CampNaNo has begun!

I don’t know about the rest of you writers out there, but I am taking part in Camp NaNo this April! It’s my first time and I’ve been super excited for it to arrive!

For those of you that don’t know what Camp NaNo is – it’s a smaller version of the Camp NaNoWriMo that takes place in November. The concept of CampNaNo is a virtual writers retreat where authors set themselves a goal and work on reaching said writing goal during the month of April. They gather in “Cabins” to chat, support and brainstorm throughout the month and by the end of April they will – hopefully – have reached their targets. Where the NaNoWriMo in November has a goal of 50K words written, the April NaNo allows you to pick your own target.

I have joined the cabin for members of The Fiction Café Writers Group and it’s a varied group with a lot of different goals! Some are working on research or writing the outline for their next novel, some are editing a finished manuscript ready for submission, and some have set themselves writing targets on their current work-in-progress (WIP – yes I’m getting used to the lingo and useful abbreviations).

My goal for CampNaNo is 20K words! I’m thinking it’s ambitious, especially considering there’s the Easter school break and I have a paper due for Uni and my sons birthday both on the 24th! I haven’t a clue how it’s going to go, but fingers crossed I reach my target and manage to write another few chapters to Beth and Sam’s story!

If you’re taking part too, tell me in the comments below!

Happy Writing!

Perfection in the making!

As days go, yesterday was a winner! Let me tell you why…

I reached my first goal of 10K written words about a month ago. 10% of my novel was written! I felt good. Really good! I sent it off to my 2 alpha readers and got some amazing feedback. Then life hit me hard and I haven’t had the health or momentum to write since.

Somewhere in the last couple of weeks I was reading about the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditionally published fiction. One of the biggest questions I’ve been asking myself since I started writing is which way should I go? There are so many sides to that discussion it feels a bit like playing hopscotch on a treadmill that’s spinning in circles. For the purpose of this post though, one thing stood out for me in that article – whether you go the self-publishing route or aim to submit and hopefully secure a contract with an agent and publisher – you need to get your work edited. Okaaaaay…

Now, I’m fairly sure I’m not the first newbie author to have second and third and one hundred and seventh doubts about the quality of their work, but I’ve really been struggling to see if what I’m writing is any good. Up until this point writing has been an exciting new challenge and a daunting one not having a clue how any of this works. I decided that, if for no other reason, contacting an editor would maybe give me an indication of “yes, this is good – keep on going” or “hmmm, maybe this is not quite your thing”.

I belong to an amazing writer’s group on FaceBook and in there they do these live events regularly with an editor so we can send in questions and she answers them. I’ve been following these when I can and I’ve really enjoyed the insights she’s shared. Between these live events and the article, I felt like something was telling me to do some research about editing and editors. So I looked up her website and totally fell in love with her concept! Her name is Emma and she runs the site Creating Perfection. Emma offers – amongst other things – a chapter by chapter editing service. The benefit of editing small sections as I write allows me the opportunity to a) learn as I go and incorporate all her advice so each successive submission will hopefully be better than the last and b) spread the cost over a longer period of time and thus make it more manageable for a debut author’s finances.

So, having contacted her and decided to jump in head first, I sent her my first 4 chapters and then tried to keep myself busy for a week so I wouldn’t obsess over what she thought about them. I needn’t have worried! Emma made it very clear at the outset that her feedback is always 100% honest as anything else wouldn’t benefit either of us. She is an absolutely lovely person and not only did she do an incredibly thorough job on editing my chapters, but she also boosted my self-esteem and had me grinning from ear to ear. Her praise and recommendation to keep doing what I’m doing made my day yesterday! It was just what I needed to hear! I now have a clear idea of what I’m doing right and that my plans for the rest of the story are sound. I feel energised and motivated to get back to it – as soon as humanly possible!

It really is an incredibly uplifting feeling to have so many people in your corner – friends and family and now also a kick-ass editor. I don’t know if I could do this without them. Their support means everything to me! If you’re in any doubts whether or not to engage an editor – I would highly recommend you take the plunge! He or she may just provide you with the advice you need to make your manuscript shine! I see it as making an investment in myself and my newest craft and that by doing so the result will hopefully be an amazing novel!

When life gets in the way!

Have you ever felt like the universe is doing it’s damnedest to prevent you from enjoying the things you most want to spend time on? Ever tried to get on with your to-do list and have a million things dumped in your lap that needed sorting yesterday? Ever felt so sure your body is going to collapse under the strain of illness and life stress that getting out of bed is pointless? Well, that’s been me for the last month! Life has well and truly kicked my butt lately and blogging has had to take a backseat unfortunately!

