Media

Catch up with what’s happening on our social media feeds, and find out about the latest authors to publish with The Book Guild… there’s also company news, the latest author events and a round-up of our latest reviews and media coverage.

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Media

Catch up with what’s happening on our social media feeds, and find out about the latest authors to publish with The Book Guild… there’s also company news, the latest author events and a round-up of our latest reviews and media coverage.

The Last Fairy – Chapter Three

The Last Fairy is a beautiful story by Andrew Goss, for children and their carers everywhere during the lockdown. We’ll be posting a new chapter each day this week so tune in each day to see how this magical story will unfold:

Illustration by Christina Scholz!

Chapter Three

“WE’LL have to make our own magic,” Zayd whispered, gazing intently at the little fairy resting on the palm of his hand. The tiny creature stopped crying and looked into Zayd’s big brown eyes. Was a child capable of making magic? The fairy had heard such things were possible before children became too old and distracted to forget their dreams. The little figure rose to her feet and hugged one of Zayd’s fingers gratefully.

“Do you know any spells, then?” asked the fairy.

“Only spellings from school, I’m afraid. And I’m still learning those. But I have an idea to create a different sort of magic, which just might help. Starting with the tooth.”

The fairy wasn’t sure.

“You can have my tooth for nothing,” said Zayd simply.

The fairy shook her head. “Couldn’t possibly.”

“Take it,” Zayd insisted. “It will surely help to make the pearly city strong against the black clouds. You can have it. I don’t need it.”

But the fairy shook her little blonde head sadly.

“It’s not possible. If I can’t give you anything in return it makes me feel sad. And when I’m sad, I feel heavy. Then I’ll never get off the ground. Fairies beat their wings on a tide of happiness they create whenever they make a wish come true – like leaving silver coins under the pillow. That makes for a speedy flight!”

“Hmmm,” said Zayd thoughtfully. And then he had an idea. He carried the fairy over to his pillow.

“It would make me very happy if you just took the tooth,” he said.

“It won’t work,” said the fairy.

“Then why don’t you give me something in exchange?”
“But I can’t do the money magic with a broken wand.”

“Then give me the wand – it’s beautifully made and would make me very happy.”

The fairy thought for a moment. It was true she had a collection of many different wands back at the fairy city. But letting a child have a magic wand – even a broken one – might cause problems. Then again, it would create the necessary stream of happiness to allow the fairy to return to the city with the tooth. It was a tricky situation. But it might just work. And who would know? Yes, she convinced herself. It was the only way. She smiled and glowed so brightly the whole room was bathed in golden light.

“That would allow me to fly easily… if you’re sure it would make you happy.”

Zayd nodded. The fairy held out the tiny item, no bigger than a sewing needle and the little boy took it in his fingers, examining the delicate craftsmanship, as only fairies know-how. It was sparkling silver with little golden stars that glittered and still gave off a little magic dust.

“It’s a deal, then,” said Zayd and the fairy darted quickly beneath the pillow for the precious tooth.
“I must get this back to the city above the clouds immediately,” said the fairy, hovering in front of Zayd’s face with the tissue package wedge beneath her arm.

“Will I see you again?”

The little creature nodded.

“Next time you lose a tooth… as long as you still believe.” She sighed before continuing sadly: “If only there were more children like you. Then there would be more fairies and more magic in the world – and more teeth to make the fairy city safe against the darkest storm clouds.”

“More magic. What do you mean?”
The fairy sighed impatiently.

“Don’t you know anything? Fairies are responsible for granting wishes all over the world to help the Almighty. What do you think the pearly white city is for? It’s not just for show, you know; it’s the source of all fairy magic.”

Now Zayd began to understand.

“Wait,” he said. “You mean if the fairy city falls from the sky, no more wishes can come true?”

“No magic, no wishes,” replied the fairy. “At least not as quickly. He’s very busy these days, you know. This internet thing has made everything so much more difficult. People have to believe to create the magic that binds the universe together. Don’t you know anything?”

Zayd felt he did know quite a bit. But what the fairy said sounded sad.

“You see the problem,” the fairy added.

“So it all depends on people believing,” mumbled Zayd, echoing the fairy’s sadness. And he felt he knew it was true. The fairy nodded.

“Suppose somebody was able to make lots of people believe in fairies?”

“I’d grant them their fondest wish, that’s for sure,” said the fairy.

Then it reached out its tiny hand to shake Zayd’s little finger.

“I’ve got to fly now. But thanks for your help.”

The little fairy disappeared in a puff of golden smoke before Zayd even had time to utter the word ‘goodbye’ and suddenly found himself sitting in the dark. But he could still feel the tiny wand he held between his fingers. And Zayd had another idea. He smiled at the thought of what the next day would bring as he closed his eyes and fell into a deep and comfortable sleep…

Stay tuned for Chapter four tomorrow!

 

Andrew Goss is the author of The Humanitarian, a novel set against the backdrop of a devastating natural disaster – the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which killed 80,000 and left millions homeless. The paperback novel will be released in July this year, but Andrew has recently released a charity eBook edition of his novel to raise funds for “some of the most vulnerable in our society to help them come through this terrible time.” All the author’s proceeds from the eBook edition will be divided between Action Homeless in the UK and desperately poor communities in Pakistan, where he worked and drew inspiration for his book. Find out more about the charity eBook here.

