The Nuts and Bolts of Writing
The Ace of Clubs?


With their propensity to form groups, it might be tempting to think that book clubs are a purely British institution, but I’ll wager that they’re as popular in Liège or Livorno as Little Snoring.

Are such clubs purely about reading and critiquing books, or is it the camaraderie of the group? The chance for expats to chat freely in their own language rather than a foreign one? The wine served during the meeting? The lunch afterwards? All of those?

For retirees, they afford a vital degree of stimulation. Once we hang up our boots, it’s fitting that we slough off the pressures and diktats of a busy career, but it’s all too easy to switch off completely and let the world slide gently by. The brain is a muscle like any other, demanding stimulation and exercise to keep cognitive powers and memory in peak condition and escape atrophy.

The raison d’être of a club is to steer people into reading books that they might not otherwise have read, or indeed, books which were hitherto totally unknown. The meeting to critique the chosen volume is equally valuable, because the responses come from a plethora of angles. Members often admit to re-reading a book from a different perspective as a consequence of the critique.

For me as a writer, being channelled into reading a variety of styles is fuel to my creative boiler. According to Stephen King: 'If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.'

The first book I had to read was AS Byatt’s ‘Possession’. It was a heavy read, both literally and metaphorically, at 511 pages. The story is good and introduced me to metafiction, where the reader is constantly reminded that they’re viewing a fictional work. As to whether it merits Time magazine’s rating of being one of the 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005, well, the jury’s still out.

In stark contrast, next in line was ‘This Is Going to Hurt’, the diaries of a doctor who climbed the greasy pole to senior registrar, then quit. Not for the squeamish nor your maiden aunt, it’s sad, poignant and hilariously funny in equal proportions. It sounds a loud hurrah for those on the front line and an even louder raspberry for National Health Service management.  Above all, it’s eminently readable, a worthy Book of the Year.

Last but not least is the current novel, ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’. For the first few pages, I wasn’t sure, then it gripped me. The book chronicles the life of Count Alexander Rostov from after the Revolution until the 1960s. Hauled before the Emergency Committee in 1922, he’s placed under house arrest in Moscow’s exclusive Metropol hotel where he lives on pain of death, but condemned to a frowsty garret rather than his normal luxury suite. Despite covering one of the most savage and destructive periods in Soviet history, the book is utterly charming, the storylines enchanting. Author Amor Towles is extraordinarily well read, with effortless references to literature of every genre and every nation.

Take my tip. If you want to be a better writer, join a book club.

Ghostwriting about ghosts Tags: paranormal ghostwriting southwest United States


I belong to the Society of Southwestern Authors, Valley of the Sun Chapter.  We meet monthly and today our guest speakers were Dan Baldwin, Rhonda Hull, and Dwight Hull.  They co-authored a book recently released entitled Speaking With the Spirits of the Old Southwest.

Dan is one of our members and a ghostwriter of some renown. He puts out a steady stream of fiction and non-fiction, both as a ghostwriter and as the sole author.

I found out today he is also a dowser.  I only knew this term when used for water witching, a skill my dad was good at, a skill needed for a rancher in the thirsty desert of Arizona.  Apparently it also describes someone who holds a string with a weight at the end, and when the spirits answer “Yes’ or “no”, it circles to the right or to the left.

The Dwights are paranormal researchers and come across as kind and humble.  Low-key and unassuming, they frequently mention that their goal in life is to help both the living and the dead, in whatever way they can. In fact, they do quite a bit of pro bono work, consulting on line and holding classes to help people find their own paranormal talents, to name two.  As for the dead, they pride themselves on helping people too frightened to cross over to wherever they go to do just that.

Rhonda is a “sensitive” whose talents include mediumship and clairvoyance.

 Dwight is an animal communicator.

These three traipsed through the desert and mountains of Arizona to abandoned mining towns and military forts.  There, they invited the spirits to converse with them and share their stories.  Certainly they’ve picked a popular subject.  Dan emailed a proposal to a publisher on a Thursday and got a call on Monday.  They bought the book that week.  Since it’s published the book has done well.  Thanks to a TV feature and a radio interview, it was a top-seller on for three weeks running.

