Sunday, 28 December 2014

Promotion, promotion, promotion! by Mary Smith

Long gone are the days when an author wrote a book, it was published and the publisher took care of marketing and promotion while the author could concentrate on writing the next book. Perhaps the author would be expected to read at the launch, maybe even take part in a book tour organised by the publisher’s PR team.

Now, authors, whether traditionally or self-published, are expected to be experts in marketing, be social media savvy with Facebook pages (though this might be about to change when FB starts charging to promote anything other than cute kittens) Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and goodness knows how many other such sites. Book launches and tours are done online, organised by the author. Some publishers insist their authors have their own blog – and of course everyone has a website. Actually, a website is beginning to have a rather old-fashioned ring to it.

All of the above is by way of creating an author platform. The point is not to tweet about your own book or show your new publication on Facebook – well, it is and it isn’t. Creating your author platform is about building relationships, making friends with thousands of people, entertaining them with your witty tweets and hoping they might, one day, buy a book.

Oh, and then there are promos to consider – when to discount your book (or give it away for free) for a limited sales period, and which sites should you use to spread the word to readers? I have lists of promo sites but it becomes complicated when you have to book slots weeks in advance – and some sites only let you know a few days before the promotion starts that they have rejected your book – for reasons known only to them.

It’s exhausting. It’s like being on a treadmill. From time to time I question just why I do it. Then, I look at some of the publishing statistics. For instance UK publishers released more than 20 new titles every hour over the course of 2014.

The International Publishers Association (IPA) reported recently that UK publishers released 184,000 new and revised titles in 2013. Literary agent Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown said of the figure: “Of course, it is utter madness to publish so many books when the average person reads between one and five books a year.”

Around 235,000 titles were self-published in print and digital in the US in 2012. Amazon UK boasts having over 2.5 million e-books on sale.

That’s why I do it and will continue to do it. It has to be done to ensure my books don’t disappear into those millions of others but manage to scramble up to towards the ranking levels at which they will be noticed by potential readers.

I hope to become better at it as I learn from other writers who know more about it than I do: such as the wonderful bunch of writers on eNovelAuthorsatWork  who help each other on this perilous promotions pathway.

I know it works.  I do wonder, though, when I’ll ever have the time to focus on writing my next books? It seems to be easier the more books you have out there so I really must get down to it.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Why do we do it? by Jenny Harper

So Girl Online wasn't written by Zoella. What a surprise!

Zoella, from Wikimedia Commons,
photograph by Gage Skidmore.
When a young girl who has created her own brand of fame in the relatively new world of vlogging is commissioned to write a novel – in eight weeks – and it becomes a runaway bestseller, why are fans 'outraged' when they discover (shock, horror), it's not actually written by her? Or at least, not all of it. Or, at least, the characters and stories are hers. According to her publisher, Penguin, she 'worked with an expert editorial team to help her bring to life her characters and experiences in a heartwarming yet compelling story.'

Those of us who have slogged over the years to learn the craft of storytelling might a) chortle at the notion that anyone could actually believe that a young twenty-something can master the art with her first book, in a mere eight weeks or b) go green with envy at the ringing of the tills as Girl Online becomes the highest selling first week sales of a debut novelist of all time.

But think about it. Pretty girl, popular girl = marketing opportunity. A smart editor at Penguin had the idea and followed it through. Celebrity sells. What's not to like? (Ahem – honestly? Only the knowledge I'll never be twenty-something again, and that the seemingly boundless opportunities afforded by social media weren't available when I was?)

But that's just sour grapes. As writers, what we need to do is acknowledge that this is a smart, savvy marketing initiative, tip our hats to the ghostwriter who pulled off the stunt of actually penning a credible and readable 80,000 word YA novel in eight weeks, then sit down and get on with our own writing.

No, we won't sell nearly 80,000 copies in the first week (or might we...? We can still dream!) But we will have crafted something readable, and thoughtful, and polished, that is all our own work and that – hopefully – will connect with our own readership and give pleasure.

I can't get worked up about it. The row about whether Penguin were misleading readers by 'pretending' the book was written by Zoella might rumble on, but if it has made at least some people realise that writing is a skill and a craft that needs to be honed and polished over the years, then I'll be happy.

