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Monday 29 June 2015

This Writing Life...Summer Inspiration

With a heatwave forecast, I'm trying to get out of the office as much as possible. I've been taking some pictures around  the garden. What do you think?

High summer is hard on the flowers. The roses hang their heads in the heat, and the petals soon drop, fluttering through the air like confetti. As we've had lots of weddings in the village this year, we know all about that!

The lily in my greenhouse sends up two spikes of flowers like this (below) every year. I was sent a packet of seeds as part of the RHS seed distribution scheme, and sowed them carefully in a pot, following all the instructions. Eighteen months later, I got fed up of lavishing care on a pot of bare compost with no sign of any seedlings, so I tipped the compost out on the greenhouse border.

The following spring, an unusual weed popped up. As birds and insects are forever importing unusual plants into our garden, I give every weed a chance to turn into something I can identify. You never know when an ugly duckling will turn into a swan. It's not often I get something as beautiful as this lily, though. This is only a common Lilium Regale, but I grew it myself from seed (or rather, it grew itself) so that makes it more precious to me than any expensive variety from a plant nursery.

The only problem is, this lily is in a really inconvenient place. it's right by the greenhouse door,  and so close to the path you have to brush past it to go in and out. It's growing so well in that spot,  I'm afraid to move it. With this lily, like a lot of plants, studied neglect works better than tender care. It's dong fine, and I don't want to upset it.

When I open the greenhouse door each morning the gust of warm, richly perfumed air is a real treat. In hot sunny weather like we're having at the moment, the flowering time is only a couple of days before the individual flowers fade, but in cool cloudy weather each one can last for over a week.

I'm working on the next book in my Princes of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press (you can see more about the first two titles, His Majesty's Secret Passion and Her Royal Risk here) at the moment, so I'm taking a holiday from the indoor keyboard to write outside. It's a shame to waste this beautiful weather when the English Summer is usually nothing more than "Three fine days and a thunderstorm"! I'll be chasing shadows around the garden, as with our climate we always get too much of a good thing.  A few years ago, our house was cut off by snowdrifts from the main road half a mile away. I couldn't get my car out of the garage for three weeks. Now we've got some sun, we don't know when it will rain again. We have water butts collecting the run-off from every roof here at Tottering Towers, so we can usually water the garden whatever happens, but the runner bean plants can never seem to get enough to drink.  In a drought, I have to save all the washing-up water to pour onto them, as well. Our collection of potted blueberries gets first call on the "soft" water from the rainwater tanks. Their containers stand in troughs, to save every drop of water. Blueberries are originally bog plants, so they need all the rainwater they can get. The runner beans aren't so fussy, and will drink anything.

My summer newsletter will be out soon. You can sign up for it here, and to keep up to date with my writing news, tips and lots more, you can "like" my author page on Facebook, here.

Monday 22 June 2015

This Writing Life...in Summer.

Sun Behind The Heel Stone, by Andrew Dunn
It's high summer here on the border between England and Wales.  The 21st June is the Summer Solstice, and for the next day or two the days will be longer and the nights shorter than at any other time of the year. That means different things to different people. 

While Druids, hippies and others gather at Stonehenge to celebrate, I'm busy putting the last of my tender plants out in the garden, and looking forward to the first baby vegetables of the season. 

I'm already enjoying the lovely Turkish delight fragrance of the rose you can see further down this page, Louise Odier, and honeysuckle Graham Stuart Thomas as they drape round my favourite fine-weather writing spot in the garden. Their scent is particularly powerful at dawn, or after a shower.

The trouble with all these extra hours of daylight is that it's not only the fruits, flowers and vegetables which get growing. The weeds have eighteen or more hours of daylight to stage their takeover bid, so it's hard to keep on top of them while I'm writing all day. When I leave the office, I have to catch up on all the cooking and washing before I can get outside and start weeding.

