Thursday, January 26, 2012

New Year, New...

I know we are almost at the end of January but things have been a tad hectic and I haven’t managed to properly post here since Christmas.

I usually hate new year and I have to say this year has surpassed all expectations in general ickiness. I am pulling myself hand over fist towards February with increasing desperation. As a result I haven’t quite got round to any sort of new year resolutions except make it to the middle of next week.

But what about after that? I can’t spend the rest of the year crawling my way through each month, ticking off the days until we hit 2013. I have to figure out what will 2012 bring me and what will I bring to 2012?

I do know one thing. The book will be heading to an agent. I know we have heard this before but this year I WILL DO IT! I have six chapters left to revise. There is no excuse (except for my tax return… that I do need to do).

The other plan for this year is for me to figure out a way to get to the States and get to stay. Some things changed at the end of 2011 and I am no longer thinking in terms of ‘me’ but am thinking in terms of ‘we’. A big change but lovely. Logistically problematic. I can only hope that I can get it sorted fast but there is a lot that can go wrong. Many a slip twixt cup and lip.

So here is to getting to February and to kicking 2012’s behind. YEEE HA!

Come back on Sunday to hear from Susanna

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Twitter - For Promotion or Not????

There has been a great deal of discussion about Twitter recently especially in regard to promotion. Joe Konrath made some very interesting points on his blog here and I tweeted the link because I felt it was well worth reading…then a new tweep came back...
@liz_fenwick Breaking Joe's rules by tweeting you but thanks for highlighting the post. Really thought provoking.
My reply
@juliastagg true but i don't tweet for publicity but for friendship and sanity...writing is a lonely business and twitter is company

This is really the point of twitter for me because the more I learn about the world of publicity and books the more I know that my efforts in the PR area will sell very few books. My activity on twitter which is not PR motivated will sell a few more, but not enough to call it a promotion tool. Lately there has been a few excellent blogs about twitter and over promotion…Nicola Morgan for one here. And if you are on Twitter you will know of a few author who are shouting about their books all the time – in one form or another and it’s a turn off even the ones I know in person. I can’t bear it.

However twitter is wonderful and it does promote books, but it’s not straight forward. I have bought many books on the recommendation of one of my twitter friends because they loved it. I trusted them and their judgement and it hasn’t sent me to a bad book yet. And I know friends have bought books on my recommendation. Let me say that again. My friends have bought on my recommendation…not on my retweet of someone else’s recommendation. A retweet can give an author or a book name recognition…but Joe Smith’s tweet that A Dark Night was the best book ever doesn’t carry any weight with me because I don’t know Joe Smith from Adam. However if Julie Cohen tells me a book kept her reading into the small hours…well I know it’s a good book.

So now to my point... Twitter for me is my community. It’s my colleagues and friends at the coffee machine. Most of my ‘work’ day is spent alone. I live in an imaginary world and wonderful though it is I need people, distraction and the brilliant procrastination.

Twitter is the place that I go to share news…I can’t call DH in the middle of the day to say I’m dancing round the dining room table because a book club has chosen my book for their summer read…so I tell twitter. I’m sure twitter thinks I’m absolutely mad and I am, but it’s wonderful to jump in a share and be a part of other people’s lives…from the exciting to frankly dull, but it’s real.

Now some would say that tweeting about being chosen by a book club is promotion and it is…but it’s not going to make anyone else go out and buy it, it’s not saying go and buy my book, but it does increase name recognition…

I have been tweeting with Colette Caddle for a while. She is a lovely person or is on Twitter. So one day browsing in a bookshop here in Dubai faced with thousands of titles and one jumped out at me. Yup, it was one of Colette's...and I bought it, but it wasn't until I was home that evening and on Twitter that I realized I knew recognition in action....

I have to come clean…I, in an indirect way, ‘got’ my agent on twitter. Heaven forbid that I pitched to her on twitter…that is instant death. But we became twitter friends which led to meeting in person and drinking wine friends and of course shoe friends…So when I felt my book was ready, really ready, I pitched the proper way (letter, synopsis, and three chapters) but because of the friendship I didn’t languish on the slush pile….(it also helped that 3 other agents received the same submission at the same time and were interested...a little competition is a motivator)

At the recent RNA meeting there was an industry panel and I heard through the grapevine that Waterstones Publisher Relationship Manager, Cathy Rentzenbrink aka @cathyreadsbooks,  held up a proof copy of The Cornish House when asked… “What lifts your heart when a book lands on your desk?”…why did she do this…according to my sources the Cornish theme and twitter…

So moral of the story…twitter works but not as many would have us believe….Are you on twitter? Why?

