Saturday, 29 December 2018

Resolutions old and new

The old year is ticking to its close and it’s time to review my reading and writing resolutions from January. I made two, one more ambitious than the other and I can't be certain that I’ve fulfilled either of them because my main failure, as usual is in record-keeping.

I challenged myself to read an average of a book a week and to write an average of 1000 words a day — so, over the year, 52 books and 365,000 words. You wouldn’t have thought either was too hard to keep track of, but you’d be wrong.

I lost count of the books early on, telling myself it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t write down whichever book I’d finished late at night because I’d remember. Oh, and there was always my Kindle, which would keep a neat track for me. Except it didn’t. As any reader knows, books can sit on a TBR pile for many, many months and when I checked back a few weeks ago I didn’t know which of many downloaded in the latter half of 2017 I actually read in that year or which were carried forward to 2018. Oh, and I don’t read all my books on the Kindle. Yes, I can go through my bookshelves and hope I can remember which print versions  read when, but there are others that I've bought from second hand bookshops and given away again, or borrowed from friends and returned.

At the time of writing the confirmed minimum figure stands at 45, with five days of the year still to go in which I will certainly finish at least one more. I can, however, add a further six full-length manuscripts which I’ve read for other writers (again, that's a minimum. It's probably nine). Can I count those? And can I count the four full-length manuscripts I’ve written? In which case, surely I can says I’ve fulfilled the spirit of my resolution, if not the letter of it.

The same applies to the writing, or I hope it does. There were four books in my detective series (at various stages of drafts) plus an abandoned draft of a different novel, totalling 336,000 words. But can I include my blogs? Can I include the weekly article I write? If you allow me those, at roughly 4-500 words per blog post (about 30 of them) and 900 words per article (probably over 40), then I’ve covered that one, too.

All right, I’ve stretched things a bit, but even if someone were to quibble about the small print I’m happy with what I’ve achieved in terms of those two resolutions. I might be a bit more realistic next year, though. I might set myself to the book a week without committing to the thousand words. Probably more importantly, I think I’ll be resolving to keep a proper note of what I’ve read…

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Characters in Common

This week over on Novel Points of View we’re struggling with a conundrum: what, if anything, do our characters have in common?

Jennifer (Jo) says:

This is something of a problem for me at one level, because while some of my characters have something in common, I don’t always bother to tell you. So, for example, my male main characters are all football fans (as are some of my female ones). It’ll be there in their character profiles, but it won't necessarily make it into the book.

Sometimes it’s there. In Looking For Charlotte, my heroine, Flora, goes to the Boxing Day football with her male friend. In Storm Child Marcus’s missing key ring bears the crest of Stoke City and in my upcoming detective series, work repeatedly causes Jude to cancel his arrangement to go and see Carlisle United with his father.

My female characters are a more diverse bunch and have a lot less in common, although you can be sure that if you find one of them driving a Fiat 500 they’re definitely on the right side of whatever line I’ve drawn. And all the good guys, male or female, love cats.

Linda says:

It’s said that writers always put a little bit of themselves into all their work. A trait I know I have is for my heroine to take their coffee black, without sugar, and from a cafetiere – as do I. My heroines are always tallish – say 5’ 7” and slender – which I only am in my 5’ 2” dreams! A couple of readers have also told me that most of my heroines have a female best friend who is often not as well-educated as she is, but more than makes up for that in common sense and kindness, and loyalty. Said female best friend often has a rather naughty sense of humour – somewhat irreverent at times – and that’s probably because she’s not the heroine, with a problem to solve between the first page and the last, and she has this freedom to do that. Says, Linda, currently writing a wacky female best friend into her wip while the heroine drinks her coffee black, no sugar.

Rae says:

What do my characters have in common? At first I supposed nothing much. I try to make each unique, imagining their backstory and creating them from scratch. However, after some thought I realised food was significant for most of my protagonists. Perhaps not surprising as I read cookery books as part of my character development, much in the same way others create meaningful musical playlists.

During research for my work-in-progress, I discovered two very different, but equally brilliant, foodie writers. The first is best-selling entrepreneur and health enthusiast Ella Woodward, better known as Deliciously Ella, whose recipes are light and nutritious: Chickpea, Quinoa and Turmeric Curry; Mango and Avocado Salsa; Courgette Banana Bread. Whilst the recipe book helping me understand my second protagonist is A Girl Called Jack by award-winning Jack Monroe; 100 delicious recipes on a budget. Jack was a single mum with only £10 per week left to feed herself and her young son when she began blogging about how to make the most of the limited ingredients she had available. Her remarkable story is one of resourcefulness, thriving despite all life threw at her. Her recipes are both tasty and cheap.

My family are used to my research spilling over into meal times. Perhaps I should write a Christmas novella? The perfect excuse for my characters, and loved ones, to enjoy some festive treats. Seems my characters’ foodie obsession is here to stay. Merry Christmas one and all!

