Author Spotlight – Susanna Bavin

This month, it’s my very great pleasure to welcome my writing friend and fellow RNA member, Susanna Bavin, to my blog for my Author Spotlight feature. Susanna’s debut novel, The Deserter’s Daughter, a 1920s saga, was published earlier this year and I can thoroughly recommend it as a cracking good read!

The Deserter’s Daughter – Susanna Bavin

1920, Chorlton, Manchester. As her wedding day draws near, Carrie Jenkins is trying on her dress and eagerly anticipating becoming Mrs Billy Shipton. But all too soon she is reeling from the news that her beloved father was shot for desertion during the Great War. When Carrie is jilted and the close-knit community turns its back on her as well as her mother and her half-sister, Evadne, the plans Carrie nurtured are in disarray.

Desperate to overcome private shock and public humiliation, and with her mother also gravely ill, Carrie accepts the unsettling advances of well-to-do furniture dealer Ralph Armstrong. Through Ralph, Evadne meets the aristocratic Alex Larter, who seems to be the answer to her matrimonial ambitions as well. But both sisters put their faith in men who are not to be trusted, and they will face danger and heartache before they can find the happiness they deserve.

Amazon

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And now for my interview with Susanna:

1. Can you tell us more about what inspired you to choose the setting for your current book and how you went about your research?

The Deserter’s Daughter is set in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, to the south of Manchester, and I’m enormously proud of readers’ and reviewers’ comments about the strong sense of place. My second saga for Allison & Busby, A Respectable Woman, is set in the same area and readers will recognise one or two landmarks.

As for the research – well, Chorlton is where I grew up, as did several generations of my family before me, so I know the area very well. I studied old photos to make sure that I got the details right about how the various buildings, roads and landmarks looked 100 years ago. I also used the maps drawn by my late father. Dad was very artistic and he used his skills with watercolours and calligraphy to produce beautiful maps of Chorlton as it was when he was a boy. He even made notes about the shops he remembered and who lived in which house in his road.

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

Hard to think of ideas? Never! But the way I go about developing ideas has changed. Gone are the days of knowing how the story ends and then letting the plot and characterisation develop and find their own way there.

When Allison & Busby bought The Deserter’s Daughter, they also wanted to see the synopsis for a second saga. It was news to me that you could write a synopsis before you wrote the book. Didn’t you have to finish the book first so you knew what to put in the synopsis? Apparently not. I wrote a detailed synopsis and A&B bought A Respectable Woman on the strength of it.

My agent and my editor both told me I didn’t have to stick to the synopsis if the story took off in another direction during the writing, but – aside from a couple of minor plot details – I did keep to the synopsis.

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

I don’t think there is a single answer to that. The first draft of The Deserter’s Daughter was written while I was a teacher. It took 15 months of writing at the weekends and in the school holidays, but it wasn’t until I had produced the fourth draft that I attracted an agent and the published version is the fifth draft.

Being a member of the RNA New Writers’ Scheme was a big help. That August 31st deadline certainly worked for me. The two novels I submitted after The Deserter’s Daughter were both written in under a year. I respond to deadlines! Of those two books, one has now had two drafts and needs a third to finish it off; while the other has had three and needs a fourth.

4. What is the hardest part of writing for you?

All I need is the right first line and off I go; but sometimes I spend ages agonising over that perfect first line. I know I shouldn’t do that. I know I should just get writing and change it later if needs be.

5. What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

There are many answers to this, so I will take the first three that sprang to mind.

Firstly, I love the physical act of writing. I love putting pen to paper. I am more creative with a pen in my hand than I am composing straight onto the screen. Also, writing by hand makes the writing completely portable and I can take it anywhere, such as…

Secondly, I love writing on the train. Is that weird of me?

Thirdly, I love the way ideas develop simply by being written. Writing can surprise you and take you down unexpected paths. I once wrote a scene in which the heroine went to her friend for help. I started the scene fully expecting the friend to say, “Yes, of course I’ll help. Tell me what you want me to do,” but instead she said, “No – and how dare you ask it of me?”, which came as a big surprise to me as well as to my heroine.

