HOW WAS YOUR MONTH?

As February draws to a close, we find out if our team reached their goals.

Elaine Roberts: February has been a strange month. It doesn’t feel as though I’ve achieved very much. One of my goals was to finish editing my novel, Taking It Back, but I’ve come to the conclusion you never finish editing. In theory I’ve achieved this goal, and the first three chapters have been submitted to an agency, along with my introductory letter and synopsis. I say in theory because I’m now trying to read it as a reader, without any analysis, and I’m still finding things I want to change. However, I have achieved my goals of completing it and writing a short story.

Elaine E and Vivien at the RNA summer party, 2013.

Elaine E and Vivien at the RNA summer party, 2013.

Vivien Hampshire: A lot of external factors – from health problems, to packing up the contents of a house to be sold, to the inevitable disruption during the creation of my new writing room – have hampered progress this month. Excuses, I know, but real and unavoidable ones, I’m afraid. Still, I did get two short stories and two commissioned articles written and subbed, and I managed to move the novel on by around 6,000 words and finally decide on its title, so I have not been totally idle!

Elaine Everest: I’m pleased to say that I fulfilled my goals for February. Research into local history did tend to divert my attention. After attending the London Chapter of the RNA and being reminded to keep writing and only research when it halts the writing process I was able to keep to target.

The news that I’m excited to share is that I have a literary agent. Caroline Sheldon of the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency has taken me on and I am now part of her list of authors. I’m the only one I haven’t heard of!

2014 looks to be an exciting year.

Natalie Kleinman: This month I have submitted six short stories and written another 6,580 words of my novel. When I look back its pretty similar to what I did in January so maybe there’s a pattern I was unaware of. I also sold another short story with the suggestion that a further one would be taken in a few weeks time when the editor’s rush to put out a Special is out of the way. I’ll let you know. Apart from that much of my time has been spent working on blogging, either here or on the Romantic Novelists’ Association

Francesca Capaldi Burgess: The month hasn’t been as great a success as I’d hoped. Family visits and commitments, along with poor health, have meant that I’ve done a lot of planning but not a great deal of actual writing. I’ve had a new idea for the novel which means going over it from the beginning before I continue. I managed to rough out several short stories and was in charge of the blog this month. I’ve also been on two day-long workshops which have given me a lot of inspiration.

Natalie, Elaine E, Francesca and Elaine R, strutting their stuff at the RNA summer party, 2013.

Natalie, Elaine E, Francesca and Elaine R, strutting their stuff at the RNA summer party, 2013.

 

Onwards and upwards in March!

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IT’S NOT WHERE YOU START IT’S WHERE YOU FINISH!

Elaine Everest chats about promoting oneself and how it’s an important part of a writer’s life.

We’ve started writing our books but what comes next? We need to get our name ‘out there’ and we need readers to know about our books. We need sales and we need to earn a living from our writing. Sales mean we rise in the book rankings. The higher we go the more we are known. The more we are known the more books we sell.

The song, ‘It’s not where you start, It’s where you finish’, says we finish on top – but how do we get there?

I was a shy little thing when I first started writing. If I’d been told I would need to speak on radio and stand up in front of a room full of people and chat about writing I’d have given up then. Fortunately I didn’t and today I enjoy speaking about my books and meeting my readers.

My first venture into the world of books was when I was invited to submit some of my short stories to the Sexy Shorts charity anthologies. These popular books from the publisher, Accent Press, were well promoted and like others I had to play my part in talking about these lovely books and the worthwhile charities. I bit the bullet and I did it!

When my first book, Showing Your Dog, A Beginner’s Guide (How To Books Ltd), was published it was expected that the author played her part in promoting the book. I took a big gulp and dived in. The hardest part was standing up in a very large crowd of experienced dog show folk. I shouldn’t have worried as there was so much support from the show fraternity. To this day my book is used to help newcomers to join a fabulous sport.

Showing Your DogCanine CuisineA New Puppy in the Family

This is the first year I will not be doing book signings on trade stands at Crufts  as I’m competing with my Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, and will be ring side cheering on fellow competitors as well as my friend, Rachel, who will be handling Henry – and a good job she does too. I will have books in my show bag – an author never stops being a sales person!

