about me

The art of doing one thing at a time

Last weekend we went to an afternoon concert given by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. They were playing Mahler’s 5th and a piano concerto by Haydn. I was vaguely familiar with the Mahler though I knew and recognised only the adagietto. I hadn’t a clue about the Haydn but we went because it was over the road from our temporary apartment and because we’d move out in less than a week and because we could. It was only ten quid each too, so a real bargain.


Unsure of how I’d cope with such a long concert of unfamiliar music I took along my notebook and pen.


During the first movement I found myself compelled to write down what the music made me see. I saw an army of soldiers on horseback, muskets loaded, led by a drummer, charging into battle. When the movement reached a close, I immediately regretted what I had done. By taking notes I had not really experienced the music. I had neither listened properly, nor taken the time to study the musicians, how their chests, bodies, limbs and bows moved with the music.


So, for the next movement I decided to close my eyes. Ouch! That’s a dramatic movement too and I found it way too loud. So, I did an experiment. I wondered if by opening my eyes I’d lower the impact of the sound. It worked! But the moment I started watching the orchestra and listening, I lost the experience, the essence of simply listening to the music. I found a solution, and stared with soft focus eyes at my skirt and thus could really hear the music.


By the adagietto I was ready to try and listen with eyes closed again. I knew it would not deafen me and, as the bit I knew, I’d really enjoy it. Oh boy, did I enjoy it, feeling the vibrations and noticing how they moved in my body. It was sublime, reaching those places in my heart that only fine music, beautifully played, can reach. Ian thought I’d fallen asleep! This was by far the most delicious way to enjoy an adagio.


Of course, as soon as the concert was over I opened my notebook to record my findings. Can’t help myself, you see.


I’d realised that our senses are generally divided up between those in use and that indeed, if I closed my eyes, my hearing became more acute. I was like a gleeful child with my discovery.


The next day, I saw I’d missed Eva László-Herbert’s interview on Lost in Transition, led by Dr Paulette Bethel. Eva is a friend of mine and a wordsmith to the core. I listened to the repeat show that was still online and was blown away with her words and at times was moved to tears by her erudition and eloquence. I reached for a pen to write down some of her wisdom and immediately lost the gist of the next sentence. Her best three words were these: ‘paper is patient’. Genius.


Eva is a simultaneous interpreter and I have no clue how she can listen to what is being said while expressing what was just said in another language, but I digress. I may be a woman and supposedly able to multitask but I simply can’t listen and write at the same time. Nor can I listen and read as I went on to discover.


After 45 minutes of Eva’s one-hour talk I noticed an App button was jumping up and down from the dock on my computer. I felt compelled to take a look – and immediately lost the thread of her conversation.


When I consider how many evenings I allow myself to pick up any Facebook messages or Whatsapps while I am watching a film, or how youngsters are constantly messaging their friends when at the dinner table, I realise there is no way we can be engaged in reality while we are engaged in something else.


Which is why I hereby vow not to take a notebook with me when I do something that really inspires me, like go for a walk in nature or listen to an author being interviewed. I know for sure, now, that by writing and listening or writing and experiencing at the same time I will lessen the experience of being in the moment and that my writing will suffer as a result.


I am a habitual note taker, so I am not quite sure how I will cope and if I will remember the important bits later. But somehow, I think that anything I do remember later, like the best line from a play or a great piece one of my students wrote, was worth remembering. So then, I will write it down.


I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to stop writing and stop using social media for a moment and really start to experience the inspiration that comes your way.



Tough love and the authors' mentor

I sometimes think my parents named me Jo for a reason. It’s short for Joanna, actually, but I have been just plain Jo for decades now. Have you heard the phrase ‘honest Joe’? Well, that’s me! It’s a monika I’ve had to learn to live with.

When I became an authors’ mentor in 2002, after getting 15 books of my own published and working as a journalist for a few years, I had a fair bit of experience underneath my belt. I’d had my failures and in fact my publisher rejected every page of the first book I was commissioned to write on wordprocessing. Yep, I had to start from scratch.

My first magazine editor, back in 1987 in Dubai, told me straight.

“Well, you’re a new writer but you have good ideas and you show promise,” she said. “So I’m going to ask you to write for me and then rip your work to shreds. If you can take that, you’ll learn the craft on the job.”

I decided I could take that and there began a long career in which I wrote thousands of feature articles for magazines all over the world, and even ended up editor myself.

So, by the time I became an authors’ mentor I had graduated from the school of hard knocks. I knew that if I was to be any good I had to be honest with my clients and tell them exactly what I thought. Thank goodness I’m British and the art of giving people bad news in a jolly nice way was in my blood! I’m pretty good at beginning a piece of particularly tough criticism with words such as:

“I’m really sorry to tell you this, but…”


“Would you mind changing …”

I don’t like being nasty to people. I even tell them that what I suggest is only my opinion and they can take or leave it, but that I would not be doing my job if I didn’t say it as I found it.

