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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Make This New Year Resolution For Your Creative Writing In 2015...

Pic by David Harper
Happy New Year!

"Start by doing what is necessary; then what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

That quote from St Francis is great advice for writers who are hungry for success. You can build on it by taking a long, hard look at what success means to you. Many writers expect to earn a million within a week of typing "The End" on their last page, and are crushed when it doesn't happen. There's no need to be disappointed. Reconsider what success means to you, and you'll make the impossible a lot easier to achieve. Then you can work towards making 2015 your best writing year ever.

Here are some reasons to be cheerful...

1. Making the effort to get thousands of words down on paper, or up on a screen is an amazing achievement. Millions of people dream about writing a book, but aren't brave enough to try. Some start, but don't last the course. Think how you'd feel if this was the year you finished the story you've always wanted to write. Set aside some time each day, make a plan, and commit to making your dream come true. For hints and tips on writing, visit my website, and follow my series of blogs called The Birth of A Book (You can read Part One here)

1a. You can come back to this one when you've read Point 8, below!

2. If you've already written a book, getting it published is the next big hurdle. Whether you are accepted by a traditional publisher, or choose to publish it yourself, neither route is easy. If you send your work out into the world in 2015, you can be proud. If you rise to the challenges and manage to get into print, that's a bonus.

Coming Soon!
3. Holding your newly-published book, or seeing your ebook up on Amazon is another great milestone which counts as a great success in a writer's life

4. Getting good reviews—with so many books on the market, catching a reviewer's eye is very difficult. Get a friend to vet any reviews for your book in advance, in case reading a bad one scars you for life (it can happen). Your kind reader can strain any constructive criticism from one-star scaldings, and giving you the chance to up your game. Writers should never miss a chance to learn about their craft, and readers are the best teachers. Give them more of what they want to read, and both sides will be happy.

5. Your first royalty payment, no matter how small, will be another reason to get out and celebrate.

6. Covering your costs is good—if you do nothing more than that in 2015, you'll have earned more than many self-published authors do.

7. Making any sort of profit at all is an amazing feat, and if you manage this, you're a success (of course, if you really do make a million, you don't need me to tell you that!). Don't forget to squirrel half away somewhere safe in case of a tax-bill, or to create a contingency fund.

8. Finishing your second book is the success you should be aiming for from the time you've got to point 1a (see above). Writing books is a continuous process. As one book is finished, ideas for the next one should be jostling for writing-time. Make notes, and work on your next book while you're working on the publication of your first.

Long before I had a contract for the first book in what became my Princes of Kharova series, His Majesty's Secret Passion, I was already hard at work on the follow up, Her Royal Risk. That manuscript had a good title, as I was taking a risk the first book would be accepted. The idea for Her Royal Risk started with my Beta readers. They wanted to know what happened to the minor characters in His Majesty's Secret Passion after the book ended, so I picked up on their interest and gave them what they asked for as soon as I could.

I was lucky: His Majesty's Secret Passion will be published by Wild Rose Press within the next few weeks, and Her Royal Risk follows later this year. To be in on all the excitement, click "like" on my author page on Facebook, here, or follow me on Twitter.

Once again, Happy New year!

Friday, 26 December 2014

The Archers—Is It "Essential" Any More?

Stormclouds over Ambridge?
The BBC are having a laugh (or "'avin a larf", to put it in language they'll understand) with their long-running Radio 4 Programme The Archers.  Nobody expects TA to be about country "folk" any more, but it could at least bear some resemblance to life in the country. Instead, it's degenerating into an easy way to keep the BBC the subject of its own headlines.

I've written before about how my family, and loads of other people I know, were once devoted daily listeners but have now lost the habit. You can read more about it here and here. Times and tastes change, but that can't explain the growth in complaints from TA's wider audience on the programme's dedicated social networks, and heard on radio programmes such as Feedback.

There are still priceless moments in The Archers. Emma’s great line about apologising to an elf made me laugh this week—what on earth had George done?—but they're far fewer these days. Jennifer screeching at the airport made me want to scream, too, but it was believable. Kate is every inch her mother's daughter, so I could understand the veganism and the yoga (although with two (?) children and a hunky-sounding husband back home in South Africa, I'm amazed the edges haven't been knocked off Kate's self-absorption).  The scenes around the Bridge Farm tree were too schmaltzy for my liking, but hey, it's Christmas...

The Archers' old subtitle was "An Everyday Story Of Country Folk". That doesn't sound right these days, so the programme's Facebook page now has the subtitle Essential drama from the heart of the country. Bad news, BBC. It stopped being essential for me several years ago. I only dip in and out of The Archers these days, to see if it's improved.

I miss my old habit, so this week I made the effort and listened to every episode to see if calm and escapism has returned. Sadly, The Archers is still on a downward slope towards becoming Eastenders-on-Am. To deconstruct the BBC's own description, The Archers now has far too much drama (both broadcast, and behind the scenes), and not enough country for me.

The main problems I have with the programme centre around changes of personality, odd voices, and poor research.

Adam and Charlie are the perfect example of the creeping Eastenderization of Ambridge. Adam is in an established relationship.  Not every couple should expect to be put under stress, simply because the editor decides it's their turn to be tempted into adultery. In any case, like many of the new characters, Charlie is quite unlikeable. Would you fancy him? Or Stalker Harrison, for that matter?

