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Friday, 20 April 2018

What's Your #amwriting Journey?

Me, just before I pitched at The Write Stuff, The London Book Fair
After all the rain and grey skies over the Easter hols, Spring is finally here in the UK, and it’s time to cut down on the chocolate and booze, and increase the yoga and walking. I did go on a few lovely trips: to Cambridge, where I visited the Fitzwilliam Museum; to Oxford, where I visited the Ashmolean Museum; and to National Trust property, Ickworth in Suffolk. In all of these places, I had a good peruse of the eighteenth century art, which I love doing as part of the research for my book.

Loved this blossom in Cambridge
It’s been an exciting couple of weeks. Last Thursday (12 April 2018), I took part in The Write Stuff at The London Book Fair as a finalist, and this Tuesday (17 April 2018), I was interviewed on Brooklands Radio by Jackie Mitchell. I really enjoyed the experience of being interviewed for the radio, and will add more in my next neetsmarketing blog post.

My interview with Jackie was to talk mostly about my neetsmarketing work, but she also asked about my writing: when I started to write and about my work in progress, as well as about The Write Stuff. The link is here, and I talk about The Write Stuff from 3:20.


Me, arriving at Brooklands Radio, Weybridge, Surrey.
I thought back to how I loved writing as a child, and won a local short story competition when I was nine years old for a story, The Bottle on the Beach. I remember dressing up and going to collect my certificate in an award ceremony at the local library. All very exciting. Then, I wrote a series of stories about a pink mouse on my mum’s typewriter and sent them to Ladybird. They sent me a lovely rejection letter, which I still have (my first of many, ha!).


Stunning magnolia tree in Oxford
As I got older, I stopped writing stories, but did write a lot of letters-as we did before emails- and diaries (which I tore up and binned in case anyone found them-would love to read them now!) for a time.

I commuted into London for several years, reading a great deal on the train. Some of my favourite books were released during that time: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Chocolat, Memoirs of a Geisha; amongst others. I discovered Anne Tyler by browsing the books alphabetically in Waterstones, Canary Wharf-something I used to do more. Now I usually head for the tables first. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to write novels.

I started to write properly in the summer of 2003, which I can’t believe is fifteen years ago. Since then, I’ve been to many writing classes and conferences; and written flash fiction, short stories and a couple of novels. My progress may seem slow, but there have been times when I haven’t written and a lot of the time (like many writers), I’ve been fitting it in with everything else (kids, work etc). But, I’ve almost finished the current draft of my work in progress and then, after a good edit, I hope to start submitting it properly, and to move onto my next book.

The Smoking Room at Ickworth

Since I started this blog in 2011, I’ve recorded my writing journey, and the latest item to add to the writing CV is being a finalist in The Write Stuff at The London Book Fair. 

The Write Stuff is a Dragon’s Den style panel event where six authors pitch their books to a panel of literary agents in front of the Author HQ audience, with the chance to win a follow up meeting with an agent.


L-R: Paul Blezard (host), Jo Unwin, Julia Silk, Carrie Plitt, Diana Beaumont, Tim Bates.
The agents were: Tim Bates, Peters Fraser & Dunlop; Diana Beaumont, Marjacq; Carrie Plitt, Felicity Bryan Associates; Julia Silk, MBA and Jo Unwin, Jo Unwin Literary Agency.

I emailed a 250 word submission to Midas PR which included a cover note and synopsis without expecting to get any further. After that, I was longlisted and asked to send the first three chapters of my work in progress. Then, I received news that I was a finalist, totally unexpected.

Preparation took a long time. I had to reduce key points about my novel and myself down to a three minute pitch. Initially, I wrote the pitch as though it was a speech. Then, I recorded it on my phone which came out at four minutes. I reduced it down to the main points, and removed any repetition until I got the pitch down to 2 minutes 46 seconds. I divided the pitch into fourteen points and wrote them on a piece of card. Then, I learnt each point off by heart, so I only needed to glance at the card to get the next point. My biggest worry beforehand was that my mind would suddenly go blank (which thankfully it didn’t), so I also cut out the pitch into three parts and stuck it onto back-up cards, which I didn’t use.

The pitch went as well as it could (i.e., I didn't get stuck and forget what I was talking about) and each agent gave two minutes of feedback. I wish I'd asked a friend in the audience to record their comments on my phone-a good idea if you ever take part. All I remember is the feedback was mostly positive-they said I spoke well. One agent said she wished I’d given a one line pitch, which was a shame as I’d taken that out in order to get the pitch down to three minutes, thinking I didn’t want to repeat myself. Should have kept it in, but never mind!

My novel is a dual timeline set in the eighteenth century and present day, and a couple of the agents said they preferred the eighteenth century parts. They suggested I remove the present day part of my novel, making it a historical novel. For now, I’m sticking with my gut which is to finish the novel as a dual timeline-as I’m almost there-and will see what happens when I submit.

The winner was Michele Sagan, who chose to have a meeting with Julia Silk. There is a lovely photo on Facebook (which I've shared from London Book Fair's page) of all the finalists with the agents and host, Paul Blezard.


Me and fab friend, Jules Wake, having a glass of fizz after The London Book Fair
So, that’s my writing journey, so far, although I still feel after fifteen years that I’m near the beginning, but who knows what might happen if I carry on…?

What’s Your Writing Journey? Have you always written? Have you been writing for years, and hope to get a novel published one of these days?

Other posts on this blog:
Not Wanting the Book to End (inspired by Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine)

Recent guest post as neetsmarketing, via Emma Darwin:

About me (Anita Chapman):



I’m a freelance social media manager with clients in the world of books. I run my own one day social media courses for writers in London and York, and I’m a tutor at Richmond and Hillcroft Adult Community College (Surrey), where I run ten week courses, Social Media for Writers and Bloggers #neetsrhacc (next course starts 26 April 2018). I also have a blog on social media for writers with lots of how-to posts. Find out more via my website.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Not Wanting the Book to End #amreading




I’ve just finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (hereafter known as “Eleanor”), which I won in a HarperCollins Ireland giveaway, hosted by Mairead Hearne of the fabulous Swirl and Thread book blog. This book is a fantastic read. The main character, Eleanor has the most wonderful voice and her friendship with Raymond is so special and heartwarming. She is someone who lacks social skills; who says what she thinks (and it’s often what we’d think, but we perhaps wouldn't say anything), without realising how it might offend, but she is charming and funny and because of her backstory and her vulnerability, you find yourself rooting for her throughout. Here’s a brief excerpt, to give an example of Eleanor’s voice:

"Janey the secretary had got engaged to her latest Neanderthal, and there was a presentation for her that afternoon. I’d contributed seventy-eight pence to the collection. I only had coppers in my purse or else a five-pound note, and I certainly wasn’t going to put such an extravagant sum into the communal envelope to buy something unnecessary for someone I barely knew."



When I found myself carrying Eleanor from room to room around the house-to read in those spare moments which arise between putting dinner in the oven and waiting for it to be ready (see my post, Do you Read in the Kitchen?), whilst waiting for the kids to do something they’re supposed to be doing like brushing teeth or packing school bags etc-I knew I’d discovered a gem.

On Friday, I found myself taking Eleanor to a hairdresser appointment, and the lady sitting beside me happened to be reading the same book! Usually I forget to take a book to hair appointments and kick myself as I’m stuck with crumpled, coffee-stained magazines I don’t want to read, dodgy WiFi and for some reason barely any phone reception (is it the hairdryers interfering?-there never seems to be decent phone reception in hairdressers). Eleanor accompanied me on trips to cafés, and as I couldn’t fit her in the handbag I’m currently using (have downsized due to shoulder ache), I actually carried the book in my hand whilst walking around my local town, which I can’t remember doing ever.



Do you find when you’re enjoying a book this much, that as you progress through those last chapters, you reduce the speed of your reading; as you’re not ready to say goodbye to characters you care about or to the world you’ve become part of? Does the finishing of a good book leave you with a kind of flat feeling? In this case, I think it’s important to have a book guaranteed-to-please ready to take its place: one by a favourite author, one which you’ve heard good things about from friends (always the best recommendation), one which you know you’ll love as it’s your favourite genre and a setting you're familiar with and you’ve read the first page and you just know.

When not selecting the next book carefully, I’ve found myself taking reading breaks, which can be as frustrating for writers as being stuck with writing. Reading breaks are not good for my writing. When I’m reading a lot, and writing a lot, I find the writing really flows. I have a few books lined up in my To Be Read (TBR) mountain, but can’t decide which one to go for. It doesn’t help that I made a trip to Waterstones on Sunday and bought a couple more.

Before moving onto the next book, I need to return to the William Boyd I cast aside for Eleanor-even though it's a great book: Any Human Heart. I started to read the first page of Eleanor after removing her from the fabulous pink metallic envelope received from Mairead, and then I was hooked.

But when I've finished Any Human Heart, the next three books to choose from are:

1. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig. I know this book will be excellent, and the only reason it's stayed in my TBR pile since before Christmas is because I bought the hardback and should have waited for the paperback (which is now out in the UK), as it’s a bit heavy to read.
2. The Venetian Game by Philip Gwynne Jones, bought on Sunday during the Waterstones trip. My WIP is set in Venice, and I love Venice, so it was a must-buy.
3. Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner, picked up from the Booker Prize table in Waterstones-an excellent idea for a table. Read the first page in the shop, and the writing is beautiful.

Have you read any of these books? Which do you think I should go for first?

Richmond Green in Surrey, with snow from the first beast, and last week

There's been snow in the UK recently, and I had to move my neetsmarketing course in York to April due to the first beast of the east. But now, it seems, spring is here. The clocks have changed, and summer is on its way, and I need to think about eating less chocolate. I heard a rumour about a third beast showing its face over Easter, but I'm hoping it isn't true! 

News!

I am a finalist for The Write Stuff at The London Book Fair. This means that on 12 April, 2pm I shall be pitching my novel to a panel of agents in front of the Author HQ audience. I’ll report back and let you know how it goes (and will update Twitter and Instagram on the day).

Previous posts:

What’s Your Writing Routine? (with guest authors)

About me (Anita Chapman):


I'm a writer, and a freelance social media manager with clients in the world of books. I run my own one day social media courses for writers in London and York (28 April, 19 May, 6 October 2018), and I'm a tutor at Richmond and Hillcroft Adult Community College (Surrey), where I run 10 week courses, Social Media for Writers and Bloggers #neetsrhacc (next course starts 26 April 2018). Find out more with booking info via my website. You can follow me on Twitter @neetsmarketing and @neetswriter, Instagram @neetswriter, and my Facebook pages are here: Anita Chapman Writer and neetsmarketing

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

What's Your Writing Routine? (with guest authors!)



This is my first blog post of 2018, so Happy New Year to you! Three different posts sprang to mind, so like last time, I did a poll on Twitter, and this post received the most votes when I asked what I should blog about.

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post, How do you write Part II?, where I mentioned a book, Daily Rituals by Mason Currey-a great read if you’re a writer looking for inspiration on how to organise your writing time. In that post, I included quotes about the daily routines of Charles Dickens, Kingsley Amis and Jane Austen, but the book included so many more.

I don’t have much of a writing routine really (but know I should). Since I started working with a mentor last year though, I’ve found that setting a deadline to send off ten thousand words around every month (depending on school hols) has worked well for me, and I no longer get cross with myself on days where I don’t write. The work in progress is moving forwards, and I hope to reach the end of my current draft this spring, then go through it again before submitting to agents.

I’ve got to know quite a few authors in recent years, through my writing and neetsmarketing work; and thought it would be nice to invite some of those authors to send me a quote for this post about their writing routines (as they know so much more than me!). Last week, I emailed a few author friends and clients; and eleven replied with really interesting quotes on how they organise their writing time. Some of these authors write full time, some work full time and some have children at home-so if you struggle to find time to write, you might find ideas on how to organise your writing time amongst the quotes below.

Thank you so much to all the authors involved! Sue Moorcroft, Jules Wake, Alison Morton, Antoine Vanner, Sue Bentley, Anna Belfrage, Donna Ashcroft, Emma Burstall, Clare Flynn, Ruth Brandt, and Alice Peterson. 

Here follow their quotes on writing routines:

“Writing's my full-time job. I'm usually at my desk at about 7.15 a.m. and leave it at 6.00 p.m. I do take an hour or two out of most weekdays, though. On Monday it's a piano lesson, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday I dance and on Wednesday I do yoga. Some of these classes may be followed by a cuppa with my gym buddies! I usually do a bit at weekends too (although that fits around any televised Formula 1 coverage). I generally work fifty or sixty hours a week, more if deadlines dictate.”
Sue Moorcroft, bestselling author of women's contemporary fiction with sometimes unexpected themes. Latest book: Just for the Holidays.


“With a contract for three books, I have to be very disciplined about my writing time, especially as quite often as well as writing, I might be doing revisions for another book and copy edits for another.  I also work three days a week, with a busy family and I volunteer for the RNA as Press Officer. On working days I tend to write once I get home from work from about seven in the evening with a word target of between 500 - 1,000 words. On my days off I aim for between 2-3,000 words, working in bursts of two hours in the morning, afternoon and evening which includes weekends.  I have a weekly target word count of 10,000. As a result I watch very little television and do the bare minimum of housework! I'm very lucky that my husband works from home several days a week too, so he picks up the slack on the washing and the cooking.”
Jules Wake, bestselling author of women’s contemporary fiction. Latest book: Covent Garden in the Snow.

“I pin a target of 1,000 words a day in front of my mind, a figure that sometimes turns into more (and often less!). Unfortunately, a chronic back problem interferes, so I tend to write only in the morning unless I am very behind on my word count. Then I plonk myself back on my chair in the evening. The afternoons are for marketing, a walk, research and emails.  The days and weekends merge into each other as I get lost in my story. My husband blogs nearly full-time so we tap away in quiet harmony except when we go out, starving, to search for food…”
Alison Mortonauthor of Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines. Latest book in Roma Nova Thriller Series: Carina.


“I’m essentially retired, though I still do a little academic work, but my days basically revolve around my writing. I’m currently having a small log-cabin delivered as a writing study separate from the house, though I’ve always had dedicated offices in my homes. I write on average some five days a week – remaining days allocated to other responsibilities. I write my drafts from 1000 to 1300 hrs and this usually gives me around 880 words, though less when I’m starting new chapters. After three hours my creativity drops. My afternoon walks are a key element in the process – I play out in detail in my head what will be written up the following day. I’m in parallel sketching future plots, which will be developed in greater detail later – usually an intense four to six-week process – and carrying on research. Throw in my blogging – normally two 1000-1200 word articles per week – and the occasional free short-story for my mailing list members. Evenings for reading, hobbies and TV etc. and my time is pretty full. It’s giving me a new book of 120000 - 130000 words each year, though I’d like to get this down to nine months.”
Antoine Vanner, author of historical naval fiction. Latest book in The Dawlish Chronicles Series: Britannia’s Gamble.

"I write for a living, so try to write every day. Mornings are my best time, but I write all day when a book's going well. I write straight onto a desktop in my workroom, fuelled by tea and sometimes chocolate peanuts, until hunger forces me to go and make supper. It's rare that I go back to work in the evenings as my eyes need a rest from the computer screen, though they cope fine with TV - which I ration to make time for reading. I also write longhand, using brightly-coloured, propelling pencils in colourful notebooks (I'm addicted to stationery) when sitting in cafes with coffee and a book. I'll jot down ideas, scraps of dialogue, bits of research to type up later. I give the bathroom and kitchen a wipe-around. But I don't notice the other housework until the dust bunnies jump out from beneath my desk and wave at me. And then...my husband hoovers! True."
Sue Bentley, bestselling author of Magic Kitten series for children age 5-8, and dark psychological thriller YA novel, We Other.


“I work full time which means time management is a challenge – especially as being an author entails so much more than writing books. I try and set aside my weekends for “real” writing (and the occasional blog post) and spend weekday evenings doing all the other stuff like promotional work, accounting and what have you. I have recently started to dictate ideas as they pop up into my phone and I find this really useful, especially as I like taking very long and lonely walks which seem to nudge my very own muse, Ms Inspiration, into overdrive.”
Anna Belfrage, award-winning author of 17th century time-travel series, The Graham Saga and Medieval series, The King’s Greatest Enemy. Latest book in The Graham Saga Series: There is Always a Tomorrow.

“I have two teenage children and work part time. I get up at six each morning and write for forty minutes before the children get up, and then I write in the evening, usually as early as possible depending on whether I have to ferry the children anywhere. I have a goal of 1,000 words a day and make myself write for as long as it takes, sometimes half an hour is enough, but sometimes it can take hours! I won’t let myself have a glass of wine until the words are written which is an extra incentive to get it done.”
Donna Ashcroft, RNA Katie Fforde Bursary recipient 2017. Summer at the Castle Café will be published by Bookouture in May 2018.


