Improving Your Writing Craft

The Punishment of Sisyphus

At the beginning of October, I had my first round of edits back on my From Here to Nashville sequel novella, Over You, with suggestions as to what I might rewrite before submitting it for the final, final edit. As I wrote this book some time ago, before The Vineyard in Alsace in fact, there were a lot of things that I thought I had improved on since then. So I got to work and sent it back to the editor again, hoping that I had put most of those rookie errors right.

Then while I was waiting for that one to come back, my latest novel, let’s call it The Bistro, came back from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. This is a first draft that I had sent in for my final New Writers’ Scheme assessment. I told one of my writing friends that I thought this was the best first draft I had ever written. Famous last words! The report I had back is nine pages long and very thorough, and also very supportive, but I was gutted to see the same comments coming up about where my writing isn’t quite hitting the mark. You know: show don’t tell, ‘goal-motivation-conflict’, make sure you describe the setting etc. And my heart sank because I really thought I had worked on all those things and cracked them. Still, I left it for a few days while I tried to think positively about where I stand with my writing craft four years down the line.

And just as I was getting there, Over You came back with its final edits as well. Many of the comments are about things I really should have got to grips with by now – or at least, I feel I should have. Everything I have to do is manageable but it still leaves me feeling like I’m not making any progress, and that is so disheartening. It has left me wondering whether if I was traditionally published, with an editor guiding me, I might actually be a better writer by now. Don’t get me wrong, I know in my heart that I am a better writer in many ways, but the progress really does seem slow sometimes 😦 I keep reminding myself that a first draft will need work, and so will the second, third etc, and that the final draft is the one that needs to be the most polished, so if it’s not perfect yet, it doesn’t matter. And that’s what we use an editor for of course – to help us produce the most polished version we can. I can at least say that I have been very lucky with the majority of editors I have worked with.

I have picked myself up enough to make a start on the novella edits from tomorrow and then I’m going to push on and write the next, and final, From Here to Nashville novella which will tell Jenna’s story. Then I hope to publish them both together early next year. After that, I will come back to the next novel and hope that with the passage of time, I will feel better about my report and not so vulnerable about my weaknesses as a writer.

I’d be interested to know whether anyone else feels like this when they get their edits back and whether, if you’re traditionally published, you have an editor who is more like a mentor for you?

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News

As you know, in September, I auditioned to be added to the WI’s directory of speakers in my region. At the audition, I was really nervous but it seemed to go well. I have heard back since the last time I posted to say that I have been accepted into the directory and I am really pleased about it. I have also received my first booking but incredibly, it is for January 2019! I thought it was a mistake at first but it’s not – they just like to plan ahead! Still, I’m looking forward to it and I’m glad I applied.

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Marketing

As you may know, I did a Kindle countdown deal last month for From Here to Nashville, which saw my debut novel reduced to 99p. I tried to get a BookBub featured deal for it but to no avail – apparently, they only accept 5% of the submissions they receive so that did make me feel a bit better! I did have some success with some smaller promotion companies but although I sold a fair number of copies, it wasn’t earth-shattering. Many people supported me though, especially on Facebook where I also did a promotion, and for that I was very grateful. I also sent out a newsletter to my subscribers (you can join it here if you’d like to be kept up-to-date with what I’m doing), and this was well-received and widely shared.

I have now taken FHTN off its automatic re-enrolment to KDP Select and towards the end of the month, I’m going to expand distribution to other platforms again to see what happens. However, I should say that this year, since The Vineyard in Alsace came out, I have sold five times as many copies of From Here to Nashville as I did last year, so that is good news.

I have had a number of guest appearances on other blogs since my last post was published here. I was featured on the Love Books Group blog for their #FavFive feature and I was also on Delightful Book Reviews talking about a typical day in my writing life as an author. Not only that but The Vineyard in Alsace was also reviewed in France magazine and it was a favourable review too!

 

 

 

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Social

Next week, I will be giving a talk at our monthly Society of Authors meeting about how I use Scrivener in my writing. Scrivener’s not for everyone but it works for me and our group of writers is very interested to know more about it. If you’re engaged in NaNoWriMo at the moment, Scrivener is usually offered as a prize if you make it to the end. I bought my copy for my half-price way back when I did NaNoWriMo and it has been worth every penny.

