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How to Self Publish a Poetry Book

After twenty years of reading and writing poetry, I’ve just released my first self-published poetry book!

‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’ is available on Amazon and at Dial Lane Books in Ipswich (Suffolk). Click here for the Amazon Link.

I made it using the free Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) method as it’s probably the cheapest and most user-friendly but there are many other alternatives such as lulu.com and ingramspark.com

I was really pleased with the quality. It definitely feels like a ‘proper’ book and the quality of the formatting and paper is actually much higher than many traditionally published books.

It’s currently selling very well – both online at Amazon and Dial Lane Books in Ipswich, Suffolk.

As it’s got biographies at the back and contains a great deal of historical information, I got it listed in ‘Historical Study and Teaching’ as well as poetry. Although it only got up to about #500 in poetry, for a while it was #17 in this category. Not bad for a self-published book!

May be an image of text that says "#15 KS3 History KS3 History Workbook: Prepare for Secondary School (Collins KS3 Revision) 32 £5.99 #16 COURSEWORK A-level History Coursework Workbook: Component 3 Historical investigation (non-exam assessment) 87 £6.00 #17 HIRTY ANGRY Thirty Angry Ghosts: Poems by Mai Black GHOSTS £7.99 #18 The First World War: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) 257 £5.99 #19 ENGLAND 1547-1603 My Revision Notes: OCR AS/A-level History: England 1547-1603: the Later Tudors 41 £9.20"

If you’d like to make your own poetry book, here’s my rough guide to self-publishing poetry using KDP

  1. Select some poems you would like to publish. You might like to pick a theme such as ghosts, nature or well-being.
  2. Edit, get feedback and edit again. Read your poems aloud too and use a computer program to read it for you. I like Natural Reader (There is a free version which is very good).
  3. Search for and watch lots of YouTube videos about self-publishing your book. You might like to start with this one by ‘Reedsy’.
  4. Watch a few YouTube videos entitled ‘KDP or Ingramspark’. This one by Victoria Griffin is a good place to start. Click here for the link to Victoria’s video.
  5. Ideally, talk to someone who has already self-published a book.
  6. When you feel you have a fairly good understanding, click on this Kindle Direct Publishing link.
  7. Enter your details and upload your book and cover in PDF format. (The website will give you tips about how to do this. I recommend you download the free templates they suggest).
  8. Check the layout and order three proof copies.
  9. Give two proof copies to people you trust so they can give you feedback. Check the third one yourself and compare notes with your trusted readers.
  10. Make changes to your original document, save it as a PDF and re-upload it.
  11. Order new proof copies and if these come back okay, click ‘publish your paperback book’.
  12. Your book will now be available on Amazon. You can also order ‘author copies’ from KDP which you can sell face-to-face.

Warnings (I wish I’d known about these)

If you click ‘publish your book’, it will be on Amazon forever. You can not remove it although you can change the cover and contents. Therefore, make sure you are completely happy with the proof copies and online viewer before you publish.

Before you use the KDP program, make sure you have a good understanding of ISBNs. You might like to use the free KDP one but you might be better off buying your own personal one if you want to get your books stocked by other retailers other than Amazon. You can read all about UK ISBNs and purchase one from here: Nielsen ISBN Store.

This is an ISBN number. You find them on the back of most published books.

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful. I’m still quite new to publishing, so if you have any other tips to share with other readers, please put them in the comments.

Best wishes with all your poetic endeavours.

Mai x

http://www.suffolkwritersgroup.com

Dial Lane Books, Ipswich. A very proud moment!

Inspiration for your own angry ghost poem

After reading some of the poems in my book, you might like to try writing one of your own. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Firstly, choose to write from the point of view of one of these people or, if you prefer, think of someone of your own.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein, Portrait, Theoretician Physician

Angry that people blame scientists for the atomic bomb.

Emily Pankhurst

Angry that so many modern women choose not to vote.

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Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell. (1599-1658) on engraving from the 1800s. English military and political leader best known for his involvement in making England into a stock photography

Angry that people celebrate Christmas.

