Saffina Desforges

Website URL: http://www.saffinadesforges.com

18
May 2012
Not many things shut me up. In fact, it's pretty hard to recall a time when I was ever lost for words (well, coherent words anyway). I guess I've had a couple of jaw-dropping moments over the last two years; like when we first started out on this insane writer/publisher-thingy journey and we hit treble figures for the first time on Amazon (in a month) and when we saw our first five star review, or the Sunday we sat watching KDP and hitting refresh every five seconds to see our digital book sales for ONE DAY creep up to 857 in 24 hours. Yeah, there's been a few, but the whole 'I guess I'm a real writer now' realisation kinda crept up on me gradually, so much so, that it didn't happen over night. I just morphed into it. Don't get me wrong, there's been many a time over the last twenty four months when I have had to pinch myself and shake the craziness outta my skull because not in my wildest dreams did I envisage the bumper-car ride that we have been on, but press and blog interviews, celebrity followers on twitter and seeing our book in the Sunday magazine charts kinda became part of every day life after a while. Awesome, but I sort of got used to it; gradually. Until yesterday. When I saw this:

 

That really was a sucker-punch (in the nicest possible way of course) moment. I mean, don't get me wrong, I knew it was coming, but all the same, seeing our book up there, for pre-order, in all its glory, really did finally smash the ball out of the park. I guess it'll be a pretty similar experience when I hold the hardback in my hands for the very first time at the end of this month. A real book. A proper, printed, shiny, glossy (wiv pages and words and everyfink) goddang book! Wow! :-) It's an amazing (and totally surreal) feeling and one that I know, I will never tire of. I still feel like it is happening to someone else every time I see our books out there. What has amazed (and delighted) me about this whole publication process with the fabulous MA Editions, is their professionalism. I have read more horror stories about 'traditional publishers' than I have read Dean Koontz books and that is going some, believe me! Unfathomable contracts with hidden pitfalls at every turn, unpaid or pitiful advances, lack of control over editing or covers and the interminable wait from contract to publication. Uh-huh. No way, No siree, not on my watch. Didn't happen. It's been a breeze and a pleasure and has restored my faith in publishing (well, French publishing at any rate). Simple, clear contract signed in a matter of days. More than respectable advance paid just as quickly, with favourable royalties agreed. Efficient, swift and friendly translation services. Regular contact. Title and cover design a JOINT process and, the best bit: Slightly shy of seven months from contract to print. MA have organised everything from a whistle-stop promotional tour of Paris and Brussels, press interviews, blog videos and marketing, plus additional deals with other outlets. Advance review copies and digital pre-orders? Check. They've done the lot. Absolutely can't fault it. But do you know what the best bit is? They TRUST in the book and in US. They DARED to believe in it. They took a chance. They are not scared to take that step. Oh and they're European! If I had a pound/dollar/Euro for every rejection email/letter that we have had in the last two years for Sugar & Spice that said something similar to this:
We LOVED this book, loved the pace, the short chapters, the characters. Read it in one whole sitting, was gripped from the start, appauled by its content blah, blah,blah, BUT, we're sorry, we do not feel it is right for our ********** imprint at this time. I know we are going to be kicking ourselves and the sales figures they have achieved on their own are astounding, BUT...
I would be able to retire right now and write at my leisure. MA Editions have seen past the controversy, the stigma attached to the books content (hell, they even used it to their advantage in the title!) and opted to let the reader decide. What more, as writers could we ask for? After all, that's what happened 18 months and 155,000 sales ago when we put it on Amazon. Paraphilia is available for pre-order (released digitally on 6th June 2012) here. Of course, it would help if you can read French! ;-) We are thrilled to be on this journey with our publisher and eternally grateful to them for taking us this far. Who knows what will happen in the future? I mean, so many of my dreams about writing a successful book have already come true, so I guess I have used all my wishes up. Right? ;-) Saffi PS. I will be blogging about my time in Paris & Brussels in the first week of June. Look out for 'Lost in France', coming soon!
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18
May 2012
Not many things shut me up. In fact, it's pretty hard to recall a time when I was ever lost for words (well, coherent words anyway). I guess I've had a couple of jaw-dropping moments over the last two years; like when we first started out on this insane writer/publisher-thingy journey and we hit treble figures for the first time on Amazon (in a month) and when we saw our first five star review, or the Sunday we sat watching KDP and hitting refresh every five seconds to see our digital book sales for ONE DAY creep up to 857 in 24 hours. Yeah, there's been a few, but the whole 'I guess I'm a real writer now' realisation kinda crept up on me gradually, so much so, that it didn't happen over night. I just morphed into it. Don't get me wrong, there's been many a time over the last twenty four months when I have had to pinch myself and shake the craziness outta my skull because not in my wildest dreams did I envisage the bumper-car ride that we have been on, but press and blog interviews, celebrity followers on twitter and seeing our book in the Sunday magazine charts kinda became part of every day life after a while. Awesome, but I sort of got used to it; gradually. Until yesterday. When I saw this:

 

