Friday, 13 March 2015

Getting Back Into Writing After a Break

Camellias at Claremont Landscape Garden
I’m a bit late with this post. This is partly due to half term, plus now I have two blogs to manage and some part-time work relating to I’ve been temping for the past few weeks, on and off too, helping an elderly gentleman catalogue and archive some old work documents before he moves house.

The writing of draft six of Book 2 has slipped too, unfortunately. Since my 7 Ways to Finish Writing the Book post, back in January: I have managed to send a chunk of my novel, the first part re-drafted with scenes added, to a writing friend. I missed my end of February deadline for 20K words and now have to catch up. I’ve given myself until the end of April to get the first 40K words in order-this will include rewriting some parts and expanding others, by adding new scenes. I'm currently drafting an afternoon tea scene, set in a country house library in the eighteenth century, with Sèvres cups and saucers like these ones

Sometimes life does get in the way of writing, but as long as I can find a way back into the ‘writing zone’, I know I’ll get the novel finished. The RNA's New Writers’ Scheme deadline of the end of August helps a great deal too (by the way, I’ve just booked for the RNA Conference in July again-can’t wait!-here’s my post from last year: Why Go to a Writing Conference?). The key is to sit down at my computer every day with a spreadsheet open behind Word, and to type in the word count of my latest draft when I finish.

Spring seems to have sprung in the UK. I hope it stays and that there are no more de-ice the car mornings until next winter! Best of luck to other RNA New Writers’ Scheme members who are working towards the August deadline. I recently wrote a post for the RNA blog: Getting to Know the RNA Through Social Media, a real honour.

And now I'm off to write! 

An update on my neetsmarketing blog about social media for writers (Twitter @neetsmarketing):

Latest posts:

There are some fabulous guests appearing on my neetsmarketing blog soon:

April: Talli Roland with a post on Facebook
May: The New Romantics Press, answering my questions on Marketing Books Using Social Media
June: Sue Moorcroft with a post on Balancing Writing with Social Media

Saturday, 17 January 2015

7 Ways to Finish Writing the Book

Richmond, Surrey
I’m lucky to be on the RNA New Writers’ Scheme again this year, and I have to get Book 2 finished. Draft five is underway and I’ve just changed my 18thc main character's ("mc") name to one which suits her perfectly.

Here’s my plan on how to finish writing the book:

1.Work on my manuscript every day (well, of course) 

Scribbling notes about how my mc feels about her father’s death doesn’t count.

2. Exchange chapters with a writing friend (have arranged)

Something that's worked well in the past with this particular friend. We haven’t exchanged work for a few years and I think it will help us both.

3. Don’t get bogged down by research

I still have piles of research books, which I shall use when I need them ONLY.

4. When I get stuck, work on another bit of the book and return later

I shall not abandon my manuscript and wallow in ‘I just can’t write’ self-pity; and suddenly find clearing out the cupboard under the stairs a good idea.

5. Use my spreadsheet outline to plan ahead and monitor how much I’m achieving

If I apply the ‘treat writing like a job’ technique, it seems to work well for me.

6. Set weekly and monthly targets re word count or editing a number of scenes

When I’m drafting new words, to set a word count; and when I’m editing, to set a number of scenes to edit.

7. Keep moving forwards!

When I don't reach my daily target, treat it as a 'one off'' and continue the next day as if I did.

Wishing you a belated Happy New Year, and the best of luck with your writing in 2015! 

One more thing…

I have a new neetsmarketing blog about social media for writers and here’s my first post:

My Beginner’s Guide to Twitter for Writers.

Plus I have fabulous guests to follow on the neetsmarketing blog, including ‘Alison Morton on Twitter’ on 6 February 2015, and ‘The Romaniacs on Blogging and using Social Media as a Group’ on 6 March 2015.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

A Lunch, a Launch and a New Venture!

Fortnum and Mason, London
It's been a busy but exciting week, sometimes everything happens at once! On Saturday, I went to the Romantic Novelists' Association's ("RNA") London Chapter lunch, on Tuesday I attended Pippa Croft's book launch for the Oxford Blue Series and on Wednesday I launched my new website, neetsmarketing.

