Three things you need to be a best seller

There three things every writer needs to be a best seller: JK Rowling

1 To be up there among the big guys and make loads of money from your writing, you need a series. Once you hook a reader with your first book, then they will be dying for the next one and the one after that etc, etc.

Genre is important too. Crime pays. So do historical books based on Tudor England and children’s books can do well too. Not to forget fantasy series.

2 A main character that appeals to your readership and can stay the course. Their personal lives must engage but not dominate the narrative and there must always been that hook at the end of each book, which leaves the reader longing to know what will happen next.

3 Location and/or world is also crucial. The world of Harry Potter is so well known that words like “Muggles” have become part of our language. Parts of Ireland are visited purely because they provide settings for “Game of Thrones.” In both these cases readers have so identified with the narrative that what is purely fictional has become real and spawned its own reality.

Now at the moment, I’m not doing very well on any of these points. As far as the first is concerned, my novels are all standalone books and quite different in in structure and genre. House of Shadows“House of Shadows” is a time slip novel,

shadows-on-the-grass“Shadows on the Grass”, historical and Picking Up The Pieces“Picking up the Pieces” women’s fiction.

 

 

 

I do have a specific location for all of them, however, as they are all set in Bristol, so I suppose I’m half way towards point no 3.

And while I hope all my characters are engaging, their stories end with the end of the novel. So a complete failure as far as point 2 goes.

However, now that I know what I should be doing, I’m putting myself on the right track.

My children’s book “City of Secrets” is due out in October and will be the first of a series (1) for eight to twelve-year-olds about Letty Parker (2) and her friends, who will be solving mysteries in an alternative world Bristol (3)

Will this be a recipe for success?

Who knows, because one ingredient I haven’t yet discussed is the question of luck, but that’s for another blog.

 

 

Advertisements

A Family Affair

Birthday cake

Multi-Coloured Cake. Delicious!

Yesterday was my daughter Lucy’s birthday lunch. It was held at her brother’s house, because David and Tasha have lots of room and it’s easy for us all to meet there. Being with kids and grand-kids, ex-husband and his wife, plus Mike it was a real family affair.

Which led to me think about writer and their families.

Do writers expect their nearest and dearest to read their books? From dedications by best-selling authors you get the impression that their partners do just that, which when those books provide you with a great life style is what you should do. But what about the rest of us?

It’s always great to be told that someone has enjoyed your novel, but there was something very special about my sister telling me that “Picking up the Pieces” was so absorbing that it got her through a bad bout of illness, or my mum saying that that she stayed up until the early hours of the morning to finish it.

Being as I write primarily for women, I wouldn’t expect to get the same reaction from my son, or even from my husband. So, for me I suppose it depends on genre. What I do get from the men in my life is support for my writing, David on twitter, Mike on his blog and when he talks to other people.

And my wider family buys my books. So all in all, I’m lucky.

As for anything I write that I wouldn’t want them to read…that is where writing under another name comes in.

 

Happy Mothering Sunday

Four Generations

Four generations of women in my family

It’s that day in the year when we are all supposed to think about our mothers, send cards and flowers and take them out to lunch.

In the beginning, however, this tradition was nothing to do with mothers but it was the day when people went back to their mother church, the church where they were baptised, or the local parish church, to celebrate Laetare Sunday.  Anyone who did this was said to have gone “a-mothering.”

In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with their own mothers and other family members. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since on other days they were prevented by conflicting working hours, and servants were not given free days on other occasions.

The children would pick wild flowers along the way to place in the church or give to their mothers. Eventually, the religious tradition evolved into the Mothering Sunday secular tradition of giving gifts to mothers.

Lovely though it is to be given a special day the relationship between mothers and children is an on-going one that begins at birth and continues often beyond the end of life.  Whether our mothers are still alive of not their influence conscious and sub-conscious continues shaping our thoughts, emotions and behaviour.
It’s this link between mothers and daughters that is a constant theme in my writing. In “House of Shadows” Jo’s mother refuses to see herself in that role, preferring to be treated as an older sister and leaving the mothering to Jo’s Gran.