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Next…

  1. Research your chosen person.
  2. Note down three or more facts about them.
  3. Imagine yourself as that person.
  4. Think about why they are angry.
  5. Think about who they might be angry at and direct your poem at them.
  6. Write in your characters’ voice.

Don’t feel you have to come up with something amazing on your first attempt. I spent months on some of my poems – and I’m still not happy with quite a few.

There’s always room for improvement but I still feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. I hope that you will too.

Good Luck

PS If you’re feeling stuck, here are some other characters you could write about

Robin Hood

Angry that most of Sherwood Forest has been cut down

Shaka Zulu

Angry that people don’t love their mothers enough

Jane Austen

Angry that she never got properly paid for her novels

Vincent Van Gogh

Angry that people only appreciated his art after he died

Lady Jane Grey

Angry that she was only queen for nine days

the language of poetry

Even though I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry, I’ve never felt very confident about using similes, metaphors and other poetic techniques. When using metaphors and similes in particular, I find it hard to avoid cliché and make them flow naturally with the rest of the poem.

Thankfully at the time of writing Thirty Angry Ghosts, I was reading and discussing at least one poem a week with other members of Suffolk Writers Group. These included some beautiful, inspirational work by Phyllis Wheatley, Elizabeth Barrrett Browning, Louis McNeice and William Wordsworth.

As is the case with someone who learns a foreign language, the more poetry I read, the more the language of poetry got into my blood. After a while, metaphors and similes began to seep out into my own writing fairly naturally. It is only now, looking back, that I can see how many different techniques I used.

Here are some examples

Some of these I used consciously and some just came out naturally. If you are using these resources for educational purposes, you might like to note down which techniques these quotations use and (if you have time) how they bring out the themes and meanings in the poems whilst (hopefully) adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Repetition
  • Rhyme
  • Rhythm
  • Alliteration
  • Consonance (like alliteration but the repeated consonants can appear anywhere in the word, not just at the start).

I have written a completed table below this one. Of course, your answers may differ from mine, especially the ‘Effect’ column. Poetry affects everyone differently after all.

Poem and QuotationPoetry TechniquesEffect
Neanderthal Woman   ‘the flame grew high, pierced the sky, licked its great orange tongue round the moon and spat.’  
Neanderthal Woman   ‘your nights will fill with memories of mechanical monstrosities’  
Neanderthal Woman   ‘She found rhythm in the rocks to match my chattering teeth.’  
Helen of Troy   ‘tangled his heart in the webbing of my silken locks.’      
Helen of Troy   ‘at the knife-edge of night and nightmares’    
Boudicca   ‘I was a drum thudding low and heavy beating out the sound for war.’    
Abu Bakr II ‘we reveled in the salty spray’    
Abu Bakr II   ‘wind lashed the waves’  
Abu Bakr II   ‘the emerald-tipped trees bowed down low’    
La Malinche   ‘For my words had wings and could fly to any man with ears to hear.’    
La Malinche   ‘the men who took me, chained me traded me for trinkets’  
La Malinche   ‘I was the face of the moon in a darkening sky. I was the bright, shining stream running over the rocks.’    
Henry VIII   ‘Fine jewels around the neck of an ugly girl shine like flies crawling upon excrement.’    
Henry VIII   ‘Taken by women stolen by women illegitimate women despised by God.’    
Margaret Catchpole   ‘Songs sung by Ancient Voices that surge silver rivers round the dry red rocks and soothe the scalded forest land.’    
Margaret Catchpole   ‘The Oak and Ash on pipes and fiddles Earl Soham Slog The Old Bass Bottle.’    
Ludwig van Beethoven   ‘Snip! – I heard it, quite clearly’    
Mary Shelley   ‘The earth trembles, turns and tumbles’    
Mary Shelley   ‘and a springtime of knucklebones surges up through the soil.’    
Mary Shelley   ‘And with their bones and blood and flesh the roots of the cypress tree shall be fed.’      

My Version – Don’t worry if yours is completely different. I just thought you might like to compare the two.

Like I said, I wasn’t totally conscious of all these things when I was writing. When I was editing, however, I worked hard to bring the techniques to the fore.

