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Monday, 28 April 2014

My Writing Process...

I'm blogging today as part of the My Writing Process blog-hop. Thanks to the lovely (and very hardworking!) Erika, who juggles writing with life as a first-generation farmer, I've been introduced to #mywritingprocess via Twitter. This blog hop showcases as many different writing styles as it does ways of working. That's why it's so useful. It gives encouragement, ideas and inspiration to everybody, whether they're new writers or old hands, as there's always something more to learn. It's also a great chance to  spread the word about the work of great writers who are taking up the blog-hop baton next– Jean Bull, Cara Cooper, Jenny Haddon and Margaret Mayo.

So, down to blog-hop business...

1. What am I working on?
Right now I'm juggling two jobs: publicising my latest historical romance,  Jewel Under Siege and polishing the final draft of the The Survivors' Club, which is the first book in my new Brackenridge trilogy. The Survivors' Club is contemporary fiction, combining romance and mystery. It's set in and around a fictional town on the border between England and Wales. This is the countryside where I live and work. It's such a beautiful place, I want to share it with other people!

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Jewel Under Siege developed from some non-fiction research I did about what "luxury" meant in the Middle Ages. At a time when most people didn't know where their next meal was coming from, travellers' tales of the temptations and excesses of Constantinople must have been intoxicating. I couldn't resist setting a romance in an exotic place like that.
The Survivors' Club brings together a downtrodden heroine and a man who lost everything because he worked for a corrupt firm. I wanted them to make a success of their lives and their love affair, despite their backstories. I believe no one should give up, no matter how many rotten choices and bad mistakes they make in life. There's always hope.

3. Why Do I Write What I do?
I live in the Wye Valley, on the border between England and Wales. It's a stunningly beautiful place, and by writing about it in both my fiction and non-fiction work I can try and capture the essence of the place so others can enjoy it, too. Adding fictional characters and stories to this incredible landscape is the ultimate in escapism.

4. How does my writing process work?
Like many writers, I keep close to office hours. Experience has taught me I do my best creative work first thing each day. After a half-hour session of thinking while I jog (I have a serious cake-habit to control) I do the school run, then start work around 8:15am. When I sit down to begin a new book I've already developed detailed studies of my central characters, together with a rough time-line. My first draft is a waterfall of ideas, and consists mainly of dialogue. I love the internet but find it a terrible distraction, so I do a lot of this initial work offline. Writing on paper with a pencil is  my favourite way of working, but as I hate typing up my notes it's a rare treat. I usually use an Alphasmart  Neo, which is a simple keyboard with a memory, but no internet connection. At the end of every writing session, I upload the work I've done straight onto my computer. Once my first draft is finished I then go back and add details, rewriting and editing as I go. When it's complete I hand it to one of my Beta readers (often my OH or DD), who then gives it a good working over.  Constructive criticism is always helpful, and time spent in refining written work is never wasted.

I've really enjoyed "hopping to it" today, and hope you'll bounce along with the authors who'll each be telling you about their own writing process next week...

Margaret Mayo Margaret has been writing since 1974 and has produced scores of top-selling romances for Harlequin Mils and Boon.

Jenny Haddon  has published a wealth of category fiction and short stories under the names Sophie Weston and Sophie Page, which have been translated into twenty-six languages. With Elizabeth Hawksley, she has also produced an invaluable non-fiction guide to punctuation.

Jean Bull has loved books all her life.  She has worked in everything from teaching to the hotel industry and lived all over the UK, which has inspired her writing.

Cara Cooper writes short stories for women's magazines, and novellas for People's Friend, My Weekly and Ulverscroft.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Writing in a new season...

There's no going back now - spring has definitely arrived here at Tottering Towers. The dawn chorus starts around 5am, and just about all the summer migrants have arrived apart from the cuckoo and the nightingale.

My bees are going mad, working over the fruit tree blossoms, dandelions (!) and spring bulbs. Colonies are expanding very fast, working all day and fanning all night as they drive excess moisture off from the nectar they've gathered. I've got everything ready in case they decide to swarm, but after two terrible beekeeping years, I've got my fingers crossed they'll concentrate on consolidation this season, rather than expansion!

The cuckoo's just arrived, so here's something lovely to celebrate the event...


Have a great weekend!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Creative Writing: Work In Progress...

By Antonio Litterio
I wrote here about the very productive writing workshop organised by the Marcher Chapter of The Romantic Novelists' Association in Hereford, on 31st March. Here's an extract from the piece I submitted: it's the opening paragraphs of my current work in progress, The Survivors' Club...


Eden’s determination died with the car’s engine. She knew she should jump straight out, and into her new life. Instead, she took a death-grip on the steering wheel and scowled at the Waterstones bag lying on her passenger seat.
What a waste of money.
Buying that book was supposed to change her life. It said so, on the cover. So why wasn’t it working?
You could at least make an effort.
Eden swore under her breath. Snatching up the bag, she wrestled her new book out and propped it up in front of her. This damned self-help manual was supposed to evict her mother’s nagging from her brain, not echo it. 
The glossy dust-jacket of Why Are People Mean To Me? summed up Eden’s life in primary colours. A tiny human form cowered beneath a mob of Henry Moore-style giants. Recognising herself in that image had drawn Eden straight across the precinct, and into the shop.  
She sighed, and slid her finger over the title.
I wish I knew.
The cover prompt on Why Are People Mean To Me? said it was because she hadn’t read the book yet. 
Tom was always telling her it was paranoia.
Eden wondered who to believe. 
The only thing she knew for certain was that wandering round the shops on the third Tuesday in January had been a bad idea. Everywhere, from Twitter to the news headlines, said this was the most depressing day of the year. With ten people ahead of her in the queue for every job, Eden could believe it. That was why investing £14.99 in Arianne Forrester’s new self-help book had felt like such a brilliant idea. Right up until the moment she handed over her debit card. 
That was when she panicked. Paying for the book was the point of no return. Saying goodbye to fifteen pounds meant she’d have to act on its instructions. If she didn’t, all that money would be wasted. She’d wanted to change her mind, drop the book and run. Pinned down by the shop assistant’s expression, she paid up. Feeling sick at the extravagance, she was pulled off course only once on the way home. She needed to stock up on one vital item. An overdose of chocolate always made things feel better...at least until the next time she got onto the scales.
She elbowed her way into the house, weighed down by bags. The front door slipped away from her, and slammed. The whole place shivered. She winced, waiting for Tom to start roaring.
Nothing happened.
With the central heating on full blast, the house was a tropical paradise. The effort of carrying the shopping while bundled up to face the arctic conditions outside made her breathless. ‘Tom! I’m home!’ 
She was already half-way to the kitchen. When he still didn’t answer, she stopped. 
‘There’s chocolate cake!’
Her heart thumped, and not only with the effort of carrying her bags. She put them down. If mention of food didn’t get him on the move, he must be ill. That might explain why he’d shoved a couple of ten pound notes at her earlier, and told her to make a day of it in town. 
‘Tom?’
Only the hum of the freezer disturbed the thick atmosphere. Tom was supposed to be working from home today. Whether he was sick or well, Eden knew the strain of checking his emails would have sent him back to bed with some snacks and the remote control. It would be her job to offer tea and sympathy. Gathering up her stuff again, she hauled it all through to the kitchen.
Then she stopped, staggered. The place was a complete mess. 
Every utensil in the place had been dirtied in the process of making breakfast. The frying pan was blackened and crusty. Discarded wrappers of bacon and sausage flapped in warm currents of air.  Blobs of ketchup and fruit sauce added splashes of colour to every horizontal surface. Trails of pancake batter linked everything together, like a work by Jackson Pollock.
Eden took a step, and felt the crunch of egg shell. Lifting her foot to prise off the debris, she found a bit of waffle lodged in the tread of her boots. Although that was grisly, the silence was wonderful. She let out a long, slow breath. Tom must have gone out. 
With the house to herself, she flung off her outdoor clothes and danced through to the lounge. While he was away she could use his printer and copy out some recipes.
What he doesn’t know won’t set him off, she thought. 
She was in for a shock. Tom’s computer and its associated junk usually took up half the dining table. Today, it wasn’t taking up any space at all. 
Eden clapped her hands over her mouth. They must have been burgled. A million horrors ran through her mind. She raced around the house, pushing open doors and calling his name. If he was injured or unconscious he would never forgive her for wasting so much time. 
On the other hand, if he was dead...
Her heart lurched. She was unlucky. The house was deserted.There was no sign of Tom’s body anywhere....

What do you think? If you'd like to be kept up to date on how The Survivors' Club shapes up, you can sign up for my newsletter here.  

Monday, 14 April 2014

Three Top Tips for Getting Your Writing Done...

Distracted? Who, me? 

1. Enjoy yourself and your work, and it'll be reflected on the page. If you’re wrapped up in your characters and can’t wait to find out how their story unfolds, then it will show in your work. Indulge yourself in your imaginary people and their fictional landscape. Those powerful feelings will travel from your brain, all the way down to your writing (or typing!) fingers.  To paraphrase the old quote: write, and they will read–but only if they get swept up in your enthusiasm.  You’ll know when you’ve found the right mix of characters and plot. The writing won’t feel like work!

2. I love using  #1k1hr on Twitter to join forces with other writers who need the motivation of writing to a deadline. It’s really useful to be part of that supportive online community, but like fire, the internet is a great servant but a terrible master. If you want to produce a reasonable amount of quality work, you’ll have to find some way to stay off-line for long periods.  Who hasn’t gone online for a few minutes to check their emails, only to then lose hours to WILFing (What Was I Looking For?) as Susan Maushart put it. Read her book “The Winter of Our Disconnect” to discover that there really is life on the other side of the screen.  

3. Like it or not, whether they’re going to be self-published, emailed to an agent or publisher, or sent out conventionally by post, manuscripts have to be put up on a screen eventually.  Writing things out longhand then transcribing means you get an extra look at your work as it goes through the process. That’s useful, but it takes more time than simply tapping away at a keyboard from the start. If you’d rather type than write out in longhand but get easily distracted by the internet, try a Neo. It’s a simple keyboard with a basic memory–that’s all. No facility for going online means no distractions (well, not from that direction, anyway!). When you finish your writing session, you just upload your work into your current WIP document. 

