Tom Barry Writes

Author of "Saving Jay" & "When the Siren Calls"

Chicken Soup for Writers

acbIs nothing sacred? Type into google “who said ‘always have a sun tan’” and the first entry on the page will quote me. It’s true I said it, but I wasn’t the first.  And I have forgotten the name of the Hollywood actor who really did say it long before me, but I still remember his curiously orange face. So my congratulations to whoever first described Celebrity Authors’ Secrets as “Chicken Soup for Writers”, it’s a great hook and an apt tag line for this unique collection of author secrets.

In any walk of life it seems there are successful people who have their sure fire tip for being successful, (my own personal favourite ‘be nice to your boss’, which is why I try and keep my wife happy.) So, anyway, you can now imagine why I was fascinated to read Stephanie Hale’s book about celebrity authors and what makes them successful. And we do indeed learn from Ms Hale that authors are no different, they all have an anecdote to share about the secret to their success.  But if there are any aspiring authors out there looking for a silver bullet, be warned, the consistent message from this book is that the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary (I’m not the first person to say that but as soon as I’ve finished this post I’m going on google and…)

While people will buy a book because a famous author wrote it, all the famous authors in this book have had to do the heavy lifting to reach their summit. Take Jeffrey Archer for example. From modest beginnings and despite not taking up a pen till his mid-thirties, he’s sold more than 270 million books in 97 countries and 37 languages (we learn from Hale’s book). He is phenomenally disciplined, rises early, and writes every day.

But hard work alone doesn’t make you successful, which is why my father’s will was not eagerly anticipated. And as I sometimes say to the know it all’s that cross my path with unsolicited advice, “if you’re so smart, why aren’t  you rich?” (like Jeffrey Archer.)

So, the secret to celebrity authors is working hard and doing something smart, or lots of things smart, until you’re so rich and successful like Jeffrey that you can pay other people to do all the smart things you cant be bothered to get off your butt to do yourself. Here’s seven insightful and inspiring celebrity author snippets you’ll learn from reading this book:

  • Writing a book is only half the work, next you must get it out to the world
  • If one is ever to copy anything – then copy success
  • I sit and think: who is this person and why are they interesting enough to be written about
  • I put myself in the position of the narrator or the hero
  • When the reader gets to the end of a chapter, they have to curse you
  • Non-fiction is an enthusiastic conversation on paper
  • Keep working until you get a book everybody wants to give to their friends

So, what do you get here? Through the medium of author interviews, the book looks at all stages of the process, starting prior to inspiration, through the ordeal of the first draft, from there to polishing it for publisher and public, until one’s work has the shine of an engagement ring. But that’s just the start: the book also provides a string of invaluable and practical tips on the best use of bookshops, social media, radio, and TV to drive sales forward. In short it is a primer not only on how to radically improve one’s success, but also how to transform the painful bits of writing into a joy.

This book should be essential reading for anyone interested in becoming a storyteller (as Archer points out, there are many great writers out there, but few great storytellers), and also to anyone interested in why writers write.

The secret of how to memorize 5000 Spanish words in 5 minutes


Sex, secrets and lies on the dark side of the Mexico border

Anyone can learn 5000 commonly spoken Spanish words quickly and easily. In 5 minutes in fact. And this little post will share the secret. Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world. If, like me, you’ve tried and failed in the past to gain fluency in another language, it may be because you worked using traditional methods. What if there were an easier way?

Don’t get me wrong here. There are no shortcuts to fluency, whatever all those enticing language school promises might say. Learning a language is a lifetime journey, just as we continue to learn our mother tongue every day. But fluency and getting by are different skills, and here I’m talking about getting by.

First, ask yourself how many words in your native language do you actually know? Depending on our education level, it may be as little as 5000. Some know many times that number of course, but rarely come across and seldom use the vast majority of the words they know. Believe me, a vocabulary of 5000 words is more than enough for the average person to get through the average day. In fact we only need to know about 2500 words to communicate effectively in a wide range of social and practical situations. If I spend a day with my wife I may speak less than  100 words from dawn to dusk. “I was wrong” being the three most often spoken words used by me that day. Take a thick quality daily newspaper. How many different words are there in your quality daily newspaper? I’m talking quality newspaper, not trashy tabloid. I’m told a quality newspaper typically contains less than 600 different words. And in this blog I’m promising a secret to learn and memorise 5000 words in 5 minutes!

