The Greatest Block of All

August 27, 2009

Years ago I discovered the work of American, Sheila Bender. Sheila wrote two of my favourite ever books to inspire writers: Writing in a New Convertible with the Top Down and Keeping a Journal You Love. Recently, I found Sheila online at her website Writing it Real and got in touch. I was delighted to discover that Sheila really is real and kind and honest. She asked me if I would write something about my biggest challenge as a writer for her subscriber newsletter. I agreed and Sheila, being the kind person that she is, agreed to post a special non-subscriber version just for you. So, please take a look at Writing at Real when you have a moment and please, take a look at my piece. I think you will enjoy it and maybe even learn something . . .

here it is:

That’s jazz

August 1, 2009

Have you ever seen the 1920’s poster of jazz singer, Josephine Baker, performing at the Folies Bergères? She is wearing nothing but orange pompoms and has both arms and one leg flung high, her head at a quirky angle and her wide mouth set in a deep grin, making it abundantly clear that she is having the time of her life. Passion and soul emanate from every pore of her skin. The poster is so alive you can almost see it vibrate.
I write this column on the train from Barcelona to Montpellier. Yesterday we spent a marvellous couple of hours at the Century of Jazz exhibition at the CCCB contemporary art museum just off La Rambla. Glad of the airconditioning, we moved slowly, dipping in and out of alcoves that flanked the winding snake timeline displayed in a glass-topped showcase. It was packed with music scores, album covers and extracts from the press that told the story of jazz from its roots to the present day. Speakers played music of each period right from way back in the 19th century. Serendipitously, the first piece of music played was Gershwin’s Summertime. It did not escape me that this is the name I picked for my publishing company and chosen for its feelgood factor, for I am the kind of person who believes ‘fish are jumping and the cotton is high’. Seeing my business name up there in lights I realised that there would be something for me to learn there. A couple of display cases later I fell upon a small, faded facsimile of an article by Ernest Hopkins from the 1913 San Francisco Bulletin, its title: That’s Jazz. He wrote:

‘This remarkable and satisfactory sounding word, however, means something like life, vigour, energy, effervescence of spirit, joy, pep, magnetism, verve, virility, ebulliency, courage, happiness – oh what’s the use – JAZZ. Nothing else can express it [ . . . ] Anything that takes manliness or effort or strength of soul is “jazz”‘

As I read the words above I began to grin. The very ingredient that I urge my students and clients to add to their writing is what I have been calling ‘the wow factor’. But now I realise that my wow has its roots in jazz. Only jazz is much more than wow. Jazz makes you tap your feet. Jazz makes you glad to be alive. Jazz has an organic form that starts and ends in an interesting place and moves in loops, never straying far from its theme. Life and art and words and music take on an extra dimension when jazz is around.

The exhibition’s premise was to show the connection between art and music. We saw a crude sketch Picasso gave to Gertrude Stein of lumpen clowns dancing the Cake Walk. We learned how Mondrian’s gridlike primary colour paintings are in fact his interpretation of jazz; how Matisse, Jack Kerouac, F Scott-Fitzgerald and Jean-Paul Sartre all made jazz their own. How it influences prose and poetry and paintings but most of all how it influences people just like you and me.

Next time you are working on a piece of writing or a project I urge you to consider how you could add a little jazz to the mix. Sprinkle in some soul, passion, pep, life or verve. Add some pompoms, a flourish of genius. The Josephine Baker poster epitomises jazz. Could you inject the same vigour into your writing? Do you have the ‘manliness’, the strength, the courage to write in such a way that your reader begins to nod rhythmically as your words resonate and speak to his or her soul? If you can do that, then, as Hopkins wrote almost a century ago – ‘that’s jazz’.

If you would like to read more about Hopkins’ article and jazz then please click here.

I can hardly believe that just one week ago I was chanting Om in unison with 150 others at the Chopra Center’s Wisdom of Healing workshop in Oxford, England. Click here to read the related article I published on The Hague Online (where I am their Writer in Residence). Pick up some tips that you can try at home, right now.

