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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Awards, prizes and competitions

Good news for 'Song at Dawn' Literature Wales has mailed me to say it's eligible for the 'Wales Book of the Year 2011' and has asked for 5 copies of the book for the judges. I am chuffed to bits for three reasons; Wales is my adopted country and if it didn't rain all the time, I would still be living there, so I am proud to be Welsh-enough. Secondly, it is a hot award to be in the running for, and thirdly, I take it as a big compliment when someone invites me to submit my writing for anything. It happens to me now and then with poetry that I get asked if I'll contribute to an anthology, and it's almost like being a real writer when it happens. I've been published every which way except bestselling (yet) but I still hate the process of submission and rejection, whether to publishers/literary agents, or for competitions and awards. However, what you don't enter, you can't win, so if I come across an opportunity for any of my writing, I consider it.

What makes the Wales Book of the Year so hot, in my view? 1) great, varied company on that list of books entered 2) my kind of prize 3) if you're eligible, simple submission

Awards, competitions and prizes are good for publicity and make you feel good if you win this particular lottery but you'd be surprised how often 1,2 and 3 add up to a rip-off or just a predictable waste of your time.

1) Your name on any list of authors is publicity but you do get judged by the company you keep. The Wales Book of the Year  authors are a mix of people I've never heard of, a couple of big names and people who've been to my house for tea or shared a dire performance at a Pembrokeshire pub. It's amazing how many people feel the need to go for a pee when I reach a particularly moving part of a long poem. When we poets go on the road, audience response can reach new lows.

I think my worst performance was on the 3rd day of a festival in a field in mid-Wales. I'd been paid to give a poetry workshop but, it being the third day and all, by the time I tramped across the mud and past the hippy teepees, I was almost high myself from passive smoking. I found the 'creative tent' and when some guy asked if I had some paper, I thought I had a customer, but no, he just wanted to roll his own. As a feeble attempt to earn my pay, I went into the tea tent, stood on a chair and declaimed 'For you I tamed nine tigers.' There was no rapturous applause but at least I wasn't stoned. Everyone else was. I got down from my chair and squelched back to the car, and home.

I like hanging out with authors whose very names fill me with awe. It feels good to say that my poems were published in the same anthology as Margaret Atwood's and there are writers for whom I have just as much respect, on that Literature Wales list. What's more, they're part of my history.

John Barnie, then Editor of Planet, rejected the first poem I sent him and wrote screeds of constructive criticism on his rejection reply, with the invitation to send more. Going the extra mile makes him a special editor and he did publish some of my poems. I met Ifor Thomas at one of those Pembroke pub performances and I've never forgotten what he suggested to do with clingfilm, nor the fact that his toilet was too depressed to clean itself after his girlfriend left. Herbert Williams and I did school workshops together and compared notes on the 14year old thug who wrote his heart out for us strangers. It was Herbert who won the Cinnamon Press Novella Award the year one of my manuscripts, 'Crystal Balls',  was shortlisted. And if you want a big name, try Gwyneth Lewis, Wales' first national poet, just as well know for her autobiographical 'Sunbathing in the Rain: a cheerful book about depression'

I miss the writing scene in Wales. It is alive and inspiring, for both readers and writers, in English and in Welsh. So it is important to me to be Welsh-enough to join that list. Being there is already an Award. Although actually my name isn't there yet and I've checked 53 times today so far.

2) The Wales Book of the Year prize is big money (and a trophy). I would like to win lots of money (trophy optional) because money would give my writing status and big prize money attracts good competition (See 1) Also because I don't have enough money not to enjoy having more.

You'd be surprised how many competitions have prizes I'd pay not to win. I'm sure there are people who want to win 4 months writing retreat in a Benedictine monastery but I am not one of them.

My favourite prize to go after used to be 'publication' but now I'm self-publishing I no longer want to have my baby published as a pamphlet by a 19th century printing press in Newcastle (no offence to Geordies - I've seen equal historically accurate and unsaleable publications in Yorkshire)

3) Eligibility. It took me a while to realise that 99.99% of awards and competitions for writers have regulations specifically drawn up to exclude me. I am either too old or too young; the wrong race, nationality or religion (lacking any); resident of the wrong country; self-published, or having a publisher in the wrong country. When I do fit the criteria, it usually turns out that was for the year before and they've been changed to make sure I can't enter. As self-publishing becomes a choice for more and more authors, rather than a last desperate attempt to get your Mum to read your book, I think awards and prizes will change but many Awards require publisher nomination.

The daft thing about this is that anyone can set up as a publisher, and many have, and happily bring out his/her own books. One writer even posed as her own Literary Agent to add gravitas to her book, which became a bestseller (after she spent 10,000 pounds sterling on marketing and, in a year off paid work, visited bookshops all over the UK claiming she was a local author to get her book onto the shelves - this was in the days when there were still bookshops).

If you are eligible, you then check out the submission requirements. I'm happy to send a book or five, if they're going to be read as part of a serious award or competition, but it does cost money, Small publishers do not check awards and competitions but will enter books for you if you pay. This does cost money. Some of the biggest prizes in the writing business demand not only books but cash upfront from publishers. This can cost very very big money. At one stage there was a prize which guaranteed big sales from the major publicity and bookshop commitment (= future money) in return for something like 12,000 pounds. I tried to find the details on this but I think it's a prize that was discontinued and I can't check up the facts now.

Small presses keep going by charging entry for competitions; are you willing to pay 20 pounds to get someone to even read your manuscript? Your choice. Big prizes often charge big money so that only big publishers (or rich writers) can afford to submit books.

This is why I like the Wales Book of the Year Award. If you are eligible, you submit 5 books and 3 judges choose the best. The mystery remains as to what happens to the extra 2 books. Is this in case 2 get eaten by the dog/run through the washing-machine?

Finally, if you've submitted work for an award or competition, CHECK THE PRIZE-GIVING DATE! Do NOT book a holiday in Venice for exactly the same date on which you win two prizes in the same damn international writing competition otherwise, because you wish to stay married, you will be mooching along the Grand Canal instead of wearing a strapless dress and tearfully thanking your parents, said husband and the dog, in front of London's finest.

Of course you're not going to win. It's a lottery. But sometimes you do. I won the prize for children's writing and the prize for journalism in the London Writers' inc annual competition one year and missed the ceremony. On the other hand, the prize money wouldn't have paid for the journey, or even the posh dress, and I did get to be in an anthology with very good company.

