It’s all about the 80s for Sarah Lewis

Today we’d like to welcome friend of the WRs and all round 80’s addict, Sarah Lewis, to the blog.

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We’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far and what it was that inspired you to write your first book?

I suppose you could say that I started writing my first book 30 years ago. It’s just taken me a while to get it finished! I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember – one of my earliest memories is dancing along to the Bay City Rollers when they were on Top of the Pops, when I was about 5. When Bob Geldof and Paula Yates moved to my home town of Faversham, when I was 11, my interest in the music industry and the people in it was piqued even further. By the age of 13, I had begun to meet a number of artists, including Midge Ure, Gary Kemp and Simon Le Bon, and I began to write to other musicians, with a view to putting together a book based on their replies. That love of music, popular culture, and the fantastic decade in which I grew up all inspired my first book, ‘My Eighties’.

Can you tell us a bit about your second book – Your Eighties – please?

It follows a similar format to the first book, in that it’s a combination of memories, anecdotes and celebrity interviews. However, instead of the memories and anecdotes being mine, they are ones they have been sent to me via my website, my blog, Twitter and Facebook. It has been fascinating putting the book together, hearing and reading other people’s recollections of the decade, and even being reminded of a few forgotten gems. To discuss the Eighties with fellow fans (there are a lot of us out there!) is always a real pleasure, and it I have the privilege of being able to share those discussions with a wider audience.

Of course, there have also been the interviews with some of the decade’s favourite faces, including Buster Bloodvessel, Martin Fry, Ranking Roger, Erkan Mustafa (Grange Hill’s Roland Browning), and Musical Youth’s Dennis Seaton and Michael Grant, which have been a blast! Transcribing the interviews afterwards, not so much. Despite what some may think, I really don’t like the sound of my own voice, and it drives me crazy when I have to listen to a section repeatedly, to ensure I’m quoting accurately.

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Do you have any writing habits or superstitions e.g. writing in the same place, using a certain pen, times of day etc?

Most of my writing tends to take place after 9pm, when I just get lost in what I’m doing. I’ll check the time after what seems like an hour, to find it’s gone 1am! Usually, I’ll be in my office at the back of the house, and will have music playing in the background – anything from classical to Meatloaf, depending on my mood, and what I’m writing. If I’m researching or editing, I’ll do so during the day, and tend to follow the sun – I start off in my office, then as the sun moves round, I move to the desk in my bedroom. During the summer, I’ll work outside as much as possible – you can’t beat the al fresco office. Again, usually accompanied by music or the radio.

Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you tackle this?

The short answer is “Yes, and not very well!” There was a point when I was writing ‘Your Eighties’ when I just hit a wall. I had a stack of research notes, some amazing submissions from 80’s fans, and a few interviews transcribed, but I couldn’t write. At first, I tried doing something completely different, to ‘free the writer’. However, having cleaned my house from top to bottom, tackled an enormous pile of ironing (which I hate), and begun to de-clutter an overloaded garage, I realised I was merely procrastinating. So, I forced myself to write. I wrote anything I could think of, even if it was as basic as “last night I went to a gig, then I went backstage and I interviewed…”. It’s a lot easier to edit something that is badly written than nothing at all. I think the key is to keep the flow and momentum going. I have pens and piles of scrap paper scattered throughout the house, just in case inspiration should strike. Often, my moments of clarity come just as I’m dropping off to sleep, so I’ve become particularly adept at scribbling notes in the dark! I also carry a small notebook around with me. Struck with an opening line whilst driving, I spent 5 minutes the other day saying the same sentence over and over, until I found a safe place for me to pull over and jot down the idea.

What are you working on now and what are your writing aspirations?

I have just begun working on the third book in the 80’s trilogy, ‘More Eighties’, and I’ve recently started a weekly 80’s column in the Canterbury Times. You can check out my first post here. As far as writing aspirations go, I would love to write the biography for a musician from the Eighties. I have a couple of people in mind, but I haven’t approached them yet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADo you see your future books continuing to focus entirely on the 80s or might you diversify?