The Roy-Hayley-Elizabeth roundabout shows up the ridiculousness of recent story lines.  Dull jobsworth Roy & snooty Elizabeth worked together for many years without the slightest flicker of attraction. Then overnight, Roy persuaded Elizabeth to go camping, and indulge in a torrid affair while simultaneously arranging a wildly successful festival in a matter of weeks. Roy had always been a good father to his girls, yet during this abrupt character-change he treated them as an irritating detail— much in same way the scriptwriters treat us. Look at the way Pat and Tony tracked down their long-lost grandson, Rich. The boy's mother Sharon was never the sort to miss a trick so why she never spilled the beans about Rich years ago escaped me, until Rich moved into Ambridge. Then I discovered the awful draining influence the place has on intellect. Sharon only wanted to save her son.When he lived with his mother and her partner, Rich was a natural cricketer, a model student, mad about science, predicted to get straight As, and keen to become an ecologist, IIRC.  By running away to Ambridge, he shed 100 IQ points, all his ambition, and his birth name. He's now called Johnny. If I was Rich/Johnny's mother, I'd have launched a rescue mission straight away. Bridge Farm is no place for any sane person. The boy's natural father was squashed by a tractor, Ecoli stalked the dairy, Tony's bull went berserk...the place must stand on the land Health and Safety forgot (apart from that visit by Johnny's painfully wooden tutor). 

Why does the small son of a Grundy (I can't remember which one, and to be frank, I no longer care) and Emma Carter speak with the perfect received pronunciation of the child of a BBC employee? Could it be there's a bit of a theme going on, given that the established part of Tom Archer was recast for no apparent reason, so soon after David Troughton took over the part of Tom's father, Tony? When challenged to rearrange the sentence pro quo quid, the BBC will only say they want actors with dramatic training. When the new Pip has such trouble finding her accent (and octave?), maybe they should be scrutinising their directors, too. 

Sensitively handled, the birth of a baby with Down's Syndrome could have been a great way to educate listeners about the subject. It would also have highlighted more general rural problems such as having to travel miles to attend ante-natal appointments, wait days for appointments with a doctor or difficulties with  transport to hospital. Instead, baby Bethany disappeared under the radar almost as soon as she was born. She and her parents are supposedly moving away to Birmingham, with the feeble excuse there are no facilities at the village school. I assumed inclusion was the law. It's a fact that several children with (sometimes severe) learning difficulties have attended our village school. The Archers' team could have explored the general ignorance around this subject, and publicised the help available, instead of dropping it when it got too difficult.

Expecting us to believe David and Ruth Archer will move from Ambridge to Prudhoe is beyond ridiculous, too. Neither of them seems sure why they're going, and the whole business has been treated as though buying and selling farms is the same as buying ordinary houses. With plunging milk prices, David and Ruth must be epically stupid to try and set up a new dairy enterprise where there's no existing infrastructure, especially as Ruth was crying over a domestic utility bill not long ago. Surely they'd at least wait and see what compensation they'd get from the proposed road scheme before accepting a verbal agreement for a suspiciously large sum on a place which must be subject to a planning blight. In any case, why Ruth wants to disrupt her whole family and business for the sake of a parent she never normally mentions, or visits, and admitted she was "bored" by caring for, is madness. 

I could go on, and on (and on), but I'll leave you with a Christmas-themed thought. If The Archers is intended to be "essential drama from the heart of the country",  they should mine the rich veins of inspiration around the vicar of Ambridge. He could be driven to desperation over his dwindling, ageing congregations, the (realistic) raising of funds, or theft from the several churches he's expected to run, or attacks on the clergy. Instead, Rev Franks was able to book a cathedral choir (not just any old choir, mind!) for the village carol service, only weeks before Christmas.

I suggest The Archers team concentrate on getting it right and realistic in 2015, not dumber and more dramatic. What New Year's Resolution would you suggest for them?



Sunday, 21 December 2014

No (Writing) Lessons Today, Just A Christmas Carol...

By Xavier Romero-Frias 
Merry Christmas, and/or a Happy Holiday to everybody! Writing goes on all the time, but this week there's a bit of wriggle-room so Part Two of Birth Of A Book will be here in the New Year. You can catch up with Part One in the series here

I’m not sure how many people actually wait until 26th December (officially the First Day Of Christmas) to start singing The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Otherwise known as Boxing Day (when you pack up all your old stuff) or St Stephen’s Day, it’s always been a popular time for getting busy: that's when Good King Wenceslas went out, for a start.  For more about him, sign up at the "Subscribe" section above to follow this blog—his Majesty will be making a guest appearance in a few days' time.  

Just in case there’s anyone who isn’t familiar with the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, it begins...
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
A partridge in a Pear Tree.”

For the next eleven days, the author's generous present-giver showers their true love with gifts, from the practical to the bizarre. Here’s the rest of the shopping list: 

Partridge, by Keith Williamson
2 turtle doves, 
3 French hens, 
4 calling birds, 
5 gold rings,
6 geese a-laying, 
7 swans a -swimming, 
8 maids a-milking, 
9 ladies dancing, 
10 lords a-leaping, 
11 pipers piping, and finally... 
12 drummers drumming. 

Five gold rings would be a great present, but if the Queen can manage with only one piper piping to wake her up each morning, eleven  of them must be far too much of a good thing. 

Actress Penelope Keith once appeared on BBC Radio as Miss Sarah Truelove, whose Alpha male Bill had the bright idea of sending her everything on the list, day by day.  Chaos followed: the neighbours went mad, the lords and milkmaids got too friendly with each other, birds got trampled by the cows, and the only winners were Messrs. Sue, Pillage and Plunder—the law firm brought in to sort it all out.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChristmas_tree_bauble.jpg
By Kris de Curtis
If any of you fancy copying the gesture—be warned, it will cost. When a financial institution added up the items listed in the song a few years ago, it came to over fifteen thousand pounds ($24k dollars)! It might sound like a romantic gesture but think of the noise, the smell, and the amount of room all those animals and people would take up.



