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 Phillipa 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.

Sunday 10 August 2014

How do you choose what to read?

La Baule first thing in the morning
I recently went to France with my family for two weeks; an opportunity to catch up on reading plus to acquaint myself with the beach, fresh pains au chocolat at breakfast and rosé wine at dinner. My Kindle ‘to be read’ list is pages long, but why did I choose to download and read these books before the others? All were recommended by word of mouth.

Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy by Helen Fielding

Recommended to me by a writing friend and I wanted to start the holiday with something light. I’d read reviews saying it wasn’t as good as the other Bridget Jones books and I thought it wouldn’t be the same without Darcy. This book is hilarious in places. Helen Fielding is clever too as she picks up on current trends such as Twitter (which she gets completely right) and if you’re a parent, you may find her observations amusing.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

This summer’s hit, a historical novel set in Amsterdam in 1686 has been mentioned all over Twitter and in newspapers and magazines. But I bought it because someone at the RNA Conference recommended it to me over breakfast when I said I liked Tracy Chevalier’s novels. Jessie Burton writes beautifully and is a gifted storyteller. If you like Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and/or Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach, you'll probably enjoy The Miniaturist.

Article in the Daily Mail about Jessie Burton's success and her agent, Juliet Mushens talks about how to write a bestseller.

Blog post by Jessie Burton about how she got her agent.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This doorstop of a novel is set mainly in New York, a reason I loved it so much. It follows Theo Decker from the age of thirteen and involves a 1654 Fabritius painting (don’t want to give any spoilers so will stop there...) and there’s something a bit ‘Catcher in the Rye’ about it. My neighbour recommended this to me because my Book 2 is about a painting. I love the way Donna Tartt writes-her descriptions are wonderful and she creates fantastic characters.

Article in the Independent about The Goldfinch

Before I go, I’m excited to tell you that I’m updating Twitter and Facebook on behalf of The Historical Novel Society ("HNS") in the run up to the conference, 5-7 September in London. I’m also going and can’t wait! There will be some brilliant speakers and workshops-Jessie Burton (who wrote The Miniaturist mentioned above) is on the panel for ‘Confronting Historical Fact with the Unexplained’ and she’s giving a talk with Jay Dixon on ‘The Importance of Place’. You can follow the HNS on Twitter @histnovsoc #HNSLondon 14 and Facebook. If you’d like to book for the conference, you can register here

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Why go to a writing conference?

Katie Fforde, Pia Fenton, Jenny Barden, Richard Lee, Nikki Logan
Panel: 'The Future for Romantic Fiction'
Last weekend I went to the annual Romantic Novelists’Association (“RNA”) Conference at Harper Adams University, an agricultural college in Telford, near Birmingham and what a fabulous weekend it was! Apart from the scent of manure which lingered in the air and the din of cows mooing during Melanie Hilton’s talk on The New Writers’ Scheme (I expect in agreement with her invaluable advice), the compact campus was perfect for such a weekend as it took minutes to get from accommodation to the building where food and drinks were served and again to reach the building which contained the lecture theatre and meeting rooms. The food, locally sourced (I believe from the campus itself, which we tried not to dwell on too much) was delicious with breakfast fry-ups, including hash browns and fried bread; a Gala Dinner with fillet steak, crème brûlée and local cheeses; and to round it all off on Sunday, roast beef in a giant Yorkshire pudding with lashings of gravy before the drive home on a series of motorways all the way back to Surrey.
Speakers shared knowledge about writing and the publishing industry, changing rapidly due to the e-book revolution. E-books bring positives and negatives with established writers being able to self-publish backlists or other books. Unpublished writers can now self-publish easily and cheaply, managing their own careers. Getting an agent or publisher seems to be increasingly difficult and I hear so many success stories now about self-published writers that perhaps I’ll consider doing it too if I don’t get anywhere when submitting Book 2. Advice I hear from many self-published writers is to pay an editor and to get the cover designed properly.

Ian Skillicorn, independent publisher and audio producer gave an informative talk about ‘‘Going Solo’ –everything you wanted to know about publishing and marketing your backlist or new writing as ebooks’. I took a lot of notes during his talk as he provided so much information, especially about how to put your book onto Amazon and other handy tips.
Jean Fullerton was a witty and inspiring speaker-I listened to every word, despite having a two-day hangover. She gave a talk ‘Don’t Lose the Plot’-developing and refining successful plot structure. Jean used Pride and Prejudice to illustrate some examples with photographs and a plot diagram with boxes and lines all over place to demonstrate how complex a plot can be. One tip I picked up from Jean this weekend, also mentioned at the New Writers’ Scheme talk was to write the last scene first. Many writers don't like to do this, but I may give it a go and see what happens. 

