2018 spat me into 2019 before I felt ready! The good news is now I’m ready! So, belated New Year greetings!
I have a plan for 2019, well sort of. I slumped my way towards the end of last year after an action packed Spring, Summer and Autumn. I don’t have a crystal ball but this year is not about puppies or kittens or any other sort of fluffy fur-balls as far as I’m aware. This year is about my writing. Thanks to my wonderful diary courtesy of Charlie at Urban Writers Retreats I can hold myself to account. I shall be either patting myself on the back, or slapping myself around the face, depending on how things are going! I’m happy to report so far no faces have been slapped! 🤣 Happy New Year!
We have all been there haven’t we? You are merrily munching your way through the first few chapters of a book that has sat on your TBR pile for a while and then it hits you…. boredom! Yep, mind numbing ‘I’d rather be anywhere but here’ boredom. Like a beautiful car which has been filled with the wrong fuel, the story splutters and then comes to a grinding halt. I have kicked myself so many times for playing the martyr and plowing through to the bitter end only to kick myself a bit more for even bothering to finish it. On reflection what a lot of these books had in common was simple – a soggy middle. At the beginning I’m intrigued, the writing is good and has me turning the pages with glee and then, somewhere, somehow, the tension is lost and the story becomes like a slow moving stream, no I correct myself more like a stagnant pond! Nothing is moving, the characters are not under any sort of pressure to do anything or see anyone, they are just… well they are just there! I don’t know about you but I don’t want ‘just there’ when I’m reading a novel, I can watch TV for that. I want empathy and commitment, as much from the characters as from myself. Commitment comes from making decisions, if nothing is happening no commitments are being made. All of this equals boredom for me, the reader. Don’t get me wrong I am not proposing that there should be twists and turns on every page but the story does need to move forward. Sadly this vacation I have read two such books.
Sitting here in the Mallorcan sun (photos to follow), I am struck by how important and methodical the editing process needs to be. I don’t want my books to be considered boring and I definitely don’t want a soggy middle! I am the first to admit I write too many words sometimes. Which is why I need to be strong and robust (like a good cup of coffee) when it comes to editing my own work way before an editor gets sight of it.
I’m sitting poolside trawling my way through the draft of my next novel and three things strike me:
– Who the hell wrote this?
– Oh, that’s rather good
– What a load of tosh!
It’s the ‘what a load of tosh’ that is bothersome. These are the sections where I need to channel a high court judge and become harsh but fair! Sometime the ‘tosh’ can be salvaged, sometime not. If there is a meaningful reason for the words to be there I will play around with them. If, however, they are acting as fillers for the main act then they have to go. No ifs, no buts, they must be crossed through with a red pen never to be seen again.
I have asked myself the same question over and over today – what would happen if the words weren’t there? If I can not defend them then they have to go !
I am doing well arguing with myself, although the lure of the pool is proving powerful! One more chapter then time for a swim….
I have been so caught up with ‘stuff’ this week I realised I did not share this wonderful piece of news…. I have been nominated for a 2017 Top Female Authors Award presented by The Authors Show I have such a warm fuzzy feeling inside! It really is so humbling to have been nominated. Good news is like a fine wine…. it needs to be shared so here you have it…ta da….
Free books have been a hot topic on one of my authors groups this week, with good reason. Which other creative genre do you know where it is becoming ‘expected’ for you to give your work away for free, non gratis? None? That’s right none. Whilst the internet has brought us many great and wonderful things, free books, in my humble opinion are not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, competitions, advanced reader copies not a problem – that’s part of the marketing. What irks me, is the expectation that you should give your books away, for free. Imagine a silversmith working away on a beautiful pendant. Months spent even years, honing and perfecting their work. Would you expect him to give it to you for free? Personally I wouldn’t!
I write because I love it, it is my passion, my obsession. I place a value on what I do and I expect others to do the same. Giving away free books, permanently, says to me – I do not value you or your work. It is the principle that is conveyed when that transaction is made. Now the transaction may mean very little in financial terms, but what it says to me as a person is overwhelming. It says I respect & value what you do. You don’t walk into a store and expect the manager to say oh everything is free from now on, do you? So why do people expect it from authors?
