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Monday 24 August 2015

5 Top Tips For Writing With Scrivener

Scrivener's not simply a word processing package, it's a project management tool for writers. It allows you to store all your research, ideas, images and metadata in one place—the same place you're creating your manuscript. It saves you from drowning in a sea of notes made on the backs of envelopes, or in half a dozen different notebooks (if you can find them). When your book is finished, Scrivener can export it in any number of forms, including compiled and ready for publishing online.

Once you can navigate the Scrivener system it's brilliant, but to begin with it can be daunting. You can find out more about the possible downside here, but now I've been working with Scrivener for a while these are my top tips:

1. There's no substitute for diving in and tinkering. Use the free trial facility available from Literature and Latte. Press all the buttons, switch from view to view, drag and drop, and try out various forms of compilation to create different types of document for publication or upload. You can customise the system, so that each time you start a new project the fonts and formatting are exactly as you want them. Take your time to become familiar with the whole Scrivener experience. It's lovely to open a new project and start typing, knowing you're free to work without having to fight the system. Which leads me to...

2. Never try to learn a new system such as Scrivener when you're working to a deadline. Learn first, write later. Or write using your normal word processor (regularly saving to flash drives or the cloud, of course) then import it into the Scrivener project where you store all your research and ideas. I did this when I was working on my latest short romance, My Dream Guy. I wrote the first draft in a single document, using Pages for Mac. Instead of giving each chapter a title, I put a hashtag (#) at the end of each one. When imported into Scrivener, the system automatically created a new file for each chapter.  After editing my work in Scrivener, all I needed to do to format it ready for publication was hit Scrivener's "compile" button and—bingo! One ready-formatted manuscript, ready to go.

3. RTFM—Read The Flaming* Manual, which in Scrivener's case rather handily shows up each time you open the package. It's there, along with interactive and video tutorials, visible on the front page, and for a reason. Use it. The video tutorials provided by Literature and Latte are great if you're a visual learner—the type of person who needs to see things done, rather than simply having them explained in words.

4. Scrivener For Dummies, written by Scrivener Wizard Gwen Hernandez is an invaluable book, although in common with every other trouble-shooting system for computing I've used, if you don't know why you're stuck, it won't be much help. You need to know the exact questions to ask the index, and the terms to use. I found fiddling about free-form (see Tip 1, above) and then cross-referencing the effect I achieved with this book was a great way to learn. I've always got my copy within reach. As a result, it's covered with notes, and remnants of those two vital components of a writer's life, tea and cake. Gwen Hernandez also has a Scrivener Corner on her website, with loads of useful tips (and no cake crumbs). You can find that here.

5. If all else fails, type your question into a search engine. You'll be amazed how many articles and YouTube videos have been produced by enthusiasts. A word of warning: because these people are enthusiasts, you may find the instructors go too fast, or skip over exactly the details you need to know. More than one of these personable geniuses uses the phrase  "you'll know how to do that already...." about the precise part of the process you want explained. The screenshots these video artistes use are often tiny and indistinct, too, so use these only if you've got 20/20 vision, a degree in mind-reading, and you're willing to take a chance.

Have you tried working with Scrivener? What's your favourite tip?

* other words beginning with F are available...

Monday 17 August 2015

This Writing Life—Cover Reveal for My Dream Guy...

In my summer newsletter, I held a competition for readers to choose between potential covers for my next short story, My Dream Guy. The names of everyone who voted went into a draw to win a preview copy of my next short romance, My Dream Guy, and Emma’s name was first out of the hat. Here’s the cover my subscribers chose. What do you think? 

My Dream Guy is based on a holiday OH booked as a surprise when we hadn’t been together long. I really did not want to go. I was too busy at work, the weather had been foul for weeks and wasn’t forecast to get any better, while to cap it all, this was an outdoor activity holiday. I’d much rather sit in a wood than fly through it on a zip wire, but when you’re first in love, you don't always say things like that out loud! I was all ready to be a martyr, but I got a big shock when I discovered my own dream guy had hidden depths... 
Emily gets a wake-up call too in my new story, My Dream Guy. The sparkle’s gone out of her relationship with Jack. She’s started hankering after the guy who was her first crush. Back then, Harri was a bronzed, twenty-something farmer who hardly paid any attention to the tongue-tied kid camping in his field with her family. Now Emily’s older, she’s thinks Harri the Hunk’s going to be the best thing about her dreaded holiday to a Welsh campsite, during the wettest summer on record. 

She’s in for an enormous shock—and then her boyfriend Jack springs an even bigger surprise. 

Can Emily’s holiday from hell ever have a happy ending?

There’ll be more about My Dream Guy in my autumn newsletter. That will have all sorts of news about life here at Tottering Towers, including the latest on Heart of A Hostage, the next book in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press, an update on my bees and the kitchen garden harvest, together with a seasonal recipe, and a competition for subscribers only.

 My next newsletter will be out in the autumn. To get a copy, you can join my mailing list here: http://bit.ly/1eKihHg 

Monday 10 August 2015

This Writing Life—Heart Of A Hostage

Coming soon!
Here's the newly-produced cover of my twentieth published novel. What do you think? Heart Of A Hostage is the third book in my Princes of Kharova series for the Wild Rose Press.

Mihail inherits a fearsome reputation as Public Enemy Number One. His family lost the throne of Kharova four generations ago—but in the small European country of Kharova, blood feuds last for centuries.

A car breaks down near his rebel headquarters, stranding its beautiful royal passenger. Mihail seizes the chance to take Princess Maia hostage. It's his perfect short-cut to the throne—or so he thinks.

