Monday, May 30, 2016

Writer's Hat

FB did one of those reminder posts this morning. Back in the day....

I lie here contemplating a problem. It whirrs and clacks above my head. Thanks to my fan, this couch is the most comfortable, and certainly the coolest, place in the house. The coolest place on the island, according to many, and this is why my simple wooden fan has become the root cause of all my troubles.
I first saw it in a little shop in Fordingbridge five years ago, just the day before my ship was due to leave Southampton. I had been an electrician’s apprentice when I got my calling, and had been reliably assured that electricity had recently reached the Ponapeans. I was sure I would be able to make a satisfactory installation of such a useful object. Little did I realise how much it would be needed and never could I have foreseen what problems it would cause.
The trouble began before I’d even set foot on the island, a fresh young missionary full of hope and so joyous to be in such a remote and pagan part of the Pacific. The entire population came to welcome our ship and all eyes were upon me as I stumbled down the gangplank carrying my large wooden fan on my back. The porters, you see, had refused to touch it on the grounds that it might bring a voodoo wrath of the spirits down upon them. There was, I discovered later, not a small amount of speculation amongst the people as to what this strange star-shaped object was. Of this, I had no idea, so excited and preoccupied was I with settling into my new home.
I had come to join two other missionaries who had been here for many years. They are quite a deal older than I and, as I almost immediately realised, had gone native. They were welcoming enough but seemed to spend a deal of their time pacing around in their floppy shoes, shuffling through the heat from one room to another. I was left largely to my own devices as I prepared myself for my work.
I was delighted at first to have so many of the islanders come to visit me. They sat quietly listening as I read passages from the Bible and talked about the miracles of Jesus. I thought I’d found my calling in a big way. It was only as the days drew into weeks into months that it became apparent that the heavenward flickers of the eyes as I read, which occurred frequently in all visitors, and which I initially put down to my fine rendering of the holy words, were not aimed at God but at my fan.
And so the years passed. I resigned myself to the fact that God moves in mysterious ways and comforted myself with the fact that at least it kept them coming back to sit beneath the cool. I might add that I have had a fine conversion rate, almost double my predecessor. I can look forward to my return to the Missionary Society in St James’ with some pride.
As I look up at it now, I know it will be impossible to sleep this night until I make my final decision. For, you see, my tour of duty is over. The ship calls tomorrow to take me away from Ponapé for ever, and here lies my dilemma - I don’t know what I shall do with my fan. The problem is, everybody wants it. No one has actually come to me and asked me directly if they can have it. That is not the Ponapéan way of doing things. The way of life here is so very different from anything we know in England. Different, that is, to anyone used to organising himself by the clock and calendar in the belief that time goes forwards in even portions of arithmetic. You see, nothing here is direct. Life, it soon becomes apparent, is approached rather from a sideways angle. This trait can best be illustrated by comparing it to the habits of the Ponapé fish, unique to these waters. This is a fish which hunts backwards. That is to say it overtakes its intended victim and then squirts poison at him from its rear orifice as it swims towards him. By the time its prey has reached it, he is dead and ready to eat.
I shall miss Ponapé. Though it has many peculiarities and is far too hot most of the time, its beauty takes the breath away. Life in Hampshire will feel rather flat at first, though I must say I am looking forward to some good old bad English weather and tea and toast by the fire.
I have learnt a great deal these past five years. There had been only a very limited amount of reference material available back at our headquarters in London, and nothing at all on the peculiarities of the Ponapéan ways. Their different perspectives; particularly their way of dealing with time and space, possessing, as they do, a great deal of the former and a severely limited amount of the latter. Though you couldn’t call them scrupulously honest, there is no theft on the island and, highly coveted though it is, I have never had to worry about my fan being stolen. There is violence here, oh yes. Murder, suicide too, are commonplace. But theft, no. The simple reason being that on such a small, remote island, everybody knows everybody else’s business. Not least knowing exactly what each person possesses and, more to the point, what they do not possess. There is little point in stealing something when everybody knows who owns it, and where there is nowhere within thousands of miles for anything to be passed on to. Small islands have no fences, you could say. And so it is with my fan. Nobody would steal it from me, but there are many who want it. Desperately. And everybody knows my ship is coming tomorrow.
I have been approached from a variety of obliquely unique Micronesian angles by a large proportion of the population, each of them assuming in his individual way that he is my fan’s rightful inheritor. The Governor, the Rt. Honourable Maawal Beehap, has decided it will go up the hill and into the dining room of Government House. He sent a team of workmen down today to measure its dimensions along with an elaborately-decorated invitation for me to dine there at its inauguration feast. A pig will be slaughtered in its honour and consumed by vast numbers of the great and good of the island. Of course, he knows I shall be set fair by then for England, but this to him is a trifling matter. Equally certain the fan will be going in his direction is Mr Willy Wahndeema, the Leader of the Opposition, who has kindly donated it to the Ponapéan Community Centre Hall, the largest public meeting place on the island. That its breeze would be rendered virtually useless in such a large space is irrelevant. Then there is Morgan, one of the tribal chiefs of the island and the owner of the land my room sits on. He has the biggest smile I’ve ever known and the darkest heart. He assumes, naturally, that as my ‘strange magic wind wheel’, as he calls it, is installed on his territory it already belongs to him, owing to the undeniable fact that it is connected to his land by a lead which disappears into the ground. Just as any tree which grows from his land is unquestionably his property. I think you are probably beginning to understand the extent of my problem. I shall not go into detail about the hospital, the schoolmaster and the rest. The only people who don’t seem at all interested are my two companions here, but then they are far too gone to be bothered by such mortal concerns.
After five years on the island, I know it would be of no use suggesting the islanders get their own shipped in. Apart from the fact that only two ships call a year, this is not the point. It is my fan they want. And now the time is almost upon me to leave, the decision will have to be made. As I lie here looking at it chopping at the air like a primitive bacon slicer, I realise yet again the biggest problem of all. I, too, have become very attached to my fan and I don’t think it will be possible for me to leave the island without it.

