Opening Lines… Getting Hooked!

Today has been a very good day. Today I have managed to finish another 3,000 words and it is only 3 pm! Not bad, not bad at all. By way of a reward, yes I do need to reward myself, I have started on the chocolate. Lindt chocolate with hazelnuts to be precise. Now 4 squares in, I’m starting to feel a bit sick. I love chocolate but it must be said I am a light weight. The same is not true of wine. Wine deserves a blog post all to itself! I digress, now where was I?…Ah yes, today has proved to be a good writing day. If I had to sum it up in one word I would say ‘hooked’. Yep, that’s what I want my readers to be, hooked from the very beginning, in a way that is entertaining and keeps them turning the pages. Managing hooks and the expectations around them are never far from my mind. I worry a lot, about pretty much everything, but I especially worry about the beginning of a book and how much to reveal straight up. Are the first few pages interesting enough to warrant continued effort? Have I revealed too much too soon? It is a dilemma, a happy dilemma to have, but only when you get it right!

If you don’t get the beginning right nothing will fit correctly. Hooks are, in my opinion, inextricably linked to the first few pages. Of course, they feature throughout your story especially in thrillers and suspense novels. However, it is the beginning which will set the tone and pace, and push your story forward. You know when you’ve got it right because everything slots into place. Like a good solid jigsaw puzzle, the whole picture starts to emerge as each piece is placed correctly. Today has been a ‘placing the pieces correctly’ kind of day and I am over the moon.

I want my readers to open my first page and be transported into a personal version of the world I’ve created. Today my 3000 words flowed with ease because I reworked the beginning. Yep, I went back to the beginning, red pen and all. Earlier this week writing had been a  struggle. I sat, looking at a radiant blank screen. It remained blank for the whole day! There was nothing for it but to go back to the beginning and try to figure out what was going on, and that’s when I realised some of the pieces had been misplaced. I shifted around a few key sentences and rearranged those opening lines and viola! Success!

You get one shot and one shot only at asking readers to invest their time and emotions into your book. They will want a return on that investment. Your opening is your big reveal, you do not want to disappoint. Being able to fulfill your readers’ anticipation and carry them with you as the story develops is the most amazing feeling, as I said, you do not want to disappoint. If you lose a reader at the beginning it will be hard to pull them back, first impressions really do count! So with that in mind, I have put together a few questions that I asked myself when I faced the dreaded blank screen! Challenge yourself and ask yourself the same questions, you may find they help you complete your own puzzle. Sometimes you have to write the opening last, sometimes you have to write it or rewrite it midway through, as in my case. Whenever you turn to the opening, make sure you give it your full attention.

  1. Have I grabbed the readers attention within the first few paragraphs?
  2. Have I grabbed them firmly or is it more of a gentle nudge? ~ If it’s a gentle nudge rewrite.
  3. Is the opening talking to the readers I’m trying to attract?  ~ No good telling them about lemons when the rest of the book is about pears!
  4. Am I showing or telling?  ~ Show, always, no telling…
  5. Is there emotion? ~ Are my readers able to feel the pain, anger, happiness, envy, love etc.
  6. Is my narrative voice compelling? ~ Can readers connect to my protagonist’s voice.
  7. Why here? Is the starting point a pivotal moment.
  8. Am I intrigued, do I want to know more?

My favourite opening lines are from Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, what’s yours? Please leave a comment below I’d love to know!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Oh The Things You Can Think…. Finding The Space Between The Words… Progress on Book 3

I appear to in the throes of a writing frenzy. Whether it’s the longer days, or the (slightly) warmer weather I am unsure.  It doesn’t happen often so when it does, I strap myself in and type as fast as my stubby fingers will allow. Then I hit the wall. I lay exhausted in a crumpled heap until chocolate and caffeine (or wine) revive me. I break only to feed the hungry teens and walk the dog. Everything takes on increased speed and unwavering focus as I hurtle towards my word count. Sound familiar?

What I hadn’t banked on was the rest of my life becoming equally as crazy.I do like a good dose of procrastination to balance things out, but sadly this week there was no time for it! Procrastination, for me, is like an annoying friend. You can’t wait to see the back of them but then miss them when they’re gone! It has only been a four day week (due to the bank holiday), and even then I had Tuesday off, so technically… well actually, I only worked three days. I know  – I’m a light weight!

So the book, how’s the book coming along? Well, I’m glad you asked! Last night at precisely 11.45pm I hit 40,000 words! 40,00 words on a book that I had no intention of writing, not bad eh? Yeah, I was impressed with myself too! Suffice to say Lady Virginia Penrose has been very busy and very bossy! I’m aiming for around 85,000 words so you could say I’m almost half way. I’m hoping to get finished before the end of the year, but I’m not going to hold myself too firmly to a date. Writing this book has taken me by surprise so I want to try and find the space between the words, give them time to breathe. Hopefully, it will help the different strands find their way. Which is why this weekend I am leaving it be. Yep, you heard me, I won’t be going anywhere near Lady Ginny. I shall of course still be writing! I have an interesting blog post to write about an Alien and some wine, no I haven’t been drinking, well not yet.