What do I know about Zoella anyway? Only that she temporarily withdrew from the internet after her legion of Twitter fans turned their wrath on her, claiming that it was 'clouding her brain.' You and me both, Zoe, you and me both.

Monday, 15 December 2014

SO ....IT'S ALMOST CHRISTMAS AND .... by Linda Mitchelmore

....... my cards have been written and posted. Presents have been bought, although they are as yet, unwrapped. The shops are awash with Christmas trees and lights and gift ideas, and Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells. I have already eaten one 'Christmas dinner' and am booked in for two more before the 25th. There are also a couple of drinks 'dos' on the calendar. But inside my head it is summer. It is what writers do - think ahead of the game. Sun, sea, sangria - and possibly sex depending on which publication I am writing for - have been in my head for weeks. I have to say it's rather nice to have warm sun on my back, and a garden full of roses and to be building sandcastles with a small child or two inside my head when it's grey and grim and grotty out there. Visualization (spell check tells me it is a z in there, although instinct wants me to put an s!)is a gift to the writer - escapism from the reality of sometimes not very happy lives at worst, and like meditation at best. I sold a short story last week set on St Valentine's Day.and there is one set on the longest day half-completed and waiting for me to get on with it. So, all those people who have had Christmas novels and novellas and anthologies and stories printed this year were well ahead of the game, weren't they? I, too, have a little collection of Christmas stories out there in the ether, done in connection with Janey Fraser who asked me if it might be fun to do. It was. And we are already thinking ahead of the game for what next to put our heads together on.
That very excellent publication, Writing Magazine publishes, from time to time, an Editorial Calendar. The current issue tells us that 25th April 2015 is the 100th Anniver4sary of ANZAC landings at Gallipoli. Possibly a bit late for an historical novel set at that time, but there's still time for a novella, I should think. Or an article. Easter, should you be thinking of writing an Easter story, is in April in 2015, so best get your skates on with that one. Or how about something to mark the 90th Anniversary of the publication of F Scott Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby? 10th April is the date for that. Now then, don't say you didn't hear it here first and that you haven't had good warning. April 2016 (yes, 2016!!!) is the 200th Anniversary of Charlotte Bronte's birth. And yes, I do know there is the double-dot thing over the e but I can't get it up on this programme, so very sorry about that everyone. And Charlotte. So....get your thinking caps on everyone. How about a modern take on one of her novels?

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Not-So Secret Research

So it could have been embarrassing. I was having a little technical trouble (nothing new there) and hand consigned my fate — and control of my computer — into the hands of some stranger in a call centre on the other side the world.

Nothing new there either; but it just so happened that this time I hadn’t closed all the programs on my computer, let alone the windows on these various programs. It was bad enough, then, that as the cursor whizzed across the screen minimising windows here and there (my blog on whether science is sexy… oh dear) it hesitated and I could almost feel the snigger.

Here’s a thing. You can tell what someone’s thinking when they’re on the other side of the world, when you aren’t talking to them and when you can’t see their face. You’d hardly call it body language but there was an eloquence to the way the cursor twitched when it hovered over the open window in Google Chrome. You know the one. The one that’s open at the article on How to Tell if You’re a Psychopath.

If friendly technician had an ounce of sense he would, of course, immediately have put two and two together and made a writer. But I’m mightily relieved that he didn’t get a look at some of the other things in my browsing history. Apart from betraying my time-wasting devices (What Norse God Are You?) and my hopeless fantasies (PhD Projects in Geology & Geophysics and Atmospheric & Environmental Science) he would, if he hadn’t calculated that simple sum of two plus two correctly, been straight on the phone to the police.

I’m writing romantic suspense, remember. And I don’t (yet) have an encyclopaedic knowledge of crime so I have to look things up. Which is why my browsing history contains searches relating to chloroform and how long you will remain unconscious... other drugs which leave no trace... how you can stab someone so that they bleed a lot yet recover fairly quickly. And so on.

It could have been a lot worse. I’ve always been a little bit wary of the search terms I enter into the internet, which is why my story about the Suffragette and her home-made bomb skimped on the detail and is possibly also why it never got published. I’ve also thought twice  before typing certain things into Google Earth , and I certainly will be if I ever have a plot that includes a raid on Fort Knox.

