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?

Getting the feedback you need…

Having tentatively taken my first steps along the road of writing a novel, it has occurred to me to wonder – is what I’m writing any good??? Should I even bother spending hours and hours on something that may just be “meh”? I noticed last week that, having written my first scenes, I was quite happy with the tone I could see forming… Then a few days passed, I read through them again and wondered what on earth I was doing!

At this point, chucking in the towel feels fairly justified… but then I remember why I’m doing this. I pull on my big girl pants, roll my shoulders, stretch my fingers, tighten the non existent hairband in my short cropped hair and try again. The visual you’re probably sat with now has me chuckling (sorry, not sorry). Seriously though, am I the only one who feels sitting down to write is like preparing to run a marathon? Any who… I digress.

So, I’m sat here in my little writing bubble and wondering if I was half asleep when I wrote my last scene, doubting I have what it takes to be an author – a good one that is – and thinking I should just give in whilst I’m ahead. Can I look at this objectively and see what a potential reader will see? Not a snowball’s chance in hell! I’m already blind to any faults and inconsistencies, problems and pitfalls. I need feedback from someone with fresh eyes. I need a kind, but honest voice of reason that can tell me to forge ahead or pack it in! I need… an Alpha Reader!

Alpha Reader? Yup. Alpha as in first. As in top dog. As in A* reader! A few months ago I had no idea alpha readers even existed. Their job? To read your first fumbling efforts at fiction and tell you what works and what doesn’t. Your alpha reader is someone you can trust, who won’t mind reading your craptastic spelling and grammar and telling you what parts they adored and what parts they didn’t quite understand, what characters they loved and what characters they felt need more attention. Your alpha reader is also someone who will encourage you to keep going and give you some helpful hints.

I’m happy to say I have 3 very lucky (to my mind) alpha readers who have said they are more than willing to read what I write and give me some highly appreciated feedback! This puts me in the “I have the best husband and friends in the world” box and I know you will all agree, writing just got a whole lot easier… Not? Well, maybe not. But at least now I can get a feel for what works outside of my bubble and that will make the next step a little less daunting to take!

 

Book of the Month – January 2019

36389285The Songs of Us – Emma Cooper

  • Format: Paperback – 432 pages
  • Published: 20th September 2018
  • Publisher: Headline Review

If Melody hadn’t run out of de-icer that day, she would never have slipped and banged her head. She wouldn’t be left with a condition that makes her sing when she’s nervous. And she definitely wouldn’t have belted out the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ in assembly at her son’s school.

If Dev hadn’t taken the kids to the zoo that day, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have left Flynn and Rose without a dad. Or shattered the love of his life’s heart.

But if they hadn’t seen the missing person report that day, they might never have taken the trip to Cornwall. And, in the last place they expected, discovered what it really means to be ‘Us’.

As part of my newly established website and blog, I plan to write a monthly “Book of the Month” post to showcase one of the books I have read this month. 

For January I have chosen the debut novel “The Songs of Us” by Emma Cooper. This is a book that has been recommended by a great many people in a bookclub I am a member of on Facebook – The Fiction Café – Book Club. I took to it knowing upfront that it was deemed both incredibly funny and heartbreakingly sad. It’s been a few days since I finished reading it and I have to admit, I needed the time to recover! This book really was a roller coaster ride. My goodness!!! I loved every page and don’t think I have laughed so hard or cried so many silent tears when reading a book – ever! It well and truly hooked me and I have been recommending “The Songs of Us” to everyone I come across! In execution, the book has a cast of characters you can’t help but fall in love with, a playlist worthy enough to play at full volume in your car and a story that keeps you reading passed a sensible bedtime and at every other opportunity, right up until the last page. 

I was telling my 9 year old son about the book the other morning and why it had made me cry. He was teary eyed himself, listening to my short summary of the story! At the end he asked me why I would want to read such as sad book? I told him that even though it was very sad – it was also incredibly beautiful and touching to read how loved a person can be. How reading something so evocative, can help you appreciate what happens in your own life more. And how our lives are better when we feel all the emotions – not just happiness. He seemed to accept that – with a very sage nod! 

I contacted Emma and told her how much I loved her book and asked if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions. I know she’s busy working on her next novel, “The First Time I Saw You”, but she was more than happy to oblige and I’m truly thankful she took the time to answer my questions and is allowing me to post them here for you all to read! As I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, I decided to stick to questions about the writing process rather than aspects of the story…. so here goes! 

 

14906595Hi Emma!

Firstly, let me just say a huge Thank you for writing such an amazing book and for answering my questions! 

It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me! I always get a real thrill when I hear how readers have been so affected by The Songs of Us and always, always love it when I hear that it is being talked about and recommended to friends.  That was how I often came across some of my favourite books so it’s wonderful that my book is being included.

Whilst I was reading I found myself wondering about your process when writing with so many references to popular songs. I had a distinct “chicken or the egg” feeling – what came first? Did you have a great song and then wrote the scene to match or did you have the plot and then found the perfect song to fit the scene?

