Liv Thomas on fulfilling her promise

We are delighted to be joined again on the blog today by Liv Thomas. Liv wrote her debut novel, Beneath an Irish Sky, with fellow writer Val Olteanu, under the pen name Isabella Connor. Beneath an Irish Sky was released by Choc Lit in August of last year and their second novel, An Irish Promise, is due for release in November. All this, despite the fact that Val and Liv have never met in person!

Liv’s long held dreams of becoming a writer took a while to come to fruition, as it was only after she received praise for some Lord of the Rings fan-fiction that she decided to make it a reality.

a_LivCongratulations on the success of Beneath An Irish Sky and the completion of the next novel in the series, which we know is due for release in November.  Please can you tell us a little bit about An Irish Promise?

An Irish Promise is the story of how bullying affects a young girl, both in childhood and as an adult. She returns to the village in Ireland where the bullying took place, set on revenge, but of course, romance gets in the way in the form of a handsome Aussie.  The novel also deals with how the results of their actions impact on the bullies themselves.

Is writing a second novel really as difficult as people say and just like the notoriously difficult second album that musicians often describe?  

On the whole, I think it was easier this time because we’re more aware of what’s required.  We’ve also become more used to each other’s writing style.

What have been the best and worst things about being a published author?

The worst thing is having to grit your teeth (and not cry) when someone criticises your baby.  The best thing is the sense of achievement … I don’t know if you ever lose that.

Do you read reviews for your novels and have you had any that you have found it difficult to deal with or been bowled over by?

We’ve been incredibly lucky, and have had some lovely reviews.

Who would play the lead roles if An Irish Promise were made into a film?

We used this visual of Chris Evans (the actor not the presenter!) for the character of Aussie actor Finn.

http://hdwallpappers.com/images/wallpapers/Chris-Evans-Wallpaper1.jpg

He has an incredibly soulful/vulnerable look which conveys Finn’s emotions to perfection. Finn is something of a tortured soul, bless him.

Beneath an Irish SkyHow important do you think networking with others in the publishing industry is and how do you do this?

I have a sadly neglected blog, and am active on Twitter and Facebook.  It’s extremely important to be a part of social media, which is a bit like a rolling stone gathering a huge amount of moss. I think it’s important not to view it purely as a means to promote your work though – on Twitter in particular, there’s nothing worse than following someone who only ever tweets links.  I’m far more likely to click on a link from someone who has socialised and interacted with me.   A Facebook ‘author page’ is also useful.  Try and treat social media as an actual get-together – make conversation, respond to others, and don’t expect help with promotion unless you’re prepared to do the same for them.

If you could go back and give your un-published self any advice what would it be?

Don’t get carried away – we wrote 240k words for Beneath an Irish Sky because we thought there was a minimum number of words that would be accepted, not a maximum!  We had to lose half of it.  In hindsight, it was for the best!

What do you think the main benefits of being supported by a publisher, rather than self-publishing, are?  

You obviously get promotional support, but it’s also a huge psychological boost.  Being accepted by a respected publisher is the realisation of a dream.  I’ve only ever been with Choc Lit, so can’t speak for other authors/publishers, but I would say the support we’ve had is second to none, not just from CL themselves, but from the other writers.  We call it the Choc Lit family, and it is.

What is next for you in terms of working in partnership as Isabella Connor and do you envisage writing separately at some point?

We’re working on a third novel together, so that will take priority.  Eventually, if time allows, we might give solo writing a go, but not at the expense of our partnership.  With a co-author you have moments when you’re like a reader – you don’t know what’s coming next.  And we’ve both had ideas for scenarios in both novels, that the other wouldn’t have come up with.

Thanks again for taking the time to come back for an update interview with us. The Write Romantics wish you every success for the future and we will be pre-ordering An Irish Promise!

Find out more about Liv and purchase Beneath an Irish Sky or pre-order An Irish Promise on the ChocLit website at: http://www.choc-lit.co.uk/html/isabella_connor.html

Or on Liv’s own blog at: http://livbet.webs.com/

Follow Liv on Twitter at: @Livbet

Join Liv on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/livvie.thomas

The link to Beneath an Irish Sky on Amazon can be found here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Beneath-Irish-Sky-Isabella-Connor/dp/1781890048/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378056623&sr=8-1&keywords=beneath+an+irish+sky

Wednesday Wondering – A Time & A Place by Helen Rolfe

Palm Beach, the jewel of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, has to be one of my favourite places. I’ve driven up there on a child-free day with a book and it’s a dream to be somewhere so special. We went up there as a family recently too. We plonked ourselves on the sand a little way back from the water and the kids dodged waves, built sandcastles and we all soaked up the feeling of a gorgeous day. Another family next to us had children of around the same age (seven and nine) and I was surprised to see that rather than running around or splashing in the water, both were sat with iPads and iPods. We didn’t take much notice of them until the daughter was shouted at for getting sand in the iPad and then they all packed up and went home.

I am guilty of “checking in” on Facebook when I’m at Palm Beach which is fun because you can check in at “Summer Bay” as it’s the location where Home And Away is filmed. However, I do think that there is a time and a place for technology.  

We have so many tools at our disposal nowadays. Through the wonders of technology, The Write Romantics formed: The RNA forum introduced us all to one another, a website was produced, this blog is worked on every week, and we keep in touch via email, Facebook and Twitter. Funnily enough we’ve never all been together in person, but it feels as though we have.

Technology has also given us apps and these days it seems that everything seems to have an “app” whether it’s to check the daily temperature, produce a shopping list for the supermarket, read the news or even order a new book. But what are our favourite apps or technologies?

I’m not a game person but I can’t imagine not having certain apps at my disposal. Living so far away from family is difficult so my favourite app would have to be FaceTime. My parents and I used to struggle with Skype: there was a time delay when we spoke, and generally we wouldn’t bother that often given that the kids didn’t really want to sit still either. My Dad bought himself an iPad because it is so instant for the internet. I asked him one day to do FaceTime and he said that he would have to read up on it first and then we could try. Anyway, I told him to get the iPad and switch it on, which he did. I told him to click on the FaceTime app and then I did the same. Instant, we were connected! Now I get to see my Mum and Dad much more often. It’s not the same as being there with them, being able to give them a hug, but it’s the next best thing. I took them on a guided tour when we bought our new house, the kids have played musical instruments for them and my parents have watched the kids playing outside or in the pool. The world has become a much smaller place for us with the help of this app.

My other favourite app would have to be the map function on my iPhone. I was a latecomer to the world of iPhones and when we first moved to Sydney I was a total tourist every time I went into the city, trying desperately to discreetly unfold my map and find my way around. But the map function makes this so much easier. When Katie Fforde visited Sydney and Dymocks bookshop to talk about her books, she agreed to meet up with me – I hadn’t met another RNA person before and the opportunity to meet up with the lovely Katie was too good to miss – with my maps I managed to find her hotel and we went down to The Rocks for sinful iced chocolates. The map function also helped me to find the train station again so that I could get home!

I’m sure that there are many writing apps out there too but I have always been deterred from investigating them, feeling that I should be writing instead. Last week I download the “cafetivity lite” app. Many of us find that we can’t work in total silence and the idea behind it is that it provides “background noise” that lets our brains tick over, mimicking the sounds of the coffee shop. There are writers out there who have found the café vibe works for them –  J.K Rowling included – and personally I do find the background noise less irritating than listening to leaf blowers or banging coming from a house across the road that is in the middle of being renovated. But each to their own.

The Write Romantics have shared with you their favourite apps or favourite technologies below and we would love to hear about yours, especially if you have any amazing, can’t-do-without writing-related apps!

