Good news! If you haven’t already read any of my Rachel & Jack: Skye series of second chance romance novels you can grab a copy of book 1 Displacement for free. Yes, the ebook is free on Amazon for five days only – from today until the 11th May.
And even more good news – Book 2 in the series isSettlement and from tomorrow the ebook version will be discounted on Amazon for one week – from 8th to 15th May. I’ll post that link tomorrow.
And just in case you missed yesterday’s post here– yes, I’m delighted to say book 3, Fulfilment– the third and final part of the series – is out now as a paperback here and is available to preorder as an ebook here.
Yes, it’s arrived. My new book, Fulfilment is out and is available now as a paperback here – and for – pre-order on Kindle here – for delivery to your device on May 15th.
From the Back Cover
What’s it about? Well, it’s a contemporary second chance romance. It’s the third and final book in my series set on the Scottish island of Skye and brings the story of Jack and Rachel to a conclusion. Here’s what it says on the back cover:
The path of true love rarely runs smoothly…
When former Edinburgh police detective Jack Baxter met local author and crofter Rachel Campbell on the Scottish island of Skye, they fell in love. It was a second chance at happiness for both of them.
They both had emotional baggage. Jack helped Rachel cope with unimaginable grief after the death in combat of her soldier son, and Rachel was there for Jack after a criminal with a grudge almost ended his life. There were many bumps along the road but they believed they’d worked through and settled their differences.
However, Jack is struggling. Still suffering from post-traumatic stress, haunted by his past, and taunted by the demons of self-doubt, he feels Rachel deserves better.
Meanwhile, Rachel is busy preparing for the launch of her latest book – a book in honour of her son and aimed at promoting peace. So at first she fails to notice just how troubled Jack is.
Can Jack overcome his demons?
Can Rachel convince Jack he deserves to be loved?
Can they finally resolve their differences and fulfil their dreams together?
If you like mature, emotional and thought-provoking contemporary romance in a dramatic setting, then this is a book for you.
Needless to say I’m delighted to see Fulfilmentgoing out into the world. As I said above, it’s the third and final part of Rachel and Jack’s story and although it can be read as a standalone novel, I do hope that readers will read Displacement (book 1) and Settlement (book 2) first.
Whether you’re a professional author, someone who writes as a hobby, or are a complete novice, the hardest part of getting words down on the page is often, simply, getting started – even in normal times.
But, in the challenging times we’re currently living through, no matter how much you want to continue writing, or to give it a try for the first time, it may be proving even more difficult to get in the zone – regardless of the time you may have at your disposal.
Writing like any other art or craft is part aptitude, part acquired skill, but for the most part perseverance. It can be frustrating, challenging and exhilarating.
Yes, it begins with inspiration and by that I don’t mean anything particularly grand. It can be a tiny seed – a passing thought, a memory, a question that pops into your head uninvited but it can be enough to eventually lead to a finished, polished and ready to share piece of work. Or having explored it you might decide it’s not worth pursuing. But either way you’re going to have to take the idea and have a go at writing something.
But sometimes inspiration doesn’t arrive. You know you want to write something but you don’t know what. And this is equally the case for experienced and rookie writers. And sometimes, even when you do have an idea you’d like to run (or continue) with, that old enemy procrastination prevents you getting to your notebook or laptop and getting on with it.
And this is where writing prompts can prove very useful. A writing prompt is that little seed that will get you started but you don’t have to come up with an idea yourself. It’s also not prescriptive in terms of style or content, it’s just a gentle, non-threatening nudge.
Following a writing prompt might lead to a few lines, a paragraph, or a page of words. The result might turn out to be a poem, a bit of factual writing or a fictional story. It might be something you want to develop further, it might not – but it will get you in the writing zone.
Using a prompt acts as a warm-up for your writing brain. It can set you up for getting back to the work-in-progress or it can inspire and encourage you to try something new. Nobody but you is going to see it. You can write freely. And it doesn’t have to lead to anything other than writing for its own sake.
So all you need now are some examples – some actual writing prompts – and it so happens I have some to share with you. And they’re courtesy of the amazing creative folks over at WordPress.
