Author completes questionnaire: deserves ice cream

How sweet the reward for a job done.

The job: completing the author questionnaire or A.Q. to go with my forthcoming novel The Chicken Soup Murder.  

What is an A.Q.? The completed Author Questionnaire is a document that draws together all the elements that will help to present you (the author) and your book to a possibly unsuspecting world of booksellers, reviewers, literary festival organisers, members of the wider media, and most importantly, potential readers. It’s an essential tool of communication and reference for the marketing department.

Exactly what goes into the A.Q. depends on who is asking the questions. Is it a small publisher who relies on your extra input and contacts? Or a big publisher with a formidable marketing and publicity machine (who nevertheless will hope that you bring in your own ideas and have active social media accounts). If you’re self-publishing, it would be useful to devise your own A.Q.

Filling in the answers will help you focus, if you have not done so already, on exactly what your work is about, who you think might want to read it and how you will engage with your potential reader. The A.Q. even offers legitimate opportunities to be creative, when it comes to summarising your book in 15 words, 30 words, 100 words, 250 words or whatever is required.

And yet I still approach mine with all the enthusiasm I usually keep for starting on my tax return.

Why? Perhaps it has something to do with the change of hats – no longer the writer doing as she pleases (more or less). Now you are the author with responsibilities.  

It helps to prepare, to collect ideas along the way and to keep your author profile up to date. Even without the A.Q. it saves stress and embarrassment if you are able to respond quickly to a request for a photo or a bio and know what to say when someone asks, ‘What’s your book about?’ I keep a list of my publications and awards and can copy and paste a string of URLs about my online presence: website, email, social media accounts. 

I also knew I’d be asked about ideas for a book launch, to make comparisons with other books written recently (which might help you to answer the ‘which section of the bookshop?’ question if you’re still unsure), to list influences, expound on ideas for readings, appearances at literary festivals, provide quotes from reviews and so on.

My method is to create a draft file and fill in the easy answers: name, date of birth and address. I try to read the whole set of questions in case it contains something I haven’t prepared for. Insert answers at will – even if they are highly speculative or a reminder to take action (where are all those clippings of your reviews?).

Do some research. Have a good think. If you’re forewarned you might have been already gathering an awareness of what goes on at a literary festival, or a reading in a library or bookshop. You might have attended some open mic events. The best advice is to engage with the A.Q. – even the bits that seem daunting. It will help you notice and develop the answers. 

For me, the messy draft bloats as I shovel in ideas or reminders-to-self and try to get to grips with the whole package. Do I have ideas for related feature articles? Where would I like to have a launch?

These are lovely things to contemplate but a bit disconcerting if your initial answer is ‘Ermmm…’ While nothing is more important that creating the work in the first place, it’s reassuring to feel on top of the issues that form part of the business side of being an author. Even if, inside, you feel the job of a writer is to run from such responsibilities, an agent or publisher will be glad that you’ve give them some consideration. These are people too with jobs to perform and you can make that easier. After all, who knows your work better than you?  

As long as the A.Q. remains in draft form it is still open to possibilities. Not that you can’t add ideas later on: it’s just that the A.Q. draws them all together and is a main point of reference. But eventually, with Orwell’s ‘menacing finger of the clock’ pointing towards some sort of deadline, completing the A.Q. has to become the #1 priority.

I make sure I have answered every question – even the difficult ones – and save a new file for editing. It has to be tidy and accurate. It must go by Friday. While this was not a strict deadline it’s good to have one, especially if the A.Q. has already been with you for some weeks.

OK, by Monday morning. No one is going to look at it over the weekend anyway.

Saturday and Sunday produce real progress. 

Monday – a thorough check.

Monday evening. 

At 8.30pm, having slogged to completion, I attach the final, fully-filled in A.Q. of many pages, along with a high-res photo of myself and a suitable extract of The Chicken Soup Murder, to an email and press SEND.

Job done. 

The reward:

As far the A.Q. goes, the process isn’t really ended, because it will help if you keep on engaging with its concerns. But then again you’ve just finished a large and important assignment and you really feel you deserve to do something relaxing. Something you can enjoy. It could be writing. 