Helen R 🙂

Jackie says…

I use quite a few Apps but they are mostly full programmes with a useful App. I wouldn’t be without Dropbox now as I sync my laptop, iPad and iMac with my stories. Still don’t trust it 100% so occasionally I’ll put a copy of my ‘story’ on the desktop as well. Kindle App, Notes and Pages get used all the time and of course where would I be without Facebook. eBay is my weird way of relaxing – or time wasting, as I can look at things I don’t need or want for ages. Currently looking up guitars as have started strumming again after about fifteen years! Learning a lot about guitars, but haven’t taken the plunge and bought one yet so still playing a cronky old Yamaha Jumbo which is far too big for me.

Rachael says…

Apps are still quite new to me and on my recent trip to London I had fun using apps aimed at making getting around London easier. Some worked well, like which tube to take, how long it would be and how much it would cost. Another wasn’t so successful and I ended up just jumping in a taxi!

I have also just started using apps on a daily basis. Life on the farm revolves around the weather, so downloading a weather app seemed a good starting point. The only problem is my husband now keeps asking what the weather is going to do next!

I haven’t yet discovered any writing apps, although a quick look on my phone suggests they do exist. If you know of a good one, do share it with us.

Lynne says…

I would love to have an iphone with apps on it! But my low budget phone would go into serious meltdown if asked to do anything that fancy. I saw it on Sarah Moore Vintage’s page that she had this app. She won The Great Interior Design Challenge and is excellent at anything arty. Anyway she used it online and showed the results on her facebook page and it was gorgeous!! I paint in watercolour now and again and it always has a mind of its own, you never quite know where the water will end up, but the app, called waterlogue, was just super! Google it and see for yourself!

Deirdre says…

I don’t do Apps as I don’t have the necessary gadgets;  I just don’t feel the need.  I use my nice little phone for calls, texts and telling the time, and that’s it.  For photos I use my camera (it is a digital one, not a Box Brownie!).   I do sometimes look at people’s all-singing-all-dancing phones and pads and whatnots and think they look like fun, but then I remember how clumsy my fingers have become and how I have to find my specs even to answer a call and I remember why I’m better off sticking to what I’ve got.  For now…

I’m easily pleased, technology-wise. The little everyday miracles my computer comes up with give me a rush of excitement that most people will have got over long ago.  For example, in Word, Find and Replace is just the best thing.  I’m one of those old-school trained typists who puts two spaces after every full-stop, and privately, I still think it looks smarter in a printed document.  But these extra spaces don’t work with e-readers, and publishing houses as well as Kindle Direct now demand one space only. At first I thought I was going to have to go through my whole ms and change them one by one, but of course you don’t.  All you do is put two spaces in the Find box, one space in the Replace box, press a button and it takes care of the lot in seconds!  Like I said, I’m easily pleased.  Excel spreadsheets still amaze me, too.  Those dinky little bits of programming that perform tricks with columns of figures, marvellous!

Another bit of software I’m potty about is Family Treemaker.  Since I got this I’ve been slowly gathering all my bits of research together and making up my trees which I can then view in umpteen different forms.  That makes me feel really clever, like I’ve done it all myself.  But the bit that really sends my pulse racing is the way it’s linked to Ancestry.com so that each time you add a new person to your tree, a tiny green leaf appears which leads you straight to the publicly held records on that person.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who find it more satisfying to traipse to the records office and trawl through the tomes but I’m not one of them. The little green leaf does it for me, every time!

Alex says…

My only problem with this week’s Wednesday Wondering is narrowing it down to only two apps. I have to admit to being addicted to my iPhone. I claim that I need it with me all the time for my work but the truth of the matter is that I’m far more likely to be checking Facebook than my work emails.  I use Facebook and Twitter on my phone all the time to keep up with the other Write Romantics and to run our Twitter account.  Although those are the apps I probably use most they aren’t my favourites.  My absolute favourite is the BBC Radio iPlayer app which I use to catch up with my favourite radio programmes.  As well as listening to the Radio 2 Folk Show or BBC Scotland’s Travelling Folk (usually while I’m doing the ironing) I’ve found lots of fabulous dramas and comedies which I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. Last week I listened to Her Majesty’s Secret Service with the very gorgeous Toby Stephens as Bond and it was brilliant. 

My second favourite apps are the instant messaging ones which allow me to keep in touch with friends and family.  I’ve got 3 of these that I use with various friends although I think Facebook Messenger is the best of them. Finally, I’d like an honourable mention for the dictionary and thesaurus app which is really helpful.  It will even pronounce the word for you in case you’re in any doubt about how to say it. You definitely don’t get that with a book!

Julie says…

My simple (and rather boring) answer is that I don’t have one. I have an iPhone but the only thing I really wanted it for was to be able to keep up with Facebook and my emails on the move as I travel quite a bit with work. I have an iPad too but more by accident. Mark wanted one so we got one a couple of years back but then we actually won one in a competition so that’s become mine but I hardly use it. If I’m honest, all I use it for is commenting on Facebook when watching the Eurovision Song Contest as it’s easier to write on than my iPhone. So you could argue that Facebook is my favourite App. I’m just not one of these people who has an interest in techology. I hate computer games, I don’t really like shopping and I don’t ever feel the urge to know the temperature and time in Uzbekistan!

Jo says…

Try as I might I cannot get on with touch screen technology and therefore, although we have two iPads, numerous iPods and a Blackberry Playbook in the house I am what you might call app-phobic! I use to laugh at my mum, back in the day, for not being able to work the video recorder and later to send a text message. I have taught students from 14 to 80+ a range of subjects, from pre-entry literacy to degree studies, but teaching my mum to send a text still feels like one of my biggest achievements!

Well call it karma, if you like, but my kids now laugh at me and my attempts to use the iPad. I touch it and it load screens and things that I don’t want, whilst I shout at the tablet to take me back where I want to go. Then I tap something I actually want and the darn thing doesn’t move! I think it’s like that episode of the Simpsons, where Homer tries to dial out on his phone and gets an automated announcement saying “Sorry, but your fingers are too fat to dial this number”. Either way it’s a no-no for me and almost as bad as my experiences with voice recognition technology… but that’s a story for another day!

Mega Monday Announcement – A Write Romantic Competition

Thomas1Christmas is Coming!  Okay, well there are 212 days to go, but The Write Romantics announced recently that we will be releasing a winter and Christmas themed anthology in November to raise funds for two incredibly worthwhile causes. The charities are the Teenage Cancer Trust, in memory of Stephen Sutton, a young man who stole all of our hearts, and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. We chose the CF Trust because of another gorgeous young man called Thomas, who is Write Romantic Alex’s nephew.Thomas2

Alex tells us not to be fooled by the pictures – although Thomas might look angelic, he can be a cheeky monkey too when he puts his mind to it! As you can see, Thomas spends far more time than he should not being well enough to let that cheeky side really shine through, which is why we think the CF Trust is such a wonderful cause, in how it strives to help children like Thomas and fund research into this horrible disease.

Winter1The Write Romantics have been absolutely thrilled by the support we have received so far with the anthology and Carol Cooper, who is the Sun Newspaper’s GP and wrote the fabulous One Night at the Jacaranda, which is a finalist in the 2014 Indie Excellence Awards, has agreed to write the introduction for us. We will also be joined by the following guest writers, who span a range of genres from romance, via fantasy to thrillers and back again!

