Welcome from Jan

Hi there!
This blog is for those who love both books and travel. I'm starting by travelling back in time to the 1970s and the overland trail to India which I took as an 18 year old. Have a look at my daily diary entries and photos. Some of these places are impossible to visit at the moment, but I can give you a flavour of what they were like in the golden age of the hippy trail.

The experience has inspired my new mystery novel, THE VANISHING OF RUTH, which is out now as an ebook. Find details and extracts at The Vanishing of Ruth

To buy: The Vanishing of Ruth

Also take a look at Facebook Page Overlanders for more memorabilia.

Cheers, Jan.

Monday, 31 October 2011

SWOON WITH BOON! A romantic evening in Stockton planned for November

Girls Night In Author Panel - Michelle Styles on far right
Fellow romance writer and member of the Romantic Novelists Association, Michelle Styles, is gearing up for a night of pampering and romantic fiction at Stockton Library later in November.  Our Northumberland group of the RNA have done similar 'Girls Night In' evenings around the region, so this will be fun. Anyone within travelling distance of Stockton, Teesside, should put it in the diary:

Sara Craven & Michelle Styles: Swoon with Boon
Stockton Central Library: Tuesday 22 November, 6.30pm
Sara Craven lives in Somerset and when she is not writing, likes to travel and go to the theatre. Michelle Styles was born in San Francisco, but currently lives in Northumberland. Join us for a girly evening with nibbles, chocolate and sparkling drinks. Be pampered, have a free beauty or alternative therapy treatment. Plus a free goody bag for everyone. Admission: £6 (booking essential). For more details and to book contact Stockton Tourist Information Centre on 01642 528130.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Austen and Dickens among WBN 2012 picks | The Bookseller

Looking at the list - Rebecca and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox jumped out as a couple of favourite reads ...
Austen and Dickens among WBN 2012 picks | The Bookseller

Friday, 7 October 2011

Amazon launches French Kindle store | The Bookseller

Interesting development - a new 'sister' in the Amazon family - or should that be 'nouvelle soeur'?!

Amazon launches French Kindle store The Bookseller

Monday, 3 October 2011



Deadline:  15 November 2011

First Prize £125, Second Prize £75  3rd Prize £50 , 5 runner ups

SUMMARY   This competition will be judged by Kathleen Kenny a well known writer and teacher in the North East of England.  The entry fee is £4 per poem, £10 for 4 poems. Poems on any subject and any style.  No entry form required. Entry by email or post.  

All information about rules and dates on the website www.jitegemeeproject.org.  Help build a school in Tanzania, East Africa.  All money from this competition goes toward buying building materials.  

The prize giving will be on 12 December, 7 pm at the Lit & Phil Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, Westgate Road.
Anyone aged 17 and over can enter.

Google e-books UK launch "imminent" | The Bookseller

Interesting news about Google bringing its ebooks to the UK market. The big challenge must be that Google ebooks can't be read on Kindle ...

Thursday, 29 September 2011





Notts libraries to charge for e-book loans | The Bookseller

A interesting development - the first UK libraries to decide to charge for loaning ebooks are in Notthinghamshire. Should ebook lending be free like print book lending? Are ebook readers being penalised for wanting their content digitally? What about those who want to read their library books on ereaders so they can enlarge the print, or borrow them remotely if they are housebound? I'd be interested to hear what people think.
Notts libraries to charge for e-book loans The Bookseller

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Amazon Fires up new Kindle | The Bookseller

Tomorrow (Wed 28 Oct) Amazon are stoking up the ebook market by unveiling their new style reader in New York - the Kindle Fire. It's hoting up out there! Amazon Fires up new Kindle The Bookseller

Courses and Events - Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts - Newcastle University

Poet Paul Muldoon is leading the celebration of Elizabeth Bishop's work, this Thursday at Newcastle University. It includes a film made by Linda Anderson after a recent trip to Great Village, Nova Scotia, where Bishop lived. Tickets £6/£4
Courses and Events - Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts - Newcastle University

Sunday, 25 September 2011


Newcastle artist John Coatsworth discovered his unique style of 'curvation' when doing sketches of St James's Park, home to Newcastle United.
He went on to paint the Toon - bridges, streets, backlanes and famous landmarks along the Tyne such as The Sage Gateshead - in his vibrant colourful 'bendy' style.