Thursday, January 19, 2012


(I'm afraid I'm going back to the trivial here, as I couldn't think of a way to follow Julie and Anna's moving posts - sorry!)

It’s a new year and I’m sure we all made some resolutions – some easier to keep than others! I broke my first one within hours (it IS hard to stay away from the chocolate in the fridge when it’s calling out to you!), but my second one I’ve actually put into action – de-cluttering.

I started with the cupboard under the stairs. What is it about cupboards under stairs? It’s just so easy to chuck stuff in there and forget it ever existed. Until it gets full, that is, and you can’t open the door without something falling on you and if you want to find something, well, forget it!

Cupboard finished, I decided to tackle my office. I call it an office, but really it’s just an alcove off the bedroom. And it’s truly amazing how much you can fit into an alcove if you try! I’d been collecting stuff there for six years without a clear-out. It was definitely time to do something about it.

A couple of weeks later and I’m still not quite finished, but almost. I can see the carpet, the files are all tidy, I have a new bookshelf which isn’t even full yet (hooray, good excuse to buy more books!) and I found some things I’d forgotten I had. The dust is gone (temporarily) and it feels really good! So there are still a few piles of papers to sort out and dispose of, but it was really satisfying to carry out five or six bags for recycling – cleansing, both for my office and for my mind somehow. And if you’ve got a pile of magazines (unopened, still in their plastic wrappers) that you subscribed to three years ago and haven’t read by now, then surely you don’t need them? I figured not, and they’re gone.

This kind of spring cleaning mania is supposed to be something that grips mothers-to-be in the weeks before their baby is due. Can’t say that happened to me (being the size of a whale isn’t really conducive to bending or carrying stuff if you ask me), but I know now what they mean because all this clearing out and de-cluttering has made me feel ready to sit down and produce something – some fresh writing. Does that count? Maybe it’s not quite the same, but writing a book feels a bit like giving birth sometimes, so I think I’ll keep the analogy. And I know lots of authors clear out their offices each time they finish a book in order to start afresh as it were – from now on I intend to do the same.

And speaking of new years – apparently it’s the Chinese Year of the Dragon coming up, and not just any Dragon year, but a very special one – Black Water Dragon, which apparently means it’s going to bring unexpected happenings. Let’s hope they’re good ones for all of us!

Did you make any resolutions, and if so, have you kept them? Let me know while I’m still feeling smug about keeping one of mine (even if I did eat a lot of chocolate in the meantime ...)

And please come back on Sunday to hear from Liz!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reasons to Write #3 - Because they said so

Julie's post about Don was so moving and so... so... just right that I found myself thinking hard about what to post today. I didn't want to put up anything trivial, but I didn't want to change the subject entirely, either.

So I've picked up a thread from Julie's post - the one about inspirational people, the people who are genial shadows at our shoulder saying, "go on! You can do it!"

It starts with Mum, I think. It was Mum who taught me to read at an early age (so early, in fact, that when I went to infants' school, Mum was told off for having taught me to read, because, "now she will have to un-learn it all so that we can teach her properly."


Mum took me to the library every week or so, where I could have four books, and only one of them could be Asterix.... I think I spent most of my childhood with my nose in a book, and there was never any shortage. We had a houseful of books, and I made the transition from Famous Five to Mary Stewart and Desmond Bagley without ever thinking about what was a "children's book" or what was a "grown-up's book". They were just good stories.

Dad read aloud to us on holidays, giving a different voice to every character, teaching me about emotional punch when he read about Aslan's sacrifice with a catch in his voice. I can remember now the smell of the tent and the sound of his voice telling us "he is not a tame lion" through the canvas walls of our sleeping compartment. He also gave me his old typewriter, handling it with the reverence due to a tool for creating words. I typed my first story, aged seven, on it.

Then there was Mr Bennet. Mr Bennet my English teacher from age 11 to 18. Mr Bennet who stood on the desk in front of me to read my work because I told him I didn't like people reading over my shoulder. Who let two of us study Mansfield Park when the rest of the class were doing The Chocolate War. Who introduced me to obscure books by unheard-of writers, leading me to leap across genres without giving the classification a moment's thought. Who helped me love Chaucer, Shakespeare and (eventually) Milton with the same heart that devoured Terry Pratchett and Roger Zelazny.

