Why I Write

After my last post about my jumbled approach to writing, I thought it might be a good idea to answer the question of why I write in the first place. This is a question authors often get asked – not just coming up with the ideas, but taking the time to write them down and fine tune them into full-length novels.  For me the answer is quite simple, I write the books I want to read.

I’ve a very fertile imagination and I enjoy making things up. Writing novels channels that talent to lie and fabricate into something legal.

I’ve always been an avid reader and because I enjoyed reading, even at a very early age I realised it made sense to write my own books – my own versions of the stories I liked to read. One of my very early influences was the wonderful Joan Lingard. As a teenager growing up in the south of England in the 1970s I had little experience of the troubles in Northern Ireland, but I was soon scribbling down my own cheap imitations of the Kevin and Sadie series which continued into several notebooks.

Who remembers the wonderful Jackie magazine, and its contemporaries My Guy? I made up my own versions of these too – everything from imaginary interviews with the pop stars of the day, to cover design and my own comic strip style illustrated stories. And everything of course suited my style and tastes – I had complete control over what the reader (ie me) saw.

I soon moved onto a typewriter and even dared to submit a story to a teenage magazine.  After receiving my first rejection (it wasn’t even a rejection it was sorry not for us but why don’t you try this magazine instead…) I ripped my story to shreds and vowed never to show my work to anyone else again. Who knows what might have been if I had followed that advice instead of resorting to typical teenage petulance?!

It  was over a quarter of century later before I plucked up the courage to send my writing out into the wider world again in the form of my first blog about the exploits of a fairly sane (or at least I was at the beginning) British woman’s adventures in Los Angeles. And it’s still out there gathering dust in cyberspace!

https://lifeinthelabubble.blogspot.com

Encouraged by the pretty good response to my writing style I started submitting short stories to women’s magazines.  By that time I’d hardened up – those early rejections were simply spurs to make my work better, not consign it to the bin.

I have come to realise that ‘writing the stories I want to read’ doesn’t necessarily mean commercial marketability. My favourite review of The Theatre of Dreams is the one that begins Wonderful plot and refreshingly different”.  A writer should have a unique voice and I want to give my readers something that surprises them – something that doesn’t necessarily go with the flow of expectations.  The trouble is the publishing world does encourage readers to have ‘expectations’! I’ve realised my writing crosses several genres – mystery, romance, intrigue, humour – making it hard to pigeon hole and I fully appreciate it’s a concoction that won’t please everyone, (but I do wish more people would give it a try!)  But one thing that has come out of reviews for both my books is the ability to tell a good story.

And that is why I write.

A Postcard from 2018

Everybody is doing a big fat quiz of the year, but here’s my personal postcard from 2018 – edited highlights of what has been a rollercoaster ride.

January – The excitement of starting a year knowing I had just signed my first publishing contract is offset by panicking about packing for a six week trip to Australia and New Zealand. How many pairs of pants…

February – Visit Australia and New Zealand. Too many wow moments to mention and definitely too many pants in my suitcase, but fulfilling a childhood ambition of cuddling a koala pretty much tops the highlights list. I know it’s not ‘PC’ but the opportunity was there…

March – Coming home from Australia and discovering we had missed the Beast from the East and all the fuss about the snow. First steps into the magical world of publishing as I begin working with a professional editor on The Theatre of Dreams.

April – Discovering two short stories I’d submitted to Writing Magazine competitions had been shortlisted in the same month.  Another successful competition entry at Hampshire Writers Society for the first 300 words of a commercial women’s fiction novel, is actually mushrooming into a commercial women’s fiction novel. Could this be Book Number Two? Yes it could. Change name of book from competition title of Marrying Mother to Your Secret’s Safe With Me after all sorts of plots twists infiltrate the original idea.

May –The rush is on to finish Your Secret’s Safe With Me so it’s out of the way before the launch of The Theatre of Dreams.

June – Choosing my book cover, writing blurb and dedications and then coming home from a week’s holiday in Spain and finding a paperback copy of The Theatre of Dreams waiting for me on the doorstep.