I’m also meeting up with my local RNA group for lunch this coming week. Next week, I will be attending the RNA Committee’s Christmas lunch to which I’ve been invited as the Deputy Editor of our quarterly newsletter, and after that, it is our Winter Party in the evening. The week after that I’m meeting another RNA friend for a writerly catch-up as well so will be keeping myself busy, and full (!), with all these social activities.

In the final week of November though, I’m going to The Society of Authors’ AGM because they’re holding some workshops as well, one on ‘Building Your Brand’ with Joanne Harris no less (swooning already!) and one called ‘Beyond the Book’ which is about innovative ways to market your book and reach new audiences. I will report back on all this activity next month.

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As always, another busy month lies ahead and that’s all before we even get to Christmas. I hope all is going well for you with your writing. Please do leave me a comment below and tell me how you’re getting on. Thanks for reading!

 

From Here to Nashville reduced to 99p!

From Here to Nashville is on promotion this weekend and reduced to just 99p until 11pm on Sunday, UK time. Here’s the link for you to buy your copy wherever you live: From Here to Nashville. It’s reduced on Amazon UK and US.

If you haven’t read it as yet, you might want to snap up a copy now before the sequel novella is published very soon. I’m planning a special offer for all subscribers to my newsletter on that novella as well so if you want to be up to speed on the story before then, now’s your chance! You can subscribe to my newsletter here.

If you know someone else who might fancy a read of a country music romance, please do share this post to them. The blurb is just below, along with some stunning reviews.

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Can Music Really Bring People Together?

Rachel Hardy dreams of being a successful country music singer in Nashville’s Music City, four thousand miles away from her lonely life in Dorset.

When Jackson Phillips, an independent record label owner, encourages her band to audition for a nationwide ‘Open Mic’ competition, she decides they have nothing to lose.

But when she starts to fall in love with Jackson, the stakes suddenly get higher and she finds herself with a great big dilemma on her hands. Should she abandon her dream and take the easy way out or should she leave the life she has always known behind and take a gamble on a man who has personal demons of his own?

Follow Rachel and Jackson as they learn to trust in love again and to see whether music really can bring them together.

Get your copy here.

*****

What readers are saying about From Here to Nashville

‘This book gives what we want from a contemporary romance, escapism with… a story that is interesting and which maybe isn’t quite as predictable as you might expect.’ TheTBRPile.com

‘It kept me entertained from beginning to end. All in all, a great début and I look forward to the next book!’ Annie’s Book Corner

‘An entertaining contemporary romance with a country-music feel to it and characters easy to connect with right from the first page.’ Reviewed the Book

‘From Here to Nashville by Julie Stock is one of the best books I have read in 2015!! She had me smiling from ear to ear throughout the book. I knew I was going to like the book because of my love of country music and romance novels. However, I had no idea how much this book would actually touch my heart. There was even a part in the story that I shed a tear – a happy tear.’ Heidi Simon Book Reviews.

 

Thanks for reading and if you do decide to buy, I hope you enjoy it!

 

September Brings a Fresh Challenge

My Indie Writing Life

I’m going to be trying a different format for my posts from here on, making them a bit more like a diary of what I’ve been up to between posts. I hope you find it useful 🙂 You may also have noticed that I’ve changed the title of the blog – it seemed like as good a time as any!

 

 

Writing

This is what I imagine Sam to look like *swoon*

The good news is that, as promised, I started editing Sam’s Story this week, one of the sequel novellas I’ve written to From Here to Nashville. I don’t really enjoy editing as I may have mentioned before (!) because I find it much harder than writing the first draft. When you’re writing the first draft, you can let your imagination run wild but once you get to the second draft and you already have a story in place, it becomes much harder to make changes without it having an impact on lots of other parts of the story.

This was the first book I wrote in third person so it was always going to be a challenge for me and I sent this one in to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme for its first read in 2015, two whole years ago now. My writing has changed a lot since then, improved even and so it is hard to deal with some of the simple mistakes I was making back then. For example, head hopping, where you switch from one character’s point of view to another’s right in the middle of a scene, making it unclear who’s talking. My RNA reader mentioned this and so did one of my beta readers so I didn’t have to wonder about whether they were right – if more than one person mentions it, it’s clearly an issue and you just have to accept it. And for the most part, it wasn’t actually that hard to deal with but I was annoyed with myself for having done it. However, I think I have moved on from this now and will be able to spot it more easily in the future.