By the time my second dog book, Canine Cuisine, came along I was being called upon to speak on local and national radio when a dog topic cropped up in the news. I’ve learned that it’s best to just be myself and speak from the heart. When the third book, A New Puppy in the Family, was published I was writing a weekly column for a canine newspaper. Not only did I get to speak on behalf of fellow dog folk but my name (and my books) were ‘out there’ for readers to see – and buy. Every time I supplied a quote or spoke on radio I asked for my books to be mentioned. A veteran author once told me that we should never stop promoting ourselves or our books.

gracieswar

When my first novel, Gracie’s War (Pulse Romance), was published I felt confident to contact radio stations, newsapers and libraries and offer to talk about my latest project. I’d served my apprenticeship on those early charity anthologies.

My advice to any new writer would to be to get yourself out there and promote your work in any way you can. These days we have Twitter, Facebook, websites and blogs so even more chance of getting your face (and work) known. It’s all part of the job

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I wouldn’t say that I’m at ‘the top’ by a long chalk but by learning my craft and doing my best – and not being afraid – I like to think I’ve started that long  climb to the top!

NOT WHAT YOU KNOW BUT WHO YOU KNOW

Francesca Burgess considers using family as a jumping off point in fiction.

As I pointed out in my last post, utilising what I know has been quite useful in my writing. Part of that has involved employing family stories.

Like many of my fellow writers, I cut my non-fiction teeth on The Guardian Family section, an obvious place to use family accounts. The first one I had published was about the birth of my daughter, Carmela, or, more specifically, a funny story involving a hospital cleaner and the song Karma Chameleon. Carmela was a little miffed at first that I’d ‘sold’ her to the press, but came round to the idea when she finally saw it in print. I’ve had two other family stories in that section, one about my father and the other about my mother. Sadly, they’re not with us to comment, but I think they’d have been chuffed.

FB Guardian pieces

Some time before my ‘Karma Chameleon’ piece was published, I  sold a story to The Weekly News called A New Beginning, involving another slice of my family life. I changed the names to protect the guilty, oh, except for Peter’s. He rather enjoyed being featured though. It was the second story I ever sold and was based loosely on the programme of events that happened in our household every Easter time. The mother in the story (ie, me!), wanted desperately to do something ‘different’, and eventually did. It took a bit longer in real life.

A year or so later, another family based story, Far From Home, was shortlisted in the Cordelia.net competition. That ended up in an e-anthology called 7 Food Stories from Rome. It starred my Italian father as a twelve-year-old and his widowed mother, Margherita, during the First World War. The fact of him being a twelve-year-old and her an army widow in a strange country was true. The rest was pure invention.

And I think that’s an important point to remember when using family stories in fiction. Back when I attended Adult Ed creative writing classes, I remember one dear lady who wouldn’t change anything in her novel to make it more compelling because “that’s how it happened”. If I’d used my stories as they’d stood, they wouldn’t really have been stories, but accounts. Events and problems were added, dénouements constructed, characters made larger than life.

With my novels I’ve not really delved into family history. It’s been suggested I should use my father’s experience in an internment camp in World War Two, and his consequent meeting with my mother, as a basis of a novel. If I did that, I think I would cast two fictional characters in their places to stop it feeling too close to home. There’s also lots of material from my mother’s Welsh family I could use. Ah, so many stories, so little time and so many other projects to finish. One day, maybe, one day.

 FB 7 Food Stories Rome

A Song For My Daughter, Carmela

Dad’s Lucky Escape in the War 

Dining Room Dancing with Mum

A HAPPY ENDING – OR THE RIGHT ENDING?

Vivien Hampshire considers the importance of choosing the right ending for her novel

It seemed easy enough when I was writing the synopsis.

I had all my characters worked out and I knew, more or less, barring the finer details, what was going to happen to them. But as the opening chapters of the book started to take shape, it all seemed just a little too predictable – and boring. Yes, I know it’s meant to be romantic fiction, and it’s the conflicting emotions and the journey towards the inevitable happy ending that really count but, as author Carol Shields once famously said, “When you write happy endings, you are not taken seriously as a writer.”