I'll just check whether my name has gone onto that Literature Wales list yet.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Writing my new novel

Me at work



I am not Amanda Hocking. She is 27 years old and a self-published kindle millionaire (book sales, not money), the epitome of success in the new publishing world. I am none of these things but neither am I troubled by these aspects of her life and career as a writer. What sent me into traumatic self-doubt was reading an article about her stating that she writes a book in 2-4 weeks. Is this one of the new 'short books' in vogue? Not according to amazon data. The two of her books I looked up kicked in at over 300 pages in print version.

I reckon this makes her 6-100 times more productive than I am, depending on whether she keeps writing at this pace, one book after another. If you want to make money, it is definitely better to write like Amanda Hocking than the way I do, and the only advice I can give you is to go and read Amanda Hocking's blog. But there are many different reasons for writing and many different ways to write, without even starting a debate about quality, so I'll let you in on my secret life over the next year.

After Christmas, I'm going to start writing my next novel, and I expect to finish it by the end of 2012 and revise it in 2013. Why don't I just start, rather than set a rough starting date? Because once I start, I become immersed in the world of my novel, obsessive, protective of the 3 hours a day (roughly) that I dedicate to my writing, obsessive, irritated by interruption, contemptous of any trivial concerns relating to the 21st century, obsessive. You get the idea. Of all this, the only really bad thing about writing a book is that it stops me writing a different book.

Let's assume I will live and write for another 26 years (An online quiz told me that my life expectancy was 82 so it seems reasonable to base calculations around that). On average, I take a year to write a book and a year in between books for research/brain food/revision/publication/marketing; longer for a historical novel because the research is a bigger job. This means I will probably only write 13 more books, and that's assuming I don't get the dreaded writer's block. I have hundreds of ideas for books written on scruffy scraps - bits of envelope, shopping lists, minutes of educational meetings, hotel bills - all stuffed in a drawer of my desk. When I start writing a book, it is a bigger commitment than marriage. All right, perhaps not quite as big a commitment as marriage, but it cuts out so many other emotional adventures you could have had. At least for me it does.

Three years ago, I was ready to start writing a novel but I could only narrow my favourite ideas down to five and it hurt to choose. I outlined the plots to my husband and said 'Which do you fancy?' He said 'The one about the troubadour girl with the big white dog.' And so 'Song at Dawn' started. The idea for that book was sparked by my reading for pleasure an American book on women troubadours, which stated in the introduction, 'It was rumoured that a female troubadour toured the south of France with a large white dog.' How could I not want to write that story, given my relationship with Pyreneans! Another quote that stuck in my mind was 'Troubadours were the rock stars of the middle ages.' And so I imagined Dragonetz and of course fell in love with him myself.

I have thought again about the claims of all those neglected ideas in my desk but Dragonetz' hold is too strong and I need to go back to the 12th century. I have another story to tell.

My TOP TEN Writing Tips,  for Myself (because everyone is different)
1. Know what you're writing about.
That's not the same as 'write about what you know'. I'm writing about the 12th century and I knew little about this period before I researched 'Song at Dawn'. I also like to know the places where my story is set and if I haven't been there, I look up maps, read travel books, bring the place to life in my head. I have no idea why it matters to me to be as realistic as possible but it does.

2. Know what it is you're writing.
If you're writing a full novel, it helps to know that it's likely to be 80,000 words or more and to have some idea of how the story in your head will play out in that number of words. If you're writing a minisaga of under 500 words for a competition, it's a little different. When I have an idea I just know whether it's going to be a poem, a play, a short story or a novel - I've written and published all of them. Experience helps, as does reading widely and learning your craft. Writers' groups are good, whether online or down the local bookshop once a month (like we do). Make the crucial decisions of a) Point of view (1st or 3rd person, or even (rarely) 2nd?); whose viewpoint to start with and are you going to switch viewpoint? b) Tense (past or the increasingly popular present tense? c) Structure (chronological, flashbacks,dual time-line?) - so many choices. Now you're ready to begin, or rather to spend hours on the beginning, because everyone knows the beginning is crucial.

3. Know when to plan and when not to.
I often have a whole scene in my head but a sketchy idea of before and after. Sometimes that scene has changed by the time the plot gets there, sometimes I cut it but often, magically, the scene works. I jot down brief reminders of such scenes, or parts of plot, or character background and keep a whole jumble of notes in a Word file,  that I use and edit as I work. Stories simmer in my head, sometimes for years, and then suddenly take on the structure needed. If everything is planned before you write, your story is dead. If nothing is planned, there's no suspense and you don't get a 'page-turner.'

4. Let the characters live and breathe.
One of the elements that creates a real story is when your characters insist on behaving in ways you hadn't planned. You don't write dialogue; your characters really speak. Those unexpected turns are part of the pleasure of writing not just part of the pleasure in reading. And that goes for all your characters. You have to get into the skin of vile people as well as attractive ones and it can be a very disturbing experience.

5. Don't judge it or revise it; write it until it's finished.
One day you'll think it's crap, the next day you'll think it's brilliant. It's neither. An old piece of advice that I took to heart was 'Don't get it right, get it written.' I know that I get into the flow of writing and my right brain takes over so I'm not even conscious of writing or of time - I'm living my story. Judging and revising need your left brain and that interrupts the flow. One thing I find awkward writing a historical novel is being stuck on a period detail while I'm really into the story. Sometimes I'll look it up online at the time but often I'll just underline that bit and go back to it later to add/delete/change whatever I wasn't sure about.

6. Don't show what you're writing to anyone until it's finished. 
I used to make my poor husband read each chapter hot off the press. The pressure on both of us was horrible. I knew from his face when he didn't like something even if he learned how touchy I was about criticism while I was in mid-creation. Usually, he reads a book in about 6 hours so reading one over a year, a chapter every few weeks, was impossible, even without being expected to make wonderful comments and be constructive in any criticism. It's a miracle we're still together but now I do have the self-discipline to wait a year for my first reader - and my first reader is still the same one, who's been with me from my first published poem, 26 years ago.