If you've enjoyed these tips, you can find more at my website, christinahollis.com What's your most useful tip for getting the writing done? 


Monday, 7 April 2014

Do You Need A Literary Agent?

By Antonio Litterio

The obvious answer to that question is–no.Writers have so many options open to them now, the thought of sacrificing 15% or so of your hard-won earnings to a literary agent is enough to send everybody rushing off to do it all themselves. To date, I've sold three million novels worldwide, hundreds of non-fiction articles and short stories to magazines–and all without an agent. 

But wait a minute. Most people fit their writing work in around their day job.If your aim is publication, once you've finished a book, the business of selling it must begin. Without an agent, you'll be spending a lot of time online, checking out which publishers are buying in your genre. You'll be reading the type of books on their lists, and targetting your submissions. If you follow my tip here and start on your next book straight away, all this research will eat into the time you should be spending on your writing. There are only so many hours in the day.  Which would you rather do - write, or spend your precious free time trawling the net in the name of research, and getting distracted all the way by pictures of cute kitties hazzing this or that(we've all been there)!

This is where literary agents earn their keep. They lift a lot of the non-writing stuff off your shoulders. They've got the inside track on current market trends, and they have ready-made networks. A lot of writers recoil from phrases like that.  This is why agents are vital. They know whose lists are closed, and who's buying, and most important of all, exactly what those buyers are looking for. Publishers use literary agents as a shortcut. If an agent thinks your work is worth showing around, it's already been through one roguing process. Think of it as first-stage quality control. When someone who knows the business thinks the mechanics of your work are worth forwarding, a publisher may be more inclined to check out the economics of your project. 

http://amzn.to/1s1xFHH
Out Now
Once a publisher says yes, the horse-trading starts. Most writers are loners. A certain amount of introversion goes with the job. Can you honestly say you'd feel happy negotiating the best terms for your contract, if you've never done it before? Professional bodies such as The Society of Authors will vet contracts for you if you're a member, but that will take time to arrange. And if you've got no experience in the craft, can you really see yourself getting the best deal over publicity arrangements, tour dates, extending deadlines when necessary and sorting out foreign editions and rights? Really?

Writing is a lonely business. A good agent will be on your side. That’s a great feeling. It takes the pressure off, knowing that someone is taking care of business. It gives you the chance to get the "creative" back into your "creative writing". 

To return to what I wrote at the beginning: yes, I might have sold three million books without the benefit of an agent. But how many more books would I have actually managed to write if I'd had an expert on hand to help me target my work and do all the drudgery, while I got on with the fun stuff?

Have you got an agent? What are your experiences?

Thursday, 3 April 2014

RNA Creative Writing Study Day, Hereford, 31st March 2014

Hard At Work...
In 2013, The Romantic Novelists' Association announced a generous donation toward  all its local groups. I'm a member of the RNA's Marcher Chapter, and we decided to put the money toward the hire of a room at The Courtyard, Hereford. The intention was to have a critique session. As it would be held so close to April 1st, the day was called  "Be A Fool For Love".

The prospect of spending a whole day with like-minded people talking about writing was irresistible, but we wanted to show we'd taken the RNA's  aims of promoting romantic fiction and encouraging good writing to heart. One month before the workshop, everyone emailed a ten-page sample of their current work in progress to organizer Ann Ankers. Ann collated them into a document which was then circulated among the group. The extracts were anonymous and we did a critique of every one, including our own. That way, we could make our comments without prejudice and still remain anonymous on the day.

Marilyn and Ann
Nobody likes the idea that their precious literary baby might be torn to shreds in a gladiatorial arena, so Historical novelist Joanna Maitland provided some invaluable advice beforehand. She advised that each critique should contain "three stars and a wish"–that is, highlight plenty of good points for every query or suggestion for improvement you make. This worked really well.

On the day, there were seven of us: Fay Wentworth, Georgia Hill, Christina Courtenay (fresh from winning the RNA's Historical Novel of the Year Award for The Gilded Fan), Joanna Maitland, Marilyn Rodwell, me and organizer Ann Ankers. Ann also acted as our chairwoman and did an excellent job. She  kept the discussions moving, and made sure the day ran to schedule.

Fay, Georgia, Christina and Joanna
We were treated like royalty by the hardworking staff of The Courtyard. Regular refreshments (including delicious home-made biscuits) and a fantastic lunch was included in the price, and we worked so hard the time flew by. A photographer from Herefordshire and Wye Valley Life came to record the event. This was organised byChristina Courtenay. That gave me pause for thought. As I'd played an April Fool joke on my DD that morning, when a guy tapped at the door and asked for "Christina" I thought for an awful moment  DD had sent a male stripper  to our meeting as revenge. Thank goodness I was wrong!

We all had an amazing day. I learned a lot, and can't wait until we can do it all again.

Have you attended a workshop? What was the most useful thing you learned?