Blog, Creative Writing

What a weekend!

10254-256px-new-year_resolutions_list
Wish I’d had as much luck with my ‘do more housework’ resolution!

Sun, blue sky, a big baking session, an extra hour to get out and about now the clocks have gone forward—I thought this weekend couldn’t get any better. Then I opened an email on Sunday evening, and discovered  I’d been awarded second prize in the Plymouth International Writing Competition! It was for my as-yet unpublished short story, The One Thing. Congratulations to Barbara Hudson, who won first prize with The Woman Who Slept With A Monkey. You can find the full results here.

At the end of December, I made a New Year’s Resolution to attack my backlist. I’ve got dozens of files on my computer full of short stories, articles and long form work. It’s all work in waiting, rather than work in progress. Some pieces aren’t finished, others need revising, while some haven’t yet been submitted. During the first weeks of 2018 I entered various pieces from this backlog into writing competitions. Then I got distracted by work on the final draft of Women’s Lives In Bristol. For the past month or so,  my frontlist work has taken precedence over my backlist. I’d forgotten all about those competition entires, so news of a win was a great surprise.

 

1024px-El_Tres_de_Mayo,_by_Francisco_de_Goya,_from_Prado_thin_black_margin
All Capa’s work is, quite rightly, fiercely copyright-protected. Francisco de Goya’s El Tres de Mayo, on the other hand, is on Wikimedia Commons*

The story involved is called The One Thing. It’s about an endless procession of refugees which trails from country to country, and all through history. It picks up more members in each new theatre of war.  The story was partly inspired by my admiration of the work of photographer Robert Capa.  You’d like to think civilisation had woken up from the nightmares he documented in China, Spain, Europe and Vietnam during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Not a chance. Politicians and commentators are the only ones who move “onwards and upwards”. The people from burned villages and bombed cities are left to put their lives back together—if they can. Victims don’t vanish once the cameras move on to the next disaster.

REFUGEE_ship-705500_1920
The fate of many boats full of refugees.

The One Thing is proof that you can find inspiration everywhere, and at the most unexpected  times. As part of one of my research trips to Bristol for Women’s Lives In Bristol, I visited the church of St Nicholas of Tolentino, Easton.  The priest there, Father Richard Mckay, ministers to sixty different nationalities. Many are refugees, drawn to a city which makes them welcome, and a congregation that understands. On the wall hangs wood from a vessel full of refugees, which was wrecked off the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. That powerful image was another thing at the back of my mind when I wrote The One Thing.

On a happier note, there are a couple writing tips to pick up from this blog. The first, and possibly most important is never throw away any piece of writing. Everything is copy, said Norah Ephron’s mother. To that, I’d add a paraphrase of the old gardening maxim: right plant, right place.  My version is right info, right place. Make sure every one of your sentences either pushes the plot forward, or tells you something vital about one of your major characters. If it doesn’t, be brave. You don’t need to take the critics’ advice to kill your darlings too literally. Cut and paste them into a separate file, instead.

The second point is, don’t enter a single competition. Enter lots, and spread the word!  You’ll be practising your art, and supporting hard-working event organisers at the same time.  Who knows, they might like your work enough to put you up among the prizewinners.

I include details of writing competitions, along with news of my writing life at Tottering Towers on my Facebook Author Page —like and follow here to keep up with developments!

*At least one commentator has suggested Capa’s Falling Soldier is an homage to El Tres de Mayo. I can’t say whether or not Capa’s famous series of photos was staged, but as William Tecumseh Sherman said, War is Hell.

 

 

 

Creative Writing, NaNoWriMo 2016, Raymond Chandler, Roadblock, Writing your Book

Writing Your Book, Part Six—Beating The Curse Of The Saggy Middle….

This week marks the half-way point for everyone trying to write a novel in a month by taking part in NaNoWriMo 2016. Writing any book at any time is hard work, but around about now momentum slows. Authors hit a roadblock.  We slump against it, and so does our work. The Great British Bake-Off suffers the curse of the soggy bottom.  Writers live in fear of their manuscript having a saggy middle. Here are three ways to beat the block…


Bogart and Bacall in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

Blast Your Way Through


Raymond Chandler wrote his best-selling crime fiction at high speed. He was a master of the all-action, snappy story. He said his specific method for beating any block in the type of book he wrote was to have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. I’m not suggesting you take Chandler literally, but throwing something unexpected into your fictional mix can kick-start your writing when you’re stuck. How would your major character react if they lost everything in a fire? Let them swing into action during a local disaster, or a national emergency. Remember, your fictional people aren’t only brought to life by the insights you give readers into their thoughts and actions. The way they interact with others shows us more facets of their characters.