As much as I love, and indeed live, the 80s, I’m always up for a bit of diversity. It would have to be something completely different though, not just a different era. I love the interviewing and research stages of writing, so anything that allowed me to do that would be great. If it involves visiting sunny climes, even better. Maybe something on the people and history of one of the Greek islands.

What’s the most amazing experience you’ve had as a result of researching the content of your books?

It has to be all the interviews I’ve done at gigs. Not only do I get to hear some of the most amazing live music, but I love the insight into the whole set up. Listening to sound checks, being backstage and seeing what goes on behind the scenes, chatting to some incredibly talented and creative musicians – what a thrill! Plus, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of saying “I’m with the band”!

Who was your favourite person to interview?

That is a really tricky question, because I have truly enjoyed every interview I’ve done for both books. It’s always good when you feel you can ask an interviewee anything, so from that perspective, I would have to say Steve Blacknell and Erkan Mustafa, both of whom answered my questions with extreme candour. One of the easiest interviews I did was with Owen Paul, for ‘‘My Eighties’. He has loads of interesting stories to tell, and I really only had to say ‘Hello’, and he was off and running! However, I think my favourite interview to date has to be with Dr & The Medics. From the second I stepped into their dressing room, it was non-stop banter and laughter. Clive Jackson (the Doctor) and bass player Jon Randle were like a comedy duo. When you read that part of the book, you’ll see it was a ‘no holds barred’ kind of interview. My face was hurting from laughing so much.

Who’s the most famous person you have in your contacts list?

Now, that would be telling! All I will say is that my teenage self would have fainted if she’d seen some of the numbers I’ve got. There are some more famous names in the pipeline for ‘More Eighties’, as that contact list keeps on growing.

Do you ever get nervous when you interview people?My Eighties

Luckily, I’m quite good at compartmentalising, so even though I can be ridiculously excited or nervous before an interview, as soon as I walk into that room it’s like a switch flicks, and I go into ‘professional’ mode. Well, at least I hope that’s how I come across! I become so focussed on what they’re telling me (often fascinating insights), that I almost forget who I’m talking to. It’s only afterwards when I look back and think ‘Wow, did that really happen?’ The only person I’ve met, who’s given me an attack of nerves, was Jimmy White. I’d been to see him play a snooker match a couple of years ago, and bumped into him in the bar afterwards. I was shaking when I had my photo taken with him!

How important has social media been to your writing journey?

I would say it has been invaluable. Twitter especially has been a fantastic means of engaging with 80’s fans, and getting feedback on a particular topic. I must confess to being something of a Twitter addict (you can follow me @MyEighties). It’s wonderful to be listening to a radio show like Forgotten 80s, and discussing it in real time with fellow listeners. I do the same thing with a lot of the music programmes on TV – BBC4 on a Friday evening is a favourite, if I’m at home. I’ve encountered some amazing music brains and some lovely people through tweeting, and even got to meet some of them at a recent ‘Tweet Up’.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

The answer’s the same for both – having your work and thoughts out there for the world to see. It’s the best because you get to reach a lot of like-minded people, and hopefully make them smile. There’s nothing better than having people tell you how a piece you’ve written brought back some good memories for them. It’s the worst because I’m actually a very private person (despite being what one DJ described as “all over social media”). Every time I publish something, even if it’s only a blog post, I have an unnerving thirty second panic of feeling totally exposed, before I get a grip and get over myself!

New colours- Natalie's designWe love the design for ‘Your Eighties’, can you tell us a bit about how it came about?

It’s great, isn’t it? Back in the summer, we ran a competition to design the cover for the book. It was won by Natalie Owen, a 24 year designer from Nottingham. Her dad is a big fan of the 80s, and had told her about the competition, having seen me tweet about it. Her design perfectly captures the decade.

Are you doing anything to celebrate when the book is published on 28th November?