Victoria says:

There are a couple of things that link all of my favourite characters. The first is that they all live in Cornwall, which you would expect in a series called Cornish Tales, however the second link is less obvious unless you have read the novels. For this blog post I can reveal that the main character of each novel is a descendant of the heroine, Jenna, who features in the first book of the series, The Thief’s Daughter.

All the novels in the series are stand-alone tales, which means they can be read in any order, but the experience and character traits of the main character are naturally influenced by the generations who have gone before them. This did bring up the issue of being careful not to reveal too much about the generation before as I did not want to spoil the previous story if it was read in a different order. This is why in A Daughter’s Christmas Wish, I do not reveal who the hero’s mother married as her story will be released in the spring of 2019. It would be nice to one day reveal the full family tree, but as that would give away who ended up with who, that might be one “reveal” that stays firmly behind closed doors.

Jennie says:

I have to admit the subject ‘Is there something that links all your favourite characters?’ for our last joint blog of 2018 wasn’t what I’d been expecting.
Writing standalone books I always strive to make my main characters interesting and different in every book - I don’t want them to have things in common with previous characters. Okay, main female characters always need a best friend or someone feisty like an aunt, who basically tells them to stop being a whimp and get on with things when they confide in them, which helps to move the story on, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Cue a few days of muttering, ‘I can’t do this there is absolutely nothing that links the characters in any of my novels to each other.’

I decided to put it out of my mind and get on with my latest wip hoping that something would occur to me before the deadline. And it did! There IS something that appears in all my books (probably more than it should really!)

So, on behalf of Rosie from ‘Rosie’s Little Cafe on the Riviera’, Tina and Jodie in ‘A Year of Taking Chances’, Karen in ‘Summer at Coastguard Cottages’ ad Harriet in ‘The Little Kiosk By the Sea’ to name but four, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a Wonderful New Year with the champagne that links them all!

Terry says:

Blame it on Downton Abbey. British drama – including police procedurals, which are my absolute fave – kindled a passion for the giant country houses that require piles of cash and even more servants to make them run efficiently. (Think Midsomer Murders and the fabulous houses featured in each episode.) The people that live in these houses fascinate me. My writer’s mind often wonders what must it be like to set your feet on ancient Aubusson carpet each morning, to walk hallways that are hundreds of years old. My favourite fictional characters often are around houses such this. Sometimes they’ve lived in a home that has been in their family for generations. Maybe they’ve been forced out due to some dramatic circumstance that sucks me into the story. The rags to riches meme is especially charming, with the hero – having finally arrived home – gazing out the window at the sweeping view. My husband has often asked what sparked this interest in me. I don’t have an answer to that question, so I just blame it on Downton Abbey.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

In Which We Discuss #Resistance (And A Shamless Plug)


This week I’m sharing a project that I worked on which is near and dear to my heart. A wonderful group of authors has used their collective brilliance to publish a collection of short stories, the proceeds of which will be donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. I was honoured to write the foreword to this book. I am sharing  that with you here this week in hopes that your interest will be sparked. Here’s a bit about the book. 



The Darkest Hour: WWII Tales of Resistance. Come and get a glimpse of the invisible side of WWII - the Resistance, those who refuse to bow down to brutality. Hold your breath and hope for the best in the darkest of times, when our heroes and heroines risk all to defy evil so the light of freedom will shine over their countries again. This collection includes ten never before published novellas by ten of today’s bestselling WWII historical fiction authors.
The book is slated to release on January 22 and already hit the best-seller list. US readers can buy the book on Amazon here. UK readers can buy the book here.

Foreword
There’s no doubt that World War II fiction is enjoying a huge popularity surge. Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale” published with critical acclaim, and Anthony Doerr’s “All The Light We Cannot See” swept the coveted Pulitzer Prize. This popularity is evidenced in television as well, with popular shows such as Bletchley Circle, Foyle’s War, and The Man in the High Castle. Why this surge in popularity, especially in the US market? Why do these stories that encapsulate a series of events that should have never happened intrigue us so? What do we hope to gain by reading stories about this war and the tyranny and horrors that accompanied it?

This question in itself presents a moral dilemma. Readers of fiction latch onto stories with a successful protagonist. We covet stories of resistance, courage, and survival. World War II provides an excellent launching pad for stories of reckless bravery by ordinary people. Those of us who root for the underdog seek out stories wherein the humble displaced citizen is able to make a difference. While this ethos is entertaining from a fiction standpoint, it is important to note the American experience of the Second World War’s heroics may not jibe with the global perspective. Many survivors of Nazi brutality came to America after the war and turned their stories into those of American pluck and heroism. It’s important to remember that these stories of successful heroes – at least in the context of World War II – are the exception and not the rule.
Given these divisive times and the current global political climate, it is my hope – and the hope of those who contributed to this anthology – that this trend in the popularity of World War II fiction will lead to curiosity, action, and prevention. For if you show an interest in this time in history and the stories that result from it, how can you not be curious and concerned about the events taking place now? The questions of how and why must be underscored with a resounding never again!

