Ten Horsey Christmas Presents

Here are my suggestions * for what to give the Horsey person in your life – and all of these can be ordered from the comfort of your own armchair:

  1. At number one, it has to be the lovely hardback, “Coffee Table” style, beautifully illustrated Hollywood Hoofbeats: Trails Blazed Across the Silver Screen by Petrine Day Mitchum (yes, she’s the daughter of screen legend Robert Mitchum – and an expert on horses and films in her own right) and Audrey Pavia. £22

hollywood hoofbeats

  1. If £22 is a bit pricey, Lights Camera Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film (by Lesley Lodge) is £11.95 in paperback and is also illustrated. (Or only £1.99 in the Kindle version)

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  1. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. This is the book that inspired the film and the play. £3.49 in paperback (and there’s a deal where for only £10 you can get two other paperbacks with it) or – because this book is a keeper – £7.99 in hardback
  1. A Good Horse is Never a Bad Colour by Mark Rashid. Paperback. This book is packed with advice and hints for getting the best from your horse but each piece of advice is conveyed through a fascinating story. £12.99 in paperback, £16.99 in hardback.

A good horse is

  1. A Standard Journey by Jackie Parry. An amazing story about how Jackie and Noel rescued five horses, sold everything they had and trekked along part of Australia’s majestic Bicentennial National Trail. £12.99 in paperback.

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  1. A game perhaps? Horse-Opoly is a bit like Monopoly but with horses! The board features different breeds of horses and each property deed teaches players a little about that breed of horse. Players can choose to be a bail of hay, saddle, horseshoe, horse trailer, bag of oats, or a boot. For 2 to 6 players. £19.76
  1. How about a bag? There’s the Ladies Horse Canvas Satchel Messenger Saddle Shoulder School Cross Body Bag. £7.99 and available in different colours.

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  1. Practical Horse Whispering (Threshold picture guides). A paperback guide to bonding with your horse. £5.95

 9. A stocking filler perhaps? The Coloring Book of Horses Stress Reducing Art Therapy offers two sorts of colouring-in. For Adults or younger. By Lesley Lodge with drawings by two artists: Antonio Reche Martinez and Tom Campey. £5.50

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  1. The ultimate stocking filler idea for girls: Easy to use, High Quality Nail Art For Every Occasion! Horse. These are tiny horse stickers to add on to fingernails. A snip at £1.99 (Amazon helpfully tells us this works out at £79.60 per kilo!)

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* Disclosure – ok, two of the above books are written by me….

Book marketing tip – Audiobooks: next big phenomenon after e-books?

My last car had a CD player which would hold and revolve up to six different CDs. But newer cars don’t even have a CD player. It’s all about using your phone or iPod. What’s coming next though is audio-streaming into cars direct from the internet. This has big implications for authors. Think of all those long car journeys. The traffic jams. The need to keep the driver and any passengers from getting stressed. There’s a captive market there for your book. Audiobooks are set to become a big phenomenon, as e-books have.

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Picture source: wikipedia: virtual cockpit, Date 18 March 2014, Source Audi TT 2014, Author Robert Basic (image was originally posted to Flickr by RobGreen)

So I decided to give Audio a go. My non-fiction’s not very suitable for audio but I’m the editor/curator for my (late) Dad’s book Night Mission: Seven Short Stories from the World War 2 era. It’s not too long and I have published it as a paperback (through Amazon’s Createspace) and as an eBook (through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing). How easy or how difficult would it be, I wondered, to turn it into an AudioBook as well? What I have found is that it’s perfectly possible to do this yourself – and for for little or no cost.

I did it through Audible. Audible is an Amazon company so its audiobooks are marketed through Audible.com and Amazon.com – but also through ITunes. That adds up to a big marketplace.

To start the process, Audible sends you to its Amazon platform ACX.com. You’ll find the process of turning your book into an Audiobook explained there – though there are one or two things that I found needed a little more explanation.

If you’re in a hurry, my tip is simply this: if you have written a novel (or a suitable non-fiction one), have a think about turning it into an Audiobook – and Audible offers a do-able way for the non-expert to do this.  

If however you’re interested in the detail of how it’s done, read on.

First I had to decide on a narrator. (NB Audible’s narrators are referred to as “producers” – don’t let that confuse you). The first decision then, is who is going to read your book out loud. You can, if you choose, read it yourself. Not a good choice for me because (a) some of the short stories are in the first person (male) and I’m female and (b) I’m not a particularly confident out-loud reader.