Discovery Museum have an exhibition of his work showing until January 2012 and have launched a book (published by Northumbria Press) to celebrate John's work.
Welcomed by museum manager Hazel Edwards, the launch was held in the fabulous wood-panelled hall with its art nouveau tiles that was once the headquarters of the Co-op and is now a great venue for Discovery's events.

Paying an affectionate and humourous tribute to John's lifetime of achievement was my brother Torquil MacLeod who has known him since they worked on the Evening Chronicle together many years ago.

John Grundy then gave an enthusiastic appraisal of John's work and urged us to go buy his book!
Some of John's paintings are also for sale and there are a range of gifts (mugs, magnets etc) which would make great stocking fillers (not that I'm going to mention the C word!)
The exhibition is well worth a visit. http://www.twmuseums.org.uk/discovery

Blandford Square
Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 4
0191 232 6789
Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 2pm-5pm

Monday, 19 September 2011


On Saturday I attended the Society of Authors in Scotland Conference (http://www.societyofauthors.org/) on the brave new world of e-books, social media, self promotion and the road ahead in publishing - billed as Information and Inspiration: everything a writer needs. Phew!

It was a wham-bam action-packed day with a host of good speakers and panels, specialist group options in the afternoon and plenty of coffee breaks to keep us wired up.  Held in a modern annex of the superb Palladian Royal College of Surgeons (just down from Clerk Street where I lived as a student - how was it possible that I hardly gave it a glance for 4 years?  Perhaps because it didn't serve pints of Belhaven...)

At lunchtime there was an option of a quick guided tour by charming Prof Dugald Gardner, who introduced us to the work of surgeon-artist Charles Bell.  Fascinating portraits of gunshot wounds from the Napoleonic Wars and specimens in jars that made me wish I'd woolfed down fewer sandwiches ten minutes earlier.

I went because I have girded my digital loins and entered the arena of ebook publishing.  I think I'm what Keith Charters of Strident Publishing is what you'd call 'an early adopter' on the bell curve of e-publishing - my Jarrow Trilogy are numbers 1,2 and 3 on the Kindle Family Saga bestsellers.  So what did I learn?

From Sara Sheridan's (http://www.sarasheridan.com/) talk on Harnessing Traditional Media:
TV and radio opportunities are on the rise - you can get hold of any BBC producer etc by emailing 1stname.2ndname@bbc.co.uk
Reviews from traditional print media are still valuable to quote on covers even if they don't drive sales; many will now take digital copies to review and this also saves print copies being nicked in the mail room!
Have different pitches for your new book - there may be an interesting sub plot as well as the main subject, a special place or area of expertise (in her novel about a 19th century adventurer in China and India, she discovered readers were also interested in the sub plot about tea). 
You are selling yourself as well as your book - so have 'branding wheels' for both.  (No these are not instruments taken out of the Surgeon's Hall museum, but marketing tools).  To be enlightened go to Sara's article on Turning the Next Page, at http://www.nawe.co.uk/

Allan Guthrie's (http://www.allanguthrie.co.uk/) talk on Embracing Digital:
Both an author and agent, Allan experimented last year with putting out a new crime novella as an ebook, as his publisher wasn't going to launch the paperback for another 3 years!  He put it out on Amazon and via Smashwords and sat back and waited.  First 2 months - no sales.  Next month - count them on one hand. So he decided to do some promotion by joining online forums.  From the single sales in December he went to a peak (on Amazon.co.uk) of 9000 in Feb!  Then things started happening on the Amazon.com - sales of 4000 in March, peaking at 8000 in May.  He then brought out a backlist title with no promotion, but it has sold 10,000 so far on the back of the novella.  As he points out, these are outselling all of his print copies 'by miles.'
If you are doing it yourself, Allan recommends Open Office rather than Microsoft, as the latter can produce formatting problems when being converted into epubs etc., and says that a good cover designer can be hired for about $100 (mostly in the US)