On balance, I think I’d prefer my twelve daily gifts to come in the form of chocolate.  It’s quiet, sweet, easy to handle, and it’s loved by just about everyone.

Happy Christmas!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Four Tips To Help New Writers Succeed...

These ideas will start your writing career off on the right page:

MAKE THE EFFORT...
Turn up and write. Do it every day. The only difference between someone who dreams of writing a book, and the author who produces one is a plan. Decide your SMART goal. That’s something Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and with a Time limit. "I’d like to write a book" is a dream. "I’m going to write a 70,000 word crime thriller by 31st December 2015" is a dynamic resolution. You’ll either do it, or you won’t, so stop dreaming and start work. Hint: failure is NOT an option.

...THEN GO FURTHER
Put in the hours, do the research, check everything, then have an unbiased reader go through it all. Make any revisions they suggest, then repeat the whole process. Make use of feedback, employ an editor and in short, do everything you can to make sure anything with your name attached is your best work.
Start a journal. If you do nothing more than download the notes or tag the selfies you made during the day (and you do carry a notebook or phone with you everywhere, don’t you?) it’ll be something you can flick through for inspiration when your ideas aren’t flowing.

WORK SMARTER, AS WELL AS HARDER
Make a commitment  to study a different type of writing for half an hour a day. That could mean newspapers, social media, non-fiction, fiction, long form work or short. Take classes, whether ‘real’ or online. Visit your local library to discover groups for readers and writers, and check out online sites such as http://romanceuniversity.org. Join groups such as The Romantic Novelists’ Association (http://www.rna-uk.org/) in the UK or Romance Writers of America (http://www.rwa.org/) for information and contacts. If you want to sell your work, research markets and target your work before you write a single word.

And finally, the most important tip of all...

NEVER GIVE UP
Start with a good story, use all your skill to hone your craft, and you’ll always find an outlet for your talent. Never put restrictions on your creative writing. If you get frustrated with your novel, don’t give up. Try turning the basics of its plot into a short story. If your novella gets out of hand, see if you can develop it into a longer work.

For more writing tips and insight, follow my blog at christinahollis and my author page on FB at http://on.fb.me/1Ee1urM

Monday, 8 December 2014

Birth Of A Book, Part One: From Thinking To Writing...

By Antonio Litterio
Where do you get your ideas? is the question every writer gets asked, all the time. The answer is so simple, once you discover what it is you'll never believe it was so hard to find. It's in your bath. Or at the top of a tree, the bottom of a bucket, or...anywhere, and everywhere. You get the idea.

Think about the person who asked that question. They'll have channeled a million thoughts between getting up in that morning, and putting an author on the spot. Any one of those thoughts has the potential to become a funny story, a furious rant, or even a novel.

Imagine you got caught by a traffic warden, because you were five minutes late back to the parking bay. You were delayed because you couldn't catch your dog. If you wanted to write a romance, imagine a handsome guy came to help you. Your dog bit him, and...

...Or if you wanted to write a thriller, maybe your dog ran away because he got the scent of...what? Drugs? A body? An escaped tiger?

There are three or four embryo ideas developed from an everyday situation that could happen to anyone.

Coming Soon...
The only difference between someone who writes, and someone who quizzes writers is that one notes everything down to use in evidence...or at least, for inspiration. Get yourself in the right mindset, and you'll find inspiration everywhere. The internet, TV and radio are good launch pads. The lyrics of a song that make you think, a local headline that intrigues you but never makes the nationals, they're happy hunting grounds for the author.

His Majesty's Secret Passion, the first book in my current series, The Princes Of Kharova, sprang from a competition asking for the first ten pages of a romantic novel. I'd just read this article in Time Magazine about an alternative heir to the English throne. The real-life Mike Hastings wasn't remotely interested in staking his claim to Queen Elizabeth's crown, but I couldn't help wondering how unhappy he'd have been if he was forced by circumstances to take on the job. Escapist romance demands exotic locations, independent women, heroes with issues and an aspirational feel. My initial idea soon developed into an overworked career-woman forced to take a holiday for her health, who is thrown together with a dedicated doctor who had to abandoned his studies for the sake of family loyalty.

By making loads of notes, I developed my initial thoughts into the basic framework of a novel. This all happened in my spare time, before I sat down at the computer. Once there, I had to flesh out my hero and heroine. The best way of doing that is to create character sheets for each of your major characters. I'll cover that next time. Until then, keep up to date with  His Majesty's Secret Passion and the other titles in the Princes of Kharova series by visiting my Author page on Facebook, and clicking on the "like" button.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Writing A Book In A Month: The Final Countdown...

Worth Every Minute...
The alarm's just gone off for NaNoWriMo 2014. That's it: the deadline was midnight on 30th November, no excuses.  If you've read Writing A Book In A Month, Parts One, Two, Three And Four, this is the big reveal. 

I put off reading through the whole of my NaNoWriMo project, Tasting The Peach until the last possible moment, in case I had a crisis of confidence and didn't submit it. I was relieved to see the story all hung together (although there are some big gaps I'll have to fill in during second, and subsequent, drafts). My characters mostly turned out the way I hoped they would, although as they came to life for me they developed and grew in ways I hadn't expected. 

I sent Tasting The Peach for validation on 29th of November, and my total word count was logged at 55,295 by NaNoWriMo central. I've printed out my personalised Winner's Certificate, and now I feel wrung out and quite honestly, a bit emotional. What am I going to do, now all the pressure to finish is off? Read on, to find out...

