Blog

The Corona Diaries Part II –

Day Whatever…It’s over a month since my last blog post and the diary entries remain the same: Exercise, interspersed with the weekly shopping trip, the distribution of groceries to elderly family members, nurturing my veggie seeds and the knitting project (only one sleeve left to complete). Joe Wicks is right, endorphins are good for you.

However, firmer thighs are not the only positive improvements in recent weeks. The writing mojo is back, and it wasn’t thanks to a Charles Dickens Masterclass, or even a tutorial from Neil Gaiman, who still regularly pops into my FB feed, but a good old fashioned book. I went back to basics. I sat in my garden and I read.

(Not me not my garden)

With hopes of a summer holiday dashed, I took advantage of the hot sunny Easter weekend, set up the sun-lounger and devoured a serious number of pages in a relatively short space of time. So what was this marvellous book which worked its magic and reminded me of just how much I wanted to be a writer? The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris.

Joanne’s book Chocolat remains one of my all time favourites. The Strawberry Thief picks up the story of the same characters several years on, and just like its predecessor, it’s a book that had me captivated from the word go. It’s one of those books you want to immerse yourself in, to roll amongst the pages, which, as the story reaches its end, you want to turn slower and slower, to savour every moment, to linger, knowing you will feel bereft at leaving behind the characters whose journey you have shared.

This is what I love about writing! Creating that feeling, evoking that emotion. I want to write stories that weave their way into hearts, leaving warm glows of satisfaction, I want readers to invest in my characters, to share their hopes and fears, to cheer them on. And even if my books don’t send readers into a soaring frenzy of appreciation and rapturous exaltation, they might at least put a smile on a face.

So yes, I returned to my keyboard – determined to carry on.

At the start of lockdown Mr T’s conference calls were an unwelcome intrusion in my creativity. Now they have become my background white noise. And I’ve done more than just write, I’ve bitten the bullet and started submitting my new book (previously referred to as my WIP) to a handful of literary agents. Submitting is a laborious process and quite naturally no two agents want the same thing (why make things easy?) Every e-mail has to be hand-crafted and attachments customised. Naturally I’ve heard nothing back, which isn’t totally unexpected. I’ve been here before. I know how long these things take and this time I will be patient. I know the system. I’m older and wiser this time round. I also know publishers, and readers, want a series, a ‘brand’, so I’ve picked up where I left off,  and am continuing with a half-baked sequel (the new WIP), which is now growing daily, despite the attention seeking endeavours of Ed the cat (who seems to be going through a period of lockdown neurosis) to distract me.

Ed pleased to be back at his desk

But then disaster struck! Just as that enthusiasm returned,  I discovered a particularly picky 2* Review on Amazon for the Theatre of Dreams.  I’m a writer, my books are out there in the big wide world and I know everyone is entitled to their opinion, but remember guys, although I’ve done my best to develop a writer’s suit of armour, that rhinoceros thick skin, every little knock still hurts!  All those insecurities returned. Do I really have what it takes? Am I totally wasting my time? Why couldn’t they just keep quiet if they didn’t like it…

The last thing I need is a bad review when agents might be checking out my Amazon page (do they do that?) But then, just days later, this happened (punches air with glee!) – a review for Your Secret’s Safe With Me featuring my favourite word “immersive“:

“Sometimes I get to read a book that stays with me days after I have finished it and this is one of those books. Deeply immersive, beautifully drawn characters, and an intriguing family drama. Highly recommended.”

I know I can’t please all of the people all of the time, but I don’t have to. That’s not why I write. Some of the people, some of the time will do for me (although obviously if any literary agents are out there reading this, then of course my books will appeal to absolutely everybody…)

https://www.rosietravers.com/your-secrets-safe-with-me/

https://www.rosietravers.com/the-theatre-of-dreams/

The Corona Diaries

I know everyone is doing this right now – keeping their ‘lockdown diary’ – preserving this moment in time for future generations.  If your daily routine is anything like mine, then these diaries are hardly going to be riveting reading.  

Woke up, got up, had breakfast, stayed home….

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not bored. I’m filling my day, and there’s no end of suggestions out there of how to spend this ‘idle time.’ However, I’m ignoring them.

