Friday, 23 January 2015

a year ago today... how time flies

My 1st anniversary interview  

This was published on Friday 23rd January 2015 by Fiona McVie on her author interviews blog. Thank you Fiona for your time. I know some of you have been struggling to find it on the site so here it is:

Name: Pam Charles
Age: 46
Where are you from? Leeds, Yorkshire, UK.
A little about yourself i.e. education, family life, etc
I am single Mum to two boys aged 16 and 8. I worked in the insurance broking industry for twenty years but lost my job when I was diagnosed with Meniere’s syndrome. In 2011 I graduated with a first class honours degree in Business Information Systems. After graduation, I decided to follow my dream I hadn’t dared to follow when I was fifteen and write a book. Actually, I wanted to write scripts and books but the book came first. When I am not writing, I am busy running the boys to football and rugby league. My eldest is an academy player at the Sheffield Eagles Rugby League Football Club and he is hopefully on the first step to becoming a professional rugby league player, a dream he has held since he was six years old. I spend most of my time being his driver attending training and games.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Today, 23rd January 2015 is the anniversary of the release of Beyond the Past, my debut novel.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing on the 26 December 2011. I remember it because it was Boxing Day and I had just finished reading Wuthering Heights again for the umpteenth time. It was something I had wanted to do when I was fifteen but didn’t have the confidence or encouragement to pursue it.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I am not sure I do yet. I still feel like a rabbit in headlights most of the time.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
This is going to sound corny but my boys. I spend all my time encouraging them to work hard, follow their dreams and be determined to succeed. I actually followed my own advice for once and decided I was going to follow my dreams. We were broke anyway so we really had nothing to lose. I stopped worrying about what other people would say and started writing.
Fiona: So you have a specific writing style?
Honestly, I am not sure yet. I like to think that I write to captivate a reader with a bit of Yorkshire humour thrown in.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
It really just came to me. The essence of the book is about two people who meet in their mid to late forties and want to start a new life together but issues from Mark’s past re-surface with disastrous consequences not just for the them but for their family and friends too. One thing I have to say though, is the title has caused a bit of confusion with some readers thinking it is historical fiction. An important lesson when creating a title!
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Not really other than it is never too late to have fun!
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
I don’t think you can be authentic without bringing in life experiences. The rugby league elements are realistic and anyone that loves sport will relate to the story line.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
This is an interesting one. There are elements of the book that relate to real life. I have been watching rugby league for over thirty years (yes, thirty years!) so yes, some of it is based on events in my own life but I hastened to add all the characters are fictional.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? A mentor?
Without doubt Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights. I studied this at A Level and hated it. Didn’t understand it. However, when I came to read it in my early twenties it all suddenly made sense and the characters are so intense. I also love James Herbert. I read Rats when I was fifteen and the book was glued to my hands until I finished it. Then I read all his books. Finally, John Grisham. His books absolutely blow me away. In fact, when I think about it there are so many books and authors that inspired me and continue to inspire me all for very different reasons. I could probably write a book on the very subject!
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Usually when I pick a book up I have to read it until it is finished – a day or so and then it is finished. When I am working on a new book I try not to read as much because I don’t want my writing to be influenced by their style. Having said that I am reading Peter James, Not Dead Yet and Ian Rankin, Standing in Another Man’s Grave. Both excellent. I also have a reading list that is getting bigger by the day.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I may upset some people if I leave them out or call them new authors when they have more experience than me. My reading list includes a number of authors that are part of the Books Go Social Authors Group on Facebook and I will get round to reading them and leaving them reviews, honest!
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I am currently editing the sequel to Beyond the Past which is called Beyond the Lies. I have finished the first rough draft and now I am doing a hatchet job on it.
The other project I am currently working on is a new novel, From Behind the Painted Smile. Following the discovery of four bodies in Yorkshire Rivers the police embark on a serial killer murder inquiry that leads them to a very unusual suspect.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Without doubt, the people and businesses of Wetherby have been really supportive through the networking group Wetherby hour. Beyond the Past is set in Wetherby, a small market town in Yorkshire where both boys played rugby until recently. The local business group, radio station, TempoFM and in particular Catherine from Sant Angelos Restorante in Wetherby have helped promote the book.

Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes I do but like any new career it takes time to progress and learn.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No I don’t think I would. It’s not perfect but you have to start somewhere and I absolutely love the characters.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
This is going to show my age. I was about twelve or thirteen and there was a detective series on television, Shoestring starring Trevor Eve. I had a crush on him (LOL). I started to write a script for the series. I never dared send it in but I loved writing it.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Beyond the Lies is the sequel to Beyond the Past. I can’t say too much about it because I don’t want to spoil the end of the first one but this sequel unravels the full extent of the conspiracy and leads to places you would never have imagined.
From Behind the Painted Smile. Following the discovery of four bodies in Yorkshire Rivers the police embark on a serial killer murder inquiry that leads them to a very unusual suspect.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The silence. Definitely the hardest of all is not knowing whether your book is being read, enjoyed, bought, etc.
Fiona: Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
It is very hard to choose one author when I love so many people but if I have to it would be Emily Bronte, or maybe Jane Austin. I love the complexity of the characters, the detailed descriptions and the language used. It is truly amazing to think these books were written at a time when women really didn’t have a public voice.
Fiona: Do you travel much concerning your book?
I haven’t at present. I have tried to stay local and that’s only because I don’t have the funds to go far and wide. Having said that, if an opportunity came up and would definitely take it.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The cover was designed by my publishers, Pegasus Elliott McKenzie. I love it.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The writing is the easy part. The hardest part for me was trying to get published and the marketing that is required once the book is released. There is no help with either unless you have money to pay people to do it for you.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned lots of things really. I realised how resilient and persistent I was. I realised that actually I am quite good at writing and that ideas for new novels came when I least expected them to.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t give up. Be persistent and believe in your talent but write what is right for you. As a writer you will receive criticism and bad reviews, it is inevitable. Don’t chase popularity, be yourself.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Wow, it was such a long time ago. The first ‘grown up’ book I read was Ingrid Bergman’s autobiography. I love old movies and she fascinated me. The first adult fiction book was James Herbert Rats but the first one to scare me senseless was Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith probably because I was maybe fifteen, on my own and sat reading it in the middle of Portmeirion (North Wales), where Prisoner was filmed! The imagination is a wonderful yet terrifying thing.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/ cry?
I love Laurel Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and the Stooges but I’m a Yorkshire lass so I find all sorts of things funny, sometimes when I shouldn’t! Cry is easy – anything remotely romantic, about children or animals.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
John Lennon. I want to ask him about his song writing and his views on world peace.
Fiona: What do you want written on your headstone and why?
“She came, she faltered but got there in the end”
Preferably with some spelling mistakes for people to laugh at. It sums up my life perfectly and one day I will write a book about the dozen or so lives I have lived before finally finding me.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I love sport, watching more than playing, although I do swim – it helps clear the mind! And Cars. I am a petrol head. I love everything about them. Touring cars, rallying and formula one are my favourites along with football and of course, rugby league. Most of time is spent driving the boys to their sporting events.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I love detective series on television and political dramas, spies, etc, so Spooks, Scandal, Blacklist, DCI Banks, Broadchurch, Happy Valley, Law & Order UK and others.
Films – James Bond, by far my favourite. Fast & Furious, Italian Job – I think there is a theme?? I do like political thrillers too.
Favourite food – Italian.
Colour – Yellow.
Music – too hard to pin down. I love all kinds of music from Bob Marley to John Lennon, The Script, Robbie Williams, Motown, and Paloma Faith. Very often I love a song and don’t even know who the artist is – I guess that’s when you know you are getting old!
Fiona: If you were not a writer, what else would you like to have done?
A PhD and research study. I love reading about new things and would love to contribute to new discoveries and policies. If not I would have loved to have been a political researcher.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/ website? If so what is it?

Monday, 19 January 2015

My experience of Social Media – the good, the bad and the downright ugly!

Well last week was a busy old week for us. My youngest had to have some blood tests which turned out to be a farce resulting in a visit to the LGI. It is so frustrating when a full day is taken up because someone can’t do their job but that’s life I suppose.

Most of my work was editing Beyond the Lies. I must admit I am doing a hatchet job on the draft manuscript. The results are going to be awesome. 

Lots of news issues this week have got me thinking – I know, very dangerous for all! I was thinking how intolerant and unsympathetic we have become. But have we? Is it that we spend too much time concentrating our efforts on highlighting the bad rather than celebrating the good? Should we not be celebrating our differences as that is what makes us all unique? Isn’t it strange how two people can read the same sentence and interpret the message in completely different, unique ways? I’m not sure ‘strange’ is the right word really. Anyway, this thought process led onto a whole series of ideas including what makes an expert and how do we know whose opinion to trust online. Yep, this REALLY is how my mind works. Most of you will know that I have experienced the good, the bad and the downright ugly on social media, especially twitter. So, I thought I would give you my take on it – warts and all. 

