One Month On

After a few weeks with my feet up, I thought I ought to pen my own blog post this week. A Crisis at Clifftops has now been out in the big wide world for a whole month, and it seems a good time for an analysis/appraisal of how things have gone.

Success, no matter how small, should always be celebrated. I’m a complete technophobe but I managed to upload my book onto Amazon – woohoo! I’m shy and reserved, yet I’ve managed to convince people they’ll enjoy this book enough to want to download their own copy – go me! Seriously, I am totally chuffed at the response.

My book launch was low-key. I’m working on a very tight self-publishing budget, prioritising editing and cover design, to ensure I had a professional quality product. I knew I would have to publicise this book organically with no paid promotions, not even a blog tour. I knew sales would be limited, but if I’m honest they’ve exceeded my expectations.

A Crisis at Clifftops was never going to become an overnight Kindle bestseller, but we made it to the dizzy heights of being a HOT NEW RELEASE, and at one point it was sitting at NUMBER 3 in its golfing category, which gave me something to sing and dance about.  I apologise now to anyone who follows me on Facebook –  every time I post something I can hear a chorus of “there she goes again, banging on about her b****y book.” The thing about being self-published is that if I don’t bang on about my book, no-one else will.  I have to keep it visible.

We all know about Facebook algorithms which limit who sees what, and anything I post on Twitter always disappears into a void. I’m grateful for every re-tweet and share by friends who understand how hard it is for independent authors like me to reach a wider audience.

Goodness knows how many books have been published in the last month. A Crisis at Clifftops will soon disappear off the radar. It will settle somewhere low down in the Amazon charts.  I do get a little flutter of excitement every time I see it move up in its Amazon category. I know those BIG bestselling authors never have to check these things – Richard Osman would be in a constant flap, but for me, each flutter is special, even more so because I made it happen all by myself.

There was a time after the publication of my second book back in 2019 when I felt totally disenchanted and deflated with the whole publishing/writing thing. Seriously I could have happily never written another word again.  

However, this time round I knew exactly what I was capable of. I set myself different targets. In the last four weeks I’ve received some amazing reviews from readers and from within the writing community, together with messages and comments which have totally restored my confidence and made my heart sing! And yes, even more exciting, readers can cope with a heroine who plays sport for a living!

I know not everyone who buys the book is able, or will be willing, to leave a review. There’s a minimum spend requirement on Amazon, and to be honest I don’t review every Amazon purchase I make. It’s a crochet hook – it crochets. It’s already got 1000+ reviews it doesn’t need another one…

I dream of 1000+ reviews, but us writers are needy, fragile creatures.  I genuinely want to know if you’ve enjoyed what I’ve written. So if A Crisis at Clifftops has made you smile, provided a few hours of escape, let me know. (And don’t forget to tell your friends if you think they might like it too – there are loads of people out there who would benefit from having this book in their lives, if only they knew it existed…)

Meanwhile, The Puzzle of Pine Bay, Eliza Kane Investigates Book 2, is on its way. I originally intended to have everything ship-shape and ready to set sail later this year, but that’s not going to happen. Apart from the fact that the Christmas novel marketing deluge is already underway (yes I know, ridiculous right? I don’t even feel I’ve had my summer yet), my plot was far too complicated. I’d basically tied poor Eliza up in knots. It’s not exactly back to the drawing board, more an extensive unpicking (why do you think I bought that crochet hook?!) Seriously, Pine Bay will be out early in 2022.

Making the decision to self-publish was very much about taking control, not just of what I write, but about publishing under my own terms. I’m really pleased (and relieved) with how these first steps have gone. To everyone who has downloaded a copy of A Crisis at Clifftops, you’ve made me very happy. Thank you. And if you haven’t downloaded a copy yet, what’s your excuse?

I Made This!

We’re not travelling anywhere exotic this week, but staying put at my writing desk in Southampton. I am going to talk about a journey though, my writing journey, and why I decided to head down the self-publishing route for my latest novel, A Crisis at Clifftops, which launches next week.

It’s three years since the publication of my first book, and two and a half since the second. There are various reasons why it’s taken me so long to produce a third. I’m a slow writer, I’m not one of these dedicated 5000 words a day people, I’m an as and when, and sometimes life just has this habit of getting in the way.  I’m also a perpetual tweaker with a serious case of self-doubt, so even when I’ve got what looks like a finished product, I’ll edit, re-edit, reinstate paragraphs I took out six months ago, add in a new character, start a new project, force family and friends to read my work, incorporate their comments, and edit it all over again…

Then there’s the whole submitting to agents/publishers debacle, which for anyone who doesn’t know, takes ages. You send out a query letter and wait for a response. And wait. And wait. Not just days. Or weeks. Months.

