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Book Week Scotland: 14-20 November 2022

An annual celebration of books and reading taking place across the country

Organised by the Scottish Book Trust and now in its 11th year, Book Week Scotland aims to encourage people of all ages and walks of life to come together and share the joy of reading.

With over 150 curated events showcasing the best of Scottish literature, from live performances, walks, talks, to workshops and panels, there is definitely something for everybody!

To mark the occasion, the Scottish Book Trust publishes a free book every year, containing true stories written by people all over Scotland which is then distributed to libraries, arts venues, bookshops and schools.

Its creation begins early in the year, through the “Your Stories” writing project, encouraging people to submit their true, personal stories, inspired by a particular theme. The 2022 theme was Scotland’s Stories. Out of hundreds of submissions, 25 stories were selected for publication.

Not in Scotland? Not a problem! Follow the link to browse the digital events taking place – we’ll be connecting to a couple of those ourselves from our mothership in London! https://bit.ly/3E7r3Cq

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10 Books to Read During Black History Month & Beyond

In the UK, October marks the beginning of Black History Month, a national initiative aiming to promote and celebrate the contributions of those with African and Caribbean heritage to British society and to foster an understanding of Black history in general. It was partially inspired by US Black History Month, celebrated annually every February.

To mark the occasion, Not for Vanity wants to showcase 10 books (five fiction and five non-fiction) that we think are worth reading this month and beyond, based on our existing reading lists. At the end of our article, we are also presenting a brief overview of the origins and evolution of Black History Month in the UK.

5 FICTION BOOKS

# 1: Another Country (James Baldwin, 1962) | Set for the most part in 1950s New York, the novel is renowned for its frank portrayal of bisexuality and interracial relations, published in a time when these subjects were taboo. Shortly after narration begins, Rufus Scott, a black jazz musician, commits suicide, impelling his friends to search for the meaning of his death and, consequently, for a deeper understanding of their own identities (Sub-genre: classic fiction).

# 2: The Broken Earth Trilogy (N.K. Jemisin, 2015 – 2018) | Post-apocalyptic saga set on a massive continent called the Stillness, in a far-future Earth wracked with periodic disasters known as Seasons, the result of an open war between this planet & the people who live on it. With the trilogy, N.K. Jemisin became the first Black woman to win the Hugo Award (a prestigious award for science fiction & fantasy) in 2016 and the following two years (Sub-genre: fantasy).

# 3: Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi, 2016) | The novel traces the descendants of two half-sisters Effia and Esi, born into different villages in Ghana. The sisters’ lives follow different paths: Effia marries a wealthy Englishman and lives in Cape Coast Castle, while Esi is captured during a raid and sold into slavery. Homegoing follows the parallel narrative lines of their descendants through 8 generations, portraying the African & African American experience in the aftermath of enslavement (Sub-genre: historical fiction).

# 4: Punching the Air (Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam, 2020) | 16 years old Amal is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit – assaulting a white boy during an altercation in a gentrifying neighbourhood – and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. As weeks turn to months, Amal reflects on life inside/outside of prison, the positive & negative experiences that fuel his creativity and the people that make him believe in a brighter future. (Sub-genre: YA, novel in verse)

# 5: The Selfless Act of Breathing (JJ Bola, 2021) | Michael Kabongo is a teacher (and son of Congolese immigrants) who seems to have it all, but he’s conflicted by the state of the world around him. After a life-changing loss, he decides to leave everything behind in search of something greater and moves to America. On this transformative journey, Michael travels from New York to San Francisco, partying with new friends, sparking fleeting romances, and splurging on big adventures, with the intention of living the life of his dreams until his money runs out (Sub-genre: contemporary fiction).

5 NON-FICTION BOOKS

# 6: Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (Peter Fryer, 1984) | A panoramic history of black Britons stretching back to the Romans, encompassing the court of Henry VIII, and following historic figures from Mary Seacole to the abolitionist Olaudah Equiano. First published in the ’80s, amid race riots and police brutality, Fryer’s history revealed how Africans, Asians and their descendants had been erased from British history. His purpose was to show that instead these communities did influence political traditions, social institutions & cultural life. The book represents a true political act against the ultra-nationalist agenda.

# 7: Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race (Reni Eddo-Lodge, 2017) | In 2014, award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote about her frustration with the way discussions of race and racism in Britain were led by those who weren’t affected by it. She posted a piece on her blog, entitled: “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” which went viral. Comments flooded in from people who wanted to share their own experiences. For this reason, she decided to dig further into the source of these feelings and write the book. Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the link between class and race, she offers a new framework learn to see, acknowledge and counter racism.

