Strettondale Probus Talk

The Strettondale Probus Group

I’ve just got back from doing a talk to the Strettondale Probus Group, a great bunch of chaps who asked a lot of questions at the end, so I hope that means I entertained them well! They certainly entertained me well afterwards with a great lunch at the Longmynd Hotel and they supported me brilliantly by buying a lot of books!

Our World Book Night

The Remains of an Altar by Phil Rickman
Our World Book Night dedication

Further to my World Book Night posting I made yesterday, and Nicola Morgan’s suggestion of a complimentary action of actually BUYING a book from a bookshop and giving it away free to someone else (to the benefit of the bookshop, publisher and author), I have done just that! I walked into my excellent independent bookshop, Burway Books of Church Stretton, and purchased a copy of Phil Rickman‘s The Remains of an Alter. Phil Rickman sets many of his books within the Diocese of Herefordshire, of which Church Stretton falls, so it has a wonderful local connection. But even better than that, the owner of Burway Books, Ros Ephraim, is even mentioned in the author’s credits (page 504) for the help she gave him whilst researching for this particular novel. It seemed the perfect book for this event!

Whilst I was writing the dedication inside (pictured above), Ros approached an unsuspecting young woman and asked her if she would like a free book. Understandably, she was a little taken aback, but graciously accepted the gift in the spirit of World Book Night.  If everyone who commented on Nicola’s Blog has done what they promised to do, then Our World Book Night efforts will have made a small contribution to booksellers, publishers, authors and readers up and down the country too.

Let’s hope that next year’s World Book Night is bigger, better, and more supportive of bookshops, and authors who are perhaps not as well known as the authors in tonight’s free book giveaway. And of course, you don’t have to wait until World Book Night in order to give a book to somebody. It’s an action you can do at any time of the year. And it’s one that not only benefits the recipient, but a whole chain of grateful people too.

World Book Night

World Book Night logo

So, it appears that World Book Night is almost upon us. As an author, it is great to see an event that encourages people to read more books.

Nicola Morgan’s excellent blog, ‘Help I Need A Publisher‘ raises an important point – that giving away books for free has its drawbacks. For more information visit her post – Our World Book Night – where she suggests the brilliant idea that people should go to their local independent bookstore, purchase a book (thus benefiting the retailer, the publisher and the author – in other words – the entire book industry) and then give the book to a friend as a gift, in the spirit of World Book Night. (The 25 authors won’t be receiving royalties for the copies of their books being given away free, although they are benefiting from a general uplift in the sales of those books, brought about by the extra publicity they are receiving.)

The Leader column in this week’s The Bookseller magazine (04 03 2011) says, “At the most basic level we can already see an uplift, albeit small, in sales of the 25 chosen titles [that are being given away free by World Book Night ‘givers’]. On average they sold 13% more in February than they sold in January and 16% more this February than last. This goes some small way to allay fears expressed, principally by independent booksellers, that giving away free copies of books would damage sales.

Unfortunately, The Bookseller doesn’t clarify whether that increase in sales for the 25 chosen titles were made through independent booksellers, or via the big boys (Waterstones, Amazon, etc).

World Book Night isn’t perfect, but it’s the first time that anything like this has been attempted. In my opinion, World Book Night has caught the media’s imagination far better than World Book Day. It’s a good foundation from which to build something that could benefit the entire book industry. Let’s hope World Book Night becomes an annual event, that everyone within the book industry benefits from.

8th March – Meeting Point House – Telford

I’ve been invited to talk about writing for the magazine market at the Telford Writing Workshops, based at the Meeting Point House, Telford. The workshops, organised by Lynne Tildesley, take place on Tuesday evenings, and I’ve been invited to talk on Tuesday 8th March 2011.

For further information about the Telford Writing Workshops, visit or email

The workshop begins at 7pm and lasts for 90 minutes.

The Wrong Number

The Wrong Number appeared in Writers’ News magazine

When Lisa Edwards’ telephone number appeared on Ricky Butcher’s mobile phone in an episode of the BBC’s popular Eastenders soap opera last year, she soon discovered what happens when a real-life telephone number is used in a piece of drama. Some 2,800 people either called her or sent a text message.

And in a scene where several different characters from the BBC’s popular Dr Who television series tried desperately to get in contact with the Time Lord, viewers spotted that 07700 900461 was the telephone number the characters were dialling in an attempt to reach David Tennant. Nearly 2,500 viewers tried ringing the number, but thankfully this time, all they heard was the unobtainable tone.

