Christina Hollis, Internet, Online security

Three Warnings For Writers

I’m a bit uneasy about the amount of information available online. There’s something to be found on just about anyone, and it can be accessed by  nearly everyone. Social networking is great fun, but there are three things to keep in mind –

One – Post as though your words were going to be printed in words a foot high and stuck on your front door. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your next-door-neighbour to read – in case they do. They probably will.
Two – It’s safest to assume that, like diamonds,  online words are forever.  Yes, some information has been made to vanish from the net like snow in summer, but that was only because some very big players were involved. Even if your tweet, text or mail can be erased, the saying that a lie can be round the world seven times before the truth is out of bed is as true today as it’s always been. Libel is serious – and expensive.
Three – Not so much a warning as a reminder – if things get too heavy, you can always step away from the computer. Cyber bullying is an ugly concept. It’s a nightmare once you’ve been drawn in, so try and stay well away. At the first sign of trouble, remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said: no one can make you feel inferior without your consent, so do the internet equivalent of picking up your ball, and taking it home.
Christina Hollis, Creative Writing, Marcher Chapter, RNA, The Survivors' Club, work in progress

Creative Writing: Work In Progress…

By Antonio Litterio

I wrote here about the very productive writing workshop organised by the Marcher Chapter of The Romantic Novelists’ Association in Hereford, on 31st March. Here’s an extract from the piece I submitted: it’s the opening paragraphs of my current work in progress, The Survivors’ Club

Eden’s determination died with the car’s engine. She knew she should jump straight out, and into her new life. Instead, she took a death-grip on the steering wheel and scowled at the Waterstones bag lying on her passenger seat.
What a waste of money.
Buying that book was supposed to change her life. It said so, on the cover. So why wasn’t it working?
You could at least make an effort.
Eden swore under her breath. Snatching up the bag, she wrestled her new book out and propped it up in front of her. This damned self-help manual was supposed to evict her mother’s nagging from her brain, not echo it. 
The glossy dust-jacket of Why Are People Mean To Me? summed up Eden’s life in primary colours. A tiny human form cowered beneath a mob of Henry Moore-style giants. Recognising herself in that image had drawn Eden straight across the precinct, and into the shop.  
She sighed, and slid her finger over the title.
I wish I knew.
The cover prompt on Why Are People Mean To Me? said it was because she hadn’t read the book yet. 
Tom was always telling her it was paranoia.
Eden wondered who to believe. 
The only thing she knew for certain was that wandering round the shops on the third Tuesday in January had been a bad idea. Everywhere, from Twitter to the news headlines, said this was the most depressing day of the year. With ten people ahead of her in the queue for every job, Eden could believe it. That was why investing £14.99 in Arianne Forrester’s new self-help book had felt like such a brilliant idea. Right up until the moment she handed over her debit card. 
That was when she panicked. Paying for the book was the point of no return. Saying goodbye to fifteen pounds meant she’d have to act on its instructions. If she didn’t, all that money would be wasted. She’d wanted to change her mind, drop the book and run. Pinned down by the shop assistant’s expression, she paid up. Feeling sick at the extravagance, she was pulled off course only once on the way home. She needed to stock up on one vital item. An overdose of chocolate always made things feel better…at least until the next time she got onto the scales.
She elbowed her way into the house, weighed down by bags. The front door slipped away from her, and slammed. The whole place shivered. She winced, waiting for Tom to start roaring.
Nothing happened.
With the central heating on full blast, the house was a tropical paradise. The effort of carrying the shopping while bundled up to face the arctic conditions outside made her breathless. ‘Tom! I’m home!’ 
She was already half-way to the kitchen. When he still didn’t answer, she stopped. 
‘There’s chocolate cake!’
Her heart thumped, and not only with the effort of carrying her bags. She put them down. If mention of food didn’t get him on the move, he must be ill. That might explain why he’d shoved a couple of ten pound notes at her earlier, and told her to make a day of it in town. 
Only the hum of the freezer disturbed the thick atmosphere. Tom was supposed to be working from home today. Whether he was sick or well, Eden knew the strain of checking his emails would have sent him back to bed with some snacks and the remote control. It would be her job to offer tea and sympathy. Gathering up her stuff again, she hauled it all through to the kitchen.
Then she stopped, staggered. The place was a complete mess. 
Every utensil in the place had been dirtied in the process of making breakfast. The frying pan was blackened and crusty. Discarded wrappers of bacon and sausage flapped in warm currents of air.  Blobs of ketchup and fruit sauce added splashes of colour to every horizontal surface. Trails of pancake batter linked everything together, like a work by Jackson Pollock.
Eden took a step, and felt the crunch of egg shell. Lifting her foot to prise off the debris, she found a bit of waffle lodged in the tread of her boots. Although that was grisly, the silence was wonderful. She let out a long, slow breath. Tom must have gone out. 
With the house to herself, she flung off her outdoor clothes and danced through to the lounge. While he was away she could use his printer and copy out some recipes.
What he doesn’t know won’t set him off, she thought. 
She was in for a shock. Tom’s computer and its associated junk usually took up half the dining table. Today, it wasn’t taking up any space at all. 
Eden clapped her hands over her mouth. They must have been burgled. A million horrors ran through her mind. She raced around the house, pushing open doors and calling his name. If he was injured or unconscious he would never forgive her for wasting so much time. 
On the other hand, if he was dead…
Her heart lurched. She was unlucky. The house was deserted.There was no sign of Tom’s body anywhere….