# 8: The Good Immigrant: 21 writers reflect on race in contemporary Britain (Nikesh Shukla, 2017) | A collection of essays by emerging British BAME writers, poets, journalists & artists to confront the issue of being an immigrant in the UK. Focusing on race and immigration, they paint a picture of what it means to be “other” in a country that wants you, doesn’t want you, doesn’t accept you and needs you for its equality monitoring forms. The book explores why immigrants come and decide to stay, what it means for their identity if they’re mixed race, where their place is in the world if they’re unwelcome in the UK, and how this affects the education system. Curator Nikesh Shukla has long championed diversity in publishing and literary life in the Britain.

# 9: Brit(ish) (Afua Hirsch, 2018) | Journalist and broadcaster Afua Hirsch explores race, identity & belonging in 21st century Britain. She touches on personal experiences and challenges society, questioning what exactly it means to be British. “You’re British. Your parents are British. Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British. So why do people keep asking where you’re from? We are a nation in denial about our imperial past and the racism that plagues our present. Brit(ish) is Afua Hirsch’s personal and provocative exploration of how this came to be – and an urgent call for change”. (source: waterstones.com)

# 10: Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World (Layla F. Saad, 2020) | Layla Saad is an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman living in Qatar who came up with a 28-day process called a “personal anti-racism tool” designed to teach those with white privilege how systemic racism works and how they can stop contributing to world white supremacy. The book blends practical exercises with real anecdotes and reflections on the contemporary historic and cultural context/debate around race. It all started when the author began an Instagram challenge called #MeAndWhiteSupremacy, encouraging people to own up and share their racist behaviours, big and small. Thousands of people participated, and over 90,000 users downloaded the book.

Origins of Black History Month

The origins of Black History Month can be traced back to National Negro History Week, started in 1926 to advocate for the inclusion of Black History in the US national public education system. This week gradually evolved into the month it is today, especially thanks to the momentum and support of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a Ghanian activist and Special Projects Coordinator for the Greater London Council was instrumental in bringing Black History Month to Britain, as he wanted to boost the self-esteem of Black British children and young adults by educating on them on the achievements of Black people in the UK. Black History Month was first celebrated in London in 1987. It quickly spread to other parts of the country, with many boroughs beginning to formally recognise October as Black History Month. Celebrations have since expanded to include the history of African, Asian, and Caribbean peoples and their contribution to Britain’s history. 

This year’s theme for BHM is “Time for Change: Action Not Words”, a series of initiatives to encourage everybody to focus on the future, come together around a shared common goal to achieve a better world for everyone by tackling racism, reclaiming Black history and ensuring Black history is represented and celebrated all year round.

N.B. Books in this blog article are listed in chronological order.

Featured image credits: blackhistorymonth.org.uk

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7 Reasons Why Reading is Good for You

Investigating the science on the benefits of reading for National Read a Book Day (6th September 2022)

Today is National Read a Book Day, an annual awareness day to encourage people to take a break and start reading. This day is not about finishing a book from cover to cover in 24 hours (even though we won’t mind if you do), but about spending at least a few minutes of the day reading. For this reason, we thought we’d try to understand – from a scientific perspective – why reading is good for you and how it can help improve your overall health. Here’s 7 reasons:

# 1: Increased brain strength

Using MRI scans, researchers found that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain. These get stronger and more complex as your reading ability improves. In addition, the brain appears to be increasingly stimulated as the tension within a story builds up. This positive effect lasts for days after the reading period. 

# 2: Increased ability to empathise

Reading literary fiction long-term (stories exploring the inner lives of characters) contributes to an enhanced ability to understand feelings and beliefs of others, an effect called theory of mind”, i.e. a skillset essential for building, navigating, and maintaining social relationships.

# 3: Reduces stress

A 2009 piece of research measuring the effects of yoga, humour and reading on stress levels of science students found that 30 minutes of daily reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and psychological distress just as effectively as yoga and humour. A routine that’s easy to incorporate into everyone’s daily schedule, don’t you think? 

# 4: Helps alleviate depression symptoms

People with depression often feel isolated and estranged from everyone else, a feeling books can help mitigate. Reading fiction allows to temporarily escape your own world and lose yourself in the imagined experiences of the characters. Nonfiction, self-help books could also be useful to learn strategies to manage depression symptoms.

# 5: Prepares you for a good night’s rest

Reading before going to sleep can help you relax significantly and should be part of a good sleep routine. It is advisable to choose a print book over a screen, since the light could keep you awake and lead to other unwanted health outcomes. If you have trouble falling asleep, you should consider reading somewhere other than the bedroom.