So, should I throw in more drama and excitement? Should something happen to surprise or shock my readers, take the story in an unexpected direction, or tug at their heartstrings? Should I be keeping my characters, and my readers, on their toes by not giving them the happy-ever-after ending they expect? I decided to put the whole thing aside for a while in the hope that a different and more unconventional ending might start to emerge. And then it came to me in a flash: My heroine would have to die! Nobody would expect that. David Nicholls got away with it in ‘One Day’ and look how successful that was! I hastily, but happily, rewrote the synopsis, and plodded on.

So, I had a new ending to aim for, but my characters obviously didn’t know that! Somewhere around the 20,000 word mark, they seem to have taken on lives of their own – and they’re rebelling! The girl I was planning to kill, despite her flaws, is just too likeable. Her voice is becoming so real that I can hear it in my head, and I don’t want to extinguish it. My hero, who I had planned should take over the first-person narrative after she dies, just isn’t up to the job, and the ‘substitute heroine’ he was to end up with is turning out to be horrible and hasn’t got a hope of winning readers’ hearts, let alone the hero’s!

What all this proves to me is that it’s just not possible to write a full synopsis and determine an ending right from the start. How can you plan what will happen to your characters until you have got to know them and what makes them tick? Only then can you give them the fate they deserve. And now I’ve realised all of that, suddenly my story has fallen into place. Having played around with the alternatives and made sure there are still a few surprises in store, the latest, and hopefully final, version (incorporating love, loss and the all-important romance, happy ending and all) is shining ahead of me like a guiding light.

And now that I know the ending – the right ending – it’s full steam ahead to get the story, and everybody in it, safely and swiftly there!

 VIV Blog picture Snoopy - the end

Is Time Management Like Baking A Cake?

Elaine R. knows there are many sayings linked to time management, such as:

Candle-calendar

“Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today”

“Time and tide wait for no man”

But what is it? In very simplistic terms, it’s what it says; it’s managing time, which we do every day. It’s getting the children to school on time, cooking the dinner or baking a cake. For me, working full time means time is an important commodity.

Everyone has things they want, as well as, have to do, but only twenty four hours a day. Breaking time down, depending on circumstances, would probably look something like this:

Sleeping – 8 hours

Travel and Work (Full Time) – 10 hours, this includes time to get ready and eat breakfast.

These two basic requirements take up a minimum of eighteen hours every day, leaving six precious hours. There are also things that are difficult to measure like:

Family, Cooking, Housework and Shopping

These will vary every day. In reality you’re lucky to have two or three hours a day left for writing, suddenly time is very precious, no matter how tired you are.

The question: can the time be utilised for writing your novel or short story?

The answer: It’s all in the preparation, the same as cooking a meal or baking a cake. I eat, breathe and sleep writing, therefore I keep note pads and pens with me for research, jotting ideas, listening to comments, after all they could be used for your characters. I people watch for exactly the same reason.

Management say to use the SMART method to set targets and goals, which is:

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound.

This method is useful and has been tried and tested, but it doesn’t necessarily take family life into account. I made writing goals for the Christmas period and, happy with my final decisions, I kept it to remind me. However, sickness and two family deaths knocked me for six, consequently all thoughts of writing disappeared. As I said, life sometimes gets in the way of the best laid plans.

How do I manage?

Initially I looked at how my time was spent and probably, like most people, watching television featured high on the list mainly because it was on and no-one switched it off. Times have changed. Pre-recording programmes means fast-forwarding adverts saves time and I don’t have to remember they’re on.

It’s essential to be organised, especially to achieve. Setting myself weekly, sometimes daily or even hourly targets and not beating myself up if things go wrong.

Planning my writing, deciding what I want to happen and when. This acts as prompts, especially if my mind goes blank.

Family always come first therefore quality time is important. Also household chores are spread around; actually, that’s an exaggeration, my husband does most of them.

The small changes I’ve made to fit writing into my life means my family are also doing other things instead of watching television because they also realise time is a precious commodity not to be wasted.

It’s all in the preparation, like baking a cake.

The Short Story – Getting Started

Natalie Talks About What Works For Her

As writers we are all different. We have to be or we’d all be producing exactly the same story. When it comes to my work I am not a great planner. This has, believe it or not, advantages as well as disadvantages. For me planning impedes the natural flow as I write by inspiration – or is it desperation? From the word go I almost invariably know what the ending is going to be but hardly ever how I’m going to get there. I tend not to stop and think but just to head straight in from that first sentence. But where does that first sentence come from?