So me hearties ( oh no, I’ve gone all West Country… must stop thinking about the return of Poldark), pop back tomorrow to hear about the Alien. Until then here is a picture I took at St James Park in London a few weeks ago… I am desperately trying to channel the Swan!

 

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A Room of My Own

I sit writing this blog post in the room pictured above. It’s a room I love, it’s my writing room. It used to be the ‘spare room’ but I have converted it into my little piece of bookish bliss! I am currently sharing my space with the contents of the bathroom due to ongoing building works. I think our tiny bathroom is, in fact, a Tardis judging by the amount of paraphernalia that surrounds me. Ah, the beloved foot spa, such a great idea, but sadly never used. Maybe I could use the foot spa and write at the same time? Now there’s a thought!

I am very lucky to have such a wonderful place to write. The room is at the front of the house. It overlooks a field of horses. It is a lovely place to write, and to daydream in equal measures. Most of the time I am joined by Poppy my English Springer Spaniel. She will do one of two things. She will sit under the desk at my feet or, she’ll look for adventure.Guess which one I prefer? I am ashamed to say she has mastered the art of bin diving! I can often be seen raising my voice and running across the landing, in hot pursuit of a dog with an empty ink cartridge or worse, a chocolate wrapper! She chooses her moments with absolute precision, running off at exactly the moment I need to apply myself to a particularly complex piece of dialogue, or a red pen edit. She is a cheeky madam!

I do like a reasonably tidy desk. The same can not be said for the floor. No, I will not take a picture of the floor – trust me you really don’t want that image in your head.The floor usually sports three or four pieces of research in the form of open books, sheets of handwritten notes and photographs. This is another part of the bored dog vs human adventure that regularly takes place. I have learned only to place items on the floor that can be easily replaced. Sprinting is not my special talent. Some of my books are literally ‘dog eared’. Well I had better get on…. that book won’t write itself and I need to provide some entertainment for the dog!

I’m in The Zone….

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a very determined young lady who would not get out of my head. Lady Virginia Penrose has, I am pleased to say, furnished me with 25,000 words to date! As I said at the time ‘I don’t do historical fiction’ – turns out I was wrong! I am loving it.

My WIP is set around 1910 – 1914 before the outbreak of WWI. It was such a fascinating period of time. Hard to believe sitting here today that I would not have been allowed to vote! I’m convinced I would have been a sufragette, I have such a big mouth it would have been impossible for me to have kept quiet about something so unjust!

I wanted to share with you some of the amazing images that I have come across in the course of my research. I hope you enjoy them.

 

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A Snapshot from my Mind….. February

I had no idea I would be so happy to see the start of February. January was full of the ‘T’ word and the news from everywhere was depressing. February already feels more… dare I say it – optimistic! With a rather large spring in my step I am heading for my first ever writers retreat. I have some idea of what to expect, although my knowledge of such gatherings is based on my own expectations more than fact! I hope there shall be lots of writing, not much procrastination and perhaps a glass or two of some nice fizz. Do I expect too much? Quite possibly! I shall report back next week on my findings.

Work with my latest muse Virginia continues and is proving enlightening. Virginia Penrose is developing into an interesting character with a lot to say! I hope my retreat shall give me a chance to get to know her better. I can tell you the book is set around 1910. Whilst doing my research I came across this old photograph which sums up what’s going on in my head perfectly!

 

Picadilly London 1910

Hijacked by My Own Mind ~ A Writers Life

Picture the scene ~ I am happily typing away in my own little world. I have coffee, the luxury of a few weekend hours and enthusiasm! I am in my happy place and 2017 is looking good. I have never been known to do things by half so I have made a commitment to myself. I am to write a collection of short stories and a romantic comedy before Big Ben strikes midnight on December 31st 2017. Cinderella I most certainly am not, no thank you. I do not intend to loose shoes or anything else for that matter. I am ‘power wording’ that’s what I call it. Words are flying off the page. It’s a bit like ‘power walking’ but not as sweaty! Kate my new protagonist is bubbling along at a reasonable pace, then it happens…. Who on earth is Virginia? Virginia has set herself the task of grabbing my attention. She is proving to be a distraction of mighty proportions. Virginia it would seem is a 1920’s socialite with strong ideas about the books I should write in 2017. But I don’t do historical thrillers I argue. In fact, I don’t do historical anything. Don’t get me wrong, I love my history and appreciate it fully…. when written by someone else. Virginia is very stubborn. She will not let me rest until I have written a part of her story. I can hear Kate’s protestations as I close her file and hit file,  new, open.

It is two hours later and I have just surfaced for air. I do not write historical fiction. I do however write the stories that pound the inside of my head demanding a voice. Virginia is one of those voices. As yet I am unsure of her future but as always I will listen. I want to paint her well. I want to allow room for the breath that has been brought to life, space to live. What I do know is that Virginia Swan (nee Penrose) has a lot to say. She is strong and bold and is carrying a secret!