Spring seems to have finally shown it’s head here and the days are getting both warmer and brighter! I spotted the first crocuses peeping out between the withered brown strands of last years grass and the melting piles of grey snow. Bright purple blooms shining with vibrant health! They always make me feel like the world – myself included – is finally waking up after a long sleep, ready to take on life and all it’s challenges. I’m allowing myself to hope that soon we’ll be able to plant the herbs and veggies we enjoyed last year and set out the garden furniture. Warmer weather means less layers going out, oh and note to self: the need for new clothes for my kids that grow like weeds!

I haven’t been writing this last month. But I have been editing. I’m incredibly lucky to have a husband and two good friends, all willing to alpha-read for me. Their feedback has been great and I can’t tell you the effect it has had on my confidence! I eventually took a giant step and contacted a free-lance editor to look over my first 4 chapters and see what she thinks! Nerve-wracking? That would be a major understatement! I’ll be talking to her this Friday, but she just sent me a message today that plastered a massive grin on my face (that’s still there) and had me high-five’ing the air and squealing like a hyper guinea pig! I’m not ashamed to admit that my response was neither poised nor particularly graceful, but who cares!?! She loved it and said:

“You have a great way with words. I was so involved in those chapters and the characters. [….] I think you have something that will go the distance here.”

Phew! So, my focus now will be taking it easy so I can get back on my feet again and hopefully back on track with writing! I plan to take part in April’s “Camp NaNo” to finish the first half of my novel! As a goal it’s pretty ambitious, but I’m hoping I can reach it with time and health on my side!

For now I wish you all a pleasant spring day wherever you are!

And happy writing!

Love is in the air…

For some of you Valentines Day is an excuse to shower that special someone with cards, flowers, gifts and attention. For others it’s a black hole of loathing with thoughts of revenge and regret and a fervent wish you could squash your useless ex like a bug. For most though, it’s a day like every other and one more opportunity to be grateful for the important people in your lives and to cherish the small moments of love and thoughtfulness I hope you all experience. 

Now, for those of you in a loving mood today, I thought to focus on Love as we know it in fiction! Have I told you my novel is a love story? No, well it is! I’m hoping eventually it will be a fantastic love story full of life’s ups and downs, the little things we do to show we care, the new and the familiar, the lost, the forgotten and the heartbreakingly honest.

Until then though, and because I love a good list… Here are my Top 10 favourite love stories in fiction!

  1. Outlander – Diana Gabaldon
  2. Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness
  3. Me before You – Jojo Moyes
  4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  5. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
  6. Call me by your name – André Aciman
  7. The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks
  8. The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  9. The Fault in our Stars – John Green
  10. Until the end of the World – Sarah Lyons Flemming

I could tell you why they’re my favourites, but I don’t want to spoil them for anyone who hasn’t read them yet and you can make up your own minds as to whether these deserve a spot in your Top 10!

If you don’t have plans for Valentines Day – curl up with a good love story! That’s what I plan to do! If you’re looking for your next read, you could try out one of my recommendations above or check out these other lists here and here. And if you have any brilliant suggestions for me – don’t hesitate to post them in the comments below!

Happy Valentines Day!

The Puuuurfect Pet?

Have you ever fallen hopelessly in love with a literary pet and wished they were yours? I have! Countless times! Nearly every one of my favourite books has had a pet character and for me they have been as important to the story as any of their human counterparts. 

During the process of plotting out my novel, I was working on my character line-up and there was something missing. I couldn’t quite figure it out to begin with and then it hit me – She needs a pet! I knew straight away it would have to be a cat. Have I told you all I love cats? To be fair, I’m fairly fond of all kinds of animals, but cats are at the top of the list for me. I have 2 cats of my own and we regularly foster abandoned cats for a local cat rescue organisation, until they can be re-homed. As pets they’re infinitely more independent than your average dog, but anyone who has had a cat will know that their personalities are both unique and immensely amusing.

Being new to this writing game, I’ve been wondering how exactly I should “write” my feline character. Without the possibility of some snappy dialogue, how do I best go about giving my newest pal the personality he deserves? Here’s where being a life-long cat lover comes in handy I guess. In order to make him feel “real” I’ll need to use everything I know about cats – their habits, their likes and dislikes, their quirks and peculiarities. As a writer our job is to evoke emotions and images within the minds of our readers. To do that we must appeal to all their senses and make our pets come alive on the page. Why? Because, at least to my mind, a good pet can add a great deal to a story. Maybe you need some comedic relief to lighten the tension or perhaps you need to show the softer side of your main character. Whatever the reason, having a pet in the day to day scenes of your story may just provide it with that little bit of spice it was missing. 

