My House Move and Other Horror Stories

Bookish things have taken a back seat over the last month or so. Sometimes life just gets in the way. Basically I’ve had a lot of “stuff” going on. If I was a master of self-publicity I would use these episodes – a house-move, car trouble, elderly mother’s deteriorating health, preparations for imminent arrival of daughter, boyfriend and her dog (how is he going to get on with the cat?) from Budapest, to my advantage and continued to Tweet, FB and Instagram about my personal life to raise my social media profile.  People do but when I was knee deep in corrugated cardboard and bubble-wrap the last thing I thought about was dropping a picture onto Instagram – ooh look, another box to unpack. Anyone else have Tupperware that breeds? Some people might find that interesting – personally I don’t and I always judge my social media posts by what I consider something I’d want to read – and this, I realise is where I’ve been going wrong.

This is when I wish I’d used a pen name when writing my books because with a pen-name I could have created a whole new persona who’d be one step removed and could twitter on about anything. Suzi Smith (yes, I name I really did consider adopting) would be ever present on social media with witty comments, and even non-witty comments on every day life. She would be continually posting to keep her presence afloat (this is a tough business and if you don’t float, you sink without trace). Suzi Smith would be putting herself out there and using every situation to her advantage – even in her darkest hour.

Don’t you just love the NHS – mum’s hip operation cancelled due to chronic iron deficiency. Never mind at least we got a free cup of tea and a cheese sandwich after three hours waiting in pre-surgery. LOL!

Now I know why estate agent insisted on using the back entrance when he showed us around the house. Loving our genuine Arts & Craft front door but wish I could get it open…

New house teething problem number 2 – who doesn’t love a soft-close toilet seat. Just wish it would wait until I’d finished doing my business before it starts closing. OUCH!

By the way, have you ordered a copy of my latest book? Just £1.99 on Amazon…

Suzi Smith would not only be the master of self-publicity she’d also  write very commercial women’s fiction; her novels would be highly marketable – and here’s my next dilemma. My faithful old desktop crashed just before our house move. Had I backed up my latest WIP? Well yes, but not since about the 25K word-mark and I last left it at 40K. But now that my precious data has been recovered (at considerable cost, I might add – that’ll teach me to ignore those messages reminding me to back up my PC) I’ve taken another look at Book 3 and decided my efforts to write something a little more commercially orientated a la Suzi Smith are not winning me over, in fact I don’t actually like the hunky all-American boy-gone-bad-but-he-will-redeem-himself hero I purposefully created to attract a wider audience.

Stressing over things we cannot change is wasted energy. Today, I feel like I have emerged from a long dark tunnel. Over the last few weeks it seemed impossible to imagine I’d ever have the time, let alone the inclination, to return to the keyboard.   But now, as watery sunshine filters through the canopy of the enormous Caucasian Wingnut tree at the end of my new garden (it’s a very rare specimen – we viewed the house in winter when it was half the size)  I feel a welcome sense of calm.  

My mum has accepted she’ll never get a new hip unless she eats more greens (slipping into Suzi mode here) just as I’ve accepted she needs a little more looking after than she currently receives – but other carers are available. As always it’s a question of attitude. I’ve decided the dent in my car gives it far more character, as does the crack in the windscreen, the Hungarian Dachshund-cross compatible dog food has been ordered on-line (the cat will love him), and as much as I appreciate the historic merits of my rustic front door, a new one I can open, shut and lock is already on its way.

It’s time to pick up the pieces and crack on. I do want to complete another novel and the answer I believe lies in a good murder. In fact, I’ve decided all-American boy is going to be my first victim. His girlfriend – un-named as yet but I have one in mind – may well be my second.

Poor Suzi, what a horrid way to go...

Failure to Plan

My other half, who has worked for a mega multi-national organisation for more years than is good for him, is fluent in corporate speak. One of his favourites is failure to plan is planning to fail – a little gem about time-management, something which has never been my forte.

My WIP (work in progress) is currently zooming along at high speed but in a very haphazard fashion. This is because I’m a “pantser” – when it comes to writing I fly by the seat of my pants and I make my stories up as I go along – as opposed to a plotter who researches and constructs their novel – chapter by chapter in some cases – before starting.  

A first draft is allowed to be messy, it’s where you write down all your ideas and don’t worry too much about the finer details. However, a plotter will have a plan, while a pantser is constantly going back to join the dots to make their story work.

