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 feels utterly pointless?

I should probably tell you that, right now, my hand is stretching itself towards the sky, giving a little wave and shouting ever so annoyingly “Me! Me! MEEEE!”. Yes, life has well and truly kicked my butt and writing has had to take a backseat for the better part of a year! Yes, you read that correctly. Almost an ENTIRE year! Where is that horror stricken emoji face when I need one?

The last blog post I wrote, was published in March a year ago and, looking back over the year I’ve had, I’m not entirely surprised there hasn’t been a peep out of me since. I’m not going to go into details, except to say: I’ve had plenty of good, happy days filled with fun and the things memories are made of, a few too many busy ones full of challenges and deadlines, and then, a whole truckload of the kind where you just want to go to bed and wake up tomorrow, or next week, or perhaps even next year. Looks like I accomplished the last – at least where any form of writing is concerned!

I’m sat looking out the window and spring seems to be on it’s way. The days are getting brighter and I spotted the first crocuses peeping out between the withered brown strands of last years grass yesterday. The world is waking up from it’s long winter nap and I suppose I’m a little envious of it’s ability to start over, clean and bright and eager. What is it with spring that has me feeling like we’re all due for a fresh start?

We’ve had a bleak and unusually snow-free winter this year. Dark, yes. Cold, yes. But instead of the muffled peace that a good snowfall provides, we’ve had rain and a dreary greyness that has dulled even the most cheerful souls. My kids have been decidedly miffed at the lack of snow filled fun. My dog has taken to hanging his head and venturing out reluctantly for his cold, wet walks. And me? I’ve claimed the spot closest to the fireplace and indulged in an endless stream of hot cups of tea, whilst binge-watching yet another tv-series and knitting away the winter evenings.

With warmer weather right around the corner, I’m allowing myself to hope that soon we’ll be able to plant the herbs and veggies we’ve been planning 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!

As for writing…. I need to read through the chapters I finished last year and take stock, I think. I have a good friend who’s eagerly waiting for the continuation of a story she fell in love with last year. I have chapters she hasn’t even seen yet and I plan to send everything over to her as soon as possible and see what she thinks. Her feedback has been great and I can’t tell you the effect it has had on my confidence! Once that’s done, I should know at least where I am and can plan what to do next.

So, for now, my focus will be taking it easy so I can get back on my feet again and hopefully back on track with writing. I’m by no means out of the woods with everything that’s been dumped on me lately, but I’ve reached a point where I don’t want to feel broken anymore and give up on the dreams I’ve held onto for so long. Let’s see what happens from here on out!

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

And 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!

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!

 

“Where words fail…

… Music speaks!” Hans Christian Andersen said that and I would imagine he knew what he was talking about!

Today I find myself staring out of the window at a clear, blue and beautiful winter sky, thinking over the scenes of my story. I can “see” my characters, “hear” their words and “feel” their emotions, but as with most stories – it doesn’t seem to work as well without a soundtrack! Have you ever had the shivers from a really good melody? Heard a singer who’s voice tugs at your heartstrings? Heard the words of a song and felt they were speaking to you? I live for moments like this and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, when I imagine the scenes of my story, there’s a soundtrack playing inside my mind in the background! It makes everything feel complete, feel “right” and I’m hoping the inspiration I take from the songs makes what I write, better.

To make my soundtrack more of a reality than an endless loop of phrases and snippets of melody running through my head, I decided to compile a playlist of songs that reflect the emotions, struggles and achievements of my main characters: Beth and Sam. As music will play a part of their story, I just had to create something that would do them justice! I know I will love listening to it – there are some of my all time favourites in there – but it occurred to me that maybe you would enjoy a peak into their musical world! If you’re interested in hearing Beth and Sam’s playlist, you can find it here on Spotify or follow the social media link at the bottom of the page! I hope you like it!

The journey begins…

Ever since my Dad first read Matilda to me when I was five years old – doing all the voices of course – I’ve been in love with books! But, never in a million years did I imagine I would some day be writing one myself! It’s a bit daunting and I’ve been second guessing and thirteenth guessing myself, but as of today – January 17th 2019 – I am officially a writer!

You might think it’s a tad premature to call myself a writer, with no published books, no agent, not even a finished manuscript! But I read an article today and it was like the internet was screaming at me “Here! We knew you were waiting for this!”. I won’t quote the entire article, but particularly one section hit home and gave me the push I needed to proudly acknowledge that this is what I am!

When you finally call yourself a writer, it drives home the fact that this is real. It’s serious. We’re no longer talking about some vague ambition. You’re a professional writer who has to produce content, be that novels or nonfiction books or articles or whatever.

Go ahead and say it right now: “I am a writer.” The more it becomes real for you, the more it will drive you to sit down as much as possible and put words on the page.

Maybe it’s about having the right mindset? Maybe I just need to believe in myself a bit more? Whatever the reason, if I am going to make this a reality and find the drive to push on and work hard – I need to start right here:

“I am a writer”

This is my journey!