 

  • Rhoda Baxter (author of Dr January)
  • Jennie Bohnet (author of Shadows of Conflict)
  • Sharon Booth (author of soon to be released There Must Be An Angel)
  • Kerry Fisher (author of The School Gate Survival Guide)
  • Linda Huber (author of The Paradise Trees)
  • Sarah Lewis (author of soon to be released My Eighties memoir)
  • Annie Lyon (author of Not Quite Perfect)
  • Zanna Mackenzie (author of If You Only Knew)
  • Holly Martin (author of The Guest Book)
  • Alison May (author of Much Ado About Sweet Nothing)
  • Terri Nixon (author of Maid of Oaklands Manor)
  • Sarah Painter (author of The Language of Spells)
  • Liv Thomas (co-author as Isabella Connor of Beneath an Irish Sky)
  • Samantha Tongue (author of Doubting Abbey)

We also owe a huge thanks to Mark Heslington, Write Romantic Julie’s super talented husband who has shared these three great winter themed photos with us and will be producing both the cover art for the book and taking care of the type-setting.  The anthology will also be the debut release of The Write Romantic Press.

winter4We can’t thank our lovely guests enough and the anthology will also showcase the work of the nine Write Romantics with everything from short stories to flash fiction and perhaps even a bit of Pam Ayres style poetry! So how can you get involved? Well, obviously you can buy the book when it comes out, getting a great read, packed with stories from the impressive list of writers we have on board, but you can also enter our competition. The Write Romantics are looking for a name for our anthology, so we invite you to send in your suggestions to thewriteromantics@hotmail.co.uk

IMG_0671Write Romantic Jo will be co-ordinating the entries and the rest of the WRs will then judge the entries blind, with Jo retaining the Simon Cowell vote in the event of a tie! The full terms and conditions will be sent out to you on entering the contest and the prize is in two parts, the first is a £20 voucher for Amazon and the second will be a mention of your contribution in the acknowledgements section of the book. The closing date for entries is 31 August 2014.  So please start sending those ideas for a title in and look out for more announcements about the anthology coming your way soon.

Saturday Spotlight – The Romantic Novelists’ Association Summer Party 2014

RNA Party

I have been very fortunate that two years ago I got a place on the RNA New Writer’ Scheme. Last year when my book was published I was entered into the Joan Hessayon New Writer’s award and on Thursday May 22nd I set off to London for the first time since I was seventeen years old.
As my train pulled out of Barrow and went past the beautiful Abbey ruins and Abbotswood which had been the inspiration for my novel The Ghost House it actually sunk in that I was now a published writer and on my way to celebrate my success. It was an amazing feeling sitting on that train and I felt very lucky and humbled that after all the years of trying and the rejections that I had done it. I had made my dream come true and there is no finer feeling.

I was very excited to be meeting so many of the lovely writers that I speak to on a regular basis on Facebook and Twitter, especially our very own Deirdre and Rachael. I was also a nervous wreck. I’m not very good in social situation’s but I was determined that I was going to enjoy the day and night for what it was.
I had booked a room in The Royal Overseas League where the party was being held so I didn’t have to worry about being late or finding my way back. I spent an hour giving myself a pep talk before going down to meet up with all the other lovely Joan Hessayon Contenders. It was a pleasure meeting so many fellow writers, especially Jill Steeples and Annie Lyons who also write for Carina. Jill bought the first drinks to calm our nerves before the dreaded official photo, which actually wasn’t that bad and the photographer was lovely. Once the photo was over I could breathe a sigh of relief and relax a little, it was nice to meet so many fellow writers and soon my editors from Carina arrived with a couple of bottles of Prosecco which was the first time I’d ever tasted it and it certainly won’t be the last, how have I not discovered this before I asked myself?

Eventually Pia Fenton the RNA chair took to the podium and we all raised a toast to the lovely Joan Hessayon and her husband Dr Hessayon who sponsors the award every year in memory of his wife. We all lined up in front of the projector and listened as Pia read out everyone’s blurb; it was lovely cheering and celebrating so many début authors’ success and very inspiring. Of course there could only be one winner and that was the lovely Jo Thomas for her novel The Oyster Catcher as we all whooped with delight and applauded I couldn’t help but feel a touch relieved it wasn’t me. I hadn’t even thought about a speech and by this stage I was positively melting and a little bit tipsy.
It was a wonderful night and I felt so privileged to have been a part of it, the organisers worked so hard to make it very special and I would like to thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

I’m looking forward to next year’s party already where I will be able to raise a glass or two of Prosecco to my fellow Write Romantics who are on their way to making their own dreams come true 🙂

Helen xx

Wednesday Wondering – Plotter or Pantster? by Helen Rolfe

Books come in many genres and sub genres and writers all approach the blank page in their own individual way. Some dive straight in with only an inkling of what the book is about and let it develop in that way; others come up with a detailed plot first; some have a rough idea of the story but very clear ideas of the characters within it. What works for one person may be the complete opposite of what works for another, but as writers, we usually find out what works best for us.

I would have to say that I am a plotter. I’ve always had lists, kept diaries, been fairly organised, and maybe that is why. But it’s not quite as clear cut as that. As part of a Masters in Writing we studied ways that writers think of ideas and then generate books from these. The “germ seed” idea is as it sounds: a basic idea of what you’re going to write about – perhaps the book will be about a young witch going to school for the first time, or perhaps it’s about a café owner who falls in love with the competition. Once I have my germ seed idea, I expand on that and come up with the rest of my story. I think of the main characters and write a bit of a CV for them: hair colour, eye colour, likes and dislikes.

When I have a more detailed idea of my story and the main plot points, I like to do my research as often this guides me on what will happen in the story. I may find that the research phase sparks a completely different tack for my story.

So, whilst I would describe myself as a plotter, I am not so regimented that the plot I come up with is followed to the letter. I think that it is important to stay flexible as some of the best story ideas can come when we least expect them to. Quite often when we write our stories we find the characters doing something we hadn’t anticipated, and then the story goes off in another direction. I think that it’s important not to quash these changes and to allow ourselves the freedom to let our characters develop on the page just as they would in real life.

Every Write Romantic has their own way of doing things too and the beauty of it is that there are no rights or wrongs. But it’s always good to share and pick up tips that may help us to get the very best out of our work.

Helen R 🙂

Jackie says…

I used to be a complete Panster but after getting myself in to too many scrapes and dead ends I now have a middle ground, between plotting and ‘pantsing’ which is a loose graph of events and a very vague chapter by chapter list. I have a huge whiteboard and stick up bits of paper with blue tack, and whenever a change of plot or plot thread occurs to me I write it on the whiteboard. I also write down the traits of my characters as they occur rather than plotting them out as ‘people’ before I start. This is probably due to laziness rather than anything else although it does take me time to ‘see’ what my characters look like. Near enough always have an ending in sight ‘Happy Ever After’ of course, I am a romantic writer.

Deirdre says…

I’m definitely a plotter by nature.  Whatever I’m doing, I like to know where I’m going and how to get there, in detail, before I begin.  It’s probably partly down to my personality but also a great deal to do with the job I did at the university where I produced schedules for the team covering every arm of our operation; that was the only way to ensure everything got done within the great big hamster wheel that constituted the academic year.

When I first attempted a novel, I planned the whole thing in advance, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, because I thought it would be the easiest way to tackle it.  The novel itself was a dismal failure.  The plan worked up to a point.  As a security blanket it was useful as I could always see what was meant to happen next, even though I changed it constantly as I went along, but with hindsight it was too stifling and each time I had a new idea I hesitated to use it in case it wrecked the plan and left me at sea, drowning not waving.

Although I loosened up a lot with the plotting of the next books, I carried on with it to some extent, thinking that was the only way I could write – until I had a crack at NaNoWriMo and launched right into a new novel with only the vaguest idea of the plot, and I didn’t even write it down!  I still haven’t.  I have a few notes as to what needs to be included, but the rest is in my head. It’s the speed of writing that made the difference.  Steaming ahead regardless is wonderfully freeing, and although I’ve had to stop a few times since and the writing’s slowed down, this is the closest I’ve got to being a pantster, and I must say I’m enjoying it immensely!

