Ann Ankers, Christina Courtenay, Creative Writing, Fay Wentworth, Georgia Hill, Joanne Maitland, Marcher Chapter, Marilyn Rodwell, RNA, Romance, Top Tips

RNA Creative Writing Study Day, Hereford, 31st March 2014

Hard At Work…

In 2013, The Romantic Novelists’ Association announced a generous donation toward  all its local groups. I’m a member of the RNA’s Marcher Chapter, and we decided to put the money toward the hire of a room at The Courtyard, Hereford. The intention was to have a critique session. As it would be held so close to April 1st, the day was called  “Be A Fool For Love”.

The prospect of spending a whole day with like-minded people talking about writing was irresistible, but we wanted to show we’d taken the RNA’s  aims of promoting romantic fiction and encouraging good writing to heart. One month before the workshop, everyone emailed a ten-page sample of their current work in progress to organizer Ann Ankers. Ann collated them into a document which was then circulated among the group. The extracts were anonymous and we did a critique of every one, including our own. That way, we could make our comments without prejudice and still remain anonymous on the day.

Marilyn and Ann

Nobody likes the idea that their precious literary baby might be torn to shreds in a gladiatorial arena, so Historical novelist Joanna Maitland provided some invaluable advice beforehand. She advised that each critique should contain “three stars and a wish”–that is, highlight plenty of good points for every query or suggestion for improvement you make. This worked really well.

On the day, there were seven of us: Fay Wentworth, Georgia Hill, Christina Courtenay (fresh from winning the RNA’s Historical Novel of the Year Award for The Gilded Fan), Joanna Maitland, Marilyn Rodwell, me and organizer Ann Ankers. Ann also acted as our chairwoman and did an excellent job. She  kept the discussions moving, and made sure the day ran to schedule.

Fay, Georgia, Christina and Joanna

We were treated like royalty by the hardworking staff of The Courtyard. Regular refreshments (including delicious home-made biscuits) and a fantastic lunch was included in the price, and we worked so hard the time flew by. A photographer from Herefordshire and Wye Valley Life came to record the event. This was organised byChristina Courtenay. That gave me pause for thought. As I’d played an April Fool joke on my DD that morning, when a guy tapped at the door and asked for “Christina” I thought for an awful moment  DD had sent a male stripper  to our meeting as revenge. Thank goodness I was wrong!

We all had an amazing day. I learned a lot, and can’t wait until we can do it all again.

Have you attended a workshop? What was the most useful thing you learned?

Business start-up, disaster, insolvency, Top Tips

The Two Things Every Business Needs…

By Antonio Litterio

Today’s blog has been provoked by a case I saw online yesterday. It has implications for everyone – not just writers –  who trades in either goods or services, whether on line or through stores. 

A woman who started a small printing-press and was then beset by dreadful personal problems found herself unable to pay her creditors.  I’ll come to the details of that disaster later but first, let’s cut to the chase. In twenty years of self-employment I’ve seen a lot of companies and individuals rise, and sometimes fall. I’ve noticed that the successful ones have at least two things in common. They’re always ready to face what isn’t working, whether they’re small businesses or a sole-trader. And when they’re on a roll – especially when they’re on a roll – they’re always anticipating trouble. 

1. FACE WHAT ISN’T WORKING: Thousands of people start businesses on their kitchen tables, with a little know-how and less money. That’s the good news: the bad news is, most of them never get any further than that. Of the small businesses that actually get off the ground, one in three will fail in their first three years.  (Quoted from The Times 100 Business Case Studies). While that means two-thirds survive, there’s a big difference between surviving, and being a success. Yes, sayings such as: “Somebody who never made a mistake never made anything”and “Fall down six times, get up seven” are the mottoes of true entrepreneurs, but there are limits. Sensible people find out what those limits are, before investing too much time or money. 