Some of the authors bring stories of resistance directly from their family history, all bring a unique perspective in the form of tight storytelling that will keep you intrigued from page one. This project for a good cause has morphed into a project of the heart. The passion of these writers is woven through the tapestry of their stories. It is important that the horrors of World War II are documented and remembered. World War II fiction gives us a story – with a protagonist and villain that entertain – that allows us to learn about history and garner a literary knowledge of the past. I believe these stories will invoke an emotional response that will keep the suffering and the sacrifice in our memories. While it is crucial – especially given our current political climate – that we never forget, it is even more important that we actively remember, and that we undertake to prevent the horrors of the Nazi regime before they happen again.
Terry Lynn Thomas
November 2018

Saturday, 8 December 2018

TO SWEAR OR NOT TO SWEAR – THAT IS THE QUESTION


Warning: if you are of a sensitive disposition and rude words upset you, please don’t read this blog post. It is about swearing in novels, and therefore contains some ‘naughty’ words by necessity, to illustrate my points.

I write dual timeline fiction, where a historical mystery is uncovered and resolved in the present day. My books do reasonably well and get mostly good reviews, but I have had a couple of reviews complaining about the ‘bad language’ and recently was contacted via my website by someone who was so shocked at the swear words in chapter 1 of The Drowned Village that she found it hard to read on.




And yet, I don’t feel that I overuse swear words. It’s possible that I’m immune to them – I am married to an Irishman who uses swear words, particularly what one reviewer coyly described as ‘the F bomb’ practically as punctuation.

But I do have my characters swear if I think that’s what they would naturally do, in the situation I’ve put them in.

Here’s an example from The Pearl Locket (it’s not a spoiler). Context is that our hero Jack is fighting in 1944 in northern France, just after D-Day.

The mortar and bag of shells was there, but no Mikey. Only a smear of blood along the bottom of the ditch. ‘Shit, Mikey, what’s happened?’ Jack muttered. He followed the trail of blood a few yards further along the ditch, and found Mikey, lying on his back, clutching at wounds in his thigh and side.
Mikey, oh Christ, Mikey. Hang on, kid. I’ll soon patch you up.’ The thigh wound was pumping blood. Jack pulled out his knife and cut off the lower part of Mikey’s trouser leg. He tore a strip of it and tied it tightly above the leg wound, wadding the rest against the hole in Mikey’s side. He placed Mikey’s hand over this. ‘Push hard. Keep the pressure on. I’ll get you home.’
Never coming home,’ Mikey mumbled.
Yes you are, kid. You’re not fighting any more with those injuries. We’ll have you back on a boat in no time. Shit!’ Jack ducked as more machine gun fire rattled across the field. He felt the whoosh of a bullet right past the side of his head. ‘Too close. Mikey, look, I’ve got to get that mortar set up. We’ve no hope unless I can take out the machine gun. Keep that pressure on, and hang on in there.’

So, just two instances of ‘shit’ which given that Jack’s best mate has been mortally wounded and he himself is being fired at, does not seem excessive to me. I mean, you would swear in that situation, wouldn’t you?

And in the same novel, in the contemporary story, teenage Matt has just been dumped by his girlfriend Kelly.
Matt knocked the tray out of her hands. Crockery and leftover food went flying and a couple of girls at the next table leapt up squealing as they were showered with debris. ‘For fuck’s sake, Kelly. We’ve been together nearly a year and you do this to me? Well, that’s it. I’ve had enough. It’s over. Over! Happy now?’ He stormed out of the café.
Much later, Kelly turns up at Matt’s door, unannounced.
‘… It’s a long story. Can I just get rid of the taxi? Then I’ll explain. If it’s OK to come in… Thing is, I can’t go home, and I’ve no money and no phone…’
For fuck’s sake, Kelly.’ Matt dug in his pocket and pulled out a two-pound coin. He thrust it at her then turned and walked back into the house, leaving the front door open.

Matt’s use of ‘for fuck’s sake’ in these clips is part of how he speaks, as a modern day teenager who is being mucked about by his girlfriend. I think it’s warranted and natural. And these extracts are the only swearing in that entire novel.


The one that elicited the contact via my blog is this. It’s in chapter one of The Drowned Village, in an extended flashback. Laura has returned unexpectedly early to the flat she shares with her long-term boyfriend and best friend who is their lodger. She’s walked in on the two of them humping, and Stuart has admitted it’s been going on for some time. And then he says this:
‘Lols? I guess maybe you and Martine should swap rooms. I mean, now it’s all out in the open . . .’ Stuart said, with a shrug.

