Monday, 15 December 2014

Author Specification

Got a book inside you? Thinking of making 2015 the year you let it out? Here’s your author specification so you can hit the ground running.

Essential Information
Before you begin, ask yourself whether or not you’re completely and utterly in love with what you’re writing. If you don’t care about your work, why should the reader? Besides, it’s a long old slog writing 90,000 words. If you want to make a career out of this you’ve got to find the stamina to complete this journey not just once, but over and over again.

None. Anyone can do it, can’t they?
Please note; excuses about not having enough time are not acceptable. Everyone is busy.

Experience and Knowledge
Proven evidence of writing skills is desirable though not, unfortunately, essential. However, useful examples include writing for publication in magazines and newspapers and competition wins. Have you stamped all over the internet? Left your digital footprints on the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Spotify… what do you mean, you’re supposed to be writing?  Do you want to find your audience or not? Who else is going to do this stuff for you?

Attributes and Abilities
Insane optimism. The ability to believe that the good times, the film deal, the sweet spot when your novel hits the zeitgeist are just round the corner.

Know when to listen. If a professional is good enough to give you their opinion, please act upon it. Please don’t think that she/he is wrong and that you, your partner, your best friend and your dog know better!

Know when to shut up. One star reviews can make you feel sick, weep or fill you with rage. Alas, telling the reviewer to take a full refund and jog off is not an option. What’s the point? Many of them have downloaded it for free or paid 99p for the results of your year of hard slog anyway. The thwarted writers, the misery-makers, the readers who just HATE your book will just keep coming and you have to learn to suck it up. This can be particularly tough.

Be a content machine. The more work you put out there, the more people will discover you. Well, that’s the theory. It also means you’ll end up doing a lot of unpaid work for the ‘exposure’. This is peculiar to the creative industry. Good luck finding a restaurant providing free meals for ‘exposure’.

Working Hours and Pay
You’ll never have a day off. In every waking moment, and some sleeping ones, your work in progress is there in the background of your mind demanding attention.

Be a Breatharian. You’d better hope that the satisfaction of having written is enough to sustain you because you’re going to have to learn to live on thin air. For every dazzlingly successful novelist there are thousands who don’t even come close to earning a living.

Be content. People who love your work will give you the energy to keep going – isn’t this why you began writing? To reach out to others and to strike a common chord? It’s immensely uplifting when readers are kind enough to tell they’ve enjoyed your novels. Take pleasure in looking at the various editions of your books on your shelf or the thumbnails of your ebooks online. You’re doing what you love – one day you might even make some money at it.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On.

The dream...
These are the shoes I bought for my dream life, the one where I’m far more glamorous, far more successful … and don’t actually have to fret about walking further than from car to bar. I haven’t worn them – unless you count trotting round the house a few times for the sheer joy of wearing such pretty and impractical footwear. However much I might secretly dream of topping the Sunday Times best seller list, I’m fully aware that every time I step in the shower and wash in water that’s cleaner and more abundant than many people’s drinking water, I’m already living someone else’s dream.

I’ve been knocked out by the worst cold I’ve had in ages and it’s forced me to sit passively watching the world go by. Christmas always worries me anyway; too many memories of trying to make it special on a very limited budget when my daughters were growing up, but more than ever it seems that so many seasonal messages are all about buying that festive feeling. All that debt for the fragrance, the clothes, the car, the food, the little bits of coloured plastic that promise to change your family’s life only for the magic and sparkle to disappear with the discarded wrapping. I’m not suggesting we wear hair shirts on Christmas Day - I enjoy a treat as much as the next person - but I do think this is the time of year when the pressure to make dreams come true makes it easy to lose sight of reality and of what’s really important.

Another fantasy that’s dismayed me this week (don’t worry, my cold seems to be going so expect normal service to be resumed) is the hype around the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. The cover photo of a young woman weighed down by outsized gold wings, her bottom barely covered, might have cheered up some readers of this week’s Telegraph magazine, but it makes me want to weep. When far too many women are shackled by their own societies, how is trussing up a model and sending her down a catwalk buckling under the weight of a 40lb frame a good thing? Really, is this what women’s liberation amounted to?

And I suppose you could say, that as a novelist I’m guilty of peddling dreams too, because, yes, I do have to promote my books from time to time. However, I’m not promising to make my readers lives better, but only to tell them a story with a happy ending about female protagonists who discover that joy comes from within and that self-belief takes you higher than an 8 ft pair of gold wings.

... and the reality.

Friday, 21 November 2014

An Indomitable Bill

Towards Little Spitmarsh
My fellow Choc Lit author and friend, the delightful Liz Harris, has invited me to join in a series of blog postings which began with Australian readers and writers of rural romance and has grown to include lovers of the great outdoors everywhere. Liz introduced us to handsome rancher Will Hyde, the hero of her novella, A Western Heart and a man more than one young lady would like to saddle up with. Liz's passion, not just for her hero but also for the American West, is evident in this novella and in her lovely novel A Bargain Struck. Both are set in 1880s Wyoming so it's not surprising to find that Liz has stayed in a working ranch in Wyoming herself, although, as she states, rather more recently.

Liz's evocative covers 
You can find out more about Liz and her varied and interesting books here where you’ll quickly notice that there’s no shortage of material for her novels. Most recently, Liz’s travels took her to Australia and having seen some of her beautiful photos in and around Sydney I’m hoping there’ll be a novel from Liz featuring this stunning location. 

If you can’t wait for some armchair travel and would like a little ‘me time’ this Christmas, Choc lit have put together a trio of mini treats in a collection which features, Liz’s A Western Heart, Angela Britnell’s What Happens in Nashville and my novella, Only True in Fairy Tales here.

Only True in Fairy Tales is set in a little village on the edge of the Downs which is very like the place where I grew up. That sense of living in an ‘in-between’ place beyond a small suburban town and close to somewhere that felt like proper wild space has stayed with me and influenced my writing. All my novels are set in locations off the beaten track because I’m so drawn to those places. Little Spitmarsh, the faded fictional seaside town that is the setting for my novels Turning the Tide and Follow A Star, is an amalgam of some of the down-at-heel resorts and sleepy harbours I fell in love with sailing round the British coast. Penmorfa, my fictional Welsh village, is influenced by where I live now, on the very edge of Cardigan Bay.

My sort of inspiration!

Today though, I'm going to talk about Bill (we Choc lit authors seem to love a good William!) the hero of Follow A Star. When May, my heroine, meets Bill it's not long before they're both at sea, not just with their emotions but also in a little boat offshore...

1. What is the name of your character?
Bill Blythe, a builder with fierce red hair who looks as if he could single-handedly wrestle bullocks to the ground. Bill's a proper bloke; strong, dependable, someone to rely on, the kind of man who'd take the stars right out of the sky for you... but first you've got to get past that rough, tough exterior!

2. Is Bill fictional or a historic person?
I suppose I have to admit that he's fictional but he's real to me. I really enjoy meeting the heroes of all my novels, but I do have a particularly soft spot for Bill!

3. When and where is the story set?
The story is set in the present day. May Starling, the heroine, has had enough of her demanding career and even more demanding ex. Responding to a ‘crew-wanted’ ad, she follows her dreams of escape only to find herself at sea with Bill who isn’t quite what she was expecting ... 

4. What should we know about Bill?
Bill's got so much on his plate he's nearly tearing his red hair out: he's got too much work, a very sick uncle and he needs helps to get a little wooden boat from the south coast round to little Spitmarsh fast. He's intensely loyal to his friends, fiercely protective of his uncle and will do anything for his loved ones.

5. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
Ah, that would be May, the woman who's not exactly coming clean about why she's running away to sea. Initially it’s May’s peachy bottom that’s so annoyingly distracting, then it’s the boiling pot of emotions aboard a small boat, but it’s when they reach dry land that Bill’s problems really begin.

6. What is the personal goal of the character?
All Bill wants is to bring his beloved uncle’s wooden boat home so that the old man has a reason to carry on living.

I’m now passing the baton to another friend and Choc Lit author, the very amusing and hugely talented Jane Lovering whose latest book How I Wonder What You Are is out – drum roll – on 1 December! Jane lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire and if you haven’t discovered her blog yet, you’ve got another treat in store. Over to you, Jane!

Monday, 10 November 2014

St Jude and St David's

St David's Cathedral in the rain.
‘Can you hear that noise?’ asks Tom.
‘Isn’t it just the road surface?’ I reply because I really don’t want to acknowledge any noise that might be indicative of car trouble, especially not when we’re high in the Preseli Hills where low clouds cast a damp grey shroud across the winding road. After a brief consultation we decide the noise probably isn’t serious and decide to press on. We’re having a day out at St David’s because what is the point of living in such a beautiful part of the world if you don’t get out to see it?

The drizzle turns to rain but doesn’t dampen our spirits. We have a very good, if slightly pricey lunch, at The Refectory in the cathedral where there’s also a small display of local art and crafts. I buy a very pleasing Christmas present from the arty lady at the desk who is no longer young but is lovely to look at with her chic black polo-neck, oversize black glasses and poppy red hair and lipstick. We talk about Coast magazine and the Donna Tartt book she’s reading and I walk away smiling. This lady reminds me of another I recently spotted in the supermarket who’d firmly resisted the pressure to wear beige and turn invisible and trotted past in her high-heeled ankle boots wearing a purple mini-dress which showed off her terrific legs, a short fitted purple coat and purple tights. With her elfin-cut silver hair and a confident smile she looked absolutely amazing.

Towards the town.
A little bookshop!

Precarious pebbles?
And a pretty display.
Alas, one grand dame not doing so well is our car, The Biscuit Tin. For what’s basically a motor bike wrapped in a thin metal shell, it’s served us well but despite lavishing large sums of money on it recently, it still doesn’t seem happy. After ignoring The Noise nearly all the way home we decide to cut our losses. We stop at the used car garage we bought it from and there, in the pouring rain, we choose another. ‘That,’ says the garage owner, ‘is a different beast altogether.’ I just hope it’s a nice, quiet, cheap-to-run beast…

You never know who's looking!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Sunshine and Showers

The view when I returned from my run this morning.

