Saturday, 23 May 2020

THE ONE STAR AND TWO STAR REVIEWS ..... REVIEWED. Linda Mitchelmore

There's nothing like a pandemic, I'm beginning to find, for putting those irksome moments in life into perspective. Take the one star and two star reviews. I've had a few. Sometimes I take a look on Amazon for really big names to see if they are similarly afflicted. They are. Some of them are truly terrible. But they write on. Which is what I've done. However .... Jenny on Lancashire Border had this to say about my first published novel, TO TURN FULL CIRCLE, giving it one star. 'I am seriously puzzled as to where all the 4 and 5 stars come from? After one and a bit chapters I was so bored I almost hovered (sic) the stairs - me, a life-long bookworm. My fault for downloading cheap. You get what you pay for.'
EMMA: THERE'S NO TURNING BACK was the sequel. Juliet romeo gave me a glowing 2 star review and a single word critique - boring.
EMMA AND HER DAUGHTER completed the trilogy. Nothing less than a four star review for this one, so maybe I was writing better or I had my fans.
And now my favoourite ... RED IS FOR RUBIES - the one I enjoyed writing the most and the one for which I got good reviews, and nothing less than 3 stars. It only came out in ebook form and audio and I'd dearly love to see this one in paperback some day.
I was then asked to write a novella. And HOPE FOR HANNAH came into being. Someone calling him- or herself, Eh, gave me a 1 star review. 'Nice surprising twist but plot is undeveloped. Ending was pleasing antagonist seemed to have the happiest ending despite being portrayed as a terrible person'.
This was followed by GRAND DESIGNS - this one, incidentally, was my biggest seller when I was writing for Choc Lit. But this is what J Durham's two star review had to say. 'This is so light it makes an old Mills and Boon look like an epic'.
A change of publisher now and my first with HarperCollins. SUMMER AT 23 THE STRAND. Someone called janey was 'so disappointed did not know it was all very short stories. When I buy a book I want a full story'. She gave me two stars anyway. Well, hey ho, it said on the blurb exactly what it was. This was followed by CHRISTMAS AT STRAND HOUSE which had no reviews lower than 3 stars. And then summer came round again and THE LITTLE B&B AT COVE END hit the shelves. A 2 star from someone called Linda (always hated the name even though it's my own) said, 'Quite enjoyable, an easy read, with some irritations.
All the grammatical errors in the reviews and the lack of upper case letters for names are as they appear on Amazon. A damning review could quite easily put a writer off ever putting pen to paper again. I think I was lucky that my first two star review for my first book was so funny in its way. Sometimes, in idle moments, Jenny's words will come back to me and in my mind's eye I see her 'hovering' the stairs. So .... do one and two star reviews seriously knock you back or do you just shrug, do that British thing, and carry on?

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Knowing When to Stop...Reading

I’ve learned a lot during lockdown, and one of those things is that it’s okay to let go…of a book.

In one sense this is just a progression in my reader’s journey. In the beginning I was someone who had to finish a book, no matter how bad I thought it was, no matter how ill-fitted to my mood or to my tastes. If I picked something up by mistake, well, I was doomed to a long, grim read.

My last year at school was as bad as it got. I was preparing to go to university to study English and I was reading a lot of classics and a lot of modern literature. Some of them I galloped through. I adored just about anything by Conrad or Marlowe, for example. Sometimes it was more of a struggle. I fought my way through DM Thomas’s The White Hotel (the only book I’ve ever thrown in the bin on completion) before taking on DH Lawrence. I struggled through The Rainbow but Sons and Lovers was too much for me. I got about half way through and stopped. And until now that’s been my guilty secret. 

Since then I’ve remained reluctant to abandon a book, but as we came into lockdown I’ve been reading a lot more widely. Going out of my comfort zone is the natural consequence and has inherent risks: I might not like the book.

Lockdown has other impacts, too. With so much going on in the world I’ve learned to opt in and out of certain things for my own wellbeing. I’m more selective about what I tune in to on the telly. I listen to different radio stations. I’m quicker to reach for the off button. And this selectiveness has fed through to my reading. 

