Tips for Book Clubs

Lots of people are still catching on to the fun of Book clubs. In the UK, maybe this has something to do with the unrelenting cold, wet and dreary weather. Book Club night can be something you look forward to, brightening up the week and giving you a chance to participate in something actively (whereas something like going to the cinema is more passive). If you’re still struggling with the setting up process for your book club there are plenty of tips out there on the internet. Some of the more obvious suggestions are:

  • decide what sort of book club you want it to be, within the range of say a friendly group focusing on the social side for the evening to a pretty seriously academic kind of discussion group.
  • Aim for numbers between around 9 and 16. That’s because you need enough for a discussion when some don’t turn up but not so many members that some never get to say anything
  • aim to vary the sorts of books that you discuss, from the lighter and more popular books to those a bit more challenging. I’m not suggesting Dickens here but maybe something a little bit on the side of classic but still easily readable such as, say, Graham Greene or Neville Shute. (I’m being very much influenced here by the last two books I’ve read – but you get the idea).

Okay so once your book club is up and running there are a couple more traps you might fall into and you should probably think about these even if you decide that you are going to fall into one or both traps only too willingly! Firstly you will almost certainly want some food even if it’s only in the category of nibbles. Now this wouldn’t be me at all but I hear there have been some book clubs where the provision of food has become a bit competitive. No real harm in that but it is likely to take away from the focus on books. The other danger is around the issue of alcohol. Many book clubs of course include a certain amount of wine drinking. It’s all part of the being sociable aim of the evening but I have heard (surely not?) of the occasional book club evening turning into such fun that nobody can remember whether they actually discussed the book or not. The trick here is probably to phase the wine slowly at the beginning of the discussion at least.

There is another problem that many of the more informal book clubs face that few of their members feel brave enough to mention out loud. That is the problem of one or two people being much less comfortable or much too busy actually to read the whole book that has been set for that meeting. This can be embarrassing for person(s) concerned  – and four the other members.  A suggestion I’ve not seen anywhere else is that of choosing short stories occasionally. There are huge numbers of short story collections, from a classical short story writers. See for example websites such as which has a list of “The 50 best short Stories of all Time”. Amazon’s Kindle store is now promoting sales of short stories and articles.

If you fancy trying out this idea, I’ve got two very different short stories of revenge and redemption: Because It Is Written. This booklet contains one story set in 17th century England about a blacksmith presented with the perfect opportunity for revenge on the man who hanged his wife. The second story, Hoodies, is by contrast about a drug dealer killing on a modern day problem housing estate and seen through the eyes of his ex-girlfriend and of a naive press reporter. 


Cobs – victims of neglect more than other horse breeds?

Worryingly there are more and more reports of abandoned horses as the financial crisis continues and people are unable to afford their upkeep. There have been some nasty cases of neglect in the news:

In Hertfordshire, an abandoned horse – described as looking like a “walking skeleton,” forced to eat tree bark to survive, was rescued from a field. It was a three-year-old, called Maggie, and was “underweight, with lice, mange and signs of serious neglect”. Fortunately this one, after being rescued from a flooded field and given urgent treatment, was taken to The Horse Trust in Buckinghamshire. In February, the report goes on to mention, five horses are known to have died within five miles of where Maggie was found – but there may be other cases that have not been reported.

There’s a picture at:

And yes, Maggie looks a Cob type to me.

There continue to be news stories of “fly-grazing” where horses are let loose on public land or on grass verges beside A roads or even motorways. Sometimes the horses are tethered, if the owner’s motive if simply to get grazing because they can’t afford hay or even field rent. But sometimes they are simply abandoned, just left to fend for themselves.

Even more worrying is the case of a horse that had to be rescued from a beach cliff face where it was found hanging by a rope round its neck. This one was rescued just in time before the tide would have reached and rushed to Redwings Horse Sanctuary for treatment.

