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I have been nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award!

My good friend from Twitter, Debi Smith, who blogs here, has very kindly nominated me for a Versatile Blogger award. I feel very lucky to have met so many wonderful new people through Twitter and through my own blog here. Debi and I share a love of great music and she still has the best way of saying thank you for retweeting I have come across in the twitter sphere. Check her out on Twitter – @DebiVSmith – and you’ll see what I mean. So a big thank you to Debi for nominating me.

The rules state that I now have to tag/nominate 15 other blogs I follow. I remember doing a similar thing once before and finding it very difficult to list 15 blogs that I would recommend to my readers but the job was much easier this time. So I hereby nominate these wonderful people and their blogs: Marianne Power who blogs over at Help Me! blog about her year long quest to see if self-help really can change your life; Helena Fairfax who blogs about her life as a romance author and insatiable book lover; Cat Lumb who blogs about her struggle to be a writer; John de Gruyther who blogs about his life and work as a freelance writer and poet; Heidi-Jo Swain who blogs about her romance writing and her path to publication; Rachel Stirling who blogs about her life as a writer and illustrator; Bernadette O’Dwyer who blogs about her journey as an aspiring romance author; Joe Johnson who blogs honestly about his love of cycling and his writing life; Elizabeth Ducie who is a full-time writer and blogs about her writing life, including interviews with other writers; Julia Proofreader, who works as a proofreader, as her name suggests and comes highly recommended; Terry Tyler who blogs about her life as a successful independent author and self-publishing in general; Mark Barry who is also a successful independent author and generously interviews other writers on his blog; Ruth Livingstone who blogs about her life as a fiction writer and blogger; JorieLovesaStory who is a book blogger and writer and loves everything to do with books and reading, and Helen Carey who is a successful author, avid reader and also teaches creative writing at University level. I know that you will enjoy reading their blogs as much as I do.

All that remains now is for me to tell you seven things about myself that you don’t already know!

1. Next year, I will be 50 years old! This has crept up on me, as I’m sure many of you reading this will understand and has left me thinking that I need to get on with some things. I don’t really feel like I’m nearly 50 (see point 2 below!), not mentally anyway! Physically though, is quite a different matter.

ac1b0510a7a284de3a8ab2b3ea5fc3502. I have 2 daughters, aged 17 and 13. I know, I don’t look old enough 😉 I have to confess a bit of a secret here. The avatar on my Twitter bio was taken when I turned 40! Still, people recognise me when they meet me in real life so it can’t be too out of date, although I do have some grey hairs now 🙂 I suppose you want me to put in a more up-to-date photo now, don’t you? I’ll see if I can find one I like by the time I turn 50!

Nashville guitar3. I want to go to Nashville, Tennessee to celebrate my 50th birthday. Look at this wonderful photo advertising Nashville to tourists. Now, the question is, does it remind you of any other photos you might have seen on my site? If you’re interested, I have a whole board on Pinterest dedicated to Nashville and my debut novel. Here’s the link.

DSCN86724. My favourite meal at the moment is Chicken and Chorizo paella and my husband bought me an enormous paella dish for my birthday this year so we can cook lots of it! We christened the pan with our family just after we got back from New York at Easter this year and it was a truly wonderful occasion.

dia_00075. Photography is one of the great pleasures of my life. I was given my first Kodak camera aged 10 and have been steadily taking photos ever since. The only thing getting in my way is point number 6 (see below) but I’m persevering and trying not to let it stop me. Here’s a photo from the colour folio I had to produce when I was working on a Photography diploma a few years ago.

6. I have a lazy right eye and so I wear only the one contact lens in my left eye. I am really vain about wearing glasses but I am fast approaching the time when I will no longer have a choice 🙁 I currently have 2 pairs of glasses and I even have one of those chains for hanging them on (at my own request) but I hate it. It makes me feel so old! Next week, I’m going to try a multi-focal contact lens to see if they’ve improved since the last time I tried them. No photo here for obvious reasons 😉

DSCN87667. My favourite modern romance story is ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger. My favourite classic play is ‘Romeo and Juliet’. My favourite classic love story is ‘Jane Eyre’ and one of my favourite romantic films is ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply.’ As you can probably guess, I like love stories that make me cry 🙂

Revising an outline for a novel…again!

Last week, I finally managed to send off ‘From Here to Nashville’ for its manuscript assessment by the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). It felt like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders as I left the Post Office and even though I know there will be lots of work to do on it when it comes back, it feels good to have reached this point with my debut novel. I have taken a few days off and had a good rest in the hope that this would leave me feeling refreshed and ready to go today.