There were interesting panel talks with, amongst others Matt Bates, Fiction buyer for WH Smith Travel; Richard Lee, Chairman of the Historical Novel Society; Gillian Green, publishing director for fiction at Ebury, a division of Penguin Random House; and Lisa Eveleigh, literary agent.
I had a one to one meeting with an editor for a top publisher, a real opportunity. She liked the sound of my Book 2 more than Book 1, said the plot was ‘meatier’ (there seems to be a meat theme running through this post), so I shall get on with finishing it then…

As Jane Holland said in one of her blog posts for 52 Ways to Write a Novel (highly recommend you read this blog), ‘Fake It Till You Make It.’ An unpublished writer needs to mix with other writers and stay up to date with the publishing industry and most of all to write as if they’re already published. Being around writers who have written many books is inspiring and a privilege when they give out advice.

Finally, I must mention the power of Twitter. I went to the last RNA conference in Greenwich a few years ago knowing hardly anyone, but at this conference I knew many writers through Twitter beforehand, and met some in real life for the first time (Rosemary Gemmell, Sarah Callejo-hello!). If you’re not on Twitter already and you’re a writer, it’s worth signing up, although don’t get addicted to it like I do sometimes, because then you won’t write anything! If you’d like to find out more about the conference through Twitter, click on hashtag #RNAconf2014 where there are lots of photos, updates and links to blog posts about the weekend. I’ve posted a few photos on my Facebook Page: Anita Chapman Writer.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Does a first draft take longer for a second novel?

Entrance to Great Hall at Syon House

The second most popular post on this blog, (after The pros and cons of writing in first person present tense, which surprisingly gets a lot of hits) is If only I'd known this when I wrote my first draft. This was an early post, written before I'd properly embarked on the first draft for my second novel.

I wrote the first draft of my first novel very quickly, probably because I didn’t know much about creative writing. If I got stuck, I moved to a later scene. My writing style was terrible: overwriting, overuse of adjectives, telling not showing, all the usual mistakes; but I worked out the story and the backstory by just getting on with it. Writing the first draft of a second novel is a different matter. Now I know more about writing and perhaps sometimes have overthought what I’m doing. Initial excitement about getting a novel published has been slightly knocked by rejections (only slightly!). And dealing with more than one book can dilute writing time.

Last night I went to Alison Morton’s book launch for Successio, book three of the Roma Nova series, a lovely and inspiring evening-she certainly knows how to launch a book with style! I enjoyed Sue Cook’s questions about why Alison chose to write about Romans (her father knew a lot about them), why alternative history; development of the main characters and how she approaches the writing process.

During her conversation with Sue, Alison mentioned that when she writes a first draft: she aims to write 500-1000 words per day, doesn’t look back (ie: no editing) and she doesn’t worry if the same word appears three times in the same sentence. She said that the key is to get the story out. I agree that when writing first drafts, this should be the main goal and I’m pinning a GET THE STORY OUT! post-it to the noticeboard above my desk as a reminder. In depth research, editing and development of sub-plots can come with subsequent drafts.

Alison’s enthusiasm for writing is infectious and I admire her ability to produce novel after novel-she has another series of three in the pipeline! Thanks to Alison for inviting me to a wonderful evening and I wish her the best of luck with Successio.

Friday 2 May 2014

What can diaries and journals do for writers?

Bluebells at Winkworth Arboretum
It’s taken a few days to come up with this post. During the Easter holidays, I went to Paris for a couple of nights, an amazing trip, but no blog posts sprang to mind. Back in Surrey, I walked amongst magnolia trees and daffodils and in woods with bluebell carpets (great inspiration for a 1780s scene in Book 2). I drafted a few posts, but couldn’t come up with anything half-decent, so instead I picked up a favourite book:

‘The Assassin’s Cloak, an anthology of the world’s greatest diarists’, one of those books to dip into like 'Daily Rituals' by Mason Currey, mentioned in a recent post: How do you write? Part II. And today in the car, a blog post finally presented itself.
This doorstop of a book includes diary (and some journal) excerpts from Samuel Pepys, James Boswell, Evelyn Waugh, Noel Coward, Beatrix Potter, Lawrence Durrell, Queen Victoria...even Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole appears, although not Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones (I do think Bridget deserved a look-in). Basically a great number of writers are in there somewhere amongst many well-known people, from the 1600s to quite recently. It’s inspiring, there are words and phrases to savour and it’s laid out cleverly with a few excerpts for each day of the year.

