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My First Audiobook Experience – The Girl on the Train

AudibleMy husband recently took the plunge and decided to sign up for a free trial of Audible. As he had read an early review in The Times of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which had got us both intrigued, it was an easy choice for our first audiobook. We had decided that we would listen to it together to share our thoughts as we ‘read’ something at the same time. We started it on the plane journey to France in the middle of August, listening on and off during that week and then on the way back. We just finished it, a month and a half later, on a long car journey to Oxfordshire and back.

This was the first shock for me. I am a fast reader. My husband is not. If it had just been me, I would have finished it much more quickly and at first, the slower pace drove me a bit mad. Not only the pace of our ability to listen to it at the same time on any kind of a regular basis but also the pace of the actual narration. There are actually three female narrators in this story and I found at the beginning that I kept forgetting little details that I couldn’t easily go back and check. We did get used to the narrators and the pace though and in time, we came to enjoy the whole experience.

GOTTThis had a lot to do with the quality of the story as well, which was one of the best psychological thrillers I have ever ‘read.’ As a writer myself, I found I was constantly listening to the vocabulary and to certain turns of phrase in a way that maybe I don’t take the time to when I’m reading as quickly as I usually do. The constant twists and turns of the plot kept us guessing until we were almost at the end…when my husband guessed and told me what he thought. Hmmm. We enjoyed listening to the story together though and over the time we were doing so, we listened on a plane, in the car, while making dinner and even in bed…but we both fell asleep! I’m not sure if we did ever listen to it on the train but the options are endless 😉 It is an excellent story and one I wish I could have written 🙂

I have already considered whether to have an audiobook created for From Here to Nashville but not gone any further with it than that. First of all, after your free trial runs out, your subscription costs you £7.99 a month and for this, you have one credit, equal to one book. This is a fair amount of money – for a fair amount of work, I know – but compared to an ebook, it’s a lot more. As I don’t drive anywhere long distance on a regular basis, I don’t think I would prefer it over actually reading a paperback or an ebook. For those who do, I can see it certainly would have its benefits, especially when you’re stuck in traffic, although it could easily be a distraction at times. However, how many people would be prepared to pay that amount of money for an audiobook by an unknown (still!) author? Paula Hawkins was also unknown at the time but she’d already got her book deal and as I said, we read a review of her book in The Times. I’m still waiting for them to get back to me about the one they’re writing for my debut 😉

It was interesting to note that in The Girl on the Train, the male voices are all narrated by the female narrators. This made for an interesting take on the sound of different men’s voices from the different female characters’ perspectives. For me, this would be tricky. I have a British woman and an American man, from Tennessee so I would have to have at least two narrators which would undoubtedly be difficult to find and also would affect the cost dependent on which path I chose – a one-off payment to the narrators or a share of any subsequent profits. As a new author, the cost would be prohibitive to pay them upfront before any sales, so I would probably go with a share of the royalties option. There is a lot more information about this whole process on Joanna Penn’s helpful website, The Creative Penn if you would like to read about all the options in more detail.

So while I enjoyed the experience as a reader, I don’t think it would be my preference in the future. This makes me reluctant to do it for my own books, especially when I am still so new to all this self-publishing lark. This is another job to add to an already very long list of jobs to do as an indie and one that can perhaps wait a while.
How about you? Fan of audiobooks or not? Do leave me a message in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading.

Picture Credits: Amazon and Doubleday Publishing.

Author Spotlight – Margaret Johnson

Welcome to my latest Author Spotlight. This time, my guest is Women’s Fiction writer, Margaret K. Johnson. Margaret is also a member of The Romantic Novelists’ Association and her latest book Taming Tom Jones will be out in October.

TTJ CoverTaming Tom Jones – Margaret K. Johnson

Jen’s partner Michael has never been in a relationship for more than four years, so with their fourth anniversary coming up, she’s getting understandably nervous. Especially as she’s just discovered she’s pregnant, and she knows Michael doesn’t want any more children other than Kyle, his teenage son. 

Jen means to tell Michael about the baby right away, but then he comes home on a brand new motorbike, having traded in his sensible car, and the moment is lost. Is Michael having an early mid-life crisis? 

Jen decides to do some detective work about Michael’s exes in an effort to save their relationship, and embarks on a journey that will take her as far afield as North Norfolk and Cuba. But she has no idea of the can of worms she’s about to open. 

Why do all Michael’s relationships break up? And what’s the big secret he’s hiding?

Taming Tom Jones is available to pre-order now:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Smashwords

Excerpt
I’m in the ladies toilets at my local superstore. Inside the one functioning cubicle, sitting fully clothed on the toilet seat, surrounded by overflowing carrier bags, a peed-on plastic tester stick clenched in my hand. Waiting for my fate to unfold.

Two minutes. The time it takes for Michael to go to sleep after we’ve made love if I don’t do anything to stop him. The pee on the plastic stick is asking a question, and the chemicals inside it are working out their answer. And in two minutes I’ll know whether their answer agrees with my instinct.

“I’m crazy about you, Jen,” Michael said three months after we first got together. “I want us to be together. But I’ve got to be totally honest with you, if you want kids, you’d better find someone else, because I’ve already done all that. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a father to Kyle, but it’s enough for me.”

Michael. We met at a fancy dress party nearly four years ago – my mate Rick’s thirtieth birthday party. The theme was Pop Icons of the Twentieth Century, and the room was stuffed full of Elton Johns, Donny Osmonds and Mick Jaggers. I was Madonna, complete with pointy bra, and Marcia, my best mate, was Diana Ross.

“You look fantastic with all that long hair,” I told her as we propped up the bar, preening ourselves and pointing out funny sights to each other.

“Thanks. I could get used to this glamour.” She ran a hand over the sea-green sparkles of her dress. Perhaps we should start a band.”

“Yeah, right.” I hadn’t forgotten our last spectacularly bad attempt at karaoke on holiday in Spain, even if she had.

Marcia never has liked to be reminded of her failings, even at school. “Your bazoomers aren’t level,” she told me stonily, jabbing an accusing finger in the direction of my breasts. “You need to go up a bit on the right.”
I yanked dutifully at my right cone, wondering if Madonna had experienced the same trouble.

“Anyway,” Marcia said, “who are you going to get off with tonight?”

“I’m not going to get off with anybody. It’s only been three months since I split up with Luther.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” she said. “Three months of freedom and so far you’ve done zilch to celebrate.”

“I don’t feel like celebrating.” I was hurt by now, but Marcia never has been a girl to let my hurt feelings stand in her way when she’s telling me something for my own good.

“Well, you should. Luther was a prize tosser. You are far, far better off without him, Jen.”

“I loved him.”

“You thought you loved him. That’s about as different as Ibiza and the Isle of Man.”

Marcia stood on diamanté sandal tip-toes, peering into the crowd, the dark river of fake hair flowing all the way down her bare back. “Him,” she said, pointing. “That’s who you’ll get off with if you get off with anybody.”