If you have a dream, do the research, get professional advice, make a business plan then get out there and try to make it a reality. If you complain that’ll take too long and cost too much, think again. Would you rather spend a large amount on qualified, professional help now, or a vast fortune on legal teams and penalty fees later, when things go wrong? It’s painful, but think of it as insurance. Talking of which…

2. ALWAYS ANTICIPATE TROUBLE: before you make any moves toward starting your own business, have a Plan B for every eventuality, and a fighting fund of at least three months’ salary, and preferably a lot more.  How would you manage if world events meant demand for your product fell off a cliff? Remember the  horse-meat scandal.  Big food producers have contingency plans, multiple streams of income and staff employed specifically to firefight bad publicity like that. If your start-up business produced only tiny quantities of the finest hand-made beef lasagne, you’d have been be floored.  In cases like that, mud sticks to the innocent as well as the guilty. 

If roadworks, floods or bad publicity turned your customers away, how long could you last? What would happen if you couldn’t work through illness, divorce, or other catastrophe? Sudden changes in your childcare arrangements, or the need to become a carer for a partner or parent? These things happen, and more often than you might think. Make sure you have adequate insurance. 

Have a proper business account, keep detailed records and never, never, never dip into it to pay personal bills. Whenever and whatever monies you get paid, immediately put at least half into a separate account and don’t touch it. At all. That’s to pay your tax, and other dues. Fifty percent seems high, but once all your bills have been paid any excess can go toward the fees of a good accountant. Financial help can save you money in the long run, and best of all, they’ll keep you on the right side of the tax people. You definitely do not want to fall foul of them.

So remember: in business as in life, reality can be cruel but ignoring it leads to disaster. And if you assume everything will cost three times as much, and take four times as long, you’ll be delighted when (or rather, if!) it comes in on time, and on budget. 

I’m not in a position to comment on the circumstance of the original case that provoked this blog, but here’s the link so you can make up your own mind–

I just hope it can be resolved amicably.

I’m Christina Hollis, and I write both contemporary and historical fiction – when I’m not cooking, gardening or beekeeping. You can catch up with me Twitter and Facebook, see a full list of my published books at and get details of my latest release, Jewel Under Siege, here.

Creative Writing, E L James, J K Rowling, self-publishing, Top Tips, Writing for Profit

The Three New Categories Of Writing

The Power of Words by Antonio Litterio, via inversehypercube/wikimedia commons
By Antonio Litterio

This is how we all start. Telling stories is a compulsion as old as time. Once we discover our ideas can be made semi-permanent through the fascinating marks made by fat wax crayon, there’s no stopping us. Whether you keep a diary or create a best-selling series, the simple pleasure of opening a clean file or feeling a new page under your nib is unbeatable.
This used to be a case of either catching the eye of a respectable publisher, or delving into the murky depths of vanity publishing. The first often meant jumping through hoops, then signing away some or all of your rights. The latter involved risking a lot of money to see your hard work turned into books – if you were lucky. The explosion of online possibilities means you don’t need the skin of a rhinoceros any more. The scourge of rejection is no longer a threat. Anyone with access to a computer can create, upload and offer an ebook for international sale. The downside is that an already crowded market has now been flooded with the type of writing publishers used to reject, together with self-published gems they will wish they’d been offered.

Vanity publishers may have competition now, but the need for deep pockets hasn’t gone away. It’s a good idea to invest in great cover art to make sure your book stands out from the millions of others, all clamouring for attention. Professional editing will make sure your text is a flawless read, but be warned – it can’t do much for your plot, or story-telling skills. Even poop can be polished until it shines.

This is the Holy Grail of many writers. Seeing your name in print or on screen isn’t always enough. The newspapers love winners like Rowling or James, but most writers don’t hit those heights. If you’re making a thousand a year, count yourself lucky. That’s a good average. Unless you’re contracted to a major publishing house with a multi-book contract, writing is usually a lucrative part-time job, at best.
Of course, these three categories aren’t mutually exclusive. The walls are permeable. Commercially published writing may not sell. A privately published book might take off like a rocket. Something written with nothing but profit in mind may never recoup its costs, while a work with a tiny initial print run may find itself the centre of international attention. In the end, the only sure way to success is the same as it always has been – write from your heart, for your own pleasure. That’s always going to be the best way to appeal to your readership. And if you decide the only reader will be you, then you’ll have satisfied 100% of your audience–and that’s something not even William Shakespeare has ever managed to do.