Nevertheless, I do not like giving negative feedback. And always try to go back over my comments to soften them a bit if I can. I still quake when I press the send button, but I know I must do it.

But when one of my friends comes to me for advice that is really hard. I SO don’t want to offend them, that not only do I quake when I press the send button but I worry about what they will think of me when they read it and whether our friendship will be over. But, like I said, it’s my ‘job’ and I have to be professional even with a friend.

So, two weeks ago, I found myself reviewing a book for a really good friend of mine. He’d already written it and published it and as I read I knew I was likely to cause a commotion with my comments. But I did a really thorough job, and didn’t even charge him for it. I just could not keep my mouth shut. I wanted his book to be the best it could be and knew that as the book was print on demand, fixing it did not mean he’d have to bin the 2,000 copies in his garage. So, I said what I thought, pressed send and lay awake for a couple of hours that night.

The next day, an email was waiting for me when I got to my desk. I felt sick. I saved the email til last and gingerly opened it.

“Nobody has ever taken the time or trouble to give me such a high level and really useful critique … Ever !!! And I really appreciate the time you’ve spent and your intention of love .

I love all those ideas and they would be great to wrap into a second edition …

I take them all on board and will mull on how best to implement them rather than my usual “drop everything approach” – I do want this to be a big success.”

I could breathe out at last and I am delighted to report that we will work together on that second edition – on a professional basis.

The reason I share this with you today is that I know how hard it can be to even dare to ask for feedback from a professional. I also know how hard it is to give negative critique. However, thanks to my friend’s wonderful email, which he has given me permission to share, I have had my belief endorsed that it really OK to be honest – even with a friend.


Author to Author, I interview Paula Lucas, author of Harvesting Stones

It came out less than two weeks ago and already I see it has 11 raving reviews on Amazon. This is a wonderful book, though heartbreaking, terrifying and emotional. Paula Lucas, an abused expat wife who managed to escape with her three children and not only tell the tale but start a charity to help others in her situation, is a fabulous writer. Here I interview her about her book, Harvesting Stones‘ journey

JP: Tell us about Harvesting Stones. What is it about? Can you describe it in just a few sentences?


PL: It’s about my journey as a young American woman who thought her life was going to be wonderful living and travelling overseas, but instead it turned into a nightmare. Even more so, it is about overcoming the terrible things that happened and instead of taking the stones that were thrown, and throwing them back, harvesting them to make a better life for myself and others.


JP: Why did you write the book?


PL: To raise awareness of the problems faced by Americans abused overseas. Also, to rally support for the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVC), so it doesn’t have to close and stop providing life -saving services for American domestic violence and sexual assault victims overseas. Services to Americans overseas are not written into the legislation of the Violence Against Women Act that provides funding to domestic violence and sexual assault programs in the USA, despite our efforts and the efforts of other victim’s rights advocates. No other government funding is currently allocated to serve American victims overseas and the possibilities of future government funding are bleak. We need AODVC to become a community-supported resource.


JP: Why do you think your book needed to be written?


PL: There is a misconception that American freedoms travel with us overseas and I think it is important for people to understand that is not the case. So many times I have been told, “There is no need for AODVC services. All Americans have to do is go to the American embassy for help.”


The help American embassies can offer is very limited though and they don’t do direct service, just provide referrals. They are bound by the laws of the country they are located in, so diplomacy has to be their priority. Our first priority is the victims. The wrap-around services we provide for American victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are extensive and life-saving. Victims often have to break laws of foreign countries if it means getting back home safely to the USA. AODVC fills the critical gap in services desperately needed for victims.


JP: Who do you think will read your book? Or who would you like to read your book?


PL: I think the book has a wide audience. It’s an American success story… maybe not a financial success story, but success in terms of overcoming insurmountable obstacles, starting a grassroots movement and successfully helping thousands of Americans in crisis overseas. There are many themes weaving through the story: corruption, testing belief in God, the oppression of women, betrayal, abuse, terror, and so on. It has something for everyone. It is a book about empowerment and determination. It reads like a novel, a thriller I guess, so hopefully it will appeal to a wide range of folks and not just women, but men too.


JP: What steps have you taken (or do you plan to take) to promote your book? Which methods do you think work best and can you give any examples?


PL: I have a Facebook page and a website, where folks can read the first chapter for free.


AODVC has a monthly e-newsletter. We put an article in the September newsletter and will do it again in October when the book is published. I do speak nationally and internationally as an expert on the abuse of Americans overseas. In the past five years my staff and I have presented on the ground in 40 cities in 25 foreign countries, and much more via webinar. I have several speaking engagements lined up in Washington DC and Boston in October and November, and will do more speaking engagements on the West Coast when I get back. I have sent out review copies and have gotten some wonderful feedback. I will put out press releases on 7 October when the book is published.