The task I have set myself during the eight weeks that I expect my manuscript assessment to be taking place, is to go back to my second novel and straighten it out before I carry on with it and finish the first draft. This novel, called ‘Seeking Approval’, you may remember, is the one I began in NaNoWriMo last November, writing 50,000 words of the story that month. I carried on with it in April at Camp NaNoWriMo and as a result, I now have just over 75,000 words. However, despite writing an outline before I started this second novel, the story veered off quite considerably and I know I have lots of plot-holes already. I stuck to the NaNoWriMo idea of just writing and not editing though and carried on regardless. I have realised though that I can’t continue like that. It’s driving me insane! I have therefore made up my mind not to do the July Camp this year, unless by some miracle, I have sorted the outline and the story so that they are one and the same and I am absolutely confident of where I want the rest of the story to go.

And so begins the long task of writing scene synopses for every chapter so I can see what I’ve actually written and then comparing that to the outline. When I’ve done that, I think I will write a synopsis again, as I did for From Here to Nashville so that I can see where the plot is going wrong. Then I will have to correct what’s wrong before continuing. I am so fed up with myself for having done this again and it’s making me wonder whether NaNoWriMo works for me. I love doing it but unless I can write a decent outline before November, I don’t want to approach my third novel in this ramshackle way. At the moment, I am left feeling like I haven’t really made any progress on the planning front and I now have another novel to try and sort out. Naturally, I have saved lots of articles about it into my Evernote notebook on Outlining and I have already read a few of these, as well as downloading K. M. Weiland’s ‘Outlining Your Novel:Map Your Way to Success’ which comes highly recommended. The only trouble is that I was supposed to read all of these before I started! I have plenty of time though and perhaps I just need to take it one step at a time and not get too hung up about the mess I’m in. I’m still learning, I guess, and I just have to accept that and get started. Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading and any tips you could offer will be gratefully received, as always 🙂 Have a good week y’all.

5 Tips for exporting your manuscript from Scrivener to Word

This week, I finally finished editing my manuscript of my debut novel, ‘From Here to Nashville,’ ready to send off to the Romantic Novelists’ Association to be assessed as part of their New Writers’ Scheme. As some of you will know, I originally started writing it in MS Word but when I ‘won’ Camp NaNoWriMo last July, I decided to buy Scrivener and I’ve been using it ever since. I love Scrivener and find it very flexible but there is so much to learn all the time. I recently managed to successfully export my second novel to my Kindle from Scrivener (see blog post here) but this week, I had to work out how to export my manuscript from Scrivener to Word. As it took me quite a few goes, I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned whilst doing it.

1. Read the notes about the Scrivener Template you have chosen
It may sound obvious but the first thing I would recommend is to print out the notes about your template and read them. For example, I had chosen ‘Novel with Parts’ which generates a standard manuscript format for novels when compiled (File > Compile). I don’t usually read instructions, preferring to just dive in and learn whilst doing but how I wish I had read these instructions before I started labelling all the different parts of my novel. I had worked out that I would need a new folder for each chapter of my novel and I had set these up as direct subdocuments of the manuscript folder. As I don’t have chapter names, I then labelled them Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and so on. I also labelled many of them with a date as this is important to my story and I wrote the date within the relevant scene as well. What I didn’t realise was that the ‘Compile’ process automatically labels all the chapters too so on my first compile, I found that all my chapters were labelled twice and some had the date showing twice as well! With forty-four chapters, I did not want to have to go through and delete all that information. However, the notes do tell you that you can choose not to include these titles during the compile process. All I needed to do was to work out how.

2. How to omit the titles during the compile process
When you choose File > Compile, select ‘All Options’ at the top of the dialogue box and not ‘Summary.’ This will bring up a long list of options for you on the left-hand side. Choose ‘Formatting’ here and then select ‘Level 2+’ and make sure that ‘Text’ is selected for all the levels showing. You do not need to select ‘Title’. This means that the chapters will only be labelled once and any other labels you’ve included will only show up once. I would imagine that most people will have labelled their folders in a similar way to me in the Binder because otherwise, how do you know which chapter you’re on when you’re writing? If your chapters have a name, not a number, you might be OK but otherwise, it makes sense to label them with numbers. This is what mine looks like.
Screenshot 2014-05-26 11.36.00

3. Title Page
Your title page is included in a folder right towards the bottom of your binder called ‘Front Matter.’ There are three options to choose from here. If you’re exporting to Word, then you need to choose ‘Manuscript Format’ and you will see that ‘Title Page’ comes up within that. Here, you can edit your title page to look exactly as you want it to. I had to make a few changes to mine to accommodate the RNA’s requirements and I don’t have an agent so I deleted those details too. This bit was all quite easy, thank goodness.

4. What to include in your export
The first few times I exported my manuscript, I didn’t realise that I was also including some folders of edits that I didn’t want to send. It took me a while to work out how to sort this out. When you have clicked on the ‘All Options’ tab, after choosing File > Compile, you will see that the first heading on the left is called ‘Contents.’ This is where you check the folders you want to include and uncheck the ones you don’t want to include.

