Friday, 24 September 2021

Awards and Engagements!

For this week’s Blog Post I thought I’d say a few words about the Joan Hessayon Award of the Romantic Novelists Association. Many of you know about this, but it’s fallen to me, as the “local rep in York” to organise the actual event where the Award is made for the last couple of occasions.

This year’s event is different for a couple of reasons. Foremost it’s the first live RNA event for a year and a half! Because of the dreaded Covid everyone is feeling their way, getting used to meeting real people and actually talking to friends old and new in real life, and not on Zoom!


Our event takes place at the Merchant Taylors Hall, one of York’s three extant guild halls. The Merchant Taylors Guild still very much exists today, as a benevolent charity. They do a lot of great stuff, although it’s a long, long time since any member picked up a needle in earnest. We have a few less attendees than normal this year because of Covid. This does make social distancing easier, of course.


RNA Chair, Alison May, 2019 Winner, Lorna Cook,
and the previous winner, Hannah Begbie.

A candidate is any RNA member who has had their first novel published having come through the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme. I came through this scheme myself and cannot recommend it enough. As a start-up writer the support and feedback that you do get is amazing. This year there are eleven candidates, and I wish them every success this weekend.

The candidates in the 2019 Award Ceremony.

Nobody goes hungry at the York Tea!!

And THIS years winner is: Caroline Day, 


 And now on to part 2. I’ve Just Got Engaged – and So Should You!

 No, not to anyone you know, but rather Engaged With…. Yes, the word is ENGAGEMENT.

The people who read this blog will – in the main – be writers. You can divide these into three classes.

  • 1.       Conventionally published, with one of the “Big 5”
  • 2.       Conventionally published with one of the new, Small Publishing Houses,
  • 3.       Independently or self-published.

If you are Independently published, you know you must do all the publicity, sales, and marketing on your own.

If you are with a Small Publishing House, you will also have to do all your own publicity, sales, and marketing by yourself!

And, if you are with one of the “Big 5”, you are STILL expected to do a lot of your own publicity, sales, and marketing!

So the word-of-the-day is Engagement. i.e., Engaging with your readers, your followers and the general public. In short, with anyone that you think might buy, borrow from the library, or download your book. 

And how do we find them? Social Media, I’m afraid.

People either love social media (i.e., me) or hate it. However, this is not about your feelings of distaste, its about SELLING YOUR BOOKS!

This post is going to look at just part of 1 facet of it. Facebook and Facebook Groups. Why? Because Facebook is the LARGEST social media platform by far – nearly 3 BILLION users!

And –1.8 billion people use Facebook Groups, and there are tens of millions of groups on Facebook.

https://blog.hootsuite.com/facebook-statistics/

Facebook Groups are your way of expanding your reach. The trick is to be selective, and only join those groups that contain fans or users of your kind of work, be it any of the different writing tropes or genres.

Big group or small group? If a group is getting 60 posts an hour, then your post is likely to be visible for a minute, tops. If it is getting 3 posts a day, then your post will stick around a lot longer. Facebook itself wants more activity directed to Groups.

“But I don’t have anything to say!”

Of course you do. Your news includes:

  • 1.       When your cover comes out.
  • 2.       When you get a publishing date.
  • 3.       When you sign a contract with a publisher
  • 4.       When you are signed by an agent.
  • 5.       When your book appears in the best seller lists.
  • 6.       When your book is referenced in the press.
  • 7.       When you get a review.
  • 8.       When you work up a new advert for your book.
  • 9.       When you are having a launch party
  • 10.   When you are having a blog tour
  • 11.   When you are appearing in anyone else’s Blog, or on their page.
  • 12.   When you are going to a writing event
  • 13.   When you have been to one (especially with photos)
  • 14.   When you have a new entry on your own blog or page.
  • 15.   When you are meeting writing friends socially
  • 16.   When you are starting your edits
  • 17.   When you are finishing them.
  • 18.   When you see your book on a shelf for sale.
  • 19.   When your cat does something extra cute.
  • 20.   Your dog, ditto!

 Always – with any of the above – include a link to the event / page, etc., and to your book.

On the hedgehog front, they have abandoned us! Hopefully they will be back in the New Year. In the meantime, we are leaving food out, just in case. We now have the fattest magpies and pigeons IN THE WORLD!!

 




Saturday, 18 September 2021

THE GREAT SCOTTISH CANVAS

Hello! 