JP: How did you choose your publisher and publishing method? Why did you decide to take this route?


PL: I have known Jo for many years and felt that Summertime Publishing was a good fit for my memoir. I had thought about self-publishing because I knew my self-imposed deadline was tight, but I am glad I didn’t. Having the Summertime team supporting me has been fabulous. They understood the urgency of getting the book out as a fundraising and awareness tool for AODVC and have been just amazing to work with.


JP: What was your biggest challenge regarding the writing of your book? How have you overcome that?


PL: The biggest challenge was going back and reliving the abuse so the reader could truly experience what happened, but do it in a way that is compelling and not traumatizing or makes people want to stop reading. I hope that folks, knowing from the onset that the book ends triumphantly, will stick with me through the tough times so they can also experience the accomplishments. I will have to wait and see what the readers think to know if I was able to achieve that.


JP: What has writing Harvesting Stones done for you, your family, your self-esteem or your business?


PL: Writing the book for me was cathartic, although I admit I feel vulnerable putting intimate details of my life out into the public. So far I have had great feedback except for a few nasty remarks, but with anonymity on the internet, people say mean things to you that they would never say in person. So I will just send love and light to those that feel they need to be hateful.


There has been some re-traumatization for my sons after they read the manuscript, so we have had lots of talks and tears lately. We are very close and they are strong. To heal sometimes you have to go back to go forward.


JP: If you were to give advice to someone else who is thinking about writing a book of this nature, what would be your number one tip?


PL: It’s normal to second-guess yourself. Multiple times I thought, “No one is going to want to read my memoir. Why am I writing it?”


So write it for yourself as a tool to purge the memories, move beyond the pain and don’t worry about anyone else.


JP: Please can you add links here to your website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter account and any other social media you have in place.






about me

Old Ways, New Ways

How it things used to be

I was pretty shocked a couple of years ago when one of my children, then in his late teens, asked me where you put the stamp on a letter. He also asked me where you wrote the address on the envelope.


When I was at school we were taught how to write letters, complete with our address top right and theirs top left, above the salutation. These days everyone sends text messages and emails. Sometimes we don’t even bother to add ‘Dear’ and the recipient’s name. We never worry about whether to use ‘yours sincerely’ or ‘yours faithfully’ at the end. We just write ‘cheers’ or ‘best wishes’ and type, not sign, our name.


Overhearing conversations between young people I often hear them saying, “I’ve been talking to so and so,” when they mean they have been emailing, texting, Whatsapping or Facebook messaging them. Sorry, folks, that is not ‘talking’.


I don’t know about you, but when I send emails, I tend to write fast and short. When I read emails I read fast too.


But when I first went abroad 25 years ago, my mother and I wrote letters to each other every Sunday. Thin blue airmail paper and thin blue envelopes with red, white and blue borders, remember? From about Wednesday onwards, I’d eagerly await the sound of Ian’s key in the lock at the end of the day, in the hope that he’d have my letter from home with him. I’d curl up on the sofa and read it through, savouring every word. I’d read it again the next day too and maybe a third time. I’d pass it to Ian and he’d read it and then we’d maybe chat a bit about the parochial goings on in Rutland and how she’d just won first prize of 25p in the local flower show.


At Christmas I write a newsletter, print and post it, my signature and a brief note added to the end, to about 100 people. But that doesn’t count, does it?


Today, as I start a new life with Ian in Kuala Lumpur, the thought of writing letters didn’t cross my mind. Oh no, I had a better idea – I’d write a blog and then my mother, my brother, my friends and anyone else who cared could read something I’d only had to write once. And so http://www.sunnyinterval.com began and I’m thoroughly enjoying posting on it once or twice a week. Writing a blog has become a bit like a diary, allowing me to savour everything that happens knowing I need to pay special attention in case I write about it later. And then I relive it when I write it down and am delighted when people I really care about, and some I never even met, write comments.


Why blog?

Writing a blog brings out the ‘columnist’ in me. The person who wants to write about the mundane in a fun and hopefully compelling way. It lets me practise writing with focus, a purpose and a beginning, middle and end and it lets me write in stories.


Why poetry?

Sometimes I put a poem on the blog. I’ve loved writing poetry for my entire life, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I allowed myself the joy of writing several a month. The thing I love about poetry as a medium is that it lets me be more honest and vulnerable about the way I feel or how something has affected me. Only, with a poem, I can wrap the sometimes painful truth up in a metaphor, thereby protecting me a little and allowing readers a peek inside my soul.


Why more?

So, armed with a diary, of course, my blog and an exercise book for poems, I thought had it all covered.