The Last Fairy – Chapter Two

The Last Fairy is a beautiful story by Andrew Goss, for children and their carers everywhere during the lockdown. We’ll be posting a new chapter each day this week so tune in each day to see how this magical story will unfold:

Illustration by Christina Scholz!

Chapter Two

UNDER the covers Zayd pinched a small fold of skin between his fingers and squeezed firmly. The clock downstairs suddenly stopped ticking. He watched as the light came closer. What if the fairy should see he was still awake? He shut his eyes and kept perfectly still.

The greyness of his closed eyes became red, then bright orange as the light came closer. The flutter of tiny wings grew louder. And suddenly, they stopped. In the same instant, he felt a little pat on the pillow beside his face, as if a tiny object had suddenly dropped beside him. He opened his eyes slightly and found himself squinting at a little figure no taller than a matchbox, surrounded by the brilliant light that lit the room like a candle. It had its back to Zayd and was much too busy looking for something to notice he was awake, as it struggled to slide its tiny arms underneath the pillow, tutting to itself like an angry bumble-bee.

It was quite the strangest creature Zayd had ever seen. It was dressed in sparkling yellow clothing which consisted of lycra mini-skirt, jacket, shiny golden tights and tiny heeled boots. The little head was a flame of blonde curls, through which Zayd could see pink pointed ears. And as it wriggled it threw out a cloud of golden dust from delicate wings upon its back, which began to fill the room like a cloud of glittering light. Zayd felt a tickle on his nose and before he could stop himself shattered the silence with an enormous sneeze, sending his little visitor shooting across the bedroom like a firework across the sky, and into the far wall, sending sparks in all directions.

Zayd gasped. The little creature had fallen to the floor and its light had become weak and dim. What had he done? Curiosity overcame his sense of fear and he swung his legs out of bed and tiptoed towards the glowing light. The dazed fairy rubbed her eyes in disbelief at the large child approaching. And pinched herself.

“You’re not allowed to see me. You’re supposed to be asleep,” she said angrily in a squeaky voice barely louder than the quietest whisper.

“Sorry,” said Zayd in reply and the fairy put her hands over her pointed ears.

“Shhhh! You’re hurting my ears!”

“Sorry again,” whispered Zayd. “Are you all right?”

The fairy nodded.
“But I’ll have to put you to sleep right away,” she said, whipping out a magic wand from a ruffle in her skirt. “Before you hurt me.”

“But I won’t hurt you and I don’t want to go to sleep.”

“I’m not risking it. I’ve seen what big people do to each other,” said the fairy and performed a strange weaving motion with her wand. Nothing happened. She tried again, with a delicate sweep of her arm. The tiny wand was broken.

“Oh dear,” said the fairy and tapped the little rod against the carpet, as if this might suddenly fix it.

“See what you’ve done,” she added unhappily. “Now I simply can’t do the magic.”

Zayd smiled. “Good, because I want to see what happens.”

“You don’t understand, stupid. Not the sleep thing. Changing your tooth into silver coins. I can’t take your great white tusk without performing the money magic. Now I’ll never get the tusk back and without it, I can’t save the fairy city. And I am certain to become the last fairy.”

Zayd was puzzled. “The last one?”

So, the fairy explained…

Once upon a time, when Zayd’s Papa was a boy, there were thousands of fairies and children’s teeth were plentiful enough to build strong castles in the sky, high above the fluffy clouds where the great fairy cities floated on the four winds. Even above Africa. And especially above Algeria.

But a great tragedy had befallen the fairy kingdom. People had stopped believing in fairies. Children began to lose the magic of belief and give their dreams to new computer worlds. And their imaginations were being dulled by mobile phones. And every time a person stopped believing, a fairy dropped down dead. Great pearly white cities had fallen into decay and black storm clouds smashed the magnificent fairy castles. And the fairies were disappearing fast.

“Even when your older sisters stopped believing there were still many thousands of us. But now I fear I may become the only one. I haven’t seen a fellow fairy for quite some time. And the city…” She began to cry. “The last city is falling into decay, threatened by the biggest, blackest clouds I have ever seen.”

“Perhaps I can help,” said Zayd and took the little fairy gently in his hand…

Stay tuned for Chapter three tomorrow!

 

Andrew Goss is the author of The Humanitarian, a novel set against the backdrop of a devastating natural disaster – the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which killed 80,000 and left millions homeless. The paperback novel will be released in July this year, but Andrew has recently released a charity eBook edition of his novel to raise funds for “some of the most vulnerable in our society to help them come through this terrible time.” All the author’s proceeds from the eBook edition will be divided between Action Homeless in the UK and desperately poor communities in Pakistan, where he worked and drew inspiration for his book. Find out more about the charity eBook here.

The Last Fairy – Chapter One

The Last Fairy is a beautiful story by Andrew Goss, for children and their carers everywhere during the lockdown. We’ll be posting a new chapter each day this week so tune in each day to see how this magical story will unfold:

Illustration by Christina Scholz!

