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Wednesday 31 December 2014

Make This New Year Resolution For Your Creative Writing In 2015...

Pic by David Harper
Happy New Year!

"Start by doing what is necessary; then what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

That quote from St Francis is great advice for writers who are hungry for success. You can build on it by taking a long, hard look at what success means to you. Many writers expect to earn a million within a week of typing "The End" on their last page, and are crushed when it doesn't happen. There's no need to be disappointed. Reconsider what success means to you, and you'll make the impossible a lot easier to achieve. Then you can work towards making 2015 your best writing year ever.

Here are some reasons to be cheerful...

1. Making the effort to get thousands of words down on paper, or up on a screen is an amazing achievement. Millions of people dream about writing a book, but aren't brave enough to try. Some start, but don't last the course. Think how you'd feel if this was the year you finished the story you've always wanted to write. Set aside some time each day, make a plan, and commit to making your dream come true. For hints and tips on writing, visit my website, and follow my series of blogs called The Birth of A Book (You can read Part One here)

1a. You can come back to this one when you've read Point 8, below!

2. If you've already written a book, getting it published is the next big hurdle. Whether you are accepted by a traditional publisher, or choose to publish it yourself, neither route is easy. If you send your work out into the world in 2015, you can be proud. If you rise to the challenges and manage to get into print, that's a bonus.

Coming Soon!
3. Holding your newly-published book, or seeing your ebook up on Amazon is another great milestone which counts as a great success in a writer's life

4. Getting good reviews—with so many books on the market, catching a reviewer's eye is very difficult. Get a friend to vet any reviews for your book in advance, in case reading a bad one scars you for life (it can happen). Your kind reader can strain any constructive criticism from one-star scaldings, and giving you the chance to up your game. Writers should never miss a chance to learn about their craft, and readers are the best teachers. Give them more of what they want to read, and both sides will be happy.

5. Your first royalty payment, no matter how small, will be another reason to get out and celebrate.

6. Covering your costs is good—if you do nothing more than that in 2015, you'll have earned more than many self-published authors do.

7. Making any sort of profit at all is an amazing feat, and if you manage this, you're a success (of course, if you really do make a million, you don't need me to tell you that!). Don't forget to squirrel half away somewhere safe in case of a tax-bill, or to create a contingency fund.

8. Finishing your second book is the success you should be aiming for from the time you've got to point 1a (see above). Writing books is a continuous process. As one book is finished, ideas for the next one should be jostling for writing-time. Make notes, and work on your next book while you're working on the publication of your first.

Long before I had a contract for the first book in what became my Princes of Kharova series, His Majesty's Secret Passion, I was already hard at work on the follow up, Her Royal Risk. That manuscript had a good title, as I was taking a risk the first book would be accepted. The idea for Her Royal Risk started with my Beta readers. They wanted to know what happened to the minor characters in His Majesty's Secret Passion after the book ended, so I picked up on their interest and gave them what they asked for as soon as I could.

I was lucky: His Majesty's Secret Passion will be published by Wild Rose Press within the next few weeks, and Her Royal Risk follows later this year. To be in on all the excitement, click "like" on my author page on Facebook, here, or follow me on Twitter.

Once again, Happy New year!

Friday 26 December 2014

The Archers—Is It "Essential" Any More?

Stormclouds over Ambridge?
The BBC are having a laugh (or "'avin a larf", to put it in language they'll understand) with their long-running Radio 4 Programme The Archers.  Nobody expects TA to be about country "folk" any more, but it could at least bear some resemblance to life in the country. Instead, it's degenerating into an easy way to keep the BBC the subject of its own headlines.

I've written before about how my family, and loads of other people I know, were once devoted daily listeners but have now lost the habit. You can read more about it here and here. Times and tastes change, but that can't explain the growth in complaints from TA's wider audience on the programme's dedicated social networks, and heard on radio programmes such as Feedback.

There are still priceless moments in The Archers. Emma’s great line about apologising to an elf made me laugh this week—what on earth had George done?—but they're far fewer these days. Jennifer screeching at the airport made me want to scream, too, but it was believable. Kate is every inch her mother's daughter, so I could understand the veganism and the yoga (although with two (?) children and a hunky-sounding husband back home in South Africa, I'm amazed the edges haven't been knocked off Kate's self-absorption).  The scenes around the Bridge Farm tree were too schmaltzy for my liking, but hey, it's Christmas...