I considered friends and relatives (I thought I could probably bribe them with a bottle or two). But ACX predicted – from my word count – that the full recording would take 1.6 hours. That’s a lot to ask of a friend – and doesn’t count any time for corrections etc. Also I wasn’t too confident about the mechanics of actually recording the stories.

So I opted for one of ACX’s narrators. You can get a narrator for no initial outlay if you offer them a share of the royalties. Night Mission the eBook has not (yet?) exactly earned huge royalties so I thought the option to pay a flat fee would be more tempting to would-be narrators. You can, if you prefer, offer a combination of royalties and fee. The next step is to create a book title profile, describing the book. Then either search for would-be narrators on ACX or simply state that you invite any interested narrators to “audition”.

For me, the auditioning process was the part with the steepest learning curve. Tip: I discovered the hard way that you do need to specify carefully what you want.  Night Mission has some RAF stories so I’d requested a male narrator with an “English” English accent, aiming for the old-fashioned way of speaking in the 1950s. Five would-be narrators submitted their reading of a short extract from my book. It was enormous fun listening to them, with an added poignancy (since I was hoping for something close to my father’s voice). The extract has some some effects (plane engines) and all five narrators voiced these well.

I was very lucky with my final choice of narrator. He quickly and efficiently recorded all seven stories, plus the foreword, the para about the author and the short free sample that Audible makes available to potential buyers.

Finally, you need a cover – and it has to be square. Tip: there are some other specs too for the cover – you need to follow these to the letter or ACX won’t accept it. I got an expert to adapt my eBook cover.

nightmission audio cover

Once it was finished and approved, ACX’s process took a few days and now it is on sale.

Oh yes, and remember, on average, Audiobooks tend to sell for significantly higher prices than eBooks. Why not give it a try?

Want to reduce your stress – but how? colouring-in? horses?

(c) Tom Campey After the Lasceaux cave paintings

(c) Tom Campey After the Lasceaux cave paintings

People have been colouring-in for thousands of years. I’m betting it was soothing after a difficult day hunting with a stone axe – or even an iron – axe.

Colouring-in can reduce your stress and calm anxiety – it’s like the reciting of chants or mantras but more fun. Your brain works just enough to slow the turmoil of stress or anxiety but not so much that your concentration is drained.
And being around horses has long been recognized as therapeutic for many kinds of stresses.

So I’ve got together with two artists to make …. The Coloring Book of Horses. Stress Reducing Art Therapy.

By Lesley Lodge

Drawings By

Antonio Reche-Martinez and Tom Campey

Paperback on Amazon

This book offers two sorts of colouring-in:

· The first section has patterns and landscapes for your detailed colouring – any colour you like.

· In the second section, you can colour in real or imagined horse colour combinations and markings. There are over fifty colours and colour combinations for real horses – there’s a list of the main real colours towards the end of this book.

But, hey, this book also has some unicorns, mythical flying horses and sea-horses. You can use any colours you like.

Most of all, this book is aimed at having fun! After all, as the old saying goes, a good horse is never a bad colour.

The Coloring Book of Horses Stress Reducing Art Therapy

The Home Guard: beginnings, film and TV versions – and the real thing

In 1940 as the German army swept rapidly through Holland, Belgium and France an invasion of Great Britain was a very real threat. Yes, Britain was protected to a degree by the sea. But turning that on its head, there were some 5000 miles of coastline to defend. But how?

Seventy five years ago, on 14 May 1940, British Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden,  announced over the radio the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers – later named the Home Guard. He called for volunteers – any men aged between 17 – to join this new force.

The Home Guard wasn’t expected to stop a German invasion but it was certainly the hope that they might go some way to slowing it down. Amateurs many of them genuinely were, with a mish mash of weapons – it wasn’t until 1943 that they could be properly equipped – but they were in fact much more of a force to be reckoned with than the TV show Dad’s Army suggests. The response to the call for volunteers was fantastic. By the end of July 1940, over a million men had volunteered. The eventual total was some 1.5 million.