That did it. ‘Swap rooms? You think you just move me into the spare room now you’re bored of me, and Martine into our room? It’s as easy as that? You bastard, Stuart. You are a complete and utter GIT! And you –’ Laura turned to Martine – ‘how even could you? I thought you were my friend. My best friend. Well, fuck you.’ She picked up the nearest object to hand – a ring-binder folder of Stuart’s containing details of his work projects – and flung it across the room at them both. Satisfyingly, it popped open in mid-air, showering papers everywhere.


Again, in that situation, you would swear, wouldn’t you? I mean, ‘blimey’ or ‘you cad’ just wouldn’t cut the mustard, would it?





I like swear words. I like the impact they bring, in those heated moments, when you need to show the extreme emotions your characters are experiencing. I don’t use them lightly – I use them when no other word will do.

What do blog readers think? To swear or not to swear, in fiction? Does it bother you or not?



Saturday, 1 December 2018

WHERE DO YOU DO IT? DON'T BE NAUGHTY! I'M TALKING ABOUT WRITING.



I was writing a scene in my current wip this week where one of my characters, Vicky a would be writer, discovers a wonderful summer house in the garden of the villa she was staying in on holiday. She immediately decided that that was where she’d spend her time writing. The garden was beautiful, the view of the blue Mediterranean wonderful and she just knew that her writing would be inspired in this place. 
I got so carried away with my vision of this summerhouse that I began to research writer’s rooms and I’m sorry to say the little green eyed monster made an appearance. There were arty rooms, lived in rooms,spartan rooms, rooms with a view, rooms in cottages, rooms at the top of elegant townhouses. Many rooms were bigger than the sitting room in my quirky little cottage. Suffice to say - whatever they were like they were a million miles away from this writer’s life! Rather like this rather grand picture of a room in Harewood House.


I did learn a couple of interesting things though. Jane Austin, without a room she could call her own, settled near a door, writing on small pieces of paper which she could easily hide from prying eyes when the creaking of another door warned her somebody was coming. She apparently refused to allow the creak to be oiled.

Margaret Forster, interviewed for the Guardian’s series on ‘Writer’s Rooms’ years ago, said of her room: ‘The minute I walk into this room of my own, I swear I become a different person. The wife, the mother, the granny, the cook, the cleaner - all vanish, for two or three hours only the writer is left.’ 
And that really sums it up for me - we all need to find somewhere where we can become that writer for however little time we can spare to write.

As for me, I do have my own tiny writing space. Currently it’s in what was originally a lean to at the back of the cottage that has been converted into a bathroom and an extra room. I share this room with a put-u-up, the airing cupboard, the ironing pile and board and a chest freezer! It’s also not unknown for the roof to leak. Next year when we finally have a new roof I’m hoping to be able to move upstairs and create a proper writer’s room!



I know lots of my writer friends write on laptops sitting at the kitchen table or on the sofa but I find that an impossible scenario for me. I need silence and the ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign hanging from the door. 

So, do you have a room of your own like Virginia Woolf advocated ninety years ago as essential to women writers? Or maybe you run away from home to write? Find a friendly cafe where you can people watch as you write? Or does the silence of your library appeal more? If you stay home do you sit on the sofa and shut everything out? Do you need a view? A blank wall? What does it take to get you ‘in the zone’? If you have a room of your own do you obey Stephen King and shut the door on the real world to inhabit your imaginary one? Do tell us.







Saturday, 24 November 2018

SHORT AND SWEET: SHORT STORIES ... by Rae Cowie

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that short story writing is a fantastic way for would-be novelists to perfect their craft.
For years I ignored this wisdom offered to beginner writers, not because I’m arrogant or thought I knew better, rather the opposite. I didn’t believe I was creative enough to continually imagine a company of new characters and settings. What I’d failed to grasp was that I didn’t need a mountainous stack of short story ideas all clamouring to be told. All that was required was that I write one story, followed by another, then another.


It wasn’t until I attended a short story writing workshop in May and began to wonder if I might tackle shorter work, that I understood if I read short stories, as well as wrote them, ideas would bubble up. Now instead of worrying I don’t have enough material to try shorter pieces, I find inspiration all around – a juicy snippet at the hairdressers, an unusual photograph on Pinterest, some interesting theme in the news.
As a newbie short story writer, the past few months have been encouraging. Last time I shared how thrilled I was that my Doric piece, The Whole Hog, was to be published by literary newspaper NorthwordsNow. The excitement continued when my short story, Jenny’s Well, was selected to be included in a Scottish Book Trust anthology, created to celebrate Book Week Scotland 2018. But this very nearly didn’t happen. My inner critic is strong and I wasn’t convinced my piece fitted the brief. Thankfully a generous writing buddy, Sareen McLay, gave me the push I needed to submit.

Book Week Scotland 'Rebel' Anthology

And I’m so glad she did. As well as 100,000 copies of the Rebel anthology being distributed to libraries and bookshops across Scotland, the stories were also published online. Contributors were invited to record their work at the Royal National Institute of the Blind studios in Glasgow, to be transmitted via RNIB radio. Hear me reading Jenny's Well around 6 minutes 45 seconds  (LISTEN NOW), along with an eclectic selection from fellow Rebel writers. The fun didn't stop there. We were treated to a swanky launch party in Edinburgh, where I met other writers – many experienced, some taking those tentative baby steps like me. I even received a shout out in our local newspaper.

