Making Writing Accessible

This week, my publishers, Book Republic, agreed to release the rights of The Pink Cage to the library run by National Council for the Blind (NCBI). They didn’t have to do it. After all, the NCBI Library is copyright exempt, so there are no royalties to be gained. But they showed themselves to be leaders in making books accessible to visually impaired people without the usual delay.

Visualy impaired and blind people get a raw deal when it comes to books. Whereas the rest of us can stroll into a bookshop, pick up the hottest new release and get stuck into it straight away, blind people have to wait two or three years before an audio book publisher picks it up or the book is converted to Braille. I continue to feel incredibly lucky and privileged that I can read regular print at close range, that there is no barrier between me and the printed word.

Blind and visually impaired people read books in various ways. Braille and audio are the best known and there are also large print books for partially sighted people. Some people scan books onto their computers and use their screen readers or magnification software to read.

Things have improved somewhat with the arrival of the ebook, but ebooks come in PDF form and most PDFs aren’t picked up by screenreader software. And for magnifier users like me, the print is faint and close packed. Even with my magnifier, I still have to plus plus plus it to get it some way readable. Still, when the text to speech function in an ebook is enabled, people using screenreaders can read ebooks. And the good news is, the text to speech has been enabled on the Pink Cage ebook, so it’s accessible right now.

When the book comes into the NCBI library, it will be available in Braille, audio and large print. I reckon I’ll get hold of a large print book for readings, so I won’t have to bring a rainforest of paper with me. I’ve been told work will begin on the book in August, so I’m looking forward to spreading the word when it’s available.

Making books accessible needn’t be just a feelgood gesture from publishers. It’s estimated that 200,000 people in this country have some sort of sight problem. So there’s a whole market of book lovers to be tapped into if publishers make the leap and strive to make books accessible as quickly as possible.




Exciting Writing

To be able to stand in front of their friends and family and share their world with them. To show them that it wasn’t all a waste of time and to reward them for their support. That’s what every writer dreams of. No matter how much they pretend they don’t.

That’s what my book launch was like.

Having tortured myself with visions of a half-empty room and a mountain of books left unsold, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that weeks of trumpet blowing on behalf of myself and my mother had paid off. Faces from the dim and distant past, book club members, fellow writers, the bridge brigade, neighbours, all turned up in force.

Faces floated in and out, words were snatched here and there. Flowers were pressed into my hands. I pressed as much flesh as I could. If I didn’t get to speak to you, I apologised. I installed myself behind a table and books were thrust at me. Words flowed in a nearly illegible scrawl from my pen to the pages of the books. Words were spoken, by publisher John Mooney, by author Suzanne Power, who launched the book and by me. And centre stage on the night was a birdcage painted pink to echo the novel’s title, The Pink Cage. This was the genius idea of my intended, Norman

The real star of the night - a cage painted pink

Meet the Cast of The Pink Cage

I’ve been blowing my trumpet about my novel, The Pink Cage, so hard for the last few weeks that I’ve been forgetting to tell people what the novel’s about. And it’s about time I did. For me, novels are all about the characters, so allow me to introduce the cast of The Pink Cage


The woman of the hour, the teller of the story. The girl with hair the colour of day-old snow. A 26-year-old freelance proofreader and DJ who has eyes that do their own thing. She’s spiky and vulnerable, a mass of contradictions.


The man with three names, Jazz to Astrid, Geoffrey to Matthew and Geoff to the rest of the world. He’s a man who likes to please. He’s a sound engineer and DJ with a cool veneer, but he still feels like a fatboy on the inside.


Astrid’s father. A socially awkward zoologist who finds himself plunged unexpectedly into single fatherhood after the death of Astrid’s mother. Fiercely devoted to Astrid. A tall, imposing man with firmly held views and a sharp tongue that hides a kind heart.


Jazz’s mother, a former caterer turned photographer. A soft, gentle woman who tends to be slightly over-eager. She is tactful, perceptive and knows how to get under Astrid’s prickly skin.


Astrid’s ski guide. A cheerful, uncomplicated sort who doesn’t put up with any nonsense and gets to the heart of the matter quickly. He gets the measure of Astrid very quickly.

The skiing crowd

A motley bunch. There’s Crusading Cliona and her nitrogen boyfriend Kim, Mia, who clings like a limpet to every available elbow and a pair of white bearded bowsies called Eamonn and Kevin. Astrid dubs them The Greek Chorus because they comment on everything. And there’s Johno, the blind guitar god.

People who know me will have great fun working out who these people are based on. At the very least, I hope that these characters will feel real to you.

Writing that Crackles

What makes a book sell? It’s the eternal question. Why are some books overlooked while others sell by the bucketload. Critics sniff at the popularity of pulp thrillers and chicklit and wonder why the Booker nominee only sells a couple of thousand copies.

To me, it’s simple. For writing to sell, it has to crackle.

Books that crackle have energy. They have passion. They’re exciting to read. They suck you into their world and they won’t let you go until you put the book down. Depending on what sort of reader you are, you’ll either gulp them down like summer cocktails or deliberately slow down, savouring every word. When you finish, you feel bereft.

How do you know if a book crackles?


In books that crackle, the characters leap off the page. You can see them and hear them; they feel real to you. And you’re cheering them on all the way.


It’s a myth that books need a string of exciting events to crackle. There are some books where nothing happens on the surface, but the interaction between the characters is so intense that you can practically hear the crackle. There are also writers who simply know how to spin a good yarn – a lost art in this age of genre fiction.


Books that crackle are set in a world that’s believable to the reader, even if it’s a fantasy world. They describe that world so vividly that the reader can feel as if they’ve left their own world. The writers of these books know how to call on the five senses to make their world real.


Books that crackle don’t waste words. Every word has a purpose; every word fits perfectly with what the writer aims to describe. Books that crackle tend to have a lot of dialogue, because dialogue moves a story forward. With good dialogue, it feels as if the characters are speaking to you.

Only time will tell whether my own book, The Pink Cage, is a crackler. It’ll be up to you to judge. But that’s certainly my goal as a writer. Without it, books fall flat, no matter how well written they are.

What makes a book crackle for you?