A Year of Writing Doggedly

Having written about my top 20 reads for 2018 in my previous post, I thought I would follow that up with a look at my writing highlights during the last twelve months.

It has certainly been a busy year of writing with many hours put in at the writing desk. And I’m pleased to say those hours were productive.

Procrastination wasn’t an option as throughout the year there were writing tasks to be done. Posts for this blog and for guest spots on others’ blogs had to be written. I had features and opinion pieces to write. I also had to keep my website up to date along with my Facebook and Amazon author pages. And I had author talks and writing classes to prepare.

But of course, by far the biggest and most important task was to finish my latest novel and get it ready for publication by the end of 2018.

I spent January and February finishing off the pre-edit redrafting of Settlement. I’d already done several redrafts and lots of rewriting but my deadline to finish this stage was looming.

I made it! By early March, the manuscript was ready to go off to my editor – that alchemist of prose, John Hudspith. Having seemingly learned nothing from my experiences with my earlier novels, I was fairly sure there’d be very little that needed changing. But of course I was wrong.

By June, I’d spent three months doing further changes in response to John’s suggestions. And, as always as a result of this process, the properly crafted and polished work was so much better than its rawer earlier version.

So by July I was ready for a holiday and me and the mister set off from a very sunny and warm Scotland for winter in Queensland, Australia. But no hats or scarves were needed and we had a wonderful time visiting our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.

Once back home, August was taken up with finalising the new novel’s cover with brilliant cover designer Jane D Smith. And, I must say, thanks to Jane, the cover has received a lot of praise.

Then ‘all’ that remained was to write the publicity and marketing copy for booksellers, for my website and for social media. I also booked a blog tour to be organised by the amazing Kelly at Love Books Group.

And finally, in late September, Settlement was published, launched, and off out into the world.

This meant that October and November were taken up with a lot of marketing and interaction with my readers. It was great to get positive feedback on the book – both from existing and new readers. And I was delighted when some folks asked if there would be a third book in the series which began with Displacement.

Yes, is the answer. As this year of writing comes to an end, I’ve already begun writing the first draft of Fulfilment which will indeed be the third and final book – in the series I never planned to write.

Yes, I really didn’t have series in mind when I wrote what is now the first in the set.

Displacement was supposed to be a single standalone novel – just as my debut novel had been. I intended to move on to something completely new when it was published. But my readers weren’t having it and following an online poll they convinced me that a sequel was required. And then, as I wrote Settlement I sensed that a third novel was going to be needed before I could confidently write The End and finally leave Jack and Rachel in peace. Therefore it was good when readers seemed to agree.

So 2019 looks as if it too will be another year filled with writing. Bring it on! I can’t wait to find out where Fulfilment is going to lead me.

I’d be interested to hear from readers of this post what your hopes are for the new year – either in terms of your work – as a writer or otherwise – or more generally. Please do leave comments below.

Next week’s post will be my final one for 2018 and having done a roundup of my year’s reading and writing, I plan (with reference to the subtitle of this blog) to finish off with some reflecting. You’ve been warned 🙂

 

Why I Love Being An Indie Author #amwriting #indieauthor #selfpublishing

 

And I really do. So I was delighted to do a guest post on the reasons why for Kate’s marvellous book blog. This post also nicely rounds off the publicity posts for my latest indie novel Settlement. Kate aka @The Quiet Knitter is an awesome book blogger and she is very supportive of indie authors and publishers. So, thank you, Kate.

You can read the post on Kate’s blog here.

Fiction For and About Older Adults: Do Protagonists Over 40 Have Any Appeal? #amwriting #reading

I love reading. I read both fiction and non-fiction and enjoy various genres. Romantic fiction is my favourite, with crime fiction a close second, but I also read the occasional historical novel too.

And when I write my own books I write the sort of book I would want to read. My novels are essentially romances with lots of other themes/issues woven into the mix as well. And one thing that struck me early on in my writing career was that in romance in particular the main characters in the popular novels I read were mainly young – i.e. in their 20s or 30s. But I wanted to write about characters who were a bit older than that.

So I was delighted to get the chance to explore this notion of age in fiction when I wrote a guest post for Linda’s Book Bag blog on this very topic.