Have you ever suffered a mental itch? An idea or theme you long to use creatively but can't find the right project? Well, the desire to write about the Scottish wildcat bubbled away in my mind for years, but I couldn’t find my way in. Should I incorporate a wildcat into a novel? Write a short story? Or shorter still, create a flash fiction piece? Nothing worked. 



THE GREAT SCOTTISH CANVAS 


Then I heard of The Great Scottish Canvas, a project launched by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) aiming to showcase people’s vision for a greener and fairer Scotland. The search was on for voices from across the country, expressed in both poetry and artwork. 

Now, drawing isn’t my thing, and although I’ve dabbled with poetry, I could never describe myself as a poet. But I really wanted to write about the Scottish wildcat. So, I did what I would advise newbie writers against and bent the rules, just a tiny bit, by writing a piece of prose poetry, otherwise known as flash fiction. And ‘The Fight of the Wyld Cattis’ was born. 


A Scottish wildcat, also known as a Highland Tiger...


WHY THE SCOTTISH WILDCAT? 


Wildcats of all shapes and sizes fascinate me – their beauty, their strength, along with often solitary, survival skills. It’s believed that Scotland’s wildcat, also affectionately known as the Highland Tiger, arrived just after the Ice Age, and thrived in Scotland’s secluded valleys and forests. But now, after centuries of being hunted, they are critically endangered. There are estimated to be between only 50 and 400 pure bred animals still surviving in the wild. With water-proof fur allowing them to swim (unlike domestic cats, whose fur becomes waterlogged), and a fearsome reputation that means, per pound, it is regarded as the most vicious cat on the planet, the Highland Wildcat played a huge part in Scotland’s history, as a symbol of vigour and courage. 

COP26 - to be held in Glasgow in November 2021


WHERE WILL THE GREAT SCOTTISH CANVAS BE SHOWCASED? 


Given how passionately I feel about the need to protect the Scottish wildcat, imagine my delight when I received word that my piece was to be included in an online exhibition, which opens today, Saturday 18th September. But there’s more... ‘The Fight of the Wyld Cattis’ is one of 45 pieces selected to be published in a Great Scottish Canvas Book, which WWF Scotland will bring to COP26 – the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2021. My love for the wildcat means my piece will sit alongside a poem from Alexander McCall Smith, as well as writing from former Makar, Jackie Kay. Additionally, it will be exhibited at the Glasgow Science Centre during the month of October. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

 
The beautiful Scottish wildcat is critically endangered...

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED? 


But what has the project taught me? Firstly, to be patient and trust the muse will come when the time is right. 

Secondly, I usually write creative fiction, but the piece I wanted to write for the Canvas veered into nature writing. Could I pull it off? I had no idea, but I was determined to do my research and give it a try. So, be bold, try new things – whatever your creative discipline. Who knows where it might lead. 

Finally, I learned to follow my heart. In my case it was shining a spotlight on the plight of the Scottish wildcat. I’m thrilled my piece has been selected, but I’m far more delighted that one of Scotland’s most vulnerable animals has found a place in the Canvas. 

So, have you worked on a passion project which stretched you creatively? And what did you learn? 

To read ‘The Fight of the Wyld Cattis’ and see the other inspiring entries, as well as discovering more about The Great Scottish Canvas, just click on the link here... Enter The Great Scottish Canvas Gallery.

Happy reading!

Rae x

Saturday, 11 September 2021

How to write a classic

In January I wrote a blog post about books to read before one dies and how the list influenced a Christmas gift from a member of my family. One of the books I requested for Christmas was the classic The Catcher in the Rye, which I have just finished. The plot wasn't what I was expecting, but perhaps that is not surprising as I knew nothing about the book beyond its cult-like status before I read it. However, its simple plot and style did make me ponder on what makes a book a classic and could I write one?

According to the Cambridge and Collins dictionaries, a "classic" is a work which is well known, of high literary standard and has lasting value. During my research the general view is that a classic should touch and connect with people, challenge a reader's view on life, influence subsequent books and its appeal must last for years. Using it as an example or a discussion topic in book clubs and education can help with the demand lasting for years.

Armed with this knowledge, I re-examined The Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger to discover why this book became a classic. The story is told from the viewpoint of a teenager and covers his thoughts and actions over a very short period in his life. The teenager becomes increasing depressed and disillusioned with the world, and although he has a kind heart, the reader can't help feeling he is on the road to delinquency.