7. Don't submit other books to publishers while you're in mid-creation. 
Of course I can take rejection! I have drawers full of them! I use them constructively to improve my work, to motivate me when I know an editor wrote a personal comment, and I target publishers to try again! Yeah, right.  Not only do I hate them but they stop me writing, sometimes for a week or two. They wasted my creative time to make all those stupidly complicated submission details, tailored to that particular publisher, and it's usually obvious that no-one even looked at what I sent. A friend of mine hand-delivered his MS (which is a great book!) to a London literary agent and received it back by post in the self-addressed, stamped envelope the afternoon of the same day.

8. Pace yourself and avoid brain-drain activities 
This is one reason I love photography. I can write and then shoot. They are different activities. Shooting is so much of the present moment, instant results, instant feedback. I can go out walking the dog (with or without camera) and it doesn't stop me writing. But reviewing books, running and preparing my writers' group, marketing my published books, and probably blogging - we'll see! - are activities that drain my writing energy. So I put my book first and catch up on other things in the in-between-books year. I am a morning person and I prefer to write for about three hours in the morning, after breakfast and dog-walking, every day of the week I can.

9. Stop writing when you know what is going to happen next. This is my favourite tip because it makes me happy when I write and I'm sure it prevents writer's block. I stop writing for the day at a point when I know exactly what I'm going to write next. Sometimes I write a note to myself about the next passage. I really look forward to writing what I already have in my head and the next day I can't wait to get going. If I get stuck, I work something out before I stop writing for the day, always.

10. Enjoy it. Laugh at your own jokes. As my husband and son tell me, someone has to. Be proud of what you've achieved in writing it at all. If it's any good, that's a bonus. Half the bestselling books published are crap in my view so who's to say what's good and what isn't?

11. Revise it. I know, I said 10 tips, but the 11th is the essential that no-one ever wants to do. You can pay as many pro editors as you like but only one person knows what your book should be like and that's you, so stop moaning and get back to work. It is much better to leave some time before revising your writing, whether it's a poem, a play or a novel. You will love your baby one day, hate it the next and you need distance to use your left brain and really work on it. Not just the spelling and punctuation - you can pay someone to do that. No, the pain is where you find inconsistencies of plot, character or just detail. Then there are awkwardly written passages that could be better.

Do your best and then let your baby go out into the world, to have its own adventures.

I never read books on how to write in case I find out I don't know how to write. However, while I was playing the authonomy game, I met the Impeccable Editor. Her advice is excellent and as long as her book is posted on authonomy, the opening chapters are here for free. I'm guessing Impeccable is a woman but that might just be my innate prejudice. I know for sure that Impeccable would be able to improve this Post because she is that rare being, an Editor

while I'm a writer and this is hot off the press so it is full of mistakes and I think it's great.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

A hero olive cheeseball and friends

The cheeseballs really are rolling - all 6 variations that I uploaded were accepted by the inspectors. Which would you choose to go beside the recipe in a magazine? Feel free to choose or critique in a comment on the post. The answer will be on my Blog as soon after the 16th December as the buyer chooses. You can check out the competition here


Note that the bottom two have my hero olive cheeseball, neatly cut in two to show the olive and pepper stuffing. I didn't realise when I was shooting but unfortunately the two halves look like mad glass eyes on a lumpy brown monster so some of my images would be great for Hallowe'en or a children's party but not for a serious magazine. If I'd had more time or energy, I'd have exaggerated the effect and shot some crazy ones too. Instead I have some that are just bad.

The close-up I posted last time was accepted too so that's number 6

1.



2.


3. Eye level with hero olive cheeseball



4. tall person view with hero olive cheeseball



5.


The deadline for the shoot isn't until 16th December so there is bound to be some competition by then. There's a lot of cameraderie amongst the food shooters who meet up in the Forums to respond to recipe requests so I usually play nice and post images early if I've had them accepted. This can backfire, like the time I posted before inspection and had straight rejections. Ouch! And obviously you're showing your hand so any little genius idea you've added might spark a better idea to trump yours.

I did shoot the pork stew too, for the same buyer, so I'll post those but I won't share the olive balls until nearer the deadline. I'm hoping no-one else will pick up on the New Year party favours idea so why make it easy for them? Of course if the competition read my blog, they're well ahead, and they can always check out my portfolio (Sort by Age to see the most recent). The truth is, the other food shooters are all so good they don't need my help but a little paranoia is good for business. Sometimes, the first images posted are just so good that everyone else wonders why they should bother but it's always interesting to compare takes on the same recipe.

There are 30,000 photographers selling over 8 million photos on istockphoto.com
so competition isn't just fierce, it's life-threatening for those who make stock their livelihood. I'm glad I'm not one of them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Designer Spotlight kudos for my book jacket

BUY book here

Woke up to some amazing news. I've been awarded 5 free credits to spend on photos and a new icon to go beside my silver canister on istock. My jacket design for 'Song at Dawn'  has made it to istock's Design Spotlight as the design of the week for other artists to view, rate and comment. That part is a bit scary but my shoulders are broad enough and I can certainly learn from constructive criticism. I love designing book jackets and this one was a real labour of love.

To make the design, I bought 6 images from istockphoto and used 1 of my own. The separate images and photographers can be seen on the Design Spotlight. Many thanks to
PetrMalyshev
VikaValter
kkgas
big-dan
matejmm
tunart
 for their superb images.

I cropped, isolated and combined the images, each one in a different layer in Photoshop. The key moment in composition was when I flipped the girl and all of a sudden, it all worked. I loved the magnetic gaze of the Tuareg from the moment I saw the photo and I can see the characters in my novel coming alive on this jacket, giving the combination of romance, adventure and medieval ambience that I was after. It's amazing how many photos of people in medieval costume just look like photos of people posing in medieval costume but the people I chose all seemed to me to have real presence. I realise that the Tuareg was not intended as a medieval persona but such traditional costume is timeless. My problem with the Tuareg was that the top of his head was cropped and I had to reconstruct his headgear. I also had to take the warrior tattoos off the knight's face - too Celtic for my place and period.

The last touch on the artwork was to change the colour completely from the original images - the cameo of the guard was in blue, the girl was in blue. Colorizing not only gave the ambience I wanted, it also integrated the different elements to make them part of the same story.

I used lulu's cover wizard to upload front and back covers, omitting the spine, sized from a previous book jacket of the same size. This left the spine as plain colour. The ISBN was automatically added to the back cover and I then downloaded the correctly sized pdf of the full jacket and, using masks and layers with my original design, I revealed the spine area and adapted its size a tad to make a homogeneous design. I then uploaded this to lulu as an advanced all-in-one design.

lulu does give exact measurements to create an all-in-one design but I was concerned about the exact requirement for the size of the ISBN. Working in this manner I was guaranteed the correct size of cover and ISBN.