Poem and QuotationPoetic TechniquesEffect
Neanderthal Woman   ‘the flame grew high, pierced the sky, licked its great orange tongue round the moon and spat.’  PersonificationThis makes the flame seem like a conscious being which adds to the sense that it is wicked and dangerous after having taken on a life of its own.
Neanderthal Woman   ‘your nights will fill with memories of mechanical monstrosities’AlliterationI think the ‘m’ sound resembles someone calling for their mother but who is weakened or gagged. It is a mixture of a soothing sound and the sound of someone having restless sleep.
Neanderthal Woman   ‘She found rhythm in the rocks to match my chattering teeth.’Consonance and AlliterationThe ‘r’ and the ‘t’ sounds are intended to echo the sound of the rocks being rubbed against each other as well as hitting each other.
Helen of Troy   ‘tangled his heart in the webbing of my silken locks.’  MetaphorThis is a metaphor for love, taking the familiar, pleasant image of ‘silken locks’ and making her hair seem like a dangerous net or spider’s web.
Helen of Troy   ‘at the knife-edge of night and nightmares’    MetaphorThe use of the knife metaphor adds to the sense of danger and fear.
Boudicca   ‘I was a drum thudding low and heavy beating out the sound for war.’  Metaphor and ConsonantsThe repeated ‘d’ sound and the repeated ‘u’ sound (assonance) echoes the sound of a drum.   This metaphor shows that Boudicca feels powerful, strong and no longer human.    
Abu Bakr II   ‘we reveled in the salty spray’AlliterationThe repeated ‘s’ sound echoes the sound of the waves hitting the deck.
Abu Bakr II   ‘wind lashed the waves’Personification and alliterationThe repeated ‘w’ sound echoes the sound of the wind.
Abu Bakr II   ‘the emerald-tipped trees bowed down low’  PersonificationThe personification of the trees adds to the sense of Abu Bakr’s power in that even nature wants to praise him. This echoes the earlier phrase ‘the sun shone down a celebration’.  
La Malinche   ‘For my words had wings and could fly to any man with ears to hear.’  Metaphor    This emphasises how powerful her words were.
La Malinche   ‘the men who took me, chained me traded me for trinkets’AlliterationThe repeated ‘t’ sounds are reminiscent of someone tutting which emphasises how stupid she thinks the men were.
La Malinche   ‘I was the face of the moon in a darkening sky. I was the bright, shining stream running over the rocks.’  MetaphorThese images show how powerful she was but yet demonstrate how she was a symbol of hope, harmony and natural innocence as opposed to the violent cruelty of the men.
Henry VIII   ‘Fine jewels around the neck of an ugly girl shine like flies crawling upon excrement.’  SimileThis simile emphasises Henry’s distaste for women if they are unable to please him.
Henry VIII   ‘Taken by women stolen by women illegitimate women despised by God.’  Repetition and RhythmThe rhythm and repetition emphasise his outrage.
Margaret Catchpole   ‘Songs sung by Ancient Voices that surge silver rivers round the dry red rocks and soothe the scalded forest land.’  Alliteration, Rhythm and MetaphorThe repeated ‘s’ sounds are supposed to be reminiscent of the sounds of a river. The water metaphor demonstrates the power and soothing quality of the songs whilst the rhythm is meant to echo the music itself.
Margaret Catchpole   ‘The Oak and Ash on pipes and fiddles Earl Soham Slog The Old Bass Bottle.’  Rhyme, Rhythm, AlliterationThese are real, traditional Suffolk folk songs which I researched on the internet. I had a lot to choose from and I was pleased to find the half-rhyme with ‘fiddle’ and ‘bottle’ because, together with the alliteration and rhythm, it makes the stanza sound a bit like a song.
Ludwig van Beethoven   ‘Snip! – I heard it, quite clearly’  OnomatopoeiaThe word ‘snip’ imitates the sound of a pair of scissors.
Mary Shelley   ‘The earth trembles, turns and tumbles’  AlliterationThe repeated ‘t’ is supposed to echo the sound of the earth moving.
Mary Shelley   ‘and a springtime of knucklebones surges up through the soil.’  Metaphor and AlliterationAgain the repetition of ‘s’ is supposed to echo the sound of moving earth. The metaphor of comparing knucklebones to bulbs growing is meant to be nightmarish but yet hint at the environmental theme in that life can come from death and vice versa.
Mary Shelley   ‘And with their bones and blood and flesh the roots of the cypress tree shall be fed.’    Alliteration, Repetition and RhythmThe alliteration, rhythm and repetition of ‘and’ is supposed to be reminiscent of verses from the Old Testament which ties in with the overtones of Judgement Day. It is also supposed to sound a bit like a spell or an incantation. As such, I am trying to make the reader question whether Mary’s actions are just and fair or whether they are cruel and inspired by revenge.

