Monday, 11 September 2017

Do You Read in the Kitchen?

Reading on holiday with prosecco
Summer is over (in the UK), and it’s time to kick those autumn leaves; to dig out the coats and boots and to put the flip flops away. The kids have returned to school, and I'm getting back into the swing of things with a few busy weeks coming up, but I don't want to go back to reading as little as I did in the first half of this year.

As Stephen King says in my favourite how-to-write book, On Writing,

‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others; read a lot and write a lot.’

This year I haven’t been getting through as many books as I’d like to, so I decided to rectify that in August when I went on holiday with my family. I took a good look at the TBR pile by my bed and selected a novel which had been gathering dust for more than two years: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. I picked up The Dark Circle by Linda Grant from the table in Waterstones (have read most of her books), and the cover of Zadie Smith’s, Swing Time really stood out in Tesco (plus I'd read about it in an article online that week). Each book has taken me on a different journey and I love the way all three authors write (still reading Zadie Smith, almost finished).

In the past, I’ve read the most when commuting: when I worked in London in my twenties, doing quite an intense job with long hours, I used to get the train into Waterloo and reading was a great way to shut work out of my mind. At lunchtimes I’d venture into Waterstones, Canary Wharf and buy my way through the bestsellers. In the late 90s, some of my favourite books were published: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Chocolat and Memoirs of a Geisha spring to mind. One day, I discovered Anne Tyler’s, A Patchwork Planet when scanning the shelves where authors were organised alphabetically, a treat as she had quite a backlist. Of course, these days, there are lots of recommendations to be found online, but it is nice to discover a new author when browsing in a bookshop, by assessing the cover and blurb, and by reading the first page.

Since returning from holiday, my reading speed has slowed down, and I do want to get to the next book in my TBR pile. Usually at home, I only read before sleeping, but I have a new way to get through my books more quickly. When prompted to finish the sentence, 'I love my mummy because...' at nursery aged three for a Mother's Day card, my daughter said '...she's always in the kitchen'. When my kids were younger, I was always in the kitchen, but even now, I do spend a lot of time waiting for food to cook. So instead of checking social media on my phone whilst waiting for the timer to go off, I shall aim to read instead.

The next book on my TBR pile is How To Stop Time by Matt Haig. I’d planned to wait for the paperback, but when I saw the hardback in Tesco, I read the first page, and continued onto the next and then the next; and then I bought it. And so, I hope to get through a few more books than in the first part of this year-I’ll be reading, in the kitchen.

Update on my writing: I've almost finished the latest 10K words for my mentor, to send off by the end of this week. It's moving forwards, little by little...and update on my alter-ego, neetsmarketing's new ten week course, Social Media for Writers and Bloggers at Richmond Adult Community College here.

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Saturday, 8 July 2017

How Does Reality TV Help Writers?

There’s been a lot of talk in the press and on social media about the latest reality TV hit, Love Island (which seems to be continually trending on Twitter #LoveIsland) and how not everyone would admit to being a fan. Here’s one of many articles on the subject, written by Tim Jonze, via The Guardian.

I am generally a reality TV fan, but I find some shows more addictive than others-my favourites being The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE), Made in Chelsea and Celebrity Big Brother (CBB). Sometimes I watch I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!, but it varies each year, depending on who is taking part. The problem with watching reality TV is that it’s a time-consuming occupation. In the past, I’ve added up the hours spent watching CBB, and thought-I could have spent all of that time writing. But then I told myself I was doing research...I have to say, when episodes have become very negative with nothing but arguing or ganging up on someone (even if they’re being unreasonable, I can’t bear to watch it), I’ve skipped them as I watch reality TV to feel happy rather than miserable.

But, what can reality TV offer to writers? A great deal.

If you’re writing about characters in their 20s, and it’s been a while since you were in your 20s (ha!), this is the perfect way to find out more about how the life of a twentysomething has changed. Some programmes, such as CBB don’t allow phones, but with TOWIE and Made in Chelsea, (and even a little bit in Love Island), phones are used constantly to communicate-to arrange dates or to invite people to parties with messaging, FaceTime, Voice Memos, and occasionally good old-fashioned phone calls. There's a lot of talk on TOWIE about what's been seen on Snapchat too re photos from nights out of boyfriends with other girls etc. In TOWIE, they keep showing people paying for drinks at the bar using their phone as well. All of these details, although small can be used to make the life of a twentysomething character more real. And I certainly need this info for the main present day character in my WIP (#amwriting a dual timeline also set in the eighteenth century).