What do you think? If you’d like to be kept up to date on how The Survivors’ Club shapes up, you can sign up for my newsletter here.  
Beta Readers, Christina Hollis, Creative Writing, publication

Three Top Tips For When You Think You’ve Finished Writing…

By Antonio Litterio

1. BE PREPARED: live in hope of publication, and never stop writing. Before you send anything out, make sure you’re well ahead with your next book. When I first started writing fiction I didn’t do this, and I suffered for it. I went back to writing non-fiction instead, which was paying my bills at the time. When my first novel was accepted by a major publisher, they assumed I was already working on the follow-up, and wanted it as soon as possible. That meant I had to write day and night to produce Book Two. I barely had time to eat, much less sleep, or talk to anyone! Never let this happen to you. Always have another book of a similar style on the stocks. 

2. USE A BETA READER – and the emphasis here is on the word “reader”. Editors know what sells and they can perfect your grammar and layout, but someone who can report honestly on whether it swept them away – or how you can make sure your readers are swept away  – is invaluable. You can track down professional beta readers and editors in the small ads of writing magazines. Alternatively, join a creative writing group, and ask for recommendations. Word of mouth is always the best way, and sometimes tutors will offer reading as a service, for an extra fee. Whoever you get to read your work, make sure you can trust them to offer constructive criticism rather than simply telling you what you want to hear. It’s better to find out the truth sooner, rather than later. 

3. LET IT BREW: you need time to think before you print, or hit “send”.  Once your perfect manuscript has been made better still by the help of a beta reader and by your careful (but ruthless) revisions, let it sit for a while before you send it out. Put it aside. Forget about it. Ideally, get right away from your keyboard. Spend time doing activities that have nothing to do with writing. Ok, I’ll let you do a bit of thinking about Book Two, but that’s all. Then, after you’ve been away from your manuscript for a while, read it straight through from beginning to end. You’ll be looking at it with fresh eyes. If you still think you’re on to a winner, that’s the time to send it out. 

My next Top Tips blog will discuss whether it’s better to send straight to a publisher, or get an agent first. To make sure you don’t miss it, sign up using the subscription box above. 
Christina Hollis, Ebook releases, Extract, Jewel Under Siege

An Extract From My Latest Release – Jewel Under Siege

 Cover art by Samantha Groom 

Jewel Under Siege is set in Constantinople in the early spring of 1097. The city is besieged by Crusaders, so Elena thinks she’ll be safe from strangers inside the high walls of her own garden…

