Saturday, 27 November 2021

Road Trips for Writing Inspiration

 

I did some road tripping this autumn!



In September I made my first ever trip to Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina. Perfect timing, as the summer crush was over,  the weather was warm, and the beach was stunning. This trip was actually a writing retreat, and although I didn’t force myself to be productive all day long, I did make some plans and work on the outline of the book that I’m going to start writing in January. Although the “getting there” was just what I needed (Don’t all writers need beach time?), this trip was all about the journey. I drove, by myself, and took my time stopping at historic cemeteries for a few photos. 




When I passed a field of sunflowers in bloom, I turned around and went back specifically to snap a few photos. The house where I stayed was right across the street from the beach, so early morning sunrises provided the perfect beginning to each day.



October found me in Natchez, Mississippi. Founded in 1716, Natchez has been on my bucket list since I relocated to the southern United States. Although the community that thrived when cotton was king has changed a bit, Natchez boasts a bounty of gorgeous antebellum homes, many of them converted to Inns and B&B’s. We stayed at The Guesthouse, an antebellum home built in 1840 with lovely rooms full of period appropriate furniture and lots of atmosphere. The Guesthouse also has its own ghost in residence, namely a young boy named Shannon, whose post-mortem painting hangs in the bar.  Shannon allegedly roams the halls, playing with his toys. Natchez is the home of many a ghost tour and is known for its historic cemetery, which is full of amazing stone and iron work. We wiled away the hours walking along through the various family monuments, conjuring up ghost stories of our own.  




And finally, the hubs and I travelled to Florida for a last trip to the beach. No cemeteries on this trip. Lots of beach time and the occasional mojito. A good time was had by all, as evidenced by the pictures. And, yes, that really is a baby alligator.


While my trips didn’t add to my word count, they definitely went a long way towards refilling my creative well. And as I sit here writing this blog entry, I can say with certainty that I’m itching to start writing. But I’m going to make myself wait until January, just to make sure I’m truly rested. Plus, there may be other road trips in my future!

How about you? Do you travel for inspiration?

 

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Writing historical fiction - guest post by Liz Hurst

 This week on Novel Points of View, I've invited historical novelist Liz Hurst to tell us something about how she goes about writing about real historical characters. Here's her excellent post on the subject - and there's lots to learn from this! I too have begun using real people in my fiction and it's a tricky thing to get right. Over to Liz.




Writing fictional stories around existing characters from history has proved to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated, but one that I am enjoying very much indeed, especially now that my first full-length historical novel has been launched and now I can concentrate on the next one. I have come across a number of issues when writing about real people, some of which I will talk about today.


  1. Finding a character

Women’s voices as a whole have been suppressed for centuries. The main goal of my mission was to bring these women to the fore, for their voices to be heard. However, I love medieval history and, with a few notable exceptions, most European records centre around kings, princes, dukes and popes, all vying for power. It’s as if the women did nothing except sit at home weaving yet another tapestry, wondering whether their menfolk would return home from the battlefield in one piece. This is rubbish, of course, but finding women about whom to write becomes ever more difficult the further back in history one chooses to delve.

For example, my novel, A Light Shines in Darkness, features a fourteenth century noblewoman from what is now the Umbria region of central Italy. Nothing was written about this fascinating woman until 200 years after her death, it seems. The texts which do exist provide confusing and conflicting information. [Roberta A. McKelvie O.S.F., Retrieving a Living Tradition: Angelina di Montegiove] In the end, I chose to pick and choose the bits that interested me and discard the rest. Poetic licence, you might say.



  1. Researching the character

Assuming I now have a person around whom I can construct an interesting story, the next hurdle is research. I aim to be as realistic as possible when describing the world in which my stories are set: clothes worn, food eaten, the differences between rich and poor during that particular period, etc. I also like to make occasional references to important events of the geographical location, to really ground the reader in that world. It’s unrealistic, for example, to set your story in mid-fourteenth century Western Europe without at least some mention of the Black Death, which ravaged the continent and wiped out around a third of the population.


  1. Fact v fiction

So, I have my protagonist, and I’ve learned enough about her time period to be able to start plotting my story. Where do I draw the line between fact and fiction? Which parts of her life do I keep, and how much do I create from my imagination?