Match the themes to the poems

Major Themes Explored

Revenge, Environmental Issues, Education, Human Potential, Reputation, Beauty, Story-Telling, Wealth, Sexism, Unfairness, Greed, Wisdom, Community, Justice, Love, Human Frailty, War, Mysticism, Archeology, War, Empire

Write the major theme or themes explored next to each poem.

Many of these are open to interpretation and there is always more than one answer.

Name of GhostThemes or Themes
  
Neanderthal Woman 
Tutankhamen 
Agamemnon 
Helen of Troy 
Homer 
Aeschylus 
Julius Caesar 
Cleopatra 
Boudicca 
Genghis Khan 
Abu Bakhr II 
Joan of Arc 
Wu Zetian 
Mansa Musa 
La Malinche 
Anne Boleyn 
Henry VIII 
William Shakespeare 
Pocahontas 
Adolf Frederick of Sweden 
Marie Antionette 
Margaret Catchpole 
Beethoven 
Mary Shelley 
Maria Quiteria 
Abraham Lincoln 
Queen Victoria 
The Unknown Soldier 
Grigori Rasputin 
Marie Curie 

Here are the major themes I had in mind when I was writing. It may be that you interpret them differently.

Name of GhostThemes
  
Neanderthal WomanEnvironmental Issues
TutankhamenArchaeology
AgamemnonUnfairness
Helen of TroyBeauty
HomerStory-Telling
AeschylusReputation
Julius CaesarReputation, Unfairness
CleopatraWisdom, Beauty
BoudiccaRevenge
Genghis KhanCommunity, Environmental Issues
Abu Bakhr IIReputation
Joan of ArcRevenge
Wu ZetianReputation
Mansa MusaWealth
La MalincheReputation
Anne BoleynSexism
Henry VIIISexism
William ShakespeareReputation
PocahontasRevenge
Adolf Frederick of SwedenGreed
Marie AntionetteJustice
Margaret CatchpoleLove
Ludwig van BeethovenUnfairness
Mary ShelleyEnvironmental Issues
Maria QuiteriaSexism
Abraham LincolnHuman Frailty
Queen VictoriaEmpire
The Unknown SoldierWar, Unfairness,
Grigori RasputinMysticism, Wisdom
Marie CurieHuman Potential, Education

What do people want from a first chapter?

I asked members of the writing group what they want from the first chapter in a novel.

Here is a selection of the answers:-

Jen

I need to feel pulled into the story, dropped into the middle of the action and convinced that I don’t want to climb back out again! I like an immediate sense of action and character. I want to be intrigued, surprised even, but not confused. l like prose that is effortless to read but has emotional resonance and rhythm. I want the writer to make me feel – to make me connect – from the very first page.

Tony

Intrigue and engagement. If it is a writer I know I am likely to settle in confidently. If it is a new one he or she will need to engage with me by the thoughts and ideas which I am reading. These provide the intrigue for the story development however slow or fast that may be.

Mike

The reader’s attention must be arrested by the first sentence. The lead need not necessarily appear, but should certainly in the chapter that follows. There must be movement. Not necessarily physical, for example someone running or swimming, but a sense of movement towards danger, or the unknown. The reader must immediately care about the character in play, enough to wish to know what happens next. Lack of movement, in other words stasis, is death to the opening chapter, and therefore the book.