The internet clearly knows I’m a writer because my FB and Twitter feed is full of adverts for those author masterclasses. Now is my chance to write like Neil Gaiman or Margaret Atwood. I don’t want to write like Neil Gaiman and certainly not Margaret Atwood (dystopia is not my thing and even less so right now). I’d be perfectly happy writing like Rosie Travers if the words would come and they’re still not. I can’t keep blaming the presence of Mr T in his home office for this – it’s a question of concentration.

I know they tell you when you retire you should take up an intellectual challenge, be it a daily crossword puzzle or learning the violin, to regenerate new brain cells, but retirement is very different from this enforced isolation. I’d be happy to take up on-line Astrophysics if I thought after half an hour I could pop out to the garden centre for a large chunk of carrot cake and a natter with a couple of a girlfriends. But I can’t. That’s the difference.

I don’t need an intellectual challenge, I don’t need that pressure to self-improve, I need feel-good vibes, something to block out that gnawing anxiety, that uncertainty, and not just for myself. Yes I’m healthy, yes thankfully so are my family, but I worry about people I don’t know who’ve lost their loved ones, or their jobs, their livelihoods. The repercussions and implications of this unprecedented situation will be long term.  

We’re all doing our best to cope in whatever way we know how.  My advice, for what it’s worth, is just do something that makes you happy.  If baking is your thing – bake. If it’s jigsaw puzzles, jigsaw. It’s dot-to-dot, just do it!  

Last week I tweeted about my Corona knitting project – and it clearly struck a chord. I received more likes and engagement on that one tweet than I’ve ever had on anything I’ve ever posted about my books.  (Likewise my garden pictures on Instagram although this might reiterate how inadequate I’ve been at book marketing…)

I know there are people out there who will revel in the opportunity to take up a new challenge, who will see the act of sowing a handful of vegetable seeds as the ultimate in the mundane – but each to their own. In troubled times people need to take comfort, and personal well-being has to be paramount. If your lockdown diary consists of a daily timetable of  9.00 am Art with Vincent Van Gogh, 11.00 am Mozart’s Piano Masterclass 12.00 Story telling with Charles Dickens, so be it.

Personally I’m sticking with 9.00 am Joe Wicks  (because we all know exercise produces those feel-good endorphins) 11.00 am limp out to greenhouse to check on seedlings, 12.00 collapse onto sofa, knit.

Eat your heart out Samuel Pepys!

Working From Home

As I’m a writer I’m used to social isolation.  In fact, it was being ‘in isolation’ – moving somewhere new, being stuck indoors, not knowing anyone, having far too much time on my hands – that actually kick-started my writing career. I’m not by nature a gregarious person, I’ve always been quite good at keeping myself amused although I do venture out to meet up with friends once or twice a week, and I do go shopping, go to yoga, go swimming and enjoy long walks in the countryside… but to write, I need solitude.

In theory I should be relishing the conditions that have been now been forced upon us. This is the optimum time to complete another novel. But the problem is I’m very easily distracted, and I’ve never been able to concentrate on my ‘work’ when there are other people in the house.

And that’s the difference with this current period of enforced ‘isolation’. There are now other people in the house.

On the odd occasions Mr T has worked from home in the past he has spread himself out over the dining table.  He’s come home to write reports, or simply to get away from the interruptions of the office for the afternoon. However now he’s working full-time from home, the dining table isn’t practical (and I thought I was the messy one).  He has phone calls to make. In fact I’ve realised that when he is in proper working mode that’s all he does all day, make  phone calls. He needs a designated office space. He needs to be behind a closed door.

Fortunately we had just given my study a bit of a re-vamp and ordered a new compact work-station. My much loved well-travelled old desk had been unceremoniously shuffled along the landing to the box room, where it had to be dismantled to fit through the door, and re-assembled with the vague notion of this room becoming Mr T’s man-cave when he retires (and it is quite literally a cave – north facing room, small window with a view of the exterior wall of the extension, very little day-light). Just in the nick of time! The box room is now Mr T’s official place of work.