Nicola Morgan's (http://www.nicolamorgan.com/) talk on Publicity; building an online platform:
Children's author Nicola is an enthusiastic user of blogging and twitter (she has self-published a book called Twitter Right, which she was promoting) and has boundless energy!  Her advice:

Blog 3 times a week (ouch I'm such a laggard), keep your voice consistent, link to other blogs and leave comments on other sites.  Blog about your area of expertise, publishing advice, hobby or skill, of an aspect of your life (eg Wife in the North).  If you can't keep up a personal blog then join a collaborative one with like-minded authors (eg The History Girls).
Use varied media on your blog - she was trying out Audioboo for the first time.  You make short audio recordings, load them up to Audioboo and add them to your blog.  http://www.audioboo.com/
Google loves links that include 'big names' such as the Beeb or a big corporation. She started blogging when angry with Sainsbury's for their so-called book promotion which she couldn't find in her local store. Now she's helping them with their strategy!
And above all TWITTER says Nicola.  Through Twitter you can drive followers to other aspects of your work, your blog or website - and it can be fun!

Other tips of the day:
Colin Fraser of Anon Poetry (http://www.anonpoetry.co.uk/) and social media consultant - advocates Twitter to amass a following prior to a book festival or launch, eg join in ElevensesTime on Twitter because people who like coffee and chat often like books!

Keith Charters (http://www.stridentpublishing.co.uk/) predicted that marketing would become even more important - increased marketing would have to be done when the ebook world becomes more crowded. It might be possible to upsell paperbacks by bundling them with ebook versions at a discounted price.
Look at http://www.distrify.com/ as a possible add on - it's largely for film promotion at the moment.

Agent Jenny Brown (http://www.jennybrownassociates.com/) said this was a scary yet exciting time for authors with new possible routes to publication opening up.  On dealing with contracts she advised clauses that limit publishers' rights on ebooks - eg have a scale for royalties that increases after x number of sales, or limit the licence period to 18-24 months. (The industry norm at the moment appears to be 25% royalty for digital.)
She is delighted that her 18 year-old son has finally taken up reading since being given a Kindle for his brithday - one signed on the back by Jo Nesbo!

Marion Sinclair of Publishing Scotland (http://www.publishingscotland.co.uk/) predicted that niche books and publishers will survive and were doing well in Scotland.

Vanessa Roberston of Fidra Books and the Edinburgh Bookshop (http://www.edinburghbookshop.com/) - she likes to hand-sell 'something different' and prefers that authors patronise her shop if they are asking for their new book to be read and stocked! Be friendly but not too pushy - she's a busy woman - and remember that booksellers tell each other recommendations but also pass on warnings about the awkward authors.

Katrine from The Scottish Book Trust  (http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/) encouraged authors to contact them if they wished to go on their list of people prepared to do events - and make yourselves known at festivals etc so that the Trust know you exist!

Andrew Dixon from Creative Scotland (http://www.creativescotland.com/) - formerly working in Newcastle/Gateshead with projects such as The Sage and The Baltic - waxed enthusiastic about the special quality of the arts in Scotland - there are 40 literature festivals alone - and felt Scots should shout about their talent more (that's a gobby former Geordie for you!).  He wanted writers to get involved in their project on Arts and older people, and said the Wigtown Book Festival had attracted great publicity by having a 'hermit in residence' this year. (http://www.wigtownbookfestival.com/)

Summing up ... well unfortunately I had to rush for a bus to Berwick and then train back to Morpeth so had to miss the final summing up - and the drinks reception in the prestigeous Playfair Hall (curses to rail engineering works!)
But I went away with head buzzing with new strategies and having made new friends - Pam, Vee, Maggie, Bob, Jacqueline.  It was well worth it.
And it appears that Chair of SOAiS and historian, Angus Konstam (http://www.anguskonstam.com/) has been inspired by the conference to take up tweeting - @Anguskonstam - no pirate will now be safe on the cyber-seas ...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

FAMILY FACES - turning relations into fictional heroines

Great Aunt Lizzie
I've been spending an interesting time turning some of my bestselling sagas into ebooks and having new covers designed.  To make the books more personal, I have delved into the archives of family photo albums and chosen relations to illustrate my heroines!
For example, on the cover of The Suffragette is a photo of my great grand-aunt Elizabeth Maclagan, sister to my great grandmother Janet Gorrie who was a suffragette supporter in Edinburgh.  I don't know if Elizabeth got involved herself, but she had three nieces who were campaigners for the Pankhursts' WSPU.