There are currently a lot of unfinished books on my Kindle and in my living room. There’s the cosy crime in an English village where the police tape is black and yellow not blue and white: I stopped reading it because either there’s no research or else the author doesn’t care about accuracy. There’s the exquisitely-written medieval thriller that just stepped too far over the boundaries of gruesomeness for my current mood. There’s the magical realism romance that just didn’t light my fire. And, of course there’s that marmite book, Wolf Hall. These four examples are very different but they have one thing in common. They’re all good books.

As I’ve changed as a reader I’ve also changed my perspective. I see a lot of authors complaining about readers who review or rate their books as DNF (did not finish). Why pick up a book if you don’t like it, they ask. 

The answer, of course, is complicated. Generally speaking I won’t review a book I haven’t finished. (I’ve done it once, because it was an excellent book and I thought people would enjoy it in a way I didn’t.) The vast majority of readers don’t pick up a book expecting to abandon it. They might experiment with a new genre and not like what they read; or they find it doesn’t suit their current mood; or they go back to an old favourite and realise their tastes have changed; or it just isn’t for them. 
As a writer, I find that DNF tag hurts like hell. But as a reader, I would say walking a way from a book can be liberating and free you up to read — and enjoy — the next one.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

HAPPINESS IS?

This month’s joint blog is all about what makes us happy as writers and starting us off is 

RAE

Writing is hard and I battle daily with self-doubt, so it felt good to consider the moments when the writing Gods shone and blessed me with the right words for the right piece at the right time. My first taste of success came when I won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Elizabeth Goudge first chapter competition. And what an amazing comp to win!  The experience was so special not just because I won, but also because the trophy was awarded during a posh gala dinner in the spectacular library of Queen Mary University, London, attended by the bestselling authors I admire. What a thrill.

My second writing highlight came when I was paid (imagine that!) and saw my first short story in print. It was a Doric piece for the literary newspaper, Northwords Now and I’m equally delighted to have another, using my Doric pen name Isobel Rutland, in their latest spring edition. This was a fun post to write and I truly hope readers can find time amongst the current stresses to reflect on their personal successes too. 



VICTORIA

The happy memory I have was at the very start of my writing career. I had completed my first novel and was in that self-doubt phase of wondering if it was good enough to submit to a publisher. It was the sort of book I would enjoy reading, but would anyone else?

The story was inspired by Lanhydrock House in Cornwall, a place my family enjoy visiting. It seemed the right place to confide in my daughter, over a cream tea in their tearoom, that I had written a novel inspired by the property.

Considering my daughter had never shown any interest in the historical romance genre, I was surprised when she asked me to tell her about the story in more detail… from start to finish. A little embarrassed, I began to tell her the plot, chapter by chapter, and to my delight (and surprise), she became engrossed with the storytelling. I know my daughter well and I could see her interest was genuine. This was my happy memory, my daughter and I sitting in the summer sunshine eating jam, scones and clotted cream. It was the moment when I showed my daughter that one is never too old to strive to accomplish one’s dreams and she showed me that my novel was good enough to submit to a publisher and that I had her support.

That novel was later titled The Captain’s Daughter and became the second book in my Cornish Tales Series. I mention that special time in the Acknowledgements section in the novel and it is a memory that still warms my heart.



LINDA

Here I go, then, with my happy writing memory .... When I joined the Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers' Scheme I'd already had over 200 short stories published. So, when the call came out for members to submit short stories for a proposed anthology I eagerly submitted MY FATHER'S HOUSE. Katie Fforde and Sue Moorcroft were the editors and they got back to me to say they loved the story, loved the writing style, but ..... it wasn't a romance (it was a father/daughter relationship story) - could I submit something else? I could. But what? 