Here are a few:
29 January 1660

‘Spent the afternoon in casting up my accounts, and do find myself to be worth £40 or more, which I did not think, but am afraid that I have forgot something.’ Samuel Pepys
4 June 1831

‘I wonder if I shall burn this sheet of paper like most others I have begun in the same way. To write a diary, I have thought of very often at far & near distances of time: but how could I write a diary without throwing upon paper my thoughts, all my thoughts - the thoughts of my heart as well as of my head?Elizabeth Barrett Browning
16 January 1854

‘I was struck today by the poetic beauty of the winter weather. In the sky a mist got up and the pale sun shone through it…’ Leo Tolstoy
29 April 1937

‘….A white house set like a dice on a rock already venerable with the scars of wind and water. The hill runs clear up into the sky behind it, so the cypresses and olives over-hang this room in which I sit and write.’ Lawrence Durrell
2 October 1955

‘Communion. The clocks should have been changed. We remembered to get up late but lunched early by mistake.’ Evelyn Waugh.

What’s the difference between a diary and a journal?

Well, I gather a diary is where you record events, such as ‘I went to the dentist today and had a root canal treatment, so couldn’t eat for three hours’. A journal is more analytical, such as ‘I can’t fit into my favourite dress. Need to lose a few pounds for summer, so I’m going to run three times next week, go to a Pilates class and stay away from Mini Magnums and crisps…then I’m going to write a novel.’
I wrote a diary during my teenage years, but on reflection I suppose it was more of a journal. I’ve no idea where it is and I hope no-one ever finds it. Now and again, I go through a journal-writing phase: to help plan novels, short stories and flash fiction or to set myself writing targets. It’s useful, a kind of brainstorming meeting with myself.


I’ve used a diary/journal for research for each of my novels. I can’t tell you which ones-they aren’t well known, I found them by chance; one when surfing online, the other when browsing in a library. They’re at the root of the story for both novels, but if/when…I get published, I’ll tell you then.

For the purpose of submissions, I’ve decided to rename Book 1, hoping the new title will grab someone’s attention. Book 1 has the grandfather of the main character’s (“MC”) journal excerpts from World War II in Italy interspersed throughout and the MC goes to Italy when the journal turns up out of the blue. So I’m changing the title of Book 1 from The Grandson to The Journal. I’m sorry to let The Grandson go, and who knows if/when…I get published, it’ll probably change again, but for now Book 1 will be renamed The Journal.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

How's a short story different from a novel?

Writing a short story can feel like a breath of fresh air after focussing on novels as less time and concentration is needed. I mentioned in my previous post: How do you write? (Part II) that I need at least a three hour block to get into novel-writing. I found a 2000 word story could be done in one hour blocks because there wasn’t as much to remember when going back to it.

I’ve written flash fiction (Paragraph Planet and Novelicious Pinterest Prompt) and taken part in a collaborative story, but have wanted to write short stories for years and have several attempts saved on my computer. Recently, however I had an idea which wouldn’t go away and managed to finish a story of 2000 words.  

So, how is a short story different from a novel?

After novel-writing, it’s a treat time-wise.

There’s no big plan and the idea needs to be simple.

Usually hardly any research is needed. I got by using my old friend, Google.

Starting at the right point is crucial. Cutting the first few sentences from an initial draft helps.

Editing 2000 words (about the length of a chapter in a novel) is a dream compared to 70-80,000 words and a good way to hone editing skills.

Proofreading a novel can take half a day and it’s difficult to do in one go. With a short story it takes 5-10 minutes.

Squeezing a compelling beginning, middle and end into 2000 words can be a challenge.

With short stories the ending’s often unexpected. For me, that required a lot of mulling time.

Style needs to be more telling than in a novel. There are fewer opportunities to ‘zoom-in’ on a moment.

If you’re stuck in a rut with your novel, it’s worth having a go and if you finish one, it’s a real confidence boost.

