Coming Monday: Bestselling Author Alice Kuipers on the story behind her new release!


Bestselling and award-winning author Alice Kuipers joins Ben’s blog – next Monday!

Kuipers has recently released Me (and) Me in Canada, and it’s set for release outside of Canada in Fall 2018. It has received accolades in the Canadian media.

“Haunting and mysterious, this is a powerful book about love, life and choices. Both page-turning and thought-provoking, Kuipers deftly tells a lyrical tale that’ll keep you questioning reality right up to the very end.”
Arthur Slade


Bestselling author Alice Kuipers has published five award-winning YA novels internationally, most recently, Me and Me, described by Bif Naked as mesmerising. Her two picture books feature twins Violet and Victor, and she has an upcoming chapter book series with Chronicle Press. She is writing a memoir about teenager Carley Allison with Kids Can Press. She has had stories produced for CBC and essays published in Bristol Review of Books and Easy Living magazine. She blogged for Today’s Parent, and The Huffington Post. Alice’s work is published in 34 countries. She has four children.

Alice’s website is full of tips and hints for writers. Find her here: or online.

Jodi Bartle: On Writing & Gender


I am a woman, and a parent, and I write a blog about my life in London with my family.

big-ben-london-eye-1215522-639x1005It started as a way to connect with family and friends who were in New Zealand – a distance a little too far for people to come and spend time with us and to see where we live and work. Too far to meet me for coffee and compare pregnancies and toddler notes, first days at school and the millions of triumphs and tragedies that season an inconsequential life.

gender-symbols-1-1245741-1279x914Initially writing about this stuff was a way of remembering and being remembered by people back home. What it has grown into is a confessional, a catharsis, an outlet for me to rage and laugh and despair. I wonder how much of this writing as therapy comes from my central starting point – that of my gender.

scrabble-stock-xchng-4-1557505-1599x1200-1Women have always shared with each other; certainly, the women in my family have been able to talk about many things in unabashed, frank ways. I remember Southern Hemisphere summers spent on the coast in a caravan, and my mother and her sisters playing Scrabble together late into the night. And talking. Talking about everything and everyone.

Silences when the vowels got too few and the dictionary was hastily riffled through to find a made-up word that, with luck, might exist, but this silence was temporary. We fell asleep on camp-stretch beds in the awning lulled by the quiet hum of their long, single, wavering conversation together.

friends-and-family-1361132-1599x2132Women, I think, are encouraged to talk, to use words before fists, to confide and console and share with one another. Little girls have confidantes and these stay with you – best friends get told secrets and things are written down in a diary, and this early introduction to communication means women have outlets to express themselves in a way that I think boys and eventually men do not.

Openness and vulnerability are thought dismissively of as soft feminine traits – the opposite of the kind of front most men have been taught to project into the world. And it makes me sad, because the freedom I have to write frankly, to share explicitly, to receive intimacy back from anonymous readers and long-held friends is sometimes the only way to bear the load of being a grownup.

51_jodi-boysMy ability to write honestly about a painful marriage impasse, the exhausting and unrelenting toughness of parenting, the jolts and joys of family life in a city that pulses with noise and distraction like a faulty neon sign: writing about these things has made me a better thinker, a better friend, a better partner.

3-balloonsMaking these truths public, sometimes even the regrettable, shameful ones, has connected me to many other people who wish to communicate freely and frankly too.  My years of writing has given me a strong and distinct voice and an audience who reciprocates by sharing their stories with me.

Recently I wrote about losing a baby. Writing about the experience served a dual purpose – practically and pragmatically I could head off the well-meaning but painful enquiries into the size of my bump and due dates and indigestion, but more importantly I could write about my heartbreak honestly and tell my story in my words. I needed to.

coffee-1575043-1599x1066I wrote about the shock and the sadness and the physical and emotional emptiness after. I wrote about what is so often secreted away and, in the process, made it real and tangible. Other women wrote back to me and shared their stories too and thanked me for telling the truth about what happened and how it had felt. So this was good, a good thing to do, and I was thankful that I had a place to say what I needed to say.

But how do you grieve and heal when you have no place to share? My husband lost a baby too when my pregnancy suddenly had to end.

What do you do when you cannot write about rage and sadness? Who do you say these things to? Who knows how to listen? He is an articulate, caring, kind man and he is grieving, but he has never been given the tools or an outlet to express intimate,

difficult, internal things.

spring-notebook-1615550-1599x1066I am so glad that from a girl, I was taught to talk and write and state and share. The women in my family empowered me to use my voice and now words both help and heal me.