Alex says…

I’m definitely a planner.  For Beltane I had every plot point worked out before I started but then things started to change as I went along.  That was partly because my characters developed a mind of their own and partly because things that I’d thought would work didn’t feel right when I’d written them.  With my new book I’m trying to be slightly less obsessive in the planning.  There is a mind map on the wall of my spare room but I’m more prepared to let things work themselves out. I know where it needs to get to for the end, I just hope the character co-operate and we actually get there!

Julie says…

I’ve actually changed over the years. My first novel took me a decade to write because, quite honestly, I knew nothing about writing when I started it! I knew the basic story but I had no idea where to start it, where to end it or what would happen in-between so I just wrote and wrote! Then edited and edited and edited some more. Definitely a pantser approach. I learned a lot about writing and what does and doesn’t work for me during this time and was determined that book 2 wouldn’t follow the same process. If I likened it to a journey, I’d say book 1 was like me travelling from my home in North Yorkshire to London via Russia, then China, then France, then the USA, then Japan. Hmm. Lots of airmiles gathered, lots of discoveries made but a heck of a long time to get to my destination.

So, for book 2, I wanted a more direct route. I already knew my characters as it’s a series and, as before, I knew the rough story but I started with the key events that would happen in the book (think births, deaths, marriages kind of thing) and wrote them out on post-it notes. I then put the post-its in a logical order so I had my flow of major events. I then took a notepad and plotted out each chapter on a couple of pages highlighting the key scenes in that chapter and making sure my post-it notes were accounted for. Then I wrote it, helped by doing NaNoWriMo for a significant chunk. This time my journey was shorter but I would still say I’ve inter-railed round Europe a bit because I didn’t think to plot out my character arc and have had to go back in and make quite a few changes to get it.

I’d say that I’ve evolved from a pantser to a definite plotter which fits more with me and how I work in the day job as I’m actually a really organised person and good at planning. My approach to writing still isn’t perfect so book 3 will probably stop off at Paris and Prague but the journey’s definitely getting shorter and shorter!

Jo says…

I have always been a complete pantster, having a vague idea of a plot and then letting the writing take me where it wants me to go. It’s a cliché, but I’m always amazed at how much the characters want to write their own story! However, with my first two books, I’ve realised that my themes could be deepened and, particularly at the beginning, draw the reader in from the start. I gained this new insight through a combination of things including a great session at last year’s RNA conference led by Julie Cohen, as well as feedback from beta readers, pitches and submissions. However, I realise that because of my pantster tendencies, sometimes I wasn’t really clear about what my themes were until I was a way into the story. As a result, the initial chapters didn’t pull the reader straight into the heart of the story like they should. So now I take slightly more of a plotter approach, in that I think about the character’s motivations, the themes of the novel and how their characters might arc over the story, by identifying some likely pivotal moments.

For this year’s NWS submission, some of which was written during NanoWriMo, I tried writing a synopsis before it was written. By the end, although I had stuck to the themes, a lot of the plot had still moved in different directions and those determined characters had still had some of it their way! So I guess, although I am clearly still a pantster at heart, I do plot a framework now. Someone recently said that Joanna Trollope knows the beginning and the end of her novels at the start, but lets the rest evolve as she writes. I think that will continue to be the way I work too, but with Julie Cohen’s, and some of my beta-reading WR colleagues’, brilliant advice ringing in my ears to “deepen those themes” throughout! I think I might coin a new name for my writing style and say am a plotpant, which makes me sound not unlike a begonia 🙂

J Keller Ford on the Art of Make Believe

JKellerFord-web-301Our guest today is J.Keller Ford (aka Jenny).  With a father in the army, Reader’s Choice award winner Jenny, spent much of her childhood travelling the world and wandering the halls of some of Germany’s most extraordinary castles hoping to find the dragons, knights and magic that haunted her imagination. Though she never found them, she continues to keep their legends alive.  Her story, The Amulet of Ormisez, is available as part of the MAKE BELIEVE anthology. Jenny also had a YA short story, Dragon Flight, released December 2013 as part of the ONE MORE DAY anthology  When not at her keyboard breathing new life into fantasy worlds, Jenny spends time collecting seashells, bowling, swimming, riding roller coasters and reading.  She works as a paralegal by day and lives on the west coast of Florida with her family, three dogs, and a pretentious orange cat who must have been a dragon in his previous life.   With a fascinating bio like that, of course we have loads that we want to ask Jenny…

Why did you choose to write young adult and new adult fiction?

In a nutshell, I don’t want to grow up. When I was young, so many people told me, ‘Enjoy your youth.  It’ll be gone before you know it and you can’t get it back.”  Like a typical teen, I snarked at those words.  Now that I’m a grown-up, I don’t want to be.  I wish I could go back and change things. I wish I’d been a bit more daring, maybe prettier, stronger, more adventurous.  In writing YA and New Adult fiction, I can do all the things I couldn’t or wouldn’t do as a teen. I can re-live my youth vicariously through my characters.  Every day holds endless possibilities for my young characters.  Love is new and fresh.  Heartache is raw. Dreams aren’t wasted.  It’s fun to see my characters do what I always dreamed of doing if I hadn’t been in such a hurry to grow up.

What gave you the idea for In the Shadow of the Dragon King?

Oh wow, there are so many factors that came into play, but I suppose it boils down to my brave, knightly dad, and a soldier who wanted a little bit of fairy dust to save the world.

My dad was in the Army, and on the rare occasions he tucked me into bed, he would tell me stories of how he battled dragons and protected us (his family) and his lands from bad magicians and evil-doers. I knew better.  I watched the news, but my dad’s version was so much better, and thus my love for fantasy began. Between the ages of 6 and 8, my dad was stationed in Germany. My mom, knowing of my dad’s stories, made sure she took my brother and me to as many castles as she could, thus solidifying my love for fantasy.  Sadly, my father died a few years later, slain by a figurative ‘dragon’, and a very sad story began to churn in my mind.  It wasn’t until after the end of the first Gulf War in 1995 that the story resurfaced and started taking shape. I saw an interview with a soldier who said he wished he had magic and fairy dust because he’d sprinkle it everywhere to make the world a better place to live. I saw these brave men not as soldiers but as chivalrous knights battling evil for the sake of humanity, and if they had a choice, they’d prefer a little magic, rather than lives, to save the world.  Over the course of several years, I toyed with plots, characters, and ideas, finished my first draft, and then let it sit for a very long time.  I picked it up about 3 years ago, dusted it off and allowed it to breathe.  Soon it will be ready to present to the world, thanks to my dad and an unsung hero who wished for a little magic and fairy dust to save the world.

perf5.250x8.000.inddWhat advice would you give to aspiring writers looking for publication?

First thing:  never, ever, ever give up.  I don’t care how many rejections you get, how difficult the process may seem. Never throw away your dream of being published.

Second, as time passes, more and more paths to publication are opening up.  I’m of the old school.  I like the traditional publishing route.  I like being vetted before my work gets out in the world.  On the other hand, I have some lovely writer friends who have been very, very successful in self-publishing, hitting best-seller charts on Amazon all the time. There are so many avenues to travel and so many doors to open that make it easier now than ever before to be published.  I do recommend, however, if you choose to self-publish, please produce your work to professional quality.  Yes it costs money, but if your book is worth publishing, it’s worth publishing correctly.  Get a professional editor.  Make sure your book looks like a mainstream book.