I know I’m not alone. We writers are a vile, twisted lot. Want to tell me your secrets, list some of the sites you’ve visited in the name of research? Go on — I’d love to hear.

Jennifer Young

Monday, 17 November 2014

How To Keep On Writing? by Gill Stewart

Beautiful Iona where we went for the first of our short breaks
My life has been a bit unpredictable recently. Good things have got in the way of routine - like my Other Half atypically booking not one but two short breaks. And bad things, like family illness.

I have always found it difficult to be the sort of writer who writes a little every day, and yet I know that I write better if I do that. And I'm happier, too! So a couple of months ago I told myself to forget being a perfectionist, forget having to reread every word written to date before going forwards - and just write!

With all the recent interruptions I would have expected this to be particularly hard to follow my own advice, but somehow I have pushed through, making notes as I go, e-mailing various versions of the ms to myself so I can access it wherever I happen to be. And making more notes because the main ones are in the wrong place...

But I have kept on writing. And with the advent on NaNoWriMo this month (see Mary Smith's earlier post) it seemed the ideal opportunity to push myself a bit harder and not just write, but to write a decent amount each day. So far, to my great surprise, it has worked.

What have I discovered?
  - once I start writing, even if I say to myself 'A hundred words will do' I find myself enjoying and writing far more
  - the plot is developing itself for me (but then I have always been a bit of a pantser, so have tended to write this way)
  - I am getting to know my characters by writing them. I know I will have to go back and edit things in the early stages, but that's okay, I AM getting to know them
  - I've got back my love of writing and lost all the guilt about not writing/not writing enough/not writing well enough.

This reminds me of something I read that Jennifer Crusie had written some time a go - go write that good book. Don't worry about what others are thinking, what the market is doing, go and write the best book you can. And to do that, you have TO WRITE. Write what you can, where you can. And have fun.
If I can do it, anyone can, but I’d certainly appreciate any further advice as to how to keep this drive going.

Monday, 10 November 2014


Hello, my name's Linda and I'm an editsaholic. Crumbs, I never thought I'd say that....think it even. I well remember the first set of professional edits I was sent. It spoke in all sorts of strange words the most confusing of which was TRACK-CHANGES. All sorts of settings seemed to be attached to said track-changes and it was all too easy to click on the wrong one. There were whole tracts of this manuscript which now had red writing in amongst the original black. I was told when I wanted to make my own changes in this 'new' document then my new words would come out in blue. Blimey! They did! I was told if I wanted to comment in the editor's boxes down the right-hand side of the manuscript I was to do it in another colour. I chose green. The whole thing was turning into a rainbow....and also a bit of a nightmare. I thought - in total ignorance I now know - that I'd written a book, it would be checked for spelling and punctuation and that there had been no huge copyright errors, and then it would toddle off to the printers. But no. My editor didn't like this, questioned that, suggested that the other would be much better. And I didn't like it one little bit! Oh no...who was she telling me my baby wasn't quite as beautiful as I thought it was? But I knuckled down and got on with. I even learned a thing or two. So when book two came along there wasn't quite so much to do as there had been with book one. Track-changes? We were old mates, weren't we? I was beginning to see how a good editor can make a good book even better - well, that's what someone told me (not necessarily about my book, you understand - not bragging) and I chose to believe it. And now I have another edit on the go. And I'm still learning! I have the same editor I've had before and I think she's a little bit like Kevin on Strictly who's pushing Frankie every which way to get the best performance out of her, because she knows me and knows what I'm capable of. I'm being pushed. And my book is becoming the stronger for it. In the middle of all this, a friend who has a fancy to write short stories sent me something for me to give the once- over and an opinion on. I could see how it could be improved. So....ho hum, here we go ...professionalism came to the fore and I put track-changes on it and played 'editor'. three of my EMMA trilogy will be out in the very near future....edits notwithstanding. There's a January publication date being mentioned so....better get on with. It will join TO TURN FULL CIRCLE and EMMA: There's No Turning Back. And here for a bit of fun is me with Graham Norton doing my level best to persuade him to buy my books. He was, as you can see from his body language, not in the least bit interested. The strong silent type - or maybe just silent!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Getting the word out by Jenny Harper

Becoming a Mo Sista means that I'm the one with the moustache!
Anyone who calls themselves an author these days knows how hard it is to get your books noticed in the brave new world that is modern publishing. This is true whether you are traditionally published or self published – I've been both, so I talk from experience!

The frustrating thing is just how long promotional work takes. Social media activity sucks up your time and saps your creative energy. I haven't done much in the way of personal appearances so far (just my recent launch in Waterstones), but obviously they take up time too - though I do think there must be something rewarding about actually interacting with real readers instead of hiding behind a computer screen. If real readers turn up to your event, of course!

Last summer, I was contacted by the lovely Janice Horton to ask if I would be interested in joining a pilot group of authors on a new promotional venture. Hit Lit Pro wanted ten authors to sign up for a year, paying a modest (but realistic) fee in return for a significant amount of social media activity on behalf of both individuals and the group and two blog tours (a five-stop tour and a ten-stop tour). Four months in and I'd say it's proving worth every penny. The Hit Lit Pro team have been tireless in their efforts. My first blog tour (five stops) yielded four reviews for my new title within days of it appearing and significant exposure (I have to stress that it is made absolutely clear that reviewers accepting the book for review must be free to be completely honest in their assessment). They ran a Rafflecopter competition for me, which also gained a lot of interest.

But the team at Hit Lit Pro have gone further. They are constantly looking for new ideas to help the group – and their latest is pure genius. We were asked some months ago if we would be prepared to contribute a short story to a Hit Lit Pro anthology in aid of Movember, the men's charity. Most of us agreed, a publisher (Thornberry Press) was found, and a campaign launched.

Today, Let's Hear It For The Boys! is launched. Thanks to the efforts of the promo team, it's already in the charts. It sells at 99p and every penny goes to charity. Please click now and support Movember! As a bonus, if you go to the HLP Facebook page, you can win some fab prizes.

It's a brilliant idea in itself – for a small effort, we get a lot of publicity, but we also raise what I hope will be a significant amount of money for the charity. Win win.

Building an author profile can take years – very few people have instant hits. I am delighted to be a part both of Hit Lit Pro and of the Movember campaign.

Can you think of a better way of getting the word out? If you can, I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, 27 October 2014

A Hymn to Tim: Part 2

Some time ago I blogged about stereotypes (see A Hymn To Tim, back in March 2013). I hate stereotypes; and names (Tim perceived as being a particularly wimpy moniker) are just one example of how lazy we can be in that respect. You don’t have to look far to see other ways we fall into the trap; there are plenty of others.

Of course, if you write in a particular genre then you have to accept that readers have certain expectations of that genre. That’s fair enough. But I do think it’s possible — and desirable — to bend those expectations just a little.

In concluding my previous post, I issued a challenge to my readers. “Next time you’re scratching around for a name for your muscle-bound hunk of heartbreaker, think of me – and call him Tim.” And of course it would be wrong of me not to have taken up the challenge and so I had to call my next hero Tim. I admit that I fully expected to have to change his name, either because an editor couldn’t face the idea or because I myself lost my nerve at the last minute. But it didn’t happen.

So what kind of hero is called Tim? He’s a man not afraid to get to grips with the great outdoors. A man who doesn’t like to be told what to do but one who isn’t afraid to show his sensitive side to add to his sense of humour. He has an outdoorsman’s stubble and a tattoo of crossed geological hammers on the inside of his wrist.

Our heroine Megan, however, is not taken with him. “Academically brilliant, emotionally flawed, charming, handsome, unbearably arrogant… Tim bloody Stone, appearing out of nowhere,” she fumes, her nose particularly out of joint because he has with him a rival — a woman, gorgeous, sexy and clever.

Real men love rocks...
The sharp-eyed among you will have spotted that Tim is a scientist and not just any old scientist but a rockhound — and even some geologists make jokes about how dull and geeky geologists can be. But Tim is, when necessary, as hard or even harder than the rocks which he studies so obsessively.

Why am I telling you this? Because science doesn’t have to be dull any more than Tim has to be a wimp. Because his hard-headed scientific approach and his need to know all the answers are at odds with the emotional sensitivity he needs to understand our poor heroine and so end up leading both of them into trouble.

It’s romantic suspense and it made it past the editor’s red pen. Tim kept his name and so you’ll have the chance to find out all about him, all about Megan and (just for a change) even a little bit about the geology of northern Majorca. It’s called No Time Like Now and it’s available from Tirgearr Publishing from 28 October.

Go on - give it a try. And let me know what you think…

Sunday, 19 October 2014

It’s that time of year again by Mary Smith

That’s right, NaNoWriMo is fast approaching. For anyone who does not know what NaNoWriMo is, it is National Novel Writing Month in which writers all over the world embark on a mad marathon of writing from the 1st to the 30th November with the aim of reaching a target of 50,000 words. That’s 1,677 words a day.

The event was started by a guy called Chris Baty back in 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area. A total of 29 people took part. The following year an official website was created and 140 participants joined, 29 of whom completed the challenge. Chris expected a similar number the following year but 5,000 signed up – causing a bit of a headache for the organisers and the technology.

In 2002, following a lot of media attention, 14,000 people signed up for NaNoWriMo and it has continued to grow. Last year 310,095 writers took part. It is a huge, global community of writers with forums which provide a place for support, advice and information. There are regional Municipal Liaisons (ML) who help on a voluntary basis with organising local events, ‘meet-ups’ and to offer advice. A buddy system is in place so you can have someone to keep you going when you start to flag.

The rules are simple. You sit down and you start writing at 12 am on November 1st (when you sign up online you can adjust the clock to match your own time zone). The work must be new but it can be on any theme, it can be the complete story or the beginning of a longer work. You can post the number of words achieved each day and at the end of the month you put the entire work onto the site to be verified – if it’s 50,000 words or more, you have ‘won’.  The prize is a sticker to put on your website or blog – so although it would be very easy to cheat it’s simply not worth it.  Oh, and CreateSpace offer to produce a draft copy of your finished manuscript.

The aim is to get people to start writing, get the words down and worry about editing later. It is ‘quantity over quality’. The site’s slogan is ‘No Plot? No Problem.’

I tried and failed to reach the 50,000 word target a couple of times. One year, I was so depressed about my failure I swore I’d never do it again. I totally forgot it was supposed to be fun (!?). Last year, I signed up at the last minute and I ‘won’ though I chose not to have CreateSpace turn by 50,000 words of drivel into a ‘book’. I can still remember how very pleased with myself I felt when it was confirmed I had achieved the target.

Since then, I have been turning the muddle of words into a blog called My Dad Is A Goldfish, which is all about caring for my demented dad.

Will I take part in NaNoWriMo this year? I’m thinking about it and if having no plot is really no problem then I might just have a go again.

Will anyone else be signing up for a month of writing mayhem?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Getting round the block, by Jenny Harper

Sharing a joke with Eileen Ramsay.
It's been a great week. Not only did I have a terrific launch at Waterstones of my new book, Maximum Exposure, but I have also discovered that my writing, which had been well and truly stuck, is flowing again.

I wasn't sure that the two events were linked, but on reflection, I realised that feeling good about what you're doing – and knowing that readers are enjoying your book – are a great stimulus.

All year I have been struggling with my work-in-progress. The block stemmed in part from taking time out to publish two novels independently, a process that proved a major distractor (interesting though it was).  Another part of it was that I felt I was writing into a vacuum. I was getting reviews, most of them favourable, but I didn't feel as if I was getting validation. On top of that, my writing felt clogged up. I over complicated the plot lines for my new book.

We need to keep readers turning the page, but I'd allowed plot to outweigh character, so much so that I stopped being able to hear my characters talking to me. When I finally realised this, I printed out what I'd written so far and rewrote the first chapter to get the two main characters together more quickly. That felt as though it was starting to move the book in the right direction. Then I turned my attention to the hero and heroine and sorted out their drivers and motivations. I ruthlessly stripped away superfluous characters and plot lines and lost about 8000 words – and, finally, I began to see where the novel should be going. More importantly, I took time to get better acquainted with my characters. Instead of trying to fire ahead with the plot, I slowed down and got inside their heads more. There's a tricky balance to be found here, but I have come to realise that slowing my writing down to let the characters speak more for themselves doesn't necessarily mean slowing the book down too, because if the reader is truly engaged with the character, he or she wants to know what's going to happen to them.

