Secrets of Structure by Alys West

When I first started thinking seriously about writing a novel, I asked the successful local writer whose evening class I was attending how to structure a novel.  She said to me, “I always struggle with structure. I’ve got a friend who helps me with it.”  It wasn’t the most helpful of responses but because she didn’t give me the answer I needed, I had to look elsewhere.  For a long time it felt like there was a conspiracy of silence about structure and novel writing as if novelists are just supposed to know.  When I started doing my MA in creative writing I discovered that if I wanted to know about structure then I needed books written for screen writers.

The reason for that is that every Holywood blockbuster you’ve ever seen conforms to the same basic plan.  You can dress this up in different ways and call it a three act structure or a five act or Freytag’s pyramid but when you look closely you’ll see that all stories have some key building blocks.

First of all there has to be an inciting incident which is the thing that happens to kickstart the story.  In crime fiction, it’s the murder.  In a James Bond movie, it’s the discovery that someone evil (either with or without a white cat) is threatening world peace.  In romance novels it tends to be something a little less dramatic.  In Pride & Prejudice it would be Darcy saying “She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me” at the Mereton assembly. In Sleepless in Seattle it’d be Annie saying ‘magic’ at the same time as Sam.  It’s the inciting incident which introduces the protagonist to a new world (for Lizzie, the world of wealth and privilege Darcy inhabits) and starts them on a journey.

The midpoint isn’t just what happens in the middle of the story, it’s the point where the protagonist changes.  It’s where they realise that there’s no way back to the old life they used to live.  But at this point, the protagonist is pretty confused by their new knowledge and doesn’t know how to handle it correctly. In Skyfall its when Bond has Bardem in his custody and realises the strength of his enemy before Bardem escapes and the tube train crashes through the roof of the M15 hideout (I love that bit!) In Pride & Prejudice the midpoint is when Lizzie gets Darcy’s letter and realises she’s had him wrong all along.  But not only does she not know what to do with this new knowledge, she doesn’t realise that she’s falling in love with him.

The crisis is where things go really badly wrong.  It’s when all hope passes away. It’s the moment when you’re yelling at the screen ‘Oh no!’ It may be a death (often of someone close to the protagonist) or in a romance the point where it seems the couple can never get together.  For Lizzie, it’s when she realises that Darcy is the perfect man for her but through Lydia’s marriage to Wickham, they are forever separated.  The function of the crisis is to prompt the protagonist to ask themselves what kind of person they are. It’s a test of character. In Casablanca, it’s when Rick realises he has to change his essentially selfish ways and let Ilsa go.  

The climax, as you’d expect, is the final showdown with the antagonist.  It’s what the story has been building up to.  It’s the moment when the protagonist faces the antagonist and everyone comes out fighting.  In Skyfall it’s the battle at Skyfall House with Bardem.  In an Agatha Christie it’s when all the suspects are gathered together and Poirot talks them through the investigation and then reveals the identity of the murderer. In Pride & Prejudice it’s the moment Lizzie stands up to Lady Catherine De Burgh and, without realising it, gives Darcy hope that she does actually care for him.

After the climax is the resolution which is the final judgement after the battle (physical or metaphorical) of the climax. James Bond saves the world and gets the girl. In Sleepless in Seattle it’s the moment Annie and Sam finally meet.  In romance fiction it’s the happy ever after and Pride & Prejudice gives us a good example of that as we have Darcy’s second proposal and acceptance by Lizzie and also her saying (because she’s learned some things as all good protagonists have to) “She remembered that he had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin”.

This is a very quick overview, of course but I’ve found it really helpful to break structure down to these building blocks.  If you’d like to know more I strongly recommend Into the Woods by John Yorke which is a brilliantly clear book on structure and how stories work. If you’re in Yorkshire then I’m doing a workshop on stories and how to tell them on Sunday 17th September at Owl & Monkey in York and you can find out more about it by clicking here.

My novels Beltane and The Dirigible King’s Daughter are available from Amazon as ebook and paperback.  You can find out more about me on my website or can follow me on Twitter at @alyswestyork.

Images reproduced courtesy of the BBC, Tristar Pictures, MGM and Warner Bros.

Crime… or romance? Cross genre writing with Linda Huber

Today, the Write Romantics, are handing over to one of our favourite authors – Linda Huber – to tell us what it’s like writing across more than one genre. It’s something we’ve been interested in for a while, and a great way to increase your readership and the scope to earn from your writing, so we hope you enjoy hearing Linda’s take on it as much as we did.