I felt I had to give it go. Of the handful of replies to my queries, I received a couple of “encouraging” rejections. It’s wonderful to be told there ain’t nothing wrong with your writing, BUT also disappointing when compliments are inevitably followed by a BUT (and even more disappointing when one of the big BUT’s appeared to be because of my heroine’s occupation!)

Over the last twelve/eighteen months of lockdown I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and contemplate. I knew if I carried on submitting, my book might eventually get picked up, BUT there would have to be changes and compromises, and another long wait until publication day itself. I’ve seen authors on Twitter shouting about new books coming out in 2023 – I didn’t want to wait in the literary wilderness for another two years. Making a decision to self-publish was like stepping off a hamster wheel.

I know what the publishing world is like. Creating a main character who played golf was a risky strategy, BUT even so those rejections were demoralising. I write because I enjoy writing. It’s a creative outlet, it keeps my brain cells ticking over, it’s something to do in the winter when it’s cold and wet and I can’t go outside.  And for me, being creative also means creating something that doesn’t mimic every other book out there on the market.

I must admit I did have a wobbly moment and wonder whether I ought to play down Eliza’s sporting prowess in my book blurb in case it put readers off, but then I thought, what the heck! Self-publishing means taking control and having the freedom to write the books I want to write. My heroines don’t have to conform and bake cakes. NOT that there is anything wrong with heroines who bake cakes, I know the public love cake-baking heroines, in fact I’m one myself, I BAKE CAKES, in fact here’s one I made earlier, together with the book I made too…I’m just talking about giving readers choices and diversity!

The self-publishing process has been a learning curve. I haven’t been reckless. I did consult an editor, and splashed out on a wonderful cover designer. I’ve taken a professional approach and enjoyed the process – which is what it’s all about.  I know I don’t want to be hunched over my laptop 24 /7 days to meet deadlines. I don’t want to spend every hour or every day on social media promoting my books.  I also have to be realistic about what I can achieve.

I have fingers crossed for next week’s launch. I hope readers will love Eliza, Lillian and Charlie as much as I do, and will want to follow their adventures into the next book in the series. And if they don’t, tough. I’m writing it anyway.

Here’s the A Crisis at Clifftops blurb for those of you who haven’t yet checked it out!

When Lilian Hathaway is named as the chief suspect in a murder enquiry, her granddaughter Eliza drops everything to rush to her side. After a string of crushing defeats, professional golfer Eliza is facing a career crisis of her own. She seizes the opportunity to hide away with Lilian at Clifftops Hotel, the family’s home on the Isle of Wight, determined to defend her beloved nanna’s innocence.

But just how innocent is Lilian?

As the evidence starts to mount up, Eliza turns amateur sleuth in a race to uncover the truth. Family loyalty is stretched to the limits when she discovers a series of events in her grandmother’s past which could have far-reaching consequences, not just for Lilian but also for Clifftops, and Eliza’s own future.

Available exclusively on Amazon Kindle, A Crisis at Clifftops is a fun and original cosy mystery, set against the backdrop of an old-fashioned seaside resort and featuring a feisty heroine who quickly learns life outside the sporting arena doesn’t always follow the rules.

Six Days, Four Friends & One Coastal Path

Not the title of the next Richard Curtis movie, but a post about our walk around the Isle of Wight. (Obviously I’d be more than happy to sell the film rights to Mr Curtis, although I suspect he’d want to change the leading characters from two middle-aged couples to four thirty-something singletons and a token American.)

According to the guide books, the The Isle of Wight coastal path can be completed in four days. We opted for six. We also booked overnight stays in B&Bs, rather than campsites, and a courier company to transport our bags. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, hiking for lightweights.

We were on holiday! We wanted to enjoy our walk around the Island, take in the scenery, soak up the ambiance of quaint rural villages, stop and smell the wild roses in the hedgerows and marvel at the stunning coastal vistas. We’d done our research and our training, we knew we could manage the ten or twelve miles required each day without too much effort. The friends we were going with had also done their training, at a slightly faster pace than us. But hey, once we’d got over that first sixteen miles of Day One at record speed, we agreed we were very happy to keep their back views in our eyeline, and let them forge on ahead.

