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Monday, 27 November 2017

Mud, Mud Inglorious Mud...

Blueberry Leaves In Autumn
It's been a funny year.  It's the end of November, but I've only started heating the greenhouse in the past few days. Our cherry trees, whose leaves usually turn glorious sunset colours before dropping, are hanging on like leaden green rags. Out in the wood there's been more in the way of seasonal colour. Birch leaves are small and heart-shaped, hazel leaves deckle-edged discs. With the shortening days they've all turned bright yellow. One or two seedlings have escaped from the beech wood to light up the understorey of the conifer plantation. They make it look cheerful on the dullest day. When the sun shines, they really glow.

In the garden at Tottering Towers, the blueberry bushes always put on a great autumn show. They're the plant with everything—beautiful flowers which bees love, delicious fruit, and each November they turn fiery red, without fail. They grow best in lime-free soil and must never dry out, but as they'll grow happily in containers this isn't a problem. Mine are planted in big plastic tubs filled with ericaceous compost. They stand in trays which I keep topped up with rainwater. Unlike most plants, blueberries don't mind standing in water.

The whole countryside around here is used to wet feet. It's been drizzly for weeks, but a few days ago the weather turned stormy. Torrential rain went on for hours, only relieved by heavy showers. The River Wye is higher than it's been for months. Sliding down banks between forest tracks is like the worst episodes of cross-country running at school. With most of the leaves now off the sweet chestnuts of the bluebell wood and the ground covered with nuts, squirrels are everywhere. Alex, our retriever/labrador cross is far too slow to catch them before they spring up to safety in the trees. That doesn't stop him trying. When we reach a road on our walks I put him on the lead for safety. I have to be careful to spot the squirrels before he does, as he's prone to mad dashes. Yesterday, he saw a squirrel I didn't, leapt forward and almost yanked the lead out of my hand. Next thing I knew, I was flat on my back looking up at the sky through those last few autumn leaves. I'd lost my footing on the muddy ground, and went down splat.  Luckily this happened only a hundred yards from our house. It was a cold, wet walk home!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Christmas Won't Start Here Until Advent Sunday, But...

Pic #1
Phew, where has this year gone? I promised myself I'd self-publish a Christmas novella last year. It was all ready to go, then my mother fell ill. Everything else was on hold after that.

...the same can't be said for working on Christmas stories. Magazines need copy in midsummer. The biggest publishers schedule their book releases over a year ahead. Independents and self-publishers have more leeway, but Christmas books released in October can build up plenty of momentum before the Christmas-book-buying-market hits the floor on December 26th.

Since January I've been working so hard on my non-fiction project for Pen and Sword Books, Struggle and Suffrage: Women's Lives In Bristol 1850-1950, today is the first chance I've had to look up from my keyboard.

I might be able to manage a release in time for Christmas, but doing anything in a rush is never a good idea, is it? My Christmas novella Highland Hideaway is practically finished, but it still needs editing, and a cover. Both those things take time.

Pic #2
I'm still adding bits to, and amending, the final manuscript for Struggle...  so I'm concentrating on every word, dot and comma of that book at the moment.

I love the autumn It would be a relief to send Highland Hideaway away for editing, instead. Then I can take my time to find a cover design.

The top picture accompanying this blog isn't romantic, but I came across it while I was combing through Pixabay. Isn't it stunning? It reminds me of when I lived in Somerset.

Barn owls love the farmland there. We only get Tawny owls among our Gloucestershire trees.

Pic #3
The second and third photos are more suitable for a romantic novella, but they'll need some work before they're can become book covers. Highland Hideaway is about a city girl who is marooned in a blizzard with a notoriously tough and uncompromising wildlife photographer. You'll never guess what happens...although there are a few dramas, twists and turns along the way.

Which of the pictures do you think would make the better cover, and why? There's a book from my backlist on offer for a comment picked at random on 1st November!

Monday, 28 August 2017

I'll Sparkle, If It's The Last Thing I Do...

...and it nearly was!

I wrote here about the conflict of interest I suffered ahead of this year's Romantic Novelists' Association Conference in Shropshire. Two members of my local Marcher Chapter were leading sessions, but as they were both scheduled for the same time, I had to choose between them. I did think about spending half the hour in one lecture theatre then nipping across to catch the last half of the other talk, but that wouldn't have worked. I wanted to immerse myself in whole talks, not spend my time looking at my watch.