I can totally understand the need for some prior research if you’re writing a historical novel. I write contemporary fiction and look up my ‘facts’ as I go along. However, not having a cohesive plan does have its drawbacks when it comes to consistency or when a fact no longer fits the plotline. For example, at the very start of my WIP my heroine is attending an event which could only take place in the summer.  Several chapters in I mention something that implies we are in winter – so now I either have to find an alternative event or put her in the southern hemisphere to solve the problem of what she is doing, but there again she has to nip back to the UK pretty swiftly to deal with the initial point of change – the dilemma which sets the story off – so I have to delete the wintery weather, which then has other implications as the story progresses….

Of course a plotter would have little details like this sorted – they’d have a calendar, a timeline and full character profiles and CVs. They’d know exactly what their character was up to and where and when she was doing it.

However, I like watching my characters develop. My current hero has mesmerised my heroine but to be honest he hasn’t mesmerised me yet, therefore he needs more bulk to his personality; he has do something that will have the reader rooting for him. Looking good is not enough; my hero need more than finely chiselled features and few rippling muscles (although that does help). Therefore a fact he has kept hidden about himself until a later chapter will now need to come out sooner to evoke a little sympathy. So back I go again…

At the moment I am going back more than I am going forward, but that’s ok.  I’m more than a third of the way through the book now and I think my idea has legs so it’s worth perserving to see how far it’ll run.

Both hero and heroine have changed names, as have several minor characters. You can’t have too many names that begin with the same letter; sometimes a name that seems to fit at the start, no longer seems appropriate. Nationalities and occupations have changed. The sub-plot which kicked the book off has fallen a little by the wayside and will have to be brought back to the forefront  before the reader forgets all about it, and the secondary plot is  vital, not just to keep the reader engaged during a lull in the main action, but because I want the two separate storylines to come together at the end.  See I have done a bit of planning – even if it’s just in my head. I do know how this book will end – or at least I think I do…

So being a pantser keeps the story fluid and organic. My characters drive the story forward and although leap-frogging backwards and forwards to drop in clues as the story progresses might seem like a less constructive use of time, not having a set plan makes writing fun and unpredictable! I’m just as much in the dark as to what my characters are going to get up to next as I hope my readers will be. A heart attack? I didn’t see that one coming but it so works…

Itchy Feet & Itchy Fingers

Last week we moved house.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I am a bit of a serial house mover.  Stay in one place too long and I get itchy feet.  This was actually our 11th house move in ten years and yes that does mean that in some years we’ve moved more than once (in 2012 we moved three times).  In theory I should be getting good at it. I pack boxes like a professional – but I don’t think we’ve made one house move yet where something hasn’t been mislaid along the way. In this house move – it was most definitely my writing mojo that got lost. The stress of securing a buyer, then the stress of not losing our buyer, and finally the stress of not finding a property we wanted to buy, seemed to cancel out every ounce of creativity. A new novel just wasn’t happening.

We made the decision to go into short term rented, which isn’t without its own inherent problems, and the date of our actual move, dictated by our buyers, couldn’t have been worse – just a week  after the launch date for Your Secret’s Safe With Me.   Just before the launch date I hit on this brilliant new idea for a potential third book. In fact it was so brilliant, I abandoned the stilted 10K words I’d eeked out over the last few months, and wrote a totally new 10K words in a matter of days.

Do you ever have that feeling where an idea is just beyond your grasp? It’s as if you have a glimpse of something but it’s not fully formed, something on the periphery of your vision, and then all of sudden it’s a solid mass, within reach. That was what this rush of creativity felt like. It was also a relief. The muse was back, I wasn’t going to be permanently muted – but then the curse of the house move struck again because boxes needed to be packed; practicalities took over and the tap so recently switched on was turned off again. The flow of words halted.

We’ve been in our new temporary home for a week, but when I sat down at my desk this morning it was an ‘and breathe’ moment. We haven’t done a great deal of unpacking – no point when we’re not planning on staying put. Half the furniture sits in the garage and some has been sacrificed to fend for itself in the garden (although this has created a very useful outdoor writing space). But the one saving grace is that the next move is not yet on the cards, and I can’t wait to pick up where I left off on the WIP. New characters have already appeared in my head, a new plot twist.  My fingers are itching to get tapping away on that broken keyboard (yes something inevitably also gets broken in every house move – this time a foot broke off the keyboard and a leg fell of an IKEA wardrobe. The IKEA wardrobe is now propped up on a brick, the keyboard on a wad of paper.) When we finally get to the dream house it’ll all get repaired – or replaced. The good thing is work on my next novel doesn’t need a dream home before it gets restored. I can start now.

The garden writing retreat!