Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Writing in small chunks of time...

You may have gathered from last week's (lack of) post that life here got busy. My Dad has been ill for a while and got readmitted to hospital last week, so writing (and life in general) has had to take a bit of a back seat.

A while ago, I did two amazing (and free!) courses by Writers' HQ - "14 days to a solid writing habit" and "Turbocharge your creativity". If you've not done them, I really recommend them! And their blog. Just them, really. They're amazing!

Anyway, in the 14 days to a solid writing habit course, the exercises started small - ten minutes of writing, building up to longer sessions. One of the biggest things I learned from this course was that I could squeeze at least some writing into even a tiny portion of time. That has been a godsend this last fortnight or so!

Thankfully, I'm a planner. I may not have had big enough chunks of time in which to write a scene over the last couple of weeks, but I have had time to plan out scenes. If and when I do then get a bit of time to write, the scene is prepped and ready to go. I tend to plan out the start of the scene and how I'm going to finish the scene (because otherwise I get tired and it can ramble on!) and the key things that need to happen in the scene. I also run through my checklist (which I wrote about here) to make sure that the scene is earning its place.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Writing, interrupted...

Sorry - no new post this week. Family illnesses stole all my time and energy.

Back next week.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Writing: planning scenes...

... and what to do with those scenes that you really want to write, but you know aren't going to end up in the book.

Trying to avoid this, by planning the scenes!
I'm a planner by heart. I may have written a couple of books more by the seat of my pants, but in the end, I needed to take them apart, plan them, and re-write them! So, for me, I prefer to know what my core scenes are (and therefore what the bones of my plot are) and some idea of how to get from major plot point to the next major plot point. Once all that is sorted out, I can start to write. But I also like to know that the scenes I'm writing aren't just a waste of time. Of course, some of them will shift and change (and maybe even disappear) before the final round of edits, but I'd like to think that I'm giving each scene the best chance of making the final cut, before I actually write it.

There are loads of blog posts on the essentials of a scene, but one I've found useful (and the checklist that the author has produced to go with it) is this one: https://jamigold.com/2012/06/how-to-make-the-most-of-a-scene/

There are downloads available of the checklist, and also an Excel spreadsheet for tracking scenes, here: https://jamigold.com/2012/07/blogiversary-winners-a-gift-for-all/

What I like about this is the simplicity, which gives me a better focus. In essence you need at least one of X and two of Y and if you can add in some from Z, even better!

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Writing: character arcs

Well, so far this month, writing has been going great guns! I suspect it follows from having done a lot of planning on the structure of the book and getting the bare bones of the plot sorted out. I've been thinking about this book, on and off, for over a year, and already had a heap of notes and a mind-map of the plot sorted. I then spent a good week or more nailing down the key scenes that I wanted, before I wrote one word of any scenes.

It also helps that I know the characters really well - this will be third book in the trilogy - so I haven't had to do so much on character development, though of course, there's some, on new characters or ones who have come to the fore a little more. I did spend quite a bit of time on their character arcs though, again, before writing a word of any of the scenes.

There's a great blog post on the different types of character arc, and also how these fit with general story plans: The 3 Types of Character Arc: Change, Growth or Fall. I also produced a summary sheet for planning out how each main character reacts to the different plot points:

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

'Hero' is getting a girlfriend

'Hero' is the name of the little chap who sits on my desk and who acts as a bit of a Muse for me. I blogged about him ages ago. He usually sits on the thirty-minute sand timer I have on my desk, though occasionally, he gets moved about. Most of the time he's brandishing a sword.


Anyway, for a variety of reasons, but mostly just because I like it, I've bought the female version. She too comes with some spare hands (and feet) and a selection of accessories. Her accessories lie more in the guns, knives, daggers, and more guns area than the laptop, book and pen section of Hero's box of tricks.

Hero's box of hands and accessories
(no, not creepy AT ALL)

Picture of the accessories for the girlfriend, from the website I ordered her from
(Hero may have met his match here...)

Why do I want to have them on my desk? To be honest, I just like Hero there, and I'm also getting back into sketching (which is, after all, the original purpose of the figures - as artists' models), so having two figures is useful. But actually, a lot of the time, I just chat to him. Or his presence reminds me that I should be writing, not browsing through Twitter or Facebook! Occasionally, I set him up as a Muse for a scene I'm writing (swords definitely handy here) to help with description and to prompt my imagination.

Anyway, he must be working as I'm already almost 20k words into the first draft of the new book! Maybe more on that, next week!



Tuesday, 9 October 2018

I've finished the first draft!


Phew! This draft of "book 7" (actual working title is "Aeron Returns") is finished! This is the middle book of a fantasy trilogy that I've been working on, on and off, since 2014.