First draft of the design, from the free comps you can download from istock, before I chose a different girl, flipped her round and changed all the colours








Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Olive balls ready to roll

Basic olive balls, straight from the oven and straight from camera
The olive balls are cooked, they look good to me and actually they taste good (that's one less for the shoot). Great party food. I have all the props ready to play with, minus the extra stuffed olives, which I was going to use as background ingredients but I forgot and ate them.

Technical detail
The buyer likes a vertical and a horizontal version of the shot, doesn't usually like close-ups such as my image above, but prefers the angle that you'd get if you were a tall person looking at your dinner plate. As I'm not a tall person, I am imagining this. However, another food shooter I admire, and a competitor on the Recipe Requests, jonathansloane, took a great bird's eye shot for October requests and that was the squash casserole shot chosen, so what's usual isn't always what's best, and rules are there to be broken.

However, I've made mistakes in the past that I try to avoid:-

1) Too shallow a depth of field, especially when it gives alien blobs in the foreground or the cut edge of e.g. cheese or cake with only a tiny area in focus. As I often shoot hand-held, this is one of my big faults in order to get a fast shutter-speed and consequent sharpness. For the 'on the plate in front of you, tall person' angle, I usually start at f5.6 these days and when I find a composition I really like, I use the tripod for a few last shots.

2) Trailing off into dark background. Food likes backlighting and istock shots don't get rejected by the Inspectors for being high-key. I need to keep backgrounds bright - or have a reason for not doing so.

3) Dog hairs. You don't have a dog? Believe me, even if you don't have a dog, even if you've cleaned the life out of every item in your kitchen, some imperfection will be visible on your precious food when you view it at 200%. I've spent hours Photo-shopping brown dimples out of aubergines and tomatoes, wrinkled leaves on lettuce, or burnt corners on meat in casseroles. The truth is that real food rarely looks perfect and raw food straight form the garden that tastes wonderful usually looks a lot worse than out-of-season, supermarket produce that might as well be water for all the taste it has. For a food shot, only visually perfect is good enough.

Lens
Lenses are very personal choices. I shoot Nikon and my favourite for food shots is my 60mm f2.8 macro. It's a sharp, fast prime and there's no such thing as too close. Okay, it can be a bit temperamental on focus, and my eyesight isn't good enough for manual focus, but we've been buddies for three years now and we know each other. this was my first slr lens - crazy choice! Very me.

Sometimes I use my 70mm-200mm f2.8 as was suggested to me ages ago by yet another food shooter whose work I love, and who's also a qualified Chef with a restaurant in Ireland, foodandwinephotography A long lens gives lovely depth of field but there's the extra weight to consider = tripod

Image quality
I shoot RAW with basic jpeg so I can see results straight away but have the raw material to process in Photoshop, rather than in-camera additions.

After the shoot
I've taken 110 shots and I'm happy with them. I now need to choose about 6 to process and upload, to ensure I get one vertical, one horizontal to offer the buyer. My images will have to go through the istock inspection process and no-one can guarantee acceptance. The process will take a week or so before my images are up for sale and when they are, IF any of them get through inspection, I'll post a new blog so you can choose the one you like the best of mine, and see whether you prefer mine to the other takes on the recipe offered to the buyer. If you're one of my competitors, good luck, and may the photographer with the prettiest balls win.

Never trust the recipe

Measuring a cup of flour in a bra


You spotted the deliberate mistake in the recipe, right? Take another look.

Olive Balls
Serves 8–10 as appetizer


1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
¼ cup butter, softened
¼ teaspoon paprika
dash Tabasco or other hot sauce
¾ cup all-purpose flour
36–40 tiny pimento stuffed olives


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together cheese, butter, paprika and hot sauce. Blend in flour. Shape dough into 1½-inch circles. Place olives in center and fold dough around olives to form balls. Refrigerate 10 minutes. Bake on lipped baking sheet for 20 minutes. Serve warm.


So, you spotted the deliberate mistake? No, me neither, at least not till I was happily whizzing cheese, butter and breadcrumbs, and recognized what my subconscious had told me from the start -  these ingredients make a crumb topping not a dough. So, the choice is whether to roll the olives in crumbs (nice idea - note to self, try it another time) or, as the rest of the recipe clearly requires, turn crumbs to dough.

I'm trying to keep to the recipe, as it's for a magazine, so I've added water, squidged the dough (which I consider to be pastry rather than dough but what would I know), and put it to chill.

American cup measures
Mistakes in recipes happen, especially at the pre-publication stage, when you can get typos, printing mistakes or - worst of all - recipes that just don't work.

International differences in measurements drive me crazy and ** Americans look away now and don't read this ** I hate the stupid idea of cup measurements. The attempt to rationalise an inexact measurement based on 19th century crockery, by standardising it in relation to real mathematical units, is like saying a donkey is equivalent to 120kg and then measuring in donkeys. Take a quarter cup of butter; I have actual cup measurements (as opposed to the ones in the top photo) so my cups are in fact standardised, but how much butter I fit into a quarter cup depends on how much I squidge it. If I squidge it lots, I can fit in twice as much. And don't start me on the difference between volume and weight.

You can also get outcomes that taste horrible but as taste is so personal, I just assume that someone will like it, and my job is to make it look appetising. I love to imagine all these people at home looking at my photo and saying, 'Oh my, that looks good! I'm surely going to make that!' And then I imagine it tasting really horrible, and them feeling cheated and never trusting anything or anyone ever again in their life. Maybe there ought to be a stop button on my imagination. Rewind. Back to the 'appetising food photo' bit. Stop.

Rolling stuffed olives in little circles of dough is very therapeutic and reminds me of being 6 years old and discovering playdough. I used to make little playdough cakes and sell them in my pretend shop so I guess I haven't changed. I don't actually have time to make little cheeseballs and I should be doing all kinds of chorse. Sometimes, when you don't have the time, is when it's very important to take time out for making cheeseballs.

Props for the shoot
Amazingly the dough quantities have worked quite well and I have 32 cheeseballs, now in the oven. None of them looks like a 'hero cheeseball', the technical term for an upfront perfect image (at least that's how I understand it). On the other hand, I don't think they'll all have to be out of focus. A food shooter I really admire is TheCrimsonMonkey, whose every food item is a hero, but his images are rocket science and mine are Everycook shots. There is room for many different styles of food shot.I want every human being to think 'That looks good. I can make that.'