Writing Prompts on WordPress
Throughout the month of April WordPress has been offering a daily one-word creative prompt and you can see them by clicking here. There are also helpful notes and hints as to how you might go about writing your response to the prompt.
So what are you waiting for? Established writer or complete beginner – go on give it a go. Write on the back of an envelope, in a beautiful notebook, or on your computer. Keep the results to yourself, develop them into something more, or put them up on your new or established writing blog – it’s up to you. But just do it.
What helps you to stop procrastinating – not only if you’re a writer – but in life in general? What helps you get into the required zone and get on with whatever it is you need to be doing? Are you finding it harder to concentrate during lockdown – or has it proved to be a gift of extra time for you to do the things you enjoy – while at home?
It’s day 28 of Covid-19 lockdown here in the UK. For me, it’s a case of so far, so good. Yes, it’s taken a bit of getting used to this new normal and I’m finding one day at a time to be the best approach. But I’m grateful that I live in a beautiful part of Scotland, that I can take a daily walk on uncrowded paths and trails, and that me and my loved ones remain healthy. I’m also grateful to be able to continue working.
All round wellbeing
It’s not only trying to remain physically healthy that’s important during this time of isolation, it’s also vital to look after our mental and emotional wellbeing too. In my previous post, I mentioned how much of a comfort reading is proving to be at this time and I shared some recommended reads. But reading’s not all that’s keeping me going.
As for many folk, the existence of the internet is proving to be a boon at this time too. I’ve been able to see and interact with my children and grandchildren at family meetings on zoom, keep in daily touch with my four sisters in our WhatsApp group, and email, text and have video calls with friends. And being able to socialise like this – even if our relationships are more isolationships for now – helps so much.
Happiness in horticulture
I’m also grateful to have a garden and I’ve recently been spending time digging, planting and weeding. Working in the garden, sun shining and birds singing at full throttle all around me, is such a therapeutic activity at any time, but at the moment it’s especially enjoyable. It’s been good to see how well our newly established garden is faring after its first year. Most of last year’s planting is thriving and our new trees are looking especially grand. At the weekend I dug over and weeded the beds, I cut out the dead wood and old foliage from the shrubs and I got seeds planted – some in pots and trays and some in containers and beds. I also planted some new rockery flowers and came up with a list and a plan for some further new planting.
Seeds for a new book
And, as I was working in the garden, I was able to think about my writing. Of course, I’m getting excited about the new book and I’m currently busy with getting all the final launch details in place, but I’m also starting to think about future projects and getting started on my next book. I’ve got lots of ideas – all recorded in my ideas notebook. Most will probably never see the light of day, but there are a few which I want to explore. The ideas are mainly characters who’ve come to me with snippets of backstory and I intend to ask them a bit more about themselves before deciding if they’re novel worthy.
So as I gardened with actual seeds, knowing some would come to nothing and others would be discarded in the thinning out process, and as I pulled out and disposed of actual weeds and deadwood – there was a similar process going on in my writer’s brain. There were metaphorical seeds – some which might grow and flourish – and grow into something splendid – and some that wouldn’t get to germinate or would be discarded at a later date. And there were some unsightly metaphorical weeds there too.
Yes, you can take the girl out of writing but you can never take writing etc, etc. 😊 The writing brain is running continuously in the background, no matter what I’m doing – and I have to say that at the moment I’m especially glad of having an escape route into an imaginary Covid-free world.
What’s keeping you well?
I hope you’re all safe and well and finding your own ways of coping mentally, physically and emotionally at this difficult time. What’s working for you?
I don’t know about you, but one of the main things that’s getting me through this time of social isolation is reading. Reading has always been one of my main leisure activities, but now it’s become more of a sanity saver, escape pod, and huge source of comfort.
Reads to escape into
So, as I said in a previous post, I’m suspending my Book of the Month post for the foreseeable, and instead I’m aiming to do an occasional round-up of books I’ve recently read and enjoyed, and that I think you might enjoy too. As you’ll see my main go-to genre remains contemporary romance – which with its themes of love, hope and happy-ever-after provides just what I need at the moment .
Recommendations – not reviews
As I want to include several books per post, the round-up won’t include reviews, but if a book’s included it will be because I consider it to be a good read and one that provides some much-needed escapism.
