The Best Intentions…

The best intentions don’t always come to fruition. Once this would have sent up stress and tension, now I take a more laid back view. There is, after all, something very artificial about making resolutions on a certain date, which you promise yourself you will keep to for the rest of the year, regardless of what life throws at you, good or bad.

So, 2017 no New Year’s Resolutions, just a determination to do more of the same. After all 2016 was not a bad year.

It began with the publication of “Picking up the Pieces.” During which process a great number of lessons, some painful, others not were learned.

front-over-for-blog

 

Most important of all being, a thorough proof-read is vital. A good editor even more so. Thank you Peter Coleborn and Jeanne Wood.

What worked really well was the tea party I gave to launch the book. I kept it small and local. Cake was baked and wine chilled, friends and neighbours came and books were sold. Best of all, it was an occasion that everyone enjoyed and out of it came a sense of community that we hadn’t had before. Also, for me, it was another validation of myself as a writer.

W Slight cover

The autobiography project was another boost. Being asked to ghost write the life story of a local person was challenging, although my subject Wilhelmina Slight, couldn’t have been better. Not only was her life story fascinating, but as time went on she recalled more and more, so there was an abundance of material to chose from. And cake. At every interview she produced the most delicious coffee and cake.

 

That was followed by the Hot Air Literary Festival. Where I was on a panel on how to get published, talking about the place of the Indie Press in the publishing world. Thank you Penkhull Press and Tristram Hunt.

courtyard-150x150

At the end of the summer came the Live Age festival and another panel with fellow local authors. Jan Edwards, Ralph Alcock, Susan Bolton and once again Peter Coleborn, whose live-age16Alchemy Press has won well deserved awards, provided the professional view of small press publishing.

In the autumn, I hosted the annual Reading Cafe at the Gladstone Pottery museum and later on took part in my first public performance, “Our Lives in Art” with the Ages and Stages Theatre Company at Keele University.

Following that came the Christmas show put on the other drama group I go to. It was a condensed reading, thank you Jenni Spangler, of “Christmas is Cancelled” a play I wrote for a cast of thousands, which Jenni reduced very successfully to seven voices.

In the meantime, Jan and I set up 6×6 Reading Cafe at the City Library in Hanley and made regular appearances on 6Towns Radio.

And I wrote 65,000 words of my new novel. Edited the second edition of “Clear Gold” and read and commented on ms from other writers.

To round off the year my story came out in “Weird Ales 2” and was launched at Sledge Lit. 51htiaesyzl-_ac_us218_

 

 

 

Should you be buying your friends’ books?

friends-books

It’s almost Christmas  and most of us are in the middle of, or have done,  our shopping for presents. For me much of this is done on Amazon. I scroll down wish lists, or remember books I think would suit the recipient and send off for them. A couple of days later, the doorbell rings and that’s another person ticked off on my list.

The best presents I can give my writer friends is to buy their books. A couple of years ago, this worked really well for me. “Sussex Tales” by Jan Edwards was a perfect choice for my sister, while both my husband and brother-in-law enjoyed Jem Shaw’s novel, “The Larks” about flying in the First World War.

My daughter gave her mother-in-law “House of Shadows” and my sister-in-law got a copy from my mum. Result!

None of my writing friends are, as yet, on the best seller list, but buying each others’ books is a way of spreading the word and most of all of supporting each other.

Writing is a solitary occupation and sometimes on a dreary, dismal December morning, when each sentence is wrung painfully out of your consciousness,  you wonder why on earth you do it. When someone tells you that they’ve read and enjoyed your book, then you know.

 

 

My Writing Day

clock-face

The day begins with meditation, followed by core muscle strengthening exercises. Next, I have a shower, a cup of tea and breakfast, which is usually a bowl of fruit and yoghurt. Mango is our current favourite and since I’m useless at de-stoning a mango, that is Mike’s job. I’m delegated to chopping the banana and scattering the berries.

We have coffee and a chat over breakfast and then I go up to my office, where I check my emails, then write for the rest of the morning. After lunch, I go for a walk, camera and notebook at the ready and come back to edit and jot down ideas for the next day’s writing.

Sounds good? Of course it does. Apart from breakfast most of what I’ve written is how I would ideally like to go about a writing day, rather than how I actually do it.

In real life, I do the washing, I look at FB, I clean the house, a bit, or more, depending on whether we are having guests, garden, if the weather is good and do a host of other stuff that has nothing to do with the current WIP.

What I probably need is to stick to a routine, but routine stifles creativity. It’s what happens in the rest of my life that sparks off ideas, the conversations with friends that  especially those that also write, or those snippets overheard on the bus, or the way the light falls on the grass, or a single shoe lying at the side of the road. The list is endless.

Sometimes, it’s not even an object or an event, but letting my mind wander as I walk back from the shops, or a meeting.

When I worked full time, any time to write was precious. Now I have the whole day it’s much easier not to sit down and get on with the work and although I don’t stick to a rigid routine, what I do find essential is carving out at least an hour day to write.  Without it I get irritable, the book, or story I’m working on loses momentum and picking it up again takes much more effort.

 

 

 

Water Spaniels?

water-spaniel

Yesterday I was at a dog show. It was an open show for Irish Water Spaniels and it set me thinking about the breed and the part these dogs play in  my books.

For those of you that don’t know, an Irish Water Spaniel is quite a rare creature. It looks a little like a poodle, with a brown curly coat. Unlike poodles, however, they have a bare chest and a thin whip like tail, which they wag with great enthusiasm. It is best not be anywhere near striking rage of these because they can really hurt. They also have a silky fringe which covers their eyes. Eyes which can be as melting as chocolate, or as evil as a large puddle of stinking mud.

