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Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas Lights In The Darkness...

I haven't blogged for a while as my mother is dangerously ill, so everyday life has taken a back seat. Between the Winter Solstice on 21st December and the start of the New Year, the days here are short and dark. It's no wonder candles and coloured lights are so important during the holiday season. 

However you celebrate at this time of year, within whatever faith or maybe none at all, I hope you have a lovely time. Remember what the Dalai Lama says; My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. Keep your friends and family close in your hearts, and give them an extra hug whenever you can. 



Monday, 14 November 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Six—Beating The Curse Of The Saggy Middle....

This week marks the half-way point for everyone trying to write a novel in a month by taking part in NaNoWriMo 2016. Writing any book at any time is hard work, but around about now momentum slows. Authors hit a roadblock.  We slump against it, and so does our work. The Great British Bake-Off suffers the curse of the soggy bottom.  Writers live in fear of their manuscript having a saggy middle. Here are three ways to beat the block…

Bogart and Bacall in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep
Blast Your Way Through

Raymond Chandler wrote his best-selling crime fiction at high speed. He was a master of the all-action, snappy story. He said his specific method for beating any block in the type of book he wrote was to have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. I’m not suggesting you take Chandler literally, but throwing something unexpected into your fictional mix can kick-start your writing when you’re stuck. How would your major character react if they lost everything in a fire? Let them swing into action during a local disaster, or a national emergency. Remember, your fictional people aren’t only brought to life by the insights you give readers into their thoughts and actions. The way they interact with others shows us more facets of their characters.

It's a thought...
Tunnel Underneath

If you’ve read Part Five of Writing Your Book (you can find it here), you’ll know I’m a great believer in the power of dirty drafting. Let your ideas tumble out and capture them in a fast and furious stream of consciousness. There’ll be plenty of time to work on the finer points of your story in later drafts, but when you’re stuck at the mid-point of your story, try burying some treasure among your major characters. Dig down into the core of their being. Give them a phobia, a cause that’s dear to their hearts, an unusual hobby, or a tragic past. Forget about beating your word-count for an hour or so, and give yourself the freedom to have fun planting clues. Your iron-jawed Alpha male may never be blackmailed over his secret love for flower-arranging* in your final draft, but it would explain his appreciation of structural integrity and design.

*like many a samurai general, as your feral hero can explain with relish to his arch-enemy and potential blackmailer…

Go Over, Or Swerve

Warning: This method is an out-and-out cheat, so it’s only to be used in your first draft, when you’re really stuck. 

Abandon your work at the point where you're flagging, and type the words With one bound (s)he was free in centred, 20-point bold text. Then move straight on to whichever future scene in your story takes your fancy. You’ll be inspired, and the words will flow again. By the time you’ve finished your first draft and started going through your manuscript a second time, your subconscious will have collected your later ideas at the roadblock, ready for some remedial work. 

Whatever you do, don’t sell your readers short by using this third device  or anything like it in your final manuscript. They’ll be burning your book and flaming you alive online before you can say “…and she woke up to find it was all a dream…”!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Five—Getting Down And Dirty...

One of my three top tips in Part One of Writing Your Book is to create a “dirty” draft. This involves dashing off the first version of your book as fast as you can. 

If your writing time is limited, concentrate your creative energy on getting words down, rather than building images in your readers’ minds. The fun of doing that comes later, when you refine and polish your completed story.

Adapt the Pomodoro technique to help you squeeze every second out of your writing time. That is, set a kitchen timer for thirty minutes, write as fast as you can until the alarm goes off, then take a ten-minute break.

Don’t worry about adding details of your characters’ appearance, or your story’s setting at this stage. You’ll be going back over your work to add this later, along with research details, and spelling, grammar and punctuation checks. 

Getting your thoughts down in words in a high speed stream has some great advantages. You see real progress, fast. There’s nothing like a rapidly growing word count to feed your enthusiasm. Making a note of your daily word count is a real incentive to beat that figure the next time you sit down to write. If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo, feeding that figure into the community makes you part of the successful process.
http://mybook.to/HeartOfAHostage
“Let me have this one night with you, to remember...”
or http://bit.ly/2euCc60 (US)


The feeling of satisfaction is amazing. When you forge ahead, trying to do as much as you can in the shortest possible time, you carve straight through those nasty briar patches marked doubt and delay threatening to block the path of every writer. Think of an icebreaker ploughing through the Southern Ocean. Keep your head down, and keep going.