You can read the post on Linda’s wonderful book blog here.

Another great review for Settlement

I can’t imagine not writing. I just love it so much. Even if nobody read my scribblings I reckon I’d still have to keep on doing it. But if even one person reads and enjoys what I produce then that’s a bonus. But of course I’m delighted when more than one person does.

I love getting positive feedback and reviews – even the less positive but constructive reactions are helpful.

I really appreciate when readers who have already done enough by buying and reading my books, also take the time and trouble to review them – whether that’s on one of the online retailer sites or on their book blogs. This all helps spread the word to other potential readers and it does my writer’s ego good as well…

And today I certainly got that ego boosted when I read book blogger Joanne’s wonderful review of Settlement. What I especially loved was that she totally got what I was trying to say in the novel and she appreciated the subtleties of the title. This was a thoughtful and, to me, very special review.

You can read her review on her Portobello Book Blog here.

You can get a copy of Settlement here

 

 

Back to its Roots: Children’s Novel – The Silver Locket – visits @CullodenNTS

 

I was delighted to be invited to be part of a community day at the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre which took place on Sunday 25th November 2018. The event was aimed at local people for whom entry to the centre throughout the day was free – although non-locals were welcome too.

I was asked to do an author talk about my novel for children – The Silver Locket. It’s a timeslip novel aimed at 9 to 12 year-olds. And, as the main characters are three twenty-first century children who find themselves transported back in time to the aftermath of the battle of Culloden, (it has been described as an Outlander for children) the book was felt to be a good fit for the event.

It also helped that I got the idea for the novel when I visited the centre on a school trip from the Isle of Skye with my Primary 6 (10 & 11 year-olds) pupils.

 

Background to the book

The children were learning all about the background to the battle of Culloden – about the Jacobites led by Bonnie Prince Charlie and their struggles to remove King George II from the throne and to have the Prince crowned king of Britain. It was hoped the visit to Culloden would bring this period in history to life for the children. And it most certainly did. Not only is the visitor centre – with its information, displays, artefacts, immersion room, and battlefield tours – totally superb, the education staff are second-to-none.

But it wasn’t only the children who were affected by what we saw on the day of our visit. I was too. When the education staff took us out onto the battlefield and we recreated the ‘Highland Charge’ where the Jacobite army (made up mostly but not exclusively of Scottish Highlanders) charged at the British Redcoat army, an idea popped into my head. An idea about three modern-day children finding themselves back… You know the rest.

At the time as well as being a teacher I was also a writer. I was writing – still am – contemporary fiction for adults. But I had no intention of writing for children. Except the idea wouldn’t go away.

And, in the end, I wrote the book and I used the author name of my alter-ego Anne McAlpine in order to keep my two writing identities separate. And in 2015, The Silver Locket was published.

Guest appearance

So, it was good to be back at the Culloden Visitor Centre and to be part of their well-attended community event. I never dreamt on the day of the school visit that one day in the future, I’d be back as the author of a children’s book, that the book would be set at Culloden, and that I’d be  there doing an author event. And I must say I really enjoyed doing some readings from my novel and sharing the background to the book – back where it all started.

Thank you to the National Trust for Scotland and to Catriona and the staff at the centre for the invitation, the warm welcome, and the opportunity to be part of your event.

You can read more about The Silver Locket below and you can buy it here.

From the back cover of The Silver Locket

The Battle of Culloden, 1746, and Bonnie Prince Charlie is defeated. Can three young friends from the 21st century ensure he escapes and that history stays on track?

A time-travelling mission, a very big adventure. Three twenty-first century friends and an eighteenth-century prince have a date with destiny…

It’s the last week of the school holidays and twelve year old Caitlin Cameron is bored. But when her new childminder turns out to be the eccentric Bella Blawearie, otherwise known as Scary Lady, everything changes.

Scary Lady lives up to her name. She seems able to read Caitlin’s mind. She sees visions in a snow globe and tells the time from a patchwork clock.

And things get even weirder when Caitlin and her two best friends, Lynette and Edward, accidentally open a time portal in an old tree and are hurled back through time to the eighteenth century.

