Blog, Writing

If I’d Known Higher Education Was Going To Be Like This…

e51fd-mp900439527…I’d have signed up a long time ago.

Everything I know about popular culture could be written on the back of a Viagogo guarantee, while leaving room for a Game of Thrones synopsis from start to finish of the series. Never have I ever seen an episode of Made in Chelsea, Gogglebox, or I’m A Celebrity (the fact they have to tell their audience they are celebrities puts me right off that last one, for a start). Only last week, I discovered Honey Boo-Boo wasn’t an over-sweetened breakfast cereal. Most of you will have forgotten her, in the time it’s taken me to discover the child.

Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

Then last Tuesday Dr Martin Randall spoke at an induction evening for the course I’ve enrolled on at the University of Gloucestershire. While choosing my modules I’d steered well away from his Popular Culture course, but his presentation was inspiring. When he played a video from YouTube, I was almost converted to his cause.

Of course I had heard of the singer involved. Years ago, dear old Jackie magazine used to advertise bedding and pillowcases decorated with “Little” Michael Jackson’s face. I even recognised the tune. As a teen, I assumed Billie Jean was some weird offering to a tennis icon, and blanked out the lyrics. Now I know better. 

Dr Randall explained the background to Jackson’s appearance at Tamla Motown’s 25th Anniversary bash, which was fascinating. This film marks the seminal point when Michael Jackson changed popular culture forever, apparently. I can’t comment on that. Learning that Jackson had to be persuaded to perform at this event, and catching occasional glimpses of something behind his eyes, I’m inclined toward an additional view.  Perhaps it’s also the point where Michael Jackson the person became Michael Jackson the product, manipulated by money men. All you who crave celebrity, beware. 

Whatever, Jackson went out on stage that night—and this happened: 

I usually whistle Mozart while walking in the woods with Alex. It frightens the wild boar away (especially that bit from The Magic Flute, ho,ho). After Dr Randall’s presentation on Tuesday evening, the febrile, staccato Billie Jean was an ear-worm which lasted throughout my Wednesday morning. Any whistling was out of the question—but I had a lot more to think about than wild boar that day, anyway.

Blog, Writing your Book

You Can Write! Part Three

Decisions, Decisions


In Part One of this series, I talked about where to find inspiration. Part Two explained about the three writing talents you already have.

Now you’ve got an idea in mind and have learned you’ve got all the ingredients to bring your story to life, you’ll need  a few technical terms.

If your dream is to be published, it’s best to assume that once you’ve written a book in one particular style of story (“genre”) , your readers will want more of the same. You can change genre between books—I wrote six successful historical novels before switching to contemporary fiction— but when you first start writing it’s best to concentrate on working within a single genre.

There are as many genres within literature as there are authors. I write Romance.  That covers a huge range of fiction from sweet to torrid, boy-meets-girl to same sex love via werewolves, shape-shifters and everything in between.  The influential Romance Writers of America requires romance novels to contain two basic elements: a central love story, and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Within those boundaries, there are all sorts of sub-genres. Here’s a brief run-down of the RWA’s latest guidelines:

Contemporary romance: can be set at any time from 1950 to the present day
Erotic Romance: incudes often explicit sexual interaction which couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline. May overlap with other subgenres, such as historical or paranormal etc)

Find out more at Lady Rascal

Historical Romance: novels set before 1950. One of the most popular sub-genres within this category is the Regency Romance, which is why the publisher who re-issued one of my earliest works, Lady Rascal was keen to add the label to the Amazon details. Madeleine and Philip’s story is actually set slightly earlier—right at the end of the eighteenth century.
Paranormal romance: deals in fantasy worlds, the paranormal, or contains elements of science fiction as an integral part of the plot.
Romance with religious or spiritual elements: ‘may be set in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system of any culture’. Those beliefs should be an intrinsic part of the love story, and form part of the character growth and relationship development of the central characters.
Romantic Suspense: contains elements of suspense, mystery or thriller writing.
Young Adult romance: reflects young adult life as part of the plot.

Each of the categories above can be divided still further by their enthusiasts into sub-genres such as gay timeslips or erotic paranormal.

Readers need to know what to expect when they see your name on a book. If you decide to change genre further on in your writing career, it might be easier to use a pen name. The famous American novelist Nora Roberts uses several. For instance, she writes mainstream romance under that name, but uses the pseudonym JD Robb when she writes romantic suspense. She understands her loyal readers. They prefer to know what sort of story they’re getting, so they choose books with Nora’s appropriate name on the cover.

Placeholder ImageReaders know what they like, and may not be keen on change. Whether you write crime or romance, fantasy or literary fiction, learn all you can about the terms and conventions (“tropes”) you’ll need to use. Marriage of Convenience, Secret Baby and Friends to Lovers are three popular tropes within romance. Lots of background reading within your chosen genre will help with this. If you can use and talk about the terms like a professional, then you’ll be treated like one.

Think carefully about why you are drawn to write in one genre more than another.  Make sure it’s really the right one for you. You may be writing within it for a long time! Unless the words you write come from your heart, your work will lack sincerity. Study the type of writing that’s popular with the audience you’re aiming to please. Read reviews. You’ll soon discover what readers like, and how their favourite authors work. Join Goodreads, and find out where else your target readership gets together online to discuss the books they enjoy.  Investigating measurement services like Google Analytics and Quantcast will help you in your search.

Blog, Writing your Book

You Can Write! Part One

WRITING_pencil-918449_1920Stop dreaming, and start believing. You can write that book you’ve been thinking about for so long. It’ll be your chance to pass on your thoughts to family, friends and maybe even the wider world.