You’re never lost for words. It’s impossible to edit a blank page, but once you get something down in black and white, you can go back and develop your work by adding colour, detail and shades of meaning. Conflict drives the best stories, and its most reliable power source is dialogue between great characters. Put their emotions and arguments down into conversation. You can worry about the scenery later. 

The line of dialogue; ...let me have this one night with you, to remember... popped into my head as I woke up one morning. I built the story of Heart Of A Hostage around it by imagining how that conversation started, and how it would end. By writing that out as fast as I could, I made a commitment to write the book which has become one of my favourites. 

Monday, 31 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Four—On Your Marks, Get Set...


...and this is what you get after completing your marathon!
...Go!

November 1st each year fires the starting gun on National Novel Writing Month. Join up, and you commit to writing 50,000 words over the month of November (that works out at a shade under 1,700 words a day)

If you've read Part One of this series, (you can find it here), you'll know that making a firm commitment and telling other people what you're going to do makes it easier to succeed. Putting the news out there gives you an immoveable target, and spreading the word makes it harder for you to back out!

There are all sorts of participation and milestone badges to achieve through NaNoWriMo as you work toward the goal of writing your book.  Fill in your profile on the NaNoWriMo site to link up with thousands of other authors. You'll find encouragement, and you can then pay it forward by helping others through their own sticky writing patches.

Any completed word count is a success story. If you achieve the ultimate and manage to reach the heroic target of 50k words, you're judged a winner. You get a fancy certificate, like the one above. More importantly, you'll have the satisfaction of proving to yourself you can stick with your project for a concentrated period of thirty days.

I find NaNoWriMo really useful spur to productivity. It gives me the motivation to start a project, and other members give me the support to continue. Why not try it this year? You can find out more at NaNoWriMo.org—sign in, and you'll be ready for Day One tomorrow!

Monday, 24 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Three: Author! Author! Audience! Audience!

Let The Fun And Games Begin...
Deciding who will be your audience is a vital first step.  It affects everything, from the tone of your writing to whether you’ll aim for publication, or write simply for the pleasure of producing a finished piece of work.  

ONE IS ONE 
If you write only to please yourself, your audience may be small, but you’ll satisfy one hundred percent of it.

Always write what you want to read.  Then you’ll write from the heart. That’s the quickest way to appeal to other readers, too, if you decide to expand your market. It’s a great help when the going gets tough, too. As long as you’re enthusiastic about your work, you can get through the tough times. 

If you really can’t face cobbling together any more of the Game Of Thrones fanfic you’re only writing in the hope of selling a million, your writing life will become a living hell (dragons optional).

Befriend A Bookseller Today...
TWO’S COMPANY
Identify wider markets using the same process you used to decide what to write. If you love your work, it’s more likely to be appreciated by people like you. Keep your ear to the ground at your place of work, and any clubs, societies and social media groups you belong.  You’ll discover the subjects, people and places they enjoy, and the authors they like to read. 

Pick up on what’s popular in your circles. Read the books that are recommended by word-of mouth, which is always the most powerful selling tool. You’ll discover how to pitch your language and style to appeal to your prospective readers. Make use of your local independent bookshop. Keep them in business. One day you might need them to sell your book.  

Join online sites like Goodreads, to discuss with others what makes a book enjoyable, rather than just readable. Check out the best seller lists to get a feel for genre and length. Become your local library’s best customer.  Read as widely as you can, and try writing in different genres to find out where you’ll find the best fit.

Do your research into all possible markets beforehand. Write your own book, but with half an eye on what has worked for other people.  When you get to the stage of trying to sell your book, you’ll be tapping into a ready market.


The end result...myBook.to/HisMajestysSecret
THREE’S A CROWD
This is where you head out into the wide, often dangerous waters of aiming to catch an agent, or a publisher. Once upon a time publishing houses had huge advertising budgets, and handed out advances like chocolate at Christmas. All the author had to do was turn up at catered events, sign a few books, and smile. 