5. Headers and Footers
My other major problem was that the header was not what I wanted it to be at all. It had my surname in capitals, the title of my book and the page number. I wanted my full name, not in capitals and I wanted the page number to be at the bottom of the page instead. I left the title in the header as it was. To change the rest, click on ‘Page Settings’ in the selection of options on the left-hand side. It looks like this.
Screenshot 2014-05-26 11.50.45In the third box along, under Header, I changed <$surname> to say <$fullname>, leaving all the other symbols as they were and I changed the case to lower case. I cut the page number information <$p> and pasted it into the middle box under Footer so that the page number would come up at the bottom of every page. I also changed the Header and Footer fonts here from Courier which I didn’t want.
Finally, you will notice that just underneath where it says ‘All Options,’ in the File > Compile dialogue box, there is a drop-down menu which says ‘Format As’. When you first open up File > Compile, this is chosen for you but you should change it to ‘Custom’ if you make any changes to any of the options at the side. That way, whenever you go to do this process again, your settings will remain the same.

I could tell you about so many more things I encountered whilst trying to do this but this is probably enough for you to take in for now! If you have any questions of suggestions for further tips, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading once again and good luck with your writing week to come 🙂

Why it’s a good idea to keep a writing journal

Journal
Photo courtesy of flickr.com

A few weeks ago, I embarked on a free Open University writing course called ‘Start Writing Fiction.’ I have found everything I’ve learnt so far very useful but the most helpful thing I’ve learnt is that as a writer, I should be keeping a journal. I had heard this before I started the course but I’d been a bit half-hearted about the idea of taking a journal with me everywhere I go. It seemed a bit pretentious, I thought, and anyway, what would I have to write in it?

So when the course started, I decided that I should give it a proper try. They suggested using it to make notes about everything from story ideas, to character portraits, to everyday details and thoughts you might have that you could come back to later. I have found myself writing in it most days now and as a result, I have a long list of story ideas that I could use in the future. One of the things that really works for me, is music lyrics. For example, I wrote down a couple of lines from a Taylor Swift song that I’ve always loved, which also happen to tie in with my favourite Shakespeare play (you know the one I mean, right?) and as romance is my genre, this got me thinking about the idea of love at first sight. Next thing I knew, I’d written a whole page of story ideas.

I also like to use the phrase ‘What if?’ as a story idea prompt and have found that just letting my mind run free with these words often leads to ideas for stories. The important thing is to write them down whenever you have them because then you can use them later, at a time when you might find yourself fresh out of ideas otherwise. Now, whenever I go out to visit places, I try to take my notebook with me because you never know when an idea might strike you. I do have Evernote on my ‘phone though and that can also work well for note-taking if you get caught without your journal. Personally, I like to rewrite any electronic notes into my journal by hand because there’s just something so nice about writing longhand into a proper notebook 🙂

One of the other suggestions I found helpful was to write down ideas for characters: names, descriptions, observations about personality types, clothes, hair, behaviour etc because you won’t remember these details later on. These everyday details about people that you absorb without even noticing are the very essence of your writing and it’s only by making a note of them that your characters can start to come to life. I find that these are the kind of details that you relate back to other members of your family at the end of the day as a natural part of your routine but once told, you tend to forget them. If you write them down though, they become rich material to be used later. Even if you don’t use them, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to write them down, just in case.

I have now taken to writing down all kinds of details. I took a group of children to the cinema the other day and as soon as I got out of the car at the Leisure Park, my nose was assaulted by the smell of fried food. This is something that has happened to me many times before but I’ve never made a note of it until then. This time I did because the sounds, smells, sights of everyday life will add depth to your description of settings and your reader will be familiar with them too. These everyday things may also prompt other memories for you as the writer, taking you back to something you might well have forgotten until the moment that you made a note of the new memory. Our minds are full of memories of course but they might be buried deep within and our minds work in very unusual ways. It’s a bit unnerving for example, the way that my husband remembers some events we’ve shared over the last nearly thirty years we’ve been together and I have no memory of those things at all, and vice versa. Other things will be crystal clear for both of us. So if you write it down, it will be there forever.
I am now using my journal for all kinds of different things and I find it great fun. I note down words I like and why. I write down the context I’ve heard them in as well, especially if it’s an exotic context because I may use both the word and the context one day; I write down words, phrases, speech patterns I hear people use in conversation; I make notes about the way people behave; I make notes about what I hear on the radio or what I read in the newspaper or magazines. If you’re finding it hard to get writing, using your journal for a short while can often be a good way to get you going as well.

Do you keep a journal yourself? Let me know in the comments how it works for you and I’d love to hear any tips you might have about how to expand my use of my journal. Thanks for reading and have a good writing week 🙂

Editing using E-Prime and reducing repetition, repetition, rep…

Image from flickr.com
Image from flickr.com

During this past week, I finished working through the beta readers’ comments I’ve had in so far for the third draft of my novel. However, following some very useful comments after my last blog post, I decided to ask my husband to read the current draft to get his take on whether my male character’s point of view (POV) is realistic enough. I await his comments with interest – sadly, I may be waiting a long time because he is a slow reader, only managing a couple of pages a night before he falls asleep 😉 As I’ve set myself a deadline of the end of May to complete my edits on what has now become the fourth draft of ‘From Here to Nashville,’ I’ve decided to crack on with my own final edit of the story.

