Taking Stock: Where next for the blog and my writing #amwriting #writing #books

What next?

The gratuitous photo above is of one of the flower beds in my garden – with lovely new wooden garden chairs behind. The picture has little to do with the post really, except being a writer, I also like a gratuitous metaphor. So just as my garden needs weeding and new planting from time to time so too does my blog. And writing a new book requires tending to lots of seedling ideas.

Therefore as this post is about taking stock, tidying up and letting new ideas take root, I defend my use of both the picture and the metaphors 🙂

Blog plans 

It’s almost a year since I set up and hosted the two-month-long Virtual Book Festival here on the blog. Little did I know, when I had the idea to go virtual, that in 2020 book festivals – like so many other events – would all be going online and that this would become the norm – due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a lot of work to organise but it was also great fun to do.

I’m not planning to do another festival this year, but I have been thinking about where next for the blog. Put it in Writing started out ten years ago as just a blog, but it has now evolved and is the front page of my author website.  And while the website pages are all about my books and my author business, my blog has always included much more than that. It was always my intention to share not only aspects of my own writing life, but also to post about books and reading in a wider sense and to offer interview posts to fellow authors. And that remains my intention.

So, to free up a bit of time and space I intend to do fewer book reviews – but I’ll keep my Books of the Month feature – which is more recommendations rather than reviews.

And while I’ll continue to offer some interview posts to other writers, I’m also going to add in a new feature which I hope readers of the blog will enjoy. This new type of post will be one where I invite an author to share their typical writing day – thereby giving an insight into how they work and what they do. It will be by invitation only and will be called A Life in the Day of …

New Writing Plans

And with the publication in May of Fulfilment, the final novel in my three part Rachel & Jack: Skye series, it’s time to explore the possibilities for my next book. I’m not short of ideas – I have a notebook full of ideas – but all these seedlings need thinning out – and only a few will make it to the plot – see what I did there? 🙂 Okay, I’ll stop with the metaphors now.

But seriously, I’m sort of spoiled for choice. Perhaps I’ll go for a series again – but this time set the books in southern Scotland and have each book focus on a different romantically entwined couple within that locality/community. Or maybe I’ll do a standalone – or two – instead of, or as well as, a series? And will I do another children’s novel – a sequel to The Silver Locket perhaps with the same three children as lead characters – and have them embark on another time-travelling adventure? These are exciting dilemmas to have and although I already miss Rachel and Jack it really is time to leave them in peace to get on with their lives without my meddling. Mind you a Christmas short story set a year after Fulfilment is sort of beckoning …

Back to the Creative Department

So after a lot of time spent on the online launch of Fulfilment, it’s time to spend less time in the marketing department and to focus on making something fresh and new – both here on the blog and with the crafting of a new novel. And I do appreciate how fortunate I am that the work I do can continue – lockdown or not.

Continue to stay safe everyone.

PS

As a postscript to this post – a question:

Like many people I’ve found I’m reading more during lockdown but that’s not the case for everyone – have you been reading more – or less – during this difficult time? If you have been reading, please do share your favourite lockdown read – and why you enjoyed it – in the comments below.

Writing a novel is the easy part: After you write ‘The End’ the hard work really begins #writing #amwriting #editing #books

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

In three recent posts I’ve written about where I get the ideas for the characters and plots in my novels, HERE, how I come up with and (to a certain extent) invent and adapt settings, HERE, and topics that I’ve had to research, HERE

If I get all that right I can then – she says modestly – come up with a pretty good 80 thousand word story. Job done.

Except it’s not. Oh no, writing that first draft is the easy part. And when I write ‘THE END’ it’s really only the end of the beginning – or the beginning of the end perhaps??

Whatever! There’s a lot that still needs to be done to get the story ready for readers.

Check and take note

First off, I have to go back to the beginning and read over the whole manuscript. And, all the time I’m reading, I’m also checking. I’m checking for errors – errors such as factual mistakes, inconsistencies in the plot, poor wording, sloppy phrasing, irrelevancies, boring bits, punctuation missing or wrongly applied, grammar crimes … and that’s not a comprehensive list.

Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite

Then, based on my notes from the above read through, I redraft and rewrite the manuscript. I’ll do this as many times as it takes for me to be satisfied that all is now well.

Off to the Editor

Once I’m sure it’s perfect, I send my story to my editor, confident he’ll find absolutely nothing wrong. I never learn! Of course he finds plenty. He’s an amazingly clever and astute alchemist of prose and much as I’d love to disagree with his constructive suggestions and recommendations as to what needs to be changed, I find myself going, ‘you know what, he’s right.’

Rewrite some more

So, after the editorial feedback is received, it’s time to rewrite some more and make even more changes to what is now draft number 526 (okay, slight exaggeration there).

But even after that I’m still not done. Oh no.

An irresistible backcover blurb

While all the editing is going on, I have to come up with the back cover blurb which will make the book irresistible to prospective readers who pick it off the shelf in their local bookshop, or who’re browsing that big online site that sells stuff. And, as if that wasn’t hard enough, I also have to produce a six (or so) word strapline for the front cover. This must be just as convincing as the back cover text that my novel is an unputdownable must-read. Writing both these reader-capture items is SO hard. I’d rather write another whole novel than condense my current one down to a paragraph – or worse still half a dozen words.

A beguiling cover

And while I’m agonising over the cover words, I’m also in discussion with the cover designer trying to come up with an awesome, attention-grabbing cover image. For someone as artistically challenged as I am this isn’t easy. But luckily as with my editor, I’m also very fortunate to have a fantastically talented and easy to work with designer.