Tethering a horse with a rope round its neck is something often seen in old Westerns. So too is lassoing a horse by the neck and pulling it to halt. See, for example, The 1961 film The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable or the 1952 film Wild Stallion (shown recently on TV in the UK).Yes horses’ necks are much stronger than ours – but tethering this way and leaving a horse is downright dangerous. Sadly – but unsurprisingly, in this case, despite the best efforts of the rescuers, the horse died from a collapsed windpipe. Again, you can see a picture at:

And yes, this one looks like a Cob too.

Like so many things, it looks like it all comes down to money. As Jeanette Allen, chief executive of The Horse Trust is quoted by the BBC as saying “Horses like Maggie” – that’s basically cobs then – “have little commercial value and sadly this means more and more horses are being abandoned and left to fend for themselves.”

What to do? Well I suppose until the Government comes up with a Plan B to rescue the economy, all we can do is keep an eye out, report neglect and support organisations such as the Horse Trust and Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

For more on horses in film see Lights! Camera! Gallop! alone not pdf small

Mother’s Day – and horses in film

10 March – Mother’s Day (at least, it is in the UK – think it’s in May in the US AND they get a holiday). So, what to write in blog that’s (so far) mostly about film, horses and writing? Well, how about a film that begins with about a horse and foal?

[warning: some plot spoilers but really this is a film you see for the beauty of the wild horses in the film rather than the plot]

There’s a 1999 film Running Free, directed by Sergei Bodrov and set mostly in southern Africa before and during World War One, that starts with a horse birth scene.  The film opens with Lucky, a colt, being born on board a ship carrying horses from Germany to work in the mines in Namibia. Lucky will be the lead character in the film and his story is mostly told by voice-over, but the focus is on his mother in the early part of the film. Because of the unpredictability of when horses give birth (much the same range of unpredictability as with humans when there’s no medical intervention), a number of pregnant grey mares were recruited for the scene where he is born, and the film unit simply waited on stand-by at all hours for one of them to foal. The birth finally occurred one night during the third week of filming. That’s a lot of waiting. This documentary bit of filming was then edited into the scripted narrative of the film.

During the filming, Lucky was played by a total of ten horses in all, five of them foals who play young Lucky.  The use of voice-over to tell the story helps the audience to see the horse’s point of view and this at its most graphic when the ship finally docks in Africa. The first men Lucky sees are armed with whips and they are very brutal and frightening as they force the horses to swim to shore.

Later in the film, there’s quite a lot about the mother-foal bond. Both are desolated and frightened when they are separated.  At one point, he is briefly reunited with his mother – but the mine-owner’s evil stallion Caesar, knocks down Lucky’s mother and she dies. Much later, when Lucky has grown up and grown strong, Lucky manages to avenge his mother’s death: he defeats Caesar in a fight. And he wins over the filly, Beauty, Caesar’s daughter, as his mate.

Happy Mother’s Day All.

For more horses in film, see Lights! Camera! Gallop! at:

Publicity tip for writers – avoid my mistake!

This week was a roller-coaster. Now that my book is (self)published in paperback I decided to give press releasing another go – when I had the Kindle / eBook version published my press releases didn’t seem to provoke any press interest. So, I sent off press releases to two local papers. I followed the advice I’d gathered from the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook excellent Self-Publishing conference some months back. I gave the press release a topical “hook.” I linked the current horsemeat scandal to a snippet in my book on the story of the horse in film – as I recount in the book, Roy Rogers’ beautiful horse Trigger ended up in a number of burgers.


Well, there was no response at first, then I got  a short email asking for more details. Then nothing. Oh well, I thought and got on with other work. Then, one wet windy day I got a phonecall from the newspaper – a telephone interview and – “we’re sending the photographer round”. That’s now. 45 minutes to get me – and the horse – ready. The horse was covered in mud and both of us were having a bad hair day. Oh, and what to wear? Cue some frantic scrabbling around.

So my point is, once you send off a press release, be prepared for the press to react – just in case they do.

For any of you whose publicity photo might include a horse – another tip would be: test said horse with flash photography first! My horse Freddie reacted badly to the flash – she broke her headcollar and was off.   Anyway, here’s the picture the paper finally got:

Picture courtesy of Premier Newspapers


Image Lights! Camera! Gallop” The Story of the Horse in Film from only £1.53 at: