In the Spotlight with Val Penny

This week I’m turning the spotlight on author Val Penny. I’m delighted to welcome Val onto my blog to share her exciting news about her latest book release.

Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog today, Rosie. I am delighted to have a chance to tell you and your readers about Hunter’s Chase, the first novel in my series of The DI Hunter Wilson Thrillers.

I have been writing and telling stories all my life. When I was a child, I was inspired to make up stories for my little sister after our Mum put the light out and told us to go to sleep. Later, I wrote documents, contracts, and courses as part of my job, but my time was well accounted for, so I did not create any fiction.

However, I took early retirement when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and there were times when I suffered severe side effects from my treatment. I could not go out, spend time with friends or indulge in many of my favourite hobbies, but watching daytime television got very old very fast, so I turned to reading. It was the only thing I had the energy to do and could do safely.

I read voraciously, as I always have. I particularly enjoy reading crime fiction and thrillers. I indulged this interest with many novels including those by Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, Linwood Barclay and Kathy Reichs.

After a while, I began to feel a little better and decided to start reviewing the books I read in a blog www.bookreviewstoday.info I enjoyed doing that. Then, as I began to feel better still, I got restless, but was not still well enough to do very much and I complained to my long-suffering husband about getting bored. It was then he challenged me: ‘If you know so much about what makes a good book, why don’t you write one?’ I did laugh. However, with the challenge set, the inspiration given, and I have been writing police procedural crime thrillers set in Scotland ever since.

In fact, I have just moved publishers to the stable of Spellbound Books. They will publish the first book in the series The DI Hunter Wilson Thrillers on 20. August.2022. The main character is Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson in Hunter’s Chase. My new series, The Jane Renwick Thrillers and four new books in a multibook deal will published by SpellBound Books in the months ahead. I am very excited to have made the move.

Although Hunter’s Chase, is the first book in a series, it can be read completely independently as a standalone.

I particularly enjoyed writing Hunter’s Chase it marked the end of a period of particularly poor health and so hope that readers will enjoy it too. The next novel in this series, Hunter’s Revenge, will be published by SpellBound Books in November. I’ll let you know more about that in due course!

Author Bio

It is with great delight that Val Penny has accepted a ten-book deal with Spellbound Books.

Val Penny has an Llb degree from the University of Edinburgh and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer but has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store.

Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories, nonfiction, and novels.

Val is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and their cat.

www.valpenny.com

https://www.facebook.com/Authorvalpenny

www.facebook.com/valerie.penny.739

www.facebook.com/groups/296295777444303

https://www.facebook.com/groups/167248300537409

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17300087.Val_Penny

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/val-penny

Thanks to Val for sharing her story with us. I’m so glad she took up her husband’s challenge. Val is a prolific writer who is wonderfully supportive of her fellow authors. I wish her new venture with Spellbound every success!

Four Years On – Top Tips for Survival

This week marks a very special anniversary – it’s four years’ since the publication of my first book, The Theatre of Dreams. Back in August 2018 I was giddy with excitement, full of optimism. I loved my story of two actresses and their fight to save a seaside pavilion. That book was written straight from the heart. There was drama, romance, a seaside setting, a mystery. The Theatre of Dreams had it all. Surely this book would be a huge success and herald the start of a whole new literary career?

The Book Launch 1 August 2018

If only I knew then what I know now. Anyone who follows this blog will know that the last four years have been a rollercoaster ride of conflicting emotions, and not a dazzling romp to the top of the Sunday Times Bestseller Chart. But hey, I do have four books out there on Amazon. That’s four more books than a lot of people ever manage. Of course, I realise it’s not everybody’s ambition in life to write a book, let alone publish it, but in case it is, based on my own personal experiences, here are my top tips for surviving the publishing jungle.

Top Tip Number One

If you’re Intent on Capturing a Publisher – Choose your Publisher Carefully.

Of course, we all know it’s actually the other way round, the publisher chooses you. But the big publishers are the elephants and tigers of the jungle, and if you’re happy to snare a smaller beast – a warthog for example – do your research and make sure that warthog will satisfy your needs.

Whilst I’ll always be grateful for the publisher who gave me my first break, when I signed my contract, I was very naïve. I had zero knowledge of the jungle and was ill-equipped to tackle the tasks expected of me, which subsequently led to feelings of inadequacy and failure. On reflection, now that I’m older and wiser, I realise I hadn’t failed at all. My warthog was simply not the right warthog for me. I should have held out for a tiger.

Top Tip Number Two

Make Friends Wisely

At the start of my writing journey my social media following consisted almost entirely of people I knew personally. I was unaware there was a whole online writing/reading community out there. I didn’t know about Facebook author/book groups, bookstagrammers and bloggers. Four books later I do. The more you engage with the online world, the more followers and friends you gather.  And while it’s true, the more people who know and like you, the more books you may sell, there is also a huge benefit in engaging with like-minded people. Every writer needs a support network and there is a wonderfully generous community of successful authors out there who are happy to pass on tips and advice.

Social media can seem overwhelming – especially with the rise of the dreaded do-I-don’t-I TikTok. Find your tribe and pick out the aspects you enjoy and are comfortable with. Don’t put yourself under pressure to befriend everyone and do it all, because you can’t. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day, week, year – at least not if you want to write more books.

Top Tip Number Three

Celebrate your Achievements

You’ve found an agent. WELL DONE YOU! You’ve netted a publisher. CONGRATULATIONS!

But what if the big stuff never happens? What if you don’t think you’ve got anything to sing about? Bash that negativity on the head and THINK POSITIVE.

Envy is a perfectly natural human emotion but always remember where you are on your own personal journey. You don’t have to be part of the elephant brigade to blow your own trumpet.

You’ve written a book, or maybe it’s just a short story. That’s an achievement.  SHOUT ABOUT IT!

So you’ve only sold enough copies of your book this month to count on the fingers of one hand, BUT you have got a fabulous new 5 star review. LET EVERYONE KNOW ABOUT THOSE 5 STARS.

If you celebrate your success, other people will cheer with you.

Top Tip Number Four

Grab Every Opportunity

Networking IS important. If you have an opportunity for a 1-2-1 with a publishing professional, take it. If you can go to a conference, or a book festival, GO. Every connection you make, is a connection. I know I’ve had opportunities I’ve let slip; chances I didn’t follow up, and yes, I do sometimes wonder what might have been…

I’m naturally a shy person, and that has held me back. Writing has forced me half-way out of my shell. I’ve had to put myself out there and over the last four years I’ve become far more pro-active. I’ve talked to WIs and book groups, taken part in Facebook and Instagram Lives, a Podcast, things I never thought I would do. Stand up in a banqueting hall and give a talk to 100 people? With a mic? Crack jokes. Who me? If I’m talking about my love of writing, yes I can and I will.

Top Tip Number Five

Write the Book you want to Write

That’s easy for me to say now that I self-publish and I don’t have the constraints/obligations of a publishing contract. However, I have tried to conform. I have tried to write the book I think a publisher is looking for.  When I came up with the idea for A Crisis at Clifftops, I started out with the serious intent of writing a traditional cosy mystery because cosies are currently the “in thing”. Amateur sleuth solves crime, tick.  Nothing grisly/gory requiring in depth forensic knowledge, tick. Quaint countryside/seaside setting, tick.  Potential for series to continue indefinitely, tick. Amateur sleuth is professional golfer, untick. Major suspect is amateur sleuth’s grandmother, untick.  Also include vintage crime from sixty years earlier, untick. Add in another subplot involving resort redevelopment with far too many secondary characters, untick.

I can’t help it. I have a vivid imagination and a creative mind. I can’t reign it in, and when I do, I’m not happy. The words don’t flow.

Let your creative juices run wherever they want, and if that’s in the direction of an agent or a publisher’s wish-list, all the better. But if they meander off-piste… Think about what you want from your writing and why you do it. Do you want to conquer the jungle, or are you happy hanging about on the fringes?

I’m not going to lie. There’s still part of me that thinks it would be wonderful to get snapped up by one of those big tigers, but self-publishing has given me the control to write what I want to write and when I write it.  I know my limitations. If I were younger I might be more ambitious, more committed to conform. It’s taken me a long time to reach the stage when I’m happy and comfortable with what I do.

And My Final Top Two Tips?

Two phrases I chanted like a mantra while adjusting to life as an ex-pat wife in the wilds of LA many years ago, but equally as applicable to surviving life in publishing jungle: DEVELOP A THICK SKIN and RETAIN A SENSE OF HUMOUR.  I don’t think either requires any further explanation!

The author in her natural environment.

Feeling Festive?

I’m sorry for the delay in sending out a traditional festive greeting. If you read November’s post you’re probably eagerly awaiting news on the decorating/curtain making v writing challenge. I’m pleased to report it all worked out very well.  Even the under-stairs cupboard has received a makeover, and there’s only one room left to go (which we’re saving for lockdown 3 because it’s a big one). The curtains are up and look beautiful – if I say so myself, and while on my upholstery high I even recovered an old ottoman to match. Creativity abounds!

My writing mojo came and went between coats of paint, but sadly, Mr T lost his lovely dad at the beginning of December, which has somewhat put a dampener on things. I write very much from the heart, and to be honest, my heart has been elsewhere for the last few weeks.  I’m not prolific on social media – that part of ‘authoring’ is not a part I particularly enjoy, so I took even more of a step back than usual. Some people are quite happy posting up their personal stuff for all the world to see, but there’s enough misery out without me adding to it. I don’t enjoy reading about other people’s problems; I don’t want to inflict my problems on others.  My social media persona is very much like my books, chirpy and cheerful, and I want to keep it that way.

Chirpy books for chirpy people!

At times like this it’s hard to find humour. The corona crisis drags on and Boris has stolen a lot of people’s Christmases. We’re not the only parents who won’t see our kids this Christmas, I’m not the only woman with too many sprouts in her fridge (that will teach me for buying my veg too early).

Take a look at what you could have won kids!

Writing has always been a solace, an escape, and with just the two of us home for Christmas I know there will be plenty of time to retreat to my study and continue my WIP when the mood takes me. And if all else fails, there’s always the jigsaw puzzle. Back in September, in anticipation of a long winter ahead, Mr T bought me a jigsaw for my birthday.  Seeking simple comfort during a stressful period, we got it out, restricting ourselves to just an hour a day to complete a nostalgic Amsterdam canal scene. I once read Gwyneth Paltrow completed jigsaws on film sets to help her relax between scenes. Trust me, there’s nothing relaxing about discovering your 1000 piece jigsaw is actually 999. You know you’ve reached a crisis point when your normally laid back, super patient other-half is ripping open the vacuum cleaner bag looking for that vital missing piece. Personally, I blame the cat.

Guilty as charged!

So that’s it. 2020 has come to an end and I’m very glad to see back of it.

Thanks for reading, have the best Christmas you can, and roll on 2021.

A very rare picture of the author with her curtains!

Out & About

Lockdown is all but over and we have entered a new era, not just globally but in our own cosy corner of the world. Mr T has officially retired, but as he has been working from home since March, it’s not such the huge lifestyle adjustment it could have been. We’d always promised ourselves that once he retired we’d ‘get out more’ and with grand plans for foreign travel curtailed for the foreseeable future,  a ‘staycation’ is the obvious answer.

Walking, like gardening, and knitting, and any form of exercise is good for the soul (although I see that even poor old Joe Wicks was finding his daily schedules too much and has given up – you really can have too much of a good thing and my leg is nearly better, thank you.)