At long last, the time has come for me to turn to all those useful articles on editing I have been bookmarking since I first joined Twitter last year. When I took a quick glance, I could see that I had bookmarked 46 articles in total! Some of them are more proofreading-type articles which I’m going to save for the final, final round of editing when I get my manuscript back from the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) but the rest are about line-by-line editing and I decided to try and work my way through as many of these as possible before my self-imposed deadline of the end of the month.

Therefore, I thought it might be useful for other new writers to see what I’ve been getting up to. The very first article I’d bookmarked can be found here on The Procrastiwriter’s website, a site I’ve found useful on many occasions. The title of the article is ‘The Secret Way to Energise Any Kind of Writing (even Poetry)’ and it focuses on a particular type of editing called ‘E-Prime,’ which involves finding and replacing all variations of the verb ‘to be’ in your writing. The idea behind this is to make your language clearer and to strengthen your writing by making it more active and less passive. It is described as a prescriptive way of writing and I agree with that but I decided to give it a go because I knew that many people advise writers to cut down on the passive voice in their writing. The first thing I noticed is that it is virtually impossible to cut out all instances of the verb ‘to be’ so I stopped trying to do that quite quickly, deciding only to change those sentences that I could and that I thought would benefit from the approach.

Here’s an example of a before and after in my novel:

Before: ‘The feel of the strings against my fingers was as reassuring as always and helped calm my nerves.’
After: ‘The feel of the strings against my fingers reassured me as always and helped calm my nerves.’

The downside of this approach is that it takes a long time to do but it has helped to give the story a bit more energy and so I’m going to plod on with it.

The other bit of editing I’ve been doing at the same time (for when I get bored with just the one job!), is to try and sift out my repetitive use of certain words. Thanks to Scrivener, I can see under ‘Text Statistics’ exactly how many times I use every word in my manuscript. I know how to have fun, right? Unsurprisingly as my novel is in the first person, I use the word ‘I’ a massive 5,008 times in my story. I still feel this is probably too much though and so I’m going to see if there’s anything I can do to cut that down a bit as I go through. The next highest word after that is ‘to’ which can be found 4,577 times. Obviously, some of these words you wouldn’t even notice as a reader perhaps but if the word was ‘gallivanting’ for example, you might feel differently. You’ll be glad to know that I only use this once! Anyway, the week ahead looks like it could be a bit tedious from a writing point of view but I’m hanging in there because I know it will improve my writing. I’ve also noticed that it’s reducing my word count and that’s a real bonus.

I’d love to hear from you if there’s a special editing approach that you’ve used on your manuscript. Until next week, wish me luck and good luck to all of you writing and editing out there 🙂

Writing from a different viewpoint and other POV issues

Nashville Book CoverNow that I have finished Camp NaNoWriMo, I have had to get back to editing ‘From Here to Nashville’ with a vengeance. My aim is to go through my three beta readers’ comments and do a final edit of the story before the end of May, at which point I will send my manuscript off to be assessed by the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). I’m now on my fourth draft of the story and I’m finding it so difficult to apply some of the points that have been raised. The proofreading type edits are easy but it’s the more meaty comments that would involve a lot of rewriting that are so hard to deal with. So I thought it would be useful in my blog post today to raise two of the more difficult issues I’ve been trying to handle, for you to consider.

Writing in a different gender My story divides quite easily into three parts. Part one is set in Dorset and is written from Rachel’s point of view. The second part sees the story move to Nashville and is from Jackson’s viewpoint. The final part moves between both settings and so I alternate between the two main characters’ points of view. I’ll come back to point of view in a moment but I’d like to look at this problem of writing in a different gender. Obviously, it was always going to be much easier for me to write Rachel’s point of view because she is a woman, like me, and I can understand what’s going on inside her head that much more easily for that. When it came to Jackson, I didn’t really ever think consciously, now I need to write more like a man. I had the character in my mind and just wrote his part the way I saw it. However, the feedback I’ve received from two of my beta readers is that he’s not enough like a man, in fact, he’s too much like a woman. The problem with this is that I have created a character in my mind and tried to put him on the page the way I imagined him to be. I can accept that maybe he’s a bit too feminine and work on some of what he says and does but I worry that if I try to make him more ‘manly’, I may stray into male stereotype territory and I don’t want to do that either.

As always, I did some research on the internet and came across this useful article from Janice Hardy’s ‘Fiction University’ blog. If you’re interested in this issue, you really must read the full article but I would like to pick out the main points that I found useful for me in my current dilemma. Firstly, she says that ‘A well-rounded character is just the same, no matter what the sex.’ She says that we’re often tempted to write gender stereotypes when writing about the opposite sex to our own but this will only lead to us writing flat, two-dimensional characters and our reader won’t believe in them. What we need to do is to look at people we know who are of the opposite sex and ask them what they would do or say in the situations our character finds themselves in.

