#Review! The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir – (@Lesley_Allen_) @BonnierZaffre #antibullyingmonth

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Blurb.

Biddy Weir is a quirky girl.

Abandoned by her mother as a baby, and with a father who’s not quite equipped for the challenges of modern parenting, Biddy lives in her own little world, happy to pass her time painting by the sea and watching the birds go by. That is, until she meets Alison Flemming.

Because there are a few things about Biddy that aren’t normal, you see. And Alison isn’t afraid to point them out to the world.

All of a sudden, Biddy’s quiet life is thrown into turmoil. If only there was someone to convince her that, actually, everyone’s a little bit weird . . .

A story of abuse and survival, of falling down and of starting again, and of one woman’s battle to learn to love herself for who she is, The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir is Lesley Allen’s startlingly honest debut novel.

What does TWG think?

I have had to psych myself to write this particular review due to the nature of the storyline and my own personal memories because of it. It takes a lot of strength to read a novel with contains such emotional situations, especially when those situations are still incredibly raw for the reader.

Meet Biddy Weir; a girl who is extremely content in her own company and enjoys the simple things in life. After all, that is all she has ever known her life to be. Seeing as Biddy was brought up by her father, the ‘basic’ female tasks had to be discussed with someone other than her father. She didn’t have a female role model. She didn’t have her mum. As soon as Alison Flemming came onto the school scene, Biddy’s life got turned upside down and suddenly her life and her thoughts became all too suffocating. The thing is, what exactly can you do when your normal is too abnormal for everyone else…

‘The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir’ has been published in paperback to coincide with National Anti-bullying Month. A subject that has thousands upon thousands of victims and not enough people doing anything about it. As soon as I realised what this book was about, I knew that I had to read it. I also knew that it would be extremely hard for me to do so. Why? Because, like many other people, I was bullied at school from the age of five until the age of thirteen. Lesley’s book has given me nod to write about my own bullying (which I will do later on in the week on here), and hopefully others will realise it is ok to speak out.

Biddy Weir’s life was made hellish all because of one girl and her ‘gang’. The outcome of every single attack on Biddy was jaw-dropping and incredibly numbing, I felt so sorry for her. There were times (most of the book), that I wanted to climb into the book and take her away from it all, try to keep her safe. But I couldn’t. Biddy couldn’t speak out. She needed someone to speak out for her, yet no-one would believe her because they all thought she was a ‘bit weird’. Everyone around her didn’t want to do the right thing and stick up for poor Biddy;  instead, they watched/joined in with the ring leader so that they could stay in the gang. I felt physically sick reading what Biddy was subjected to, as well as reading about the toll it took on poor Biddy’s mental state. Absolutely devastating that people get a kick out of physically and emotionally attacking others. How is that fun?

The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir contains a lot of hard to read events, most definitely, but the way Lesley Allen has written them is real. Lesley didn’t fluff it up or make the situations completely unrealistic and completely fixable. She made Biddy’s life into a powerful journey. A journey that we, as readers, took with her. A journey that will open readers eyes and minds to the devastating impacts that bullying has on a person, especially as some people believe the impacts to be short-term. More often than not, the effects of bullying can last, and, just like Biddy, the scars never truly fade.

I began reading this book with my eyes and mind fully open to the implications of such a devastating topic. What I didn’t realise was how beautifully and powerfully written this book would be. I don’t want to say that I loved this book due to the subject within the book, however, I did love the book due to the powerful, raw and emotional messages that Lesley Allen incorporated beautifully into it. During the last third of the book I felt like I was getting a pep talk, and not in a bad way. The colourful character that took charge in that third, came with such a strong voice. So strong in fact, I felt as though she was talking to me and having stern words with the demons. If all schools came with such a colourful and beautiful character as that one, the stigma that surrounds bullying would be abolished.

An emotional, powerful and beautifully written book about life, re-birth, bullying and learning how to love yourself, quirks and all.

Thank you BonnierZaffre.

A Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allen, published by Bonnier Zaffre, is available to buy now from Amazon UK

The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allen (@@Lesley_Allen_) Blog Tour! @BonnierZaffre

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The lovely Carmen at Bonnier Zaffre Publishing, contacted me and asked if I would take part in one of their blog tours. The company publishes such incredible books and Carmen and her team know that I usually say yes to all of them. However, the book for this particular blog tour isn’t just any book. It is a book that has such a powerful message. A book which, unfortunately, a lot of readers will resonate with. National Anti-Bullying Month begins on the 31st October until 30th November 2016; The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allen, examines the outcome of such a devastating topic.

Joining me on the blog today with such incredible writing advice; is author Lesley Allen. But first, here are the all important book details and its beautiful cover.

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Blurb.

Biddy Weir is a shy young loner. Abandoned by her mother as a baby, and with a father who’s not quite equipped for the challenges of modern parenting, Biddy lives in her own little world, happy to pass her time painting by the sea and watching the birds go by.
With no friends, no schoolbag, and, worst of all, no mother, Biddy is branded a ‘Bloody Weirdo’ by the most popular girl in her primary school.
What follows is a heart-breaking tale of bullying and redemption, of falling down and of starting again, and of one woman’s battle to learn to love herself for who she is.
Set in a fictional seaside town in Northern Ireland, the novel is a stark illustration of the extent to which bullying can affect us all, beyond just the victim and perpetrator.
Spare, dark and often unrelenting, The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir is a story with universal appeal, which ultimately affirms the value of being different.

