Monday, 26 May 2014

The Party's Over...

Contenders for the Joan Hessayon Award.
That's me in the white jacket in front of the window.
And what a party it was! Well, let’s be honest - any party where you can’t grab another delicious canapé because you have a glass of wine in one hand and a glass of champagne on one had is the kind of party I’d like to be at every week, thank you.

I was at the Romantic Novelists' Association's summer party in London and I was up for a prize. The lovely Jo Thomas deservedly won the Joan Hessayon Award for debut novelists but (let’s just get the non-writerly cliches out of the way while I still have what passes for an excuse) everybody was a winner. I certainly felt like one. Name up on a slide if not in lights, name check, photographs — oh, those pesky paparazzi! — certificate. And of course, that new frock. (Yes, that’s the end of a long story involving several shopping trips and a pair of very expensive walking boots.)

So now that I’ve digested the canapés it’s time for a period of mature reflection. A writer’s life is full of ups and downs. Once I finally liberated the much-travelled helium balloons in my living room (to the cat’s clear puzzlement) it was time to hang up the frock (smelling faintly of wine, alas) and go back to what’s next.

It’s this. It’s scratching my head over my latest detailed synopsis and trying to work out which of my characters is lying to which other and, most crucially, which of them is keeping a terrible secret from me (because if I knew I might be able to do something about that plot problem). It’s trying not to get over-anxious because I haven’t heard about my latest submission even though it hasn’t really been out in the world long enough to miss me. It’s staring at a blank screen and then cleaning the kitchen floor because at least if I do that I’ll have something to show for my time.

And it’s dreaming about the RNA summer party. My mind keeps going back to it. Old friends, new friends. Fellow travellers in a peculiar world. The madness of sitting in a cafe with those balloons the morning after, eavesdropping on a brainstorming session between two advertising people preparing a presentation. (Switzerland, sugested one, so green you’ll wish you’d been born a cow).

Yes, I know. Most of a writer’s life is more lonely than this. But like anyone else writers have highs and they have lows. This was a high. I’m going to cling to it.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Researching Loving Susie in the Scottish Parliament

Lighting through the Garden Lobby roof
Pic - Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
©2009 Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body
Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2012. 
Licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0.
The Scottish Parliament building is one of those 'Marmite' places – you either love it or loathe it. It's a whole lot more complex, though, than it appears at first sight. I love this dramatic view of the building at night. The boat-shaped windows you look down on here are, in fact, the roof of the Garden Lobby. It's a place my heroine. Susie Wallace, crosses and recrosses many times in the course of Loving Susie, because it provides access to the MSP office block. More importantly, it's also the area where journalists tend to congregate. The television cameras are set up here, usually so that they can interview MSPs leaving the debating chamber.

I was fortunate in the research for this book, because my husband, Robin Harper, was an MSP for twelve years, from its very first day till he retired three years ago. I know the building well and I know what MSPs have to do in their day-to-day lives. I've always found that good research helps to bring a book to life, and I hope that's so in Loving Susie too. Susie is under pressure – prominent politicians always are! The point is, she can cope with the pressure with the support of her family, and most particularly her husband, Archie – but when that relationship becomes stressed, cracks begin to appear everywhere.

West elevation of MSP Block
Pic - 
Adam Elder/Scottish Parliament 
©2004 Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body
Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2012.
Licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0

Window seat in an MSP office
Pic - Adam Elder/Scottish 
©2004 Scottish Parliamentary 
Corporate Body
Image © Scottish Parliamentary 
Corporate Body – 2012. 
Licensed under the Open Scottish 
Parliament Licence v1.0.
Like the Parliament, Loving Susie can be read on many levels. It's not a political book. Perhaps I should have made it more political, in the light of the current constitutional debate in Scotland! 

But books are not written overnight and in any case, I prefer to concentrate on emotional complexity rather than polemic.

I leave you with two images of the Parliament that I think provide a visual clue about Susie's character. Here they are. If you want to find out whether you agree with me, you'll have to read it for yourself! It's available this week on Kindle Countdown for only 99p/99 cents! (19th to 23rd May 2014).