Most definitely! The launch party for ‘Your Eighties’ is going to be held at an old music hall in Kent – a fantastic venue. There’s going to be live music from an amazing local band called Skatacus, plus an 80’s disco, with none other than Erkan Mustafa (Grange Hill’s Roland Browning) on the decks. I’m also going to get to meet Natalie, as she’s travelling down for the party. Some of the book’s contributors will be there, along with some wonderful friends and family, so it promises to be a great evening.

What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer or even to yourself, if you could go back to before you’d written your first book?

I would say “don’t sweat the small stuff”. With the first book, I got very caught up in the tiniest of details, proper punctuation and having everything ‘perfect’. That’s what editors are for! I also wrote in a very linear fashion, which became very inhibiting. Now, I write freely in chunks, as and when I can, and pull it all together at the end.

‘Your Eighties’ is available for pre-order from 8th November on Amazon here and from the My Eighties online shop in paperback here. Published by Fabrian Books 28th November 2015.

The Saturday Spotlight – Rhoda Baxter tells all!

Our guest on the blog this week is Rhoda Baxter.  Rhoda  started off in the South of England and pinged around the world a bit until she ended up in the North of England, where the cakes are better. Along the way she collected one husband, two kids, a few (ahem) extra stone in weight and a DPhil in molecular biology (but not necessarily in that order). She had a childhood ambition to be an astronaut or at least 5 feet tall. Having failed at both of these, she now writes humorous novels instead.

Her first novel, Patently in Love was a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award and was a top ten finalist in the 2012 Preditors and Editors poll for romance reads. Her third novel, Dr January will be published by Choc Lit Publishing in autumn 2014. 

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Hi Rhoda, welcome to the Write Romantics blog and thank you for agreeing to be our guest this week.  We’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far and what was the very first thing you did when you heard you’d got a publishing deal?

Thank you so much for inviting me in for a chat. It’s nice to sit here in the warm when it’s so wet and cold outside.

My writing journey was pretty long. I won’t bore you with the details (if you really want to know, there’s a blog post about it here: http://rhodabaxter.com/2013/10/25/two-emails-abo…22nd-of-a-book/).  I went to a talk once where they took a poll of the authors around the table as to how many books they wrote before they were published. The average was 3.5 books. I’d written 3 books and was on my fourth by the time Patently in Love was picked up by a publisher.

Yes, please, I’d love a cup of tea. Milk please. No sugar. Thanks.

In all honesty, I can’t remember what I thought when I first got the email.  It was a mad old time as I’d just started a new job after moving from Oxfordshire to East Yorkshire and my youngest was still only a tiny wee baby. I do remember buying a celebratory cheesecake though. Very nice it was too.

What are you most looking forward to about your publication with Choc Lit and moving away from the e-book only approach?

Without a doubt, it’s the idea of having a physical book in my hands. Having a book only in ebook format should be no different to have a print book – real people still buy them and read them and review them. But there’s something about the physical book that you can put on a book shelf and stroke and cuddle… I think it’s a generational thing. We grew up with paper books and they ‘feel’ more real to us than ebooks. My Mum reads my books on her computer, but doesn’t really feel they’re ‘real’. My kids, on the other hand, are perfectly at home with ebooks and print books alike. They tend to get jam on things though and a Kindle is easier to wipe clean than a paper book.

I’m also looking forward to doing some real life promotion for my books. So far I’ve concentrated on doing everything online, because I’ve only had ebooks to promote. When I have a print book I can take along with me, I will try and do some talks to libraries and at local events.

Lastly, of course, I’m looking forward to the celebratory cheesecake I’m going to treat myself to. Mmmm… cake… Sorry, zoned out there for a moment. What was the next question?

Do you have any writing superstitions e.g. writing in the same place, using a certain pen etc?

In an ideal world, I would. I’d have a special desk (very tidy, naturally), and a special mug and a special pair of pants to wear when I’m writing. In reality, my desk looks nothing like that, so I end up writing my books sitting in bed at the end of the day.

I don’t really mind, so long as I get to write. I do wish I could see the surface of my desk now and again though.

HAB

What are you working on now and what are your writing goals for the next 5 years?