A bit of both really.  There were certain songs that I always wanted to include for specific scenes – “This Woman’s Work” being one of them, but often, I would be writing a scene and a song would just pop into my head.  “Agadoo” was one of those and I burst out laughing when it did.  I had literally typed ‘Aaaaaahhh!’ and ‘doo, doo, doo, push pineapple shake a tree’ followed without any conscious thought from me.

The images your book creates are so rich and clear, I felt like I was watching it all happen right in front of me! How do you go about writing something so alive and not get bogged down just describing what you see in your head? 

That’s a really difficult question to answer …  I’m a pantser by nature, and without sounding like a pillock, my books do tend to just write themselves.  That being said, I learnt a great deal about writing techniques and features when I worked in Year six for several years.  I use a lot of pathetic fallacy, which is where you give a human feeling to an inanimate object, especially when using it to describe weather; it can give a whole different feel to a scene without too much mundane description, for example:

“As I step outside, I breathe in the dewy grass, tilting my head to the night sky which has already thrown off its dark blanket and now stretches and unpeels, revealing blood orange.”

If I had just described the scene as dawn breaking, and talked about the colours of the sky, you wouldn’t get that punch.  This isn’t something I’m really aware of as I write though … it just sort of happens!

After my many attempts at reading some of the passages from your book to my husband, and failing miserably because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe – I wondered what it was like for you to write some of the most hilarious scenes, and equally the saddest ones? 

I love that you were reading parts out to your hubby! I do this too! 

Often, I found myself laughing when I was writing, especially when Melody took me by surprise.  The “Dontcha” scene came from nowhere as did the “Birdy Song”. Equally, there were times when I had to stop writing because I was crying so much.  I have to say that I didn’t cry at the ‘big’ scene at the end of the novel though, but I think that was because I knew it was coming all the way through.  There were two scenes that really made me cry, the “Perfect Day” scene was another of those that came from nowhere. I had the song playing while I wrote it and it was a real gut-wrencher for me.  The other was when Flynn sees his mum asleep, I wrote that when I was covering a class and had to pull myself together quickly!

What did it feel like to reach the big writing milestones – writing the final words, finding out your book would be published, seeing the cover design, reaching publication day and hearing the audiobook version? 

After writing the last words to The Songs of Us, I remember playing Melody’s final song really loud and having a bit of a dance around my lounge! That euphoria was short lived though once I started getting the gazillions of rejections through.  Funnily enough, I think getting my agent was my biggest milestone.  That email, next to meeting Russell and having my children, is the single most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. Having a literary agent telling you that you’re an incredible writer and that they want to help you find the right publisher is like no other feeling I have ever experienced!

Seeing my cover (and oh what a beauty it is!) was very surreal. I had an image in my mind of the tree that Tom sculpts, so I was expecting something similar to Rowan Coleman’s “The Memory Book” (which I love). Seeing this bright red balloon took me by surprise, but as I’m sure you can guess, I was over the moon with it.  I have a slight hint from my editor about the brief for “The First Time I Saw You”‘s cover and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the designers go with it.  More on this soon!!

As to the audiobook, that was quite a nerve-wracking experience, hearing actors speaking your words is just … incredible.  I’m so very lucky that I had two actors too, as this isn’t always the case in multiple viewpoints.  I think they did an exceptional job, they made your husband cry so I’ll take that as a massive win! P.S let him know he’s not on his own, Russ has cried at “The Songs of Us” more times than I can count … he had to actually leave the room when he read the ending for the first time. He’s cried at “The First Time I Saw You” several times too! 

E-book publication day I spent drinking prosecco and sitting outside my caravan obsessively checking my ranking on Amazon.  Paperback publication day, I went into an independent Book shop in Oswestry called Booka Bookshop and signed some copies … that was a very special feeling, seeing it there in the wild was just wonderful.  It’s a gorgeous book shop if you are ever close by, and they host some incredible author evenings … Jodi Picoult was there a few months ago!

And finally the universal question – what is the best advice you can offer a new author? 

Never give up.  I almost did.  It’s hard to keep believing in yourself when you’re getting email after email from agents and publishers telling you that, for whatever their reason, you’re not quite good enough.  It chips away at your self-belief day after day until you start to believe that they’re right.  I was so very close to giving up. No matter how good, deep down, I knew The Songs of Us was, it’s hard to keep believing in yourself. 

There is a phrase that you will receive when you get rejections: subjective.  This business is so subjective. I had publisher and agents saying that readers just wouldn’t like the singing parts, and of course for some readers that’s true, but there are other readers and publishers, all around the world who, like yourself, absolutely loved it.  I dread to think how different my life would be if I had have given up.

Thank you so much for being willing to answer my questions and letting me post them on here! I really hope “The Songs of Us” continues to attract new readers and gives them as great a reading experience as it gave me!

Thank you for having me and taking the time to ask such great questions!

 

So, my dear readers… I’m giving this book 5 out of 5 stars! If you’re reading this and curious about it – give it a go! I can guarantee “The Songs of Us” will have you in tears – happy and sad ones – and you won’t mind one bit!