Monday, 29 June 2015

Time wasted – or time well spent? By Mary Smith

I’ve come across a few articles/blog posts on how to keep the time spent on social media to a minimum while still retaining an effective presence. I’m not sure how ‘effective’ is defined by the writers and have decided it very much depends on the individual and what he/she wants to gain from using the various social media platforms.

Truth be told, I’ve been getting quite irritated by some of what I’ve read. Many of the blog posts focus on giving tips on how to save time on Twitter or Facebook. If we are being advised on how to spend less time on social media it kind of implies we are spending too much time on it. It made me feel quite guilty about the amount of time I was spending tweeting and Facebooking.

I am fairly active on Facebook and Twitter, less so on LinkedIn, though I keep telling myself I should get into the habit of using it more for things like sharing good reviews of my books from Amazon or blog posts like Novel Points of View. I’m also on Google+. So far, its workings remain pretty much a mystery to me (if anyone is willing to provide a tutorial let me know) and apart from sharing other people’s posts from time to time I don’t spend time on it. I haven’t yet signed up for Pinterest, which is next on my list when I can find some time to work out what to do on it.

Plus, I follow a number of blogs including ones with book reviews, author interviews, marketing advice, Alzheimer’s and dementia. I have wide-ranging interests. Yes, as everyone knows, it does all take time. Shouldn’t I be using that time for writing? Or even cleaning the house? How could I reduce the time I spend each day on tweeting, posting on Facebook?

Simple answer? I can’t! Well, I suppose I could if I put a strict limit on the time I go on Facebook or if I unsubscribed from some of the blogs I follow – or not bother to read them or join the conversations in the comments – but I don’t want to.

I enjoy my time on social media. On Facebook I can keep in touch with Afghan friends some of whom still live in Afghanistan and some of whom are scattered around the world from Australia to Denmark.

I have found some wonderful books through the various review sites I follow. They are bloggers I trust – if they say a book is worth reading, I’m fairly certain it will be, even if it’s not the kind of book I usually read. I’ve had my books reviewed and enjoyed the conversations which have followed on from the review. I’ve been interviewed about my writing on blogs, which have been shared far and wide and led to sales (if we’re talking effective = sales).

I’ve met some amazing people – including many writers – on Facebook and on blogs, some of whom I now consider friends even though it is unlikely we will ever meet face to face.  I’m part of a wonderful group of indie writers who ‘pay it forward’ by promoting each other’s books on social media and through the group have learned an enormous amount about promotion and marketing – as well as enjoying the fun and the jokes we share.

In the same way it takes time to meet a friend for coffee, it takes time to socialise (and work) online but in my book, it’s time well spent, not wasted.

Saturday, 13 June 2015


Now then, hands up all those who take their lovely computer/laptop/fancy gadget for granted? I know I do. But it got me thinking what a debt we owe to those who came before us in getting the thoughts in our heads down onto stone/skin/parchment/paper/into the ether for posterity. I'll begin with hieroglyphs. I can't begin to imagine the time it must have taken and how teeth-grindingly awful it must have been to make a mistake....I mean, how did they rectify errors - 'Cut another block of granite, Og, I've got to start this page again.'?
Between the above and quill to paper many years must have passed. While I'm not quite old enough to have written with a quill as a child, I did use a dip pen in an inkwell at infants' school. And gawd, what a mess I made with it!
So, thank goodness, then, for Mr Biro and his pens. I still like to use a bog standard Bic today to hand-write short stories of an evening when my husband is watching something on the box that doesn't particularly interest me. I like the way they roll easily and I can write with one almost as quickly as I can think. Almost!
The first typewriter I ever used was an Underwood - well, with the maiden name of Underwood what else could I have used? You had to thump the keys with some force to get them to hit the paper and I confess I still hit the keyboard far harder than modern devices require. But there was something about the engineering of those old typewriters which was rather wonderful....a bit like a Bentley car to my mind. And then there was the gold lettering - very classy.
I moved on from that to a portable Olivetti. Portable? It weighed a ton! But they came in snazzy colours and mine was a pale turquoise. I moved on from that to a PC that used a golfball thing with all the lettering on it. It was hell to mend when it went wrong and made quite a din when I was using it, so much so that the cat used to hide behind the curtains.
Which brings me up to the present day. I've got through a few keyboards in my time (four novels, two novellas, 300+ short stories, a hundred or so features and articles, plus all the ones that never saw themselves in print)and it's probably just as well I learned to touch-type back in the day because it doesn't take long for me to rub the letters off. As I sit here now, there are blank spaces where E, O, and M are. My current one is a snazzy ergonomic job. It took a while to get used to but my wrists wouldn't want to be without it now.
So, now I've given you a potted history of all the devices I've used over the years, I'd like to know which, of all the ones you've used, is your favourite.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