I do like a bit of background ‘white noise’ when I’m writing. I usually keep the radio on downstairs, and I’m also an open door type person – and that’s the problem. An open door means come-in. An open door means I can hear Mr T’s phone calls (and he tells me off for shouting when I’m on my mobile to my mother!) And there’s also Skype calls. Yes we nearly had had one of those BBC journalist with the Korean family moments when I didn’t realise he was on camera…

I want to crack on with a new project. Word count so far this week – zero. The garden is looking immaculate and my Coronavirus knitting project (a jumper I shall probably never wear simply because of the connotations of its conception) is coming on nicely. I’ve also dusted off the Wii fit and I’m rising up the Yoga Master rankings. We’re only one week in. Three or four I could possibly cope with as long as the restrictions on going out for exercise don’t tighten. I have devised a walking circuit that gets me out for at least an hour a day and can see it extending to longer. But the prospect of twelve weeks…

I sense tough times ahead. Yes I appreciate we are lucky. Mr T can work from home and is still on full-pay. We are both fit and healthy and fingers crossed that’s the way it will stay. But whether my fingers will hit the keyboard is another matter.

It’s no consolation to be told William Shakespeare wrote his best work while in quarantine from the plague. Good for him is all I can say. Clearly Mrs Shakespeare knew her place and kept well out of his way.

Top of the Class

Last Thursday was World Book Day, and so when daughter No 1 asked if I would like to come and talk to her class of five year olds about being a writer….how could I refuse?  Quite easily actually, because I don’t write children’s books, and with both my daughters now being in their twenties, I’ve long lost an affinity to all things child related.

However, budgets are tight at my daughter’s school, and it wasn’t so much an ask, as a plea, so of course I said yes. I’d love to come and talk about being an author and deliver a ‘workshop’ to the class on story writing, after all the principles of story writing are the same for adults as for children. All books have a beginning, middle, and an end, and invariably involve characters with a problem or dilemma to overcome.

It’s a long time since my children were in infants school, and as a dutiful Mum I always tried to do my bit when parental help was needed – but my daughters went to school in semi-rural Hampshire. My daughter teaches at an inner city school in North London. A completely different kettle of fish.

However, I accepted the challenge and decided to keep things simple and concentrate on “creating characters” rather than re-writing War and Peace. Find me some hats, I told my daughter, and we’ll go from there. She approved my hastily drawn up plan – because naturally I had no more than a few days’ notice (why would I need any more?) – and I hurriedly composed a short story to read at the end of the session, because there’s no point pretending to be a magnificent story-teller if you haven’t got a story to tell.  Children can be very astute.

The plan was for groups to work as a team to come up with a character who wore their hat and plot a very basic story outline. Naturally there were squabbles, because although the hats were randomly placed on each group’s table, not everyone was happy with their allocated headgear. I tried to encourage imagination, think outside the box, take your character on a journey – we had picture prompts, boats and trains and buses. We talked about how an ordinary walk to school can provide inspiration; how listening to grandparents’ talking of the good old days, an overheard conversation on a bus, a favourite pet, can all spark ideas for stories.

Although the teamwork aspect left a lot to be desired, overall, I was impressed with the variety of characters the children created. Naturally the fireman’s hat belonged to a fireman, but with a few prompts, a story developed of a team of firemen who lived in their fire-engine, sleeping in bunkbeds. We had a pilot who took his plane into the future and into the past – and to Jamaica so that he could have a McDonalds, and possibly a swim and sit on the beach. We had a giraffe who escaped from London zoo, and a far less charming and slightly alarming plotline from one child which could have come straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.

My own story involved Buttons the Bear, who worried too much, unless he wore his grandma’s hat, which he subsequently lost.  The story seemed to go down very well with Year 1, but when I repeated the workshop to Year 2 – where flesh eating pizzas appeared on one group’s storyboard – they seemed slightly less enthralled. Sadly, Buttons is probably not going to be the next Gruffalo.

However, the staff were very grateful I had turned up. Visitors always go down well, something different to break the routine. Once, along ago, I mentioned to my mother I’d like to be a teacher. My mother – who was a teacher – promptly handed me a book entitled ‘Don’t Do It’ which had been given to her back in the 1950s when she first qualified.  It was always going to be a no-go area for me, but my daughter is a natural and I have every admiration for anyone who can stand up in a classroom of thirty children – of varying abilities and levels of engagement – and motivate them to be the best they can. After one morning in the classroom I was exhausted.