Maia turns out to be the house guest from hell, and Mihail is a man with dark secrets locked away in his ruined castle hideaway. When Maia discovers what they are, the stakes rise and an already dangerous situation becomes lethal...

There's a big secret at the centre of Heart Of A Hostage, but I'm only revealing that to readers of my newsletter! The autumn edition will be coming out in October.  As well as a revelation about Heart Of A Hostage, my newsletter will  also contain details of my latest short story, My Dream Guy, together with a seasonal recipe, news about the harvest here at Tottering Towers, an update on my bees after their recent scare, and a competition. Sign up to my mailing list here to get a copy delivered straight to your inbox!

Monday 3 August 2015

Beekeeping Bother: An Inspector Calls...

Probably one of mine!
I keep bees, although I never thought I could do it in a million years. The ideal beekeeper is well organised, calm, ready to turn their hand to remedial woodwork or a bit of flat-pack assembly at the drop of a hat, and accepts bee stings as just part of the job spec. I'm disorganised, anything but calm, hopeless at DIY and with a morbid fear of being stung.  I'm not even very keen on honey, so you might well ask why on earth I'm a beekeeper. It's because there are so many advantages, they far outweigh any problems.  Making an effort to plan, to record, to learn new skills and—stealing a phrase from Susan Jeffers—to Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway—far outweighs any downside. Unfortunately, something happened recently that cast a big black cloud over me and my bees.

I love gardening, cooking, and anything to do with wildlife.  If I could create infographics, I'd put one right here, with beekeeping at the hub of my favourite things. It's lovely to watch bees buzzing through the flowers on a lazy summer afternoon. The work they do in pollinating our  apple, plum and pear blossom provides us with fruit.  Later, at dusk, it's fascinating to stand in the apiary (as a collection of beehives is called) and hear the bees humming inside their hive. With a large and busy colony, the noise is loud enough to be heard from quite a way away. It's made by bees vibrating their wings, to drive off moisture from their haul of nectar. Concentrating the liquid means it will store without fermenting. If the weather's very hot, bees will bring water into the hive and evaporate that too, in order to cool their home. It's the original form of air-conditioning. How fascinating is that? I use honey in cooking to roast vegetables, and make cakes. Its anti-bacterial properties make it a great home remedy, too. The juice of half a lemon and a spoonful of honey, diluted with a splash of hot water makes a comforting drink if you've got a cold, or a sore throat. It's dangerous to promote anything as a cure-all, but beekeepers are a pretty healthy lot (we'll tactfully forget about the possibility of stings!)

My little apiary has been bumbling along (!) quite happily for about eight years. Then, the day before I was due to leave for the Romantic Novelists' Association's conference in July, I got the worst possible news. The expert who sold me a colony of bees a couple of years ago had diagnosed American Foul Brood (AFB) in his apiary. That's the equivalent of Foot And Mouth disease in farm animals. It's about the worst news any beekeeper can get. As my supplier is a diligent beekeeper, he gave the details of everyone who'd bought bees from him to the Seasonal Bee Inspector, who had to visit every contact on the list and check their bees.

Last week, my bees were up for inspection. Although I check them for disease during all my weekly hive inspections and have never spotted anything, I was really worried. What if I'd missed something? The queen bee lays an egg in each of the familiar hexagonal cells of the colony's honeycomb (don't worry, in a properly-maintained hive, she can't enter the part that provides the honey we eat. There's no chance of eating baby bees with your breakfast!). Foul brood in a hive produces a horrible smell, as you might guess, and the bee larvae are deformed and mushy.  The larvae in my hives were all fat, white and curled up in text book fashion.  That didn't stop me stressing.

If my bees had AFB, they'd all have to be destroyed, and my equipment burned. Okay, so "they're only insects", but they are my responsibility, and I had duty of care. Bees are in enough trouble worldwide, without me adding to their problems.

I was so concerned I posted about my worries on Facebook, and was touched by all the good wishes and promises of crossed fingers I received.  Thanks, everyone, I really appreciate your kind thoughts!

By the time the Seasonal Bee Inspector arrived, I was a bag of nerves. I was so concerned, I'd ironed my bee suit. I never normally iron anything! He was very kind and understanding, but his inspection took forever. He checked everything—and then he checked it all over again. As a matter of course, my bees were examined for any signs of deformed wings (caused by a different virus). They were brushed from their comb so the inspector could check the state of the wax cappings over the developing larvae. The appearance of everything was checked down to the smallest detail—several times.

I hadn't been sure whether the bee inspector would be able to give me the verdict there and then, or whether I'd have to gnaw my fingernails and wait for lab results, but I was too nervous to ask. Luckily, he didn't find any trace of anything nasty. He was able to give me the all-clear straight away! There was no sign of either AFB, or European Foul Brood (EFB), so I celebrated by writing full details of his visit and contact details down in my Apiary Record Book, as every conscientious, well-organised beekeeper should...:D

Incidentally, although the bee inspector was doing the insect equivalent of taking the roof of a huge maternity department and rummaging about among the staff and babies (for what felt like hours), neither he, nor I, got stung (thank goodness!). My bees have been selected to be docile, and despite this extensive disruption to their routine, they took it in their stride.

I include news about my bees and seasonal recipes as well as giveaways, and updates about my writing life in my newsletter, which I send out two or three times a year. The next one will include details of a short story due for release in the autumn, My Dream Guy, and  Heart Of A Hostage, which is the third title in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press.

To get my newsletter, you can sign up for my mailing list here. To catch up with the first two parts of my Princes Of Kharova series, you can find out more here.