The hardest thing to deal with has been the fact that, as always in my happy ever after world, my characters fall in love far too quickly. As Sam is only just getting over the loss of Rachel to Jackson, it’s important that he doesn’t come across as shallow when meeting someone new, and perhaps falling in love on the rebound. This means that I have to make it all take a bit longer – I have this problem all the time – and in having to do that, I have to change lots of other things as well.

Unfortunately, what I find when I reach a difficult point with editing is that I just stop doing it altogether. It’s simply too hard and I will never be able to master it, is what I tell myself as my excuse for not doing it. I have been trying to do an hour a day but honestly, by the end of the first week, I have the attention span of a gnat and I’m starting to get very frustrated with myself. I’m forcing myself to stick with it because I want to get it finished but it really is proving hard!

Upcoming WI Audition

The other thing I’ve been working on this week is my 15 minute talk for my WI audition next Saturday. They are very strict about timings and I won’t have a full 15 minutes so obviously, I can’t do the full talk I would normally do. I started off by paring down my usual talk about my self-publishing journey to the bare bones confident that this would be more than enough. Then I practised saying it out loud using a stopwatch only to find that I had the grand total of just three minutes! So I have spent the whole week adding content back in – this was only supposed to be a flavour of the talk, not the whole thing! I have now reached seven minutes and I am desperate to get to 10 but I can’t think what else to put in. I never thought I would struggle to find words 😉 Anyway, I will have to plod on as best I can and finish it because the audition is next week and I want it to go well of course.

Marketing

I have been experimenting with Amazon ads again this week for From Here to Nashville with some success but it’s not been brilliant. It is a constant challenge to keep the momentum going with sales of both books really and I feel that I am now approaching the end of the peak for The Vineyard in Alsace so I need to think carefully about what to do next.

Social Life

I am looking forward to another meeting this week of my Society of Authors group, where we’ll be discussing the topic ‘What Makes a Good Story?’ I will also be attending my first RNA AGM this week now that I am officially an independent member. The meeting also includes a talk by Julie Cohen on Pacing and how not to let your reader get bored, which I’m really looking forward to as Julie is always interesting and helpful. I’m travelling down to London with another RNA friend so it will be good to catch up and be writerly for an afternoon 🙂

Freelance Work

Finally, I started a proofreading job this week for an author who writes courses on Teachable and who contacted me as a result of seeing my name in connection with the Open Book festival. It’s funny how you make these connections quite out of the blue but I’m very glad I did.

 

Thanks for reading. Please do leave me a comment if you’d like to talk about anything I mention in the post. It’s always good to chat 🙂

An Eventful Summer in my Indie Author Life

As always, it has been a busy time since my last post. I have an update about the talk I gave at my first literary festival which took place at the end of July; news of how book 2, The Vineyard in Alsace, continues to do well; progress with book 3, and finally, what I have coming up.

Open Book Literary Festival, Hitchin

It has been a bit of a while since my last blog post because I have had such a busy summer in my writing life. As I told you then, I was going to be taking part in my first every Literary Festival in Hitchin, near where I live. Before the event, I was incredibly nervous, not knowing whether anyone would turn up for my talk about my self-publishing journey. Well, the day dawned and it was rainy, just for a change. Our festival was mostly indoors but it would have been nice to have a bit of sunshine! Still, my talk was a great success with lots of people attending and a knowledgeable, interested audience who asked good questions.

We had a good turnout for our first ever festival and I spoke to a lot of people on the day. I definitely noticed an impact on my ebook sales afterwards too, and it looks like we will be doing the festival again next year. So all in all, a good thing to have done to raise awareness of my books. And look at this lovely cake made by Carol Deacon especially for the occasion!