That really was a sucker-punch (in the nicest possible way of course) moment. I mean, don't get me wrong, I knew it was coming, but all the same, seeing our book up there, for pre-order, in all its glory, really did finally smash the ball out of the park. I guess it'll be a pretty similar experience when I hold the hardback in my hands for the very first time at the end of this month. A real book. A proper, printed, shiny, glossy (wiv pages and words and everyfink) goddang book! Wow! :-) It's an amazing (and totally surreal) feeling and one that I know, I will never tire of. I still feel like it is happening to someone else every time I see our books out there. What has amazed (and delighted) me about this whole publication process with the fabulous MA Editions, is their professionalism. I have read more horror stories about 'traditional publishers' than I have read Dean Koontz books and that is going some, believe me! Unfathomable contracts with hidden pitfalls at every turn, unpaid or pitiful advances, lack of control over editing or covers and the interminable wait from contract to publication. Uh-huh. No way, No siree, not on my watch. Didn't happen. It's been a breeze and a pleasure and has restored my faith in publishing (well, French publishing at any rate). Simple, clear contract signed in a matter of days. More than respectable advance paid just as quickly, with favourable royalties agreed. Efficient, swift and friendly translation services. Regular contact. Title and cover design a JOINT process and, the best bit: Slightly shy of seven months from contract to print. MA have organised everything from a whistle-stop promotional tour of Paris and Brussels, press interviews, blog videos and marketing, plus additional deals with other outlets. Advance review copies and digital pre-orders? Check. They've done the lot. Absolutely can't fault it. But do you know what the best bit is? They TRUST in the book and in US. They DARED to believe in it. They took a chance. They are not scared to take that step. Oh and they're European! If I had a pound/dollar/Euro for every rejection email/letter that we have had in the last two years for Sugar & Spice that said something similar to this:
We LOVED this book, loved the pace, the short chapters, the characters. Read it in one whole sitting, was gripped from the start, appauled by its content blah, blah,blah, BUT, we're sorry, we do not feel it is right for our ********** imprint at this time. I know we are going to be kicking ourselves and the sales figures they have achieved on their own are astounding, BUT...
I would be able to retire right now and write at my leisure. MA Editions have seen past the controversy, the stigma attached to the books content (hell, they even used it to their advantage in the title!) and opted to let the reader decide. What more, as writers could we ask for? After all, that's what happened 18 months and 155,000 sales ago when we put it on Amazon. Paraphilia is available for pre-order (released digitally on 6th June 2012) here. Of course, it would help if you can read French! ;-) We are thrilled to be on this journey with our publisher and eternally grateful to them for taking us this far. Who knows what will happen in the future? I mean, so many of my dreams about writing a successful book have already come true, so I guess I have used all my wishes up. Right? ;-) Saffi PS. I will be blogging about my time in Paris & Brussels in the first week of June. Look out for 'Lost in France', coming soon!
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26
Apr 2012
When I first started this journey with Cheryl some months ago now, not for a second did I think this was ever anything to do with 'Sugar & Spice'. Our story was fiction. True, it was based on extensive research and real-life events, but it was and still is, a made-up story. When Cheryl first emailed offering her support after reading some negative reviews about the book, I was, of course, pleased that someone had finally understood the subliminal message and seen past the supposed 'shock factor' that many believe was the premise for the book. After exchanging numerous emails and now having met her in real life, this has become about much more than that. Cheryl has become much more than another reader sending fan mail. Today, Cheryl has sent me the final installment in her story. As I type this, I am consumed with an anger that knows no limits. Obvious anger at the animal at the centre of all this, who has forced Cheryl and her family to endure this living hell (but as Cheryl says, he doesn't deserve such intense emotion, so I won't dwell on that), at a failed justice? system and so-called support network that let them down so badly and anger at society in general, for continuing to kick these kind of stories like muck under the carpet, whistle and walk away, pretending that it isn't there and no-one will see it. BUT, most of all, my anger is directed at at person who I don't even know and nor do you. Unfortunately, you will never know who that person is, but let's just say, this person has let this family down just as badly, if not more, than everyone else involved in this case. Cheryl knows who they are and I hope one day, they do too. Anyway, here's Cheryl's final email, totally unedited (as she threatened to kill me if I did):
I received a phone call yesterday from the CPS Lawyer to explain to me why she felt they could not carry on with the proceedings, although to be honest i couldn’t take it all in on the phone so she said she would pop it in the post and I could read it through and get back to her if I had any questions. I will copy you the letter word for word so you can make your own decisions!
‘Firstly, thank you for telling ********** police about what happened to your daughter Amy. I recognise how difficult it can be to report sexual offences. As a result of police enquiries ******** was arrested for a sexual assault on Amy and the police carried out their investigations. The police have now finished their inquiries and I have carefully considered all of the evidence.
I have reached the conclusion that there is not enough evidence to prosecute the suspect for an offence and I have decided to stop the case. In considering this case, I watched in its entirety the video recorded interview which was made with Amy. I also watched the video interview with your other daughter, Lily, as well as reading all of the statements and evidential material provided by the police. I want you to know that I considered the case very carefully in order to assess the position properly and in the light of all of the evidence. Some cases are easier than others, for example if there is medical or forensic evidence to lend support to what is said, or where there is an eye witness to confirm the victim’s account. This was not such a case. If I had proceeded, it would have had to have been on the basis of what Amy herself said in her video interview. Sadly, her account was just not sufficiently detailed to give a clear picture of exactly what happened. Even making allowances for Amy’s age and the fact that it must have been very difficult for her to speak to a stranger about what had happened, I was not satisfied that her evidence was strong enough to satisfy the evidential test.
From the video evidence it was just not clear where precisely Amy had been touched, whether it was under or over clothing, how long it lasted or in what circumstances it came about. Moreover, as she described what happened as a “scratch”, this made the situation even more unclear, as she never explained what she meant by this. This term, of course, has a innocent, non sexual meaning in usual circumstance.
The final problem was the fact that nothing was said by Amy at the time.
Give the various difficulties with the evidence, I was not satisfied that there was a realistic prospect of conviction and I therefore stopped the case. It is important that you know that in deciding whether or not to prosecute I based my decision on what we could prove at court and not, as people often assume, whether I believed Amy’s account.' The reason I first approached Saffina after I read her book was because it had got criticism, which in every walk off life we receive, its part of being human and not all agreeing! But Saffina was brave writing the book, she is a sassy and clever lady who thinks outside the box and instead of being judged for this, she needs to be praised.
Sugar and Spice was fictional, but it does happen and i wanted people to know that there are normal people out there experiencing awful things. I will now get on with my life and give my daughter all the love and support in the world any child deserves and until the police close in on these despicable and disgusting things (i can’t call them humans) it is the job for people like Saffina to bring this into our living rooms and let us know that this does exist... it does happen and too many people shy away from sexual abuse and cause it to be such a taboo subject that absentmindedly we allow it to happen.
Cheryl, whilst we thank you for your support of the book and your kind words, I think if people were to look up the definition of bravery, it wouldn't have my name underneath it.
I sign off with one final comment and one that I ended my last email to Cheryl with:
Thank you for writing this and entrusting me with your story. I am sorry that you and your family ever had to go through this, but if there was one good thing to come out of it all, it is this: you have a new friend for life.
Saffi.
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26
Apr 2012
When I first started this journey with Cheryl some months ago now, not for a second did I think this was ever anything to do with 'Sugar & Spice'. Our story was fiction. True, it was based on extensive research and real-life events, but it was and still is, a made-up story. When Cheryl first emailed offering her support after reading some negative reviews about the book, I was, of course, pleased that someone had finally understood the subliminal message and seen past the supposed 'shock factor' that many believe was the premise for the book. After exchanging numerous emails and now having met her in real life, this has become about much more than that. Cheryl has become much more than another reader sending fan mail. Today, Cheryl has sent me the final installment in her story. As I type this, I am consumed with an anger that knows no limits. Obvious anger at the animal at the centre of all this, who has forced Cheryl and her family to endure this living hell (but as Cheryl says, he doesn't deserve such intense emotion, so I won't dwell on that), at a failed justice? system and so-called support network that let them down so badly and anger at society in general, for continuing to kick these kind of stories like muck under the carpet, whistle and walk away, pretending that it isn't there and no-one will see it. BUT, most of all, my anger is directed at at person who I don't even know and nor do you. Unfortunately, you will never know who that person is, but let's just say, this person has let this family down just as badly, if not more, than everyone else involved in this case. Cheryl knows who they are and I hope one day, they do too. Anyway, here's Cheryl's final email, totally unedited (as she threatened to kill me if I did):
I received a phone call yesterday from the CPS Lawyer to explain to me why she felt they could not carry on with the proceedings, although to be honest i couldn’t take it all in on the phone so she said she would pop it in the post and I could read it through and get back to her if I had any questions. I will copy you the letter word for word so you can make your own decisions!
‘Firstly, thank you for telling ********** police about what happened to your daughter Amy. I recognise how difficult it can be to report sexual offences. As a result of police enquiries ******** was arrested for a sexual assault on Amy and the police carried out their investigations. The police have now finished their inquiries and I have carefully considered all of the evidence.
I have reached the conclusion that there is not enough evidence to prosecute the suspect for an offence and I have decided to stop the case. In considering this case, I watched in its entirety the video recorded interview which was made with Amy. I also watched the video interview with your other daughter, Lily, as well as reading all of the statements and evidential material provided by the police. I want you to know that I considered the case very carefully in order to assess the position properly and in the light of all of the evidence. Some cases are easier than others, for example if there is medical or forensic evidence to lend support to what is said, or where there is an eye witness to confirm the victim’s account. This was not such a case. If I had proceeded, it would have had to have been on the basis of what Amy herself said in her video interview. Sadly, her account was just not sufficiently detailed to give a clear picture of exactly what happened. Even making allowances for Amy’s age and the fact that it must have been very difficult for her to speak to a stranger about what had happened, I was not satisfied that her evidence was strong enough to satisfy the evidential test.
From the video evidence it was just not clear where precisely Amy had been touched, whether it was under or over clothing, how long it lasted or in what circumstances it came about. Moreover, as she described what happened as a “scratch”, this made the situation even more unclear, as she never explained what she meant by this. This term, of course, has a innocent, non sexual meaning in usual circumstance.
The final problem was the fact that nothing was said by Amy at the time.
Give the various difficulties with the evidence, I was not satisfied that there was a realistic prospect of conviction and I therefore stopped the case. It is important that you know that in deciding whether or not to prosecute I based my decision on what we could prove at court and not, as people often assume, whether I believed Amy’s account.' The reason I first approached Saffina after I read her book was because it had got criticism, which in every walk off life we receive, its part of being human and not all agreeing! But Saffina was brave writing the book, she is a sassy and clever lady who thinks outside the box and instead of being judged for this, she needs to be praised.
Sugar and Spice was fictional, but it does happen and i wanted people to know that there are normal people out there experiencing awful things. I will now get on with my life and give my daughter all the love and support in the world any child deserves and until the police close in on these despicable and disgusting things (i can’t call them humans) it is the job for people like Saffina to bring this into our living rooms and let us know that this does exist... it does happen and too many people shy away from sexual abuse and cause it to be such a taboo subject that absentmindedly we allow it to happen.
Cheryl, whilst we thank you for your support of the book and your kind words, I think if people were to look up the definition of bravery, it wouldn't have my name underneath it.
I sign off with one final comment and one that I ended my last email to Cheryl with:
Thank you for writing this and entrusting me with your story. I am sorry that you and your family ever had to go through this, but if there was one good thing to come out of it all, it is this: you have a new friend for life.
Saffi.
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21
Mar 2012

Every writer gets bad reviews.

Some take them to heart, others don’t bother reading them at all; in fact, I had a personal message back on Facebook from Karin Slaughter when I first started out and she said the same thing. She doesn’t read reviews. In her own words: “no good can ever come of it.” Some of the biggest selling books in the world have swathes of one and two star reviews from readers who just didn’t like the book. Shit happens, and as a writer, you cannot please every reader. When Mark and I were writing Sugar & Spice, there were quite a few discussions between us about some of the aspects in it, particularly those scenes involving the police and social services. We fought and squabbled over some of them like a pair of kids in the playground fighting over a toy, always keeping in mind that we were writing a work of fiction, but also, that bad things happen to good people and not all people who are supposed to help you and be good, are.

