Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 5 – an interview with author Jane Davis @janedavisauthor # VirtBookFest #books #writing

Welcome to this, the fifth event in the Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival! Today it’s my pleasure to welcome award-winning author Jane Davis to the festival and I’d like to thank her for taking part. Jane has written several novels – all of them wonderful, humane and thought-provoking stories. So let’s find out a bit more about this talented writer…

Hello,Jane, and welcome to the festival. Please can you start by telling us why and how you became a writer?

The truth of it is that I’m not a writer, but a failed artist. I was interested in story-telling as a child but, instead of words, I used pictures. Right up to my O-Level year, I spent all my spare time drawing and painting. I assumed I’d make a career in art. It was the one thing I was really good at. And then came a hard lesson. The O-Level examiners simply didn’t like my work. There had never been a plan B.

My reaction was to leave school and take the first job that came along, which happened to be in insurance, and there I stayed for the next twenty-five years. There were compensations. I bought a house, had three double wardrobes full of clothes, I dabbled in amateur dramatics, led a Venture Scout Group, climbed mountains, travelled. But gradually I became more and more aware that I was missing a creative outlet and, when something happened that I needed to make sense of, I began to write.

You can apply what you know about art to writing a novel. Both processes require vision and the creation of something out of nothing. If you ask me how I began, I simply sat down and wrote. My first novel took me four years, but earned me the services of a literary agent. My second novel (only a year, that one) had been sitting in my agent’s in-tray for six months and so I entered it in the Daily Mail First Novel Award. I signed up for a creative writing MA when I was four novels in (the first creative writing class I had taken as an adult) and I’m afraid to say it gave me total writers’ block.

Anne: Yes, I can see the parallels between the processes of art and writing. And I guess most of us can relate to that ‘need to earn a living with a proper job’ thing – but we’d also recognise that need for a creative outlet of some sort too. And what’s really encouraging for others reading this is that you’ve proved perseverance can pay off.

So, what sort of books do you write and what are the titles of those you’ve published so far?

I write about big subjects and give my characters almost impossible moral dilemmas. I don’t allow them a shred of privacy. I know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, the lies they tell, their secret fears. But I only meet them at a particular point on their journeys, usually in a highly volatile or unstable situation, and then I throw them to the lions. How people behave under pressure reveals so much about them.

Fiction provides the unique opportunity to explore one or two points of view. It is never going to provide the whole answer, but it forces writer and reader to walk in another person’s shoes. And, in many ways, it is the exploration and not the answer that’s important.

As my collection of novels grows, I’m beginning to see them as my legacy. As someone who doesn’t have children, they are the mark I will leave on the world. So another reason for writing – one that I didn’t think about in my mid-thirties when I started to write – is to create a legacy that I can be proud of.

Anne: You’ve certainly done that! But sorry for interrupting – please go on …

My first published novel was Half-truths and White Lies. It tells the story of someone who loses her parents only to discover that they weren’t her biological parents.

A Funeral for an Owl was next in the order of writing. I could change the focus of the novel: what kind of boy would it take to make two teachers put their jobs on the line? And it gave the plot a new momentum.

My angle was the suggestion that some of the rules that have been put in place with the best of intentions – to protect – actually deprive the most vulnerable children of confidential counsel from someone they trust. Not everyone will agree with that view but, when I was growing up, we had a wonderful teacher who operated an open-house and provided a safe place for those who were struggling at home, no questions asked. It was surprising who would turn up at her door. Today, in an environment when any relationship between teachers and pupils outside the classroom is taboo, she would be sacked. I think that’s terribly sad.

Anne: People who know me won’t be surprised to learn that this is probably my favourite one of your books. As a  teacher for 36 years , mostly teaching children with emotional and behavioural issues, I could very much relate to the story. Sorry! I interrupted again. Please continue and tell us about the rest of your books.

I Stopped Time is my tribute to my grandmother who lived to the age of 99, and to the pioneers of photography.

These Fragile Things puts a family under the microscope when daughter Judy survives a horrific accident only to find herself caught up in a tug-of-war between her parents. While her father proclaims it a miracle, her mother insists that the medics saved her daughter.

An Unchoreographed Life is about the sacrifices that a mother will make for her daughter. But it’s a story with a ticking time bomb. The mother in my story is a sex worker and is desperate to change her life before her daughter is old enough to understand what she does for a living.

An Unknown Woman begins with a woman standing in the street watching her house burn to the ground. In the aftermath, all aspects of her life are laid bare. As her life begins to unravel, Anita questions who she really is, and how defined we are by the things we own. When cracks begin to surface in what had seemed like a perfect relationship, she bolts to the sanctity of her hometown, only to discover the secret that her mother has been keeping from her all these years, something so taboo it can’t be spoken about.

My Counterfeit Self is about the life of a rebel with a cause, poet activist, Lucy Forrester. We begin on the day of the funeral of her on/off lover of 50 years, when she receives notification that she is to be awarded a New Year’s Honour.

Smash all the Windows is all about the on-going impact of a large-scale disaster on a group of family member, how when ‘justice’ is finally served it achieves little, and how they find the hope to carry on.

Anne: Wow! That’s a list to be proud of. Awesome books all of them.

Tell us about a typical writing day?

Ring-fencing time for writing is something I have never been very good at. If you’re an indie author (as I am), the moment your first book is out there, pure ‘writing days’ are luxuries. When I’m not working at the day job (I still work part-time and also help care for my father who has dementia) I prioritise whatever is the most urgent. That might be marketing, giving an interview or filing a tax return. It might be replying to emails from readers. It might be project managing a publication schedule, signing off proofs or working on a cover design. I’m afraid that writing tends to happen in stolen moments.

Anne: Oh, I do like that notion of ‘writing tending to happen in the stolen moments’.Yes, being a writer is not all about being inspired by the muse and sitting , uninterrupted, at your desk writing instantly stunning prose 🙂  Real life and the demands of the business side of book publishing do tend to get in the way.

And so to the writing process – do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing? 