Enough preamble, let’s get to the meat. But first, trust yourself, you already know or can instantly recognise hundreds of Spanish words, either because they have been incorporated into the English language, like ‘Fiesta,’ or because you’ve been to the movies and seen the ‘gringo’ being shot by a ‘hombre’ in a ‘poncho’, smoking a ‘cigarillo’, under a ‘sombrero.’ In fact, if you’re still with me, you’re well on the way to discovering the secret for yourself. And the secret is that there are over 10,000 English words that are almost identical in their Spanish form, and many that are 100% identical. (I know you can’t have 99% identical, but this is not an English class here).

It’s all about understanding the language patterns. For example, once we know that ‘nation’ is spelt ‘nacion’ in Spanish, and the ‘c’ is pronounced like ‘th’, then we’re cooking with gas. (Don’t you love cliches?). Extrapolate from this knowledge the following: Almost any word you can think of in English – and there’s thousands of them – that ends in ‘ion’, like celebration or imitation, is going to follow the same pattern as ‘nation’ in its Spanish equivalent. There you have it. Now you can already recognise (and pronounce), thousands of Spanish words.

But it gets better. ‘Nation’, is just the tip of the sombrero. There are dozens of other patterns that work the same way. For example, any English words ending in ‘ive’ will usually end ‘ivo’ in Spanish (so now you’ll immediately recognise ‘positivo’ and ‘constructivo’ and ‘incisivo’). We’re on a roll here.  Any English word ending in ‘ic’ is likely to be the same in Spanish but with an ‘ico’ ending. So we can now translate critic and diabetic and frenetic  and hundreds of similar English words into Spanish. Still with me? Fantastico! And once we’ve got the basics, we can go on and work out more tricky customers, such as words in English that end in ‘ty’, like celebrity, that will likely end ‘dad’ in Spanish, which gives us ‘celebridad’. And when you get really good at this, you get to guess words that are variations on the pattern, e.g you’ll guess ‘ciudad’ is ‘city’ because your new language processor will recognise the ‘dad’ as ‘ty’.

I could go on with this, write a book on it, and make lots of money with a chapter for each pattern, but life is too short, or la vida es corta, as they say in Mexico. So the question is, if we can now recognise thousands of Spanish words, why can’t we understand a damn word we hear of spoken Spanish? We struggle even when the word is spelt exactly the same in both languages, like ‘virus’, or almost the same, like ‘terible’ (i’ll trust you to figure that last one out, and when you do you’ll be able to figure out another thousand Spanish words that end in ‘ble” !!!). Think what a diferencia that could make to your abilidad to get by in Spanish.

Well, the understanding problem is about tuning our ear to Spanish pronunciation. And that is something we can learn easily too. Once we know that Spanish typically stresses the syllable before last, and that the “i’ in virus is pronounced more like an ‘e’ in English, we have a good chance of recognising “virus” when the ‘nina’  or ‘nino’ at the bar asks us “tienes virus sexual?” Answer that one with ‘si’ and it will be a short ‘conversacion‘.

Now how do I know all this fascinating stuff or, more to the point, why have I troubled my butt to learn it? Well, in real life from Florida to California and all along  the America-Mexico border native Spanish speakers, and there’s tens of millions of them, speak English often using Spanish speech patterns, and will often either speak ‘Spanglish’ or at least drop Spanish words like ‘delicioso’ into their everyday spoken English. (And once you know that hundreds of everyday Spanish words ending in ‘oso’ typically have an english equivalent ending in  ’ous’ you’ll know ‘delicioso’ is ‘delicious’ !) So when I set my ‘brillante‘ new suspense novel ‘When the Siren Cries’ smack bang on the America-Mexico border and populated it with a number of smouldering senoritas and hunky hombres, then for the dialogue to mirror authentic speech I needed to incorporate Spanglish in the characters’ vocabulary. But to ensure everyday English speakers could follow the dialogue easily, I needed to be selective, and use words and phrases that were either instantly recognisable like  ’hola chica’, or words like ‘bonita” that the English language tuned brain would easily translate using it’s actual or subconscious understanding of Spanish language patterns. So if you’re over 18 and want to read a gripping story of sex, secrets and lies (‘sexo, secretos y mentiras’) on the dark side of the America-Mexico border, while also getting to really appreciate that you already know how to recognise lots of everyday Spanish, check out my new suspense novel. Before you know it you’ll have a whole new ‘vocabulario’.