Those days are gone. Now you have to be prepared to work every bit as hard at promoting and selling your own work as if you were self-publishing. That’s an option I’ll discuss in a future blog, but there are big advantages in being published by a firm with enough staff to take some of the responsibility off your shoulders. Writing is more fun than selling, but you’ll have to do a fair bit of that even if you’re published by one of the big international publishing houses.  These days, they’re risk-averse and won’t take an author on unless they can guarantee a return on their investment. 


If you follow my tips for researching your market beforehand, you’ll be ready to sell hard, and sell well.  

Monday, 17 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Two: Your Three Superpowers...

If you want to write a book, all you need is three superpowers. The first is imagination, the second is observation, and the third is determination. 

They'll see you through from the beginning to the end of any writing project, no matter how complex. Everyone has those skills, and they can all be honed and improved.

IMAGINATION
Once we leave school, our imagination is pretty much put on the back-burner. Revive the fantasy habit. Let your mind drift on your commute, and make notes on your phone. Do a bit of wool-gathering before you drop off to sleep at night. Keep a notebook and pen handy next to your bed, so you can jot down ideas that come to you in the middle of the night. You might think you’ll remember them when you wake. Chances are you won’t.

Some expressions you just can't put into words....
OBSERVATION
Train yourself to notice details. Watch and listen all the time. Readers are fascinated by the little things that inspire, intrigue or infuriate everyone. Listen to the way people speak in real life, and you’ll write more authentic dialogue. Try putting into words the expressions of people you see on the bus, at a wedding, or in a hospital waiting room. Snippets drawn from your real life experiences will help readers see things in a different way.

DETERMINATION
Einstein said; great minds have purpose, others have wishes. Creating a mission statement (see Part One of Writing Your Book) is a good start, but you’ve got to stick with your project right to the end. 

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and it’s exactly the same with writing. You’ll get such a buzz from creating your first few pages, it'll get you out of bed early, and keep you up late into the night. Elation at reaching the fifty-thousand word mark will push you on to the point where you type The End. 

Readers make the best writers—discuss!
It’s the tricky slack water between those points where you’ll need determination. This is where sharing your dream is important. Tell someone who’ll understand, and they’ll be there to cheer you on when times get tough. You’ll find it hard to disappoint them. That will keep you going. 

Try out your superpowers this week. Imagine your perfect hero or heroine, and put them in your own situation. How would they cope with all the challenges of your daily life?

You can catch up with Part One of Writing Your Book here. To make sure you don’t miss the rest of this series, follow this blog by clicking on the "subscribe" button above.



Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part One: Three Top Tips To Get You Going...


Here in England, we're moving from summer (wet and cold) into autumn (wetter and colder). It's time to put away the barbecue and suntan lotion. Instead of retreating into a world of comfort food and early nights, why not use the long, dark evenings to make your dream of writing a book come true? Writing can be fitted into any spare moment. It's light, indoor work with no heavy lifting—and I'm writing a book is a better excuse for staying home than I'm washing my hair. 

You can make a start while you're curled up with a mug of hot chocolate in front of a roaring log fire*. What could be better than that?

PERFECT PLANNING
Like making New Year's Resolutions, deciding to write a book is easy to do, but tempting to abandon. Fail to plan, and you plan to fail. Make it easy to succeed and hard to give up by formulating a mission statement.  State exactly what you want to do, and give yourself a time limit. Something like;

I will write a romantic novel 70,000 words long by 31st December 2017.

Write it out and pin it up where you'll see it every day. Put a pop-up on your phone. Talk about your ambition, and tell people what you're aiming for. It'll be easier to succeed if you're too embarrassed to back out. When your friends badger you for details, you'll have to be ready with news of your progress...or some creative reasons for stalling.

GET ORGANISED
Make time for writing. Commit  to getting up an hour earlier, or go to bed an hour later. Make a big thing of choosing the tools of your craft. All you need are the basics, but browsing round stationery shelves is encouraging and costs nothing. 

When you get to the stage of submitting your manuscripts to a publisher or agent you'll need a word processor, but don't let the lack of one put you off starting to write.You can make notes on phones and ipads, but nothing beats the anticipation of opening up a brand new notebook and writing those first lines by hand. Make sure you've got something by the side of your bed, ready to jot down the brilliant ideas that pop into your head overnight. Try and keep a dedicated space ready for writing, no matter how tiny. You'll need somewhere to keep your research notes, paperwork and books on the craft of writing. 