Then my son, who lives in London, set me a challenge.


“I want you to write me letters,” he said.


“But we can Skype,” I replied. “And Facebook message. We have Whatsapp and email.”


“But I want you to write me letters.”


“OK.” I gulped. “Will you write back, then?” I had visions of renewing my Sunday date with pen and paper and never receiving anything in return, never knowing whether my letters arrived and if he even liked them.


“Tell you what,” he suggested. “You write first, then I’ll reply. Then you reply to me. Like that.”


What a brilliant idea! Isn’t that how my letter writing life used to be when, before the days of email my old girlfriends and I would correspond throughout the year?


And so, quietly excited at the prospect, I went on a hunt for that thin blue airmail paper of yore. I discovered they don’t sell it in the high street any more. For shame. I learned though, through a Facebook plea, that a website called Etsy has it. Anyway, on my first day in KL I bought some proper red, white and blue envelopes and some thinnish yellow paper and on Sunday I wrote my first letter in years and years.


Why letters?

Do you know what? I loved it. I found it opened a part of me that had not been used in ages. I wrote myself dry on topics that, in an email, I’d touched on and in a blog I’d focused on trying to describe in a writerly way, rather than just how I felt. I told him things I’d already told him about briefly on Skype. This was different. And dare I say it, better? I wrote in more detail and watched the pages fall away as, after about half an hour, I’d actually only written about one part of our new life. After 8 sides of paper, I realised that was probably all the envelope could stand and went hunting for a post office.


I am excited that Josh set me this challenge. It has awoken a dormant part of my writing self and it has surprised me. Over the decades since email, I have begun to take the stacatto bursts of communication for granted and considered them normal. They are a new normal. I think I preferred the old ways.




Three Things I Wish I had Known When I Was a New Writer


It’s been a bit of a watershed for me recently, as my youngest son, Joshua, has declared that he wants to perform some of his poems at open mic events. I am a bit of a poet myself and the fact that my son has decided to do something that is close to my heart has been a bit like looking myself in the mirror and giving myself the advice that I wish I’d had when I was 20. It’s weird though, because I’m his mum. And, as many of you will know, when a mother gives her own child advice it is not always taken the right way because, well, you’re his mother. It’s much the same with praise. I mean, did you believe it when your parents praised you, or did you think they were just being nice?


When Josh first came to me and bemoaned the fact that he did not believe he was any good, I told him to go forth and do two things first and foremost:


1 Practise

2 Get feedback from your target audience


Well, he did the practise all right. He must have written hundreds of poems in the last year. But the feedback. Like all of us he found that tough, and he didn’t really believe me when I told him his work was good. Like many newbies he was nervous about sharing his work and often I knew I was the only other person to have read some of them.


I am always frustrated by writers who never show their work to another living soul. To my mind, if you don’t share and ask for feedback you are not serious about writing. But then, if you don’t share, you can preserve your dream of being a writer someday. If you share your work and discover you were deluded about its quality, then you run the risk of losing your dream.


If you are a new writer and are at the ‘need to practise and get feedback’ stage, then of course you need to write regularly and often. One of the best ways to achieve both the practise and the feedback in one go is to start a blog that focuses on the topics you want to write about. A poet would start a poetry blog. A memoirist would write a blog or columns or articles and a novelist could enter short story competitions. There is no question that you must have both practise and feedback. You cannot have one without the other. If not, then, as I said, you are not seriously looking for success.


So, I did for him what I wish I had had myself at that age, and here is my third piece of advice:


3 Get a mentor


I looked to see whom he most admired, who was out there, performing in London, where Josh lives, and discovered that was Anthony Anaxagorou. Along the way, I started to follow Anthony’s work too and learned a hell of a lot myself. I found Anthony on Facebook (of course, anyone who is serious about getting out there must be on Facebook) and sent him an email, asking if he would mentor my son. He agreed. Josh was not at all convinced this was a good idea to start with, but soon realised I had been right. He was receiving feedback from someone he trusted and admired. Importantly, he learned the value of polishing until his piece was in the best shape it could be. Better than anything, Anthony told him about where he could find possible poetry gigs in London.


Being mentored is a wonderful experience, but so is being a mentor. As many f you know I give advice, based on my own experience and of course, mistakes, to other people all the time. Some of them listen. Some don’t believe me, some have better ideas and I learn from them. I love helping others to achieve the things I have achieved and I think anyone else out there who has ever mentored anyone will agree that assisting others to do what you already do pretty well is both rewarding and validating. Advising your own child is probably the hardest type of mentoring you can ever do, because, as a rule, they don’t believe you, don’t listen and think they know better. However, watching someone take those first tentative steps and start climbing the writing ladder provides the greatest of joys.