5 years! You make it sound like it’s normal to have a plan! (What do you mean it is? Damn. That explains a lot). It’s not possible to plan that far ahead because life tends to get in the way. If you’d told me four years ago that I’d be relocating to the North East, with a three month old baby and a three year old in tow, whilst DH and I both start new jobs and I try to get a writing career off the ground, I’d have laughed  at you on the grounds that no one is THAT mental.

What am I working on now? I’ve just submitted the 2015 book called Please Release Me (which is set in a hospice) to Choc Lit. I’m trying to figure out what to write next. Something with the whole email/prose mix again, I think. I have my characters, but need to figure out what happens to them. I’ve also got to do some promotion for the Truly, Madly, Deeply Anthology which is coming out in February.  I’m very excited to have my story included in a book that’s got stories by Katie Fforde, Judy Astley, Carole Matthews and other famous people.

How do you keep creating new and entirely different characters as you write more and more books?

I don’t know. They just turn up.  Sorry, that’s not a good answer, is it? But it’s true. It’s like Paddingtion Station in my imagination. Characters turn up in my head and I have to find stories for them. I usually find the men easier to think up than the women. I love my heroes.

I don’t do character sheets and character interviews like some people do. I’m too lazy for that. Quite often I write my way into the characters by writing a few extra scenes before the story really starts so that I can get a feel for their voice. Sometimes there’s a key aspect I have to get right before they ‘click’. Once that happens, it’s easy to hear and see them.

I’ve never tried to analyse where these people came from, in case they stop coming. If it ain’t broke…

It sounds like your professional life and your writing persona are two different worlds.  How do you cope with the different approaches to writing and has this ever caused you any conflict?

My work writing is very analytical and matter of fact. Details need to be spelled out. My fiction writing is about subtlety and emotion. In that sense they are very different. On the other hand, the technical writing needs to be structured, with all the introductory information in place, arguments made and neatly tied up into the conclusion. The same is true of a novel.

With work, I’m allowed to be boring in what I write (apparently, people don’t like jokes in their technical summaries. Huh).  With fiction boring your reader is a definite no-no.

One of the Write Romantics, Alex, is also a lawyer and it’s not a world that has ever made her think of romance fiction.  What gave you the idea for Patently in Love?

Marshall from Patently in Love has been around in my head for a long long time. When I was plotting the book,I realised that the combination of email and prose would work really well as an office romance. So I picked an office I knew and used it as a setting. I didn’t use anyone I knew as characters, but I did include a few jokes about the obsession with hierarchy that seemed to be prevalent in that environment.  It also meant that I didn’t need to cross check patent related bits of the plot. (A good thing too because one of the big IP blogs reviewed the book. It would have been awful if they’d found a glaring error!)

Who is your favourite character from any of the books that you have written so far and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?

My favourite character of all is Hibs, the hero of the next book Dr January (due to be released in autumn by Choc Lit). He has a PhD in molecular biology, long dark hair, lovely high cheekbones and is an expert in karate. He’s really funny and sexy and I had a crush on him when I wrote it.

Hibs wasn’t based in anyone real (if only!), but after I wrote the book, I realised I’d effectively taken the character of Edward Cullen from Twilight and split him into two men. The lovely, adoring, caring side (in Hibs) and the controlling, domineering, stalkery side (in Gordon).  Both men are gorgeous – naturally.

We’ve heard that some writers use pictures they find, of celebrities or sometimes photographs that they just happen upon, to inform the physical descriptions of their characters and we wondered if you did this or, if not, how you form a mental picture of your characters’ physical qualities?

I don’t do that, although I should. If I found a picture of Hibs from Dr January, I’d definitely enjoy looking at him from time to time.

The mental picture of my characters tend to start fuzzy and solidify as I write the introductory scenes. I know I’ll cut those scenes out eventually, but they’re still useful for finding out who the characters are.  Weirdly, I often forget what colour their eyes are, so I need a post it on my laptop screen to remind me.