I am familiar with some of the places they’ve gone to, including the famous Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone.  It was fun to read through the book today and visualize their experiences.  But more interesting than that was the simple layout Dan chose.  Each chapter begins with a few pages of the history of the spot or person they encountered, double that number of pages of the conversation’s transcript, a few pictures and a couple paragraphs of summary.

He is a straightforward, concise writer with no pretenses about writing for the upper echelon of readers. I admire that.  His books sell, and he makes a living from writing.

The book is available in soft cover, hard cover, and kindle.




Jo Brand

Jo Brand




Josephine Grace Brand was born in Hastings, East Sussex 61 years ago today. Her mother was a social worker, her father a structural engineer.  She was raised in a Kent village and left School with eight O-levels.

Growing up she spent much of her time with her two brothers, smoking, drinking and staying out all hours. Aged 15, she entered into a relationship with a heroin addict and eventually left home to live with him.

She worked in a pub and with adults with learning disabilities. Gaining a degree in social science and nursing in 1982, Jo went on to work as a psychiatric nurse for ten years.

An agent persuaded Jo Brand to begin career in stand-up comedy.  Aged 29 she took the stage in London clubs and received abuse and no applause for her very first act. Her deadpan delivered humour was drawn from the media, well-known celebrities and public figures. Ignoring the boos, catcalls and objects thrown at her, she persisted with her near-the-knuckle, often offensive and hard-style comedy to become a popular household name appearing frequently on television as a comedienne and in several TV shows and series. She has been involved in numerous fundraising events and supports a number of charities.

Shortly after beginning her career as a stand-up comic she married Bernie Bourke, a psychiatric nurse. They have two daughters.

Awards and honours

In  2007, Jo Brand was awarded an honorary doctorate for her work as a psychiatric nurse. The same year she received a Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing Lifetime Achievement Award.

In  2014, she was awarded a second honorary doctorate from Canterbury Christ Church University, for her work in raising awareness of mental health issues and challenging the stigma surrounding such illnesses.

British Comedy Award 1992: Top comedy club performer

British Comedy Award 1995: Best stand-up comic

British Comedy Award 2010: Best female TV comic

BAFTA 2011: Best Female Performance in a Comedy Role

British Comedy Award 2012: Best female TV comic

A fellow stand-up comic said of her "She is one of the loveliest people I've ever known. She's somehow reached the point where no matter how vicious she is in her act she still retains her generosity of spirit."

Joe Brand had also written 4 novels, 2 autobiographies, 2 non-fiction books  and a feature film in which she starred, an adaptation of her novel The More You Ignore Me. The film and the book share the same title.


Sorting Out Billy ISBN 0-7553-2336-X

Living in a London council estate, Billy is loud, badly behaved, has a vicious temper and beats his girlfriend. Three women get together and attempt to sort him out.

 It's Different for Girls ISBN 0-7553-2229-0

Set in Hastings, this is a novel about two teenage girls in the seventies sticking together against nutty parents and school bullies, enjoying all-night parties and discovering sex, drugs and punk music.

The More You Ignore Me ISBN 0-7553-2231-2

About a girl growing up with a mentally deranged mother and a hippy father convinced that she needs five personalities to cope.  The book was made into a film.


Look Back in Hunger ISBN 0-7553-5525-3

An autobiography about her early life and nursing years.

Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down ISBN 978-0-7553-5526-6

Autobiography about her rise to fame and fortune.

Non fiction

A Load of Old Balls ISBN 0-671-71385-X

Jo selects her top 50 men troughout history and savagely  portrays them with her unique hard-hitting style

A Load of Old Ball Crunchers ISBN 0-684-81695-4

Jo Brand’s portrayal of her selection of 50 famous women.

Her books are written in similar style to her stand-up humour and probably wouldn’t be an ideal gift for your Mary Whitehouse minded granny.  However, a fan of Jo Brand style comedy is likely to experience an enjoyable raunchy read.

Jo Brand Quotes

I never ever take into consideration the consequences of my actions until it's too late.

The way to a man's heart is through his hanky pocket with a breadknife.

In 2003, Brand was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.

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