If you want to find a mentor then I suggest you seek out someone who is already doing what you want to achieve and doing it well. If they are also involved in the market you want to break into then all the better. Most people are flattered to be asked and some are willing to help you pro bono, others will charge a fee. Even if you do have to pay you will find that a mentor will open doors for you, show you shortcuts and share connections.


When my team and I helped Linda Janssen to write and publish her recent book, The Emotionally Resilient Expat, I was utterly delighted to see that she had done every single thing I had ever suggested she do – and I mean everything. She even started off with a blog, Adventures in Expatland. To see her book now receiving the most fabulous of reviews is gratifying in the extreme. I am ‘chuffed to bits’ (non-Brits may need to look that word up, sorry).


So there you have them – my top three pieces of advice for a new writer. If you want to achieve all three in one fell swoop then nothing can beat taking a writing course that includes in class feedback for homework completed between sessions. The teacher becomes a mentor and he or she, together with your fellow students, will give you feedback. Residential classes are great, but I have found classes given once a week or somesuch are equally valuable and more affordable. In the last month two of my own students have taken residential courses with the Arvon Foundation in England and been delighted.


As I head off for a four year posting with my husband in Kuala Lumpur later this month I realise I do sometimes take my own advice too. The first thing I have done before I have even set foot in the country is to find myself some mentors –people who are already living there, people who like the same things as me and people who can connect me to the things that will, I hope, allow me to ‘fly’ there too.


Don’t worry. This does not mean the end of Summertime Publishing. Far from it. With 80 books and 50 authors in ‘the stable’, Summertime Publishing Ltd has now been incorporated in England and will continue to help new writers to write and publish books on living abroad.










interviews & new releases

I talk to Toni Summers Hargis about her new book Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States

I first heard about Toni Summers Hargis when I was sent a copy of her first book, entitled Rules Britannia, to review. I loved the book and I loved her style and was delighted to meet her in person in Houston at the Families in Global Transition conference in 2007. When she had a second book in the works, this time about how to get into a US college (a minefield of a process, particularly if you are an American living overseas or a non-American), she came to us at Summertime Publishing. I was delighted.

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit who’s lived in the US since 1990. She writes and blogs about US/UK issues, including regular posts at BBC America’s “Mind the Gap” site. She has three Yankee-Brit children and an American husband, and claims she is “just about bi-lingual these days”.




Tell me about your book. What is it about? Can you describe it in just a few sentences?



The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States is literally a step-by-step guide for international students wishing to pursue undergraduate study in the USA. It covers everything from initial thoughts about attending college here, through how to complete the application forms, apply for a visa and register for classes. Its aim is to reduce the stress that usually accompanies the college and visa application processes and to give readers a practical, simplified plan to follow.



Why did you write it?



As my own children approached college age, friends from overseas began asking questions on behalf of their own children about the college system in the USA. I saw a lot of confusion about the American education system and about the required steps for a college application. The aim of the book has always been to help simplify the entire process and give readers the confidence to understand and manage the process.



What qualifies you to write this book?



I have three children currently in the American education system, one half way through college, so I have first hand knowledge of the “college app” process. Even for Americans, it can be very stressful, but as a foreigner, I appreciate how much more difficult it is for applicants who don’t speak the language, don’t understand the requirements and/or have no idea where to start. In addition, I have attended university both in the UK and the USA and am aware of how different the American college environment is to non-Americans.


In researching and writing the book, I sought advice and input from many professionals in the field, both in the US and around the world; I also spoke to international students attending colleges here and learned a lot from their experiences, which are shared in various chapters.



Why do you think your book needed to be written? What will it do for other people? How will it help? Did you have any competition?



While much of the information in the book is publicly available, it was, until now, scattered all over the Internet and difficult to find or apply. My book not only contains references to all official and college-related web sites that applicants should visit, it lays out a step-by-step plan that will enable readers to consider their US options, apply to colleges and manage the visa application process without panicking or running out of time. There is obviously competition for some of the information in the book since it’s already on the Internet, but I believe “The Stress-Free Guide To Studying In The States” is unique in that it brings the information together for the first time; in addition, it contains advice and insight from professionals in the field and from students who have already gone through the process successfully.




Who do you think will read your book? What made you think that there was a market for it? If your book has been out for a while, what proof do you have that you were right?



When more than a few people told me that I “should write a book about that”, I knew there was a market. Additionally, when I describe the book to potential readers, their eyes widen. That’s always a positive sign. I have been very busy e-mailing international schools and expat organizations around the world many of which have expressed relief that such a book is available!


The book will obviously help international students considering US colleges, but it will also help high school teachers and college advisory staff around the world who are struggling to understand the US college application process, what is required of both the school and the student, and how they can best assist the student. I also have a chapter specifically for parents; American colleges often involve parents to a much greater degree than in other countries. This and other considerations such as tuition and health insurance are usually completely new to international parents.




