Bella’s first novel, It Started at Sunset Cottage was released by Harper Impulse. She was a runner-up for the New Talent Award at the 2013 Festival of Romance and a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
So here we are at the start of a new exciting year with all the promise and potential that it holds. People around me are shunning chocolate, joining the gym and taking up new challenges. Someone said to me that their goal for 2015 was to learn a new language which I think is most admirable and it got me thinking…
Two years ago I embarked on the challenge of finishing my first novel and to help me achieve that I joined the RNA New Writers Scheme. The RNA has been simply brilliant at introducing me to like-minded people and I’ve made some terrific friends but most importantly I’ve learnt shed loads about writing and publishing. It occurred to me that one of the things I’ve learnt is a new language – the language of writing and publishing.
Let me explain: The new people I had surrounded myself with were using familiar words but my understanding of them was very different. For example – talking about an ‘Advance’ (Advance To Go on the Monopoly board perhaps?), ‘WIP’ (useful item wielded particularly well by Indiana Jones) ‘Jackets’ (Easy one – they are either potatoes or an item of clothing), ‘Royalty’ (jolly nice posh family that appear in magazines), ‘Beta Readers’ (people still struggling with the big words), ‘POD’ (Home for peas or trendy Eco house?) and asking me if I was a ‘Pantser’* too. I mean really, I wanted to make friends but it all seemed too soon for underwear discussions.by
So here we are on the downward straight to Christmas – isn’t it exciting?! There is probably no easier way to divide an audience than to ask them about Christmas. As many people that relish it and countdown from August (No, that isn’t me) and get their festive jumpers washed and ready in October (OK, that might be me) there will be the same number of people that either don’t care or actively loathe it.
And just like religion and politics it is very unwise for any of the ‘Happy Christmas’ gang to try to persuade the opposition to defect – it’s just not going to happen. I accepted this years ago and I am a lot happier for it. I will still continue to wear my reindeer jumper with pride and extoll the virtues of roasted chestnuts.
Some people carry on regardless, mumble obscenities under their breath (yes, I do do that but it’s not Christmas related) they try to block it out, pretend it’s not happening and avoid all things festive. But however you feel about the season of good cheer there is one thing most people cannot avoid and that’s Christmas shopping.
Again the camp will be divided into those that get excited about finding the perfect gifts and those that anything will do, those that plan out trips to specific stores and those who grab a few things at the local petrol station.
It will be no surprise to regular readers that I obsessively plan out my approach to Christmas. There is a spreadsheet with columns for budget, ideas, actual items purchased, cost and a column to tick when the items are wrapped. I know this would drive many to the gin bottle but it works for me. It also means that most of my shopping is completed by now with just a few things left to buy (mainly so I can enjoy the late night shopping and Christmas markets – so much better when you are buying things).by
There are lots of things that make me happy, some ordinary and some slightly odd (yes some of these are people). If I were to produce a list of things that make me happy it would be vast and even the speed readers amongst you would still be ploughing through it come Christmas Day. (I actually read quite slowly, I think I may be a slightly remedial reader but there are worse afflictions right?)
So if I know that there are so many things that make me happy why, oh why, do I dwell on the other stuff? Don’t get me wrong I’m not on the edge or anything but I do find myself worrying over things that I shouldn’t be wasting valuable energy on. For example Christmas presents (apologies for using the C word twice in one post) I try really hard to find great gifts for people, spending hours trawling gift guides, shops and online to make sure I have something they will really enjoy (sometimes I question this when I open my own parcels). However, I do suffer from buyer’s remorse – that feeling when you suddenly question your purchase. Is it the right thing? Will they like it/use it? Have I spent too much/too little.by
Now I may just be having a grumpy day but just lately there seems to be so many questionnaires that people do online and then share the results to tell me all sorts of bizarre things for example: what song are you most like? Which Harry Potter character are you? How Swedish are you? What age are you going to live until? (How creepy is that one?) and a very long list of other auto generated random nonsense that lands on my Twitter and Facebook feeds.
I have to admit that I am a little suckered in by it because I frequently find myself going “Oh, I wouldn’t have said she was a Pinot Grigio more like a Sancerre.” And then merrily wasting time choosing my favourite colour/90’s TV show/Online company/picture of something blue/Other such nonsense which is going to miraculously provide me with some incredible insight into my persona or more frighteningly into my future.