As terrible as this might sound, I don’t plot at all. I want to be Mary Anning scouring the beaches at Lyme Regis for dinosaur fossils, or Howard Carter discovering the tomb of Tutankhamun, or metal detectorist Terry Herbert digging up the Staffordshire Hoard. What I don’t want to be is a parent deciding on my child’s future, telling my son which subjects he will study, arranging my daughter’s marriage.

My process is slow and organic. I start with a single idea and follow it through to its natural conclusion. Most of my books have changed substantially during the writing. The pivotal moment of a novel may not actually reveal itself until several edits in, or until an editor comments, ‘I see the point that you were trying to make.’ I might realise that whatever I thought I was writing about, this is the one sentence the whole plot hangs on. Sometimes it’s a subtle change of mind-set, but equally it can be a Eureka moment.

I’m afraid that anyone who imagines that words show up in the order they appear on the page of any novel is, in the majority of cases, mistaken. In many ways, the novel in its final form is an illusion, the rabbit pulled out of the hat.

Anne: Yes! I can certainly relate to all of that.

And what, for you, is the best part of being a writer?

It sounds so much more glamorous than ‘I’m an insurance broker’. (The reality, I can assure you, is that it is not.)

Anne: Great answer!

Tell us a bit about your most recent novel Smash All The Windows. I know it won the Selfies 2019 award – a new award that celebrates the quality of indie-published books.

You can probably sense from the title that the novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press’s reaction to the outcome of the second *Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. ‘What lives?’ I yelled at the television.

*For those who don’t know about Hillsborough, a crush occurred during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, killing 96 fans. A single lie was told about the cause of the disaster: In that moment, Liverpool fans became scapegoats. It would be twenty-seven years before the record was set straight.

I didn’t want to be the one to add to the pain I saw on their faces, so I created a fictional disaster. I think you always have to make it personal. To create my fictional disaster, I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators. Last year, I suffered a fall on my way to a book-reading in Covent Garden. I was overloaded, having just finished a day’s work in the city. I was carrying my laptop bag, my briefcase, plus a suitcase full of books. The escalator I normally use was out of order. Instead we were diverted to one that was obviously much steeper, but I was completely unprepared for how fast it was. The suitcase, which was only one step in front of my feet, literally dragged me off-balance. Fortunately, there was no one directly in front of me. A few bruises and a pair of laddered tights aside, I escaped unscathed. But I can still blink and see the moment I knew I was about to fall and the recognition that there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it.

Anne: we have an extract from the book at the end of this interview.

Have you had feedback from readers? 

Yes, thankfully. Diana Athill wrote in her wonderful memoir Stet:

‘The person with whom the writer wants to be in touch is his reader: if he could speak to him directly, without a middleman, that is what he would do.’

Technology has made that possible. Readers get in contact in all sorts of ways. Those who don’t know me from social media often use the contact form on my website. What arrives at my end is an email. My favourite email of late was from a reader who had bought one of my novels on special offer at 99p but who loved it and wanted to send me what she thought the offer was worth. I was extremely touched by that.

Readers often tell me how my books affected them, share intensely personal information. I feel immensely privileged that they trust me with their stories.

Readers also ask for sequels. They often suggest that I focus on a secondary characters. With These Fragile Things, they fell in love with Miranda, my main character’s school-friend who is expelled for challenging her head mistress. With An Unchoreographed Life, it’s Jean-Francois, one of Alison’s former dance partners. The temptation to revisit old friends is always there but by the end of a novel, I will have taken the story as far as it can go. And I have to be honest, I don’t like fiction with tidy endings. My aim is always to leave readers with a few questions.

Anne: Yes, technology has been a game-changer for writers and their readers and how lovely that you get such wonderful feedback

When you start writing a new book, what comes first for you, characters or plot? 

Character before plot. Always. We’ve already established that I’m not a plotter. Plus, get inside the head of the character and they will do most of the leg work for you.

Anne: Indeed!

Where do you get your ideas? How/when do they come to you?

Anywhere and everywhere. As a writer you have to be a magpie, collecting snippets of information here and there.

These Fragile Things is the book I felt I had to write. It’s about something that is very much a part of my DNA – a man’s conversion to Catholicism and how it impacts on his family. It’s also about the hypocrisies I felt being on the receiving end of a Catholic education – that the people who would have us believe in miracles would be the last people to believe in a miracle were it to happen today. So I set a miracle in 1980s Streatham. I used it as a vehicle to explore all viewpoints and I hope that what I’ve written is respectful. I remain a confused lapsed Catholic, increasingly grateful that my parents have their faith and wishing I had something to believe in.

Smash all the Windows isn’t my only novel to have been taken its lead from a court case. An Unchoreographed Life was inspired by a 2008 case that challenged the public’s perception of the type of women who might be working as a sex worker. I wrote it at a time when the number of sex workers in London (measured by percentage when compared to the adult population) exceeded the number in the 1700s.

My Counterfeit Self is about the life of a poet activist and came about simply because the reader reviews for my previous release described my prose as poetry. I had no idea if I could actually write poetry, but this gave me confidence that I might be able to convince readers that I could see the world as a poet does. I then watched a documentary about Jim Marshall (of Jim Marshall amps), which showed a direct path from a childhood illness he suffered from to his invention of the amp, via tap-dancing and drumming.

Anne: A magpie is a perfect description 🙂

And finally, have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created?

That’s a really tough question. I live with my characters for so long that I know them far better than some of my friends. When the time comes to move on to my next writing project, it almost feels as if I’m cheating on them.

If I may, I’m going to pick two.

My first choice is Bins, a seemingly minor player in A Funeral for an Owl. He comes across as a bit of an oddball, but has a peculiar wisdom of his own. (Many readers have assumed that he suffers from learning difficulties.) All of his life people have assumed that Bins was stupid because he suffers from Prosopagnosia (face blindness), a condition that prevents sufferers from recognising even the most familiar faces, sometimes even their own. I don’t know if you can imagine going to school each day and being unable to recognise your teacher or classmates? I particularly loved being able to give him a heroic role.