Hasta luego amigos



How I sold more books than Jeffrey Archer (he’s sold 270 million)

aka3Jeffrey Archer first approached me looking for money. And if I may say so, in quite a bullying way. Yes I’m talking about the Jeffrey Archer, aka Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare. That is not a joke, and I know Jeffrey can afford a good lawyer. (As George Bush once unwisely said about Iraqi insurgents, ‘bring ‘em on’.) I was going through a difficult divorce at the time (has anyone ever been through an easy one?) but, despite my strained circumstances, I was happy to help Jeffrey out. More on that later. But first, let me tell you a little about the writing phenomenon that is Jeffrey Archer. I bear the man no grudge. He is the only author to have had a number-one bestseller in fiction (fifteen times), short stories (four times), and non-fiction (The Prison Diaries). A former politician, close confidant of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, he established himself as a literary force with the publication of his first novel, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, in 1975. Since then, his international book sales have passed 270 million copies: he has been published in 97 countries and in more than 37 languages.

Like me, Jeffrey Archer was not always a best selling author, and he’s had his ups and downs. (I think I’m right in saying he was once a knight of the realm.) What may surprise you is that Archer didn’t start writing novels till he was 34 years old. Yet still today, as he will be the first to tell you, there are millions of avid readers out there who have never heard of him. In fact, I’m told, a question he’s often asked is ‘are you still writing?’ Are you still writing? That is not an ‘are you still beating your wife’ question. His last ten books have all been number one best sellers, and he’s still being asked if he’s still writing! Even people who have known Archer since before he wrote his first blockbuster, Kane and Abel, ask him that question.

aka4Now that I’ve shared a little to pique your interest in Baron Archer, I need to tell you that if you’re hoping to see Jeffrey in a bookstore near you anytime soon, you’re likely to be disappointed. Unless, that is, you happen to live near the particular bookstore in Weston-super-Mare where Jeffrey buys his books. A bookstore which in all probability doesn’t exist because, avid reader though he is, I imagine Archer is already drowning in a deluge of unsolicited books sent to his door. And the reason Jeffrey won’t be in your local bookstore any time soon signing his books is that it simply doesn’t make economic sense for him to do so.

Let me explain that. If Archer were to do a book signing in a big city, let’s say a big city blessed with a world famous University (Berkeley), a city with perhaps the world’s most famous bookstore (Moe’s bookstore, featured in the Dustin Hoffman movie The Graduate), how many people do you estimate would turn up in that San Francisco bookstore? Well, based on his own experience, Archer would expect 150-200 people to show up. If everyone that showed up bought his book, let’s call that sales of $2,000, a notional profit of say $1,000 for Jeffrey’s publisher (Macmillan). After Macmillan has paid for Jeffrey’s first class flight from London to San Francisco…. you get where I’m going here.

Which brings me to me and my book sales, relative to Jeffrey Archer. We have already learnt that Archer expects no more than 200 people at a book signing. (Strangely, less than at a Pamela Anderson book signing, and he’s a far better writer than she is.) And, believe it or not, (he told me), at one book signing he sold only 4 books. Four books! Admittedly, at the time he was less famous than he is now. But only four books? Where was the return on investment in that? Let me tell you that at my first book signing, when I was much less famous than I am now, I sold over 50 books, and in less than two hours, (because I needed to get away to watch Chelsea v Manchester United in the late kick-off game.). Whatever about Archer and Macmillan, I have to also tell you that I wouldn’t get out of bed if I thought only 150-200 people were going to show up in the store. I guess my time is more valuable than Jeffrey’s and my budget is less than Macmillan’s.

Chelsea FC Shirt signed by title winning team of 2003

Chelsea FC Shirt signed by title winning team of 2003

I’ve come to the end of my tale about me and Jeffrey Archer, apart from tidying up a few loose ends, just like Jeffrey likes to do on the last page of his absolutely brilliant novels (yes, I’m still thinking about his lawyer.) And I’m going to ask your forgiveness by doing that tidying up with two links. One to a great book by Stephanie J. Hale from which I learnt all the facts in this piece about Jeffrey’s book sales. The other is to an equally brilliant piece of my own where I reveal all the secrets of successful book signings. Oh yes, and with an eye on Jeffrey’s lawyer, there is still the ugly subject of money, and specifically the money he arm-twisted out of me. The explanation for which I draw your attention to the picture of the signed Chelsea football club shirt to the right which, in a moment when I was not of sound mind, I bought for an extortionate sum at a charity auction hosted by Jeffrey. The good cause to which my hard earned book profits went I no longer recall, but I can only hope that, like Jeffrey’s time in prison, it was spent wisely.