Recording 'Jenny's Well' at the
RNIB Studios in Glasgow

So what lessons have I learnt from trying my hand at short story writing?
Firstly, that writing buddies are invaluable, not only for helping critique work but also, when the time is right, to give an encouraging nudge to submit.
Secondly, never to restrict myself as a writer. My inner critic is loud and bossy but she can be tamed, as long as I find the courage to have a go.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, remember to enjoy the ride. As well as finishing my women’s contemporary fiction novel, I intend continuing with short story writing, not only to hone my writing craft, but because it’s something I love to do.


So wherever you are on your writing journey, what wisdom do you wish to share?

Happy travelling!

Rae x

Friday, 16 November 2018

IF ONLY THE WALLS COULD TALK ... OR MAYBE THEY DO by Victoria Cornwall

Buildings can form a great backdrop to a scene, but they can also be used to tell us about the characters’ mind-set, past and even their future. Buildings can show the passing of time, add tension to a scene or show the class the character has been born into or aspire to join. Buildings are an amazing tool and are, in my opinion, not used to their full potential, yet they can draw a reader into the story and help them to walk in the footsteps of the characters themselves.
An example of this is Manderley, the house in Dauphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It holds a sense of doom for the new Mrs De Winter. Its rooms feel haunted by her husband’s former wife, the heirlooms are hers and even her portrait still hangs on the wall and gets her into trouble. In addition to all this, the housekeeper constantly reminds the new wife how Rebecca liked to run it. Little by little the present Mrs De Winter feels overshadowed by the former wife as her confidence is gradually whittled away. Mrs De Winter never meets Rebecca in the novel, she doesn't need to. The house is a constant, imposing reminder of how great her husband's former wife was and the housekeeper uses the building to her full advantage to taunt her about this every moment she can.

When I wrote A Daughter's Christmas Wish, I ensured that each main character had a building linked to them which helped to tell their story.
The heroine, Rose, feels lonely and trapped in her unexciting life living with her parents. Her mother still grieves for the loss of her son and is unable to move on in her life. Their home reflects this and, hopefully, the reader will be able to empathize with Rose's feeling of being trapped in a dull life. If only she had someone who could help her to feel festive again as Christmas approaches … cue the arrival of a lone soldier, called Nicholas.
Nicholas has returned from the Great War and has a promise to fulfil - to give a fellow soldier’s fiancé, Rose, the Christmas she has always wanted. Once again I have used his home to show his class, the past he has tried to hide from and how the passing of time (and war) have changed it. He also imagines the future too, which I hope shows his mindset in that moment.
Yet for these two people, who are from very different classes, to meet I needed a neutral setting and, for the first time in my writing career, I used a place of work – a teashop. This allowed them to meet and be alone together, an oasis for their festive countdown to Christmas to begin and their relationship to grow. It is where shy Rose feels most confident. This allows her to blossom and think about leaving her grief for her fiance behind her. Hopefully the reader will feel that they are watching Nicholas and Rose from a quiet corner of the room as these two people learn to live in peacetime again.

As a writer one must use all the tools at hand. We often use smell, taste, sound, feel, sight, thought and internal emotions to convey what our characters are experiencing, but the buildings that form a backdrop to their lives can also speak volumes - in their own quiet way.
A Daughter's Christmas Wish
Available as an ebook & audiobook from 20th November, 2018.
Available to pre-order today. 