The Archers' old subtitle was "An Everyday Story Of Country Folk". That doesn't sound right these days, so the programme's Facebook page now has the subtitle Essential drama from the heart of the country. Bad news, BBC. It stopped being essential for me several years ago. I only dip in and out of The Archers these days, to see if it's improved.

I miss my old habit, so this week I made the effort and listened to every episode to see if calm and escapism has returned. Sadly, The Archers is still on a downward slope towards becoming Eastenders-on-Am. To deconstruct the BBC's own description, The Archers now has far too much drama (both broadcast, and behind the scenes), and not enough country for me.

The main problems I have with the programme centre around changes of personality, odd voices, and poor research.

Adam and Charlie are the perfect example of the creeping Eastenderization of Ambridge. Adam is in an established relationship.  Not every couple should expect to be put under stress, simply because the editor decides it's their turn to be tempted into adultery. In any case, like many of the new characters, Charlie is quite unlikeable. Would you fancy him? Or Stalker Harrison, for that matter?

The Roy-Hayley-Elizabeth roundabout shows up the ridiculousness of recent story lines.  Dull jobsworth Roy & snooty Elizabeth worked together for many years without the slightest flicker of attraction. Then overnight, Roy persuaded Elizabeth to go camping, and indulge in a torrid affair while simultaneously arranging a wildly successful festival in a matter of weeks. Roy had always been a good father to his girls, yet during this abrupt character-change he treated them as an irritating detail— much in same way the scriptwriters treat us. Look at the way Pat and Tony tracked down their long-lost grandson, Rich. The boy's mother Sharon was never the sort to miss a trick so why she never spilled the beans about Rich years ago escaped me, until Rich moved into Ambridge. Then I discovered the awful draining influence the place has on intellect. Sharon only wanted to save her son.When he lived with his mother and her partner, Rich was a natural cricketer, a model student, mad about science, predicted to get straight As, and keen to become an ecologist, IIRC.  By running away to Ambridge, he shed 100 IQ points, all his ambition, and his birth name. He's now called Johnny. If I was Rich/Johnny's mother, I'd have launched a rescue mission straight away. Bridge Farm is no place for any sane person. The boy's natural father was squashed by a tractor, Ecoli stalked the dairy, Tony's bull went berserk...the place must stand on the land Health and Safety forgot (apart from that visit by Johnny's painfully wooden tutor). 

Why does the small son of a Grundy (I can't remember which one, and to be frank, I no longer care) and Emma Carter speak with the perfect received pronunciation of the child of a BBC employee? Could it be there's a bit of a theme going on, given that the established part of Tom Archer was recast for no apparent reason, so soon after David Troughton took over the part of Tom's father, Tony? When challenged to rearrange the sentence pro quo quid, the BBC will only say they want actors with dramatic training. When the new Pip has such trouble finding her accent (and octave?), maybe they should be scrutinising their directors, too. 

Sensitively handled, the birth of a baby with Down's Syndrome could have been a great way to educate listeners about the subject. It would also have highlighted more general rural problems such as having to travel miles to attend ante-natal appointments, wait days for appointments with a doctor or difficulties with  transport to hospital. Instead, baby Bethany disappeared under the radar almost as soon as she was born. She and her parents are supposedly moving away to Birmingham, with the feeble excuse there are no facilities at the village school. I assumed inclusion was the law. It's a fact that several children with (sometimes severe) learning difficulties have attended our village school. The Archers' team could have explored the general ignorance around this subject, and publicised the help available, instead of dropping it when it got too difficult.

Expecting us to believe David and Ruth Archer will move from Ambridge to Prudhoe is beyond ridiculous, too. Neither of them seems sure why they're going, and the whole business has been treated as though buying and selling farms is the same as buying ordinary houses. With plunging milk prices, David and Ruth must be epically stupid to try and set up a new dairy enterprise where there's no existing infrastructure, especially as Ruth was crying over a domestic utility bill not long ago. Surely they'd at least wait and see what compensation they'd get from the proposed road scheme before accepting a verbal agreement for a suspiciously large sum on a place which must be subject to a planning blight. In any case, why Ruth wants to disrupt her whole family and business for the sake of a parent she never normally mentions, or visits, and admitted she was "bored" by caring for, is madness. 

I could go on, and on (and on), but I'll leave you with a Christmas-themed thought. If The Archers is intended to be "essential drama from the heart of the country",  they should mine the rich veins of inspiration around the vicar of Ambridge. He could be driven to desperation over his dwindling, ageing congregations, the (realistic) raising of funds, or theft from the several churches he's expected to run, or attacks on the clergy. Instead, Rev Franks was able to book a cathedral choir (not just any old choir, mind!) for the village carol service, only weeks before Christmas.

I suggest The Archers team concentrate on getting it right and realistic in 2015, not dumber and more dramatic. What New Year's Resolution would you suggest for them?

Sunday 21 December 2014

No (Writing) Lessons Today, Just A Christmas Carol...

By Xavier Romero-Frias 
Merry Christmas, and/or a Happy Holiday to everybody! Writing goes on all the time, but this week there's a bit of wriggle-room so Part Two of Birth Of A Book will be here in the New Year. You can catch up with Part One in the series here

I’m not sure how many people actually wait until 26th December (officially the First Day Of Christmas) to start singing The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Otherwise known as Boxing Day (when you pack up all your old stuff) or St Stephen’s Day, it’s always been a popular time for getting busy: that's when Good King Wenceslas went out, for a start.  For more about him, sign up at the "Subscribe" section above to follow this blog—his Majesty will be making a guest appearance in a few days' time.  

Just in case there’s anyone who isn’t familiar with the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, it begins...
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
A partridge in a Pear Tree.”

For the next eleven days, the author's generous present-giver showers their true love with gifts, from the practical to the bizarre. Here’s the rest of the shopping list: 

Partridge, by Keith Williamson
2 turtle doves, 
3 French hens, 
4 calling birds, 
5 gold rings,
6 geese a-laying, 
7 swans a -swimming, 
8 maids a-milking, 
9 ladies dancing, 
10 lords a-leaping, 
11 pipers piping, and finally... 
12 drummers drumming. 

Five gold rings would be a great present, but if the Queen can manage with only one piper piping to wake her up each morning, eleven  of them must be far too much of a good thing. 

Actress Penelope Keith once appeared on BBC Radio as Miss Sarah Truelove, whose Alpha male Bill had the bright idea of sending her everything on the list, day by day.  Chaos followed: the neighbours went mad, the lords and milkmaids got too friendly with each other, birds got trampled by the cows, and the only winners were Messrs. Sue, Pillage and Plunder—the law firm brought in to sort it all out.

By Kris de Curtis
If any of you fancy copying the gesture—be warned, it will cost. When a financial institution added up the items listed in the song a few years ago, it came to over fifteen thousand pounds ($24k dollars)! It might sound like a romantic gesture but think of the noise, the smell, and the amount of room all those animals and people would take up.

On balance, I think I’d prefer my twelve daily gifts to come in the form of chocolate.  It’s quiet, sweet, easy to handle, and it’s loved by just about everyone.

Happy Christmas!

Monday 15 December 2014

Four Tips To Help New Writers Succeed...

These ideas will start your writing career off on the right page:

Turn up and write. Do it every day. The only difference between someone who dreams of writing a book, and the author who produces one is a plan. Decide your SMART goal. That’s something Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and with a Time limit. "I’d like to write a book" is a dream. "I’m going to write a 70,000 word crime thriller by 31st December 2015" is a dynamic resolution. You’ll either do it, or you won’t, so stop dreaming and start work. Hint: failure is NOT an option.

Put in the hours, do the research, check everything, then have an unbiased reader go through it all. Make any revisions they suggest, then repeat the whole process. Make use of feedback, employ an editor and in short, do everything you can to make sure anything with your name attached is your best work.
Start a journal. If you do nothing more than download the notes or tag the selfies you made during the day (and you do carry a notebook or phone with you everywhere, don’t you?) it’ll be something you can flick through for inspiration when your ideas aren’t flowing.

Make a commitment  to study a different type of writing for half an hour a day. That could mean newspapers, social media, non-fiction, fiction, long form work or short. Take classes, whether ‘real’ or online. Visit your local library to discover groups for readers and writers, and check out online sites such as http://romanceuniversity.org. Join groups such as The Romantic Novelists’ Association (http://www.rna-uk.org/) in the UK or Romance Writers of America (http://www.rwa.org/) for information and contacts. If you want to sell your work, research markets and target your work before you write a single word.

And finally, the most important tip of all...

Start with a good story, use all your skill to hone your craft, and you’ll always find an outlet for your talent. Never put restrictions on your creative writing. If you get frustrated with your novel, don’t give up. Try turning the basics of its plot into a short story. If your novella gets out of hand, see if you can develop it into a longer work.

For more writing tips and insight, follow my blog at christinahollis and my author page on FB at http://on.fb.me/1Ee1urM

Monday 8 December 2014

Birth Of A Book, Part One: From Thinking To Writing...

By Antonio Litterio
Where do you get your ideas? is the question every writer gets asked, all the time. The answer is so simple, once you discover what it is you'll never believe it was so hard to find. It's in your bath. Or at the top of a tree, the bottom of a bucket, or...anywhere, and everywhere. You get the idea.

Think about the person who asked that question. They'll have channeled a million thoughts between getting up in that morning, and putting an author on the spot. Any one of those thoughts has the potential to become a funny story, a furious rant, or even a novel.

Imagine you got caught by a traffic warden, because you were five minutes late back to the parking bay. You were delayed because you couldn't catch your dog. If you wanted to write a romance, imagine a handsome guy came to help you. Your dog bit him, and...

...Or if you wanted to write a thriller, maybe your dog ran away because he got the scent of...what? Drugs? A body? An escaped tiger?

There are three or four embryo ideas developed from an everyday situation that could happen to anyone.

Coming Soon...
The only difference between someone who writes, and someone who quizzes writers is that one notes everything down to use in evidence...or at least, for inspiration. Get yourself in the right mindset, and you'll find inspiration everywhere. The internet, TV and radio are good launch pads. The lyrics of a song that make you think, a local headline that intrigues you but never makes the nationals, they're happy hunting grounds for the author.

His Majesty's Secret Passion, the first book in my current series, The Princes Of Kharova, sprang from a competition asking for the first ten pages of a romantic novel. I'd just read this article in Time Magazine about an alternative heir to the English throne. The real-life Mike Hastings wasn't remotely interested in staking his claim to Queen Elizabeth's crown, but I couldn't help wondering how unhappy he'd have been if he was forced by circumstances to take on the job. Escapist romance demands exotic locations, independent women, heroes with issues and an aspirational feel. My initial idea soon developed into an overworked career-woman forced to take a holiday for her health, who is thrown together with a dedicated doctor who had to abandoned his studies for the sake of family loyalty.

By making loads of notes, I developed my initial thoughts into the basic framework of a novel. This all happened in my spare time, before I sat down at the computer. Once there, I had to flesh out my hero and heroine. The best way of doing that is to create character sheets for each of your major characters. I'll cover that next time. Until then, keep up to date with  His Majesty's Secret Passion and the other titles in the Princes of Kharova series by visiting my Author page on Facebook, and clicking on the "like" button.

Monday 1 December 2014

Writing A Book In A Month: The Final Countdown...

Worth Every Minute...
The alarm's just gone off for NaNoWriMo 2014. That's it: the deadline was midnight on 30th November, no excuses.  If you've read Writing A Book In A Month, Parts One, Two, Three And Four, this is the big reveal. 

I put off reading through the whole of my NaNoWriMo project, Tasting The Peach until the last possible moment, in case I had a crisis of confidence and didn't submit it. I was relieved to see the story all hung together (although there are some big gaps I'll have to fill in during second, and subsequent, drafts). My characters mostly turned out the way I hoped they would, although as they came to life for me they developed and grew in ways I hadn't expected. 

I sent Tasting The Peach for validation on 29th of November, and my total word count was logged at 55,295 by NaNoWriMo central. I've printed out my personalised Winner's Certificate, and now I feel wrung out and quite honestly, a bit emotional. What am I going to do, now all the pressure to finish is off? Read on, to find out...

Coming Soon...
NaNoWriMo is an invaluable hub and resource for writers. You'll find mentors, tips and pep talks, shoulders to cry on and writing buddies to help you celebrate. It doesn't matter whether you're starting out, or an old hand who's trying something new. Everybody learns from the experience, and has a good time in the process. For an investment of around £6, I got a month's writing retreat right here in my office, but away from all other artistic distractions. It gave me the chance to dedicate an exclusive block of time to a project I've always had to sideline through pressure of other work. Sometimes you have to say "No" to requests. That's always hard, but being able to say "Sorry, I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year!" made it a bit easier. 

The NaNoWriMo writing marathon each November is an international event that keeps on growing, but maintaining the site and networks takes money. They rely on donations, so read the testimonials here, then make a resolution to join NaNoWriMo 2015.

So, what's next? Tomorrow I start a new WIP, but that's quite literally another story. Or rather, two! I'll be writing about this next project in a series of blogs called The Birth Of A Book. If you want to follow the roller-coaster ride all the way from basic idea to publication, click the "Subscribe To My Blog" button, at the top right hand side of this page.

To keep up with the progress of my next big release, His Majesty's Secret Passion, please visit my Facebook Author page here, and click on the "like" button.