Coming Soon...
NaNoWriMo is an invaluable hub and resource for writers. You'll find mentors, tips and pep talks, shoulders to cry on and writing buddies to help you celebrate. It doesn't matter whether you're starting out, or an old hand who's trying something new. Everybody learns from the experience, and has a good time in the process. For an investment of around £6, I got a month's writing retreat right here in my office, but away from all other artistic distractions. It gave me the chance to dedicate an exclusive block of time to a project I've always had to sideline through pressure of other work. Sometimes you have to say "No" to requests. That's always hard, but being able to say "Sorry, I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year!" made it a bit easier. 

The NaNoWriMo writing marathon each November is an international event that keeps on growing, but maintaining the site and networks takes money. They rely on donations, so read the testimonials here, then make a resolution to join NaNoWriMo 2015.

So, what's next? Tomorrow I start a new WIP, but that's quite literally another story. Or rather, two! I'll be writing about this next project in a series of blogs called The Birth Of A Book. If you want to follow the roller-coaster ride all the way from basic idea to publication, click the "Subscribe To My Blog" button, at the top right hand side of this page.

To keep up with the progress of my next big release, His Majesty's Secret Passion, please visit my Facebook Author page here, and click on the "like" button. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Guest Blog: Summerita Rhayne's New Release—Against All Rules

Everyone loves an office romance. Fancy getting swept off our feet by a rich, successful boss? Then Summerita Rhayne's sensual contemporary romance is the book for you...

The efficient PA out of her depth...
Samara knows getting attracted to Tahir is like asking for trouble. Not only is he her boss but he's got divorced recently and has sworn off any commitment. Short term is not on her list but temptation has never been stronger...
The man who doesn't have faith in rainbows anymore
Tahir doesn't believe in enforcing a code of conduct he cannot follow. But Samara might just make him make an exception! An affair at the office might seem a solution to his troubles but how can he avoid treading uncharted territory...?
Here's an extract to whet your appetite:
Coming into her office to ask if everything was ready, Tahir stilled as his gaze found the woman with her neck arched back in abandon in the chair. What the...his jaw went slack focusing on the darting tip of a tongue moistening soft pink flesh and the expression of pure sensual enjoyment on her face. 
This wasn’t his usually staid and prim PA. Muscles clenched low in his body witnessing the sensuous slide of that tongue tip. Like he’d wandered into the live filming of some erotic edgy scene. It only needed her hair unconfined and the prim buttons on her top loosened for the picture of sexy siren to be complete. With her head thrown back like that and her chest thrust forward, full curves straining the buttons, she wasn’t less than a siren now. His gaze moved back to the promise of her lush parted mouth and it required no imagination to picture the feel of it beneath his, to picture capturing that errant tip... He inhaled. Blood rushed through his body at double the speed, surging strategically southward.
Samara became conscious of something different in her surroundings and sat up, guilt flooding her skin with warmth as she saw Tahir looking at her from his six foot vantage point, narrowed brown gaze focusing on her face. The dark brows lifted sardonically, his well shaped mouth with that velvet sheen it had, curving oh so slightly. 
‘I – I was just...’
She stopped, unable to explain and unable to decipher why she felt the temperature of the room increase till a wave of heat bounced around her body. 
He stood feet apart, every inch the inflexible, demanding boss man that he was. He was also jaw dropping handsome, looking like a honed and toned version of a male deo model. Forget the choc√≥, I could settle for a bite of that anytime. That well shaped mouth, with a fuller sensual lower lip, dark eyes, the colour of ground coffee, thickly lashed. Those spikes, he gelled his hair into as a concession to trend. No wonder women chased him any and every chance they got. 
‘I don’t pay you to indulge your time fantasizing in my office.’ He ground out, a curt edge to his deep voice, his eyes still narrowed on her face. 

About the author
Summerita Rhayne loves to write sensual and emotional romance. There's no knowing when some quirky - or sometimes even not so quirky - happening in daily life might trigger her right brain and then she's off craving a new story. She loves writing characters who learn and grow and find their way out of their troubles and emotional hang-ups. Hot, sensual heroes and sassy but sweet heroines mostly fit the bill in her stories. She also believes that a touch of humor never goes amiss in a book.

She divides her time between family, job and writing - and loves winding down with music, movies and the internet!

Or follow via Twitter @SummeritaRhayne
Buy the ebook at :
Thanks for blogging here today, Summerita, and best of luck with Against All Rules.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Writing A Book In A Month, Part Four...

NaNoWriMo 2014 attracts corporate supporters as well as donations from writers. One of these, Webucator, approached writers for their insights into the creative writing process. I'm delighted to get people interested in trying something I've enjoyed all my life, so here's an extended version of the interview I gave to them:

I've written for pleasure all my life, and became a full-time writer in my late twenties. Before that, I worked in finance, then marketing, and finished up in the technical library of a gas-turbine (aero engine) manufacturer. Nobody who read my jet-fighter manuals was interested in happy endings, and the atmosphere wasn't good. Reading was my way of escaping, and I wanted to share that pleasure with others by putting my own stories into words. My wonderful OH offered to support me for one year to see if I could earn my living from writing and luckily, I found I could.

My goals haven't really changed since I began my writing career. I always want to write the best books I can, which help readers to get away from it all for a while. I write about complex men and independent women thrown together in difficult situations, who develop an understanding as they grow toward a satisfying conclusion. Their happy-ever-after is as good for me, as it is for my characters.    

Coming Soon, From Wild Rose Press
I'm very lucky to enjoy writing romance, which is a popular genre. You can find a list of my available titles heremy next book, His Majesty's Secret Passion, is being published soon by Wild Rose Press, and I've also got more titles scheduled for publication in 2015. Of course there's also my NaNoWriMo project, Tasting The Peach. This is a thriller, which is a completely new departure for me so it's a work-in-progress in every sense of the word. Joining up for NaNoWriMo 2014 allowed me to concentrate for one full month on producing the first draft. I'm only formulating the first draft, so there's still some way to go, but I already know Tasting The Peach won't have a conventional happy ending. I'll be posting updates here on my blog about its progress. You can keep in touch by subscribing, using the button above.