“Who?”

Marcia pointed again. “Him,” she said. “Tom Jones.”

*****

And now over to Margaret for a bit about the inspiration for her latest book, Taming Tom Jones.

The Leopard-Spotted Hero
In the run up to the publication of my novel Taming Tom Jones by Crooked Cat Publishing on 2nd October, I’d like to share a bit about the writing process behind it, and some of the very personal experiences that were my inspiration. I dug deep for this novel, but it was worth it!

I’m sure you’ve all come across women – or men – who seem to want to constantly change their partner. It’s as if they fell in love with them for one specific reason, but then feel compelled to do their best to change that very quality. In such circumstances, love is likely to be doomed to failure, a fact I try to keep in mind with my current relationship. After previously being in relationships with men who were charismatic and exciting, but exhaustingly unpredictable, I was ready for someone more dependable. So I can’t complain – okay, I shouldn’t complain – when he’s reluctant to be in the slightest bit impulsive, or takes ages to make a decision that affects our future.

In my view, based on hard-won experience, anyone entering a relationship thinking they can change someone, is going to end up disappointed. After all, would I want someone to set out to try to change me? No! Except maybe, on a very superficial level. For example, I no longer put plates and cutlery to soak in the washing up bowl, as it seems to annoy my partner so much – don’t ask me why. Washing up foibles or not, I love my man, and the fact that he accepts me pretty much as I am means a great deal to me. What’s more, I don’t always have to live in his shadow the way I did with those other illusive, party animals.

When Taming Tom Jones opens, Jen has just discovered she’s pregnant with her partner Michael’s child. She’s thrilled about it, because she’s always wanted children, but she’s anxious too, because right from the start of their relationship, Michael was honest with her about not wanting any more children. He’s a good father to his teenage son Kyle, but that’s enough for him.

 

Michael’s lack of desire for more children isn’t the only reason Jen’s nervous. Michael’s never stayed in a relationship for more than four years – he’s something of a serial monogamist, and their four year anniversary is looming on the not-so-distant horizon. Will Jen’s news tip the balance?

Crazy about Michael as she is, Jen takes the brave decision to keep her pregnancy secret for now and to investigate his exes. If she can find out why those past relationships went wrong, then maybe she can stop the same thing happening to them.

A while back, I shared the first seven chapters of my first draft of Taming Tom Jones with the Women’s Fiction Crit Group on the now sadly defunct site Authonomy. Their feedback was very positive, but several people didn’t like Michael and his serial monogamist ways. Having been on the receiving end of men like him in my own life, I could appreciate their point of view. Back in those days, I was supremely good at deluding myself that it would be different with me; that these men would end up loving me so much they would magically transform themselves, and a trip down the aisle with me would become their longed-for goal. Unsurprisingly, I was proved wrong several times, and yet I could never really hate these heart-breakers. They were popular, out-going and fun to be with, just as Michael is in Taming Tom Jones.

But that feedback from my Authonomy colleagues got me thinking. For Jen to enjoy a ‘happy-ever-after’ with Michael, he would need to change a lot, otherwise the reader would just think Jen had settled for someone not good enough for her. I was stuck for quite a while, as I grappled with this. Should Jen end up with someone new? Possibly, but that would mean the child she’s carrying wouldn’t ever live with its father, and while that might often be the case in real life, I didn’t want that to happen to Jen and her baby in my book. So I decided to try to make Michael’s transformation believable, and searched for a way to do it. Finally, I had what I thought was a good idea. What if the reader got to know substantially more than Jen does about exactly why Michael is the way he is? While Jen’s busy carrying out her investigations, we know she’s getting a very distorted view of the truth and wonder how they’ll ever sort things out. Yes, that seemed like an intriguing way to go.

So, why does Michael never stay in a relationship for very long? Is there some secret he’s hiding? Ah! You’ll have to read the book to find out!

You can pre-order it here, and you’re more than welcome to join the online launch party on 2nd October. There will be fun, games, music and a question and answer session about writing. Click JOIN to take part. See you there!
Facebook Party

_DSC2255_ppAbout Margaret
Margaret K. Johnson began writing after finishing at Art College to support her career as an artist. Writing quickly replaced painting as her major passion, and these days her canvasses lay neglected in her studio. She is the author of women’s fiction, stage plays and many original fiction readers in various genres for people learning to speak English. Margaret also teaches fiction writing and has an MA in Creative Writing (Scriptwriting) from the University of East Anglia. She lives in Norwich, UK with her partner and their bouncy son and dog.
 
 

Find Margaret at:

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Author Spotlight – Sam Russell

Today, I’m welcoming fellow contemporary romance author, Sam Russell, into my Author Spotlight. Sam and I met via social media and we are both members of The Alliance of Independent Authors too. Sam’s debut novel ‘A Bed of Barley Straw’ came out earlier this year and she is hard at work on the sequel.
frontcover
A Bed of Barley Straw – Sam Russell
Hettie Redfern tends the stables on Lord Melton’s English estate and makes no secret of her feelings – she prefers dogs to men. Dogs don’t lie. They don’t manipulate, and when they love, they love unconditionally. Men, as the petite, copper-haired beauty has previously discovered, are rarely so loyal.

Alexander Melton, the son of Hettie’s employer, returns home from Afghanistan bringing with him the stray dog he adopted during his tour of service. He is immediately attracted to Hettie but finds her past distasteful – and Alexander is as suspicious of women as Hettie is of men.

The attraction between the two ignites a firestorm of emotions, but their growing passion struggles against suspicion and mistrust. Can Hettie and Alexander put aside the past in order to look to the future? Or will these two fight it out until the very last breath?
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

Excerpt from the middle of Chapter One
Alexander? No, she hadn’t met him, the middle brother of the three Melton sons. She had met the youngest son, Edward, several times. Everyone had met Ted. Sociable, good fun, and popular, he had often been the local gossipmongers’ topic for his antics in the past. The village took a special kind of pride in Ted for his numerous misdemeanours, and he was enthusiastically welcomed at the Fox and Hounds Pub when he visited home. James Melton (good, kind, responsible James) was the eldest, heir to the estate, and Hettie’s boss for the last five years since taking over the hall from his father. Hettie couldn’t wish for a better boss (Lord Melton had been eccentric and unpredictable, to say the least), and she had become close to his wife, Grace. She was even fond of their children: Artie, Fred, and little Georgia, although as a rule Hettie didn’t “do” kids. But the elusive Alexander had rarely been at Draymere in the six years Hettie had worked there. Grace had mentioned he was coming back, something about his career in the army ending.

Awkward, she thought, to be meeting him for the first time when he returned her errant terrier. “Thanks, Doris,” she muttered to herself as there was a thud on the cottage door.

The words tumbled out as she greeted the man in the doorway. “Hi, thank you so much! I am so sorry you had to drag down here; it’s evil out there tonight—”

Christ, he’s bloody gorgeous.