Chapter One

ZAYD lay perfectly still. He was waiting, listening in the semi-darkness, eyes wide open as he peeped over the covers into the shadows. Everyone was in bed and in the quiet of the night he could hear the sound of his own heart beating. Thumpity-thump, thumpity-thump…

Through the gap in the curtains, he could see the moon and the silvery light which shone into his room allowed him to see the shapes of his bedroom furniture. But the longer he lay there, the more sounds he heard. The ticking of the big clock downstairs grew louder and louder. And the quicker his heart began to beat. Some of the shadows in his room took on monster-like shapes so that he hardly dared look from beneath his covers. Yet he was determined to stay awake, on this night of all nights and pinched himself whenever he felt his eyes closing. Underneath his pillow lay the first tooth he had lost. It had ‘fallen out’ earlier that day and was now carefully wrapped in tissue paper, ready for the fairies to collect. He had first felt the tooth wobble several weeks ago.

“You’ll be getting a visit from the fairies soon,” his Papa Nabil told his son with a chuckle and had smiled to see the excitement fill the boy’s eyes.

“Do they really come out at night to fetch the tooth?”

“Of course,” his Papa had said with a smile. “But only when the children are asleep because they are frightened of big people.”

“Oh,” said Zayd. “Do you think I could see one if I stayed awake and was very still and quiet?”

“You could always try.”

And this is exactly what Zayd had decided to do. Particularly as his Papa had been unable to tell him exactly what happened when a fairy came. When he asked his father again about the fairies, he had barely looked up from the newspaper which he read from cover to cover in the evenings. He was especially looking for news of Algeria, a country very far away on the very northern rim of Africa, where his Papa had lived as a boy.

“About the fairies…” Zayd began to ask him.

His father sighed heavily. Suddenly he looked very tired.

“Well… erm… I think… I don’t really know. We can talk later. Run along. I’m busy right now, he had said with a furrowed brow.” He missed the country where he had grown up.

Zayd was surprised. His Papa usually knew everything. And he didn’t see him later. Instead, he frowned over the newspaper, sometimes sighing deeply and forgot all about the fairies. If he could only stay awake to see what happened when a fairy came, maybe his Papa would stop reading the newspaper. Perhaps he would stop working so long every day in the shop, where every day dozens of men and boys would come to have their hair cut. Perhaps he would stop looking troubled. Perhaps he would listen. And maybe he would smile. He used to smile much more. Now he often seemed sad and tired when he came home from the shop. His Mama was the same. But Zayd’s tooth was at the wobbling stage only. Perhaps his sisters could help. Sukaina was 13 and wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

“You’ll just have to wait until it falls out,” she said. She was already beginning to sound like a grown-up. His sister Hajer was more helpful.

“Stand still, Zayd and I’ll hit you in the mouth. I’ll do it quickly, so it won’t hurt.”

Zayd wasn’t sure about this idea but finally nodded in agreement.

Wham!!

“Ooouch!” Zayd screamed in pain and burst into a flood of tears. His Papa threw his newspaper down and stormed into the room.

“What is this?” he asked his children. He sent Hajer straight to bed without the usual supper. But Zayd thought the tooth was much looser after that and later smuggled a chocolate bar to his older sister. She was 11 and thought the idea of catching a fairy was pretty awesome. Only, she couldn’t be bothered herself. Besides, she was impatient to get back to her computer games. Worse still, she was beginning to show an interest in make-up.

Zayd, however, was determined and twisted the tooth a little more every day for a week until finally, it seemed to cling to his gum by a tiny thread. He went to find Hajer. One final twist and it was out! It hadn’t hurt. That had been this morning.

“Are you sure the fairies will come tonight?” Zayd asked his Papa as he wrapped the little tooth carefully in tissue paper.

“Hmmm?” his father replied as if he wasn’t really listening.

“Will the fairies come?”

“Sure they will. That’s what they say.”

And Zayd slipped the small package under his pillow and bounced into bed, watched by his parents.

“Goodnight Papa. Goodnight Mama.”

Then he yawned extra sleepily and turned onto his side, pretending to fall asleep immediately.

“Must be very tired,” he heard his mother mumble on her way out.

As soon as she had left the room, Zayd put his finger to his mouth, just to make sure it had happened. He was happy to feel the gap, rubbing his fingertip over the ragged gum where the tooth had been. It was still sore but had a reassuring numbness to it.

He wasn’t certain how long he lay there. He must have dozed off, for the next thing he knew all the lights were out and the house was in complete darkness. Everything was still, except for the ticking of the big clock downstairs and the thumping of his heart.

He poked his tongue into the gap in his teeth, just to make sure. Suddenly he stopped what he was doing and listened as hard as he could. He was certain he heard a humming sound, like the buzz of a fly. He listened harder. It wasn’t a fly. More like the quick flutter of a butterfly’s wings. His eyes opened wider, peering bravely from under the covers into the darkness.

And then he saw it. A tiny dot of golden light that seemed to hover in the corner of the room, like a little firefly. Zayd kept perfectly still, his gaze resting on the dazzling light, desperate to breathe as quietly as he could. He felt his heartbeat quicken with excitement…

Stay tuned for Chapter two tomorrow!