After all the final edits are applied and the cover text and cover images are nailed and agreed upon, you’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.

Proofread and check again

While I’m agonising over and finalising the cover, my proof-reader, aka the husband, is reading the ‘final’ manuscript to check for any errors not spotted by me or the editor, such as a missing apostrophe, a misspelling or anything that seems unclear or just plain wrong. And you know what, he’s incredibly good at his job and will always spot something that has previously gone undetected.

All set up

Then, at last, the now pristine manuscript is ready to be formatted for both print and e-book versions of the novel. And, you guessed it, after that’s done it has to be checked over yet again – just in case anything has gone awry during the conversion process.

Okay, you still with me? If so, well done. If not, waken up at the back there!

Early readers

Yes, I’m almost there now. All that remains, after all of the above is complete, is to ask, beg, plead with members of my early-reading team to read at least part, if not all of my soon-to-be-published masterpiece and to let me know what they think, or better still to write a review, or maybe even a cover quote.

And publish!

Then, finally, publication date can be confirmed.

And, at last, I really can write THE END.

All that remains after this point is the launch and marketing plan. But that’s a post for another day. In fact I’m going to be spending most of March preparing for the publication of Fulfilment –  doing the final edits and checks and making that launch and marketing plan – and so I’ll be taking a short break from the blog.

Back soon.

Fiction isn’t all made up: researching the facts and knowing how to use them #writing #amwriting #fiction #books

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Research is vital – even when making stuff up

In my post a couple of weeks ago I shared where I get my ideas for my novels from and how my characters and their stories come to me. Then last week I wrote about how tricky it can be to come up with a fictional location even when the book is contemporary and set in the real world. In today’s post I’m sharing some of the research I’ve had to when writing my novels.

Not all down to imagination

Yes, fiction is, by definition, made up. The characters aren’t real people, the story is invented, and the settings maybe don’t actually exist. But writing a made-up story isn’t solely imaginative.

In order to flesh out the characters – their lives and the places they live – lots of credible details have to be included. Details such as jobs, workplaces, hobbies, lifestyles, health issues and politics – to name only a few. And that’s where research is essential.

Life experience isn’t enough

As an author, I can, of course, draw on my own life experience and fictionalise events etc. But this can only get me so far. It would all get rather dull rather quickly if everything was just a variation on the theme of me.  So I have to research all sorts of stuff to give my novels credibility and interest.

Below are just some of the areas I’ve had to explore. And some of it probably makes for an ‘interesting’ internet research history …

Things I needed to research

For my first novel Change of Life, although I shared the profession of primary school teacher with Rosie and had, like her, had a cancer diagnosis, I knew nothing about the profession of her husband Tom. So I had to a fair bit of research on the work of a heart surgeon. Other areas I had to investigate for that first story included adoption, drug addiction and the life of a photo-journalist.

When I wrote my (to date) only children’s novel The Silver Locket, I had, amongst other things, to check up on the historical details of the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

But the amount of research requiring to be done ramped up significantly when I was writing my Skye series.

For Displacement, although, like my main characters, I lived in crofting township on the Scottish island of Skye, I wasn’t working on a croft (in case you don’t know, a croft is a small subsistence farm common in parts of the Scottish Highlands and Islands). So I had to research various types of animal husbandry and how crofting works. I also had to research the organisation and ways of working of Police Scotland, the job of a children’s book illustrator, possible complications of pregnancy and the current political situation in the Middle East.

When I was writing Settlement, the second book in the series, I had to look into organised crime, gunshot wounds and how to treat them, as well as the likelihood of surviving a bullet in the chest. The finer points of producing watercolour and oil paintings was another area I had to investigate. And I also had to update my knowledge of both Police Scotland and the work of those on all sides who are working for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine.

Then for my latest book, Fulfilment – the third and final part of the Skye series, to be published next month – there was yet more research to be done. This time it included the use of polytunnels to grow fruit and vegetables, the use of quad bikes on hill farms, the adaptation of quad bikes to hand controls only, how to photograph the night sky, advanced sheep care, PTSD – its nature and treatment, the health implications for those who use a prosthetic leg following amputation, and the work of various social enterprises and charities.

And, as I say, the above list of topics contains just some of the stuff I’ve had to research in the course of my writing.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

But all this investigation of a wide range of topics doesn’t make me an expert in any of them. I hope I’ve done enough to add to the interest, credibility and level of entertainment that I hope my books contain. However, I can’t perform heart surgery, provide mental health therapy, deliver a lamb or treat a sick sheep. Neither can I paint beautiful pictures or photograph the Milky Way. I don’t need to do any of those things, I just have to know enough to convince my readers that my characters can do them.

The perils of research for an author

The downside of doing lots of research as an author is the temptation to justify the time spent doing it by including way too much of it in the story. So it’s a bit of a balancing act when deciding what to include and what to leave out. I know I have to be ruthless and only include what enhances the story or risk boring my readers with a load of irrelevant detail.

Disclaimer

I apologise now if I’ve made any factual errors in spite of my research and constant fact-checking. Any mistakes are most definitely mine and not those of the real experts I asked – or indeed of Mr Google. So don’t treat any of my novels as manuals 😊

I don’t profess to be an expert in everything included in my novels. But I do hope my research has been good enough. Thank you to everyone who has personally and patiently shared their true expertise with me. Respect to you all. I hope I’ve used my research appropriately and understood and interpreted correctly.

But, most of all, I do believe that the time I’ve devoted to my research has been well spent – and that my stories are better for it.