# 6: Helps prevent age-related cognitive decline & potentially help you live longer 

Studies show that seniors who read and solve math problems daily maintain and improve their cognitive functioning. Those who have engaged in mentally stimulating activities all their lives are less likely to develop the lesions found in the brains of people with dementia. Research conducted on a sample of over 3,500 people also showed that those who read books survived around 2 years longer than those who didn’t. People who read over 3.5 hours a week are 23% more likely to live longer. 

# 7: And remember: flipping pages is good for you! 

Studies have shown repeatedly that people who read print books score higher on comprehension tests and remember more of what they read than people who read the same material in a digital form. That may be, in part, because people tend to read print slower than they read digital content.

Disclaimer: The above article is for informative and entertainment purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.

Sources

  1. Benefits of Reading Books: How It Can Positively Affect Your Life. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-reading-books
  2. Why Should You Read Every Day: Scientific Benefits of Reading Books. Available at: https://www.scientificworldinfo.com/2021/03/why-you-should-read-every-day.html
  3. The science-based benefits of reading. Available at: https://nesslabs.com/reading-benefits
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Writing Theory (Part 1): The Story

In a series of articles starting today, our Chief Editor Ella analyses the main principles of creative writing

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

So, you are a writer…That means that you, just like me, are part of that broad, eccentric category of people called ‘artists’. Welcome!

Let’s make two things clear from the very beginning:

  1. You have a special talent that not many have, which is staring at the void and see and hear, but not in a serial killer way; and
  2. You have no idea how you are doing what you are doing, even less if you are doing it decently or, heavens help us, well.

Being a writer means sitting in front of a blank page and not seeing the blank page at all. For you, and me, and any other just like us, it’s like a cinema screen: when the lights go out, the film start to reel and the magic begins.

How we do that, we will never know. It just happens, like it happens that a kid is able to kick a ball or solve complex math problems without blinking an eye. But talent without discipline is nothing. Just because you are able to see a story on a blank page it doesn’t mean you will actually be able to put that story on the blank page, even less that you will do so in a way comprehensible to others.

If we have to break down the act of writing to its components, we can say that writing is a bunch of basic rules, a lot of polishing and a ton of reading. To be a good writer you have to be, first and foremost, an exceptional reader. There are no two ways around it. What you read doesn’t matter: there is plenty to learn from different reads, even instruction manuals and comics.

But before we discuss point of views, grammar or the importance of being consistent with verb tenses, let’s talk about the most important thing of all: the story.

What is a story? And why does it deserve to be told?

A story is an ordered sequence of events, put together in the best possible way according to a set of rules we all agree on. It has a beginning, a development and an end. However, given essays or newspaper articles are also an ordered sequence of events with a beginning, a devolvement and an end, why are they not a story?

The key is the concept of transformation: the events in a story ordered in a sequence that underlines the transformation of one into another: we begin with a stable situation, its equilibrium is disturbed and this disruption sets into motion a series of actions that, eventually, will lead to a new stable situation.

To make a story something more than just a sequence of events, you need the plot, which is nothing more than a crafted plan of the events you want to tell.

Christopher Booker (irony!) has actually written an amazing book about it called The Seven Basic Plots. It’s a terrific read and I suggest you get a copy too and keep it on your shelf, between Syd Field’s Screenplay and the Oxford English Dictionary. The basic principle is that no matter what the story is about, there are no more than seven types of plot and every story you tell can be traced back to one of them. It’s true, and it has been true since before the first Greek authors put pen on paper to transcribe what, up to then, had only been transmitted orally. This, though, doesn’t stop the publishing of new books, as it doesn’t stop readers from reading them. 

And this leads us to answer the question: why do we write a story if there are already so many out there and we stand no chance of writing something completely unheard of?

Because even if the plots are only seven, there is nothing out there like what we are writing and this distinctiveness is given by ourselves, by the experiences we lived and by the unique way we see the world. There will always be space for a new story. So don’t be afraid of not being original, because plot-wise you won’t be. But the way you will tell others how your characters met and what they had to overcome in order to have their happily ever after doesn’t exist yet. Happy Writing!

The Seven Basic Plots: An Overview

# 1: OVERCOMING THE MONSTER

A “good” main character and an evil villain that is threatening to destroy the main character or the place where they live. The main character will do all they can to avoid it.

# 2: RAGS TO RICHES

The main character starts their life as a poor, desperate soul. Throughout the narration, they gain power, wealth or a mate, will end up losing it all but getting it back and growing as a person.