Whether you are writing a short story, novel, radio or stage play, film or television script, there may be times when it is necessary for one character to call another. Having a character answer the telephone, “Bristol 496 0303,” may help convey characteristics, or even the era in which your fiction is set. Telephone numbers can add further realism to your storyline. The question is, if you want to use a number, do you make one up, ring it, and if no one answers go with that one? Lisa Edwards would be the first to say no. Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, would also shake their heads in dismay and even consider taking action for infringing privacy regulations. What you need is a dedicated fictitious telephone number.

Have you ever noticed how telephone numbers in American dramas always seem to begin with 555? This 555 area code has some telephone numbers set aside purely for fictional use in film and television dramas. Similar fictitious codes exist in other countries too. In the UK, Ofcom has even created geographical fictitious telephone numbers, meaning that authors can create a Bristol area telephone number for their Bristol-based character, and a Nottingham number for their Midlands-based archrival.

Telephone numbers tend to comprise two sections, the first being the geographical area code (0121 for Birmingham), the second being the unique code allocated to an individual or business. Being able to use the same UK geographical area codes as those used in everyday real life enables us to add more authenticity and realism to our fiction. It’s the second part of the telephone number, where the fictitious element of codes apply. As Liz de Winton from Ofcom explains, “They are allocated specifically for these purposes and won’t be allocated to telecoms companies.”

Telephone numbers are allocated in blocks of consecutive digits to the various telecommunications companies who ask for them. So, by allocating a block of numbers purely for fictional use, writers can use any number from within this fictional range, safe in the knowledge that in the future, the number they choose for their main character won’t suddenly be allocated to a butchers in Swindon.

You can choose any number from within the fictional range of numbers. For example, if you have a character based in Sheffield, then you can give them the telephone number 0114 (the real Sheffield geographical area code) 496 0123 (from the fictional range). The fictional range of numbers offers 1,000 variations for each area code. Check the numbers carefully, because the fictional range of numbers allocated differs for areas such as London, Tyneside, Cardiff and Northern Ireland.

If your character does not live in one of the UK geographical areas that has a dedicated numerical fictional range, Ofcom suggest that you use the ‘No Area’ geographical code of 01632, and use a number from within the fictional number range of 960000 to 960999.

You can’t register a fictional telephone number; they are merely a selection of numbers available for use in any form of fiction. It’s possible that you could choose a fictional number for a character, and another writer could select the same fictional number for one of their characters. Fictional numbers also exist for other common telephone dialling codes, such as mobile phones, freephone numbers and even premium rate numbers.

American Fictional Telephone Numbers

Wherever in the world your characters are based, you may be able to give them a fictional telephone number. Although American fictional numbers famously begin with the area code 555, the fictional range that follows this is quite small. Only 555-0100 to 555-0199 are specifically allocated for fictional use. Other 555 numbers are used in real life, such as 555-1212, which is used as one of the numbers for directory enquiries in North America. Be aware that this range (555-0100 to 555-0199) is only valid for North America. Other countries, such as Iceland and Australia, also have 555 area codes!

Australian Fictional Telephone Numbers

The Australian Communications and Media Authority have set aside numbers for fictional use too. Aliska Angyal-Kvalic, from the ACMA, says, “It is anticipated that these numbers will not be allocated to individuals in the future, in order to minimise the impact on the general public as a result of the general public dialling numbers mentioned by fictitious characters appearing in novels, in films and on television programmes.”

For information about fictional telephone numbers available in other countries, seek out the country’s telecommunications regulator, usually a government agency, via the Internet. From there, either the website itself, or the public relations team will be able to help.

Being able to give your characters a telephone number can add a touch more realism and authenticity to your fiction, but you should always ensure that the number you use has been set aside for fictional use. In the American film, Bruce Almighty, God tries to reach Jim Carey’s character using a pager, and the number shown was valid in many different areas of America. Thousands of people rang it, asking to speak to God.

It may be good for your characters to talk to one another by phone, but picking the wrong number could have serious consequences – for your characters, for you, and for the person at the other end of the telephone!