Picking Up The PiecesIn “Picking up the Pieces” independent, resourceful Liz encourages her daughter to go travelling, but misses Poppy dreadfully while she is away. While self-absorbed Elsa is enough of a mother not to want to trouble her son with her problems.

“Shadows on the Grass” follows the lives of a grandmother, mother, daughter and aunt showing how the care, or lack of it, can make a profound difference in the way a young woman sees herself and what she can expect of life.

Even in my latest work in progress, the children’s book “City of Secrets”, Letty Parker has an unconventional relationship both with her mamma and her step-mamma.

 

Why write such different books?

Why do I write such different books?

Books some of

Talking to a friend about “Shadows on the Grass,” she said that it sounded more of a historical novel than the books I usually write. In any event it was different from the previous two, “House of Shadows” and “Picking up the Pieces.”

Which of course it is. While “House of Shadows” is a time slip/supernatural story, with a touch of the Gothic, “Picking up the Pieces” is a contemporary novel about the difficulties of being an older woman who has lost her job, or, as in Elsa’s case, when her ex-husband goes bankrupt, her alternative source of income.

“Shadows on the Grass,” on the other hand, tells the story of a Polish immigrant family, who come to the UK after WW2. It goes back into their history and uncovers deeply buried secrets in their past, going back as far as pre1914 Poland.

The book also explores family relationships, primarily those between mothers and daughters, throughout the generations.

Another theme is loss. The Dzierzanowski family can’t return to Poland because the country they knew no longer existed as it was virtually satellite state of the USSR, which at that time was separated from the West by what was called The Iron Curtain. Travel between the West and the Eastern Bloc was difficult, if not impossible and my own parents could not visit their relatives, until I was in my late teens.

On the surface, a very different book and yet there are a number of similarities. A sense of loss pervades “House of Shadows”. In that case it is the loss of a child, which is key to the action of the book. There is also, loss in “Picking up the Pieces”. As all three women have to face profound changes in their lives. Much is lost, but more is gained.

Again, all three books are set in Bristol. A city I know and love and which, in spite of the fact that I haven’t lived there since my late teens, still inspires much of my work.

The three genres, however, are very different. This is possibly not the best marketing ploy. Commercially successful writers tend to be those who write series of books. The most profitable, at the moment, being crime.

Why then don’t I find a genre that suits me and stick to that? If money were the sole object, then I would, but that is not why I write.

I write because I have a stories that want to be told, themes that I want to explore and to be honest, I enjoy trying out different genres and suspect I would be bored sticking to just one, especially if there were quite rigid conventions to be observed.

The other reason I write a variety of different books is because I can. Unlike some writers I am not tied in to a contract that demands more of the same, so I am free to experiment and be as creative as I want.

It doesn’t always work. There is a book waiting on my hard drive that can’t quite find its form, but when it does it fuels my enthusiasm and, on a good day, makes writing sheer pleasure.

PS. I also write children’s books, but more on those in another blog.

Cover 1“Shadows on the Grass” due to be published as an e-book in January 2018.

 

 

 

Why What You Wear Matters

In my last blog I talked about how I see my characters. Part of that picture is, of course, what they wear. In “Picking up the Pieces” Liz is partly defined by her hippy skirts and un-tameable hair, Elsa by her designer outfits, while Bernie’s clothes come from chain stores. In “House of HOS cropped AShadows”, black is Jo’s colour. She is an artist and with her silver blonde hair, her black top and jeans and dramatic silver jewellery the image she projects of herself reinforces what she does.

Jo loves beautiful things and although she works with paint and mixed media, using her hands as well as her brushes to produce her paintings of Kingsfield, with their sinister implications, even in her studio she can wear her usual black and look elegant and very much herself.

Years ago, my sister, Anuk Naumann, said that she thought she ought to dress like an artist. She had just given up work as an architect to concentrate full time on her painting. Changing her way of dressing was both symbolic and practical. There is no doubt when you first meet her that Anuk is what she does.Anuk and book

What you wear is a signal to the rest of the world, for we all make instant judgements about the people we meet, and can lead to useful conversations, or at least when you tell someone you write then that does not come as a complete surprise.