When we first published Sugar & Spice, we were under no illusion: It was going to upset some people. We knew it would – but we did it anyway. The research for the book was not easy, but everything there came from public sources and examples, including the conduct of the authorities. People in positions of power who are meant to be the good guys. There is, as we all know, a very fine line between fact and fiction. Sadly. In the year that followed the release of Sugar & Spice, we received many emails from irate readers, and plenty of scathing reviews on Amazon. Some of them raised valid points, to which we responded and explained our position politely. Some were plainly from that section of society who’s toilet-goings always smell of perfume and who see through pink-tinted gels with stick on butterflies. Hey ho, you can’t please everyone right? Now, when a reader had a particular complaint about the writing or the characters (or even typos and formatting, which we happily corrected once we had sussed out this self-publishing malarky and were grateful to be informed of) or plot development, then we had to take the one and two starrers on the chin. But when we received downright abusive and personal (sometimes extremely libelous) attacks on us for even having dared to question the services, we drew the line. Amazon were very good at removing those reviews and of course, we sent strongly worded (ahem) email responses to those that included an address, but we always said the same thing: Really? Are you serious that this kind of thing doesn’t happen? Here’s but a few of the wildly ludicrous comments we got:
The characters are, for the most part, hateful caricatures. The two social workers who are trying to elicit information from the twin girls (won’t say anymore so as not to spoil) may as well wear witches hats and cackle. Making bets with each other over who can garner the most information and hating kids despite their profession is ridiculous.  Yes, the writing is fluid and the authors obviously have talent, but the story is marked by so many implausible events and characters that it became impossible for me to finish: police brutality so egregious it defies logic; social workers who are strangely inept and easily manipulated into bumbling fools; I had the feeling the author has an agenda with this story. The authorities come off looking bad in their jobs – the police jump to conclusions and force confessions from innocent suspects, Social Services workers are eager to find child abuse where there is none and adults discount the ideas of young people just because they ARE young. The story is full of cliches on the capabilities and self serving nature of therapists and social workers all the other characters are awful, and as a social worker myself I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I have seen many programs, films and newspaper articles that play up to the stereotypes but there is a complete disregard for the truth here. And i’m sure anyone who is a police officer or psychologist may have a thing or two to say about how they are portrayed!
Try googling social services abuse of powers or police brutality and then tell us this sort of thing doesn’t happen. All the portrayals in Sugar & Spice were based on real-life events. I could go on. I won’t. Over Amazon and other platforms, Sugar & Spice has been reviewed getting on close to 350 times. With a hit rate of 76% of 4 stars and above and a quickly-developed rhino hide we are not fazed anymore by poor reviews, but I needed to start this blog post in this vein to set the scene. Now I am not going to get into a huge moral debate about it. Mark and I have blogged enough about our reasons for writing Sugar & Spice and frankly, we are so over the one star review (genuine and contrived) thing now, that we are not defending ourselves any more. But I wanted to tell you about an email I received a few months ago.
Your book was a courageous write, very thought provoking, and stomach in mouth I sat down to read it on Monday of this week, I was finished by Thursday morning and full of so much more information and knowledge. I didn’t know what to expect from the book, but it was sensational, and although my child is sat in front of me healthy and alive, it doesn’t stop the fact that she has experienced something no child her age should ever have to face. Thank you Saffina for writing a book that opens peoples eyes to the sickening world that is alive around us, to a lot they will walk this earth and never have to experience anything, but for some of us the reality is all too clear.
Of course I responded and in the weeks that followed learned more about what had happened. And eventually the writer decided she’d like her story more widely known. For obvious reasons, with a child involved, I have changed names and omitted identifying detail. I’ll call the mother Cheryl here. Now, I could describe Cheryl to you in detail. Since I received her initial email, we have talked a lot and there are many things I could say about her, but, I will let you decide by telling her story in her own words.  I asked her to just let it spill out and she did so in an email which she agreed we could publish. This is it:
In April 2011, we were given our eviction notice by our Landlord, which was no shock as Simon, my partner is a tradesman and being in and out of work, can make things hard. Therefore, armed with my eviction notice I went to the council and spent until my eviction date 19th July arguing for them to house me. As I had no rent arrears, but also no work security they agreed… We spent the next four months in a one bedroom hostel. They had placed three single beds in the bedroom which didn’t leave any options for Simon and I to sleep as a couple or anywhere for Johnny (my youngest, who’s 3 in April) cot. I moved in to the lounge with Johnny and Simon shared the bedroom with the girl, far from appropriate but we had no choice. So by September, with Lily starting secondary school I was stressed beyond belief and Simon decided to visit his family in Shropshire, while I had a lazy weekend with Johnny, he took Amy and Lily went to stay at her dads. When they returned Amy had a dark cloud over her head, didn’t want to play out anymore, which i put down to the stress of the move. I did go in to school regarding her behavioural change but with a new teacher in September they didn’t know her enough to comment. So life went on and I booked a caravan in Norfolk to get away for a week. The Sunday before we went away for the October half term my life fell apart! I was going round to my parents as they had just returned from Florida and wanted to see the children. I stopped off at Waitrose to pick up some sausages and rolls and left the kids sat in the car. When i returned to the car Lily told me that Amy had something to tell me and that it wasn’t for her to tell me. Confused I started the car and began driving to my parents while arguing with the girls to tell me what was going on. I threatened to go home when Amy told me when she went to Shropshire last, Simon’s grandad had touched her bottom. Without thinking I told her that she shouldn’t say things like that as it can get people in to trouble. Not knowing what to do next i went round to my parents and quietly told my mum what Amy had said, i told her i couldn’t face asking anything more so my mum took Amy off to ask her. I sat there for what seemed like forever before she came down and confirmed Amy had been sexually assaulted! Just turned 7, my little girl had experienced the worst! I excused myself and ran out the house in bits… I drove to tell Simon while he was playing Sunday League Football, as i couldn’t deal with it at home. Simon went quiet and drove off! I picked the children up and took them to my friends, while we waited for Simon to return and we agreed the following morning i would go to the police and report Simon’s grandad for sexually assaulting Amy.  Monday morning with the car packed for holiday i drove to the Station, rehearsing the whole way what i was going to say. That all went out the window as the kind looking police officer asked me how he could help… After logging all the details i left to take the children on holiday. I can never even begin to explain in a short email the emotional turmoil that i went through the following week, or months that followed. On the Friday of our return a CPU Officer came to see the children and decided that a video interview was needed by both girls. At 8pm the children started there interviews. Three weeks later we were finally given the keys to a new house, while we waited for details on the case. A week later Simon lost his job and money became tight. I started to call around to try and find help for Amy. Social Services told me that they couldn’t help me as they are for vulnerable children, and as she wasn’t a child at risk they wasn’t interested in helping. Next i rang the counselling services around my home town, who told me £35 per week (not easy when you haven’t got). Barnardo’s rang around various sections of their charity, but as we didn’t fall under any of their catchment areas, no one could help. The school contacted CAMHS and i waited. Two weeks before christmas i received a letter from CAMHS to say that they were not going to help. I fell apart and went to my doctors to speak to the Practice Manager as I had no where else to turn. They sent me home and made calls on my behalf. An hour later Amy had an appointment for an assessment with CAMHS 2 days before christmas. In the meantime, the case had been passed to local police as it had happened in their jurisdiction. A lady called to introduce herself and would contact me again as soon as she had any further news as to when Simon’s grandad would be arrested. When the CPU officer called me back with the details of his bail, she informed me she had also let Amy’s biological father have all the details of the case as his girlfriend had called and asked for them. Well i was in bits. Amy’s dad has not seen her for 2 years after choosing his new family over her, he was not on the birth certificate as he had only been in her life since she was 2 and to make things worse he had no parental responsibility, and someone somewhere had leaked this truly confidential information to someone Amy doesn’t want anything to do with, her choice! Needless to say that a complaint was logged (I have letters to prove all of the failure in confidentiality policies etc) my last correspondence with the officer involved was by recorded delivery, yet if this goes to Court she is someone i am meant to rely on, hence why i said your portrayal of CPU wasn’t far from the truth! Amy was assessed two days before christmas and a letter followed in the New Year stating that she needed Counselling but due to the service being over subscribed Amy would have to wait until May! While all this has been going on i wondered why Simon was dealing so well with all this, considering his grandad and grandmother had brought him up and he lived with them when i met him! Well he hadn’t been dealing with any of it! He had started gambling, when he lost his job he had been gambling a little, but when all this happened he couldn’t deal with not having money and decided to fund his gambling other ways! On 25th January Simon was arrested outside my house for dwelling burglary. I knew nothing about the gambling, the stealing, I had certainly not benefited from any of it, as i had no money, some weeks i was struggling to pay for petrol to get Johnny to preschool… He had been stealing from my parents! £3000… he got probation for a year, 80 hours community service and a supervision order, which basically means he has to get counselling… To say my life has fallen apart recently is an understatement. I am a very private person who lives like a hermit crab lol, but i feel pained by the fact no one is there to help my daughter, even Simon is on his 3rd week of counselling and now on medication for his bipolar! I have lost family on the way, choosing between Simon and my family was the hardest thing i have ever had to do, and is still not without heart ache. Some people criticise me but my true friends are still there, not judging me! At the end of the day i have not stolen anything, or hurt anyone, I am merely trying to keep my family together and resume life as best i can Sounds like such a sob story, but unfortunately this is my life at the moment. Dire, but i am still smiling, reading, cooking and looking after my little angels.
Well, I don’t think I need to add much to that do I? Nor do I have to use the words brave, courageous or TOTALLY let down by a system that is there to protect and serve. Cheryl is attempting to put the pieces of her life back together and it appears, doing it alone. I am sure you will join me in wishing her the best of luck. We will be donating some funds over the next few months to enable her to buy little Amy and the other children a dog. Cheryl feels that having something to focus on and trust in again will help Amy get some of her confidence back. It is astonishing in this day and age that convicted sex offenders, drug users, rapists and murderers have access to all kinds of therapy and rehabilitation and yet the most helpless and vulnerable do not. I say again, Sugar & Spice is a work of fiction, the portrayal of the characters exaggerated for the purpose of the story. We whole-heartedly believe that MOST people working for the police and social services are doing a brilliant job, with limited resources. But having read Cheryl’s tale, sadly, it is sometimes the fact that not every story is fiction. Saffi UPDATE: 21ST APRIL 2012: After meeting up with Cheryl (obviously not her real name, but she will see the irony of this when she stops talking for a moment and realises how significant this is) in London (baby), we have had a few phone call chats since. Much to my horror, her story WAS all too real, but even more so now that I have put a real person to the name. She is no longer a reader with a story, she is a friend with a story. Here is the latest interlude, much to my disgust. BUT, I print it exactly as she wrote it, as she asked me to: Broken Britain? Broken World...
“ Finally went to court this week to dispute access over Amy with her father. She doesn’t like the man, doesn’t want to see him, and he has not bothered with her for 2 years yet he is ready to put her through extra stress for pure selfishness and i don’t even know why else. I know some people will judge me, as its another father kept away from his child, but he left when i was 3 months pregnant and i never heard from him again until Amy was 10 days old, he then was in and out of her life until she was 2. At the age of 2 he was told he either saw her regularly or i would cut all contact. To cut a long story short he was violent in front of all my children and Amy never wanted to see him again!
So off i went to court to fight my daughters corner... i walked in to a waiting room with about 15 chairs and had to sit in the same room as him and his partner as both solicitors tried to settle out of the court room... considering Amy's counselling still does not start until next week, i am not prepared for even in-direct contact, as Amy has pleaded with me not to make her go again.... so 4 hours later and 2 appearances in court, the judge sides with me and agrees that for the next 2 and a half months, no contact of any form was to take place. So i drive home to share the news.
I walk in and find Simon on the phone, after 6 long months he has work again, things are going so great... i start flicking through the bundle of mail in my hand and thats when i find it... ‘while you were out we tried to deliver a recorded letter’... my heart sunk... Since i placed my complaint with the police i have been stonewalled... every letter about the sexual assault case have come via recorded delivery, much to my disgust... but i thought they would have had the decency to have picked up the phone to call me, or to send round an officer to tell me the CPS’ verdict... but no... The Royal Mail card says i cannot pick up the recorded delivery letter until the following morning, how could they, i could feel in my stomach it wasn’t right. I asked Simon to call his mum and see if they knew the outcome of the CPS. I look on as he calls his mum and hear one half of the story and them words... “not enough realistic evidence to secure a conviction... case dropped”
The room felt like it was closing in on me, i could feel the tears burning my eyes... i made an excuse to go upstairs and locked myself in my bedroom... i couldn’t even cry to start with... why? does a child need to be raped for enough realistic evidence? Jeez she is 7 what realistic evidence did they want? She came to us within a month of him assaulting her... of him touching her inappropriately, to which she knew was wrong and instead of actually acting on this, he obviously didn’t do enough the first time... Even writing this now i feel sick and numb, i wont be telling her that he hasn’t gone to prison, she doesn’t need to know. One day if she asks i will show her the letter where it says that Amy was believed... the rest i will never be able to answer for her.
The NSPCC announced a month ago that 9 out of 10 paedophiles are not convicted and that they were going to begin a programme going in to schools to teach children to speak out about abuse... what is the point? they get away with it... you have to fight to get your child help and in the meantime your whole lives fall apart! I would like to say that i can start rebuilding my life, but while i have her sperm donor breathing down my neck, i don’t think i can start rebuilding my life as there is still uncertainty as to how Amy will be affected with starting up a relationship she has never wanted! How far do we go to protect our children. She is 8 soon, but that is still 4 years too young in a court of law to tell a judge what she does and doesn’t want... maybe people should start waking up and listening to the young... maybe then we wont be Broken Britain.”
Wow, nothing more to say eh? Except, if it means anything to you and your family, Cheryl, you have the support of the nation AND you have new friends that believe you. xx

