fbpx

Moving on after a tumultuous year

dscn2089Well, I knew I hadn’t been blogging as much as usual but I was still surprised to see how long it actually was since my last post on this site. Last year knocked me for six in many ways, as I’m sure it did a lot of other people. I’m not just talking about the obvious stuff but personally and professionally as well. This had a knock-on effect on my writing and I feel I’m only just coming out of that funk…

So what’s happening? Well, my second book has been finished for a little while now and I sent it off to some more publishers to see if there was any interest. I first sent it out in December 2015 and had some responses but no-one wanted to go the whole hog. I then spent a fair bit of time trying to find an editor I could afford, to help me with the necessary rewriting. That took me till June of last year and I worked on it all the way through the summer with her, finalising it at the end of September. I then dithered about a bit, wondering whether a traditional contract was really what I was looking for. In the end, I did submit it again but I still wasn’t really sure that it was what I wanted. I have heard back from some of those publishers but I’m still waiting on one other and I feel that if I haven’t heard by now (nearly two months later), it’s most likely not going to be good news. If the answer is ‘no’ once more, I really am going to get on and self-publish. I recently finished my accounts for last year and I realised that sales of my first book would qualify me as an independent author of the RNA if I had only published two novels! I was almost there for the Society of Authors as well. So, it’s time to crack on, I think.

In the meantime, I have started work on editing my follow-up novella to From Here to Nashville, as well as beginning the first draft of my third book to submit to the RNA later this year. I still have lots of writing plans but the hesitation over whether to self-publish or whether to seek a traditional contract made last year disappear all too quickly for me. Part of the problem with self-publishing, as so many of you reading this will know, is that it costs a fair bit of money to do it properly and as I left my permanent teaching job at the end of 2015, I didn’t have much money to throw around for most of last year. However, I did have regular work all year as a supply teacher, tutor and web designer and this recently led me to a new part-time job for a local charity as a Communications Officer. This will obviously make this year a lot more stable for me. I will still do a bit of supply teaching but my freelance website work has really picked up as well and I’d like to explore that further in the coming months. Proofreading never really took off for me but every cloud has a silver lining, or at least some of them do 😉

So having said all that, I should be looking at publication of book two very soon, I hope, and possibly publication of the novella as well. I guess I’ll just have to see how things go and not beat myself up too much if it doesn’t quite go according to plan the whole time. As long as I keep writing, that’s the main thing. With that in mind, I have signed up to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme again, which will force me to write my third book and will also make sure that I stay involved with other writing groups and friends. Last year, I wrote about ‘The Brave New World of 2016’ and I have felt very brave at times over the year as I dealt with some very unexpected things. I can honestly say that I won’t really miss last year though. We can only hope that 2017 is better for everyone. I leave you with a quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson: ‘Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.” Wishing you all the best that a New Year can bring.

If you would like my help with your website, whether to sort out a minor niggle that you just don’t have time for, or for a full-blown new website design, please do get in touch. My freelance site is here or you can just leave me a comment 🙂

Author Spotlight – Ros Rendle

This month’s author in the spotlight is another of my very good writing friends, Ros Rendle, who’s here to tell us about her latest book, Flowers of Flanders. Welcome Ros!

flowersFlowers of Flanders – Ros Rendle

Rose rivals her beautiful, mercurial sister for Michael’s love but calculated lies and misunderstandings alter the young peoples’ course. War breaks out and Michael is as eager as the others to go.

Maybe Rose will settle for second best with Thom even though she cannot get Michael out of her soul.

Does a man need the grace of serenity to rediscover his own or is it frivolity and seduction he craves when he has been through the darkest places of war? Michael’s experiences in the trenches gradually alter his perceptions.

This is a story about deceit and loyalties, complex relationships and loves developing from youth to adulthood during a cataclysmic time in history.

Readers who are entranced by sweeping historical sagas will devour Flowers of Flanders, Ros Rendle’s drama set before and during the First World War.
Amazon

*****

Excerpt

Early summer 1912 – A town near Manchester, England
Rose’s heart was singing with the joy of the sun and the birds and the glossy, bright leaves above her head. She and her two younger sisters strolled home along the lane when the peace was shattered by a lot of clattering and shouting.

“What on earth is that noise?” She stopped to listen.

Izzy, only twelve years old, grabbed Rose’s arm and whispered, “I don’t like it, Rose. What should we do? It may not be safe to venture further.”

“Oh don’t be such a wet, Iris,” Delphi said, using her given name as she often did. She tossed her head.

Rose, who always maintained the peace, answered her youngest sister, “Don’t worry Izzy, it’s probably the boys playing rowdy games.”

“I don’t think…” Delphi’s words were interrupted.

There was an ear-splitting bellow and then, “Bloody hell, Crispin.” It was a deep male sound.

Rose, certain she recognised the voice, felt her stomach churn and her heart beat faster. She had known Michael nearly all her life and loved him for almost as long.

The older girls looked at each other with widening eyes and ran. Izzy followed. Their steps were short and quick; long, narrow skirts hindered their progress. They didn’t have far to go round the corner of the lane when through the trees their fourteen-year old brother, Hector, came bounding.

Seeing his sisters he called out, “That stupid fellow Crispin has walloped Michael good and proper. We were play-acting but he’s done it now.”

“What do you mean?” wailed Izzy.

Delphi ran ahead. She held onto her hat with one hand.

“These wretched skirts,” Rose heard her say to no-one in particular as she hitched them up. “It’s alright for you Hector,” she called as he disappeared through the trees ahead of her. Rose knew that as the most active sister, it was frustrating for Delphi to endure her skirts. Many times she had said it was so much easier for men.
There were shouts at the hapless Crispin as she arrived.

Rose came with Izzy through the trees that bordered the lane. Her gaze, generally gentle and myopic, took in the situation and she looked on in horror. The sun through the branches slapped the group with searing tiger stripes. Michael stood with head bowed. The deep gash on his forehead was a slash of vermillion vividness which dripped unheeded; a violent splash on his shirt, so white. A long log of wood lay at his feet and three other lads stood and looked aghast but clueless.