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

One theme that fascinates me and that I particularly like to explore is the legal position of women in the past and the social impact this had on their lives. The most obvious and basic example of this is a woman’s marital status. To be single was to be an old maid and therefore looked down on, and probably dependent on your father or brother to look after you; while all aspects of marriage were weighted heavily in the husband’s favour. I have a book of Victorian documents – letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings etc – and one is about a lady whose stolen handbag was recovered by the police, but when she went to the police station to claim it, she wasn’t allowed to have it. Her husband had to go and claim it, because technically it was his.

Something I have never forgotten from Anne of Avonlea was one of Anne’s friends – Jane, I think it was – saying she wanted to be a widow. A spinster was an object of pity or scorn; a wife could be pushed around by her husband; but a widow, as well as being an object of respect, could do as she pleased. The perfect solution!

7. I know you have finished your next novel. Can you tell us anything about it?

With pleasure. It is called A Respectable Woman and is a story of second chances – in life, in work and in love. The respectable woman of the title is Nell Hibbert, a young back-street housewife in 1920s Lancashire. When she discovers that her husband is leading a double-life, she runs away to make a fresh start for herself and her young children in Manchester, where her neighbours and fellow-workers believe she is a respectable widow. Nell realises various things about herself in the course of her story; that she is ambitious and highly capable; that love can sneak up on you; and, hardest of all, that the past is difficult to run from.

There have been various happy moments this year, starting with signing with Allison & Busy in January; but possibly the most surprising moment was when I found A Respectable Woman available for pre-order on Amazon a whole year before it will be published.

8. What does success as a writer look like to you?

As a former librarian, and coming from a family of library users, I am thrilled that The Deserter’s Daughter is in public libraries. One of the high-points of this year was finding it in my local library catalogue. The paperback edition won’t be published until next spring, so I hope that any readers who are interested will request it from their library. Can I also say how chuffed I am to see my book as a hardback? Many books go straight into paperback these days and I’m proud that mine is starting life in hardback.

I’m also delighted that The Deserter’s Daughter has recently been released as an audio book. I have listened to audiobooks for years and always have one on the go. I used to have a job that involved a lot of driving and being paid to drive round while listening to stories felt like a great perk. Now other people will be listening to my book, read by Julia Franklin, and the thought of that is just wonderful. If anyone would like to listen to a snippet, here is the link:

Thank you, Julie, for inviting me onto your blog. I’ve enjoyed answering your questions.

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And thank you, Susanna for a lovely interview!

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About Susanna Bavin

Susanna Bavin has variously been a librarian, an infant school teacher, a carer and a cook. She now lives on the beautiful North Wales coast with her husband and two rescue cats, but her writing continues to be inspired by her Mancunian roots. The Deserter’s Daughter is her first published novel. Her second 1920s saga for Allison & Busby, A Respectable Woman, will be published in June 2018.

 

 

Find out more about Susanna here:

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What I learned from Day 2 of the RNA Conference 2014

DSCN8845Following on from my post last week when I had only just returned, bleary-eyed, from the Romantic Novelists’ Association annual conference, I wanted to share some highlights from day 2 with you this week.

Liz Harris – The Path to Publication

I started the day with a session by Choc Lit author, Liz Harris, who I have come to know online and so I was very keen to hear about her ‘Path to Publication.’ Liz has a great sense of humour and she managed to make us all laugh while telling us some vital tips for running our own writing lives. The first was about using a social media management tool to help maintain your online presence without it having to take over your life. She recommended Tweetdeck for this, which I have looked at since, along with Hootsuite but I find them both quite difficult to use personally. I want to see my timeline and my notifications and at the moment, I just have both pages open all the time but I can see that as things get busier for me, I will need to give in to one of these tools to help me. Liz went on to advise that once you have submitted your book to publishers (if that’s the route you’re taking), you should get straight on with your next book. This is partly because most publishers will take a while to get back to you, at least a month but usually longer, and if they like your first book, they’ll definitely want you to have another one ready.

Ruston Hutton – Make your Book Better, Working with an Independent Editor

The next session I attended was by an editing company called Ruston Hutton. As I knew I would be looking for an editor soon, this was another session which I expected to find very useful and it was. As editors, they said they will tell you where your story shines and where it needs work because they want to help you get the best out of your writing. They advised writers to do their research before choosing their editor, to know what their tastes are and to get some references from other customers if at all possible. They like to build long-term relationships with their customers, knowing their goals for their writing and working with them to achieve it. They told us that they work to a one month turnaround once work is submitted to them and that they charge approximately £500 – £600 for an edit. I was very impressed with Emily and Jenny and their professional attitude to their work. Sadly though, my own budget doesn’t stretch to this cost. If yours does though, you should consider getting in touch with them.