Day One was always going to be the killer – Cowes to Yarmouth, an area of the island none of us were familiar with, off the tourist trail, remote and wild, and with a distinct lack of suitable pitstops.

The salty sea marshes around Newtown Creek take the coastal path along boardwalks and a meandering, but very pretty, detour inland, but with both pubs on the route shut, our planned long lazy lunch subsequently involved a mad dash to Shalfleet village shop five minutes before closing time to grab the last three packets of sandwiches and an impromptu picnic in the local graveyard. A valuable lesson learned on Day One – when you see an eating opportunity, take it.

Day Two, Yarmouth to Freshwater – cross-country no more than four miles, in fact it was doing that walk last year with our friends which sparked the whole idea of the round the island hike. The coastal path takes ten but you get to experience the tourist trap of Alum Bay, before enjoying the natural wonders of the Needles and Tennyson Down. Valuable lesson learned on Day Two – when you see an eating opportunity at a tacky tourist attraction, avoid it.

Day Three Freshwater to Chale, along the Island’s spectacular southern coast and in my opinion the highlight of the trip. Never mind the sunburn, the blisters, the fact that the path hangs precariously close to the edge of the cliff and in some places disappears altogether (seven acres of the island are lost into the sea every year according to the landlady of our gorgeous B&B in Freshwater). With the stunning view across the English Channel to our right, and rolling fields to our left, we hardly saw another soul all day, although we did spot a peregrine falcon.

Day Four, Chale to Shanklin, another delightful trek, but by now we realised we should have done more gradient training. This walk also took us to Ventnor, which is where most of A Crisis of Clifftops is set. Ventnor, eerily shrouded in midday mist, was pretty much as I remembered it from our visit a couple of years ago (big sigh of relief no major edits of location descriptions required when I got home!)

Day Five, Shanklin to Seaview, passed through the dubious delights of a rather rundown Sandown, not looking its best first thing in the morning (do any of us?) and onwards to Bembridge and beyond, the second longest leg of the trip.

Day Six was Seaview back to Cowes.   After Ryde much of the path is inland to avoid trespassing through the grounds of Osborne House, but the route twists along country lanes through quaint villages, until the outskirts of East Cowes when it becomes disappointingly urban.

All the way around the island the coastal path is well sign-posted, and areas of danger – and there are many – fenced off and diversions in place.  The courier service was excellent and our luggage was always picked up and delivered on time. Overnight accommodation was clean and comfortable, and we did spice things up a bit on occasions by tossing our room keys into a hat to see which couple won the ensuite with a bath…

You do always wonder when you holiday with other people, how you’re going to get on. Apart from providing inspiration for a whole new series of crime novels, Murder on the Mudflats, Bludgeoned on the Boardwalk, Calamity on the Cliff Path, when our friends did pause for breath, they were great fun. Seriously, we’re still talking!

I thought I knew the Isle of Wight pretty well, but walking the coastal path was a great way to see its diverse and contrasting flora, fauna and natural landscapes from a whole new perspective. Two weeks later the blisters have healed and we’re already already planning our next trek!

Island Hopping

Continuing on the theme of locations, this week I’m talking about the setting for my new book, A Crisis at Clifftops.

For my previous novels I created my own slither of the south coast to suit my plotlines. I drew on aspects of familiar local surroundings to create the fictional run-down resort of Hookes Bay in The Theatre of Dreams, and the sailing village of Kerridge in Your Secret’s Safe With Me. For my third book, I’m heading overseas – or at least across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

At just 23 miles across at its furthest points east to west, and at approximately just 150 square miles, the Isle of Wight is England’s largest island. Prior to the arrival of Queen Victoria and her chum Alfred Lord Tennyson, who turned the island into a fashionable holiday hot-spot in the late 19th century, fishing, farming and boatbuilding were the mainstays of the local economy. Today the island is probably best known for the annual music festival and Cowes Week sailing regatta. It’s a mix of typical British seaside resorts, lush, rolling downs and stunning coastal cliff formations.

I grew up in Southampton, and as a child we had regular days out and took family vacations on the island. Even though it was just a few miles from home, that ferry ride made all the difference. As a schoolgirl I undertook a healthy hike around the island staying in youth hostels. A few years later I went back and spent an unhealthy week partying with a group of girl friends in a holiday park.