July – How do I launch a book? Surely if I just throw a few tweets out there, chat about it on Facebook, add a few Instagrams, tell a few friends…that’ll work, won’t it? The first Amazon reviews are in and they’re very good – but they are all written by people who know me.  Fulfil another personal ambition and visit Hampton Court Flower Show on the hottest day of the year.  We all wilt and have to be revived by large doses of Pimms. I do, however, gather ideas for a winter knitting project if the writing career plummets.

AugustThe Theatre of Dreams is officially launched into the world and the euphoria soon ends with a look at my sales figures.  How do you make one book stand out against so many millions of others? Maybe I should have done a bit more tweeting and making friends on social media. Maybe I should have just paid out big bucks for a professional book promotion service.  Maybe I need a much bigger family. It’s a steep learning curve but on the plus side more reviews are in and they are not written by people who know me…

September –  We set sail on a two-week cruise to the Baltics.  After traipsing through a mere smidgeon of the 22km of corridors at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg it’s easy to see why the Russians had a revolution.  It’s jaw-dropping opulence in the extreme. Publisher accepts Book Two.

October – Do what we we’ve been meaning to do since we returned from the Netherlands twelve months previously – put house on the market and plan an escape to the country. Yes we are that couple of empty-nesters looking to downsize to a house with sweeping views in rural isolation but close to all local amenities and obviously we still need something big enough for all our stuff, and our children’s stuff that didn’t leave the nest with them…

November – Onwards and upwards to conquer the Everest sized mountain of book marketing and self-promotion.  Meanwhile, start edits on Your Secret’s Safe With Me.

December – First author talk, nobody fell asleep which I take to be a good sign.  Continue to try and make self more alluring and interesting on social media. House sold – first challenge of 2019 will be to find a new one that ticks all our 101 boxes. Edits complete on Your Secret’s Safe With Me and launch date set for 18 February 2019.  Who’d have thought, this time last year…

Book Links:

The Theatre of Dreams

Your Secret’s Safe With Me

 

Many thanks to everyone who has supported my writing journey and also to my fellow authors who have guested on this blog during the year, either talking about their favourite comfort reads or their own magical books.

Wishing you all a very happy and prosperous 2019.

 

 

 

The Importance of Creating Headspace

The last twelve months have passed in a bit of whirlwind with house moves, job changes, and of course, the book. Before acquiring my publishing contract for The Theatre of Dreams my forays into social media were limited to a personal Facebook page and a low-key blog about being an ex-pat.  Then I had to up my game and reach out into the whole new world of marketing. If writing a book is Dr Jekyll, then I’ve discovered  marketing it is my Mr Hyde. And unfortunately one doesn’t come without the other.

I’ve heard it said before that writers can feel consumed by their book. It’s true. It does take over your life. That baby you created, loved and cherished can easily become a monster.  The path from pitch to publication is a rollercoaster. There are the highs – the contract, the launch, and the lows – what comes after. It’s been a whole  witch’s brew of new skills. You don’t just have to be creative, you have to be tenacious,  relentless and/or extremely well organised.

Sometimes you have to step away from a situation to see it more clearly. When Mr T and I lived overseas we made the most of our weekends. We set out with our guide books to soak-up the history and culture of our adopted homeland. We promised ourselves that once we settled back in the UK, we would attack our local area with the same sense of  vigour. It’s very easy to overlook what’s on your own doorstep. In the Netherlands we explored towns – the Dutch countryside can be somewhat samey. But here in the UK even within a short distance of home the landscape changes. We’ve spent several recent weekends setting out on walks and hikes all within a thirty-minute drive of our home.  Up on the downs or down on the coast, the scenery and the exercise has proved quite liberating. Not only have we discovered some amazing new places, but more importantly these walks have provided the opportunity to gather thoughts and clear some headspace.

 

I’m a total novice into the world of book promotion but even I have quickly come to the conclusion that checking Twitter to see how many people have liked a tweet is not good for the soul.    I can be quite witty when I want to be, but that wit isn’t always spontaneous. Blink and a tweet is gone – and with it another missed opportunity!  I can’t be glued to my phone all day.  I’m not a teenager and I have to rise above it (and I’d just like to add in here I’d hate to be a teenager today, or even the parent of a teenager. Nobody needs that pressure!). Yes I am disappointed that my Amazon ranking is heading downhill with the speed of an Olympic skier – but my book is just one of many millions out there. It’s very hard to stand out from the crowd. I have to put it in perspective. It’s important to look at what you have achieved as opposed to dwelling on the perception of what you haven’t.

