The Year of No Resolutions

The first post of the new year is inevitably full of resolutions – I’ve done it all before, drink less, exercise more, give up cake and chocolate. This year, no lifestyle resolutions.  Setting unachievable goals only leads to disappointment. I know my weaknesses.   There’s no way I’m going to reach into the fridge to snack on a carrot stick when the Christmas box of Thorntons is sat on the sideboard.

As for the exercise, well that has already been curtailed. My running route is currently flooded thanks to exceptional high tides and Storm Eleanor – although I suppose that’s not really a valid excuse – I do have a gym membership and there is always sea-water swimming….

However, when it comes to setting writing goals, 2017 was a bumper year.  I am living proof of the old adage in the publishing world that you should never give up.

So what challenges is 2018 about to bring?  I’d like to say finishing another novel, but with an extended holiday to Australia and New Zealand fast approaching, I’m nowhere near the stage of starting another novel, let alone finishing one. Travel arrangements require meticulous research; I don’t book anything until I’ve read nearly every single review on Trip Advisor. And as for the packing dilemma of how many clothes to take for six weeks on a weight restriction of 20 kilos….several layers to be worn on the plane is my current thinking. After all, it’s the case that gets weighed, not me.

However, I am at the age when it’s a good idea to generate additional brain cells by learning new things. I’ve just had my first meeting with my publisher to outline what will be required in the coming months and it certainly feels like there will be plenty of opportunities in 2018  to acquire new social media and marketing skills – a slightly daunting prospect for a shy retiring techno-phobe like me, but probably far more achievable than giving up cake…

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More (Social Media) Action

Unlike my daughters who are never located more than a couple of centimetres away from their mobile phones, I can remember life before social media. The good old days, the days when writers parcelled up their precious copy of a typewritten manuscript in brown paper and sent it off into the world via the post office, and then sat back and waited for somebody else to do all the hard work of publishing and publicising it.

Today, a writer doesn’t just have to be able to create a good story, they have to have the necessary skills to market it too. With this in mind I signed up for a one-day course on Social Media for Writers run by Anita Chapman of Neetsmarketing. I’d discovered Anita through the Romantic Novelists Association and had already followed her useful beginners on-line guide for getting started on Twitter.

The course took place at the Bloomsbury Holiday Inn in London just a few minutes walk from Russell Square tube station. There were ten delegates in total, a mix of the published and unpublished, social media novices and those with a little more experience.

For me, navigating my way around social media is like learning a new language, but if I’m serious about my writing I have to face my fears. I always wondered how people had the time not just to  tweet, but to respond and re-tweet with such regularity, and now I know. Not only that, but as with every form of communication Twitter has its own etiquette –  knowing when to join a conversation and when to butt out, along with who, how and when not to, thank, is vital for on-line credibility.

As well as Twitter, the workshop covered Facebook, Instagram and blogging. I have an issue with Facebook. My ‘friends’ are genuine friends, some I’ve known for years, others I’ve picked up on my travels. I’m protective of my privacy and unsure whether I want my writing platform intruding into this personal space. Apparently its common dilemma for authors, and something I’ll have to think seriously about. In the meantime, I learned how to create a separate Author Page – vital for when that magical publication day arrives.

Anita stressed the importance social media has in establishing and promoting an author brand. The class size was manageable enough for her to answer individual queries and gripes.  Although there were worksheets and hand-outs, I never felt under pressure to complete tasks; it was very much a question of working at your own pace to gain confidence to apply the new skills. I’ve blogged for several years, but writing about life as an ex-pat came easy, albeit somewhat low-key; publicising my as yet unpublished work requires a very different mind-set.

Apart from the obvious educational benefits, Anita’s course provided an enjoyable opportunity to network with fellow authors, make new friends, and eat cake. 

And finally, the two vital lessons I learned. First, it is perfectly ok to Tweet pictures of my cat; cats don’t just bring comfort, they can bring connections. And secondly, in today’s literary market it’s no longer the importance of being earnest that counts, but the importance of using that hashtag.