The nice thing about writing in different genres is, you can write to suit your mood of the moment – as I discovered last year. Up until then, my books had all been crime fiction. Not police procedurals, more character-driven psychological suspense novels. It’s very satisfying, creating bad guys and then making sure they come to a sticky end. Of course, sometimes the bad guys aren’t bad, they’re just ordinary people, in the wrong place at the wrong time – and that’s when the plotting really gets interesting. In my new book Baby Dear, we have a woman who desperately wants a baby. Another who isn’t sure if she wants the child she’s expecting. A third with a small boy and a baby, struggling to make ends meet and give her children the best possible start. And then there’s Jeff. His world collides with all three women, and the result is – in the book! The big advantage of writing crime fiction is, when people annoy you in real life, all you have to do is imagine them in the role of the victim in your next book. Also, there’s a certain macabre satisfaction in choosing creepy cover images. Or maybe that’s just me. I was quite happy with my psych. suspense writing, but then last year I discovered that the rights to some old feel-good women’s mag stories, published in the nineties and noughties, had reverted to me. I had the idea of putting a little collection together, self-publishing it, and donating profits to charity.

And so The Saturday Secret was ‘born’. As I chose my stories, and licked them into shape to republish, it dawned on me that working with feel-good texts can be balsam to the soul in a way that psych. suspense writing just isn’t. For one thing, your feel-good characters don’t go through quite the same horror-scenarios as your psychopath and his victims. It’s less exhausting. Doing your research is a lot less harrowing, too. (There’s little I don’t know about the decomposition of dead bodies in air-tight containers.) And your elderly relatives are more likely to approve of your new book.

Writing romance does have downsides, though. I need a third cup of coffee some mornings to get into a suitably feel-good mood, for one thing. And my characters seemed to end up with everything I’ve ever wanted. Hm.

At the moment, I’m enjoying the best of both worlds. I’m working on another crime novel, and also a trio of vaguely romantic novellas, and I really couldn’t tell you which I’m enjoying most. As I said, it depends on the mood of the moment…
Bio

Linda Huber grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, but has lived for over 20 years in Switzerland, where she teaches English and writes psychological suspense novels. Baby Dear is Linda’s sixth psychological suspense novel. She has also published The Saturday Secret, a charity collection of feel-good short stories. (2017 profits go to Doctors Without Borders.) After spending large chunks of the current decade moving house, she has now settled in a beautiful flat on the banks of Lake Constance in north-east Switzerland, where she’s working on another suspense novel.

More About Baby Dear

Caro and Jeff Horne seem to have it all, until they learn that Jeff is infertile. Jeff, who is besotted with Caro, is terrified he will lose her now they can’t have a baby.

Across town, Sharon is eight months pregnant and unsure if she really wants to be a mother. Soon her world will collide with Jeff’s. He wants to keep Caro happy and decides that getting a baby is the only way.

Then Caro is accidently drawn into an underworld of drugs… Meanwhile, Jeff is increasingly desperate to find a baby – but what lengths is he prepared to go to?

Baby Dear is released on 16th May 2017 and available for pre-order now.

Find out more about Linda and her books at the links below:

Amazon Author Page: viewAuthor.at/LindaHuber

Baby Dear univ. link: getBook.at/BabyDear

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorlindahuber

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindaHuber19

website: http://lindahuber.net/

The Summer of New Beginnings

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the Write Romantics’ Blog!

Spring is well and truly upon us and so it’s time for some warmer weather and beach reading.

Today is publication day for my 7th book!  The Summer of New Beginnings is available as an ebook via Amazon and I hope to have it available in paperback within the next few weeks. I’ll be spending publication day with my family but I’m sure I’ll have time for some chocolate and fizz in the evening to celebrate!

For this book I’ve travelled back to Australia, at least in my head. Set in the fictitious suburb of Primrose Bay, the story promises plenty of sun, lots of conflict and of course, love. Read on for the blurb below…

I’m delighted to share this book with you all!

Helen J Rolfe x

The Summer of New Beginnings

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon

They say trouble comes in threes…

Headstrong and organised, Mia is a single mum who wants to fix the world – but the one thing she can’t fix is her family. Responsible older brother Will has fled Primrose Bay, unable to forgive and forget after the ultimate betrayal. And Jasmine, no longer the wayward baby sister, is determined to prove to her brother and sister that she’s just as capable as they are.

Together in the bay after years apart and a separation spanning three continents, it doesn’t take long for the siblings to clash when Mia calls everyone together in a family crisis. And with jealousy and resentment simmering between them, as well as faces from the past and new loves, the family ties could end up being severed forever.

Sometimes we need to lose ourselves in order to find each other again…

Jenny Kane is living the writing dream!

Author jenny Knae signs her latest book at Tiverton's Coast Coffee in Bampton street on Monday

Our guest today on the blog, is the talented and prolific, Jenny Kane. Jenny is the author the contemporary romance Another Glass of Champagne, (Accent Press, 2016),  Christmas at the Castle (Accent Press, 2015), the bestselling novel Abi’s House (Accent Press, 2015), the modern/medieval time slip novel Romancing Robin Hood (Accent Press, 2014), the bestselling novel Another Cup of Coffee (Accent Press, 2013), and its novella length sequels Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013), and Christmas in the Cotswolds (Accent, 2014).