For example, I asked my husband what he would say in answer to a question about whether a wedding had gone well. Jackson says ‘It was really lovely’ in my story but my husband said he would never say that. He thought he would probably say ‘it was really nice.’ Well, that’s a bit bland for my character but it made me think about my choice of language for a man. I don’t think my husband is a typical man’s man but his language is definitely not as flowery as mine.

Another tip Janice gives is to focus on the character, not the gender, seeing them as a person first and foremost. I liked this point a lot. Everyone is different and should be treated as such and for the reader, that’s what makes a character interesting. My question for myself needs to be not whether Jackson ‘needs to grow a pair’, as one reader advised (!) but whether his character is genuinely more in touch with his emotions and whether that reads right in my story. Her final point is to get a beta reader of the opposite sex to read the story and to see what their take on it is. I am going to take that advice and see what happens.

Point of View I want to come back to the question of which point of view you write in. As I’ve said, my story is told in the first person, either by Rachel or by Jackson. I have had some surprising reactions to this. One reader a while back told me that she had only ever read one book written in first person point of view! I was shocked by that statement. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I have read in the first person and it doesn’t bother me at all. It did knock my confidence at the time she said that though because when I did some more research, I found that some critics believe that only inexperienced, first-time writers (like me) would make the mistake of writing in the first person. I blogged about it here. Anyway, I got over it and decided that, whilst I respected that view, it was not something to focus on. However, I’ve had this comment again recently, thus stirring up the same storm for me all over again. This reader has carried on and adjusted to that point of view and she is no longer bothered by it but it is still a worry for me, now that a few people have mentioned it. To change it now would be really hard but I am wondering whether to change the third part of the story to third person instead. I have heard from other writers that Carole Matthews, a very successful romance novelist, writes in first person from different characters’ points of view, concluding with a change to third person and so I feel heartened by that. I need to get round to reading one of her novels very quickly to see how she does it!

In summary then, it is a hard job editing your novel and trying to work out which comments to take on board and which to leave out. The important thing is to consider them all and then make your own decision. It is very important to have other people read your work of course but at the end of the day, it is your story and these are your characters. Only you, as the author, can decide what exactly it is they would say and do in certain situations but it helps to have other people give your their opinions to make sure that you have written the best characters you can write for your novel.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog today. As always, I would appreciate any comments you might have on these topics.

Camp NaNoWriMo April 2014 Winner!

2014-Winner-Vertical-BannerThis morning, I have written a colossal 1,850 words to finally meet my Camp NaNoWriMo goal of writing 25,000 words this month. As you know from my post last week though, I was actually away on holiday for six days and I have finished two days early! This means (and I hope you can hear the drum roll in the background) that I have written an average of 1,136 words a day during Camp this month. Phew! It has been hard work but as always, it has been worth it. My second novel is now around 80,000 words and although I won’t now be writing any more on it for a while, I’m really pleased with the way this first draft is shaping up.

This also brings me to the end of my first year of NaNoWriMo events. I started with Camp in July last year, then I did NaNoWriMo in November and I’ve now completed my first April Camp so I’m feeling very pleased with myself. It definitely works for me as a motivator to get writing and not to worry too much about what needs editing but I really want to make sure that before I start my third novel in November, I have a detailed outline in place for what I want to write. I had a vague outline when I started this story last November but I have gone off at a tangent and I know I will be pulling my hair out later down the line, as I try to get the story straight again! Still, it’s all progress from my first novel when I was a pantser. I know different approaches work for different people but I have found the revising part really hard for my first novel and I can only put this down to not having had an outline. So that will be my goal for next time.

So what next? Well, this week, I’m starting an online Fiction Writing course with Future Learn, part of The Open University. This runs for the next eight weeks and will give me something to do when I need a break from my final edit of ‘From Here to Nashville.’ It still sounds amazing to hear myself say that. I have now had my beta readers’ comments back and I need to crack on with that edit in May so that I can send my manuscript off to be assessed by the RNA. If I achieve that, I will be very pleased with myself and I’ll be able to spend June and July back working on my second novel, provisionally called ‘Seeking Approval.’

As ever, I am keeping myself busy but I may just allow myself a bit of time off for the next couple of days before I throw myself back into the next phase. At this rate, I’ll be going back to my day job for a rest! I hope all those of you who have taken part in Camp NaNoWriMo this month have met your goals and are feeling pleased with yourselves for doing so. It really is an achievement and we should all feel proud. Thanks for reading and for your comments. It’s always good to hear from you. Have a good week!

New York, New York!

A week ago today, my writing blog tour post was published in my absence because I was on a trip to New York with my family to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary. I was amazed that I had even managed to successfully schedule its publication in the first place and secondly, I was surprised by how my Twitter friends just took it up and so kindly retweeted it on my behalf. This trip was important then for another reason: it brings to an end my first full year of writing and what a year it has been. In fact, this is my 52nd post on this blog as well so I have many, many reasons to celebrate 🙂 I arrived back to the comments from my beta readers on my debut novel, From Here to Nashville as well and these were really encouraging, even more so than on previous drafts so I feel like I am making progress. I am still busy with Camp NaNoWriMo this month which is going pretty well for novel number two and then in May, I will be editing FHTN with a vengeance so I can send it off to the RNA for assessment.