 

Andrew Goss is the author of The Humanitarian, a novel set against the backdrop of a devastating natural disaster – the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which killed 80,000 and left millions homeless. The paperback novel will be released in July this year, but Andrew has recently released a charity eBook edition of his novel to raise funds for “some of the most vulnerable in our society to help them come through this terrible time”. All the author’s proceeds from the eBook edition will be divided between Action Homeless in the UK and desperately poor communities in Pakistan, where he worked and drew inspiration for his book. Find out more about the charity eBook here.

Staff Q&A: Joe Shillito

At Troubador, our team is made up of a mixture of talented individuals. We thought it would be interesting to share with you an insight into the lives of staff members who are writers and published authors. Today’s Q&A is with Joe Shillito, Senior Production Controller:

What do you write?

I primarily write fantasy. I’m currently working on the first in an epic fantasy series and completed my second draft last week, so I am currently knee-deep in pages as I work through the next edit!

How long have you been writing?

I have only really been disciplined with my writing since I started working at Troubador, around three and a half years ago. Surprisingly, once I had replaced my student lifestyle with a regular 9-5 routine, I actually found it easier to schedule a consistent time for writing. I did of course still write prior to working at Troubador, but less regularly and never with the end goal of finishing a book.

What is your writing routine?

Under normal circumstances, I have quite a busy life, trying to fit writing between work, playing in a local brass band (which takes a surprising number of evenings and weekends), exercise and, more recently, planning a wedding! This means I have to be disciplined with setting aside time for writing and sticking to it. I write every day at work during my lunch hour, and I try to fit another hour at the end of the day before cooking dinner, on days when we don’t need to rush out to a rehearsal.

What have been the challenges or advantages of lockdown for a writer, from your POV?

One big advantage is the lengthening of the day as a result of working from home and not needing to commute. For me, this means an extra hour of time which I can put towards the things that I want to achieve, and writing is high on that list. This can be a double-edged sword, though – with so much extra time during the day, it can be tempting to put off working on the book if I am not feeling ‘in the zone’. This is why it is so important to set a routine and stick to it (see below).

What is your one tip for writers during this situation?

The lockdown has the potential to play havoc with your normal writing routine, so it is important to set yourself a new one. For example, my fiancée starts work half an hour before I do, so I have committed to sitting at my desk and writing for that half hour before I start work. It may not sound like much, but those half hours add up. The important thing is to keep writing – it can be a nice break from the strange reality we find ourselves in!

Ending on a light note, can you tell us a literary-themed joke!

What would you find in Charles Dickens’s kitchen?

The best of thymes, the worst of thymes.

Staff Q&A: Sophie Morgan

At Troubador, our team is made up of a mixture of talented individuals. We thought it would be interesting to share with you an insight into the lives of staff members who are writers and published authors. First up is Sophie Morgan, Marketing Controller:

What do you write?

American romance – and yes, there’s a difference! English romances tend to focus on the heroine and her journey to the hero while American romances are more about the journey of the two as a couple. I have always written more paranormal romance but lately have been experimenting with contemporary romance as well.

How long have you been writing?

It’s the standard answer to say, ‘all my life’, but it’s true. I finished my first novel when I was sixteen and continued to write more, managing to get published when I was twenty-four. I am fortunate to have since had four books published. I always knew I wanted a career as a writer, but I never imagined how challenging it would be to juggle a full-time job with it!

What is your writing routine?

Because I commute 40/45 minutes to work every day, I have fallen into the habit of only writing at the weekends. I like to write in short bursts of time, setting myself a routine of an hour or so in the morning and the same in the afternoon, depending on what my weekend plans are. That way, it’s broken up, easier to approach, and doesn’t feel like a huge commitment when I might not be inspired to write.

What have been the challenges or advantages of lockdown for a writer, from your POV?

I think it’s very easy to think that because you work from home, it’s naturally going to mean you’ll have more opportunities to write. However, sitting in the same setting as where I do my writing then makes me feel keener to get away from the screen at the end of the day. I make sure to separate where I do my ‘home’ writing from my work so that I can close the workday. And because I am getting more time to spend time with my spaniel, watch TV and read in the evenings, I no longer see weekends as the sole time I can fit all of these things in. This makes me feel more energised to write and doesn’t make me feel like it is something I ‘should’ do. Rather, something I ‘want’ to do!

What is your one tip for writers during this situation?

I learned early on that you can’t sit on your laurels and expect the Muse to mosey along. Writing takes persistence, dedication and a little piece of your soul (joking…mostly). The most important thing is to write even if you’re not inspired to do so. Very often I will sit down, feeling like the prose I’m writing has a vivid hue of purple – then within the next paragraph, I’ll start getting my flow and it runs from there. In exercise, you warm-up, so I don’t see why it should be any different with writing. Don’t treat every word you write as if it can’t be erased. The most important thing is to write every day, warm up those muscles and remember it’s supposed to be fun!

Ending on a light note, can you tell us a literary-themed joke!

The Past, the Present and the Future walked into a bar. It was tense.

 

Check back again tomorrow for another Q&A.

