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)


  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.

jackie p

  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.


  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

coloring amazon cover

  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!)


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

Choosing your book’s title – a tip

As I found out – the hard way – including punctuation in your book’s title can hinder sales.

My book is a non-fiction, illustrated book about horses in film and on television. There are wild horses galore, chase scenes and lots of daring stunts. Horses rear, fight, buck, jump, dash through war zones, swim to deserted islands or play dead. Choosing the sub-title was relatively easy: “The Story of the Horse in Film” tells you what it’s about and “horse” and “film” and “horse in film” are going to show up in online searches. So far so good. But I wanted a title that would be able to convey some of the excitement there is in filming horses. Horses are unpredictable but fabulously fast and strong. I hit upon “Lights! Camera! Gallop!”

Everyone knows the director’s shout of “Lights! Camera! Action!” so I thought I can tap into that. Job done and eBook uploaded onto Amazon, Apple’s iTunes bookstore, Kobo, WH Smith and Waterstones.


That was August 2012. Sales since then have been mostly through Amazon, as you’d expect from Amazon’s dominant place in eBook sales overall. And with the sales, usually, come some reviews, from a (fairly small percentage) of buyers on Amazon. Still, I thought I should check the others. And here’s where I found the problem. The really big search engines, like Google and Amazon’s own internal search engine, are sophisticated enough to pick up the book whether you type in “Lights! Camera! Gallop!” – or “Lights Camera Gallop”. Smaller or more specialist search engines, however, such as those within other eBook sellers’ sites do not always pick up the book from the search term which has the exclamation marks, although they will pick it up if you type in “Lights Camera Gallop” . You can see the problem: your would-be buyer is looking for your book but doesn’t find it with the first search. How many would-be buyers will try again, leaving out the punctuation?

I’ve noticed the same problem with hyphens. I was searching a company’s website for one of their own publications which does have a hyphen in its title. Nothing. I rang them up – “Try searching for it without the hyphen”, they said. So they knew about the problem but had done nothing to fix it.   

My tip, then, is to avoid punctuation in your book title. I’ve not firmed up yet on my next book’s title – I was thinking maybe something really simple, like “Colourful Horses”. But then I’ll have another problem – if I’m hoping for a US market, won’t they be searching for “Colorful Horses”? Time for a rethink perhaps….

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 www.onlineclasses.org 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. 


Book titles: choosing the right one – and pitfalls to avoid

I checked a lot of advice when I was choosing the title for my book – but still had some problems. Here’s how it went:

The first point, I thought, was obviously to choose something striking and thought-provoking. I doubted I’d come up with anything as sensationally striking as, say, Who Moved My Cheese? the best-selling motivational book by Spencer Johnson but I was aiming for something that would attract attention and curiosity – and at the same time convey my book’s content. It’s a non-fiction book but the principles around title-choosing are, I think, applicable to both fiction and non-fiction. Mine is about horses in film – covering all sorts of films, from silent movies through Westerns to the present day and War Horse. It deals with how these films are made, eg how the stunts are done, mistakes in filming, special effects, even make-up for horses. Anyway, you get the idea. After a lot of thought, I came up with “Lights! Camera! Gallop!”. That had it all, or so I thought. The reader knows and expects “Lights! Camera! Action!” and will immediately understand that this book will be about film – and horses.

I was, I confess, even a little smug. Lights! Camera! Gallop! – the exclamation marks make it sound exciting too. I was soon pretty much committed to the title. I’d sent out the book proposal all over the place and I’d been working on it for a couple of years. But then, when like so many writers these days, I realised I’d be going down the self-publishing route, I began researching the marketing and publicity side. That’s when I started to learn about search engines, search terms and metatags. Big problem. All the advice pointed to having key words in the title. But of course no-one looking for a book about horses or films would enter search terms such as Lights, Camera or Gallop (even without the exclamation marks.

The solution was to add a sub-title. Who Moved My Cheese? has An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. I decided on The Story of the Horse in Film. Off I went, into production. So far so good. Until I looked up my book on Amazon only to find that there are a lot of book titles beginning with Lights! Camera!.:

Lights, Camera…

Lights, Camera . . . Cats!

Lights Camera… Travel!

Lights, Camera, Soundtracks

Lights, Camera, Capture

Lights, Camera, Girl Power!

Lights! Camera! Murder!

Lights, Camera . . . Zombies!

Lights Camera Masala

Lights, Camera… Nude!

Lights, Camera, Sex

There are more – but you can see the problem. And no prizes for guessing that the last two will show up more often than mine…..

Lessons learnt (but a little late for me…):

  • think through the options for your title at an early stage
  • ensure your title – or subtitle – includes key search terms if possible (vital for non-fiction, helpful for fiction)
  • try your title out by searching for it with Google or Amazon

 Good luck!