I'm lucky in that writing makes me a decent living, but in any case I can't stop. Sad, but true! As well as romance, I've written a lot of non-fiction articles for national magazines. Nature writing has always been  my first love, and I'm still trying to capture the passing seasons with the skill of a Roger Deakin, T.H White or H.E Bates.

My advice to any young person who wants a career as a writer is to find a conventional job that'll pay your bills and give you a grounding in life, but which still allows you time to write after-hours. You'll never produce your best work if you're worrying about making money from it, and you need some life experience before you join a profession whose members spend 90% of their time shut away from reality—you only have to look at politicians in Westminster (with the notable exception of Lord Moynihan, here) to see where that sort of insularity leads! 

Read as widely as you can, and in genres other than your own speciality. Don't just enjoy the story: analyse it, see how the author and editor have made it work. Then apply that insight to your own, original work. Most importantly of all, always write from your heart—readers soon spot insincerity, and they hate it. 

Finally, don't forget to subscribe to my blog (by clicking on the box, top right above) to get my tip sheet of  hints for the career writer.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Writing A Book In A Month, Part Three...

My writing got derailed by vital admin this week, but my NaNoWriMo word count's risen—although in fits and starts.

I've written here and here about how I've been helped by creative workshops organised by the Marcher Chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association. The most recent one helped me refine the first ten pages of a new project, Tasting The Peach. I'm now turning this embryo into the initial draft of a full-length novel, using National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2014 to spur me on. NaNoWriMo relies on donations, and as I write this they've raised $1,034,544.78 so far this year. You can click on the figure to contribute, and help support the organisation.

By Monday morning, 17th November, I'd reached a word count of 33,629. The NaNoWriMo website has a load of exciting data, which makes it just right for an obsessive like me. When I update my daily word count, it calculates my average, and from that how long it will take me to reach the 50,000 word target. As the deadline of 30th November gets closer, the stress increases. My daily average is 1865 now, but I had a bit of a slump midweek.

I've never written a crime novel before, but it didn't me take long to work out they are books which are best written backwards. I started on November 1st with my two main characters fully formed in my mind, but only a vague idea of what was going to happen to them. I opened a file, called it Chapter One, and started to type.

I managed to keep my butterfly mind pinned on DI Josh Miller's unravelling of the conspiracy behind a politician's murder, but the plot twists were coming as much as a shock to me as they were to him. Who knew a bacon roll would play such a pivotal...well, role? I didn't, and I'm supposed to be the all-seeing author. I needed to step back and take a long view of where this book was heading. The trouble was, all I could see was the NaNoWriMo cut-off point of 30th November, hurtling toward me.  

Then, courtesy of the publisher Wild Rose Press, I was given the perfect excuse to take a break from working on Tasting The Peach.  The galley proofs for my next release, His Majesty's Secret Passion, arrived. Concentrating on checking everything was perfect before my new book goes to print gave me the change of pace I needed. My daily word count for NaNoWriMo suffered, but by working late and early each day I squeezed in some forward planning on motivations and motives for Tasting The Peach, too.  This allowed me to catch up, once the proofs were checked. I'm now back on target for NaNoWriMo—just about!

If you're working on your own NaNoWriMo project, how are you getting on? If you'd like to keep up to date with the progress of my next release, His Majesty's Secret Passion, just visit my new author page over on Facebook, and hit the "like" button.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Guest Blog—The Write Romantics' New Release: "Winter Tales"

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Winter-Tales-Stories-Warm-Heart-ebook/dp/B00P84UGHA/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415125192&sr=1-4&keywords=The+Write+Romantics
The Write Romantics' New Release
I'm delighted to welcome guest bloggers The Write Romantics today, with news of a lovely seasonal book release—just in time for those long winter evenings!  They're having a Facebook launch party here on Saturday 8th November, and all proceeds go to two very good causes, so please pop in and support them.

For all the details, read on...
The Write Romantics is a group of ten writers who are members of, or recent graduates from, the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme.  When we decided to write an anthology to raise money for charity we asked our writing friends if they would help us out.  We were absolutely delighted when so many fabulous writers agreed to give stories to the anthology. Our guest writers include Annie Lyons, Rhoda Baxter, Samantha Tonge, Sarah Painter, Alison May and Kerry Fisher. 
We wanted to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust because my nephew, who is 3, suffers from this condition.  When we first came up with the idea of the anthology, he’d just had a two week stay in hospital with a chest infection and we wanted to do something to help find a cure for this terrible illness.  Inspired by the incredible courage of Stephen Sutton we chose the Teenage Cancer Trust as our other charity.  Absolutely all the proceeds from the anthology will go to raising money to support the work of these two amazing charities. 
Sixty Per Cent Of The Write Romantics!
There’s twenty-four stories in the anthology and, although they’re all warm-hearted and likely to leave you smiling, there’s a tremendous variety in them.  There’s wonderful romance in Meet Me at Midnight by Rachael Thomas.  There’s comedy in Loving Mr Perfect by Holly Martin and The Handsome Stranger by Alison May.  Jo Bartlett looks at the challenges of finding love in All the Wrong Places and Muriel’s Christmas Surprise by Jennifer Bohnet shows you’re never too old for a new romance.  There’s also a few old flames, some family reunions, a sexy vicar and lots and lots of snow. 
Here’s an extract from Meet Me At Midnight by Rachael Thomas to give you a taste of what’s in store:
He paused and looked at her, his hand still holding hers, as if they’d known each other forever. ‘Christmas holidays in Wales?’
‘Something like that.’ More like escape from the past, she thought as she looked down, suddenly not quite able to meet his gaze, wishing they were still walking through the field. The intensity in those blue eyes was too much and she wondered if he could see right into her soul and retrieve every secret she’d hidden. ‘I decided last minute to get away from London.’
What It's All About—Smiles!
As far as she was concerned she wasn’t in a hurry to get back to the bustle of London and even though she’d only been in her little cottage for a week, she was glad she’d taken it for six months. If she hadn’t got herself together by then, she probably never would.
His cold fingers lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him once more and the buzz of attraction she’d felt up on the road exploded into something much bigger. She was beginning to wish she had met him in a London bar. Suddenly going back to the bright lights seemed infinitely more attractive, especially if he was going to be there.
‘I’m glad you did.’ His eyes locked with hers, sending shivers of excitement down her spine.
She blinked, not believing what was happening and his hand dropped. Letting out a breath she’d had no idea she was holding she stepped back away from him, acutely aware his other hand still held hers.
Something warm leant against her leg and she looked down as the somewhat bedraggled collie lolled against her, tongue hanging out. It was nice to think the dog trusted her enough to do that, but it also meant there wasn’t any escape from Rob and the way he made her heart flutter. Something she thought it would never do again.
Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart by The Write Romantics and Friends is available now as an ebook from Amazon by clicking here  The paperback will be available from Amazon by mid November. 