This is a tricky one. In my view, it depends upon the message you want to send to the reader. In Angelina’s world, she is surrounded by girls who are given in marriage as political pawns, to cement alliances between powerful noble families and guarantee wealth for the next generation. Angelina doesn’t want this for herself and instead chooses to remain chaste, much to the frustration of her nonna. It suited my message, therefore, to include certain information about her family and their allegiances. It is worth noting, that my villain, Biordo Michelotti, was a real person, too, although his actions in the story are entirely fictional.


I am thoroughly looking forward to putting more of these principles into practice when I find my next novel subject. Which could be any day now.

About the Author 

Elizabeth was born and bred in the picturesque harbour town of Whitehaven in the northwest of England, where the long, wet winters moulded her into a voracious reader of fiction to escape the dismal weather.

Having started writing around the age of 40, she later set about creating a freelance editing and proofreading business, EMH Editorial Services. In 2018, she quit the corporate world and concentrated her energy towards her love of the written word.

Elizabeth now lives with her partner in the warm and sunny south of France.


Fabulous post, Liz, thank you! Liz's novel A Light Shines in the Darkness is available to buy here.

Liz can be found on social media:





Sunday, 14 November 2021

Readers are Plentiful: Authors are RARE

Some Thoughts about RARE Edinburgh

Here, RARE stands for Romance Author & Reader Events. They have taken place in various cities around the world since 2014. Basically, you get a large venue, and fill it with romance authors. They each pay about £300 for a table. Attending readers (their fans) descend on the event to have their paperback copies of their favourite books signed by the author. Many of the authors will also take advance orders for their books and will attend with all they need.

Readers queuing to enter the Heart of Steel 
signing event in Sheffield.

Nowadays, these events sell out VERY QUICKLY! Tickets are priced anywhere from £50 to £80

Authors coming to Edinburgh by Nationality

  • Australian          10
  • Canada               10
  • Ireland                4
  • UK                     25
  • USA                   163

So the vast majority of the attending authors find it worth their while financially to fly to the UK, and to make all the arrangements for their paperbacks to be there for them. For the majority of them, this they must do themselves: there is no publisher to do it for them.

Among the authors there is massive competition for places too. ALL these events have a substantial waiting list for tables.

Romance Author Reader Events on Facebook.

RARE Events on Twitter.

A great many are USA Today Bestsellers and/or New York Times bestsellers and are VERY productive,  insatiable writers. Just look at these figures!

Number of books published by the attending authors.

  • Total (using Goodreads)               13650
  • Mean                                            About 52 per attending author.
  • Highest                                         382 in 12 years!  i.e. over 30 a year!
  • Lowest                                          2

Asll this demonstrates just how VERY broad is their spectrum of productivity.

Out of 239 attending authors, 189 are independent authors. These are publishing under their own name with CreateSpace, IngramSpark and the like for paperbacks, but on EVERY platform for their eBooks. i.e. Amazon, Barnes&Noble, I-Books, Smashwords, Evernight and Kobo.











Because of Covid various signings have been cancelled, but the organisers are really hitting the ground running with RARE Edinburgh next year – and this event will take place over 2 full days with over 230 authors coming.

 There are a few Romantic Novelists Association members attending, including Carrie Elks and Julia Sykes. All attendees’ tickets for RARE Edinburgh are sold out.  When they go on sale, they normally go within a couple of hours.

Although all the authors write in the romantic genre, a LOT of them write fantasy or erotic romances, both MM and FF, and books in the alpha, rockstar, bad-boy, and cowboy tropes.  Also plenty of historical and romantic suspense. Saga type romances seem less common.

Nearly all of them use Linktree and put links to EVERYTHING on their Linktree page.

And - invariably - a cover and link to their books, under every writing name they use.




Almost all of them will write “series” of up to 10 inter-connected books. This seems to be very much what their readers want. Writing a series also has several marketing advantages. I know from experience that some established authors have suggested that their work is not of a “high quality”! Well, it certainly appears to be of a suitable quality for their numerous readers.













Among the 50 authors who are conventionally published, their publishing houses include Montlake and Skyscape (both part of the Amazon stable), Piatkus. Penguin, Macmillan, Carina, Hachette, Avon and Bantam.