 

 

 

Combatting Stress

With April being Stress Awareness Month, what better time to talk about how stress can affect us – and in particular, the stresses that writers can face? Digital Services Manager, Megan Lockwood-Jones highlights the importance of combatting stress:

Stress is something that many will experience throughout their lives – whether that’s in the workplace, in education or at home. In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, people all over the world are surrounded by worries. Taking time out to acknowledge what is causing our stress and which coping mechanisms and techniques can help, as well as realising which can hinder, can be very beneficial.

Writing as a career can be stressful – not only with the usual factors such as earning enough to live on (and writers’ earnings are always under pressure) but also with balancing the different needs of creativity with the business side of writing, family pressures, the self-imposed stresses of being the best writer you can, deadlines, searching for the next commission or idea… Being a writer can be all-encompassing.

At Troubador, we have three Mental Health Champions (myself, Chelsea and Jane) and we ensure that wellbeing is kept firmly on the agenda for staff to help improve mental wellbeing. But can any of the techniques we use in our workplace help you as a writer?

One of the exercises we’ve used focusses the mind on the immediate, solvable stresses – the ‘Stress Container’ exercise. Everyone has a stress container of a different size – think of it as a bucket that, once full, will overflow. However, if we have a ‘tap’ on the side of the bucket, we can release the pressure before it spills over (i.e. before stress overwhelms us). To do this, sketch a bucket on some paper, and in that bucket write down all the things that are causing you stress and anxiety; this could be a writing deadline that you don’t think you’ll reach, writer’s block, family dramas or financial worries, or more abstract concepts like fear of the future. After ‘filling’ the bucket with these worries, draw a little tap on the side of the bucket and write down the (positive) things you do that make you feel better and reduce your stress. This could be simple things like taking a walk, gardening, spending time with the family, watching a film; these are thing things you need do to manage the stress and stop it building. Next, go back to the worries you’ve put in the bucket, and consider the evidence you have to support your feelings; what things can you change? What can’t be changed and that you need to accept or deal with differently? What needs urgent attention and can be solved more easily? Can anyone else help, who can you talk to? What actions can you take to resolve some of the stresses? Sometimes you already know the solution but are not ready to tackle it. Also, think about what unhelpful coping mechanisms you use to deal with stress (too much wine, chocolate, avoiding situations…?)

We’ve used this stress container model successfully to help focus on the immediate, solvable stresses against those that may take longer to resolve. Acknowledging your feelings and taking the time to work out what can be changed, and how you can help yourself, is the first step to changing your relationship with stress.

Some more general (but some of the most important) things that we encourage are taking regular breaks, talking freely with other members of staff and getting some fresh air. A good chat over a cup of tea, or simply taking time out to gather your thoughts, can make the difference to your day. There is also a lot of evidence that controlling breathing can drastically help control stress – and these techniques can be easily learned and done while working.

Remember that some stress is beneficial too – without any stress we don’t develop resilience, and don’t push ourselves out of our comfort zones – but too much stress, or the wrong type of ongoing, unrelenting worry, wears us down and causes long-term health issues.

Most writers choose to write because they take pleasure and enjoyment from the writing process, but this can suddenly become its own pressure when it is no longer an enjoyable hobby.

So, some tips for managing stress for writers:

Organise yourself

Stress can make it much harder to maintain focus. Make a list of tasks, or plan the article or story, or come up with a time schedule for the work. We cope better with stress when we can break a complex task down into small, achievable lumps – so for the ‘big daunting projects’, see if you can break these down further into small tasks. This also cheats the brain into feeling a sense of achievement and giving us an endorphin hit once items are checked off the list.

Get outside

There is so much evidence about how being outside, in nature, helps reset our stressed brains – even 15-20 minutes outside makes a massive difference. When we get stressed, especially at work or with our writing, it’s easy to think we can’t leave our desks and must sit there and finish a job, but if we are being really unproductive at our desks, it’s far better to take a break.

Breathing

Gain control of your breath and you can gain control of so much more. We take short breaths when stressed and hold our breath, but slowing our breathing reduces the stress hormones in our body. When we lose control of our breathing we also can’t think straight, so everything seems so much worse. As a starting point, the NHS has some simple but effective breathing exercises for stress.

Writing might sound like the perfect occupation to outsiders, but if it’s your career it can bring stress just as in other jobs. With so many of us at home during the lockdown, some are finding opportunities for relaxation, creativity and renewal that the lockdown brings, but others are now trying to be the breadwinner, teacher, carer and creative genius too. Take a moment to think about your personal stresses and consider what impact stress has on your life.

We hope that the above tips from Troubador’s Mental Health First aiders offer a good starting point.

 

 

The Humanitarian – a story of our times

Emergencies bring out the best and the worst in human nature. We see that with the Coronavirus pandemic, right here, right now. Here, Andrew Goss, author of The Humanitarian talks about his novel, its relevance today – and why he has launched a special charity eBook version to beat the lock-down and raise cash to support the most vulnerable.

There was a sudden, unexpected earthquake that struck northern Pakistan. Its arc of destruction ranged from the mountains of Afghanistan in the west, through the Himalayan sub-ranges into Kashmir and India to the east. That much is true.