Jenny’s fifth full length romance novel, Abi’s Neighbour, will be published in June 2017.

Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014) and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Hushpuppy, 2015).

Welcome to the Write Romantics, Jenny! Thanks for agreeing to submit to our interview questions and now over to you…

What has surprised you most about being published and has it lived up to the dream?outlaws-ransom-final

It is twelve years since I had my first short story taken by a publisher, and I still can’t believe my luck. I’ve worked with many different publishers since then, and although I’d be kidding myself if I said there have never been frustrations alongside the joys, on the whole it has been fantastic!

To be able to get up every morning and make things up for the entire day- and actually get paid for going so…that is a dream come true!

Can you tell us a bit about the plot for your latest novel?

My latest novel, The Outlaw’s Ransom, is a little bit of a departure from my usual romantic comedy/friendship style fiction. Although it still contains a romantic tale, it is largely a medieval murder mystery.

I’ve been a lover of all things medieval from the first time I clapped eyes on an episode of Robin of Sherwood on the television back in the 1980’s. Since then, I’ve had a fascination with the era- especially the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries- that has never waned. It was this interest that led me to write The Outlaw’s Ransom.

Blurb

The first in an exciting new series by acclaimed author Jenny Kane writing as Jennifer Ash.

When craftsman’s daughter Mathilda is kidnapped by the notorious Folville brothers, as punishment for her father’s debts, she fears for her life.  Although of noble birth, the Folvilles are infamous throughout the county for disregarding the law – and for using any means necessary to deliver their brand of ‘justice’.

Mathilda must prove her worth to the Folvilles in order to win her freedom. To do so she must go against her instincts and, disguised as the paramour of the enigmatic Robert de Folville, undertake a mission that will take her far from home and put her life in the hands of a dangerous brigand – and that’s just the start of things…

A thrilling tale of medieval mystery and romance – and with a nod to the tales of Robin Hood – The Outlaw’s Ransom is perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom and Jean Plaidy.

I loved creating the character of Mathilda of Twyford. I have to confess however, that The Outlaw’s Ransom is not where Mathilda first saw life. The story of The Outlaw’s Ransom appears in a shorter form within my timeslip novel, Romancing Robin Hood (written as Jenny Kane). It was the popularity of the medieval part of that novel that led to The Outlaw’s Ransom– and to its sequel, The Winter Outlaw, which will be published in November 2017.

another-cup-of-coffee-new-cover-2015Who was your first hero and how do you think he’s influenced your writing, if at all?

It might not surprise you, in light of my previous answer, that my first hero was Robin Hood- and indeed- whoever it was who first wrote his stories back in the (I believe) thirteenth century. The love of the ballads led me to research a PhD on the subject of medieval literature and crime- it was completing my doctorate that taught me how to write.

Do you think it’s true that you should ‘write what you know’ and, if so, to what extent have your experiences influenced your writing?

I am guilty of overusing my life experiences within my work. The entire Another Cup of… series (Another Cup of Coffee, Another Cup of Christmas, Christmas in the Cotswolds, Christmas at the Castle and Another Glass of Champagne), is based on my own experiences of life as a student, a mother, a frequenter of coffee shops, and a writer. My Cornish romance, Abi’s House, is set in the Penzance and Sennon Cove area of the country, where my grandparents lived, and where I spent much of my childhood. Even Romancing Robin Hood, which is part set in the modern era and part in the Fourteenth century, steals from my own life. It features a medieval history tutor based at the University of Leicester. I wonder if you can guess what I used to do for a living- and where?

What are you working on at the moment?

I have three projects on the go at the moment. I am double checking the edits of the sequel to Abi’s House- Abi’s Neighbour– which will be out in May. I’m also editing my second Jennifer Ash book, The Winter Outlaw. Meanwhile, I am working on the promotion of my latest Kay Jaybee novella (erotica), Wednesday on Thursday. Once all that is sorted, I have a brand new novel lined up in my head, ready to be dashed out onto the computer before another idea takes hold.

We know you write both romance/women’s fiction and erotica under a different pen name. Do you ever think cow-in-flat-coverabout writing in a different genre, if so, what would you choose?

As well as my erotica (Kay Jaybee), and my historical fiction (Jennifer Ash), I also write children’s picture books. I keep the name Jenny Kane for those- anymore many pen names and I’ll start to forget who I am!

If I branched out further I’d have a go at a thriller- or maybe some horror.

If you could have three writing-related wishes, what would they be?

That’s a tricky one- but here goes….

I’d love to get an advance for my work.

To have all my books available in paperback as well as on Kindle/download.

And this really is wishful thinking – to have one of my novels made into a film.

***

Many thanks for welcoming me to your site today Jo, and for asking such great questions.