“The fruit trees trained against all the walls of Elena’s garden were wreathed in blossom.  The little blue irises growing behind the arbour were almost in flower, too. They would make a pretty arrangement for Easter Day.
Her mind full of flowers, Elena was an easy target. When a figure erupted from the bushes, she was dragged out of sight in less than a heartbeat. With a hard, cold hand clamped over her mouth, there was no chance to scream. 
Fear froze her from head to foot. The man gripping her was breathing quickly, and as his wrist pressed against her cheek she felt his pulse racing. Eyes tight shut, Elena waited for something awful to happen. She couldn’t imagine what could be worse than this, but his overpowering smell of leatherwork and metal dressing was unnerving. She stood stock-still in his grasp until he managed some breathless French.
‘Keep quiet. I won’t hurt you. Understand?’
Somehow, she managed to nod. His fingers relaxed from her mouth. When she didn’t struggle or scream, he dropped his hand. His sigh said he was as glad to let go of her as she was to be free. She moved to get a better view of him, knowing she might need to identify him in future. He was a tall, youngish man, but his gaunt good looks were suffering from famine and war. Leaning heavily against the garden wall, he pressed one hand to his knee. The expression in his dark eyes was hunted and Elena saw that grabbing her had sapped most of his strength.
That gave her the courage to face him. ‘What do you want?’ she said in French.
‘Help–and everyone round here speaks Greek. I don’t.’ 
That could mean only one thing. 
‘You’ve broken in from the Crusader camp!’ Elena said in horror. ‘You’ve come here to steal! And after we were told your people were coming to Constantinople to help us!’ 
‘It’s not like that. We’re desperate. We need food. Your people are slowly killing us. We’ve been held up outside the city for months. We’re dying out there.’
Elena drew herself up to her full height. No unshaven hulk was going to come into her garden and start twisting the facts to suit himself. ‘Only because your leaders won’t promise that you will behave properly. That’s all our Emperor wants.’
‘I’m starving and injured,’ the young man burst out suddenly. ‘I need help, not an argument about politics!’
Elena stared at him. He was in a bad way, but trying not to show it. His left leg couldn’t support any weight and he was tight-lipped with pain. Leaning against the garden wall he tried to look arrogant and supercilious, but she could see he was on the point of collapse.
‘I’ve had nothing to eat for three days. I managed to get inside the city wall, but climbing over your boundary to get at the fish in your pools was too much. It was mossy and wet. I slipped.’
Elena was horrified. ‘You’ve had no food for three days? Have you had anything to drink?’
     ‘Rain. That’s all.’ He swayed unsteadily, his gaze piercing her heart. ‘Get me some food? A crust? Anything. Then I’ll go. On my honour. I’m not here to make trouble.’
Elena considered. He looked dangerous, but if she could somehow sidle further out of his reach she knew he’d never catch her again. She wondered if she could trust him, and also whether he could trust her. His clothes were sodden. They clung to his frame in a way that unsettled her. The strange feeling inside her made Elena wonder whether it was only Christian charity that made her want to help him. Mud buttered his cracked and shabby boots, while his teeth chattered in a chill breeze running in off the sea.
‘Does anyone else know you’ve come here?’ she said.
He flicked his head sideways. ‘It’s bad enough that I risked getting caught. I wasn’t going to get my friends involved as well.’
He lost the look of a desperate terrorist, reduced to snatching at innocent women. Now he was dejected, alone and injured in a foreign city. He’d given Elena a bad fright, but seeing the state he was in softened her heart. In case he was playing on her sympathy, she hardened her expression and folded her hands primly in front of her.
‘I’ll go and see what can be done for you. Stay here and don’t move.’
The young Crusader put a hand to his forehead. He couldn’t offer any resistance. Instead, in a gesture of acceptance, he pulled a knife from his belt and handed it to her, handle first.
She accepted his offering warily, and held it at arm’s length. ‘Thank you – I think…'”

I hope you enjoyed this extract from Elena and Emil’s story. You can download Jewel Under Siege here, see a full list of my published books at, catch up with me on Twitter and Facebook, and if you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, drop me a line at christinahollis(at), replacing the (at) with @.

Christina Hollis, forfeits, Incentives, inspiration, Mission statement, Writing

Writing A Mission Statement-For Writing, Or Anything Else… URL: Sandro Botticelli [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsHTML Attribution not legally required
By Sandro Botticelli
A mission statement is a short, snappy way to keep your objective in focus as you work your way to success. Draw one up when you start your next big project. It will really help to keep you focussed. Make it personal – tailor it specifically to what you want to do.  Then keep it visible. Take some copies, and keep one on display in your office, beside your bed, as wallpaper on your screen – anywhere you’ll see it often. 
Think up some daily incentives to encourage you – I use “half an hour watching my bees” “eat a peach” or “read for an hour”.  Choose bigger treats for when you’ve had a successful week: “soaking in the bath for an hour” “relaxing in the garden” or my own favourite, “a trip to the stationery store”. When you’ve finally completed your project, you can choose a really big treat as the ultimate prize to enhance your brilliant glow of total satisfaction. I take my OH out to dinner, although that’s not much use if we’re on diets! 

Of course, where there are prizes there have to be forfeits. Mine is to keep well away from my bees, but I’ve inserted a more popular horror below.

Here’s a basic template so you can create your own mission statement, with some ideas in italics to get you started. Substitute those words as necessary, and don’t forget to be specific. Personalising this declaration will make your project mean more to you, and that will help you to succeed.


“I am going to write a novel/non-fiction book. My long term dream goal is to record my thoughts for my descendants/achieve publication/on all platforms, which I’m going to achieve by (date). 
In order to achieve my objective, I will draw up a schedule of what needs to be done each day, and set weekly targets, too. Every single time I hit my daily word-count, I’ll select one reward from my “daily” list. At the end of each week, if I complete all my tasks I’ll choose one treat from my “weekly” list.  After successfully completing my project, I’ll celebrate by spoiling myself with my ultimate prize. I will read my mission statement daily to remind me of the rewards I have planned, and my ultimate objective. If I miss any of my weekly targets without a very good excuse, my forfeit will be to stay completely offline for one whole day. If I miss my final deadline, my forfeit will be to  stay completely offline for one whole month.”