This novel was initially a series, but was published as a book in 1951. Now it may surprise some people, but the idea of being a teenager didn't really emerge until mid 20th century. Prior to this children left school at a young age and went straight into work. They dressed like their parents and worked long hours like their parents. Compulsory education, coupled with the advances in technology, opened up teenagers to the wider world and its variety of new influences. Suddenly teenagers had the space to create their own culture, fashion trends and music preferences. So the arrival of The Catcher in the Rye was, in my opinion, probably one of the first novels to be from a teenage perspective, using teenage slang and... most exciting of all, the hero was suffering from all the insecurities and disillusionment that, although rife, was probably not fully acknowledged back then. Although initially written for adults, this book connected with adults and teenagers, challenged readers view of the world and subsequently changed how many books, aimed at teenagers, were written. Add the cult following it has attracted over the years, it is no wonder it became a classic.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, is a coming of age tale of the March sisters. Published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, it was later released as one volume in 1880 and became one of the most widely read novels in history. The plot had a wide appeal, as it not only connected with readers from all classes, but it resonated with readers who were, or had, navigated the choppy waters from innocent childhood to womanhood. However, the story also challenged the idea that marriage was the main goal, as the main antagonist, Jo, turns down her first marriage proposal and, instead, chooses independence and pursuing her dream of becoming a writer. This was inspirational for many readers at that time and challenged their view on life. Independent heroines, choosing who and when they marry, had been created. No wonder Little Women became a classic.

My third example of a classic is Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. Published in 1877, it has become the best selling book of all time. The book is told in the first person (or should I say first animal) as a autobiographical memoir from the viewpoint of a working horse. It is emotional, graphic, sad, happy, and takes the reader on a roller-coaster of emotions. More importantly, it highlights the suffering of working animals in a way that had not been done before. Suddenly animals were shown to experience sadness, longing, fear and exhaustion, in a way it was not acknowledged before.  This novel connected with people, as many used horses for work and transport at that time, but it also challenged their treatment and highlighted their suffering and how easily they were discarded. It became the most anti-cruelty novel of all time and was championed by animal welfare activists to further their cause. Subsequent books, told from the animals point of view or at least gave them a voice, such as Charlotte's Webb and Watership Down, followed.

So now we know what makes a classic, all we have to do is write one. Remember, it must connect with a wide audience, challenge their view on life, influence subsequent books and remain popular for years. Hhmmm... I think that's easier said than done!

What novel is your favourite classic? Is there a book you think should be considered a classic? Tell us about it, we would love to hear.

Victoria Cornwall

Sunday, 5 September 2021

A WRITER'S WRITER - MY MEMORIES OF JANE

Last weekend I was given the saddest news that Jane Wenham-Jones - novelist, short story writer, journalist, and so very much more - had lost her battle with cancer. I first met Jane in the mid 1990s when we shared a short story agent, Midland Exposure. Through the publisher, Accent Press, we both contributed to the Sexy Shorts Antholgies, raising funds for Cancer Research. There can be few people today who belong to the Romantic Novelists' Association and have attended conferences or prize-givings, or who read Writing Magazine, and newspapers in Jane's neck of the woods, who haven't heard of her, or be lucky enough to know her. So those people will know what I mean when I say she lit up a room. Yes, she was fond of colour in her hair - and the more the merrier - and loved a chunky necklance but it was more than that. Jane was a real 'people' person. Her personality shone through. She was generous with her time, a writing mentor to many. When Jane asked if I could offer any writing tips when she was writing WANNABE A WRITER I sent in a few. She used all of them, and was generous to me in her introduction to them. I don't remember all I said apart from suggesting aspiring writers think to get their teeth seen to (if needed) in readiness for the photo shoots for the author profiles that would appear in their books. (If only I'd taken my own advice!) To promote that book Jane came down to Devon and gave a couple of talks about her writing life, peppering them with anecdotes from her every day life. She was a brilliant speaker - and all without notes. Always funny. But never at anyone else's expense. One tale she told that sticks in my mind is the time she was a landlady and a tenant was behind with the rent. So round she went to see why and when the monies might appear. When she peered through the letterbox there was an almighty stench. A body? She wasn't going in, taking any chances. She called the police who found that the tenant had filled the freezer with pork chops, pulled the plug, and left. Can you imagine? And apologies if you're reading this eating supper. Back in the day, before writing a novel had ever entered my head, Jane and I often had short stories in the same magazine. One of those times was a Special issue of Woman's Weekly. Jane got in touch to say how much she had loved my (longish) short story. 'A lot of people are perfectly good writers, but not everyone has 'got it'. You, Linda, have 'got it'.' I said she was generous. Fan mail of the highest order. I last saw Jane at - of all places - a funeral. She came down to Devon to give the eulogy at the funeral of a mutual writing friend. I knew she was ill then, but she was the same irrepresible Jane, always asking after others, always thinking of others. Always with a smile.
Jane's last book, OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER, was published just a few weeks ago. I don't know what Jane's beliefs were. I don't know what yours are. I know only what my own non-beliefs are. Yet there's a part of me that hopes beyond hope that she might be up there leading a few angels astray, sharing a bottle of wine. And, perhaps, colouring their hair ... red, green, blue, turquoise ... whatever. Sleep well, lovely Jane. I will miss you.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

