Chat · Reflection

Two years of blogging – reflections

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Happy blog day to me.

Two years ago I came home from a book event and typed up my thoughts. It seemed as good a moment as any to start that blog. It feels like minutes since I hit ‘publish’ on my first post and watched my stats until I saw activity which didn’t actually come from my Mum. 

Two years is a strange mark in blogging. In one way I have learned so much, but I also have so much still to learn. Last year I was determined to make the move to self-hosting, but now I am glad I waited. Free WordPress may not be glamorous but it has given me space to test out content from different niches and work on different skills before making the jump. 

So what have I been up to in my second year of blogging? 

Over the last year, I have been lucky enough to attend several bookish events, listen to established authors and meet other bloggers. I am already booked in for the NYA Literary Festival this March and can’t wait to see you all again. Twitter chats are brilliant, but there is nothing like meeting in person. 

I was particularly motivated by Abi Elphinstone at the Edinburgh Book Festival, who spoke about using her own strengths to plot stories and sticking out rejection to reach success. 

It was also a pleasure to meet Robin Stevens in December. The Murder Most Unladylike series is one of my favourite middle-grade mystery series, and Robin Stevens gave some brilliant advice about creating believable characters.

Over the past twelve months, I have written a novel manuscript. I had attempted this before and it had ended in ‘Frankenstein’s monsters’ (did I steal that? It is the perfect description of those early projects. The ones which had some good stuff in them. The odd scene or character or brilliant bit of dialogue. A couple even had a soul, but they just didn’t hold together as a story. Calling them nothing belies the effort which went into them, but calling them novel manuscripts would be like calling Frankenstein’s monster human.) 

This year I finished a 40,000-word middle-grade mystery. With the average number of manuscripts ahead of publication stated as four, I am looking ahead to my next plots, but it is encouraging to finally have something in the drawer . I know blogging played a big part in getting me to this stage. Networking with writers at all stages of their career has been invaluable, and I have friends who have cheered me on through every scrap of writing over the past two years. Thanks to you all. 

If you are thinking about starting a book blog, do it.  Take time to find out what sort of book-blogger you are. There are promoters and there are people who want to build a network of bookish friends and there are people looking to develop their reading as part of a professional goal (eg teachers looking to improve the way they use texts in the classroom). Some bloggers are social-bunnies while others are introverts. Some bloggers want to create dazzling content while others slip it into a very hectic timetable. Everyone’s approach is valid and that variety makes the blogosphere a more interesting place. 

In my first two years, I have tried content from different niches. I have tried sticking to schedule and I have tried going with the flow. I almost expanded to include literary fiction, then dropped that in favour of picture books and illustrated non-fiction. I have dabbled with lifestyle content as a way of expanding my audience. There can be immense pressure when everything is quantified in likes and stats. My advice? Enjoy playing.

What do I want to take forward over the coming year? 

If I want to keep anything from my first two years, it is my commitment to be kind. Social media can be exhausting, and nothing depresses me more than when new bloggers join in a chat or an event and get totally overlooked. If I keep anything from my earliest years of blogging, I want to remember to be the person who says ‘hi’. The person who likes a post even though the photograph is wonky. Remember always that there are real people behind those posts. 

Reviewing picture books and younger middle-grade has not only helped me to find books which I love promoting, it has also helped me to find whole different networks. The people who talk about these formats on Twitter are some of the most dedicated and insightful readers I have had the pleasure of engaging with. From librarians and teachers to parents and content-creators and aspiring authors and illustrators, their approaches to these texts may be different but they share a dedication and interest. 

Reviewing picture books has also shown me how much I love considering theme and ways of using books to promote empathy. Maybe that is partly to do with the climate we are currently living in, but I don’t think there has ever been a better time for reading deeper. Look out for more in the coming year. 

I would also love to do more collaborations with lifestyle bloggers. Doing these really pushes me out of my ‘comfort’ niches and makes for a more rounded and interesting blog. 

Finally, I want to hear from you all. Share your thoughts, post your blog links and tell me what you are loving. My readers are the reason I keep typing. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported BookMurmuration over the past two years. Here’s to the next two. 