The e-book version is available to buy now from Amazon, but the paperback version will be released on the 3rd November 2016. To purchase a copy (or pre-order) click here: buy now.

Guest post by Lesley Allen – Help! I want to write a book…

So you want to write a book, but you don’t know how to start. Maybe you have all these ideas running around in your head; genius ideas. Bestseller ideas for sure. But the thing is, you haven’t a baldy notion how to deposit them from your head onto paper. Or perhaps you have no ideas at all. Zilch. You’d flippin’ love to have an idea, any idea, but you haven’t got the foggiest where to find one. What you do have, however, is an ache to write; a constant itch that consumes and distracts you, and drives you to stand in bookshops where you stare longingly at the shelves knowing that that is where you belong. But how the hell do you get there?

That was me: no ideas, but an overwhelming urge to write, an urge that had come at me in waves over the years, but I’d always swept away citing one excuse or another; until eventually it saturated me. So, I joined a creative writing class and finally, finally, my pent-up creative ache began to unravel. The relief almost made me cry. And this is my first piece of advice – I’d suggest you join a writers group, or take a creative writing class. It doesn’t need to be anything too highbrow or serious – just a gathering of like-minded people with whom you can comfortably share your work, experiment with different styles, and spur each other on. But if you do fancy highbrow and serious, then that’s good too. And if you can’t access a class or attend a group, then there are lots of online
courses you could take. It won’t be long before the ideas start to flow, or the ones that are there already begin to take shape.

The second thing I’d say is prepare to share. For me getting honest feedback was a vital part of my early writing steps. And there’s no point in sharing for feedback if you’re not prepared to listen to criticism – so grow a thick skin. Once the novel really starts to take shape, choose a couple of readers to share your early drafts with, people you trust to give you truthful and constructive notes. It’s imperative that this doesn’t become an ego stroking exercise, so don’t select someone who’s going to tell you how wonderful your book is, that you’re an absolute genius, and that, with a talent like yours, you’re bound to become a Booker winning, best-selling, multi-millionaire, purely because they’re your mother/partner/best friend. And if anyone utters the words, ‘you’re the next J.K.
Rowling’, run a mile. Unless said words are spoken by the publisher who’s about to sign you for a six- figure sum!

Once you have your finished draft, it’s time to look for an agent, which can be just as difficult as securing an actual publishing deal. Get yourself the most recent edition of the Writers and Authors Yearbook – a must-have for all aspiring writers. It’s the most important tool you will need for the next stage of your journey to publication. And research! You should already be familiar with your genre, so identify the agents who represent the authors you admire in your category. If your book is a comedy crime caper, don’t send it to an agent who focuses on romantic fiction. Draw up a ‘hit-list’ of around a dozen agents, send your cover letter, synopsis and first three chapters to the first three
or four. Some will reply, some you’ll never hear from, and if you’re lucky one will ask to see the full manuscript. If all twelve pass, don’t be too disheartened. Get the Yearbook out, and draw up another list. Remember that thick skin you needed back in the writing class? Well, dig it out and pull it on again.

And finally, keep going – no matter how long it takes. And when you reach the point when you think it’s never going to happen (and you will, time and time again) try, if you can, to remember this thing you read once about a girl (okay, a middle aged woman) who finally got her book published after several years, ninety plus rejections, and a withdrawn deal (yes, really!). It CAN happen. I’m the proof of the sticky pudding.

Thank you to Lesley Allen for writing such an honest guest post whilst showing everyone that it is okay to be a sticky pudding or even an apple crumble.

About the author:

Lesley Allen lives in Bangor, County Down. She is a freelance copywriter and the press officer and assistant programme developer for Open House Festival. Lesley is previous recipient of the James Kilfedder Memorial Bursary, and two Support for the Individual Artist Art’s Council Awards. She was named as one of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s 2016 Artist Career Enhancement Scheme (ACES) recipients for
literature. She will be using the award to complete her second book.


Author of ‘The Things You Do For Love’ – Rachel Crowther joins TWG with a Guest Post!

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Blurb.

‘An elite surgeon with a brilliant but philandering husband, Flora Macintyre has always defined herself by her success in juggling her career and her marriage. Until, all at once, she finds herself with neither. 
Retired and widowed in the space of a few months, Flora is left untethered. In a moment of madness, she realises there’s nothing to stop her running away to France. 
But back home her two daughters – the family she’s always loved, but never had the time to nurture – are struggling. Lou is balancing pregnancy with a crumbling relationship, while her younger sister, Kitty, begins to realise she may have to choose between love and her growing passion for music. 
And even as the family try to pull together, one dark secret could still tear them all apart… ‘

Thank you to Bonnier Zaffre for asking me to be involved with this post! I will hand you over to the author herself, Rachel Crowther.

WRITING WOMEN’S LIVES
By Rachel Crowther.