For my sons, I can only do my best to teach them that they can and should have their own voices; voices that must be heard because there is freedom and strength in that, regardless of gender.

jodi-bio-pic-2Jodi Bartle is a New Zealander in London who writes The Harridan, a blog about her family of five young boys, one tired husband and a dog. She likes Tom Ford and his lipsticking ways, large doses of wine, and overpriced clothes that she won’t ever wear from sample sales. She cooks, runs, yells at kids, reads, and chronically overshares. Find out more about Jodi and her work at, on twitter at @JodiBartle and on instagram @harridan1.the-harridan-title

Bestselling Author Alice Kuipers on inspiration, writing & commitment


Welcome, Alice and thanks for joining us here. Could you tell us a bit about yourself? At what age did you decide you wanted to be a writer and how did you get started?

LOTRDThank you very much for hosting me! I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I started to take it more seriously when I was about twenty. I wrote several books, none of which were published, before I wrote Life on the Refrigerator Door, which was published in 30 countries. It was published as both a YA and an adult novel, but I felt that YA suited me well.

What attracted you to the YA genre?

Alice bksI love writing about that age when everything is possible and anything can happen. I’ve published three other YA novels and two picture books since then, and I have a new YA novel and a chapter book series coming out in the next year or so. My books continue to sell in lots of countries, and I’m lucky to be able to write for lots of different age groups.

Could you describe your writing process? Where does your inspiration come from?

I’m lucky to be able to work full time as a writer, although the only commitment I make to myself as a writer is to read every day. I have four children, so, while writing every single day isn’t possible, I can always find time to read–even if it’s the middle of the night.

I love the rush of getting a first draft done and normally I plan to write a thousand words a day when I’m in that phase. Then I have a lot of reworking to do afterwards. My inspiration comes from all sorts of places–books I’ve read, the newspaper, my kids, that quiet inner voice that asks the question ‘what if, what if, what if…’

Michael Crichton once said: “Books are not written–they’re rewritten.” How many times do you re-write before passing your work on to an editor?

Best ever_KuipersOh, I’m always rewriting. I spend much more time editing than writing and the number of drafts I have to do is a ridiculous. I think I wrote my first picture book–all 674 words of it–over three hundred times. It takes me ages to get things right. And then I send my writing to an editor and the process begins all over again–the editor has their own voice and ideas and that part of the process is crucial to making any book the best it can be.

I feel like there is only one opportunity for a reader to read a first draft of a book, so I want to make that first experience of my books as good as I can.

You have written, lectured, taught in class and online, and co-authored an app. How did you find your way to developing a video writing course for authors? What made you think of this format in particular?

QuickStart 3The video course seemed like a natural progression from all the other teaching I do. I’ve been teaching online at University of Toronto for a few years now and I love the online format–it means that I can be working with students when my children are sleeping.

The way this course works is the content is all there ready for you as soon as you want to start–so many people want to ignite their creativity and now with this course I hope they can.

What key things did you consider while developing QuickStart Your Writing?

I wanted to make to process of writing accessible to all the people who ask me how to become a writer themselves. Everyone has a story to tell and I know how hard it is to find the confidence and time to make that happen.

The course is designed to be done at the pace of the person using it and hopefully it’s filled with ideas as to how anyone can get their words on the page.

QuickStart 1

What was the most difficult part of producing this course? The easiest?

It’s always difficult to find a quiet moment in the house I live in to make the video content. I’m making another course now and it’s a rare time that all the children are out and I’m not going to be interrupted.

The easiest part was also the most fun part–talking about writing. I could talk about writing and how to get started writing all day long.

What should writers think about before deciding if this product is right for them? Is it more useful for fiction or non-fiction?

computer-keyboard-freeimageAnyone can go onto the site and have a look at the sample lectures before deciding to come on board. I would think that it’s more useful for people who write fiction as that’s my passion, but the ideas about how to make time, how to make a space, and how to find ideas, would apply to any aspiring writer, whatever type of writing they do.

What are you working on today? What new projects do you have planned for the future?

I’m editing. Again. And I’m working on a new course with an organization called Children’s Book Insider. That course will come out in the fall. I have ideas for two new books and I also need to write the second book in my chapter book series, which will be a pleasure to do once I’ve finished the edits of the new YA novel.