CODA Extract from the London Missionary Society Annual Report dated l4th September 1932: It is with the deepest regret we hereby record the loss of one of our finest and most successful young missionaries in the field, Rupert Bartholomew Jones. Due to the remoteness of his posting, it has taken some time to ascertain why he did not return with the ship last year. News has now reached us that before he could board his ship he was lynched by a large group of natives and thence beaten to death by a heavy wooden fan which he was transporting from his residence to the dockside. Furthermore, we regret to report that no burial took place as his body was thence transported to the Governor’s House where, we understand, it was served up later that even as a banquet delicacy which the cannibalistic society refer to as ‘Long Pig.’ He was 23 years of age. May his soul rest in peace.
c. Stephanie Zia 2013

Monday, April 18, 2016


This posting started off in error as I meant to post on Blackbird Digital Books' Press Release blog. As I have had no time at all to update here lately I decided I'd post it anyway. It's a magical story.

Last week was the London Book Fair and tomorrow I go to Ukraine. Blackbird author Diane Chandler and I will be on a mini-book tour, appearing at the Arsenal Book Fair, Kyiv and at several private book events. Diane's book The Road To Donetsk is a finalist in The People's Book Prize and The Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author Award. It's a beautiful love story about an overseas aid worker set in Ukraine at the end of Communism in the 90s.

LONDON 18 APRIL: Blackbird Digital Books' new imprint, Nightingale Editions, launches today with news of its first signing, a debut novel Dark Water by Sara Bailey.

On the day Orkney resident Sara received her contract with Nightingale in the post, a visit to her local library brought an auspicious surprise. She was settling down with her library book group to discuss The Cuckoo's Calling when the author JK Rowling walked in. She had heard about the group after Orkney's chief librarian Stuart Bain had jokingly Tweeted an invite to her for some lemon drizzle cake. She stayed and chatted with the group for over an hour and posed for photos.

As Sara only had a digital version of the book with her, she asked if JK would autograph her Moleskine notebook, a brand favoured by writers the world over.
"She smiled," said Sara, "and looked at the notebook,
'Are you a writer?' she asked.
'I just signed my first book deal this morning.' I blurted out, my face going a deep shade of beetroot. She gave me a huge hug and looked round the room,
'Do they know, you're a writer? You must tell them?'
I hushed her and went even redder. This is Orkney we don't shout out things like that in public.She signed the notebook and wished me lots of luck. I didn't read what she'd written till I left the library. Good job too. I nearly cried when I did."

Dark Water, a psychologically intense portrait of adolescent yearning and obsession set in the Orkney Islands, will be published in ebook and paperback in October 2016. Nightingale's founder, author and writing coach Jacqui Lofthouse, says: "The Nightingale, of course, is a bird which sings in the darkness, and is considered symbolic of beauty and immortality. We aim to publish unique, original voices, voices which will endure. We believe in nurturing writers' careers and will publish only those who are deeply committed to their craft, to honing their own talent and thrilling readers with their 'song'."

CONTACT: Stephanie Zia, Blackbird Digital Books 2/25 Earls Terrace London W8 6LP
tel: +44 (0)7816 491189 Email: 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

It's London Book Fair Week: Some Public Speaking Tips For Shy Authors

It's London Book Fair week (12 - 14 April). I'll be on two seminar panels at Author HQ, the vastly expanded author area of the Fair.