Here’s a list of things other people said they are looking for in a first chapter:-

  • Being immediately immersed in a scene
  • Beautiful language
  • A character in conflict
  • An original voice
  • An engaging, welcoming voice
  • A likeable character
  • A feeling of forward momentum
  • Empathy and/or sympathy
  • Believability
  • Questions that need answering

Here are some of the things that would put us off a novel

  • Being confused
  • Incorrect grammar/spelling
  • Small, dense text in an unattractive font
  • A lack of originality
  • A setting we can’t identify with
  • Too much backstory
  • Cliché

What about you? What are you looking for in a first chapter?

Join the Suffolk Writers Group Facebook Page to take part in this and similar discussions.

First Chapter Creative Writing Course

Live on Zoom, ten sessions, small group, one-to-one feedback by email

In Summer 2021 I’ll be running a course to support people with writing and editing their first chapter. Email me if you want to go on the mailing list for that or any of the poetry or short story writing courses.

suffolkwritersgroup@gmail.com

Members of Suffolk Writing Group 2020

Good Openers for Novels

Head lamp
Head lamp

I just had to publish these story openers from Dan, Gem and Kelly. Fantastic work, you three!

A Little Known Story of Graeme Le Saux

Graeme Le Saux liked to pretend he was a lampshade. After all, he had to find something to fill the time after he couldn’t make football punditry work. He felt much more suited to this. And every Sunday in the quiet of his Surrey home, he’d put a lampshade on his head and sit perfectly still for a few hours or so.

He’d really come along since he’d first started. Having fashioned a proper shade out of one of his wife’s old dresses, and running electrical wires to his head to actually make light. “I’m going to be the best lampshade ever,” he thought to himself.

He remembered back when he’d first started and his old Southampton teammate James Beattie had called him a homo and a complete tit when he told him of his new hobby but he didn’t care, he was beautiful. And that’s all he really wanted to be. He’d tried to show it in his marauding runs and kicking David Batty whenever he played him in his football career. Only now did he really feel he had brought light into the world in a way he never had before.

He was running from room to room one day. Trying different places and generally giggling like a crushing schoolgirl, when there were his friends. Gathered round with sombre looks on their faces. Graeme would never forget this day as the day that he ran and never looked back. Some say that if you look in the mirror and say his name three times he appears, and that he still lights the darkest places. The truth is, no one really knows.

By Dan

 

Busy Hands

Truly Furlow’s hook wove the wool deftly. She’d first learned to crochet as a young child at her grandmother’s insistence – “The Devil finds work for idle hands” she always said. Trudy, being only small at the time, thought that as her grandmother always found work for her hands, the old woman must be the Devil. Her wide blue eyes would squint away in fear as the hook and wool were handed to her. Being only small, she dare not disobey.
Twenty years of daily crochet had turned her into a pro; she could whip up a wooden extravaganza wherever she was. But her favourite place was here – the graveyard of St Mary’s on the Quay. It was a graveyard love had long since left. The only flowers were thistles and the stones were crumbling like hobnobs dunked in tea for too long. A soupy mist would often sneak in from the nearby river and tug at her ankles as she sat on the bench. It was an atmosphere most would find creepy but Trudy felt safe here. Safe from the Devil.
Purple strands stirred through the black as the hooded cloak she was crocheting grew. Soon she would start on an edging of silver thread – but not yet. She needed to do it under the light of the full moon so it would soak up the moons protection and cast it over her when she wore it. But the moon had not yet risen and she needed that protection. Today was her 27th birthday. Her grandmother would be coming for her.”

By Gem

 

Claire Morris liked watching black and white movies. At 42 she was past caring about having company. She preferred to go on her own, submersing herself in worlds of handsome heroes. She would imagine herself to be the beauty they fought over, instead of the short, mousy haired woman she really was.

It was Sunday afternoon and she was at the Playhouse Cinema, row ‘h’, centre seat. It was her place of worship. As the glow of the screen shrouded her, she felt truly happy. Far removed from the realities of life, from the disappointment it contained. Occasionally the outside world would try and worm it’s way into her consciousness. Why couldn’t her husband be as chivalrous as Cary Grant? She would feel the familiar knot of anxiety stir in her chest, but she pushed it back down. She refused to think about him. Not here.

By Kelly