My second is Lucy Forrester, the poet of My Counterfeit Self. Lucy a radical poet and political activist who’s a cross between two great British eccentrics, Edith Sitwell and Vivienne Westwood. Having been anti-establishment all of her life, she’s horrified to find that she’s been featured on the New Year’s Honours list.

During the book we find out what has shaped Lucy. At the age of nine, she contracted childhood polio. Staring death in the face defines a person. It alters their perception of life, whatever age they happen to be. Lucy has that same stubborn determined streak that Roosevelt displayed when he refused to accept the limitations of his disease. The refusal to wear leg braces, to face the world sitting down. She also resents overhearing her father say that not much is expected of her, and it makes her want to defy him. She becomes totally driven.

And then her parents behave so shockingly that it releases her from feeling under any obligation to live up to their expectations, and so she adopts a bohemian lifestyle. And into this new life walks the man who became her literary critique and on/off lover for the next 50 years.

Lucy became so real to me that it was really difficult to let her go.

Anne: Oh, I think we can allow two – in view of just how brilliant these characters are! Thank you so much, Jane, for giving us such a detailed insight into your writing – the inspiration and methods behind it and what it all means to you.

And now, as promised, here is an extract from Jane’s most recent novel:

 

 

Smash all the Windowsfrom the back cover

It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.

It will take courage to learn how to live again.

‘An all-round triumph.’ John Hudspith

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

Tapping into the issues of the day, Davis delivers a highly charged work of fiction, a compelling testament to the human condition and the healing power of art. Written with immediacy, style and an overwhelming sense of empathy, Smash all the Windows will be enjoyed by readers of How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall and How to be Both by Ali Smith.

Extract (From Chapter Two)

“Champagne?”

Already, a scattering of people are clutching the stems of champagne flutes. God knows, Tamsin could murder a drink. She imagines knocking back the first one and holding out her glass for a refill. But she won’t accept a thing from the bastards who printed those lies. She has other plans.

As she waits in line, a television reporter close by speaks into a microphone: “The families and survivors were systematically bullied, intimidated, manipulated or used for personal and political gain.”

Impatience clogs Tamsin’s throat. You’ve changed your tune. Bloody hypocrites, the lot of you.

“Here we are,” the waitress says, sounding a little too pleased with herself.

Mum constantly tries to impress on Tamsin how much she adored Ollie, dismissing their teenage spats as a phase that would have quickly resolved itself. But it’s as if the data has been wiped from Tamsin’s hard drive, and each reminder of this failing produces fresh agony. Not today. Today, she has the opportunity to make up for it.

A final glance at the camera crew, Tamsin stages herself as she would a prop. Her chin is high as she takes the delicate stem of the glass. (It’s a good weight; the waitress hasn’t skimped.) She turns and, as she knew she would, finds several lenses trained on her. The same camera crew who, if the families had lost today, would have recorded that arrogant bastard saying, ‘There comes a time when you have to accept that, no matter how many different ways you find to ask the same question, the answer will still be no.’ Well, he’s just had a few of his assumptions turned inside out. Tamsin smiles directly into a camera lens and raises her glass. What she’s about to do requires no script. She won’t give the fuckers words.

Fill your boots, Ollie, this is for you. She tips her champagne flute. The balance shifts. From behind Tamsin comes a collective intake of breath. Conversations halt. The sound of champagne hitting tarmac is deeply satisfying. ‘Like someone having a wazz,’ she imagines Ollie saying and, for the briefest of moments, he’s here with her. They aren’t at each other’s throats, Mum isn’t having to say, ‘I don’t care who started it, I’ll finish it!’ They are simply sharing the moment.

Liquid pools near her high-heeled patent-leather shoes.

‘New shoes, sis?’

‘Clarks – but don’t tell anyone.’

‘The shame!’

‘I know.’

‘Remember how we –?’

The reduced weight, the twist of her wrist, tells Tamsin her glass is empty. When she staged this moment in her mind, others joined her in one united gesture. Dangling the upside down champagne flute in one hand, Tamsin watches the last few drips with a kind of fascination, hoping that a camera will capture them, glistening and jewel-like. Ollie is gone. They are back to not talking to each other. Headphones on. The Keep Out sign on his bedroom door. And she is back in the real world.

(Click here for buy links for the above book)

 

About Jane:

Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of eight novels.

Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.

 

Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards.

 

Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, and star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.

 

Also by Jane Davis

Half-truths & White Lies

I Stopped Time

These Fragile Things

A Funeral for an Owl

An Unchoreographed Life

An Unknown Woman

My Counterfeit Self

 

Contact and Social Media links:

Website: here
Facebook page: here
Twitter: here
Pinterest:  here

Press enquiries janerossdale@btinternet.com

High resolution photos available from https://jane-davis.co.uk/media-kit/

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 2 – An interview with John Hudspith Book Editor

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

The Alchemist of Prose

Hello and welcome to the second event of the Put it in Writing Virtual Book Festival.

I know that before I was a novelist, I never gave a great deal of thought – as a reader – as to how a book comes to be ready for publication – other than the author writing it and the publisher publishing it. But now of course I know better. Many authors will tell you that writing the first draft of a novel is the easy part, and that having done so, that’s when the hard work begins. First of all there will be several redrafts and then when you think it’s perfect the manuscript goes off to the editor. And that’s when you discover your masterpiece is far from perfect.

Editors do an amazing job – spotting plot holes, inconsistencies, waffle and a whole lot more

So, today I’m pleased to welcome book editor, John Hudspith, to the festival to tell us a bit more about what the job involves.

John is the editor of all my novels and of hundreds more by other authors. And to me is the alchemist of prose. He’s a highly talented and skilled wrangler of messy manuscripts and I know that not only have I learned a lot from working with him over the last decade, but also that my books are infinitely better than they would have been without his unforgiving eye.

So, John, welcome! And let’s get started:

How did you get into editing in the first place and do you edit across all genres or stick to specific ones?