Of course, just because I have a first draft doesn't mean the book is finished. No, I still have work to do on it, but the skeleton is all sorted and most of the muscle and sinew is there. I still need to do more editing before it goes off to beta readers, and another heap of edits, polishes and a proof-read when it comes back from them and the professional editor, but the hardest edit is done.

For me, the writing process runs a bit like this:
Have an idea
Write loads of notes about the idea and come up with a germ of a plot
Plan out the plot
||: Write
Change/tweak the plot :||
  → Come up with a zero draft
Go back through zero draft and sort it all out until I have a decent first draft
Go through it again and sort out all the over-used words and the craply written bits
Send it out to beta readers
Fix the issues they come up with
Send it to a professional editor
Fix the bits they say are wrong
Polish
Proof-read
Publish!!
The zero draft of this book was what I had at the start of September. I was coming back to this book after a long time away from it and I thought it would take me forever to get it from tangled spaghetti to first draft. I always find this is the hardest edit to do, but also the most satisfying one. Just over a month ago, I thought I might never untangle it and whip it all into shape and wrote "Help! Please send chocolate!"

But, these characters have been talking to me and telling me their stories for years now. I see so much of their lives that have nothing to do with the book (and sometimes write them down in a separate file, just to get it out of my head). I spend all day (and sometimes night) with them. Getting their stories to make sense is enormously satisfying! Some characters have had more time in the spotlight, some less. Some have died and some been saved. Things I'd been struggling with dropped into place. It's been a tough few weeks, but, boy have I been enjoying it.

Anyway, next for this is to put it aside for a while, before finding and killing all the crutch words and the bits that are crap. What will I work on while this is 'resting'? Planning the final part of the trilogy, of course!

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Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Research...

I love doing research for my books. There's always a slight worry that my Google searches look very dodgy, but on the whole, I absolutely love doing the background work for my books. This could be general research (like my scrapbooks - looking for the perfect location for a book, or images of people for characters etc) or it can be more of the nitty-gritty (what is the exact wording of a police caution?).

I've seen a couple of posts recently about writers using mood boards (see here and here for a couple of examples). In essence, the scrapbooks I make are like mood boards, with pictures pasted in and notes scribbled all over them (I wrote here about my scrapbooks). I sometimes keep electronic versions using OneNote, but not as commonly as I have physical versions. I've found that printing things off, either on to A4 printer paper or on to sticker sheets and sticking them into my notebooks works the best for me.



That kind of research all happens near the start of a book. What I've been researching recently has been a combination of of fine details about things (sunrise and sunset times on particular dates; castles in Cumbria; geology of various rocks), and looking for images of long leather coats for men that you could conceal a sword under (that don't look like either the Gestapo coats from 'Allo 'Allo, or something from The Matrix). Today's slightly random search was for "blank autopsy body diagrams". A couple of weeks ago it was "sociopolitical repercussions of Spanish flu" & "what colour boxes are used for paper recycling in Cumbria?"

Every day is a school day...

What's everyone else been up to recently?


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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Bloody Scotland 2018

Bloody Scotland just gets bigger and better!! I only made it over to Stirling for one day - the Saturday - but the whole town was buzzing and full of crime writers and crime readers. If you haven't yet been up to Stirling for this festival, what's stopping you? The events are amazing, the venues are brilliant and the atmosphere is incredible. The only downside I can see, is that my To Be Read pile is now even bigger and I will probably have to live until I'm a hundred to ever get through it all!

I was delighted to be able to catch up with some old friends and to make some new ones. It made me realise just how far I've come since I was one of the Crime in the Spotlight speakers, two years ago. Then, I knew almost no one in the huge, welcoming crime-writing family that exists. I made some good friends in the twelve "Spotlighters" and as a consequence of meeting them, have met many more fantastic, warm, helpful, supportive people - writers, book bloggers, friends of friends who neither write nor blog nor have anything to do with crime-writing beyond reading it. All have been absolutely amazing. And none of it would have happened without Bloody Scotland!

Short post (Sorry! Life is ridiculously busy at the moment), but I just wanted to say how brilliant Bloody Scotland is and how grateful I am for the amazing friendships that have spun off from it.

Hopefully see you all there next year!

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Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Further update on "Who Gives a Crap"


Last week, I reviewed the loo rolls by Who Gives A Crap and said that I'd also bought tissues and kitchen rolls. I was disappointed by the plastic strapping that bound the carton of tissues and carton of kitchen roll together, and also that there was a plastic film in the top of the box of tissues.

I contacted WGAC about it and this was their reply:
We use what's called oxo-biodegradable plastic on the top of our tissue boxes in order to keep them secure and dry. This oxo-bio plastic breaks down much faster and will degrade in the presence of oxygen and sunlight (depending on the local conditions, 12-24 months vs 1000 years for regular plastic!). You can even test it out in your yard! We know it's not the ultimate solution, however it's something that is slightly better when having to go a limited plastic route.