Rachael Thomas’ debut novel, A Deal Before the Altar is published by Mills & Boon and available by clicking here

I thought that was a great post, and a lovely extract. Thanks to The Write Romantics for their blog, and I hope they have lots of success with Winter Tales, with their fund-raising for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the Teenage Cancer Trust, and of course with their individual projects, too.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Writing A Book In A Month, Part Two...

http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//138/media-138613/large.jpg
H.M.Bateman, via Wikimedia Commons
...including The Woman Who Said No To A Launch Party, Nibbling Is The Thief Of Time, and Creative Accounting, NaNoWriMo Style...

Last week I told you how I'd signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2014, to give me the perfect excuse to shove all other work aside and concentrate on a new project I've been thinking about for ages, but never managed to do much about.

You can read about how I joined here. Once I'd signed up, I became part of the NaNoWriMo community. Although it originated in the US, there are now members worldwide and where there are writers, a support group soon follows. My local NaNoWriMo chapter invited me to a grand launch party in Cheltenham, on Hallowe'en. The idea was to round off a social meet with a countdown to midnight. Then the writing would start. I was Trick or Treating elsewhere, so sadly had to refuse but I can't think I'd have got any writing done. I can't wait to start my project (working title, Tasting The Peach), but I need to get right into the zone before I can write. Complete silence and a total absence of crisps, drinks and nibbles is my recipe for writing productivity (Coo, what a diva! Ed.)  My office is in a part of the house furthest away from the kitchen. I have to shut myself off from everyone and everything, and well away from every distraction (especially food).

I hope everyone got off to a good start with their NaNoWriMo projects. I sat down at my desk at 6:30am on 1st November, and opened a new Scrivener file to begin. You can read about the amazing help (and enjoyable hindrance) Scrivener can be to any writing project here. To write a book in a month is a tough challenge. It takes an average of one thousand, six hundred and sixty seven words every single day to hot the 50K target. That's pretty relentless. NaNoWriMo offers all sorts of help and support, but I started with a shortcut of my own. As well as uploading the character files and background research I did in preparation for November 1st, I cut and pasted in the opening of my embryo novel, which was worked up for the most recent creative workshop organised by the Marcher Chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association. It was only a few pages, but it was better than siting down to a blank page.

At the end of each day, NaNoWriMo participants log the number of words they've written. No way was I going to claim I'd written nearly five thousand words in one day—and on a Saturday, at that! Apart from anything else, my word count would fall off a cliff on November 2nd, so I ignored my uploaded figure, and entered the words I actually wrote on the day.

So as at the start of Monday, 3rd November my total word-count is 6,129, although I've only written a daily average of 1,700 words.

My NaNoWriMo efforts are likely to be derailed as I've had some very exiting news. To be among the first to find out what it is, mail me at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk. As an incentive, I'll include an extract from Tasting The Peach.

PS: Don't forget to change (at) to @ in my email address.


Monday, 27 October 2014

Writing A Book In A Month, Part One

For thousands of writers all over the world, November means NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to start work on a novel on 1st November, with a goal of reaching a 50,000 word count by midnight on November 30th. 

If you’ve ever thought of writing a novel, NaNoWriMo is a great place to start. That unbreakable, unmistakeable deadline, coupled with a helpful website dedicated to this non-profit making enterprise, is a great way to turn ideas into words. In 2013, over 310,000 participants from all over the world made the leap from wishing to writing.  Sign up like they did, and you can get guidance, support, hints, and tips from professional writers and experienced participants via forums, email alerts and local groups. 

I'm coming in late to this game, and for a very special reason. My published novels (you can see them all here), whether historical or contemporary, come under the romantic fiction banner. I've always wanted to try something different, but I enjoy working in my familiar genres so I've never got around to branching out. My working life has always been very structured, but after attending a couple of RNA workshops (details here) I discovered the wonders of a free-form approach. Getting out of my writing comfort zone turned out to be less scary and more productive than I'd imagined.

November this year just happened to coincide with a gap in my work schedule, so last Monday I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2014. The process was easy. The prospect is chilling. All (!) you have to do is commit to writing a first draft of 50,000 words for your story, before the 30 November deadline. That works out at around 1,670 words per day. Every day. Once you’ve signed up, you start writing on November 1st. Each day, you log in to the NaNoWriMo site and update your word count on the header menu. It’s a stark measurement of your progress. I get stressed about reaching my usual10,000 word per week target as it is. Seeing my figures flagged up like that will really pile on the pressure. 

