Preparing for lift-off – Launching Taming Tom Jones

It has been a long time coming, but finally on Friday 2 October, my novel Taming Tom Jones will be launch into the world! Hurrah! Incidentally, it’s available for pre-order, and will magically appear on your kindles on Friday if you buy it now. Hint, hint. Ha ha!
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Right, having got that out of the way, let’s talk about launches. I’ve published a fair few books because, apart from my women’s fiction, I’ve written a lot of readers for people learning to speak English. The experience of launching these books has always been a bit of anti-climax. Almost inevitably publication day has been marked by the arrival of a box of books on my doorstep, and this has been the first I’ve known about them being available to the public. Not that I’m knocking receiving a box of gleaming, newly-printed books with my name on the cover – that has always been a delicious treat.

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However, it’s hardly a red carpet premiere is it? So when my last novel A Nightingale in Winter was due to be published in July, I wanted to celebrate properly. I love writing language readers, and I’m very proud that one of them – Kilimanjaro – has just won a Language Learner Literature Award. But by their nature, language readers demand restricted vocabulary and grammar, and when I write my women’s fiction, I revel in the freedom of being able to write what I want to write in the way I want to write it. So I organised a get together with friends. Sadly though, publication of A Nightingale in Winter was delayed by several weeks due to cover issues, so my friends and I just went out for a drink on what was to have been publication day. We has a good time anyway, but by the time the book was published on 24 August, the summer holidays were in full flow, and people weren’t so available. So apart from raising a glass of wine with my partner, that book’s launch into the world went sort of unmarked too.

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So this time, encouraged by my publishers Crooked Cat Publishing, and all the other lovely Crooked Cat authors, I’m going to try something different – an online launch party. It’s on Friday 2 October 1.30pm – 7.30pm GMT, and you’re all welcome to attend. There will be fun and games as well as tasters of the book, and PRIZES.

ONLINE PARTY INVITATION

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​As well as that, if you’re a writer or a would-be writer, I’m going to be putting my creative writing tutor hat on between 4pm and 5pm to answer any writing-related questions you may have.

Click on your party invitation and then click JOIN to reserve your slot.

Here’s a bit about Taming Tom Jones:

​Jen’s partner Michael has never been in a relationship for more than four years, so with their fourth anniversary coming up, she’s getting understandably nervous. Especially as she’s just discovered she’s pregnant, and she knows Michael doesn’t want any more children other than Kyle, his teenage son.

Jen means to tell Michael about the baby right away, but then he comes home on a brand new motorbike, having traded in his sensible car, and the moment is lost. Is Michael having an early mid-life crisis?

Jen decides to do some detective work about Michael’s exes in an effort to save their relationship, and embarks on a journey that will take her as far afield as North Norfolk and Cuba. But she has no idea of the can of worms she’s about to open.

Why do all Michael’s relationships break up? And what’s the big secret he’s hiding?

I hope to see you on Friday 2 October between 1.30pm – 7.30pm GMT. Tell your friends!

ONLINE PARTY INVITATION

In reading about blogging lately, I came across a useful article called 40 instant business blog post ideas and thought it would be fun to insert my own name into the title of one or two of them. Here’s the first. It was great fun to write! I hope you enjoy reading it.

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At first glance, Margaret K Johnson may seem to be quite a complicated, hard-to-pin down mix. She is confident and determined enough to have had a go – three times – at stand-up comedy, and loves teaching, since it allows her to share her passions and to enable others to pursue theirs. But put her in a room where lots of people are talking together, even if it’s a group of her own friends, and she can clam up.

This could partly be due to the writerly practice of people watching, and it is quite probable that Margaret is, in fact, squirreling away nuggets of conversation and observational detail for her books. However, this could also be a simplistic view of the author’s behaviour. Those who have known Margaret K Johnson intimately for a number of years, will be aware of several key reasons for her lack of confidence in social situations, and these have little or nothing to do with her being unfriendly, distant, disinterested, self-absorbed or even downright boring as might appear to be the first impression.

The truth is, Margaret K Johnson has always been shy, and the possession of an overly strict father and a relentlessly teasing brother did little to remedy this situation. Given the additional fact that her mother saw fit to perm the author’s hair in the summer holidays preceding her commencement at senior school, thereby giving her new peers and teachers the impression of Margaret being somewhat poodle-like, it is not surprising that this situation continued into her teens.