 ‘DO YOU JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER?’


If I had a pound for every time someone's asked that question on social media over the last couple of years, I'd be living in a four storey Georgian townhouse in Knightsbridge, and drawing up the guest list for my next dinner party on my super yacht (moored somewhere hot in the Mediterranean, of course). To say it's a perennial old chestnut would be understating it.





While ‘never judge a book by its cover’ might be good advice when applied to people, when applied to books it’s nonsense. Because that’s precisely what a book cover does. It invites potential readers to judge whether or not they might be interested in what’s inside. And whether or not they’d be willing to part with their hard-earned cash to read it.

But a good book cover is not necessarily an easy thing to find. There’s so much it has to convey, all in just one glance at the book shelf or thumbnail online. Tone, genre, setting. Who will this book appeal to? 





I’m a hybrid author - meaning that as well as being traditionally published by a big publishing house who take care of everything including the cover, I’ve also got a couple of self published books out there (which is probably the subject of another post!). As a self published writer, I have total control over my cover design, even more so in my case as I design them myself. In a previous life I was a video and photo editor, which has left me (in the words of Liam Neeson) with a very particular set of skills, including an eye for composition and some mad Photoshop skills.





But it’s not an easy thing to do, as evidenced by some of the myriad self published, self-designed books on Amazon. I LOVE that Amazon has given everyone the opportunity to publish their work - the DIY/garage band ethos appeals to the old punk rocker in me - but seriously people, look at your covers next to others in your genre (trad and self published), and judge honestly whether or not they stack up against them. Because if they don’t, you are really limiting your audience. The story inside could be incredible, but a poor cover will make potential readers think the inside will be just as low in quality. If you can’t do it yourself, there are plenty of cover designers out there who can help you (myself included), and they shouldn’t charge you a fortune. 





I recently relaunched my debut novel, Dead in Venice, with a new cover. The story is a mash up of murder mystery and romance, so that’s what I was aiming for with the cover design. The setting, Venice, is the perfect romantic backdrop, but by playing with the colours I was able to give it a slightly more sinister feel. I think it echoes the tone and genre of the story inside. Will it entice new readers? I hope so. It’s certainly eye-catching and an attractive picture in its own right. Time will tell!





One thing that does seem to attract and annoy readers in equal measure is the rise of what I call the ‘woman-in-a-red-coat’ type of cover. Ever noticed that there are a LOT of books out there with very similar covers? There are an inordinate amount of WWII novels featuring the back view of a woman, very often wearing a red coat to stand out from the background. Or travel romcoms, with the back view (again) of another woman in a sun dress, usually clasping a hat to the back of her head as she gazes out at the vista in front of her - usually a beautiful Greek island, an Italian coastal village, or maybe the Eiffel Tower. This happens when a really successful novel hits the shelves, and publishers attempt to ride on its coat tails. You can’t blame them; if books are in the same genre, and are aiming for the same market, why not try the same strategy the bestseller used? This might sound cynical - and it is a bit - but at the same time it’s telling readers, ‘if you liked THAT, you’ll like THIS’. And if that’s true, that’s a win for the reader; it makes picking your next read so much easier. At the same time, there needs to be something different, a little extra, that distinguishes one book from another; I’ve seen a few where the covers are so similar that without looking closely at them you’d think they were the same book.