What Can We Learn From Georgette Heyer? by Gill Stewart

A blue pla

A blue plaque was unveiled this week to mark the house in Wimbledon where Georgette Heyer was born. I hardly need an excuse to write about GH, my all-time favourite writer, but I’m taking this as a little nudge to share my appreciation with the world.

I won’t spend time going over the history of GH, which is probably known to many of you and if not can be picked up from some of the lovely articles that have been written recently such as this one in the Guardian. What I want to ponder on is why so many of us love GH so much, and what we can learn from her and apply to our own writing.

What are the reasons for GH's abiding popularity? Many people have praised the historical accuracy of her books, and how well they are plotted. Both of these are true, but I have to say that for me there are two essentials that keep me returning time after time: the characters and the dialogue. Together these create the charm of the books which brings readers back again and again.

GH’s characters are an abiding delight, brought to life with the lightest of touches through their thoughts, actions and words. A description of Martin, the hero’s half-brother in ‘The Quiet Gentleman’ brings him completely to life in just a few lines:
Every change of mood was reflected in his eyes, so dark a brown as to appear almost black, and in the sensitive curves of his full mouth. Six years younger than his cousin, he had not altogether thrown off the boy; and, from having been the idol of his mother and the pet of his father, he was a good deal spoiled, impatient of restraint, thrown into the sulks by trifling causes, and into wild rages by obstacles to his plans.

GH is best known for her Regency and historical romances, but I also have an affection for her detective novels. Through the use of dialogue she creates characters that seem so real you feel you know them. This little snippet from ‘Death In The Stocks’ makes me smile every time:
‘Kenneth, whatever you felt about poor Mr Vereker when he was alive, I do think you might at least pretend to be sorry now he’s dead.’
‘It’s no use,’ said Antonia, spearing olives out of a tall bottle. ‘You had better take us as you find us Violet. You’ll never teach Kenneth not to say exactly what he happens to think.’
‘Well, I don’t think it’s a good plan,’ said Violet rather coldly.
‘That’s only because he said that green hat of yours looked like a hen in a fit. Besides, it isn’t a plan, it’s a disease.’

Overall, the characters and their dialogue create the tone of the books which is so entrancing. The understated humour, the knowledge that the writer and reader share the same slightly sardonic, gently satirical view of the world.

I said I would try to draw advice for modern-day writers from GH, but it’s hard to do so. You can’t just advise people to ‘write charmingly’ or ‘include witty dialogue’. Knowing it is desirable is so much easier than actually doing it. So all I can say is – read as much GH as you can. Read the mistress of the genre. And hope, as I do, that just a little of that wonderful talent rubs off on you. If there is anyone out there who hasn’t read GH, or not recently, I would recomment my own personal favourites: ‘An Unknown Ajax’, ‘The Grand Sophie’ or ‘A Civil Contract’. Go on, give them a try!

You can read more detail about the Blue Plaque event on Jenny Haddon’s blog (Jenny was instrumental in arranging the event) or in the lovely account of the day, with pictures, from Elizabeth Hawksley on the Historical and Regency Romance UK blog.