Yes of course we all like free stuff I’m not talking about buy 1 get 1 free or sale prices, these are marketing tactics for short periods of time. I’m talking about authors giving away their books free, permanently. By having to pay even if it is only £1.00 you have committed, you have invested. Far too often I am hearing of people who just download free book upon free book, with no intention of actually reading them. I can’t blame them, they were free, so why not? These I am reliably informed are called ‘freebie hunters’. It could be shower gel or cotton wool, they don’t care as long as it’s free.Now where is the value in that? Excuse me while I readjust my soap box. Ah that’s better…
Whilst a few authors may see an initial rise in their sales, I am told by many publishers this is not sustained. So what has been achieved? Has the writer gained future readers – no, have they received more reviews – no, have they given away shed loads of books to people who don’t give a flying fig – doh yes, I think so. For me its not about stroking someones ego because they ‘just have to sell sell sell’. It’s about acknowledging writing is a creative process that is valued.
Some fellow authors and I are coming together to try and pull things back to centre. You may agree or disagree, that is up to you. All I ask is that you think about it seriously. These are of course, just my thoughts. Each one of us must decide for ourselves, what’s right for us.
If you are interested in the Valued Authors Coalition then you can find us here:
A fair few weeks ago I travelled to London. Not as glamorous as it sounds. I was sat in a hotel near the airport having attended a training course. Hotel rooms and I have a love hate relationship. The room itself was lovely. It had recently been re furbished and smelt clean and freshly painted. It was bright and quiet ~ perfect. The problem however – it was too hot and the windows were hermetically sealed. I’m sure we’ve all had those heart sink moments when your perfect ‘writing plan’ throws you a curve ball ~ great, a hot stuffy hotel room. I felt uncomfortable and a bit disheartened. My writing time is scarce and I need to make the most of the time I manage to carve out. A hot airless room was not my idea of a conducive creative environment! My immediate reaction was – it’s too hot to write, I don’t feel comfortable and now I’m hacked off. Why am I telling you this? Well hot it may have been but write I must! (I know, I sound like Yoda). I forgo dinner with my colleagues because I need to write. I have found my inner independence and it is very liberating, despite the oven like room. I sacrificed a nice dinner with good company and a glass or 2 of chilled Prosecco – what on earth was I thinking? And there you have it, I have to write. Without sounding all ‘am dram’ it’s the story that only I can write – it’s my story. It’s the story that is burning away inside, willing me to spend time exploring and crafting it. I know I am not the greatest writer, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s something I have to do. To quote Neil Gaiman:
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.”
So there you have it. He’s right, only I can write this particular story. It’s my thoughts and the creativity inside my head. It may be great, it may not, but it is most definitely mine. So here’s what happened:
The life on the page stares up at me. What now? It asks. This morning I thought I knew, now I’m not so sure. My current muse is the lead character of my second novel and she is under my skin. She is bright, under confident and a lover of spaghetti westerns. Her life is in my hands, at my finger tips as I type. She is firing beams of golden thread for me to catch, I desperately try to weave them into my story, her story. Her words start to sing from the pages. I forget the hot stuffy room, and relax into the tale she is spinning.She is an ordinary girl, her journey began much like any other, doing ordinary things. Tonight however she has made the leap from ordinary to extra ordinary. If I had not stuck with writing in my very hot room I would not be sitting here at 2 am felling a wee bit pleased with myself. I have no idea what just happened. Her life force came to town and captivated me. It was a length of unravelling thread I had to follow.When I sat down to write tonight, my first instinct was to head for the door and straight to the bar. If that had happened, the wheel would not have spun.
That night taught me a few important lessons:
I need to keep the wheel spinning. By spinning the wheel I formed the yarn and a tale of fine gold thread was the result. That may not always be the case, but if you don’t spin you’ll never know.
I was taken out of my comfort zone, a hot room is my idea of hell.Initially I pushed against it but I have realised it worked well for me. I encourage you not to become too stayed in your approach to writing (I obviously was). You may be surprised at the results.
I am now over the half way hump of book 2. It feels like a good place to be. The next 2 chapters are quite clear, after that – who knows!
So I encourage you all. When your room is too hot start spinning…..
So here’s how it goes….. I’m sitting quietly, O.K. no I’m not. I’m fidgeting and drinking coffee – a lot of coffee, trying to work out the order of things. The plot for ‘book 2 ‘ is shaping up nicely and I’m getting itchy feet. I wouldn’t call it ‘writers block’ more ‘writers distraction’. My mind is already racing ahead to various sub plots, twists and turns. I have to write them all down quickly before I loose my thread and they’re gone. So now Miss Fidgety is staring down at a full sheet of words, phrases and sometimes even paragraphs in no particular order. I just have to get them out of my head to make more room. That got me to thinking about how important these ideas / words/phrases/plots are. Once down on paper I like to move between them, trying to get the measure of them. Some will never fit my WIP but that doesn’t matter. Maybe they’ll fit another project or maybe not. The ideas that are forcing their way out of my head are just that ideas. I do not or rather should not get fixated on making each one work because I will fail. The reality is that within that plethora of jumbliness (I know that’s not a word but meh) there may be, just may be a diamond or 2. A diamond so sharp and bright that it will set your knickers on fire! You get the picture, well hopefully not literally.