And then I had one of those moments writers get (if they're lucky) when something pops almost fully-formed into their heads. As a teenager growing up in a Devon seaside town in the late 50s/early 60s I often went down to the beach at weekends with my school friends. In those days - and with a Cold War going on - foreign navies often moored in the bay and to we teenage girls they seemed impossibly romantic and rather exotic. I particularly remember some Russian sailors my friends and I took a particular shine to. Their uniforms were very simple and very dark, almost black, and the script on their hat-bands  unintelligible to us. So we got brave and approached them. They were, of course, a lot older than we were, possibly all married men. But that was the attraction! Conversation was rather limited but I remember the thrill when one of them jumped off the wall they were sitting on and bought ice creams for us all. 

So ... I had a story to write, and I had a 'what if' moment. What if one of us and one of those sailors had begun a romance, fallen in love, but had to part? And so From Russia With Something Like Love was born. Katie and Sue loved it. I was in. Fast forward to 2009 and the launch party which was at The Cavalry and Guards Club in London. I took my daughter as my guest. Cavalrymen in sharp uniforms with even sharper swords were on duty, shepherding us up ornate staircases and into the room where the event was held. So, there I was in the company of Joanna Trollope, Adele Parks, Anna Jacobs, Nell Dixon, Carole Matthews, Elizabeth Chadwick, Katie Flynn, Maureen Lee and many, many others. There was enough champagne to bathe in, and plenty of canapes to seriously challenge our hips. I remember looking around the room and thinking .... well, you must be okay at this writing lark to be amongst so many well-known names. It was a moment to treasure - and I do.



TERRY

The Silent Woman, my first Cat Carlisle book published in April 2018 to little fanfare and blip in publishing industry. I was still proud of the book, as the entire Cat Carlisle series is an homage to the British mysteries that I love. In June my husband and I went camping in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. We had a great three days in the mountains, with plans to check into a vacation rental on the fourth day. When we got back to civilization, I discovered that not only had The Silent Woman hit the Amazon and the USA Today best-seller list. I was totally surprised. And talk about imposter syndrome, it took me a year to put “USA Today Best-Selling Author” on my tagline. But the thing about writing that makes me happiest is sitting down at my laptop and making up stories. I love this job. So grateful that I'm able to do it. 



KATH

Write about a time when my writing has made me truly happy, asked Jennie, for this week's joint blog. In this time of coronavirus uncertainty, we wanted to write something uplifting to cheer us and our readers up.

There are two ways I can answer this one - and I'm going to give both answers. Firstly, the obvious one I suppose: writing made me truly happy, ecstatic even, when I was offered my first book deal. I'd been writing for ten years, mostly short stories and then moving onto novels, and that moment when I opened an email and saw I'd been offered a two-book deal was simply awesome. It was a Friday night and there was no one home to celebrate with, but I opened a bottle of wine anyway and toasted myself. I phoned my husband (who was away on a cycling weekend) and told him the news, and then when my younger son came home I made him leap about and squeal with excitement with me. (The very next day, my husband fell off his bike and broke his hip and wrist, necessitating surgery and leaving him on crutches for months, so my excitement was pretty short-lived!)

And the second way I can answer the question is to say that aside from the excitement, writing always makes me happy, in a long-term contented kind of way. I always knew I wanted to write and now that I am making a decent living from my novels it's a dream come true. I might sometimes feel frustrated by it, it might occasionally (often, if I'm honest!) feel like a struggle to get going, it might be hard work but underneath it makes me profoundly happy that I can make stuff up and people enjoy reading it. Sigh. Long may it last! 



JO 

Memory is a funny thing. I have a theory that it recalls the unusual rather than the norm. My earliest memories are of abnormal events that scared me (the car breaking down in a ford when I was about four and became convinced I would drown, for example, or sitting squeezed up on a bench on an unpleasantly hot day in stifling tent at the Shrewsbury Flower Show). 

They aren’t all scary, though. I distinctly remember being got out of bed in the middle of the nigh and being made to watch the Moon landings, although at the time I didn’t really know what was going on.

My happy memories are much less specific and they tend to blur into one another, the more so as I think further back. Being lost in a book. (Inevitable, I know.) Heading away on family holidays and loving the scenery as we passed, in Dartmoor or North Wales. Paddling in rock pools at low tide and watching the tiny shrimps shooting away. (This is one I later replicated with my children and it was just as good.)