As for the strappings.... urgh!!
We avoid using plastic wherever we can, but when shipping multiple parcels we strap them together so that 1) we (and the customer) are only charged 1 shipping fee for the package, and 2) there's no risk of the packages becoming separated in transit and the driver having to make two deliveries to the same address for the one order (also not good from an environmental perspective).
We're researching more sustainable strapping materials-- and we *have* tested paper strapping, but it hasn't been strong enough, and just breaks in transit. We need something that works with commercial strapping machines so the options are limited, but it's a priority of ours that we are continuously searching for a solution.

Some suggestions: There may be dedicated recycling centres you can find that will take them off your hands or you can work your magic in upcycling them into something unique (heaps of ideas on Pinterest)!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Update on "Who Gives a Crap"

Who Gives A Crap loo rolls
A few weeks ago, I said that I'd bought some recycled paper loo rolls from the company Who Gives A Crap, but that I hadn't yet tried them. Well, now we have tried them, and I've bought some tissues and kitchen roll from them too, so it's time for an update.

We went for the bog-standard (pun intended) loo rolls made of recycled paper. There is a luxury option made with bamboo which is probably softer. I had had reservations about the use of bamboo, knowing that processing it to make fibres for clothes isn't great, ecologically, but after a long discussion with them via email, it would seem that processing the plant to make 'paper' is far less environmentally damaging and that there is little waste or chemical use. We may go for the luxury version in the future, but to be honest, the standard paper version is fine.

Each roll comes wrapped in paper to protect it, which has lower waste impact than if the rolls were bundled together, as the paper used for wrapping can be thinner than if multiple rolls were wrapped together. The paper is quite pretty (and they currently have a version that you can colour in yourself if you want) and I will probably use it to decorate plain notebooks or do origami or something. Or just recycle it. They look fairly pretty stacked on the cistern, anyway!

The loo paper itself is made of three very thin layers, but the fact there are three of them makes it strong. There are 400 sheets per roll, so each roll does last longer than a normal roll. I did the maths on it all and the price per square metre was pretty much the same as the loo rolls we had been buying from the supermarket, but they were wrapped in plastic and those companies didn't donate half their profits to charities supporting water sanitation.

What's it like to use?

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Help! Please send chocolate!

[Or... "Why I wish I'd realised I was a plotter not a pantser, before I wrote draft zero of this book"!]

How my plot feels at the moment....
I should have known I was a plotter. I've been logical and methodical all my life! But, when I wrote the zero draft of The Trilogy (a few years ago now!) I wrote the story that was in my head. Which was okay as far as it went, but over the years it's changed, and the characters have evolved and some sub-plots have strengthened (and some vanished). And it now feels like I have this amazing picture in my head but just a pile of jigsaw pieces on the table.

Actually, I literally have my plot in pieces on the table, because my dining room table is currently covered in index cards. I have one for each scene and have been trying to get them in order. I have some that will go (that relate to sub-plots that have gone, or which are just not needed any more) and I have quite a lot missing (but I'll do the cards for them once I'm sure they're staying). And yes, of course they are colour-coded for the different sub-plots. 😄

I have a bit of a push-me-pull-me going on when I'm plotting. The major characters are worked on first, with the bare bones of the plot in my head. Once I'm fairly happy with my main characters, the bare bones of the plot get a little firmer. But once I start doing character notes for minor characters, things can get a bit more complicated - some sub-plots become more important, sometimes the main plot gets tweaked. But I usually get all that resolved before I start writing too much.

Not with The Trilogy. I just wrote. And wrote. And now I've sorted out minor character notes and re-drafted what the sub-plots are, it feels a lot like I've got a thousand-piece puzzle in front of me. I know what the overall picture is, I just need to convert the jumble into the neat version.

Right now, it feels overwhelming because I have just over 100,000 words written, but it's not in the right order, and they aren't the right words. Once I have my road-map sorted, the going should get easier. I know what all my key points are, and I (just about, at this point) know what happens in between, to get me from one plot point to the next. I'm also pretty happy with the balance between the different sub-plots and my characters. But, it does feel a little like I'm about to re-write 100,000 words, however much I know a lot of what's written will stay.

So, wish me luck? Oh, and send chocolate...?



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Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Guest post by Jack Dowd

picture of author Jack Dowd
Jack Dowd
This week on the blog, I have a guest post by Jack Dowd to share with you. Jack's debut novel Empty Nights will be released in September.

Empty Nights
Henry Andrews, enduring his final year in Norcrest Academy, discovers that his childhood crush and fellow sixth form student Yasmin Rivers is pregnant. Henry agrees to help Yasmin hide her secret while also dealing with his parent’s divorce, revising for his A Level exams, suffering his own mental health issues and preparing for the void in his life that comes after sixth form. When tragedy strikes, nothing will be the same again.