When I was struggling to balance working in the NHS with bringing up my children, I sometimes read articles by journalists about juggling work and motherhood, and I used to feel rather cross –  because they, lucky things, worked at home, and they often seemed to be married to people who also had freelance careers, and could help out with the childcare. Writers, it seemed to me, were poor spokespeople for working mothers – or indeed for womankind and her struggles – because of the flexibility that was built into their lives. Compared to those of us who had to turn up to work every day, they didn’t know they were born.

Now I spend a fair amount of my time writing at home myself, I see things a little differently. Having your work and your domestic life occupying the same space creates different problems: without external boundaries and divisions (like going to the office) to help you keep things separate, the conflicts between different demands are very real, and different aspects of life can intrude on each other in the most literal way. Trains of thought about characters’ lives get pushed aside by plaintive accounts of a horrible day at school, or a phone call from the orthodontist. The laptop balanced at the corner of the kitchen table vies for space with the children’s homework and the makings of supper – and indeed the piles of bills, the unanswered letters, the STUFF that needs putting away, throwing away or dealing with.

Anyone who works at home will recognise the truth of this, but there’s an additional complication for writers of fiction, because living life is part of being a writer – especially if you’re a woman whose lived experience is central to what you’re writing about. If, that is, your subject matter is the challenge women face in balancing the different elements of their lives: their struggle to choose a path, to establish a role and an identity, to please everyone and still retain a modicum of self-determination. As well as balancing the loneliness of writing with the contradictory craving for solitude in which to think and write, you need somehow to manage the conjuring trick of opening yourself up to the reality of your own experience (and that of other women) but also keeping yourself – your writing self – sufficiently detached to write about it. Throw a few tantrums and baked beans into the equation, and you can easily end up wondering what on earth you’re doing with your life.

But how valuable is it to write about the private lives of women? It’s a stream of fiction with a long and honourable history, but which is, I think, seen as less than worthy these days, in the wake of the 1970’s feminism that sought to move women’s lives and experience into the public and professional sphere. Since then, in academic and political circles, it has become almost shameful for women to live in, let alone write about, the domestic world.

And of course women should live public lives. Of course they should do the same sort of jobs as men, and indeed write the same sort of books – sweeping historical sagas or chronicles of war; thrillers and grittily realistic crime novels. But even if we spend our working lives in that public realm, many of the things we really care about happen behind our front doors: the joys and dilemmas and heartbreak and compromise that make up the texture of our personal lives. Should that all be invisible? Isn’t it a perfectly valid thing to write about, in the nooks and crannies we can find for writing?

The struggle of women to identify both the time and space to write, and a legitimate and authentic focus for their writing, goes back many centuries – to Jane Austen and her tiny writing desk in the sitting room with its squeaking door that alerted her to the approach of visitors; to Virginia Woolf and her ‘room of one’s own’; to Rumer Godden, who had to support herself and her children through her writing in India during the war, after the collapse of her marriage. This struggle for identity and voice is crucially important for women – and so, it seems to me, is writing about it.

Women need to write about the vicissitudes of domestic life as it intersects (or doesn’t) with their working life, not because that’s the most suitable thing for women to write about, but because it’s important to bring that world and those issues into the public eye. It’s important to acknowledge the value and complexity of women’s lives, even when they are not dramatic or public or unique. Exploring something that all women (and indeed all people) can identify with, something that matters to them, seems to me an eminently worthy and proper subject for fiction.

And you don’t have to look far for examples of women who have used their own lives and the domestic sphere to illuminate human nature and say significant things about human existence. George Eliot, Elizabeth Taylor, Alice Munro, Fay Weldon, Maggie Nelson – the list could run to several pages – all write about families, motherhood, relationships and the domestic, and through them explore broader issues that make us think deeply about life. But even so, there’s a depressing tendency to see fiction about contemporary women’s lives as second-rate. In the divide between commercial (popular, accessible) and literary (prize-worthy, weighty, important) fiction, it often finds itself on the commercial side, dubbed as ‘chick lit’ or ‘Aga saga’.  

I’m not saying that women can, or should, write only about their own lives – but simply that it’s no less worthy a topic than any other. What matters in fiction is to engage with readers and offer them something rewarding, entertaining, uplifting, thought-provoking, challenging, diverting, intriguing, moving: to make them feel the time they’ve spent reading your book hasn’t been wasted – and that the time you’ve spent writing it hasn’t been either. And if you can strike a chord, if you can make people feel you’ve understood their lives and concerns, and perhaps allowed them to feel more valuable as a result, then that’s enough of a justification for me.

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(Photo credit – Roger Smeeton)

About the author.
Rachel Crowther is a doctor who worked for the NHS for 20 years and the mother of five children. She dabbled in creative writing between babies and medical exams, until an Arvon course prompted her to take it more seriously. She’s also a keen musician and cook. The Things You Do For Love is her second novel.

Thank you Rachel for writing such an honest piece. Can any of my readers relate to the content of Rachel’s guest post? Let me know!

The Things You Do For Love,by Rachel Crowther, published by Zaffre, is published 11th August 2016 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon UK.