Top tips for Twitter bios

Twitter-Follow-Me-Bird-300x243Okay, this title is a bit of a hostage to fortune: just how wonderful is my own Twitter bio? (I hear you ask). Well, you can check it out here.  It may not be the most fabulous bio ever (in fact, it definitely isn’t), but several people have told me they’ve followed me after reading it, so hopefully it can’t be too terrible. (Incidentally, it’s been up for a while – more or less since I joined Twitter – so I should probably think about changing it soon).

If you’re a writer I’m assuming you’re on Twitter to a) engage more people, b) get your name out there, and c) sell more books. If none of this applies, it probably doesn’t matter much what your bio is like. However, if you want to do any or all of the above, here are a few tips I’ve picked up from following (or choosing not to follow) literally hundreds of  writers over the years.

By the way, I originally intended this to be just one post, but after it threatened to exceed the word count of  War and Peace I decided to break it up.  What follows here is Vol. 1.

1. Don’t just put the single word ‘writer’.  A surprising number of writers do this – I always think it comes across as a bit arrogant: sort of a ‘and that’s all I’m going to tell you, you peasant’ attitude.  So what kind of writer are you? What genre? What books have you written? What have other people had to say about them?  The point about Twitter for writers is that it’s a fantastic, free way to engage with potential new readers – why should anyone care about you or your writing if that’s all you’ve got to say for yourself?

2. Bearing in mind the above, use the 160 characters you’re given, but please don’t make it 160 characters of concentrated sales pitch for your books. This is hideously boring to read and will almost certainly put off more people than it engages. People need to feel that they’re connecting with another human being before they’ll be interested in buying your books, so tell them something about yourself.  What do you like doing/reading/watching/eating?  I’ll always follow someone who says they like wine and/or chocolate, these being two of my own (guilty) pleasures. Or your passion might be hill-walking or snorkelling or cats or anything, really – just let the reader know a little bit about you. NB: as with most things, you can overdo this. You probably won’t impress people with a long list consisting of boasty things like off-piste skiing, sailing in your own custom-built yacht, collecting Hermes Birkin bags etc – unless you do it wittily (see below).

3. A little humour is great if you can manage it (in other words, if it doesn’t sound forced).  Don’t worry if you’re not Oscar Wilde: I personally find witty aphorisms (or attempted wittiness) more off-putting than appealing – and I’m sure I can’t be the only one.

4. Alliteration is memorable and engaging (there’s a reason headline-writers and poets use it).  Again, don’t force it.

5. The opposite of relentless pitching is not mentioning your books at all. One very well-known chick lit author I’ve come across doesn’t say anywhere in her Twitter bio that she’s a writer. Probably you can get away with it if you’ve sold as many books as her (and have thousands of followers already), but for the rest of us this is your chance to mention (just casually), that you’ve written a book or books, and what they’re about.  Do this at the end: remember, you’re not ramming your books down people’s throats.

Vol.2 (more tips, including examples) coming along shortly!


Truly terrible book covers #1

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A little while ago I retweeted an article from the Guardian on its choice of the five worst book covers ever. Penguin had just brought out a new edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, giving this much-loved (albeit dark) children’s favourite a cover more appropriate for Lolita or maybe The Valley of the Dolls – definitely top-shelf stuff to be kept out of the reach of innocent children, anyway.  

Yesterday I was emptying a bookcase in the dining room in order to relocate it elsewhere, and pulled out this little gem from the 70s, truly the decade that taste forgot.  This is not, as you’d surmise just by looking at the artwork, one of Barbara Cartland’s vast oeuvre, nor yet a racy bodice-ripper from the golden age of pulp fiction. It is, in fact, the third book in Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles, a beautifully observed series of 19th century novels detailing life in a small cathedral city and surrounding villages (You may, if you’re old enough, remember the wonderful BBC adaptation with a young Alan Rickman as the creepy, oleaginous Rev. Obadiah Slope).

Anyway, I thought I’d make this the first of an occasional series on the blog. Do you know any truly terrible covers, whether aesthetically-challenged, completely inappropriate for the book (I’d argue this one is both, by the way), or just plain dull-as-ditchwater?  Let me know, and I’ll feature it/them in a future post.



Book review: The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block by Hillary Rettig

I downloaded this book to my Kindle with no particular anticipation that it would be any better (or worse) than dozens of other self-help books for writers (I’m a bit of a sucker for these, and find with most of them that there’s the odd nugget or two of wisdom, while the rest is mainly padding). However, I was pleasantly surprised. Hillary Rettig dishes out kind, sane and eminently sensible advice on how to address and overcome the barriers that stop you moving on with your writing: there is something of value on every page. I really like the way she deals swiftly and sharply with those who, in the intensely hierarchical, insecure world of writing and publishing, seek to make themselves feel better by denigrating other people and their writing.

The only downside (and it’s a minor one) is that there are rather a lot of Americanisms for my taste (‘journal’ as a verb sets my teeth on edge a bit), but that really is a quibble. Highly recommended for all writers – not only those stuck behind the dreaded Writer’s Block.

