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.

The Genre Conundrum in Fiction: Categories and Keywords

kazuend-71543 bookshelf
Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

Part 1 of 3

As the publication date for my next novel draws ever closer, my thoughts are now turning to how to ensure it catches the eye of prospective readers both online and in book shops.

An attractive cover and an engaging back-cover summary will of course be essential – and by working with my editor and cover designer I’m confident I’ll get both of these things right.

But nailing the precise genre and the single words and phrases that perfectly describe the book’s content are equally – some might say even more – important. And it’s here that I’m not so confident. And here’s why.

In the real world, bookshops and libraries shelve books according to genre. This makes it easier for readers to both seek out and browse the books that interest them. Similarly in an online book store, prospective book buyers will click on genre type or associated keywords in order to find what they might be looking for. It makes complete sense to organise things this way.

And if writers and publishers get it right, you won’t find cookbooks in amongst books on mountaineering and you won’t find detective novels in amongst science fiction. Simple.

Only sometimes it’s not that straightforward. What if the book you’ve written is cookery for mountaineers whilst they’re out on the mountain? Or, what if the seasoned, somewhat cynical detective with the disastrous personal life is part android/ part Martian and investigates crime throughout the solar-system? And no, I haven’t written a book like either of these examples.

But I do find myself in a similar quandary when it comes to classifying my new book, just as I was with the previous two.

All three books have a strong romantic element to them. But they don’t fit neatly into the romance genre. For one thing, the protagonists aren’t young, and besides coping with relationship issues, they are also facing up to other serious challenges.

In my first book, Change of Life, the main characters are a couple who have been married for more than twenty years and who are in their late forties. Their marriage is already under strain as the story begins with the female protagonist, Rosie, suspecting infidelity on the part of her husband, Tom. She is then faced with the even bigger shock of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The couple’s children and wider family too, all have significant parts to play in supporting Rosie and Tom as they confront the challenges ahead.

My second book, Displacement, also centres around two main characters, this time just setting out on a new relationship with each other. There is Jack, a retired policeman, and Rachel, a children’s book author and illustrator. They meet at the beginning of the novel on the Scottish island of Skye. They are both divorced and in their fifties. Rachel has recently lost her son, a soldier, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan. And Jack is recovering from the heart attack which brought about his early retirement. There is a strong political element to the story too, because as part of Rachel’s attempts to come to terms with the loss of her son, and to move on from it, she travels to the Middle East to visit her brother in Israel-Palestine. She wants to explore her Jewish heritage, but she also finds herself facing up to some very difficult questions about conflict, nationhood and humanity’s difficulties in finding ways to peacefully co-exist.

And the new book, Settlement, is a sequel to Displacement. Jack and Rachel’s romantic relationship has deepened, but is under threat. Rachel is returning to Israel to begin work on a book about how ordinary people can be instrumental in working for peace, and Jack is returning to work as a police consultant in the Historic Crimes unit in Edinburgh. This time as well as the social/cultural/ political strands, there is Jack’s experience of being the victim of violence and of suffering from PTSD.

All three books have the romantic love and relationship between two people at their heart, but this ripples out and links into wider families, communities and issues. All three books are romance+ –  i.e. plus other issues. None are conventional romance/love stories. They are not centred around 20 or 30-somethings. The conclusions aren’t happy-ever-after – but are, rather, there-is-hope-for-the-future- as-long-as-they-work-at-it-and-accept-the-rough-with-the-smooth-and-give-each-other-space.

So wish me luck as I try to narrow down my latest novel’s genre and keywords from – Contemporary Romantic Literary (not sure about the literary) Fiction also featuring politics, crime and mental health in several very different settings – to something altogether more snappy. And don’t get me started on whether it should also be labelled Women’s Fiction. Short answer – I don’t know, probably…

As for where it should be shelved…

 

In Part 2 of this three part series of posts on classifying books, I will be looking at the romantic genre and asking what readers want and expect when reading romances.

In Part 3 I will be looking at the issue of age – the age of the main characters and of the target readership – in romantic fiction and in several other genres as well.

 

Please do add your comments below. For example: What genre(s) do you prefer? And what are your expectations when reading books in that/those genre(s)? Or for you, is it story first, genre second?