Jack Dowd
I started writing as a hobby in 2005 while bored in the back row of a classroom. This hobby grew over the years and in 2013 I enrolled as a student on the Creative Writing Degree course at London South Bank University. During this time, my play Captured was performed at the Chelsea Theatre to positive reviews and I was the assistant producer on a radio play called The Minister’s Secret. In 2015 I created jackdowd’swritingblog, my official writing website and I graduated with a 2:1. Since leaving university I have found publication with an Indie publishing company called Mommashark press and my debut novel Empty Nights is due for release in September.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Who Gives a Crap?

As loyal readers will know (bless you, both of you), I'm trying to reduce my "footprint" on the world. I will no longer buy any clothes with non-biodegradable fibres in them, I've recycled most of my clothes that contained non-biodegradable fibres and I'm trying as hard as I can to reduce how much plastic I buy (including the microplastic in tea-bags... glad to say, 8 months on, I'm still using loose tea and composting all the used leaves).

I'd heard about Who Gives A Crap toilet paper in a number of places and have decided to give it a go. Their toilet paper is made from 100% recycled paper. They also have a 'luxury' brand that's made from bamboo, but for me, there are still some issues with bamboo processing - the plant itself needs little water or fertiliser and is pretty sound, ecologically, but processing it to make fibres is less so.

Their toilet paper comes wrapped in paper and then boxed, with free delivery to your door. The boxes are hilarious. In huge letters on the side were: "You've got a lovely bum" and "Wiping Away Poverty". I'm not quite sure what the delivery woman thought of it all!



Sunday, 19 August 2018

Interview with Sandra Ireland #LoveBooksTour #BoneDeep

I'm delighted to welcome Sandra Ireland, author of  Beneath the Skin and Bone Deep to the blog today. I first interviewed Sandra last year (you can read my interview with her here) and am grateful to her for taking the time to answer more questions from me. I reviewed Bone Deep, her second novel here.

Your new book, Bone Deep has just been released. Tell me a little about it?
Bone Deep poses the question, what happens when you fall in love with the wrong person? The consequences threaten to be far-reaching and potentially deadly. Bone Deep is a contemporary novel of sibling rivalry, love, betrayal and murder. This is the story of two women: Mac, who is bent on keeping the secrets of the past from her only son, and the enigmatic Lucie, whose past is something of a closed book. Their story is underpinned by the creaking presence of an abandoned water mill, and haunted by the local legend of two long-dead sisters, themselves rivals in love, and ready to point an accusing finger from the pages of history.

What inspired you to write it?
I worked at Barry Mill, Angus, for several years. It’s a National Trust for Scotland property, one of the last working watermills in Scotland. I grew to love the whole process of milling, and the landscape around the mill. I always had some quirky folktales up my sleeve to entertain visitors. I found myself drawn to the mill as a setting for a novel, and the ancient Border Ballad of The Cruel Sister seemed to fit. In the ballad, the jealous older sister shoves the younger one into the mill pond. As I’m not a historical novelist, I wanted to make this a very modern story. It looks at contemporary relationships, but the past is never far away. I was very fortunate to receive support from Creative Scotland who saw the potential of the project.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Review of Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland #LoveBooksTour @22_Ireland @PolygonBooks


In today's post, I'm delighted to share my review of Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland with you.

My thanks to Polygon for giving me an advance copy of the book. My views are my own and in no way influenced by the gift of the copy.


Bone Deep

What happens when you fall in love with the wrong person? The consequences threaten to be far-reaching and potentially deadly. Bone Deep is a contemporary novel of sibling rivalry, love, betrayal and murder. This is the story of two women: Mac, who is bent on keeping the secrets of the past from her only son, and the enigmatic Lucie, whose past is something of a closed book. Their story is underpinned by the creaking presence of an abandoned water mill, and haunted by the local legend of two long-dead sisters, themselves rivals in love, and ready to point an accusing finger from the pages of history.

Extract:

Mac 
I put down my pen and sag against the back of the chair. I’ve been sitting here since 6 a.m., and now that the words are finally flowing I can’t let them go. Things have been a bit stuck of late, ideas bobbing around like fish, and me grown too slow to catch them. But this morning things feel different, as though Lucie’s arrival has brought a gust of fresh air, stirring up the leaves of my imagination.

I’d asked her about her family a couple of times, but her replies have been rather muted. I gather she has a sister, but there’d been no warmth to her description. I’d nodded knowingly at the time. Sibling rivalry. You get that with sisters. Best not to dwell on it. It had reminded me of something though, this sister thing. What was it now?

That evening I’d gone through all the dusty old volumes on my bookshelves, not quite sure what I was looking for. I stretch my arms out in front of me, flex my fingers and rotate my neck. Something cracks, and my insides shrink accordingly. I’m getting paranoid, waiting for the next little blip, holding my health up to the light like a badly stitched seam. I’m getting frayed.