The Easter holidays have arrived and the countryside around here's looking stunning. I’m looking forward to days out in the spring sunshine and catching up with friends and family. Last week I filled in my form for the RNA Conference in July and I can’t wait! Hope to see some of you there.

Friday 21 March 2014

How do you write? (Part II)

I went to a thatched cottage in Berkshire last weekend with writing friends. The cottage, in a village was reached by single-track lanes and the Sat Nav of course didn’t take me to the right address so I spent twenty minutes driving up and down the village, until a kind lady walking her dog gave me directions.

This cottage was so remote that when I woke at three o’clock on Saturday morning, an owl hooted outside my window. When I sat down to write at a desk with the above view, a woodpecker was hanging off the birdfeeder. The four of us were immersed in a kind of Disney writer’s paradise. Between us, we brought several bottles of wine and we crammed the fridge with enough food to last us a week. At lunchtimes, we ate cold meats and salads outside (thanks to Jules for bringing all that wonderful stuff!) with fresh bread as if we were in Tuscany or the South of France. In the evenings, we met at the distressed wooden table in a kitchen lit by fairy lights and candles.

Some of us wrote more than others. I’m at a stage with book 2, 'The Painting' where I need to plan and handwrite scenes with pen and paper. By Sunday evening, I couldn’t claim to have written several thousand words (like Jules, who wrote 6000!), but I came home ready to dive right into my manuscript and pick up where I left off in September, before rewriting book 1. I don’t seem to have done that quite yet…, having spent the week doing other stuff and being on Twitter far more than I should be.

I read an interesting book recently called, ‘Daily Rituals’, by Mason Currey. Mason has gathered information on how various writers, artists, philosophers and composers worked (or work). This is a book to keep on the shelf and dip into, especially when stuck as there are loads of ideas on how to get into a daily routine, however busy you are. Some ideas I wouldn’t advocate, such as consuming copious quantities of alcohol, chain-smoking and taking loads of drugs, but it’s the sort of book which you take what you want from. Many writers mentioned wrote (or write) for a minimum of three or four hours each day, took (or take) walks in beautiful countryside and read a great deal. Some had no routine at all and only wrote when compelled to.

Charles Dickens ‘rose at 7:00, had breakfast at 8:00, and was in his study by 9:00. He stayed there until 2:00, taking a brief break for lunch with his family, during which he often seemed to be in a trance, eating mechanically and barely speaking a word before hurrying back to his desk.’

When asked if he had a daily routine, Kingsley Amis said, ‘Yes. I don’t get up very early. I linger over breakfast reading the papers, telling myself hypocritically that I’ve got to keep up with what’s going on, but really staving off the dreadful time when I have to go to the typewriter. That’s probably about ten-thirty, still in pajamas and dressing gown…’
Jane Austen ‘rose early, before the other women were up, and played the piano. At 9:00 she organized the family breakfast, her one major piece of household work. Then she settled down to write in the sitting room, often with her mother and sister sewing quietly nearby. If visitors showed up she would hide her papers and join in the sewing.’

This book has inspired me to write in three hour minimum blocks where possible, as I found an hour here and there wasn’t getting me very far. A scenic walk does help with mulling over bits I’m stuck on. But getting away from it all, especially with other writers always seems to work wonders.

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Polesden Lacey history pages and Georgians Revealed exhibition

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Polesden Lacey history pages and Georgians Revealed exhibition

I’ve been working at Polesden Lacey, a National Trust property as a website volunteer since November last year and I recently completed the new history pages for Polesden Lacey’s website

Edwardian hostess, Margaret Greville bought Polesden Lacey in 1906 and she left the estate to the
National Trust in 1942. Her guests included Edward VII and George VI. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother spent part of her honeymoon there when she was the Duchess of York. The history pages include articles about Mrs Greville, a timeline (from 1906-1960) and below stairs staff. There are some wonderful photos of butlers, housemaids, gardeners, chauffeurs etc

This weekend, I’m off to a thatched cottage in the countryside with friends for writing with wine thrown in! Last week I completed my latest draft of book 1, The Grandson and I hope to make progress with book 2, The Painting so I can submit as many words as possible to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme by the end of August.

I went to the Georgians Revealed exhibition at the British Library in London last week (which finished on 11 March). The exhibition gave a taste of life during Georgian times with maps, posters, books and information on architecture, interior design, theatres and sports amongst other things. Although I found the exhibition interesting, I didn’t learn as much as I’d hoped. However, this should mean I’ve done enough research to get on with book 2, The Painting, and I can refer to information collected when stuck.