Many reality TV programmes, most of those mentioned above anyway, are about dating or relationships-helpful if you’re writing romantic fiction about twentysomethings. 

These programmes tend to include people with a range of personalities, which can fuel ideas on how to develop a character. There are those who keep their cool at all times and never truly reveal themselves; those who play games and who are there to win; those who enjoy winding others up or playing people off against each other. Then there are those who fly off the handle-but sometimes this can be the result of someone continually pushing their buttons. There are the alpha males and alpha females who naturally take the lead in a situation, or play the diplomats when others argue. When the programme is a competition, often those who are most liked by the other contestants win.

I avoided Love Island initially this year because I couldn't get into it last year. But after all the fuss in the press and on social media, I thought I’d give it a go. And yes, now I’m a bit addicted and disappointed that it doesn’t seem to be on on Saturday nights-my husband is out and for once I wouldn’t have to watch it on catch-up (there is some kind of round-up of the week episode on)-which is why I’m writing this post instead.

And who are my favourite characters in Love Island? I can’t help liking Kem and Amber. Wouldn’t everyone love a Kem in their life to do their hair (he's a hairdresser) and to talk to about their problems? But after last night's episode, where they were split up during a recoupling, who knows if they’ll be there at the end?

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Friday, 5 May 2017

There's Something About #amwriting in Costa Coffee

Rhododendron and bluebells at Winkworth Arboretum
I just checked and realised I haven’t blogged here in March or April. Life has been busy, but also I’m struggling to find anything to write about on this blog. Since 2011, I’ve done a lot of posts about writing, and pep talks to self, and who wants to read more of those? If/when I’m published, I’ll be able to blog about my research and to talk about writing and editing and finishing a novel as if I know what I’m talking about. Yesterday, I did what I usually do when not knowing what to blog about. I wrote a draft post on what I've been doing since my last post, covering: spring research walks in bluebell woods and visits to country houses, a trip to Southwold; Larry in the new series of The Durrells dropping his typewriter from a tree, having pages from his manuscript stolen by magpies and no one turning up to his book launch; working with a mentor, and my thoughts on a book I’m reading by a favourite author, Anne Tyler-Vinegar Girl.

Bluebells at Hatchlands Park
I confess, I’m behind with my latest 10K words for my mentor. I’ve extended my (self-imposed) deadline to the end of next week due to neetsmarketing work and preparing for my upcoming course on social media for writers in London, 6 May. And then the Easter holidays and family stuff delayed me a bit. Last week I went to Sotheby’s to speak to an art expert, to ask research questions as my WIP is about an eighteenth century painting. He was very generous with his time and knowledge, and it was such a privilege meeting him. I would have liked to blog about that, but I can’t without giving away the plot of my book.

So, I came up with the idea for this post in the place where I have many of my light-bulb moments: in Costa Coffee. This is where I go to write when I’m stuck and the words somehow flow. Is it the coffee or the setting?-I don’t know. I also go to Costa to write blog posts, or to work when I need a change of scenery. The staff are always friendly, the music undemanding and there are usually a few other customers tapping away on their laptops too, which is comforting. 

The WiFi is excellent too, the best of all cafés I’ve tried. (Another café good for WiFi can be found at Squire’s Garden Centre, and they do a great breakfast fry-up with hash browns and BOGOF coffee too; perfect for post-insomnia or hangover days). When in London, if I have time to kill before a meeting, I head for the nearest Costa and order a medium cappuccino or cortado in a takeaway cup with lid if using the laptop, in case of spillage. In my favourite Costa, I have a favourite table by the wall, which more often than not is unoccupied. It’s a table for two and I usually sit with my back to the window, but today I’m facing the window, for a change, watching the traffic go by.