Saturday, 10 November 2018

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS FROM? Linda Mitchelmore

'Where do you get your ideas from? Oh for a ten pound note for every time I've been asked that. I've now had over 300 short stories published, plus serials, articles, and now my eighth novel is to be published next month. I can't say I've ever analysed where my ideas come from, but for the purposes of this blogpost I thought I'd give it a go. CHRISTMAS AT STRAND HOUSE is set, well, at Christmas. a time for families and friends to get together. What if you have no family? Or friends, only acquaintances? Could you make a happy and memorable Christmas from less than happy circumstances? So I decided to take four disparate characters with nowhere to go and no-one with whom to spend Christmas and over 80,000 words try to knit them together. I'll take Lissy first as the house in the title is now hers, willed to her by her godmother. I am a godmother. A not very good one - two Roberts and an Emily. I often think of them but I'm not the best present buyer and I certainly won't be able to will any of them a house. But a friend of mine was willed the most fabulous house by her godmother and it got me thinking .... how might something like that change your life, especially if you are now on your own, post divorce, and desperate for change? (I've never been divorced but know many who are) It was a bit of a light bulb moment and I thought I might be able to get a book out of it.
So I brought Janey into the equation. Janey is an abused wife and knows she must leave her marriage. I've got to state here that I have never been an abused wife but sadly, I've known those who are/were. More than one has said to me over the years something along the lines of ... 'I'll leave when the children go to senior school/university/get married/when X gets over his illness/the mortgage is paid off'. But they rarely do, because is there ever a right time. I don't think a couple of days before Christmas would be the time that many would choose, but Janey does. She leaves a note for her husband and accepts Lissy's invitation to spend Christmas at Strand House, taking the secret of her abuse and the fact she has run away with her. Next came Bobbie. I have a Facebook friend - Gerri - who puts up the most wonderfully glam and feel-good FB posts - pictures of impossibly slim and beautiful models dressed in clothes and shoes and hats I will never wear. We have bonded in the ether over my love of black and white.
So I decided to counter the sadness of Janey and the blandness of the way she dresses by having Bobbie the absolute opposite. Bobbie is a mature model but she has brought her own secret to the party and over the course of the book she shares it with the others at Strand House. So, I thought three characters would be enough as each has a point of view and I'd need to know their back story, how they speak, how they think. But then I remembered that 'two's company, three's a crowd', and decided to bring a fourth character into the group - Xander. Xander is funny and kind ... and a young widower. (My starting point here was a neighbour widowed far too young and struggling to mourn his wife and move on at the same time) Xander's late wife, Claire, had been childhood friends with Lissy. Janey and Bobbie had met Claire, if briefly, and only have good memories of her. But, as in most marriages, life isn't all sweetness and light, hearts and flowers, and cosy, romantic moments in front of a log fire with a glass of wine and a box of chocolates. Xander has a secret too. And somehow, Claire has wormed her way into this book - not quite the elephant in the room but her absence is affecting them all. So, I had my characters. I had the setting. Over the course of four days they all get to know and like/love one another a lot better. It was fun - well, okay, not fun writing this in the hottest summer we've had for decades- deciding what they would eat, what they would drink, what they would wear, and how their friendships would develop in Strand House, perched as it is on a cliff in coastal Devon. Bring into the equation all the decorations we have at Christmas and the traditions and .... last but not least there is even a sprinkling of snow!
Available as an ebook and in paperback and up on Amazon for pre-order right now!

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Some Thoughts on Stars

Beautiful stars... (public domain)
I’ve been thinking about stars

No, not those stars. Not the ones that twinkle in a clear summer sky. I’m talking about the ones that corrupt and compromise you, the ones that make you feel bad about yourself, the ones that hammer home your own irrationality and, days, weeks or even months later, leave you riddled with guilt.

They’re the stars that review sites insist you allocate before you leave your thoughts on a book.

Generally speaking I avoid giving star ratings, but as I’ve recently tried to do a lot more reviewing, on the grounds that it’s a way to help writers and also help readers find books they want to read, I’ve been forced into it. When I review on my blog, I don’t leave a star rating, but Amazon, Goodreads and Netgalley, which are the places I’m now regularly posting, won’t let you get away with that.

I find it a huge problem. Not because I hate giving a bad review, because that’s easily dealt with purely by not reviewing a book if I can’t give it at least three stars, and preferably four. But reviewing is subjective, and while you can build that into the text of a review, the raw star rating doesn’t allow it.

So on what basis should I score a book on a scale of between one and five? Because it’s a good book? But we’ll almost certainly differ on what constitutes a good book, and I can think of a lot of good books I haven’t enjoyed, and some bad ones I did.

Not-so-beautiful stars...
So shall we say there’s a book I enjoyed some years ago and gave five stars? But my tastes have changed and now I don’t think it’s half as good as I did. In the past I’ve given five stars to books in a genre that was new to me because I thought they were fresh and original, only to realise that in fact they’re just tired repetitions of the same old tropes. So do I give four stars to a book that’s better than the one I originally gave five stars to, because now I understand the genre and overrated the first one?

Some of the differences between four and five stars may be nothing to do with the book itself. They might include:

  • whether I’m in the particular mood for that particular book at that particular time
  • whether I like the place it’s set, or find a well-written character irritating
  • the frame of mind I’m in when I read it (gritty, violent, scary books will get a lower score if I’m feeling frail and in need of cuddles, whereas you’ll probably always get a higher rating for something feel-good)
  • whether I’ve read a book with a similar plot that was better.

I’ve reached an uncomfortable accommodation with my soul over this. I read books for pleasure, so my default position is that I would expect to give every book I read at least four stars. If a book falls short it might get three. But the difference between three, four and five stars probably isn’t one of quality but is all about me and my expectations.

I might as well admit to my inconsistencies. I’m too old to grapple with a qualitative rating system so I’ll give stars for enjoyment, and I reserve the right to be inconsistent.

Jennifer Young


Saturday, 27 October 2018

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT SEX: HOW EASY - OR NOT - DO YOU FIND IT TO WRITE SEX SCENES?