A request from a friend to ‘help’ with a novel over a decade ago saw me hooked on the editing process and from there my love for the creative storytelling mind soon had me changing my day job. And yes, I enjoy editing across all genres.

 

What does the editing process involve when you’re working on a client’s manuscript?

This depends on the individual writer. Some writers come to me after having spent a great deal of time and effort ensuring that, diligent research, multiple drafts, input from beta readers and so on, has brought them a wonderfully shiny product and thus my contribution will be minimal.

At the other end of the scale, a writer will come to me with just an idea, an outline, and so my input increases, helping with plot and character development etc.

 

How many books do you reckon you’ve edited so far and do you find it gets easier as time goes on especially when you work with clients you’ve worked with previously?

Novels, novellas, anthologies – I’ve edited close to 700 books and, like any craft, the more one works at it the ‘easier’ it becomes. Especially, as you said, when working with clients on an ongoing basis.

Anne: Yes, I must admit as an author it’s good to work with someone you ‘know’.

 

What are the best and the trickiest parts of the job? Is it a job you love?

In the beginning, I used to find blurbs tricky, although tricky is probably too kind a word. These days, though, blurbs are a perverse pleasure for me, picking the bones out of them and making them sing.

One truly great thing about the editing process, for me, is seeing the writer grow. Seeing the writer’s skills improving brings immense satisfaction. But the best thing of all, the very best thing, has to be the words. Working with words every hour of the day, words from myriad writers, words, words, words, day after day, week after week, year after year, is akin to sitting in the woods – do it for long enough and the woods will consume you, an unseen osmosis perpetually honing your learned perceptions. And not only that, but seeing our language evolve via the Indie author avalanche, Americanisms being the main influencers. Another decade into the Indie revolution and y’all might be speaking real purty.

Anne: I’ll get practising for y’all then 🙂

 

Not only are you an editor, you’re an author too. Tell us a bit about what you’ve published so far.

I’ve published two books – Kimi’s Secret and a sequel Kimi’s Fear – fantasy adventures for kids aged 10 to 100.

Kimi’s story was developed with some incredible help from a talented teacher and her class of enthusiastic twelve-year-olds. (Thanks, Anne and those crazy kids!)

(Anne is blushing and there’s a post about that collaboration here)

 

Are you currently working on a new book or is it all about the editing for now?

It’s all about the editing for me. I simply can’t get enough of the words.

Anne: All I can say is your readers’ loss is us authors’ gain 🙂

 

Thank you so much John for taking part in the festival today and for sharing a bit of what it’s like to be an editor. 

 

John’s professional bio

John Hudspith edits novels and short stories from his cave in the UK. John has a keen mind for story and the understanding that every single word matters. John can help shape your work into the page-turning crystal-clear entertainment it deserves to be. Simply send him a sample and he’ll show you what he can do. John can be contacted via his website here

 

 

Writer’s Block: How to bash through #amwriting #writing

Writing is hard work – just like a proper job …

I used to think that being a writer was a pretty cushy job. After all a writer is their own boss, they can go to work in their pyjamas, drink as many cups of tea as they like, and all they have to do is bash out a few thousand words each day and within months – maybe even weeks – they have a best-selling novel and millions of pounds in the bank.

Of course that was before I actually became a writer. Now before I go any further, I should say that I know there are countless worse jobs – in terms of conditions, physical and emotional demands, and sense of achievement – than that of book writer. But I know that for me – and many fellow authors – it came as a bit of surprise to discover that actually it has a lot in common with other ways of earning a living.

And one of the main factors that working as a writer has in common with any other occupation is that you have to turn up – whether in pyjamas or a pin stripe suit – with or without liquid refreshment, and you have to be productive. You can’t be all precious and sit there sighing as you wait for your inspirational muse. Oh no, you just have to get on and write. You have to hit the daily word count target and keep the publishing schedules and deadlines firmly in sight at all times.

So when the dreaded writers’ block hits – and it inevitably does at some stage – it’s important to find ways around it and to get back up and running without too much delay. And so I thought that in today’s post I’d share some of the things that help me demolish or at least get round this most horrible obstacle to creativity.

Firstly it’s important to know the possible reason for the block. It might be fatigue, it might be self-doubt either about writing ability or doubts about the worth of the story itself, or it might be a particular scene or chapter that’s proving troublesome.

Procrastination is permitted

If it’s fatigue, then it’s important to give yourself permission to rest. It doesn’t have to mean going off on a world cruise, or even taking a whole day off but it’s okay – indeed it’s essential not to let yourself burn out. Procrastination is sometimes not only permissible it can be vital. So listen to music, indulge in a hobby – be it sewing, gardening or motor-cycling. Or you could have a nap, go for coffee and a cake with a friend, or even curl up with a book by some other writer who’s obviously managed to overcome their own particular blocks.

Doubt is a demon that needs to be kicked off the pitch

If it’s that wicked wee demon known as Doubt that’s getting in the way – then reading part of something you’ve already written and had published can help reassure you that you can do this. Similarly reading positive reviews of your work can be a great way of boosting that fragile belief in your author-self. And if you’re still awaiting publication then taking a minute to recall why you’re writing in the first place can work just as well. For example try recalling who or what it was that first inspired you to write and use it as metaphorical armour to fend off the demonic enemy. Or read over any earlier pieces of work you’re proud of and remind yourself you’ve done it before so you can do it again.

The need to reboot and refresh

And if it’s a particular piece of plotting or characterisation in your work-in-progress that’s giving you grief, getting away from the desk for a good walk can prove helpful. It’s amazing how when your body goes off for a wander, your mind does too. The brain will work away on the problem in the background while you take some deep breaths and take in the views and then when you least expect it will notify you of a possible solution. And if a walk isn’t possible, then any of the above remedies for fatigue can often help with plot-freeze too.