RNA London Chapter Lunch:

This is one of my favourite RNA events of the year, held in The Lamb, a Grade II listed Victorian pub in Bloomsbury, which still has the etched glass snob screens in place above the bar. The Lamb has that comforting aroma of beer and musty carpet which takes you back to the days when all pubs were like that. As is usual at RNA events, there was lots of meaty conversation and laughter, with wine thrown in.
Alison Sherlock, Sue Moorcroft, Liz Harris
This year, the food was delicious with potato and beef croquettes, bubble and squeak cakes, mini sausages, and more…followed by macaroons and mini cheesecakes. The house white wine wasn’t bad either. An excuse to go into London in December is one to be cherished and I took a stroll along Piccadilly on the way back, taking in the atmosphere as I edged around clusters of Christmas shoppers. Then I dropped into my favourite Waterstones, where there are books you don’t see anywhere else. Fortnum and Mason looked particularly lovely dressed for Christmas.
Linda Chamberlain, Talli Roland, Giselle Green, Catriona Robb
Pippa Croft’s book launch for the Oxford Blue Series:

Pippa Croft's book launch at Goldsboro Books
A few days later, I returned to London; this time to Goldsboro Books in Cecil Court, a specialist in signed first editions for Pippa Croft’s (also Phillippa Ashley) launch of the Oxford Blue Series. What a venue for a launch with shelves ceiling-high of signed first editions (including those by Agatha Christie and JK Rowling). It was lovely to be invited to celebrate Pippa’s success and a chance to catch up with old RNA friends, as well as to meet new ones.
Afterwards atte restaurant: L-R: Donna Ashcroft, Ian Skillicorn, Pippa Croft, Jules Wake
A new venture: neetsmarketing!

I’ve been on Twitter (@neetswriter) and Facebook since October 2011 when I started this blog. Since August this year, I’ve been Social Media Manager for the Historical Novel Society and more recently I’ve managed the social media for Corazon Books (3-12 December, to do more work in January). A few friends and acquaintances have asked if I could train them or do their social media temporarily, so I thought it might be worth setting up a website explaining the different packages I can offer.

On Wednesday, I launched neetsmarketing. Thank you to all who have followed my new Twitter account @neetsmarketing and who have liked my new Facebook Page. I have some wonderful supporters out there, friends made online over the past few years, many of whom I've met 'in real life'. Ruth Brandt, winner of many short story competitions whose creative writing classes I’ve attended has posted the link on her Facebook group for creative writing students, a real honour. Thank you so much Ruth!

A  neetsmarketing blog on social media for writers will follow in 2015, with some special guests, who really know their stuff when it comes to social media.
The Christmas tree at Goldsboro Books
I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for following my blog, for your support and comments on my posts, and see you in 2015!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Research, Research, Research!

How long does it take to know everything about a historical period, do you need to know everything?

Recently I’ve been acquiring more research books as it’s easy to go onto Amazon and order a second-hand, out of print eighteenth century journal or biography for 0.01p with £2.50 postage, too easy in fact as the research books, collected over the past three years or so are piling up.
The thing about research is I love it, a bit too much. It takes a while to read a doorstop of a biography or a journal written using language from the eighteenth century, especially if I want to underline certain parts in pencil and stick post-it arrows here and there. And then there are the lectures I’ve discovered on YouTube recently. How long will it take to watch all of those? And how long will it take to read those blog posts I find when searching for content to share for the Historical Novel Society? It’s not just watching and reading, it’s absorbing and processing the content, and converting it into what I need to use for my novel.