In this post then, I’m going to write a diary celebration of our New York trip because it symbolises the culmination of so many things for me and also because I know you want to know what we got up to. Right?

DSCN8421Friday As you may know, the island of Manhattan divides into Uptown, Midtown and Downtown and very conveniently, we were staying in a hotel right in the Midtown area, a few minutes walk from Penn station, the largest station in America. Our train from Newark (how brave were we?!) brought us into Penn on that first evening and soon, we were checked in and ready to go….to bed! It was about 10.30pm US time so we’d done well to stay awake that long (3.3oam UK time).

On the Saturday morning, we woke up feeling refreshed and ready to explore Uptown so we set off walking up 7th Avenue towards Times Square. It didn’t take us long to work out that the streets go horizontally (our hotel was on West 29th Street) and the avenues go vertically. That first day alone though, we walked almost 50 blocks up to Central Park and found ourselves regularly doing this every day. Anyway, we reached Times Square in about twenty minutes, having photographed every yellow cab in the city on the way and stood there for quite some time, just absorbing the chaos! DSCN8429 I suppose it’s a bit like Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Street, in that it’s one of those iconic places that tourists just have to see. It was chaotic but it was fun as well and it was funny how our two teenage daughters gravitated towards what must be one of the largest Disney stores in the world (two floors no less!)

DSCN8455By the time we reached Central Park, the sun was out in full force and we were having to remove some layers of clothing and put sunglasses on. The park was beautiful and we enjoyed a good stroll around the western side of it leading up to the John Lennon memorial and then, we went on to the American Museum of Natural History, known to all of us from one of our favourite films, A Night at the Museum. We spent a lovely afternoon there, exploring all the exhibits, although we were a little disappointed that none of them do actually move 😉 After that, it was back to the hotel on the subway for the first time, for a rest before dinner and bed.

Sunday was our day to explore Downtown and we had booked to go to Ground Zero first this morning.DSCN8506 I hadn’t heard much from anyone about the 9/11 Memorial and I was glad about this really because it allowed us to come to it with no preconceived ideas. I had expected it to be a moving experience of course but I had no idea just how moved I would be. It left me with an overwhelming sense of sadness for such a tragic and pointless loss of life.
From there, we walked down Wall Street and towards the free Staten Island ferry, which sails right past the Statue of Liberty on its journey to and from the island. We had a pretty good view of the statue but we were still quite far away from it. We’d decided not to RSCN8537visit Liberty island itself for a number of reasons but I think if we do ever go back, that’s something I would like to do. We spent a nice couple of hours having lunch on the island before taking the ferry back and making our way to Brooklyn Bridge.

When we came out of the subway there though, we could hear music playing and were drawn towards it to find out what was going on. We didn’t realise what a treat we were in for. There was a small group of street performers, dancing and performing acrobatics, with various members of the public being ‘persuaded’ to join in and it was a lot of fun on a Sunday afternoon. We made our way, along with hundreds of others, on to the bridge after that, to admire the fantastic view of the skyline and we even saw a couple get engaged whilst we were there! Another wonderful day was drawing to a close. However, that evening, we’d decided to try and go to McGee’s restaurant to fulfil one of my younger daughter’s dreams of eating in the restaurant from ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ We weren’t that confident of getting in and had prepared ourselves for the upset that would surely follow if we didn’t but luckily we did and as we sat in one of their famous booths, drinking cocktails, it felt good to be alive.
DSCN8579Monday Our Midtown day began with a looooong queue to go up the Empire State Building but it was definitely worth the wait and I was also glad that we had left going up until we had been there a few days and could recognise some of the famous landmarks from up on high. We only went up to the 86th floor (!), deciding that going to the 102nd floor wouldn’t necessarily add to the experience, and what a fantastic experience it was looking out across the whole of New York. I love going up a tower of any kind in any city but each one brings its own rewards and this one was no exception. The good weather was still holding and so we had lunch in Madison Square Park, having sung Kirsty MacCall songs as we walked along Madison Avenue. It was lovely sitting in the park watching all the people walking their dogs and cooing over each other’s babies. People watching is one of the best things in life, I think and New Yorkers are very entertaining, friendly people.
The afternoon was taken up with a visit to Grand Central station and the New York Public Library, both as impressive as we’d expected. That evening, as we sat in a lovely pizza restaurant, recommended to us by our Time Out guide, I told my family about my idea for my third novel! What was great was that they all loved the idea and chimed in with suggestions as to how I could develop it. I was so pleased that I’d managed to get their full attention for a start but also that they had liked the idea and I’m now itching to get on with that story 🙂