Jenny xx

If you’d like to read my first medieval mystery, then The Outlaw’s Ransom is available for your Kindle here –

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outlaws-Ransom-Jennifer-Ash-ebook/dp/B01LZDKPQM/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1475660907&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Outlaw%27s+Ransom+Jennifer+Ash

https://www.amazon.com/Outlaws-Ransom-Jennifer-Ash-ebook/dp/B01LZDKPQM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475660990&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Outlaw%27s+Ransom+Jennifer+Ash

 

Find out more about Jenny at the links below –

Keep your eye on Jenny’s blog at www.jennykane.co.uk for more details.

Jenny also writes as Jennifer Ash.

Jennifer Ash is the author of the medieval murder mystery, The Outlaw’s Ransom (Dec, 2016). Her second novel, The Winter Outlaw, with be published in 2017.

You can find detail’s of Jennifer’s stories at www.jenniferash.co.uk

Twitter- @JennyKaneAuthor

Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/JennyKaneRomance?ref=hl

 

 

In a Manhattan Minute

In a Manhattan Minute is out today! October 20th sees the publication of my fifth novel.

A winter story set in the snow and excitement of the big city, In a Manhattan Minute is the perfect romance to curl up with. And for only 1.99 it’s a bargain price for a trip to New York City…

in-a-manhattan-minute-front-small

Here’s the blurb…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… but when the temperature dips, can Manhattan work its magic?

Jack exists in a world that has seen its fair share of tragedy, but also success and the wealth that comes with it. One snowy night, he crosses paths with Evie, a homeless girl, and it changes everything.

Three years on, Evie’s life is very different. She’s the assistant to a prestigious wedding gown designer, she’s settled in Manhattan, has her own apartment and friendships she holds dear. But the past is lurking in the background, threatening to spoil everything, and it’s catching up with her.

Kent has kept a family secret for two decades, a secret he never wanted to share with his son, Jack. And even though she doesn’t realise it yet, his life is inextricably tangled with Nicole’s, the woman who was his housekeeper for thirteen years and the woman who helped Evie turn her life around.

It’s Christmas and a time for forgiveness, love and Happy Ever Afters. And when the snow starts to fall, the truth could finally bring everyone the gift of happiness they’re looking for.

Grab a hot chocolate, turn on the twinkly lights and snuggle up with this unputdownable heart-warming novel. 
In a Manhattan Minute 

Helen J Rolfe x

 

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

A day out at the seaside? We all know what that means,

A kaleidoscope of what must be uniquely-British scenes.

Embarrassing socks and sandals sported by your dad,

And sand you find in places that you never knew you had.

**

You pack a range of sun-creams to help your pallor wane,

But find yourself in what feels like a full-scale hurricane.

Instead you need a sleeping bag draped across your knees,

The windbreak at an angle of around fifteen degrees.

**

You decide to cheer things up by buying fish and chips,

Despite the fact the deck-chair can barely take your hips.

Seagulls descend like ninjas, they’re nothing if not plucky,

But being in their firing line feels anything but lucky.

**

Still too cold to take a dip you head towards the pier,

There you find a fun-fair and the kids let out a cheer.

Soon you’re several tenners lighter and then put out your back,

Flying down the helter-skelter on an old potato sack.

**

Heading to the arcades, you know it isn’t wise,

To do battle with the grabber that never yields a prize.

Next on to the pub and a pleasing little red,

Let’s do this again tomorrow, is what you somehow said.

**

Despite the dodgy weather and the seagulls on attack,

You love the British seaside and you’ll soon be coming back.

Just before you head off home, you brave a little wade,

An encounter with a jelly-fish is how memories are made!

**

SEB 3I thought I’d start off today with a tongue-in-cheek homage to the British seaside. Although given the weather we’ve been having in my part of the country this week, it’s got even more appeal and is apparently hotter than the Med.

Now I don’t want this little poem to give you the wrong impression, I LOVE the coast and can’t seem to stop writing about it. Maybe not the type of resorts with arcades, but those filled with the sort of uniquely British charm of places like Polperro and Southwold. But it’s the Kentish coast I love most of all and which features in my stories. Maybe it’s because I was born a stone’s throw from Dover’s white cliffs or because I live about five minutes from the pretty seaside town of Whitstable.SEB 2

I set my first novel, Among A Thousand Starsin the real Kentish seaside town of Sandgate, but my new series was inspired by the fictional town of St Nicholas Bay’s connection to Charles Dickens. As a result it combines the old world charm of Rochester’s quaint tearooms and quirky shops, with the steep high street at Broadstairs, which leads down to a golden bay lined with colourfully painted beach huts. Many people who’ve read the Christmas novella that sparked the series, and which will be re-released by Accent Press in November, tell me that St Nicholas Bay is a character in itself.