It was another journey out of my comfort zone; with no financial reward, or opportunity to self-promote, but this wasn’t about me.  This was about sharing my love of reading and writing and hopefully instilling a little of that passion in others.  And who knows, I could well have inspired a whole new generation of authors – because when I asked who wanted to be a writer when they grew up, thirty hands shot up in the air!

That’s the magic of books!

And in a post-script to my last post, over 900 people have now signed the petition at Lowford Library protesting against Hampshire’s plans to cut services. Fingers crossed the community will continue to have access to their local libary.

SOS – Save Our Services

Last week I received a plea for help from a lovely lady called  Eve. I first met Eve when I volunteered at my local community library in the village of Lowford in Hampshire.  Community libraries are run by the council’s library service, who provide the books and technical support, but don’t employ any full-time staff. Eve is one of a group of approximately 25 regular volunteers who keep this library open six days a week.

Hardworking volunteers give up their time to support the library service

Hampshire County Council have announced plans to reduce the library service in order to save £1.76 m from their budget.    The Council have issued a very bulky consultation document to argue their case for cutting these services (if there is one device guaranteed to deter the public from gleaning facts it’s a bulky consultation document). One option they are considering is to close ten Hampshire libraries completely, the other is for a reduction in hours across all libraries in the county. Plus they intend to withdraw support from the four community libraries in the county to save another £49,000, which would make a total of 14 libraries to close.

Eve asked if I could help raise awareness of the campaign against these cuts through my links on social media. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much clout on social media as Eve thinks I do but I promised to do my bit.  Several Hampshire authors  with far more influence than me, Neil Gaiman, Clare Fuller, David Nicholls to name three, have already taken up the fight and are shouting loud about the detrimental effects on local communities.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-51106608

One of my earliest childhood memories is the weekly visit to the village library. It was situated above a fire-station, and involved a climb up some very steep stairs. It wasn’t very big, and I grew up in a house where we already had plenty of books, but this weekly visit was a treat. It’s where I read my first Dr Seuss.

When I had my own children, I took them to the library too. My kids took part in story-time, craft sessions and summer reading challenges. A visit to the library was part and parcel of growing up. Give a child a book, and you give a child a window to a whole new world.

But that was back in the good old days, when public libraries were considered an essential part of a community, when cultural enlightenment and education were valued by the powers that be and readily available for all. Now in this affluent, progressive 21st century, these resources are being eroded. Why? What sort of society are we creating where these aspirations are given such little value?

The people of Lowford fought hard to establish their library.  After a somewhat shaky start due to an internal dispute in local politics, this library is essentially only in its third full year of operation. It is situated in a purpose built community centre and the library hosts several community groups – Knit and Natter, a book club, a creative writing group, a scrabble club, and there is the potential for more. Local pre-schools and nurseries make regular visits, as do the local Citizens Advice Bureau. There is a flourishing, independently run café upstairs in the same building, which again is just taking off. It’s the sort of facility a council should be proud of.


A show of support for Lowford Library – the Community has come together to support the campaign to save valuable library services in Hampshire

Thousands of new homes are currently being built across Hampshire, several hundred within a two mile radius of Lowford alone. An influx of population at the same time as proposed cuts to local services doesn’t make any sense at all.

Anyone who has ever visited a library will know that it is so much more than a place to come and simply borrow books.   I wonder how many of these councillors sat in their high castle at Winchester have ever been stuck at home with a fractious toddler, and thought, let’s take a walk to the library? How many of these decision-makers have spent a lonely, isolated, afternoon and decided to visit their local library just to get out of the house and seek a friendly face?

The Council argue ‘other libraries are available’, which they are – a car ride away. Don’t get me started on public transport services in rural communities…

They are suggesting if financial support for the community libraries is withdrawn volunteers could take on the ‘autonomous’ running of the facility. The volunteers at Lowford already give up their time freely to support the library, they don’t want to run it. There is a huge difference.

I no longer live close to Lowford, but I’ve signed their petition and I’ve completed the relevant sections on the consultation form regarding Hampshire’s plans. Contrary to all the normal library rules and regulations this is not the time to BE QUIET!