Six Good Ones
If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
The New Guy by Kathryn Freeman
The Life She Wants by Maggie Christensen
My One True North by Milly Johnson
Cold & Deadly by Toni Anderson
Hidden by Linda Gillard
Previously read and recommended authors
Other authors who I’ve not read so recently, but who are definitely worth checking out include:
for contemporary romance – Heidi Swain, Jo Lambert, Marie Laval, Kate Field, Kate Blackadder Emma Davies, Miranda Dickinson
for historical romance – Anne Stenhouse
for alternative history/romance/suspense – Alison Morton
for contemporary/ crime thriller/romance – JJ Marsh
All the books by the above authors are available as paperbacks and/or ebooks and can be purchased from online stores and from bookshops offering online/phone ordering and postal delivery.
Over to you
Are you finding some solace in reading at the moment? If so what book(s) would you recommend? What is your go-to genre and has it changed during this challenging time? Are you looking for comfort, escapism, thrills or challenges in the books you’re reading? Maybe you’re more into non-fiction? Do share your thoughts below.
When I said in my previous post that I’d be taking a couple of weeks away from the blog in order to press on with preparing my latest book for publication I certainly didn’t foresee how things would have changed for all of us by the time I got back here.
But before going any further I just want to say welcome to this safe and germ free online space. Thank you for dropping in and reading my ramblings. I hope you’re managing to stay well and to cope with all the ramifications of the Covid-19 virus wherever you are in the world and whatever your personal circumstances.
The C-word and me
I’m fortunate in that, as a writer, I work from home – at least as far as the creative side of things goes. But because of the virus protection measures I’ve obviously had to suspend any author talks, workshops and live book launches, but at least I have this online space – and other social media sites – where I can continue to interact with my readers and fellow writers.
However, I must admit that I’ve been finding it impossible to focus on work for the last two or three weeks. Getting my head around the all the cancelled events – professional and personal – and the full implications of social-distancing has been hard. That along with my concern for my own wellbeing, and that of others, has used up all my mental and emotional energy. I suspect it’s been the same for many of us.
But the brain fog is gradually clearing and I think/hope I’m getting to used to the new normal. I’m trying to remain positive. And I keep reminding myself I’ve a lot to be grateful for.
I’m grateful that I can keep myself safe – I have a home with a garden, I live in a quiet village with uncrowded streets and paths to walk on, I have enough money and food and I don’t live alone. I’m grateful to all our wonderful NHS (UK health service) staff – including my own sister who is a nurse at one of Scotland’s biggest hospitals – to the shopworkers, delivery drivers, bin collectors, teachers, train and bus drivers and to anyone else who is working to ensure vital services can still operate.
But, yes, I admit I still get anxious and afraid at times, and I don’t think I’ll be learning a new language or undertaking any other ambitious project to see me through – However, I do now have a plan.
It’s an outline plan – and, most importantly, it’s flexible according to my mood. So, I plan to continue my writing work, but it’s going to have to fit around purely therapeutic activities.
The therapeutic activities that work for me are the things I’ve always done to aid my wellbeing, but for now they’re going to be my main focus. So my days will include a daily walk, doing some yoga – our local yoga teacher is doing her classes online for the duration – listening to music and of course reading. And in the absence of outings and a ‘real world’ social life, the more I’m keeping in touch with family and friends via video calls, WhatsApp groups and good old-fashioned phone calls.
As for writing, my focus will be on getting my delayed new book out and so I aim to see Fulfilment published later this month. I also plan to crack on with a new book – a new book that will be Covid-free. Yes, the imaginary world is a nicer place – a place of refuge – and I get to be in charge 🙂
The New Book
Fulfilment is the third and final part of my Rachel and Jack Skye series. During this month I’ll post the cover and a preview of the story. And if you haven’t read the first two in the series, there will also be special offer price reductions on Displacement and Settlement coming up – so watch this space.
Don’t Miss Out
And to be sure of getting news of the launch of the new book or the special offers, do sign up to follow this blog by email.
I know! I know! There was no Book of the Month post here for March. Apologies. Excuses – see all of the above. I’m suspending this feature for now. But I will do a reading related post very soon – which will include recommended reads from March and beyond.