Delphi’s voice rose as she berated them all for their stupidity but Crispin, as the main culprit, received her full wrath.

“You’re fighting with sticks! What on earth for?” Delphi demanded. “Hector you should know better,” she continued, looking at her brother who had got back to the scene of the crime ahead of her. With the full force of her words again upon Crispin she added, “That’s a dirty great log. It’s not even a stick, you dolt.”

Rose saw Crispin regard Delphi. She recognised the look he gave, admiring her beautiful face with its prominent high cheekbones. Rose felt a pang of envy. Everyone looked at Delphi that way including Michael. At that moment, though, Delphi was frowning yet it still didn’t detract from her exotic looks. Her lovely dark eyes, so often dancing with fire lights glared at the culprit.

*****

And now for Ros’s guest post:

My latest book is the first of a historical fiction trilogy that has a strong romantic element. The main front cover image is that of my grandmother and while it’s definitely not her story she was the inspiration for it. She always looked for the good in people and if someone did something awful she tried to see beyond the action to the reasons. In this way she could be forgiving. Sometimes people can take that for granted.

In my book Flowers of Flanders, Delphi is the sister of the main protagonist, Rose. She tells a malicious lie which affects Rose’s relationship with Michael as well as changes the destiny of other characters including Delphi herself. Rose must learn that to be forgiving all the time is not always the best strategy for anyone’s benefit. This is set against the backdrop of a world in turmoil just before and during WW1. Michael must learn which sister he needs to survive.

It is of paramount importance for me to research thoroughly. Just because it’s difficult to find a fact doesn’t mean I can ‘wing’ it. Someone reading the book will surely discover the truth. The main historical facts are easy enough to find. Everyone knows that the killing of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was one catalyst for the start of the Great War and many have heard that it was Gravilo Princip who pulled the trigger. Fewer would know that the gun used was originally issued by the Serbian army which cast a different light, for some, on the motive. But it’s not just these huge historical facts that are so important. What people ate for breakfast, wore in the afternoon, slept in or how they travelled is equally important. When certain words entered the vocabulary or what particular foods were in short supply also give a flavour of the times and can really disrupt the reader’s enjoyment if these things are wrong.

I once read a book by a highly respected and well-known author who talked about ‘the dreaming spires of Cambridge’. Aargh! Of course the Matthew Arnold poem refers to those spires of Oxford.

For the WW1 scenes in my book I visited the records offices at Kew and accessed the war diaries of the relevant regiment. The anecdotes about which I write are true incidents, bizarre as one of them in particular might appear from today’s view. The horrors of the mud and the blood could have been much more graphic from what I learned but I wanted to maintain the genre of the book while being true to people’s feelings.

It took significantly longer to write this book than my first which was contemporary women’s fiction. This time there was little first-hand experience upon which to draw. However I am enjoying the research aspect of writing historical fiction. My current WIP is a sequel and features Delphi’s daughter, Flora. It’s set in Vichy France, so between 1940 and 1944. There is much less written about this and some that I have discovered is clouded by politics (with a small p) of the time. However, the deeper I dig the more interesting it becomes and it’s easy to divert from my original enquiry. I have learned, though, not to ‘info dump’ and so much of the research will never find its way into a book.

We lived in the region of the Somme for ten years. It was easy to soak up the atmosphere of this region, especially when visiting some of the main sites early in the morning. At some ceremonies a lone piper would emerge from the mist that cloaked the land. At other times the silence was intense and then a lark would rise, singing as it soared and it was easier to imagine those men awaiting their fate in a silence almost as profound despite the odd cough or clink of weapons.

I have my husband to thank for showing me some of his collection of books about WW1 and for driving us out to the actual spot upon which we know, since he is mentioned in the war diaries, my grandfather stood on 1st July 1916 at 7.29am.

About Ros

rosHaving worked as a Headteacher, Ros has been used to writing policy documents, essays and stories to which young children enjoyed listening. Now she has taken up the much greater challenge of writing fiction for adults. She writes both historical sagas and contemporary romance; perfect for lying by a warm summer pool or curling up with on a cosy sofa. Her books are thoroughly and accurately researched. This is her third book.

Ros is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novelists’ Society.
She has lived in France for ten years but has recently moved back to the UK with her husband and dogs. Ros has two daughters and four grand-daughters, with whom she shares many heartwarming activities.

Find out more about Ros here:

Facebook

Twitter

Me and Bridget Jones

bridget-jonesThis weekend, we went as a family to see the latest Bridget Jones film in the series, Bridget Jones’s Baby. I say ‘latest’ in the hope that this isn’t the final film but I know in reality it probably will be. It’s been 12 years since the last one so we’ll all be in our dotage if another 12 years go by 😉 All the actors have remained the same over the years since the first film came out in 2001 and some of them are getting on a bit now, making it difficult to keep that same cast together for much longer.

The first film came out in the same year my youngest daughter was born. This weekend, as we went to see number three, she was watching it as a teenager! How time has flown 🙂 As we watched the film, and loved it too, there were some lovely reminders of other films we’ve shared as a family. Patrick Dempsey (swoon!) plays the other love interest in this film and there’s a moment when he helps Bridget put her shoe back on, saying ‘It fits!’ We all laughed at the joke and I knew everyone was thinking of Enchanted, a film we all loved and still enjoy watching to this day.

On the way home, we decided that Colin Firth has provided us with some of the best TV and film entertainment of our lives. Of course, I mentioned Pride and Prejudice. Where would I be without it? But no-one else in the family is that bothered about that one, strangely. Still, we have watched him together dozens of times in Love Actually and we all cry at his declaration of love for Aurelia, in Portuguese, no less. He has cornered the market in stiff, upper lip romantic leads we decided and our lives are all the richer for it.

By the end of the film, we were all in tears. It was a great film, with a perfect romantic plot, and it rounded things off nicely for Bridget, a character we have all grown up with and have wished the very best to for a good few years. It was also the end of an era, much like when we watched Toy Story 3 and High School Musical 3. Toy Story 3 was on the TV over the weekend and we happened to catch a bit of it as we were switching over to something else. My older daughter was desperate to carry on watching it (even though we have it on DVD and can watch it any time) but it was only a couple of minutes before tears were in our eyes and we moved swiftly on. It was too much to watch it when we know that she will be leaving home soon to go to university: the end of another era.