“I write full-time and at the moment my routine is loosely based around my teenage son’s school day. He leaves home at about eight a.m., and quite often I’ll go for a walk or run with a group of friends before getting to my desk by about ten a.m. I’ll work through until four-ish, with a short break for lunch, then usually stop to make supper. If my deadline’s looming, however, my long-suffering family has to put up with something simple like pasta and I’ll go back to work in the evening. This might sound disciplined, and I certainly can be, but I can also be the queen of procrastination. I’m easily distracted by phone calls, emails, internet shopping and coffee or lunch invitations, so recently I’ve taken to switching off my mobile and banning Google, except for research purposes, of course.
As a general rule, I'll start a book quite slowly and up the pace as time goes by. Right now, I’m working pretty manically as my next deadline’s in three weeks. Needless to say, the house is a bit of a mess and the family’s feeling neglected, but I’ll make it up to them!”
Emma Burstall, author of Tremarnock Cornish series, set in a fictional seaside fishing village. Latest book: Tremarnock Summer.

“Routine? What routine? I have none. I do have discipline though, and while I may write in different places, at different times of the day, I try to make sure I write something every day. My experience in successfully completing NaNoWriMo three years in a row (requirement - write 50k words during the 30 days of November) has shown me that if you HAVE to do it the words will come, even if you THINK you're stuck. Sometimes I go for a walk and sit in a café with a pen and a notebook and don’t move until I’ve filled several pages. I used to think I had to sit in my study in front of my computer but now I like moving around and these days tend to write on my MacBook more – even in bed – but most often curled up on a sofa. Using Scrivener also helps - it’s amazing how quickly that little word counter tots up the totals!”
Clare Flynn, award-winning author of historical fiction. Latest book: The Alien Corn.

“I was a single mum, working part time and also studying when I wrote my last novel. Each day had different commitments, so to set a routine would never have worked. Instead I set myself targets. My first draft I wrote 1,000 words a day for 100 days. I had a plan I was following, which really helped. Sometimes I wrote first thing, sometimes last thing. Frequently in ten and twenty minute slots where I had time. But I got my first draft of 100,000 words done on time. The editing was harder to set targets for as losing 1,000 words was often a sign of success! So I have an hour hour-glass which I set going, and I worked until the last grain of sand dropped. Small steps which all added up. When I'm not working on a novel, I still set targets - write a short story a day for a week, send a story off to a competition or magazine a month, that sort of thing. All of those keep me on track as it's so easy to stop writing and getting back to it becomes a massive challenge. My writing is always shoe-horned in.”
Ruth Brandt, published short story writer and creative writing tutor.

“Writing routines are so personal that it’s hard to give advice, it has to be what works for you. However one piece of advice I was given recently as I am about to launch into a new project, was not to get too hung up on word counts or how many hours a day I can squeeze in, but to make sure that when I do find the time to write, I put all my *energy* into it. No distraction if possible, no social media, just all my heart, soul, emotion and focus during that time. And then just build on that and keep on going… I’m going to try it… :)”
Alice Peterson, author of the bestseller, Monday to Friday Man and other novels that celebrate triumph over adversity. Latest book: A Song for Tomorrow.

Thanks again to all the authors involved! It’s been lovely having you as my guests, and I'm feeling so motivated by your quotes.

Similar posts:

I am also a Freelance Social Media Manager with clients in the world of books, working 1-2-1 with authors to do training and write social media plans; and I run one day courses in London and York (plus ten week courses at Richmond and Hillcroft Adult and Community College-Surrey, UK). Next London courses, 19 May and 6 October 2018 (York course is fully booked). Find out more and book via my website.

Recent neetsmarketing blog posts on social media for writers:

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Staying Motivated When #amwriting a Novel

Southwold (during recent visit)
This blog was six years old last month. Yes, six years since I thought I was close to publication with book 1, and needed to build an online presence! I sent that book to around fifteen agents/independent publishers and was asked for the full manuscript a couple of times, but after receiving a critique which said I should get on with my next book and put book 1 to one side; I decided to take the advice. I have been thinking about book 1 recently though, and the time away from it has been good, but I plan to re-write it to match the length and genre of my book 2 (was present day with WWII journal excerpts; plan to re-write as a dual timeline). 