They find themselves caught up in the blood-soaked aftermath of the Jacobite defeat at the battle of Culloden, and discover they’re there for a reason. A reason Scary Lady knows all about.

But all the friends have is questions. What is the significance of the silver locket passed to Caitlin by her grandmother? Can the locket help them ensure Bonnie Prince Charlie makes the right decision about his future?

And if they fail, will Scotland’s history books rewrite themselves, meaning  Caitlin and her friends will not even be born?

Join them in their 18th century adventure as they make new friends, encounter great danger and strive to carry out their mission.

 

 

Blog Tour for Settlement: The First Three Days #amwriting #amreading #lovebooksgroup

My new novel Settlement is out and about online all this week. It’s off on a tour of some book-bloggers’ websites. The tour has been organised by the amazing Kelly from Love Books Group and so far it’s going really well.

So I thought I’d give my own readers a chance to hop on board the blog bus and see where the book has been so far. Just click on the blog titles to visit each stop.

On day one, it was on Els’s blog – b for book review –  where Els shared an extract and some information about me and the book.

Day two saw Settlement arriving at Jill’s blog – On The Shelf Books – and Jill had written the most wonderful review.

Then today it showed up at MADE UP BOOKS where Cassandra almost made me cry with her appreciative review.

I’ve never done a blog tour before but this is proving to be great fun. And I must say a huge thank to all the bloggers who have given up their time for free to support it.

I’ll report back in a few days with how the rest of the week goes.

And a quick question as always to end: nowadays I find almost all my new reads via the book blogs that I follow. How do you find yours?

New Book

Out Now

Yes, at last it’s here! My new novel Settlement is now available. It’s the book I never planned to write – the sequel to Displacement. I thought I’d told all of Rachel and Jack’s story but readers of Displacement told me no. They insisted there was more to tell. And they were right. So much so – I’m now planning the third and final – yes final – part of this unexpected trilogy.

And, although it’s a sequel, I’ve written it so it can be read as a standalone – but of course I’d love it if people read both.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending more time with Rachel and Jack and their families and friends. I hadn’t realised how much I missed them and I can’t wait to get cracking on the final instalment.

 

So what’s it about?

Falling in love is the easy bit. Happy ever after requires work, commitment and honesty.

She wants him to be her friend and lover. He wants her as his wife. Can a compromise be reached? Or are things truly over between them?

When former Edinburgh policeman Jack Baxter met crofter and author Rachel Campbell at her home on the Scottish island of Skye, they fell in love. It was a second chance at happiness for them both.

But after Jack proposes marriage, it becomes clear they want different things.

Then, as Rachel prepares to return to the Middle East to work on a peacemaking project that’s close to her heart, and as Jack’s past catches up with him, it seems their relationship is doomed.

Can Rachel compromise on her need to maintain her hard-won independence?

Can Jack survive the life-threatening situation in which he finds himself?

Will they get the chance to put things right between them?

If you like a complex, grown-up romance with lots of raw emotion, dramatic and exotic settings, all mixed in with some international politics and laced with elements of a crime thriller, then this is the book for you.

Availability:

Settlement is available online as a paperback and as an ebook or, if you prefer, your local bookshop should be able to get it for you.

Online links:

Amazon UK Kindle

Amazon UK Paperback

Amazon US Kindle

Amazon US Paperback

Speech: The Joy of Giving an Author Talk – At Short Notice #amwriting

microphone Kane Reinholdsten Unsplash
Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

My neighbour came to the door last Sunday afternoon. Said she had a favour to ask. I thought she was going to ask me to look after her cat for a few days. But no, that wasn’t it. She is president of the local branch of the Scottish Women’s Institute (SWI) and the speaker lined up for Tuesday evening’s meeting had just cancelled. The speaker, a lecturer in catering and hospitality at the local college, had been going to give a cookery demonstration and my neighbour wondered if I could step in.

Thankfully for me and the prospective audience I wasn’t being invited to do anything cookery related. But if I could come and give an author talk that would be fantastic.

Without pausing to consider that I would have very little time to prepare, I agreed.

And I’m very glad that I did.