I think it’s also important to be present in some fashion of social media.  You don’t have to be on all of them, but you should have at least one prominent presence. You need to make sure people out there know you.  Be yourself. Be someone that others want to interact with. Help others promote their work whenever you can.  Once you have a following and have established yourself as someone trustworthy and helpful, they’ll do everything they can to promote your work when the time comes.  Always be thankful.  Always be respectful.

Do you have any advice for UK based writers looking for a publisher in the US?  Are there any things we should think about or avoid in our writing?

First, check tax laws.  Self-published U.K. Author, Karen Inglis, wrote an extensive blog post on taxes, ITIN and EIN numbers and paying U.K. Tax on book Royalties.  You can find that article here and I recommend everyone from the U.K. to take a look at her very informative blog on the matter.

I would also pay attention to local colloquialisms.  Some words or phrases may be viewed differently in the U.S. than in the U.K.  I’m aware of a few words that mean nothing here, yet are frowned upon or mean something completely different in the U.K.  Of course, if a book is set in Britain, some words and phrases might add flavor and color. Just make sure they don’t make the book confusing or distracting.

As to covers, U.S. publishers usually do not consult with the author.  American publishers will usually write their own blurbs for the back of the book. They may also change your title to suit the market.

It may be worth your while to get an agent to sell your rights to a U.S. publisher who will ‘translate’ and sell your books.  Always ask any publisher or service to give you full details of their plans for your book, especially how they intend to use the rights. Never give world rights as standard.  Works published in the U.S. are subject to U.S. copyright laws, not those of the country of origin.  Always be aware that if an agent sells your book in the U.S., they are entitled to all subsequent income on that book in the US even if you part ways with the agent somewhere down the line.  Always do your research and try to stay abreast of the latest international publishing laws. It’s a lot to take in.  A lot to do.

Who are your favourite writers?

OMGosh, I have so many.  There are the classics:  Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, George Orwell, Jack London, John Steinbeck, and the list goes on.  More recent favorite authors would include J.K. Rowling, Kristin Cashore, Tahereh Mafi, Veronica Rossi, Kiera Cass, Cassandra Clare, Jocelyn Adams and Julie Reece.

perf5.250x8.000.inddWe see from your blog that you love visiting castles and we wondered which was your favourite?

Neuschwanstein, by far.  The first time I saw it, I forgot how to breathe.  It was more grand and opulent than anything I could imagine.  It was (and remains) the epitome of everything I ever imagined a fairy tale castle to be.  Not only that, the “Mad” King Ludwig only lived in this magnificent palace for 172 days before his body was found, along with the body of his doctor, floating in a nearby lake.  While his death was ruled a suicide, the demise of this romantic and popular German king remains a mystery to this day.  There is so much history in this castle and is a must-see place of beauty and serenity.  It is a reminder that no dream is too big. Anything can be accomplished if we set our minds to them.

Thanks so much for joining us on the blog today Jenny, it has been an absolute pleasure to have you and we hope you will come back again and see us really soon.

Find out more about Jenny and her stories at the links below:

http://jennykellerford.wordpress.com/

http://www.amazon.com/Make-Believe-J-A-Belfield-ebook/dp/B00ACMPEGQ

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5832198.J_Keller_Ford

http://www.amazon.com/J.-Keller-Ford/e/B00ADKZTJO/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_3

Follow Jenny on Twitter at @jkellerford

 

Wednesday Wondering – No Regrets? by Helen Rolfe

Lucille Ball once said: “I’d rather regret the things I have done than the things I haven’t.”

I’m inclined to agree. If we don’t do things then how do we know that they weren’t for us? How do we know that we want something else so badly?

I suppose my opinion stems from my own experience. When I think about my path from choosing my A levels back in 1990 – yikes, was it that long ago? – to when I began writing in 2003, I sometimes wonder whether I made the right choices. I studied English, French and Sociology but at the last minute chose to swap Sociology for Business Studies. I could have gone on to do English, Communications or a Media degree but my enjoyment of my Business Studies A level saw me choose a business degree instead, in the form of a Bachelor of Science in Strategic Systems Management. I sometimes want to go back and yell at my nineteen year old self and say, “What were you thinking?”

I had always wanted to come and live in Australia just for a while, to see what it was like. I can’t remember when the fascination started – perhaps I can blame Neighbours? – but I never thought about making a permanent move. Of course, as Jon Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”, and for me that meant meeting my husband and settling down over here. When I’m missing family I often have long chats with my Mum – she always cheers me up – and I ask myself what I would be doing now had I not decided to follow my dream of living here. I know the answer to that one: I would be wishing that I’d given it a go.

Having experienced a well-paid job that my heart wasn’t in – after turning down the opportunity to work for a publisher in London might I add! – I now have a good comparison to the life of a writer. When I feel like giving up I know that even though at times it can be incredibly hard – being alone every day and often being my harshest critic, battling to make that first break and not to mention dealing with rejections – I won’t go back in time. My only regret will be that I didn’t realise a little bit sooner that working at something every day could be both a grind and a joy.

So is there anything you regret doing in your life? Or anything you regret not doing when you had the chance? I’ll leave you to enjoy some tales from the other Write Romantics…and maybe someday we’ll do a post of “Love Regrets”…I suspect this could keep us all going with ideas for books for many years to come (if it isn’t doing so already) J

Helen R x

Jackie says…

As far as writing is concerned, I regret all those years when I knew I wanted to write but never got started. It was mostly because I didn’t know how to, or maybe it was because I was too busy / lazy. I just wish I’d tried a bit harder, although it takes up so much of my time now, I don’t suppose I would have been able to fit it in. The only other regret I have was moving away from the seaside. I had a lovely flat that overlooked the sea in Plymouth near the dockyard and early in the mornings (shiftwork) you could see submarines sliding silently up the Sound. In the summer we would sit on the roof (bit precarious) with glasses of wine and watch the ships, or I would get on my little yellow moped and ride to the harbour where I would sit for hours reading and watching the world go by. My dream is to move back to the seaside one day but I don’t think I could afford one of those little flats again as it’s in a prime residential site now. Ah well, that’s life.

Helen P says…

I don’t have a lot of regrets because I think life is too short to worry about the what -f’s and the could-have-beens. The thing I probably wish I had done although I don’t actually regret not doing it is moving to London to live when I was 18. My brother Chris lived there with his wife and I dreamt about living in the big city but then I met my husband Steve and the whole plan was pushed to the back of my mind because I fell in love all those years ago.

Deirdre says…

Now, there’s a question and a half, Helen!  Things I regret?  Plenty of those, unfortunately, but that’s a necessary part of life, isn’t it?

I definitely regret not starting to write earlier.  I’ve dabbled over the years, but never understood how much writing is part of me and that I need to do it.  Had I begun earlier, I probably wouldn’t have submitted anything as I didn’t know how to go about it but at least I’d have got in some valuable experience.

I wish I’d acquired more skills over the years, apart from the work-related ones, but sometimes it’s only with benefit of hindsight that these things become apparent, I think.  For various reasons, I gave up driving years ago and never found the confidence to go back to it.  And yes, it’s too late now as I don’t have the necessary reactions!  I can only swim about thirty yards and deep water scares me.  All kinds of things I see other people doing make me think ‘I should have done that’.  I have joined an art class though, and am regaining some of the skill I had in my schooldays.  I love painting watercolour landscapes and nature, but I’m hopeless at life drawing and this week we are doing self-portraits.  I fear the worst…

Rachael says…

For me the biggest regret is not having had the opportunity to continue in education. I left school at sixteen and as the eldest of four children, was encouraged towards employment rather than education. I’m now supporting my daughter through university, wishing I’d been able to do the same. But I’m happy where my path through life has led me and wouldn’t want to change where I am now.