I’m glad that we have so many happy memories tied up in the hundreds of films we have seen over the years, even when some of them make us cry. It was especially sad this week to see that Charmian Carr, who played Liesl in The Sound of Music, passed away, aged 73. This film came out in the year my husband and I were born but I have loved it my whole life and introduced my children to it as soon as they were able to understand it. We know all the words to all the songs, still, and in happy times or sad, it is a great comfort to us all. I remember forcing my husband to watch it when we were first dating, many moons ago, and after kicking up such a fuss, he was soon engrossed in the story. Now, he will usually well up at the Edelweiss scene without the slightest hesitation (sorry, Simon!) It is a film that bears watching again and again. The music is wonderful and never fails to have me joining in.

It has been one of those weeks, as you can tell. September is a bit like that, even when you’re as old as I am. It still heralds the start of the new year as children go back to school, teenagers go off to university or to start college, or maybe even a new job. As a parent, of course, all you want is for them to be happy because that makes you happy too. I wish you luck with your new year, whatever it may bring and I leave you with one of my favourite songs from The Sound of Music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwK_WOXjfc0

Author Spotlight – Kate Field

After a long break for the summer holidays, it is with the greatest pleasure that I return with my guest Author in the Spotlight this month. My very good writing friend, Kate Field’s debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings was published last Thursday and today she’s here to tell us all about it. Welcome, Kate!

The Magic ofimage1 Ramblings – Kate Field

Running away can be the answer if you run to the right place…

When Cassie accepts a job as companion to an old lady in a remote Lancashire village, she hopes for a quiet life where she can forget herself, her past and most especially men. The last thing she wants is to be drawn into saving a community that seems determined to take her to its heart – and to resuscitate hers…
Frances has lived a reclusive life at Ramblings, a Victorian Gothic mansion, for over thirty years and now Barney is hiding away there, forging a new life after his medical career ended in scandal. He doesn’t trust the mysterious woman who comes to live with his rich aunt, especially when she starts to steal Frances’ affection – and maybe his own too…
Amazon

*****

Excerpt

As soon as she saw the advert, in one of the magazines she was paid to dust, not read, Cassie knew it had been written for her.

‘WANTED: Female live-in companion for independent lady in isolated Lancashire village. Own room provided. Must not chatter. References required.’

Isolation and silence – underlined silence. It was perfect. Carrying the magazine to the study, careful not to crease any pages, Cassie found a scrap of paper and copied out the advert.

Her pen hovered over the final two words. References? How was she going to manage that? Then her gaze landed on the computer, and the letter-headed notepaper lying beside it. No one would notice one missing sheet. The password for the computer was taped on the inside of the desk drawer: she hadn’t cleaned here three times a week for the last three months without finding that out. It would take barely five minutes to conjure something suitable. And surely her boss at the cleaning company, who had employed her without references and without questioning why she had no ID in the name she’d given him, wouldn’t scruple to give her a reference in any name she wanted?

Her conscience protested, but conscience was one of the many luxuries that Cassie could no longer afford. Her fingers trembling, she switched on the laptop and typed out a letter, recommending herself as an employee in terms she hoped were too good to refuse. She had to get this job. It was time to move on.

*****

And now for my interview with Kate.

Can you tell us more about what inspired you to choose the setting for your current book?

This could be a short answer! It wasn’t a deliberate choice. The Magic of Ramblings is set in Lancashire, and that’s where I live.

I love Lancashire, especially the beauty and the wildness of the moors, the extremes of weather, and the way the landscape and the climate shape the character of the people who live here. I’ve grown up listening to the rhythm and pattern of Lancashire dialect. I’m still at an early point in my writing career, and with so much else to learn, it felt natural to use a setting I was familiar with.

I’m sure I’ll be brave enough to explore beyond Lancashire one day, but for now I think the stories I’m writing belong here.

Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?

I can’t sit down in front of a clean sheet of paper and conjure up an idea from nowhere. I’ve attended workshops where that was expected, and my mind goes blank – even more so when I see that everyone else is scribbling away with enthusiasm! I have a notebook of ideas, often no more than a sentence, and usually the idea has been sparked by something I’ve read, overheard, or seen on television.

The book I completed last year came from a piece of gossip we were discussing at work. I immediately thought, ‘how would his wife feel?’ And then I had to abandon the story I’d been mulling over, and write that one instead.

How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?

I’m a slow writer, and easily distracted, usually by reading other people’s books! The first draft ofThe Magic of Ramblings took around eight months to write, which is fairly typical for me, as I have to fit writing around work and family. It was written to submit to the RNA New Writers’ Scheme, and it helped that I had that deadline to work towards.

I write the first draft in longhand, and type it up when it’s finished, which is laborious but I carry out the first set of edits as I type, tweaking words and abandoning sentences that are too horrific to survive. I try to have a break, then carry out the major edit. I’m ruthless at this point: I don’t have a problem with ‘killing my darlings’ and cutting out sentences or scenes that don’t work. I cut about 20,000 words from Ramblings, including a whole chapter that I loved, but that on reflection added nothing to the story.

After the major edit, I go through it again, fine-tuning and polishing each paragraph. Those are the main steps, but after that, every time I open the document I can’t resist tinkering, even if it’s only changing one word.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

This answer could fill pages of your blog! There are times when I think a chimp with a pencil crayon could do a better job. I find it hard to silence my inner critic, and can spend far too long even at the first draft stage mulling over one sentence, wondering what I can do to make it sound better. On the bright side, I suppose that’s why I can cut huge chunks without hesitation!

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

I love reaching the stage – usually about a third to half way through for me – where it all falls into place, and the characters truly come alive; when they saunter into your head at all times of day or night, holding a conversation, or explaining how they expect their story to develop.

Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?

Although Ramblings is my first published book, I’ve written several others. I didn’t deliberately set out to have a recurring theme, but families and secrets do crop up quite often!

Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

I’ve started and finished the next novel, but only to first draft stage – the gossip inspired one I mentioned earlier! At the moment I’m about half way through another book set around Ramblings. It’s been on hold for a while as this summer has been fairly hectic, so I’m looking forward to some quiet time to pick it up again.

AbouKateFieldauthorphotot Kate

Kate writes contemporary women’s fiction, mainly set in her favourite county of Lancashire, where she lives with her husband, daughter and hyperactive kitten.
She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.The Magic of Ramblings is her first published novel.

Find out more about Kate here:

Twitter
Facebook

Author Spotlight – Mary Grand

This month’s author in the spotlight is women’s/literary fiction writer, Mary Grand. Her debut novel is out now and is called Free to Be Tegan.

Cover Kindle best

Free to Be Tegan – Mary Grand

Tegan, aged twenty-seven, is cast out of the cult, rejected by her family and from the only life she has known. She is vulnerable and naïve but she also has courage and the will to survive. She travels to Wales, to previously unknown relations in the wild Cambrian Mountains.

This is the uplifting story of her journey from life in a cult to find herself and flourish in a world she has been taught to fear and abhor.
Guilt and shadows from her past haunt her in flashbacks, panic attacks and a fear of the dark. However she also finds a world full of colour, love and happiness she has never known before. The wild beauty of the hills, the people she meets and the secrets slowly revealed by the cottage all provide an intriguing backdrop to Tegan’s drama.

The novel is set in spring, a story of hope, new growth, of the discovery of self and the joy of living.
Amazon

*****

Excerpt

She walked down the stairs and glanced at the clock that hung over the front door. 07:50. Next to this was a huge white board. Every day Daniel wrote the date and a verse for them to meditate on, and the date. Today it read March 1st 2006 and underneath that the verse for the day:

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Beast and all those in his domain.” She guessed Daniel had chosen that for her. She could hear familiar quiet droning prayers of vigil being said in the meeting room. ‘Come Quickly Oh High One’. The whole Community including the children would repeat it over and over again for an hour. Every day had started like that for her for twenty-two years, but not today. For the first time in her life she was an outsider.

Tegan opened the front door out into the cold drizzly rain and descended the flight of concrete steps. She was hit by a wall of noise: the early morning rush hour. Alone she walked across the concrete forecourt and opened the iron gates. She saw a taxi driver swearing at another driver, a parent shouting to their children to hurry up. The rain added to the sense of urgency as the world rushed about its business. She glanced down at the bins on the pavement and, blinking hard, realised she had been put out with the rubbish.

*****

And now for my interview with Mary:

Can you tell us more about what inspired you to choose the setting for your current book?

Free to Be Tegan is set in the stunning Cambrian Mountains in Ceredigion, Wales. It is a vast wilderness found between the much better known areas of Brecon and Snowdonia. It is an incredible place rich in wild life, of red kites and endless hills and where Tegan finds herself after her expulsion from the cult where she was raised. She is initially overwhelmed by the untamed beauty of the place but it is central to her healing and recovery.

Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?

I tend to write about subjects close to my heart. The story of “Free to Be Tegan” is partly inspired by my own experience of being brought up in a strict religious sect. I used this in combination with a lot of research into cults and cult leaders to create the character of Tegan and the fictitious cult, ‘The Last Week Community’.

How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?

The first draft of Free to Be Tegan took me about three years to write. I wrote a number of re-drafts after that. I redraft a lot! The novel I am working on at present has taken about a year to get to first draft and I am now redrafting… again!

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

I think planning has been the thing I have had to work on the hardest. There are people who say they are planners and others who say that the story forms as they are writing. I have found I use both methods. My stories tend to be plot driven so there is a lot of planning but I also find that characters suddenly seem to take on a life of their own and all my planning then has to be re-shaped as I am writing. I say this is hard but it is also what makes writing fun and creative.

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

I enjoy creating interesting characters and developing their stories. I also love to have inspiring settings. As a writer you spend a lot of time in the place you are writing about and so it is wonderful to spend my days somewhere like the beautiful Cambrian Mountains or the incredible Gower Peninsula

Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?

To date there is a very definite thread both in the short stories in Catching the Light , and in the novel Free to Be Tegan. The central characters tend to be women at a turning point in their lives; it is a time of self discovery and of making important life-changing choices.

Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

I have completed the first draft of my next novel. It is set on the Gower peninsula and is about two women who have to own their past to move forward in their lives. The setting is actually Rhossili Bay, which is the most wonderful place, full of stories and history, so a perfect setting for my theme.

Mary GrandAbout Mary

I was born in Cardiff and have retained a deep love for my Welsh roots. I worked as a nursery teacher in London and later taught deaf children in Croydon and Hastings.

I now live on the beautiful Isle of Wight with my husband, where I walk my cocker spaniel Pepper and write. I have two grown up children.

‘Free to Be Tegan’ is my debut novel. It is to be the first of a series of novels set in Wales. The second will be set on the spectacular Gower Peninsula. I have also published a short book of short stories ‘Catching the Light’, which contains the first three chapters of “Free to Be Tegan.” This is free to download on Kindle, Smashwords and Nook here.

Find out more about Mary here:

Twitter
Facebook

Author Spotlight – Zeba Clarke

My author in the spotlight this month is fantasy and romance author, Zeba Clarke. Her latest fantasy release is Dream Guy,  the first book in the Battalions of Oblivion series.

dreamguy_800

Dream Guy – Zeba Clarke

Every teen has dreams, but only Joe Knightley can make his dreams reality. Even the nightmares…

Joe has been falling asleep everywhere, and he has enough on his plate with wrangling his wayward best mate, suppressing the urge to murder his little sister and facing off with Charlie Meek, the knife-wielding bully who makes school a misery for so many.

Joe does not need the discovery that he can make his dreams come true. At first, turning a classroom into an aquarium and conjuring up a Lamborghini are amusing ways to use this new power. But Joe soon realizes he’s roused an enemy far deadlier than Charlie Meek.

Drawn into a duel with a being who has had centuries of experience, Joe must fight for everything he cares for. But deciding exactly what he holds dear is perhaps the biggest battle of all.

Finch Books

Amazon

*****

And now for my interview with Zeba:

Can you tell us more about what inspired you to choose the setting for your current book?