So my lovelies, on this grey overcast day in January my heart has been warmed once again. Today did not turn out the way I’d planned but it has been exciting. It looks as if three books are now on the horizon…. Wish me luck!

 

voltairequote2017

 

The Joys of Formatting an eBook

I have spent the best part of today getting my head around formatting my forthcoming release Forbidden Colours for  eReaders. Oh the pain, I would rather be sticking pins in my eyes! I have neck ache, back ache and am in urgent need of wine – which, I have promised myself will be my reward when I finally beat this spawn of the devil!

I followed the same process I used when I formatted my debut novel All Tomorrow’s Parties but, for whatever reason, this time, the computer says ‘no’ and has been saying ‘no’ for the past 4 hours. The problem is the different formats do not talk to each other! So I have to convert ( or in my case create a mess of) my book in different ways.

I have no option than to go nuclear. Smashwords has a rather helpful style guide ( link below), which shows exactly how to ‘go nuclear’. For now it’s more a question of time needed to press the button and un format to reformat. Oh the pressures of the modern world my friends!

So that I never, and I mean NEVER find myself in this situation again, I’ve put together a few quick top tips to all things eBookish. It is not a definitive guide by any stretch of the imagination – that is not what it is. Hopefully the tips below will help you and eliminate the need for you to go nuclear too!

  • There are three main eBook formats that are widely used – PDF, EPUB and MOBI. The formats are driven by the device on which they are to be viewed, so naturally they don’t all use the same platforms – that would be too simple!
  • Most eBooks are what’s called ‘flowable’ – allowing the reader to choose different size fonts. Therefore keep it simple with your fonts. Fancy fonts do not fare well when converted.
  • Do not include page numbers. As helpful as they may be for you, they are pointless on e Readers. Devices usually tell the reader how far along a book they are e g. 20%, 30% etc. If you have a table of content at the front with page numbers it’s irrelevant.
  • Headers and footers are a no no, take them out. They just confuse everything!
  • Separate paragraphs with only a single return not more, they do not convert well and your work will look disjointed with great big gaps everywhere.
  • The best thing I have discovered is the ‘non print characters’ button (see image below). It shows all of the extra formatting that’s contained within your document –  things you had no idea were there, such as extra spaces, extra returns, line breaks etc. It means you can strip out all of the unnecessary added extras which will hamper your file conversion.
  • A nifty thing that is very straight forward is to add hyperlinks to your table of contents. This is very simple and very effective It allows the readers to go directly to different chapters as if by magic! For full details tap it into a search engine, there are some super tutorials out there.

formatting_3076819b

  The non character formatting button – A revelation!

  •  The Smashwords style guide is a great free resource that can help you a lot Click here

So after everything how did I fare?

Let’s just say the Chateuxneuf du pape is going down a treat!

wine

Have you had any formatting nightmares? Please comment below & let me know that I’m not alone!!

I’m Going to Tell You a Story…. I’ll Make It Brief!

Long seen as the poor relation to the novel, short stories are back in vogue, and with good reason. The turnabout probably came, back in 2013 when Lynda Davis won The Man Booker prize for her collection of short stories. That coupled with the launch of Amazons ‘singles’ – (works of between 5,000 – 30,000 words) have spurred on its success. Since then the short story has grown in popularity, going from strength to strength.

The world today provides a perfect landscape for the short story to flourish.  We are all so busy these days. By trying to navigate and juggle our frenetic lives, our time gets consumed by all things electronic. This is both good and bad. It is within this world that the revival of the short story is showing its metal. The reading of a short story can be achieved on the commute to work, say on your phone or tablet in one sitting – it’s a perfect medium and fits well into that time and place. I personally love the short story form form. As a writer, it helps me to stay sharp and focused. Somehow it seems to drive my creativity for my longer novels if that makes sense? By losing myself for a couple of hours writing a short story, I return to my larger work refreshed and fully charged.  Writing a short means I have to be bold, be bright and be gone. No waffle just straight in feet first. Less is definitely more with a short and therein lies my love of writing them.  It appears I am in good company!

The short story has its roots buried deep within our culture. Dickens, known for creating some of our best loved  fictional characters was a prolific short story writer. His success began with the serialization of The Pickwick Papers. His novels were mostly published in weekly or monthly installments, a sort of short story for the times.

I have recently had some successes with my short stories. They have woven their way into a variety of longlists and this month saw my first short list addition! …. Fingers crossed.

With my second novel well into the ‘red marker’ editing phase (or slash and burn as I call it), I have set my sights on my next piece of work  –  a collection of short stories. They will be my toughest challenge yet but I’m game if you are?

 

hemmingway

I am a 1 in 10!

A ray of sunshine shone into my world yesterday . My short story ‘Soaring’ has been shortlisted for The Black Pear Press Short Story Competition. Well, if that’s not headline news I don’t know what is! Not surprisingly I am very excited, even more excited than my crazy Springer Spaniel, and that takes some beating!

Poppy1
I’m more excited than this!