It hit Pakistan hardest, where it claimed the lives of 80,000 and left millions homeless. Entire villages and townships were raised to rubble, including schools, hospitals and government buildings. Roads were torn from the slopes to which they clung and bridges were shaken into the valleys below. The entire infrastructure of the north-west was swept to destruction in less than 30 seconds that Saturday morning in October 2005.

Among the online reports I read at the time was the harrowing account from the town of Balakot, which lay close to the earthquake’s epicentre, co-authored by The Telegraph South Asia correspondent, Peter Foster. He recently commented: “It was the most brutal story I ever covered. Worse than the 2004 tsunami or either Afghan or Iraq conflicts. Just thousands of people left to die…”

I myself travelled to Pakistan to report for a local newspaper the first week of January 2006, when the region was still reeling from the catastrophe and the emergency response phase was in full swing. Many villages had still not been reached, such was their remoteness in what was then North-West Frontier Province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Real events

And yes, there was a Black Mountain tribal area. It had not been reached since the earthquake, due to its remoteness, its autonomy and its history. Information on this area was therefore scarce, almost non-existent. But a map was discovered within the pages of Colonel Wylly’s 1912 account of the warring tribes and their suppression by the British Indian Army, more than a century before the earthquake. And it played a part in the aid distribution to the area following the disaster, which was eventually made possible.

The Humanitarian is a novel based upon real events. I will leave the reader to decide how much of the story documented within its pages is true and how much is fiction. It is fair to say that the central characters never existed. Yet the story is drawn from real people and situations witnessed first-hand.

Disasters bring out the best and the worst in human nature. But if there is one thing I have learned during my time as an aid worker and humanitarian reporter it is this: all of us share common basic human needs. We are essentially the same. And, when faced with catastrophe, our best chance of winning through requires us to step outside our immediate lives and pull together, drawing on the strengths we all have within us. And that includes compassion for others, regardless of status, race, or religion.

In this sense, The Humanitarian is true to its theme and those who were part of the emergency response at that time in Pakistan. But I believe there are lessons within its pages for all of us at this difficult time. And, sadly, those same desperately poor mountain communities featured in the book face a new crisis just as critical during the current pandemic with the loss of their livelihoods and income. They have a stark choice between COVID-19 and starvation. Or both.

In terms of the novel, it is a story. Shahbaz, the shepherd boy never existed. And yet there were thousands like him caught up in the aftermath of the earthquake. The same can be said of any number of Pakistani villagers portrayed in the novel, such as Shahida Bibi. Her life was typical of many female-headed households in the north-west and the suffering they endured – and still do.

Inspiration

As for the aid workers, that collection of ‘mercenaries, missionaries and misfits’ portrayed as part of the humanitarian community within the book. I have shared time with many of them across South Asia and West Africa. People as different as Jim Maddison and Gail Stevenson. And I acknowledge the debt of shared experience and of inspiration. For most of them do good work in extreme circumstances, often at great personal risk. My thanks, therefore, must go to Frank Lyman, to Syed Latif – and to Abdul Waheed Khan, who made the ultimate sacrifice for his compassion. A true humanitarian.

My own involvement in Pakistan was largely ‘accidental’. I had no intention originally of staying beyond the initial ten-day journalistic assignment I had embarked upon. As it happened, as it often does in life, things did not turn out as I had foreseen. What is true is that my experience in Pakistan changed my life. I hope for the better.

I had never experienced mass human suffering close-up. And yet I was impressed by the resilience of those who had literally lost everything. Insurance is a rare thing in Pakistan and there are no support mechanisms as we know them in the developed world for those who have fallen on hard times. Never had I encountered such kindness from those who were suffering so acutely. It was a truly humbling experience, which I will never forget.

Need

What of my own story? I ended up travelling to and from Pakistan for the best part of the next decade, spending prolonged periods working in the mountains or living in Islamabad. My son, Jalal was born in the federal capital and spent his first year in Pakistan before we relocated back to the Midlands in the UK. But a few years later, back we went, drawn once more to ‘the land of the pure’ and to resume the work which my then partner and I considered unfinished.

Of course, for most people who have experienced humanitarian work, and seen the need and circumstances of those held in the grip of poverty, the mission is never complete. There comes a realisation that whatever one achieves it is not enough. It is like a small drop in an ocean of need. Because the need is so very great – and the world so very slow to change in this respect.

I left Pakistan for the last time at the end of 2014. But it is also true that I think often of the people I came to know and love in the mountains. The time I shared with them had a profound impact on my own life. And the dream remains that one day I will be able to return.

The Humanitarian in eBook format is available now across the major platforms, with the author’s proceeds going to support the homeless in the UK and poor communities across the Black Mountain, Pakistan. Further details here!

The paperback for The Humanitarian will be released in July this year!

Publishing and the Environment: How we’re leading the change

Operations Director, Jane Rowland discusses how we are taking further steps to become more eco-friendly at Troubador:

At a time when there is a focus on climate change and our impact on the environment, it is inevitable that publishers will also start asking themselves hard questions about the carbon footprint of making and selling books. At recent publishing conferences I’ve attended, there have been discussions about this very topic, with a realisation that publishing and printing have a part to play in the debate.