I've cleared my head, got rid of the excess fat and focused on the muscle of the book – and I am rediscovering why I like to write. I'm getting that sense of fulfilment and excitement that only really comes when everything is working well.

Stepping back from the book, being objective and focusing on what's core have all helped. But most of all, I think I'm beginning to enjoy writing because I know that readers are now beginning to enjoy my books.

How do others get around the dreaded writers' block?

Sunday, 28 September 2014


How do you judge a ‘good’ book? Or a ‘really good’ piece of music? Is there some objective quality these can be measured against? Or is it purely subjective? 

Can we use something as a proxy for quality – being assessed by experts, or appealing to a great deal of people, or having a lasting appeal over time? I’ll consider each of these in turn.

The problem with arbiters of quality being The Experts, is that we first need to decide who the experts are. There are many people willing to put themselves up for this role – university lecturers, book reviewers, other writers to name but a few. The problem is, their views are subjective, and they often don’t agree with each other. And even more often, I don’t agree with them. If I did, I would have to consider the books that, say, make it onto the shortlist for the Booker Prize as ‘good’. And, mmm, I really can’t say I do.

Volume of sales doesn't really imply quality for me, either. I understand that very many (young) people enjoy the music of One Direction, but does that mean it’s ‘good’. Likewise the books of E L James. On the other hand, I do think high sales can be an indicator of something – J K Rowling and Nora Roberts didn’t achieve the massive following they have without producing a really good product. But then, not everyone likes either of these, so we’re back to subjective judgements again – just the subjective views of a whole lot of people rather than the individual ones of the experts.

Having a lasting appeal over time actually makes more sense to me as an indicator of quality. I’m not a fan of classical music but I can wonder at and appreciate Mozart, as I can many ‘classical’ books such as Austen or George Elliot or Shakespeare. Being popular over a long period of time does show that the work isn't just suiting a current fashion. The problem with this measure is we have to wait a very long time before we can decide if something is good!

Although I can find reasons not to agree with many judgements on what is good and what isn’t, I do at heart believe there is something to the idea of ‘quality’. I might not be able to define it, but I can recognise it when I see it. Bob Dylan has it, as does Beethoven. Jennifer Crusie has it, as does Margaret Elphinstone, and Graeme Swinson (I strongly recommend his The Rosie Project if you haven’t come across him).

You might say it doesn’t matter, and we should leave everyone to like or dislike what they wish. Which of course is their prerogative. But there’s still this little bit of me that wants to be able to define and classify this…

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Looking for my voice by Jennifer Young

Icelandic fireworks. Image credit: Ármann Höskuldsson/IMO
So, it’s over. What a week it’s been. Now I’ve had a good long sleep I can lift my head from the pillow and get my life back.

What? Did I what? What did you think I was talking about? The referendum? Ha ha! No, this week was the deadline for submission of my Open University Masters dissertation - snappily entitled “How far can our knowledge of past explosive volcanic eruptions in Iceland and elsewhere contribute to prediction of future events and mitigation of their impacts?”

That’s why I’ve barely written anything for weeks that wasn’t either a work commitment or else involved a complicated analysis of the current situation at Bárðarbunga volcano (which, by the way, is now looking as if it may yet erupt properly).

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve loved my OU studies. But I am slightly worried that, as I enter my recovery period, I’m right out of my fiction mindset. My brain is programmed to focus on rhyolite rather than romance, and the fireworks of my imagination aren’t emotional ones but spat out from the bowels of the Earth.

Now that I have the time to write I’m a little worried that I won’t be able to do it. Although I have no concerns about ideas (my holiday in Italy gave me plenty of inspiration) there’s the question of contrasting styles to consider. I’ve trained myself to write in an impersonal style — one that’s measured and objective, stripped of any emotion and geared heavily towards the passive voice.