As an aspiring author/ writer (whatever the correct job description is) social media is an invaluable tool. It has connected me to so many people and places I would never have imagined reaching. Whether we like it or not, we all seem to be drawn in to the social media circus eventually. I started using social media in 2009 after being dragged kicking and screaming into the virtual world by fellow students on my university degree. I was subjected to ironic ridicule as a computer student not partaking in this ‘new’ phenomenon. To me it seemed another marketing campaign to suck us in to buying goods and services we really did not need. Oh, how wrong I was – well maybe partly.

Now, I openly admit I was naïve back then. I expected everyone to act responsibly and be themselves. I had NO IDEA at all, people would set up bogus accounts and aliases, and to me, Trolls were the big ugly monsters that hid under the bridge in Billy Goats Gruff! And SPAM, was from a tin!!

What do you use social media for?

There are many uses and I doubt that the founders of the programs imagined they would be used the way they are. To categorise I would say these are the main uses – entertainment, debate, meeting people, business networking, business marketing, sharing information, trolling, venting and spamming.

I had no idea social media was used for business until I expanded my horizons and started writing. I thought it was all friends have a bit of a laugh with each other, which I believe Facebook, Twitter and others were intended for. I primarily use Facebook and Twitter for a number of reasons but I also used LinkedIn, Instagram, GooglePlus and Pin Interest. 
If I had more time I would use others. 

I do like LinkedIn but find it hard to navigate sometimes, probably time constraints are my biggest hurdle. It is a completely different experience to the other sites and I enjoy the business discussions and it is my go to site for ‘expert’ advice, although I do still check the authenticity before accepting the advice. Facebook and Twitter are my ‘entertainment-come-friends-come-networking-come-debating’ sites. Google plus I use to promote my blog.

The Good

Without doubt, as in life, there are some very genuine, lovely people on social media who are working hard to build their own business and their professional reputation. LinkedIn is by far the most professional – I’d be worried if it wasn’t! However, there are great people on Facebook and Twitter too. Lots of people I have got to know, really lift my spirits when I’m doubting myself and I have found some great sites to help with building my profile as a writer and a woman in business – some of my favourites are Jane Wilmott at Women in Business Mastermind, She Quality Matters Magazine, Wetherbyhour and Books Go Social, to name a few. These people are incredibly clever and generous with their advice and support. That is really what I love about social media – the majority of individuals I connect with provide advice and support, invaluable to anyone starting out on a new career path. By far my favourite part of twitter are the networking hours where like minded business people exchange views and ideas like #kprs #leedshour #yorkshirehour #wineoclock #promotingwomen #wetherbyhour. These are just a selection. There are lots more and are really worth a look at

Social Media is a heaven sent tool for all our fabulous charities – for raising funds and for vital awareness. Long may this aspect continue and may lots more benefit from it.

I have always said the Hillsborough disaster would not have dragged on 25 years if social media had existed back then. Freedom of speech and connecting people has massive advantages as well as pitfalls. That's important.


The Bad

Some people feel they have the right to call themselves ‘experts’, ‘gurus’, etc when really it is all only in the name. The problem with social media is anyone can call themselves anything. Caution is required. Everyone is not an expert but everyone has an opinion, whether they have the knowledge or not. It really frustrates me when Liverpool FC lose. Suddenly die hard Liverpool fans turn into enemies of the club and individual players. Why? I’m sure Shanks once said "If you can't support us when we lose or draw, don't support us when we win." On match days I stay away from Twitter! What I don’t do is force my views on other people, I don’t have the energy!

The Downright Ugly

There’s always one! Or maybe quite a few. 

BEWARE – if you met people in real life and they lied to your face, were rude, racist, arrogant, ignorant and gave you a false name, would you remain friends or associated with them? Then do yourself a huge favour and say yourself from grief and BLOCK THEM online. Sadly, there are people out there pretending to be someone else, taking on alto egos and are downright rude and nasty – twittertrolls. They masquerade as people who believe their opinion is superior to everyone else's opinions and they are experts in everything especially your life.  I love a good debate but it has to be intelligent and no mud-slinging. Calling someone a name because you don’t agree with them is childish and social media does bring out the worst in some people.

These are the dangerous ones. The ones that have no boundaries or standards, online or in the real world. Like in the real world, cut them out of your virtual life, the tools are there. 