Thanks for dropping in and thanks for your interest and stay safe and well, everyone. But before you go, do leave comments below. How are you coping during this difficult time? What are your recommended tactics and strategies? What books would you recommend to get us through?
In three recent posts I’ve written about where I get the ideas for the characters and plots in my novels, HERE, how I come up with and (to a certain extent) invent and adapt settings, HERE, and topics that I’ve had to research, HERE
If I get all that right I can then – she says modestly – come up with a pretty good 80 thousand word story. Job done.
Except it’s not. Oh no, writing that first draft is the easy part. And when I write ‘THE END’ it’s really only the end of the beginning – or the beginning of the end perhaps??
Whatever! There’s a lot that still needs to be done to get the story ready for readers.
Check and take note
First off, I have to go back to the beginning and read over the whole manuscript. And, all the time I’m reading, I’m also checking. I’m checking for errors – errors such as factual mistakes, inconsistencies in the plot, poor wording, sloppy phrasing, irrelevancies, boring bits, punctuation missing or wrongly applied, grammar crimes … and that’s not a comprehensive list.
Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite
Then, based on my notes from the above read through, I redraft and rewrite the manuscript. I’ll do this as many times as it takes for me to be satisfied that all is now well.
Off to the Editor
Once I’m sure it’s perfect, I send my story to my editor, confident he’ll find absolutely nothing wrong. I never learn! Of course he finds plenty. He’s an amazingly clever and astute alchemist of prose and much as I’d love to disagree with his constructive suggestions and recommendations as to what needs to be changed, I find myself going, ‘you know what, he’s right.’
Rewrite some more
So, after the editorial feedback is received, it’s time to rewrite some more and make even more changes to what is now draft number 526 (okay, slight exaggeration there).
But even after that I’m still not done. Oh no.
An irresistible backcover blurb
While all the editing is going on, I have to come up with the back cover blurb which will make the book irresistible to prospective readers who pick it off the shelf in their local bookshop, or who’re browsing that big online site that sells stuff. And, as if that wasn’t hard enough, I also have to produce a six (or so) word strapline for the front cover. This must be just as convincing as the back cover text that my novel is an unputdownable must-read. Writing both these reader-capture items is SO hard. I’d rather write another whole novel than condense my current one down to a paragraph – or worse still half a dozen words.
A beguiling cover
And while I’m agonising over the cover words, I’m also in discussion with the cover designer trying to come up with an awesome, attention-grabbing cover image. For someone as artistically challenged as I am this isn’t easy. But luckily as with my editor, I’m also very fortunate to have a fantastically talented and easy to work with designer.
After all the final edits are applied and the cover text and cover images are nailed and agreed upon, you’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.
Proofread and check again
While I’m agonising over and finalising the cover, my proof-reader, aka the husband, is reading the ‘final’ manuscript to check for any errors not spotted by me or the editor, such as a missing apostrophe, a misspelling or anything that seems unclear or just plain wrong. And you know what, he’s incredibly good at his job and will always spot something that has previously gone undetected.
All set up
Then, at last, the now pristine manuscript is ready to be formatted for both print and e-book versions of the novel. And, you guessed it, after that’s done it has to be checked over yet again – just in case anything has gone awry during the conversion process.
Okay, you still with me? If so, well done. If not, waken up at the back there!
Yes, I’m almost there now. All that remains, after all of the above is complete, is to ask, beg, plead with members of my early-reading team to read at least part, if not all of my soon-to-be-published masterpiece and to let me know what they think, or better still to write a review, or maybe even a cover quote.
Then, finally, publication date can be confirmed.
And, at last, I really can write THE END.
All that remains after this point is the launch and marketing plan. But that’s a post for another day. In fact I’m going to be spending most of March preparing for the publication of Fulfilment – doing the final edits and checks and making that launch and marketing plan – and so I’ll be taking a short break from the blog.
I’ve read five books this month and there was one I didn’t finish (as life’s too short to waste time on something you’re not enjoying). As usual I stuck with either crime or romantic fiction for four of them, but I also read one book that was a bit different from my usual reading fare. It was a fantasy thriller novel with vampires and time travel. So, yes a bit out of my comfort zone.