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Chat

Chat: Hibernation urge – how to go forward when all you want to do is crawl under a blanket.

Hibernation urge – five simple ways to feel better. 

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Adapt your routine as the days get colder.

September: Even those of us past our uni days invest in planners and highlighters.

January: Reading trackers, fitness monitors and every other type of goal setting under the sun.

What falls between is November. If you are currently huddled under a fleece-blanket and wishing you could lock yourself away from the rest of the world, know you are not alone. Welcome to the November-slump.

It hit me as Halloween approached.

Regular readers know I am editing a middle-grade manuscript. Since I returned from my trip South, I have been thinking about my writing beyond this project. The average number of manuscripts written ahead of publication is four. There won’t be any need for me to set resolutions in 2019 – the year will be about working through as many novel-sized stories as possible.

In the week of Halloween, I sat down to develop some ideas. Ten minutes later I was hit by the strangest feeling – I wanted a plot then and there or I was crawling under the covers with a family-sized box of Quality Streets and staying there until mid-April.

This attitude does not a story write.

 It was only when I returned to my social media that I figured it out. There was a prevalent mood across my Twitter feed. The wording of each tweet was slightly different – some said demotivated, others tired or in a slump but they were saying very nearly the same thing. The sky is darker, the nights colder and it is too early to put up the fairy-lights.

When I realised I was not alone, I changed my approach. November-slump would be better known as the hibernation-urge. It comes as surely as the desire to buy a box-file comes in September. Instead of working against hibernation-urge, I chose to embrace it.

That’s not to say I put on a onesie and locked the door. The Quality-Street-and-a-blanket plan could only be healthy as a short-term solution. What this mood tells us is it is time to pull out the fleece-lined boots, cook porridge for breakfast and take care of ourselves. It sounds indulgent but putting these changes in place now might mean a more productive and happier winter.

Here are five ways to embrace hibernation urge and take care of yourself this winter.

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Eat a warm breakfast:

Start the day as you mean to go on. My hot breakfast of choice is porridge – cook a batch at the weekend and you can microwave it each morning. Porridge can be dressed up with cinnamon, honey and raisins. Those flavours combined give me an instant boost and I am warmed to the tip.

 

Dress for the weather:

Fleece-lined boots, thermal leggings and winter-tights are my go-to clothes for keeping wrapped up outside the house. Evenings are about winter pyjamas and warm socks. Sort your wardrobe so you are wearing the right gear.

 

Keep hydrated:

As we crave sugary chocolate-drinks it can be easy to forget the most important thing – water. To keep motivated we need to drink enough water. Carry a bottle and aim to refill it several times a day.

 

Light the room:

String-lights. Candles. Sparkly lamps. Our spirits lift at Christmas and it is not all to do with the joy and goodwill. We add light to our homes and hang decorations like tinsel which sparkle as they reflect the light.

It may be too early for the tree but now is a good time to put out extra light. My friend bought me some kitty-shaped string lights for my birthday. I’m going to put them in a jar for some instant sparkle. 

Use scented products:

Scent is the sense we neglect most often despite the fact that smells we associate with particular things have the power to affect our mood. Smelling basil reminds me of holidays in the sun, while ginger and cinnamon remind me of making gingerbread ahead of Christmas.

Using ginger bath products or lighting a scented candle is an easy way to lift my mood.

Make a list of scents which remind you of a time when you felt comfortable then make a shopping list. Whether it is bath bombs, essential oils or scented candles, this could be a simple way to make yourself feel cosy and warm.

 

Have you experienced hibernation urge? What little things help you to keep on track in the winter? Let me know in the comments below.

Chat · Reflection

Four Things I’ve Learned This September

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Fresh fruit and nature – September 2018

August ranks as the third most disappointing month of the year after February and January respectively. Which used to seem strange, given how much I love September. Then I figured it out.

September is supposed to be autumnal.

Nobody expects sunshine and beaches and ice-lollies. If I have to get a raincoat out in September, I’ll go with the flow. In August, that’s a disappointing summer. These days I’ve learned to embrace the cycle of nature a little more but I still notice the darkness creeping in every August.