I found, as I often do, that I work better under pressure and by recycling and redrafting previous author talks that I’ve given, I’d soon tailored what I was going to say for my prospective audience. The short notice also meant I didn’t really have time to get nervous.

I was made very welcome by the SWI members and thoroughly enjoyed doing the talk which was warmly received. I spoke a bit about myself, about my journey to publication, and about the inspiration behind my various books. I was also able to do some publicity for my new novel – due out at the end of August. Then I finished by reading a couple of extracts from two of my books.

And the bonus was I completely sold out the box of books I’d taken with me – and took orders for more copies from those whom I couldn’t supply on the night.

It has been lovely too, since the talk, to receive cards and other correspondence from audience members saying how much they enjoyed the evening.

All-in-all, it was a very successful – if impromptu – author talk. Actually, quite invigorating. And a great chance to do some pre-publicity for Settlement whilst encouraging people to read Displacement, the first book in the series.

So thank you to the SWI – which you can read more about here if you’re interested – and here’s to seizing the day.

Do you enjoy speaking about your work – writing or other? Have you ever had to give a talk at short notice? Did it go well?

The Genre Conundrum Part 3: Age and other issues in Romantic Fiction #amwriting

Read Me
Photo by Us Wah on Unsplash

When I was looking for a literary agent and publisher for my first novel, Change of Life, nearly ten years ago, one of the rejection reasons I was given was the age of my main characters. I was told nobody wanted to read a romance where the prospective couple were in their late forties and especially where they had to deal with awkward teenage children and cope with one of them falling seriously ill. It seemed realism was out and hearts and flowers happy-ever-after romanticism was in.

Things have moved on a bit since then. There are romantic novels, where difficult issues are included in the story. However, romance does still seem to be dominated by the ‘Cafe in the Seaside Village’ type stories with their matchstick female figures on their pastel-coloured covers. But even although the covers are clichéd, and the stories follow a formula, they can be very enjoyable in a hearts-and- flowers, young love, happy-ever-after sort of way.

But it seems to me that romantic fiction with older lead characters is still in the minority – even although the biggest part of the population in the UK is over fifty. I don’t believe it’s because people don’t want to read such novels and I think maybe the big publishers are missing a trick here.

I should also say before going any further that what follows is merely my impression and  my opinion. It isn’t based on any scientific research.

And my final disclosure is one of vested interest – I am 61 and three-quarters years-old.

Oh and PS – I should also say that I’m in no way anti romantic fiction with   characters. I’ve recently read and thoroughly enjoyed three excellent  romances with protagonists in their twenties and thirties. These were June Kearns two historical romances: The Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy and The 20s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz. And my most recent read is Kate Field’s The Magic of Ramblings which truly is magic – and poignant and beautiful.

But I also enjoy reading about older characters falling in love. I like romances where the protagonists are in their forties, fifties, sixties and beyond. And I like a bit of realism. I like to see the prospective couple facing up to the issues, complications and challenges that come with age. I like it when there are several generations of a family involved in the story.  And I like to see there’s hope and fun and love to be had by us all – regardless of age.

Authors in other genres – crime for example – have created hugely successful older lead characters. There’s Detective Rebus in Ian Rankin’s Novels and there’s the wonderful Vera in the series by Ann Cleeves – to name just two.

And there are some fabulous romance writers who are  nailing it in this regard. Books by Maggie Christensen, Christine Webber, Gilli Allan and Hilary Boyd spring to mind. Do check them out if you like more mature, romance-plus fiction. You’ll be in for a highly enjoyable read with any of their books.

Which brings me to the age of the readers of books – I don’t as an author aim for a particular age group. I have young and old readers. Indeed my children’s novel The Silver Locket seems to have been read by as many, if not more, adults as children.

I don’t get the impression that Crime or Sci-Fi or Fantasy are particularly appealing to one narrow age group – Harry Potter is not just read by children, and I’m guessing the Outlander books appeal across the adult age range to those who like the genre.

Why should romance be any different? Although I do get that someone in their twenties might not want to read about people the age of their parents/grandparents falling in love and you know… But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and it doesn’t mean that older readers shouldn’t be able to read romances centred around people their age.

So I suppose what I’m saying is let’s have romantic fiction that’s a bit more relaxed about age, a bit more inclusive.