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Unfortunately, just as Margaret was finally beginning to settle into senior school and had made managed to make a small group of friends who were prepared to ignore her hairstyle, the decision was made to transfer her to a different class. Although this was because Margaret was doing well academically, it was impossible for her to see this as a reward for making good progress at school. The daunting prospect of having to make new friends all over again, when everyone else had already established their friendship groups, left the author emotionally scarred, even before the unfortunate incident when she mistakenly used the word “pheasant” instead of “peasant” to describe Joan of Arc’s upbringing during a talk to the whole class.

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It is true that Margaret K Johnson ought to be able to move on from these events, and that there is no longer any reason for them to be a part of the fabric of her begin. The author is aware of that she finally needs to address these issues. But in the mean time, should you be due to spend time with Margaret K Johnson, you can take charge of the situation by following these 5 simple steps.

This blog is moving! To read the rest, including the 5 vital steps, please go to:

http://www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk/blog/5-simple-steps-to-take-charge-of-margaret-k-Johnson

Thank you!

Margaret x

 

A Winter Ghost Walk and a Call to Action

The other evening I went on a ghost walk in the old part of Norwich with friends. It had seemed like a good idea when I was invited to go – Manin Black, who leads the walks, is a well known character in the city with his black coat and top hat, and to have him and his evocative tales all to ourselves for an exclusive tour would be a fun way to start February.

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Ah, February. A part of me had forgotten that February evenings can be a teensie bit on the cold side, to say the least. We stoked up beforehand on ale and cake in the Adam and Eve, the oldest pub in Norwich, and at least it had stopped sleeting when we left its cosy quaintness to start our walk with Manin. 

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The Adam and Eve, by the way, is haunted by the ghost of Lord Sheffield, who had his neck partially severed by an irate butcher with a cleaver during Robert Kett’s Rebellion in 1549. Mortally wounded, he was taken to the Adam and Eve, and here he died. These days he spends his time causing the beer tankards to dance on their hooks, tapping people on the shoulder and running fingers through their hair. He’s also known to remove personal items and return them again the following day. I’m quite glad I didn’t know about any of this while we were having our pre-walk drink.
before the #ghost walk - getting #confidenceDid I encounter any ghosts on my walk? Did my hair stand on end with terror? To find out, and to read the rest of this blog post, please go to:

http://www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk/blog/a-winter-ghost-walk-in-norwich

In future, I will mostly be blogging from there, since it seemed to make more sense to blog directly from my website. I do hope you will continue to follow my blog if you already do so, or start following if you’re a newcomer! I really appreciate your support and interest, and it would be good to keep in touch! Just click on Subscribe once you’ve opened the link.

Thank you so much!

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Celebrating Being Unemployable – Here’s to an Entrepeneurial Life

Today I’m celebrating being unemployable. Yay!

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What’s so good about that, I hear you ask? Don’t you need to earn a living? Well, yes, of course I do. But it’s not going to be in a clock-watching nine-to-five job.

As an author, every now and then I become a little insecure about depending on my creativity to make a living, and manage to convince myself I need a ‘proper’ job – a steady income I know will be paid into my bank account at the end of the month. I find my ‘muse’ can suffer if there’s too much financial pressure put upon her, and I sometimes feel isolated, just working at home on my own the whole time.

So, when this mood strikes, I apply for jobs. However, a recent humiliating interview with a team I used to work for, proved to be the impetus for a complete change. The interview was for a lower-paid, lower-prestige role than the one I’d had previously, but my former team were ready to welcome me back with open arms. They needed people urgently, and were really pleased to hear from me. They also knew – because they’d seen me in action before – that I’d easily be able to fulfil the role. However, half an hour after I left the interview – HALF AN HOUR! – I received a phone call to say I’d been unsuccessful. My not wanting the job – the fact that I had convinced myself to go for it against my will – had shown through in every stilted answer, every fumbled response about how I would respond in various scenarios.

My heart – in the form of my subconscious – knew better than me, and wasn’t going to succumb quietly, despite my best efforts to gag it.

Clearly, a major life rethink was required.

So I took a long look at my skills, my passions and my experience. I also considered the core themes of my novels. Almost invariably, they’re about the pursuit of self-confidence, usually by women. My female characters become stronger as they face challenges. They may be in a contemporary fiction novel, a historical novel, a romance or a thriller, but that quest for self-confidence is what interests me.

Ping, an idea was born. As an experienced author and adult education tutor, I’ve taught both creative writing and confidence building. Why not put them together in one course? After all, creative writing is well known for being beneficial as a part of therapy. I would call them WriteUP Courses, and they would combine creative writing with confidence-building skills. But would it work? There was only one way to find out – by trying it out. I set about planning the course material and organised a pilot, mainly targeting women who were getting over broken relationships.