My month has been about editing. Editing a 42,000 word (give or take) manuscript. It’s a strange old time – a triumph because I am putting in so much hard work and learning heaps about chapter and scene. In reality, many authors write three or four manuscripts before they are published (I’ve heard everything between 2 and 9). This perspective is important – too many people think novel-writing is a one-shot game – but it is also daunting. I will have to face the blank page many times over if I want to make this a reality.

What have you been up to this month? Is August your favourite time of year? Chat to me in the comments below and I promise to reply. Here are some of the things I’ve learned this August.

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Old proofs are THERE to cut up

One of the highlights of book-blogging is getting to read books ahead of publication. Sometimes this happens in the form of a digital file. Sometimes a finished copy is sent weeks ahead of publication. Sometimes bloggers are set proof-copies.

A proof is essentially an unfinished copy of the text. That’s not to say the story isn’t finished, but details are allowed to change between the proof and the final version. Selling proof copies is blogger-sin No1 (Don’t. Just don’t.)

What do you do with a proof copy you don’t want to keep? Throwing away or burning them goes against everything I have ever been taught about respecting people’s hard work.

This month I found a solution – use them for craft.

Hang on a second – I won’t burn them but I’ll cut them up?

Craft is about creation over destruction. I think this act of creation means I’m treating the used proof with respect. The publishers don’t want those texts in circulation so using them for craft seems like a great answer. I’m partway through a Christmas decoration and can’t wait to share pictures online.

 

Collaborations = creativity.

This month I wrote a post in collaboration with the wonderful HelloBexa.

As much as I love my blog, there are times when I worry it gets a bit same-old. Those are the times to reach out to other people.  When I suggested the collaboration, I wanted something which would suit both our blogs. By looking at Bexa’s niches, I brought something new to my blog.

The Scrapbook Memory Jar may be one of my favourite blog posts this year. I would love to collaborate with other bloggers, especially bloggers outside the bookish-sphere.

 

Heritage open days are my new hobby

Late in August, I was asked by a member of my poetry group to help with the heritage open day at the local church. I was happy to help … but little did I know how much I would LOVE it.

Seriously. Next year I am signing up for every single slot.

What’s so great about leading people up and down a church tower?

Firstly, I met people from all over. A group of cyclists from Amsterdam on their way to the Irish Sea. People from the local area who I’ve never met before. People from other parts of the country with interesting jobs and life-experience. As an aspiring author, the best thing I can do is get out and *listen*. Heritage open day offered people to listen to in abundance.

Secondly, I learned so much history. Our guides were incredibly knowledgeable about the local area as well as the church and one of our visitors talked about local sites of interest from different time-periods.

Dare you to sign up for something different. Netflix is fun but talking to people is better.

 

Fruit tastes better when it is fresh from the trees

I learn this every autumn and relearn it with every mouthful. There’s no denying it. Food is supposed to be fresh.

We picked apples and plums from the trees on the village green and were sent apples and pears by different neighbours. Now everybody has taken their first crop there are buckets of apples all around the village looking for good homes.

As well as eating some fresh, we freeze lots of apples to keep a stock for apple-pie.

 

What have you learned this September? Do you love autumn? Let me know in the comments below.

 

blogging advice

Blogging Reflections: Find what works for you

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Here is some advice for bloggers. New and not so new.  

Eighteen months ago I started a book blog. I expected to review and analyse books. Maybe ten or twelve people would follow me but mainly I was in it to talk about something I loved. Almost 400 followers later, here we are. Blogging is a hobby which has become a large part of my life. It is a hobby which I am getting better at. A hobby which I am still learning about. 

If I have discovered one thing in eighteen months it is this – you can’t do it all. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Snapchat. Not to mention all the other websites and platforms you could engage with. There are bookish Twitter chats nearly every night of the week, and that is without readathons and challenges and one-off events.

Here’s the big question most bloggers ask themselves – how do you find out what works best?