I know it is very easy to be distracted by the internet and a couple of minutes here and there does no harm, unless you are Katie Hopkins, but these questionnaires are getting sillier and more obscure. And who does one, gets to the punchline and goes “Knowing that has changed my life?” – Continue readingby
Now here’s an interesting phrase I heard recently ‘personal branding’. My immediate thoughts were ‘Someone has a new tattoo’ which was closely followed by ‘or pencils with their name on’. Do you remember the pencils by the way? They were great, new school term, new pencil case and your own pencils with your own actual name on them – genius! (Makes note to order some for myself)
Anyway, it turns out I was completely wrong on both counts. Personal branding is all about you and it’s is quite important if you are promoting yourself or your own business. We are all familiar with big company brands like Disney, Coca Cola and Cadburys but what does it mean for us as individuals?
So I did a bit of research (which we all know means I watched funny cats on You Tube for 20 minutes and then googled personal branding). There was loads of content to read but here are the highlights I picked up that I thought might be useful:
o What is unique about you?
o What do you want people to remember?by
Hopefully at some point in time you have faced the inevitable. You have given in to your deepest most feelings, (no not the one about the biscuits) those ones that have been telling you to stop hiding your true self. To embrace the real you and accept who you are. And declare to the world, with pride, I AM A WRITER.
Well done for that, it’s not easy and I hope you are coping with the repeated questions of So when will you get published? When can I buy it in a shop? How much have you made so far?’
It’s truly fun isn’t it? Why are you shaking your head at the screen (I can actually see you… Oh, yes I can… Anyway…) No, it isn’t fun, but mostly they do mean well. Even when they say, ‘Don’t you think it’s time you stopped wasting your time on this?’ Or ‘It’s only a hobby isn’t it?’ Honestly, they still only mean well. The thing is they really don’t understand. They may have known you all your life or just met you in the supermarket queue but the thing is you could spend a lifetime trying to explain but they will most likely never really get it.
The reason for this? (there are a lot of questions this week, I hope you are keeping up.) The reason is… drum roll please… they are not writers.
I can tell you are not blown away by that answer. Because you are most likely thinking that these people know you very well and they’ve probably witnessed the blood sweat, tears and coffee that you have poured into your writing, so surely they must understand – but trust me it takes a writer to understand another writer.by
I have covered this in a previous column but this is School Holiday season and it’s particularly hard. Children are like limpets but with a more advanced sticking ability.
First of all don’t feel guilty about wanting to spend some of your hard-earned holiday time on your writing – IT IS OK. The children will get the lion’s share of your time, which goes without saying. It’s most likely that soggy middle that needs some attention now (soggy middle of your novel that is).
So the big question is how do you find the time when the offspring are demanding your every waking moment and a few of the night-time ones too?
No1 – Be prepared. I know you love stationery so make sure you always have a notebook and a pen (one that actually works not that free one) with you at all times. (I will excuse you in the shower/bath but have one ready for when you come out). This means you won’t miss an opportunity to write, even if it’s just the odd sentence of brilliance – they all add up.
No2 – Be vigilant. Time is a crafty little thing and these childfree moments creep up on you. So you have to recognise them and grab them quickly. Usually they occur when the child/children are unexpectedly distracted – Loom bands is working well in our house but the length of time they hold child’s attention is varied. They can be unexpected so watch carefully for those ones. An example would be ‘Picking fluff out of Daddy’s tummy button’ bought me 9 minutes the other day!
No3 – Be creative. Set them up with tasks or games that they will hopefully become engrossed in and will leave you in peace for a few minutes without trashing the place. Make sure you sell this in at the start e.g. “Mummy/Daddy (I do have some male followers and I am all for equal opportunities) has some work to do so instead of you having to sit quietly and be bored would you like to…?”by
I can write a novel, I have proved it by doing it twice. Neither are published yet but that’s not the point. The point is I can write circa 100,000 words relatively easily but when I have to write something in a card my mind goes blank. The worst scenario is when you are under pressure. When someone sidles up to your desk, plonks a card down and says ‘Freda is leaving, write something funny’. I actually think one of my brain cells dies and it is most definitely one devoted to writing funny things.
I generally manage the situation by panicking and asking for more time, which results in lots of huffing and eye rolling until they eventually slope off, leaving me to sweat over the card. So then I start to read what everyone else has put – this does not help. All this does is waste more time, highlight that most of the office are just like you and have nothing funny to say, not that this has stopped them penning it in the card.