DIRTY DRAFTING
It's all too easy to get distracted, trying to decide whether you're a planner working out every detail of your book beforehand, or a pantster who makes it up as they go along. If you're all fired up and ready to go, just write. If your writing time is limited, don't use your creative energy on anything other than getting words down. Set a kitchen timer for thirty minutes, and write as fast as you can until the alarm goes off. I find writing out dialogue is a great way to make real progress, fast. There's nothing like quick results to give you a boost. Your characters come alive and once they are real to you, plot developments suggest themselves. This first, "dirty" draft gets you used to creating text. You then go back later and refine it, adding things like period detail, and descriptions of place. 

I'll be posting more hints and tips over the next few weeks. To make sure you don't miss any of them, sign up at the top of this page!

*If you're all-electric (or gas), just exercise your imagination. The comforting hot drink is pretty much compulsory, though.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Time, Tide And Technology...

This is Canary Wharf, in London's Docklands development. OH took this photo from the balcony of our hotel the last time we stayed there. We had a beautiful suite, with the Thames running below our windows, and a perfect view of the city. At low tide the shore was exposed, along with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam.

It was on that mud, just over a hundred years ago, that my grandfather's family scraped a living. In the early twentieth-century version of repair, re-use and recycle, they salvaged everything they could to sell on, or use themselves. They went everywhere on foot, and lived in conditions you only see in the film Oliver! nowadays. As a child, my grandfather was saved from his awful hand-to-mouth existence by the charity Barnardos, and later by signing up with the Royal Corps of Signals in the British Army.

Grandad wouldn't recognise the old place now. These days, Docklands is a place of high finance and expense-account lunches. Planes skim over the sight of his miserable early life every few minutes, on their way into London City airport. Nobody walks anywhere, unless they are so hard-up they can't afford public transport.  The National Health Service, together with networks of rules, regulations and safeguards should mean no family struggles as my grandfather's did.


http://mybook.to/MyDreamGuy
Find out more at myBook.to/MyDreamGuy
That's a relief, but with big gains has come at least one loss.  The only thing Grandad liked to remember about this early life was the community spirit. Everyone struggled to survive, but they did it together. There was always time to talk with your neighbours—if only to tell them the bailiffs were coming!

They used to say it takes a whole village (or in Grandad's case, warren) to raise a child. These days we have electronic babysitters, with screens instead of faces. With sipper bottles, onesies, adult colouring books and Haribo adverts, nobody has to grow up if they don't want to. There's no time to talk to anyone, and no need, either—if you're glued to Pokemon Go, nobody's going to disturb you.

It's a form of escapism. I'd rather lose myself in a book!

What do you think is the best thing about life today, and what's the worst? There's a copy of my feel good, light-as-a-summer breeze romance, My Dream Guy, for a comment pulled out of my beekeeping hat by midnight on 8th August. If you can't comment, email me instead! christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Notes From The RNA Conference, 2016 —Author Marketing: Brand, Plans And Goals

I had a great time at the RNA Conference 2016 in Lancaster last week. It was four days of networking, industry appointments, and fun. 

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting some of the notes I made on each of the sessions I attended, so follow this blog using the sign-up on the right of this page to make sure you don't miss anything!

To kick off, here are a few bullet points from the Author Marketing Session, presented by that great double act, best-selling authors Liz Fenwick and Brigid Coady. All the photographs are by John Jackson. I know my limitations behind a lens...
Brigid Coady
  • Start by writing the best book you can. All your marketing efforts should take second place to that. 
  • A brand is a promise. Every interaction with your readers should add value to your brand, and create an emotional attachment.
  • Katie Fforde and Carole Matthews are fantastic “brands”
  • What are you willing to share online? Does it fit with what you write?
  • R J Ellory, the crime writer who faked his own reviews, was cited as a "damaged brand" which is taking a long time to recover.
Liz Fenwick
  • Avoid politics and religion when you’re interacting online
  • Keep a flow of information and interaction between you and your readers on Facebook, Twitter etc, always promoting the same values
  • Find out everything you can about your target audience. If they’re Australian, make sure you’re on social media at midnight, etc. Be where they are, when they’re there. 
    Lancaster University Campus
  • Use scheduling services  such as Tweetdeck, but take care tragic international events don’t overtake your happy tweets.
  • Support local bookshops and library campaigns to get your name out there. 
  • Engage your reader with everything from the cover, through blurb, bio, photo and your first page.
  • Use Facebook Author page to monitor stats and help understand your audience.
  • Liz and Brigid decided they spent about 3 hours writing and 1 hour on marketing, every day.
Don't forget to follow my blog by signing up at the top of this page, to make sure you don't miss the next instalment of my notes from the RNA Conference, 2016.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Sunshine And Showers...