Blogging is a journey. New bloggers are like explorers standing on the edge of uncharted territory. Sure, they have cobbled together a map from advice posts and videos and things they have picked up in conversation. That doesn’t mean you know what to do. Until you have checked out those platforms and spent some time creating content you don’t know what works. Here’s the secret all new bloggers need – every one of those platforms is about communication, but every one requires a slightly different approach.

I love Twitter. It is about summarising key information, catching people’s attention and building a like-minded Network. Aside from my blog, Twitter is my social media home. I’m enjoying figuring out Instagram although I’m finding it a challenge. Thankfully I am past the point of just snapping a wonky shot of the book cover but it has taken time for me to use my books to create something visually attractive. There’s a long way to go, but I’m enjoying the process. Facebook isn’t for me.

Eighteen months on I know which platforms I like best, That’s not to say I regret the earlier stages of my blogging when I juggled too much and tried a bit of everything. I learned so much along the way and I know that made me a better blogger in the long-run.

New bloggers are like explorers on the edge of uncharted territory. Find the lay of the land, then figure out which route works best for you. Your answer will be different from mine will be different from someone else’s. In short:

Find out how things work before you discount them.

Once you have learned about a platform, figure out to what extent you want to use it. If at all.

What works best is what works for you. You can’t do it all, but you need to know what is out there. In a constantly shifting landscape, you need to remain open to new ideas and new methods of communication. So long as you are open to learning and friendly to everyone you meet along the way, you will do fine.

 

Louise Nettleton

Do you use multiple platforms? What works best for you?

 

 

 

Lifestyle

Five Things I Haven’t Done Since September

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Spring has sprung. Or at least it is springing. The nights are getting shorter, the mornings brighter and Marks And Spencers are selling cute raspberry-flavoured miniature biscuits. However much I like the crispy days of early autumn, by the time spring rolls around I am as ready as the next person to kick off my winter boots and sit back in the sunlight. Lambs! Blossom! Spring is a time of new hope and good feelings.

It feels like a long time since September and sunlight. Here are some of the things I haven’t done since September which I am welcoming back into my life. birdRead a Book Outdoors:

I am the kind of person who will make an office out in the garden. A mug of tea, a couple of pillows and a stack of notebooks. There is nothing like reading and writing outdoors. Birdsong and fresh air and a natural breeze. The second we have three dry days in a row I will pull out my tent and set up camp in the garden. 

 

Worn shoes without socks:

When autumn came in I was pleased to get back into my winter boots. Right now I would be glad to kick them off. Socks no longer feel like a hug for my feet. They are starting to feel more like a prison. Time for a good pedicure and some vitamin-D. I can’t wait to feel the grass between my toes. 

 

Woken up in a good mood: 

Dark. Wet. Really dark. Waking up in the dark plays havoc with my body clock. How am I supposed to get up when my internal alarm-clock thinks it is the middle of the night? More to the point, how am I supposed to keep my eyes open? Never mind those smiley-happy people. In the winter I am not myself until I have had two mugs of caffeine and a kitty cuddle. Roll on dawn chorus at 4am. 

 

Eaten Cold Spreads:

Avocado slices, and homemade hummus and pitta bread chips. Cheeses and quince jelly and pomegranate seeds. Childhood holidays in Greece have given me a lifelong love of rolling feasts. There is nothing better than a table covered in salads and dips and miniature pies. 

 

Fussed over baby animals:

The lambs are back. Skipping on the hillocks and sleeping under the hedges. There are a group of sheep in the field to the side of the village green. Currently there are four lambs, all button-eyed and lively. I defy you to feel miserable when faced with a lamb. 

 

Reflection

One Year Blogging – Reflections

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Happy blog-day to me! This time last year I came home from an author event and started a book blog. What did I expect then? Maybe to connect with 20 or 30 people. To find adults with a theoretical/writing-based interest in children’s literature. In the intervening year my blog has gained 240 followers, and I have an extra 1500 on Twitter.

Thank you to every single follower. You are the reason I write this stuff. I love your feedback and opinions. I love talking to you about books, and hearing whether my review caught your interest. 

 I have made friends, even finally met a couple, and a couple of my quotes have appeared in the front of books I admire. Not bad for my little bloggie.