Jean Fullerton – ‘Don’t Lose the Plot – Developing and Refining Successful Plot Structure.’

As a prolific author herself for Orion, Jean has had lots of experience and she imparted her knowledge with a good dose of laughter, making quite a difficult subject a lot easier to understand for the new writer, like myself. She told us that she sees stories as being made up of a rainbow of elements: characters and the relationships between them, plot, conflict, tension, sub-plot(s) and setting. She explained that once you have introduced your main characters, you should give them at least three problems, one major and a couple of minor ones. She said that your inciting moment should include what threatens your characters both physically and emotionally. She also recommended that you should limit your secondary characters, being careful not to have too many so that you take away from your hero and heroine. Another useful point she made as she went through the typical story arc is that your final turning point or ‘black moment’ should make your reader shout ‘No!’ I don’t think I have quite achieved this yet in FHTN but it was a good way to describe it and it made me think. The final point Jean made that I found especially useful was that there should be no more than a few pages from your resolution to the end of the story.

Debbie Young – ‘You Need Never Walk Alone’ – ALLi and support for Indie authors.

The last session I wanted to mention from the second day was led by Debbie Young from the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). Debbie talked about how ALLi can help you if you’re planning to self-publish. It costs about £40 to join as an Associate Member and once you join, you can access the details of partner members who are vetted before they can join. These include companies who provide professional services for authors, like formatting, editing, proofreading and cover design, making it much easier for a new author to find someone reputable without the risk involved in doing it on your own. There is also a private Facebook forum for ALLi members which is full of useful tips for newbies. Debbie is also responsible for writing the ALLi daily blog which you can subscribe to whether you are a member or not.

So, it was another fantastic day and just reading through my notes again has made me realise how much I learnt. You may not know that you can attend all RNA events as a non-member, with tickets only costing a little more than they do for members so if you think you might be interested in attending next year, when the conference moves to London, do look up the RNA website to find out all the details. Thanks for reading once again. Please  do leave a message for me in the comments or ask me anything you’d like to know more about from the conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Tips to Help you Show More and Tell Less in your Writing

On Friday of last week, I came home to find my manuscript had returned from its assessment by one of the professional readers of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). I wanted to wait a while before opening it but my children were having none of that 😉 They waited with bated breath as I tore open the envelope and read the first paragraph of my three page report, summarising the reader’s opinion of ‘From Here to Nashville.’ When I looked up with a big smile on my face, they knew the coast was clear and we all breathed normally again. I read the whole report through then and was very pleased with how positive it was. Of course, there are things I need to work on but they are manageable and mostly, the sort of things I was expecting.

So in my blog post today, I want to pick up on one of these things which is all about ‘showing, not telling’, a phrase I know you will all be familiar with, just like me. The trouble is that a lot of the time, you read about these things that you’re not supposed to do when writing but you do them anyway because you don’t know how to do things differently. I have been reading up about it over the weekend and found that the advice is not so much that we should ‘show, not tell’ as writers but that we should try and achieve a good balance between showing and telling. Sometimes, you will need to tell your readers some information in order to move things along. All writers do it, you’ll see it all the time when you’re reading. The trick is not to do it too much and to get in as much showing as you can without overdoing it. Easy, right?

The best article I read about this topic was on Emma Darwin’s blog ‘This Itch of Writing.’ You can read the article here. She refers to ‘showing’ as ‘evoking’ instead, making the reader feel as though they’re in there with the characters. Instead of ‘telling’, she refers to ‘informing’, when as the narrator, you need to cover some ground. I find this a much clearer way of looking at the whole thing.

1. I feel/I felt

So how do you know when you are ‘telling/informing’ too much? Well, if you’re writing in the first person like I am, you will find the phrases, ‘I feel’ or ‘I felt’ popping up a lot if you are ‘telling’ too much. For example, at the beginning of Chapter 2 of my novel, I’ve written:

‘My mind turned immediately to last night and I felt warm and fuzzy all over when I thought about our fantastic gig and how the crowd had given us such a positive reaction.’

2. Watch out for those adjectives

I must admit to wondering how I could show that she was feeling warm and fuzzy, instead of telling the reader that she is. The advice I was given for this example was to write something like ‘my tummy flipped over when I thought…’ Using a verb allows me to get rid of those adjectives that have crept in there too.

3. Use the senses

Next, I need to ‘show’ what warm and fuzzy looks like so that the character’s emotional experience is conjured up for the reader. One way of doing this is to use the senses to describe her feelings. You don’t need to use every sense, that would be overdoing it but maybe choose one or two and work with that. I decided that I could rewrite this sentence as:

‘My mind turned immediately to last night and my tummy flipped over at the memory of our gig. I could still hear the crowd’s applause, see their smiling faces and soon, my heart was pounding once again as the thrill of it all came back to me.’

This has made me think more carefully about the whole meaning of the phrase to ‘show, not tell’ and I think I’m better equipped now to redistribute the balance between the two in my manuscript. However, it is going to mean another complete read through with this new hat on so I may be some time 🙂 I hope you find this useful and that it helps you when looking at your current work in progress. Thanks for reading as always and have a good writing week. Do let me know in the comments below what you think of my sentence above. I’ll be happy to take on any feedback.

 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

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

Journal

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

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

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

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

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

I have now taken to writing down all kinds of details. I took a group of children to the cinema the other day and as soon as I got out of the car at the Leisure Park, my nose was assaulted by the smell of fried food. This is something that has happened to me many times before but I’ve never made a note of it until then. This time I did because the sounds, smells, sights of everyday life will add depth to your description of settings and your reader will be familiar with them too. These everyday things may also prompt other memories for you as the writer, taking you back to something you might well have forgotten until the moment that you made a note of the new memory. Our minds are full of memories of course but they might be buried deep within and our minds work in very unusual ways. It’s a bit unnerving for example, the way that my husband remembers some events we’ve shared over the last nearly thirty years we’ve been together and I have no memory of those things at all, and vice versa. Other things will be crystal clear for both of us. So if you write it down, it will be there forever.

I am now using my journal for all kinds of different things and I find it great fun. I note down words I like and why. I write down the context I’ve heard them in as well, especially if it’s an exotic context because I may use both the word and the context one day; I write down words, phrases, speech patterns I hear people use in conversation; I make notes about the way people behave; I make notes about what I hear on the radio or what I read in the newspaper or magazines. If you’re finding it hard to get writing, using your journal for a short while can often be a good way to get you going as well.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why you should attend a writing course

DSCN8178At long last, I have attended my first writing course and I wanted to share with you how useful it was for me at this stage in my writing journey. The course was run by a company called Write Stars and was one of many that they run throughout the year. See their website here:

http://www.writestars.co.uk

This particular workshop was run by Katherine Garbera, a prolific romance novel writer, published by Harlequin with more than 60 novels to her name, and the objective of the course was to help us introduce more passion to our writing. We were a small group and Katherine encouraged us all to share what our current writing projects were before we began. The atmosphere was very positive right from the start with everyone expressing interest in each other’s writing activities and Katherine was so encouraging of us all.

The format for the workshop was that Katherine would introduce an element of romance writing, for example, how to write the first kiss between your characters and then she would read out one of her own examples to give us the idea. We then sat and wrote our own version and we had plenty of time for this. Not one of us sat there unable to write. The explanations Katherine gave were so helpful and carefully structured so as to enable us to get straight on with it and her years of experience really showed. We then shared our writing with the rest of the class and listened to their feedback. I found it so heartening to receive positive comments and it was such a confidence boost!

We also had lots of time to ask questions of Katherine and of each other and I felt we bonded very well as a group. It was so good knowing that we all shared the same insecurities as writers. I felt I learnt a great deal on this course and I have already put quite a few things into practice since returning home.

So if you have been thinking about attending a course, I would encourage you to get on with it. You will learn something, you will interact with other like-minded people and you will probably make some new friends. Not only that but the whole act of sharing your writing will hopefully make you realise what a good job you’ve been doing so far and that will boost your confidence enormously, which has to be a very good thing 🙂

Have you been on any good writing courses? Let me know in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading 😉