But whereas the creative work, the venting of the pressure cooker, is to some extent its own reward, the accomplishment of this kind of author-related task seems to call for a specific treat, a breathing space outside the normal working routine. It could be just going for a walk or seeing a friend. It could be ice cream.


Baboo Gelato West Bay Kiosk
Baboo Gelato West Bay Kiosk

In my case, a reward was a trip along the Dorset coast east from Bridport the next day, taking my lunch to Abbotsbury Castle, an iron-age hill fort overlooking Chesil Bank and the sea; a pause to sit with the ancestors, skylarks overhead and long views all around. And on the way back, a spontaneous detour to West Bay to visit an ice-cream seller I had heard about: Baboo Gelato.

Annie Hanbury trained in Italy and started making her ices from a surplus of fruits on her family’s smallholding in Dorset. The ices are hand-made in Bridport using seasonal produce. There’s a kiosk in West Bay – near the bridge over the sluice gates between the harbour and the River Brit – and another in Lyme Regis.

Baboo Gelato started winning awards in its first year: Taste of the West Gold for Lemon Sorbet in 2016 and again in 2017 for Maple and Walnut Ice Cream;  a Taste of Dorset Award in 2016 (and a finalist again in 2017) in the category ‘Best Dairy Producer’; the Guild of Fine Food gave gold stars to the Raspberry Sorbet and the Pistachio Gelato. 

It must only be a matter of time before local restaurants pick up on this deliciousness on their doorstep. 

What lured me to this new enterprise was the promise of dairy-free sorbet. I couldn’t decide between the seasonal options of rhubarb (grown in Bothenhampton) and elderflower (picked from the makers’ own garden) and so settled on a scoop of each. Rhubarb and elderflower sorbetI was also delighted to know the wafer cone is dairy (but not gluten) free. Annie herself served me with scoops untidy and generous, and sorbet sank all the way down to the tip of the cone. By the time I had walked past the boats for hire and crossed the bridge over the backwater to the footpath by the Riverside Café (a route which, if you care to know, is how you get within shouting distance of the blue wooden house once occupied by David Tennant in Broadchurch) to take this photo looking across the fields towards Bridport, I had already made at least a third of what I’d bought invisible.  

Now that was a project I thoroughly enjoyed licking into shape.


What major or minor tasks have you accomplished lately?

If you were to give yourself a reward, what would it be?



On Eggardon – learning and poetry


Eggardon hill with its Iron-age fort is a well-known landmark in West Dorset, from which you can see for miles, a view that takes in the sea and coastline and several more hill forts in this area including Abbotsbury Castle, Lewesdon, Pilsdon Pen, Lambert’s Castle and Coney’s Castle. Of all these I feel most attached to Eggardon. One branch of my mum’s family farmed here and as her side were embedded in this part of the country going as far back as we can know, I often wonder if some of my ancestors lived up here. It was first occupied in the Bronze Age, probably, although the ramparts visible today are deemed to be from the Iron age. I have often associated the place with a sense of loss and hurt pride, thinking of the coming of the Romans in AD 43, or thereabouts. Last weekend we were lucky enough to hear about some of Eggardon’s history from Steve Wallis, Dorset County Council archaeologist, who pointed out that we only have two lines reporting the campaign led by Vespasian, and that very little is truly known of what happened. He also showed us things about the place I didn’t know about at all such as the ditch and bank of an eight-sided enclosure, all that remain of a fenced-in stand of trees planted by famous smuggler Isaac Gulliver as a mark for his ships. (Despite what it says in the link I’ve given, interesting as it is, the trees are long gone. Certainly, they were not there half a century ago. Are they thinking perhaps of Colmer’s Hill?)

Steve also pointed out that the hill and the fort are divided into two parts, one owned by the National Trust, the other being in private hands. Separated now by a fence line through the middle of the fort, the south (N.T.) part is in the parish of Askerswell and the north part in the parish of Powerstock. Eggardon Hill would have been a convenient meeting place for conducting the business of Eggardon Hundred, the collection of parishes known at the time of the Domesday Book and on through the centuries.   