Reflections on a Writing Conference

I spent last weekend at the annual Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) Conference, and, as always it was an enjoyable couple of days.

It was held, as it has been for the last few years, in the lovely Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld near Glasgow. And the hotel staff along with the amazingly hard-working, volunteer members of the SAW council ensured the whole thing ran very smoothly.

There were a variety of workshops to choose from and I went to three:

SELF-PUBLISHED FROM MANUSCRIPT TO MARKET – this was led by the director of an assisted and highly reputable publishing company. It was a good overview of the process of self-publishing but understandably he took the view that an author going completely alone couldn’t do as good a job as would be done by a company like his. But although I didn’t agree with everything he said, I did find the part on marketing useful.

HOW TO WRITE A CRIME NOVEL – this workshop was led by novelist Simon Brett and was great fun. I don’t plan on writing a crime a novel but I was sure I’d learn some more general things. And I did. There were more than forty people in the workshop and with Simon leading us we collaborated on producing the outline of an entire novel in one hour. As I say, it was fun and I picked up some handy tips on plotting.

WHAT PUBLISHERS WANT – this one was led by the owner of a small independent publishing company. It was interesting and informative about the traditional publishing process. But nothing the workshop presenter said led me to believe I’d be any better off being published by her. I sell as many books using my own imprint as most of her authors, so it was worth attending the session just to learn that.

But by far, the best part of the conference for me this year was the time spent talking to fellow writers, some of whom I’ve known for many years, and others who I met for the first time. Writing can be a rather lonely activity so it’s always good to spend time with colleagues and to share experiences. I was able to pass on tips to others and also to pick up new and useful information myself.

And so that’s it for another year. Thanks again to all who organised the conference for a very reasonably priced, well run conference in a perfect setting.

Question for writers: Have you attended any conferences aimed specifically at writers? If so what did you enjoy the most?

 

Read All About It: Writing News

writing desk
Photo by Trent Erwin on Unsplash

It’s some writing news of my own for this week’s post.

Bring on the rewrites

My next book is now with my editor and I’m braced and ready for the rewrites that will inevitably be required. I always think I’ve polished my writing until it cannot be improved before I send it off, but then I get the editor’s comments and realise it’s not perfect after all.

However, I do enjoy the editing process. I like the constructive criticism and I love to see how my writing is improved by rewriting. And even when I don’t at first agree with suggested changes I almost always see that the editor is right after I’ve slept on it.

I call my editor the Alchemist because he takes the base manuscript and gives me the means to turn it into writing gold (she says modestly).

Sequel challenges

Some of you already know that this new book entitled Settlement is the sequel to my most recent novel Displacement. I’ve never written a sequel before and it’s a slightly different process to writing a standalone book. Continuity and consistency in relation to the first book is vital and so is having the story make sense to people who haven’t read the first one without boring those who have. I think I’ve managed it, but I’m sure my editor will pick me up on any failures there.

Next job for Settlement will be cover design. I have a few ideas and will be discussing them with the cover designer very soon.

Next up

And while I await the editorial feedback, I intend to sketch out the third and final part of this series of books and to make some notes for my next children’s book. So, no, there will be no slacking at the writing desk.

Writing conference

However, I will get some time away from the desk this weekend as I’m heading off to the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW). I always enjoy this conference – a whole weekend of workshops, networking and meeting up with writer friends, as well as the announcement of the SAW writing awards for the current year. And the food’s always good too.

I’ll report back on how the conference goes in my next post. Until then I’ll leave you with a question: Do you like reading sequels and/or novel series or do you prefer standalones?

 

No Resolutions but Good Intentions: Writing, Reading and Reflecting in 2018

In spite of the time of year this is not a post about resolutions. I think the other 3Rs that this blog is based on ­- Writing, Reading and Reflecting are quite sufficient.

However, I do want to share with you some of my ongoing plans and intentions for the blog and my writing in general during 2018.

Writing:

The manuscript of my new novel Settlement is almost ready to go off to the editor and is planned for release in the first half of the year.

Settlement is the sequel to Displacement and, as I’ve never written a sequel before, I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s been quite a balancing act judging just how much of the back story to include from the original book. I don’t want the new book to seem repetitive to those who’ve read the first one, but neither do I want it to be necessary to have read the first one in order to enjoy the second.