But writing memories? Writing is so integral to me that talking about a writing memory would be like describing my eye colour as a memory, if that makes sense. So I'll go with my earliest writing memory. I must have been seven or eight and I was writing in a notebook. And I remember what I wrote: I woke up to the sound of the bagpipes and my teddy bear, Thomasina, dressed in Black Watch tartan, was dancing a Highland fling on my tummy.

The rest of this document, alas, is lost... 


JENNIE

Writing makes me happy in all sorts of ways but the best way of all only recently started to happen. Readers are taking their time to write and tell me how much they enjoyed one or other of my books because for a few hours  their real life problems were pushed aside. Two recent e-mails from different readers have particularly made me happy. One began, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you your books have helped me keep my sanity in this pandemic world’ and the other was from a new widow who’d lost her husband during the pandemic and hadn’t been allowed to attend his funeral. Reading one of my books had managed to lift her spirits enough for her to think tentatively of the future. Hearing how much my books mean to readers provides motivation for me to keep going when the going gets tough! 






Friday, 1 May 2020





In which we say hello and farewell.

Hello, lovely readers. It’s nice to be back on the NPOV blog after my year-long hiatus. I’ve missed my time here in the blogosphere and am very glad to be back. When I was a new writer just starting out, a friend once paraphrased the quote that Ernest Hemingway made famous. “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” And oh how correct he was. But here’s the thing about writing, the best kept secret, in my opinion. If you write and write and write and never give up, you’ll get better. It’s inevitable. Everyone’s different. Some are born with the magical innate ability to crank out gorgeous book and after gorgeous book. (Neil Gaiman, I’m talking about you!) There are others who must work at the craft to develop the art. I fall into this group, and let me just say it’s a good thing I love the work because the road to publication is a winding one.
My growth trajectory as a writer has not been a straight shot.

My first books, The Sarah Bennett mysteries, were my homage to the wonderful Gothic mysteries I used to love as a child. Remember the ACE Gothics with the women in their nightgowns running away from the castle? I adored those books. In the early 2000s I rediscovered them and scoured used bookshops for titles by Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Patricia Wentworth, Mary Stewart, and Dorothy Eden. After writing three Sarah Bennett Mysteries, I wanted to write a more sophisticated heroine. I have always had a soft spot for a classic British mystery, and the Cat Carlisle series falls into this genre. I had a blast writing Cat Carlisle. She’s reckless and irreverent. When I drop her into any situation, she’s going to find trouble. If someone tells her to be mindful of something, she’ll wind up in the middle of it.


And onto the farewell… But as much as I love Cat, I’ll be setting her stories aside for a new mystery series set in modern times that features a sixty-two year old divorce attorney, set in San Francisco, California. The first title is slated to release in late 2020/early 2021. So while the Sarah books were an homage to the gothics of yesteryear, and the Cat books were fashioned after the British mysteries that I love, this new series feels like the story I was born to tell. 

New books and where you can find me…
The third Cat Carlisle book, The House of Lies, released in March and is available as an e-book across all platforms, with the audio and paperback versions releasing in May. 

I had the pleasure of being a guest on Sarah Painter’s podcast, The Worried Writer, at the beginning of March. Stop by here and have a listen. (Link.)

And that’s it from me. Happy writing and reading.



Saturday, 25 April 2020

Getting through lockdown


I knew it was my turn to post on the blog this week, but I've been putting off writing anything. I've struggled this week with everything, to be honest. My uncle died on Tuesday, and this week should have been the start of a new adventure in France, and I've found it hard to get on with anything. So with only a few hours to spare before my blog post should go up, I've just written a kind of brain dump on life during lockdown.

Really, is a writer's life in lockdown very different from normal? I know many writers who are by nature hermits. They live alone, they sit in their home offices to write, they order shopping online and have it delivered, they conduct friendships online via social media, they venture out only infrequently to meet family. They panic when they need to meet up with editors or agents and spend days wondering what to wear and how to manage the journey. They're happier in the company of their imaginary characters than in the company of flesh and blood friends.