What type of writing are you doing at the moment? Would you like to switch to a different category?  
Top Tips, Writing

3 Top Tips: Starting To Write

By Antonio Litterio

That’s far too intimidating.  Let your imagination run riot before you first pick up a pen, or switch on the computer. Live with your characters until they become real for you. Imagine what they would do in any given situation, from getting a flat tyre to finding a wallet in the street. Do they get out and fix the wheel themselves, or break down and cry? Would they pocket the cash, or take the wallet to the nearest police station? Once you know how they deal with the minor everyday problems, present them with a huge, life-changing situation. Make them suffer! Your need to find  out how they’ll react will get the words jumping from your fingertips.

Don’t jump on a bandwagon for the sole purpose of chasing sales. Write what you would love to read, because you need to tell a particular story, or because you want to pass on information. That said, if you want to reach the widest possible audience you’ll need to target your work carefully. Have a picture in your mind of your ideal reader, and tailor your work and vocabulary to suit them. Are they reading to escape into a world of romance and glamour, or do they want gritty adventure? True-life stories, or sheer fantasy?  Read widely, then you’ll be able to focus your efforts and really please your ideal reader.

Don’t be afraid to stop working and take a break when it’s going really well. Then you’ll be raring to go the next time you sit down to write. The chances are if you’re getting swept in in your work, your reader will be excited by it, too. In contrast, when the words just won’t come, taking some time off can be just what you need. However much you love your work, your health and family come first.  Regular breaks will help prevent conditions like Deep Vein Thrombosis, and there’s nothing like a walk and some people-watching in the fresh air to sharpen the imagination.

What’s your favourite writing tip?
Success, Top Tips, Writing

Writing – 5 Top Tips For Success…

Sandro Botticelli
1. INSPIRATION – This can strike anywhere, at any time so keep a look out for news headlines, listen in to conversations and start some of your own in the search for ideas. Grab any inspiration with both hands, and never let it go. Make sure you’ve always got pencils and notebooks or a WP package to hand, so you can make notes on the spot. Pictures are a brilliant help, so keep your camera phone charged and ready. Posting your snaps on sites like 
pinterest or Tumblr can provoke all sorts of reactions from potential readers, and you can use these to inspire your work.
2. CONVICTION: Whether you’re writing non-fiction or a novel, a short story or saga you’ve got to believe in your work – with a capital B. Making up your mind to put your thoughts down on paper is a big decision. You may or may not be aiming to get published one day, but the more faith you have in your idea, the better your work will be. Spelling and grammar can always be tidied up with redrafts and revisions, but if your writing doesn’t have heart,  it hasn’t got a hope. 
3. ROUTINE: When you start with a blank page or open a new document, there’s a mountain of words between you and your finished article, book or memoir. Just as the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, the book of 100,000 words begins with an opening word. Make it easy for yourself. Break the long haul down into easy stages. Set aside some time each day to write, and find a place where you won’t be disturbed. It doesn’t matter where it is, when, or how long you can manage. The important things are consistency – make writing a regular, unbreakable habit.  When you’ve had a good session, make a note of what made it so successful. Log the number of words you achieved, and try to beat your total  next time. This is useful for when you get stuck. If you’re on Twitter, investigate the hashtag #1k1hr. Joining others in the quest for words is a great help! However you give yourself a target, it makes sure you get something down. A scribbled first draft can always be improved. A totally blank page will only glower at you when you start your next session. That’s a real buzz-kill.  
4. PROFESSIONALISM: Always write the very best book, article or short story you can. If you’re aiming for publication, get a second opinion from a professional, or join  the New Writers’ Scheme run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Take notice of revisions suggested by people you trust – constructive criticism will really help you to up your game. 
Before you make your work public, read it through one last time, with the help of my final suggestion…
5. A GOOD DICTIONARY: The Oxford English Dictionary in all its forms is the most widely recognised here in the UK. This is invaluable – honestly, it is! – but harder to use than you might think. I find spelling really difficult. My brilliant Creative Writing tutor, the poet and critic Paul Groves, picked up on this fault straight away. I was on Dictionary Corner duties in every session after that. It was intended to improve my spelling, but he (and the rest of the students) soon spotted the flaw in his master plan. To look up the correct spelling of a word in any dictionary, you have to know how to spell it. 
I’m still trying to discover how many k’s there are in Fokkkasia…