 

The Vineyard in Alsace

My second book continues to sell well and if you are a regular visitor to my Facebook page, you’ll know that I’ve had some wonderful guest posts and interviews over the summer. First of all, I was on the lovely Tara Greaves’ website in her excellent A Look Behind the Book feature. You can read it here. Shortly afterwards, Tara posted a glowing review of my book on Amazon, which I was delighted with:

A story that warms you, like sitting outside in the late evening sunshine

More recently, I was on Linda Hill’s blog here, with a post about why I write Happy Ever After endings. I got a lot of feedback about this post because I think it struck a chord with a lot of readers. One of my writing friends even chose this theme for his MA in Creative Writing! Linda has also very kindly offered to read my book so I’m looking forward to reading her review sometime in the near future when her TBR pile has gone down a bit!

I also heard this month that my book is going to be featured in Living France magazine’s October issue as a result of me sending a paperback copy to one of their editors for review. I have absolutely no idea whether they liked it but I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’ll let you know when I find out.

I had another milestone with The Vineyard this week when I woke up one morning to find my book in the top 100 Holiday fiction list on Amazon. It’s still hanging on in there for the moment, which is wonderful to see.

Book 3

Once the LitFest was over, I had to knuckle down in my writing cave to finish the first draft of my third book by the deadline of 31st August. It was a bit touch and go at times but eventually I did it and sent it off to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme for its first professional read. By the time I got to the end, I honestly felt it was the best first draft I’ve ever written but only time will tell! It will be interesting next year when I’m no longer a member of the NWS and I will have to find someone else to fulfil that function. I will be a fully fledged Independent Author member by then and will have to find my own way with that first assessment of each manuscript. There are no shortage of people offering that service but they want a lot of money for doing so. Anyway, that’s something for another day 🙂

Coming Up

Next week, I will begin editing (I will, I will) the follow up novella I wrote for From Here to Nashville some time ago. I have booked this in with my editor so I really can’t afford to put it off any longer. Anyway, I do want to get on with Sam’s story now because I hope to publish it before the end of the year – ambitious, I know. Ideally, I would get it off to my editor before book 3 comes back and demands my attention. When it’s ready to go out, I have a plan for its launch that I’ll be looking for people to get involved with so keep an eye out for my next post!

 

I think that’s all the news for now, and is probably quite enough to be going on with. Do leave a comment here on my website if you’d like to or alternatively, contact me on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks for reading. And if you’ve recently read either of my books, do please take a moment to leave a review – they’re so important for indie authors especially 🙂

 

A Month of Milestones

When I wrote my last post, some time ago (ahem!), I told you all how pleased I was to have found out that I was eligible to join The Society of Authors as an ’emerging author.’

Since then, I’ve attended a couple of meetings of my local group in Hitchin and as a result, I am now going to be taking part in the first ever Open Book Literary Festival in Hitchin on the 29th of this month. I will be giving a talk entitled ‘My Journey from Complete Beginner to Self-Published Author – How and Why I Self-Publish my Contemporary Romance Novels’ and my books will also be on sale that day to festival visitors. I am both very excited and frightened to death by the prospect of giving a talk at a festival but I have to start somewhere and I’m really glad that I’ll have the opportunity to fulfil this milestone.

In the run-up to the festival, there’s going to be lots of publicity:

  • we’re on the SoA website as an event!
  • We’re going to be on display in Waterstones in Hitchin in their local authors window.
  • We’re going to be featured in Writing Magazine and also in lots of local press.

In the course of trying to arrange for my books to be available for Waterstones to order directly if anyone asks, I found that my first book, From Here to Nashville, is actually available on their website already! Who knew? However, The Vineyard in Alsace is not there. Both my books are listed on Nielsen and I’ve had orders for the first one through Gardners, one of the two main book distributors so I’m just trying to join up all the dots to see if I can make this happen for my second book too. All in all, it is going to be an exciting time. If you are in the area or nearby that day, please do come along – it would be lovely to have some support in the audience. Tickets are available here.

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I have just come back from a lovely holiday in Menorca, during which I really felt like I got away from it all, even though I took my computer with me and we had Wi-Fi access. I took my laptop mainly because I needed to carry on writing my next book whenever possible. I have reached a real sticking point with it around about chapter 10/11 and despite rewriting several times, I’ve just not been able to move forward. I spent a lot of time talking over the issues in the book with my husband on holiday and that did help to clarify the story. I was just about moving on when we came home again! I really need to maintain that discipline as we go through this month and next to get my book finished if I can.