The Home Guard was much more active and effective than many people nowadays think. They captured German airmen who had been shot down. They provided invaluable help to civilians after bombing raids. They guarded strategic factories and aerodromes and checked ID cards. Above all – like a good police force – they provided an immeasurable but real deterrent to would-be domestic saboteurs and the German forces alike. Records show that Hitler himself was well aware of their numbers and determination. The Home Guard lost a total of 1206 members who were either killed on duty or died of wounds received on duty, mostly through air and rocket attacks.

The idea that Britain should have such a force was suggested early on by a Tim Wintringham who had fought in the Spanish Civil War – and during that vicious war had eventually commanded the British Battalion of the International Brigades. According to Wikipedia, on returning from Spain, Wintringham had begun to call for an armed civilian guard to repel any fascist invasion. As early as 1938 he was campaigning for what would become the Home Guard. He taught the troops some of the tactics of Guerrilla Warfare, including a movement known as the ‘Monkey Crawl’.

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There are some great films that feature the Home Guard. Went the Day Well (1942) is a fictional account of the resistance in an English village of an advance invasion by German paratroopers. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, a fairly romantic 1943 movie, has a gradual reveal of the importance of the Home Guard. Get Cracking is an upbeat 1943 comedy starring George Formby.

Since 1968 the Home Guard has been widely evoked by the TV comedy series Dad’s Army which ran for nine years and has enjoyed many, many repeats. I think it’s fair to say that for the most part the series does capture the sheer determination and inventive wit of those times – but the reality was deadly serious and few who didn’t live through those times can begin to imagine just how close Britain came to a German invasion.

Clive Lodge (my Dad) was a member of the Home Guard in Kent, prior to joining the RAF. One of his Night Mission short stories – There’s No Scar Now with its dramatic opening “I killed John James Beresford” – is a Home Guard story. Night Mission is available on Amazon as a paperback (£4.96) or kindle eBook (only £1.90) – click below to buy.

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home guard manual

Manual cover page from Staffordshire Home Guard website: staffshomeguard.co.uk

Three self-publishing tips: things to avoid when choosing your title

As many “how to” bloggers and writers have stressed, choosing your book’s cover and its title can seriously help or hinder your sales when you come to the marketing and publicity for your book. But even when you have the perfect cover and you think you have found a pithy, attention-grabbing title that promises a really good read in your chosen genre and style, it pays to do a bit of thinking and research before making your final decision. There are some pitfalls to avoid.

Here are three things you can learn from problems I’ve had:

  1. Try to include your key word(s) in the title rather than only in the sub-title. My first book is a non-fiction one about horses in film and on TV. My title: “Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film.” Yes, search engines will pick up “horse” and “film” even though they are in the sub-title. But the mighty Amazon machine which sends those helpful alerts along the lines of “you might also like” picks sometimes picks a whole set of lighting products….
  2.  Avoid any word that is spelled differently in American English from how it is in UK English. [I was going to write “spelt differently” – but apparently that’s a UK English option – it must be “spelled” in American English. See what I mean?] My third book is called “Horse and Pony Colours: which would you choose?” You notice I’d learnt from mistake number 1 above: my keywords are in the title not the sub-title. And I’d followed a suggestion I’d read that non-fiction titles should show the reader what it is that your book offers them. But “colour” is of course spelled “color” in American English. The search engines still find the book from either side of the Atlantic – but they flag up “Did you mean Horse and Pony Colors?” So now there could be a tiny suggestion at the back of the reader’s mind: can’t this author even spell?
  3. Do your research first – how many already published books have the same or a similar title? You don’t have to avoid duplicating an existing title if there’s only one other book with the same title or a very similar one. I edited some stories recently: “Night Mission: 7 WWII era stories” by Clive Lodge. The “Night Mission” bit came from one of the strongest stories. I nearly called it “The Tunnel” after one of the other stories and I’d chosen some great cover pictures of mysterious tunnels. But the cover then seemed to hint at science fiction rather than second world war adventures. “Night Mission” – with a Spitfire in the evening cloud on the cover – fitted much better. A quick search only threw up one other “Night Mission” – and since that one was about one night stands and sported an obviously sexy cover I doubted there would be too much confusion. But with “Lights! Camera! Gallop!” I discovered after I published that there are very many books beginning “Lights! Camera!” and at the moment they mostly seem to come up before mine on search pages.

So, take choosing your title seriously – avoid my mistakes – and good luck!