UK Telephone Numbers Allocated for Fictional Use

Geographical Area Geographical Area Code Fictional Range of Numbers
Leeds 0113 496 0000 to 496 0999
Sheffield 0114 496 0000 to 496 0999
Nottingham 0115 496 0000 to 496 0999
Leicester 0116 496 0000 to 496 0999
Bristol 0117 496 0000 to 496 0999
Reading 0118 496 0000 to 496 0999
Birmingham 0121 496 0000 to 496 0999
Edinburgh 0131 496 0000 to 496 0999
Glasgow 0141 496 0000 to 496 0999
Liverpool 0151 496 0000 to 496 0999
Manchester 0161 496 0000 to 496 0999
London 020 7946 0000 to 7946 0999
Tyneside/Durham/Sunderland 0191 498 0000 to 498 0999
Northern Ireland 028 9018 0000 to 9018 0999
Cardiff 029 2018 0000 to 2018 0999
No Area 01632 960000 to 960999
Mobile Phones 07700 900000 – 900999
Freephone Numbers 08081 570000 – 570999
Premium Rate Services 0909 8790000 – 8790999

Australian Numbers Allocated For Fictional Use

Geographical Areas Numbers Available for Fictional Use
Premium Rate 1900 654 321
Central East Area Code (covering NSW and ACT) (02) 5550 XXXX(02) 7010 XXXX
South East Area Code Region (covering VIC and TAS) (03) 5550 XXXX(03) 7010 XXXX
Central East Are Code Region (covering QLD) (07) 5550 XXXX(07) 7010 XXXX
Central and West Area Region Code (covering SA, WA and NT) (08) 5550 XXXX(08) 7010 XXXX
Mobile Phones 0491 570 1560491 570 1570491 570 1580491 570 159

0491 570 110

Freephone and Local Rate 1800 160 4011800 975 7071800 975 7081800 975 709

1800 975 710

1800 975 711

1300 975 707

1300 975 708

1300 975 709

1300 975 710

1300 975 711

What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath was published in Country & Border Life magazine
What Lies Beneath was published in Country & Border Life magazine

Slow Journey County: Powys

Slow Journey Destination: Llangorse Lake

Slow Journey Distance Travelled: 3 miles

A January mist swims across the surface of the water, swallowing all that rises above its depths. The still, cold air is broken by the frantic call of a startled Tufted duck escaping into the sky, and an occasional, unaccountable ‘plop’ is accompanied by a tiny ripple that floats its way towards us. Standing at the end of the jetty, we’re hovering above the water as our eyes try to penetrate the moisture molecules that the wintry sun hasn’t yet gained the strength to evaporate. Llangorse Lake it seems, wants to hold onto its secrets a little while longer.Continue reading →

Ganging Up

Ganging Up was published in The Society of Author’s journal – The Author

For those of us who are not offered the support of the publisher’s entire publicity department to promote our latest book, sitting alone in a local bookshop, trying to sell it ourselves can be immensely demoralising. Persistent rain, the final of a great sporting fixture, or the lure of a more exciting event five minutes down the road, is all it takes to tempt any potential buyer away. The solution is simple. Don’t do it alone. Instead, make it a multi-author event. Not only is there safety in numbers, but there are other benefits to be had too.

A couple of years ago, the (rather forward thinking, in my experience) manager of the local WHSmiths branch advertised a ‘local author’ day. I got in contact and was offered a small table from where to sell my books. When the day arrived, I met 11 other authors, a few I already knew, but many I didn’t, all from within a 25-mile radius. Our book subjects and genres varied considerably from local history, dog humour, gardening and World War 2 memoirs through to romantic fiction, local walking guides and even senior citizen satire. The day went extremely well. I sold books, (yes, plural) and it was a great networking opportunity.

We realised that a lot of the success was because of the diversity in subject and genres. People came into the store to see what was on offer. They were browsing. All my sales were impulse purchases. No one had come in specifically to buy one of my books, but because there were so many authors in one store, cumulatively, we were ‘an attraction’.

At the end of the day we all swapped contact details, and thus began the start of many similar multi-author events, some of which we’re beginning to organise ourselves now. Our biggest event recently took place during the first bank holiday weekend last May. Attingham Park, our local National Trust property, holds an annual second-hand book fair during this weekend. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss; the place would be full of booklovers! We approached them, explained that we were a group of local Shropshire authors and felt that offering the public an opportunity to meet an author (and buy their books!) neatly complemented their second-hand book fair. We also volunteered to donate, 10% of our sales generated over the weekend.

Amazingly, they agreed, proving that if you don’t ask, you don’t get! They liked the extra publicity angle of having local Shropshire authors at their book fair. They supplied a magnificent marquee with tables and chairs, enabling us to create an author/book tent. We publicised ourselves and the book fair in the local paper and on the local radio, thus offering further publicity to the National Trust.