The British Library is such an inspiring place, quiet apart from hushed conversations, where student-types mill about with notebooks and pens and laptops and iPads. There’s a great restaurant which serves miniature chicken pies and all sorts of delicious stuff and I’ll be back soon to write there.

Daffodils and snowdrops have sprung up here in the U.K. and the weather has been lovely over the past week. Hopefully that's it for winter this year and that the potholes in the roads will be filled in soon!

Sunday 26 January 2014

How do you get past writer's block?

Blickling Hall, Norfolk

Sometimes writing, editing and rewriting (let's call them all 'writing') can become a drag. Confidence can be knocked by rejection or by showing work to the wrong person when it isn’t ready. Sometimes life gets in the way, meaning there's less time or a reduced ability to focus. In the run up to Christmas last year, I stopped writing.

In September 2013, an agent requested my full manuscript, and the comments they made on my first three chapters were the most complimentary I’ve received. Bowled over, I was swept into an adrenalin-fuelled edit. A few chapters in, I received a rejection from an independent publisher and the adrenalin-fuelled edit became a rejection-induced plod. I plodded on until a writing course in November (described in post: Do writers need friends who write?). Shortly after that, I stopped writing for a few days. The few days became a week and so on, my irritation accumulating each day because I wasn’t writing.

On top of this, pre-Christmas nights out and present-buying etc ate time and made it difficult to prioritise writing. So I decided to stop beating myself up, to take a break until after Christmas, and To just be (the subject of my previous post).

On 2nd January, I opened my manuscript and came up with a plan.
1. Rewrite Act Three, which needed more ooomph.
2. I asked myself: How can I make it seem as though I’m achieving something every day?

I split my manuscript into two parts, saving two documents in Word:
The Grandson done and The Grandson to do.

Each day I work on The Grandson to do file and when I complete a chapter, I cut and paste it into The Grandson done. This works well as I can see word count and number of pages moving daily. The Grandson to do is now down to forty pages. I’m working fairly slowly because Act Three has become a case of rewriting rather than editing.
So I have forty pages to rewrite and three scenes to write from scratch. I’ve given myself a deadline of 9th February (and now I've told you, I'll have to stick to it!). Then I’ll put the manuscript away for
two weeks before doing a final edit.

Stephen King says in ‘On Writing’:
‘I had come to a place where the straight way was lost. I wasn’t the first writer to discover this awful place, and I’m a long way from being the last; this is the land of writer’s block.’

Later he says:
‘So instead of moving to another project, I started taking long walks……I took a book or magazine on these walks but rarely opened it, no matter how bored I felt looking at the same old chattering, ill-natured jays and squirrels. Boredom can be a very good thing for someone in a creative jam. I spent these walks being bored and thinking about my gigantic boondoggle of a manuscript.’

And then:

‘For weeks I got exactly nowhere in my thinking…..and then one day when I was thinking of nothing much at all, the answer came to me. It arrived whole and gift-wrapped, you could say – in a single bright flash.’
Isn't boondoggle a brilliant word? says boondoggle means 'an unnecessary or wasteful project or activity'.

In ‘How to Write a Novel’, 47 rules for writing a stupendously awesome novel that you will love forever, Nathan Bransford starts Rule #34 with:
‘The most important thing you need to know about writer’s block is this: it doesn’t exist.’

He goes on to say:
‘But when people encounter the phenomenon otherwise known as “writer’s block,” what they are really describing is one thing and one thing only: writing stopped being fun.’

Later he says:

‘The first step to getting unstuck is understanding the problem you need to solve. Once you’ve identified the main issue, the solution is just around the corner.’

He suggests going outside to ‘get fresh air and sunshine’, exercise and staring at a blank screen. I read Nathan Bransford's 'How to Write a Novel' over Christmas and I think it's well worth a read.

So I have a deadline. After that, then what?
I’m lucky to be on the Romantic Novelists’Association New Writers’ Scheme again this year. When I’ve completed the rewrite of Book 1, I’ll be returning to Book 2, The Painting so I can send in a manuscript by the end of August.

Wishing you a very happy 2014 and best of luck with your writing! I usually post an uplifting seaside photo at this time of year, so here you go: