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

*****

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.

*****

And thank you, Susanna for a lovely interview!

*****

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:

Twitter

Website

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?

*****

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.

*****

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!

 

 

 

*****

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.

*****

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!

 

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.

*****

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 🙂

Giving My First Talk as an Author

DSC_0352

Me in full swing!

My first author talk at my local library has now been and gone but I am still glowing from the wonderful evening I enjoyed there. The library staff were very kind in helping me set everything up beforehand and I had a good sized audience on the night with lots of friendly faces. The atmosphere was so welcoming that I hardly felt nervous at all, which I had really expected to. I ‘present’ all the time in my day job but it’s quite a different feeling when you’re talking about yourself. I know from speaking to other writers that the very idea of standing up in front of an audience scares them half to death! If you can do it though, giving an author talk really is worth it.

I had tried to get round my nerves by being very well-prepared and I think this paid off on the night. The plan was for me to talk about my debut novel From Here to Nashville and also my journey to self-publication. I wrote out what I was going to say over a couple of weeks, adding to the script as I thought of new things. Then I transferred it on to index cards, as advised by lots of other writing friends, and I practised to see how long it was, including me reading out an excerpt. All in all, it was 27 minutes long when I practised but on the night with a few questions, it was more like 45 minutes. I also videoed myself at home to see if I had any glaring habits that I wanted to avoid!

Once I had put the talk together, I had a chat with a writer friend of mine who also had a library talk coming up last week. She suggested playing some country music as people came in which I thought was a great idea and some of you may remember of course, that I even had a Spotify playlist already set up of the songs Rachel sings in the story so I added that to my plan. My friend also suggested asking the audience questions to involve them in the talk and to stop it from getting too formal so I did that too.

In the end, these were my headings:

  • How I started writing.
  • The Nashville TV series and how it inspired the idea for the story. Read out my blurb.
  • Writing as a ‘Pantser’ and discovering NaNoWriMo along the way, which led to me investing in Scrivener.
  • Discovering and then joining the RNA New Writers’ Scheme and my first report back from them.
  • Finding an editor, designer and proofreader.
  • Deciding to self-publish rather than trying for a traditional contract.
  • Publication to Amazon and later other platforms. Read an excerpt. Talked about trip to Nashville.
  • Marketing post-publication – social media activity, including this website and blog.
  • My next books.
DSC_0353

Talking to another RNA member who happened to come along!

One of the things I had to think about very carefully was what technology I would be able to use. The library is all set up for the internet but it isn’t working there currently. This meant I had to do screenshots of the things I wanted to show which could have been boring on their own. So I added in some content to my presentation to go with the shots as well. There were a fair few pictures of my books and I also had a table set up with my books and marketing materials on as well.

The library organised a projector and screen for me and we arrived early to set it all up and make sure it worked correctly. I had to take our bluetooth speaker from home so that we could play the music because the library didn’t have any speakers. I made a list of all the things I would have to take with me and checked and double-checked it before going!

As I said, everyone was so welcoming that I was fairly relaxed from the start. My daughter took some videos of me and my husband took some photos so we have something to remember it all by. I suppose I will have to give in and let you see one of the videos now!

I took a few questions afterwards as well over refreshments and I also sold signed copies of my books. In fact, I sold more copies than I have ever done before at an event of this kind!

So, all in all, as I said at the beginning, it was a very good experience. It was really hard to approach the library in the first instance but once I did, they were very encouraging and happy to help me with promotion and setting up along the way. As I hadn’t had the courage to send out a press release when I first published From Here to Nashville (I know!), this was a good opportunity to write one so that I know what to do next time round. So there were many benefits to doing this, not just the obvious ones.