The thought stopped her mid-sentence. She stared up at the best-looking bloke she had ever seen in her life. Tall and swarthy, with dark tousled hair and piercing blue eyes, he had a strong, chiselled face and the body of a god. Hettie’s stunned stargazing was interrupted as Doris, on the end of a length of bale twine knotted to her collar, hit her legs like a crazy champagne cork and scrabbled in a frenzy of excitement. There go the clean jeans, Hettie sighed to herself, squatting down to take Doris’s head in her hands. “You naughty pup,” she said and laughed. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Keep her on a lead?” Alexander drawled sarcastically. He held the twine out, and the smile on his lips didn’t make it to his eyes. “Yours, I believe?”

Hettie stood up abruptly. How rude. She felt annoyance prickling at his tone. Rein it in, Hettie, she scolded herself. He’s your boss’s brother; be polite.

“Thank you, I will bear that in mind,” she told him snootily. “I would have been happy to collect her myself, you know. But I’m sorry if I’ve wasted your time. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going out. Nice to meet you, by the way.”

Alexander stared for a second. When he spoke, his voice was low and even. “It’s not a matter of who brought her back. This is a working farm, not a park. She shouldn’t have been running around loose in the first place. She’s only a pup.”

He bent to ruffle Doris on the head. Doris squirmed and simpered in pathetic adoration as Alexander barked an abrupt, “Good night,” and headed back up the track, leaving Hettie open-mouthed with a writhing Doris on the end of the string. “Traitor,” she muttered at Doris through her teeth, untying the lead and closing the door with her foot before Doris could make a run for it in pursuit of her new best friend.

Hettie was still simmering as she climbed into the Land Rover. What an arrogant prick—telling me it’s a working farm when I’m the one who bloody well works here, and he hasn’t been seen around the place in years. Strutting about like lord bloody muck when he’s only been back five minutes. Throughout the drive to her mum’s house, she allowed her righteous anger to smother any guilty thoughts that he might be a little bit right.

Doris was only a puppy. It was a working farm and not her land, even if James and Grace were generous enough to allow her unlimited freedom around it. Just goes to prove, she concluded the tirade in her head as she pulled up outside her mum’s, good looks count for nothing.

 *****

And now for my interview with Sam:

1. As I write romances from around the world myself, I’m interested to know what inspired you to choose your setting for your latest novel?

The Cotswolds are so quintessentially English! When I began writing A Bed of Barley Straw my youngest daughter was studying in Gloucestershire. My visits with her reignited my love for the gentle countryside and honeyed buildings. They form the perfect setting to reignite the love in my characters! (I should also confess that Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire may very well have played a part in the decision!)

2. When choosing your setting, how important do you think it is to have been to the place yourself?
I have visited the Cotswolds, and part of my book is set in Norfolk which I know quite well, but I don’t think it is essential. Draymere Hall is an imaginary place, and when the writing requires facts I have to research anyway. I think I would have to do so even if a novel was set in my home town.

We are blessed with the internet and Google maps to carry us anywhere in the world. Having said that, I do think that visiting a place is inspirational and adds depth to my description of settings. I do need a vibrant picture in my head. Part of the book I am working on now is set in an area of North Wales which I have never been to. I am hoping to get there to ‘sniff the air’ before I complete the novel. (Plus any excuse for a trip to that beautiful part of our Isles is good enough for me!)

3. Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?
I didn’t find it hard when writing A Bed of Barley Straw but that was my debut novel which I wrote because the story was asking me to. When I had completed the manuscript I admit that I was worried that no further ideas would be forthcoming! In fact, I had notions for two other works buzzing in my head. The difficulty for me was putting those concepts on hold to complete the sequel to Barley Straw. I had laid the foundations for new plot lines in the first book, and so far it’s going well, but hey I’m a novice at this! Time will tell.

4. How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?
I wrote the first draft manuscript in under four months, but I had recently left work so had time (and obsession) on my side. Of course draft one was followed by numerous re-writes, it was two further months before I felt ready to send the manuscript for editing. I didn’t actually count the number of drafts because, for me, it was more of an on-going process. To be honest there is a risk of it becoming perpetual! Even when I read a passage now (particularly out loud) I will find parts that I would like to tweak. But you have to put that full stop somewhere!

5. What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
The times when you go off your own work. It is so dispiriting. Writing is such a roller-coaster, at times I love it and yet a few days later I can be despairing. With no apparent reason for this swing in motivation. I must say it is easier this time, knowing that I will be frustrated and disenchanted at times, and that these feelings do not mean as much as I think they do at the time. Thankfully the love rolls around again.

6. What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
Oh golly – I love this question! When you are in the flow it is like reading the best novel ever with the added joy of choosing the outcomes yourself! And feedback from readers never fails to thrill me.

7. Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?
A Bed of Barley Straw and the sequel are contemporary romance, but if there is a recurring theme I would have to say it is the development of my characters and their reactions to life events. I like to dig deep into characters’ minds. Future books may or may not be romance, but I think this stripping bare of a characters’ psyche will always feature.

8. Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, where will that one be set?
I am mid-way through the first draft of my sequel which, like the first book, will be set around Draymere Hall in the Cotswolds. (There will be forays to London and North Wales!) Of the two books which are harrying me, one begins in London and spreads around the world. As for the other…I may revisit to Wales but I’m open to suggestions!

Thanks so much to Sam for being my guest today and for answering my questions so well.

IMG_1321 - Rev 2 (800x533)About Sam
Sam Russell was born in London but moved with her family to rural Essex at a young age. It was in the village that Sam grew up that she developed a life-long love of the countryside and horses which shaped her future, and now nurtures her writing.

Sam left school at 16 to train as a riding instructor and worked with horses for several years before marrying a farmer. Raising three children and running a livery yard on the family farm kept her busy for the next twenty years. Having always written for pleasure, it wasn’t until the youngest of her three children left home that Russell sat down to pen her Debut romantic novel – “A Bed of Barley Straw”.

Described as ”passionate, rural romance” and “delightfully frustrating” the story unfolds on an English country estate. The scenic pastoral surroundings; the village, the horses, the dogs, and the characters who live there form a backdrop to the fraught, tension-filled relationship which begins to develop between Hettie and Alexander.

When not writing, Sam can be found out and about on the farm, doing the farm accounts or buried in a book! She shares her farmhouse home with her husband two dogs and a cat, and thoroughly enjoys tempting her grown-up children back with hearty family meals.

Find Sam at:
www.RussellRomance.com

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A Summer of Reflections

DSCN0738As you may remember, I finished the first draft of my second book, Where My Heart Belongs at the end of July and I’m patiently waiting for the report on it to come back from the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). Since then, I’ve been having a break from all things writerly, giving me some time to reflect on what I hope to achieve during the next few months. More on that soon but for this post, I want to tell you about the research I did whilst on my holidays to Alsace this summer.

We were staying just outside Colmar, where my main character, Fran is originally from. We hadn’t been there for nearly twenty years but it was lovely on our first evening to find it pretty much the same.