Books need a wow factor! Find out how to make your book come alive by writing effective anecdotes and case studies. Come and be inspired and empowered when I’m the guest speaker at Storyville in WC2 from 7-9 pm on 29th. Just £15. Details at

Could you, should you, write a book?

If this is a question that you often ask yourself, then maybe it’s time to find out. On 9th July I’m running a Special Interest Group workshop for the European Professional Women’s network in Amsterdam. It will cover topics including:
what makes a book sell?
what is a wow factor?
could I really write a book?
what book would make me the most money?
how can a book help me raise my fees?

So, if you need to be inspired, informed and supported hurry and grab your place on this free workshop. led by me, Jo Parfitt, from 7-9pm at the Renaissance Hotel in Amsterdam.

Places are limited and the link is here

Maybe I’m mad to be doing this? Why would I want to give away my secrets for free? Maybe I’m just feeling generous? Maybe it’s because November is officially National Novel Writing Month? Or maybe I want to give my 2009 Writing Your Life Story workshops a bit of extra promotion?

Anyway, during November I am thrilled to be giving several free (OK, I admit it, one does have a minimum charge and another asks for donations to NaNoWriMo) workshops in The Hague.

Here are the dates, places and times. Don’t miss them. They may never happen again ….

Tuesday 4th November, 10-12, At the Expatriate Archive Centre, Paramaribostraat 20
Out of the Boxes – start telling your life story – Find out how to turn your life stories into words that will inspire others for blogs, newsletters, diaries, emails or a full length memoir.
Book via or Jo Parfitt
Places limited

Saturday 8th November, 2-3, Treehut, The American Bookcentre, Lange Poten
How to Beat the Block and Hang on In There – Learn how to tell those inner critics and naysayers to get outta here and crack on with your writing projects.
No need to book
Donations to NaNoWriMo welcome

Saturday 8th November, 3-5, Treehut, The American Bookcentre, Lange Poten
Writer in Residence – come along with your questions or your work for my comment.
Book your 15 minute time slot on the day itself
Places limited
Donations to NaNoWriMo welcome

Monday 17th November, 10-12, Women’s Business Initiative, Laan Copes van Cattenburch 86
Could you have a book in you? – Nothing gives a your business more of a boost than a book written by you. Could you write one that raises your profile and your reputation without breaking the bank? Find out here.
Book via or Jo Parfitt

Tuesday 25th November, 10-12, American Women’s Clubhouse Living Room
Write Your Life Stories – writer and publisher Jo Parfitt teams up with editor and designer Karin Harms to present this interactive and inspiring workshop that will give you the ingredients for writing compelling life stories.
Book via AWC
€10 members / €15 non members
Places limited

For more information please go to Expat Rollercoaster and look at the Workshop page

Debbie Jenkins from has currently got three projects
in the pipeline that require the skills of talented, and forward-thinking, editors.

If you’ve heard of Book Shaker before then you’ll also know that they pay
unprecedented royalties to their authors. The way they can afford to pay
such big royalties is by offering professional editors a stake in the book’s
success rather than a one-off payment.

They have published the following books of mine:
Career in Your Suitcase
Find Your Passion
Expat Writer – Release the Book Within
Expat Entrepreneur

Now, for the jobbing editors amongst you, you’re probably thinking “scam”
but I’ve worked with Debbie on several occasions now and wouldn’t share
this if I didn’t trust her. Anyway, if you’re interested, then here’s her proposal…

1. Debbie is looking for editors who would like to earn up to 20% royalties from lifetime
sales of each book they work on.
2. All profit to the editor will come from the result of sales of the book, and royalties
will be paid quarterly.
3. Debbie does not pay a one-off fee for editing but instead offers a long term stake in the
intellectual property to provide ongoing income in the long term.
4. She is looking to pull together a team of around 5 editors to work on approximately
50 books during 2009.
5. Based on average sales of Bookshaker’s top 10 performers if you’d edited 10 books
you would be getting paid at least £720 every 3 months, for the lifetime of those
books, with no extra work to do.

If what Debbie is doing interests you then please complete the short form at
Once you’ve completed the form you’ll get an auto-responder telling you more and Debbie
promises she’ll follow up soon after to answer any questions you may have asked.

Good luck