As a writer I enjoy writing about characters nearer my own age, facing up to life-changing challenges and dealing with all sorts of issues – as well as finding themselves falling in love. Other writers prefer writing about younger characters regardless of their own age.

As a reader I enjoy all sorts of romances and other genres too – and the characters ages are incidental – what matters to me is that it’s a good story, well told, and with a satisfying resolution.

And in conclusion – I’m no further forward with nailing this genre thing – but it’s been fun thinking and writing about it. I know my books aren’t chick-lit or ‘pure’ romance. But I don’t think ‘love-at-the-last-chance-cafe-for-the-chronologically-challenged-with-baggage’ classification is going to work.

Help!

As always please do leave your thoughts and comments below.

The Genre Conundrum Part 2: Romantic Expectations #amwriting

 

romantic heart Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

As I said in my last post I find the genre thing for novel classification rather tricky. As a writer, I don’t want to mislead prospective readers by getting the labelling wrong. But I also want to make sure my books appeal to and reach my target readership when they’re browsing the shelves in their local bookshop or scrolling through an online book selling site.

Of course, the book’s front cover and the summary of the story on the back are very important too. And, along with my editor and cover designer, I work hard to get those things right. But it will be the place the book is shelved – online or in the real world – that will get the browsing book buyer or library borrower to my book in the first place.

Literary Romance?

So what’s my genre and what are the keywords that best describe my previous and my about-to-be- published books?

And does the fact none of my books fit neatly into one category and that they have ‘serious’ themes woven through them mean they are literary novels?

Let’s get the literary thing out of the way first. I’m not sure I even know what literary means – this despite having studied English literature at university (back in the Stone Age). It seems to me to apply to fiction that doesn’t fit into any of the genres, e.g. crime, science fiction, thriller. But it also seems to imply clever content by a clever writer for an intelligent and educated readership. And I have a problem with that. There’s good and bad literary fiction just as there is with genre. And the term gives very little away as to the nature of the story.

So, I tend to favour John Updike’s view that all fictional works are literary because ‘they are written in words’. Therefore I’m not going to apply the literary tag. I take that as a given.

Contemporary Romance Plus?

At the heart of my books there is a romantic relationship set in the present day. The romance drives the story. So my genre is romance. But it would be more accurate to describe it as romance-plus.

Plus what?

My first novel Change of Life has romance + problems within a marriage, + bereavement due to suicide + facing up to a cancer diagnosis.

My second novel Displacement has romance + consequences of war + Middle Eastern politics + bereavement + infidelity + difficult family relationships.

And Settlement – my soon-to-be-published sequel to Displacement – has romance + crime thriller elements + more Middle Eastern politics where the personal and the political are seen as intertwined + the conflict between romance and realism in relationships.

So, to clarify – I hope: genres are wide concepts. Crime novels can be thrillers or police procedural, and they can be gritty or cosy, and they can feature relationships – romantic or otherwise. Science-fiction novels can deal with/predict scientific developments and their implications, they can include politics at an interplanetary level, and they can include mystery, war and even romance.

And the romantic genre is the same. It can be historical or contemporary, and it can include other issues relevant to the protagonists’ situation. Yes, it can be a straightforward tale of two people meeting, falling in love, overcoming some obstacles and then finding their happy-ever-after. But for me, I like to write and to read books with a bit more going on.

What can my readers expect?

I like reading romantic fiction that is entertaining, intriguing, and that maybe educates or makes me think along the way. I like being taken to new and interesting places, and I like the story to be both satisfying and unpredictable. And yes, I do like a happy, but also realistic, resolution.

So I write the sort of romantic fiction that I like to read, and I hope my novels are as described in the paragraph above. But I should also add that the term ‘plus’ could also apply to the ages of my novels’ main characters as they’re in their forties and fifties rather than their twenties and thirties.

And it’s the topic of genre and age group – of the author, the reader, and the main characters – that I’ll be looking at in the third and final part of this series of posts.

In the meantime, do let me know how you like your genres. Do you like pure genre fiction that sticks to the rules and formula, or do you like a bit of a mash-up? Please do leave comments below.