Essie Fox gives some great advice in the above video from 'Confronting Historical Fact with the Unexplained: from myths & the occult to fairy tales & the Gothic', a panel session at the Historical Novel Society Conference in London in September; with Professor Diana Wallace, Essie Fox, Kate Forsyth, Jessie Burton and Deborah Harkness. Essie says:

‘…one of the most vital things…when you come to tell a story…is that you have to wear that research lightly at times…and it’s almost like homeopathy…you condense it down and take the essence of what really matters to your story and the themes perhaps that you decide are important to your story…’

What an analogy. The Merriam Webster dictionary says:

Homeopathy is a system for treating illnesses that uses very small amounts of substances that would in larger amounts produce symptoms of the illnesses in healthy people

A degree in eighteenth century history would be helpful. Wouldn’t it be nice to instinctively know what my main character’s mother, a widow in early stages of mourning should wear when she goes to visit the Duke? Would she have a ‘best’ mourning dress and what would she wear on her head? If only an eighteenth century version of AA Route planner existed so I could estimate how long it would take a stagecoach to get from somewhere near Bath to somewhere in Surrey. And would my main character stay overnight at an inn en route, would it be appropriate for her to do that alone? (from memory I think Jane Eyre did it...)

A dear friend of twenty-three years reminded me recently (hello there Johanna!) that we did history at university as part of our French and Italian degrees, that we wrote quite a few lengthy essays on all sorts of subjects, ranging from Mussolini’s worship of Hitler to how the French Revolution came about (at least I know about the eighteenth century in France). At the beginning of each term, we were given a list of essay choices with titles of books to use for research. The trouble was you had to get to the library quickly as there were only one or two copies of each book, and the usual suspects would rush to get them (not us unfortunately). So we’d usually end up writing the essays no one else wanted to write, through the night before the deadline, sharing the same books and meeting every hour or so for tea, biscuits and cigarettes in the kitchen. So I've 'kind of' done this before, I have extracted information from various sources to produce lots of essays, and my dissertation (where most of the sources were in Italian). So why shouldn’t I be able to do it for a novel? Thank you Jo for reminding me of this (and see you next week for our pre-Christmas catch-up, hopefully with a glass or two of Prosecco;-))

If you 'd like to watch any other videos from the HNS Conference, you'll find them here

My post on the Historical Novel Society Conference in London, 2014:

A previous post on research:

Do you get lost in research?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Keeping up the Inspiration

Autumn at Polesden Lacey, Surrey

There have been times when I haven't felt like writing, but more recently I've learnt how to keep it going (who knows how long it will last?!). Keeping up the inspiration helps during those periods when I don't fancy it; so that when I do, words flow more easily.

Taking a walk

The change of seasons can’t fail to inspire; especially the change from summer to autumn and winter to spring. If the sun's shining, I take photos on those walks and upload them to Instagram or Pinterest; and use them for scenes, blog posts or general inspiration. A recent trip to Polesden Lacey inspired the theme for this blog post.

Reading an engaging book

Sometimes I read parts of books I’ve read before, those which have inspired me to write my novels; recently A Room with a View and Mansfield Park.

Writing in cafés
How many times have I talked about writing in cafés on this blog…? I’m going through a café-writing phase at the moment and have a favourite one I keep turning up to, always hoping for a table tucked in the corner. Sometimes I set the timer on my phone if I'm not in the mood for writing.

Visiting a scene
For me, that’s going to see the paintings which inspired book 2 and eighteenth century country houses.

Going to a writers’ conference
I’ve attended two this year and feel more inspired than I have for years. Click here for my posts on them.

Going to a class

This week I went to Sue Moorcroft’s Short Story Workshop at the Guildford Book Festival. Sue Moorcroft writes novels for Choc Lit, is a past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists' Association and editor of its anthologies. Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing 'how to' and is a competition judge and creative writing tutor. Find out more here.

Sue’s reputation as a great teacher precedes her and I came away inspired to write more short stories and submit them to competitions. Sue talked about creating engaging characters, viewpoint; and how to plan and go about writing a short story. She gave us many handy tips, including to use few characters and to make the first page as good as possible. I can’t wait to find a quiet moment to apply Sue’s advice to a short story I’ve written. If you get the opportunity to go to one of her classes, take it!

Sue is running a course at Arte Umbria in July 2015, which I’d love to go to as it sounds like a dream-writing and Italy combined. We’ll see...
Returning here soon!
Going away to write

Soon I'll be returning to a cottage I visited with writing friends in the spring. This will be an opportunity to get stuck into book 2 and move it forwards. And I can’t wait to take an autumn version of the above photo.