Even the most loving and devoted of owners admit that these dogs have “character” which is, in the dog world, an euphemism for being bloody minded and doing exactly what they want when they want. They can be trained, they can be brilliant gun-dogs and great pets. They cannot, rather like a small child, be relied on to behave under all circumstances.

It’s this particular aspect of the dog that appears in “Picking up the Pieces”. When Bernie, Liz and Elsa set up their catering business Woody plays havoc with their first booking. In “House of Shadows”  Geordie is the reason why Mrs Armitage leaves Damien and Jo to go  alone into the church to search the parish records for the identity of the girl in the blue dress. In my current work-in-progress Jake will bring Eddie and Debbie together. A Water Spaniel also appears in “Master of Trades” the third book in  my  “Dragonfire” trilogy.

So why is this particular breed of dog so important to me? My husband Mike Herwin used to breed them and over the ears we’ve had a number of very distinctive canine personalities who have deigned to share our home.

Having moved into town, we no longer have a dog, so I suppose that writing about them is one way of keeping them in my life. Then, of course, there is the challenge.

Years ago, when we first met, Mike challenged me to write a story which began “It was a dark and stormy night” and ended with “And in one bound Jack was free. ” And it had to include an Irish Water Spaniel. The story was written and published. In the Irish Water Spaniel Year Book, naturally. But this was not the end of it.  He wanted to know if I could put a Water Spaniel in any book or story.

In a short story that is not always possible, or indeed desirable. In a novel however there is always space for one of these “Bundles of rags in a cyclone” (Memoirs of an Irish RM by Somerville and Ross) or as Jo Docherty puts it in “House of Shadows” “It’s like a walking hearth rug, but the face is beautiful, soft as velvet and those eyes under that fringe of ringlets are like chocolate.”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

How to sell ten books in an afternoon.

cake-and-cat1

“Picking up the Pieces” is a novel about friendship, cake and the mutual support that only lifelong friends can provide. What could be better than to launch it with a tea party inviting friends old and new to celebrate my new book.

For those friends that lived some distance away, I sent emails, for those close by I printed out invitations which I attached to promotional postcards I’d had printed.

Handing these to old friends was easy, what was more difficult was knocking on my neighbours, doors to ask them if they’d like to come to the launch. To my delight they all accepted. The offer of coffee, cake and wine may have had something to do with it, but I did make it clear that books would be on sale. Buying one, however, was not compulsory.

As it turned out, everyone did go home with a copy.

So ten books were sold and I had a great time doing it.It was good to see friends I’d not been in touch with for a while, but what was even better was the way they all got on together. I even managed to introduce people who had lived in the same street for years but had never met each other!

What did I learn?

First, target your readers. “Picking up the Pieces” is about three women of a certain age and more likely to appeal to a female readership, so all my guests were women friends, though I did allow cakes to be taken home for the men in their lives.

Secondly, bake. Cake is always good, but if you can’t bake then buy.

Thirdly, wine. Helps to break the ice and is good for the toast.

Fourthly, treat the launch as a social occasion, rather than a selling opportunity.

And last of all, enjoy. If you have a good time, your guests will too.

 

 

Does J K Rowling do Housework?

Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone

Does JK Rowling do Housework?

The thought came to me while I was vacuuming the other day; does J K Rowling do housework? She must have done at one stage, before she became mega-famous and super-rich. A state of life many of us writers can only dream about.

Years ago, to be a full time writer was the height of my ambition. It would, surely be bliss, not to have to go to work every day, but to be able to sit and write the stories that whirled around in my head at the moment they made their presence felt, instead of making a hasty note or two and hoping there would be time after tea, when the kids were finally in bed and the next day’s preparation completed.

Now, I’m not so sure that sitting at the computer all day is such a good idea. This is where housework comes in. The writer Margaret Forster was famed for cleaning her own house and not delegating household chores. She never said, as far as I know, why, but I’m beginning to understand.

Doing housework frees the mind. Many of my best ideas come when I’m doing some practical day to day task. My sub-conscious gets to work and I often have to stop to run to the computer, or scribble something down on paper. These mundane jobs also give me time to reflect on the progress of a novel, or story, in way I simply don’t when sitting in front of a screen.

Housework also takes up time. This may seem counter-intuitive, but like many other writers I can find it hard to resist the temptation of social media and the internet. The less time I have, however, the more likely I am to get down to the writing. I will also concentrate more intensely, if my time is limited.

So I’m with Margaret Forster; a moderate amount housework is good, a useful tool for a writer.

As for J K, I suspect she has other people to clean and tidy her house. Perhaps they even deal with social media on her behalf. Who knows?

Strutting Your Stuff

SONY DSC

Every writer has to do it. If we want to reach our potential readers we have to get out there and strut our stuff. The picture above was taken on the steps of Kings Weston House, the inspiration for “House of Shadows” my time slip novel. As well as spreading the word I also had copies on sale in the cafe at Kingsweston and read excerpts at various gigs. 

There was a mini-launch for friends at my house and a reading at the Market Drayton Arts’ festival among other events.

I have to admit to enjoying all those occasions, because I love to strut my stuff. Give me half a chance and I’ll be out there, reading from my novels, leading workshops, or being on a panel.

In that respect, I’m lucky. Many writers would rather consume their toenails than perform in front of an audience.

That, however, in today’s media driven climate is not an option. Not if you want to sell books.

For those people who find it hard to sell themselves in this very public way, I’d suggest starting small. A reading at the local library would be a good way in.

Which leads me neatly to 6×6. Six writers reading for six minutes, four times a year. Hosted by Hanley Library in Stoke-on-Trent and inspired by a similar event in Birmingham, it showcases your work to a receptive and supportive audience.

Want to know more? Visit our FB page.