author community, and the boardrooms and staff rooms of publishing houses and bookshops up and down the land.

So, to help keep it all going, here at @TeamBATC we want to know the female authors you are most looking forward to reading this year.  Not the books themselves particularly, and certainly not limited to new books being published this year, but a hidden treasure maybe, a book from yesteryear that has been hidden in your TBR pile waiting to be discovered, a debut novelist you’ve heard a lot about or an author you’ve always felt would be right up your boulevard, but you haven’t taken the first step towards her yet.  For me, those women are Jane Austen, Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Liane Moriarty and Victoria Hislop….  so, why not get involved on 14th February and tweet us a photo of the book you’re reading, using the hashtag #ReadWomen.

Thing 2 - #ReviewWomen

Earlier this week Hannah Beckerman posted an article up on The Huffington Post that sent The Twitters into a total tizzy, asking the question ‘Just what on earth does a commercial female writer need to do in order to be taken seriously?’  In the piece she posed the very valid point that

“…when David Nicholls writes Us - a very funny and touching book about a disastrous family trip around Europe – it not only gets reviewed across the spectrum but is also long listed for the Booker Prize. But when Jojo Moyes writes The One Plus One - also a funny and touching book about a family road trip – it doesn’t garner a single broadsheet review, despite her phenomenal success with Me Before You….”

So, Hannah has suggested we visibly, noisily and collectively start talking about those books we have enjoyed, that have been written by women.  Every time you review a book by a female writer – whatever the genre – whether on social media, on your blog, in your local or national newspaper, use the #ReviewWomen2015 hashtag. Let’s all help make 2015 the year fiction by women gets reviewed – everywhere, across the spectrum – more than ever before.  Let’s take to the hills, with our loud hailers and our placards, on 14th February and shout it out, loud and proud.

Thing 3 – #booksaremybag

Launched in 2013, Books Are My Bag was a fabulous nationwide campaign to celebrate bookshops that reached its crescendo last October with a brilliant 3 day festival and Big Bookshop Parties being held up and down the country.

But don’t be fooled.  It’s not over till the fat lady sings.  Many of our high street bookshops are still under threat, and it is our duty, as book lovers, to do all we can to support them.  Recent reports show that the number of bookshops have dramatically fallen over the past five years to just 2,547 – and that there are now more car dealerships in the UK than bookshops…. what a terrible terrible thought.

So, why not pop into your local bookstore this weekend, or next weekend, or on St Valentine’s Day or even on your way home tonight?  Pick their brains.  Peruse their shelves.  Attend one the fabulous events sure to be taking place there this month.  Buy a book…

Or if you can’t get to the shops, or prefer to order online, why not use the services of hive to buy a very special gift for a very special loved one this Valentines Day.

Thing 4 – #WorldBookNight

Today’s the last day to apply to be a volunteer, so you’ll need to get in quick if you want to be a book giver-outer on WBN, the annual celebration of reading run by The Reading Agency.  There is a cracking list of books this year, each one chosen by the Committee and volunteers, so in anticipation of 23rd April 2015, why not spend this month gearing up for it.  Who needs a Eurovision Party, when you can start planning your very own World Book Night Party?  I’m thinking fancy bunting, book themed cocktails, a group of like-minded chums, chewing the fat and chatting about books.  What a perfect night.  

So, there it is people, the list of 4 Things We Love most here at TeamBATC HQ in February.  But, just in case George Clooney was wondering, we also love big bunches of roses and big boxes of Roses chocolate and ice cold bottles of Rosé.  You know, just in case he was wondering….


Yesterday saw the eBook publication day of our first ever #digitaloriginals novel – the brilliant The Two of Us by Andy Jones!  Obviously we had to celebrate, so in typical @TeamBATC style we headed down to our friends Bea’s of Bloomsbury with 100 red balloons (if you’ve read the book already, you’ll know why!), 100 FREE eBook download codes from the lovely chaps over at Kobo, and a tray of 100 special Valentine cupcakes….




Thank you to everyone who came down to celebrate with us, and if you haven’t already bought a copy of this wonderful, heartbreaking and emotional story about Fisher & Ivy – love, life and everything in between, you really, really should!  It has already captivated everyone here at Books and the City HQ – but don’t just take our word for it…

Quote Sarah Dorward Goodreads 30 Jan

Quote Lovereading 31 Jan

Quote Louise Candlish 1 Feb

Quote Celeste goodreads 2 Feb

Quote ireadnovels goodreads 3 Feb

Quote Gavin goodreads 4 Feb

Quote Sarah Harper Lovereading 5 Feb

Quote Rachel Hall Lovereading 6 Feb

Quote Olivia Morris 9 Feb

Quote SJV 11 Feb


Roll up, roll up!  Another day, another DigitalOriginals acquisition to announce… and it’s gonna be big.  HUGE!  Here’s Clare Hey with all the news….