Somebody else's boy cover finalSo if you fancy a trip to a beautiful seaside town, with none of the hassle of getting sand in your unmentionables, I’d be thrilled if you checked out my new novel, released today – Somebody Else’s Boy. It tells the story of Jack, a young widower raising his baby son alone and the new life he finds against the odds in St Nicholas Bay, and his house-mate, Nancy, who’s struggling to keep a secret because of the promise she made to someone who no longer knows her name…

Either way, I hope you have some fabulous plans for the bank holiday weekend and maybe a little trip to the seaside is in order after all!

Jo xx

Somebody Else’s Boy is released by Accent Press on 25th August 2016 and available here.

The Chocolatier’s Secret

Today it’s publication day for The Chocolatier’s Secret!

The Chocolatier's Secret- KDP version

 

This book is the second story in the Magnolia Creek series, but can be read as a standalone novel.

In The Chocolatier’s Secret, we return to the quiet town of Magnolia Creek, nestled in a beautiful setting in Victoria, Australia, not far from the city of Melbourne.

Today is publication day for the ebook, but the paperback will be on its way very soon. I can’t wait to hold the book in my hands! It’s always such a special moment 🙂

I already have plans for a third book in this series but for now I’m working on a Christmas novel, set in a different location.

I hope you’ll raise a glass of bubbly, have a block of chocolate nearby and enjoy reading this novel. I loved writing it.

Helen J Rolfe  x

Here’s the blurb…

Will one mistake ruin everything?

Andrew Bennett has an idyllic life in Magnolia Creek, Australia. He runs a chocolate business he adores, is married to Gemma, the love of his life, and has a close relationship with his father, Louis. But when Andrew receives a message from his high school sweetheart, it sends his world into a spiral, and the relationships he holds dear will never be the same again.

Molly Ramsey is looking for answers. After her last attempt, she believes the only way to get them this time is to face her past head-on. But to do this, she has to fly to the other side of the world – and she’s afraid of flying. Her search for answers lands her in an emotional tangle, not only with her past but also with a man very much in her present.

Family is everything to Gemma Bennett and she longs to have a house full of kids, but it just isn’t happening. And when Andrew’s past makes an explosive impact on the family, Gemma must decide whether she can accept the truth and open her heart in a way she never thought possible.

In this story of love, family ties and forgiveness, will past mistakes be the obstacle to a Happy Ever After?

You can buy The Chocolatier’s Secret here 

 

The WRs, Aiden Turner and 6 billion post-it notes: it’s all in the planning.

aidan-turner-poldarkThe Write Romantics have a secret. I’ve said it now, it’s out there. Don’t get too excited, it’s nothing that involves weird rituals or complicated handshakes, and certainly nothing involving dalliances with celebrities you could sell to the Sun newspaper. More’s the pity. That said some of us do have Pinterest boards that might make Aidan Turner want to take out a restraining order…

Our real ‘secret’, though, is the private Facebook group we use. It’s like a virtual watercooler around which the ten of us meet to gossip, complain, share and celebrate our writing lives and beyond. It helps stave off the loneliness that can come with being a writer and it’s also a brilliant source of information.

Just recently, Alys, who teaches creative writing, as well as creating fantastic fantasy and steampunk novels, asked us to tell her our methods for organising writing ideas, so that she could share these with her students. Suffice it to say that, as a pantster, I learnt a lot and I promised to share the responses here. I hope you enjoy it and we’d love you to comment if you have your own methods. Let’s face it, I for one still have a lot to learn.

Jo x

—–

Alys

I’m a notebook and photos kind of person. I had a pinterest board for my steampunk book that I used while I was writing, but mainly for fab pictures of clothes, hats and steamcars!

Helen R

I make notes on my iPhone and then email to myself… I have a file in Hotmail with lots of ideas now! I don’t think I have time to write them all though. Once upon a time it was a notepad but now phone is easier as I always have it with me. When I start a new book I have a new file and stash away photos, drafts, character notes etc

Jackie

I have a whiteboard for particular stories and stickies on the computer. I also use three separate pages of ‘notes’ on my iPad for names, titles and emotions. Although don’t let this give you entirely the wrong impression, I also usually have a whole heap paper in my ‘office’.

Helen P

I use Pinterest boards for every book, notebooks and I have a notice board for each book where I pin my pictures and postit-169631_960_720ideas. I also use a whiteboard to keep track of characters and plot strands. Evernote on my phone is great too, when I’m awake at 4 am but can’t be bothered getting out of bed to write it down! Oh, and post-its. Lots of them.

Jo

I have a little black book and notes on the pc, but I am a disorganised pantster so would not want to give anyone my advice. I tried Pinterest once, but then I forgot to go on there for ages and now I can’t remember the password… Are you sensing a theme here?

Lynne

I email stuff to myself and store it in a file called ‘inspiration’ and I have a notebook with me all the time and one by the bed to jot nocturnal notes in.