It does not matter how good a book is, or how good your writing is if no one knows about it. What steps have you taken or do you plan to take to promote your book? Are you a speaker or trainer? Do you have a blog? A website? A newsletter? Do you use Facebook, Twitter or other social media tools? What about press releases and sending out review copies and free articles? Have you had any other ideas? Which methods do you think work best and can you give me any examples?



I have already made quite a few contacts both in academia and in the press, and I am in the process of calling on them. In addition, I have e-mailed literally hundreds of international high schools to introduce them to the book, with a flyer, and links to the web site and Amazon page. I am also doing the same with International Offices of US colleges, since this book will help them in dealing with the many queries they receive. It’s a lot of work because I go onto each college or school web site to find out the name of the most relevant person to contact. When publicizing Rules, Britannia I found this surprisingly effective; recipients of the e-mail appreciated the personal touch and often replied to thank me.


I am also in the process of sending the book to international journalists covering high school education as well as parenting and expat blogger groups. Three of the biggest mums blogging groups are all interested in having me write something about studying in the States. Last month I contacted BBC Radio Newcastle (where I’m from) and told them about my book; I also gave them the name of a local boy who had managed to snag a four-year fully funded football scholarship to a university in Washington DC. This “local angle” made for a really interesting radio talk show segment (which aired last week) and the host did a great job of plugging my book because unbelievably, I forgot to mention it! I write regularly for the BBC America web site and the Expat Focus site, and they have both been gracious enough to allow me to plug the book.


I currently have an author web site, which has the book on the home page and a tab devoted to more details, complete with separate URL to land on that specific page. I am also launched a Facebook page specifically for the book which had over three thousand “likes” in the first two weeks. I post a “tip” from my book every day and they always get about 300-400 views. My Twitter handle is simply my name @ToniHargis, and I use Twitter to promote the book, but I also mix things up a little on there.

Since I have been blogging for a number of years, I have a lot of contacts both in the parenting world and in the international/expat field. I have called on dozens to review and help promote the book, both on their blogs and on Amazon.


I do not think this book lends itself to book signings or readings since my audience is scattered around the world. The material is also somewhat academic and probably wouldn’t make for the most exciting reading.



How did you publish your book? Did you find an agent, a publisher or did you publish it yourself? Please describe your process and tell us how you found the experience. Is there anything you would definitely do again or never do again?



Although I had an agent for my first book, I decided against the “traditional approach” for The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States. It was a book that I felt needed to be written and published in as short a timeline as possible. With my first book, it was fully two years between signing a contract and seeing the book launched. I approached Summertime because I knew I needed a publisher that understood the expat world and had significant international contacts too.


I found the process hard work but not difficult. Because the book is factual, there is little room for my opinion and a huge need for every piece of information to be fully researched and referenced. I’m not a great one for dotting “I”s and crossing “t”s, so that was bordering on tedious for me, but obviously essential. I worked with Jane Dean, an excellent editor, and Owen Jones, a talented graphic designer, and I think we all agreed it was a smooth process.



What was your biggest challenge regarding the writing of your book? How have you overcome that?




The biggest challenge for me was to make sure that every word I wrote was factual! Most of my previous work has been information heavily punctuated by my own opinion; this book needed to be “just the facts”, so everything I wrote had to be inspected with a fine-tooth comb and backed up with a web site or other citation. This was a time-consuming job but one that had to be done.



Now you have written this book, what has writing it done for you, your family, your self-esteem or your business?



It’s very early days yet (the book has been out for about a month). As many writers find, the hard work has just begun. The promotion means hours of wading through web sites and e-mailing people, writing “college-related” posts for other web sites, and generally just putting the hours in. The feedback I’m getting is very encouraging.



If you were to give advice to someone else who is thinking about writing a book, what would be your number one tip?



Do your homework. No matter how good you think your book idea is, check the marketplace to see if anyone else has written something similar. If they have, your book should have a different angle or deliver better information. Also get some feedback from a wide group of people to see what they think of your idea. There’s nothing worse than devoting hours and hours on a book only to discover that someone’s just released something similar, or that you can’t really explain why the target audience should buy it. Also do your homework with the content; everything factual should be thoroughly researched, right up to the day you go to press.



And finally, how can people buy your book, in what formats, and what does it cost? Please include any links if you have them.



The book is currently available on Amazon, Amazon UK and the Barnes and Noble web site in both print and Kindle format; we are just about to put it out in more e-book formats. You can find all these links on the home page of my web site –


interviews & new releases

I talk to Monica Neboli about her new anthology on life in Kazakhstan

I first met Monica Neboli at the WIN conference in Rome in 2011, when she told me about her idea for a book. Monica had been living in Kazakhstan with her family and believed that the country she had called home was a great place to live, but that many people imagined a cold, barren, impenetrable landscape with people it was hard to get to know. By asking expats who had lived there to share their stories, Monica recognised that she could give the country the reputation it deserved. In her anthology, Drinking Camel’s Milk in the Yurt, you will be delighted to learn of the beauty, the summers, the culture and the warmth of its people. The book was published in July this year and is available in print and kindle format.