The first is on Tues 12th April at 12.45. Accent Press author Jodi Taylor sounds like really good fun, and I know Diana Morgan-Hill is a natural in front of an audience so it's looking good for an entertaining and informative session. I'm also looking forward to finding out more about our hosts, Byte The Book. The second, on Thurs 14th April at 09.45, is about book prizes for new writers, hosted by Steven Gale. We have 3 authors in the finals of The People's Book Prize 2015/16 which, if that wasn't enough excitement, also includes the possibility of a publisher prize.

Industry spotlight: independent publishing - Is the future hybrid?

TUES 12 Apr 2016, 12:45 - 13:30

Author HQ
In a rapidly changing marketplace what is the best way to get your book published? There are advantages and disadvantages to the different routes to take, be it working with mainstream publishers, independents or self-publishing.   
Accent Press is an award winning independent publisher which has become a major name for dynamic trade publishing, with a range of fiction and non-fiction titles published across four imprints. They have just launched a new company, Octavo Publishing, for independent authors, alongside their existing business.  Author Stephanie Zia created Blackbird Digital Books in 2009 to self-publish a collection of her Guardian cleaning guru columns and now has a number of successful writers on her books. As mainstream publishers and agents began digital-only imprints, Blackbird went the other way, going from digital-only to digital and print books.  They have a strong belief that the hybrid author is here to stay, and that authors should keep control of their career options, a view reflected through their non-binding contracts.  Join Stephanie and Hazel, along with two of their authors, Jodi Taylor and Diana Morgan-Hill, as they discuss the pros and cons of the various routes to market.


  • Justine Solomons


    Byte the Book
    Justine founded Byte the Book , a writing and publishing collective in 2012. Her organisation helps authors and publishers make useful connections...
  • Hazel Cushion


    Accent Press
    Hazel Cushion founded Accent Press in 2003. The company now employs twelve staff with a turnover of over one million pounds. She has won numerous...
  • Stephanie Zia


    Stephanie Zia created Blackbird Digital Books in 2009 to self-publish a collection of her Guardian columns. Her first author, the ex-Transworld...
  • Diana Morgan-Hill


    At the age of 29, Diana Hill fell under a train. In 7 seconds the tall, glamorous businesswoman went from successful woman of the world with...
  • Jodi Taylor


    Jodi Taylor wrote her first book, Just One Damned Thing After Another in 2010. Unsuccessful in her attempts to interest an agent , she originally...

Book Prizes for New Writers

THURS 14 Apr 2016, 09:45 - 10:30

Author HQ


  • Dotti Irving


    Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers’ Award
  • Louise Lamont


    Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Stephanie Zia


Stephanie Zia created Blackbird Digital Books in 2009 to self-publish a collection of her Guardian columns. Her first author, the ex-Transworld...

Time for some public speaking panic, I mean prep. A friend said over the weekend that it's impossible to be nervous if you are smiling. Hmmm. Not sure rictus grin is a good look. By coincidence I have just been sent this infographic...

How to Master Public Speaking

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A New Writing Group, A Bookshop Talk & More Events

The Publisher Hat continues to rule over the Writer Hat. Busyness reigns but it just keeps on getting more absorbing and fun. Like most writers, being in the background suits me very, very well. 

I did get to be an author again for an evening at a writer's group in the New Forest. I was invited to join this (literally magical) group by Blackbird author Diana Morgan-Hill and this was my second visit. Sue and Mike are extraordinary hosts, they do B&B too, check out the Tripadvisor comments on them and you'll see what I mean about magical. This is the perfect place to bookmark for a writing retreat. 

Love & Justice author Diana is working on her first novel, A Jackie Collins-type romp, which is sounding so good. Diana is great company and her writing is just the same, intelligent, funny and you never want it to end. We drove there with author Christine Aziz, who is also well on the way with her new novel. Christine won the Richard & Judy Novel Writing Competition a few years back with The Olive Readers. She's a huge talent right at the literary end of the spectrum. I read a few pages from my children's fantasy novel, Trees, (um, working title), which suited the setting well in a big old house, deep in the forest. It prompted a conversation with Mike about his pet rescue owl which refused to go back to the wild and would sit watching the TV holding his hand with its claw. Trees is the writing I'll return to when time permits. 

Diane Chandler & I

Meantime back in London, this was a fun evening. The Chiswick Bookshop, London W4 is a new bookshop that has local authors and events at the centre of its ethos, as well as a chocolate shelf (with samples!) and other amazing goodies. Blackbird author Diane Chandler and Susan Lee Kerr talked about writing fiction from fact. Diane's book, The Road To Donetsk, a finalist in The People's Book Prize 2016 and the Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author Award, is set in Ukraine. Susan's book charts the life, real and imaginary, of her great grandfather Ephraim in The Extraordinary Dr Epstein

Wine, present and correct
Susan and Diane in full swing

Every bookstore should have a LOCAL AUTHOR shelf AND.....
...a chocolate shelf - WITH SAMPLES
plus a 10% discount on book orders 

Susan and Diane will be giving the same talk & opening the discussion to the floor again on Thurs 16th June at Richmond Adult Community College, Richmond, Surrey. 