For the Jarrow Trilogy, I have used other Maclagans on the fronts of The Jarrow Lass and A Child of Jarrow, chosing women from the right era for 19th century and Edwardian periods. 

My lovely Mum!
But for the third and final novel, Return to Jarrow, which is set in the 30s and 40s I have used a delightful picture of my own mother.  She was a young woman in the 1940s and embarking on an acting career, so is very photogenic.  I may use her again!

The new print versions are coming out in early September, but are being released as ebooks first.  They are already doing very well on Amazon Kindle - going into the bestseller lists for Family Sagas. 

Amazon ranking for 12 July 2011:

The Jarrow Lass -  #6 in Kindle Store > Books > Fiction > Family Saga

Child of Jarrow -  #11 in Kindle Store > Books > Fiction > Family Saga

Return to Jarrow -  #22 in Kindle Store > Books > Fiction > Family Saga

Browse or buy these ebooks on Amazon

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Jarrow ebooks are bestsellers on Amazon

"Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
#51 in Kindle Store, Books, Fiction, Family Saga
#88 in Books, Fiction, Romance, Sagas
#91 in Books, Fiction, Family Sagas"

"Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
#55 in Kindle Store; Books; Fiction; Family Saga
#95 in Books; Fiction; Romance; Sagas
#98 in Books; Fiction; Family Sagas"

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

WORLD BOOK NIGHT - reunion of two Durham authors!

The WORLD BOOK NIGHT event at Waterstones in Newcastle at the weekend brought together two authors with ties to Durham.

I hadn't met Chris Foote Wood since the days in the 1970s and 80s when he used to campaign with my mother Sheila MacLeod in local politics for the Durham Liberals.

So it was with great surprise that we found ourselves both at Waterstones doing signings on the same evening!  Chris is still active in politics and was promoting his political biography of T Dan Smith while I was re-living my hippy days and signing copies of mystery novel THE VANISHING OF RUTH set on the overland route to India.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

WORLD BOOK NIGHT - the creme de la creme of events!

The first World Book Night turned into a fantastic opportunity for me to get dressed up in fancy dress - any excuse will do!

I was invovled in two events in the region, the first as a 'giver' of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at Morpeth Library.  With the help of librarian Lynne Riddell and her team, the library laid on a 1930s style experience with fruit cocktails served while I gave readings from Muriel Spark's superb coming-of-age novel set in 1930s Edinburgh. 

Lynne and I donnned vintage evening wear to show that it is not just Jean Brodie who is still in her 'prime'!

We encouraged teenagers to come along and discover this great story - several students from KEVI (King Edward VI High School) attended - as well as more mature readers.  As an audience I would rate them the 'creme de la creme'!

Each went away with a copy of the book - many for daughters in other parts of the country - and it is hoped they will pass their copies on (registering their unique number on the World Book Site) so that the novels can be tracked to see how far they go.  Jean Brodie - an enthusiastic traveller and teller of tales - would have approved.

From Morpeth I rushed home and changed into my 1970s overland hippy gear and headed for Waterstones in Newcastle to help them celebrate WBN by chatting to customers and signing copies of my mystery novel, The Vanishing of Ruth set on the overland route to Kathmandu.  There was a good buzz about the shop - only slightly marred by the news that Newcastle had lost to Everton at St James's Park just along the road.

Organiser Cameron and his team made us very welcome and I shared the event with Lib Dem politician, Chris Foote-Wood, who was promoting his new biography of T. Dan Smith.