It also shows what you think about yourself and how you are feeling. Not bothering, or even being able to wash and dress can be a sign of severe depression. Dressing conventionally, never daring to try anything different, can reveal a lack of confidence, as can,  choosing to dress in a particular role and taking on all the attributes that go with it.

This paradoxically can also be liberating, because dressed as a Goth or a biker, or a punk, you are free to behave in ways you could not before and to explore areas of your personality that would otherwise stay hidden.

On a deep level, what you wear and how you look reinforces your view of yourself. Being a writer is a solitary way of life. It is too easy to slop around all day in pyjamas or old jeans, but for me to look as I see myself, is vital.

We are visual creatures. As writers we use this in our work. In real life it matters too.

Question is, what does a writer look like/wear? I’d love to know your views.

Who Would I choose?

 

Some writers know from the start not only what their characters look like, but who they would like to play them in a film, or TV adaptation. As part of their character building, they find pictures in magazines and make character boards, on Pinterest, or paste photos on noticeboards.

I don’t work like that. Liz, Bernie and Elsa in “Picking up the Pieces” all came as ready made images.Picking Up The Pieces I could see Liz striding along The Downs with her long hair escaping from its pins and her flowing hippy type skirt, while Elsa in matching coat and dress, perfect hair do, nails and rings was waiting for her at The Grand. Bernie too came fully formed, in her slightly too tight best dress and uncomfortable shoes.

Poppy, Liz’s actress daughter, is based on my daughter Posy and I’ve taken the photograph of her clutching her cat from real life.

If I had to cast my characters in a film, however.

Kristin_Scott_Thomas_Cabourg_2013Kristin Scott-Thomas would play serious and self-analysing, Liz

Miranda Richardson, the fluffy, materialistic Elsa.Miranda Richardson

And Olivia Coleman, responsible and caring, Bernie.Olivia Coleman

Though if I could manipulate time, Zaza Gabor would be perfect for Elsa.

As for Ed. Well there is only one choice. George Clooney.George-Clooney

Food for Thought: Tea at The Grand

Tea at Avon Gorge

On Saturday, I joined my mum, my daughter, my sister, niece and sister-in-law for afternoon tea at the Avon Gorge Hotel in Bristol. We were there to celebrate two big family birthdays, but one of the reasons I chose that hotel from all the others in Bristol is that the Avon Gorge is the model for The Grand in “Picking up the Pieces.”

Being brought up in Bristol and going to school just down the road, this hotel had always intrigued me. Clinging to the side of the Gorge it looks out on the Suspension Bridge and the river far below. I imagined it as a romantic place and conjured up an Art Deco Interior with a large Victorian conservatory, where my characters would meet and Elsa would break the devastating news that sets off the action of the novel.

In real life, however, it was very different. There was no glass Palm Court with a small orchestra playing tunes from the shows, or supercilious Maitre d’ and the customers were a greater cross section of people than I had imagined.

None of this distracted from the day. We had a lovely time, chatting and laughing and eating. It did, however, give me food for thought.

As a writer, I find that my ideas often come from places I know. So far my novels, “House of Shadows”, “Picking up the Pieces,” and the forthcoming “Shadows on the Grass” are all set in Bristol.

Although in most of the books, I am fairly accurate there are times, as in “Picking up the Pieces” when it is either not possible, or I don’t want to be accurate about what I am describing. After all, this is a work of imagination not a travelogue and I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to find my way around the city from my descriptions.

Places are a starting point, then the imagination takes over as do the needs of the story. At least this is how I work.

The first chapter of “Picking up the Pieces” won’t tell you much about the Avon Gorge. It will, however, introduce you to Liz, Elsa and Bernie, three women in their fifties who have to face the total collapse of their lives with the help of each other and much cake.

The novel is currently on offer on kindle for 99p and makes a good summer read. Enjoy.

PUTP picatAvonGorgeHotel1