However, there is even more pressure if you have to go first, always try to avoid this scenario. There will be the odd one or two who have put in something slightly humorous and right there is the spark that I needed. I now have a challenge and I have a target to beat (not that I am in anyway competitive, you understand). At this point I find it works well to pretend you have a meeting and head off carrying papers or laptop, supporting a purposeful stride. Find an empty meeting room and get to work.
I will start by having a one woman brainstorm – What is Freda known for? Are there any funny stories already that I just need to recall? Is there an opportunity to play on words here? What did she get up to at the last office party? After much head scratching an idea will alight. I write it out in draft and see if it needs editing to make it punchy. Once I am happy with it I need to find a space in the card. (Why do the people who say the dullest things have the biggest writing?) Eventually I reach the point where my mission is accomplished and I return the card with a smug look to the card co-ordinator.by
My husband rolls his eyes when I mention that Book Club evening is approaching as his opinion of our book club is that it’s a boozy night out with the girls. This opinion may have been influenced by the rare occasions that I have fallen giggling into the house at some late hour.
Many pieces of advice that you will see for writers often say that you need to read. My writing tutor is forever drumming into us the benefits of reading and more importantly reading as a writer. By that she means, doing a bit of analysis as you read. Looking for things like how it starts, pace, seeing where the author have added description and where they have left it out, where they have utilised dialogue and how it develops the characters. Also trying to understand what the key things are that make you want to keep reading. That elusive page turning quality that is so often referred to but nobody can quite put their finger on exactly was it is. And also what it is for different people. This is, without doubt, great advice.
As a writer there is sometimes an expectation that you are well read, this is so not the case with me. I read the books I had to at school and ever since I have read the books I liked. So as an adult I have indulged my love of chick lit, or women’s fiction if you prefer, and this is a path from which I have rarely strayed.
So being the girly swot that I am, last year I joined a Book Club or more accurately I tagged along with a group of friends who decided that reading a book each month might be a nice thing to do. The aim was to become more widely read, to experience different genres and to do some analysis. We agreed we would put in random suggestions for the next book and draw one out each month. So far we have read a great selection from thrillers, to ghost stories, to historicals and a classic.by
As young children many of us were lucky enough to enjoy a bedtime story, read to us by our parents and many of us will have kept up this tradition. But once a child is able to read competently the gift of being read to somehow slips away. You don’t necessarily miss it as it’s part of you growing independent but I think there is a magic in being read to that disappears.
I have been known on occasion to partake of a frivolous extra holiday with a female friend and during those we would read to each other. Often it was magazine articles although some of the glossies are mainly photographs in which case it’s very difficult to make a soap stars kitchen sound exciting. However, it was still a relaxing and pleasurable experience all the same. At the time we felt it was the height of laziness!
I am in my second year of attending a local ‘Writing Fiction’ class where, those that would like to, read out short pieces or extracts each week for feedback and critique. As a new writer it is totally terrifying to read out your own work to twelve people (give me a PowerPoint deck, a microphone and five hundred in the audience any day!) However, as one of the listeners it is an enriching experience. Hearing something written and read by the author, usually for the very first time is quite a privilege and we are lucky enough to have a talented group of writers so each piece is a gem.by
When it comes to swearing in books I think it’s fair to say that most of us who write will have found ourselves swearing at our books but is it right to use swearing IN the book?
I think this is an interesting dilemma when we live in a society where swear words are frequently used by pretty much all members of society. It is no longer a shock to hear someone swear. There is no longer a Mary Whitehouse or equivalent to protest bitterly about such things (for anyone that ticks the first two age boxes on surveys you may need to Google Mary Whitehouse). Swear words are scattered liberally in films and television which normalises them further. However, I still agonise over it in my writing.
I am not a very sweary person but when a particular set of circumstances convene I too will utter something my grandmother would not have approved of.
I know of an author who received a letter from a reader complaining about the swearing in one of her books and how it was unnecessary and unacceptable. It made the author look at their writing differently and they responded by cutting out swearing considerably in future books.
I used the ‘find’ function for swear words in my first novel and found initially twelve instances of strong swearing and was quite shocked. However, this isn’t me swearing this is the characters and right there is the nub of the discussion (sorry did it take a while to get there?) You see it’s not about how I am as a person or the people that hopefully will one day read my books, it’s about the characters depicted within the pages.by
“I would like to write a book but I haven’t got the time.” How many times have you heard that? How many times have you thought that you don’t have the time to write. My bet is that it’s more than once.