Deirdre

I have nice hardback notebooks, plus little one for my bedside table and even smaller one for my handbag which I always forget to take, but that’s the theory. I’ve got a computer file labelled ideas but never remember it’s there, so the notebooks work best for me. I also keep a file of cuttings from newspapers etc which might trigger ideas and a Pinterest board to store images.

Rachael

I have a special notebook where I write each new idea. It might be a title, or just a sentence, but each idea has its own page. As the idea develops in my mind, I then open a file on my computer for it and add photos, info etc and build it that way.

pinterestSharon

I use a secret Pinterest board for each book. I jot ideas that pop into my head on my phone then I write up rough story ideas on the computer. When it’s time to pull it all together and start plotting and going into motivation, theme etc, I use a notebook. I also have a pinboard with a timeline worked out for a couple of characters and a complete list of all the Kearton Bay characters’ birthdays and the ages they’ll be in each book.

Jessica

I use a mix of post it notes and other little notes hiding in a drawer and a file on my mac which has ideas for titles and ideas for concepts.

—-

We hope you enjoyed hearing how we capture our writing ideas, now over to you.

Through the Instagram App and What Sharon Found There

Through the Instagram App and What Sharon Found There

Recently, I joined a marketing group on Facebook, formed to help writers and small business owners (the businesses are small, not the owners—although, they may be small, too, who knows?) improve their public profile.

It’s a tough world out there, you know. I may be famous in my own back yard—as in, a new book brings a flurry of excitement from my mother, my mother’s neighbour, my sister and my aunt—but if I’m to make any impact on the world, or even my little corner of it, I have to get my name, and my work, “out there”, wherever the heck “there” may be.

We’ve been discussing social media. Are you on Twitter? Tick. Facebook? Tick. Do you have a Facebook author page? Tick. A blog? Tick. Pinterest? Tick. Instagram? Er, what, now?  “Ah, Instagram. The new, trendy app that simply anyone who is anyone is using.”  “Okay, well I’m not sixteen and I have no idea about Instagram. Help, please?”

In the event, it turned out that most of the other people in the group had no idea about Instagram either, so I decided to march forth and try out this brave new world for myself.

Does anyone have a clue?

Does anyone have a clue?

First step—as always—was to Google it for information. First question. What is Instagram? Google was most helpful. “You’re kidding, right? I mean, how old are you? A hundred and six?” (I jest, of course. Google would never be so flippant, or so rude.) Having determined that Instagram was an app that basically lets you share photos online (you know, kind of like Pinterest, or Facebook, or Twitter…), I decided that I HAD to be part of this amazing feat of technology.

First lesson. You can’t join Instagram online. You have to download an app to your phone. Having just figured out how to turn my brand new Windows phone on, I was in the marvellous position of being able to do just that. So I duly downloaded the app. Now what?

Second lesson. You have to have a username and password. Okay, fine. I’ll just use my name. Except, my name wasn’t available. My own name! Harsh. Okay, let’s go for my own name and date of birth. Not available. Well, that was just rude. How could my own name and date of birth not be available? Who pinched them? I tried various combinations of words and numbers and not one of them was available. In desperation, I used my nickname and birthday. Aha! Allowed. So I was finally signed up for Instagram.

Third lesson. Your username is available for everyone to see. Oh drat. I don’t want to be known as that. I thought it was private. Okay, how do I change my username? Back to my beloved Google, which scratched its head, rolled its eyes, tutted in despair and said, “You do know what edit profile means?” Oh. I hadn’t noticed that. So back I went and clicked on “edit profile”. Delete username. Add new username. Done. Well, that was easy. Just add a short bio now…

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Not the actual book I didn’t win because I DIDN’T win it.

Fourth lesson. Your bio has to be very, very short. Shorter than a tweet. After rambling on, explaining how I once played the queen in a school play, and how I never got over not having my name picked out of a hat to win a signed copy of a Bobby Brewster book after the author visited our primary school, in spite of the fact that I was the only child in the class who actually read for pleasure, I was informed, quite sternly, that my bio was far too long and I’d better cut it. I deleted a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter. Eventually, I was down to the permitted length. Success. My bio was complete. My profile was done. Except…

Fifth lesson. For some reason I cannot fathom, Instagram had taken my Facebook profile picture and used it as my Instagram profile picture. Since the picture wasn’t even of me, this didn’t seem at all useful. Back I went to Facebook and searched, in increasing desperation, for a photograph of me that looked reasonably human and didn’t feature me posing with Benedict Cumberbatch. What do you mean, camera trickery? It was all perfectly genuine, I’ll have you know. Anyway, I finally found one where, not only am I alone, not only am I not staring in horror with my hand half over my face, pleading with someone not to take my picture, but I am actually smiling. Crikey! So I changed that to my profile picture. (When I got home from work that night, the picture had loads of likes

100% genuine *cough*

100% genuine *cough*

and nice comments. I think my Facebook friends were stunned that I’d actually posted a photo of myself. I’m not the most photogenic of people, let’s face it.) So there I was, fully signed up and all profiled up for Instagram. Except…

Sixth lesson. I had no idea what I was supposed to actually do on there. I posted on my Facebook writer’s page, announcing that I had joined, and asking, quite genuinely, “What do I do now?” Back came several replies. “We have no idea, but when you find out can you let us know, please?” I really do have to get some younger, trendier friends. So, I decided to trawl through other people’s Instagram accounts and get some idea of what I was supposed to be posting. Hmm.