‘So,’ says our postman, handing me a thick wodge of A5 envelopes, ‘you’ve got a good bundle today; all these are for you!’. Smiling weakly, I wait until I’ve closed the door before giving a little sigh at the latest deluge of paperwork. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my two years assisting with the Romantic Novelists’ Association ‘Romantic Novel of the Year’ awards it’s the value of a good postman, one who’ll keep your parcels out the rain when you’re not in, takes a sensible approach to the occasional underpaid envelope and, er, provides feedback on your running times.

And two minutes later!

Last year I was fielding parcels of books; receiving them from authors and sending them out to readers for judging, but it seems I was a bit optimistic to think that taking over as official score keeper for the awards would be any less time-consuming. Every entry is read initially by three readers who award points for all aspects of the books. The totals go to three of us by email and then the paper copies come to me for verification – and my goodness, there are a lot of scores to verify! Still, I suppose I’d be more concerned if I didn’t have a small mountain of score sheets growing in my study; at least this shows just how much interest there is in both writing and reading romantic fiction.

I almost never read horoscopes in the back of magazines, but flicking the Christmas (yikes) edition of Good Houskeeping I happen to notice my glowing stars for December - which is a bit of a relief given that it’s been a ‘sunshine and showers’ sort of year. ‘Right now you’re in a period of discovery in terms of your activities, goals and alliances…’ astrologer Shelley von Strunkel begins. This is certainly true as I’ve been very torn between three writing projects. It’s nice to have lots of ideas, but not very good for productivity to be pulled in three different directions. ‘December is about eliminating what doesn’t work, which enables you to focus on what holds promise and clear the way for new, exciting and worthwhile experiences to come,’ she concludes and given that I’ve finally decided which of my three options to run with, I just hope it’s the right one!

And finally, talking of new and exciting experiences, my work appears not in one but two new titles this week! Tomorrow sees the release of Me Time this Christmas a collection of three novellas by me and fellow Choc Lit Authors, Liz Harris and Angela Britnell and on Thursday Kisses and Cupcakes, a new selection of short stories by Choc Lit authors goes live. Mine’s called Melting Point and opens with a slightly saucy beach scene. You can find it here

Monday, 27 October 2014

Walking Pace

Traeth Bach
Eye worries apart, I decide I can’t sit around like Chicken Licken waiting for the sky to fall in so I take myself out for a run. It feels good, so good in fact that I discover when I check my watch that I’ve run my fastest 5k ever. 
Hmm, so much for taking it easy. 
But I also make time for plenty of reading; some new fiction and some old favourites too, like BB’s Little Grey Men and Down The Bright Stream, prescient depictions of a fragile English countryside irrevocably changed by human activity. Non-fiction draws me back to another comfort read, Roger Deakin’s Waterlog which is now on my Kindle so I can revisit the secret world of wild swimming whenever I like and his Wildwood which is a treat in store.

The weekend brings a visit from Rose and her husband Si so we decide to take a slow walk to the secret beach. Although the weather’s grey there’s a wealth of autumn colour along the way.

Mr & Mrs Fitz prepare for rain.
A precarious coastal path.

And an even more precarious descent!

But you do get the beach to yourself.

Well, almost!

All you have to do is climb back up.
Then it's a slow walk home for a well-deserved cup of tea and a big slice of home-made cake!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Flashing and Dashing

‘And this,’ the A&E doctor tells us showing us into a treatment room at the end of a corridor, ‘is also our ebola room!’ There’s comfort of a sort to be had in the fact that I’m not actually surrounded by staff in protective clothing, and also that I’ve been fast-tracked through casualty … although that in itself is rather worrying. I’ve had to seek emergency treatment for a flashing light show in my right eye which could be a posterior vitreous detachment – like the one I experienced in my left eye – or it might be the start of something more sinister like a retinal detachment and the only way to know is to seek expert medical help. Fast.

The ebola room, it turns out, usually serves as The Eye Room, and after a couple of basic eyes tests, further help is summoned. After a nervous wait, I’m thoroughly and efficiently examined by the on-call ophthalmologist who declares my eyes to be in surprisingly good shape for someone so short-sighted but to seek help immediately if the symptoms get worse … and breathe. Except, of course, I now have a few more anxious weeks hoping everything will settle down. I am, however, hugely grateful to the A&E staff at Aberystwyth's
 Bronglais General Hospital who showed me such kindness and dealt with me so efficiently.

With all the excitement of the Cardiff Half Marathon, Tom starting his PhD, my poor mother-in-law facing a round of medical treatment and a whole heap of Romantic Novelists’ Association committee work, we’ve barely stood still. And although I’m disinclined to agree with a couple of lay opinions that Too Much Running and Too Much Looking have contributed to my eye problems, I think I probably have been squeezing quarts of activity into a pint pot and it may well be time to take a bit of a rest.  On a more cheery note this arrived today – a very pretty sight for both my eyes!

The painting is Sea Monoprint by Tom Tomos.