And, as far as writing about my writing here on the blog goes, I plan to continue doing occasional posts on the process of writing, on my works-in-progress, and on my wider writing life.

 

Reading:

I certainly intend to keep reading throughout 2018. I believe it’s vital for writers to be readers too, but even if I gave up writing tomorrow – can’t imagine that happening – I’ll still be reading on my deathbed.

I will also continue to post reviews of books I’ve particularly enjoyed as, apart from wanting to share the love of good books, I also like to do my bit to help my writing colleagues get their work in front of readers. And I find that putting together a review – figuring out what worked in a book and why – helps me improve my own writing skills.

 

Reflecting:

And finally, I also intend to continue to do the occasional reflective post on topics I find myself thinking about and want to explore with readers of the blog. These topics may or may not be directly related to books – but will of course involve writing.

 

Question Time:

I also plan in 2018 to do a bit of a content/function audit of this blog and of my two author websites. As part of that I’d like to seek your much valued and appreciated opinions on various writing/blog related things.

And, as there’s no time like the present I’ll get started on that right away –

Question: I’d be interested to know your opinion on author newsletters. Do you sign up to them and if you do, do you read them? Are you prompted to buy an author’s latest book when you read about it in their newsletter or to respond to offers – such as free short story?

And finally I’d like to wish all readers a happy and healthy 2018.

Clubbing for Writers: Competitions, Conferences and Connections

Photo by Simon Hattinga Verschure on Unsplash 

Listening, Linking and Learning

Writing can be a lonely job.There are times when it can feel as if your only friends are your imaginary ones.

Most of us work alone. There are no colleagues to chat to over coffee or to share lunch breaks with. There’s nobody on hand to help if you hit a problem, to discuss ideas with, or just to offer encouragement when your motivation levels are low.

Or so it can seem.

But it needn’t be this way. Writers do have colleagues – even if they don’t share a physical office space.

And one of the easiest ways to find them is to join a writing club.

Writing Clubs  

I recently attended the 70th anniversary party of the Edinburgh Writers Club. It was a very pleasant evening. There was cake, cut by Ian Rankin (I know! I came over all fangirl and couldn’t string a coherent sentence together when he said hallo), there were glasses of bubbly, but best of all there was the company of other writers.

I joined the Edinburgh Writers Club (EWC) back in 2000 when I lived in the city. It was at the time when I was just beginning to take my writing seriously and being a member of this most welcoming club helped me to get started. Indeed, I got so much out of my membership that even after I moved to the Isle of Skye in 2004, I kept up my membership and attended meetings whenever I could.

I’m still a member today – even after my recent move to the Scottish Borders. And, yes, I’ve joined a local writing group too. So I’m a new member of the Borders Writing Forum (BWF) – another club where I’ve been made very welcome and with lots of new writing opportunities to explore.

The members at both the EWC and the BWF, range from those taking their first tentative steps to those who are successful, published authors, and everything in-between. The meetings include writing activities and guest speakers. The atmosphere is positive and encouraging and I always feel I learn something useful which could help improve my writing.

Competitions

Like many clubs, EWC offers a series of annual competitions. These cover all the genres including poetry, short stories, drama, non-fiction and novels and entering them give writers invaluable opportunities to learn more about the craft and to extend their skills. They provide deadlines – always good for the procrastinating writer. They tempt participants to step out of their comfort zones and try writing genres other than their usual ones. And most valuable of all they give the writers taking part the chance to get constructive feedback from the adjudicators.

Of course there are hundreds of other competitions for writers where no membership of a club is required. They’re available online, in magazines and through large literary organisations. But the advantage of club based competitions is that (other than a modest annual membership fee) they are free to enter and the pool of competitors is relatively small. And very few of these wider competitions offer any useful feedback.

Conferences

Competitions with similar benefits to the club ones stated above are also open to those eligible to attend the annual weekend conference of the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) held every March. Being a member of an affiliated writing club such as EWC or BWF entitles you to go to the conference. I’ve gone to several of these conferences now and I love them.