I’m still working on that second book, although it is going fairly well. I have pitched it to agents a couple of times, and feedback has been positive with requests for a full (which I haven’t sent because it isn’t done...). A successful and well-known agent approached me a year or so ago, although my book turned out not to be what they were looking for (but that did give me a boost).

It’s moving forwards at least, as I’m sending 10K sections to a mentor every month (or so, depending on summer hols etc-I have two kids). I started working with a mentor in January of this year, and I’m over halfway through the novel now (this is around the tenth draft). It could be moving more quickly, yes, but life is busy, and for some reason I chose to set my novel in the eighteenth century and present day-and I’m no eighteenth century expert. At the moment, I have to accept there is only so much time for everything, and as long as the book is moving forwards that’s the main thing.

I used to get stressed when there wasn’t time to write, which would then make it more difficult to write when the time arose. Now, I have this new process where I work on 10K at a time, I no longer feel stressed, about writing, at least. I go without writing for a few weeks sometimes, especially during school holidays, but as long as I have my self-imposed deadline to work towards, I manage to get the 10K done. I have extended the deadline once (last time) when life took over a bit, and that last 10K felt like a struggle-the words did not come easily-because a few weeks had lapsed since the previous section. Just getting that section completed and sent off to my mentor was more important to me than whether it was my best writing. Because then I was back on the road to book completion.

I know that if/when I’m ever published, I wouldn’t have the luxury of writing 10K at a time, but when life is busy, sometimes it’s difficult to justify spending hours on an activity which is unpaid, rather than spending time with my kids. If/when I’m published, I shall have to work more quickly, of course.

Southwold
So, how do you stay motivated when writing a novel?

I know, from my neetsmarketing work and from writer/author friends, that this is something so many writers struggle with; even those who have published many books, and sold many too. It’s comforting to know that even authors who are published feel unmotivated and lose confidence sometimes. 

For me, setting deadlines works, with so many words to be done by a certain date. And if I don’t meet the deadline, I simply extend it and move on. 

Then, I have to get my head ready to be able to write. I do lots of yoga, go for walks. Although I am sociable, I like to spend time by myself, and have always been this way-to read, or watch a TV programme or film that I want to watch. Sometimes I have to do a lot of this to get myself in the zone. If life has been hectic, I can’t just go and write without getting my head straight first.

Writing other stuff helps to build confidence, and it's what I do when I can't focus on my WIP, but want to write. I enjoy writing flash fiction because it doesn't take much time, at all, and it's a good way to exercise the old writing muscles. I've written a handful of short stories, although I don't find them easy to write. When my short story, The Reminiscence Tea was highly commended in the February issue of Writers' Forum, that was a real boost.

Edith Pretty's house through the trees at Sutton Hoo
Going out for the day, especially to do research is motivating. I love walks and visits to country houses with the family, where I visualise scenes from my WIP. I've been to Sutton Hoo twice recently during short breaks in Southwold (a favourite place), and find the story of Edith Pretty and Basil Brown, and how the treasure was discovered fascinating. I'd like to write a short story inspired by the place, but haven't worked out how yet.

Writing retreats are worth it. I can’t say I’ve achieved much in the way of word count on the writing retreats I’ve been on (especially compared to one of my inspiring author friends who has usually done 1K+ before I’ve even got out of bed). But, I do love to be around other writers who are friends and draw inspiration from them. Even if I don’t get many words down on the retreat, I usually achieve a light bulb moment in relation to my WIP because I have the luxury of thinking about it all day for two-three days. Then, when I return, that’s when I get the writing done, because I’m truly in the zone. I have a retreat coming up at the end of November, in the Cotswolds, and I can’t wait.

If you struggle to motivate yourself to write, you are not alone, and it is fixable, even if you haven't written for months, or more. It's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which I know is helpful to many writers for getting the words down. I'm not taking part this year, but one of these days I hope to.

So, six years on, I'm not published, but I feel I've learnt how to write in that time, and publication is realistically closer than it was then. I know a lot about the publishing industry now, especially through my neetsmarketing work, and that's helpful when knowing who to approach and how. Hopefully, in another six years, I'll be there-otherwise it will be a bit embarrassing...!

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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How Does Reality TV Help Writers?

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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.