I don’t often get on my high horse, but I suppose the message I want to get across is if do you have a library in your community use it, because if you don’t it’ll be gone in a blink of an eye. And if you do live in Hampshire, please make your thoughts known at

https://www.hants.gov.uk/aboutthecouncil/haveyoursay/consultations/library-consultation

.

A New Era

This post has got nothing to do with the ‘B’ word but something quite significant happened on Friday, 31 January 2020.

My publishing contract for The Theatre of Dreams was up, and I took the hugely momentous step (well it felt hugely momentous for a complete techno-phobe like me) of putting the ebook back up on Amazon all by myself. I’m now a self-published as well as a traditionally published author.

My original publishing contract was short – just two years when I think the average in the industry is five, so I always knew this day would come round pretty quick. I didn’t realise just how quick – or how long it takes to become established in this business. 2019 flew by in a flash, life got in the way, and I didn’t have the time, or enthusiasm if I’m honest,  to dedicate to writing or marketing my existing novels as effectively as I’d have liked.  I don’t feel I’ve done either of my books justice, and I couldn’t let The Theatre of Dreams disappear into oblivion so soon – especially as I was booked to do on author talk in Fareham, a town which features in the book, just a week after the publisher removed it from Amazon….

I did spend most of Thursday tearing my hair-out, despite the fact that my publisher had very kindly given me back an already formatted Word Document which was a great help, and generously donated the existing cover.  However, once I’d realised I’d missed out a vital step in the whole uploading process, well there it was, my ebook was back up and running, just in the nick of time. I could give my talk with a clear conscience without feeling like a complete fraud.

So my talk. That was another quite significant moment because I am not a natural public speaker. I’d committed to give this talk way back in the summer after being approached by someone who’d got my name from the local WI – where I’ve already promised to speak later this year.

I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for, but it transpired I was to be the special guest at a ‘literary lunch’ for 50, organised by a group of ladies who raise funds for cancer research. It felt like quite an honour, and I was a little over-awed. It’s that imposter syndrome again (do they know I’ve only written two books?).

Anyway, after numerous rehearsals in front of a my very unappreciative cat, my thirty minute spiel on my ‘path to publication aka my rocky road’ (which provides the opportunity  for a biscuit analogy – hard bits, the crunch, the soft-squishy marshmallow bits and the delicious chocolate moments, etc etc) went without a hitch. I threw in a couple of little quizzes to encourage audience participation, everyone laughed in all the right places, there was a good question and answer session at the end, and I sold more than enough paperbacks in the process to make the afternoon worthwhile.

I felt quite chuffed.  My donated raffle prize of two paperbacks was the first picked off the table, several people remarked my talk was far more interesting and entertaining than the one given by the eight book thriller writer the previous year, and in a moment straight out of Calendar Girls, my WI stalwart confided I was a breath of fresh air compared to their last speaker who’d spent an hour detailing his orchid collection.

High praise indeed! Anyway, hopefully this accolade will give me more confidence to go out in the big wide world and shout a bit louder about my writing in 2020.  Ultimately I’d like to give the Theatre of Dreams a bit of a re-launch later this year with a new cover (and hopefully there will be a sequel) but I’ve got a bit more detailed techy stuff to work through first. One step at a time. However, I have entered a new era.  I want my writing journey to continue, and it really does feel like (yes, I’m going to say it) I’ve taken back control.

Ten Years On

There’s been a lot of stuff flying through my Twitter feed regarding the start of the new decade and the end of the old – I’m caught up in a circular post urging me to sum up the last ten years in five words. One of my resolutions for the new year – although I don’t actually make resolutions as such because they’re just more things to feel bad about failing to achieve – is to concentrate on the things I enjoy and  I’ve never felt particularly comfortable talking to strangers.  I didn’t feel compelled to join in with the Tweet and I’m sure no one was offended.

But it did make me think. Five words. Where would I even begin?