Olive balls are in the oven and I'd already set up camera, lights and props. I bought some new tableware for this image and I don't know for sure what will suit. I imagine I'm going to have little brownish balls to shoot, I really liked the green in the tortilla shot and Fernando has that tableware so I looked for something on those lines. Also there's a New Year theme to the magazine so I found some 'papillottes' with no logos on. Papillottes are French chocolates,pralines or sometimes nougat sweets sold for Christmas and New Year, that have jokes, 'dictons' (traditional sayings) or quiz questions in them, a bit like Christmas crackers in the UK. They sometimes have 'crackers' that go bang, but more often not.

Bugger. I forgot and ate the garnish by mistake. Time to check how the cooking's going.





Saturday, November 12, 2011

Before a food shoot

Spanish tortilla


'Let's shoot a tortilla', said my photographer friend Fernando when we were staying with him in Madrid. The beauty of this plan from my viewpoint was that he was going to do all the cooking and set up the lights. As is the way in Spain, the suggestion came at 9.00pm when, at home in France, I would usually be watching TV and winding down, not planning the evening meal.

We then went shopping, bought the green place mat, a brown one to go underneath, and lettuce, parsley and green peppers for garnish and to add more green, complementing the yellowish tortilla. Back home, we chose a white plate from Fernando's cupboard, he set up two speedlights, one for back light, one at 90 degrees to bring out texture and then all he had to do was cook.

The perfect tortilla straight from the pan
The tortilla went from frying pan to plate and photo in about 3 minutes and I think the freshness shows. I do know some of the tricks  - salt in beer to keep a head on it, polyurethane varnish on roast chicken - but I prefer to cook, shoot and eat, so I rarely use anything other than a flick of olive oil to improve the appearance of food in my shots.

One advantage of being cook, stylist and photographer - or of course working with Fernando - is that you have control over all aspects of the shoot, including timing.

As I couldn't use Fernando's lights, I wasn't going to bother taking a shot but he nagged me, I set up one speedlight and gave it a try. Moral: if you don't have the perfect set-up, shoot anyway! I like my tortilla shot and of course it has the memories of eating afterwards, nearing midnight, with a beautiful glass of Spanish red - I think it was rioja that time, my favourite.

Before a shoot
1. I list ingredients for the recipe and start the shopping list for what I need to buy.
2. I picture what the food will look like - colour, texture, firmness, shape, quantity are all important but I don't analyse. I know that I can't have a spoonful of tortilla  or a slice of tapenade. If I'm cooking something I can't visualise, I google it to get an idea of what it's supposed to turn out like.
3. I dress up the food different ways in my imagination, often at 3am when I can't sleep. Some people buy a new dress for a special occasion; the shoot is the special occasion for the food, and I want colours and a setting that make it food the star of the show.
4. Go shopping and buy not only the ingredients you need, but any extra props; table linen, crockery, glassware, food extras for show. Photographers often put raw ingredients in the shot with the finished dish, so you need to buy the extras, in perfect condition. I used apples from our orchard in my apple crumble (see previous blog) but I bought three perfect ones as props. They didn't taste as nice.
5. I decide where and when I'm going to shoot, so I can plan the cooking and know what lighting I'll need.
6. Try out the set-up with your props before you prepare the food. Sometimes the colours don't work together as you wanted. Sometimes props like a plate, a baguette or a glass of wine look gigantic and disproportionate when you see what the camera sees. Most food shots are vertical orientation. There's something to do with composition and perspective that just works better, but some buyers like copyspace or room to crop as they choose. I try to take different versions.

Painters come to Provence for the light so I take food outdoors to shoot whenever I can. This has led to salad garnish dancing off into the Mistral, umbrellas keeling over and the mystery of the black, shiny lump in the frame. This was of course the dog's nose. When I shoot food, the dog becomes very interested. She has figured out that the more absorbed I become in looking through the black box, the more chance she has of sneaking up on the goodies and giving a surreptitious lick. So another part of preparation is

7. the anti-dog barricade. Or I make her do a very long downstay. Nowadays she usually just lies down and watches, of her own accord.

Where I shoot
Indoors
harvest basket of fruit and veg, isolated on white
You can make a shoot corner in your kitchen so it's easy to move from cooking to shooting. I use a wheelie trolley with a granite top, backlit by the window, with two speedlights, two umbrellas and a reflector chiming in as necessary.

I'm lucky and have an attic that's been turned into a photography playroom - studio is too grand a word and the ceiling is too low for convenience - so if I'm isolating food on white, I go upstairs into the attic, where I use a skylight plus speedlights and umbrellas, and a glass-topped table.

Spinach salad with orange
Outdoors
I love outdoor light and have three different places with outdoor tables where I can have garden background and natural light, using speedlight and umbrella for fill as required. I sometimes use a shoot-through umbrella to diffuse bright sunlight.

I shot the spinach salad with orange outdoors and I like the out of focus garden, house, summer ambience I get when everything works i.e. when I don't have pouring rain/harsh shadows/flies on the food. This one was for a cookbook request.

I'm not a chef, am self-taught as a cook and I just can't hack it with those perfect food shots where everything is white on white, high key, and precision presentation, so I've made a virtue out of necessity and my style is more country kitchen than restaurant. I devour French gourmet magazines and I love Mediterranean cuisine and style - and colour.


Suppose you want an image of a particular recipe for your website, blog or a cookbook? Nowadays you don't have to commission a food photographer if you don't mind other people using the same image. Just post a Request on istockphoto and a food shooter will respond, often food shooters, plural. You get the exact photo you want for the same price as any stock photo. Why do we sell our work so cheaply? This is the world of stock photography and if you sell the same photo 500 times you make more than for one big commission - well, I can dream, can't I?!

Now you're ready to join me in the Challenge


This is the recipe I've chosen to shoot for a buyer's request. I aim to shoot during the next week, not before Wednesday, and I'll post each stage I go through. If you were shooting this, what would you be thinking and doing to prepare?