One more thing...

If you write historical fiction, and don’t know already: the Historical Novel Society ("HNS") posts links on Twitter and Facebook to interesting articles and posts on history and historical fiction; plus information about upcoming events such as the Harrogate History Festival. You can follow the HNS on Twitter @histnovsoc and find the Facebook Page here

Friday, 26 September 2014

Virtual Macmillan Coffee Morning

Independent publisher, audio producer and founder of National Short Story Week: Ian Skillicorn is hosting a virtual Macmillan coffee morning today on the website for Corazon Books. I've written a guest post, 'Why do I write about Italy?', a post about how I used to go to Italy on holiday as a child, how we'd drive over the Alps and explore Tuscany...and how that led to me setting novels there.

Corazon Books will donate all profits from its medical fiction titles to Macmillan Cancer Support until midnight tonight and readers have the option to donate at the end of a guest post if they wish.

You can read the other posts here. Guests are:

Gabrielle Mullarkey, Heidi from Cosmochicklitan, J Carmen Smith, Jo from Comet Babe’s Books, Jo from Jaffa Reads Too, Kirsty from the Love of a Good Book, Leah from Girls Love to Read, Sheli from Sheli Reads, Sophie King, Jules Wake and Sue Shepherd.

Thank you to Ian for inviting me to help raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Historical Novel Society Conference 2014! #HNSLondon14

I’ve been updating Twitter and Facebook for the Historical Novel Society since the beginning of August in preparation for the conference in London which took place this past weekend. There were quite a few speakers and talks to mention, so I set up a spreadsheet, the only way to keep track of everyone. I read interviews and blog posts, watched YouTube clips and the best book trailer I've seen, for Giles Kristian’s God of Vengeance, made by Philip Stevens. Now that’s how to make a book trailer. (Find out more about their talk on book trailers in Christina Courtenay's post on the conference). I knew some speakers already, through the RNA eg. Alison Morton and Jean Fullerton; and of many through Twitter. This helped when I put together the 'Who’s Who at #HNSLondon14?' posts for the HNS Facebook Page.Videos of the main talks will be on YouTube soon (follow @histnovsoc on Twitter to find out when).

Here are my highlights:
L to R: Carole Blake, Simon Taylor, Susan Watt, Matt Bates, Katie Bond, Nick Sayers
'Selling Historical Fiction: the challenges and triumphs', chaired by Carole Blake (Blake Friedmann Literary Agency); and with Matt Bates (WH Smith Travel Fiction Buyer), Nick Sayers (Hodder and Stoughton), Simon Taylor (Transworld), Katie Bond (National Trust); and Susan Watt (Heron Books).
This was an informative discussion with up-to-date information on the market. Matt Bates said he'd done his own survey to see which periods sell the most, with unsurprisingly Tudor being top by a long way (excluding Gregory and Mantel). Simon Taylor talked about films and television series influencing demand for books, eg. Game of Thrones. Matt Bates said 'Get the cover right' and Carole Blake made the point that a cover needs to look good as a thumbnail online for an ebook, as well as for the physical book. The panel discussed piracy and Carole Blake said she has Google Alerts set for her clients and she tells the publisher in each case.

Conn Iggulden

Conn Iggulden’s Keynote Address.
If you ever get the chance to hear Conn speak, take it! He told a series of anecdotes, peppered with wit, to move and reflect on; including one about his father during The Second World War, and an astonishing coincidence fifty years later; and one about Eddie O’Hare, informant at Al Capone’s trial, with another about Eddie’s son. Conn talked about Richard III, Julias Caesar and read out some beautiful words written by Henry VIII. He told us how he got into writing (always love to hear these stories), that he wrote one book a year from the age of thirteen for thirteen years, continued despite rejection after rejection and eventually got published.