Ideas and words are important but they a story do not make, they are the trigger or catalyst for what comes next. It’s the hard part that comes next…. the writing.
So troops go out there and get those ideas/words/phrases/plots out of your heads… you’ll be amazed at where they may lead you. Just make sure you have a fire extinguisher at the ready!
This image is called ‘Writers Block’ from Drew Coffman
A straight forward enough question right? Where does the inspiration for your characters come from? I think it would be easy enough to say that everyone we meet has the potential to become ‘inspirational’ but not everyone is. People come in and out of our lives,some for a season, some for a reason, good or bad.Some we are still trying to figure out .
There are however the few that arrive with little more than a ‘hello’ yet the effect they have on us is overwhelming and long lasting. They touch our hearts and our souls and these are the ones I draw on for inspiration. For me and my style of writing these are the people who help me develop my characters. In All Tomorrow’s Parties I knew I wanted strong lead characters. People who were strong but flawed, because lets face it, none of us are that perfect.The character who eventually became Laine Marshall was an eclectic mix of traits I had seen and valued, inter twined with those which were perhaps not quite so admirable. The thing I was sure of was she needed to be strong enough to take the knocks of life. However, she absolutely needed to be steadfast in her inimitable search for love. I hope I managed to convey this.
Lately I have been taking inspiration from photography. The images photographers can and do create are powerful. With all good works of art there is the immediate visual impact, then the pause and then for me the inspiration. It’s this third part which has led me into many unseen directions. Whether or not an image was supposed to convey those emotions or directions is irrelevant, the joy is, it does. Like the changing of the seasons you can go back and revisit. Everytime you look through the window you see something new or different. Keep an open mind. Inspiration can come via professionals or via the rest of us. I have been looking back at old holiday snaps, who knew they could send a mass of inspirational sparks flying… but they did. The same can be said of music or literature. My point is to use everything around you as a tool. Yes of course you will always revert to where you are most comfortable but don’t exclude anything. A conversation I had with friends last weekend has sent me off in a completely new direction for my WIP (work in progress).
I have recently come across a body of work called intersections by an incredibly talented photographer called Bertil Nilsson all I can say is Wow. Take a look for yourself, I hope it inspires you as it has me. Pinterest is another great source of inspiration, if you haven’t got to grips with it yet I strongly urge you to check it out. The boards I’ve created are completely random but they get me to thinking. So now enough chatter its time to get creating….
So dear readers, here I sit. I ruminate on the fact that another week has passed and the passion for my craft is still there (despite the time challenges I currently face). Twice this week I have had conversations that went something like this.
‘Oh you’ve published a book how exciting’
‘Eh Thank you’
‘I would love to write a book but I just don’t have the time’
‘Neither do I’
‘Yes, but you are obviously good at it’
‘Eh no, just committed (in more ways than one I fear)’
‘Well I couldn’t do it’
And there my friends is the rub. My debut novel All Tomorrow’s Parties did not happen over night. I do not magically have more time than anyone else, no matter how hard I try to defy the rules of time and space (close your eyes tight shut and really really believe). No the difference is I can’t stop doing it, its an addiction, a passion. It is never hard work. Painful? Yes, especially when you sit blankly in front of a bright white screen and time passes and passes, but hard work? No never.
The good news is that book 2 is well on its way. Now at 25,000 words and going like a very well known Japanese train! I’m trying really hard to write something every day. Some days that can be 3 words other days it can be 3,000 but every day it has to be something -emails to friends and family don’t count:( or emoji’s for that matter. Something that has really helped me of late is writing ‘Flash Fiction’. If you are wondering what Flash Fiction is this article in The Guardian sums it up perfectly. David Gaffney is one of the best at writing very good, very short stories. I’ve now written 3 entries of flash fiction, one of which I’m pleased to say made it to the semi finals of a 300 word competition (yea me). It is helping me hone my limited skills. With a limited word count you have to be as creative as you can with not much room for manoeuvre. It’s a challenge, a bit like figuring out a puzzle but I’m loving it and its helping me. I’ll look to post a few of my flash fiction pieces on my blog over the coming weeks and would love to hear what you think.
I may even set up my own Flash Fiction competition but that may have to wait just a wee while……