The recipe
Olive Balls
Serves 8–10 as appetizer


1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
¼ cup butter, softened
¼ teaspoon paprika
dash Tabasco or other hot sauce
¾ cup all-purpose flour
36–40 tiny pimento stuffed olives


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together cheese, butter, paprika and hot sauce. Blend in flour. Shape dough into 1½-inch circles. Place olives in center and fold dough around olives to form balls. Refrigerate 10 minutes. Bake on lipped baking sheet for 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shooting food


More of my food photos here www.istockphoto.com

Chicken and broccoli pasta
Here in the south of France the hills are alive with the sound of gunshot. La Drôme, where I live, is the only departement where hunting is allowed every day of the week and from September until January, walking the dog is a risky business and a yellow security jacket is de rigeur. Politically, the hunting lobby is so strong that whenever someone is killed by hunters (an annual occurrence in Provence), the verdict is always 'accidental death' and the sentence usually a suspended sentence. Two years ago a woman was shot dead in my region while she was collecting mushrooms; a hunter who'd been unlucky in his search for wild boar 'saw something move in the bushes' and hoped to end his day by bagging something. He did.

The annual 'accident' victims have included a young man cycling a marked cycle trail and a little boy shot by his grandfather's gun, left lying round the house. Amongst this craziness there is a certain black humour in the incident where a hunter was shot in the woods by his own dog, who stumbled across the cocked gun.

Courgette/Zucchini
To avoid being mistaken for a wild boar, I inquired at my local mairie what a 'peaceful walker' should do. Paths in this area are often signed as open to 'peaceful walkers' (les randonneurs paisibles). Without missing a tap on her keyboard, the mairie secretary told me that the hunting season finishes in January 'and it's only small game shooting (gibier) after that, which isn't a problem.' Has she ever been shot by small bore?! I remember incidents with airguns and disturbed adolescents, and personally I'd rather not risk any projectile in the eye. As for the official advice between September and January; 'you can always phone up to find out where the boar hunts are.' Helpful. Not.

Once my husband and I were walking the dog and came across a guy with a shotgun at the start to a walk through the woods.

Us 'Is there a hunt on?'
Him 'Yes, but you can walk that way. Just make sure you talk loudly.'
We turned around.

So my kind of shooting is strictly limited to the digital kind.

Apple crumble
I've talked about writing and about dogs. My third passion is photography and in stock photography I find the  freedom to shoot what I like plus receptive, paying viewers. An icon in the stock world gave the advice 'Don't even try shooting food. The specialists do it too well for you to be able to compete'. From that moment I knew I'd shoot food. If I'd been put off by all the specialists in everything who are better photographers than I am, I wouldn't have uploaded one photo. Instead, I've been told by pro photographers, and cookbook buyers, that my food shots are good. Don't get me wrong - I know that not all my food shots are good. I still have my L plates on as a photographer. But something good happens sometimes and I know that. So in this blog, I'm going to share the way I work when shooting food.

I'm working on a request from a buyer, the same one who bought the apple crumble (see photo) so I'll go through my process step by step as I prepare and then shoot. If you want pro advice on lighting, you won't find that here but you will find some of the choices food shooters make.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

More dog stories


I mentioned dog trainer Michel Hasbrouck in my last post. How we ended up working together is an amazing story of Internet connections (of the human kind) and of the friendships that come from them.

Michel with his dachshund
(dog wanting to play!)
 Photo 2011 - Jean Gill
When I was looking for a Pyrenean puppy and new to the French dog scene, having previously been owned by four Pyreneans in the UK, I joined a French Forum where breeders, owners and lovers of patous, talked dog. There I met 'Stratos', who combined an outrageous and cutting sense of humour with an underlying passion for dogs and their training. As an online sparring partner, Vincent (his real name) was fun; as a helpline on dog behaviour, he was a godsend to many Forum friends. His own knowledge was based on the huge problems he'd had with his Stratos.

When Vincent's beautiful Pyrenean puppy of 3 months was left with a neighbour for an hour or two, while Vincent went shopping, something happened. When Vincent came to get his puppy, the neighbour told him 'That'll teach him not to pee in the house' and from that day Vincent had a puppy so aggressive that everyone, including dog trainers he consulted, said that he had to accept the inevitable and have Stratos put down. Vincent's guess from the body language of the man and the dog was that the neighbour had slammed the puppy against the wall. Bear in mind that a male Pyr of 5 months weighs about 25kgs and keeps growing to 60/70/80kgs - even a very young dog can be seriously dangerous when turned agressive. Vincent didn't give up, remembered a chance meeting with a dog trainer, took Stratos to Michel Hasbrouck and saved him. He also made it his mission to publicise Michel's work and so, because I was trying to improve my knowledge of dog training before I started again with a puppy, Vincent recommended 'Dressage Tendresse' to me.
book link below

I read the book, was amazed at how much clicked into place with what I'd figured out from experience but never expressed, and also at how much I'd got wrong and could put right. There were so many mantras that went into my head and stuck there. 'No hitting, no shouting.' Guilty of both in the past but no longer. 'No dog is irrecuperable'. I'm sure you too have friends who have put dogs down for aggression, unable to find a way out of the impasse. In the past I would have had to do the same in their shoes but now I have enough technique, and professional support available, that I am confident it will never happen to me with any dog of mine. But of all Michel's pronouncements the one I still love the best is 'Ignore a dog and he does what he likes.' So much dog training theory is based round 'ignore him' as a punishment, I wonder if these trainers (or comportmentalists, as is the trendy name) have ever met the sort of dog who destroys everything to get attention, including his owner. Or the dogs who find their owners boring because they are being ignored, and who bound off to find something more rewarding to do than hang around said owner.

book link below
I love it when someone writes to me to say he/she liked one of my books so I mailed Michel to say just that and asked whether he knew of such a book in English, for my friends to read. He said 'Translate mine for me' So I did, as 'Gentle Dog Training'. And I found the ideal publisher with Souvenir Press, which had previously published John Fisher and supported all Michel's principles of dog training. I only wish our publishing contract had been directly with Souvenir Press but as Michel had a contract with his French publisher, all dealings for translation rights were between the two publishers.

I finally chose my breeders for my two Pyrenean puppies, was thrown off the Forum for choosing badly (according to the breeder who ran the Forum) and a group of us started the Patou Parle Forum, which has lasted 5 years now, with the usual ups and downs of rivalries and friendships, but with an underlying respect for people's right to disagree - and to buy puppies or adopt dogs, wherever they choose.

PHOTO - Michel Hasbrouck 2006
Blanche and me at the end of the 2nd day, 
so relieved that all that hard work is over -
of course it was just beginning.