Stormy Weather Ahead!
This year, instead of either weeks of unrelenting rain or continuous boiling sunshine, we’ve had a mixture of the two. 

There have been a couple of beautiful days, when everyone remembers the words; “flaming June”, followed by cloud, occasional drizzle, one or two old-fashioned deluges, then back to sunshine again. 

Given the pattern of the last decade this pattern feels odd, but it’s much more like the weather I remember from my childhood. When air travel was expensive, most people holidayed at home rather than jet away for guaranteed sunshine. My family always stuck it out in Britain, opting to stay in hotels and holiday lets. When OH arranged a camping holiday in Wales for the summer after we got married, I was looking forward to showing him all the places I’d loved before we met. 

myBook.to/MyDreamGuy
Visit myBook.to/MyDreamGuy now!
A few mornings of waking up to find frost on the inside of our tent cooled my enthusiasm for life under canvas.  Early starts because of the cold meant we had hours to fill in freezing conditions before any of the shops or attractions opened. We weren't short of ways to keep warm (!) and put it down to experience, but the idea of holiday memories being so much better than reality sowed the seeds which grew into my short romance My Dream Guy. Here's a taste of the finished story...

Emily is dreading the thought of going camping in the wettest summer for years. Only the idea of catching up with a gorgeous local guy again stops her from staying at home—but she’s in for an almighty shock. Then her distracted boyfriend Jack springs some even bigger surprises. 

Can Emily’s holiday from hell ever have a happy ending? Pick up My Dream Guy and find out!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Pupdate! A Puppy Update...

Alex at 7 weeks old...
I knew becoming novice dog-owners would be tough, but I didn't realise we'd be riding such a roller-coaster for a lifetime (sorry, nine weeks).

First, Alex didn't sleep through the night until he'd been here for four days.  It was harrowing to hear him scream for hours on end. He'd eventually drop off to sleep, exhausted, only to wake half an hour or so later and start howling again. 

Soon we were all —Alex included—shattered from lack of sleep. OH moved into his office in town  and  cancelled the week's holiday he'd booked to catch up on chores around the house. Our son, who has wanted a dog all his life, did all the research into breeds and breeders and paid for Alex out of his savings, was pretty disillusioned by the racket and sheer, unending misery of it all. 

We racked our brains. What was the puppy so unhappy? He was well fed, had water, toys, a comfy bed, the radio  and a nightlight. We turned the heating off overnight, in case he was upset by the sound of the boiler firing. All that did was to make us all freezing cold, as well as miserable.   


...what a difference 8 weeks makes!
Staggering outside in the half-light at 4am for Alex's first toilet break of the day, while he was busy I bagged up the usual mess left behind by the deer that somehow manage to break in each night.  Then it struck me—to get from the northern boundary of the garden to wreck our fruit trees, they had to walk across the terrace, only inches from where Alex was (supposed be) sleeping inside, under the window in the living room. 

It only took minutes to shift the puppy's crate into the kitchen, well away from any route the deer might take on their way to the orchard. That night, Alex had his first experience of unbroken sleep since leaving his breeder, and so did we!

If only transporting Alex by car was so easy to solve. We started off by feeding him in the stationery vehicle then taking short drives to the end of the lane, then to a friend's house, gradually increasing the distance each time. It doesn't seem to have any effect. He spends the whole journey yodelling fit to burst.

The cat is another hot topic. Alex was brought up with cats, so he thinks our huge and ancient pest control officer is bound to love him as much as he wants to love the cat. The cat has other ideas. For the first few days, he refused to come into the house. He's gradually been coaxed back in, but won't share any space with Alex. Whenever they meet he swells up to twice his already impressive size, hisses and spits. Alex assumes this is a friendly gesture. He advances, and gets firmly cuffed by the cat for his trouble. It's as though the Archbishop of Canterbury and Richard Dawkins stumble upon each other several times a day. Unconditional love meets immoveable obstacle... 