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One bleak January Saturday, eight women turned up to try it out at No. 8 Thorpe Road, The Business Rooms, my friend’s wonderful new business and training premises in Norwich. It was everything I’d hoped for – I enjoyed the day so much. The women were all lovely, and they produced some excellent work. We did exercises and writing designed to help us get to know each other and to get to know the way we see ourselves. Some exercises were designed to be cathartic, while others were a celebration of optimism and enthusiasm, making us plan for a more positive future. The women really bonded as a group, possibly in part, because they’d had the same motivations for attending. The feedback sheets they completed tell me how much they enjoyed and benefited from the day, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I’m so excited about this, and it feels so great to have found a way to combine my two great passions – writing and confidence-building. I’ve now set up a full programme of courses, and the evening class starting on 26th February is fully booked. I also have plans to develop E courses. After all, why just stick with my local area? Being an entrepreneur is so exciting; why not go for global domination?

All it takes is faith, energy and enthusiasm. I have an abundance of energy and enthusiasm, and as for faith, whenever that falters, I’m fortunate enough to have a whole array of friends, advisers and role models to keep the fire burning. And it is a fire – a blaze of ideas and plans and dreams.

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Not that I’m about to give up writing. With my new novel A Nightingale in Winter coming out this year, I’m gong to be kept very busy. But busy’s fine. Busy’s good. And I’m definitely not going to be clock-watching, except to make sure I don’t get so absorbed in my work I forget about the school run.

To find out more about WriteUP Courses, visit the WriteUP Courses page on my website, or the WriteUP Course Facebook Page.

Singing Her Way to Success

As you may know, many of my novels are about women being courageous as they face change in their lives – women who overcome their fears in order to achieve their dreams. Naomi Alexander, the new lead singer of the Norfolk band Parkhouse, has done exactly that in her life, and I’m delighted to welcome her to my blog today to tell us all about it.

MJ: Welcome, Naomi! Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed! 

NA: Thanks for the invitation; it’s nice to be asked!

Naomi Alexander Lead singer of Parkhouse

 

MJ: So, jumping straight in, did you always enjoy singing?

NA: Yes, from about the age of 7, I would spend hours in my room trying to sing like the big powerhouses like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion (cringe!)

MJ: Were your family supportive of your singing?

NA: I never felt very encouraged – in fact, one of my family members said I sounded like a drowning cat!

MJ: that’s a shame. What effect did that have on you?

NA: It made me feel too shy to sing in front of other people, and it wasn’t until my late teens/early twenties that I decided to try going to singing lessons. I didn’t feel very confident about it though, so I only went to one lesson. The lesson took place in a corridor of a junior school (the tutor hired it out for her lessons) and there was a dance class going on in the main room next door.  She asked me what I would like to sing and I chose Lovefool by the Cardigans. At the time I didn’t feel comfortable projecting my voice and, as the song is sung in a high key, when I started to sing, it sounded so weak. I was also very aware that someone could come out of the dance class at any time and hear me! The tutor asked me if I’d like to stop singing that song to which I said ‘yes please’! She then asked me to sing along with Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you’ – I’m not quite sure why she chose that, and again, it didn’t sound great because I was too scared to project my voice. Also, Whitney Houston had, in my opinion, one of the most powerful voices in the world!  There was no way on earth I would have felt comfortable ‘trying’ to sing one of her massive hit songs!

MJ: How many years went by until you decided to try again?

NA: In November of 2013 (so about 10 years later) I was looking at singing schools online, inspired by a friend who has also had lessons and now created their own music. I saw a free half an hour session was being held at a local school, so I went along. The tutor was amazing and really helped me with my confidence, so I booked more lessons. When she asked whether I’d thought of joining a band, I thought yes, but I’d never be able to do it; the thought terrifies me too much! But my tutor kept on bringing the subject up, so I decided to take the plunge and joined a website called www.joinmyband.co.uk.  My ad read something along the lines of ‘I’m here because of my singing tutor! Looking to join a band, either as a backing or lead singer’ so you can see why I never expected to hear anything.  When I applied, I was half-thinking, God, I hope no-one wants me as I don’t think I’m anywhere near good enough!

MJ: What happened next?