Dog training is for life -
not just for Christmas.

I duly went on a 2 day training course with Michel at his base in Switzerland, when my Blanche-Neige was a 3 month puppy . There is no substitute for practical work on the terrain with a dogmaster and Michel is looking for people to train up and add to his team, especially English speakers who can spread the message about his training methods. If you're interested contact him at michel@hasbrouck.com

I've progressed since then. I would never have coped with Bétel's problems without all I learned from Michel. A mixture of health problems and maltreatment from a kennels owner, when the dogs were 8 months old and I left them there for 4 days, gave us a 70kg dog who was aggressive towards vets and strangers. Strange how history repeats itself. Like Vincen with Stratos, we worked him back to his real nature and kept him safe.

This year I decided to continue my own training with Michel and spent another few days in Switzerland, always learning more. He plans to retire in the near future and wants to pass on all he has learned to the next generation of dog trainers. I think I've lived too many careers to start another as a dog trainer but what I am learning will at least benefit my own dogs, and I have not lost the urge to take it further again, and be able to train someone else's dog. When you've seen the tears in clients' eyes because they've found the dog they've always wanted, right beside them, and they now have the technique to build on this behaviour, there is no better reward for work.

PHOTO 2011 Jean Gill
Michel training client in lead behaviour
while dog watches

PHOTO 2011 Jean Gill
one good dog after 'Dressage Tendresse'
Vincent and I passed 6 years chatting dog online. I still have the stories he sent me of his own dogs and he planned to write novels and train as a dogmaster, once they had found a lung transplant for him. More than a year ago he was forced to stop his work making dental prostheses - work he loved. He was confined to one room and breathing aids but he kept in touch with his Forum friends when he could. He had my books in the room with him even though his English was not good. He knew 'Dressage Tendresse' off by heart so he used that as a practice side-by-side with my translation, to help him read 'Someone to look up to'. Vincent gave me permission to use his true stories in my novel - of the newfoundland who taught the patou to swim, and saved an unwilling fisherman by towing his boat along - and to use the name Stratos for Sirius' brother. Both Vincent and I had a sense of 'There but for the grace of God, might have gone the real Stratos.' Only it wasn't God who saved the real Stratos, but a master strong enough to seek help, and a dog trainer with enough real technique to give it.

His health never stabilised enough for the transplant to take place and Vincent died in June, optimistic and full of plans for the future until the last few days. It's hard to believe he's not there any more, about to jump in with a provocative remark, a quote in ancient Greek or exactly the right advice for someone whose puppy is chewing his master's hands to shreds. Online friendships can turn to real friendships, a casual word is a pebble dropped in a pool, and you never know where the ripples will spread. Without Vincent, I wouldn't have met Michel; if I hadn't worked with Michel, I'd never have coped with Bétel's problems. And I know for certain, from readers telling me so,  that other dogs' lives have been saved by reading 'Gentle Dog Training.'  That makes me feel good. And it made Vincent feel good too.

What was it that E.M.Forster said? 'Only connect'.

The puppy top left on the cover of 'A Pup in Your Life' is Vincent's photo of his first patou, José. Michel and I have published this book, a companion to 'Gentle Dog Training,  as kindle .com,   kindle.uk   pdf 

We did try audio-book, with me reading the text. Believe me, it was hard trying to do a deep, sexy voice while reading 'If your puppy has worms...' but some people think I managed it. Sadly, the Internet seems to have exploded with excitement over this particular version and I don't know whether Michel will rescue the remnants. It would make an interesting found poem but I am NOT recording it all again!


TO BUY THESE DOG TRAINING BOOKS

'Dressage Tendresse' on amazon fr

Gentle Dog Training amazon uk     amazon.com

Give your opinions on our dog training books or any books at all at goodreads




Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sirius - adventures of a dog book



A year after publication, Sirius is marking his territory a long way from home, as befits a Pyrenean Mountain dog. The Pyrenean Club of Great Britain has the book in stock and on their Christmas list for anyone seeking presents for the dog-minded.

The book made it to the breed's most prestigious dog show, the N.E. d'Elevage at Argelès-Gazost, run by the French Pyrenean Club,  the RACP and the Club Secretary chose it as his 'coup de coeur' (pick of the month) from the Club boutique . A French translation is under way and I'm being nagged as to when that will be finished. I'll keep you posted!

The dog on the front jacket is my own Bételgeuse de la Plaine d'Astrée and it is wonderful and terrible for me to know that his beautiful face was seen by the 400+ visitors to Argelès. That makes him a show winner of a sort, forever I hope. It is terrible for me because he had health problems as a puppy, and came through them only to run out of time at only 4 years old, just after the book was published. It is wonderful because he IS still a force to be reckoned with, because of the novel, and some of the character of Sirius came from my experience with Bétel. My husband said 'he had a big heart and he changed us.'

Those of you who photograph dogs will know how difficult it is to stick a camera in front of them and get 'that look' in their eyes but Bétel never saw the camera; he only saw me and he never lost faith in me for one second.

A cameo on the back cover shows a magic moment between Bétel and his partner in crime, Blanche-Neige de Néouvielle, who contributed a lot to the character of Snow in the novel; feisty, proud and beautiful, more interested in rough-and-tumble than soppy stuff. Since we lost Bétel, Blanche and I still play the games he invented, which include ice-cubes as aperos and jumping out from behind a hedge.

It looks as if this image might be chosen to represent the breed, patous as we call them, on the T-shirt planned for a French forum of patou afficionados I think this is probably the best photo I've ever taken and the full version is for sale in my istockportfolio Those of you who know dogs will know that this is a split second moment just before the two dogs start playing again, tearing round in the snow like total lunatics.




Many real dogs and true stories contributed to the story of Sirius but the spark that lit my imagination was one particular dog advertised a few years ago on the French site for breed rescue I won't give the story away but he really did go through what Sirius goes through, from the moment he is back with his breeder, and he never did lose faith that his human would come. I know this because of his reaction when a human - from the rescue organisation - did visit him to assess whether he was suitable for adoption.

Everything in 'Someone to look up to' is based on a true story and I know thousands of true stories because of my work with dog trainer Michel Hasbrouck and my chat on French doggy Forums.