Seventh lesson. There is one huge snag with Instagram. You’re supposed to do things, see things, go places that are interesting. Since I’m usually either at home, writing, or at work, er, working, this doesn’t really apply to me. I tried my Write Romantic pal, Rachael Thomas, for help first. Her account featured lots of beautiful pictures of the countryside. Well, you see, Rachael isn’t just a fantastically talented romance writer. Oh, no. She’s also a dairy farmer. So when she skips merrily out of her house in the morning, she can raise her camera phone and sing happy little Disney songs and balance little blue birds on her hand as she takes gorgeous pictures of the Welsh countryside, pretty animals and—you know—stuff like that.  I, on the other hand, live in a city. I don’t much fancy taking pictures of the dustcart blocking our way out of the road yet again, or the latest takeaway that’s opened nearby because, after all, we’ve only got thirty takeaways in our area already, or the roadworks at the end of the street that have been there for weeks, even though whoever put them there seems to have forgotten all about them. So what to do?

Here's one I made earlier- honest!

Here’s one I made earlier- honest!

Eighth lesson. Everyone has photographs of cake. I mean, everyone! People bake and then they take pictures of their culinary creations so the rest of us can a) feel suddenly in desperate need of cake and b) hang our heads in shame because we haven’t baked since nineteen ninety-eight. (That may actually be true, in my case.) Even Rachael had posted a photograph of a cake she’d made! How does she find time for that, for heaven’s sake? I turned to my other Write Romantic chum, Helen Phifer. Helen is really busy, just like Rachael. But Helen writes ghostly crime stories. She collects photos of haunted houses and—you know—creepy stuff. I can rely on Helen. Oh, Helen! Cupcakes! Seriously? But yes, there they were. Cupcakes. Okay, they were in among some creepy stuff (and some lovely stuff, too!) but they were there. I had to take photos of cake. It was obviously the way to go. A quick scout around our kitchen revealed two stale Jacob’s cream crackers and a broken custard cream. I suppose I could have photographed them as some sort of artistic statement. But no…Things were getting critical.

Ninth lesson. Instagram makes you desperate to photograph anything. I mean, anything. I spent the entire day wandering around looking at “things” and wondering if they would make a good subject for a picture on Instagram. I even trawled through old Facebook photos, trying to convince myself that I could post some of them and pretend they were new. Then I realised that I didn’t like any of them anyway, so that was pointless. I decided I would have to buy cake and start—you know—actually going out. Desperate times.

Tessa to the rescue

Tessa to the rescue

Tenth lesson. When in doubt, remember man’s best friend. Okay, so I don’t bake, and I didn’t have cake in the house, and I don’t go anywhere. But what I do have, which seems to be very acceptable, is a pet. My lovely German Shepherd, Tessa (who features in my Kearton Bay books, albeit aged by some years and with a personality that’s the opposite of the real version, but is still lovely—not that I’m plugging my books, you understand. Ahem) was most obliging. As I scoured the house, looking for something that I could take a picture of, she gave a sudden sneeze, drawing my attention to her. She was lying by the sofa and as I leaned forward to get a better look at her, she gave me a worried look as if to say, “Why are you pointing that phone at me? Get away from me, you mad creature!” Too late, Tessa! A click and I had it! Feverishly, I looked at my photograph. Ah, my beautiful dog. You are the perfect subject for my first Instagram photograph!

Eleventh lesson. Uploading, or downloading, or whatever it is you do with the wretched things, isn’t as easy as you’d think. For a start, I couldn’t figure out how to crop the picture, and Instagram likes your photos to be square. Back I went to Google. “Oh, God. It’s you again. What now?” it sighed. Still, it was very obliging, and I managed to find an app that ensured all my photos were suitable for Instagram, and I didn’t have to worry about cropping or any of that technical stuff. Problem solved. So my picture of Tessa was duly up/downloaded. Then I up/downloaded pictures of my People’s Friend pocket novel. Then pictures of my two books. Then a picture of Winter Tales (which is back on sale, by the way). Then a picture of my notebooks to show that I was about to start plotting and drafting a new book, because, after all, I’m a writer, and that was the point of joining Instagram in the first place – to remind people that I write books and they’re worth reading, even if I do say so myself (and my mum’s neighbour agrees with me, so there). The point was not to prove that I bake cakes or go places or socialise or anything like that. Right?