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The area around this canal is known as Petite Venise and is so picturesque, especially on a lovely sunny evening. The bridges are always full of people taking photos of the Hotel Romantik and there are lots of lovely restaurants to choose from around the canal and the surrounding old town.

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My character, Fran, hardly visits the town at all, except to arrive and depart from the station and it got me thinking about including it in more detail somehow so I’m going to give that a bit of thought.

DSCN0791The next day, we visited the Jardin des Papillons which features in my book. According to my husband, we visited this Butterfly Garden the last time we were in Alsace too but I can’t remember it! It’s quite a bit smaller than I was thinking from the research I’d done beforehand and so I can’t imagine Fran and her friends staying there all day after all.

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There was a lot to do in the local area though so
perhaps she’ll go on to the Montagne des Singes, which we visited the following day.

AfteDSCN0863r the Butterfly Garden, we went to visit the fortified medieval church at Hunawihr which you may have seen in some of my pictures on my Facebook Author page before I left. This is the village where my character, Fran bumps into her former lover, Didier at the wedding of mutual friends. It is such a beautiful church and village that I feel tempted to move the action there, away from the Strasbourg area, where it’s set at the moment. I’m giving lots of thought to this while the manuscript is away. There is so much history here as well, which I know I could use to add depth to my story.

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The church was just as beautiful on the inside and as we were alone, I took a quick photo to remind me for the future. What a lovely place to get married!

DSCN1011We did spend a wonderful day in Strasbourg later in the week, renewing our memories of our time spent there nearly twenty years ago. We ate a wonderful lunch sat next to the canal, enjoying Tarte Flambée, just as Fran does when she goes home.

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Of course, we washed it down with a lovely glass of wine…or two 🙂 If you fancy having a go at making this yourself, I found a good recipe here.

DSCN1101We went back to the Château de Haut-Koenigsbourg for another of our days out. This is a medieval castle which you can see from all around the Colmar area because it is haut in every sense of the word. The castle was built in the 12th century and occupied a strategic position overseeing various trade routes until the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 when it was reduced to ruins by the Swedes and then abandoned. It wasn’t until 1899 that Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany decided to rebuild it to celebrate its return to German ownership and to turn it into a museum. It has been beautifully restored and is a wonderful place to visit. Sadly, the castle doesn’t feature in my book but I don’t need any excuse to visit a good castle!

The final day of our holiday was spent indulging my husband as it was his big birthday while we were away (you may remember I spent mine in Nashville earlier in the year!) This meant that we spent most of the day eating and drinking…so no change there!

I hope you’ve all enjoyed a wonderful summer, with at least some good weather wherever you are. Next week, please look out for my ‘Author Spotlight’ feature on indie author, Sam Russell and as always, if you have any comments for me, please do leave me a message below.

All photos © Copyright, Julie Stock.

Author Spotlight – Anne Goodwin

Today, in the last of my Author Spotlights before my summer break for August, I welcome Anne Goodwin to ‘My Writing Life.’ Anne and I met on Twitter and have come to know each other fairly well over the last couple of years so I am especially glad to be able to focus the spotlight today on her debut novel, ‘Sugar and Snails’ published just last week by Inspired Quill.
sugar-and-snails cover
Sugar and Snails – Anne Goodwin
The past lingers on, etched beneath our skin
At fifteen, Diana Dodsworth took the opportunity to radically alter the trajectory of her life, and escape the constraints of her small-town existence. Thirty years on, she can’t help scratching at her teenage decision like a scabbed wound. To safeguard her secret, she’s kept other people at a distance… until Simon Jenkins sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, and he expects Di to fly out for a visit. She daren’t return to the city that changed her life; nor can she tell Simon the reason why.

Sugar and Snails takes the reader on a poignant journey from Diana’s misfit childhood, through tortured adolescence to a triumphant mid-life coming-of-age that challenges preconceptions about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Excerpt from Chapter 6
“I’m sorry, Di.” Venus closed the dishwasher with a thud. “Of course you’d be furious when I tried to set you up with Simon. In fact, the signs were there from the day we met.”

I almost preferred her being cross with me. At least I knew where I stood. “I haven’t the foggiest what you’re on about.”

Venus turned on the tap above the sink with her elbow. “Of course I’m a tad disappointed you didn’t come out and tell me already.”

Sweaty palms and a sinking feeling in my stomach: symptoms of the fight-flight response reporting for duty. I counted five paces to the outside door. I could grab my bike and be home in under an hour.

“Come on, Di, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Venus plunged her hands under the gushing tap. “It’s obvious you’re gay.”

The idea was so preposterous, I had to laugh. “What?”

“Homosexual. Lesbian. What do you want me to call it?”

Ever since I was tiny, I’d hated to be categorised. Long before being introduced to labelling theory, I’d understood the tyranny of if you’re this you can’t be that: “What on earth gave you that idea?”

Venus rubbed her hands on a chequered tea towel and flung it into the washing machine. “One, the passionate friendship with – what was her name? – Geraldine, never mentioned, even in passing. Two, the football. Three, the fact that you haven’t been out with a man in nigh on twenty years…”

“Mu-um.” We both jumped as Josh poked his head round the kitchen door. “We’re waiting for dessert.”
Icy mist wafted from the freezer as Venus reached inside for a tub of ice cream. “Take that. We’ll be along in a minute.” As soon as the boy moved out of sight, she edged closer to me. “In fact it’s quite common for folk to repress their true sexuality. Of course, you’re brought up to think there’s only one way. If you don’t fit the norm, it takes a humungous amount of courage to admit it. You could waste your entire life contorting yourself into a mould that’s not for you. But, Di, isn’t it time to admit that it’s making you unhappy?” She turned away, embarrassed perhaps by her rambling homily, and unloaded a stack of gaudy painted ceramic bowls from the pine dresser. “You let him go without fixing up another date already?”

Two minutes earlier she was convinced I was gay. It was all very well for her. A married woman didn’t have to worry about making a fool of herself if she invited a man in for coffee. “It’s not easy, you know. Not at my age.”

*****

Please read on to find out more about why Anne set part of her novel in Cairo.

At a key point in my novel, Sugar and Snails, I needed to send my main character abroad for something that was unavailable in Britain. My research suggested Casablanca was the place, but I’d never been to Casablanca. I had been to Cairo, however, and while I didn’t think North African capitals beginning with C were interchangeable, I crossed my fingers and sent the Dodsworth family there.

Like my character, I’d been intrigued by the ancient Egyptian cult of the immortal since childhood. After seeing the Tutankhamen exhibition in Edinburgh, I was resolved to go to the Valley of the Kings and see the tombs where the treasures had been found. I saved up my annual leave, packed my rucksack and set off alone to travel around Egypt for a month.

Although I took plenty of photographs, and even kept a diary of my impressions, I never envisaged this as a research trip. My visit was twenty years prior to beginning my novel. Would my memories be enough?