The best feedback I've had so far was from the Yorkshire reader who said 'By the time I finished it, I was a dog! When the postman called I felt the urge to bark,' and from the reader who identified with Elodie enough to 'suivre son étoile' as they say in France, 'follow her dream', and become a dog trainer - or rather a trainer of people with dogs.

If you would like to rate 'Someone to look up to' , or write and share a review on any other book you've read, join goodreads

'Someone to look up to' was first published by Callio Press July 2010 but as this publisher is no longer in business, the book is now published by lulu and is also available in print or kindle from your nearest amazon
uk       com      fr
and in all ebook formats




Someone to Look Up To


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

goodreads giveaway for 'Song at Dawn'

Published two weeks ago and 3 copies are in the goodreads giveaway - random draw open to anyone. 13 days left to go so put your name in now.

1150 in Provence where love and marriage are as divided as Muslim and Christian






Goodreads Book Giveaway







Song at Dawn by Jean  Gill






Song at Dawn




by Jean Gill






Giveaway ends November 13, 2011.



See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.








Enter to win



R & R - Rehab and Recovery - for Riters= the 3Rs

I'm Jean Gill and I think I might have an addictive personality. Unfortunately this doesn't mean what grammatically it ought to i.e. that other people just can't get enough of me. Instead it means that I get hooked. When my brain then informs the rest of me about the amount of time I've spent doing X or the amount of damage X is likely to do to my life, I take the same measures most addicts take - I replace one addiction with another. You know Xactly what I mean because you have your own X. I love the description of someone as 'unbalanced' because I think we all are.

Blogging seems an obvious activity for a writer but it's actually work avoidance (you're not writing your novel) and addictive (you're writing) ; the perfect replacement for my last addiction.


I'm not the first romantic to dream of the perfect mate, a life-time together, a happy-ever-after. There are millions of us, writers, all seeking the perfect Editor, who loves everything we write, a life-time partnership based on mutual respect and a generous contract (to the author) and of course earning us shedfuls of dosh. Embittered by doses of real-life publishing, we are lured to http://www.authonomy.com

I wish I could pretend I was under-cover, investigating this strange reality show run by Harper Collins but no, I spent 2 months of my life in the company of thousands of other writer wannabes in a desperate and time-consuming bid to move my latest novel up the ranks on the site. You will still find it there http://www.authonomy.com/books/35734/song-at-dawn/ dropping down from its peak at 334 since I stopped playing the game.

Authonomy is 'a community of writers' and I found that to be the case. I read some outstanding books, met fellow-writers for whom I have great respect and made friendly contacts that are likely to last. I can't think of any other way I would have had constructive criticism on my book by a fellow-novelist specialising in the 12th century - the period of my novel. His input beat anything I've known from a professional Editor. And of course the fact that he and others liked the book was all very encouraging.

But that's not the main aim of the site from Harper Collins' point of view. Very few publishers these days read manuscripts unless they come from Literary agents. Very few Literary Agents read manuscripts unless they're from successful authors/famous people/those on some kind of funny handshake/party network that I'm not in on (* You will note writer's paranoia creeping in sometimes - that's because They are out to avoid getting me) Most writers can't get their manuscripts to someone who'll read them. So Harper Collins offers the big prize; if you get to the top 5 in rank, your book will be read and reviewed by a Harper Collins Editor. You have the right to quote from the review in any subsequent publicity and if you're lucky, your book will actually be published by Harper Collins.

How do you get to the top 5? That could be a book in itself! Basically you go up the ranks by reviewing and rating other people's books, and by the performance of your choice of 5 books, placed on your bookshelf. It quickly becomes like a presidential campaign, with people promoting each other's books to improve their own status, attracting attention by 'friending' others and of course spamming. I learned a lot about how to write spam that sounds like it isn't, as well as suffering offers from dubious Asian girls who thought they could pleasure me. I sometimes responded to the former but not to the latter.

On the positive side, publishers DO trawl authonomy for manuscripts and I personally know one writer who found a very good, independent publisher after a year on authonomy (lucky bugger). It is a great place to learn from your fellow-writers - there is always someone there who knows exactly what you want to find out. It can sharpen up your writing or drop your confidence to zero, depending on what comments you attract and how well you can cope with them, bearing in mind that the comments can be as much gamesmanship as everything else on the site. One technique is to rave about every book so people will think how nice you are and rate your book.

What I found deeply depressing was the prize. I've now read about 8 reviews from Harper Collins Editors. These were pretentious critiques, reviews that looked to find fault and show off the Reviewers' degrees in Literature (got one of them, meself). Every time, the book was damned by faint praise and never ready for publication. I keep wondering how the writers feel, after a year or more clawing their way up the ranks, reviewing books until they can't read more than 3 chapters of any book and the constructively criticising it in their heads (I got to that stage), acclaimed by their fellow-writers, top 5 out of thousands of books - and they received a couple of drab paragraphs in response.

Competition brings out the worst in people and you'll see plenty of that on authonomy. The competition itself takes over and reason disappears, especially as books get nearer the precious 'Editor's Shelf'. I know a writer whose book reached number 7 and he was then harried off the site. I know of another whose book was under 50 after a year and he realised how crazy it was getting and withdrew the book. I can't blame Harper Collins for this but I can blame them - and other publishers - for a situation where writers are so desperate just for someone to read the beginning of their book BEFORE rejecting it. I am also very irritated that I found so many books I want to carry on reading but they're not being published. More about my idea for that, in another blog.

I started self-publishing because I write so many varied things that even when I found a publisher, it wasn't right for the next book and the Editor wasn't interested. We all know that the publishing world has changed, also I've got better at self-publishing and I'm no longer desperate. I used authonomy to help me improve my book, to mix with other writers and to contribute to their books. I've run Writers' groups for years and I've learned a little about what works and what doesn't. I managed to turn my back on the competition. I can't stop the pangs when I notice my book falling down the ranks - 883 today - but I never wrote one spam mail, nor one book review unless I'd read three chapters of the book and thought about it.

If I feel a relapse coming on, I'll write another blog! I'd be very interested in your reactions to anything I've said here. My final verdict on authonomy? Great place to mix with other writers but be strong, know what you want from it and record very carefully how much time you spend each day doing something you feel you ought to rather than that you want to. I told my friends there that I'd keep dropping in and would still review books 'from time to time'. It was suggested to me that 'no longer than 2-3 weeks between reviews would be appreciated'. Sorry but this addict is setting her own timescale on authonomy visits.