# 3: THE QUEST

The protagonist, usually accompanied by a mate or a team, is set out to acquire a specific object or go to a specific place. Along the way, though, they will be tempted and diverted.

# 4: VOYAGE AND RETURN

The main character usually find themselves a stranger in a strange land. After overcoming a series of threats and difficult situations, they will make it back, enriched with a new wisdom.

# 5: COMEDY

A light and cheerful character triumphs over adverse circumstances, conflict becomes more and more confusing, since they will get themselves into bigger problems while trying to solve the previous one, but the result is a happy ending.

# 6: TRAGEDY

The main character is a hero with a major flaw, which in the end will be their ruin and cause of great pity for their fall.

# 7: REBIRTH

An unexpected event forces the main character to go out their usual path, or change the way they live their life, until they understand the source of their mistake, change their behaviour after learning an important lesson, and carry on living as better people.

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Girl Island

The award-winning, edge of your seat debut novel by Kate Castle

Girl Island. Dark Horse, 2021.

Ever wished you could leave everything behind and move to a tropical island in the middle of a distant ocean? What you are about to read may make you change your mind.

When Ellery Holmes left her family farm behind in the pursuit of a better future, little did she know her life would change forever.

Defined as “a cross between Lord of the Flies and Mean Girls”, Girl Island tells the story of 17 years old Ellery who, following the death of her father, is awarded a scholarship to a renowned private school thanks to her impressive achievements in the heptathlon. Before she knows it, she is on her way to the Maldives to attend a sports camp. Travelling with her, a diverse group of seven teenagers she’s never met before, except for her ex best friend, who she’s tied to by a painful past. 

While travelling, the group is forced to make a crash landing into the ocean and end up on a small, uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere. The two boys in the pack soon depart to explore a nearby island in the hope to get help, leaving six girls and their seriously ill teacher to fight for survival. Already rocky relationships quickly turn sour as food and water are hard to come by, and fire becomes the most precious resource to survive.

As a consequence, two factions form, and a nasty, deadly battle commences. Who will be victorious? And most importantly: will the group ever be able to leave the island?

Girl Island is a real page turner. Castle shows a great ability to describe the island itself and the numerous challenges of life in the wild, by creating a vivid and compelling narration that makes you think you are on those sandy beaches, watching the story as it unfolds. 

As unrealistic as circumstances and setting may seem – the initial chapters of the book may in fact cause you to raise an eyebrow – Kate Castle gradually draws you in more and more, turning what could be initially thought of as a “battle royale for survival” novel into a coming of age one. 

Ellery Holmes is, in fact, an impressive, memorable main character, a strong-minded girl that despite her young age and the challenges life has already thrown at her, manages to stay true to herself, overcome the initial insecurity and self-doubt typical of a teenager and puts up a relentless fight to lead and protect her pack. There are losses along the way, of course, but this experience will make her even stronger and end up changing her life forever, as she discovers who she really is. 

Whilst some elements of the narration seem a bit far-fetched – such as two teenagers successfully landing a crashing plane and ensuring everyone survives – they all make sense in the economy of the story. Far-fetched and unrealistic don’t matter as much after all: the struggle is real. Take the eight teenagers off the island and throw them into a real-life setting, a school for example. They would be facing the same insecurities, preconceptions and even peer cruelty and bullying (unless they are on the right side of the fence, i.e. “popular”).

Girl Island is available to purchase at: https://tinyurl.com/22wpdw6w

While I don’t think Castle intentionally set out to criticise a social system that sometimes puts too much pressure on young people to fit in and be liked, Girl Island takes you back to when you were younger and makes you think about all those times you just wished to be like anybody else. Except you were not. This is the power of Castle’s storytelling.

About Kate Castle

Kate Castle is the author of the Amazon.com bestselling novella ‘Born of the Sea’ (available on Amazon). Her debut novel Girl Island – a contemporary YA adventure – was published in December 2021 and has won two awards at this year’s Goldie Awards (Best Debut Novel & Best Young Adult Fiction).

Kate’s books fall into the Young Adult and New Adult adventure and romance categories. Kate is passionate about representing young queer females in literature and writes about fierce, independent young women – the kind of characters she wished she could have read more about growing up (source: amazon.co.uk).


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How to choose the right publishing platform in 2022

Ready to publish your book but still unsure about the right platform for you? No problem! Here’s 10 Publishing Platforms you should consider today.

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

The world of self-publishing, especially if you’re at the start of your journey, can be daunting. For this reason, we thought we should kick things off by researching the most popular publishing platforms, so you don’t have to.

