Sunday, 29 December 2013

New novel release by Jenny Harper

As it's Sunday and I'm not sure which of my fellow bloggers is due to blog next, I'm leaping in to remind those of who who haven't yet heard that my novel, Face the Wind and Fly, is now available on Amazon.

Love wind farms? Hate them? Love a good story with challenging family relationships, complicated emotions and difficulties tossed into daily life by work, friends and circumstances? Then there's something here for you.

It's available now as an ebook from Amazon, and I'm hoping you'll be able to buy it as a printed book very shortly.

And now I'll shut up and let the next blogger have the stage!

Face the Wind and Fly by Jenny Harper, available from Amazon, currently priced at 95p.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Some resolutions by Mary Smith

I’m late putting up my post and I’m blaming the usual pre-Christmas mayhem. Earlier this month I thought I would be interviewing fellow blogger Jenny Harper whose first novel, Face the Wind and Fly is about to go live on Amazon but a wee delay has meant it isn’t up there yet – but do look out for it. It will be coming very soon.

In the meantime, in between rushing around the shops, spending far too much money because my method to cheer myself up while shopping for impossible-to-buy-for people (DH in my case) is to buy something for me, too, I haven’t had much time to think up a blog topic. I finally decided to think about some New Year resolutions for writers.

Keep on writing.

Do not feel guilty
We’ve all read the instructions, the how-to-write-a-novel/bestseller manuals and learned about the need for discipline and to approach our writing as we would any other job. We’ve been told to give ourselves a target of X number of words a day and to sit at our desk until we have achieved the target. Then, when we don’t achieve the magic number we feel guilty and beat ourselves up because we’re clearly not as dedicated as we should be. Rubbish! Yes, there is a need for a certain amount of discipline but there is also a need to be kind to ourselves and not take all the blame when we didn’t make the word target. Life gets in the way and sometimes we have to accept this and go with the flow. We are writers, we want to write and we will write and sometimes a bar of chocolate and a glass of wine while reading a book we enjoy will make us better writers.

Accept that talent will NOT always be recognised by a traditional publisher
New writers were always advised that ‘talent would out’, that if they kept plugging away, sending their manuscripts to agents and publishers, one would eventually recognise how good it is and offer a contract. This advice is backed up by the list of successful writers, usually topped by J K Rowling, who were rejected umpteen times before their book was picked up by a publisher.

They don’t mention that the work of many, many really good writers is not picked up this way. I have some excellent books on my Kindle and can’t understand why a mainstream publisher didn’t publish them. Of course, many writers are now going straight to Kindle without putting themselves through the trauma of countless rejections – and good on them.

Learn marketing skills
You have to be good at promotion and marketing whether you self-publish or are published by a traditional publisher. I know writers whose publishers almost insist they have a website, a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account all with the aim of marketing books. Tweeting, ‘Buy my book’ 50 times a day, though, is not going to endear you to potential customers, which is why we need to learn effective marketing skills. I can’t help feeling there is some disconnect between writing and marketing (although Charles Dickens did it well). If we wanted to be super salespeople we’d not be writers.

Maintain contacts with other writers
Other writers know exactly what the writing life is like – its ups and downs; the joy of having a story/poem/novel accepted; the depths of despair to which we plunge when our work is rejected. Other writers can be a lifeline. Cherish them.

Keep on writing. (I know, I wrote this at the start – but it is worth repeating)
Okay, maybe this year was not the year of your breakthrough novel; maybe you didn’t find an agent – or found one who then didn’t sell your book. Or, maybe you got your book ‘out there’ and no one apart from your best friend and your auntie bought it and you’re thinking you might be better taking up knitting. No, keep on writing because, ultimately, it is writing which pleases us most.

Happy Christmas and I wish all writers a creative 2014.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Is getting to grips with technology a distraction? by Jenny Harper

Years ago, when I was editing a magazine for craftspeople, I used to feel so sorry for these creative folk, who also had to market their own work, run a business, get noticed by the media, deal with advertising and generally be savvy in ways that for most of them was totally alien.