There were further complications. I’d seen Cairo in the late 1980s, but my characters had to be there in the early 1970s. How different would the city be fifteen years apart? Furthermore, in 1973, as an early peer reviewer, Safia Moore, was to remind me, Egypt was at war with Israel. Although short lived, with military action limited to the Sinai, even moving the action forward a year (as I did) might reduce the novel’s credibility.

I put these anxieties aside as I absorbed myself in the writing. The story unfolded through three points of view: mother, father and troublesome child. Most of the Cairo scenes were written from the father’s perspective: a mixture of my own experience, internet searches and flights of imagination that suited his character. I saddled him with the bureaucratic frustrations of transferring money from home to an Egyptian bank. I had him jolted from sleep by the call of the muezzin and pestered by street urchins for baksheesh. I made him sweat in his bri-nylon shirts. For light relief, I led him into a cool café to drink mint tea from a glass without a handle and breathe smoke through a traditional water-pipe. I took the family for a celebratory dinner at Felfela’s, a famous Cairo restaurant popular with tourists and locals alike. Leonard’s Cairo became extremely vivid to me, and tremendous fun to write.

And then I edited out most of his scenes. In my final rewrite, I scrapped the parents’ strand of the novel and told the story solely from Diana’s point of view, moving back and forth between the present and her childhood memories. Although they still went to Cairo as a family, the bank, the restaurant and the smoky café all had to go. I was left with an office scene that could have been anywhere; another in the bazaar, shopping for souvenirs and a floor-length galabeyah, the traditional Arabic dress; and a pre-dawn excursion to Giza to watch the sun rise over the pyramids, which, although much discussed, was sacrificed on the final edit.

Yet I don’t see those cut scenes as wasted. Writing them helped me connect with the Cairo of the novel. Of course, it’s up to the reader to decide whether there’s enough left to convince them the trip to Cairo was real.
As to the question of whether my too-long-ago yet too late visit was sufficient research, there’s a view that there’s no need to go to a place at all to create a convincing setting. As David Nicholls said in an article in the Guardian, “research is as much about reassuring the author as persuading the reader”. As for the Yom Kippur war, I had it come up in a conversation that moved the plot along and hopefully doesn’t read as clunky.

In dedicating my novel to the coast-to-coasters and old school friends (the subject of my post on Norah Colvin’s blog later this week), I wasn’t conscious of any connection with people I’d met in Cairo. But on my visit there I enjoyed the generous hospitality of a former schoolmate who had married a Cairene as well as forging a new friendship with a woman from London I met waiting for the bus to the Sinai. It’s in celebration of similar friendships that I’m having two launch parties for Sugar and Snails. Unfortunately, the budget doesn’t run to holding a third in Cairo.

Have you ever visited Cairo? Have you ever made use of a setting you don’t completely remember?

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**Note from Julie: Interestingly, I have also written a guest post about the importance of setting on Susanna Bavin’s blog this week.**

4504662About Anne
Anne Goodwin grew up in Cumbria and studied Mathematics and Psychology at Newcastle University around the same time as the narrator of Sugar and Snails. She loves fiction for the freedom to contradict herself and has been scribbling stories ever since she could hold a pencil.

During her 25-year career as an NHS clinical psychologist her focus was on helping other people tell their neglected stories to themselves. Now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition is to write and publish enough novels to match her shoe size.

Anne juggles her sentences while walking in the Peak District, only to lose them battling the slugs in her vegetable plot. As a break from finding her own words, she is an avid reader and barely-competent soprano in an all-comers choir

Catch up with Anne on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist. You might also like to follow Anne on the rest of her blog tour.
blog tour week2
 

Author Spotlight – Heidi Swain

Today I am welcoming my good friend, Heidi Swain to ‘My Writing Life.’ Heidi and I met through The Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme and have been firm friends ever since. Heidi has just published her debut contemporary romance, ‘The Cherry Tree Café.

Cherry tree cafe green coverThe Cherry Tree Café – Heidi Swain
Cupcakes, crafting and love at The Cherry Tree Café…
Lizzie Dixon’s life feels as though it’s fallen apart. Instead of the marriage proposal she was hoping for from her boyfriend, she is unceremoniously dumped, and her job is about to go the same way. So, there’s only one option: to go back home to the village she grew up in and to try to start again.

Her best friend Jemma is delighted Lizzie has come back home. She has just bought a little café and needs help in getting it ready for the grand opening. And Lizzie’s sewing skills are just what she needs.

With a new venture and a new home, things are looking much brighter for Lizzie. But can she get over her broken heart, and will an old flame reignite a love from long ago…?

For everyone who loves settling down to watch Great British Bake-Off, the Great British Sewing Bee, or curling up to read Milly Johnson or Jenny Colgan, The Cherry Tree Café is a coffee-break treat.
Kobo
Apple iBooks
Amazon

Please read on to find out how Heidi’s Publication Day went:

Publication Day Dawns
When fellow author and friend Julie Stock asked me to write her a little something about my first ever publication day I jumped at the chance. I thought it would be the easiest blog post in the world to write, that the words would simply flow out of my fingers and it would be landing in her inbox within seconds of me sitting down to write. Not so.

Turns out publication day brings with it a complicated range of emotions and to be honest it is probably just as well I am out of sight of the world today because I feel sure others would fear for both my sanity and my safety!
Here’s a little glimpse at the range of emotions so far. There have been some tears, much laughter, a little hysteria, an episode involving a brown paper bag, uncontrollable giggling, some sobbing, a rapid drop in blood sugar and an overwhelming, immense feeling of sheer joy. And all that before nine fifteen in the morning. Not bad eh?

I would say to my author chums, you could have warned me but actually, I wouldn’t have wanted you to. I’ve been chasing this dream for literally years now so it’s only right and proper that I experience all this first-hand and raw, rise and fall with the peaks and troughs as it were.

I don’t know how this day will have ended by the time you read this, whether or not my fingers will have fallen off from struggling to keep up with all the social media madness but one thing I do know is that I wouldn’t be here were it not for the continued support, encouragement and faith of so many people. Family, friends, fellow authors and bloggers have all gone out of their way to champion and support both me and The Cherry Tree Café and for that two emotions shine through; love and gratitude. I love you all to bits and thank you wholeheartedly for helping me get here.

Thank you, Julie, for inviting me to share my scattered thoughts with you today. It’s been emotional.

About Heidi
image1 (1)Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

A lover of Galaxy bars, vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes contemporary fiction and enjoys the company of a whole host of feisty female characters.

She joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme in 2014 and is now a full member. The manuscript she submitted for critique, The Cherry Tree Café, is her debut novel published by Simon and Schuster in July 2015.

She lives in Norfolk with her wonderful husband, son and daughter and a mischievous cat called Storm.
Find out more about Heidi using the links below:
Blog
Facebook
Twitter

Author Spotlight – Clare Lydon

Today, I’d like to give a warm welcome on ‘My Writing Life’ to indie author, Clare Lydon.  Clare writes contemporary lesbian romance. Clare and I met at the Indie Author Fair at Foyles organised by The Alliance of Independent Authors back in April.