Heidi Swain author pic

“Much like buses, you wait for one Books and the City Digital Originals announcement and then several come along at once. Still giddy from announcing that we’re publishing Holly Hepburn’s Star and Sixpence series (and many thanks to those women with taste at Novelicious for picking it as one of their top ten books for 2015!), we’re delighted to announce another brand new author to Books and the City.  So, drumroll please… we’re delighted to welcome Heidi Swain and her brilliant novel The Cherry Tree Café to Books and the City!  It’s a beautiful story about Lizzie Dixon whose life feels as though it’s fallen apart: instead of the marriage proposal she was hoping for from her boyfriend, she is unceremoniously dumped, and her job is about to go the same way. So, there’s only one option: to go back home to the village she grew up in and to try to start again. Her best friend Jemma is delighted Lizzie has come back home. She has just bought a little cafe and needs help in getting it ready for the grand opening and Lizzie’s sewing skills are just what she needs. So, with a new venture and a new home, things are looking much brighter for Lizzie. But can she get over her broken heart, and will an old flame reignite a love from long ago…? If you love the Great British Bake-Off or the Great British Sewing Bee, then The Cherry Tree Café is for you!

Books and the City will be publishing at the beginning of August 2015. Keep your eyes peeled for updates, news, posts from Heidi, and follow Heidi on twitter @HeidiJoSwain or visit her blog h-writersblog.blogspot.com.

We can’t wait for you to read The Cherry Tree Café. Roll on 2015 – Team BATC is ready for you!”


I can’t BEGIN to tell you how excited we are here at Books and the City HQ to announce our second acquisition under the DigitalOriginals banner!

Here is an update from Clare Hey, and more news will follow soon!

TM2‘Here at S&S we’re always looking for great new writers and brilliant books for you to enjoy.  And so I am delighted to announce a new addition to our Books and the City DigitalOriginals programme which I know you’re going to love! It’s a series of ebook novellas set around a lovely little village pub called The Star and Sixpence, which two sisters inherit only to discover that it’s not quite the idyllic dream they thought it might be…  and moving to the countryside is not quite what they imagined either. Between nosy neighbours, a pub that’s seen better days, and their pasts coming back to bite them, life at The Star and Sixpence isn’t going to be a walk in the park. The author is the very talented Holly Hepburn – you can follow her on twitter @HollyH_author.  She’s busily putting the finishing touches to the first instalment, called Snowdrops at The Star and Sixpence, coming out in winter 2015.  A long time to wait, but it will be worth it!  There will be lots of news and updates from Holly here and we know you’re going to love her.’


masterclassOn Saturday 15th November we held our very first (but hopefully not our last!) Creative Writing Masterclass here at Books and the City HQ, aimed specifically at writers of commercial women’s fiction.  The day was split into two, with morning one-to-one sessions with editors Jo Dickinson and Clare Hey and afternoon panels for a wider audience with uber literary agent Lizzy Kremer, bestselling author Milly JohnsonPeter Saxton (Publisher Liaison Manager at Waterstones Head Office), Isabelle Broom (Book Reviewer at Heat Magazine) and Lindsey Mooney (Content Lead UK & Ireland  from Kobo).

We all had a fabulous time, our Panel Sessions were brilliant – with some cracking hints, tips and advice from the very best in the business, all topped off with fizz and cake at the end of the day.  Perfect.  Here are just a few of my favourite snaps from the day…








As a very special treat, our VIP Guest Milly Johnson has kindly jotted down her Top 20 Tips for aspiring authors…