Sample promptI’m enjoying my new Instagram feed where I upload an image writing prompt every day or so. And I love making my newsletter with writing tips and book recommendations for anyone who loves books as much as I do.

The publishing world is changing fast – where do you think it will be in five years…and where will you fit it then?

If I’m lucky, I hope I’m still publishing as many books as I am now, but even if I’m not, I’ll still be writing them. Writing is something that brings me a lot of joy. Having readers is an honour and a thrill, but, just as I was writing long before I was published, I’ll still be writing as the years go by.

Who are your favourite authors? What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?

Every month I send out a newsletter where I talk about the books I’m reading and share book recommendations from other writers too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARight now, I’m reading The Summer Before The War by Helen Simonson, and I just finished The Long Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan. I’ve been loving Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows, which I’ve been reading with my four year old daughter, and I really enjoyed We Are All Made of Molecules, a YA novel by Susin Nielsen. I sit around and drink cups of tea, thinking big, writerly thoughts. Actually, that’s a joke!

What do you do when you are not writing?

I have four children and the oldest is six, so I basically try and keep my head above water, and make sure they are fed, watered, loved, entertained, not causing havoc, etc… When I’ve finished this, I have to take my daughter to a birthday party, then play with my youngest two and somehow edit a novel in there too…

One thing I love to do is to cook. Last night I made cinnamon buns for the first time after a weekend with the kids by a lake here in Canada. If only the baby hadn’t kept me up until one in the morning last ‘night’, I’d actually be refreshed, relaxed and ready to tackle the work ahead of me.

Thank you so much for asking such great questions. I hope to see some of you on the course. You can find me here at, at my newsletter or writing prompt feed, at my writing course QuickStart Your Writing, or on Twitter @alicekuipers and Facebook.

Kuipers_headshotAlice Kuipers has recently authored and produced an online writing course that covers ideas, inspiration, discipline, planning and commitment for writers.  It includes top tips from a top author for writers of every genre.

Alice was born in London. She moved to Canada in 2003. Her first novel, Life on the Refrigerator Door, was published in 28 countries and won several awards. Since then, she has published three further award winning YA novels internationally, most recently, The Death of Us. Her fifth YA novel comes out in 2017.

Kuipers has four small children and she began writing picture books for them. Her first picture book Violet and Victor Write The Best Ever Bookworm Book was selected as an Amazon best pick for December 2014. Her second, Violet and Victor Write The Most Fabulous Fairy Tale, is on the Winter 2015 Kids’ Indie Next List.

Alice bksAlice’s website is full of tips and hints for writers. You can find her online at:


Meet Ben – Author Skype Visits for Book Clubs

BEN blue_actors headshot sq_AUG2015Would you like an author Skype visit for your book club?

Drop Ben a line at benstarlingauthor (at) gmail (dot) com. He looks forward to hearing from you!

Planning to read Something in the Water, An Ocean Romance with your club? The Book Club Reading Guide is now available at Ben’s website.

Book Club Questions for Something in the Water


Planning to read Something in the Water with your book club?

The Book Club Reading Guide for Something in the Water, An Ocean Romance is available at Ben’s website!

Would you like an author Skype visit to your book club?

Drop Ben a line at benstarlingauthor (at) gmail (dot) com. He looks forward to hearing from you!

Is Storytelling Dying?

reindeer ice

If you travel to the snowy scapes of Scandinavia…

 …and encounter the native Saami people, you’ll discover that historically they have had an interesting relationship with…reindeer. To be specific, they drink reindeer urine.

SWhy? Because the reindeer eat the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) mushroom – that’s the bright red one with white spots that featured in Alice in Wonderland – a very apposite book title as the mushroom contains a strong hallucinogen. The urine allows drinkers to experience the sensation of flight, to enter the spirit world, and to return to their people with gifts of wisdom and healing.(1)

file6311260094719Fast forward to our modern imagery of Santa Claus. His clothes are red and white. He is pulled through the sky by reindeer. And instead of gifts of wisdom and healing, he brings us…Christmas presents.(1)

What I’ve just done is tell a story – or in fact, tell a story about a story: how a narrative has been adapted by another culture for its own use. My hope was that you’d find it interesting – if a little bizarre – and maybe, cause you to question a tale you probably have known since childhood. That maybe, this story might cause you to question an aspect of your world view.