Tuesday The day of our wedding anniversary dawned and with it came some light rain and slightly cooler temperatures but hey, we’re British, we’re RSCN8643used to that. We spent the whole day at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum, admiring the vast collection of modern art before taking a cab back to the hotel to prepare for our evening entertainment – we had managed to get tickets to see ‘Once: the Musical’ on Broadway! I can’t begin to tell you how excited we all were and even though it was raining slightly header as we walked up there, it did not dampen our spirits in the slightest. We had front row seats in the mezzanine and it was such a wonderful show and experience. The cast were truly talented and the music was fabulous. It was wonderful and a lovely way to mark our big day. When we came out of the theatre though, we couldn’t believe the change in the weather. It was snowing! We had to dash through it (literally!) to get to the restaurant but we survived and ended the day with a delicious meal and lots of lovely memories.

Wednesday Finally, it was our last day. After the brief flurry of snow, we woke up to a bright but slightly chilly day, perfect for walking down to Greenwich Village and having lunch looking out at Washington Square Park. We said goodbye with regret to New York, having loved every minute of our stay. I hope that we’ll get back there but for now, the memories of this trip will serve me for a long, long time.

As always, thank you so much for reading and if you have any memories of a trip to New York that you’d like to share, I would love to hear them.RSCN8570

My Writing Process – Blog Tour

I have only been writing seriously for about a year and yet in this short time, I have made so many new friends through Twitter, through my blog and most importantly, through my writing. One of those friends is Sandra Danby who very kindly asked me to take part in this blog tour about my writing process (I still can’t quite believe it’s me writing that last sentence). I ‘met’ Sandra through her blog ‘Notes on a Spanish Valley’ and we became friends through a shared love of rural Spain. Sandra is also a serious writer and is just about to publish her first novel. You can find out more about her writing by following this link to her writing blog here.

My hope in taking part in this blog tour is to help other writers, maybe ones like me who are just starting out and wondering how to go about things in this strange new world of writing 😉 Next Monday, 21st April, 2014, please take a look at the blogs written by my friends and fellow writers, Cat Lumb, Heidi-Jo Swain and John de Gruyther (find out more below).

What am I working on at the moment?
Nashville Book CoverI have just finished a second proper draft of my debut novel, ‘From Here to Nashville’ (FHTN), a contemporary romance about a music teacher who decides to pursue her dream of becoming a successful singer/songwriter of country music and finds love along the way. It has been a bit of a slog to get it to this point but I’ve done it! In January, I joined the New Writers’ Scheme run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association which means that I can submit a manuscript to them for a professional assessment. The deadline for sending the manuscript in is the end of August but I’d like to send it sooner than that. FHTN is now out with my lovely beta readers and I await their comments on what I need to do next which I should have by the end of this month. I am then going to do a final edit in May and send it off to be professionally assessed by the end of the month. When I’m not working on FHTN, I am busy writing my second novel, ‘Seeking Approval’ which is also a romance but with a completely different theme and I’m about 60,000 words in.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
DSC_0886This is a really interesting question for me because a lot of the romances I read are chick-lit romantic comedies but I write more serious romance stories, which I can only refer to as ‘Contemporary Romance’. My characters so far seem to be on journeys of discovery about themselves and what they really want from their lives. I was inspired to write my first novel after watching the TV series ‘Nashville’ and discovering a hidden love of country music within myself! Since I started, I have seen two other stories come out with a Nashville setting so obviously, it inspires other writers too. I have always been a singer and it was great fun to include my love of singing and song-writing in the story. My second novel is partly set in France, which I have always seen as my second home as I have family there and took my degree in French many years ago. Whilst lots of romance writers set their stories in France, the background to my story is a bit different though with my character helping someone else to trace her family history and find her mother.

Why do I write what I do?
?????????????There is only one answer to this: I confess that I am a soppy romantic at heart! I have always loved reading romances and for me, there is nothing more enjoyable than a ‘Happy Ever After’ (HEA) ending. I enjoy all kinds of romance story too, from comedies to, dare I say it, more erotic stories like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. I seem to spend quite a lot of time explaining why I liked that particular trilogy but whilst I like a bit of hot sex – who doesn’t? 😉 – what I enjoyed most about the story was the romance at its heart. I find it enjoyable to see all the different ways that writers come up with for bringing people together and the new boom in self-publishing has made many more stories accessible to us all, which in my view, has to be a good thing. The other good thing about romance stories is that they’re timeless in their appeal. Everyone has been or will be in love with someone else at some point in their life and I find it life-affirming to write about it.