I know I’ll be having fun adding a little furry fun to my story. And he may not be a big character, but he’ll definitely be one of my favourites. 

When are you at your most creative?

Yesterday I was driving through a slush storm to pick my kids up from school. The temperature was yo-yoing just around freezing and the sky was dark grey, a heavy mass of clouds that couldn’t make up their mind if they wanted to pelt us with rain or bury us in snow. Hence the slush. I drive this route twice a day Monday to Friday and apart from being “slushed” by two passing trucks, the drive yesterday was otherwise uneventful.

What occurred to me though is that those 15 minutes twice a day, are my most productive in terms of writing ideas. I invariably put on a playlist and let my imagination loose. Don’t get me wrong – my attention is on the road! But in the back of my head, little bubbles are rising to the surface of my imagination and I see images or snippets of film and a stream of “what if’s”. I carry a small notebook where I can write these little pearls down – when I get to where I’m headed – and trust me I need to write them down or they get lost in the fog of appointments and meetings and “what’s for dinner”.

But why is it that most of my ideas come to me when driving my car? Why not in dreams? Why not when I’m sat here at my desk actually writing? Why not when I should be concentrating in a meeting or when I’m cooking dinner? I wouldn’t call the scenery along the motorway particularly inspiring….

My theory is that, when I drive on my own, my otherwise busy mind gets to relax and “breathe”. So often I’m surrounded by other people and demands on my attention, that the opportunities to be creative are severely limited. Those short intervals of alone time driving my little electrical car are golden! I could rehash a recent argument, mull over something work related, plan the dinners we’re having next week, but instead I find that I tend to gear down (pun intended) and let my mind wander towards my novel. I guess I’m not the type of person that finds driving particularly stressful – especially not on a route I drive so often – and the possibility of calm, unstressed focus allows my creativity to flow. Add in an amazing playlist I created as a “soundtrack” to my novel and I’m all set! It’s been great in terms of plotting my novel! I nearly always come back from a drive feeling energised and inspired and now that I’m consciously aware of how those moments of alone time boost my creativity – I have a great tool I can utilise when an inevitable bout of writers block hits!

Is it just me? Do any of you experience a boost in creativity when driving your car? Are there other situations or places where you feel your creativity flows better than others? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

What’s in a name?

veelosvpr_mg_8859“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Shakespeare’s famous line from Romeo & Juliet should by all accounts be a golden rule of thumb – and far be it from me to argue with a master! However, I find myself wondering if the sentiment applies to character names? Would your readers relate to the handsome, kind and sensitive male protagonist if his name was Spike? Likewise would your female antagonist, the bane of practically everyone’s existence, pure evil personified, pack as much punch if her name was Chloë?

It’s obvious to most of us that most names come with a degree of assumed characterisation. Anyone who has ever tried to name a baby will know that it’s incredibly hard to find a name that doesn’t also remind you of a former colleague, an ex, an irritating boss, the next door neighbours dog etc. etc. etc. We are surrounded by names and whilst some we find appealing, others make us cringe and wonder “what were his parents thinking???”.

When you’re writing a novel your characters names are often a reflection of their personalities. We want people to accept the inherent personality traits that “belong” to a given name and create an image of the character that harmonises with the one you are attempting to portray in the pages of your book.

So how do we go about this? Well, looking at what the net says here and there, I managed to unwittingly use some of the basic naming rules. There are plenty of articles out there to give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Here’s a breakdown of the steps I took and rules I tried to stick to:

  1. Pick a name that reflects the characters culture, age and personality traits. Do the research and make a list of names that were popular in the country / culture, and decade your character was born in. What do the names mean? Are there cultural expectations connected to your chosen name? Anticipating these factors will allow you to provide your characters with names that feel “real” to your readers.
  2. Avoid hard to pronounce and difficult to remember names. As exotic and appealing as the names may be to you, they may just be too difficult for the average reader to pronounce and remember. Unless you plan to provide a glossary with a phonetic pronunciation guide, maybe pick another name.
  3. Some names are so “famous”, using them would be fairly pointless unless you’re writing fan fiction. If you want your characters to be unique to your novel, avoid names which will remind your readers of others with the same name. Bella, Khaleesi, Bond, Hermione … need I say more?
  4. Make sure your character’s names are indistinguishable from each other. A John, Jack and Jacob all within one plot leave us with a confused reader.
  5. Stick to the naming rules of your genre. Real world characters have real world names. Fantasy characters don’t have to!

At the end of the day your characters are yours and their names are up to you to decide. I found this to be a fun exercise and like naming my children, I found names I fell in love with and that match my characters perfectly! How did you get on?