So okay, although not a bestseller (it always helps to lower your expectations) The Theatre of Dreams  has accumulated several 5* reviews on Amazon.  People have enjoyed it, and that’s why I write. My Instagram account is growing. Twitter – the necessary evil – has to be dealt with.  However, I do now have an author platform that didn’t exist twelve months ago and I’ll admit, I should have put more emphasis on building up that following before publication as opposed to after. I blame it on my upbringing – I was always told modesty is a virtue, but in today’s flooded book market, it really isn’t!

I’ve had my moments of serious self-doubt, but headspace cleared, and a deep breath of Hampshire air  I feel ready to continue the challenge.  Thanks to my publisher, Crooked Cat, my second book, Your Secret’s Safe With Me will be out next year.  More news about the book will follow soon – so watch this space, or even better subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss any updates!

Back in the Book Corner

I’ve been a big fan of Joanne Harris for some time; she’s another one of those authors who bring on a bout of wistful writer’s envy. If only I could write like that….

When I’ve moved across continents my Joanne Harris collection of well-thumbed paperbacks has travelled with me, like old friends.  If I’m honest, I do prefer her earlier books to the more recent works with their sinister undertones, but that may be just because I am so familiar with the locations, characters and stories, or simply I’m an old romantic at heart.
Chocolate is one of my favourite books of all time. I heard Joanne speak at the Winchester Writers Conference several years ago and her tale of persistence in getting Chocolate published was inspirational. She stuck to her guns and wrote the book she wanted. As for the film, the least said about that the better. Despite a cast of Judi Dench, Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp and Alfred Molina, Hollywood didn’t do it justice.
I came across Different Class while on library duty – I’m going to have to give up volunteering soon because my reading pile is now reaching Mount Everest proportions.
Travelling with hand-baggage only over the last few years I’ve tended to read from my Kindle as opposed to buying physical books, and have used my time to investigate the competitive field of commercial women’s fiction, regularly downloading 99p offers in order to suss out the market. But now I have an entire library of hardbacks and paperbacks at my disposal, I can get stuck into the meatier stuff, and I’m making the most of the opportunity.
They do say the more you read the better writer you become, so that’s encouraging, but right now, my writing has definitely taken a back seat while I catch up on some heavyweight reading.
Different Class is another story about the goings on at St Oswalds, the private boys’ school which featured in Players and Gentlemen (which I am now going to have to go back and re-read). The plot twists and turns between events of the past and present.  As always Joanne paints her characters with the perfect blend of black humour, menace and mystery. A proper page turner.
What more can I say other than I’m jealous.

The Book Corner

I thought I would make a regular feature talking about some of my favourite books.
I volunteer at my local community library. I know there’s a bit of a fuss about community libraries. The argument is of course that shouldn’t all libraries be funded by the government as an essential service, and if volunteers step in to prevent local facilities like libraries being closed, then it only encourages the powers that be to think they can get away with more cuts.  What next, a community GP surgery? Rest assured I wouldn’t be volunteering at that…
Anyway, back to the library, the downside of which is discovering all those books I want to read as I tidy the shelves.
This is my current favourite – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I read A God In Ruins last year and really enjoyed it so when I saw this on the shelf, I grabbed it. If only I could write like Kate…..

Life After Life tells the story, or several stories in fact, of Ursula Todd. It’s a clever and unique concept (why didn’t I think of that?) answering all those what if’s; Ursula dies at birth, but what if she didn’t? What if she fell off the roof when she was 8, but then what if she didn’t? How different would her life have been? I find it hard enough to keep one plot and timeline consistent, yet Kate cleverly weaves one ‘life’ into another, locking all the different story threads and characters together. It’s funny, it’s sad, and definitely has that un-put-downable quality, which is how I judge a book. Five stars from me.

And talking of five stars, one thing I have learned since I joined this whole writing malarkey is never to judge a book by its Amazon reviews! Is it just me or does anyone else ever get that feeling you’re reading a totally different book to the one everyone else has given a glowing review to?!