It’s a thought…

Tunnel Underneath


If you’ve read Part Five of Writing Your Book (you can find it here), you’ll know I’m a great believer in the power of dirty drafting. Let your ideas tumble out and capture them in a fast and furious stream of consciousness. There’ll be plenty of time to work on the finer points of your story in later drafts, but when you’re stuck at the mid-point of your story, try burying some treasure among your major characters. Dig down into the core of their being. Give them a phobia, a cause that’s dear to their hearts, an unusual hobby, or a tragic past. Forget about beating your word-count for an hour or so, and give yourself the freedom to have fun planting clues. Your iron-jawed Alpha male may never be blackmailed over his secret love for flower-arranging* in your final draft, but it would explain his appreciation of structural integrity and design.

*like many a samurai general, as your feral hero can explain with relish to his arch-enemy and potential blackmailer…

Go Over, Or Swerve

Warning: This method is an out-and-out cheat, so it’s only to be used in your first draft, when you’re really stuck. 

Abandon your work at the point where you’re flagging, and type the words With one bound (s)he was free in centred, 20-point bold text. Then move straight on to whichever future scene in your story takes your fancy. You’ll be inspired, and the words will flow again. By the time you’ve finished your first draft and started going through your manuscript a second time, your subconscious will have collected your later ideas at the roadblock, ready for some remedial work. 

Whatever you do, don’t sell your readers short by using this third device  or anything like it in your final manuscript. They’ll be burning your book and flaming you alive online before you can say “…and she woke up to find it was all a dream…”!


Creative Writing, The Hot-headed Virgin, The Italian Billionaire's Virgin, Top Tips

Your Escape Route To Romance (and a whole lot more)…

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Hot-Headed-Virgin-Virgins-Billionaires-ebook/dp/B003JE1GY8
The Collection’s Australian Cover

Ten years ago today I was sitting in a college lecture theatre, staring out at a rain-soaked car park and daydreaming about soaking up the sun somewhere hot and exotic. Today, dreams are my job, not just my hobby, and it all began with a creative writing assignment.

These days I don’t have much time to gaze out of the window (and English rain is as wet and cold as it’s ever been) but my life has changed out of all recognition.

I’ve met amazing people—Kate Walker, and the late, great Penny Jordan to name only two—written a lot of books, and sold nearly three million copies worldwide, in all sorts of languages.

When I began writing I started small, with magazine articles illustrated with photos I took myself. Then I wrote half a dozen historical novels, before signing up for a creative writing course which gave my career the breakthrough it needed.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Hot-Headed-Virgin-Virgins-Billionaires-ebook/dp/B003JE1GY8
My Original 2007 Cover

I’d always wanted to write contemporary, feel-good fiction, so this was my chance. I wrote the first two thousand words of what became The Italian Billionaire’s Virgin, which is still available as part of The Hot-Headed Virgin collection. The other students loved my homework project and told me to send it to Harlequin.

The rest, as they say, is history. I submitted The Italian Billionaire’s Virgin, and it was published as a paperback in 2007. The original artwork featured a hero who looked exactly like my OH—how lucky is that?

It’s been a great ten years for me. I think everyone deserves an affordable escape from everyday life. Writing does it for me, every time. It gives me even more pleasure when I hear from readers who enjoy my books. Why don’t you make 2016 the year you start that book you’ve been meaning to write?

To keep you on track, my blogs this year will include the top tips I’ve picked up along the way during my career as a best-selling author. Here are the first ones. To make sure you don’t miss any, follow my blog using the form on the side bar on the right. To keep up with news of offers, competitions and my work in progress, sign up to my mailing list.

Creative Writing, Top Tips, Writing process

Why Not Try Writing Your Book Backwards?

Pic by A. Litterio

…not literally, of course! Instead of beginning with  blank sheet and typing Chapter One, give your imagination a workout.  Imagine a scene months, or possibly years, in the future. A reader reaches the last page of your book, and closes it with a sigh of satisfaction. Your story was exactly what they wanted.

That’s the reaction you’re aiming for, whether you write for pleasure or profit.

Buying a book, when there are thousands on offer both in the High Street and online, is a big decision. Reading is an affordable pleasure, but there are piles of treats everywhere. You need some way to ensure it’s your book the reader chooses. Cover art and teasing cover copy work their magic, but by homing in on your target audience you can increase your chances of that reader searching out your book in the first place.  Identify your reader, and how and where you can find them is the first step to selling them your story.