What piece of advice would you give yourself about writing if you could go back to your pre-publication days?

Remember that it’s a long game. Your first book is not the only book you’ll write (in fact, it’s not even the best book you’ll ever write because you’ll learn and grow as a writer with each subsequent book).  Have patience and keep going. You’ll get your break eventually

Oh, and get some sleep, while you still can.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

The best thing – you’re never alone. There’s people in your head all the time.

The worst thing – you’re never alone. There’s people in your head all the time, insisting that you write stuff down.

Anything else you’d like to share with us or advice you can give would be gratefully received!

Write stuff you want to read. Even if the first draft is crap.

Find a good critique partner (or join the NWS!) and listen to what they say. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but make sure you give it good consideration before you dismiss it.

Keep going. The more you write, the better you’ll get.  All authors were unpublished writers once.

Read how to books. You won’t learn anything new, but it may shift something you already knew into a new light.

Read a lot of books in your genre. Call it market research if you like.

Enjoy it! Otherwise, why do it?

Thank you very much for having me over. It was a lovely cup of tea.

Good luck with your writing careers. I’m sure it won’t be long before you’re all published.

Find out more about Rhoda:

She can be found wittering on about science, comedy and cake on her website www.rhodabaxter.com  or on Facebook or Twitter (@rhodabaxter).

You can buy Rhoda’s books here:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BUEKFX2/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Having-Ball-Email-Ice-Cream-ebook/dp/B00BUEKFX2/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Kobo UK: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/having-a-ball

All other formats (including non-DRM PDF) from the publisher’s site: https://www.uncialpress.com/Rhoda-Baxter

Pitch Perfect

What does the word pitch mean?

1 To throw something.

2 The voice. To hit, the right note.

I have to confess, I am no expert in pitching anything, especially throwing a ball. And I couldn’t hit the right note whilst singing, even if you paid me. Yet in a few weeks, this is something some of us will be doing.

The RNA conference will be here in a few weeks time. This is an opportunity to pitch your novel to the publishing world. This is an occasion to sparkle and wow them. To see the masterpiece you have created finally out in the world. This is the dream of every author.

Now, here is what not to do. I have experience in this area. A few years ago at the RNA winter party, my friend who came with me, nudged me in the direction of an M&B editor. Needless to say, I was terrified. She asked me about my novel, and I told her. It seemed to be going well. It was then, I realised her eyes had glazed over. Not a good sign! It was at this point I decided it was a lost cause. I made my escape as fast as possible. She seemed very relieved.

Then, I went to the conference, and decided to put myself through the agony again.

First of all made sure my first chapter and synopsis were emailed to the editor. Great

Practiced out loud how I would answer questions thrown at me.

Two days before the conference I had an email asking me, if I had sent a chapter for the editor to look at. Panic set in, I double checked, and decided to send another copy. Still no luck! She hadn’t received it. Now what was I going to do? By now I could see my chance slipping away. At this point my nerves had kicked in. They decided to have a bit of a meltdown. This is another area that I do have experience in.

It was the day before the conference still the editor hadn’t received my chapter! By this time my nails were bitten, and I had started to pull my hair out. Gone was any thought about the weekend ahead. I was absorbed with this one interview, the one occasion where I might be able to shine. By this time I didn’t even have a hint of a sparkle about me. Nervous and wreck come to mind, and I hadn’t even seen anyone yet. Then it happened. The editor told me to bring a hard copy of my work with me. She would try and read it between interviews. At this point, I felt relief and nervous, all for a different reason.

So on the interview day, I stood with all the other people waiting to tell their story. My hands were sweaty, and I felt sick and my mouth felt parched and dry. Hearing my name called I walked in, and so began my first pitch.

Though there were a few disasters along the way. At the end I felt really positive. Even if you feel the pitch was a complete disaster, it doesn’t matter. The main thing is that you have stepped out and you have tried. Maybe practice makes perfect. So I encourage everyone this year to go for it, regardless how you feel. Sometimes we have to do step out and do it, even if we feel afraid.

Lorraine x