Publishing can be a resource-heavy process: printing books requires paper, and most papers are imported. Printing uses a variety of inks, glues and chemicals in the process and, once printed, books then need shipping to distributors, authors, customers – which takes both energy and packaging. Then, and at the end of their lifetime, books are often unmade (pulped).

We’ve been quietly putting measures in place for some years to try to offset the impact our publishing has on the environment – here is a flavour of what we have been doing…

Printing and Papers

When it comes to printing, we work closely with our printers. We match print jobs to the printing firm most suited to that project and only occasionally use printers outside the UK – which reduces transportation and shipping. All of our offset and long-run printers work with papers certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), which sets up guardian and stewardship schemes for forest management, ensuring that any trees felled for paper-making are replanted – and books printed on such papers carry the logo to show that they are compliant. Print on Demand printers, at this stage, do not use FSC papers – but they do claim to source responsibly.

Both our Production Manager Chelsea Taylor and MD Jeremy Thompson have visited a paper mill in Sweden where some of the papers we use are produced. This has given them an understanding of the FSC scheme, and the papermaking processes themselves.

FACT: Think ebooks are the solution? Ebooks are consumed on ereaders and phones, which themselves have a heavy environmental impact in terms of their manufacture and post-life destruction. However, an ereader kept and used for several years by a heavy book reader does eventually even out its carbon footprint. 

Distribution

An area of the publishing process that sees another big carbon footprint is the distribution side – books are shipped from distributor to bookshop and customers – using packaging, fuel and energy. We have put measures in place to reduce the carbon footprint on our deliveries by rationalising deliveries as far as is possible – which means that at Troubador, Tuesday is goods-in day at the warehouse, where Distribution Manager Sam Copson is busy accepting pallet deliveries, creating new consolidated shipments for our distributors. The warehouse has also initiated a pallet recycling scheme, with unused pallets recycled via a local firm and damaged pallets taken away to be mended and put back into use. Though many of our unused pallets have also found themselves in community projects – for projects such as bug houses!

We’ve recently been experimenting with a variety of eco-packaging for all our deliveries – both boxed and enveloped – with ongoing experiments to find the most robust and customer-friendly options. Our current favourite for shipping book orders is 100% post-consumer use cardboard sleeves. This means we are using recycled papers, board and plastics, moving away from using space-filling materials like bubble wrap in preference for recycled papers and envelopes. The next project for the warehouse is looking at the best environmental option to replace the plastic film for pallet wrapping…

Paper and Book Recycling

At the end of a book’s shelf-life, it may be that an author asks us to recycle surplus stock. We work with a local bulk paper recycling company that removes such titles for secure recycling; books are stripped of their covers and then shredded to be made into new paper-based products.

FACT: The M6 toll road was built on two and a half million copies of old Mills & Boon novels. When pulped, books were added to the asphalt to reduce cracking – in fact it took 92,000 books per mile for a 16-mile stretch of the road. While none of our books have been turned into roads, in 2019 we did recycle over 13 tonnes of bulked paper.

Office areas

We’ve always had secure paper recycling for the office, as well as recycling bins in staff areas for separating out paper, plastic and other recyclable waste. More recently David Bayliss (Warehouse Assistant) has introduced a printer toner recycling scheme, and we’ve removed the use of single-use batteries by moving to rechargeable instead. We’ve made other tweaks too, replacing all the old fluorescent office lighting with LED, which has a longer life and uses about 80% less electricity.

Paper usage in the office has also fallen by 80% as we’ve changed how things like typeset proofs are sent out electronically instead of printing and posting them. As a result of this and similar measures, our use of toner cartridges in laser printers has dropped by 70%. Our editorial department switched from paper-based editing to on-screen editing some years ago, and we now proofread as many titles as we can on-screen as well. We’ve banned things like Post-It notes as an unnecessary item, and staff are encouraged to recycle everything. Filing paper documents is also now a thing of the past, with everything we need being scanned electronically and stored in an electronic archive. Our old paper-based archives have also been scanned (over a period of three years!), so now we have no requirement for filing cabinets and all the paper they contained.

Publishers love their teas and coffees, but we’ve also looked at making efficiencies there and have installed a boiling water tap – so kettles are not boiling all day long! Even the bathrooms here have not escaped notice, with the older loos being replaced by eco flush units (did you know that dual flush toilets typically use 4-6 litres of water per flush, as opposed to the old-style systems which use a massive 13 litres per flush. Me neither!).

We also link up with local charities, such as the British Heart Foundation, who recycle and reuse our surplus office furniture – most recently including all our unused filing cabinets.

The publishing industry has certainly begun to put sustainability at the heart of the agenda in the last year – we like to think that it’s been at the heart of ours for some years.