NA: Well, amazingly, I heard back within a few hours from a band looking for a lead singer! I couldn’t believe it – I really hadn’t expected to hear from anyone. I sent them a recording of me singing which I’d made on the singing course, and honestly, I was wincing as I pressed send  – I thought they’d think I was awful. But the drummer got in touch and said mine was the best recording they’d heard to date, and they’d heard a few!

Myself and another lady auditioned a couple of weeks later, and they chose me (even though she had years & years of experience in performing)! I couldn’t believe it!

MJ: Brilliant! So how long was it until your first performance with them?

NA: Only a few weeks. I practiced with them a lot to learn the songs and listened to them over an over in my car.  Parkhouse play covers like Valerie by Amy Winehouse, Mark Cohn, Walking in Memphis, Adele, Rolling in the Deep. Finally, I was ready. Or as ready as I was ever going to be! On the night of my first gig, I was so nervous. I arrived before the guys, and deep down I hoped the gig had been cancelled. I was tempted to turn around and go home! But I didn’t, and all my friends came along to support me – and even though I had a dry mouth almost all the time, I only messed up a little (nobody even noticed I messed up). It was incredible! I was absolutely buzzing & felt an overwhelming sense of achievement. I couldn’t believe how quickly the night went!

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MJ: So, how do those family members who knocked your confidence when you were a child feel about your achievement? 

NA: They are very proud of me and so pleased that I went for it. They certainly don’t say those horrible things anymore!

MJ: I should hope not! So, what’s next for you, singing wise?

NA:  I’d really like to have a go at something bluesy or jazzy too; maybe for a band who produce their own songs.  My friends keep saying I should go on The Voice.  I’m not so sure I want the fame though!

MJ: Thanks so much for sharing your inspirational story with us, Naomi. It just goes to show, you should never give up on your dream!!

You can find out more about Naomi and Parkhouse here. The link to Parkhouse on Facebook is here.

Inspiring Stories of Courage – Lindsey’s Story

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Those of you who follow this blog regularly and have eagle eyes, might have noticed that I’ve changed the wording of my header from Getting Published, Getting Laughs, to Stories About Women Challenging Themselves. This is because I wanted my blog to evolve to reflect what my books are about, and also because I wanted to have the freedom to blog about different things apart from the process of writing.

I have always been a huge fan of self-development and the growth of self-esteem, and these are always major themes in my novels. I regularly set goals and challenge myself – from small things like having a nerve-wracking conversation with my son’s head teacher to performing or taking apart in a charity abseil, as I did recently.

So to celebrate this change of focus, I thought I’d run a mini series of blog posts to tell the stories of women who have challenged themselves successfully in life. Here’s the first one, which is the story of Lindsey, who overcame her fear of heights to take part in that same charity abseil. Be inspired! I was!

If you’ve got a story to tell of how you overcame a fear or did something really courageous, please get in touch. I’d love to feature you in this mini series. 🙂

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LINDSEY’S STORY

When I was little, I developed a fear of heights and I’ve always been adamant I want to become OK with heights. Mainly because it was blatantly obvious if I didn’t, I’d miss out on a lifetime of potentially mind-blowing experiences and spectacular views with friends and loved ones and I owed it to myself, upon realising this, to conquer it…fast. Fear after all, is in your head and life’s too short for restrictions!

So time passed and discussions were had with various people which had me realise, the way to achieve this was by giving every ‘height related’ challenge I came in to contact with (within reason) a go and at worse, close my eyes if it got too much. This new way of thinking needed to become the norm, as opposed to running in the opposite direction…which believe me was far more appealing on many an occasion.

I’m pleased to say, this determination is slowly paying off. I’m now able to walk over Grapes Hill flyover, go on the London Eye, even the Nemesis at Alton Towers (with eyes closed), then in ‘06 was the big‘in…a 14,000ft tandem skydive in Australia! I can’t explain how much energy, focus and positive visualisation went in to each of these events, working through my breathing, taking my time and continuously telling myself “I CAN DO THIS”. It’s like brainwashing my subconscious to believe it’s possible and waiting for reality to catch up.

Since having children, I’ve become increasingly conscious this has become an excuse for taking time out of my goal. Then a post appeared on Facebook; some women who’ve attended the Eos Programme were organising a Charity 20m Abseil for Keeping Abreast….without even thinking, my fingers were typing “I’m in!” Proud I’d signed up for a challenge, I didn’t really give it much thought, until 4 days before the event, a group of us were chatting in the office and it hit me, I saw exactly WHAT I was abseiling down. I knew it would be a challenge, but my goodness I wasn’t expecting this! My vision of the abseiling event contained a wall, something I could fix my eyes upon whilst working my way down. Grass or sand would meet my feet on completion and if I dared to look, the views would distract any unhelpful thoughts I’d have. Instead, there stood a metal framed tower on a concrete base, surrounded by warehouses and metal spikes. My heart sank, I felt sick. I really, really hadn’t thought this through, nor had I done my research.