But if diversionary tactics don’t work then it’s quite all right to go round this particular block. So you can leave that particular scene or plot development for later and get on with subsequent chapters for a while. You can always flag up possible continuity issues as you go while the block remains unresolved and sort them out later. And it’s quite possible that by continuing on your way, your brain will again do that thing of going off on its own and solving the problem while you’re looking somewhere else.

And even in the most extreme event – where you and your brain arrive at the conclusion that a major rewrite or indeed abandonment of the book as it is, is what’s required, that’s still progress. And by re-booting the project you will also have kicked the wall over.

Walk round the wall, jump over it, or kick the blighter over

So, in summary, stalling is okay. It happens, it has to happen, and it’s all part of the writing process. The important thing is not to let it be an excuse for giving up. All jobs have their frustrations, but it’s only in the most extreme situations where our health or safety is in doubt that we need to quit.

Most of the time the problems that come with the territory are challenges that can be resolved.

And, as long as the answers to the questions below remain as they are today, I’ve no intention of letting some puny wall get in the way of writing that bestseller.

Is writing an important and vital part of my life? Yes

Do I love my job as a writer? Yes

Can I imagine ever retiring? No

So it’s bah to writer’s block. The show – or in this case the book – must go on!

Playlists for Plotting: How music helps me write #amwriting #writing #mondayblogs

Similar to lots of jobs

Sorry if I’m shattering any illusions here, but being a writer is hard work. In lots of ways it’s a job like many others.

You have to turn up at your post. You have to put in the hours. You have to produce some sort of result.

Sometimes it can be tiring, frustrating and nerve-wracking.

At other times it’s invigorating, rewarding and morale-boosting.

And as long as there are more of those good times than the not so good then you’re motivated to keep going.

A different way of working

But working as a novel writer also has some unique aspects to it – or if not unique then they’re shared by only a few other professions.

Firstly, it’s a job where you have to work on your own. Even if you work in collaboration with another author, it’s still only you who can write your contribution.  You can’t share or delegate.

Secondly, you’re the boss. You’re answerable to you – and so it’s easy to let yourself off the hook. ‘Not in the mood? Don’t feel writing several thousand words today? Rather wash the windows, sort your sock drawer, play around on social media? That’s okay. You’ll easily catch up when you’re in the mood.’ But of course you won’t. You’re procrastinating and the novel won’t write itself.

And thirdly, even when the spirit is willing and you’re at the desk and keen to get going, it can be hard to know how to proceed, hard to shut out the world and hard to stay in the zone.

The magic of music

And that’s where music comes in. I find that background music really helps me both get in the writing zone and helps me stay there. I don’t necessarily even hear or at least actively pay attention to it as I’m writing, but if my concentration does go then it’s the music that brings me back on task.

The plot playlist

That’s why I compile a playlist for each of my books. And it’s amazing how just hearing that first track gets my brain where it needs to be and the fact the tunes continue to play in the background helps to keep the real world at bay.

So, today I thought I’d share a sample of five tracks from each of the playlists I used for the first two books in my Skye series of novels as well as some from the one I’m currently using as I write the third book in that series.

Displacement Playlist

And I love you so – Don McLean

Lon-dubh (Blackbird) – Julie Fowlis

Meadowlarks – Fleet Foxes

You are the best thing – Ray LaMontagne

I’m gonna do it all – Karine Polwart

 

Settlement Playlist

Mad World – Michael Andrews

I still care for you – Ray LaMontagne

Your Ghost – Greg Laswell

Wherever you are – Military Wives

The sound of silence – Disturbed

 

Fulfilment Playlist

Wicked Game – Chris Isaak

It’s always been you – Ray LaMontagne

I could never say goodbye – Enya

Fuel to fire – Agnes Obel

In our tears – Secret Garden

 

All the tracks on my playlists are atmospheric, evocative and appropriate for the feelings, moods and ideas I write about. These are just some of them.

If you click on a song title you’ll be taken to the track on Youtube where you can listen to the song for yourself and see what you think.

Do you find music helpful when you want to concentrate on something? Or is it distracting – if so what does help you focus?

 

Writing Fiction: Made Up Places

In my last post I wrote about five favourite real-life places that have featured in my books. So in this one I thought I’d share some other places that feature in my fiction but that are entirely made-up.

Now, you might be wondering why I felt the need to invent places. After all, my books are contemporary fiction and are set in real geographical locations with plenty of actual distinctive and exciting settings to choose from. Even my children’s book with its historical and fantasy elements is based in the real world settings of Edinburgh and the north of Scotland.

There are various reasons why I invented some additional settings as well as making full use of the real ones. Some were practical and some were just part of the fun of using my imagination. After all as an author I get to enjoy making up characters and their stories, so why not add in some pretend places too.

Imagined Houses

One of my favourite sorts of places to invent is a character’s home.

The house I created for Caitlin in my children’s novel The Silver Locket was based on a real house. Caitlin lives in Edinburgh with her father and her siblings in a large Victorian villa. And the house I used as a starting point was the one my piano teacher lived in – a house I visited regularly as a child. Another house familiar to me from childhood was the seaside one where one of my friends lived and this gave me a starting point for Rosie’s house in Change of Life.

For both Rachel and Jack in Displacement and its sequel Settlement I spent a fair bit of time creating their houses.

Jack’s house is a former croft house and although it’s over a hundred years old, he renovates, modernises and extends it. One of the outcomes of the work he puts in is lots of large windows that make the most of the light and the views. He also knocks down interior walls to make larger more open rooms.

Rachel’s cottage is on a working croft. It too is over a hundred years old. It’s the house she grew up in and has not had any recent modernisation work done to it.

For Jack’s house especially I trawled through magazines such as Ideal Homes and House Beautiful to get ideas. I also based some of the exteriors and interiors on actual houses including ones I’d lived in myself.

Once I had some starting point pictures in my head I then drew out the floor plans for the houses. I put in as much detail as possible – including the location of doors, windows and stairs as well as the layout of the furniture. I also made a note of the direction in which the houses faced and what could be seen from the windows. And these plans were important – not because I intended to include every detail of these dwellings in their respective novels – but in order to maintain clarity for myself when I imagined my characters moving around in these spaces. But not only that, it was also in order to maintain consistency for my readers who I hoped would be able to imagine these spaces for themselves.