Julie says…

This is a great question. Regrets are a funny thing. There are minor regrets I have and there are some major things too but they’ve usually led to something else which, ultimately, wouldn’t have happened if the thing I regret hadn’t happened. Let me explain …

My minor regrets are silly things like I wished I’d taken Drama instead of Art at GCSE because I scraped a C in Art (I wasn’t very good at it and didn’t like it that much) but would probably have got an A in Drama as most of it was about writing and I got As in both my English subjects. I also wish I’d taken History as I loved it. But they haven’t really affected my life.

The bigger regret was a relationship I had in my late twenties. I knew he wasn’t right for me but I was moving to a new part of the country, starting a new job and being with him seemed better than being alone. We stupidly bought a house together. This was the only time in my life I had quite a lot of money because I’d made quite a bit on selling my house, an endowment policy, a redundancy cheque and share saves cashed in. I put the deposit down but also paid off all of his debts (we’re talking many thousands). He was meant to sell his motorbike as his small contribution but didn’t. Eventually the relationship broke down for all the reasons I knew it was wrong in the first place and we sold the house. I never got my money back but I didn’t fight for it because he threatened to fight me for half the deposit which had been purely my money. I was about to move, buy a new house and set up my own business so the risk of him taking half my deposit was greater than the hope I’d get his debt-money back so I had to walk away. I’ve never been financially stable since. However, if I hadn’t met him, I’d never have had the idea for my debut novel as it was the turmoil in our relationship that led to the event that sparked the idea (don’t want to give spoilers away). Also, he was the one who got me into the world of proper collectable teddy bears which became the business I had. I’d loved teddy bears for years but was unaware of Steiff and the many other collectables until he took me to a teddy bear shop in his home-town and bought me my first Dean’s bear. I got hooked, opened a bear shop and met my husband as a result. Therefore, I’ll always regret my relationship with him and the money I lost but I’ll always be grateful he came into my life because I wouldn’t be a writer or have my family without him.

I’d conclude by saying that my biggest regret that has no positives to it and does affect my life is losing the battle with my weight and spending most of my adult life overweight. I can still do something about my weight (although I’ve lost my willpower recently) but I really do wish I’d never let myself get into this situation in the first place. Mind you, the reason I became the heaviest I’ve ever been is because I was so miserable in my relationship with the person above. So I have yet another reason to regret being with him: Loss of huge amounts of money, gain of weight and loss of happiness for 2 years v writing and family. On reflection, I still don’t regret being with him for what I gained (except the lbs!) Gosh, life can be tough!

Jo says…

The thing I regret doing is not making a serious start on writing a long time ago. When I look back now there were several near misses to getting published that I could have worked on rather than seeing as a rejection.

I wanted to be a journalist when I left school and I applied for one or two vacancies with local papers, but I wasn’t nearly persistent enough. I should have written to every paper within a 50 mile radius and been willing to take on some other sort of work there first, as a way in. Instead I decided it was just too competitive and gave up, eventually settling for teaching instead.

Then I was shortlisted about 13 years ago for a publishing deal for a romance novel, based on the first three chapters. However, because I didn’t win, I didn’t take it any further. About a year later, I submitted one novel to HMB, a medical romance of all things (a field about which I know nothing) and got some great feedback about my writing style, but evidently there isn’t enough action in a country GP’s practice for that genre! Instead of trying again, I put my writing aside for over ten years whilst my children were young.

So here I am, on the wrong side of 40, just trying to make a start in this game. Still, they say everything happens for a reason and I know that meeting the other Write Romantics has to be at least part of that. Maybe this scenic route will eventually lead to writing highs that the shorter road never would, but one way or another I’m still determined to get there.

The Saturday Spotlight with Jenny Harper – A Journey of Publishing, Self Publishing & The RNA

As regular followers will know, The Write Romantics all met through being members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers Scheme. Within the RNA, there’s an incredible amount of knowledge and experience that members are eager to share so we’re always really excited to secure a guest Saturday Spotlight with a fellow-RNA member to hear all about their writing journey and any words of wisdom.

Today, we’re particularly excited to welcome Jenny Harper. Jenny has been published, self-published and is also a very active member within the RNA. We bombarded her with questions about these three different aspects of being a writer and she’s rewarded our curiosity with a really insightful and interesting overview of all.

On behalf of The Writer Romantics and our followers, thank you so much, Jenny, for joining us today. Over to you ….

Julie

 

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My writing journey

Back in the early eighties, when I was a young mum trying make my way in the world, I was lucky enough to come runner up in the BBC Woman’s Hour/Woman’s Weekly Romantic Novelist of the Year competition.

I thought I’d got it made. I completed the novel – but it was turned down! Turns out I’d broken a whole load of ‘rules’ for romantic fiction I knew nothing about, and despite kind encouragement from the editors, I didn’t have the time or energy to rework it at that stage in my life.

I was, however, offered a number of non-fiction commissions – three books about Scotland (where I live), several books on aspects of Scottish culture, a history of childbirth. I also did manage to get a romantic novel published (under a pseudonym) and a short book for young children was picked up by Hamish Hamilton.

None of it amounted to a living. I made my money from freelance journalism, writing feature articles for daily and weekly newspapers and for magazines such as Country Living and World of Interiors. I set up a company that produced magazines for big organisations in the oil industry, energy, heritage, banking, insurance and the public sector. I was still writing – but I made real money.

Recently, I was able to free up some time to take up creative writing again– and when my story ‘The Eighth Promise’ was accepted for Truly, Madly, Deeply, I decided I had to get a couple of novels out there. Why waste a great promotional opportunity? I took a deep breath, got my head down, and got to grips with uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space. I’ve also found myself trying to learn the inexact science of ebook marketing.

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There are pros and cons of indie publishing. On the plus side, you are completely in charge. You can commission your own cover designs (I love mine, which get loads of praise!). You can price your book as you wish and put it on special offer every so often. You can follow its progress in minute detail – almost hour to hour. On the negative side, you’re on your own. You’re not in a catalogue, you have no expert help on tap. And getting your work visible can eat precious writing time. Do I regret doing it? Absolutely not! It’s fun, rewarding, and I’m making loads of friends on both sides of the Atlantic. Plus, I love learning how to do new things.

Is it for everybody? I can’t answer that one, but I do think that the digital revolution is transforming the lives of both writers and readers. It’s an infant market, and is going to keep on changing and growing, so if you honestly believe your work is good enough, I would certainly encourage you to get it out there.

Would I still like a publishing deal? Yes I would. My writing is getting more accomplished and confident all the time, I’m a grafter, I have loads of ideas, and I believe that any publisher would do well out of me – and the experience I have garnered on my journey. (That’s a pitch, if there are any publishers reading this!). 

 

The RNA and me

RNA stalwart Anita Burgh introduced me to the Association some years ago and I’ve been a member ever since. Soon after I joined I spotted an advert in the RNA newsletter appealing for someone to take over. I’d done well out of magazines and felt it was time to give something back, so I offered my services as designer and production manager, joined forces with Myra Kersner (who was in charge of content), revamped the magazine into the full-colour production we get today, and eventually stood for the Committee.

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The RNA was fast approaching its fiftieth anniversary. The wonderful Katie Fforde took up the Chair and we were plunged headlong into a couple of years of whirlwind activity. There were plans for all kinds of celebrations, Jenny Haddon and Diane Pearson wrote a history of the Association, Fabulous at Fifty, which I designed and – quite by accident – I found myself in charge of a complete rebranding exercise. The ‘new look’ RNA, the RONA logos, the pop up banners, stationery and the website, were all part of this exercise. Oh – and I commissioned the beautiful glass bowl engraved by glass artist Julia Linstead that is now the Romantic Novelist of the Year Award.