Sex - a topic that's not been covered on this blog before. So here goes ..... first up is Victoria Cornwall. 'I don't have a problem writing sex scenes, partly because I find describing the easiest part of the writing process. I am also a former nurse who taught sex health promotion to teenagers for several years so if I can cope with that, I can cope with most things. However, I don't use graphic names to describe a mechanical process with what might be considered modern language. There are some very successful authors who write historical romance, use this approach and have legions of very loyal fans. However, every reader is different and books like those are not the sort of historical romances that I enjoy. I write lovemaking scenes which concentrate on how the character feels - their nerves, confidence, anticipation, desire and the consequences they may face afterwards (whether it's good or bad). Some of my novels stop at kissing or the foreplay stage, whilst others go all the way. With the latter scenes it might stop at the bedroom door or go on to describe a very passionate session. I want the reader to wonder 'will they or won't they', but be equally satisfied whichever way it turns out. Writing a sex scene is not about the act, it's about the "almost" moments too, as the build-up is as important, if not more so. I could never write erotica however I try to make my novels realistic to the period they are set in and, as we all know, women have had to fight (and are still fighting) for respect in this department. At the end of the day, my greatest fans are my close and extended family and friends and at the back of my mind I know that one day they will be reading it. Maybe this is why I write like I do and erotica, graphic and mechanical description is most definitely off the table.'
Kath McGurl has this to say. 'When I got my first book deal, my younger son - then 16 - was horrified. He sat me down one day, for a serious talk. 'Mum, if you ever decide to write, you know, erotica and all that smutty stuff, promise me, promise me, you'll use a pseudonym, and you will never, never, tell me what that pseudonym is. I just don't want to ever know your sordid little sexual fantasies, all right?' I promised him. Of course I did - what else could I do? And actually, I don't write erotica, under any name (well, if I did I could hardly admit it here, somewhere he could trace back to me, could I? But I do put a little bit of sex into my novels, when it's needed to advance the story. Just a bit. No squelchy details, nothing my son could call 'smutty stuff'. Nothing that would cause him to squire with embarrassment.. He doesn't read my books anyway!'
Terry Lynn Thomas is in the US - perhaps they do things differently over there? 'I haven't tackled a sex scene in my books yet. If I did, it would be used as a tool to perpetuate plot and would probably go something like this: A man and a woman, entangled in the sheets, their bodies glistening with sweat. There's a knock on the door. The man rolls onto his side. He runs his fingers down the woman's body. 'Expecting someone?' The woman meets his gaze. 'My husband.' The man gets out of the bed and peeks out the window. He sees a hulk of a man, the sort that looks like he could carry a piano on his back. 'You didn't tell me you were married!' The woman smiles at him, cat like. She licks her lips, as though anxious for the ensuing conflict.'You'd best run, love.' She gets out of bed and tosses him the trousers which he took off in such a frenzy. 'Don't forget these.' Hmmm, I feel a story coming on!'
Jennifer Young was the first to respond to my request for pieces for this joint blog. 'So now I have to write about sex. This joint blog just gets worse! Generally speaking, this is not what I do. In fact, the most recent review I've had went so far as to say that my writing would suit people who preferred 'edgy romance rather than sex scenes.' I read this review several times and with a degree of before I decided to take it as a compliment. As a romance writer, I know that most of my readers expect sex. Not always, of course, but in this modern world readers accept that it goes on and that if it doesn't there has to be a very good reason for it. So my characters do have sex. In fact they have quite a lot, but except on the odd occasion, they do it in private. Because while the actual fact of the couple having sex might be necessary to progress the plot, the detail of who put what where often isn't. Ironically, the most graphic sex scene I've written to date isn't in a romance but in an (as yet unpublished) crime novel. It certainly isn't romantic; it's purely animalistic, satisfying mutual lust. Originally, this scene was firmly veiled from public view too, but as it involves a key part of the plot, and as the act triggers a terrible memory, I realised that for the first time in my life I had a sex scene which couldn't be veiled. So I wrote it and - rather to my surprise - I was quite pleased with it. For the most part, however, I prefer to keep the bedroom door firmly shut.'
Rae Cowie decided to be brave. 'I've decided not to be coy! I find sex scenes tricky. A couple of years ago I submitted an early draft of a novel to a professional editor and the advice she gave on the section where my heroine and hero finally get it together was that it wasn't satisfying for the re4ader. All those hours she'd spent rooting for my characters, only to find the bedroom door firmly shut was not to her taste. How rude! Fast forward a couple of years and I recently wrote a short story that required a vigorous sex scene. I shared the story with a writing friend and this time the feedback I received was that the sex scene was a bit Jilly Cooper. Normally, I would be beyond thrilled by such a comment, for who pens better sex scenes than Jilly Cooper? The problem was that the rest of the piece aimed for a darkly Gothic style. The sex scene stuck out like, well let's just say it stuck out! So for me, sex scenes are still a work in progress. All hints and tips extremely welcome.'
Jennie Bohnet lives in France where sex is practically a national past-time ....maybe she's not found that bit in the dictionary yet? 'Okay, I admit it - I find it impossible to write sex scenes so I've given up even trying. None of my books have sexy scenes. My storylines do contain a certain amount of romance and love but I never go beyond the bedroom door. So my contribution to this join blog is this Adam and Eve photograph - and a couple of quotes that tickled my fancy.' 'Sex is a part of nature. I ago along with nature' - Marilyn Monroe. 'Love is an ice cream sundae, with all the marvelous coverings. Sex is the cherry on top' - Jimmy Dean. 'There is more to sex appeal than just measurements. I don't need a bedroom to prove my womanliness. I can convey just as much sex appeal picking apples off a tree or standing in the rain' - Audrey Hepburn. 'Remember, sex is like a Chinese dinner. It ain't over 'til you you both get your cookie' - Alec Baldwin
When I first suggested this topic for a joint blog I naively thought someone else would tackle the technical issues, but no one has. So it's down to me. The thing is, at the back of my mind, is my dear old dad saying, 'A lady never talks about religion, politics, money, or sex'. Well, it seems all the ladies here have problems with the last one, doesn't it? And I'm no different. Like the others I'm fine with the love and the romance and the feelings but when it comes down to the nitty gritty what do we call the bits that go where? Do we say penis/member/manhood/John Thomas/dick/willy/whatever? And do we say vagina/lady cave/that dreadful word beginning with c (well, I think it's dreadful and have standards so never use it)? And then there are breasts/boobs/mammaries/Dolly Partons/jugs - which do you use?Whenever I read something along the lines of ...'And then he entered her', all I can see in my mind is the local branch line train eventually chugging off into the tunnel after some delay or other.So, there we have it .... and it must be noted here that none of us writes erotica where it's fine to, ahem, titillate our use of words. And it seems we are not alone. The poster for the stage play below sums it all up nicely, I think.
But I'm going to give the last word (via Marilyn Chapman)to Shakespeare - or should that be words? 'Sex does not thrive on monotony. Without feelings, inventions, moods (there are) no surprises in bed. Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine'