Diane and I will be taking The Road To Donetsk on the road in April. One of the main events will be the Arsenal Book & Arts Festival, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Diane will be on the international stage on Thursday 21 April at 14.00. 

This will swiftly be followed by the London Book Fair, back home in Olympia. Diane isn't appearing there but I might be (PH, publisher's hat), am waiting for confirmation. It's a major event for authors, agents and publishers alike with so many seminars and events to enjoy. Author appearances this year include Jeanette Winterson, Marian Keyes, Tracy Chevalier, Meg Rosoff, Judith Kerr and Howard Jacobson. See the full programme of seminars and events, all included in the 3-day ticket price, here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Out And About

Some photos from a busy few months. Mostly with my publisher's hat on but also a very interesting writing break. First off, chairing an event at Richmond Adult Community College:

This was with authors Jacqui Lofthouse, Diane Chandler, and Susan Lee Kerr. We talked about the various publishing options now open to writers. Richmond is where I started. I loved it so much I did the beginner's writing class for a 2nd year before moving on to their Writers At Work workshopping course, which I also did for 2 years. From there, a few of us formed a writing group that met fortnightly for over 10 years. Happy days! Find out about Richmond writing classes here.

Photo c. Susan Lee Kerr

L-R Jacqui Lofthouse, Susan Lee Kerr, Stephanie Zia, Diane Chandler

Every publisher's dream: the queue for our mailing list! Photo c. Susan Lee Kerr 

Over 50 writers came along to RACC's beautiful theatre space Photo c. Susan Lee Kerr

Susan Lee Kerr on the L
Then I became a writer again for a day at The Writing Coach's 1 day Developing Your Novel workshop at Wallacespace, Covent Garden - a bespoke Central London venue for meetings. They not only provide rooms but also meals, smoothies, choccies & nibbles throughout the day. 
The Writing Coach UK Developing Your Novel class
I had a bit of a problem deciding on which of my pile of unfinished novels to go with (NanoWriMo last November only added to the turmoil). In the end I went for my completely out of the box epic fantasy novel. About 30,000K in the bag but has to be started all over again. An exercise where we had to pair off, become our main character and interview each other was very revealing. My story is full of story but little character development.
The Writing Coach UK Developing Your Novel class (see the sweeties!)
No time for writing just yet, though. 

Then it was on to Bath where I spoke about self-publishing to a lovely group of Women's Fiction authors at the London Book Fair's Write Now! weekend event. This was arranged in association with Harpercollins new digital imprint Carina. The lucky writers had a whole weekend of seminars, pitching events and networking with publishing insiders in a beautiful country house hotel

Unused to this sort of thing, I didn't prepare a Powerpoint presentation. I had enough planning to do alongside a few sleepless nights caused by public speaking anxieties. But now I do know why they're so useful, as much to keep the speaker on track as for extra audience info. It's good to see that mainstream publishers are opening up to direct submissions from authors for their new digital-only imprints. And slightly ironic that I am travelling in the opposite direction from digital only to digital and bookstore print books and am not accepting any new authors myself. We do have a wonderful new Commissioning Editor, Rosalie Love, who is reading submissions at the moment.
With the Harpercollins Carina team and author Fanny Blake

My brush with the exotic mainstream publishing world over, it was off to Portcullis House, Westminster, the heart of British politics, with Blackbird author Diane Chandler for a talk on tackling corruption and doing business in Ukraine by the rather glamorous Andy Hunder, the Head of the US Chamber of Commerce, Kiev. 

Facebook was mentioned several times. It seems that the digital revolution is doing its bit in helping to tackle the corruption problems. International investment is starting to take off again in Ukraine with companies like Vodaphone and Virgin competing for contracts. Diane had arranged with the organisers, The British Ukranian Society, for her novel to be featured at the event. More information about the Society and their events here. 
Photo c. Danielle Philomena Photography
Diane Chandler - Photo c. Danielle Philomena Photography

On the following day we were back in Westminster for an event centred around Diane's novel at DIFD, The Department For International Development in Whitehall. The novel's heroine is a young overseas aid worker, sent to Ukraine just after the fall of communism in the 90s. Diane drew on her experiences in Ukraine when she worked at DIFD. She came together with other alumni to discuss the impact of aid at that time compared to the current renewed programme, drawing on events described in the novel. 

Diane Chandler's Presentation at DFID 
Andy Hunder, President of the US Chamber of Commerce, Kiev with author Diane Chandler
Next stop Kiev...