  1. Don’t procrastinate.  Dive into that book and make a start on it.  Feel the fear and do it. The first 2000 words of a book are easy, the next 98,000 are harder but every word you write is one nearer to that 100,000 target.
  2. It doesn’t matter what routine you have writing a book; just make sure you have one. Find a system that works for you.  There is no right or wrong way.
  3. Every chapter should progress a plot.  There should be no ‘treading water’ just to make up the word count.
  4. Never start your book with a description – your reader will be comatose before line 10.
  5. Regional dialect can be really annoying.  If you need to use it, sprinkle odd words through the dialogue as if you are seasoning a soup with sage.  You don’t need much of it to know it’s there.
  6. Beware of sloppy research.  If you don’t know something find it out and don’t guess it – you will alienate readers.
  7. If you don’t respect your writing time, no one else will.  If you are working, your friends and family should treat you as if you are in an external office. Get them used to thinking like that.
  8. Make sure that when you are writing dialogue, your characters listen to each other and react to what is being said as they would in real life.
  9. Always carry a notepad to record interesting words or plots or thoughts or observations.  Memories are unreliable and distort.
  10. Writer’s block?  Don’t do a crossword or listen to your iPad or anything that engages your brain.  Do some ironing, go for a walk – something that frees up your brain and lets it roam, not occupies it.
  11. Read.  Always have time to read.  Read for pleasure and sometimes read analytically.  You’ll pick up so much vocabulary and style without even noticing.
  12. Beware that sometimes characters develop a mind of their own and however much you try to write them doing something, they rebel and say ‘I wouldn’t do this.’  It sounds bonkers but it happens.  Listen to the monsters you have created.
  13. Sometimes big chunks of your work has to be cut out because it doesn’t fit anymore. Better that than have to force it to fit because it won’t read right.  Nothing is ever wasted when you’re a writer – it will come in elsewhere.  The phrase is called ‘Killing your darlings.’
  14. Write what you want to write and not what you think will sell.  Chances are if a new craze comes along, by the time your book is done, the hype will have died down about it.  And don’t pander to foreign markets either by doing things like forcing a transatlantic romance when your heart isn’t really in it.  If you’re bored writing, it reads that way. If your home market sales are strong, that is the best way for the foreign markets to show interest. They like success stories.
  15. If you are writing to an agent – keep your introductory letter relevant.  If you won a regional prize for writing – that’s relevant.  Telling an agent that you are a middle-aged housewife who loves doing jigsaws is not.  Don’t even bother saying that you want a book deal more than you want to breathe – that’s always taken as standard.
  16. And if you read that an agent should be initially approached with an introductory letter, don’t send them a full manuscript.  They won’t think you are an admirable maverick, they’ll think you’re an arrogant idiot who can’t follow a simple instruction!
  17. Try to make your book fit nicely into a genre box for marketing purposes.  A woman who travels through time and has an Edwardian vampire lover whom she accidentally murders with a poisonous mushroom stroganoff… well is that sci-fi, romance, crime, historical or romcom?  That will cause everyone a headache, from the booksellers trying to place it on a shelf to the people trying to find it in shops.
  18. If you get a publishing deal, network network network.  Join the RNA, meet other authors, tweet, facebook – get your name out there.  Write articles for the local newspaper for free (you have to do everything for free in the beginning).  Get in touch with local WI people – they are always looking for speakers.  They pay you, feed you scones and buy your books – and spread the word to other WIs.
  19. If you are published, register as soon as you know what your ISBN number is for PLR, Irish PLR and ALCS (authors licensing and collecting service).  It can be a nice chunk of bonus money arriving in your bank account every year.
  20. Do not go into this job expecting to be an overnight success.  It is very hard work, mad, underpaid for years and you are always under pressure to be better than your last book.  And if you thrive on that kind of challenge – you’ll never want to do anything else because this is the best job in the world.

Digital Originals Font (4)

On 15th July my inbox went into meltdown as #digitaloriginal submissions aplenty pinged through at a rate of knots.  If there was a Reading Challenge associated with our #oneday initiative to find the next eBook star of the commercial women’s fiction world, Clare Hey and I would be up on the podium holding aloft a well-deserved Gold medal, as we probably read more novels in the space of six weeks than many people read in a year. 

It has to be said, we had to make some difficult decisions regarding the number of novels we’re in a position to acquire as part of this project, as we were completely overwhelmed with entries, but we’ve now responded to everyone who took the time to send us their novel.

Many of the novels we read showed potential, but weren’t quite what we are looking for at this time.  Many had an interesting hook and a good cast of characters but didn’t quite fit into the genre.  We read a handful of novels by authors with a strong and unique voice, but ultimately the story didn’t grab us in the way we want to be grabbed. We sincerely wish those authors the very best of luck for the future, and we will be keeping a beady eye out to watch their careers flourish!  

Some made us both chuckle, or reach for a Kleenex – so we have emailed all of the authors of those novels with, what we hope will be, some useful and constructive feedback.

And a handful of novels blew us both away.  They were shared with the wider team and we invited those authors in to @TeamBATC HQ for a chat over a cup of tea and a biscuit.  

So thank you to everyone who submitted their novels. And watch this space for some brilliant new authors for you to fall in love with over the next few months. 



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The Two of Us Launches at Bea’s of Bloomsbury!
February 18, 2015  |  Features  |  Comments are off

DIGITAL ORIGINALS NEWS – ANDY JONES Last week saw the eBook publication day of our first ever #digitaloriginals novel – the brilliant The Two of Us byAndy Jones!  Obviously we had to celebrate, so in typical @TeamBATC style we headed down to our friends Bea’s of Bloomsbury with 100 red balloons (if you’ve read the book already, you’ll …