I need to get that 10K done by the end of next week, then I’ll be back on the road to manuscript completion. I had a 1-2-1 with an agent at the London Book Fair in March, who gave me really positive feedback on the first three chapters and synopsis of my WIP, which was nice. Now I just need to get the darn thing finished and send it in. So, a few #amwriting trips to Costa Coffee will be in order next week.

Me en route to The London Book Fair
Tomorrow (6 May 2017), it will be fifteen years since my mum passed away, and I've written about her on this blog a few times. Here's my post from last year, My Mother and The Durrells. I'm so glad The Durrells is back, perfect viewing on a Sunday evening.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Breaking the WIP into pieces #amwriting

Daffodils spotted at Winkworth Arboretum, spring is on its way!
As mentioned in my previous post, Keep Calm and Carry on Writing, I’m working with a mentor. With all the demands of daily life, having someone out there who cares about my book as much as I do really helps. And knowing they’re waiting for me to send over my work drives me to bring each section to the highest level possible. I’m finding this way of working more manageable than producing the whole book at once for a critique, which in the past has felt like a mammoth task. Having a reason to shut the door on everyone and say, ‘I’m off to write for a couple of hours (and stay away!)’ is also helpful.

So far, I’ve sent over two lots of 10K words and I’m working on the next section. Each section is more challenging because there are missing scenes or scenes which need to be expanded. The story needs to move in the right direction and follow on from the previous section. As I progress through the novel, I’m finding that, oh, I need to write a scene with the mother there or tea and cake with Mrs Braithwaite deserves more than a mention, it should be a scene

I’m also identifying what I need to do research-wise as I go. Peter Ackroyd’s book on Venice is my current bedtime reading #exciting. And at some point, I need to go to an auction at Sotheby's or Christie’s.

At the end of last year, I found my WIP a big confusing mess and sorting it out seemed overwhelmingly impossible. Hopefully, breaking it into manageable pieces will get the book finished. We’ll see. This blog post is especially short, because I have to get back to the WIP...until next time.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Keep Calm and Carry On Writing

My ideal writing view

Hello, and Happy New Year. I did intend to write an end of year post, but it didn’t happen for various reasons, mainly that I had a cold virus which dragged on for weeks, going away and returning a few times. It’s now more or less gone, apart from a cough, which is hanging about for longer than it should. I did write an end of year post for my alter-ego neetsmarketing's blog though, neetsmarketing Two Years On.

I’ve read a few old neetswriter blog posts over the past week, and I do go on a bit about getting my book 2 finished! It’s still not done despite all of my promises to myself (although it did move forwards quite a bit in 2016), but last week, I did something new: I found a mentor, and I’m feeling positive about the whole thing. I’m not going to say who it is, as I don’t want to spoil this new writing development in any way, but if all goes well, I of course will shout this person’s name from the rooftops. My goal is to get book 2 completed and to start book 3 by the end of 2017. Let’s see how it goes. I’ve already (almost-we’re just sorting the date) booked in a writing retreat with some fabulous and encouraging writing friends for the spring.

A bit of good writing news too: my short story, The Reminiscence Tea has been highly commended in the Writers’ Forum magazine’s short story contest (issue #184, February 2017). This is the first short story I’ve completed with success, so I'm very pleased.

Here’s to a good writing year in 2017 for all the writers out there!

And in typical neetswriter blog tradition, here’s an uplifting beach photo to remind us of what summer looks like.

Southwold, summer 2016, not a bad writing view either

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Sue Moorcroft on Writing the Christmas Novel!

Today, I'm thrilled to welcome author of The Christmas Promise (TCP), Sue Moorcroft to talk about Writing the Christmas Novel! TCP has done very well since the ebook release on 6 October 2016, and currently has 63 Amazon UK reviews (of which 53 are 5 star, and 7 are 4 star). Recently, TCP has reached the top 5 in the Amazon UK Kindle chart (and is this morning, number 3!). Congratulations, and over to you, Sue...! (updated 2 Jan 2017: TCP actually made it to number 1 in the Amazon UK Kindle chart before Christmas, huge congratulations to Sue. And here's my 5 star review).
Writing the Christmas Novel, by Sue Moorcroft
It was some time ago that I watched Christmas novels selling year on year and decided that I ought to write one. I also talked over ideas with my agent and she picked the Christmassy one as having the most commercial potential – i.e. she felt confident in being able to sell The Christmas Promise to publishers because it was the one she felt the publishers would be able to sell to the readers.
Why do people like Christmas novels? Maybe they just want to extend their enjoyment of the atmosphere of present-giving and fab meals with loved ones, of munching on chocolates and watching Christmas Specials on TV. Or maybe it’s because the characters are probably having a worse Christmas then the readers are!
Ava, my heroine, isn’t a Christmas fan. To make sense of this in the context of a novel I gave her unpleasant associations from her childhood. To ensure she’d dislike this Christmas in particular I ran her millinery business into trouble. I also let ex-boyfriend, Harvey, threaten Ava that if she doesn’t go back to him he’ll disclose intimate pictures of her, the crime we popularly refer to as ‘revenge porn’. He makes the threat whenever he’s had a drink. And he drinks a lot.
Sam’s conflicts are less of his own making but just as intense. His mum Wendy is in the elapse between surgery and chemotherapy and he’s trying to make Christmas wonderful for her. He commissions a special gift, which is what involves Ava in The Christmas Promise of the title, a promise she finds increasingly hard to keep.

It takes me quite a while to write a book. This one took about nine months so I couldn’t count on having the Christmas atmosphere of snow and sleigh bells to sweep me through the process. July sun pouring through my study window or not, I needed to invoke Christmas myself, to select Christmas presents for my characters to give to one another and the Christmas shows they might attend.
If you’re hoping I can arm you with tricks like writing with the freezer door open and the computer festooned with tinsel, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. Like most people who have written for magazines I’m familiar with the situation of writing for one season while experiencing another. It just takes a combination of imagination and research.
The book was well underway when My Weekly magazine requested that a serial I was writing for them be set at Christmas, too. If I was able to comply then they could offer me a great slot in their Christmas special issues, the issues that sell better than any others of the year. Obviously I grabbed the offer. But writing a Christmas novel and a Christmas serial at the same time did leave me feeling pretty Christmased out! 
Would I write another Christmas book? Yes. It was poignant to have Ava and Sam deal with difficult issues when they’re expected to be jolly and everyone else seems preoccupied with sparkly clothes and wrapping gifts. Christmas is a great vehicle for highs and lows (and, don’t worry, they get their highs, too!).
I find myself looking forward to Christmas more, this year to seeing my book on the shelves and hoping that it contributes to readers’ happy Christmases. #MyPromise is I’ve done my best, anyway.

Thanks very much for your interesting post, Sue, and best of luck with the paperback launch for The Christmas Promise (released 1 December 2016, available for pre-order now).
Award-winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. A past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and editor of its two anthologies, Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor. She’s won a Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award and the Katie Fforde Bursary.

Sue’s latest book is The Christmas Promise (Avon Books UK, HarperCollins)
Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3
Twitter: @suemoorcroft
Instagram: suemoorcroftauthor
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Wednesday, 21 September 2016

How Going Back Changes Point of View

Me in Birmingham in 1973
I haven’t blogged here for a while, because summer term was busy, both at home and with my neetsmarketing work, and I decided to take the summer holidays off from blogging and social media (apart from my work for the HNS Conference). This summer, I went back to three places where I’ve lived, without really intending to. It just kind of happened.

Simon Michael's launch for An Honest Man
1.Birmingham where I was born: In June for client, Simon Michael’s book launch for An Honest Man at No5 Chambers, where I tweeted as my alter-ego neetsmarketing 

It was one of the most stylish launches I've attended with cocktails, and canapés, and actor, Robert Daws read a couple of excerpts beautifully with different voices for the characters. Simon's agent, Lisa Eveleigh has written a lovely post on the launch here.

Although I only lived in Solihull for the first year or so of my life, going back did make me think about how time flies, especially as I knew I'd be returning to Lancaster and Siena this summer.