The pressure behind this happening is because I have to submit it to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme by the end of August and I value the feedback I get from that report so much that I really want to meet that deadline. This is especially important this year because… drum roll please… I will be graduating from the NWS this year to become an Independent Author of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. My second book, The Vineyard in Alsace, has done so well that I have now met all the criteria in terms of books published, sales and profits, that I am eligible to leave the NWS behind. I am so proud of this achievement that I have reached all by my own effort and although I will be sad to leave the NWS, I will be very honoured by my new membership status.

This is yet another milestone for me, along with the fact that my second book has now sold more copies in just over three months than my first book has sold all together (although I’m still very proud of Nashville too). I have to confess to being a little obsessed by the data on my Kindle Publishing dashboard (the other reason I took the laptop) but it’s so satisfying to see those sales rising every day! Last month was incredible with my sales reaching dizzying new heights and there’s even been a knock-on effect with extra sales of Nashville, the like of which I haven’t seen since I first published it. I did also try my hand at a couple of Amazon Ads for Nashville which I believed helped things along. I have thought about doing a free deal but I just can’t bring myself to do this so I’m always exploring various book marketing ideas to keep those sales coming in.

I’m looking forward to seeing what July will bring in my writing life and will report back on that next time! I have a couple of lovely romance authors being featured on my blog this month as well. Firstly, Helen Pollard on the 16th, who was my very first guest on my Author Spotlight feature many moons ago, and then Karen King on the 23rd. I’m looking forward to sharing their news about their new books with you. Until next time, thanks for reading 🙂

One Month Since the Publication of Book 2

As I’m writing this, it has been a month since I indie published The Vineyard in Alsace, my second full-length novel. It has been a really good month with sales reaching higher than those for From Here to Nashville in its first month two years ago. While I’m really pleased about this, of course, I wish I knew how it had happened so I could do more of the same!

I’ve been a guest on some lovely blogs again but no more than last time, although perhaps the reach of those sites is greater than the ones I guested on last time. I have tweeted here and there about my book but I hate the idea of constantly tweeting about my book so it hasn’t been very regular. I’ve taken part in the RNA’s weekly hashtag on Twitter though which leads to an incredible amount of RTs from the generous members of the group so that has probably helped somewhat. I haven’t written a blog post myself in the past month so that can’t be it! I have shared my Facebook Author Page posts a bit more to my personal timeline and I also tried boosting one of my posts for a while. I have also sold some of my paperbacks independently but not that many. I’m starting to get a few reviews in now but again, not that many yet. I did get into the top 10,000 ranking on Amazon, which was a lovely feeling.

So I am at a loss as to what is helping the book to sell so well. It is only for sale on Amazon at the moment so I guess that Amazon’s algorithms must be doing something for me. It may be them showing my new book to readers who have bought Nashville and perhaps that’s leading them to buy The Vineyard in Alsace as well. It’s tempting to say, whatever it is, I don’t care as long as it’s selling. But you can guess that I’m not going to. I’ve been giving it all a lot of thought, as you can tell. Conversely, sales of my first book have stopped dead, which is understandable but still makes me feel sad. I recently updated the back matter in From Here to Nashville to include the detail of my new book and I think it might be time to put Nashville up for a Kindle Countdown free deal. At last, all those articles I’ve been clipping about running a free book promotion will come into their own!

My prime reason for doing this would be to try and get more reviews for From Here to Nashville. It’s said that when you get to 50 reviews, the Amazon algorithms kick in somehow and start to promote your book more for you. Whether this is actually true, I don’t yet know but I’d love to get more reviews anyway. I have 30 at the moment and have been stuck there for a long time – if you’ve read From Here to Nashville and haven’t yet reviewed, please go and write one for me now! Just click here.

So I’m going to spend some time doing some research into the best approach to running a free deal on Amazon. Then I’ll upload the new version of From Here to Nashville and see what happens. In the meantime, I shall keep my fingers crossed that the good sales continue. If you haven’t bought your copy of The Vineyard in Alsace yet, you can get your copy here. So many people have told me that they read it in one sitting, they were enjoying it so much so you might like to go and see what all the fuss is about!