Since 2010 my life has changed enormously. I could probably fill five books summing up the last decade – ten years of international house moves,  of leaving a very large carbon footprint and ticking off various sights that regularly appear on  bucket lists (but not mine because bucket lists are another thing I don’t do). I’ve been very privileged to have travelled extensively during the last ten years, to have lived in different countries, I’ve come right out of my comfort zone, I’ve made a whole array of new friends and acquaintances, I can speak Dutch (okay just a little and very badly).  I’ve watched my 2010 teenagers mature into confident young women, both now making their own independent way in the world and I’ve remained healthy – always a bonus.

But it’s always better to look forward than over your shoulder.

This was me at the start of 2010 – and that’s another one of those social media things we should all be doing, isn’t it – the ten year photo.

Well don’t be fooled by this idyllic snap because despite that sunshine, that pool, that glorious mountain backdrop – I was in the depths of despair. We had moved from our home in Southampton, UK, where I’d grown up and lived for the last forty something years, to the town of Arcadia on the outskirts of Pasadena in Californina. I’d never felt so lonely and isolated. Sunshine counts for a lot but it’s not the be-all and end-all. One daughter had accompanied us – the other hadn’t. She was only 18 and 5000 miles away – as were all my friends and extended family members. And after younger daughter and husband had left for school and work each day – I was on my own and I knew no-one. Yes, I did feel sorry for myself – and anyone who is ever been in that position will probably tell you, you know it’s totally irrational, you know how lucky you are, you know you need to snap out of it – but on the other hand…

I did have a set of new year’s resolutions for the start of 2010. I developed a mantra. I had a to do list and on that list was walk. I walked every day for at least an hour around the housing estate where we lived. I found a second hand book shop and I read all those classics I’d never had time to read during my busy working life.  I found a voluntary job one morning a week doing something I loved – gardening – and although I had to force myself out there amongst strangers – every little bit of social interaction helped.  I wrote copious emails to friends back home, and then the idea came to start a blog about the vagaries of our new ex-pat life.

Retaining a sense of humour at all times was vital for survival and I really enjoyed writing my blog, but one post a week wasn’t enough fuel for those creative juices. I received compliments about my style of writing, and that’s when the idea that I could write novel was born.

2010 was the year I began my writing journey and ten years on I’m a published author with two books under my belt. A third is on its way and although I’ll be looking for a new publisher in 2020, I’m still very positive about my writing career. Writing comes naturally, and after ten years I can’t imagine life without it.

I feel far more relaxed and positive about what the next ten years will bring, than I did at the start of 2010.

Ten years older and wiser. Perhaps those should be my five words.

The Great Christmas Giveway

I like to think I’m a generous person by nature, but I can’t be the only author who has reservations about the idea of giving their books away for free, on mass. As the occasional prize or to a charitable cause, yes, to worthy friends and family members, people who’ve helped on the writing journey – well that goes without saying. But to the general public? That elusive audience you’ve been trying to convince for the last eighteen months to dip into their pockets to pay less than the price of a takeaway coffee for a digital copy of your book? That book you spent months, if not years, sweating over, putting your heart and soul into, ruining your posture as you bent over your PC into the small hours for, editing, submitting to agents, publishers, braving rejections, having palpitations and panic attacks for…

However, I don’t always know best. I’ve learned many things on my personal mountain climb of a publishing journey, and free downloads are considered a useful marketing tool. It’s an opportunity to boost a book’s profile, to reach a whole new audience who wouldn’t necessarily take a chance on an unknown author.

Christmas is all about giving.  Your Secret’s Safe With Me hadn’t exactly gone flying off the shelves since its launch back in February, and probably needed a good kick up the butt.  So last weekend, I bit the bullet and sent it out into the big wide world for FREE.

Although I haven’t yet got the exact figures, a quick check on Amazon Author Central confirms that at some point over the weekend my book peaked as the 105th top-downloaded free book out of thousands in the whole of the US. This feat was mainly due to my big budget $20 spend on a book promotion website mailshot. Facebook, the Great Manipulator, cannot be relied upon to display your promotional posts alone. It pays to pay to reach that wider audience direct – although of course paying to give your book away is something the purest in me would have once cried ‘not on your nelly!’ (I told you it had been a steep learning curve).