This-London-Love-CoverThis London Love – Clare Lydon
Could you make the leap and trust in love?
Kate Carter is a stylish and charismatic designer with the world at her feet – but that’s hard to remember when she’s single and everyone around her is annoyingly coupled up. Meanwhile, florist Meg Harding is all work and no play – far easier than trying to clear up the debris of her last relationship and move on with her life.

When Kate and Meg meet, their attraction is instant and undeniable. But will Meg be able to patch up her past so she can grasp the future with confidence? Can Kate make the leap and trust that this London love is worth a shot?

Two jaded hearts, one death, a tsunami of flowers & family overload. Get set for a sparkling romantic comedy, packed with British wit, played out in the UK’s love-struck capital city!
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Excerpt
“Hello stranger — anyone would think someone had died.” Vicky gave Kate a hug and invited her in.
“Yeah, well – I’ve just sorted the flowers, so that’s one less job to do.” Kate followed Vicky into the kitchen and hung her jacket on the back of a dining chair as she sat down.
“Has Mum been on to you today?”
“Onto me? All over me more like,” Vicky said, filling the kettle. “Her and Aunty Viv were round this morning to see the boys, then she’s been calling me about catering arrangements — like I’m the fountain of all knowledge on the subject.”
Kate smiled. “You did do Dad’s.”
“That’s what she said! But it was five years ago.” Vicky paused. “Besides, I don’t think food is a top priority at funerals. People aren’t turning up for a gastronomic feast, are they? It’s not a bloody wedding.” She grabbed two mugs from the mug tree and set them down on the counter-top. “And anyway, did Uncle Mike have any friends?”
“Oh, you’re going to hell,” Kate said, laughing. “Along with me, by the way. I just went to organise the flowers and my oh my, the florist is smokin’ hot.”
Vicky let out a hoot of delight as she made the tea.
“I mean, properly gorgeous. But straight too, obviously.” Kate shrugged and took the biscuit tin from her sister.
Seconds later, Vicky plonked herself opposite Kate at the kitchen table. “Why straight too, obviously?” Vicky swept some of her long hair out of her face and eyeballed her sister.
“You know,” Kate replied. “She’s a florist.”
Vicky gave Kate a look. “And that means she’s straight because?”
“How many lesbian florists do you know?”
“Seriously?” Vicky looked amused.
“Look, I know loads of lesbians and not one of them is a florist.”
“So that means no other lesbians can be either? You’re very close-minded sometimes.” Vicky took a Jammy Dodger from the biscuit tin and bit into it. “I don’t think being a florist is a barrier to being a lesbian.”
“I think it might be,” Kate replied, deadpan. “I’m just saying that lesbians tend to be in certain occupations. Teachers, nurses, designers, writers, mental health, that sort of thing. Florists aren’t high on the list.”
Vicky took another bite of her biscuit. “And you tell me I’m prejudiced.”
Kate pouted. “I’m allowed to say these things, I’m a lesbian.”
“If you say so.” Vicky paused. “But more interesting than whether or not Ms Florist is gay is that you’re interested in her. And you haven’t been interested in anyone since Caroline.” Vicky gave Kate a double thumbs-up. “Does she have a name?”
Kate fluttered her eyelids and smiled. “Meg.”
Vicky snorted again. “Look at you, Ms Giggly! Did Meg have a wedding ring on?”
“She did not,” Kate replied, then blushed. “But I imagine florists wouldn’t wear them because they get their hands messy all the time.” Kate shrugged. “Anyway, nothing’s going to happen apart from Meg’s going to give us some lovely flowers for Uncle Mike’s funeral. And then I’ll never see her again and she can go back to her boyfriend — let’s call him Phil. The end.”
Vicky stuck her bottom lip out. “You’re so cute when you like someone,” she said. “Anyway, are you staying for dinner?”
Kate thought about it. “What you having?”
“Probably a Chinese takeaway. Just don’t report me as bad mother of the year, okay?”
“Guides’ honour,” Kate replied, holding up her three middle fingers.
“You weren’t even in the Guides, you liar.”

*****

Please read on to find out more about Clare’s writing life.

Thanks so much to Julie for inviting me onto her blog to take part in the author spotlight. Being a keen country music fan and romance reader, I’m thrilled to be able to share my writing life here!

People sometimes get mixed up with the genre I write in – contemporary lesbian romance. They think it’s erotica, but it’s not – rather, my books are chicklit with lesbian leads. My characters are sassy and full of life, constantly tripping over their own feet but always managing to get back up again. My books have an over-riding message of love and hope, with a healthy dollop of British wit thrown in.

I published my first book, London Calling, in February 2014 and have just published my third, This London Love – and what a crazy, breakneck learning curve the last 18 months have been! What I’ve learned is that writing takes discipline, organisation and courage. Discipline to get the words down and edited in the first place (and to stop watching ‘Come Dine With Me’ in order to do so); organisation to get the book finished, the cover and book trailer done, and the marketing plan executed; and courage to put a small part of yourself out there every time.

Because no matter what any writer tells you, inside every novel is a little piece of their heart and soul.
Lesbian romance is a genre still dominated by American writers, but the Brits are giving them a run for their money of late, which is great. I grew up reading American stories, and that was one of my goals in writing from a British perspective – to give UK readers a chance to read about somewhere they recognise. My first and third books are set in London, my second in Devon.

This London Love is a spin-off of my first book, London Calling. My debut did pretty well considering I was an unknown, and was compared (rather flatteringly) to iconic Richard Curtis films like ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Four Weddings’. After that came out, I got a huge amount of emails asking what happened to Kate, a secondary character in the book, so I decided to write Kate’s story in This London Love. I’ve lived in London for 16 years and love it fiercely, so I hope my third novel captures London in all its glittering glory and holds true to my debut’s feel-good and entertainment factor. That was the aim at least!

I’m currently about 20k words into book four, and have also started a Christmas story that I hope to release this year as a novella. Writing about snow and tinsel in sweltering July has been fun, but I’m a huge fan of Christmas, so it’s on with Phil Spector’s Christmas album and away we go!

About Clare
Clare-Lydon-LV-cropClare Lydon is a Virgo, a Spurs fan, a coffee lover and a craft beer fan – especially the ones with the cool logos. She lives in London with her wife, watches far too much ‘A Place In The Sun’ and in her next life, wants to come back as Rayna James.
Follow Clare on Twitter: @clarelydon
More at: www.clarelydon.co.uk

Writing Your Second Book

DSCN7835Well, as many of you will know if you’ve liked my Facebook Author Page, I have been stuck in my writing cave for some time now trying to finish writing my second book. For those of you that don’t know, this is the one that I wrote during NaNoWriMo in November 2013. I had no problem writing my 50,000 words that month and was so pleased that I’d got a second story on the go, even while I was still editing From Here to Nashville. In April 2014, I came back to Book 2 and while I was a bit unsure about the story so far, I was still pretty happy with the idea and so I wrote another 30,000 words. Yay!