From those I have seen, the standard of their websites is very high. Lots of stuff going on. Pics and links to all their books and a very professional appearance. A lot of their covers show echoes of Fabio! As with conventional publishing, there IS a noticeable difference between authors from the UK and the USA.

Although most authors attending are from outside the UK, there IS a trade in the other direction, with several British authors attending similar large events in the USA.

I’ve been to several of the smaller signing events within striking distance of York, and I’ve found them ALL amazingly friendly and convivial occasions. Independent publishing is “the other side of the coin” to those of us grounded firmly in the conventional side of the game, but I think it behoves us all to look at the Indie sector and take a note of what makes them so successful, and to note their amazing productivity. This is not unknown, particularly in the category romance area. I know of several HM&B authors who produce 4-5 books a year.






Some shots from signings in the UK.

Thay are invariably fun events to attend, and for meeting old friends and new!


Many readers will attend a signing event with a wheeled trolley or roll-along case and take it home FULL of the books they have collected and bought.

Perhaps its most important to note that any success they achieve is purely by their own efforts and on their own terms.

Personally speaking, I would like to see more formal recognition given to indie authors, possibly along the line of one or two awards in the Romantic Novel of the Year awards reserved specifically for independent authors. Does the RNA need to reach out to all these bestselling authors of romance to make them feel welcome and included?

After all, romance is for everyone!

Sunday, 7 November 2021

FLASH FICTION TUTORING

Something that constantly surprises me about writing are the unexpected turns that take your work in a whole new direction. As those who have read my last few blog posts will know, this year, for me, has been about shorter pieces. Mostly focusing on both learning about and writing flash fiction. I have even been lucky enough to have pieces published by the likes of the Bath Flash Fiction Award, Retreat West, Cranked Anvil Press, the Romantic Novelists’ Association magazine and Ellipsis Zine (to name a few). 

M:ADE 


So, I was delighted when M:ADE (Moray, Arts, Development, Engagement) asked if I would consider offering a series of flash fiction workshops, working with visual artist, Lynne Strachan of Curious Cranberry, as well as filmmaker, Jason Sinclair of Poppycock Films. The initial hope was that our workshops would be delivered now (in the autumn), but due to the pesky virus, we are now looking towards spring. 



DUKE OF EDINBURGH AWARD SCHEME 


However, that initial enquiry was quickly followed by a second, when a young student, interested in developing flash fiction writing as a skill for her Duke of Edinburgh award, asked if I could help. For those outside the United Kingdom, not familiar with the Duke of Edinburgh Award, it is a voluntary scheme for young adults, which helps them develop new interests and talents. 



COULD I TUTOR? 


As an enthusiastic believer in lifelong learning, of course I said ‘yes’ to both... Then the doubt set in. Did I know enough? Who did I think I was offering flash fiction workshops? What if what I offered wasn’t good enough? Or worse, boring! Could I make flash fiction writing fun? 

There was only one way to find out. I set about creating timetables, researching what should be included, remembering the focus of the M:ADE project, as well as the interests of my young Duke of Edinburgh student. The good news is that once I’d pulled material together, I had far more lesson plans than I needed.





A month on, and I love discovering new writers, sharing stories, focusing on writing craft with my Duke of Edinburgh student. Preparing the weekly sessions, hearing a young person’s creative ideas is inspiring. I’m learning loads too! 

WHAT'S NEXT?


So far, these sessions have all been in-person, but over the past couple of years, I’ve attended numerous online workshops and masterclasses. Who knows, maybe one day I will develop an online class too! 

There is still so much I need to explore about flash fiction – writing in different genre, attempting humorous pieces, how to create an anthology and, perhaps in time, write a novella-in-flash etc. It’s a form that encourages experimentation and pushes literary boundaries, meaning it is an exciting community to be a part of. 




That’s the beauty of a creative life, there are always new ways to stretch and grow. So, has your creativity taken you along an unexpected path? And if so, what did you learn? 

Happy creating!

Rae x

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Walking in their Footsteps

 I visited the Lake District in September. The natural beauty of the landscape is breathtaking, very inspirational and well worth a visit. While I was there I visited Hill Top, Beatrix Potter's most famous home. The 17th century farm cottage was gifted to the National Trust by Beatrix upon her death with the expressed wish that it should not become a museum, but be preserved in the condition of how it looked when she lived there. Her furniture, including her writing desk, are on display and it is easy to imagine Beatrix walking through the rooms and writing her children's books. Several parts of the cottage, including the oven range, inspired Beatrix's illustrations and can be easily recognised in her tales. She wrote many books, initially unaware of the success they would become...