I don’t dish out blog advice on a regular basis because I have barely started learning and it has been written before. Written better. Occasions like this seem a good time to reflect, and I do think there is value in these posts for people just starting out. When I searched for blog advice last year, the questions I was asking were newbie questions. The things everyone had forgotten about. I also found a lot of conflicting advice. 

Here are some learning-curves I hit. I can’t tell you the answer, because you will have to find your own right. I can tell you about the places where I have had to rethink or revise my approach.    birdNegative Reviews:

The blogging community seems split on what is more difficult, a positive or a negative review. Personally, I find negative reviews harder. The difficulty is:

  • how much to write
  • what purpose your review serves

Some people say you must post them to maintain integrity. Others say you shouldn’t spread your miserable opinions. No subject causes more conflict in the kidlit community. You need to find your own answer, but these tips might help:

  • never tweet an author or publisher into a negative review. Sounds simple, but it happens surprisingly often. I think this is because what you think of as a three-star or fairly enthusiastic review might come across as negative to someone invested in the book. Save author tweets for books you loved.
  • don’t fall back on the cliches. We all do it in our early reviews ‘if I had been this age’ ‘I would have done xyz’ and ‘I would have given it four stars BUT …’ are review cliches. 

 

Network beyond Twitter chats. Networking is about building connections with people. Twitter chats are a great place to start, but it wasn’t until I networked outside of scheduled chats that I made meaningful connections.

 

If you’re looking to build social platforms, you need to be flexible about the content you are willing to include.  If you’re blogging for fun and stats don’t matter to you, write what you like when you like. My blog falls somewhere between. Writing chatty content was a big step towards building my stats.

 

Find the hosting which works for you – I started on Blogger, but didn’t really get going until I moved to WordPress. Free WordPress (.com) is easy to edit, and brings people to your posts through WordPress reader. Now I’m looking at self-hosting options a little too often to pretend I’m not considering it. My storage on free WordPress might see me until the end of the year. After that, I will have to self-host or delete old media. I’m not sold on self-hosting. I would love to redesign my website and have more flexibility to code links in, but free WordPress is like the training pool. It is safe. It is easy. Unless I expand my blog into something other than a hobby, I am not certain I want to move.

 

Use more than one social platform – Twitter is my main social media platform. It is where I have most followers and it is the format I find most useful for connecting with people. Ask yourself where you would be if your main platform closed overnight. I don’t spend hours of time setting up pictures for Instagram, but I have started to build my network. Discord is great for blogger chats.

 

What have you learned in your time as a blogger? Share your reflections below. 🙂

 

Stationery

Stationery – Why I have a Pencil Case

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Last week I said my love of stationery began with a writing course. This is true … but I loved stationery once before. September. What does the word September mean to you? Once upon a time, it meant the start of the new school term, but more importantly it meant a new pencil case. Do you remember the choices? Themed stationery or plain? Pencils or felt-tips? Should the pencil sharpener match the pencil-case or contrast?

By the time I was twelve I had a room full of pencil-cases. My friends once counted around the bedroom. It added up to more than one a year. There were pencil tins – the best ones had special trays, which turned them into multi-layer tins. These looked really smart until they burst open in the school corridor. There were those fantastic zippered sets which came ready-packed with their own notebooks and pens. Do those still exist? Disney used to make them for every major film release. My favourite childhood pencil case had three sections, which meant grotty pencils could be kept separate from writing pens.

It is fair to say that until I was a teenager, my pencil case was like my second home. It was also a statement. One year I had a bright red pencil case with a cartoon spider. A couple of years later, I wouldn’t have been seen with such a thing. It was matching pink equipment or nothing.

I have grown back into stationery, and am pleased the digital age has not seen away pencil cases. I have draws full of pens, but my pencil case is reliably there when I am working. My current pencil case is dark purple, and nature-themed. I bought it the day after that writing course. The one which made me take my writing seriously. It reminds me that writing is a pleasure, and that the implements which allow me to record my thoughts are precious. Children have it right. Our pencil cases reflect who we are.

Louise Nettleton

What was your favourite childhood pencil case like? Do you think pencil cases are important, or just a necessity?