The weekend was part of the poetry parks programme, organised by Marc Yeats and poet Ralph Hoyte of Satsymph. There’s a series of these workshops connected to the Dorset AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and the South Dorset Ridgeway, the Land of Bone and Stone. The aim is to create poetry which can be accessed via an app. By finding the correct GPS location – or poetry pool – you can hear the recorded poems. You don’t need a mobile phone signal and the app is free.

On Saturday we were all up on Eggardon. The rampart slopes were thick with pyramid orchids and there were bee orchids too, red-winged burnet moths and dragonflies. Below us three deer watched from a field. Buzzards wheeling, skylarks warbling overhead. Perfect midsummer. It was a lovely way to spend the day, a break to get away from the laptop and just work with pen (or in my case pencil) and paper and try something different. If prose sometimes feels like my day job, then poetry is recreation, an adventure, something I can just enjoy. Also slightly scary, which is part of the fun. 

On Sunday, David of Diva Contemporary came to Askerswell village hall to record our finished work. Throughout the day we were sharing books, knowledge and impressions, writing, re-writing and recording. Amazing to hear some of the work produced in such a short time. Schools in the area are also joining in with this project, so not all the poems will be in the app but I managed two examples of an englyn milwr (three-line poems, seven syllables to a line, all lines end-rhymed), a short history of Isaac Gulliver’s enterprising enclosure, another poem speculating on the original name of the place (not Eggardon, which is probably from the Old English for Eohhere’s Hill) and something a little more free, mostly about the feeling of being up on the spur of rampart so high I was eye-to-eye with the buzzards while the deer swam through the landscape below. 

The experience of being up on Eggardon for those hours and hearing from Steve Wallis about the many different ways in which has been of importance to the people who live in or visit Dorset helped me to lengthen my sense of its timeline instead of focussing on that one period of defeat and change two thousand years ago. I look forward to finding out more of Eggardon’s roughly 5000-year history of occupation. 

I liked the weekend so much I’ve signed up to go to Maiden Castle too. This is said to be the biggest and most complex of all the hill forts in Britain. Many years ago we had a trip up there from our primary school but I had no idea what to expect, no clue of what the place was like and so was disappointed, having heard the word ‘castle’, to find myself on what seemed to be a bumpy hillside, with no towers or turrets. Now I find it a thrilling sight when passing by Dorchester and with Steve Wallis once again sharing his knowledge I’m looking forward to learning something I don’t yet know. 


Photo credit: by kind permission, Mark Yeats of SATSYMPH

My Haiku Diary May 25 2017

We stand with ManchesterOne minute’s silence

twenty-two dead, dozens hurt

Millions sending love


I’m not a poet (can you tell?) but there’s comfort in putting words in order. Defining something out of chaos. I’ve been working on some posts about writing haiku: poems of just three lines – some say count the syllables, five, seven and five. You could try it. Anyone can – that’s the point. But more on that another time because …

In this terrible week for those who were out in Manchester to enjoy themselves in all innocence, I don’t feel like going ahead as if nothing’s happened. Gratitude that people I know are safe sits alongside sorrow for those who have lost. So this is a short one.

Maybe, reading my haiku, you will think, ‘I could do no worse and probably better!’ Please, I would be glad if you would share your haiku in a comment on my blog. Or just say hello.

Love, Maria


Credit where it’s due

The image is by Evelyn Hartshon, reproduced here under a CC licence.


Read the contract carefully
Read carefully

A long silence on the blogging front usually means much invisible work going on. I’ve been busy on a final edit of my novel, The Chicken Soup Murder. This was a finalist for the Dundee International Book Prize and has now found a home with Seren Books (publishers of my short story collection, Pumping Up Napoleon). Publication date for the novel to be confirmed, possibly as soon as September 2017.

Continue reading “Contract!”

News: people are kind

another-rak-imageA while back I shared a post on Facebook about bees. What a hard time they’re having. And a Facebook friend commented, ‘Reposting a post doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. Sadly, this is what people think is protesting nowadays’. That stung – and I found myself scrabbling to tell her what I was actually doing about it – encouraging clover in my patch of lawn instead of keeping it in bowling-green trim, planting flowers the bees will like. And so on. Continue reading “News: people are kind”