Only time will tell if I will reap the rewards. The major downside of book promotion sites is that their audience is mostly US based. The only negative review I’ve ever received on Amazon and Goodreads was from a US reader who gave up after the opening chapters of The Theatre of Dreams. He/She clearly didn’t get my writing style at all and felt I’d over-complicated things by introducing my characters without an explanation of who they were. That’s the whole point mate, you read on and find out…

As all writers know you can’t please all the people all of the time.   The general idea is that you hope the readers who fall in love with your book will shout about it from the rooftops, while those who don’t, keep quiet.

I am very grateful to everyone who downloaded a copy of Your Secret’s Safe With Me, and to all those shared the news of my Christmas giveaway on social media here in the UK.  I hope there will be a positive knock-on effect from the free downloads, and word will spread about my books and my writing. As this is probably the only time I can make a song and a dance about one of my novels ever reaching a number one spot in the Amazon charts (on both sides of the Atlantic), it’s not such a bad way to end the year!

Life got in the way a little too much in 2019 and I know I have not been as pro-active as I should. Hopefully 2020 will be far more productive. I’ve a WIP to polish off and a new publisher to find. I’ve no deadlines and no pressure, and I feel the joie de vivre has returned to my writing.

Signing off on a high note, and wishing all readers, near and far, a very happy Christmas.

And if you are still scratching your head looking for that perfect present, I can recommend a couple of good books….

I’d Rather Be Writing…

Inspired by my holiday reading, my WIP is now romping ahead at full-speed. The muse has returned and I can’t type quickly enough.  I know I’m back in the zone because I’ve finally removed the detritus of my old dead PC from my desk to make a proper work space for my laptop. My characters are nudging me awake at night to relay their latest conversations, and new plot twists and unexpected developments are cropping up quicker than I can say I didn’t see that one coming…

Following advice from my new bible, Save The Cat Writes a Novel, the initial plan was to meticulously plot but I’m far too impatient for that. I just want to get on with the writing. I did do a plan, a sketchy outline of the main action, but already things are deviating from the track. A previous favourite scene is now totally irrelevant. A red herring uttered by character A might now be better cast into the story by character B, or maybe it’s not needed at all…

I’ve changed a few names, I’ve bought in a few new guys and deleted some of the old ones. Note to self – and any new writer – never change a character’s name using the simple search and replace tool in a Word document. I had previously thought Ted far too old fashioned for my tennis coach – a very minor character only mentioned in passing, so several chapters in I changed his name to Ryan. An awful lot of words in the English language end in the letters TED, especially when your novel is written in past tense. Far from being a minor character, RYAN became a major player. For future reference there is a way to get round this, which I have now learned thanks to the wonders of social media and helpful advice from the writing community (for all its faults Twitter does occasionally have its uses).

However, Ted has now popped up again, completely by surprise, parked on a rattan sofa at a garden party. This time he’s going to remain because this ‘Ted’ is an elderly gent far better suited to the name and now an integral part of the story – although he’s forgotten to mention a vital piece of information to my heroine so I’ll have to go back and add that in. Scribble another note to self.

My baby is growing and taking on a life of its own, and after several months in the writing wilderness it does feel like coming home. I’m excited. This is how it felt when I was writing The Theatre of Dreams and Your Secret’s Safe With Me.  Neither of these novels came effortlessly, they had a few false starts but once they got going, engines revved, they took off at a very fast rate of knots. And it was fun.

If I’m honest, my struggles with marketing these two wonderful novels (if you’ve not read them yet you really should) had a negative impact on my enthusiasm to write. My confidence took a serious knock, and there were times when I seriously questioned whether I should even bother to continue.  The enjoyment had gone – and as that life-style guru Marie Kondo dictates – if things don’t bring you joy, they have to go. I became very good at procrastination.  2019 has been an exceedingly busy year and I’ve found plenty of excuses to stay away from my desk.  We moved house – twice, helped both daughters settle into new homes, and have had some family health issues to contend with.  Of course I could have got up at six every morning and stayed up to midnight to snatch a few quiet moments on my laptop, but no…my creative juices were channelled instead into re-landscaping my new front garden, designing my fantasy kitchen, ordering new furniture and stitching soft furnishings.