Sunday, 11 May 2014

A pain in the back? By Jenny Harper

By Skoivuma (Own work) 
via Wikimedia Commons
I've suffered with neck, back and shoulder pains for years now. I blame table tennis.

Yes, really! I played like a demon from age about twelve until after I'd graduated from university. It's a really fast game and you repeat certain actions hundreds of times, often in quick succession. I used to play for hours a day as a teenager (mostly because the best place to go was the YMCA and I was usually the only girl there, tee hee).

Then computers came along and I was an early adopter. I wrote on an Apricot - one of those computers with a little monitor with a black screen and green writing. It had 128K of RAM and cost me £2,500 back in the early 1980s. Gulp. Oh, and it was attached to a daisywheel printer that whirred and clicked and took hours to print out anything much longer than a page. It gave me time to go and do some gardening or hang up the washing. Life was so much more civilised then!

Once Apple Macs came in, I started doing design work as well as writing. Designing on a computer requires many small, very controlled movements with the mouse and before too long I became aware of chronic pins and needles down my right arm. Then the back pain started.

Oh, that back pain! Anyone who has suffered will know what I mean. At its most extreme, you can't move, walk, sit or stand and as for getting dressed or even going to the loo... well, the less said the better.

I have to manage my back. I spend a lot of money on it. I see a chiropracter and a physio regularly. My back ties itself in knots that have to be pummelled out. I bought a hand-held massage machine that works on the knots in between massages, otherwise I'd be needing attention every other day and the cost would be prohibitive.

I've also paid a great deal of attention to my sitting habits and the way my computer is set up. When I use my laptop for writing, I set it on a box to bring it up to eye level, and I use a wireless keyboard and mouse so that they, too, are at the right level. I have a wedge shaped cushion to tilt my pelvis forward and another cushion at my back to give me support. I try to remember to stand up and stretch regularly.

But I know (and my physio knows) that after any intense period at the computer, I am going to get problems.

Do you get back pain from writing? And if you do, how do you deal with it?

Sunday, 4 May 2014


WHEN YOUR MOJO GOES AWOL …. Life can get in the way of writing sometimes. And the longer you’re away from it, the harder it can be to get back into. A bit like riding a bicycle and swimming……if you haven’t done either for a while then you’ll be a bit wobbly getting back in the saddle and making your first strokes in the deep end. So, what’s to do? I’ve had to ask myself that lately because lots has been going on chez Mitchelmore. And I know agents, editors, and publishers are professionals too, with a living to make. As kind and understanding as most are, they still need their writers to, well, write.
Thank goodness, then, for what I call ‘my Blue Peter’ files. You know, some I made earlier. You don’t want to know how many short story files I have! There are things in there – often three versions of the same story at different lengths while I decide which magazine it would suit best – from way back then, before mobile phones and iPads and Tablets and the like. But when my Mojo goes Awol for a while I need to dig into them. I’ve recently found things in there I started but never finished. And things I finished but never got around to sending out anywhere. Somehow, it’s a lot easier to get back into something previously written, and I can see, almost instantly, where it needs updating or changing in some way – cutting here, adding there. A change of name often works wonders, as does a change of venue. So that’s what I’m doing. It’s served me well in the past. While I waited to see if my publisher, Choc Lit, liked book two of my trilogy (they did – phew!) I dug out something I’d written ages ago when I was in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme. There were a few glaring timing errors that, coming back to it, jumped out and hit me between the eyes. So I sorted those. I realised one character needed developing a bit more deeply, so I did that. A fortnight’s work, unlike the nine months or so it took me to write initially. And then I submitted it to my publisher. The reading panel loved it and now it's out as an RED IS FOR RUBIES is the title. If it sells well, then there is the whiff of a chance it could go to paperback and I truly hope it does as it’s the novel I’ve enjoyed writing the most – so far! And it is, I think, that hope that is in all writers that their work will be read and enjoyed that keeps us going. So, if you’ll excuse me…..I’ve just thought of something – there’s a serial I had published a while back which, with a bit of tweaking here and there, and another 5000 words or so, I could turn into a novella – novella being the buzzword of the moment in the writing world. And when I’ve done that – with luck – life will be less frantic around here and I might be able to start something new. I’d be interested to know how other writers get their Mojo back ….
Linda Mitchelmore