A couple of years back Mr T received a copy of the AA Guide to 50 Walks in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in his Christmas stocking, a book which due it’s scant attention to detail and somewhat ambiguous directions, should really be entitled 50 Ways to Get Lost in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Last week we picked a gloomy day to complete the six mile trek along the River Itchen and back from St Cross to Winchester. It’s a walk we’ve done several times before and are pretty familiar with.  I could tell Mr T was still in work mode; while I paused to ‘smell the roses’  ie take numerous pics of flora and fauna, Mr T forged ahead as if he had to be somewhere by a certain time. Perhaps it was the lure of a pasty pit-stop in Winchester.

Winchester is wonderful, one of those select genteel British cities which is too posh for its own good, the sort of place where it’s perfectly normal to overhear a woman pointing out a medieval building in the cathedral grounds to her companion with a loud “and that’s where Titus went to prep school.”  I also realised Mr T hadn’t quite disengaged when he announced he’d spotted a dumper truck contravening all health and safety regulations by reversing for length and at speed on a construction site. I hadn’t even noticed the dumper truck, let alone that it was going backwards. Too busy looking at those bumble bees…

This week, we tackled new territory, part of Hampshire we’d never been before. Hampshire is a huge country and I’m only familiar with my native coastal region. Inland there are vast areas of unspoilt countryside, rolling fields, and chocolate box hamlets. We headed for Rockbourne, close to the Wiltshire border. Rockbourne is famous for its Roman villa, but as we discovered when we took the small detour as suggested in the guide book, the villa is currently closed. Undeterred we back-tracked and continued the planned circular five mile hike, and after scrambling up steep banks and clambering over numerous stiles, we arrived at the dreaded, yet inevitable, field of cows.  I have a thing about cows. I know it’s illogical but ever since I read of two Austrian women walkers who were trampled to death in an Alpine meadow, I’ve seen cows in a different light. If you don’t believe me, Google it. Don’t be fooled by those big brown eyes and that seemingly docile manner. On average four people a year in the UK are killed by cows, and I know from past experiences, if these evil creatures not waiting for you at the entrance to their field, they’ll be lurking at the other end, huddled around the exit stile. 

The cow pats were still steaming. I knew they were there somewhere. The guidebook said follow the path parallel to the edge of the field to reach a stile leading to a track and a wood. What did it mean by parallel? Was that straight on, then why not say straight on?  It must mean around the edge, so we skirted the edge of the field with no sign of those sly bovines, seeking our escape route. We saw the wood, but no stile so we climbed over a five bar gate instead only to realise we were now heading off through someone’s back garden…

Yes we had gone wrong. However, I felt totally vindicated when we found an alternative route to the path we should have been on because we’d outwitted those cows. There they were, in their field, waiting for us at the designated exit, but thanks to the map reading error, we were already safely on the right side of the fence.

After two and a half hours we returned to Rockbourne unscathed.

I have no news to report on the writing/publishing front, only that I received my feedback from the virtual RNA conference from industry professionals. Two contrasting opinions on my work, one which made me feel I should give up now, the second quite the opposite. So I’m sitting on things for a bit. Checking Amazon stats and putting yourself out there in front of agents and publishers is not good for mental well-being. My social media feeds are full of other authors plugging their books, or authors telling me how great they’re doing. I’m tired of living in my author bubble. I want to escape to the real world. Both daughters have now been able to visit and daughter number 2 (because she was born second, not because she’s second favourite) is training to be a clinical psychologist so you always have to watch what you say. We had a little chat about my writing. I realise I have to concentrate on the doing the things I enjoy.  

Taking the positive feedback on board, I am going to finish writing my mystery series. I can’t get away from the fact I love writing. I’ve also picked up on a sequel to the Theatre of Dreams I started a while back and which is now coming on nicely, with the aim of self-publishing a novella in the autumn.  But I want to do things at my pace. I’m also going to buy some wool to knit another jumper, and there will also be a lot more visits to the countryside observing the butterflies and the bees. After all we’ve still got another forty walks to complete.  I may be gone for some time.