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21
Mar 2012

Every writer gets bad reviews.

Some take them to heart, others don’t bother reading them at all; in fact, I had a personal message back on Facebook from Karin Slaughter when I first started out and she said the same thing. She doesn’t read reviews. In her own words: “no good can ever come of it.” Some of the biggest selling books in the world have swathes of one and two star reviews from readers who just didn’t like the book. Shit happens, and as a writer, you cannot please every reader. When Mark and I were writing Sugar & Spice, there were quite a few discussions between us about some of the aspects in it, particularly those scenes involving the police and social services. We fought and squabbled over some of them like a pair of kids in the playground fighting over a toy, always keeping in mind that we were writing a work of fiction, but also, that bad things happen to good people and not all people who are supposed to help you and be good, are.

When we first published Sugar & Spice, we were under no illusion: It was going to upset some people. We knew it would – but we did it anyway. The research for the book was not easy, but everything there came from public sources and examples, including the conduct of the authorities. People in positions of power who are meant to be the good guys. There is, as we all know, a very fine line between fact and fiction. Sadly. In the year that followed the release of Sugar & Spice, we received many emails from irate readers, and plenty of scathing reviews on Amazon. Some of them raised valid points, to which we responded and explained our position politely. Some were plainly from that section of society who’s toilet-goings always smell of perfume and who see through pink-tinted gels with stick on butterflies. Hey ho, you can’t please everyone right? Now, when a reader had a particular complaint about the writing or the characters (or even typos and formatting, which we happily corrected once we had sussed out this self-publishing malarky and were grateful to be informed of) or plot development, then we had to take the one and two starrers on the chin. But when we received downright abusive and personal (sometimes extremely libelous) attacks on us for even having dared to question the services, we drew the line. Amazon were very good at removing those reviews and of course, we sent strongly worded (ahem) email responses to those that included an address, but we always said the same thing: Really? Are you serious that this kind of thing doesn’t happen? Here’s but a few of the wildly ludicrous comments we got:
The characters are, for the most part, hateful caricatures. The two social workers who are trying to elicit information from the twin girls (won’t say anymore so as not to spoil) may as well wear witches hats and cackle. Making bets with each other over who can garner the most information and hating kids despite their profession is ridiculous.  Yes, the writing is fluid and the authors obviously have talent, but the story is marked by so many implausible events and characters that it became impossible for me to finish: police brutality so egregious it defies logic; social workers who are strangely inept and easily manipulated into bumbling fools; I had the feeling the author has an agenda with this story. The authorities come off looking bad in their jobs – the police jump to conclusions and force confessions from innocent suspects, Social Services workers are eager to find child abuse where there is none and adults discount the ideas of young people just because they ARE young. The story is full of cliches on the capabilities and self serving nature of therapists and social workers all the other characters are awful, and as a social worker myself I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I have seen many programs, films and newspaper articles that play up to the stereotypes but there is a complete disregard for the truth here. And i’m sure anyone who is a police officer or psychologist may have a thing or two to say about how they are portrayed!
Try googling social services abuse of powers or police brutality and then tell us this sort of thing doesn’t happen. All the portrayals in Sugar & Spice were based on real-life events. I could go on. I won’t. Over Amazon and other platforms, Sugar & Spice has been reviewed getting on close to 350 times. With a hit rate of 76% of 4 stars and above and a quickly-developed rhino hide we are not fazed anymore by poor reviews, but I needed to start this blog post in this vein to set the scene. Now I am not going to get into a huge moral debate about it. Mark and I have blogged enough about our reasons for writing Sugar & Spice and frankly, we are so over the one star review (genuine and contrived) thing now, that we are not defending ourselves any more. But I wanted to tell you about an email I received a few months ago.
Your book was a courageous write, very thought provoking, and stomach in mouth I sat down to read it on Monday of this week, I was finished by Thursday morning and full of so much more information and knowledge. I didn’t know what to expect from the book, but it was sensational, and although my child is sat in front of me healthy and alive, it doesn’t stop the fact that she has experienced something no child her age should ever have to face. Thank you Saffina for writing a book that opens peoples eyes to the sickening world that is alive around us, to a lot they will walk this earth and never have to experience anything, but for some of us the reality is all too clear.
Of course I responded and in the weeks that followed learned more about what had happened. And eventually the writer decided she’d like her story more widely known. For obvious reasons, with a child involved, I have changed names and omitted identifying detail. I’ll call the mother Cheryl here. Now, I could describe Cheryl to you in detail. Since I received her initial email, we have talked a lot and there are many things I could say about her, but, I will let you decide by telling her story in her own words.  I asked her to just let it spill out and she did so in an email which she agreed we could publish. This is it:
In April 2011, we were given our eviction notice by our Landlord, which was no shock as Simon, my partner is a tradesman and being in and out of work, can make things hard. Therefore, armed with my eviction notice I went to the council and spent until my eviction date 19th July arguing for them to house me. As I had no rent arrears, but also no work security they agreed… We spent the next four months in a one bedroom hostel. They had placed three single beds in the bedroom which didn’t leave any options for Simon and I to sleep as a couple or anywhere for Johnny (my youngest, who’s 3 in April) cot. I moved in to the lounge with Johnny and Simon shared the bedroom with the girl, far from appropriate but we had no choice. So by September, with Lily starting secondary school I was stressed beyond belief and Simon decided to visit his family in Shropshire, while I had a lazy weekend with Johnny, he took Amy and Lily went to stay at her dads. When they returned Amy had a dark cloud over her head, didn’t want to play out anymore, which i put down to the stress of the move. I did go in to school regarding her behavioural change but with a new teacher in September they didn’t know her enough to comment. So life went on and I booked a caravan in Norfolk to get away for a week. The Sunday before we went away for the October half term my life fell apart! I was going round to my parents as they had just returned from Florida and wanted to see the children. I stopped off at Waitrose to pick up some sausages and rolls and left the kids sat in the car. When i returned to the car Lily told me that Amy had something to tell me and that it wasn’t for her to tell me. Confused I started the car and began driving to my parents while arguing with the girls to tell me what was going on. I threatened to go home when Amy told me when she went to Shropshire last, Simon’s grandad had touched her bottom. Without thinking I told her that she shouldn’t say things like that as it can get people in to trouble. Not knowing what to do next i went round to my parents and quietly told my mum what Amy had said, i told her i couldn’t face asking anything more so my mum took Amy off to ask her. I sat there for what seemed like forever before she came down and confirmed Amy had been sexually assaulted! Just turned 7, my little girl had experienced the worst! I excused myself and ran out the house in bits… I drove to tell Simon while he was playing Sunday League Football, as i couldn’t deal with it at home. Simon went quiet and drove off! I picked the children up and took them to my friends, while we waited for Simon to return and we agreed the following morning i would go to the police and report Simon’s grandad for sexually assaulting Amy.  