L to R: Richard Lee (Chairman of HNS), Antonia Hodgson, Susannah Dunn,
Philip Stevens, Giles Kristian, Harry Sidebottom, Angus Donald
‘My Era is better than Yours’ panel, chaired by film director, Philip Stevens (see above book trailer); and with Angus Donald (Medieval), Susannah Dunn (Tudor), Antonia Hodgson (Georgian), Giles Kristian (Viking and Civil War), Harry Sidebottom (Ancient Rome).

The novel I'm working on is set during the eighteenth century so I cheered on the Georgian era, but all panellists fought a good battle. Giles Kristian attempted to dominate in typical Viking style, with much mentioning of axes, but Antonia did a great job representing the Georgian period (apart from the mention of vomiting in the street); and I’ve downloaded her novel, ‘The Devil in the Marshalsea’, which I can’t wait to read.

Richard Lee (Chairman of HNS), Diana Wallace, Essie Fox, Kate Forsyth, Jessie Burton, Deborah Harkness
Confronting Historical Fact with the Unexplained’ panel, chaired by Kate Forsyth; and with Jessie Burton, Essie Fox, Deborah Harkness, Diana Wallace.
You only have to look at the tweets from Sunday morning (retweeted by @histnovsoc #HNSLondon14), to see how much this discussion was enjoyed. The general consensus seemed to be that it was too short. And I’ll leave you with two quotes, one from Essie Fox who said research is like homeopathy, to condense it down and take the essence for the story; the other from Kate Forsyth who said ‘Historical Fiction is history set to music’.

After this talk, I had chance to speak to Jessie Burton briefly, who is charming and so deserving of her recent success. I asked her to sign a hardback copy of The Miniaturist, which I’ve read on Kindle (mentioned in previous post, How do you choose what to read?), but I had to get a signed copy for the bookcase.

L to R: Jon Watt, Anthony Riches, Cathy Rentzenbrink, James Heneage
Historical Fictionist Quiz, hosted by Jon Watt 
If you haven’t already discovered this brilliant online magazine, you can download it for free here. The quiz was a light-hearted end to the conference, with much laughter. Games included ‘Play Your Books Right’ where the audience and panel had to say ‘higher’ or ‘lower’, depending on when a book was set (like in Play Your Cards Right, Bruce Forsyth’s game show from the 1980s); and a game where members of the audience and panel had to feel objects in a bag and come up with the book title. The objects for Girl With a Pearl Earring were a scrubbing brush, miniature easel and of course a pearl earring.

There were workshops and talks, which I didn’t manage to attend as I was helping out with pitches. But I was lucky to have two pitches booked for myself, where I pitched Book 2 for the first time and also talked about Book 1. During one of them, in the heat of the moment, I did say a character in Book 1 lived with the parmesans in Italy during The Second World War, instead of the partisans, which the person I was pitching to found quite amusing. The feedback in both pitches was the most positive yet and I must get Book 2 finished as soon as possible. Time for another spreadsheet and non-stop writing.
Feedback from delegates about the conference on Twitter etc has been very positive and I’m sure many will write blog posts. Alison Morton's is here. You'll find others by following @histnovsoc #HNSLondon14 on Twitter. And videos from the main talks will be available to watch soon on YouTube.

Only the prospect of an Historical Novel Society Conference would make me get up at 5.45am on a Saturday and Sunday, totally worth doing. Fortunately I located a coffee shop around the corner from the venue, where I started each day with a cappuccino and chocolate twist, before helping out with registration. I was so tired by the end of the two days that I fell asleep on the train home and missed my stop! I try to keep my blog posts as short as possible, difficult when covering such an inspiring weekend, but I’ll stop there. Thank you to Chairman of the HNS, Richard Lee; Jenny Barden and Charlie Farrow for a fantastic conference!

And here's a short video by Johnny Yates on the conference, which beautifully captures the spirit of the event. As you'll see there was a lot of laughter. Other videos to follow (will update this post).

And here is an excerpt from Conn Iggulden's inspiring Keynote Address (mentioned above), where he tells the two stories about Eddie O'Hare and his son. The full video, by Johnny Yates can be viewed on the Historical Novel Society's YouTube channel.