Reasons to be Cheerful?

Two months nearly in to 2021 and this is my first blog post of the new year. Where have I been? What have I been up to? Has anyone missed me?

I know we’re all struggling to remain upbeat. My world has got smaller. This morning’s Facetime with a friend  revolved around a discussion on our attempts at knitting, extreme jigsaw puzzling, and the weather. The only consolation I’m taking out of this lockdown is that at least I haven’t got children who need home-schooling.

Blogging has been way down my agenda, but next week marks the 2nd anniversary of the publication of my second book, Your Secret’s Safe With Me.  A book birthday is always worth celebrating.

Your Secret’s Safe With Me was very much intended as a romance; it’s a story about repairing hurt and love conquering all, although then some pesky modern-day smugglers crept in, and a wedding fiasco, and an unexpected baby, because why stick to one theme, when you can include several.

It would be a lot easier when people ask me what my books are about if I could just reply ‘it’s a romance’, or ‘it’s a thriller’ or ‘it’s the greatest, funniest thing you’ll ever read.’ How do you fit 300 odd pages of love, laughter, action and angst into just a couple of words?

And talking of crossing genres, I do have another reason to be cheerful this week.  The completed manuscript for my new novel is off for a professional edit. Yes, the plunge has been taken and step one to self-publishing is underway. Learning from my experiences with the first two books, originally I was adamant I was going to stick to one theme – the cosy mystery.  Both my previous two books contain elements of intrigue and I liked revealing new layers of plotlines, dropping in subtle hints and clues. As I know nothing about police procedures and I don’t like reading, let alone writing, about blood and gore,  whatever ‘crime’ story I created was always going to be ‘cosy’ in the extreme. My new novel wasn’t just planned as a snuggly suspense, it was going to have its slippers on too.

Yeh, right, slippers, me? Naturally I wanted my heroine to have a job that was different to any of the other amateur sleuths/female crime busters currently out on the market, so I gave her a set of a golf clubs, and made her a professional sportswoman, which as I’ve since been told, is a commercial no-no. I can untick that ‘cosy crime’ marketability box straight away.

And there weren’t going to be any dead bodies turning up at the church fete in my book. Oh no, my heroine was going to investigate something original, a vintage  mystery she uncovers while poking her nose into her grandmother’s past, and then I thought it would be quite amusing if Granny told her side of the story too.

Okay, so I haven’t written a cosy crime at all. I’ve written another mash-up.  I’ve included a dual timeline, a heroine with career crisis as well as a moral dilemma, I’ve divided family loyalty, and sprinkled it all with some local history, yet again.

But what about the romance, I hear you cry.  You’re in luck. I’m a romantic at heart and I just couldn’t, even though I tried, write a book without an element of romance in it.

So what exactly do readers want from a leading man?  At least here, surely I can’t go wrong, can I? Literature is full of flawed heroes. Sorry for the spoilers but Heathcliff digs up his ex’s dead body, Mr Rochester locks his first wife in the attic, Christian Gray is a sexual deviant, and when we think Mr Darcy, we don’t think rude snob in Pride and Prejudice, we just see Colin Firth in that white shirt (or in Bridget Jones). Flawed doesn’t come anywhere near it. Men I’d want to steer well clear of is the correct term.

However, we all want escapism, including me. Romance readers don’t mind a defective hero because by the time the story ends ultimately he will have changed; smitten, humbled, moulded into our idea of perfection.  And we all want that fantasy because it simply doesn’t happen in real life. I’ve been married to Mr T for thirty years, love him to bits, but he still can’t replace a toilet roll.

Book three, working title A Crisis At Clifftops (it could all change) is out of the building, and will no doubt come back, covered in red ink.

And reason to be cheerful number three? Successful completion of dry January. I won’t be doing that one again in a hurry. And definitely not during lockdown.

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.

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.