We’ve created a list of 10 Book Publishing Platforms including a short description, pricing, distribution channels and marketing support available to writers. Essential, straight to the point and timely, just how we like it.

# 1: AMAZON KDP

  • What it is | Amazon.com’s e-book self-publishing platform 
  • Pricing | Free for ebooks (print books on demand, costs subtracted from royalties)
  • Distribution | Amazon websites (expanded distribution available, subject to distributors’ requirements) 
  • Marketing | Free to use tools: Kindle countdown deals, free book promotion (offer book for free, up to 5 days) Amazon author page, Amazon adverts, book gifting and sample chapters

Website: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/

# 2: BARNES & NOBLE PRESS

  • What it is | Independent platform powered by book retail giant Barnes&Noble
  • Pricing | Ebooks free; Print books depending on book specs
  • Distribution | Own website and NOOK devices (own brand ebook readers)
  • Marketing | Free online promotion on monthly themed collections and newsletter; paid for marketing consultations available with partner ScoreIt! (from $69)

Website: https://press.barnesandnoble.com

# 3: INGRAM SPARK

  • What it is | Independent platform for indie authors/publishers to create both print books and e-books
  • Pricing | Ebook + print book: $49; Ebooks: $25 per title & Print books: $49 per title
  • Distribution | Access to 40,000+ independent/online/chain stores & ebook retailers
  • Marketing | No direct marketing but free writer resources available (marketing activity worksheets/checklists)

Website: https://www.ingramspark.com

# 4: KOBO (KOBO WRITING LIFE)

  • What it is | Portal for authors/publishers to create and upload eBooks to Kobo
  • Pricing | Free to use
  • Distribution | Kobo Writing Life (powered by Rakuten Kobo, leading ebook retailer)
  • Marketing | Free writer resources, bespoke promotional opportunities picked by Kobo’s merchandisers, Kobo affiliate program, “How To” guides

Website: https://kobowritinglife.com

# 5: APPLE BOOKS FOR AUTHORS

  • What it is | Portal with support resources from how to write a book to marketing (you must be an “iTunes Creator” account holder)
  • Pricing | Free to use if self-publishing directly or paid for services (at variable cost) through Apple’s 15+ selected partners
  • Distribution | Apple Books portal for direct sale
  • Marketing | No direct marketing support but detailed “How To” guides available

Website: https://authors.apple.com

# 6: LULU

  • What it is | Online print-on-demand, self-publishing, and distribution platform
  • Pricing | Ebooks: free; Print books: depending on requirements
  • Distribution | Lulu Bookstore & major online retailers (Lulu Global Dist. Service)
  • Marketing | No marketing support

Website: https://www.lulu.com

# 7: PUBLISHDRIVE

  • What it is | Ebook/audio-book/print-on-demand aggregator 
  • Pricing | 5 packs, starter ($99.99/year, 2 books) to pro ($999.99/year, 48 books)
  • Distribution | 20+channels, 400+ stores, & thousands of digital libraries worldwide
  • Marketing | Support to get books featured on book promotion sites/newsletters (included in sign-up fee), price promotions, free copies distribution for review

Website: https://publishdrive.com

# 8: SMASHWORDS

  • What it is | Ebook publishing and distribution platform
  • Pricing | Free to get started, ebooks only
  • Distribution | 20+ major online retailers (only for books on their Premium Catalog)
  • Marketing | No direct marketing support but free sales & marketing tools (available when selling directly on Smashwords Store)

Website: https://www.smashwords.com

# 9: BOOKBABY

  • What it is | Book publishing service provider for self-published authors
  • Pricing | Ebooks: $148 no distribution/$348 with distribution; Print books: from $148 (pricing based on a 250 page book)
  • Distribution | Bookbaby’s ebook retail network (50+ platforms, $299 to start); Print books: printed to order only (from $399, 25 books minimum)
  • Marketing | Available for a fee, price from $100 to $399 depending on service

Website: https://www.bookbaby.com

# 10: PUBLISHINGPUSH

  • What it is | UK based self-publishing company
  • Pricing | Depending on requirements (2021 benchmark: complete publishing package from  £1,890 for paperback, hardback, e-book)
  • Distribution | Access to a global distribution network of 40,000 retailers & libraries 
  • Marketing | Active social media promotion (40,000 followers across Instagram, FB, Twitter), book marketing courses coming soon (May 2022)

Website: https://publishingpush.com

Would you like to find out more about any of these? We can help! Just drop us a message at: notforvanity@gmail.com