Very often it is not what you say but how you say it. I despise people who belittle, berate and hate people just because they can. No one has the right to throw abuse, no one! However, what I see as abuse, others see as entertainment. That, is when you know to shut them out completely.  Just think about this for a moment. There are 284 million active users of Twitter, of which 23 million are said to be not human! I’ll pause there for a second at the thought of the non-human users made me laugh out loud. 58 million tweets are sent per day or 9,100 every second.


In reality we are all a very miniscule part of a huge entity – bit like the real world. This is perspective. With that in mind, I take most things that are written with a pinch of salt unless it’s illegal, defamatory or racist then I report it. Why? Because I would in the real world. I’m not perfect, I get it wrong sometimes but I do have a standard that I live by. I recognise not everyone shares the same values or have such high standards.I'm happy to walk away from those people as I would do in life.

How I deal with Social Media

I apply the same principles to the virtual world as I do to the real world. This is the basis of the safe online training I have given to the boys, although my eight year old is not allowed on the internet unless he is sat with me. Any new programs they have, I know the passwords to them all and I do check their accounts from time to time. I trust them but don’t trust everyone else and Wes trusts me enough to not have a problem in me checking his social media.

Since the lies of the 1980s, I am very cynical when it comes to the media and the written or spoken word and I apply the same principles to social media too. Before getting on your high horse or letting something distress you, think about these:

  • Who is it written by? Is it opinion or fact?
  • Why and for what purpose was it written?
  • Does it really matter?

This was my only advice to the boys when they started using the internet and watching news programmes or reading articles. You need perspective. Let’s face it, one fact can be manipulated to have a completely different meaning depending upon your point of view – look at our politicians for clarification! Ultimately it is your own decision and interpretation that will decide if you let that person’s opinion be heard and be valid. That is how I read social media.

The fact is you do not know who you are talking to online. Even if you think you do, you don’t, not 100%. Someone once wrote that a spoof account had been set up in my name. It was childish and ignorant BUT it did make me worry because anything could be written in my name. That disgusts me but just shows the lows some people will stoop to. After my horrific experiences on Twitter, I came up with a survival kit. 

My self preservation survival kit for Social Media

  • Be Yourself
  • Stay away from trouble
  • Don’t believe everything you read
  • Don’t believe everyone is as honest as you.
  • Don’t be afraid to BLOCK
  • Build on who you are in the real world – don’t compromise yourself
  • Opinion is NOT knowledge or expertise
  • Don't write anything you wouldn't say out loud
  • Report unsuitable content. We all have a responsibility.
  • You can’t do anything about how someone interprets what you say.
  • Check followers and following of the user – it really does give you an insight into their personality
  • Keep everyone’s intended uses in mind.
  • If you wouldn’t put up with it in the real world, don’t put up with it in the virtual world.
  • If in doubt, check it out

How do I weed out opinion from knowledge?

This is what I do, but I’m not an expert! In spite of the pitfalls, I still believe social media is a fabulous invention. I choose to be a part of the media circus and I accept some of the risks but I can reduce those risks myself.

  •  I stay clear of any accounts with no profile pictures, hidden content or questionable content.
  • Check followers and following and check timelines for other posts and comments
  • If I like someone’s post or article, I check them out. I google them and check LinkedIn. The chances are authentic people will ensure they can be traced.
  • Facebook search them. I’ve found people hiding behind aliases on Twitter use the same profile picture on Facebook and their real name and real identity. BUSTED!
  • If they have a website or blog – check them out.
  • Ask them questions. Genuine people are more than happy to discuss their credentials with you.
  • Cautious embrace – I enjoy social media but reserve the right to withdraw!

Remember – everyone has an opinion, few have the knowledge or expertise. Putting yourself out there will attract criticism, even ridicule BUT don’t let it dull your sparkle. There are the few that will always spoil things for the many – that’s life!

This is my experience, my perspective and my way of coping with the virtual world. I am 100% myself online and I am proud of that. I would recommend to anyone to ABSOLUTELY use social media.

I’m sure there will be experts out there shaking their heads and questioning my sanity – trust me, I question it every day!

One last thought, I hope you’re not snoring by now. I choose to live my life my way and I choose to be different. If I don’t agree with someone’s opinion, expert or not, I will challenge it but the right way. If opinions were not challenged we would not have the technology or social media we have today – I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good or bad thing!

If in doubt, check it out!!

P.S. Well, I'm off now to do, guess what? Yes - social media scheduling. Have a great week