(One day, I might even win it myself! Sigh…)

The RNA is a non profit-making organisation. It depends on volunteers to keep it going. Under the current constitution, you can’t be on the Committee unless you’re a full member – but there are still plenty of opportunities for helping out on one-off initiatives, at Conference or events, admin tasks, handling tickets and so on. And if you’re not published, it’s much easier to approach an agent or editor and introduce yourself as ‘the RNA member who handles ….’ than just as a wannabe! So if you have a skill, or even just lots of enthusiasm, I would urge you to get in touch with the Chair or any Committee member to offer some of your time. It can be a lot of work, but you’ll make many friends and have a load of fun too.

Many thanks to The Write Romantics for hosting me.

 

You’re very welcome, Jenny. You can order Jenny’s books through the following links and find out more about her via her website, Twitter and Facebook:

Loving Susie

Amazon.com http://amzn.to/1pfOeR2

Amazon.co.uk http://amzn.to/1gtESsk

 

Face the Wind and Fly

Amazon.com http://amzn.to/1hGByxC

Amazon.co.uk http://amzn.to/1gueVZu

 

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Wednesday Wondering – Procrastination

By Helen Rolfe

Procrastination comes with most jobs, or most tasks for that matter. After all, why do today what we can put off until tomorrow? But writers are in such a solitary occupation that there is a real danger of procrastination interfering with them achieving their goals. After all, the only boss keeping track of the hours put in, counting how many words get onto that page, and knowing just how much effort has been put in, is the writer themselves.

I am guilty as charged when it comes to procrastination. At the moment I have the valid excuse that we are in the process of selling our house and approaching the big auction day, but I’m not always quite as justified. Sometimes that pile of washing just needs to be folded and neatly slotted away, or I must get the washing on the line before the sun disappears. Or sometimes I simply must catch up on emails to family in the UK or organise the next catch up with my girlfriends.

Writers are able to procrastinate like professionals, but we are also very capable of making ourselves feel guilty when we really shouldn’t. We beat ourselves up for not sitting at that desk long enough, for not churning out enough words. At times we are the strictest bosses in the world! Thinking back to my time in the workplace there were always tea breaks, we chatted to colleagues. I was never glued to my desk but I never felt guilty for that.

With my writing I sometimes find that I need to take a step back because otherwise whatever I write will be so bad that I will probably end up deleting most of it anyway, or ruining what I have already written. Sometimes I have been so dedicated for days or weeks on end, strict with my hours, that I need to get out in that big wide world just to clear my mind. And, after all, the big wide world and the people and places around us are what inspire our writing in the first place.

A recent article on the BBC News website titled “The slow death of purposeless walking” (BBC News, Rohrer F, 1 May 2014) talks about writers including Wordsworth, Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf, all of whom used walking for inspiration, to let their thought process flow more freely.  Walking is another strategy for me when I find myself procrastinating. I don’t think that I consciously go for a walk to work through a scene or think of ideas, but I think that by relaxing my mind and soaking up what’s going on around me can help to trigger answers that I’m looking for or start me on a thread of ideas that help in my writing. Of course there are also the endorphins that are naturally released when we exercise so combined with some time away from the keyboard is a real help.

The Write Romantics have shared their guilty admissions right here, and how they take themselves to task and make sure they get the work done. We would love to hear what strategies you employ to get over the procrastination, and what helps you when the ideas and the words just won’t come?

Helen R x

P.S – Don’t forget that May is National Walking month in the UK so put away those car keys, pull on some comfy shoes and off you go! And you never know, that scene that needs work could just become clearer with every step.

Jackie says…

I will do all manner of things before I sit down to write- check eBay, emails, BBC News, Facebook- and sometimes do it all again as I’ve been so long checking updates! Mostly what works, is just opening the latest ‘bestseller’ and writing, although you can guarantee that as soon as I do I’ll realise I need a cup of tea and a biscuit- and off I go again. I’m amazed that I ever get anything finished actually as I don’t think I’ve ever sat down for more than an hour at any one time. The only upside to my writing is that I do write pretty much every day and I ALWAYS have either a laptop or my iPad within arms distance. I take my iPad everywhere as I can’t abide finding I have ten minutes spare somewhere and nothing to write on. I think I have developed a bit of a ‘time’ problem because of it- is there a name for this kind of behaviour?

Helen P says…

At the moment my time is so sparse that I have no option but to write whenever I get a minute. But when I was writing The Ghost House and would strike a blank moment I used to get the dog and take her for a walk in the woods where I set the book, I’d call and see my brother or his wife who live in the middle of the woods and then I’d come back home and be inspired all over again.

For The Secrets of the Shadows I had the wonderful excuse of driving to the Lake District and Bowness where I knew my main protagonist Annie was going to end up working. Sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of the hustle and bustle and looking at the amazing views was a massive help.

For book three which is unnamed as of yet, I’ve been so busy I’ve just had to crack on with it 😉

Deirdre says…

I find this writing thing a very contrary business.  If I can’t get to the computer for any reason, even if I’m off out for the day somewhere lovely, chances are the words will be flowing in my head like crazy.  And yet having a long expanse of interrupted time in front of me can have the opposite effect and leave me completely flat and totally uninspired.  At those times I have to force it, sit down, switch on and read some of what I’ve written before until, after a while, I’m really into it again.  In other words, my main remedy for not writing when I should be is simply: turn up.  If I’m stuck on a sentence that doesn’t work or haven’t a clue what’s supposed to happen next in the story, taking a break definitely helps, whether it’s going for a walk or just making a cuppa.  One thing that always gets the words flowing again is reading.  It doesn’t matter what type of book it is, if I’m enjoying it, ideas for my own will pop up all the time, so I always keep the notebook handy.

Rachael says…

Okay, before I answer this I’m just going to go and do that pile of ironing! It’s amazing that when writing ideas slow to a trickle everything else you usually avoid doing if at all possible, becomes so much more attractive.

At this point I have a choice. Clean like mad and iron until I’m actually scouring the bedrooms for more washing. Both of these are of course good things to do, but in moderation and not in preference to writing. Note to self – remember this. If I feel the housework urge, I go for a walk. My dog is elderly now and so it’s just a gentle stroll with her, but sometimes a good power walk does the trick. I usually arrive back at my desk invigorated and with a better idea of where to go next with my writing.

Julie says…

It’s a tricky question because, when I’m in procrastinating mode, there’s very little that can snap me out of it except giving myself a good talking to. I often procrastinate when I’m not 100% sure where I want a plot point to go and, deep down, I know I’d make a mess of the edit of I did something when my idea wasn’t quite ready. I therefore think a bit of procrastination can be good. I’ve been doing far too much of it lately by staring at social media when I should be writing.

As for the ideas and words not coming, I haven’t had this happen to me much. Once I had my initial idea for book 1, it was like the dam gates had been opened and a stack of ideas flowed. They’re not all good but there are certainly lots of them. Like most writers, I have days where the words flow better than others but I’ve learned just to get on with it. If I’m struggling with an emotional scene, for example, as the words aren’t flowing quite so well, I’ll often write INSERT DETAIL, highlight it, and move on. I then return to it when I’m feeling more inspired. I think this works for me because I used to work ridiculous hours and commute a long way for my day job so writing time was so limited and precious that I trained myself to just get on with it. Now that I work locally and to a normal 9-5 day, I still have the ability to work like this.

Alex says…

When the words really won’t come I’ve learned that it’s usually because something is wrong with the plot or the characters and I’ve found that the best thing is to go away and do something completely different. Whatever the problem is it usually works itself out better when I’m away from my laptop.  I’ve had ‘lightbulb’ moments when I’ve been doing the cleaning (the current state of my house proves that I really need to get stuck more often) and doing the ironing.  Sometimes going out for a walk helps or watching a film. If all else fails then I think sleeping on it works really well. I often wake up and know exactly what the answer is and those are the days when I’m sat here writing in my pyjamas.