Dream Guy starts off in a new town in south-east England, somewhere between Brighton and London…it was based on my years teaching in Sussex, and what really inspired me was the combination of a very ordinary every day student in a really down to earth environment discovering that he has the power to change the world around him quite radically. A whole mix of things led to my writing it – I needed a break from romance after writing four Regency-set books very fast over the space of two years, and my eldest son was also rolling his eyes because he wanted me to write something he was interested in reading…not some cheesy girly stuff with loads of kissing. So fantasy it was, probably strongly influenced by Doctor Who, which has been a family favourite since the rebrand by Russell T. Davies first began.

Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?

Stories come to me really easily – it’s finding the time to sit down and write that really stretches me, as I have a pretty demanding full time job as well. Currently on the go in my brain are a series of stories about a female artist in the early 17th century, an idea for a radio/tv series about the experience of women in internment camps on the Isle of Man during World War 2, another Regency story and the second and third books about Joe, the hero of Dream Guy…it’s story soup in there. I pick up ideas everywhere, from paintings, books, music. I keep folders on the computer and iPad and a notebook and just jot stuff down and try to keep it all ready for when I can actually focus on a particular book.

How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?

First drafts take me between two and three months. I have big cards with all sorts of random thought-maps, quotations, names, plus I collage using Pinterest and Scapple, so I collect images of characters, places, animals, art, anything that might just spark off an idea. My Pinterest page has boards for two of my series – the Oblivion series starting with Dream Guy, and Savage Mirror which is the series I’ve been writing about a young female artist who dresses up as a boy and then becomes a spy.

After I’ve collected all the images together and have a rough (very rough) idea of where the plot is going, I’ll start writing. I usually know what my final scene is going to be, but how I’m going to get there is often a surprise.

Redrafting depends. Once I’ve finished draft 1, I show it to my husband who is a mean and ruthless editor, and then I go back and rewrite. I’m still not convinced about the first part of the Savage Mirror series, and I’ve been through about four drafts of that, but Dream Guy only took three drafts before I felt confident it was ready to go to publishers. The whole process from the moment of starting the first draft to final submission is usually six to seven months. But that’s probably because the ideas have been stewing gently in my mind for some time before that.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

Sometimes the discipline. I know that to get my best writing done, I have to focus on writing every evening for two hours. I’m most productive between 9 and 11. That’s become my writing time, and there are evenings when it just doesn’t happen, when I noodle on the internet instead of getting the words under my belt, often because I am not fully committed to how the story is working out. Then there is revising and redrafting. Getting rid of chunks I’ve written which I really liked but which I know are superfluous to the story I’m telling. But it has to be done.

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

Losing myself in the world of my character, hanging out with the characters. That seems to get more and more intriguing and absorbing with every book I write. Although I’ve only had six books published, I’ve actually written ten, and with every book, I find that although there are moments when I get stuck, mostly, the chance to spend time with the characters in their world is the best part of the process. When I’m in the middle of draft 1 and revisions, I can be found staring into space or walking almost without knowing where I’m going because I’m running a scene or a series of actions in my head and trying to work out how it will get onto the page.

Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?

Probably the most interesting theme for me is how we grow into ourselves. I’m a teacher, so I watch teenagers day in, day out, developing, growing, becoming themselves. Some of my favourite books are those stories about growing up, working out an identity and a place in the world, from Daddy Long Legs to Great Expectations and Mill on the Floss. I’m also fascinated by how people can seem to be one thing but actually be another, and I suppose in Dream Guy and its subsequent books, I’m really playing with the idea of exploring strengths and weaknesses through dreams, shape-shifting and messing with reality. I also really love a good romance. I love reading happy ever afters, but I’ve noticed that in my own writing, I tend to make things a little more bittersweet and messy.

Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

I am currently redrafting Heirs of Hypnos, the next part of Joe’s adventures. I wrote a first draft, but the publishers think it may be a little too dark so I’m revisiting and trying to take a look at how it might be reworked. I know where I want the trilogy to end, but I have to review and revisit how I get there! It’s really fun messing with characters. We’ll see!

Zeba ClarkeAbout Zeba

Zeba Clarke is a teacher and writer who has lived in China, Belgium and the UK. She currently lives on the Isle of Man and enjoys watching Game of Thrones with her teenage sons, walking by the sea and spotting seals.

Find out more about Zeba here:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

I Found My Love in Portofino…

DSCN1558Well, it’s been a while since I last posted but I’m back with some lovely pictures of my holiday so I hope you’ll forgive me fairly quickly 🙂 As you may have seen from my Facebook page, I recently went on a short break with my husband to Portofino in Italy, which is a fishing village on the Italian Riviera coastline just south-east of Genoa. It is famous for its picturesque harbour and the wonderful seafood available in its restaurants, and perhaps a little infamous for its celebrity visitors who arrive in their luxury yachts.

DSCN1471As it is a pedestrian village, we decided to forego the hire car and to travel by public transport from Genoa airport instead. This involved a bus, a train and finally, another bus into the village itself. This sounds much simpler than it actually was! We had to negotiate the machines at Genoa train station for our journey to Santa Margherita Ligure by way of Rapallo first of all. Once we’d done that, we made our way to Rapallo, experiencing a short delay on the journey but arriving safely at the other end. Unfortunately, the short delay meant that we missed our connection and we finally worked out that the next train wouldn’t be for another hour because it was Sunday.

In true British form, we huffed and puffed, and analysed every aspect of what had happened and then suddenly, one of us said, ‘It really doesn’t matter, does it? We’re not in a hurry. We’ll get there when we do.’ And with that profound declaration, our shoulders relaxed and we went with the flow as everyone else on the train platform was doing. We were amazed to hear such a variety of accents in the train station: Americans, other British travellers, local Italians and everything in between. When we reached Santa Margherita, we had just missed the ferry we were planning to take (this is Italy!)  but there was a bus waiting to take us on the coastal ride of our lives and we hopped on and went with it arriving only a few minutes later than we had first planned.