It doesn’t matter how much, or how little, writing you’ve done in the past. Everyone, from J.K Rowling to Snoopy,  starts with a clean sheet at the beginning of every project.

Blank pages can be scary, but I’ll show you how to get around that problem. It was the least of my worries when I started my writing career. When I decided to write my first book, I didn’t have a computer (I bought one with my first royalty cheque). I wrote longhand, then typed up my notes on a borrowed laptop.

At that time, I didn’t have any contacts or friends in the writing world, either. Breaking into the charmed circle of people who wrote felt like an impossible task. There were loads of reviews of high-brow literature in the newspapers, on TV and radio, but it was hard to find any information on writing for fun and personal satisfaction.

When you start out as a writer, you need details at your fingertips. Over the next few weeks I’ll be passing on all the hints and tips I’ve gathered during my career as a prize-winning, multi-million selling author.

Writing is a great hobby. It’s never been easier to see your name in print, and who knows— you may even make some money!

My books are on sale all over the world, and my work has been translated into more than twenty different languages. I’ve learned a lot on my way to becoming an author. Now I’m passing that information on to you. Follow this blog to discover the whole story.

Find Out More At


Once you start writing, your only problem will be knowing when to stop. When I talk to groups about my work, the one question guaranteed to turn up in the question-and-answer session at the end is “where do you get your ideas?”  That’s easy— everywhere!

Local newspapers and online media are always rich sources of ideas. Clip, or cut and paste ideas, and keep them catalogued in a file (real or virtual). You never know when some snippet might come in useful. Check lists of anniversaries—there’s always something quirky to discover.

When you’re a writer, you can never be fed up or bored for long.   I wrote His Majesty’s Secret Passion when I was so sick of an endless, gloomy winter that I wanted to escape to somewhere hot, sunny and romantic. His Majesty’s Secret Passion let me do that, and I had the pleasure of seeing my story come to life in print, too!

Listen in on conversations during your crowded commute (carefully, of course) to find inspiration. Make discreet notes on your phone, or carry a notebook with you.

Talk to people. There’s one thing everyone is an expert in, and that’s themselves. Ask your parents and grandparents for their memories. Life has changed out of all recognition in only a dozen years or so. Don’t let their memories vanish. With their permission, make a recording of their thoughts. You can type it up later, as I used to, or investigate a transcription system like Dragon Dictate. You’ll be creating perfect first-hand sources of research. Even if you don’t fancy yourself as an historical novelist, your archive could help others in the future.

Always keep a notepad by your bed, to capture those thoughts that wake you up in the middle of the night (you’ll never remember them otherwise. Trust me. I’ve been there).

Now it’s over to you—what are you going to write about?

Blog, Writing

3 Top Tips For Writing With Scrivener

fountain-pen-447575_1920Scrivener is a word processing package—but it can do more than that. You can use it as a project management tool for your writing. Its developers, Literature and Latte, created Scrivener as a hub.  Open your Scrivener project, and you’re presented with separate areas for creating your manuscript, and storage for all your research, ideas, images and metadata. Everything is to hand while you’re writing.  Once your book is finished, Scrivener can convert it into all sorts of forms. This includes compiling your work ready for publishing online. It’s how I created my short romantic comedy, My Dream Guy.

The Scrivener system is so organised it can come as a bit of a shock to butterfly minds like mine, but now I’ve been working with Scrivener for a while I use it for most of my fiction, and almost all of my non-fiction work. Here are my three top tips:

1. Try before you buy. There’s a free trial facility available from Literature and Latte to get you started. You can take thirty days to become familiar with the whole Scrivener experience before you decide if it’s the system for you.  Experiment with all the forms of compilation. Create different types of document for publication, or upload. Customise the system with the fonts, sizing and formatting you use for your manuscripts (Times New Roman 12-point is a good place to start).  It’s a great feeling to open a new project and start typing straight away, without having to worry about setting everything up from scratch. 

Find Out More at My Dream Guy

2. Don’t start with Scrivener if you’re working to a deadline. When I was writing My Dream Guy,  I created the first draft in a single document on my usual system (Pages for Mac) then imported it into Scrivener for publishing. To do this, instead of giving each chapter a title, I put a hashtag (#) at the end of each one instead. This formed a section break.  When I imported my completed manuscript into Scrivener, the system automatically created a new file for each chapter.  Then after editing my work in Scrivener, all I had to do to format it ready for publication was hit Scrivener’s “compile” button. Instantly, it became a ready-formatted manuscript, ready to publish.

3. RTFM—Read The Flaming* Manual. Scrivener gives you the option to do this, each time you open the package. Interactive and video tutorials are provided as well, in case you’re the type of person who needs to see things being done, rather than simply reading how-to manuals. If you need more help, Scrivener For Dummies, written by Gwen Hernandez is an invaluable book. When I started out, the only problem I had with this book was the same one I have with every other trouble-shooting system for computing. You need to know the exact questions to ask the index, and the terms to use. Tinkering (see Tip 1, above) and then looking up the effect I achieved in the index of this book got me there in the end. I’ve covered my own copy of Scrivener For Dummies with notes (and the two vital components of my writing life, tea and cake). Gwen Hernandez also has loads of useful tips in her online  Scrivener Corner (and you don’t have to peer past cake crumbs to see them). 

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

* other words beginning with F are available…

Blog, Creative Writing

What a weekend!

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.


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.

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.