Monday morning with the car packed for holiday i drove to the Station, rehearsing the whole way what i was going to say. That all went out the window as the kind looking police officer asked me how he could help… After logging all the details i left to take the children on holiday. I can never even begin to explain in a short email the emotional turmoil that i went through the following week, or months that followed. On the Friday of our return a CPU Officer came to see the children and decided that a video interview was needed by both girls. At 8pm the children started there interviews. Three weeks later we were finally given the keys to a new house, while we waited for details on the case. A week later Simon lost his job and money became tight. I started to call around to try and find help for Amy. Social Services told me that they couldn’t help me as they are for vulnerable children, and as she wasn’t a child at risk they wasn’t interested in helping. Next i rang the counselling services around my home town, who told me £35 per week (not easy when you haven’t got). Barnardo’s rang around various sections of their charity, but as we didn’t fall under any of their catchment areas, no one could help. The school contacted CAMHS and i waited. Two weeks before christmas i received a letter from CAMHS to say that they were not going to help. I fell apart and went to my doctors to speak to the Practice Manager as I had no where else to turn. They sent me home and made calls on my behalf. An hour later Amy had an appointment for an assessment with CAMHS 2 days before christmas. In the meantime, the case had been passed to local police as it had happened in their jurisdiction. A lady called to introduce herself and would contact me again as soon as she had any further news as to when Simon’s grandad would be arrested. When the CPU officer called me back with the details of his bail, she informed me she had also let Amy’s biological father have all the details of the case as his girlfriend had called and asked for them. Well i was in bits. Amy’s dad has not seen her for 2 years after choosing his new family over her, he was not on the birth certificate as he had only been in her life since she was 2 and to make things worse he had no parental responsibility, and someone somewhere had leaked this truly confidential information to someone Amy doesn’t want anything to do with, her choice! Needless to say that a complaint was logged (I have letters to prove all of the failure in confidentiality policies etc) my last correspondence with the officer involved was by recorded delivery, yet if this goes to Court she is someone i am meant to rely on, hence why i said your portrayal of CPU wasn’t far from the truth! Amy was assessed two days before christmas and a letter followed in the New Year stating that she needed Counselling but due to the service being over subscribed Amy would have to wait until May! While all this has been going on i wondered why Simon was dealing so well with all this, considering his grandad and grandmother had brought him up and he lived with them when i met him! Well he hadn’t been dealing with any of it! He had started gambling, when he lost his job he had been gambling a little, but when all this happened he couldn’t deal with not having money and decided to fund his gambling other ways! On 25th January Simon was arrested outside my house for dwelling burglary. I knew nothing about the gambling, the stealing, I had certainly not benefited from any of it, as i had no money, some weeks i was struggling to pay for petrol to get Johnny to preschool… He had been stealing from my parents! £3000… he got probation for a year, 80 hours community service and a supervision order, which basically means he has to get counselling… To say my life has fallen apart recently is an understatement. I am a very private person who lives like a hermit crab lol, but i feel pained by the fact no one is there to help my daughter, even Simon is on his 3rd week of counselling and now on medication for his bipolar! I have lost family on the way, choosing between Simon and my family was the hardest thing i have ever had to do, and is still not without heart ache. Some people criticise me but my true friends are still there, not judging me! At the end of the day i have not stolen anything, or hurt anyone, I am merely trying to keep my family together and resume life as best i can Sounds like such a sob story, but unfortunately this is my life at the moment. Dire, but i am still smiling, reading, cooking and looking after my little angels.
Well, I don’t think I need to add much to that do I? Nor do I have to use the words brave, courageous or TOTALLY let down by a system that is there to protect and serve. Cheryl is attempting to put the pieces of her life back together and it appears, doing it alone. I am sure you will join me in wishing her the best of luck. We will be donating some funds over the next few months to enable her to buy little Amy and the other children a dog. Cheryl feels that having something to focus on and trust in again will help Amy get some of her confidence back. It is astonishing in this day and age that convicted sex offenders, drug users, rapists and murderers have access to all kinds of therapy and rehabilitation and yet the most helpless and vulnerable do not. I say again, Sugar & Spice is a work of fiction, the portrayal of the characters exaggerated for the purpose of the story. We whole-heartedly believe that MOST people working for the police and social services are doing a brilliant job, with limited resources. But having read Cheryl’s tale, sadly, it is sometimes the fact that not every story is fiction. Saffi UPDATE: 21ST APRIL 2012: After meeting up with Cheryl (obviously not her real name, but she will see the irony of this when she stops talking for a moment and realises how significant this is) in London (baby), we have had a few phone call chats since. Much to my horror, her story WAS all too real, but even more so now that I have put a real person to the name. She is no longer a reader with a story, she is a friend with a story. Here is the latest interlude, much to my disgust. BUT, I print it exactly as she wrote it, as she asked me to: Broken Britain? Broken World...
“ Finally went to court this week to dispute access over Amy with her father. She doesn’t like the man, doesn’t want to see him, and he has not bothered with her for 2 years yet he is ready to put her through extra stress for pure selfishness and i don’t even know why else. I know some people will judge me, as its another father kept away from his child, but he left when i was 3 months pregnant and i never heard from him again until Amy was 10 days old, he then was in and out of her life until she was 2. At the age of 2 he was told he either saw her regularly or i would cut all contact. To cut a long story short he was violent in front of all my children and Amy never wanted to see him again!
So off i went to court to fight my daughters corner... i walked in to a waiting room with about 15 chairs and had to sit in the same room as him and his partner as both solicitors tried to settle out of the court room... considering Amy's counselling still does not start until next week, i am not prepared for even in-direct contact, as Amy has pleaded with me not to make her go again.... so 4 hours later and 2 appearances in court, the judge sides with me and agrees that for the next 2 and a half months, no contact of any form was to take place. So i drive home to share the news.
I walk in and find Simon on the phone, after 6 long months he has work again, things are going so great... i start flicking through the bundle of mail in my hand and thats when i find it... ‘while you were out we tried to deliver a recorded letter’... my heart sunk... Since i placed my complaint with the police i have been stonewalled... every letter about the sexual assault case have come via recorded delivery, much to my disgust... but i thought they would have had the decency to have picked up the phone to call me, or to send round an officer to tell me the CPS’ verdict... but no... The Royal Mail card says i cannot pick up the recorded delivery letter until the following morning, how could they, i could feel in my stomach it wasn’t right. I asked Simon to call his mum and see if they knew the outcome of the CPS. I look on as he calls his mum and hear one half of the story and them words... “not enough realistic evidence to secure a conviction... case dropped”
The room felt like it was closing in on me, i could feel the tears burning my eyes... i made an excuse to go upstairs and locked myself in my bedroom... i couldn’t even cry to start with... why? does a child need to be raped for enough realistic evidence? Jeez she is 7 what realistic evidence did they want? She came to us within a month of him assaulting her... of him touching her inappropriately, to which she knew was wrong and instead of actually acting on this, he obviously didn’t do enough the first time... Even writing this now i feel sick and numb, i wont be telling her that he hasn’t gone to prison, she doesn’t need to know. One day if she asks i will show her the letter where it says that Amy was believed... the rest i will never be able to answer for her.
The NSPCC announced a month ago that 9 out of 10 paedophiles are not convicted and that they were going to begin a programme going in to schools to teach children to speak out about abuse... what is the point? they get away with it... you have to fight to get your child help and in the meantime your whole lives fall apart! I would like to say that i can start rebuilding my life, but while i have her sperm donor breathing down my neck, i don’t think i can start rebuilding my life as there is still uncertainty as to how Amy will be affected with starting up a relationship she has never wanted! How far do we go to protect our children. She is 8 soon, but that is still 4 years too young in a court of law to tell a judge what she does and doesn’t want... maybe people should start waking up and listening to the young... maybe then we wont be Broken Britain.”
Wow, nothing more to say eh? Except, if it means anything to you and your family, Cheryl, you have the support of the nation AND you have new friends that believe you. xx