DSCN1446Having checked into our lovely hotel, we were then overwhelmed by beautiful views and fantastic restaurants at every turn for the next few days to our complete and utter delight. It was magical and we fell in love with it – just like the song. You can listen to and watch Andrea Bocelli singing his version of the famous song here. What? You didn’t know there was a song?! 😉 And then on our way back on the boat from Santa Margherita on our last day, we were treated to another unexpected musical delight.

As we were waiting to board the ferry for our return trip to Portofino, we had heard someone playing an accordion but we couldn’t see where they were and then again, we wondered if we had imagined it! Then, in the middle of our trip back, sat on the upper deck, a man stood up…with an accordion. He started to play and everyone around started to sing but not in Italian, or in English but in Polish! We had no idea that was the language at first but the man next to us pointed to one of his group who had the words to the song on a sheet in her hands and when we looked over her shoulder, we could see it was an eastern European language and our neighbour proudly told us how he and his group had learnt the words in Polish to the famous song, ‘I Found My Love in Portofino.’ Well, to say we were gobsmacked is an understatement. It was so lovely to see such happy people, enjoying themselves by singing their hearts out and they didn’t just sing the one number, they carried on singing traditional Polish songs as well. We could only imagine how wonderful it must have been to hear the singing from the harbour in Portofino.

They say that travel is good for the soul and I firmly believe that. This trip was inspirational in many ways and I’m pretty sure that Portofino, or somewhere like it, will make an appearance in one of my books one day 😉

Thanks for reading as always. Do leave me a message in the comments about the places you have been, at home or abroad, that you have found inspirational.

How Music Inspires Me

DSCN0296This week, I’m taking part in a blogging event about music organised by my RNA writing friend, Elaina James as part of a series she has been writing for the Mslexia blog about chasing your writing dreams, told from the perspective of a lyricist with stage fright. Her final blog focuses on the unexpected chance to turn her words into an actual song with music. You can find Elaina’s Mslexia page here.

Elaina and I ‘met’ on Twitter only fairly recently but we’ve also had the good fortune to meet in real life when we both braved the Curtis Brown Discovery Day and pitched our books to agents. So we’ve already been through a lot together! I am honoured to be one of a number of writing friends joining in with Elaina’s blogging event so do pop over to her blog to read some of the other brilliant posts on this theme.

So how has music inspired me? Well, music has always played a very important part in my life. The radio was always playing in my house when I was growing up and I came to love many of the LPs that my mum and dad had collected and regularly played on their record player. This is how I came to love everything from The Beatles to Glenn Campbell to Marvin Gaye and Barbra Streisand and eventually, it’s what led me to start have singing lessons when I was in my early teens. I performed in all kinds of festivals when I was young and although I learnt to play the violin and the piano as well along the way, nothing came close to singing for making me happy. As I got older, my musical tastes widened and I remember playing Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ album until I knew every word of every song and had a dance move to go with them as well so I could strut my stuff at the local disco on ‘Ladies Night’ every Thursday. Ah, those were the days 🙂

When I was around 17, I joined a semi-professional choir in London at my singing teacher’s suggestion and I had all kinds of wonderful experiences with them, including trips to France, Spain and Italy to take part in some fantastic concert performances. It was on the plane to one such trip in Rome that I met my husband and we bonded over our shared love of music. We still do now nearly thirty-one years later.

Both my children are musical and love music as much as we do. It is wonderful to find that we often like the same kinds of music as well, despite the age difference and that’s the thing. Great music is simply that. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, you can appreciate it all and it is that shared appreciation that brings people of different ages together. When we finally went to Nashville last year as a family, my two teenage daughters loved it just as much as we did. They both discovered Johnny Cash and Elvis on that trip, as well as soaking up the live performances by new musicians that we had never heard of.

It was really no surprise then that my debut novel From Here to Nashville was about a UK-based singer/songwriter called Rachel who longs to travel to Nashville in Tennessee and become a country music star. As a singer, occasional songwriter and, most recently, music teacher, I based Rachel very loosely on myself but her dream was entirely her own! However, it was my love for country music and specifically, the start of the TV series Nashville on our screens over here that gave me the idea for my first novel. As I began writing, I found it easy to write lyrics for Rachel’s own songs as well as to create a playlist of my favourite songs for her to sing. You can find that playlist here if you’d like to hear it.

Although I don’t listen to music as I write, the words of a song will frequently spark an idea for me that I will then use in my writing. For example, there is a particular Brad Paisley song that I love called ‘We Danced.’ This gave me an idea for my next book and I can’t wait to start getting it down on paper. I don’t think a day goes by without music being in the air in our house and although some of the songs might have changed, the feeling of contentment gained from listening to good music still remains.

coverYou can find my debut novel on Amazon, still priced at just 99p!
Thanks for reading. I’d love to know how music inspires you. Do leave a comment below if you’d like to share your inspiration 🙂

Author Spotlight – David J Robertson

This month’s author in the spotlight is children’s author, David Robertson, whose latest release is Dognapped!, an adventure book aimed at middle grade children (7-10) involving four canine friends. Welcome to the blog, David.
Dognapped

Dognapped! – David J Robertson

The quartet investigate strange sounds coming from the chimney of a canal boat which turns out to be feisty puppy, Ashley stuck inside the narrow tube. They manage to release him but accidentally cast themselves adrift.

On the boat’s radio they hear, ‘…news is coming in of a dognapping. Ashley has been taken along with a narrow boat. In a statement his people said, “whoever has taken our poor puppy is very naughty indeed!”’ 

The situation rapidly deteriorates until they eventually find themselves lost at sea. Will they make it back to shore? Can any of them swim? How silly does Rascal look in welly boots?

Buy Dognapped! here

***** 

Excerpt

One-Eyed Rose peered once more into the chimney. ‘Wow! It’s gone – whatever it was!’ she exclaimed, standing back. Now her one good eye had a black sooty ring around it.

I leant my paws against the window and put my nose to the glass. Inside were two black lumps. One was vaguely Bertie shaped.The other was a lot smaller.

The largest lump shook violently. Soot billowed through the air. It was Bertie! He blinked at me through the glass and pointed toward the back of the boat as he shouted, ‘The door was open all the time.’