JP: Tell us about Drinking Camel’s Milk in the Yurt. What is it about? Can you describe it in just a few sentences?


MN: It’s an anthology of stories written by expats who have lived or are still living in Kazakhstan. It’s a way to get to know this interesting country, to understand its essence, through their eyes: 24 authors from 11 countries.


JP: Why did you write it?


MN: I have lived in Kazakhstan for several years. I was so fascinated by the country that I decided to create a collection of stories by expats on it.


JP: Why do you think your book needed to be written?


MN: This is the book I wanted to read before leaving for Kazakhstan (unfortunately it hadn’t been written yet). I hope it will help new expats arriving in the country. Having the right information on a place mean you spend less time adapting and helps to maximize the enrichment that comes from knowing that place more deeply.


JP: Who do you think will read your book? Or who would you like to read your book?


MN: Everyone is interested to know something more about this country.


JP: What steps have you taken or do you plan to take to promote your book? (For example: Are you a speaker or trainer? Do you have a blog? A website? A newsletter? Do you use Facebook, Twitter or other social media tools? What about press releases and sending out review copies and free articles? Have you had any other ideas?) Which methods do you think work best and can you give me any examples?


MN: I plan to have a book launch, create my own website, and reach out to my contacts in expat communities. I also hope to use social networks like Facebook.


JP: How did you choose your publisher and publishing method? Why did you decide to go down this route?


MN: It was a natural consequence: during a conference I shared my idea with a special woman who happened to be a publisher.


JP: What was your biggest challenge regarding the writing of your book? How have you overcome that?


MN: Maintaining the commitment to work on the realization of the book despite the commitments of mom, wife and work.


JP: Now you have written this book, what has writing it done for you, your family, your self-esteem or your business?


MN: For me it means closing a phase in my life, and celebrating in the best way possible my experience in Kazakhstan.


JP: If you were to give advice to someone else who is thinking about putting together an anthology, what would be your number one tip?


MN: Do it! It is not easy, but if you let yourself be inspired by the enthusiasm of your fellow adventurers you can achieve something to be proud of.

You can find out more about the book at KZEXPATSTORIES

Author guestposts

Chickenruby tells us why she blogs

I recently discovered Chickenruby’s blog and it intrigued me. Firstly, she has a memorable and quirky name and that piqued my interest even before I knew what she wrote about. I love the fact that on her About page she explains she once owned a chicken called Ruby and has a Blue Peter Badge! No wonder I warmed to her. Chickenruby’s blog is about being a Brit in South Africa with three expat teens in tow. Her writing is peppy, useful and inspiring. I think she’s one to follow. I asked Chickenruby (real name Suzanne… did you know she once played the clarinet too but can’t sing?) why blog anyway?

Why do I blog?

I started blogging in October 2009 after winning Fancy dress Friday on twitter. I spent the week dressed as a dalek and wanted to share it all in one go. I then continued to use blogging as a way of tweeting longer.

Very soon I discovered that I was being asked for advice on parenting teenagers, I blogged about step families, disabled children and the following year after the oldest 3 had left home I blogged about life as an expat.

I’ve now had a friend work on my blog to make it a bit more professional, changed tags to be more concise, written a couple of articles on family and finances, my blog is a featured blog on many expat and Mum websites. I’ve guest posted, reviewed things, attended blogging conferences.

Prior to life as an expat we had 5 children, 3 at home, one in the army and the eldest in residential care but home on weekends and holidays. Hubbies job took him away most weeks round Europe and up north. The kids had a variety of activities from sea cadets to football. I worked 2 part time jobs as a lecturer and assessor in special needs and NVQ’s and as a Child Welfare Officer with the local county FA (Football Association) I was also studying for a degree in Psychology and helped run the local football club and took an active role with the children’s schools. I had a fantastic network of friends that I could call on anytime of the day or night.

As an expat life has been very lonely, I moved away from everything and everyone I knew. I didn’t realise it would be so hard. I’ve lost my identity. The children had school and hubby had work, they had familiar things around them, it has been hard for them also, but for me I had no way of meeting people, unable to work and having to sort our new lives out, alone with no support.

Blogging has helped me connect to other expats, share stories and tips and hints. I’ve received the most amazing support in regards to treating depression, connecting with expat groups and communities. I’ve been able to share the most amazing experiences from painting shacks in townships to walking with giraffes.