The morning of the abseil arrived having spent the last few days seriously working on my self-talk and visualisation. My lovely husband, parents, my Nan and two boys (2 & 5) were all there for moral support; I wanted more than anything to complete this abseil, especially with my eldest watching and ultimately creating new thoughts on what’s possible. Several kidney breaks later, my turn arrived. My harness was on and there I was, at the top of the 20m tower. Looking back, it was almost like a robot had taken over my body. My colleague went first and feeling her nerves, it finally struck me ‘yikes, this is really happening!’ I sat down on the step, convincing my body I didn’t need the loo, I repeated “I can do this – I’m bloody doing this”. Then realisation hit me if I don’t, it’s going to be pretty lonely up here tonight. I took a deep breath, approached the latch, let the instructor hook me up and then lower me down. When I finally reached the ground, I was over the moon. Buzzing as Wilson and Dexter ran towards me with the biggest hugs and grins. That moment I will cherish forever. Believe me, making up an excuse the day I was in the office would’ve been so easy; but what would that have proved – what good would’ve come from that? I needed to take control and believe in myself, have belief and courage to show this emotion (my fear), that my mind (my thoughts) was far more powerful!

Lindsey takes the plunge!

Lindsey takes the plunge!

The tower Lindsey Abseiled down.

The tower Lindsey Abseiled down.

Much to my delight my son Wilson, aged 5 was so inspired he immediately asked to do it too – the full 20m alongside a trained instructor. So I may still be working towards my goal, but I’ve achieved much more knowing my son has set the wheels in motion for an incredible future which includes heights! What’s more all the wonderful women that took part raised an incredible £3k! I’m honoured to have been part of the memorable day.

P.S My eyes were shut.

Thank you very much for sharing your story, Lindsey! Awesome!! Is this you next time around? !!!

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Don’t forget, if you have a story for this mini series, get in touch.

The Dare Club – when life imitates literature

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Question: what do you get if you combine a novel featuring an abseiling woman on the cover, good weather, good friends and a deserving charity?

Answer: The Dare Club abseil challenge in aid of Keeping Abreast, which took place on Saturday 21 June at Aid Rope Access in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

It was a fabulous day – everyone was so brave. Quite a few of the ladies taking part were terrified of heights and were literally shaking as they climbed the steep steps to the top of the 20 metre abseil tower. There were 3 different heights to abseil from, but everyone went from the top, which was a real achievement.

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The 20m abseil tower at Aid Rope Access

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Me with my fellow Dare Club organisers – The Amazing Abseillers. Love them all!

There were 3 different heights to abseil from, but everyone went from the top, which was a real achievement. One of my friends said she was cursing me since it was my idea, but she did it anyway and felt amazing afterwards. But then I already knew she was brave, because she maintained a steadfastly positive outlook for the whole time she was being treated for breast cancer recently. She was also more than happy to help me with my research when I was writing The Dare Club, in which one of the characters – Colette – has had breast cancer.

As for me, I’d been fairly blasé about the whole thing right from the start – I went up the tower before the event and enjoyed looking at the views and the feeling of the wind in my hair. I’ve never had a problem with heights, so I wasn’t scared as I posed for photos before I began my ascent to the top.

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Posing before climbing to the top with the book that inspired it all!

But then I was actually standing at the open hatch with the distant view of the ground below and… well; let’s just say things were suddenly different. I still wasn’t scared of heights, but I was scared of imminent death. But of course that was never a possibility! The guys at Aid Rope Access who hosted the event were amazing, and our safety was never in doubt. And it had to feel scary, or else what was the point? People needed to be impressed to be inspired to donate, and donate they did. We raised almost three thousand pounds for Keeping Abreast, a charity that helps women who’ve had breast cancer by running support groups and providing information about reconstruction surgery.

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Coming down!! Eek!!!!!

And so, my novel about a dare club has inspired the existence of a true life dare club, and our inaugural event was a big success. “What’s the next event?” people kept asking me on Saturday. “Cliff diving,” I answered, deadpan. For just a fraction of a section, some of them believed it, but don’t worry, you won’t get me up there on top of a cliff. Now, white-water rafting, maybe.

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Any takers for cliff diving?!!!