Somewhere in the house, a key grates in a lock. The front door opens, and a ghastly echo carries along the passages. The hall always has that empty-house ring to it, regardless of how many bits and bobs I pad it out with. The sound of footsteps carries towards me. That will be Arthur. My heart sinks and immediately I go into guilty mode. I am a bad mother. A can’t-be-bothered mother. My eyes drop automatically, going to the photograph on the desk. My own mother, wartime drab but happy in a floral tea dress she’d knocked up from remnants. We have bad mother genes, I suspect. There is a coldness in us. I remember Mother feeding a poorly dog tinned salmon while we kids scoffed bread and dripping. The thing is, I fear I’m heading for the ultimate fail. The leaving-your-child fail.


Review:

It takes a good book to have me unable to do anything else for the entire day because I just can't stop reading, but that's exactly what happened with me with this book! I started it one Sunday morning, intending to read for an hour or so as it was a sunny day and I could sit out and relax with a book - a rare event for me. From the opening chapter, I was hooked and just wanting to know more about these characters and I finished the book the same afternoon!

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Guest post: book planning using PowerPoint

I'm delighted to share a guest post with you today by Angela Nurse. She said that she was planning her new book on PowerPoint and I was intrigued... Scrivener, index cards, pen and paper, Excel... all these I had heard of being used in planning, and most of them I'd tried, but PowerPoint?

Happily, Angela said she would share her thinking with me, and all of you. Over to you, Angela! (btw... I love the idea of a 'murder board' and can't see why it wouldn't be appropriate in a living room...)
[click on any picture to enlarge]

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Tightrope walking...


I both love it and hate it when A New Book starts prickling away in my brain. I love it because it feels fresh and exciting and I'm curious to know where it will go and how it will turn out. I hate it when it starts chiselling away at my brain at a time when I am already overloaded with other books that need finishing/editing/writing!

I'm always scared that if I don't make any notes or write at least a little bit about The New Book, that it will vanish, escaping my brain like a Will o' the Wisp. But, boy, it can be a fine balance between 'getting some of it captured so I don't lose it' and 'oh look, here I am at the end of a first draft'!

As I said in last week's post, The New Book is serious enough to have got its Own Notebook. I spent a while researching the location and the house in which it will be set, plus getting a few other ideas out of my head, and suddenly, the five or six pages that I scribbled on the train home a fortnight ago have morphed into almost 30 pages of a B5 notebook. I'm treading a very thin line between getting enough down that I don't forget it, and disappearing down the rabbit hole and only re-emerging when I've a first draft in my hand.

I've come to the conclusion that I might just have to write two books at once.

But... that way, madness lies, doesn't it?

I'm hoping not (though enough people suspect I'm a bit mad a lot of the time already). I've tried to make a bargain with myself that I have to have done x amount of work on the book I'm meant to be working on, before I get to play with The New Book. It's a carrot and stick approach! My aim is to parallel process, but not to get beyond chapter outlines in The New Book until I've cleared off The Trilogy! I suspect reality will be that I have both The Trilogy and The New Book on the go at the same time.

There was an author who always had at least two typewriters set up, so that if he reached a tricky bit with one book, he would switch desk and work on the other. I think I may end up doing something similar.

Now I just need to find a new desk...


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Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Too many ideas (again)

My brain at the moment...
I'm disappearing into my own thoughts more and more at the moment. I find that I do this when the world seems worse than usual. I don't want to get into politics here (domestic or world), but at the moment, things feel stressful and entirely beyond my control. Consequently, I'm retreating into my made-up worlds in my head, where I do  have some control (allegedly!) and my head is full of new ideas! Not that I need them... I have two books of the trilogy to edit, the third to write, plus full chapter outlines of another (stand alone) book, a prequel to the trilogy and a crime novel to sort out. And should I tire of all that, I have a thriller, and a women's literature novel that are both at final draft stage and I could get them edited. So really, I need to be thinking about another book, like I need a hole in my head. Actually, if I had a hole in my head, it might let some of these ideas out and give me some peace!

I went to visit a friend the other day and knew that I would probably get some quiet time on the train to work on "book 6" (first book of the fantasy trilogy). Right enough, on the way there I did a load of work on it.

On the way back...

I started to jot "just a few notes" about something else that's been flittering around in my brain for a few weeks, "just to get it down on paper... not to really start writing it."

Ahem.

It's now got its Own Notebook.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

What is "success" in writing?


If you do a Google search for "success quotes" you will find a whole heap of motivational quotes and slogans about how to achieve success. But what if you don't actually know what success will look like if or when it happens?

Is it getting published by a publisher? I don't think so - I've read many a book published by a big publisher (or a small publisher) and wondered how and why it got chosen out of the submissions pile. I've also read a lot of self-published books that have been brilliant. Who knows why the author hasn't been published by a big publisher - maybe they never sent it off to them; maybe they did and got rejected, they re-worked it and self-published; maybe the were rejected because the person who read it didn't like it but another person may have loved it. Of course, I've also read some brilliant books published by big publishers and terrible books that were self-published. Trying to predict whether a book will be good or not from how it got into print/ebook, is pointless.

Is success selling a gazillion books and having multiple best-sellers? Maybe. Maybe not. I can think of some best-sellers I would be beyond proud to have written and have read and re-read because I love them. I can also think of a whole heap of best-sellers that were absolutely diabolical - badly written, badly plotted, badly edited... just terrible.

Is it getting loads of great reviews? Perhaps. But look at any book that you think is incredible and look at the reviews on Amazon. I would guess that every one of them has someone hating the book. This, for example, has been left for Pride and Prejudice:
One of the very few books I can't read. Every time I say "NOW I'VE GOT IT!" and by page 20 I'm asleep or try to kill myself with a wooden spoon. Eventually I ran out of spoons, but still the outcome was the same. People seem to love it, but I really can't understand why. Probably it gets better later. I may even try the zombie version, just in case.
Reviews are very subjective - some will love a book and others will hate it. Getting good reviews isn't always a good indicator that something is good, any more than getting bad reviews indicates that it's bad, though maybe the spread of good to bad can be useful information.

So if it's not how it's been published, and it's not necessarily sales and it's not necessarily reviews, what does indicate success in writing? What would you say indicates that a writer has become a successful writer?

Drop me your ideas in the comments.


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Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Why running helps me to write

I can't remember when I started running long-distance. At school I was a sprinter (and a long-jumper) and not terribly good at either, and seemed to have an aversion to the annual cross-country run the whole school had to do. But somewhere in the last twenty years I turned into a runner and now I couldn't imagine not running.

There are many reports of running being good for mental health (though the jury is a little out on how effective it is in comparison to medication for depression - running seems to be about equivalent to medication for mild depression). Speaking personally, I know that my mental health is always better if I'm able to run. But how does running help me specifically as a writer?

I feel that running improves my life as a writer in a number of ways, not just on the mental health side.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Computer hell...

I got my royalties for Q1 a couple of weeks ago and decided to buy a new laptop. Now, before you think of me as a hugely extravagant person, can I point out that my old laptop was many years old and still on Windows 7!

The "instructions" on how to set up the laptop were (I kid you not):
1. Connect to power
2. Press the power key
3. Configure the operating system by following the on-screen instructions.

That was it.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Perfect Dead by Jackie Baldwin - #LoveBooksGroupTours

#LoveBooksGroupTours #PerfectDead

I'm absolutely delighted to be hosting Jackie Baldwin on the blog today, as part of the tour for her latest book, Perfect Dead which was released on June 15th

I first met Jackie through Bloody Scotland - we were both Crime in the Spotlight authors in 2016, and we've kept in touch and met up again for lunches over the years. Her first novel, Dead Man's Prayer was released to great acclaim and fans of her ex-priest detective, DI Frank Farrell will love the new novel.

Today, Jackie wants to share with you her thoughts about finding the perfect work-life balance.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Writing scrapbooks

For each novel I've written, I have a scrapbook. In fact, for several books I have more than one! In these scrapbooks, I keep initial thoughts, plot outlines, notes developing the plot, notes on each character, notes on each scene before it gets written, notes for when I'm editing... it's great fun looking back through them and if I ever feel unsure about what I'm writing, or uninspired, all I need to do is flip through them to get enthused or for the ideas to start flowing again.

sample page from a notebook
(absolutely no copyright infringement intended!)
They're mostly A4 in size, though recently I've had a bit of a shift towards B5 size (especially for using in my writing folder) and often lined, though a couple are plain. The best bit about them are the pictures and drawings. The notebooks genuinely are scrapbooks! As well as all the notes, there are pictures pasted in from magazines of interiors - how I imagine the characters' houses look. As you can see in the picture at the side, I have an image of what a bedroom looks like (and also an image of what a character might be wearing).

I've also added in property schedules sometimes - it can be very inspiring to do a search on the property websites, looking for the kind of house you imagine the characters to live in (or aspire to), even if the only thing that really makes it into a book is the layout of the place.

I also draw in the books. I (amazingly) have an 'O' level in art and used to enjoy sketching, so there are sketches of layouts/items/locations etc. in the notebooks. There are also drawings of costumes. I'm not great at drawing people (at least, not with faces - I'm quite good at drawing the rest!) and so there are also pictures of people pasted in - usually actors or people from clothing catalogues. Clothing catalogues can be a great resource not just for what the people look like but for outfits - what the characters might wear (even if they don't look like the models).

I'm trying to make a note of what music I've been listening to for each book too. Listening to the music again is one of the quickest ways to get me back into a book if I've been away from it for any time - but I'm not good at noting it down at the time.

These notebooks will make almost no sense to most people, but to me, they are an inherent part of the process of writing a book and something I cherish.


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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Decluttering... home and mind

Actually, for me, decluttering the home makes my brain feel a lot less cluttered too. Not that you would always know it to look at my desk, but I can get overwhelmed with objects. If there's too much stuff around, my brain gets agitated.

My desk can be a veritable sea of stuff sometimes, but I seem fairly blind to that! But too much stuff in the rest of the house unsettles me. It's why when people ask me what I want for Christmas or birthday, I usually say "nothing - please give a donation to charity instead". I have more things than I need and there are too many people in the world who don't have enough. In fact, Christmas in general makes me feel ill - so many people buying so much stuff that the recipients rarely want or need. The waste appals me. Please, just give the money to charity.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Back to work...

We had an amazing time away, but now it's time to get my backside back in the chair (metaphorically, as I tend to stand to write, rather than sit) and get back to doing some writing.

I'm trying to get some work done on the first book of the trilogy while "Liars" is away with Gillian for editing. I've been thinking about it quite a lot while I was on Lewis and Harris so hopefully, my head is in approximately the right place to get stuck in.

And the weather has finally broken! It was wall to wall sunshine here before we went away and then the same on Lewis and Harris, but it's cloudy now - much more conducive to writing than scorching sun and enticing shady corners in the garden. (Much as I adore being outside, I never get quite as much writing done while sitting outside as I think I will - I'm too distracted by all the wildlife!)

My batteries are recharged, I have a stack of new notebooks clamouring to be written in... time to get back to writing.


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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Giveaway closed...

... thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for Lesley Kelly's book Songs by Dead Girls. The winner has been chosen and contacted. If I don't hear back from them, I will draw another winner from the list and contact them.

Sorry that not everyone can be a winner, but if you missed out by not signing up for my newsletter, then there's an obvious way to increase your odds! The sign-up form is just over there in the sidebar. No spam. No selling on your details. Just an email once per month with my news and special offers.

I'm taking a short break and so there won't be any post next week. Hope you're all having fun!


Back soon!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Back to The Trilogy!

The book that follows on from The Call (currently called "Liars") is away to the editor (Gillian Holmes again - I'm really glad to be working with her again!) and so I'm able to work on something else. Hooray!!

I've been doing a couple of courses with Writers' HQ (and I'm really sorry if you run any kind of online writing-coaching service, because these guys are simply the best!). One of the aspects they talked about was writing about what you love. Well, for some time now, I've been wanting to write fantasy. Not swords and dragons type fantasy. More parallel worlds type of fantasy. Though apparently, dragons always sell, so maybe I should add some in...

I started work on this fantasy trilogy, back in 2014, when "Liars" and I were 'on a break'. I'd already written Lies That Poison in that break, and what then started clamouring to come out of my head was something very different. There were soul-stealing wraiths that could kill you with a single touch; there was a woman in the wrong place - banished for a treason she hadn't committed; there was the threat of mass extinction of the population... I wrote the first two books of a trilogy and planned out the final book. And I loved writing them and planning them.

Then, I got pulled away from all of it, first because I was publishing Lies That Poison and republishing The Call, and then because I needed to finish "Liars".

But now... "Liars" is on someone else's desk and I can go back to writing what I really want to write at the moment, which is some "action and adventure fantasy" (according to the Kindle categories!).

But no dragons. Well, not yet.

Reminder... Give away


Remember, I have one paperback copy of Songs By Dead Girls by Lesley Kelly to give away. You can read my review of it here and my interview with Lesley Kelly here. All you need to do to be in the draw to win it is to sign up for my newsletter by midnight (BST) on May 20th, 2018. A winner will be drawn from the list of newsletter subscribers and emailed in the week following the end of the competition. If there is no reply within three days, the next name drawn will be contacted. If you are already signed up for my newsletter, you do not need to sign up again; you are already eligible for the draw.

The competition is open worldwide. My decision is final.


To be in with a chance to win a copy of Songs By Dead Girls, just subscribe to my newsletter. It comes out once a month and subscribers are not only in the draw for the book, but will get a free novella and all my special offers.
No spam, and no selling your details on to anyone else, I promise.


Tuesday, 8 May 2018

'New' writing folder - an old Deskfax!

My 'new' writing folder
I know many people can write straight into their laptop, but I'm more analogue than that! I need to make notes (LOTS of notes!) on paper first.

I'm a big-notebook person, I can't lie. I may manage to use small notebooks for shopping lists and to-do lists, but when I'm writing, even A5 feels small. That said, A4 can feel a bit on the big side, especially if I'm writing while travelling. And what size lies between A5 and A4...? B5

B5 is 176 x 250mm (or approximately 7 x 10 inches; A4 for comparison, is 210 x 297mm or 8.3 x 11.7 inches). For me, it's big enough for taking a decent set of notes, but not so big it entirely fills my handbag with no space for anything else.

The B paper sizes aren't common in the UK. I think they are more commonly used in Japan, and certainly the majority of B5 or B6 notebooks that I have are Japanese. (B6 is, as you may have guessed, halfway between A6 and A5). Japanese stationery is almost invariably excellent - lovely to write on and fountain-pen proof (essential for me).

So, what is this 'new' writing folder?

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Too much sunshine...

... leading to no writing!


I know the south has had rubbish weather, but where I am, it has been wall to wall sunshine (or at worst, sunny spells) for what feels like WEEKS. In fact, the garden is crying out for rain. I want it to rain. I need it to rain. Not just because that will give me an enforced break from gardening (which my body will rejoice at) but because I'm spending all my time in the garden and no time writing.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Last few days to get "Lies That Poison" for 99p!

Lies That Poison
Last few days!!!

Lies That Poison has been an Amazon Monthly Deal and is still available for 99p (UK only), but as soon as April ends, the price will go back up, so don't miss out!

And don't miss out on my give away... I have one, signed copy of Songs by Dead Girls by Lesley Kelly to give away - just sign up for my newsletter to be in with a chance - see details below. I reviewed Lesley's book here, if you missed it.

Give away


I have one paperback copy of Songs By Dead Girls to give away. All you need to do to be in the draw to win it is to sign up for my newsletter by midnight (BST) on May 20th, 2018. A winner will be drawn from the list of newsletter subscribers and emailed in the week following the end of the competition. If there is no reply within three days, the next name drawn will be contacted. If you are already signed up for my newsletter, you do not need to sign up again. You are already eligible for the draw.

The competition is open worldwide. My decision is final.


To be in with a chance to win a copy of Songs By Dead Girls, just subscribe to my newsletter. It comes out once a month and subscribers are not only in the draw for the book, but will get a free novella and all my special offers.
No spam, and no selling your details on to anyone else, I promise.


Thursday, 26 April 2018

Interview with Lesley Kelly

Songs by Dead Girls book cover
I first met Lesley Kelly when we were both "Spotlighters" in the Crime in the Spotlight slots in 2016's Bloody Scotland. Since then, we have both been involved in "Murder and Mayhem" book events across Scotland and have met up many times.

Last week, I reviewed Lesley Kelly's latest book Songs by Dead Girls. You can read the review here. This week, I'm delighted to share my interview with her.

Your third book, “Songs by Dead Girls” has just been released. This is the second book in the Health of Strangers series. Tell me a bit about it.
When Scotland's leading virologist goes missing, Mona and Paterson from the Health Enforcement Team are dispatched to London to find him. In a hot and unwelcoming city, Mona has to deal with a boss who isn't speaking to her, placate the Professor's over-bearing assistant, and outwit the people who will stop at nothing to make sure the academic stays lost. Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, Bernard is searching for a missing prostitute, while Maitland is trying to keep the Chair of the Parliamentary Virus Committee from finding out quite how untidy the HET office is.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A Body in The Library

L-R: Me, Wendy H Jones, Caroline Dunford, Lesley Kelly, Mac Logan
Last Tuesday evening, Wendy H Jones, Lesley Kelly, Caroline Dunford, Mac Logan and I were being accused of murder. Again!

We were all at Portobello Library doing a book event, during which, a "body" was found in the library. Naturally, we were all suspected of doing the dirty deed and were questioned by a passing "detective" (Caroline's husband!).

It was a fabulous evening and the audience seemed thoroughly entertained by us all larking about, making stuff up! Although we were all given briefing notes, none of the evening was scripted and there was a lot of off the cuff embellishing, along with a fair chunk of the authors heckling each other. The authors didn't know what questions they were going to be asked by the "detective", though we did know which one of us had "done the deed".

Brilliant evening and hopefully more to come.

Give away - reminder

I have one signed paperback copy of Lesley Kelly's Songs By Dead Girls to give away. I reviewed the book last week - see here if you missed it. All you need to do to be in the draw to win it is to sign up for my newsletter by midnight (BST) on May 20th, 2018. A winner will be drawn from the list of newsletter subscribers and emailed in the week following the end of the competition. If there is no reply within three days, the next name drawn will be contacted. If you are already signed up for my newsletter, you do not need to sign up again; you are already eligible for the draw.

The competition is open worldwide. My decision is final.


To be in with a chance to win a copy of Songs By Dead Girls, just subscribe to my newsletter. It comes out once a month and subscribers are not only in the draw for the book, but will get a free novella and all my special offers.
No spam, and no selling your details on to anyone else, I promise.