I suspect that most libraries would welcome local authors with open arms as they try valiantly to keep people coming through their doors so if you love your local library as much as I love mine, then why not give it a try? You might be surprised at how much fun it is! Do leave me a comment below to tell me how you feel about the idea or maybe you’ve already done one so please share your experience 🙂

Kicking off 100 Happy Days with my Birthday

DSCN8244Well, yesterday was my birthday and it was such a lovely day with my family that I decided to start my 100 Happy Days Challenge. We have so many great things coming up that the time seemed right. We went to visit a wonderful National Trust property yesterday in Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, called Peckover House. The gardens were superb and the house was a little gem from the Georgian era, with an interesting history. I really enjoyed the visit and I felt I came away with a few new story ideas at least. My family spoilt me and we enjoyed a good day together, watching a soppy rom-com when we got home and then sharing a delicious home-cooked meal in the evening. My husband and I cuddled up to watch the latest episode of Nashville before bed, bringing the day to a perfect close. I have such a lot to be thankful for.

On the writing front, I have now finished the proper second draft of my debut novel. Yippee! It still needs so much work but I really feel I need help to complete what I hope will be the final draft. I’m going to send it to my writing friend, Cat, to read and to another of my friends who I know will give me an honest opinion. I expect them to have a lot of comments which I will have to take on the chin and try to incorporate before I send my manuscript off to the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). As I have signed up to do Camp NaNoWriMo in April, I will have to manage my time very carefully to get all these things done. I do have until the end of August to send my manuscript off for the RNA New Writers’ Scheme Assessment but I’d rather send it before then if I can.

My aim then is to send my second draft off to my readers today and move on to some planning for Camp NaNo which starts a week tomorrow, eek! I can then work on my Camp NaNo project for ten days before we go off on holiday to New York and a further fourteen days when I get back which should be enough time to meet my goal of writing 25k in April. Then, in May, if not before, I should be able to do a final polish of my RNA manuscript, sending it off by the end of the month at the latest. Phew! It feels really good to lay out a plan like this to motivate myself to keep moving forwards.

I was lucky enough to receive two lovely writing related presents for my birthday which will also help to keep me motivated. One was a subscription to Writing Magazine which is full of all kinds of helpful articles for the new writer like me. The second was a place on another of Write Stars’ writing courses which I’ll be attending this coming Saturday. I’ve also signed up to ‘attend’ a webinar this Thursday on getting the most out of Scrivener which I’ve been using for a while but I know I could get so much more from.

So another busy week beckons and I think I’m ready for the challenge. What have you got coming up on the writing front this week? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying to Write a Synopsis for the first time

forest-175221_1920The New Year started very well for me when I found out that I had been accepted on to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme. This means that I have until the end of August to submit my manuscript for assessment, which will follow by the end of the year. So I have plenty of time to get my first draft ready, right? Well, not if writing the synopsis is anything to go by 😦

I have written before about whether there is such a thing as too much advice:

https://juliestock.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/is-there-such-a-thing-as-too-much-advice/

There is no doubt that the internet is a wonderful research tool but sometimes, it is really difficult to see the wood for the trees. As you know, I finished reading my first draft aloud at the end of last year. Since then, I have been inputting those edits to my manuscript and now that I have finished, I have turned my attention to trying to write a synopsis in an effort to see where my plot-holes are. You may remember that I wrote my first draft as a ‘pantser’, which is why I now have plot-holes!

I have got into the habit of bookmarking all the useful articles I read about writing so I can come back to them later and today, I decided that it was time for me to pick out all the articles I had found about how to write a good synopsis. There were at least a dozen articles in total when I started re-reading them, although I am sure there are many more out there. There may even be a whole wood 😉 I have read them all and distilled them down to the ones which I found to be the most helpful for me (the trees). I really would encourage you to read these three articles at least. I have kept some of the other links on my ‘Website Links I find Useful’ page (see tab above).

http://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/dont-shrink-from-synopses/

http://janefriedman.com/2011/10/25/novel-synopsis/

http://www.caroclarke.com/synopsis.html

So now all I have to do is go and write it! I am starting with my scenes and trying to précis these down first. This was already a great shock to me because I have 157 scenes in total, whereas the received wisdom is that 60 – 80 is normal for a novel :o) And so the learning continues…

Tune in next week to see how I got on 🙂 I hope you find these articles helpful but if you have a tried and tested method for writing a synopsis, please do let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.