Then From Here to Nashville  took over and I had no time to look at book 2 again until much later in 2014. When I did, I was certain that I no longer wanted to tell this story. I liked my main characters and a few of my minor characters but apart from that, not much else. I couldn’t even contemplate scrapping it so the only other option was to rewrite it, picking out what I liked from the 80,000 words already written and dumping what I didn’t like. Having made that decision, I then buried my head in the sand for the best part of the following five months because I couldn’t face the prospect of sifting the right words from the wrong ones.

As an indie author, I can make my own schedule so you’d think that this decision was a sensible one. I thought I could take my time, publish and promote From Here to Nashville and when things were a bit quieter, I could just go back to book 2 with a clear head. However, in the meantime, I signed up for my second year on the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme which meant that I could submit this second book for a professional report just like I did with From Here to Nashville. The only problem being that the deadline for submission is the end of August. In January, that seemed like loads of time. At the start of May, it seemed like a hair’s breadth.

It was at this point that I realised it was make or break time. So after our Nashville holiday, I made myself a plan. I would finish working through all the old material by the end of May and then I would commit to writing at least 1,000 words every day with a deadline of completion by the end of July. This would give me time to at least read it through myself before sending it off.

Suddenly, I felt set free to just write, even though I still hadn’t written a detailed outline. I had got something in place though and I just kept refining it as I went along. I am very pleased to say that I have been able to write a minimum of 1,000 words a day, sometimes, as many as 3,000 words in a day and I feel exhilarated to have reached this stage. I finally broke 80,000 words yesterday, something I honestly thought might never happen when I decided to rewrite. Still, I have made it and I am steaming towards the end now, well ahead of schedule.
I had hoped that I might finish the first draft before attending the RNA’s annual conference next weekend and it is still possible but I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I still have plenty of time 🙂 When I read Michael Cairns’ guest post for my blog last week, I realised that this is what writing professionally is all about: building a habit. If you can do that, preferably (in my case) with an outline along side while you write, it can only get easier to write more.

Once the report comes back from the RNA and I have dealt with those edits, I will begin my editing process going through the drafts which I hope will be a bit quicker this time round. Then it will be time once again for professional editing, proofreading and cover design!

Thank you so much for reading as always and if you have any tips for the writing of your second book, do let me know in the comments below. Have a great writing week!

P.S. You can now buy signed paperback copies of From Here to Nashville from me directly! Just click on the sidebar 🙂

Author Spotlight – Michael Cairns

Today, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome my friend, Michael Cairns to ‘My Writing Life.’ Michael writes science fiction, horror and fantasy novels.

13 Roses 1-BeforeThirteen Roses Book 1: Before – Michael Cairns
The flower seller sets up his stall on Embankment every day. Every day, he will serve only one customer. That person will be on the edge, teetering between heaven and hell, and it is up to him to steer them in the right direction.
But this week, it will be different. Because this week, someone is screwing with the flower seller. While he struggles to figure out who it is, and why they are doing it, something far bigger is occurring, something that will change the world forever.

A plague is about to strike mankind that will reduce them to mindless zombies, bent on nothing more than the regular consumption of flesh. The flower seller is charged with the task of saving humanity, a task he neither wants, nor cares about.

Without him, mankind is doomed. With him, they might just be worse.

But who is the flower seller? Why does he try to save the subjects? And how the hell is he going to save the world?

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

*****

Please read on to find out more about how Michael has built his amazingly productive writing habit.
Julie and I met through Twitter and she’s been lovely and super supportive of my challenge – no surprise there – so I jumped at the chance to guest on her fabulously useful and practical blog. I have some strong opinions about creativity and art, but I’ll try to rein them in today and just stick to the useful stuff.

First, a teensy bit of background. In the latter part of 2014, I met for coffee with a friend of mine. We both write, though she struggles with the first draft and I struggle with the editing. I mentioned, in passing, that I had 15 unedited manuscripts at home, idling away on my hard drive. Once she’d finished kicking my butt, she suggested I do something with them.

Over the following month I came up with the entirely suicidal idea of releasing all fifteen of them in 2015. It would mean a great deal of editing and a complete shift in my writing and publishing systems, but I decided to give it a go. To make things interesting, I decided I’d also write a million words of original fiction, publish a short story every week on my blog and vlog every day throughout 2015 to track my progress.

I’m still alive. I’m still sane, mostly, and progress so far, is good. But the challenge has only been possible because of my habit. No, not that sort of habit, though I’ve felt driven towards one a few times this year 🙂
Today I’m going to share my process for becoming a successful writer and creator.

This all begins with one simple step: Build the Habit.

I cannot stress enough how important this is. Habits come in many guises. Some authors will tell you to put aside a safe period of time in which to write. Others will assert the necessity of writing every day. I agree with both of them, but writing things like that down on a piece of paper doesn’t make them happen. Just like trying to get my four year old daughter to clean her teeth, I can ask her a hundred times but it won’t happen spontaneously until it becomes a habit.

So, begin with one month. You don’t have to choose the same time every day. You don’t have to choose a certain amount of time every day. All you have to do is sit at your keyboard/typewriter/cave wall and write something. You have to do it every day. For a month.

Easy, right?

Below are four key steps to making the above happen.
1. Enjoy it: So you begin to build the habit, but something’s getting in the way. Every time you sit at your keyboard, you want to bang your face against the desk until the blessing of unconsciousness relieves you of the terrible burden of writing.

There’s a really simple way to get around that. Write something you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be serious. It doesn’t have to be ‘literature’. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It can be that cosy murder mystery you’ve been secretly dreaming of. You won’t always be writing it. You’ll write many things in your life, but while you’re building the habit, make it fun. Enjoy it. There’s a hidden upside to this as well. You might have your heart set on a romance – sorry, couldn’t resist – but discover that you love writing something completely different. If all you write is romance, how will you know?

2. Start small and be persistent: As authors, most of us have grown up reading books, paper bound and of a certain thickness. We all dream of creating something similar. Few of us, upon deciding to write, have simply finishing as our greatest goal. And yet, for so many people, finishing is where it goes wrong. So, in this first, habit forming, month, start small. Start simple. Two people. A conflict. A deeper conflict. A solution. A resolution. Maybe a dragon. Okay, so the dragon isn’t strictly necessary, but the rest is all you need. That might take 1000 words, or 10,000 words or 100,000 words, but I’d aim for making it at the small end. Get to the end, even if what you’ve written feels slight and breezy. You’re forming a habit, not writing “Gone With The Wind”. And hey, if you do, you probably don’t need to worry too much about the habit.