We're usually eating new potatoes fresh from the garden by early June. The old saying that you should plant your early potatoes on Good Friday comes from the time when working people had hardly any paid time off, so they had to do all their chores on public holidays such as Easter. I was so busy with the release of His Majesty's Secret Passion  and Her Royal Risk this year, I didn't get a chance to plant ours until much later. You can't stop a potato growing, so they're trying hard to catch up but it'll be a while before we'll get to eat them. You're supposed to sow parsley seed on Good Friday too, and I missed out on doing that too, this year!

Right now, I'm working on a Christmassy short story. Publishing schedules are a bit like gardening— you have to think months in advance. If you'd like to help me choose the cover art for my next release, you can join my mailing list here.

Monday 15 June 2015

How Much Money Is Your Writing Making...

By Antonio Litterio
...For Other People?

It used to be almost impossible to get published. Hardly any publishers would look at unsolicited manuscripts. Unless you had an agent, you couldn't get anywhere. Agents had such a huge pool of talent to fish in, they could pick and choose whether or not they even answered your enquiry.   If you were desperate to see your work in print, the only other option was vanity publishers, who wanted a lot of money from you, then delivered very little.

The explosion of self-publishing and the huge presence of Amazon has changed all that. Getting your name on the cover of a book is practically obligatory these days, and to upload your work in the hope your blog (or ebook) goes viral costs nothing. Or does it?

I'm not talking about the cost of stationery, computers, writing courses, and subscriptions to group such as The Society Of Authors, The Romantic Novelists' Association, or the Romance Writers of America. All these are vital, practical, tax-deductible, and in the case of stationery and local group meetings, recreational. (I'm a kid in a sweetshop when it comes to browsing round anywhere like Staples.)

It's the little extras that add up to big deductions. The 2014 Digital Book World and Writer's Digest Author Survey discovered that over three-quarters of writers earn less than £600/$1,000. If you can bear to see the painful facts, read more here. When you consider that even big publishers expect you to spend money (or at least plenty of time, which comes to the same thing in the end) on publicising your book, you'll see it's important to spend carefully.

If you go the route of conventional publishing, all the editing, production and artistic costs should be covered by the firm. Some tiny independents may ask for a sub. This doesn't necessarily mean they're a vanity outfit—they may just be keen to get some help with costs, which will secure your devotion to their cause. Get your contract checked by The Society ofAuthors or a literary attorney, to make sure.

If you decide to self-publish, join a group such as The Alliance Of Independent Authors, and do plenty of research. Spend money on getting your work professionally edited, and in hiring a good cover artist but beyond that, think carefully about whether you really need all the dozens of other lovely services on offer. Always remember, the definition of an expert is only a person who knows 3% more than you do! Keep your eyes and ears open: word of mouth is as good a way to find reliable editors and artists as it is to find good books.

And don't think that once your book is out in the public domain all you have to do is wait for your £600 to come rolling in.  Not only are there sharks circling before you publish, the virtual high seas are full of pirates. Philip Pullman put it perfectly when he said "Stealing music and books online is like picking pockets". You can read more of what he said here. It's not a happy article but as they say on the true crime programmes, "don't have nightmares". Writing's the best job there is. Look on anything you earn as a bonus (but make sure you hang onto as much of the money you get as you can!).

Thursday 11 June 2015

Midsummer Dreams...

What a beautiful cover!
In celebration of the e-launch day for Alison May’s brand new romantic comedy, Midsummer Dreams, I’m posting today on the theme of all things dream-related.

I had a dream…about living in the countryside miles from anywhere, just OH and me. We'd grow all our own food and live the good life, while I wrote all day long. Quite a few years, children, weather events and structural emergencies later, I'm still dreaming. It's a good life though, and I can honestly say—

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:

as Shakespeare wrote in A Midsummer Night's Dream. 

Not to mention all our snakes with double tongue (though I haven't noticed any spotted ones so far. Just "V" markings, and stripes) although "thorny hedgehogs be not seen" since the number of badgers here increased mightily, and ate them all! We do have plenty of newts and blind-worms, although no Philomel (nightingales)—they're a few miles away at the RSPB's Highnam reserveThe multitude of other birds here keep all the weaving spiders, beetles black, worm and snail under control.