But when I reached my twenties, my tastes changed. The island and its vintage accommodation options had lost its allure. Boating lakes, crazy golf courses and end of the pier style entertainment weren’t enough to keep me amused. I craved exotic Mediterranean food and cheap, duty free booze. I needed guaranteed sunshine, beaches where I could relax without the backdrop of slot machines and amusement arcades. The Isle of Wight slipped off my radar and there it stayed for many years.

It was only when me and Mr T returned to the UK as empty-nesters three years ago that we vowed to explore what was our own doorstep with the same vigour we’d adopted when living abroad. When you move somewhere new, especially overseas, you tend to research the “must sees”, ticking off a whole host of historical monuments and natural wonders. We realised we’d never been to Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s holiday home, so we took a trip over to the island, had a fantastic day out, and thought we ought to return to see a bit more…

Several day trips later we booked a short break with our grown-up kids on the island. While on a blustery winter walk along the boarded up esplanade at Shanklin, the idea for a story hit me. It was a very vague idea, but when I combined it with another half-baked plot already brewing, I realised I had the potential to create not just one novel, but a whole series of island based mysteries. Sub-titled “Eliza Kane Investigates” after my whisky swigging, golfing heroine, the series is meant to be fun, and entertaining, and just a little eclectic – a bit like the island it’s set on.

Us local mainlanders always used to joke that a visit to the island meant turning your watch back 40 years. Now that I’m older and a lot wiser, I can see the charm of life at a gentler pace. The appeal for island life has grown, and while Ryde and Sandown still retain that old-fashioned kiss-me-quick ambience, the bijou former fishing village of Seaview is sophisticated and very much sought after amongst jet-set second-home owners.

The Isle of Wight has become one of my favourite places – I love it so much that me and Mr T will be walking the full 70 miles of its coastline for our 2021 holiday.  If you want to know how we get on, I’ll be posting up pictures on Facebook and Instagram and there will be more about our hike, and the book, in the coming weeks. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with this stunning view of Tennyson Down and the Needles.

The Joy of Writing

I suppose this post should really be called the Corona Diaries the Sequel, but we’re barely a day in. The difference this time round is we all know what to expect, and whereas back in the spring I lacked the enthusiasm and concentration to use those long lockdown hours for writing, this time I’m fired up and ready to go.

And the reason for this potential burst of productivity – winning “Star Letter” in Writing Magazine, or rather the feature in Writing Magazine that prompted my letter.  Last month the magazine featured an article on young gay writer George Lester and his path to publication. In the article George mentioned how he adopted the phrase Write Your Joy as his mantra, a term he picked up from his mentor, another writer Peter Ness.  George had been struggling to find his author voice, but once he let rip and gave himself the permission to write what he actually want to write, his voice won through.

There was something about this article that struck a chord, reminding me why I started writing novels in the first place. I wanted to write the books I wanted to read – not something that fitted in an already over-crowded pigeon hole, but multi-layered stories about unique but relatable characters, in familiar local surroundings facing challenging situations, all told with a good dose of my inimitable sense of humour. That’s my style – my author voice.  

Quite frankly it’s demoralising continually submitting chapters and covering letters to agents only to hear the same thing.  All authors take heart from the story of JK Rowling and her numerous rejections, but after a while, especially when you do receive the odd positive response, ie we like your writing/story/style/voice but… you do start to wonder exactly what publishers are looking for. I used to think finding a publisher validated my writing, now I don’t. Publishers are only interested in profits – one look at the best seller list verifies this, celebrity authors rule OK.

But this isn’t a post about feeling sorry for myself, in fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s a post about coming to terms about what I write and who I am. Write your Joy resonated with me because – yes of course I’d love to write a million-dollar best seller – but actually what I enjoy is writing; the act of creating my characters, picking them up and placing them out of their comfort zone, then setting them off on an obstacle course to reach their goal.

I’ve had enough positive feedback from my first two books to know that there is a place for my feel-good-fiction-with-a-twist. I’ve set my heart on publishing my Isle of Wight mysteries next year and so far only book 1 is complete, book 2 needs finishing and book 3 is yet to be plotted.  I’m going to ask Santa for a self-publishing budget and learn how to blow my own trumpet rather than standing in the back row tootling away on my recorder.

As Mr T has already stocked up on gallons of paint to continue decorating the house, and I have somewhat impulsively ordered 10 metres of fabric to make new curtains, I sense my time-management skills are going to be put to the test over the next few weeks. My next lockdown post may well be entitled the Art of Multi-Tasking aka the Art of Tearing My Hair Out.