Thanks for reading and do leave me a comment if you have any advice from running your own Kindle Promotions. All advice gratefully received 🙂

Publication Day #2 and Lessons I have Learned!

thevineyardinalsacePublication Day of my second novel The Vineyard in Alsace has come at last and I have managed to co-ordinate the Kindle and the paperback versions to be published at the same time, something I didn’t quite achieve first time round. As regular readers will know, this book has been a long time coming but it’s here now, indie published again, and I couldn’t be happier.

Some of you may have read my interview with my good writing friend, Susanna Bavin which was posted this weekend. Sue has been such a good friend to me, always cheering me on and boosting my confidence. I am truly grateful to her for her support. If you haven’t seen the article, do pop over and have a read if you can.

On Friday 10th March, I will be appearing on the French Village Diaries website, talking about my love of France, which I am really pleased about. It’s so lovely to discover a new website dedicated to some of my favourite things. So if you like all things French as much as I do, don’t forget to pop on over and have a look. Jacqui will also be posting a review of my book a couple of days later so look out for that. You can always get your own copy now though, if you can’t wait! Just click here.

Next weekend, I will be on fellow romance author, Abbey MacMunn’s blog, talking about the inspiration behind The Vineyard in Alsace, and the Monday after, I will be on my friend, Sam Russell’s blog, talking about how I came to write a book about a vineyard from the rustic viewpoint! I have another couple of guest blogs coming up in the near future as well but no dates for those as yet.

Amazingly, it has only been seven weeks since I first spoke to the designer and proofreader I used this time round because, as my book was already edited, it was pretty much ready to go into the final phase. However, I have learnt a few lessons since last time and I thought it would be good to share them with you.

  1. In retrospect, it would have been better to get the proofreading done and out of the way before engaging the designer. This is because when you come to sort out your paperback version, you can’t get the number of pages of your book until you upload your final mansucript, and your designer needs this for the width of the book spine. It may sound obvious to some people but if I came across this last time, I’d forgotten!
  2. If you have a foreign language in your book, like I do, and you want your proofreader to check it, make sure the one you want to use is available by speaking to them a couple of months before. By the time I spoke to my original choice of proofreader, she was all booked up. To be fair though, I hadn’t planned this very much in advance so I didn’t even know two months before that I was actually going to indie publish again. I found another wonderful proofreader but she was very honest in telling me that she wouldn’t be able to check the French. I got round the problem but it’s a lesson learned for the future.
  3. As many of you will know, I write in Scrivener which is so great in terms of generating a .mobi file. It also generates Pdf files which can be uploaded directly to CreateSpace but I really couldn’t work that out last time so I uploaded a Word document instead. This time, I was determined to do the Pdf to save some time. However, a Pdf is like a photo of your file and you can’t adjust things, like empty lines at the top of the page or widows and orphans. I have reviewed my file using CreateSpace’s online reviewer tool (when it finally decided to work for me) and it looks acceptable but with hindsight, I wish I had just gone for the Word option. A proof copy is on its way to me and if I really can’t stand it, I will swap the files over. All this adds to the time it takes to do everything, of course!
  4. I put my book up for pre-order again as I did last time and was surprised to see that I can now see a report at any time on just how many pre-orders I’ve got and how that compares with last time. There’s a lot of talk about whether it’s worth putting your book up for pre-order and my conclusion is that it is worth it. It generates a bit of a buzz and a sense of expectation and even if you don’t sell many, at least you can see sales coming in 🙂 I’d be interested to know what you all think about pre-orders from a sales point of view and as a reader? Is it a Marmite situation or do you think it doesn’t matter either way?
  5. The other thing that I did last time was to create a book trailer using Stupeflix. I think a book trailer is a good thing to do but crikey, it’s so time consuming! I’ve looked at a few other software programs like Animoto for example but didn’t find them any easier so the date for the book trailer is TBC 😉

And so, there it is. All in all, it has been a bit of an easier ride this time round but it’s amazing how much you forget in two years. I really do hope to publish my FHTN novella this year so I hope it will all remain fresh in my memory till then!

Thanks for all your support and to everyone who has bought my book especially!