How does my writing process work?
2014-Participant-Square-ButtonI wrote my first novel by the seat of my pants, although I didn’t know that’s what it was called at that point! I just sat down every day and kept writing until it was finished. I knew it would have a HEA ending but I had no other plan than that. When I got to the end, I realised that there were so many plot-holes, I might never manage to fix them all. With the help of Scrivener, the writing software package and an author’s advice about writing a synopsis, I had a go at rewriting the story and the result is what is now with my beta readers. It still needs a lot of work doing to it and I will do what I can in my final edit but then I’m going to hand it over to the RNA, for some professional advice. At the moment, I am taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo to continue my second novel which I started writing in November NaNo last year. I wrote just over 50,000 words then, at a rate of 1,667 words a day for the most part. The discipline is hard but so worthwhile and what my experience so far has taught me is that I need to outline, even if only briefly, before I get started. That way, I can write much more quickly when I do start. If I didn’t have a day job, I would try and write 1,000 words every day or edit for four of five stints a day with short breaks in between. As it is, I do still have a day job and I fit in what I can when I can.

On Monday, 21st April, 2014, it’s the turn of three more writers to tell you about their writing process. Please visit their blogs then to find out how they go about it.

Cat Lumb Cat is a thirty-one year old Yorkshire lass living on the wrong side of t’hill in Stalybridge, Manchester, with her wedding-phobic fiancé and a rescue dog who is now her shadow. She began writing again after being diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalitis (M.E) in 2009 and since then has written two and a half novels and a selection of short stories. In the past year she has blogged for Manchester Literature Festival, been short-listed in a Writing Magazine competition and is an active committee member for the Huddersfield Literature Festival. She can also read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. 😉 She can be found on Twitter as: @Cat_Lumb

Heidi-Jo Swain Heidi-Jo has always wanted to be a writer but was in her thirties before she plucked up the courage to tell anyone, enrol on her first creative writing course and submit a variety of short stories to the online writing community, Shortbread Stories. In 2013 having attempted to write one novel the urge to write another was just too strong to resist.

Now writing and blogging feels as natural as breathing and she is currently editing her debut novel The Cherry Tree Café in preparation for submission to the Romantic Novelists’ Association having secured a place on their New Writers’ Scheme at the beginning of 2014.

Plans are already well underway with her next novel The Skylark Serenade and having almost finished plotting she intends to begin writing after submission to the RNA. Heidi-Jo blogs every Saturday about her writing week, her random list, her dreams of seeing her novels published and everything in between.

John de Gruyther Following a mild case of redundancy John didn’t want to return to the finance sector. So he took the time kindly afforded to him by his former employer and he started to write articles. This went quite well so he decided to call himself a freelance writer and finally commit to his long held dream to write a novel.
He is currently working on his novel, a book of poetry, an illustrated story and various articles for online sites and magazines, including his “A Novel Approach” features for Star Trek Magazine.

Camp NaNoWriMo Update – week 1

2014-Participant-Vertical-Banner Last November, I took part in National Novel Writing Month for the first time and wrote just over 50,000 words for my second novel, which is provisionally titled ‘Seeking Approval’. ‘What’s it about?’ I hear you cry. Well, it’s about a girl who splits up with her fiancé when she finds him cheating on her with her sister. This is not the first time her sister has betrayed her and just when she thinks their relationship will never be the same again, she finds out that she is not her sister but her cousin. Despite their differences, she helps her ‘sister’ to trace her family history and along the way, she becomes clearer about her own identity and what she wants from her own life.

Since the end of November, I have been concentrating on rewriting and editing my first novel, ‘From Here to Nashville’ and so, now that FHTN is with beta readers, I thought I would use this month’s Camp NaNo to pick up with my second novel. I have set myself a goal of writing 25,000 more words this month because we’re off on holiday for almost a week and about 1,000 words a day for the remaining days of the month seems achievable. This first week, I have written just over 8,000 words so I am on target to reach my goal but it really has been hard getting back into it. Finding the time to write that much every day has taken real discipline on my part and even though I had created an outline back before November, it really isn’t detailed enough. I found this out to my cost when I was writing a long section all about a family tree and I had to take a lot of time out to work out dates and places of birth for numerous different characters. It all came together in the end and I wrote much more quickly afterwards but it has made me realise once again how important it is to me to know where I’m going. It would also have been brilliant to have a piece of ‘family tree writing’ software 😉

In fact, I’m still not really sure where the story’s going! I am thinking about it all more though in the time between writing and this helps me when I finally come to sit down at my desk and write my words for the day. I’m enjoying the research I’m doing as well because the story is partly set in France and in an area which I know very well because I have family there. However, there are so many little things you realise that you’re not entirely sure about, even down to where the nearest service station is to the town you’re referring to and I want those things to be as accurate as they can be. I’ve also been including some snippets of French which is what I took my degree in and because of my family, is almost as good as my English but I still find myself checking little things. I want to make sure my French is correct as well because I don’t like to see mistakes in other books with French in so it’s important to me to get it right.

All this is keeping me very busy as you can see but I’m enjoying it nevertheless. Before I go, I wanted to let regular readers know that I will be scheduling next week’s blog post for the very first time because I will be away on holiday but I have been invited to take part in a writing process blog tour. So look out for that post next week which will include the details of three other writers and their blogs which I know you will want to read more about.

If you’re doing Camp NaNo, how’s your first week gone? Do let me know in the comments and as always, thanks for reading and have a good week, y’all 😉