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Hoofprints in the Sand – a review

I’ve just read a great book for horse lovers and here’s my review:

Hoofprints in the Sand is a great read for horse lovers – and those who don’t think of themselves as horse lovers will still find plenty to intrigue and fascinate. It’s clearly based on a lot of hard research but the result is very readable.

Hoofprints in the Sand was the first ever book to compare and contrast the USA East Coast herds of feral horses and ponies – but it is so much more.hoofprints

For example, did you perhaps read the book Misty of Chincoteague or see the film “Misty” about the wild ponies of Assateague, an island off the coast of Virginia, USA? If so you’ll remember the famous annual round-up and swimming of the horses across to the mainland. Hoofprints in the Sand has plenty of facts about these ponies and those on other “barrier” islands, together with explanations of their likely heritage and why horses and ponies were bred on islands. You’ll also find out too how wild horses behave – and why.

The book includes some fascinating snippets of information including (in random order):
• Grass contains silica (basically sand) – and so wears horses’ teeth.
• Horses were the most abundant large animals a million years or so ago, after bison and mammoths
• Horses shipped by the Spanish after their discovery of the “new world” had only a 50% chance of surviving the trip

The book authoritatively corrects a number of misapprehensions about mustangs, their origins and behavior.

There are some accounts of key horse-breeders over the centuries and about specific horses and herds.

Finally, there’s a chapter on where you can actually visit to see the East Coast horses discussed in the book, there are some useful tips for campers on how to avoid inadvertently endangering these beautiful horses and ponies – oh yes, and there’s a bibliography in case you’d like to read more.

There’s a whole chapter of wild horses – of many continents in Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film:

to find more films, more horses in films, check out:

to find more films, more horses in films, check out:

Horses – and mules – in World War 1

Have you seen War Horse? Very moving. For more facts about horses – and mules – in the First World War  “The Equine Army” episode in the BBC series “World War 1 at Home” is great.

Just how many horses and mules were involved? The answer might amaze you: nearly a million by the end of the war.

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In fact, the army had gone a long way towards mechanization by the outbreak of the war – it was a matter of the sheer scale of the supplies and light artillery which needed to be hauled about Europe that led to the use of so many horses. There were some 25,000 horses in the army to begin with in 1914 but by the end of the first year of the war there were half a million. How did the army manage this? Because there simply weren’t enough horses, even on farms, in Britain, they started importing wild mustangs from the USA and then mules. At one point, some one thousand horses and mules a week. They then had to tame them very quickly – generally using the old, Western methods of “breaking in” by roping and riding the horse to point of exhaustion. That wasn’t what the trainers wanted to do – it was a matter of the urgency of war.

Mules, according to “The Equine Army” programme, were a bit of a puzzle to the army at first. Treating them as horses didn’t work – mules of course are very independently minded. Some say stubborn. And there are some great clips that illustrate this: there’s one of a number of soldiers in a tug of war (and not winning) with one mule. And another of some soldiers trying to shoe a mule: the mule is tied up, it’s boxed in by wooden bars, its leg is tied to a post by a rope – and still it’s kicking out wildly while the farrier approaches with the hot shoe. Unlike a horse, a mule, as you can clearly see in this clip, can kick in all directions, not just backwards. Fortunately, the army eventually got used to mules, finding them more robust in the wartime environment of mud, cold, mud, bad weather, mud and heavy loads. Both horses and mules certainly played a big part in winning the war, but at a great cost.

War Horse, the movie, book or play, had some heart breaking moments but it does have [spoiler alert] a happy ending. Not so for the 484,000 horses and mules which died or were killed. And not so for the 900,000 or so which were unable to return to Britain.

Try catch up TV or hope for a DVD release to see World War 1 at Home: The Equine Army.

To read about your favourite film or TV horse, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film.

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London Film Festival: a few thoughts of 7 films to catch – or not…

Some quick thoughts from the train back from London:

The first three I saw were:

The Salvation: a Danish Western with – amazingly – Eric Cantona (and yes, lots of horses). Great homage to both the conventional Western and the Spaghetti Western

Rosewater: directed by the Daily Show’s John Stewart. A film about a journalist incarcerated and interrogated in Iran with the very, very watchable Gael Garcia Bernal and the Danish guy from The Bridge. I really, really recommend this film. Excellent. Grim subject but very uplifting turnaround.