Everyone who reaches the 50,000 word target is a winner. From 20th November onwards, you can paste your completed novel into the NaNoWriMo site.  Once validated, you can apply for your winner's badge (the NaNoWriMo site allows you to scramble your text, so you don’t need to worry about security).

NaNoWriMo helps writers in all sorts of ways. There are forums where you can get support and inspiration from other sufferers (sorry, writers). There's even a section where you can pick up orphan plots, characters or settings suggested by other people, and generously offered to anyone who's stuck. The whole site is a well of inspiration, and a hub for networking. 

I’ve had a particular Alpha male living inside my head for quite a while, but he felt too damaged to be the hero of a classic romance. I knew he’d be locked away for a life sentence unless I found some way to free him on parole. Then my local chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association held a workshop where we each had to submit the first ten pages of a novel. These would be reviewed by all the other workshop members.  It felt like the right place to give him an airing, so I let my mind freewheel around the idea for a few days. In that time, my damaged hero solidified into a guy called Josh with a “dangerous" dog and a bad attitude. He met an anti-heroine, Sophia, whose backstory is even darker than his own. Then I sat down at the computer and fooled around with the pair of them until I had a sample long enough to submit to the workshop. 

The other writers thought my new project had a future, but a series of tight deadlines meant Inever got a chance to do anything more with those first ten pages. 

Luckily, I finished my current Work In Progress, His Majesty’s Secret Passion, in time to sign up for NaNoWriMo 2014. It's given me a concrete reason to devote one whole month to my new project. I’m raring to go, if a bit apprehensive. On the plus side, I’ve already got the first ten pages of my new novel, a folder full of character outlines and a general idea of what’s going to happen, to whom, and how.  On the minus side, typing “The End” seems a long way over the horizon, and it’ll be uphill all the way. 

I’ve cleared my diary, sharpened my pencils, and told the family I might be taking a holiday from the kitchen. If the words don’t come, we'll be living out of the freezer until December 1st.

Keep tabs on my progress by subscribing to my newsletter—just click on the subscribe button top right, or drop me a line at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk.

Are you going to join NaNoWriMo 2014?

Friday, 10 October 2014

A Covering Letter To Cover You With Glory...

By Antonio Litterio
You've heard of "show, don't tell"? In your covering letter, you've got to "sell, not tell".  Imagine you're surfing the net to check out holiday sites while your boss's back is turned. You've only got a few seconds, so it's the sites where one glance tells you all you want to know that get bookmarked, isn't it? The same goes for the letter you send with your manuscript when it's sent to an agent or publisher.

That letter is your landing page. It's your shop window, where you entice an overworked reader to stop and take a second, and maybe a third, look. Make it sleek, professional, uncluttered, and easy to understand. Writing for publication is a business, so make your communications businesslike. Keep it to one side of A4, and don't write it by hand. Get it printed.

ADDRESS:
Direct it to the right firm, and if possible, a named person.  This shows you've done your research, rather than copying-in multiple agents and publishers with a scatter-gun approach.

OPENING PARAGRAPH:
Tell them who you are, and give details of any relevant publishing history you might have. Be brief, and don't be afraid to blow your own trumpet, but beware. What's the first thing you do when you discover a new person? That's right, you check them out on Google. The writing industry is no different. If the Dalai Lama doesn't really ring you for advice each morning, your credibility will go the same way as your chances of reaching nirvana.

Include the length and genre of your book, the market you're targetting, and why you're the best person to tell this story. Explain why you're writing to them in particular. "The MegaPublisher website names you as the commissioning editor in charge of contemporary romantic fiction," shows you've read up on them. Make sure you've checked out their requirements, too. List what you're sending, which should ideally be no more than a synopsis, your manuscript and return postage if you're sending it via the postal service.

YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH:
This is the essence of your story, distilled into no more than a sentence or two. A synopsis is the proper place for full details of your story (you can find out how how to write the perfect one here).  Your covering letter must major in facts, to plant seeds of curiosity about your fiction. Cultivating an overworked editor's need to find out more about your work will stop them moving on to the next manuscript in their inbox.

YOUR FLOURISH:
Tell them why you write and for Pete's sake, be original. We all have "a compulsion". None of us "can help ourselves". Sad sacks that we writers are, we all "just have to write" and "can't go a day without doing it". Imagine the excitement of an editor who's read a million of those tired old trills when they come across something like "My sense of injustice provoked me to write this story," or "Solitary confinement after my conviction as a rogue trader left me with time to fill, so here's the inside track on pork belly futures," They'll dance with joy—as long as you don't go on to blow it all by claiming the Dalai Lama got you released.
Unless it's true, of course.

DON'T:
Wreck your chances by telling them it's a work of genius, you're the next E L James and you'll be ringing them in a week's time to arrange a date and time to sign your contract. They're much better qualified to make decisions about things like that than you are.

AND FINALLY:
It's not only self-pubbers who have to market their own books these days. Mainstream publishers expect a team effort. They have a lot invested in their authors, so everyone has to work hard at promoting their books. An unknown who shows they've got a good grasp of the marketing basics by presenting a faultless covering letter stands a much better chance of getting their manuscript read.

Can you condense your favourite classic book down into the one or two sentences of an elevator pitch?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Write The Perfect Synopsis...