My promise to myself was that when all this was over I would let myself write. I have the synopsis of my holiday story planned although I’ve rather got out of touch with my characters. But that’s easily sorted — I just need to have a little chat with them over a coffee and see what they think.

No; my fear is that I may have lost my writing voice. Have I changed it for ever? Have I given up any lightness of touch I may have had? Will I write my novels like a scientist (which might be funny for five minutes but no longer)? Worst of all, will I lose the best of each approach and end up with the worst of both worlds?

Help, please! What’s your advice?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Building a character – thoughts on my new novel, by Jenny Harper

Daisy Irvine is a photographer. She works for a small regional newspaper, which is struggling for its existence (I like to write about women who face challenging situations in their lives). Naturally, my heroines are also plunged into emotional turmoil, and Daisy is no different.

So far so normal. Woman facing challenge. Woman falling in/out of love, struggling to save a relationship, or build a new one in the face of certain odds. But every novel has to be different, and every character must sing. I hope you’ll remember Daisy long after you have finished reading my novel, so let me tell you a bit about how I built her.

She’s talented, but lacks self belief. She’d disorganised and over reliant on others to sort out her problems. She lacks confidence – so much so that she carries a small teddy bear in her pocket (he’s called Tiny Ted) and strokes him when she feels in need of comfort. Unsurprisingly, he’s a bit bald. In short, Daisy is a little childlike. Once I realised that, Maximum Exposure developed into a ‘coming of age’ novel and the rest was easy.

What happens to Tiny Ted? Come to that, what happens to Daisy? And who, in heaven’s name, is Nefertiti?

Statue of Nefertiti, Wikimedia Commons.
To find out, you’ll need to click onto Amazon and download Maximum Exposure, my new novel, which is out today! Yay!

Maximum Exposure is my first novel with Accent Press, who were perspicacious enough to offer me a contract this summer. Thank you Accent Press! And thanks to all the team who have worked like crazy to get this book out to a very tight deadline.

I promise not to use this blog to push my wares too often. But come on, all you writers, admit it – a new book is a bit of a thrill! And a new book with a great new publisher is the icing on the cake. 

I'd love to know how you build your characters!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

WagTongues by Mary Smith

 I live in Dumfries & Galloway in the south west of Scotland. It’s a beautiful place to live with glorious countryside, forests, hills and miles of sandy beaches. It has lots of lovely little towns, many boasting independently-owned shops. It has excellent cafes and restaurants, which boast menus from delicious local produce: seafood, salmon, beef, venison, game. It has more artists, craft makers, and writers than you can shake a stick at BUT it does not have a single independent bookshop.

Authors – whether mainstream published or independent – have little opportunity to sell their books over the counter – over any counter. Last year, a few of us were grumbling about this state of affairs. Even the annual Book Festival, held in Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book town provides no opportunity for local writers to sell their books unless they are in the main programme. A small number of the 60 or so local writers might be in the programme each year but it leaves the vast majority invisible to the visitors to the book festival.

Instead of bemoaning our fate some of us decided to do something about it and so, WagTongues was born. It is a collective of Dumfries & Galloway writers which organises pop-up bookshops throughout the region. It is a bit anarchic – no constitution, no committee, no bank account. All published writers living in the region can sell their books in the pop-up bookshop. WagTongues takes no commission so authors receive the full sale price for their books.

The first pop-up bookshop happened in Wigtown last year, on the last day of the festival. It had proved very difficult to find a venue but the Machars Initiative came to the rescue and offered their office space – not ideal, but central. Authors were offered reading slots during the day and the bookshop turned into a mini festival, an element which has continued to be an integral part of WagTongues.

The next time we popped up was in Dumfries when we had a two-day shop in a central venue, on the weekend the Christmas lights were switched on so there were lots of events going on around us. It was a great success – apart from selling lots of books, people who would never in their wildest dreams have attended a poetry event were enticed in and discovered poetry could be fun, witty, and entertaining, authors were interviewed about their work and WagTongues started to become known and talked about.
Soon we were being invited to attend festivals and had a fantastic two days at Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival where we popped up in an old newsagents shop. This month we have three pop-up shops – one down and two more to go. The one we have just done was across the border in Carlisle when WagTongues was invited to pop up at the first Carlisle Book Festival. As it was in the library we couldn’t have our usual mini festival of readings but we had ‘Ask the Author Anything’ in which visitors could ask authors questions about their writing – or anything at all really as I realised when I heard author Margaret Elphinstone say: “Oh, that’s Auntie Barbara!”