The Inside Scoop on Going Digital

Digital Marketing Controller Stephanie Carr shares the inside scoop on going digital with our ebook and audiobook services:

There are so many reasons that having your work available digitally can improve its chances of success. Ebooks are available internationally, opening your work up to a worldwide audience; they are relatively cheap to produce; there are no printing costs or potential ongoing storage costs to factor into your budget; readers can increase the size of the font or change the brightness of the screen; and best of all, thousands of them can be carried around in your pocket. At Troubador, around 75% of authors who publish a printed book with us will have an ebook produced as well; most readers browsing Amazon will expect to see both formats available and having an ebook edition alongside a paperback ensures that everyone can access your work, regardless of their reading preferences.

Due to the current situation in the UK with COVID-19 meaning, the majority of us are spending a lot more time at home, with bookshops and other retailers temporarily shutting up shop, browsing for your next read has suddenly become a lot more difficult – are retailers still accepting online orders? How long will it take for my book to arrive? Amazon, for one, is prioritizing essential (grocery and medical) orders, and so there may be longer lead-in times delivery on non-essentials. This is where ebooks swoop in and save the day. Postage and packaging? Not applicable! Long delivery times? Download and it’s on your e-reading device in seconds! Due to the lower costs of production and distribution, ebooks tend also to be considerably cheaper to buy than their physical counterparts, which can be appealing to those browsing online during those long days stuck at home.

Once the final files for your physical book have been approved for printing, we can begin work on an ebook version and would aim to have a proof to you within two weeks, which would give you time to accumulate reviews and feedback online that could then help to boost sales of the printed book upon its release further down the line. We offer a range of ebook marketing services designed to get reviews and feedback for our titles left on retailers’ sites, and again, these can help to drive interest in the ebook while also being there to use in any marketing you may carry out for a future paperback version.

If audio is more your thing, perhaps consider an audiobook version of your work. With many of us using this time of social distancing to start writing a novel, or finally get down to tackling those household jobs we’ve been putting off, an audiobook playing in the background is a great (and increasingly popular) way of accessing new titles. I’ve personally just started a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle (which I’m sure I’ll regret in a few days) and an audiobook playing in the background means I can still access my favourite books without having to stop what I’m doing! Troubador launched its audiobook production and distribution service in 2018 and offers professional recording and editing as well as distribution to major audiobook retailers including Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.  Browse our range of talented voice-over artists and actors on our website, and contact us with any questions you might have.

Motivation – Where Art Thou?

Marketing Controller and author, Sophie Morgan shares her top tips for getting motivated to write your book…

They say everyone has a book in them. Some people have characters speaking in their heads, some think in iambic pentameter, some look at their life and think, heck, I have had an interesting journey. Whatever kind of book you have that’s tapping its foot and waiting for you to put yours on the accelerator pedal, there can be no better time than now to sit down at a desk and do this. Write THE book. But how do you start?

I think very often people can sit down at that desk with their tools of the trade, enthusiasm buzzing in their blood. And then they look at that blank page. And think, actually I have some laundry to do. Or there’s that TV show I haven’t watched yet. Or maybe I’ll go bother wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/pet/friend/fill in your own blank.

There is nothing scarier for writers than a blank page. We’ve all been there, feeling the indecision fuelled by the excitement (that has now drained to nerves) that you’ll fail before you’ve begun. So, here are my five top tips to battle the blank page and write your own masterpiece (I write novels but a lot of this can also be applied to other genres/forms you may be writing.) Here we go:

1) Create a “Work Day”. We all work in specified blocks of time and our minds are conditioned to accept that from X to X we will be at work. Writing is no different, and it can often help take the pressure off ‘waiting for the muse to strike’. Look, she’s busy so you have to schedule her in if you want her to visit.

2) Warm-up. Depending on the kind of writer you are, sometimes it helps to ‘warm-up’ the imagination. Automatic writing can be a great tool for this. It’s simple: put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and start writing what you’re thinking. It can be as mundane as This Little Piggy, but maybe stretch a bit – why did the piggy go to market? Maybe he didn’t go to be sold for meat but to do his best Del Boy patter to get enough money so he and his siblings don’t have to separate. Set the clock for five minutes and see where it takes you! If nothing else, it could spark a story!

3) Start anywhere. We all get hung up with finding the perfect place to begin your book and the consequences if we haven’t. Don’t. Just begin! I read somewhere that the original Lord of the Flies began about seven pages before the boy picked his way across the rocks. That’s what good editing is for. So just begin!

4) Write. It sounds like a waste of a tip, right? We’re all writers here, it’s our passion, our duty, our reason for walking this planet. But too often we let our fears overwhelm our creative instincts and we get bogged down in the minutiae of showing not telling or using too many dialogue tags. The best advice I have been given is to write, write, write – it’s easier to fix a bad page than a blank one. And the more you get into the flow of writing, the more you’ll loosen up, the more likely it is that you’ll write something great.

5) Have fun. Seriously, why are you doing this otherwise? Writing should be fun at the end of the day. If you’re taking it too seriously, the fun element will go for you and most likely for your readers. Take an unexpected turn that you haven’t meticulously plotted. The worst that can happen is that you’ll delete ten pages, but you’ll have got to know your protagonist a lot better as a well-rounded character instead of a 2D idea in your head. And that will serve you and your book better in the long run too.

I hope the above tips help inspire you to start, continue or finish your book! And remember, writing is all about the journey, no matter how long it takes you.