However, I wasn’t actually being all that brave and ‘out there’ by including this novel in my February reading, as I’d read Olga Wojtas’s previous novel Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar and absolutely loved it. I reviewed it HERE.
And yes, I loved her latest one too. Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace is every bit as witty, funny, entertaining and captivating as its predecessor. The originality is refreshing and awesome and make the book quite unique.
Therefore even although I thoroughly enjoyed all five books that I did finish, it was fairly easy to decide on February’s book of the month just because of its sheer originality.
From the back cover:
Fifty-something librarian Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, but has a deep loathing for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name.
Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is personally selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for an important mission in fin-de-siècle France.
But Shona finds this mission very confusing. Why, for example, have so many people been torn to death by wild animals, what are Maman and the mayor up to, and is the reclusive aristocrat really suffering from toothache?
It’s a race against time to solve the mystery. It is also a very tall order but as Shona is wont to remind herself: Never underestimate a librarian!
In my post a couple of weeks ago I shared where I get my ideas for my novels from and how my characters and their stories come to me. Then last week I wrote about how tricky it can be to come up with a fictional location even when the book is contemporary and set in the real world. In today’s post I’m sharing some of the research I’ve had to when writing my novels.
Not all down to imagination
Yes, fiction is, by definition, made up. The characters aren’t real people, the story is invented, and the settings maybe don’t actually exist. But writing a made-up story isn’t solely imaginative.
In order to flesh out the characters – their lives and the places they live – lots of credible details have to be included. Details such as jobs, workplaces, hobbies, lifestyles, health issues and politics – to name only a few. And that’s where research is essential.
Life experience isn’t enough
As an author, I can, of course, draw on my own life experience and fictionalise events etc. But this can only get me so far. It would all get rather dull rather quickly if everything was just a variation on the theme of me. So I have to research all sorts of stuff to give my novels credibility and interest.
Below are just some of the areas I’ve had to explore. And some of it probably makes for an ‘interesting’ internet research history …
Things I needed to research
For my first novel Change of Life, although I shared the profession of primary school teacher with Rosie and had, like her, had a cancer diagnosis, I knew nothing about the profession of her husband Tom. So I had to a fair bit of research on the work of a heart surgeon. Other areas I had to investigate for that first story included adoption, drug addiction and the life of a photo-journalist.
When I wrote my (to date) only children’s novel The Silver Locket, I had, amongst other things, to check up on the historical details of the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
But the amount of research requiring to be done ramped up significantly when I was writing my Skye series.
For Displacement, although, like my main characters, I lived in crofting township on the Scottish island of Skye, I wasn’t working on a croft (in case you don’t know, a croft is a small subsistence farm common in parts of the Scottish Highlands and Islands). So I had to research various types of animal husbandry and how crofting works. I also had to research the organisation and ways of working of Police Scotland, the job of a children’s book illustrator, possible complications of pregnancy and the current political situation in the Middle East.
When I was writing Settlement, the second book in the series, I had to look into organised crime, gunshot wounds and how to treat them, as well as the likelihood of surviving a bullet in the chest. The finer points of producing watercolour and oil paintings was another area I had to investigate. And I also had to update my knowledge of both Police Scotland and the work of those on all sides who are working for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine.
Then for my latest book, Fulfilment – the third and final part of the Skye series, to be published next month – there was yet more research to be done. This time it included the use of polytunnels to grow fruit and vegetables, the use of quad bikes on hill farms, the adaptation of quad bikes to hand controls only, how to photograph the night sky, advanced sheep care, PTSD – its nature and treatment, the health implications for those who use a prosthetic leg following amputation, and the work of various social enterprises and charities.
And, as I say, the above list of topics contains just some of the stuff I’ve had to research in the course of my writing.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
But all this investigation of a wide range of topics doesn’t make me an expert in any of them. I hope I’ve done enough to add to the interest, credibility and level of entertainment that I hope my books contain. However, I can’t perform heart surgery, provide mental health therapy, deliver a lamb or treat a sick sheep. Neither can I paint beautiful pictures or photograph the Milky Way. I don’t need to do any of those things, I just have to know enough to convince my readers that my characters can do them.