Winners (and other placed entrants) of the SAW competitions are announced during the weekend conference, usually by the adjudicator of the particular competition, and in front of all the delegates. This provides a good buzz of anticipation and a healthy rivalry between clubs. Besides the competition announcements, there is lots of other stuff going on. There is always an excellent keynote speaker. There are workshops run by established authors and by agents and publishers on a wide variety of writing related topics. There are opportunities to pitch your work to publishing professionals and there’s even a book shop where you can both sell your own books and buy those written by fellow delegates. And then there are all the networking opportunities over drinks in the bar or at mealtimes.

Connections

But by far the biggest advantage to being a club member, and going to conferences such as the SAW one, is the chance to connect with colleagues. It is wonderful to be with people who not only understand the frustrations of the writing process –  the perils of procrastination, and the periodic absences of inspiration, but who also understand the rewards –  the satisfaction of completing a piece of work, the joy of having your work appreciated by a reader, and the obsessive compulsion to write. Peer group support in any endeavour is useful, but for the solitary writer I reckon it’s priceless.

And although I’m also part of an amazing network of supportive and helpful fellow authors in the virtual, online world, I don’t think you can beat the real world connection with kindred spirits.

Over to you

I’d be interested to hear other writers’ thoughts on the usefulness, or otherwise, of clubs and conferences and the like. Do you value being part of a writing community? Do you connect with other writers, if so how? Please do leave comments below.

Procrastinating to Perfection

My name is Anne and I’m a procrastinator.

I’m also a writer and procrastination is in the job description. It’s the supreme avoidance tactic that many of us – writers or not – use when we really don’t want to tackle something. But writers seem to take the P word to professional levels.

Procrastination feeds on a writer’s fear and insecurities and I’m susceptible.

Yes, I mostly believe in my writing self. And, no, I can’t imagine my life without writing. I work hard at it, I take it seriously and do my very best. I know and accept my writing’s not perfect, but my fear is that it’s so imperfect nobody will want to read it.

And when the fear gets out of control, writer’s block can set in. It can be that I’m scared I’ve literally lost the plot and I don’t know where my story is going, or because there’s that inner voice that says I’m just an impostor – not a ‘real’ writer at all. And then when I’m stalled at the writer’s block red light, then procrastination can just jump in the car beside me and turn off the engine. (Sorry, bit of a dodgy metaphor right there – occupational hazard. Did I say I’m a writer?)

However, I do seem to have got the procrastinating thing down to manageable levels. When I’m writing my novels I follow Stephen King’s wise words: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work’.  Writing is my job. When my job was primary school teacher, I got up and went to work whether I was in the mood or not. Similarly with writing – I don’t wait for the muse. I just go to the desk and write. Mostly…

I can’t deny that procrastination does sometimes still stalk me.  And, occasionally, it catches up with me, overtakes me and stands in my way. Then, because I’m now only answerable to myself, and not to a boss, I do sometimes give in to it, let it take me by the hand, and let it lead me down the path to where the non-urgent tasks lie.

But you know what, sometimes giving into procrastination works in my favour. Yes, it could wreck my writing life if I let it, but a little bit now and then can be quite reviving and invigorating. Think of it as like being an alcoholic versus just an occasional drinker. (And yes, there goes another metaphor)

There are actually times when I find procrastination quite helpful. By giving into it, by going for a walk, or doing some gardening, or just tidying a cupboard, I often find that whatever is blocking my writing progress disappears. It’s as if by doing something else, by getting away from the screen or notebook, my mind is freed to go off on a ramble of its own. I then return to my desk ready, maybe even inspired, to write.

I think procrastination is part of the writing process. I think it’s probably right that it’s part of the job description. It lets me step away from the manuscript, lets me take time out to mull things over, to allow fresh ideas to form and, yes, maybe to make my writing a little bit closer to perfection.

Do you sometimes succumb to procrastination? What sort of tasks cause it and how do you get round it? Do you think it serves a positive purpose? Please do feel free to comment below.

Writing the Story: It’s all about the Characters

 

The world of storytelling: it’s all about the people

Telling Imaginative Histories

I prefer to read and write character driven fiction. Don’t get me wrong both plot and setting are important to me, but they don’t excite me, either as an author or reader in the same way that characters do. Characters bring stories to life.

The novelist, Dame Hilary Mantel, gave the five lectures in this year’s run of the annual Reith lectures on BBC radio 4. Mantel, the author of best-selling, historical novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies (to name only two of her many books) spoke inspiringly on how she views writing in general and writing historical fiction in particular.