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03
Mar 2012
You can imagine the conversation Mark and I had when I told him that I had never read any Sherlock, right? Needless to say, the electronic airwaves where bluer than the carbuncle in this short story! Now for those of you who are also ignorant as to what a carbuncle is (sounds like something you would have on the end of your nose to me!) then you can find a 'sort of' explanation here and I was right, generally it is something you find on the end of your nose, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle referred to something else in his original text for 'The Adventure of the blue carbuncle', one of 56 short stories written by the man who created Britain's best-loved detective. So what am I doing a blog post on Sherlock for? Well, here's the thing - since watching the first BBC adaptation, I, like everyone else, fell in love with Sherlock Holmes. The second thing is: the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are now public domain. Now, the character of Sherlock has come a long way since SACD originally dreamt him up and the BBC recruited the mesmerising Benedict Cumberbatch to breathe new life into him; Sherlock, once again, slithered and sleuthed his way into the hearts and minds of the public, with a little help from Stephen Moffat & Mark Gatiss, I might add. Before... After... So, you still want to know what this has to do with yours truly, am I right? Okay, okay, I'll tell you. Mark and I both agreed that seeing as kids had probably watched and loved the new Sherlock, that it'd be only right and proper that they should be exposed to the books again, but, there was an issue. Sherlock isn't for kids. Sure, for the most part, the stories are acceptable, but in many, especially the shorts, there are references of an adult nature. Drugs (as they were then), prostitution and violence can sometimes be found, so we came up with a plan. "What about we re-write Sherlock for kids?" I ask Mark. At the same time, my inbox announces that I have a new email. "''ere, Saff, how about we have a bash at re-writing Sherlock for kids?" So that is what we have done. Sherlock with all the good bits and none of the bad. Good, clean fun for children. Elementary my dear reader. Speaking of that, don'tcha just love Martin Freeman as Watson in the BBC version? He is awesome! Rumour has it today that the US are re-making a version of the program for American TV and in true States style, have cast Watson as a girl! Lucy Lui will play Joan Watson in the CBS version. Of course, let's not also forget the brilliant Robert Downey Jnr in the Hollywood blockbuster version, also awesome, but without, I have to say, the charm that only British television manages to conjure up. So, suffice to say, Sherlock is pretty much on everyone's lips at the moment and we hope to bring it back into the lives of the young in a good way. 'Saffi does Sherlock' will be a long-running illustrated series of books covering all the short stories of SACD. The first, The Blue Carbuncle is live on Amazon now and will be available on other platforms shortly. Cover and illustrations by our fabulous resident MWiDP designer Athanasios. Check him out here. Get it here:

Amazon UK

Amazon.com

Amazon France

Amazon Germany

We are thrilled to be able to bring these tales to a Kindle. iPhone, iPad or ereader near you or your young ones and we hope you enjoy them! Look out for Silver Blaze in April and The Lion's Mane to follow that. So, despite my earlier faux pas, Saffi really does do Sherlock now! ;-)
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10
Feb 2012
Now those of you that follow this blog will know that I don't normally do this. I am not one for bleating on about "how to" and "what you can learn from a best-selling writer"... etc etc. There are two reasons for this: 1. I am no expert and am still learning every day. 2. The writing/publishing universe is FULL of self-righteous blog posts, tweets, books and pages of this ilk. I mean, let's face it, if I had all the answers, I wouldn't be blogging about it now would I? So you'll be pleased to know that today will be no different. This isn't a blog about guaranteeing you overnight success as a writer or publisher. If that's what you want, then please (I mean, seriously, please) look elsewhere. No, this is a blog post about how we can learn from one of THE most successful singer/songwriter/performer/actor/writer/movie producer/director/record label owner/fund raiser/fashion designer and style icons of the last quarter of a century. Oh and did I mention singer? Yep, the Queen of pop (how long ago was she given THAT crown) herself, the mother of re-invention and bouncebackability, Madge/Madonna/God.  So who's that then? I hear you cry? Why, when we are talking about a woman who is now worth a reputed $320 million (yeah, and the rest!) have I stuck a picture of some random nobody in this blog post? Erm, nope, that IS Madonna. Albeit about 35 years ago, but it is her. Ok, if you look again, you can tell it's her, but you get my point. Today, tickets to her latest and NINTH world tour go on sale to the general public. Let's see how long it takes for them to sell out shall we? I wonder how many pre-orders for MDNA, the new album have been taken already? How many people watched the Super Bowl half-time show? Can I be a dollar behind the t-shirt sales income when she goes on tour? Can I? Please? I tell you what, scratch all that, just gimme one tiny molecule of MDNA. Just one little, microscopic strand of it to replicate. I am sure that if there was a way to bottle it up or sell it as an implant, she'd have found it, being the business-genius that she is, but unfortunately, for the rest of us mere mortals, all we can do is learn from her; learn from the best. Now, I am not suggesting that you should all fall in love with her and start ripping the bottoms off your tights and blasting your under-arms with upturned hand dryers in train station toilets, that would just be downright silly (come on, admit it. How many girls of the eighties went through the 'dressing-like-Madonna-in-desperately-seeking-susan-phase'?) but what I am saying is: follow her lead. Let's take a look at what I am talking about: I am gonna start backwards here... Her new film, W.E. was released a couple of weeks ago so there were TV show interviews, appearances at the awards, magazine covers and articles and general, all-round red carpet treatment hype, but Madge had been at it WAY before that promoting it. She began hitting the film festivals as far back as this time last year, selling the concept and basically flogging the rights to the highest bidder. And why not? Madonna had spent three years of her life on this project. She co-wrote it, she directed it and oh yeah, guess who produced it? You got it, Madonna's OWN film company, Semtex Films.  It promises to be one of her greatest (movie-related) achievements so far. Aside from Evita, I think Madonna realised a long time ago that she would never win an Oscar for her acting, so what did she do? She went the other side of the camera. She knew that any film she was involved in would do m0derately well anyway, so she used her BRAND. Not a bad move eh? and great if you have the money to back it up. W.E. won numerous accolades at the recent award ceremonies for music and costume design. It looks like a great film and it's fair to say, she won't be out of pocket for it. It won't have done her reputation any harm either. But what else did it do? Hmmn, let's see. IT PUT HER BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT. OK, she is never too far away from it, she makes sure of that, but musically, she hasn't done a great deal just recently. Her last studio album was 'Hard Candy', waaay back in 2008. 'Celebration' (a  greatest hits compilation) followed for 2009 and there was the 'Sticky & Sweet Tour' afterwards, but as for releasing a new single, she'd been pretty silent on that front for a looooong time. Now everyone knows that she can release anything she likes, when she likes and people will buy it. She has a HUGE and die-hard fan base, but what about the younger generation of wannabees? A world tour is no mean feat and you can't just rely on your fans from 20 years ago. There's a new sound now, her style of pop isn't mainstream anymore. I mean, hell, some of the kids/young adults buying music now probably haven't even heard of her. So what does she do? Well, she does this... http://youtu.be/s0euJ58Zbpo Talk about a comeback! Hmmn, how do I get the worlds' attention the day I announce my new tour? I know, I'll hijack the half-time performance at one of the biggest sporting events EVER and drag along some of today's most well-known stars to support me, who, everyone recognises. Enter Nicki Minaj, Cee-lo Green and M.I.A. Genius. Talk about working social media to its fullest advantage. Not only was everyone talking about Madonna, but every time someone mentioned one of the other stars or their performance, guess who else got a shout-out?  In fact, why not go the whole hog and get Ms. Minaj to feature on my new single? Hell, let's get her to sing about me on it too. L-U-V Madonna Y-O-U You wanna I see you coming and I don't wanna know your name L-U-V Madonna I see you coming and you're gonna have to change the game Y-O-U You wanna Would you like to try? Give me a reason why Give me all that you got Maybe you'll do fine As long as you don't lie to me And pretend to be what you're not I don't care whether you love her or hate her. You cannot deny how jaw-droppingly awesome that was. So, all of a sudden, Madonna has re-invented herself - again. It is what has kept her career alive and people talking about her for the past quarter of a century. It is why today will be CRAZY with people trying to get tickets for the MDNA World tour. It is why the pretenders to her throne come and go like unfunny court jesters, only to be wafted away with a barely-noticeable wiggle of those bony fingers. MADONNA is a business woman. She isn't a singer or a song-writer. She's not a film producer or actress, she isn't even an author (in case you were wondering where this blog post is going, I know I am!), although she has written a series of great children's' books, no, she is an entrepeneur. THAT is my point. (phew, I hear you cry! We got there in the end). What's her secret formula? Her unique (M) DNA structure? SHE GIVES THE PUBLIC WHAT THEY WANT. She isn't bound by genre. She can write and record what she likes. Just check out her back catalogue. She sees someone she thinks has potential in the music industry. What does she do? Beg the gatekeepers to give them a listen? Nope, she sets up her own record label. Maverick records signed Alanis Morrissette and The Prodigy. 'nuff said. When she first stepped onto the New York gold-paved streets at the age of 19 with $36 in her pocket, she couldn't get anyone to take her seriously. What did she do? She learned the drums and formed her own band. The rest, as they say, is musical history. As writers (and digital publishers) today, in this current climate, it is no longer enough to scribble down 75,000 words and sit back, Patterson-esque style, whilst thousands of readers clamber to buy your books. Hello? News flash! You have to work hard. Damn hard. This is what we're doing. We're building a brand. We could have sat back in May 2011 when Sugar & Spice was selling 950 copies a day and riding high at #2 in the UK Kindle charts and plodded along with another book. We didn't. Sugar & Spice has sold over 125,000 copies and is still selling 1000's a month. It is no secret that we now have our own publishing company. MWiDP.com will be up and running in the late spring (it is live now in beta/development phase), as will our new digital bookstore, with a stable of over 35 new writers offering over 100 titles to EVERYONE, ANYWHERE in the world. We have just released our second short story anthology, Saffina Desforges presents...The Kindle coffee-break collection Vol 2. Number 3 is coming very soon, as is #4.  We also (kinda, ahem) admit to endorsing and writing the intro to a new erotica anthology, Aphrodysia Vol 1, plus a title from hot new erotica writer, Aphrodite's Lover Ok, it may not be everyone's (or our current readers') cup of tea, but there is a market out there for it and we're business people right? After all, there's a link to OUR books on their sites and in their books, sharing the love, right? ;-) Hopefully, Rapunzel will be out late spring and we are working on LOTS of other projects. We are building a brand. Granted, Saffina Desforges may not bring up as many hits as Her Madgesty does when you pop it into Google (other generic search engines are available) but you can bet your life you'll have to scroll through a good many pages before you hit stories about Saffy from Ab fab! (In fact, to my amazement, whilst checking the facts & writing this blog, the page count is 41 and SD returned 71,300 hits!) So you get my drift. Writing today is a business, not a craft and if I have learned one thing from Madonna, my life-long idol and inspiration, it is this:
No one knows you better than you know yourself, Do the thing you want don't wait for someone else.
So that's exactly what we're doing. We're writing what we like, what we think readers want to read. We're helping other writers make it too. We're sharing our experiences and building that 'cloud partnership' that Mark Williams (my co-writer and business partner) is always going on about, we are building our empire (ok, maybe empire is a tad optimistic, but ya hear me right?) and we're getting as many books out there that link back to us as possible. A year ago, if someone told me that I would be a business-woman and that I would have tax returns to look forward to, I'd have swirled my index finger around in the air at my temple and smiled politely at them. Today, I am desperately scrambling around for the receipts for my accountant - and it's all thanks to you, Madge. ;-) Maybe a tiny little bit of your Madgerochondrial  Deoxyribonucleic acid did fall my way after all. Now excuse me whilst I go and join the other many millions or so plebs around the world currently stuck in cyber-traffic trying to get their hands on a golden ticket for your show. I know my place. Saffi PS. UPDATE: As we go to press (ooh, check me out!) I found this link. It puts Sugar & Spice as the 11th top selling ebook of 2011! How cool. Made my day. Not bad for a debut novel that agents were too scared to rep ;-)  Have a great weekend. Related articles
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20
Jan 2012

Pay It Forward. How often do we hear that in the world of indie publishing? It has become the mantra of the indie movement, to the point where recently some bloggers were actually arguing over who thought of it first! The mind boggles. In fact the concept has been about since forever. It was in use by the Greek dramatist Menander in 317BC, and the first recorded example in the US was Benjamin Franklin, who lent money to someone and asked them not to repay Franklin but to instead lend that money to another person in need. Similar sentiments were later echoed by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The actual term was in use from the early part of the twentieth century, and became popularised by Robert A. Heinlein's sci-fi classic Between Planets. But of course the phrase took on a life of its own after Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel Pay It Forward was published in 1999. The film quickly followed. A movement was born. A decade on and the Pay It Forward movement is still going strong, guided by the Pay It Forward Foundation Catherine founded. What does this have to do with MWiDP? Bear with me. There are two big announcements from MWiDP today. ~ First, some background for the many newer visitors here. When we slipped our debut novel Sugar & Spice into the murky waters of the Amazon ocean fifteen months ago it was, more than anything else, an act of defiance against the gatekeepers. Not so much desperation as sheer frustration. There was no carefully thought out marketing plan. No launch party. No blogs. No tweets. It was whole new world, and one we knew next to nothing about. Ebooks were still in their infancy, Kindle UK was about to experience its very first Christmas, and we just sat back and hoped someone might buy our unknown and unloved book. Of course, no-one did. This time last year we had sold nothing. And we were still querying. It seemed our best bet at the time. And maybe, at the time, it was. And then around February / March we got the serious interest of an agent. A real-life literary agent wanted our book! By then it was just starting to sell a few copies on Amazon, but the agent wasn’t interested in that. She liked the book, but ebooks were just a fad. So the agent took our book under exclusive review, and we sat and hoped. Three months passed. When she finally got back to us with her decision she wanted us to take down the ebook so she could approach publishers. That was a close call. If she’d got back to us sooner we might well have fallen for it. Trouble was, in that three months she had sat on our novel we had somehow sold thirty thousand books. Ebooks a fad? Clearly this was an agent who had no future. And, we realised, querying had no future either. A month on and we had sold fifty thousand and were the second biggest-selling ebook in the country. The agents started to query us! Again it was a close call. Big promises, tempting "unofficial" offers, but accompanied by draconian contract conditions. We stayed indie. Regrets? You’ve got to be kidding! That same book went on to sell another fifty thousand before it began to wind down on Amazon (not helped by the infamous three week disappearance!). And by then we were riding high in Waterstone’s, the UK’s equivalent of B&N. Meanwhile we had brought out another book, got on with some other writing projects, and began to look at the bigger picture. MWiDP was born. Little could we have imagined that, just months later, we'd have one of the biggest names in modern English literature sign with us. ~ The big news this week, of course, is the announcement, first made on Anne R. Allen’s blog on Sunday, that Anne and NYT best-selling author of Pay It Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde turned their back on the trad publishers in favour of joining forces with MWiDP. In Anne’s own words:
The book I’ve been writing with Catherine Ryan Hyde, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE—and keep your E-sanity! will be published by Mark Williams international in June of 2012. The book will be available as an ebook that will include free six-month updates. AND it will also be available in paper in both a US and UK edition.

