Tea with the Vicar, or How (Not) to Market a Book

View to the church

I’ve been looking after my 91-year-old dad who has just come out of hospital after a bad fall. His confidence has been knocked and we still don’t know why he blacked out, but I can tell he’s improving. He’s started working on the fiddly bits of the galleon he’s building from scratch again, and there was a whole bingo card of swear words as he was engrossed in trying to get it right.

 My dad is fortunate in that he lives in a small village with a real sense of community. He has been heavily involved in the church and parish council for many years and there is a whole group of women in the village who have been looking out for my dad. In addition to umpteen phone calls, he had people calling in with eggs, biscuits and cakes all of which he was delighted to receive. Then he wonders why he has put on weight!

One call was from the vicar. She asked if she could pop around in the afternoon. Although she took over the three parishes just before Covid she hadn’t been inside my dad‘s house before.

So, the vicar came to tea. It sounded like a cliche.

Dad insisted I get down and wash the best China and prepare the tea and homemade biscuits when she arrived. I was happy to do that, and when I joined them in the conservatory, she was already discussing the readings for the next 8 o’clock service with my dad.

I asked her what the biggest challenge was in bringing together three parishes into one.

“Having three parishes is not the problem, the biggest challenge is trying to bring different factions together in the church. There are three different factions, liberals, the evangelicals, who are probably the most active, and the traditionalists like your dad. They all want something different for the church.”

We had an interesting conversation for about twenty minutes with Dad saying he didn’t want anything to change and he didn’t want the “happy clappy” services, thank you very much.

Then the vicar turned to me. “What do you do?”

“I’m a retired accountant, and now I write books.”

Most people would leave it at that, or say “that’s interesting,” and move on. However, the vicar is one of those people who listen intently and always seem as though they are genuinely interested in what you have to say. It’s very powerful and appealing.

“What’s the book about?” she asked and nibbled on a cookie, waiting for an answer.

Ah. How would I explain this? To add a bit of context, when I first came out to my dad many years ago, he cut me out of his will and had nothing to do with me for a long time. It’s been a long road back to being accepted and part of that acceptance is that we never talk me being a lesbian.

I tried to ignore my dad’s glare, although I could almost feel his eyes boring down on me, willing me to say nothing.

I wasn’t going to be silent, so I smiled at the vicar and said, “it’s a lesfic romance.”

She didn’t blink an eyelid, clearly knowing what that was, she returned the smile and asked, “Are you gay?”

I stole a glance at Dad, who stared at me stony eyed, his mouth a straight line.

“I am, but we don’t talk about it.” I indicated my dad.

“I’m not talking to your dad; I’m talking to you.” she smiled. “Tell me about the book.”

So, I proceeded to explain it being an intergenerational story, covering the period from 1939 to the present day, with themes of secrecy, prejudice and love.

“It sounds really interesting,” she said, “I’ll have to pre-order that.”

“You’ll have to shut your eyes on some of it.” I explained and she laughed and gesticulated that it wouldn’t bother her.

I have no idea if she has pre-ordered it, but I am very grateful. She acknowledged me, who I am and what I’ve achieved and wasn’t going to put up with any of my dad’s prejudices. It was the first time in twenty odd years that Dad has had to confront my whole truth (after the first disastrous time, I’ve never taken any girlfriends to meet him) and it was good for him to hear that the church has moved on, somewhat, and the vicar approves and encourages me and others like me.

Needless to say, Dad has not mentioned the conversation at all, but I think he’s had to think about it.

Afterwards, I thought how bizarre that I’m happy to chat about the book to the vicar, the plumber, and window cleaner, because that doesn’t feel like marketing. Yet I balk at having to sell myself, or go online onto the various Facebook and Twitter groups and say, hey you don’t know me but buy my book, it’s great.

That’s what I’ll have to do, though. Maybe if I can treat it as if I am just chatting with friends and they’re asking what I’ve been up to, then it will feel more natural.