This is where I can help. Firstly, you can find time, if you really want to. It is so very easy in today’s busy world to think that you don’t have time to write. But I guarantee that if a friend called you now and you needed to drop everything to help them, you would do it. Because you’re a good person and you would find a way to accommodate their request. So why can’t you find a way to accommodate your writing? Don’t you deserve the same level of dedication as your friend?
The issue is time stealers. Time stealers are everywhere (they may have even been in an episode of Dr Who) they are the little things that eat away at your precious allocation of time almost unnoticed. If you could just grab back a fraction of those minutes even just the odd twenty minutes here and there it will make a big difference. Here are some suggestions of where to look for those elusive nuggets of time:
You could look at the ends of the day – could you get up a little earlier and write then? Or stay up a little longer and write then? Can you grab time in lunch and coffee breaks or boring meetings?
If you watch television regularly, start adding up the hours – you will be shocked. Continue readingby
So here we are at a key point in the year and one that involves copious amounts of chocolate – what is not to love about that? I have to say that I may well have overindulged as I am having nightmares about drowning in a sea of mini eggs and I believe I may have suffered from the first ever chocolate hangover – it wasn’t pretty.
Thanks to Mr Fry producing the first chocolate Easter Egg in the UK in 1873 we see them on the shelves from 1st January and then the week before Easter we remember that we need to buy them for friends and family at which point all the good ones have gone and there are just Toffee Crisp and Power Rangers ones left. (There is definitely a comparable analogy about men in there somewhere but I’m going to let it go).
So given the chocolate hangover situation I felt duty bound to do a bit of research – so please bear with me.
People claim that chocolate has a variety of effects on them; that it’s addictive, it perks them up or in some cases it gives them headaches. To understand that we need to know how it works. Well, it’s all to do with brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which charge around the brain telling the body what to do (like Dr Who and whoever his latest sidekick is). They have an impact on our emotions, mood, thought patterns, energy and concentration. (The neurotransmitters, not Dr Who). Continue readingby
I don’t do Marmite (it is the work of the devil) and I also don’t do short stories. Short stories are incredibly difficult to get right, whether you are writing them for magazines, for competitions or just for fun. They will almost always come with a word limitation (hence the short) and despite this huge restriction there is an expectation that there is a whole story wrapped up in the prose (hence the story).
My track record with stories has seen me fill a whole exercise book at school with one story much to the mixed reaction of my English teacher who was wonderfully encouraging but with a pile of other marking to do, my lengthy witterings were not always timely. My next attempt at a finished story was my novel ‘Acting on Impulse’, the first draft of which came in at one hundred and twenty-eight thousand words. So you can see my ability to be succinct has not improved over the years.
So when my writing tutor asks the class to write a Short Story I break out in a cold sweat (and curse the fact that I sit next to both the radiator and the draughty window), my mind goes a complete blank and I decide categorically that I can’t do it. I will then spend the whole week trying to think about a plot based on whatever criteria has been set and will almost always conclude that it’s impossible to fit any of my ideas into anything shorter than ‘War and Peace’ or ‘Ivanhoe’ at a push (approx. 587k and 192k word counts respectively, in case you were wondering).by
So I was looking at the calendar and I got a little excited as it was nearly Mother’s Day and I love Mother’s Day. It’s a day that I thought I would never get to celebrate after a rocky road to becoming a Mummy but thankfully we made it via the scenic route and each year it is an utter pleasure to receive a homemade card and cold toast for breakfast from my daughter.
I was slightly wrong footed when I was discussing my writing with another writerly type person (we like to seek each other out, there’s safety in numbers) and we started discussing genres. I will call my writerly type person Bonita, for that is not her name. I explained to Bonita that I thought my writing was Romantic Comedy with a slightly darker side and went on to regurgitate my short blurbs on novel number one and my current work in progress. She agreed whole heartedly for novel number one which could be described as Notting Hill meets Eastenders and is about a womanising Hollywood actor, Tim, who falls in love with an ordinary woman called Kate. However, when I started to talk about my second novel which has the working title Virtual Family, there was lots of head shaking from Bonita (it’s a good name isn’t it?).by