Jo says…

I’d like to say that I do something really interesting to help me get started when I’m procrastinating or when the words just won’t flow, like standing on my head or making a special creativity potion. Sadly, the truth is much more boring than that. Although wine is a potion of sorts and that often helps – at least I think it has until the read-through the next day! For me it’s the usual stuff, like fresh air and a good walk. There’s nothing like looking up at the light filtering through oak trees on a woodland walk or out to sea if I choose the beach instead. I’m lucky enough to live really close to both and there are lots of wide open spaces and big skies to offer inspiration or just clear the head. Other than that, I think people-watching and eavesdropping work best for me and have inspired aspects of lots of my stories. In fact, they are two of my favourite pastimes which I have done ever since I was tiny. My mum said if I ever disappeared as a young child, she’d find me standing in between the nearest group of women looking up, listening to every aspect of their conversations and sometimes even asking questions! These days, when hubby and I go out for dinner, if he starts tapping his nose it means I am making my eavesdropping too obvious and need to rein it in a bit… or at least make some effort to listen to what he’s saying to me instead.

Take the Weather With You by Julie Heslington

Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Never has a BBC adaptation caused so much controversy. Complaints of mumbling, bad accents, incoherent speech etc. were rife. The BBC claimed “technical sound difficulties” on night one. Can’t say I noticed any difference by night two. I found myself faced with two choices – give up or put the subtitles on. I settled for the subtitles. I usually put Film4 on while drying my daughter’s with subtitles on because I can’t hear over the noise of the hairdryer. Having them on without the hairdryer was definitely a first.

But the purpose of my post today is not to discuss poor sound quality. I want to be extremely British and talk about the weather. I promise you that there’s a point to the Jamaica Inn reference. You see, the other thing that slapped me across the chops whilst watching the three episodes was the weather. Darkness enveloped the bleak moors, wet mud caked the bottoms of dresses (except in the continuity error when Mary Yellan ran across the moors at one point and her dress was miraculously clean but let’s not go there), dark clouds flew across grey skies and rain lashed down. Then, at the very end, we saw our first glimpse of blue sky and fluffy clouds.

I haven’t read Jamaica Inn (sorry, such a pleb) but I wonder if the weather in the dramatization matches the book. As it’s described as a “dark, gothic novel”, I’m imagining it does. The dark skies, fog, rain and mud all helped absorb the viewer in the remoteness, desolation and desperation of the cast stuck in a bleak place where smuggling and murder had become a way of life.

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The use of weather in writing is a subject that’s particularly close to me at the moment as it was one of the things that was flagged up in my disappointing NWS report for book 2, Getting Over Gary.

I’m very conscious that my natural style of writing is dialogue-heavy/description-light so I specifically spent time during an edit of book 1 making sure I covered all five senses, described my settings, and captured the weather. I thought I’d done this well and my reader of book 1 clearly agreed: “you describe things in just the right amount of detail, so that there’s enough to give an idea of the place, but not so much that it’s noticeable. I was very impressed. The setting is easy to picture (and quite stunning in location)”. Yes it is (see above and below). I was delighted I’d been able to do justice to it.

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So how come book 2 got: “The North Yorkshire coast is beautiful, potentially forbidding and romantic all at the same time. A really excellent place to set this sort of story. So why not make more of it?” Oops! As soon as I read that, I smiled wryly to myself as I’d completely forgot to do my special edit to add in the stuff I know I leave out. Thankfully, it’s not tricky to do this and I know I did it well in book 1 so I can apply that same approach to book 2.

The use of weather in books is fascinating. There’s the obvious idea that it helps us capture the seasons and therefore move the book through the passage of time but it’s even more powerful in that it can really help set moods and emotions. In book 1, I have quite a traumatic opening scene for my protagonist and the emotion is heightened in this scene through a thunderstorm. Throughout the book, heavy rain or storms make an appearance at various other points of turmoil to the point that the protagonist actually fears storms because they create such a sense of foreboding for her. In book 2, the protagonist’s “challenges” are in the height of summer; not so many thunderstorms around. And I didn’t want to repeat myself with the same storm technique to create mood so, instead, the fun and laughter enjoyed by families during the summertime at the seaside act as a stark contrast to her sorrow.

ImageAs well as heightening emotion, weather can be the catalyst for something to happen. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that one of my favourite romcoms is 27 Dresses. In a key scene in this film, the two leads have a heated argument whilst she’s driving. Rain pelts the car (good mood-building weather) and then the car aquaplanes, leaves the road and gets stuck in the mud. This means the leads have no choice but to spend the night together and this is the catalyst for their relationship developing. The argument wouldn’t have been nearly so dramatic if there’d been sunshine and the accident wouldn’t have happened.

Another way of using weather is to trigger something e.g. flood-waters carry a dead body downstream which would have remained hidden otherwise or a ship is wrecked at sea in a storm and the survivors are washed up on a strange island. My imagination was particularly captured recently when I read an article in the Huffington Post. Two 17-year old girls went missing in 1971 in South Dakota. What happened to them had remained an absolute mystery until last autumn when high spring waters followed by a drought revealed the wheels of a car upside down at the bottom of a creek. It was the car they’d last been seen in and skeletons were found in the front seats. It would appear to have been a tragic accident rather than foul-play. Those poor girls in their watery grave and their poor parents not knowing if they were alive or dead for 42 years. I don’t write about murders or mysteries but still story massively triggered my “what if …” reaction. What if they’d never been found? What if they’d been found with bullet holes in them? What if the car had been found but the bodies inside weren’t theirs? What if one of them had been pregnant? What if other cars were found in the same creek? What if something sinister was found in the boot (sorry, trunk; this was in the USA)? And suddenly I had a load of plots for a different genre forming in my head which is not good because I already have book 3 in my trilogy and the outline of another 3-4 books of the same genre already in my head. Too many characters. Too much to think about. I feel a storm brewing in my head! And that brings us nicely back to the weather.

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I thought I’d finish this blog post with some more of my husband’s fabulous photographs (all the earlier ones are his) which are potentially really evocative of mood. This first one is a picture I absolutely adore. It was taken at the Armed Forces Day in Scarborough in summer 2013. My 6-year-old (at the time) was dressed in patriotic colours and we’d taken a break from the crowds. She wandered away to look at the fairground and hubby captured this shot:

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If you were to write a story about this image, what would it be? When would it be set? Would the mood be one of a happy childhood or is there something a little spooky or sinister about this? It generated a lot of debate when hubby first posted it on Facebook. Whilst everyone loved it, the jury was out as to whether there were dark undertones. I personally think it’s just very atmospheric and don’t feel the need to label it happy or dark.

What about this one? Clearly it’s a very different time of year. This was taken round the corner from where we live in the winter of 2012/13. Excitement and anticipation of first-footing in the snow or something a little more eerie? I have this image of a dark shadow appearing under the lamppost …

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Here’s another completely different one. Same time of year but a very different feel. Is it a calm feeling or is it one of loneliness? Who is that man in the middle of the field and what’s he doing there? He was actually a dog-walker and you can see the dog in another shot but, without the dog, why is there a man stood in the middle of a field early one morning. Who’s he watching?

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Finally, I’ll leave you with three contrasting photos of the incredible power and beauty of the sea on the North Yorkshire Coast. You can create your own stories from these…

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Thanks for reading. Thanks for looking. And thanks to the very talented Mark Heslington for allowing me to use his photos. Right, I’m off to inject more weather and scenery into book 2. Feeling pretty inspired after looking at these. I can bring that beauty to life. Or at least I hope I can!

Julie xx