 It was impossible which session to choose, so I flipped a coin.  Joanna Maitland and Sophie Weston's  Add Sparkle to your Manuscript won. Joanna and Sophie run the popular Libertà blog, covering all things bookish.

I took my seat in the comfortable seats of the university's largest lecture room and settled down for a light-hearted canter through the English Language and how it should be used. Instead, I heard those dreaded words; "This workshop..."

Aargh! I love our Marcher Group workshops, as we work on our pieces at home, and only submit them when they're (to the eye of their creator anyway) perfect. I always avoid spontaneous workshops, where you have to whip something up on the spot for the benefit of a group of strangers. classing them with other forms of torture such as diets and editing. I didn't book this weekend away from my desk to work! This was supposed to be a holiday! Didn't Joanna and Sophie know that?

Actually, "Sparkle" wasn't like that at all. It was a fun session, encouraging us to turn a deliberately terrible made-up extract of writing into something exciting and readable.  I can't go into too many details as Joanna and Sophie use some of it on their highly successful Sparkle Days, but you can read their account of the session I attended here.  

Like all the best workshop sessions, "Sparkle" taught me as much about myself as it did about my writing. The reason I hate workshops, I discovered, is because I can't bear anyone to see my work until it's completely finished. I couldn't bear to read something out that I'd whipped up in five minutes, on command.  Completely finished, as every writer knows, is a state that no piece of writing ever achieves. However much you fiddle and fuss with it, you'll always find some new reason not to send your literary baby out into the cruel world of beta readers and reviewers.  I know I do.

Maybe if I spent less time agonising over every line, I'd get more writing done. I must force myself to attend more workshops. 

I can't believe I just wrote that last line. What's the single biggest thing that would improve your writing?



Monday, 21 August 2017

Getting Social at the RNA Conference

Getting up early on a Saturday morning has never felt better than it did during the weekend I spent at the Harper-Adams University, for the 2017 Romantic Novelists' Association Conference. . First there was the prospect of a lavish, leisurely breakfast, instead of my usual hurried snack. Better still, I didn't have to worry about preparing  it, or washing up afterwards.

If that wasn't enough of a treat, Nicola Cornick, current Chair of the RNA and Sarah Morgan, winner of the 2017 Romance Writers' of America's RITA for her long romance, Miracle on 5th Avenue, were giving a session on using social media.

Facebook has more users than any other social media platform. The finer point of it are a mystery to me. I started with a personal page, then added an author page, but I'm not sure how to get the best out of either page, if I'm honest. What are your own Facebook tips? The more you use it the better, was the message I got from this conference session.

 Twitter is the next most popular social media platform, but it only has a fraction of the followers that Facebook has. Having conversations when you're limited to 140 characters is a bit restrictive, but it can be done. Instagram is more popular with young people than Twitter, so you need to know your readership. Nicola, Sarah, and most of the audience agreed that Pinterest is nothing but a time suck. It's lovely to look at and absorbing to dip in and out of the various boards, but before you know it an hour has gone past and your word count is nil!

If you'd rather be writing than surfing the net, Nicola and Sarah's advice was to concentrate on Facebook, and maybe one other platform. Make sure you have an author Page, and use it for your writing business, in preference to your personal page.

 I came straight home after the conference, and created this Canva image to redirect people to my author page rather than my personal page. I used a picture of Alex when he was a baby, and added an invitation. It was really easy to do, and only took a few minutes. Thinking of things to add to my Facebook page every day is going to be a lot harder.

Visit my Facebook Page at http://bit.ly/FacebookAuthorPageCH, and  let me know what you'd like to see there!

Monday, 14 August 2017

A Stitch In Time

There were two sessions about using fabric as inspiration at the Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference. Carol McGrath spoke about Fabric, Embroidery and Tapestry as inspiration for historical fiction, while Elizabeth Chadwick spoke about going beyond the dressing-up box to explore daily life in times gone by. Both were very different in tone, but equally fascinating.

Elizabeth suggested immersing ourselves in the period by studying the depictions of daily life in embroideries. Fashion, musical instruments and  hunting are shown in detail, created by the people who saw all those things every day. It all helps to bring authenticity to your fiction. Then there's the potential romance contained in how the pieces were made: the lives of silk-workers, the dyers, weavers, the times in which they lived and loved, and the people for whom they worked  And that's before you've considered the object of the craftwork.