Have you got any solutions for our puppy problems?

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Update on Alex, 9th May

Lessons in the orchard, 7th May 2016
Success! If I never teach Alex anything else, I won't worry—he will now do the one thing that's vital here, 365 days a year. He'll stay quiet outside the greenhouses, while I'm working inside. That doesn't sound like much, but his first "puppy frenzy" while he was inside a greenhouse with me sent pots, canes and labels everywhere. From that moment, he was banned until he's old enough to be more sensible.

I shut him outside: he screamed the place down and battered at the door (a cacophony which echoed round the valley horribly at 5am!) until he managed to slide it open wide enough to get his nose in. After that, widening the gap was easy so it was no obstacle. He led down, and pushed his feet against the door to slide it sideways, so I now have to block it.

It took three more visits to the greenhouse for me to teach him that I only take any notice of him when he stays quiet. Feeling like the world's most hard-hearted dog-owner, on the first occasion I ignored him completely while he howled and warbled.

That time, the racket went on for minutes. When he stopped, I went out and made a fuss of him, and handed over plenty of treats.

On our second visit, the noise only carried on for about thirty seconds.

The third time, he sat down outside the house and eventually fell asleep in the shade. That's been the pattern ever since, thank goodness.

Result!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Puppy Power!

Dogs have owners, cats have servants.
DD always wanted a puppy. We said no, as they're such a responsibility and the whole family has to be committed to the idea as dogs are so dependent on humans. Eventually, we gave in and let her have a tiny kitten instead, as cats are more able to fend for themselves. Jynx the Norwegian Forest Cat grew into an enormous hunter of four-legged furry creatures. He's an old timer now, but although he'll catch anything from shrews to squirrels, he's terrified of everything else. This includes our neighbour, who fed him on the couple of occasions our family has all been away from home together.

Son No. 1 started asking for a dog the second he could talk, arguing that the cat belonged to his sister and he didn't have a pet of his own. We held out for years, but so did Son. Nothing would put him off. We told him he could open an animal sanctuary once he owned his own house. He kept on. Once he was fifteen and thinking about working with animals, it seemed like more than just a phase. We told him to do all the research, hoping the costs and work involved would deter him.  It turned out that was the worst thing we could have said. He attacked the task with the zeal of a Dr Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Breeds were narrowed down, and he decided he wanted a male golden retriever puppy. He even decided on a name for it—Alex.

Once Son No. 1 saved up enough money, he tracked down Kennel Club approved golden retriever breeder Gaynor Vines.  Some of Gaynor's puppies have gone to be companions and assistance dogs for autistic children, so it sounded like a partnership made in heaven. Son No. 1 still had to convince Gaynor that he (and the rest of our family) were fit and proper people to take on the big responsibility of owning a golden retriever for anything up to fifteen years. He passed the test, paid his deposit, was
Alex on viewing day
put at the top of the waiting list, and we settled down to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Nature is unpredictable. Before any purebred golden retrievers became available, a lovely litter of retriever/labrador cross puppies arrived, and our son fell in love.

There were ten babies, seven girls and three boys. A viewing day was arranged so potential owners on the waiting list could pick which puppy they wanted. As Jeff was top of the list, his appointment was first, at 10:30am one Saturday morning. Armed with his list of things to look out for, we went to view the puppies. First we met their mum and dad, Ellie and Freddie. You can see a lovely picture of Freddie on the banner of the Care and Connect Facebook Page. Both parents were quiet, friendly and most importantly, their whole canine family had been home reared in company with several cats. We wanted to be sure of this, so our new arrival wouldn't bother with Jynx.

The puppies were only five weeks old, and their resistance to the outside world was still low. We had to go through a disinfectant footpath and weren't allowed to touch the puppies ourselves, only look at them as they played around on the other side of a low partition.  It was impossible to choose between between the three little dog puppies. They were all beautiful (of course!) but more importantly they were equally well grown, lively and inquisitive. We asked the breeder loads of questions, and watched the puppies playing with each other, and with her. They had the run of most of a large room, with lots of toys. There were unusual things, too—a collection of metal ladles and spoons, and  tunnels made from short lengths of wide plastic pipe. Their environment was designed to make sure they grew up accustomed to all sorts of unexpected sounds and experiences. It would be our job to carry on this work of socialising Alex to people, places, and things after we brought him home.