The View From My Kitchen Window

I had a nightmare…a few weeks ago when the woman who came to service our central heating discovered squirrels had broken into the roof space and chewed a big hole in the underfelt. You could  look up and see daylight through the tiles! William Shakespeare will have only known  red squirrels, not the pestilential greys that destroy trees, fruit, plants, and burgle far more birds' nests than native Nutkin, who was a red squirrel, ever did. Even squirrel-proof bird feeders don't stop the greys—they love hoovering up the nuts and seeds that falls to the ground.  

My dream for the future…is that nobody forgets the simple fun of getting out and about and enjoying the natural world. You don't have to go mad. Just take a few minutes to stand and stare. Gazing up at a starry sky, or out at a beautiful view recharges your batteries. If you really want to experience something magical, revisit your childhood and buy a packet of seeds. Cress will grow on damp tissue, and give you enough for a sandwich filling within a week. Pots of herbs from the supermarket can be kept going for months if you add a drop of plant food to their water every ten days or so. 

Something I Do When I'm Not Writing Books...
Once you're hooked, have a go at the foodies' best kept secret—home grown tomatoes. They taste totally unlike anything you can buy from a supermarket, because commercial growers grow them hydroponically, in nothing but flavoured water. Supermarket tomatoes are picked while still green ("vine ripened" only means they're picked on the stalk while still green, and ripened at the growers convenience—not yours). When you eat a tomato you've grown yourself, which has ripened on the plant and is packed with the real flavour of sunshine, you'll think you're the one who's dreaming!

Don't forget to check out Alison May's new release, Midsummer Dreams. You can download the kindle edition here: http://bookgoodies.com/a/B00XJOEJTM 

About Midsummer Dreams

Four people. Four messy lives. One party that changes everything …
Emily is obsessed with ending her father’s new relationship – but is blind to the fact that her own is far from perfect.
Dominic has spent so long making other people happy that he’s hardly noticed he’s not happy himself.
Helen has loved the same man, unrequitedly, for ten years. Now she may have to face up to the fact that he will never be hers.
Alex has always played the field. But when he finally meets a girl he wants to commit to, she is just out of his reach.
At a midsummer wedding party, the bonds that tie the four friends together begin to unravel and show them that, sometimes, the sensible choice is not always the right one.

Monday 8 June 2015

A Holiday From Writing...

Waiting for opening time! Photo by Deane Saunders-Stowe
This weekend it was the Leominster Book Fair, and along with lots of other authors I spent the day at Grange Court, Leominster. The building is surrounded by beautiful gardens and parkland, and so lots of people called in to chat, listen and buy.

 As well as being a beautiful building in a lovely setting, Grange Court is full of character. If you're ever in the Leominster area, it's definitely worth a visit. As the sun was shining so brightly through the screen-printed curtain at the back of this room the detail doesn't show up very well. It was a photograph of a courtroom scene, with the people taking part dressed in period costumes. An unusual feature, which really makes an impact. You can find out more about Grange Court here: http://www.grangecourt.org

The day was organised by Peter Ellis, and RNA member (and fellow Marcher Lady!) Fay Wentworth. Although Leominster is in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire writers were well represented. Cameron Dickie read from his latest release, Seeking The Eagle, I shared a table with Linn B Halton, and Deane Saunders-Stowe took these photographs.

Each of us got the chance to introduce ourselves and speak about our work during the day. I read an extract from the first book in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press, His Majesty's Secret Passion, and spoke to a lot of readers. I was especially pleased to meet Susan S'ari, who introduced me to The Bookshop Cafe group on Facebook.

Writing is a solitary business—as a natural loner, that's one of the reasons I love it. I spend far too much time behind my screen. The chance to meet readers and other authors was the perfect excuse to take a day off. Now I can't wait for the next one.