Imagined Streets, Villages and Towns

Almost all the outdoor settings I’ve used so far in my novels are real. The walks taken by the characters, the towns and cities and villages they live in exist – even if their actual address doesn’t.

But I did make up one place and that is Halladale the crofting township where Displacement‘s (and its follow-up books) Jack and Rachel live on the real Isle of Skye. I located Halladale on the (real) Waternish peninsula at the northern end of the island but I decided to go for a made up community. The reason I did so was to give me freedom to lay it out as I chose to for the purposes of the story – and also so that nobody in the relatively small island community could possibly mistake it for their township or their house.

However, having opted for this made-up location meant that once again I had to some detailed drawing to do. After all I couldn’t have a character’s house facing the loch on one page and then have it turning through 180 degrees to face the hill a few pages later. So the whole township was committed to paper and stuck up on the wall.

Freedom to Create

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed making up all those places. The houses in particular were great fun to do.

And that’s part of the joy of being a writer – having the freedom to just make things up – people, stories and places.

If you’re a writer do you use real locations in your writing? As a reader do you prefer real world settings or made-up ones – or a bit of a mixture?

Five Favourite Walks: Real-Life Settings In My Made-Up Stories #amwriting

From the Scottish Hebrides to the Middle East, the settings for all my novels have been important to me. They’ve provided inspiration and they’ve influenced the content and direction the stories have taken. And judging by the reviews I’ve received, they’ve made a positive impression on my readers too.

Edinburgh is where I was born, grew up and spent a substantial part of my adult life. I also lived for many years on the Isle of Skye. And I have visited Israel-Palestine, where a dear friend of mine lives, on several occasions. So it’s probably not all that surprising that these places feature as settings in my books.

Indeed much of the action in my stories takes place while the characters are outdoors either working or simply enjoying being out in the natural world.

So in this post I thought I’d share my five favourite real-life, outdoor places that also feature in my novels.

The Hermitage of Braid, Edinburgh:

This is a wonderful park on the south side of the city. The water of the Braid Burn runs through it and it has Blackford Hill on one side and the Braid Hills on the other. In some parts it feels as if you’re deep in the woods or out in farming country rather than in the middle of a busy city. It has a semi-wild feel to it and is definitely not manicured parkland. I played in this park as a child, climbing trees and fishing for minnows in the burn, and I was brought on nature-study (as it was called back in the day) lessons from my primary school which was nearby. And it’s a place I return to nowadays if I’m in the city and feel like a good walk. So when I needed somewhere for Edinburgh school girl, Caitlin, and her friends to meet up in the school holidays in order to set out on their adventures in The Silver Locket, the Hermitage was the ideal setting.

Gullane Beach, East Lothian:

This is a lovely stretch of shoreline on Scotland’s east coast. There are dunes, a long sandy beach and amazing views across to Fife on the other side of the Firth of Forth. This is another place I visited a lot as a child and that has continued to be one of my favourite outdoor places since then. So when I needed a seaside setting for the home of Rosie, the main character, in Change of Life I chose Gullane and its beautiful beach.

Waternish Point, Isle of Skye:

A walk anywhere on this island is always going to be spectacular. The views and the scenery are breathtaking and second-to-none. But I’ve managed to choose two favourites that also feature in my writing. The walk to Waternish headland in the north of the island is the first walk that Rachel and Jack go on together in Displacement. And it’s a walk I did many times when I lived in Waternish. It takes you over streams and peatbogs, uphill and downhill, through a deserted crofting settlement and past two Iron Age brochs, before finishing at the lighthouse on what feels like the edge of the world.

Neist Point, Isle of Skye:

This walk takes you to the cliff tops at Skye’s north-western tip. You can walk down the steep path from the lighthouse to the cliff edge. You see lots of seabirds such as fulmars and gannets and looking out to sea, you may even spot dolphins and minke whales if you’re lucky. This is another walk taken by Jack and Rachel and which features in Settlement.

Dead Sea and the Judean Desert, Israel:

And walk number five couldn’t be more different in terms of landscape from all of the above. This landlocked exceptionally salty lake is on the border between Jordan and Israel. My visit here left a lasting impression. For a Scot used to coolness, dampness and greenery it was a shock to the senses to be walking in such hot, arid and barren surroundings – but it was still beautiful – albeit in a different way from what I’m used to. But having made such an impression on me it had to feature as one of the places visited by Rachel in Displacement and it’s the setting for her romantic encounter with Eitan.

So there you have it – my five favourite walks that made it into my fiction.

Where are your favourite places to go for a walk? And, if you’re a writer, artist or musician do real life settings inspire or feature in your work? As always please do comment below.

Author Research: A weird, wonderful and disturbing online search history

 

 

 

 

Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash

I’ve heard several crime writers say that they hope their online search history is never subject to investigation and then used in evidence against them. Some of them mention googling not only ways to maim and murder, but also how to dispose of a body, how to destroy evidence and various real and appalling murders.

Not just crime writers

I don’t write crime. My novels are contemporary second-chance romances. So you might think I wouldn’t have to do much in the way of research.

But you’d be wrong.

Checking the facts

As well as the central romance, I weave other issues such as mental health, culture and politics, and dealing with bereavement (to name only some) into my stories.  And so I have had to do a fair bit of fact finding and checking. Some of it has been in person in the real world, and some of it has been online.

And just like those crime writers I reckon my Google search history would at least look like a weird mixture if not downright disturbing. So, dear readers, in this post I thought I’d share just 20 topics from a fairly extensive list of searches that I’ve carried out for my Skye trilogy.