When you're getting ready to welcome a new puppy into your home, there's as much to do as when you're waiting for a human baby. And the similarities don't stop there! Next time, there are tears at bedtime and sleepless nights, so make sure you don't miss the next episode.

For more news about  Alex, life here at Tottering Towers and (with luck) a recipe for Orange Polenta cake, drop me an email at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk with the words "Spring Newsletter" in the subject line.



Sunday, 13 March 2016

Is There Anybody There?

Before you read any further, if you're a human and you've opened this blog, please go straight to the comments and type "!". Then come back here, and read on...

I love reading other people's blogs, and blogging myself. This site gets plenty of traffic, but not many comments. It makes me wonder whether it's worth spending time on writing, posting and checking blog entries here, when I could be working on my next book, or out in the garden enjoying this lovely spring sunshine.

It's not as though I'm vanishing from the blogosphere entirely. As well as my own blog on this site, I blog on 14th of each month for Authorsoundrelations.  I also contribute to Janice Rosser's site OAPSchat, as well as taking part in blog tours, and guest spots with other authors. You can always find me at my website, christinahollis.com, too.

At the moment I'm behind with my writing schedule for 2016, so I'm going to be blogging here less frequently for a while. To paraphrase the politicians favourite phrase, I'll be spending more time with my Work In Progress :)

Of course, if you want to get in touch with me, come rain, shine, or looming deadline, just add a comment below!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Four Top Tips To Get Your Writing Noticed...

There’s huge pool of writing talent roaming the internet, and every one of them wants to be the next J.K Rowling or E.L James.  Here are three tips to help your work get noticed.

1. Read lots of best-selling books, especially of the type you want to write. Authors become popular because they know what readers like, and expect.  Background research helps you understand your audience.  Write first and foremost to please yourself, but if you want to entertain others as well, make sure you tailor your work to their likes and dislikes. Check out author guidelines, such as the ones produced by romance publishers Mills and Boon. http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/

2. When showcasing your work, first impressions count. They shape a reader's experience. William Shakespeare would still be a genius if he'd scratched words with a stick on wax tablets, but his texts would have been thrown away without a second glance. He knew how to present his work, and to whom. Times have changed, but some basic facts remain the same. An editor with piles of manuscripts to check will start with the ones that are easiest to read.  It's human nature to assume that a writer who can't be bothered to make an effort with presentation hasn’t put their whole heart and soul into a project.  

3. If you're sending off a paper version of your manuscript, make sure the lines are double spaced. Use white paper, print only on one side in black ink, in Times New Roman 12 point or other easily read font. Include a front sheet with the title, your writing name if you're using one, the word count and your contact details. Type "The End" at the end of your sample (of course!), so nobody’s left in any doubt, and add your details again. That's it. You don’t need fancy bindings, Gothic script or coloured ink. Just make it clean and clear. If you’re sending a submission by email, find out how your contact wants your work sent—as attachments, or samples in the body of the email message. If you use a Mac, supply your text as a Word document too, just in case. And always keep copies of everything.

4. Dreams of becoming a full-time, professional writer face stiff competition.  If your first move is to look for an agent or a publisher, choose carefully. Research firms, and individuals, via the Internet, or an up-to-date copy of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Don't send your steamy sex-saga to a publisher who only deals in children's books, for a start. Make sure you send off exactly what is asked for, too—no more, and no less. Ideally, don’t start approaching agents or publishers until your book is finished. If it isn’t complete, tell them so, and when they can expect to see the whole thing.


Good luck!

Monday, 29 February 2016

Leap Day—A Second Chance To Start Again...

How are you getting on with those New Year Resolutions which all started so well back on January 1st? I know, I know, I've fallen down on the job, too—but with 2016 being a Leap Year and Leap Day (29th February) falling on a Monday, it's the perfect time to wipe the slate clean and try again. Here are three tips to give you a boost—

1. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN ACTIONS - How often have you heard someone say “I could have anything I wanted if only I had more money/more time/a better looking partner...or any one of a hundred other excuses. We all like to indulge in a bit of wishful thinking, but dreaming doesn’t change anything.  Appreciating what we’re blessed with already and building on it is the only way to get results. For instance, if (like me) you can’t understand why it’s impossible to lose weight, get checked out by a doctor to rule out any underlying medical condition, then try keeping a food and exercise diary for a few days.  It really helps, and I speak from experience!