Although the Trust’s book fair runs across the full bank holiday weekend, we choose to start small and be there on the Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday only. Visitor figures for the whole weekend proved revealing. On the Saturday (when we weren’t there), 1,300 people turned up, this increased to 2,000 on the Sunday and on Bank Holiday Monday (with typical Bank Holiday weather) there were still 1,400 visitors. So, more visitors turned up when we were there. The Trust were delighted with this, and as a result have asked us back for the full three days in 2010!

From the public’s perspective, it seems that a room or marquee full of several authors isn’t as daunting as one solitary writer sitting behind a desk. “With a group of you there, it’s easier for people to come in and browse without feeling pressurised to go to a specific table,” says Dorothy Nicolle, who kindly organised our National Trust event this year. “You know how it is with some people, there’s a solitary author sitting there and they try to walk past without even glancing in the direction of the author for fear he or she might catch your eye. A group certainly has an advantage.” We’ve found that as a group, people browse our stalls like they would at a craft fair or county show.

From the author’s point of view, we’ve discovered that such multi-author events offer more than just increased book sales. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to talk to other writers about what they are doing,” says one of our authors, Diane Perry. “In the past I have been inspired by chatting to them and the booksellers who may also attend these events. You pick up a lot of information, just by being on the stand next to another writer.”

Organising such events is an ongoing learning curve for us as we continue to seek out new opportunities. But for anyone else considering this approach, here’s what we’ve learnt so far.

Authors: Obvious, but I’ll say it anyway, for a multi-author event you need authors! Some of us already knew each other from the local writer’s circle, but that first meeting at the WHSmiths store was where we really began. However, we’ve continued to expand through word of mouth, and we also make enquiries in other local bookshops. Owners often have good contacts with local authors, as do libraries. Search the Society of Author’s website for other members. A simple first 2 letters of the post code search often brings up a good selection.

Administration: At the moment, we’re still quite small, about 20 of us in total. Most are on email, but a simple database keeps track of contact details.

Finding venues: So far, we’ve operated like this in our local branch of WHSmiths, although whether other members will find their local store as accommodating, it’s difficult to say. But, just like we found with the National Trust, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. We’ve also been in independent bookshops as well as Attingham Park, so check what’s available in your locality. We’re hoping to approach other National Trust properties, but are considering libraries, church halls and other local festivals. One member is investigating the opportunity of linking in with a local literary festival. Clearly it makes sense to target places that book-loving people are attracted too, which is why we approached the National Trust’s book fair, but don’t dismiss any tourist attraction or event.

Keep it small: Especially to begin with. Make your first events relatively short, a couple of hours, targeted at the busiest anticipated time, e.g. 10am till 2pm. Go for longer times at bigger venues with bigger crowds. Never underestimate how long it takes to set up, you’ll always need more time!

Remember variety: When setting out your tables, play on the strength and diversity of your subjects and genres. Mix everyone up, don’t ‘theme’ authors together. We’ve found that mixing encourages the public to browse for longer. Try to plan where individual authors will be placed in your venue before the event, rather than on the day, but be flexible. A leaky marquee can cause havoc!

Finally: Have fun! It’s another opportunity to sell your books and meet the public. And as Diane Perry says, “It’s not just about selling on the day, it’s a great way of marketing for future sales and events.”

(c) Simon Whaley

Double Word-Score Winner

Double Word Score Winner was published in Yours Fiction Special

“Not another triple letter word, Jock! Leave some for me,” I said, exasperated yet again. That was another 24 points on his score, not that he needed them. I did. And I needed them badly.

“Angus, you’ll never win if you miss an opportunity like that. Twice you could have used that triple letter square but you didn’t, so I have. Just add the points up and take your turn. That’s if you can go.”

Continue reading →

Find The Time To Write

Find The Time To Write was published in Writing Magazine

If you were given an extra two hours a week, what would you do with them? Diane Perry decided to use hers for writing and has not looked back. Janet Johnstone gained a couple of days a week and has since been published in a variety of magazines in the UK and America. Julie Phillips suddenly gained a year and saw her name in print for the first time. Who gave them all this ‘extra’ time to write? They did.

Two Hours a Week
Diane Perry works full time as a civil servant and she also keeps horses and chickens. Life is hectic. But she’s the author of 100 Ways For A Chicken To Train Its Human and several articles in local county and smallholding magazines. She suddenly gained more time when she bought herself a laptop computer. How? She now takes her writing to work with her. “I use two lunch breaks a week for writing,” says Diane. “We have a small private meeting room with a huge desk and most importantly, no telephones! Two hours per week extra may not seem a lot, but I am always amazed at how much I get done in a solid hour without any interruptions. It has had a huge impact. My last three articles written during this time have been published, or accepted. Some were on a tight deadline, so I doubt that I would have got them done if it were not for my extra writing time.”