So the next time someone asks you if you ever judge a book by its cover, tell them YES! We all do. Whether we’re judging them fairly or not is impossible to tell - unless you actually read it…




Sunday, 22 August 2021

Multi-tasking

 

This month I find myself in the unusual situation of working on two novels at once. I often overlap writing them – typically having one novel that’s with an editor while I start on a new one, and then when the editor responds I’ll break off from writing the new one to work on the edits.



But now I am in the first draft stage for two novels. One is more or less there – I have reached the end but there are some gaps and I need to add several scenes before I can say the first draft is complete. The other is about one third done.


The deadline for the first is not until October so I should be able to complete it easily enough. The second is not a contracted novel – it is something a little different that I just fancied writing.


Many authors only ever work on one book at a time, and only start researching and thinking about a new novel when the previous one has been sent to the proof-reader. I’m contracted to write two a year and so this isn’t possible for me – I have to make use of the time while waiting for feedback or for the copy editor to complete their work otherwise I’d never get them done. Elapsed time for each novel, from beginning the research through to completing the copy-edits, is at least 9 months, up to a year.


‘But how do you keep two stories in your mind at once?’ I’m sometimes asked. Well I have to do that anyway, as my novels are in the dual timeline genre – a historical mystery is uncovered and resolved in the present day – so there are two stories in each book in any case.


Also, like most people I will always have a novel that I’m reading on the go, and probably two or three TV drama series that we’re watching in the evenings. So typically I might have half a dozen unfinished story lines in my head at any one time – what’s another one or two?!




I think humans have a huge capacity for story. We can and do carry many stories around with us; some where we know the ending and others that are still being played out, whether in real life, on TV or between the covers of a book. Stories we’re writing are just the same as stories we’re consuming (apart from the fact we need to remember more detail about them, of course!)


Anyway, I have decided to give myself a few weeks on the non-contracted novel before I go back to finish the other one, in good time before it’s due to be sent to my editor. It all helps keep writing alive and fun for me. After a period at the beginning of this year when I felt like giving it all up, I’ve worked hard to rediscover the joy of writing. Part of that is allowing myself the freedom to work on what I most want to work on.


What about you? Do you ever work on more than one novel at a time or not?

Friday, 13 August 2021

In which we discuss books and podcasts...


Hey, fellow writers.

I don’t have anything exciting to share this time around, as I’m taking a step away from writing and just enjoying life. To that end, I’ll dedicate this blog post to the books and podcasts that have been taking up my time now that I’m not writing.

Hope you, your family, friends, and love ones are keeping well.

Terry

Beneath the Skin by Caroline England.

My first Caroline England book and it definitely won’t be my last. A tangled web of a haunting story, tightly plotted with a well-developed cast of characters, and a surprising reveal at the end. This writer knows her stuff.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

A poignant escape read, with all the good feels. Tells the story of a grandmother and granddaughter who swap houses (and as such lives) for a few months. The hijinks ensue, as each character struggles to adapt to the other’s social structure and drama, all the while delicately dealing with the loss of a beloved family member. Highly recommend.

The First Wife –Podcast with the first wife of Dirty John

If you are one of many millions of podcast listeners or movie watchers who followed the story of John Meehan, the podcast told from the perspective of his first wife, Tonia Bales, is a must listen! And for all you crime writers out there, be sure and check out the bonus episodes featuring behavioral analyst Dr. Laura Richards, who takes a deep dive into the many facets of John Meehan’s psyche.

Nemesis – Agatha Christie audio book narrated beautifully by Emilia Fox.

Many of you know Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors, and Nemesis features Jane Marple at her subtle yet keen finest. In Nemesis, Miss Marple honors the dying request of Jason Rafiel (first seen in The Caribbean Mystery) and sets out to solve an old murder that implicated his wayward son, Michael. The narration of this audio book is what makes it so wonderful. It’s a comfort listen for me, a definite “re-listenable.”

Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is reigning queen of lyrical writing, and this book of short stories doesn’t disappoint. Check out these opening sentences:

“It was said that boys should go on their first sea voyage at the age of ten, but surely this notion was never put forth by anyone’s mother.” The Edge of the World

“Witches take their names from places, for places are what give them their strength.” The Witch of Truro

“On the farthest edges of the cape, it was widely believed that cranberries first came to earth in the beak of a dove. If that was indeed true, then heaven was red, and the memory of paradise could be plucked from the low-growing shrubs that grew in the dampest, muddiest bogs – a far cry from heaven it would seem, at least to some. “Insulting the Angels.”

That’s it for me. What have you been listening to or reading? Do share!

Happy writing,

Terry