Guess what? That's exactly how I'm feeing myself right now! Having taken the decision to publish a couple of my novels as an indie, I'm trying to get to grips with everything that needs to be done. I know, I know, lots of you have done this already, but come on, it is a bit scary, isn't it? There's so much to think about, from the process of uploading to making sure that absolutely everything is in order. There's ISBNs, acknowledgements, blurb, trailer for the next book, covers – deep breath – metadata, tags, marketing strategies, promotion, not to mention ITIN numbers and heaven knows what.

Then there's my website. I set it up a year ago and felt very proud of myself. It's just simple and I didn't promote it, because, well, I had nothing much to promote. Now it needs updating so that I can put up the news about my story in the RNA anthology, take part in the My Writing Process blog, start to build an email list, link to my books when they go up on Amazon, and heaven knows what else.

It's exciting, for sure, but it's also extremely time-consuming and a little scary. And I'd much rather be sitting writing than having to get to grips with all of this.

The plus side is, I can finally get some of my work out there to all the readers I imagine breathlessly waiting to read my every word. *Grins*

Without being ironic, though, it really is exciting. My novels are sad things hiding facelessly on my computer. None of you really knows what my writing is like or what kind of stories I tell (apart from my lovely writing buddies, Jennifer and Dianne, that is). Of course it's scary, opening your work to the world in this way, but it's exhilarating too. Soon my little babies will have faces and, like newborns, will sally out into the world to engage with others and try to make their mark.

I thought I'd design the covers myself, but have now decided to employ an experienced graphic designer. It will be really interesting to see what he comes up with!

I've given myself last month to edit the books (and after a year or two away from them, it was surprising to see how much needed editing!) and this month to get the covers done, my ducks in a row, and one title uploaded. January will see book number two, but I probably won't do the third till March or April.

Meantime, what about my writing? The ideas are beginning to whizz around, and I can't wait to have the chance to clear space in my head so that I can sit down and do what I really want to do – which is, after all, write.

But then, it's about engaging with the reading public too ...

By the time I blog here again, I hope to be able to share some of my work with you. You never know, I may even cheat on the rota and sneak in early. That's what being a marketing manager dictates, after all!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Back in the day,when I was five years old, my mother enrolled me in the local library. It was situated here in Paignton where the old Liberal Party headquarters had once been. To get to the books one had to climb a couple of flights of - to my young mind - very wide stairs. Creaky double doors, one had to push open with both hands, opened into a big space with floor to ceiling bookshelves, all with their headings - POLITICS, SCIENCE, GEOGRAPHY, FICTION ...and the rest. The books I loved the best were the ones in leather covers with very thin, tissue-paper like pages one could almost see through. They crackled when I turned them with a bit of lick on the end of my forefinger - sacrilege, I know, but I was only little. It wasn't long though, before I wanted my own books. For Christmas each year my dear old Aunt Frances always bought me an Annual of some sort....I remember Girl when I was older but not what I had before that. My father gave me 2/6d a week pocket money which was just about enough to buy cheap versions of the classics back then. Woolworth's sold them - hardbacks with quite garishly illustrated paper covers. I still have some of them. The town had a couple of stationers' shops that sold books as well, so I was pretty much set up for book buying - being able to hold it in my hand and sniff the pages (old books always had a smell about them, didn't they?)before taking it to the counter to be paid for and wrapped up. Fast forward a few years ......and not only has Woolworth's gone, but also all those old-fashioned stationers' shops that sold books, too. W H Smith sells books, of course, and have done for some time but I have never felt able to just browse in there with people wanting you out of the way in their haste to buy newspapers and cards and paperclips. Waterstones haven't made it to the coast but I have to say I don't get the casual browse I remember so well when I go into one in Exeter or Bristol or wherever. And now Amazon seems to have become the bookshop du jour. Paperbacks or Kindle, take your pick. Epublishing is, so I'm reliably told, taking over how we want our books, how we buy our books. I often wonder how many of those titles downloaded, because they're written by a friend or a friend of a friend or someone we've friended on Facebook or Twitter, are actually read. I'm not so much of a dinosaur that I don't have a Kindle - I do ....a pretty purple one. But oh how I miss those independent booksellers of old that seemed to be in every town, and often in large villages too. But all is not lost here, we still have an independent bookseller in Paignton - The Torbay Bookshop - although the owners have had to diversify and sell chocolate as well to make the business viable. And they still host booksignings - I've met Sir Patrick Moore, Kate Mosse,Francesco da Mosto, Ann Widecombe, Rachel Joyce, Kate Furnivall, and many others. I've even sat behind the little table piled high with my own books. I'll be there again at the end of January 2014 to sign copies of EMMA:There's No Turning Back. Liking a book signed by the author is a personal choice but there are, I think, still a lot of people about who like a personal message from the author. Last week I was at a talk in Brixham Library given by Lesley Pearse for which The Torbay Bookshop got in the books for her to sign. Even now I'm published myself it's still a thrill to meet a big-name author in the flesh. In high street booksellers buyers are rushed through at booksignings as though on a treadmill - I know, I've been there, done that. But in independent bookshops there is time to chat, to have a glass of wine. To browse. So, while we still have small, independent, bookshops in our towns let's use them, I say.

Sunday, 1 December 2013


I sometimes wonder what the impact of social media has been on functional literacy.  Do we write more or less now than we used to?  Is that writing better, worse, or just different?

Horace - Roman poet who deplored the falling standards of youth
I know many of us groan when we see the numerous spelling and grammar mistakes on Facebook, Twitter, etc., but surely these media are encouraging people to communicate in writing when they would not otherwise have done so.  Letters would have been anathema to them.  Even now they may be communicating more with copied cartoons and photos, but they are also adding their own captions and comments so they are writing.  These are people who would have been reluctant writers at school and non-existent ones thereafter.

So, what impact has this had?

On the level of literacy?  I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that in terms of quantity of people communicating via the written word, it has increased.  As to quality, that is a different question.  Certainly The Mail thinks that standards are falling (no surprise there, then!).  A recent article claims ‘the massive rise in social media use among the young is having a major impact on writing skills’ [Mail Online, 27.11.2013]. However, when reading the detail of the article I see they are more concerned with quality (correct spelling and grammar) than quantity (actually writing).  And they say nothing at all about actual communication, i.e. whether the writing is doing what it is intended to do and telling us something.

Others have a particular dislike of texting, claiming that it reduces all communication to bite-sized chunks, with little or no regard for grammar and a definite encouragement towards abbreviation.  I, on the other hand, would tend to agree with the suggestion that texting is developing its own kind of grammar.  It may not be standard grammar, but it is understandable to the people who use it and can be very evocative.  LOL has evolved into something much subtler and sophisticated and is used even when nothing is remotely amusing… [it] signals basic empathy between texters, easing tension and creating a sense of equality… Texting, far from being a scourge, is a work in progress.’ [Time Ideas, 25.4.2013]

Writing is a tool of communication, not an end in itself.  It is a tool that has been changing just as language has been changing since man (and woman) first changed from grunts to words.  This harping on about the decline in our grammar and spelling reminds me of the Roman poet Horace who complained at length about the falling standards in the youth of his day.  And that was about, er, two millenia ago…

Which brings me to another point.  What has this upsurge of writing in the social media done for our style of writing.  And is it, er, now acceptable to include ‘er’ in a sentence?

Clearly, the general tone on social media is chatty and informal, which is fine because this is an informal sphere.  However, my personal experience is that this style is moving over into e.g. work sphere.  Work e-mails may well be more formal than FB, but they are very much less so than internal memos used to be, never mind letters.  Letters are still used occasionally, but it really is occasionally – and are often sent as an attachment to a fairly informal e-mail, so you are getting both streams of communication at once.

Whole books have now been written as a series of e-mails and Instant Messages, e.g. Meg Cabot’s ‘Boy Meets Girl’.  And they are fun and enjoyable not because of the format but because they have a good story-line, believable characters and create a world we want to enter.   If they don’t have these latter three qualities then they will not be a good read – the format cannot make them good any more than it can make them bad.

So – is the rise of social media harmful to literacy because it encourages communication in bite-sizes?  Are books un-read because you can read a summary on-line?  Are spelling and grammar deteriorating to the point of no return because no one cares any more?  Or is this the way it has always been – not progress or deterioration, but just change?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

NaNoWriMo: The Way Forward

By Jennifer Young

Mary blogged last week on the subject of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo (hope it’s going well, Mary!) and I make no apologies for doing the same thing. I don’t imagine I’m the only person for whom the whole get-on-with-it ethos of 50,000 words in a month has taken on a life of its own.

I went at my novel knowing that I couldn't possibly manage 1,667 words each and every day and that my only hope was to get it done as soon as possible, preferably without neglecting everyone around me too much. And I’m pleased to say that I did – and that I even managed to feed and clothe my family and discharge my paid writing commitments at the same time, though perhaps some of the other household chores got a little neglected.

And once I’d typed those magic words The End and downed a celebratory glass of red, what next? Revision. Redrafting. Editing. Because when I read back over the first draft I was struck by the inevitable horrors. You know the sort. There’s the vegan tucking in to an omelette; the woman who starts the book without a husband and yet by the end has been married for twenty years to a man we never see; the character who (if you pay attention to the timescale) manages to be in two places at the same time. Worst of all, one of the major characters is so completely underdeveloped I can barely see him in my own mind – so heaven help my readers.

Hero just a cardboard cut-out? Oh dear!
Photo: Gage Skidmore (from Wikimedia Commons)
None of this would have happened if I wasn't driven by NaNo. I would have planned my timescale more carefully. I’d have plotted my characters in more detail. And I’d probably never have got beyond 30,000 words before grinding to a halt and moaning about how hard it is to write a novel. Of course this is the beauty of the whole project – as long as you can abandon the mind-set that drives you to get it right first time it helps you over the walls of must-go-back-and-fix or don’t-know-what-comes-next.

As it happens, I like editing. I like redrafting. It’s easier to breathe life into a cardboard cut-out when I know what situations he’s in. It’s easier, too, to see the flaws in the novel when it’s actually written than when it’s in the planning stage, though planning remains essential (and indeed, I wrote to a plan).

I have written a novel in a month. It’s 75,000 words long. It’s pretty terrible, if I’m honest – but at least I know why. And I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to picking up the red pen.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Indiscriminate reading and indiscriminate writing by Mary Smith

Last month the DH and I went to the beautiful island of Arran, often described as Scotland in miniature, for a holiday. I took along a pile of research material for the WIP (or maybe I should call it the ‘work nearly in progress’) and did not look at it once. Instead, as the weather was good – not only not raining but actually sunny and warm – we did a lot of walking and climbing.
On the summit of Goatfell I discovered the DH has no head for heights. It’s nice, isn’t it, when after twenty plus years of marriage you can still find new things about your partner? Even though, it turned out, we both forgot our wedding anniversary which was during our holiday. However, we enjoyed many delicious dinners out over the course of our holiday, so I guess we did celebrate it, even if unknowingly. I also enjoyed having plenty of time to read.

I read voraciously and, having abandoned the worthy research books I’d brought, I read indiscriminately, and it was lovely. I simply left my critical faculties on one side and didn’t think about structure, plotlines, what worked and what didn’t, or assess whether characters were sufficiently developed. I knew I was not going to discuss what I was reading with anyone – I just read.  I devoured J K Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy (39p on my Kindle!), New England Rocks by Christina Courtenay, Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro, The Mistress’s Revenge by Tamar Cohen (rather unpleasant central characters reminded me of Gone Girl), an Isla Dewar, title now forgotten found on the rented accommodation shelves, a M&B medical romance, both title and author’s name now forgotten also on the shelf and I started and abandoned a misery memoir in favour of Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups.

From indiscriminate reading to indiscriminate writing – it’s NaNoWriMo time. In case there is anyone out there who doesn’t know about NaNoWriMo it means National Novel Writing Month and the idea is that during November you sign up to write a 50,000 word novel – 1,667 words a day. You sit down, you write. You don’t edit, you don’t worry about plotlines going round in circles, or characters refusing to do anything, never mind not doing what you want them to do.

I have tried it in the past. In fact, I blogged about it a couple of years ago when I was feeling confident I was going to achieve the target, but I failed. I think it was the second or third time I had tried and given up and I felt so depressed by my failure last time I vowed never to put myself through such self-inflicted pain again. Last year I deleted all NaNoWriMo emails. This year I ignored them until the day before it was due to start someone emailed to say she would read my novel No More Mulberries, but not until December as she was doing NaNoWriMo. I wished her luck, explaining why I was never going to do it again. She suggested I give it another go and we could be NaNoWriMo writing buddies. Guess what, I signed up again!

I decided, though, to use the writing time for something which isn’t really a novel. For a long time I have been saying I want to write a blog about the situation with my father who has dementia and what that entails for me and my sister, especially as his wife has been in denial about his condition and hinders the care process every step of the way. I thought it would be a good chance to write up the material, the anecdotes, the arguments, the heart-breaking moments and the amusing episodes (quite often those two go together).

Past the half way mark and I have managed to keep the word count on target. If I can keep going I will have 50,000 words of a rough – very rough – draft of something which I hope I can edit, polish up a bit and post bit by bit as a blog. As my father lives totally in the moment, forgetting everything from who he saw to what he ate, within a couple of minutes I’m giving it the title of My Dad’s a Goldfish. I’ll let you when if it goes live.

Is anyone else taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? How is going for you?

Saturday, 9 November 2013

It just makes you think by Jenny Harper

I've just sent another book to my agent, Vivien Green. She loves it! Whoopee! Won't it be great if an editor feels the same way?

However, with my story coming out in the Truly, Madly, Deeply anthology in February, I've decided I really must have something up for my adoring fans to find when they go to Amazon to see what else I've written. So I'm editing a couple of novels – maybe even four – so that I can publish them myself. This is hugely energising and exciting, especially as I've also spent some time designing the covers.

I love graphic design. I did a lot of it in my job, so I'm not afraid of it. But what I found interesting by undertaking this process was that suddenly I 'saw' my books in a different way. Instead of being slightly dead things lurking in my computer, they have begun to spring to life. And I've seen them differently in other ways too – for example, as I searched for appropriate images for the covers, I realised that two out of four novels needed to be renamed, and the focus of one was completely wrong.

(This last is a bummer, because I'm having to rewrite large parts of it!)

I'm sorry I can't reveal the covers yet - they are still in visual form and I will need to purchase the images before I can use them. However, here's a couple of examples of how things have changed, and why.

The Suspicious Wife is about a wind farm engineer whose marriage is under threat. Meantime, she is coping with a difficult situation at work, and she meets a gardener who hates wind farms as much as she loves them. When it came to writing a strapline for the cover, I realised that the title didn't describe the main conflict. Now it will read:

Face the Wind and Fly She builds wind farms, he detests them. Can they ever find love?

The next book is about three friends who live in Edinburgh. The original title  – The Glass Ornament – came from a quote: 'Friendship is like a glass ornament - once it has been broken, it can never be put together in quite the same way.' I loved it, and my then agent Dot Lumley loved it too. But when I started looking for an image, it seemed to be too cold and inanimate. I came across a terrific image of a pair of man's shoes next to a woman's legs – quite sexy but leaving a lot to the imagination. Who is the man? Whose legs are they? And a new title came to me: Between Friends. 

Between Friends They thought he belonged safely in the past, but his return threatens the marriages, careers and lives of three friends.

I have finally seen the value of the 'elevator pitch'. It focuses the mind as well as sells the book! Maybe in future I'll design my own cover before I even start writing – it might save a lot of time in the long run ...

And now I can't wait to share my covers – and my books – with you all. Watch this space.