Me, Adrienne Vaughan and Jules Wake at the RNA Conference, Lancaster
2. Lancaster where I went to school (and nearby Low Bentham where I lived for five years) for the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference 

Siena this summer
3.Siena, Italy where I studied, then au paired for eight months in 1994: I went to Italy this summer, and showed Siena to my family for the first time

We went to look at the outside of a flat where I rented a room, in Via di San Martino, off the Piazza del Campo. Unfortunately, the bar below which my flatmates and I used as a living room and somewhere to take phone calls from our parents has closed down. We ate lunch at Gallo Nero, where I used to make my way through carafes of Chianti and bowls of pasta with friends. It’s away from the main restaurants which were too busy, and we were given a lovely table in the corner, where I ate the most delicious home-made gnocchi with a duck sauce, washed down with a couple of glasses of Prosecco. Siena is the magical Tuscan city which inspired my first novel. We also visited the seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia where my au pair family had a house.

Castiglione della Pescaia
Going back makes you think. 

Birmingham was the first of many places where I've lived. My family moved around a bit when I was a child, then I moved to Cambridge (with time spent living in Grenoble and Siena), London (where I rented a few flats with friends), and now Surrey where I’ve remained in the same house for almost ten years, the longest I’ve lived anywhere.

Low Bentham, in the heart of North Yorkshire is where I sat at my mum’s typewriter one summer (because there wasn't much to do), aged ten and wrote a series of stories about a pink mouse and sent them to Ladybird: Pink Mouse’s Birthday, Pink Mouse Goes to the Dentist, Pink Mouse’s Adventure at the Supermarket; you get the picture. I used to make up a lot of stories for my sister who is six years younger than me. The beautifully-worded rejection letter is in the loft somewhere (waiting to be dug out, scanned and tweeted when I’m published ;-)). I also went through a phase of putting together a monthly magazine, and used the photocopier where my dad worked to make copies for my friends. I really wanted to write, even then. The main character in my first novel is from a farm in North Yorkshire.

High Bentham, up the hill from Low Bentham
Lancaster is where I had the two most inspiring English teachers. We read and discussed Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I can still hear one of them, Mr Church saying, ‘2L, it’s like talking to a wall’. We acted out A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the school gardens one summer, and it was a lot of fun.

When I first started writing, my thoughts were to write about something I already know and understand. This seems to be what a lot of writers do, while learning the craft of writing.

Now I write about places and things I don’t know as much about, which is more difficult, but it means I’ve moved forwards as a writer (hopefully).

Going back makes you see places from a different point of view.

I last saw Low Bentham as a fourteen-year-old in the 1980s, when my friends were in love with Tom Cruise, the album of the moment was The Joshua Tree, and we'd read Smash Hits on the bus, tearing out lyrics and posters for our walls. Now I’m older than my parents were when we lived there, a scary thought.

Me in Siena in 1994
I last saw Siena ten years ago, and before that in 1994. First I viewed Siena as a student, then as an au pair, then as the mother of a one-year-old going away for the weekend with friends. This time, I viewed Siena through the eyes of my husband and children, and I was so pleased that they liked Siena as much as I do. When you love a place, you want those you love to love it as much as you do. When I read my first novel now, written from the point of view of a twenty-one year old woman, the same age as I was in 1994, that life seems alien to me.  Especially as the life of a twenty-something is so different now. And one struggle I always had when writing that novel was making the main character different from me.

At the RNA conference in July, Alex Brown said that in her forties she found it difficult to write about women in their twenties, and at the HNS Conference, Tracy Chevalier said she writes historical novels to step outside of herself as it's easier to slip into autobiography in a contemporary setting (See Lorna Fergusson’s post here for more on Tracy’s talk). It’s reassuring to hear what they both said.

This blog is almost five years old, I can’t believe it. In October 2011, I thought that I was almost ready to be published. But I wasn’t, and although I feel that it’s getting closer, more time will pass before it happens. I have to say that I’ve gone through phases of really trying, and of not trying hard enough, because life has got in the way a little. But I’m still writing, and feeling especially inspired after a recent pitch at the HNS conference-see my neetsmarketing post here. And a few months ago, a well-known, and successful agent approached me asking to see my work. Although they liked parts of it, they didn’t feel strongly enough to take it on, but the fact that this agent approached me with an informal email (which I’ve printed and pinned to the notice board above my desk), something I could never have dreamed of when I started this blog, was a real boost, and another step up the ladder to being published. And for anyone who says that blogging and being on social media isn’t worth it for writers, well, I’d say it might be.

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