Does your town have a book fair?

Monday 1 June 2015

Creative Writing: Work In Progress—Cup Cakes And Champagne...

misscreativecakes by Beria
Right now, I'm working on the final edit of the third book in my Princes Of Kharova series for the Wild Rose Press. Heart of A Hostage lands rebel leader Mihail, and his enemy Princess Maia, in a whole load of trouble. He's the fighter and she's the diplomat—but rules, like promises, are made to be broken. Aren't they?

Heart of A Hostage follows on from Leo and Sara's romance in His Majesty's Secret Passion and Athan and Krisia's fireworks in Her Royal Risk. Editing this latest draft is pretty intense work, and as the weather was so great this weekend, I took a break. Sitting in the garden I wrote the first draft of a new short story called Cup Cakes and Champagne, just for fun.

The style of this story is a bit different from my usual writing, and I'd love to know what you think of it. My heroine Emmy starts off a bit immature and self-centred, but she soon discovers that while love means taking the rough with the smooth, the smooth can be pretty spectacular!

Here's the opening—

'Oh, Emmy, you look like it's your first day back after the holiday, not your last day at work for two whole weeks!' Grace giggles as she meets me off the bus. We usually start laughing  the minute we set eyes on each other and don't stop until we leave work (or Sniffy Sonia gives us one of her looks). Today is different, but I try and put a brave face on it. 
'I know, a whole fourteen days alone with the man of my dreams. It'll be heaven. But camping in Wales? Why couldn't he take us off to sun ourselves on a beach somewhere? Mud's really not my thing.'
'Oh, stop your moaning!' Grace gives me a little shove. 'Camping's not like it used to be. And at least you're going to a place you already know."
'A place I haven't been since I was twelve years old. What if it's changed?'
'Look on the bright side. You’re always saying how chilled out the place was. It might be even better these days!"
That's Grace, the eternal optimist. 
'And...don't forget, you're the one who let slip about your first crush, when we were playing truth or dare at the Christmas party. If the gorgeous Harri still lives at this Feinwen Farm camp site, you'll be able to ogle him, while cuddling up with gorgeous Jack at the same time. That's what I call multi-tasking. Right now—last one into the office buys the coffee!' 
She puts on a sprint, but I know when I'm beaten and let her win. Paying out insurance claims isn't a bad job, as office work goes. I like helping people find some sort of happy-ever-after, but it still means getting up while sparrows are yawning for forty-six weeks of every year. The decent coffee  they give us helps a bit. Friday cake-breaks are another reason to struggle in on time.  
'Seeing Harri again wasn't the only reason I agreed to this holiday,' I say, putting Grace's cup down in the most inconvenient spot on her desk, 'Jack's so lovely, but...' my voice trails away, because there isn't really any "but" I can put my finger on. It's just...
'I thought the divine Jack Wright really was your Mr Right?'
'He is...'
Grace looks at me in the way she does when she's about to save me from myself by taking the last cupcake. Doing me a favour, she calls it. And whatever second thoughts I've got about this holiday, I love Jack. He's a real sweetie—when he’s around. I don't want my best friend thinking I want her to take him off my hands.
'...but he's changed, Grace! When we first met it was champagne, flowers, and dinner with every date. But  lately, he's been all work, and no play.'
'And that makes Jack a dull boy,' she nods, doing her best Judge Judy impersonation. 'There's no need to draw pictures.  That's why you've got to throw yourself into the holiday lark. Use this break to liven him up.' 

'If we were going somewhere tropical, I could. But I know what Feinwen Farm is like. We're going to be stuck out in a field, miles from the nearest takeaway, and in the coldest, wettest summer since records began!'

Emmy's about to get not one, but TWO big shocks. Harri is twice the man she remembers, but Jack springs some surprises, too. For the first time in her life, Emmy is lost for words!

What do you think of Cup Cakes and Champagne so far? I'll be posting more of the story in my next newsletter, which is due out in a couple of weeks.  You can sign up for it here.