A Scentimental Journey

Continuing my obsession with all things stripey and all things perfumed, particularly roses, I went to a plant fair at the weekend and came 2014-06-04 13.00.08home with this absolutely stripey-fabulous rose which I’d never heard of before. It’s called Scentimental (see what they did there?), it’s got red stripes on a cream background, and it’s going to take pride of place in my front garden (aka, in my more pretentious moments, the Rose Garden). Exactly where I’ve yet to decide, since the only obvious spot is slap bang next to the equally stripey Rosa Mundi, and I’m a bit in danger of a surfeit of stripes. There’s also a Winchester Cathedral Rose to put somewhere (bought by OH on a separate visit), and since that’s white it’ll go anywhere. Hmm, will have to think about that one. In the meantime I took a quick pic of Scentimental sitting on the patio in the rain. Isn’t it fab!

Waste not, want not


During the last few days I’ve been planting seeds: bright pink cosmos (I do hope they’re going to turn out like the ones above) and lovely pastel super-scented sweet peas. Still to come: larkspur, scabious, night-scented stock, tobacco plants, lobelia and a few others I can’t remember. I’ve set myself the task of using up as many as possible of the random collection of flower seeds I’ve acquired over the years – given, bought and saved -and which have been languishing in a biscuit tin in the garage for far too long. Some of them will be too old and won’t come up, but with any luck there’ll be enough to fill a border with colour and scent for the summer – and all for the cost of the large bag of seed compost I lugged home from the garden centre today. I’ll post the results (if any) in a few months!

A Bee in my bonnet


What’s not to love about The Great British Sewing Bee (currently on BBC 2 at 8pm on Tuesdays)? Very much on the same lines as The Great British Bake Off, it’s got likeable contestants, a jolly presenter (Claudia Winkleman), firm but fair judges, a dollop of Education and, in my case at least, the Envy Factor: i.e. How I Wish I Could Sew.

Oh, how I wish I could sew!  I love mooching round fabric departments and haberdashers, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the gorgeous fabrics. I love all the trims: the ric rac, bobbles, feathery and furry bits and bobs. I could make a cushion with that, I muse, or a lovely bag, or a skirt, or…. Except I couldn’t, of course, because my sewing skills begin and end with sewing on a button.

I still remember the mixture of emotions (envy, yes, but also shock, bafflement, disbelief, almost rage) when, in the throes of the last few 18-hour days  of panicky, coffee-fuelled cramming before Finals I visited the room of a fellow-student to borrow a book, only to find her with a mouthful of pins, calmly cutting out a wedding dress on the floor.  ‘Of course, take it,’ she said, smiling. ‘I’ve finished my revision.’   She went on to get a First and marry her fiancé later that summer, looking radiant in the aforementioned dress.  I’ve lost touch with her now, but I imagine her in charge of some kind of mega-corporation or Government department, returning home in the evenings to sew a pair of curtains and whip up a gourmet dinner party for 10.

Anyhow, if I’m so keen on sewing, why don’t I just get on with it and learn? (I hear you cry).  Good question, and the answer probably has something to do with an unedifying mixture of natural laziness, fear of failure and  the fact that my dear mama, who is also a whizz with the needle, is always happy to rustle me up a skirt, blouse or whatever if I buy her the fabric.  Oh, and that I can now get so much vicarious sewing pleasure from the TV.

Bad Hair Day



I’ve often wondered quite why is it that the state of your hair can make such a difference to your mood.  Recently, owing to the fact that I was beginning to resemble the rather darling alpaca (above), I trotted down to my usual hairdressers (not the most expensive in town, but not the cheapest either), to get my hair cut. My usual stylist was away, they said, but somebody else with similar qualifications and experience would wield the scissors instead. Fine, I said, settling myself in the chair and beginning to thumb through the latest glossies; go ahead, just the normal cut please.

So, forty-five minutes later, when she’d finished snipping and blow-drying and smearing various unguents on my (apparently very dry) hair, I looked up unsuspectingly from the latest news from Paris Fashion Week to inspect the result.  And… ARRGHHHH!  It was a total disaster!!! Shorter than a squaddie’s at the back, strangely bouffant on top, and with a sort of pointy effect over the ears that made me look like an extra from the Lord of the Rings. I stared, horrified, whilst she wielded the mirror with a complacent smile. OK? she said, replacing the mirror and whisking off my cape-y thing. Now, this, of course, was the moment to put her right. This was the moment to point out that this horror was nothing like my usual cut, in fact nothing like any hair cut I have ever seen on any human being, and was in fact an abomination. This was the moment when, if I’d been American, say, I’d have refused to budge until she’d remedied her hideous work.  This was the moment to howl like a banshee until the white-faced owner of the salon came running, wrested the scissors from her incompetent grasp and gave me a decent cut.

And did I? Of course not. I simpered Oh yes, thank you, lovely, very nice, thanks, great, thanks; paid the full amount (plus generous tip) and fled the salon, pulling my hood over my head in case I ran into anyone I knew.  And every time I’ve looked into a mirror since, I’ve winced.

Sometimes I hate being British.