The Keeping Room: an American civil war film (The Keeping Room) with three amazingly brave, strong women (has a few horses in it) . The good guys (weren’t we taught that the war was about ending slavery) were definitely not good guys in this as they burn the South and attack the women. Still, it is a film.

My next three, the next day were:

Stereo – A German thriller. This was too violent for me and I wasn’t too keen on the hallucination and psych babble elements. Still it carries you on.

Betibu: An Argentine detective film. Now this one was quite stylish, reasonably good but a complex plot and more talking than action. (Confession: I did doze off momentarily…)

I can quite whenever I want:  a very funny Italian spoof on Breaking Bad it had a pretty good go at all 5 series in under 2 hours. All in the context of what the financial crisis has done for graduate unemployment in Italy. The nightclub scenes are especially funny.

Now to the last film I caught:

Jauja: set in Argentina in the 19th century but starring Viggo Mortensen and actually more in Danish than in Spanish. Spoiler alert: for the first 40 or so minutes, Viggo gets on and off his horse a lot. He drinks water from various pools. His horse drinks water. Now as you may know, I write about horses in films. So I’m a big fan of horses in film (his horse was a nice bay with a hogged mane) but even so, I did wish for a bit more action…. After the film, Viggo himself gave a Q and A session and just happened to mention that the script for this 108 minute film was only 19 pages…..

to find more films, more horses in films, check out:

to find more films, more horses in films, check out the book above

Marketing tip for Indie / self-published authors

Have you, like me, been voraciously reading all the advice for self-published authors on how to actually sell your books? My problem is that my books (about horses and film) present a bit of a cross-genre quandary and so are a bit more difficult to market. I’ve been pursuing all the advice about building up social media (shame I didn’t start before publishing…) and so on and I’ve advertised in the horse media and in the film media. I even took out an ad in the UK Sunday paper The Observer but that was definitely not a good return for the cost in my case despite its millions of readers.

A lot of the advice around is along the lines of “go with giveaways”. Amazon’s Kindle Select programme allows you to do just that with the ebook version of your book and you can do it with paperbacks through Goodreads. I’ve done both but got very little back in terms of reviews (though they can lift your book up a little in the ratings and you can make useful connections on Goodreads).   

Anyhow, the latest thing I’ve tried is Story Cartel – and so far, it’s looking good. Story Cartel offers readers free books in return for an honest review.  Story Cartel comment that they are “a home to any kind of book you could imagine, from nail-biting thrillers to tender romance novels, serious literary fiction to self-help non-fiction”. It does cost ($30 – or under £18 at current exchange rate).

It’s important to point out that Story Cartel isn’t about buying reviews. It isn’t about manipulating people into giving your book five-star reviews. But remember, even low star reviews can help your ratings on amazon (and if all your reviews are 5 star, conspiracy theorists might think they’re all written by your relatives…).

Anyway, I’m part-way though the 3 weeks my book is on free offer for and so far I have garnered more reviews than I did with Goodreads and for half the cost. So right now, if you too need more reviews, I’m recommending giving Story Cartel a go. (Watch this space to see if it gets better by the end of my 3 weeks).

You can check out my book on Story Cartel – and find out more about the what Story Cartel has to offer both readers and writers here: http://storycartel.com/books/horse-and-pony-colours-which-one-would-you-choose

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Run for Glory – stunning film about a stunning racehorse

If you like horses, racing or classical music – or all three – do check out Run for Glory – Ode to a horse.

It’s a fictional account of a race horse from foaling to a tremendous win.  Director Ahmed Jamalat was inspired by fabulous Derby winner (1994) Erhaab. Erhaab’s win is said by the experts to have been a particularly exhilarating win. I missed that one – are there any readers out there who saw it and can confirm this (or otherwise)?

The film shows a mix of ups and downs in the life of the horse and his owners. I think the film’s particular success comes through his use of music to enhance the audience’s emotions. It’s set to two movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’ from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Herbert von Karajan).

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Publicity pictures copyright Melville Arts

Be warned though. The film runs for only 35 minutes and it’s certainly not a Disney style film. And at £15 (at the time of writing) the DVD is not cheap. If it’s your sort of film it’s definitely worth it though. If in doubt, as ever you can check out the trailer on YouTube. Better still, the film has its own website at:  http://lifeofahorse.com/

(for more horses in more films, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film (Kindle or paperback)

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