I scurried along the bank and sprang onto the tiny deck. Clouds of black dust hung around the open door. Carefully, I made my way down three narrow steps and peered into the gloomy cabin. Bertie stroked his long black whiskers which were slowly becoming grey again. In front of him the small black lump trembled.Two vivid white circles appeared.

The lump had eyes!

I took a step back.This was getting scarier. Even Bertie, who knows a lot of things about a lot of things looked worried.

Looking round I spotted a carving knife lying on a table. I picked it up in my jaws – just in case! ‘Ahh…!’ went the tiny black lump.

It trembled harder than before.
…AAh!’

And even harder.

‘Is everything all right?’ One-Eyed Rose yelled down the chimney.
‘…Tishoooo!’ sneezed the tiny black lump, showering more soot into the air.

‘Wow! What was that?’ boomed from the chimney.‘Hold on I’m coming down.’

The tiny lump puffed out its cheeks. ‘Tshoo,’ it sniffed. It was now mostly white with brown patches and a brown tipped stubby tail.

Scamper!
Clatter!
Bang!
Thump!

One-Eyed Rose fell down the steps, ‘Wow! A puppy dog!’

The pup looked at Bertie with his bone-patterned scarf. He stared at me armed with a knife. Finally he gaped at One-Eyed Rose with the black ring around her one good eye like an eye-patch.‘Arggh! Pirates!’

‘Wow! Where?’ shouted One-Eyed Rose, looking around anxiously.

I dropped the knife.‘He means us, Rose,’ I told her, ‘we’ve frightened him.’

The pup bounced up and down on all four paws.‘I’m not frightened! Come on! I’ll fight you all. Yippity yap!’ he barked in a squeaky voice.

Bertie sighed.With a sharp clip of his paw he tapped the puppy across the tail making him somersault backwards.

‘Ow! I surrender!’
‘What sort of dog is that?’ One-Eyed Rose sniffed at the defeated baby.
‘I won’t tell you anything! We Jack Russells are very brave!’

I looked at the brown marks on his fur,‘I bet his name is Patch.’

The little dog grinned at me defiantly, ‘You’ll get nothing out of me, you nasty pirate. From now on Ashley says nothing! Yappity yip!’

‘So, Ashley, what was a Jack Russell puppy doing up the chimney?’ Bertie asked.
Ashley pouted,‘I was exploring.’
‘It’s a good job I poked you out with that brush. If someone had lit the fire you might have singed your tail,’ One-Eyed Rose said helpfully.

*****

Hi, I’m David J Robertson a … year old, (sorry the number lock seems to be broken!), bloke from the Black Country. There’s a children’s book – DOGNAPPED! completed and published (about my dog, Misty and her adventures) The second ‘IN THE DOGHOUSE!’ is written with a third already in the pipeline.

You may be wondering, ‘Why on earth is a children’s writer appearing on the blog pages of a romance author?’ Well, good people of this genre, it is my belief that you – being discerning readers – would like nothing better than to pass on your love of literature to your sons and daughters, to your grandchildren, to your nephews and nieces, indeed to any child who shows the slightest interest in taking their nose out of a mobile phone for even a second.

Also, I have a book to promote and although slightly biased I do happen to believe that it is quite good. In fact the illustrations by Ian R Ward are wonderful and I am very grateful for his input. Most people on picking it up do comment, ‘Oh this looks lovely!’ Sadly they’re all looking at the pictures and no one has read the story. I urge you to do so – you might like it!

So what are my writing credentials? I began writing seriously following a heart attack. Being cracked open like a lobster for a quadruple bypass seriously focuses the mind. Heed my advice – this is not the way to get into writing!

I’ve done quite a bit flash fiction and short stories. One day I’ll try to put them all together. You can see samples of these along with a blog on my website which is updated around once a week depending upon my inspiration, chagrin or whatever has plain got my goat during the past seven days.

And of course there’s the novel. Haven’t we all got one somewhere? It unfortunately needs attacking drastically with the red editing pen! A humorous (allegedly) science fiction/ fantasy adventure. I only started it in 2006 so it must be nearly finished by now.

Thursday mornings are taken up with Castle Writers in Dudley, in fact I’m now the Chairman, come along if you’re local – a bit of creative writing never hurt anyone.

Below are a few links to my website and blog, Facebook page and my Twitter account. Please feel free to pop over and say, ‘Hi,’ it would be nice to see you. Just a word of warning however – my dog, Misty does administer the website, take whatever she tells you with a pinch of salt! There’s also a link above to my publisher, Troubadour, it would be great if you fancied a copy of, ‘DOGNAPPED!’ You can read it yourself first before you donate it to your little darlings – I won’t tell, honest!

David RobertsonFind out more about David and his books here:

Website                                                       
Facebook                           
Twitter
 

The Authors’ Compass

WP_20160423_004Last Saturday, I attended a conference organised by The Society of Authors in Manchester, the first event I have been to for a while. It was just the pick-me-up I needed and a chance to get out and about to network with old friends and new. The day focussed on the changing face of publishing and as a self-published author myself, I was really interested to see if I could pick up new information to take forward.

The keynote address was given by Kate Harrison, who I’ve heard speak before at one of the RNA conferences and who is both a romance author and a non-fiction writer. Some of you may know her, as I do, as the author of the 5:2 Diet books. Kate’s talk was called ‘Navigation for Authors’ and she took us through what she sees as the benefits of the three different models of publishing existing today: traditional, self and hybrid.
Traditional Publishing – she described this as a sort of employee model.

  • If you’re lucky, you might get an advance under this model but you will definitely get royalties on your book sales.
  • You have access to your publisher’s wider distribution network but your royalties will be quite a low percentage compared to some other models.
  • You have no control over the price of your work, your rights to it or the marketing of it.

Self-Publishing  – this is the entrepreneur model, according to Kate.

  • You have to invest your cash upfront.
  • You build your own team.
  • You will encounter distribution barriers but you will get a higher percentage of the royalties potentially for all your book sales.
  • You control the price, your rights and your marketing.

Hybrid Publishing – this model allows you to maximise your value.