So start small and finish it. The habit will be cemented through the sense of completion. ‘I have a habit and it’s led to me creating this.’ That’s a much more powerful statement than ‘I have a habit and it’s led to a bunch of half-finished short stories and the first three chapters of this mad Victorian/cyber punk mash up that’s gonna be awesome in a couple of years…’

3. SMART targets: Boring perhaps, but essential. Just in case you’ve missed the wonders of SMART targets, you’re looking to create a target that is:
Specific
Measurable
Achievable
Relevant and
Timebound

You have a month, so your time limit is already set. As for the rest, my advice would be to remember point three. Start small. This isn’t NaNoWriMo. It’s a great idea, but for me it fails in execution. Why try to write a novel in a month? You’ve got all the time in the world. What NaNo should be instilling is a writing habit, but because everyone’s rushing so hard to reach that magic 50K figure, the joy is swamped by the pressure.
So how does 500 words a day sound? That’s just over a page in Word. It’s achievable, you can measure it simply enough, it’s specific and it’s entirely relevant. You’re writing every day and you have something clear to aim for.

I’ve plucked 500 words out of thin air. You can set your own target. I do somewhere between 4 and 5K each day, but I’ve been writing every single day since 1st Jan 2013. Every. Single. Day. I don’t have superhuman powers, I have a really militant, wonderfully fun, creative habit. That’s all.

4. Be militant: I know you have the willpower to achieve this habit, but do you have the necessary cruelty? 🙂 I’m kind of joking. What do you do when someone comes into your bedroom/workspace/classroom/cave and says ‘Can I just check something with you?’ How about when your child comes and says ‘Please play with me, I’m wasting away from a total lack of fun.’ That’s a tough one, but I say to them the same thing I say to everyone. ‘Can’t play, creating.’ Actually, I don’t say that at all. I normally manage a strangled cry accompanied by much hand waving. It’s that or, ‘I need a name, give me a damned name, any name that isn’t Dave.’

The point is, this is writing time. If they don’t get the message, lock the door. If they come at it with axes, flee to a coffee shop. Or the park. Or your car. Anywhere you can be undisturbed. That goes for phone calls, texts, tweets, Facebook, all social media, too. Be antisocial and write! Just to give you an idea, I write 500 words in about ten minutes, so it’s not long. To begin with, it’ll take you much longer, but not that much longer and it’ll get quicker. Be militant, be strong. Buy ear plugs if necessary. I couldn’t honestly argue against the purchase of a scary clown mask and a chainsaw as well, though maybe that’s just me…

Those are the key points. This will work for any form of creativity. Whether your dream is to be an author, a painter, a musician or anything else, building that habit is key to success. I hope it’s helpful, and thanks again, Julie, for having me.

I’d love to know what you think of these points and if you have any to add. Also, if you decide to start the process now, please let us know so we can cheerlead and send you virtual chocolate.
Cheers

About Michael

Michael-Cairns-headshot-low-resMichael Cairns is a science fiction, horror and fantasy author, teacher and musician. He was born at a young age and could write even before he could play the drums, but that was long ago, in the glory days – when he actually had hair.

Michael loves pineapple, chocolate, playing gigs and outwitting his young daughter (the scores are about level but she’s getting smarter every day).
Michael is currently working hard on writing, getting enough sleep and keeping his hair. The first is going well, the other two…not so much.
You can join his mailing list here: http://cairnswrites.com/sign/up

Find out more about Michael here:

http://cairnswrites.com

http://www.twitter.com/cairnswrites

http://www.pinterest.com/michaelcairns

http://www.facebook.com/cairnswrites

 

Why I’ve Gone Back to my Free WordPress Site

bald-eagle-489080_640The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that although my website looks quite similar now to the self-hosted one I created just a few weeks ago, it is in fact my good old WordPress.com site with a few tweaks. If you read my previous post (now deleted) about my migration to a self-hosted WordPress site, you’ll know that it was relatively painless in terms of moving the content from one place to another. I spent a lot of time faffing around with the design, choosing a new theme, installing a header and then loading the widgets but that too, was quite straight-forward.

However, I soon found that in order to change even the slightest thing about the design, I was often having to get to grips with coding. I am lucky in that I am quite good at the technical aspects of most things and I’m also lucky enough to have a husband who knows a lot about all that stuff too but although I was enthusiastic at the beginning, it really did start to wear me down. For example, I wanted to centre my Twitter feed box and my Facebook likes box. For this, I had to submit a support ticket to WordPress.org and wait for them to come back to me with the CSS (Cascading Style Spreadsheet) code. They did come back with it and once I had it and knew where to put it, it was easy but when I found myself having to do this for every little tweak, it soon became dull.

The main issue I encountered though was with transferring over my social share counts, by which I mean, the figures underneath each blog post showing how often they’d been shared on social media. After a lot of querying, I found out that it just isn’t possible to transfer them from one URL to another because Twitter and Facebook will only associate the shares with the original URL, even though my site was redirected from the old URL to the new one. I did come across a coding fix but it was so complicated that even my husband couldn’t get his head around it. I therefore decided to go back to my old site before I write too many more posts and lose the counts on them! When you are a small blogger/author, your social proof is so important and I’ve spent so long building it up that I don’t want to lose it. I have kept the domain name but I can’t see any way that I can realistically use it now sadly.

One of the other things that tipped the balance for me, was that last Monday, my web host company was ‘attacked’ by some technical force or other (clueless!) and this meant that my site was down for a large part of the day. Of course, this never happens with WordPress.com and all at once, I started to see all the things they are doing for me behind the scenes. You don’t normally see all that because they’re dealing with it. Spam? Don’t even notice it but if you’re self-hosted, you have to set yourself up with Akismet or someone else and for that you need an API key and when you’ve worked out what that is, another day has gone by. I cannot complain at all about Tsohost’s customer service, they were great but I don’t want to have to deal with my site going down and all the associated messages that go with that.

So I reversed all the steps: I exported my content and then imported it again to WordPress.com. Then I cancelled my site redirect with no charge as it had been less than a month since I put it in place. I used the Jetpack plugin to migrate all my subscribers back again successfully. I had no idea that the Jetpack plugin was one of the WordPress ones until I was ‘speaking’ to a WordPress ‘Happiness Engineer’ (that really is what they’re called). I was speaking to them because I had left a message about my disappointment in finding that I couldn’t transfer over all my social shares. I wrote that I thought I had read somewhere that this was possible so they got back to me to ask me where I’d read it. We discussed it a bit further and then, quite out of the blue, they sent me some upgrades free of charge because of my useful feedback. I told you they were called Happiness Engineers and by the way, there are about 50 of them tending to the needs of over 80 million subscribers 🙂

So, it’s back to normal for me and I have got my life and my writing time back. The moral of the story is that you should either self-host from the beginning with a domain name or you really shouldn’t bother, not if you care about your social shares anyway. If they were to sort that issue out, I would try again but otherwise, I’m going to concentrate on what I set out to do two years ago – my writing life 🙂 Thanks so much for bearing with me. Oh and if you need any coding done…