These are the people who helped to generate the love of words, of stories, who nurtured it. None of them were remotely surprised when I expressed a desire to write.

They just said, "go on! You can do it!"

Who are or were the personal influences in your writing life?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Real Writer

I joined my local writers' group over ten years ago, when I decided I wanted to become a Real Writer. I remember bringing in my first chapter of my first romance novel to a critique group session, and having one of the members tell me, kindly but strictly, that having a character look into the mirror so that she could be described to the reader was a horrible, horrible cliche. (I haven't done it again.) A letter-writing workshop led me to my first publication in the UK: a letter to a supermarket magazine about Marmite, for which I received £10. I bought a Barry Manilow CD.

It's a varied group: until he passed away recently, we had one member who had belonged since the 1950s, and we have another member, now a university graduate, who joined when she was 14. There are men and women, and people from countries around the world. We've had members who write everything by hand or on a typewriter and photocopy it, and others who bring laptops or tablets to the meeting to take notes. We have poets and science fiction writers; we have memoirists and journalists; we have romance writers and children's writers, thriller writers and literary writers. We have some members who aren't quite sure what they want to write yet—they just have a burning desire to get the words on paper. We have some members who write every day, and some who haven't written for years. Some of us are published, and some are not. Two of us are professional writers who rely on our writing income to live, but many more of us write for the pure joy of writing, and regard any income as a bonus.

Our secretary, Don, used to field all the enquiries for people wanting to join Reading Writers. He would tell each person who asked: 'The only requirement to join is a love of writing. We celebrate each member's successes, whatever they might be.' It made, and still makes, for an egalitarian, supportive, respectful group.

When Don was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, he made light of it. He called the radical surgery he had to have on his face to remove the tumours his 'face lift'. He continued to bring in his stories, wonderful, gritty, humorous slices of what he called 'the lives of low-lives': small-time thugs, drug dealers, hookers, drunks, all with vulnerabilities and hopes. Although he'd been a copy writer for many years he'd never had any fiction published; he told me that he enjoyed sharing his stories with the group, and he felt he learned a great deal by listening to our comments and revising his work. That was enough for him.

He took me aside during the tea break at one meeting and told me that the cancer had spread to his liver. He had about six months, he said. He was getting everything ready—writing his will, planning his funeral, making provisions for his beloved wife and family. He was also still working on his stories. 'I'd like to make a gift to Reading Writers before I go,' he said. 'You can use it as you like.'

Between the group and Don, we decided to create an annual award in his name, to be given to a member. But Don was vehement that it shouldn't necessarily go to the person who was the most obviously successful in a writing career. It should go to the person who has made the most significant personal progress with their writing, whatever that success might be.

Don himself showed us what kind of personal success he meant. He kept on coming to meetings for as long as he could. He kept on writing and reading others' work. He put aside time, in the midst of his other arrangements, in the midst of seeing his family and saying goodbye, to improve his stories and submit some of them to the group anthology we were doing. In hospice, he made jokes, told stories.

He was a writer all the way till the end.

At his funeral, we all got terribly, stinkingly drunk, because he'd told us to. Twice now, we've voted for the winner of the Don Louth Writers' Award. Last night Don's wife presented it to Don's hand-picked successor, the current secretary, Josh.

And we remembered what being a Real Writer means.

(Come back on Sunday to hear from Anna...)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Getting to Know You

While doing my daily round of the internet last week, I noticed that, over at Dear Author, Jane's #5 wish in her List of Things She'd Like to See in 2012 from the Romance Genre was More Courtship.

"I am not sure whether it is paranormals and the fated mates that have led to the slow devolution of the courtship, but whatever is the reason, we need to put a stop to it," Jane writes. "I love the courtship. Dating is so rife with opportunity and conflict. Where is the slow build of attraction?"

Now, don't get me wrong, I believe in the concept of instant attraction and people who simply belong with each other, but watching while two people start to become more aware of each other is wonderful, too, and Jane's post got me thinking how much I love those films and novels in which the main characters actually go out on dates, get to know one another, prolong the suspense for us. Will they or won't they? The almost-kiss can be as sexy to me (sometimes sexier) than sex itself.

Case in point: Scarecrow and Mrs. King. If you were born in the 80s or later, you most likely won't have a clue what this is, but for a romance-loving teen like me in 1983, it was The Best Thing on TV, my favourite show.