  • You make a decision as to how you’re going to publish on a project-by-project basis. In Kate’s case, she already had an agent and a publishing contract for her romance novels when she decided to write her first 5:2 Diet Book. Her publisher rejected it and so she worked with her agent to produce an ebook of her non-fiction work. It did so well that the publisher then offered her a contract for the paperback version.
  • Your brand strategy is under your control.
  • You have the flexibility to respond to the market and your own instincts.
  • You build a team on your own terms.

Kate’s review came at a very important time for me as I have been sending my second book out to agents and publishers but with very little success so far. I know that’s to be expected but it’s still hard to take, as I’m sure many of you will know from your own experience. I can see though that the hybrid model could have benefits and I know of a lot of authors who are going down this route. There was a lot of food for thought from Kate’s talk and if you get the chance to hear Kate speak, I would urge you to do so. You can find Kate on Twitter @Katewritesbooks.

WP_20160423_006The next session was called ‘The Publishing Landscape’ and presented by Kate Pool and Sarah Baxter who both advise members of The Society of Authors on publishing contracts. As I have never seen a publishing contract (!), I found this a very interesting session indeed. They made a few general points before they started talking about rights.

Firstly, self-published ebooks now account for about 20% of Amazon’s sales. The most popular genres in fiction are romance and crime, as you might expect. In non-fiction, the most popular subjects are health, diet, wholefood cookery and travel writing. However, they did say that it is very much about timing in terms of what readers want. They also mentioned that their revised guide to self-publishing will be available on their website in the next week or so. It costs £10 for non-members.

Moving on to rights, they said that the rights and terms a publisher will usually want are:

  • Territory and language.
  • Formats and media.
  • Use it or lose it. This means that if rights are unexploited after a certain length of time, the rights could then revert to you.

In the discussion that followed, they advised authors to be careful not to give away their non-print rights, which would include things like dramatisation, TV, plays etc. This is not a standard clause so The Society looks out for this one particularly. They advised that in terms of money, authors should think about two things: What is the publisher doing for you, how are they adding value and are you, as the author, getting a fair deal? Their final point was very interesting. They said that it almost doesn’t matter what rights you give away as long as there is a mechanism in your contract for you to escape from it. Food for thought indeed.

The next session was a panel chaired by RNA member, Rhoda Baxter, discussing ‘The Publishing Process.’ We heard from Kevin McCann, a poet and author of a book called Teach Yourself: Self-Publishing; from Richard Sheehan, a freelance proofreader and copy editor, who explained about the different types of editing available to authors; from Kate Roden of Fixabook.com, a company that analyses book design and gives creative guidance on jackets, blurbs and spines; and finally, from Helen Lewis, director of Literally PR.

The main things I learnt from this session were to do with cover design and PR. Kate advised that you think long and hard about your design strategy and what you want your design to achieve before you even contact your designer. Her tips to make your design better were to:

  • Consider what your customers like and what they want. She advised that you find this out by going on reader platforms on Facebook for example.
  • Play to the strengths of digital design, for example by having no words apart from the title on the cover. She highlighted one particular cover of recent times that she thought was especially good.
  • Use your fans to help generate excitement about your cover design. Involve them in your process if you can.
  • Mirror the design of the cover inside your book, as chapter titles for example (I loved this idea and wished I’d done that with the Nashville skyline!)

Helen Lewis had a great many tips to offer about PR but could only squeeze a few of them into the time available. I would really like to hear her full talk some time, which usually takes an hour! Anyway, in the mean time, here’s a few pieces of advice she gave.

  • Concentrate on only one social media platform and your website (Hallelujah!)
  • Build your author platform online by blogging and guest blogging. She also said that blogging shouldn’t have to be something you do all the time though. You should consider only blogging when a new book is coming out for example.
  • Build your platform offline by speaking at festivals, schools, businesses, parties, book clubs and signings at bookshops.
  • Invest time in building up interest in your book before publication. The Bookseller has a 6 month lead time for example.

She drew our attention to an article by Jane Friedman on Facebook for authors, which you can find here. She also mentioned that Literally PR has a Review Club on Facebook which authors can join for free by emailing Helen to join. That page is here. It doesn’t have many members at the moment but the idea looks interesting. Helen can also be found on Twitter @LiterallyPR.

The final session of the day, chaired by Kate Pool from The Society of Authors, was about ‘Publishing Routes‘ and featured Dan Kieran from Unbound, a funding platform and publishing company bringing authors and readers together; Kristen Harrison of The Curved House publishing company; and Michael Schmidt of independent literary publisher, Carcanet Press.

It was another very interesting panel with some innovative ideas about what publishing means in the modern world. I found Dan Kieran very captivating as a speaker and his own experience as an author is an amazing story. However, I can’t ever see myself buying into the idea of crowdfunding a novel to be honest, although it may suit other authors. In the case of Unbound, you have to raise a minimum of £3,000 once you’ve been accepted on to their scheme and then if you make that, they will publish your book for you in the traditional way, taking a split of the royalties. I couldn’t help noticing that many of the authors featured on their website are well-known names who wouldn’t find it as difficult as an unknown to crowd fund to that level perhaps. Still, an interesting concept and worth reading more about if you think crowd funding could be for you.

My favourite tip in this session came from Kristen Harrison when she told us about another project she is involved in called Visual Verse. This is an anthology of art and words, as this about page explains, where they supply an image and you have to respond to it with anywhere between 50 and 500 words. The twist is that you must write your piece within one hour and submit it. It is open to published and unpublished authors and some of the pieces already written are very powerful. I thought this was a fascinating idea and was a very different way, as Kristen said, of giving yourself an online footprint without having a website of your own. She was really into the idea of blogging projects with a start and finish, giving authors a much narrower remit than the standard idea of writing a blog post every week. If you’ve every wondered what the heck you were going to write about on your blog this week and felt overwhelmed by the very thought of it, you might like to consider this idea 😉

Well, as you can see, it was a very interesting conference and I learnt a great deal. You don’t have to be a member of The Society of Authors to attend their events by the way. I found out about this one via the RNA but all you have to do is to email them at this address info@societyofauthors.org and they will let you know what they have coming up.

WP_20160423_005