20 online research topics for Displacement, Settlement and (the work-in-progress) Fulfilment

  • Night sky in northern hemisphere winter
  • Geology of the Isle of Skye
  • Rare breed sheep
  • Lambing
  • Serving as a Royal Marine Commando
  • Night photography
  • Structure of Police Scotland
  • Treatment for a gunshot wound to the chest
  • Typical injuries sustained when a person is severely beaten-up
  • Aftercare and prosthetic limbs for double below-the-knee amputees
  • Israel-Palestine politics and culture
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Veteran’s charities
  • Working as an illustrator
  • Oil painting techniques
  • Sculpture techniques
  • Isle of Skye sheep and cattle auction mart
  • The 1930s Kindertransport
  • Middle-Eastern cuisine
  • Scottish Gaelic phrases

Dare you share some of the weird and wonderful things you’ve looked up online? As always comments welcome below.

Being an Author: Away from the Desk #amwriting #authorevents #bookfairs

 

Books don’t write themselves. Authors have to put in the hours at the desk getting those words written. But a writer’s life isn’t all carried out sitting at the computer or scribbling in a notebook.

I get a lot of my best ideas when I’m away from the writing cave. Sometimes they’ll come unbidden when I’m sitting on a train or bus, or gardening or cooking or doing some housework. And I’ll often solve a plotline problem or come up with a story development when I’m out for my daily walk. It’s as if my brain goes off on a walk of its own when I’m doing other things.

But as well as the normal and necessary daily breaks that form part of my writing day, there are also more formal and organised times where I’m out and about as an author.

In the last week or so I’ve attended two such events.

Local Business Fair

The first one was at a local business fair where all sorts of businesses and organisations were invited to hire a table and not only network with each other, but enjoy the chance to engage with members of the public who popped into the venue as visitors to the fair. So, as a local business – i.e. indie author-publisher I decided to sign up. I invited another local author to share my table and we had a fantastic day.

The weather was awful but that didn’t seem to put the visitors off, and from 10.30a.m. till 3.00p.m. the rugby club venue was buzzing. Me and my colleague talked to lots of lovely and interesting people about our writing and we sold a fair few books as well. We gave also out fliers, bookmarks and postcards to folks who preferred to buy our books in e-book format or who wanted to pass on information about our books to friends, family and libraries. It was also a great chance to network with all sorts of other local businesses, from handbag and jewellery makers to gin distillers and stately home administrators.

Author Talk

The second away-from-the-desk event was an evening spent talking to members of a reasonably local branch of the Scottish Women’s Institute. I always enjoy talking about my books and how I became a writer and this event was no exception. I was made very welcome and I was asked some very good questions. Even better was the fact that a couple of the members had already read my books and recommended them to the others.  I should also add that the homemade lemon drizzle cake that was served with my post-talk cup of tea was delicious and, again, I sold a good number of books.

Real Life versus Imaginary World

The above events are just the latest in a fairly long list of author events I’ve done in the last few years. I’ve taken part in book fairs, a book festival and a craft fair. I’ve given talks in libraries, in schools and to various groups. I’ve also delivered writing classes both to adults and to children. And, as well as the chance to promote and sell my work, it has all been very enjoyable. It’s great to get a chance to talk about my writing, to share what has inspired me and how I go about crafting a novel. And it’s even better to inspire others either to read, or to write, or both.

So yes, for me, as a writer, time spent working away from the desk is every bit as important as the time spent actually working at it.

What’s your view of writers getting out and about? As a reader do you like meeting authors at book events? Or, if you’re a writer, do you find time away from the desk is time well spent?

Being an Indie Author – Job description involving 3 hats – Part 3: Marketing

This is the third and final post where I share what it’s like for me working as an indie author-publisher. In this post I’ll be talking about marketing, how I keep in touch with my readers, and how I reach potential new ones.

(Part 1 looked at the writing process and you can read it here. And Part 2 looked at the preparations and procedures involved in getting my books published and can be read here).

Toolbox:                           

Over the years I’ve been publishing, I’ve learned a lot about selling books. And, because I now have a backlist, I also have an existing band of loyal and supportive readers. So, launching my first book was much harder than launching my latest one.

It’s also the case that things change – so what might once have worked may not do so any longer.

Having said that, there are some things that remain constant and essential to successful book marketing.

Identifying my target readers:

Books, like any other merchandise, have a target market. So authors need to know who their likely readers are and where to find them.

When I write my books I have a specific reader in mind. For my adult books that will be a woman who enjoys reading contemporary romantic fiction with a bit of depth to it. She’ll appreciate that age is no barrier to romance. She’ll enjoy reading about parts of the world or jobs, professions and lifestyles that might be different from her own. And she’ll appreciate that the path of true love doesn’t always run smoothly.

For my children’s book I knew that my readers would mainly be in the nine-to-twelve-year old age group and would enjoy an adventure story where the children rather than the adults save the day.

Where I find my readers:

Virtual World

The existence of the online world means that finding and connecting with existing and potential adult readers (or, in the case of my children’s book, with my readers’ parents/grandparents etc) is easier than it’s ever been.

I have a Facebook author page, I’m on Twitter, and I have this website and its blog. And through these I can alert people when I have a new book coming out and I can have ongoing interactions with the folks who read/might read my novels. These platforms also provide a way for my readers and/or followers to spread the word by sharing my posts or, indeed, their own recommendations as regards reading my books.

Blog Tour

Around the time that I’m launching a new novel I get a blog tour set up. This is where my new book will have a guest slot on a different book blogger’s blog every day for a week. Book bloggers are amazing, generous and hardworking folk who review and write about books for the love of it. The guest slot on a particular blog might be the blogger posting a review of my new book, or it might be the blogger interviewing me, or it might even be a guest post from me. Blog tour posts are widely shared on social media and so news of a new book ripples outwards as people share the book posts with friends and in reader groups.

Real World

And, in the real world I do author talks at libraries, book clubs, social clubs such as the Women’s Institute, and writers’ clubs – and for the children’s book I also do school visits.

I also take part in local book festivals and I go to book fairs, craft fairs and trade fairs – anywhere where there are tables available for authors to meet and chat to readers and to possibly sell books.