She talked about what history is, about how it can only ever be an interpretation rather than irrefutable truth. She didn’t deny there are historical facts. Certain things happened on certain dates, certain decisions were made, certain outcomes happened. And from these facts we construct a possible impression of the past.

Mantel said that she did detailed research before writing her Tudor novels and that she saw her fiction writing as bringing the past and the dead back to life, as taking the events and creating a picture of how things possibly were for the people living through them.

Although I write mainly contemporary fiction, much of what Mantel said about the writing process resonated with me.

I had to research a wide range of topics––from Scottish crofting law and the care of sheep, to the politics of the Middle East­–– while writing my novel, Displacement and this continues currently as I write its sequel Settlement. The geographical settings of the Isle of Skye and Israel-Palestine are real, certain historical, political and cultural events that give background to the plot did actually happen.

But for me the magic, the alchemy of writing the novels, comes from creating credible, interesting and engaging characters. My characters are imaginary, but they must be brought to life in the same way as any ‘real’ historical characters must. I must inhabit and get into the head of my characters––and by doing so present a credible picture for my readers of the events and the realities my characters are living through.

Similarly, when I wrote my children’s novel The Silver Locket which involves three contemporary children travelling back to the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites in eighteenth century Scotland, I had to research key historical events such as the Battle of Culloden, but also what life is like for today’s eleven-year-olds. But again the real magic and thrill for me came when I breathed life into my protagonists.

My characters shape the story, their actions and reactions, their motivations, strengths and weaknesses are the story.

My fictional characters, in the same way as long-dead historical ones, come to life on the page. As an author this can seriously mess with your head. Sometimes characters surprise me. They can go off in directions I hadn’t predicted. I talk to my characters, even interview them, when I’m not sure how they feel about something or how they might react in a given situation. I live inside my character’s heads as I write–– much as I imagine an actor does when playing a role. I sometimes expect to see my characters in a real life setting such as when I’m on a real life beach, or up a real life hill that happens to feature in one of my stories.

Characters, historical or invented, have a story to tell. They are living and real for the duration of the book––and perhaps beyond.

All authors need to be imaginative historians and to let the characters bring the story to life and bring life to the story.

What do you think? Is it the characters that make a story for you?

Amazon Academy for Authors

It’s all very well writing a book and getting it published but it’s not going to find any readers without some well planned and targeted marketing. And like many authors, the whole selling and marketing thing is something I find difficult. It’s not only reaching potential readers that’s daunting, but also how to find the time to do it – especially when I’d rather be writing.

So a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to get the chance to spend the day at a free marketing information event for authors held in Edinburgh’s International Conference Centre.

It was sponsored and run jointly by Amazon and by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLI) and it was excellent. I certainly learned a lot about marketing and can see I need to take a fresh look at what I do in this respect.

As well as the welcome and introduction from Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) UK head, Darren Hardy, and author and ALLI representative, Paul Teague, there were four main sessions – and a free lunch.

The programme was as follows:

  • Making a Book
  • How to Write a Bestseller
  • Marketing Your Book
  • Making it Happen – The Business of Being an Author.

All the sessions were well judged as to length and content and all proved informative. The suggestions as to how to best go about marketing were also feasible, sensible and realistic. It was especially reassuring that all the experts who spoke at the event presented their views as based on their personal experience of what works and on their preferred way of working. There was no one right way, one true path, or one size fits all preaching. And because of that it’s probably safe to say that all the delegates got something out of the day that they could take away and use.

I particularly liked and related to author, Linda Gillard’s experience and advice, but also got something from the contributions made by Kindle’s Darren Hardy, and authors Paul Teague, Murray McDonald, Steven McKay and Harriet Smart.

It was good to hear ALLi getting so many favourable mentions throughout the day too. They are a fantastic organisation for authors to belong to and worth every penny of the membership fee.

My advice to fellow authors is that if you get the chance to attend a similar event, go for it. I’d be interested to hear from fellow authors how they feel about marketing and if you’ve attended any training events like the one above. Do leave your comments below.

And, a question for book readers: How do you find out about books you might enjoy reading and what is your preferred method for doing so?

As for me – I’m off to completely rework my marketing plan…