Then date and sign it, to make it official.

I’ve given you a couple of ideas for rewards and forfeits. What will be going on your own list?
3 Top Tips, Christina Hollis, inspiration, SMART goals, Success, Writing

Three Top Tips For Getting Started…

Power of words by Antonio Litterio/derivative work - InverseHypercube
By Antonio Litterio

…on any project…

THE BIG PICTURE – whatever you want to do, whether it’s write a book, start your own business, make money, learn to cook, or grow your own food, have one specific aim in mind. Then stick to it. Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”. Label a folder (real or virtual) with the name of your project. Gather everything into it-notes, images, charts, infographics, the lot. Once you can find exactly what you’re looking for in seconds, it’ll save a lot of time time when inspiration (or desperation) strikes. 

ZOOM IN – Put a filing system in place the second you start collecting stuff for your project. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Separate files within one on-line folder will be fine. A plastic wallet with dividers will store your so-called “dead-tree derivatives” (that’s paperwork, to you and me). A DL size envelope within this system is perfect for keeping scrappy notes, receipts and parking slips safe. Incidentally, expand that idea to twelve envelopes, each one labelled with a different month, and you’re on the fast track to filing your annual tax return without tears. All you have to do is remember to transfer the relevant receipts from the car, your pockets or purse into the right envelope. But do that as soon as you get them. 
You know why.

FOCUS – Write down your big idea. Seeing it at the top of a blank sheet, or screen, will make it real. It’s smart to set goals, and the acronym S.M.A.R.T (used by George T.Doran, Paul J. Meyer and others) can help you reach that target. There are all sorts of alternative meanings for the initial letters, but they all come down to the same thing in the end. These are the headings I use when I’m planning a new piece of work:

SPECIFIC–this is what you want to achieve. It’s your dream. Spend some time working out exactly what it is you want to do. Be positive, and distill it into one sentence such as “I will write a book.” There’s no room for want here. Think positive.
MANAGEABLE–will you be able to do this in the time you have available, and with the facilities you have? If not, either set the alarm an hour earlier each morning and borrow what you need, or revise your objective–but think carefully before doing that because A is for… 
AMBITIOUS–Go for it! Aim for the stars – if you miss, the moon will break your fall. Find an inspirational quote and post it up where you’ll see it every day. Edmund Burke’s “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing” glares down at me all the time I’m writing.
REALISTIC–Ambition is indispensable, but there are limits. I come from a family of comfortably upholstered women. Much as I’d like to be a size eight, it’s never going to happen. Believe me. That’s why I modified my own aim, from “getting down to 130 pounds” to “following a calorie-controlled healthy eating plan and taking more exercise for one month.” I lost 5lb without ever feeling I was on a diet, so all I need now is the willpower to repeat…and repeat…and repeat…. as necessary!
TIMETABLED–deadlines, like the threat of execution, concentrate the mind wonderfully. Draw up a list of what you need to do, and work out how long it will take. Mark the finish date in every form of diary you have. Tell yourself it’s absolutely non-negotiable. Obviously there will be times when work has to take a back seat because of illness or accident, but personal disasters apart use every carrot-and-stick you can think of to motivate yourself and hit your deadline.

Christina Hollis, fiction, historical romance, Jewel Under Siege, Lady Rascal, Writing

Writing (and Rewriting) Romance As Ebooks…

Photo by Bertil Videt

I love putting my own spin on historical events by using them as the background to romance. At the beginning of my fiction-writing career, I wrote six books for Harlequin Mills and Boon’s Masquerade imprint under the pen name of Polly Forrester. These were originally only available in the UK so I’m currently working to introduce them to a wider audience by bringing them out as ebooks. Lady Rascal is already available and my next title, Jewel Under Siege, is due for release later this summer.

Jewel under Siege is set in Constantinople, at the time of the Crusades. Elena is a young widow who finds herself in an impossible situation when tough warrior Emil literally falls into her life. He is an enemy who has nothing but contempt for her people, but the lure of the forbidden means Elena and Emil are soon attracted to each other despite all the dangers.
Revisiting my earlier fiction means I can add a few little touches to the text. At the moment I’m taking the chance to make Elena and Emil’s romance sizzle still more under the Turkish sun. How do you like your historical romances – hot or homely?
You can keep up with the progress of Jewel Under Siege towards publication by subscribing to my newsletter. Just send an email to me at with the word “Subscribe” in the subject line.