And yet - it is different. Knowing you can't go out for a coffee with a friend. You can't decide to invite family for Sunday lunch. There's no chance of a lunch out with your editor. And although cancellation of a writers' conference means less expense and less stressing about how you'd get there - you were looking forward to it so much and now it's been crossed out of your diary, along with everything else.



And there's pressure on you that comes with the knowledge there's not much else to do other than write, so surely you should be writing double your usual output, working on more than one project, getting yourself well ahead of deadlines. Yet you don't feel like writing, you can't concentrate, you spend hours on social media or checking the news - what's the latest death toll, what mad solution has Trump advised now, has Johnson been spotted anywhere yet? When you finally force yourself away from the computer or phone, all you want to do is curl up with an escapist book, watch popcorn TV or lose yourself in a meaningless jigsaw puzzle.



'If you don't emerge from the lockdown with a new skill, you never lacked time, you lacked motivation," say dozens of memes shared across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. You then feel guilty because there are friends posting that they've spring-cleaned their house, completed the couch to 5km programme, learned French, baked cakes and made bread, or worst of all - written 3000 words a day on their latest novel. And all you've done is fritter away the day.

But then there are the tweets that say if you have simply made it through the day you have succeeded, because frankly that's all many of us are required to do right now. Sometimes we'll have good days when we feel on top of things and can accomplish something (even if it is just putting a load of washing on) and other days when we can't. And that's all right. Just as when you've lost a loved one and are learning to live alongside that fact, it's OK to give yourself permission to simply grieve. We're all grieving in a way, for the life we had and the opportunities we've lost. And too many are grieving for loved ones who've died. No one tells a recently-bereaved person to buck up and get on with writing a novel or learning a language. We shouldn't tell each other this either, during the current crisis.



It's like surfing, my husband used to tell me some years ago when I was dealing with my mother's illness and death. The waves keep on coming, and some of them will knock you off the surfboard, but the trick is to get back on as soon as you can, and learn to surf those waves rather than stay submerged underwater. I've been under a lot this week, but I know I'll get back on the board soon and the waves will carry me forward rather than threatening to drown me. Until then, it's OK to simply tread water for a bit.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

BOOK REVIEWING MADE EASY

During the current lockdown, many are working flat out – doctors, nurses, care workers, supermarket employees, prison officers, the volunteer army – and we sincerely thank them all, clapping and singing and showing support in any way we can.

But for those doing their bit by staying indoors we are encouraged to stave off boredom by trying something new. In our household that’s included testing out new recipes, mastering Zoom and my husband even tried his hand at giving our eldest son a buzz cut! However, today I encourage readers to give something less hazardous a go - to try book reviewing.


WHERE TO START
If the thought of writing and sharing a review feels daunting, why not start short? Think of a book you loved and write a couple of sentences about what made it so special. If you would like to add more, try including a brief summary (avoiding spoilers) or suggest authors who write in a similar style. I can’t stress enough how authors will love you forever if you make the time to leave even the shortest of reviews.
 

NEVER WRITTEN BEFORE
So, you’ve never written before – it doesn’t matter. Now is the time to have a bash, and perhaps make new reading friends and discover new authors to enjoy at the same time.

STILL NOT SURE …
Book reviews and star ratings help promote an author’s work, which is always helpful, but during this time of uncertainty when bookshops are closed and supermarkets are removing bookshelves to make room for essential items, it has become a vital way for your favourite authors to reach new readers.

And remember, readers gain from reviewing too.  As a writer it makes me reflect on a novel – its characters, setting, point of view. What worked well, and occasionally, what could have been done differently. Even though I only write a couple of paragraphs, often publishers send me e-books they think I might enjoy.



WHERE TO SHARE REVIEWS
Again, for those starting out, begin where you feel comfortable sharing. Writing an Amazon review is a great place to begin, then consider popping it on Facebook or Twitter. I also post on Instagram and Pinterest, but do what feels right for you. Goodreads is an excellent site to browse for ideas on how it is done. Remember something is better than nothing when it comes to sharing book love.

WHEN TO REVIEW
It’s easiest to review just after you’ve finished a book. However, if you have days to fill, why not check out your bookshelves or kindle library and get writing?