Hmm. I still have to work out how, why, or if I should share my Instagram photos to Facebook. I also have to fathom the mysterious world of the hashtag, so my adventures in Instagramland are not over yet. I have a feeling that I’m going to be looking at life through a lens from now on. Everything is a photo opportunity.

Look out, world. Sharon’s got a camera – and she’s not afraid to use it. In fact, she’s quite desperate…

Sharon xxx

A Patchwork Village

Regular followers of the blog may notice a difference in our Wednesday posts from now on. After a long – and very successful – run, we’ve decided to drop our regular “Wednesday Wondering” and instead post each week on a whole variety of topics, writing and reading related (well, mostly!). Book reviews – always popular – will still feature from time to time. We do hope you enjoy our “new look” Wednesdays, and please continue to comment. We do love to hear from you!

Write Romantic Sharon starts us off with today’s post: The Patchwork Village

I’m at quite an exciting stage in my writing life at the moment. Having spent the last four years immersed in the fictional village of Kearton Bay—the North Yorkshire coastal location based on real-life Robin Hood’s Bay—I’m currently working on a new series set in an entirely new place.

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Scenic Whitby

This has been quite an adventure for me. Don’t get me wrong—I love Kearton Bay and can’t wait to return to it to write the last two books in the series. However, there’s something irresistible about starting anew. A fresh page. A clean slate. And, ooh, a whole host of new characters and settings to think about.

What’s different about my new series is that, whereas Kearton Bay was strongly based on a real village and I could picture all the buildings and streets quite clearly in my mind, the new settings are entirely fictional. They are located in a real area—the Yorkshire Dales—but the actual towns and villages don’t exist at all, and neither does the dale they nestle in. I’m having to build the whole thing up entirely in my mind’s eye. And that’s why, for the last few weeks, I’ve been creating my patchwork villages.

With the Kearton Bay novels, I took photos of Robin Hood’s Bay and explored the village many times. I gave it a relatively close neighbour—the fictional market town of Helmston, which was based on Helmsley. I simply moved Helmston much closer to Kearton Bay than Helmsley is to Robin Hood’s Bay. I then added its adjacent village, Farthingdale, and another village close by called Moreton Cross (which is never actually visited, only mentioned), and anchored the whole lot a few miles south of Whitby to ensure everyone knew exactly where Kearton Bay was supposed to be. Simple. Of course, I changed all the businesses and street names, but in my mind, I could see the whole area very clearly, because I’d actually been there.

Although I’ve been to the Dales, I have no point of reference for my new villages. Instead, I’ve been patching together buildings and landmarks that I’ve seen in various places, and stitching them into a wonderful fictional landscape for my characters to live in.

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Masham church, Yorkshire Dales

It’s fun to do. Holidays have provided me with lots of lovely inspiration—not just for the Yorkshire Dales series, but for later books, too. The grand church spire in Louth; the peaceful churchyard in Masham; a picturesque thatched cottage in Thornton-le Dale; a village duck pond in Bishop Burton; an ancient pub; a shop with a fun name that would make a great name for a village café; a grand house in my home town of Hessle; a ruined abbey; a ramshackle farm in Swaledale—the possibilities are endless. Of course, you do have to be aware of the architectural style of the area. Not many twee cottages with straw roofs in the rugged and wind-blown upper Dales!

My family have got used to me stopping to take photographs of interesting buildings, even though they can’t see the appeal. I like to gaze out of the window as we’re driving around, looking at the houses we pass and wondering what sort of people live there. I’ve always been the same. I remember when I was a little girl, taking the bus from our town to visit my grandparents in Hull, gazing at a bungalow that we passed and weaving a story about the inhabitants. It stood out from the other houses in the road, being a bungalow, and also because it had white walls, unlike all the red brick houses that surrounded it. It also appeared to have a paddock at the back, which, for someone as pony-mad as me, was enough to spark my imagination and dream up all sorts of adventures for the fictional family who lived there.

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Thatched cottage, Thornton-le-Dale

Even now, I love it when I find buildings that don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the houses that surround them. An ordinary street that contains an oddity—perhaps a really old house that must have been standing there a long time before the rest of the houses were built, or a passageway that leads to a row of old cottages, or a wall that you can’t see over which could be hiding a real gem—can delight and intrigue me, and really set my mind working overtime.

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Thwaite, Swaledale

For the Yorkshire Dales series, I’m dreaming up an outlying farmhouse, a village, a hamlet, and a market town with a very unusual history and some rather quirky inhabitants. I even had to research place names, as a lot of names in the Dales are of Old Norse origin, and I wanted to give the area an authentic sounding name.  I’m busily pinning pictures to my secret Pinterest board for inspiration, and when the books are ready to go I’ll be sharing them publicly, so anyone who wants to know what the various components of the locations look like will be able to see for themselves. It’s a real collection of tiny little pieces of many places. A real patchwork, in fact. Now I just have to finish the stories!

Sharon xx