Ps If you read my Star Letter you’ll see I compare my writing to playing golf. Mr T would just like to point out he would actually like to win a championship.

Day Trippers

The happy staycation continues. Me and Mr T have trekked and cycled miles over the last month.  As well as exploring the New Forest – the edge of the national park is just a 15 minute walk from our doorstep, we’ve also made made three separate day trips to the Isle of Wight – rapidly becoming my new favourite place.

As a writer I’m often asked where do I find my inspiration. The answer is simple – it finds me. My first two books were all set in fictional locations in Hampshire. When it comes to research I’m fairly lazy. Setting my books in places I know well is one less thing to worry about. Over the last few weeks of exploration I have had a deluge of new ideas. Yes I know I said all things bookish were going to take a bit of a back seat, but try as I might to buckle it in, that writerly instinct remains unrestrained.

Take this for example.  “That’s a rusty old boat” Mr T remarked on our recent trek along the River Medina from Cowes to Newport.

Well yes, my inner writer replied, that is a rusty old boat but how did it end up dying in the salt marshes? What’s its backstory?  My imagination conjures up visions of the travellers who might have passed along its gangplanks, slept in its cabins, danced on its decks (later googling revealed an extensive career as leisure cruiser, ferry, hotel and disco). It was love at first sight – this boat or my own reincarnation of it and its occupants, are perfect story material.

My current writing project is a cosy mystery series – so cosy in fact if there was a sub-genre of snuggly crime, this would be it. I know I should stick to mainstream but I just can’t. I have this inner urge to rebel against market forces – there have to be readers out there who want something that little bit different.  

My series is set on the Isle of Wight, not because of our recent excursions, but because the original whiff of an idea emerged while we were on a mini-break there a couple of Christmases ago.   

It’s probably fair to say I have now completely fallen in love with the island (obsessed Mr T might say as he drags me away from checking out house prices on Right Move). Traditional family friendly old-fashioned kiss-me-quick resorts rub shoulders with exclusive up-market hidden retreats. Inland quaint chocolate box picture postcard villages dot the largely rural landscape, while the coast boasts craggy cliffs, chalk stacks, swathes of golden sand and intimate pebble bays. Alongside the tourist industry there’s a rich maritime heritage and a history of pioneering aviation. Dinosaurs once strolled across the Downs, as did Queen Victoria and Alfred Lord Tennyson. There’s the annual big-name music festival, world famous yacht racing, and a top security prison.  For a small place there’s lots going on, providing a wealth of ideas.

I’ve already been told by people in the know that the market is now awash with cosy crimes, but I also recently received one of the nicest rejections from a literary agent ever. I’m not giving up yet. A floating hotel cum disco fits perfectly into my snuggly mystery series. Already my mind is racing ahead to the next book. What dastardly deed once happened on board that has remained hidden until my amateur sleuth stumbles across the story. My heroine is a nosey-parker with a professional career crisis who pokes into the past and unearths mysteries from the island’s 20th century history. In fact she’s a bit like me although I don’t drink whisky or play golf – her Unique Selling Points, and yes I know to be more commercially viable she ought to run a tea shop or be titled aristocracy…

And before anyone thinks I’m working for the Isle of Wight tourist board, trust me, I’m not, this is a post demonstrating the wonders of spontaneous INSPIRATION.  Take this picture captured on a recent walk. This is Calshot, just a few miles from our house, a disused, half-demolished power station. If I wrote thrillers, or more serious crimes, something dark and dystopian, this eerie ghost on the landscape would undoubtedly feature. (Incidentally it still could, because the site is currently being used to store wind turbine blades which are shipped across the Solent from the factory that makes them on the Isle of Wight…)

I’ll stop now. Unbelievably, it now two whole years since I became a published author. The Theatre of Dreams was officially launched on 1 August 2018. The path since has not been easy – maintaining momentum and enthusiasm for a two year old book in a flooded market is tough. In recent weeks I’ve received some lovely new reviews from readers which has been a huge boost, so thank you!  

If you haven’t downloaded a copy – what are you waiting for? Comedy, drama, mystery and romance all for less than a price of takeaway coffee. And there’s no mention of the Isle of Wight – although no wait a minute…

The Theatre of Dreams is available on Amazon for just 99p https://www.amazon.co.uk/Theatre-Dreams-Rosie-Travers-ebook/dp/B084C5753Y/