WHAT IF I DIDN’T ENJOY A BOOK?
This is a tricky one. Usually I check out other reviews, magazine articles or book blogger posts  before I commit, so I’m confident I’ll enjoy a novel. On the odd occasion when I discover a book isn’t for me, then I’ll stop reading. I never review a book I haven’t finished and encourage everyone who reviews to be kind - especially during such stressful times.


DOING OUR BIT
Of course our priority must be to support key workers in any way we can, but if you wish to try something new, why not give book reviewing a go? Let’s do our bit by showing our love for authors and the publishing industry during this difficult time…


Stay safe… and start reviewing!

Rae x

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Let's Talk About A Reader's Trust by Victoria Cornwall

Last week, on the 24th March, I celebrated the release of my sixth novel, Daniel's Daughter. Not only is Daniel's Daughter my sixth novel, but it is the sixth novel in my Cornish Tales Series, which are stand-alone tales set in Cornwall and are linked by family.


I never set out to write a series, it just sort of evolved. I knew, on a business level, it made sense. Well written series, whether film franchises or novels, can build a loyal following to the series brand. This "fan base" (I hate using the word fan as images of screaming, tearful Bay City Roller fans always comes to mind  - which gives away the decade I became a teenager and does not accurately represent people who read books) are more willing to see or purchase the product of a known, trusted brand. They know, from experience or recommendation, what they are going "to get" which greatly reduces their anxiety of completing the purchase. Reducing the anxiety is what all retailers hope to achieve, whether its by boasting about the awards their product has won, displaying positive reviews, investing in expensive marketing campaigns to reassure potential customers their product is "tried and tested", caring and trust worthy etc. etc.

Strangely that precious commodity of trust in a series, does not always extend to the author, screenwriter or publisher who has created it. For example, I have read all of the Poldark series (several times), but have never (to date) read another Winston Graham novel. Perhaps I am strange in that, but I suspect I am not. This is a valuable lesson for writers to learn. If an author takes their readers for granted and assume their fan base (there is that word again!) will buy whatever they write... and whatever quality they churn out, they are surely mistaken. A word of advice to any writers out there... never take the trust a reader has placed in you for granted. Their trust is only loaned to you and can just as easily be taken away.


The trust a reader places in a writer is very precious. I think every writer has some level of anxiety when writing the follow-up novel. I know I have every time I write a new novel for the Cornish Tales series. Writers know, deep down, that the next book needs to reach a certain level of expectation (preferably exceed it) in order not to let the reader down. Once the trust is gone, it is an uphill struggle to regain it. It took me two years to write Daniel's Daughter (quite long for me), as I wanted it to be right. I can only hope I managed to maintain the trust of the readers who have read my others, and maybe even gain a few more loyal customers (as you can see, I am trying to use another word for "fan" here) along the way.

Perhaps this is why the issue of trust plays such an important role in Daniel's Daughter. When the heroine, Grace Kellow, discovers a family secret, the truth destroys her trust in those people closest to her. Can she rebuild that trust? Does she even want to? I can only hope that readers loan me their trust and read the book so they can find out.

As this post comes to an end I have realised something. To the readers who have been loyal to the series and read every book so far (and I know there are many as you have told me so), I have realised that I am a fan of you, as when you tell me this, it is I who is screaming and crying with joy inside to hear from you... just like those Bay City Roller fans who left such an indelible impression on me in my youth.


Sometimes the truth is not easy to say and even harder to hear …

Cornwall, 1895
Grace Kellow is a young woman with a strong sense of who she is and where she comes from. As the daughter of a well-respected Cornish dairy owner Daniel Kellow, her existence in the village of Trehale is comfortable and peaceful.
But then handsome Talek Danning comes striding over Hel Tor, and soon after his arrival Grace is hit with a revelation that leaves her questioning her identity and her place in the Trehale community.
In her hour of need, Talek and his sister Amelia offer Grace sanctuary – but wherever Grace runs, her secret will follow …

Available as an eBook from the following online retailers:-

Also coming out in Audio format soon