By Antonio Litterio
The perfect synopsis is a single page of description to tempt an editor to read the sample of work you've sent with it. Publishers are so busy, unless your synopsis grabs their attention straight away and won't let go, they won't bother looking any further. They don't have time. Your manuscript's file will be deleted without being opened if it was sent by email, or shredded if you sent a physical copy but didn't include return postage. To give yourself the best chance of getting readers to see Chapter One, read on to find out what to include in a perfect synopsis–and what to leave out.

Use a standard font, in a size that makes it easy to read. Times New Roman, 12-point is ideal. DON'T reduce the font size any more than that. If it's difficult to read, your editor won't bother. Include your email address and the word "SYNOPSIS" to the header or footer, so your work can be easily identified.

Single-spacing (rather than the double-spacing used for your manuscript) means even a complicated synopsis can be squeezed into a couple of pages. That's the absolute maximum these days. If a story can't be explained in under two sides of A4, you've got problems. There's no hope of your editor reading further, or looking at your full manuscript. Wikipedia has nailed the entire plot and character developments of J R R Tolkien's enormous Lord of The Rings saga in 1,600 words. On my WP package, that's two A4 pages plus a few lines. Chances are you'll be able to make the synopsis of your own work a lot shorter than that.


A synopsis must sell your work and your writing style. It has to encourage agents and publishers to pick up your complete manuscript and read it. That’s something they won’t bother to do unless you convince them–fast–it’s worth their while. 

In the first line of your synopsis, give your contact details, the word count, and a reminder of the genre or line you're aiming for. Full details of your intended market should have been included in your covering letter, but you still need to make sure the right person's reading your work.

Concentrate on selling your story, major characters and themes while giving a flavour of your writing skill. Take a lot of time and effort to distil your work down into its most interesting and vital points. Remember, great thinkers such as Blaise Pascal and George Bernard Shaw have all apologised for writing long letters by saying they "didn’t have time to write a short one". 

Write in the present tense. Outline the most important plot points in the order they happen, and why. Include details of your characters’ development as it happens through your book, and the reasons for their inner and external conflicts. A synopsis isn't the place for riddles, cliffhangers, or hooks. Your potential editor can't afford to wonder what happens next. They must know.

Study the cover text and reviews of recently-published books in your genre. When something entices you to read the rest of the book, that’s exactly the type of writing which will make anyone reading your synopsis hungry for more. Never copy anybody else's work, but follow their example to produce a tempting result.

Don’t bother including details that don’t influence the plot. You may have spent hours deciding whether to give your heroine blue eyes or brown, or whether your hero likes cats. That's vital background detail when you’re building your story world, but an editor doesn’t need to know any of it. If your heroine must wear contacts to disguise her appearance, or an allergy to fur makes your hero sneeze when he's trying to hide from the villain, that's fine. Otherwise, leave it all out. 

If you’re submitting by mail, make sure you send everything in one envelope: return postage, your synopsis, cv and covering letter as well as your manuscript. Make sure it’s all cross-referenced, and includes your contact details. Busy publishing house won’t have time to marry up items that get posted separately, but they’ll be grateful for clear labelling on anything that’s accidentally separated in-house.

With all the components of your perfect synopsis in place, tighten up your prose as much as possible. Then go through your manuscript and make sure all the promise and talent you've shown in your synopsis is reflected in your text. Once it's perfect, it'll be time to target your submission. But that's another story...

For more hints and tips on writing (and cooking, beekeeping, gardening and eating cake...) sign up for my newsletter by mailing me at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk, replacing the (at) with @ and putting "newsletter" in the subject line. Subscribers get a free copy of my Tipsheet For The Career Writer. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Creative Writing: Self-Help And Suggestions...

View From The Barrow Wake by B.R.Marshall
If you want to write a best seller, self-help and sex are the subjects to get you the highest sales. Think of all the books on dieting that'll hit the shelves to coincide with our New Year Resolutions in January 2015, or the sales figures of Fifty Shades Of Grey.

Whatever your book is about, how are you going to get it written? You'll need imagination and determination, but it helps to have some encouragement along the way, too. This is where self-help and community action join forces.

I wrote here about how the Marcher Chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association held a creative writing workshop back in the spring. We each submitted ten pages of our work in advance. Then we all made notes on everyone else's work, and presented them on the day.

I found the experience of having other writers assess my work really helpful. After all, they're keen readers, too, and that's exactly the audience I want to entertain.  After a day spent talking about nothing but the craft of writing, we all went home after that workshop with lots of inspiration.

Along with everyone else, I was encouraged to finish the work I'd showcased. You can read an extract from The Survivors' Club here. Our workshop that day was the final push I needed to finish the whole book. After a final polish, it was packed off to the publisher. Everyone else arrived at our next meeting with similar stories. Nobody wanted to be the one to confess they hadn't done anything more with their project!

The need for advice, and a spur to turn it into action, are prime reasons to join a local group. The online writing community is great, but sometimes it's good to get out from behind your screen and meet other people face-to-face. If there isn't a writing group in your area already, why not start one yourself? It's got the potential to be much more productive that a simple book club, although there's nothing to stop you combining the two. All writers are readers, and you might encourage other people to pick up their pens. That's how fan fiction began, after all. You can cheer each other up when the going is tough, and cheer each other on when it's going well. All it takes is somewhere to meet. Plenty of tea and cake always helps the creative process, but that's optional!

If you want your meetings to be productive as well as sociable you need a good chairman (or chairwoman) to keep meetings on topic, and make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. Criticism should always be constructive, and try and keep to the ratio of three stars to every black hole–that is, highlight three times more good points than you give suggestions for improvement. It keeps meetings upbeat. That way, you all go home feeling your work has been praised more than it's been criticised. It makes everyone feel more confident about tackling the suggested revisions.

Do you belong to a writers' group or book club? What's the most useful piece of information you've been given?