A Very Good Place To Start…

Elaine Roberts talks about how she hopes to make the year ahead count.

Christmas and New Year have come and gone and I have decided I am going to make 2016 work for me. Due to a rather hectic latter part of 2015 and bad health, I haven’t written any serious amount of words since about September.

If you have read the New Year blog, where I set out my goals for the year, you’ll know I want to finish my saga and get it sent out to agents/publishers. However, until I finish work at the end of March, my writing time is extremely limited, but that doesn’t mean I do nothing.

report_writingI’m very lucky to belong to The Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme (RNA NWS) so I read my report again. The critique is part of the RNA NWS membership and is worth its weight in gold. The writer of the report gave me some valuable direction but I didn’t know where to begin. I had written over 53,000 words and had lost touch with my story. I was stuck.

As Julie Andrews once famously sung, let’s start at the very beginning, so I did. I returned to basics.

Starting with the three-act structure, I looked at my story to see how it fitted. I’m pleased to say that overall, it wasn’t too bad. A scene I had in the first half should be in the second half of the story. I had gaps as well, so going back to the beginning helped kick start my imagination and deliver some ideas. Some will be used, some won’t, but they have all been written down.

I have also watched some documentaries that are relevant for the time period I’m writing in, this has also given me ideas. The research has continued and the reader of my manuscript gave me a few things to think about. Some of those things meant changing the order of the story and raised the question prologue or no prologue.

Victorian Saga Family Tree

Victorian Saga Family Tree

I also have plans to go to many writing events. I am attending two conferences, which involves listening to established authors, agents and publishers as well as actively participating in workshops. Once I have given up work, I intend to become a regular attendee at the London Chapter meetings. I also have writing retreats planned.

Currently, I am placing my building blocks where they need to be, so come the 1st April, I know exactly what I need to do to finish my story.images

When I look at my diary for the year ahead, I wonder how I would have managed to find time to go to work, oh but I won’t have to anymore, lucky me!


Welcome to guests Dougal the Labradoodle and author Sarah Stephenson

Today we are thrilled to welcome talented author and lovable Labradoodle, Dougal, and his owner, Sarah Stephenson, whose book Dougal’s Diary was released yesterday.

Thank you Sarah and Dougal, for taking the time out in your busy week to be interviewed.

First of all, how did you two get together and who chose who?

Dougal and SarahDOUGAL:   I can tell you, right now, it almost didn’t happen. She wanted a rescue dog. Went to Battersea but couldn’t find any promising to be a child’s best friend.

SARAH: It’s true. I came away feeling quite despondent, then saw a notice in a sweet shop, advertising Labradoodle puppies, 11 of them.  It had been up in the window for weeks. I rang at once.

DOUGAL:  I overheard the conversation. Sorry to dob you in but… It went like this, “Have you any left and are they the rubbish ones?” Me, rubbish!  Come on, paws in the air, admit it! Let’s get this straight, I hadn’t found a home because a) no-one had taken my fancy and b) my nickname was big boy. Anyone seeing my mother might have worried. She’s a giant, beautiful, but a giant. You almost didn’t have me.

SARAH: Well, I’d never planned on having a large dog.

DOUGAL: When you drove off without me, I was devastated.

SARAH: I’m sorry. I pulled into a lay-by almost immediately and called to say I’d changed my mind.

DOUGAL: Then I had to wait two more weeks, while you went to India.

SARAH: True.

DOUGAL: Only for you to return with a rice obsession.

SARAH: Let’s leave the rice problem out of it.

DOUGAL: If you’re pulling rank, I’m heading for my basket.

Sarah_photo1Sarah, what did you think when you discovered Dougal was keeping a diary?

First total amazement! Then my elation at having such a clever dog, changed to worry. What was he writing about, the thrill of a luncheon invitation, or the unfairness of life?

Has it made you re-think your role as a dog owner?

Yes, definitely. There are dogs and there is Dougal.  And now he’s older and wiser, I often wonder who is looking after whom.

Dougal, how has keeping a diary helped you?

Alan, my vet calls me barking mad!  Really! What about her? Life at times is an enormous trial. Writing my diary has saved my sanity. And it’s fun looking back and charting my progress from cute puppy to handsome hound, once unknown in Greenwich Park, now almost famous as Boris Johnson. I closely identify with BJ’s shaggy, unkempt appearance.

Sarah, have you ever kept a diary? 

I did as a teenager, through ballet and drama school, then again when my mother who was never easy, took to her bed. She remained there in a blacked-out room for almost twenty years. Supposedly she suffered from poor balance and light sensitivity. She wore three pairs of dark glasses. Outside, she had a wheelchair and used a welder’s helmet to block out light. Later she became frightened of burglars and ordered a cross bow which she practised in total darkness against her bedroom walls. She was a bad shot, there were holes everywhere. Meals on Wheels feared for their lives and refused to deliver. The stories are endless.

Dougal SnowDougal, what would you do if someone asked for the film rights? And would you like to play yourself?

I would jump at the offer. I couldn’t play myself all the way through. I’d need a stunt dog for the cliff-hanger scene and a cute puppy to play me in the early months. I wouldn’t want a stand in for any of the muddy or fun scenes. I couldn’t abide seeing some Labradoodle usurp my position as No 1 party animal. And as for jumping, is there a dog out there who can beat my 7’ 6” Olympic record?

What’s next for Dougal and Sarah?

DOUGAL: Do you mind if I leap in here?

SARAH: No, go ahead.

DOUGAL: I’ve had to put my two books, “Family life for Dummies” and “Living with a Rescue Rat”, on the back burner. Right now I’m in communication with Virgin Atlantic, R Branson, no less. I’m helping them out. Not as a steward, although I adore the uniform and meet and greet is in my line of work.  No, I noticed a gap in their services. Problems with their safety video; it’s so boring no one watches it. They’ve tried humour, without success. Now it’s over to me.

I shall be filmed locating the emergency exits, pulling down the oxygen masks, inflating the life jackets and shooting down the escape slide. One humdinger of a show; watched by all on board. I’ll be there to shake paws on special flights only. Meanwhile I’ve got a stop watch. Need to practise holding my bladder. On long haul it could be anything up to 19 hours, getting through by sucking ice cubes. However hard the struggle, it’s going to be an honour.

Mm, sounds interesting, Dougal! What about you, Sarah?

SARAH:  I’m moving into cozy crime. We’re told to write what we know. I’ve spent the last twenty years as a free-lance chef, cooking in Britain, Europe and the States, in the homes of the very wealthy. I am sending Tilly Carey, a newly qualified chef down to a crumbling mansion in Gloucestershire to cook for a funeral. She is given a frosty reception by a quarrelling aristocratic family. Death occurs. Poison! Is she to blame? In order to clear her name and prevent further tragedy, she needs to discover what’s really going on. Who can she trust?  Will she do it in time?

Good luck with the book and all your future ventures (and adventures!), and thank you again for agreeing to be interviewed.

Dougal's Diary coverDougal’s Diary

Has he chosen his owner well and landed on his paws? Dougal the Labradoodle puppy, a complete hypochondriac and Boris Johnson’s No 1 fan, arrives in Greenwich with great expectations.

He longs to travel the world on Virgin Atlantic, dine at royal banquets and either become a superstar and party the night away or work as a doorman at the Savoy.

Behaviour classes were never on his wish-list, neither were cliff-hanging experiences on the Thames, booze cruises to Calais or obsessions for eating socks.

Can he survive life with a chaotic owner and her eccentric friends? Can he deal with his jealousy when a foster puppy comes to stay? And as for his dreams, will they ever come true?

Available from Crooked Cat Books on Kindle now. Amazon link to Dougal’s Diary


Sarah: Facebook    Twitter

Dougal: Facebook   Twitter   Dougal’s Diary Blog


I Have A Dream…

Francesca and Elaine make plans for the coming year.

Francesca: So, it’s 2016 and time to fill diaries and make lists of goals. I never make ‘resolutions’ as such. I have an idea at the beginning of January of what I’d like to achieve, then revise it constantly throughout the year, depending on what opportunities come along, or alternatively, which have been lost.

Things don't always work out the way we've planned.

Things don’t always work out the way we’ve planned.

First of all there are goals which, by working hard, I can achieve by myself. These include finishing the current novel in progress, writing/reviving/revising more short stories, and maybe even some articles. 

Then there are the other goals, achievable but a little less tangible, ones that also need the input of others. I’m talking about actually being published. Naturally I’ve got to put in a good percentage of the effort by finding the right markets and getting whatever is required sent off (and making sure I’ve read the guidelines thoroughly). But the outcome is also in the lap of the publishing gods, so to speak. Experience has taught me that you win some and you lose some. Sometimes you nearly win but fall at the final hurdle. Either way there’s always the next submission or project to get on with along with valuable lessons learnt.

A busy year of writing and workshops requires lots of notebooks.

A busy year of writing and workshops requires lots of notebooks.

Luckily the job isn’t all about being hidden away in a writer’s garret: there are many events to pencil into the calendar that aid and stimulate the writing process. There’s a writing retreat in May, the Hay Festival, the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard and possibly another retreat towards the end of the year. In between I’ll be attending various RNA events, including the local chapter meetings, and continue with classes at The Write Place. All these occasions serve different yet equally valid services, whether it’s to learn skills, meet publishing professionals for advice and/or networking, have a sustained quiet period to write or simply schmooze with fellow writers.

However, I am going to miss many of these events if I don’t acquire a diary. Six days into January and I am still without. Tomorrow I’m meeting up with blog partner Elaine, but first I will need to take a trip to the diary shop…


Elaine: It’s difficult to believe 2015 is over. In my case it didn’t end with a bang; it didn’t even end with a slight fizz. Due to illness, the whole New Years Eve celebrations passed me by and the beginning of 2016 has not been any better, culminating in me missing my aunt’s 100th birthday. However, I’m going to be an eternal optimist and say things can only get better, because 2016 is going to be a special time for me.

Francesca and Elaine take a photo call.

Francesca and Elaine take a photo call at an RNA event.

I have been writing for several years now but I’ve always had to fit it around a full time job, but on March 24th I am taking early retirement. There are mixed emotions, excitement and fear. The little voice in my head tells me there are no excuses now, no hiding place. For the first time, I will be able to write when I am not tired or feeling guilty because I should be spending time doing housework or being with my family. I have been liberated to enjoy writing again.

report_writingMy goals are to structure my day so I can be guilt free and to ensure I attend the fabulous Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) Conference and all other RNA events. I would like to attend the Chapter meetings more often. It has always been difficult because of my limited writing time. My main goal is to finish the saga I started last year, have it critiqued by the RNA New Writers Scheme (NWS), and make any necessary amendments, before sending it out into the world.

It’s definitely going to be a special year.


What are your writing goals and plans for 2016?