“I am aware these little books don't last long even if they are a success."

Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter's home, Hill Top

Beatrix Potter's home isn't the first writer's home I have visited. That accolade goes to William Shakespeare's birth place in Stratford-Upon-Avon. William was the third of eight children and was born in 1564. Following his marriage to Anne Hathaway in 1582, he continued to live in the house with his parents. When his father, John Shakespeare, died in 1601 William inherited the house and leased it out. The start of William Shakespeare's career is unclear, but what is known is that by 1592 he had an established reputation in London and would go on to be the world's greatest playwright and poet. Although the house appears substantial for the time (his father worked as a glove-maker and held important civic positions in the town), the rooms are small and it would have been quite crowded with so many children and, in later years, two families living there. Once again, it was easy to imagine William spending his formative years in the house, chasing his dream of becoming a play-write and eventually fulfilling it.

William Shakespeare's birth place

Of course, not all stories have such a happy ending. Anne Frank's Diary was written during a time of terror and it's author, a young Jewish girl forced into hiding during the rise of the Nazi Party, never lived to see it published. She used the diary as a way to escape the oppressive ordeal which lasted years. As Anne said in her diary...

"The brightest spot of all is that at least I can write down my thoughts and feelings,
otherwise I would be absolutely stifled."
Anne Frank

 I visited the secret annex in Amsterdam several years ago. Anne, her family, the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer lived under tense and cramped conditions, yet I could still imagine the young teenager attempting to keep sane by writing her thoughts in her diary in a small corner of a room. The book, which she painstakingly edited, rewrote and re-edited, would eventually become one of the most translated books of all time.

The building containing Anne Frank's secret annex
Photo by Massimo Catarinella

Extracts of Anne Frank's original diary, with all its editing and re-writing, was on display in the museum. The rough drafts reminded me of the time I saw the original draft of one of Winston Graham's Poldark novels. It was on display, along with his typewriter, at an exhibition in Cornwall to celebrate his life and works. I was both surprised and reassured to see how rough his first draft was as it is easy to think that all amazing authors only write sentences worth their weight in gold. Sometimes, it seemed, even gold needed to be polished first. Winston Graham once shared his experience of writing Poldark and said...

 "Sitting there in the grey old empty bungalow, I felt like a man driving a coach and four, 
roughly knowing the direction in which the coach would travel, 
but being pulled along by forces only just under his control."
Winston Graham

So what have I learnt from visiting the homes of famous writers and seeing their first drafts?

I have learnt that the environment was often humble, with no hint of what would be eventually created in those rooms
I learnt that each writer had a drive and wrote from the heart, despite the tense conditions, the self-doubts or busy lives they led.
I learnt that although they dreamt of being successful, none could imagine the final extent of their success.
They wrote because they had the compulsion to do so, the words flowed and could not, would not, be stopped.
I learnt that even a classic writer still needs to produce a first draft and they are content to edit and re-write to produce their best work.

So if you are a writer who writes on a laptop balanced on your knees due to the lack of a study, or have a family who scoffs at your dreams, or you are in that phase of being thoroughly depressed with the state of your first draft, I say to you, dear writer, have courage.... for you are just following in the footsteps of those writers who have gone before.

Saturday, 16 October 2021

 

Season’s Readings

You must’ve noticed it. We’ve not even had Halloween yet, and already the supermarkets are full of Christmas food - family size tins of Quality Street and mince pies. 


But it’s not just the supermarkets that are getting in the festive spirit months in advance. Readers (and writers) are too. October is a massive month for Christmas books, although I have seen some cover reveals and releases as early as September. There’s been a veritable avalanche of snowy book covers, wintery (but far from bleak) landscapes full of quaint cottages, all smoky chimneys and fairy light covered fir trees in the garden. My own Christmas cosy crime (because nothing says ‘Ho ho ho’ like a good old fashioned murder) isn’t out until the end of November, but it’s already on Amazon, where preorders are flying off the virtual shelves.