When extra writing time is limited like this, preparation is the key. You need to know exactly what it is you want to do during each specific writing period and how to overcome any problems you may encounter. “I use it for everything from the first draft to editing, and even research,” says Diane. “We are not allowed to use the Internet at work, so I have an encyclopaedia on my laptop, which is a useful tool to search for information and make notes.”

Buying a laptop computer has enabled Diane to literally buy herself more writing time.

A Couple of Days a Week
Janet Johnstone is a Health and Safety Advisor for a shopping centre, and whilst she’s approaching the time when many people consider retiring, that’s the last thing she wants to do! Janet used to get into the office before 7am in order to write before her colleagues arrived. Like Diane, these few hours a week were productive, but she wanted to write more, so she enquired about reducing her working hours. Her employers agreed, which means she has a couple of days a week to devote to her writing. However, as Janet says, creating extra time like this to write doesn’t mean that it all has to be spent on the writing process. “How many times has that spark of inspiration been lit, only to be extinguished because a full day’s work gets in the way? It’s ages before you’ll have that free time and by then, something has been lost. I have more time not only for writing, but also thinking – thinking without other matters getting in the way.”

Janet enjoys writing fiction and non-fiction, so her writing time follows no fixed pattern. “With an article deadline to meet, I will start around 7am or even earlier and I continue until I am completely satisfied. However, with short stories or when working on a novel, I write as and when inspiration fires in.” Having the flexibility of a whole day to do this rather than part of a day works better for Janet. It also has another benefit. “I would say the writing is far more enjoyable. There isn’t that need to squeeze it in between your working day and other essential tasks such as housework and cooking!”

That enjoyment has certainly paid off because Janet is much more productive. Since making this time to write, her articles have appeared in a variety of magazines including Doll Magazine, Teddy Bear Club International, BBC History, Living History, Woman’s Weekly and Doll Reader. Janet’s decision to invest more time in herself, is paying off.

The Gap Year
Julie Phillips was a part-time practice nurse and is a full-time mother. She caught the writing bug when she undertook an Open University course in 2007. “Suddenly the flood gates opened and I knew I wanted to write more and more.” The opportunity to do so arrived when Julie was given the option of taking a career break, putting her nursing career on hold. It was the push she needed.

Making this much time to write can have its drawbacks, particularly at the beginning. “Because I tend to write in a corner of the living room, when my partner and daughter are here it can be very distracting and frustrating – particularly if an editor rings and I’m trying to hold a professional conversation with Bob the Builder music blaring out from the TV! But the pros definitely outweigh the cons.”

However, having longer periods of time to write has also improved Julie’s writing experience. “I’m less stressed than I used to be, which helps with my creative flow. I also have greater flexibility, so when I’m researching for articles, I can go off and interview people during the week in the day time, which can be more convenient for the interviewee. Since I became a full time writer, I can take myself, and my writing, more seriously. I have no qualms admitting to people that I’m a writer. It’s what I do!”

Since beginning her career break, Julie has had numerous articles accepted and published, and seen her fiction in print in Australia.

Most writers would like to create more time to write, and although Diane, Janet, and Julie have all created different amounts of time, they’ve all benefitted from that investment. Two hours a week doesn’t sound a lot, but its equivalent to writing full time for two weeks every year. Where will two hours a week take your writing?


Diane says:
♣ Tell your colleagues what you are doing. That way they’ll be less likely to bother you.
♣ Plan what you want to spend time doing, especially if you only have a short break. You do not want to spend the majority of the time wondering what to do with it and then find it’s the end of your lunch hour!
♣ Enjoy it! Try not to see it as just working through your break. Take a huge mug of tea and nibble on your sandwiches wile being creative. It will pay off.

Janet says:
♣ If writing is in you and you can reduce your hours, go for it. We are all going to have more time ‘one day’ as we get older, but if you can afford it, don’t hesitate to follow that dream whilst you still have the drive and the energy required to be successful.

Julie says:

♣ Discuss your plans with friends and family. You can’t do it by yourself and you need that support network.
♣ Make sure you have everything you need to set yourself up as a writer before you take the leap. I would have made sure that I had my own writing space. You need that to keep all your writing stuff in one place and it looks professional, which means you are professional. It’s a psychological thing.

© Simon Whaley