Blogging has become my occupation, supporting others and receiving support in return. Raising awareness of people with disabilities in South Africa, supporting children in townships with Christmas gifts, fundraising and connecting with the most amazing people.

I can be found:

On twitter @chickenruby

Google plus Suzanne Chickenruby

Face book https://www.facebook.com/Chickenruby

And my blog is http://www.chickenruby.com/


Three things Chickenruby got right:

  • she has a memorable name
  • her blog stays focused
  • she has comebackability
promotion & publicity

Why I flipped it

A few months ago I was invited to contribute a story about turning my business round for a company called Crave, led by entrepreneur and author, Melody Biringer. I have always been impressed with her inspiring ideas but also how she is always ready to admit to her mistakes. In her book about her many businesses and what worked and what didn’t, she even has sections called Aha and Uh-o to showcase what she did right and what she did wrong. Admitting to our mistakes can, in turn, help us to become successful.

I too am someone who never minds admitting to my mistakes. In fact, I believe it is the fact that I have made SO many mistakes that I can now proudly claim to have published 80 books and to have more than 50 authors in my Summertime Publishing stable.

Flipped -it, is an ebook and I am proud to have been included along with many other entrepreneurs.

You see, not only do we learn from our mistakes, but we also learn by seeing what other people are doing and trying to do it too. Melody and her team recognise the value of having lots of contributors to a book because the more people you involve and the more people they have in their networks, the more people will ultimately find out about that book. And the more people find out about your book, the more copies you are likely to sell.

However, Melody has also learned the value of doing things for free and of sharing. And so, as part of the ‘deal’ for being included in Flipped It, all the contributors were invited to blog and tweet and facebook about the book. In addition, they are invited to take part in what they are calling a Video Summit, by which those who take part and share their stories, are interviewed by Skype by the Smart Simple  Marketing Coach Sydni Craig-Hart. Those interviews are then recorded and, again, all those who took part are invited to share those videos and news of the summit.

Do you see how clever this is? Videos are the mos shared items out there on the internet, and so it makes sense to create videos connected with your project. I blogged about just this myself a few weeks ago (see here).

But I expect you want to hear my flip-it story don’t you? About what went wrong in my business and how I turned it around, so that I know have a business that earns me money in my sleep. Well, of course you can read my story in the book. But you can also watch me talk about it in my video, which is part of the Video Summit. I can tell you now that Sydni is a great interviewer! I would say that though, wouldn’t I, because she agreed with everything I said about networking, passion, niche, making things happen and lessons learned.



Author guestposts

Blogging. What's the Point?

I tell all authors and budding writers that they need to blog. Some listen to me, some don’t and some have every good intention but simply cannot find the time. I believe that blogging has made a big difference to my business because it:

  • Makes it easy for people to find out about you and what you do
  • It is a great way to build a network of like-minded people
  • It gives you a greater presence on Google
  • It can build your brand

Today, I am delighted to publish a guestpost by Elizabeth Helsley, an expat blogger based in Mexico, about why she blogs and what the benefits have been for her:


When I first started out blogging, it was really more of an accident. Friends, colleagues and other contacts had been emailing me with questions about doing business in Mexico for years. I saw blogging as a great way to compile the information that I had gathered over the years and put it in one place. I knew from the get-go that my expertise lay in the business arena and more specifically in doing business in Mexico as an expat. Originally from San Diego, California, I have lived, worked, and studied in Mexico for over 9 years. During that time, I have learned a lot of things the hard way, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to create a great network of contacts that have helped me tremendously. Thinking about the combination of entrepreneurship and my love for Mexico, I came up with the name “Mexipreneur”.

Blogging has been far more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. It allows me to express my opinions, share important news stories, and give tips to my readers that I think will help them doing business in Mexico. A couple of years ago I was asked to participate as one of the bloggers for the Mexico Today program, a joint public and private initiative intended to promote business and tourism in Mexico. Writing posts for the program was extremely rewarding and I came in contact with other bloggers and readers from all over the world. One of the best benefits of blogging for me has been connecting with people (who I’ve never met in person), but who share a common interest.

Blogging has also helped grow my international consulting business. People who are doing random Google searches and come across my blog reach out to me and ask if they can hire me to help them with their business ventures in Mexico. When I first started out blogging, I would wonder “Is anyone reading this? Is this helping anybody or is it just going out to some black hole in cyberspace?” Over time I realized it was definitely making an impact as I would receive emails or comments from people who were thinking about starting a blog or a business. One of the things that surprised me the most about blogging is how much time and dedication it takes. There are days or weeks when I get really busy and finding the time to write is challenging, but then I think back about how rewarding blogging has been and find a way to make it happen. My advice for anyone thinking about starting a blog is just to get started. Your blog will evolve over time and you don’t have to have it all figured out from day one. One of the best things about blogging is the process and the learning experience along the way, so enjoy the ride!