When Life Gets In The Way

Right now, life is definitely getting in the way of my art – there’s just too much nitty gritty stuff going on to focus on penning the next best seller. It’s just as well book one has been set aside as something to come back to later, and book two, my WIP, is currently out with a friend-of-a-friend for critique. The natural impasse has been filled not with fresh ideas for the new cast of characters currently taking shape in my head (I’m a pantser not a plotter so the characters always come first) but by a daughter with a broken foot and a frantic life-laundry style clearance of the family home ready to receive an apartment’s worth of furniture and household belongings back from overseas.

 I’ve moved house more times than I care to remember over the last decade; to be brutal; eight house moves in as many years. So I should be a pro. When I’m in charge, it’s relatively simple. I pack, I label a box, it’s methodical and logical. With an international work sponsored re-location, such as our official return from the Netherlands which finally took place last week, an agency is put in charge.
I know from past experience that international packers are extra vigilant and over enthusiastic, but not necessarily logical.  Nothing escapes their grasp – we arrived in the Netherlands complete with the copy of the local council bin collection rota I’d stuck inside a kitchen cupboard for the tenants who were moving into our old house. And although I am very grateful for the care taken over my belongings, Tupperware is pretty sturdy.  I’ve wrapped pass-the-parcel presents for parties of twenty excited pre-schoolers in less layers.
Why wouldn’t you pack the shelves from the kitchen dresser in with the bed? Lost a flower pot? Look in the linen basket, where else? Unpacking when you haven’t packed is like Christmas Day but nowhere near as exciting. Oh look, a cheese-grater, just what I always wanted. Actually, I already have one, which of  course leads to the dilemma of which cheese-grater to keep and which to let go. Maintaining the equivalent of two households over the last eight years has resulted in a great deal of duplication.

Ignoring the lack of cupboard space, I’ve only got a four ring hob. Even with my faltering mathematical skills I know that the maximum number of pans I can use at any one time is four. So I don’t really need fourteen. Likewise I only have three beds. Six duvets and twelve covers does seem somewhat excessive. I’m actually writing this post as I wait for the local charity shop to open.

I know I don’t have to sort it all out now but I’m becoming impatient. When those new characters start shouting out their stories I don’t want their voices swamped under a blanket of unwanted bedding. I’ll need to get back to work, and a ‘pan-demic’ of cooking utensils won’t aid the creative process at all.

The New Page

Welcome to my new blog. After spending the majority of the last eight years living abroad, the time has come to settle back in the UK and begin a new chapter.
When you live overseas it’s very easy to fill a blog with posts about the peculiarities and peccadilloes of your adopted country, especially when still suffering culture shock and huge bouts of homesickness. After a while the bizarre becomes the norm. When we returned to the UK after 3 years in California I took great delight in the simple things such as being able to peg my washing outside to dry (because nobody airs their undies in LA); returning from the Netherlands and I’m just grateful for a dry day.

We’ve promised ourselves we will live our life here on the south coast of England as we lived it on those overseas assignments – making the most of our free time to explore. So far this has extended no further than a half day out in the New Forest and a blustery boat trip around Portsmouth Harbour, but it’s early days.

However, the main purpose of this blog is to raise my social profile, and to let potential readers know more about me. The time has come to embrace the new age of self-promotion. I want my novels to be published, therefore I need a social platform. Every agent/publisher these days checks you out on social media.  In addition, I’m currently weighing up the pros and cons of self-publishing, in which case a prolific public profile is essential.
Self-promotion doesn’t sit easy with me, nor does talking to strangers. I’m a reluctant tweeter, and yet, from tweeting about very little, I’ve accumulated a following already in triple figures, which baffles me (although in the whole scheme of things I appreciate triple figures is nothing). However, ignoring the handful of US armed services personnel stationed in the wilderness, the majority of these new virtual acquaintances are other writers/book people, which can only be a good thing. The downside is now that I have followers, I have to give them something to follow.

I will hopefully find plenty of interesting topics to blog about, plus of course, there will be a regular ‘book corner’ when I’ll talk about what I’m currently reading, updates about my own writing, and hopefully some guest posts.

A few pics of the New Forest plus some of the locals