Saturday, 20 October 2018

THE BUSINESS OF WRITING


These days we all know if we want to make a career out of our writing or, whisper it, even to make some money, we have to treat it like running a small business. We also have to put ourselves out there on social media - something I personally fail at dismally most of the time, much too far out of my comfort zone. We also know, especially if we’re traditionally published, a lot of things are out of our control and down to our publisher and those dratted things on Amazon etc known as algorithms.

Having run several small catering businesses in the past I know how hard managing a business can be. But running a writing business isn’t like running any other business. Even though I spent a lot of time working in the kitchen when catering, I had helpers and I’d meet the customers. I had social interaction within the course of my working day. Writers invariably work alone for hours at a time in front of a screen these days getting the words down without a lot of input from other people.  The real business of writing starts after the book is finished.

These days it’s all about networking and making useful contacts with fellow authors, bloggers and readers, doing guest posts, having an up-to-date website - the list goes on, for both independent and traditionally published authors. 

Reading the blog of friend and fellow RNA member, Alison Morton this week, I realised just how much effort and time has gone into her success as an independent author publishing her award winning bestselling Roma Nova thrillers. She makes my current paltry efforts on Twitter and Facebook look . . . well even paltrier to be honest.





Alison lists everything she still has to do or organise after the book is written - and it’s a huge amount of work: commissioning a cover design, editing and proofreading, formatting. Granted if you’re published traditionally the publisher takes responsibility for a lot of these but these days they do expect authors to do a lot more marketing than back in the day. I found Alison’s pre-launch routine as a part of her marketing campaign particularly interesting:

‘While you’re waiting for copy-edits or structural edits or beta readers and at least 4-6 weeks before publication date, you spend days at the email coalface contacting all the friends, fellow authors, bloggers and reviewers you know to ask for their help launching your treasure. You will have set up a spreadsheet, of course, to track it all to include name, email, website, what you agree on after a little negotiation (guest post, review, Q&A), date agreed, date drafted and date sent.’

Now I do try to do most of those things but I have to admit the phrase that scared me half to death was the one containing the word ‘spreadsheet’. I do of course keep records but it has never occurred to me to use a spreadsheet.  I’ve always thought of spreadsheets as being the preserve of accountants and the like. In fact I confess I didn’t know and honestly couldn’t see how it would work for keeping the kind of records writers need to keep. So I took myself off to Youtube and watched a couple of videos hoping to learn and be inspired. All I can say is that my brain froze. Can I just say I am in awe of anybody that can create, update and understand a spreadsheet. As for me I shall just have to keep to my tried and trusted method of pen and diary - and a simple back up document on the computer.

I’d love to know how everyone else keeps track of all their social media and marketing skills.

Here’s the link for Alison’s very informative blog - its well worth a read: https://alisonmortonauthor.com/blog/