Carol McGrath recounted the story of how she had been intrigued by a figure of a woman worked into the Bayeux Tapestry. There are only three women depicted in the whole 70 metre (more than 231 feet) long embroidery showing of life before and during the Battle Of Hastings in 1066. Carol has woven a series of books around the possibility of them being Harold's intended queen, his sister, and his "handfasted wife", who is shown fleeing with Harold's son from their burning house. It was a brilliant idea for a series, and the novels make compelling reading.

I'd love to be able to create a piece of beautiful needlework, but I don't have the time, the patience, or the skill. Do you do enjoy craft work? What craft are you most proud of completing?

Monday, 7 August 2017

Agents, and How To Find Them...

Felicity Trew. Photograph by John Jackson.
The first session I went to at the Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference this year was Felicity Trew's presentation about the work of an agent and how to write the perfect submission letter. Felicity works for the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency.

A good agent will be your supporter, cheerleader and confidante. They will create a publishing schedule for you, spacing your books out so you aren't releasing them too close together. They'll guide your career, and help you create a "brand", or rework one that isn't working

When it comes to writing your submission letter to an agent, keep it calm and professional.  Begin with the word count, and the intended audience for your book. Bring all your skill as a storyteller into play, but keep all the information you include concise and relevant. Distil your plot into about three lines, and put this at the top so your prospective agent knows what to expect. Show that you've really researched your agent, and your market. Give a brief history of your writing history, and your inspiration behind the book you're pitching. Give links to your online presence. Keep your spell checker on, and make sure your letter is as perfectly laid out as your manuscript.

Which do you find harder—writing fiction, or writing the letter that goes with it?

Monday, 31 July 2017

Going Wild In The Country— The Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference 2017

It's taken me two weeks to recover enough to write about this—yes, it was that good.

Around two hundred and fifty members of the Romantic Novelists' Association converged on the Harper-Adams University in Shropshire for three days of talks, workshops, networking and fun.

There were sessions on the role of an agent and how to write the perfect submission letter, using images from embroidery and tapestry as inspiration for historical fiction, how to make social media work for you, how to revive your backlist, how technology can help writers and many more. The Gala dinner was the social event of my year so far, and the bookstalls were packed with new titles.

I'll be posting notes here about some of the sessions I attended, so subscribe to my blog by clicking top right to catch them.

The food (one of my favourite areas of study!) during the conference was fantastic. Harper-Adams are used to catering for healthy, country appetites so we began the day with pastries, toast and toppings, a choice of about a dozen cooked items from bacon and eggs to hash browns, plus porridge, fresh fruit, yoghurt and cereals. The lunches and evening meals were all great too. The amazing gala dinner on Saturday Evening of Beef Wellington was particularly good.

The Amazing Raffle-Prize Quilt 
There was only one disappointment. Two members of my local chapter of the RNA, Joanna Maitland and Pia Fenton, were each offering sessions. They were scheduled at the same time, but in different lecture theatres. Joanna, along with Sophie Weston, showed how to add sparkle to your writing. Pia and Anna Belfrage talked about how to make Timeslip work. I wanted to go to both talks, not only to support Marcher Chapter members but because I was interested in both topics. In the end I had to toss a coin because I genuinely couldn't choose. The Sparkle session won! Luckily, Pia offered to give us a quick run-down of her session at a future Marcher meeting.

After hours, the campus came alive with people socialising at the students' bar, The Welly Boot. It's a great opportunity to meet up with old friends and make new ones. I'm very shy and find socialising difficult, so I spent every evening in my room writing up my notes. I'd been a member of the RNA for years before Ann Ankers persuaded me to attend my first conference, which I did on a single-day ticket in 2014.  I was hooked from the minute I arrived. Everyone is so friendly. For every conference since then I've been one of the first to arrive, and almost the last to leave!

I enjoyed every minute of The Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference 2017, and got 110% out of my attendance.  There's no doubt I could have made it 200%, if I'd spent more time socialising after hours.

I've made a resolution ahead of #RNAconf2018 to join in more of the fun, and spend less time writing up my notes. Why not join the RNA, then you can hold me to my resolution!