Book Availability:

I know some of my readers like to read real paper books and others prefer to read e-books. So I make sure both formats are available to them.

I also know that some like to get their books from an online store while others prefer to go to their local bookshop or library. So I also try to make sure they can get my books from their preferred outlet.

However, as an indie author, while making my books available online is easy, getting my books into bookshops and libraries can be trickier. Any reader wanting to get my a book of mine in a bookshop or library can ask for it to be ordered for them, but of course it would be easier if it was already on the shelf.

When I lived on the Isle of Skye the local bookshops and the library both stocked my books. As a regular customer at the bookshops and as a member of the library, I was able to use my existing relationship when I asked for my books to be stocked. And both the library and the shops were generally supportive of local authors no matter whether they were traditionally or independently published.

But having recently moved to a different area I’ve had to start building new relationships with local book sellers and libraries and my nearest bookshop has a no indie-author policy.

However, as I said above, just because a book of mine isn’t on the shelf, it is available (in the UK) to order via a bookshop or a library’s normal route. You just have to ask and be willing to wait a few days for it to arrive.

And if all else fails I’m happy to post or email a paper or e-book version directly to readers.

Hard Work:

So, yes, being a one-woman sales and marketing department is hard work but well worth the effort as it leads me to readers. Readers who not only buy or borrow my books but who write reviews, who feedback and who interact, readers who in their turn help me with marketing. And that’s what makes this book-writing lark such a rewarding one.

Three jobs in one:

So, as you can see the job of indie author – or authorpreneur as we’re sometimes called – is a busy one. I have to be the writer, the publisher and the book seller. But I love my multi-hatted job, I love writing books and I love that people get to read them. Long may this job continue.

Being An Indie Author – Job description involving 3 hats – Part 2: Publishing

This is the second in a series of 3 posts where I’m taking a look at my job as an indie author.

The first post in the series where I talk about how I go about the authoring/writing process can be read here. This second part looks at the publishing process and part three will look at marketing.

Preparing to Press the Publishing Button

The manuscript is complete. Now the hard work really begins. I redraft the whole thing many times, cut out whole sections, write new ones, make sure the whole thing makes sense and is well paced and well told. I check for consistency within the story. I check my research for factual accuracy. And I check the grammar, punctuation and spelling. I keep going until, at last, all is perfect – according to me.

So, I can’t put it off any longer. Now it must all go to the editor.

Professional Editing

A professional editor is vital to ensuring that the final product is the best it can be. This is the case whether a manuscript is going to be published by a traditional publishing company or by an indie author.

A professional editor must be able to spot all the mistakes, inaccuracies and blunders. They must be thorough, honest and harsh when necessary. If something’s not working, or could be done better, or is just plain rubbish they must say so.

My editor, John Hudspith, certainly does all of the above – and more. He’s a ruthless alchemist of prose. He points out where the manuscript isn’t perfect, the places it’s flat, flabby or lumpy – but he also makes useful suggestions as to how to improve things. His keen eye also spots missing or incorrect punctuation, and possible factual flaws or blips in the plot/character details.

Then I as the author must take all his constructive criticism on the chin, must not be precious, must get over myself and consider all his advice and suggestions seriously. And by doing so I ensure the book is polished and ready for its readers. John also helps with getting the back cover blurb and the front cover strap line just right – something that is vital in attracting readers to the book.

So I owe a huge debt of gratitude to John and if you want to know more about his editing services you can visit his website here.

In-House Proofreading

My current proofreader is my husband. He doesn’t do proofreading professionally but pre-retirement it was part of his job to check complex technical documents before they were released. He has a precise and accurate eye when looking over text. He picks up on yet more missing commas, ambiguous or inaccurate wording, and misspellings. This is despite me having read the document many times and John also having passed through it. So a good proof-reader is vital and I’m glad to have Mr S on board. He’s now open to working with other indie authors – so if you’d like to discuss using his proof-reading service then do get in touch via the comments section below and I’ll pass all queries on.

Professional Book Design

Another vital member of the team is the book designer.

In spite of the old saying advising us not to judge a book by its cover, it’s something most of us do. In truth the cover of a book has an enormous job to do. It has to fit the genre of the novel. The cover images have to suggest what’s between the covers, and the cover text has to be displayed in a way that will make it eye-catching and easy for browsing book buyers to read.

Then there’s the layout of the interior of the book to consider. The text needs to be presented in a reader friendly way. The font the size and the spacing have to be spot on. Then there’s the design and layout of chapter headings, page numbers and headers. And the book must look right regardless of whether it’s being read as a paperback, an e-reader or a phone.

Now, I’m neither artistic nor very good on the technical side of things but fortunately I don’t have to be. And that’s because I go to Jane at JD Smith Design for all my design needs.

I provide Jane with a design brief. This will include a short synopsis of the book, the formats it will be published in i.e. print and e-book, and a vague, just about coherent idea of what I’d like the cover to look like with maybe a few suggested images.

After a bit of back and forth emailing Jane will come up with the very cover design I was looking for – even although I didn’t know exactly what that was it before I saw it.

And once we’ve got the cover sorted out, Jane gets to work on the interior layout and design for all the various formats.

I love the look of my books and I get so many compliments on the covers. So, yes Jane is another alchemist who works magic on my book. If you want to find out more about JD Smith Design you can do so here.

And, I should add, it’s not just the books Jane designs for me, she also designs all my essential supplementary materials including, bookmarks, fliers, posters, postcards and a large roller banner  – all of which do a great job when it comes to marketing.

Pressing the Publish Button

Yes, indeed – publishing does happen at the press or rather the click of a button nowadays. So once the cover and the interior have been finalised it’s time to set up all the different formats on the appropriate websites such as the printer, distributor, and online booksellers. And then it really is as simple as clicking the button marked publish.

And now my book is out there – out there in the company of millions other books. All I have to do now is get it noticed. I have make sure folks know it’s available and how to get a copy. Now it’s time to get marketing – or rather to continue and step-up the marketing that will have already begun before publication.