Bruce Boxleitner played a suave CIA spy, teamed with Kate Jackson as a divorced mom of two who got drafted by circumstance into the spy game. Their chemistry steamed up our little TV screen, and watching their feelings develop and grow brought me back every week thinking, "This is it! This is the week that they'll kiss!" Their interrupted almost-kisses were the thing of legend, but their first Real Kiss, right at the end of the Third Season (!) made my heart happy because I had watched all the small little moments that led to it.

Back in the mid-18th century, the Irish writer Laurence Sterne (of Tristam Shandy fame) wrote that "Courtship consists in a number of quiet attentions, not so pointed as to alarm, nor so vague as not to be understood."

Those "quiet attentions" are why I so love books like My Love, My Enemy, by Jan Cox Speas, with its pairing of the young American heroine, Page Bradley, and the dashing English spy Lord Hazard, set against the War of 1812, when a brave but rash action by Page throws them (literally) both in the same boat (well, ship) and Lord Hazard decides that, with Page on her own, he is honour-bound to guard her honour, however attractive he finds her. Which means that they don't even kiss till the end of the 14th long chapter, by which time we've watched while they break down their differences, overcome prejudices, notice each other's small faults and discover the things they admire in each other.

Again, it's those stray little moments: the times that their eyes meet, the times they say small things that mean something more, the few times they touch.

It's those same moments, I think, that mark the progression of real-life relationships, too: that first meeting, or first introduction; the first time you notice what colour his eyes are; the first time you go out together; the first time you hold hands; the first time you sit up until 2 a.m. talking; the times that you wish he would kiss you; the first time he actually does...

It's not all smooth sailing, mind you. Both in real life and in fiction there is angst, and plenty of it, and it's not a state I'd want to spend forever in. It's too exhausting. But whether it takes a full year, as it does with Lord Hazard and Page, or three seasons on TV, or one unforgettable day spent with Gregory Peck (Roman Holiday, pictured above), I'll admit I'm a sucker for stories of courtship.

What about you? What's your favourite example of courtship in fiction, and do you agree with Jane that we need more of it?

(Come back on Thursday, to see whether Julie comes out of her luxury bolthole...)

Friday, January 6, 2012

News Report!

Our Roving Reporter tells us that two Heroine Addicts who shall remain nameless met at an undisclosed location in London this afternoon.

'I can't tell you what we're doing here,' said BC, otherwise known as The Woman In Black. 'It would compromise national security. Let's just say that it has...something to do with writing.'

'Or Post-Its,' added JC, otherwise known as The Other Woman In Black. 'Definitely either writing, or Post-Its.'

'Possibly both,' said BC.

Neither Heroine Addict would confirm or deny rumours that one of them is too busy revising her novel to put up a proper post on this blog, and that the other is too busy hiding herself away writing to a deadline, possibly in a super-secret luxury bolthole, to put up a proper post either.

Wine and/or coffee may have been involved. Keep tuned for further developments.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

@Suburbman just said on Twitter...'There's a special kind of melancholy to New Year's Eve.' It made me pause. It is a time so bound with hope, promise, excitement balanced by the feelings regarding the year about to close. It has never been my favourite holiday until quite recently.

I remember childhood New Years watching television with my grandfather (my parents presumably were out at a party). I would snuggle close as we'd watch King Kong and then I would wake to see the New Year in to sound of Guy Lombardo's orchestra playing Auld Lange Syne...

The teen and single years were fraught with not looking back, but looking to the possible...the possible boyfriend that is...that New year's kiss that could be the start of something couldn't it??? Alas it never was and by the time I reached the second half of my twenties  girl friend and I would head to the mountains for New Year's Eve. We'd have a great dinner, enjoy a few drinks in the bar and disappear before midnight....well, we were there to ski after all. The slopes would always be deserted on New Year's Day until about two...

Then I met the man that was to become DH and we spent our first New Year's Eve together with his family in Cornwall. I can still remember standing out on the balcony looking down on the fireworks at the Ferry Boat Inn across the river as a new decade began...

That was the beginning of the change for me...I had found my soul mate so there was no more need to be searching for that perfect kiss that would begin something it was a kiss that keeps building something wonderful.

So as I sit here in my kitchen preparing for New Years Eve...rib of beef etc...I realize this might be the last year for a while that I will have all my kids with me.  DS1 will soon bore of our black tie dinners, family games...and go and seek out the perfect kiss....

Wishing you all a wonderful New Year. May 2012 bring you good health and blessings and if you haven't found your perfect kiss....maybe this will be the year.