Another part of the WagTongues experience is ‘The Poet Is In’. Visitors can describe a momentous event in their lives, drop it in a box and one of the resident poets immortalises the memory in poetry. It was a good day, even though sales were lower than usual – we suspect because people come to libraries to borrow, not buy books.

WagTongues has also been invited to take part in one of Dumfries’s newest festivals, the Nithraid – a boat race from the sea up to where the salt water meets the fresh in the River Nith. WagTongues will have a pop-up book-stall. The final event will be back in Wigtown on Saturday 27th September, which is the first Saturday of Wigtown Book Festival where there will a wide and exciting range of publications, a complete mini festival of readings and talks.

WagTongues is growing and is proving to be a fantastic showcase and sales point for the writers who live and work in Dumfries & Galloway – a beautiful region in which to live and work but which has no independent bookshops – and provides an opportunity for writers and readers to interact.

Are there any similar book-selling collectives out there? It would be great to compare notes.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Comics vs Novels by Christina Courtenay

This week we have a guest blog by award-winning author Christina Courtenay. 



Last week I went to see an exhibition about comics at the British Library – a slightly surprising venue for such a thing perhaps, but then comics, or graphic novels as they are now called, are books too, just with more pictures.  And they’re brilliant!

The exhibition – Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK – was a very detailed and complete history of the genre, starting with artists like Cruikshank and Hogarth who created connected prints that formed a sort of comic strip.  Although really, art as story telling had been around long before then – perhaps one can even count stone age cave paintings as some of them tell a tale of some sort!  Basically, story-telling is as important to humans as breathing, or maybe that’s an exaggeration, but as singing at least.  And obviously there are three ways of passing on a good story – by mouth (learning by rote), by writing and by creating pictures.
I’ve always loved drawing and painting, but sadly I’m not very good at it so I could never have become a comic artist (or any kind of artist for that matter!).  Looking at all the fantastic comics on display at that exhibition, I felt very jealous at first.  The artists were all so talented and managed to convey their characters’ feelings and movements perfectly in each panel of their graphic novels.  I wished I could do that too, as it seemed such a powerful way of telling the story.  The impact was twofold, visual and written at the same time, and therefore felt as though it affected me more strongly.

But then I started thinking about this and realised that in a way, novelists do more or less the same thing because as authors we paint with words.
Our descriptions are paintings inside someone’s mind – the readers have to interpret our ‘brushstrokes’ and form their own version of the painting in their imagination.  If we do our job properly, they will see exactly what we see when we are writing a scene down.  If not, at worst they won’t get the picture at all or (perhaps not quite such a disaster) they might imagine the scene in their own way.  That would be okay unless it’s the complete opposite of what you had intended.  When it comes to heroes, for example, it’s an absolute bonus because if we only give a vague description, suggesting certain traits/looks, the reader will apply these to a man they can fall in love with, the sort of male they prefer.  Whereas if they’d seen the picture the author had in mind, they might not have fancied him at all.
I have to admit I’m not very fond of descriptions and long narrative sections in novels.  I have been known to skip them if they go on a bit (shock, horror!) and much prefer books with lots of action and dialogue.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not very good at descriptions myself – I find it almost impossible to come up with similes and metaphors that others haven’t already used.  And I don’t want to have to resort to clichés unless it’s absolutely necessary.  Far better to keep it short and sharp then, at least, if, like me, you are writing to entertain readers and not for the sake of the language itself.
I do admire beautiful writing – who doesn’t? – but much prefer to read easily digested, light-hearted stuff without long descriptive passages.  Perhaps that makes me shallow, but it’s what I enjoy so I’m sticking to it.  How about you?  Do you prefer a quick read or do you like to linger over wonderfully phrased descriptions and clever use of words?  I’d love to know.

Christina’s latest novel, Monsoon Mists, is out now – for information click here -
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