2. BELIEVE  - it doesn’t matter what your goal is, the important thing is that you set one. Then buckle down and channel everything you’ve got toward achieving it. “Begin with the end in mind”, Steven Covey says in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Make sure your mind is trained on your ultimate prize, whatever that might be. Wanting to write a book isn’t enough. You must believe with all your heart that you can do it. A solid core belief is the only thing that will get you through the hours and hours of writing, re-writing, rejection and editing it needs to reach a goal like that. Half-hearted procrastinators need not apply! 

3. DO IT NOW - whatever "it" is. By the law of unintended consequence, it’ll take twice as long tomorrow, and three times longer next month. When you keep putting off the evil moment when you must balance your budget, send that email, or break off a relationship, the harder it becomes - and all the time the dread of doing it casts a deepening shadow over your every waking minute. When you’ve got a lot of frogs to eat, the saying goes, eat the ugly frog first. Making the initial effort is always the worst part of any task. 

Whatever you want to achieve in life, you are the only one who can really make it happen. Identify what you want, go for it, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that whatever you achieve, you’ll have given it your very best shot.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

How Do You Fancy Your Very Own Irresistible Bachelor?

Only 99 pence!
Click on the Amazon Advert to the right
The Irresistible Bachelor Collection, starring my very own Count Of Castelfino, is on offer right now for only 99 pence. Here's a taste of what you can enjoy by clicking on the advert in the right hand sidebar...

Meg Imsey is determined to start her new job in the gardens at the Villa Castelfino, although the new count disapproves.  Assuming he’ll keep well away, Meg goes off to the walled garden and loses herself in her work until Count Gianni lets himself into her sanctuary…

‘I never dreamed anyone would disturb me in here. The door was locked.  I have the only key.  How did you get in?’  she blustered, embarrassment mixed up with growing anger.
One hand in his pocket, Gianni strolled over to the old medlar tree where Meg had hung her hat and shirt.  Plucking them from the branches like particularly desirable fruit, he made his way over to her.  He took his time.  It was painfully obvious to Meg that he was making her wait for her clothes.  She wasn’t in the mood to be toyed with.  As soon as he got close enough she snatched her things from his hands and pulled them on.  He watched with something close to amusement.  Then he drew a second key from his pocket with a flourish.
‘As I said –I live here.  I have a copy of every key in the place.’
Barefoot but otherwise decent, Meg rallied.
‘That doesn’t explain why you felt the need to come in here.’
‘It wasn’t a need.  It was a want.  I wanted to see you, Megan.’
There was a haunting look in his dark eyes.  It was so delicious she could hardly meet his gaze. Nervous that he might be able to read all sorts of things from her own expression, she looked down at the coarse wiry grass at her feet.  All sorts of hope were beginning to stir deep within her… 

Copyright Harlequin Mills and Boon Limited.


I don’t use real people in my books, but that scene is based around a spectacular medlar tree in a real Tuscan garden.  It is planted directly below a terrace, which gives spectacular views of the snowy white flowers and later the strange, wide-mouthed fruit. The brownish medlars look something like giant rose hips. They are picked while still as hard as conkers and stored on flat trays until soft and wrinkled.  The overripe pulp has an odd, winy smell.  When boiled up with lemon juice and sugar, then strained it makes a glorious amber jelly to serve with cold meats and salamis.  It’s an acquired taste, somewhere between wine and cider but without the alcohol.  I’ve found a recipe for Medlar fudge, too, but that has so many other delicious ingredients (cream, brown sugar, maple syrup etc) that I suspect they mask any medlar flavour.  A pile of pancakes, some home made vanilla ice-cream and a drizzle of medlar fudge sauce sounds like a perfect pudding for those freezing spring nights when summer days in Tuscany seem a long, long way away....

The Count Of Castelfino is included in the The Irresistible Bachelor Collection, which is on special offer right now for only 99pence, so take advantage of this special offer now!