For me, a good story must, like Santa’s sleigh, transport you to a new world from which you return a slightly different person.

Where story-telling comes from…

file000553063849Numerous social anthropologists have described how oral stories were probably told in most, if not all, ancient societies. They were handed down, generation by generation. Frequently, an individual was tasked with being the tribe’s storyteller and this was a role that afforded that person great respect.(2) yellow mushThe Saami shamans who delivered gifts of Fly Agaric mushroom at the time of the Winter Solstice were revered storytellers too.

What storytelling does…

Whether contemporary fact, myth or legend, by stories, elders infused the young with their world view, which helped the young make sense of the world they were growing up in – often a hostile and scary place.(2)  A shared world view – Are you listening, world leaders? – leads to a cohesive society and world.

hinaThe first written novel is believed to have been The Tale of Genji, inscribed by “the noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu in the early years of the 11th century” in Japan.(3)

The ancient Greeks were also famed storytellers, their tales still celebrated and retold thousands of years later, both in books and in movies. (Thank you, Brad Pitt – among others!) In each case, the author’s narrative invites the reader into a fictional world…and attempts to keep him or her there using hooks, mystery and other tools of writing craftsmanship.

Stories reflect society. Yet they are also effective tools with which to question it.

file0001486995335The sum of a society’s stories ultimately make up that society’s overarching world view. In the English-speaking world, Austin, Bronte, Chaucer, Dickens and Shakespeare described the relationships and historical events of their time, but also through humour and tragedy questioned the rightness of events they depicted. Today we see new prominent tales of conflict and dystopia capturing the imagination, for example, those by Collins, Grisham, King, Lee, Morrison, Myers,  and Roth.

file0001732924520Stories enlighten and entertain. They are evening relief after the day’s hard toil – with a message. They are each pieces of a fabric that together, form the patchwork quilt we wrap ourselves in. These stories are the pieces that together form our understanding of the world. We absorb them, are transported and return changed.

So, is the art of story-telling dying?

castle scratch4These days, with so many things encroaching on our time and competing for our attention, we seem to have less time for stories. But is this true?

Contemporary authors like JK Rowling, Maeve Binchy and Dan Brown have proved that we can still be lured into starting – and finishing – a book. Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule: the great majority of people who bought Fifty Shades of Grey, never actually finished it! (4)

gameBut think about it. What are you doing when you play an interactive video game? When you’re inventing a bedtime story for your child? What are you doing when you day-dream on your way to work…or reminisce about what might have been if you’d had the courage to ask for that alluring person’s phone number?

In all cases, you are creating a narrative. You are…storytelling. Maybe it’s only to yourself, but it’s a story nonetheless.

Evolution of the hero’s journey

DSC02093In the USA, nearly a million books are published each year now. (5) Storytelling is so ingrained in our psyches and in our culture that it’s certainly not dying.

clockWhat it is doing is evolving to keep up with our busy lives. So the pace of stories is getting faster. There are more hooks, more extremes, shorter words and paragraphs, punchier dialogue. If it wasn’t evolving to match our lives, to mirror our expectations, it might indeed die.

Then what would replace it? Well that, my friends…is another story.

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  1. Rush, John, Live Science article by Main, Douglas (13 Dec 2013), 8 Ways Mushrooms Explain Santa, Live Science, Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  2. Johnson, Emily, Telling Tales, Museum of London, London Museums Hub, 2006.
  3. The_Tale_of_Genji, Wikipedia, Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  4. Bloom, Dan (7 July 2014), The Books Many Start but Few Ever Finish, The Daily Mail Online, Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  5. Morgan, Nick (8 Jan 2013), Thinking of Self-Publishing in 2013? Forbes, Retrieved 23 February 2016.





5 Big Distractions From Writing & How To Beat Them

5 Big Distractions from Writing

Sophia Tallon has published 5 Big Distractions From Writing and How to Beat Them, by Ben Starling at her site.

“How do to defeat distractions and stay on top of targets? Some times I don’t. But I’ve found a few plans for conquering my distractions that work well for me most of the time. Perhaps they will work for you too…”

Read the whole article here.

BEN blue_actors headshot sq_AUG2015Ben Starling is passionate about marine conservation and boxing, both central themes in his work. He boxed competitively until recently and continues to coach. He graduated from Oxford University with a Master of Arts and a Master of Philosophy. www.ben-starling.comBlank bookcover with clipping path

Ben recently released Something in the Water, available now at Amazon.