Fiction – a platform for challenging topics

Fiction can be a handy tool for tackling issues that are hard-hitting. For example:

Right of Possession (Naomi Young-Rodas) – dealing with an abusive partner.
Archie’s Children (Beatrice Holloway) – a criminal father returns to stay with his adult children.
A little piece for mother (Barbara Towell) – the impact of a holocaust survivor on her daughter growing up in London.
Become the Wind (Alexander Crombie) – dealing with blind people.
So Long Henry Bear (Alexander Crombie) – prisoner of war survivor’s guilt.
The Eye of the Clown (Alexander Crombie) – responses to physical disfigurement.

And if you prefer non-fiction, these might be of interest:


Epic Reads

What is an epic read? In my books, it’s a ‘very’ long read – whether a series or a single book.
Doris Lesing’s 5 book saga of life in Rhodesia in the 1930s, collectively called The Children of Violence, has been my most challenging fictional epic read. Somehow non-fiction epics are different. They require a different reading strategy, possibly because I invariably know the outcome, unlike with a novel.
Two single book epics I found less challenging than Doris Lessing but still thought provoking are Leslie Tate’s Love’s Register and Josie Arden’s Broken Ties of Time.
The three books are very different.
Lessing follows the life of Martha Quest, the interwar years, colonial development and the arrival of the Communist Party in Southern Rhodesia, today’s Zimbabwe. The books include Martha Quest (1952), A Proper Marriage (1954), A Ripple from the Storm (1958), Landlocked (1965), and The Four-Gated City (1969).
Tate explores relationships in their diversity and climate issues. Loves Register brings together three separate stories in a single volume.
Arden, meanwhile, tells of the challenges a young wealthy woman has getting into a relationship with a determined and dominating man working on the wrong side of the law, crossing cultures and continents.

I’ve also included some other long reads (350+ pages) for you to consider reading… all worthwhile in my opinion.


James Tiptree: 10,000 Light Years from Home #Review #ScienceFiction #Dystopian

I’ve umm’d and ah’d about whether to persevere with or give up reading James Tiptree Jnr’s “10,000 Light-Years from Home” (1977, Pan-Science Fiction). Even as I write, I’m still not 100% sure whether I will finish it or not… so why am I reading it?
I came across mention of it on Mastodon, Tiptree being rated as a science fiction writer and this the book to read. Not being a science fiction reader, preferring the past to the future, it seemed an opportunity to expand my horizons. Having struggled through the first three chapters, it seems as though there are multiple strands that will eventually merge. By page 72 this seems to be the case. However, the book has still not drawn me in sufficiently to want to finish it. This despite my fascination with when the book was published and its future-gazing. It seems so much more than I pick up today where the future vision seems to have stagnated.

Does this mean the book is not good? I don’t think so. It’s rated as one of the best, the publisher wrote an introduction to the book: “Here was a story by a professional, a man who knew how to interest me…he writes the kind of fiction that is worth reading and is a pleasure to read at the same time.”

Britannica gives some background to Tiptree – not a “he” but a “she” – while Vox puts her work into perspective.

It’s simply not my kind of book. But it might be yours. It did get me reflecting though: why is there such a need to focus on sex in entertainment? I hadn’t expected the graphic scenes (rather mild by today’s standards) in the opening chapter. Not having read the blurb or anything about the author before embarking on the read, I had no idea Tiptree was fascinated with gender issues.
The start of the Vox article notes:

Feminist dystopian fiction owes just as much to this woman — who wrote as a man — as Margaret Atwood.

While I found Margaret Atwood’s film of “A Handmaid’s Tale” incredibly moving, rating it as one of the best I’ve seen, it’s not a book I’m going to read. The mental images are likely to be too much for me. Similar to Tiptree. I much prefer the more gentle but still hard-hitting approach of Doris Lessing.

Knowing something of the author’s interest in a topic is another way I approach books taking me out of my comfort zone. This got me through editing Gideon Master’s trilogy: “Lucifer’s Child”, “Gestation” and “Ovum” which TSL published. This is a struggle between good and evil, this world and others. Knowing more about Tiptree and her motivation, I can’t say the same – her focus on gender issues rather put a damper on things.

And with that, I’ve decided not to finish the book. But it might be one for you. As might the trilogy by Gideon Masters.
Another dystopian novel published by TSL and a little more gentle than those already mentioned are by Jo Wilkinson “When Falls the Night” and “Into the Darkness”.


James Martin Charlton

James Martin Charlton is a dramatist, director and academic. His plays include The World & his Wife, Fat Souls, Groping in the Dark, ecstasy + Grace, Coward, and Reformation. He recently wrote Black Stone as part of an R&D project with Just Some Theatre Co., and a new work, Protomartyr, on St. Alban. Fat Souls, Coward and Reformation are published by Playdead Press. He has written an adaptation of The Pilgrim’s Progress and a play about William Blake, Divine Vision.
He is Interim Academic Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Creative Industries at Middlesex University. He produces his plays with his own theatre company, JMCFire.


Book publishing and marketing – reality checks

Getting sales of a book is really challenging – ask just about any author or publisher. Marketing a book though is easy, you press a few buttons and social media does the rest. However, returning to my opening sentence, marketing does not equate to sales. In our experience, the best route to sales is word of mouth – invariably through the author. I see my role, as pubilsher, to break through into new avenues for the author which is where the real challenge lies.
Social media marketing is hit and miss, there are so many journals, magazines, online newspapers, blogs, podcasts etc all trying to do the same thing that being heard becomes a challenge. But we persevere for the chance of that one hit.
So, it’s refreshing to read that others, more experienced in the field say very much the same thing. Here are some links I’ve found interesting, insightful and reassuring – and all continuing to search for the holy grail of the marketing-sales breakthrough…

Publishing Confidential: What works and what doesn’t (August 2023)

Richard Charkin: Pros and cons of big and small publishers (August 2023)

Berrett-Koehler Publishers: 10 Awful truths about publishing (March 2023)

Talon Homer: How many books are there in the world? (October 2022)

Navkiran Dhaliwal: Interesting Book Publishing Statistics You Should Know (August 2023) and in another format:
John M Jennings: How many new books are published each year and other interesting bits (January 2019)

So, the bottom line is – selling a book outside of your circle is challenging, but not impossible. Think carefully about why you want to publish your writing – it’s definitely not going to earn you or your publisher (generally speaking) a fortune.


The value of writing groups

Authors are all different in the way they work, some like to work indpendently whilst others need/like the encouragement and motivaton provided from other authors. As a result, there are numerous groups supporting authors – the challenge is finding the right one for your style, location and what you need the group for. Some TSL authors are involved in supporting authors as listed below.

Jennie Willett runs a writing group in Northwood, Middlesex, UK at St John’s URC church for people wanting to build their confidence as writers. For more information, contact Laura at or 07783-410136

Kat Francois provides a range of workshops for poetry, spoken word, Poetry Slams, performance skills, drama – see for more details

Michael Lansdown offers classes in Mill End, Rickmansworth – see for details.

Larger, more diverse groups include Watford Writers, Pinner Writers

For those interested in theatre, scriptwriting etc, there’s Player Playwrights in West London.