What Do You Like To Read?
There are plenty of writers who scour the bestseller lists then churn out formula work that ticks all the boxes but may not result in selling books. Stand out from the crowd by writing from your heart, and you’ll appeal to the hearts of your readers. I love the work of writers such a H.E.Bates, T.H. White and Henry Williamson, who all wrote about the natural world. My work is usually set in the countryside, because it’s where I live and work. I can (and have) written stories based in cities as I was an office worker for several years, but the work always flows faster when I’m on ‘home ground’.

Who Else Reads Your Kind Of Book?
Identifying your market, and developing unique selling point (USP) is vital. Write what you love, but have a picture of your readers in your mind while you work. I’ve written short stories for The People’s Friend magazine, which knows its readership very well. They have specific guidelines, which you can find here. Basically, their readers like satisfying yet unthreatening stories, with happy endings. Contrast that with my current project (working title Love Lies Bleeding) a thriller which opens with the discovery of a murdered Member of Parliament, in which nobody is who they seem, and while the hero and heroine get together in the end, wedding bells aren’t going to be ringing for them any time soon.

Who Will Review It?
Reviews, along with word of mouth recommendations, are the perfect way to get your name and book noticed. When there are hundreds of books published every day, that’s the name of the game.  Obviously, five star reviews are best, but any grade is good. It means somebody has not only read your book, but they’ve taken the time to comment on it. From the minute you start writing your book, cast around for reviewers who write about books like yours. Making a list at this early stage means you’ll be well ahead of the game when you get a publication date.

Creative Writing, Gwen Hernandez, My Dream Guy, Scrivener, word processing

5 Top Tips For Writing With Scrivener

Scrivener‘s not simply a word processing package, it’s a project management tool for writers. It allows you to store all your research, ideas, images and metadata in one place—the same place you’re creating your manuscript. It saves you from drowning in a sea of notes made on the backs of envelopes, or in half a dozen different notebooks (if you can find them). When your book is finished, Scrivener can export it in any number of forms, including compiled and ready for publishing online.

Once you can navigate the Scrivener system it’s brilliant, but to begin with it can be daunting. You can find out more about the possible downside here, but now I’ve been working with Scrivener for a while these are my top tips:

1. There’s no substitute for diving in and tinkering. Use the free trial facility available from Literature and Latte. Press all the buttons, switch from view to view, drag and drop, and try out various forms of compilation to create different types of document for publication or upload. You can customise the system, so that each time you start a new project the fonts and formatting are exactly as you want them. Take your time to become familiar with the whole Scrivener experience. It’s lovely to open a new project and start typing, knowing you’re free to work without having to fight the system. Which leads me to…

2. Never try to learn a new system such as Scrivener when you’re working to a deadline. Learn first, write later. Or write using your normal word processor (regularly saving to flash drives or the cloud, of course) then import it into the Scrivener project where you store all your research and ideas. I did this when I was working on my latest short romance, My Dream Guy. I wrote the first draft in a single document, using Pages for Mac. Instead of giving each chapter a title, I put a hashtag (#) at the end of each one. When imported into Scrivener, the system automatically created a new file for each chapter.  After editing my work in Scrivener, all I needed to do to format it ready for publication was hit Scrivener’s “compile” button and—bingo! One ready-formatted manuscript, ready to go.

 myBook.to/MyDreamGuy 

3. RTFM—Read The Flaming* Manual, which in Scrivener’s case rather handily shows up each time you open the package. It’s there, along with interactive and video tutorials, visible on the front page, and for a reason. Use it. The video tutorials provided by Literature and Latte are great if you’re a visual learner—the type of person who needs to see things done, rather than simply having them explained in words.

4. Scrivener For Dummies, written by Scrivener Wizard Gwen Hernandez is an invaluable book, although in common with every other trouble-shooting system for computing I’ve used, if you don’t know why you’re stuck, it won’t be much help. You need to know the exact questions to ask the index, and the terms to use. I found fiddling about free-form (see Tip 1, above) and then cross-referencing the effect I achieved with this book was a great way to learn. I’ve always got my copy within reach. As a result, it’s covered with notes, and remnants of those two vital components of a writer’s life, tea and cake. Gwen Hernandez also has a Scrivener Corner on her website, with loads of useful tips (and no cake crumbs). You can find that here.

5. If all else fails, type your question into a search engine. You’ll be amazed how many articles and YouTube videos have been produced by enthusiasts. A word of warning: because these people are enthusiasts, you may find the instructors go too fast, or skip over exactly the details you need to know. More than one of these personable geniuses uses the phrase  “you’ll know how to do that already….” about the precise part of the process you want explained. The screenshots these video artistes use are often tiny and indistinct, too, so use these only if you’ve got 20/20 vision, a degree in mind-reading, and you’re willing to take a chance.

Have you tried working with Scrivener? What’s your favourite tip?

* other words beginning with F are available…