So when Mr T suggested we did a spot of decorating this weekend, the first since we moved into our new house in June,  the old, uninspired me would have I’d have said yippee, bring it on, I’ve had enough of this yellow (the whole of our new house is decorated in various shades of custard cream). Instead I sat there thinking okay, but not until Ted has told Eliza about the fling with the air hostess, and what about this fabulous final scene that came to me in a flash at 3 o’clock this morning…

I’ve no guarantees my WIP will ever become a published novel, but in moments like this, writing becomes a compulsion. Words tumble around n my head uninvited and have to be consigned to paper. I am writing again, and I’m writing because it brings me joy.

To be fair, painting the front room also brought a certain amount of joy. The walls are no longer ‘Buttermilk’ but ‘Just Walnut’ – a colour which bears little resemblance to any walnut I’ve ever seen. Those people at the paint factory have very vivid imaginations. If the writing career doesn’t work out, I might well apply for a job with Dulux.

Holiday Reading

Holidays provide the perfect opportunity to indulge in a good book. My current reading habits amount to little more than a snatched five or ten minutes every night, so the thought of a week, on a beach, on a small island, seemed like the perfect opportunity to indulge.

My Kindle was already fully loaded with some 99p reads, but then as I did that last minute supermarket shop a book cover caught my eye and I thought, why not? Obviously a Kindle is much lighter for travel, I can take hundreds of books as opposed to two or three…but on the other hand there’s nothing quite like the smell of a paperback, the feel of those pages flicking through my fingers as the sand trickles between my toes…

One paperback wasn’t going to be enough for seven days, but a friend had recently passed on a novel she’d enjoyed on her own holidays, and I’d also ordered a book on writing tips with the hope of solving the issues with my current WIP which has basically come to standstill (not so much a standstill as a directionless ramble. It wasn’t keeping me enthralled, let alone the likelihood of any reader.) I decided to forego the Kindle completely. With Mr T travelling light, there was plenty of room in his suitcase for all three paperbacks.

We’d chosen our destination – Lanzarote – purely because of its climate – basically 25oc all year round – and the fact that we could fly there in less than four hours from our local airport. Our hotel was located in a resort which was sort of Frankfurt-meets-Dublin-by-the-sea, directly opposite a vast soft dark sandy beach.  As we sunbathed alongside elderly Germans, Westlife lookalikes and their young families, the pages on those paperbacks began to fly.

The first book was The Familiars by Stacey Halls – a historical novel about the witch hunts of the 1600s, not my normal cup of tea at all. I was seduced by the intriguing cover. I remain convinced that if either of my books were ever to make it onto the supermarket shelves they would sell pretty well based on their beautiful covers alone….  Anyway, back to reality. I enjoyed this book immensely. A plucky young wife fights the injustices of her social position and the wrong-doings going on around her. Obviously very well researched, the story was interwoven with vivid descriptions of the characters, period, and the Lancashire locations.

My second book of the week was Forget My Name by J S Monroe – a psychological thriller. I’m generally not a fan of psychological thrillers. I’m a sensible, level-headed person and psychological thrillers are populated by characters – predominantly women – who seem to make a series of very bad choices in the most implausible or coincidental of situations.  I know ‘fiction’ is just that – it doesn’t have to reflect real life to be wonderful – plenty of people could point their fingers at my books at say – hey, (SPOILER ALERT) individuals don’t normally save historic buildings by stealth, or wrestle with drug smugglers in small coastal villages…BUT generally I like to read books with characters I can relate to and empathise with. Forget My Name kept me turning the pages, so it wasn’t all bad, but I did donate it to the hotel’s library where as The Familiars came home with me.

Moving hastily on to my third book of the week – Save the Cat Writes a Novel. Save the Cat is a very well respected guide to screenwriting that has been around for some time. Now there is a new version for writing the perfect novel. Did I find it helpful? Well yes I did. I now need a vast wall-planner and a whole stack of post-it notes. My WIP is going to amble aimlessly no more – it’s journey will be plotted with precision.

I have come back from my week away feeling invigorated – and it’s not just to do with a good dose of vitamin D and the wonderful Canarian cuisine. I’m very good at procrastination and very bad at time-management, but within 48 hours of being home, I’ve written my first blog-post in a month, started a new notebook to breakdown the plot of my WIP and set writing goals for the next six months. The holiday washing can wait – after all, sadly, I don’t think be needing my bikini again anytime soon…