Ideas are not my strongest point but once they’ve been planted I’m off. There are several websites that offer prompts and these can be very useful, both for titles and subject matter. However, nearly two years ago when trawling for competitions I discovered something that for me has proved invaluable. A website called ‘Write Invite’ and I will try to explain how it works and why it has been such a useful tool.

After registration one has to purchase credits via PayPal (though the first competition is free). The cost per credit is £4 but this can be reduced considerably (to £3) when buying in bulk. Every Saturday at 5.30pm I can be found logged on and logged into the site waiting for the option to participate. You can of course decline. Three choices are given and the object is to write a complete story on one of them and submit within thirty minutes. The first time I tried it (and the second and the third) I was terrified but what an amazing adrenalin rush! Alarm ClockYour brain tells you that this is not the time to stare at a blank screen and something kicks in and you begin to write, not stopping to correct typos or grammar, a habit I find difficult to overcome but there is no place for it here; no time.

I have yet to win this competition though I have been placed a few times. Am I throwing good money after bad? Definitely not! I have built up a collection of short stories that would never otherwise have been written, all complete and most not long enough to be suitable for women’s magazines. I have taken those stories, reworked them and submitted to magazines with enough of a success rate that I am quids ahead. So I regard my fee as an investment, money well spent because by a longer route it has generated more.

If you don’t wish to invest in something like this try picking three words or phrases out of the dictionary and using one of those. It’s a method that can also work – but not always because there is no pressure. There’s nothing like a ticking clock to galvanise you into producing some very fine work.

NEW MONTH, NEW GOALS & A PLACE TO WRITE

The WMWP writers consider their February goals and writing spaces.

1. What are your goals for February?

Elaine E: A busy month. I’m researching an area of England and what happened there during WW2. My research needs to be threaded through the notes of my basic plot. February sees this turned into a proper outline, timeline and chapter breakdown and hopefully a few chapters will be written as well.

Elaine R: Choosing a feel positive February, my goals are to finish editing my second novel, Taking It Back, and send it to publishers/agents. I’ll add 10,000 words to my third novel. This’ll mean three quarters completed in its first draft. I will continue to write and submit one short story a month.

Francesca: I want to have half of the rest of my current novel written by the end of the month.  This would constitute about 20,000 words, which in itself is more than doable, but I also want to get more short stories written and submitted. And there are some good competitions coming up.

Natalie: I am still waiting for the return of my manuscript from the publisher so I can begin editing. In the meantime I am continuing with my new novel and focussing on short stories. I’d like to get as many as I can out there before the book comes back and takes over.

Vivien: I have cleared the decks as far as non-fiction commissions are concerned, so February is going to be a fiction month for me. If a short story idea comes I will write it, but my novel will take priority, and I hope to really move it forwards this month.

2.Where do you write and does it vary with the time of year?

Elaine E: My workstation is in a corner of our large bedroom. I have my main computer, files, reference books and stationery to hand. However, I seem to be on my laptop at the kitchen table most days. Meanwhile, a spare bedroom is begging to be turned into my study once hubby has removed all the essential junk.

Elaine R: There aren’t many places in my home I haven’t worked, except maybe the little girl’s room. I’m lucky to have a spare bedroom with a view of my garden, which gives me inspiration. It’s where I go for solitude. I often work in front of the television, because I like company.

Francesca: I’m lucky to have a purpose-built study in the house which contains all my writing stuff. I’ve variously worked at the dining room table and in the playroom. In the summer I like to take my laptop outside on the decking under a very large parasol. I’m looking forward to that!

Natalie: Our third bedroom was turned into a study to give me space and silence to write – I can’t write with noise going on around me – but it feels somewhat claustrophobic so now I invariably write at the dining room table. What some people would give! Spare study anyone?

Vivien: I am lucky enough to have a ‘bedless’ spare bedroom to write in, and big plans to re-organise it and install new furniture. In the summer I do try writing in the garden but the sun on the laptop screen is a problem, so I usually just end up reading instead (great for market research!)

writing in garden