We’ve had some interest from more traditional publishers, but decided to go with the innovative people at MWiDP because we need a nimble publisher who can keep up with industry changes and offer timely updates. Also, Catherine has a large international fan base, which made “Mr. International’s” offer especially attractive.

The fab cover is the working design, courtesy of our designer in residence Athanasios.

How To Write in the E-Age and Keep Your E-Sanity will be the first of many books under our non-fiction / education imprint Writers Without Frontiers, aimed at fellow authors, at whatever stage of their career they are at.

As well as more books for this imprint we’ll also be teaming up with other industry professionals to bring online writing courses and other resources to help the growing number of people worldwide who want to realize their dreams of being a writer.

And just to add there will be a prize draw in June to mark the launch of How to be a Writer in the E-Age. And not just any old prize. We’re talking a first edition of the zillion-selling Pay It Forward, signed by Catherine Ryan Hide herself! ~

Yep, I had to read it twice too. Catherine Ryan Hyde is now an MWiDP author! Writers Without Frontiers is just one of several imprints that will see MWiDP expand rapidly in 2012. Our YA imprint will launch this spring, commencing with the long-awaited St. Mallory’s series, and though it's not official yet we may well have another fantastic YA title going live with it. More on that in the near future. We have some great titles pending for our Exotica imprint, all about travel and stories set in distant lands. And for those so inclined we have also launched our mature-audience imprint, Aphrodysia, with the first book due out for St. Valentine’s Day.

Those not so inclined will be pleased to know covers and content will not be appearing alongside the other books, unlike on Amazon where some seriously disturbing covers are prone to pop up alongside MG titles. Several other imprint ideas are being developed, which we’ll bring news of all as and when. ~ Enhanced ebooks are of course high on our agenda to progress, and we’ll be making some announcements on this in the next few months. We have some trial projects under way, but won’t give details until we have a clearer picture. We also have plans for audio books, and are currently examining ways in which this can work in the new indie publishing world. More on this in coming weeks. In the very near future we’ll be moving into print-on-demand publishing for some of our titles. While there can be no doubt the days of bricks and mortar stores are numbered, there will be a small but significant market for print for the foreseeable future, and as POD technology improves and prices drop, POD will become the only real alternative to ebooks. Meanwhile our tech team Elizabeth (she may only be one person, but she does the work of many!) has been hard at it behind the scenes with the new websites and the ebook store. All now very close to completion. Take a sneak peak at www.mwidp.com. ~ The ebook store, indiebooksunited, is hardly going to challenge Amazon’s supremacy, of course, so important to remind ourselves why we felt it necessary at all. I asked an author recently if they would be interested in the ebook store and they answered, “Why? I’m selling through Amazon.” I put it to him he might sell even more if he was in other stores. He answered, “But I don’t need to be. I’ve ticked world rights. I’m available everywhere.” I tried not to laugh. For anyone who missed it, do check out the MWi post Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Aakash  which explains how Amazon either blocks downloads or surcharges buyers across much of the world.

Above is a screen shot of what I see when I try to buy one of your books. Check out the green box at top right. (You may need to click on the image to enlarge.) Check out the MWi post referred to above for real numbers about just how many potential buyers cannot buy your ebook from Amazon. There’s also this strange idea that someone who has bought a Kobo ereader, or a Sony or an iRiver, or myriad other alternatives to the Kindle, is somehow going to make Amazon their first stop for ebooks. Yeah, right. Just like us Kindle users always go shopping in B&N and Diesel... ~ The recent introduction of KDP Select has raised the issue of exclusivity once again. Leaving aside the good or bad aspects of KDP Select itself, let us briefly ponder exclusivity. If we had chosen only to list with Amazon last year would we have sold as many books? Unequivocally no. Of course we are on Apple, Kobo and B&N too. Kobo is a rising star, as I’ve said many times here on MWi. Just this week Kobo announced plans for expansion to ten new countries, including Japan and Brazil, just as the Amazon's Japan plans have stalled.

Kobo has also partnered with WH Smiths, one of the leading UK retail stores. Kobo is the place to be in 2012-15. If you’re not on Kobo, or are on Kobo through Smashwords and seeing no results, then be sure to check out the announcement at the end of this post. But Amazon, B&N, Apple and Kobo are not the be all and end all of ebook vendors, and only form part of our income. In the latter part of 2011, long after the Amazon star had waned, we had two top ten hits simultaneously in Waterstone’s, the UK’s equivalent of B&N. We held the number two spot, kept off #1 only by the Steve Jobs biography, and for a long while the Saffina Desforges brand was the most searched for name in the store.

But we weren’t just selling there. Britain’s biggest retailer by far is the supermarket giant Tesco. It has its own e-book store.

Guess what? We’re in it.

Foyles? Yep, you’ll find us there.

Books, etc? Yeah, we’re there too.

Pickabook? Of course.

ACCO in Belgium? We used our 'leetle grey cells'!

Selexyz in the Netherlands? We love the Dutch!

Fishpond down in New Zealand? Say hi down under!

Kalahari in South Africa? Of course!

I could go on. Our books will soon be appearing in Textr in Germany, Asia Books in Thailand, Eason’s in Ireland, Buscalibros in Chile, etc, etc. I’m not called Mr International for nothing! There’s a whole world out there that could be reading your ebooks, if only they had the chance. True, the sales aren’t earth-shattering. But a sale is a sale, and that reader may tell a friend who tells a friend... And sometimes it can be good to be a big fish in a small pond, as we found with Waterstone’s. Next time it could be you. But not if you’re not listed there.

Of course the problem is these stores aren’t indie friendly. Just the opposite. They make it almost impossible to get in. ISBNs are required pretty much everywhere except Amazon and B&N. That includes Apple and Kobo, which is why most people go through Smashwords. But Smashwords won’t get you into Waterstone’s or Foyles, Fishpond or Kalahari. And apart from ISBNs there are a ton of other conditions to meet and hoops to jump through too, before these companies will even think of listing your title. For example Waterstone's insist you are a VAT-registered company to set up an account.  For the US readers that means having an annual turnover of about $100k. Then you face the nightmare of keeping track, receiving payments, etc. It’s not easy. Which brings us to the second big announcement of the day: MWiDP can now offer your titles direct listings to these stores, and also Apple and Kobo. We’ll be contacting you all shortly with further details. For anyone not currently with us who wants to know more, just drop me an email. We hope to start uploading to Waterstone’s by the end of this month, and just in case you’re wondering how anyone will find you there, we’re delighted to tell you we have advanced promotion in hand. We own the domain name www.welovewaterstones.com and will be launching a big awareness campaign within the UK this spring aimed at bringing attention to your titles.

Oh, and did I mention we accidentally bought the domain names welovekoboebooks, welovetescoebooks, welovefishpondebooks and welovekalahariebooks too? :-)

So, even though it may have seemed nothing much was happening, we have been busy behind the scenes. I’ll be elaborating on the various projects in more detail over the coming weeks here on MWi. I’ll also be introducing the Book Theatre project to find narrators for audio books for your novels, and the Translator’s Co-op project to bring together a pool of novel translators worldwide to help get your books selling not just in the international stores, but in the local languages. The trad publishers will tell you writers still need them because they can get you places you can’t get on your own. They have a point. Once you step outside the Amazon bubble being indie isn’t easy. But with MWiDP you’re not on your own.  Many of our authors are already busy exchanging ideas and services. It's all part of the cloud. With MWiDP you get all the benefits of being indie but a lot less DIY. Saffi & Mark
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04
Jan 2012
We were thrilled to find out today that 'Sugar & Spice' won a Red Adept Reviews indie award in the MYSTERY category for 2011. How cool is that? We have lots more exciting news regarding 'Sugar & Spice' to come shortly, plus the new indiebooksunited.com bookstore, as well as some brilliant opportunities for our fab writers at MWiDP, so watch this space! If the first few days of 2012 are anything to go by, it's going to be a great year! Happy New Year everyone! It is so far! ;-) Saffi
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About SD

Saffina Desforges is an international best-seller writer.

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