Does anyone actually enjoy doing the marketing? To me it feels like selling myself, selling my soul, not letting people know about what I’ve been working on for the last year. And now it’s available to pre-order, it’s all starting to feel a lot more real.

Getting “In The Mood”

Most of our visitors never see Jerry, our neurotic cat, they just catch a glimpse of a white flash as he retreats to his nearest hiding place. But whenever I am working he appears at my side, “helping” with the writing by batting at my fingers, sitting on the keyboard, or in this case, choosing a playlist to set the tone.

My current work in progress, Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes, is an intergenerational story, part of which is set during the second world war, so it’s been fun to select old songs to get me In The Mood, or in this case, choosing the D Day Darlings rendition of We’ll Meet Again. That track has been the theme tune to this story, partly because the older couple, Maud and Bea, keep getting separated; first by the war, then by convention and work and subsequently by Maud’s family.

When I wrote my short story called Pele, for the second Lesfic Eclectic volume, I listened to Iz’s version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which always makes me cry. I also listened to Pixar’s Lava on repeat to get into the Hawaiian vibe.

Talking to various writer friends some can’t listen to music at all while they write, others only while they edit or do admin tasks. I probably fit in to the latter category, and if I’m not working on a particular theme I tend to listen to opera because it’s full of passion and feeling. Now, I just need to make sure I translate those emotions into my writing :0) .

Editing is Hard



The stream of consciousness writing, the word dump, is the easiest bit of the writing, for me anyway. I like to scribble when I’m half-awake in the early hours of the morning. Ideally, I’ll then drift back to sleep with the opportunity for a second go around when I wake again around seven.

But the editing is hard. Why? Because I have to chip away at a crudely shaped draft stuffed with telling and formal dialogue and turn it into something that is engaging and beautiful. Well, that’s the aim, but I haven’t hit there yet.

Of course I’m talking about self- editing, before it goes to professional editors, such as the wonderful women at Global Wordsmiths, who spare no punches but will turn a raw manuscript into a crafted piece of work. They also run some great courses and I’m hoping that next year we’ll be able to go back to Spain, rather than zoom.

So, what has helped?

  1. I’ve just bought the program Pro Writing Aid to help with the grammar, but it won’t tell me when I am going off on a tangent, or have major plot holes (and there have been a number!).
  2. To help with the readability I’ve put my manuscript in Word, under the review section there is “read aloud” which converts text to speech. It’s very helpful to listen to what is working and what is not. Despite the monotonous tone and some strange pronunciations (sake being read like the Japanese drink rather than rhyming with rake for example) it’s been great for picking up pacing errors. And I make lots of those.
  3. I’ve read lots of books about editing. Perhaps my favourites have been the Jodie Renner books and those of James Scott Bell. But if you have recommendations, I’d love to know them.
  4. I’m also a member of a critique group, a group of like-minded readers and writers who meet monthly (on zoom) and critique writing uploaded onto Google drive. We are lucky in our group that we have some professional writers who give of their time to challenge and query, and we also have fun.
  5. And finally, knowing I have a professional editor who will challenge hard, but also support and encourage.

And it’s all in the name of better writing.


So why have I been struggling? I was told I needed to go deeper and show more emotion. In other words, be more vulnerable.

As I private person I find this tricky, I’ll be honest. I don’t like “to wear my heart on my sleeve for daws to peck at,” as Iago would have it. The fact that I’ve spent a career’s worth of report writing, trying to obliterate anything emotional from my writing or working life, it’s difficult now to prise open the shell and uncover what’s in there. But I’m still seeking the pearl.

And even when I have gone deep and retrieved a feeling, it’s how to express it that isn’t already cliched or elicits the response in the reader that isn’t a yawn.

As pearls are formed as a protection of the oyster against an irritant, like grit, maybe I should just accept the irritant and learn to dive deep and see what I can uncover.

But still, I shall dive deep, prise open the oysters and seek that elusive pearl.

Anyone else struggle with this?