The perils of research for an author
The downside of doing lots of research as an author is the temptation to justify the time spent doing it by including way too much of it in the story. So it’s a bit of a balancing act when deciding what to include and what to leave out. I know I have to be ruthless and only include what enhances the story or risk boring my readers with a load of irrelevant detail.
I apologise now if I’ve made any factual errors in spite of my research and constant fact-checking. Any mistakes are most definitely mine and not those of the real experts I asked – or indeed of Mr Google. So don’t treat any of my novels as manuals 😊
I don’t profess to be an expert in everything included in my novels. But I do hope my research has been good enough. Thank you to everyone who has personally and patiently shared their true expertise with me. Respect to you all. I hope I’ve used my research appropriately and understood and interpreted correctly.
But, most of all, I do believe that the time I’ve devoted to my research has been well spent – and that my stories are better for it.
The nitty-gritty of writing – it’s not all glamorous
In my previous post I talked about how when I’m writing a book it begins with a character – a character that comes to me out of the blue usually when I’m busy doing something completely unrelated to writing. And it’s in getting to know that character that the plot begins to develop, as does the idea of where it should be set.
The devil is in the detail – timelines, events & maps
But whereas I don’t do much in the way of detailed planning for the development of the story itself, preferring to see where my characters take me, I’ve learned the hard way that I absolutely must have a detailed record of the timescales involved, of the factual biographies of the characters, and of the locations where the action will take place. This is particularly important when writing a series as there’s only so much detail I can hold in my memory.
Timing is crucial
Therefore I’ll have a time frame for the duration of the action – be that over a year, a month, a week – whatever. And even if I don’t say it’s all taking place in, for example, 2017, I’ll make sure I have a definite year or period in mind, so that the continuity of the action works.
Linked to that I’ll also have the birth dates and ages of all the main characters decided on and noted – again no matter whether those details are mentioned in the novel. But as well as dates of birth, I also make sure to note all the relevant background details of the characters that might influence their actions and reactions in the novel – yes, regardless of whether these details are directly mentioned in the telling of the story. For example what their parents did for a living and what their names were, where the character grew up, their siblings if any, perhaps their health history or educational record. And most importantly I make a note of their physical characteristics – again – you guessed it – whether or not they’re directly referred to in the telling of the tale. This all helps bring the characters fully to life in my head and, as with the timeline, helps me check continuity.
And, although I use real world settings in my novels I do also apply some fictionalising to those real places. That way I get the best of both worlds and my already hard-working imagination doesn’t get overstretched.
So, for example in my Skye-set novels – the Scottish island is of course real. The main town of Portree, the famous mountains and other scenic sites are all places that exist, but the township of Halladale where my main character Rachel loves is entirely fictional – as are its hills and the local mountain, Ben Halla.
I made up Halladale because I wanted the freedom to include whatever houses, landscape and other features that I needed for my story to work. As for the houses where Jack, Rachel and other characters live – whether on Skye, or in the other locations the story takes them – they, too are all made up. However, although some are completely made-up, some are based on real places. Halladale is based on the place where I lived in north Skye. Rachel’s house is loosely based on my own Skye house. And the Jerusalem flat where Rachel’s brother lives is based on the apartment where a friend of mine lived when she was growing up there and which I visited.
Using made up or fictionalised places means that I draw out floorplans of the houses and note what direction they face and what can be seen from various windows and so on. I also draw maps – for example I drew a map of Halladale and noted how far it was (in my mind) from the real main town of Portree and where on the island’s northern peninsula I have placed it. That way I can have them leave their driveways and head in the right direction every time, and I can have them gaze out of their front room window at the same view of the loch as they had in a previous chapter.
All of these background details are essential. Shared with my readers or not, they help ensure consistency and credibility in my storytelling and having them written down saves me so much time as I edit, proofread and check my manuscript before publication.
Not all about channelling the muse
So, this writer’s life is not just a case of sitting down and having the inspired and wonderful prose flow effortlessly from brain to computer screen. A lot of effort goes into producing a novel – oh yes, it does – and there’s a lot goes on in the background that the reader never gets to see but is a nevertheless necessary part of the writer’s craft.
Which brings me to research – another essential item in the build-a-novel toolkit. But that’s a post for another day.