Sunday, 3 November 2013


Now, now...calm down. This isn't what you think! I'm not talking sex on the first date/in the first week/after three months when he's proved he's keen here. So bear with....:) If, like me, you're only 5' 2" in your stockinged feet I think it helps to know what it would be like for your romantic hero to be tall. Okay, so that might be a stereotype with a tall hero, but you don't read about heroines lusting after 5' 4" heroes who wear socks with their Jesus sandals, do you? Nothing wrong with either there, I hasten to add, because I'm sure your 5' 4" sock-wearing hero could be a very, very nice man. But most romantic heroes are tall, and I think it is especially important to have an idea of this, at least, if your 6' 4" hero doesn't have a point of view in your novel. Does he have to bend his knees to an uncomfortable position to see in your heroine's bathroom mirror? Does he have to be Houdini to get under her shower head? Does he have to stoop to get under doorways in your fictional house/gym/mansion/yacht? Could he see over the fence into next door's garden while standing at the kitchen sink, and if so what he could see that the heroine can't? And then there's the issue of shoes - what is it like to wear size thirteens? Do they fit on a stair tread the way your heroine's would, or would placing them make him walk downstairs in an ungainly manner? Hmmm...but knowing all this can bring authenticity to your writing. Liam Neeson (of Schindler's List fame)is 6' 4". David Hasselhoff, who got many a heart fluttering on Baywatch, is 6' 5". A quick trawl of 'tall actors' on Google and you'll find many that are 6' 8" and counting. Blimey.....what a crick in their necks they would get kissing shorter actresses - or actors....whatever floats their boats.
So, a little role play can be brought into force. A stool-step helps here. I have one my late father-in-law made for my children to access the top bunk easily. It is fourteen inches high - perfect for my needs. I wanted to know what it was like bending down to kiss the top of someone's head - a fave romantic action, that! Does the hair smell of shampoo, or traffic smells, or day's old cooking? All of those things, if you want to know, and it also tickles your lips like crazy - well, it did mine. Does a very tall man reach straight out for a door handle, or does he have to hold his arm down? Ditto shaking hands. And have you ever tried doing up shirt buttons the man's way? Not easy...I was all fumble-fingered.
I know someone who had a peripheral, male, character in a wheelchair, so she hired one for a day and got her husband to push her everywhere to see how it felt. She hated it because it made her feel invisible - people spoke to her husband and ignored her so she had to change the character in her story from being gentle and at one with his lot, to someone who was actually quite angry inside and it changed the story for the better. Which brings me neatly to my hero in GRAND DESIGNS, out now on Amazon Kindle.....for this one I actually went to the south of France, and I arranged a real, live, meeting with a baronet....shame he was already married!

Sunday, 27 October 2013


A snapshot of the family bookshelf showing  our penchant for series – Rankin, Pullman and Rowling among others.

I often think there is nothing as wonderful as a good book.  But, actually, I realise there is something even more wonderful – a series of good books! 

A (good) series provides the joy of getting to know the characters, of reaching the satisfying end of a story with the bonus knowing that the same characters will appear again, in a story just as good.  You will learn a little more about them, minor characters may take centre stage, old friends reappear 2 or 3 books down the line. 

I have to admit that not only do I enjoy reading series, but that I have also started writing one.  And that’s just as much fun as the reading – the chance to develop character, relationships and setting in so much greater depth, over a longer time period.

After I started writing this blog post, it occurred to me to wonder what exactly it is that defines a series?  I consulted the web and consensus seems to be:

  • -          a group of books where reading in order is essential or at least preferable; and/or
  • -          a group of books sharing a common setting, story arc and characters

Series are different to novel sequences, which are set in the same imaginary universe but they have a free-standing storyline and can be read independently of each other. 

Series can be divided into a number of categories.  Some have one central character and one continuing mission (Harry Potter), others a central character solving a string of unrelated mysteries (Ian Rankin’s Rebus series).  Another type of series is centred around a particular location (e.g. Rebecca Shaw’s Village) or a family or group of friends (Nora Roberts – too many to mention!).
Series are particular common in children’s fiction and genre fiction, particularly crime and fantasy.  The title may indicate that the book is part of the series, e.g. ‘Harry Potter and…’ or may give no particular suggestion that this is part of a series.  In the latter case publishers now-a-days usually add a by-line e.g. ‘a Gil Cunnigham mystery’.  In earlier days publishers didn’t do this, and often didn’t even indicate what other books existed in the series.  I remember endless frustration as a child because I had no way of knowing how many Chalet School books there were and what order they came in.  It was only with the creation of the organisation Friends of the Chalet School in the 1990s that I finally got a definitive answer to that question.  Oh the joy!

Which brings me to another interesting aspect of series – many of them have spawned clubs, newsletters and web-sites for fans who want to share their fascination with others and extend their stay in this make-believe world just a little longer.  It is also common for series to be made into films or tv series, recent bloc-buster successes including Twilight and Game of Thrones.  The US/Scottish timeslip series Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, is currently being filmed for television. 

What is it that makes a series more than the sum of the parts?  I think it is that opportunity to engage more fully with the imaginary characters and their setting.  It really makes that fictional world seem real.  Do you read series?  Why?  And if not, why not?