I have to confess that until I became a writer, I wasn’t even really aware that ‘holiday’ books were a thing. It wasn’t until my writer friends started releasing their own seasonal stories, and I started hanging around in online book clubs, that I saw how popular they are. So what’s the appeal?

I suppose for me, it’s a way to regain the excitement and magic of Christmas that I used to feel as a child. I no longer believe in the big guy at the North Pole, so stories about elves and red nosed reindeers aren’t going to cut it for me. But stories about finding true love under the mistletoe; about spending the holiday in a snowy village, warming hands on mugs of steaming hot chocolate and hearts on steaming hot men… Count me in! Christmas and New Year are all about new beginnings, and these books are, too. New lives, and new loves.


Christmas - in the Northern hemisphere, anyway - is all about getting cosy. It’s about curling up in front of the fire, a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine close to hand, and whiling away the long winter nights with a good book. It’s about holding back the darkness of midwinter, not just with fairy lights and candles, but with the warm glow that you only get from a good story. Some might call that a guilty pleasure, but I firmly believe that no one should ever feel guilty about something they enjoy, especially not at Christmas. Christmas IS pleasure (or should be).


It’s not just Christmas, of course. There’s always a slew of Halloween books every October, but I’d argue that they’re really more just supernatural/paranormal/horror stories, rather than specifically about the haunted holiday; unlike Christmas stories, which could ONLY take place at Christmas, a lot of Halloween books could probably be transposed to other, less traditionally spooky times of the year, without the story suffering.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Christmas books? If so, when do you start reading them - and just as important, when do you stop? Can you still have Christmas in February or March? Or are you more ‘bah humbug!’ when it comes to festive reading?




Friday, 8 October 2021

In Which We Discuss Burnout

 



I haven’t written a single word (with the exception of this blog post) since July. It's rather strange to share this situation with the NPOV readers, as writing is who I am. It’s what I do, my joy, my love. Or it always had been. Starting in May, the idea of writing gave me a stomach ache. Bad timing, of course, as I was in the middle of writing and editing the third book in my Olivia Sinclair series. Things were going well, the first draft was completed, but I was in such a hurry to finish that first draft and meet my deadline, that I wasn’t paying attention to my state of mind or the quality of the book. When my editor and I decided that a massive rewrite was necessary, instead of excitedly breaking out my red pen (I do love a good rewrite!), I hit the wall hard and started to panic. I was completely floored at the realization that I didn’t have the capacity to do any work at all on this book that was scheduled to be published in November. My creative well run completely dry.  

Part of me wanted to just continue to write, to push through this difficult period in my career. After all, I am a professional, right? Nope. Burnout is not a work ethic issue. My problem went deeper. Pushing through the difficulty wasn’t going to help me with my current situation.

I’ve never been a quitter, but stepping away from writing seemed the only thing to do. I needed a break, needed to put my feet on the floor in the morning without a deadline hanging over my head. Luckily, my publisher was able to grant me an extension. So with my looming deadline dealt with, I purposefully, and with more than a bit of difficulty, stopped all things related to writing. I went on long walks, cooked all the recipes I wanted to try, and tackled a long list of cleaning and sorting, all the while wondering when my well would be full.

Even though I wasn’t working, per se, I was jotting down notes on Post-Its, thinking of plots and stories, dreaming up heroes and those who would take them down. As expected, I quickly came to miss my time at the keyboard. But I also know that it’s not time to start writing yet. Although I'm not in a perpetual state of panic, my creative well is still dry. Turns out this break from the job I love is turning into a patience lesson. 

My writing career ran hot and fast for the past few years in a wonderful whirlwind of working with fabulous editors and connecting with readers who like what I write. The time proved blissful and satisfying, but utterly exhausting. I’m pooped. With a bit of luck, this break from my writing life will give me a deeper knowledge of my craft, and enrich my future prose with a greater understanding of who I am as a writer. While audio books (and the occasional Netflix binge) has provided me ample comfort during the time of creative crisis, getting back to my craft is the light that awaits at the end of this tunnel. I’ll get there. With any luck, I’ll be a better writer for it.

How about you? Have you ever suffered from professional/creative burnout? How did you work your way through? And, most importantly, when did you know your creative well was full? (Any advice appreciated!!!)