Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Days off...? Weekends...? What are they?

Someone asked me the other week whether I had plans for the weekend. I assume he was asking whether I would be going out for the day or doing something other than sitting at my desk, editing or working.

It struck me (when I had no answer for him) that since I started working for myself, I've broken the working time directive (48 hours week) on an almost weekly basis! Of course, many people say that it's not work if you love it, and generally, I do love it (though not always). But I probably should allow myself some days off, right? I mean, I hit burnout just before I left working at the university, so I know what it's like and have no desire to go through that again.

But I find it almost impossible to take a day off. I have other caring responsibilities that take up some of my days of the week, which means that writing has to fit in around that. And often, just as I think I'm on top of everything, another caring issue comes up and I end up behind schedule again. Don't get me wrong, I don't in any way resent the caring responsibilities I have, but they do have a tendency to fry any plans I make. November sounded like a long month until I added up how many days I actually had available to edit in, and it turned out to be about 12 if I took any of the weekends off.

Which is why The Wrong Kind of Clouds isn't launched yet. I need to proof-read the Kindle and paperback versions (well, I need to proof-read one of them and check the formatting on both as the text is the same) and do the last checks of the cover, and then it's good to go. But I'm also neck-deep in editing book 7 (Trilogy #2) and I'm on more of a deadline with that in some ways. Oh, and I have book 6 (Trilogy #1) back from Fiona (my editor) ready for final tweaks and I haven't even managed to open that file and look at it. At some point soon, I need to contact the cover designers to get the ball rolling on covers for the trilogy (and I have a discount that runs out at the end of November, so need to get a wriggle on to use it!).

So, until I feel like I'm not juggling four books at once (note to self, don't ever do this again!) weekends and days off might be a novelty. I'm trying hard to take breaks and time away from my desk, but in many ways, it only makes me feel more stressed, as then I have less time in which to finish stuff. But I do also recognise that was exactly how I felt before I burned out and had to take more than six months off work, 4 years ago.

How does everyone else balance this??


Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Knitting...

A year ago, my Mum wanted to get out of the house more and see new people. She's always been a great knitter, so I persuaded her to go to a Knit and Natter group in a local church. She went, on the condition I went with her.

All well and good. But I couldn't knit.

I do cross-stitch and embroidery, so I took some cross-stitch with me and Mum took some knitting. All the other people there were lovely and didn't seem to mind the fact I couldn't knit, so I did my cross-stitch and for many months, that was that - Mum knitted, I cross-stitched and we both nattered.

But, most of the people were knitting for charity - hats or scarves or blankets - and I felt guilty that, although my cross-stitch pieces would get sold at a table of work sale and the proceeds go to charity, I wasn't really contributing much. It takes a LONG time to cross-stitch things! It also struck me that there was a wealth of knowledge around the table - knitting (in a variety of styles - "English" versus "Continental" and so on), crocheting etc. and that I should take advantage and learn some new skills.

So, I learned to knit! Now, you might wonder why it's taken me so long to master this, but the honest answer is, I could never work out if I was right- or left-handed at it. I'm neither-handed, in life generally. I mostly write with my right (though can write with my left, and did so exclusively for two years when I had RSI in the right), but do a whole heap of other things left-handed. When I learned to knit before, I got very confused over which needle went through the stitch and which way I should do it all (and frequently switched from right- to left-handed mid-row). I still have to concentrate quite hard! My first few attempts at knitting this time around weren't all that brilliant!

I expected I would just knit simple things at Knit and Natter, but to be honest, it's been a bit of a saviour for me over the last few weeks. I'm still deep in editing, and with the work involved in re-releasing The Wrong Kind of Clouds, and when I get to the end of a long day, it's been relaxing to be creative in a different way and do something that makes me think about something other than writing/editing (or Brexit!). I'm doing blanket squares (some might be more square than others, but hey!), though the rate at which I'm managing to do them, the blanket won't be ready until next winter. I've also ordered a second lot of wool, to do a second blanket!

The writing/editing load should ease soon. I'm hoping to sign off on book 1 of the trilogy soon, and re-release The Wrong Kind of Clouds, so I'll only really be juggling two books (plus the new one that wants to be written, but that's a different matter). I'll keep on knitting though!

What does everyone else do to unwind at the end of the day?



Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Kindle Unlimited or not?

NOT how it's getting printed!!
I need your help and advice, guys. At the moment, Lies That Poison is only available via Amazon. Technically it can be ordered in any bookshop, but practically, I know this is unlikely to happen. One of the reasons for the Amazon exclusivity is because I'm on a vertical learning curve and I only wanted to sort out one format (Kindle) rather than other formats as well. Likewise, the 'getting it printed by IngramSpark' aspect seemed as if it would not be a good cost/benefit ratio - both in terms of how much time it would take me to get it ready, and the cost to get physical copies to me/stores in comparison with the amount of sales I would make. I believe that the number of physical copies sold anywhere other than Amazon (whether that was a bricks and mortar store or me taking books to a book festival or whatever) would be small.

Of course, that does mean that I am feeding the behemoth that is Amazon and not supporting local physical bookstores. (Mind you, my local independent bookstore was so vile to me when I asked them if they would stock my books, that I don't actually mind that so much!) My local Waterstones have been helpful - both in helping with launches and with stocking physical copies of my books in the past. They may be less so when the Amazon-printed books say that they're printed by Amazon on the back page. I'll need to see. But again, the level of sales via them will be small and the cost of getting them printed and shipped via IngramSpark may not be worth it.

So, at the moment, Lies That Poison is only available from Amazon, which brings me to another quandary... Kindle Unlimited or not?

It is on Kindle Unlimited (KU) at the moment, so I get paid for the number of pages read when people borrow it. I went for that, because my royalties statements from Joffe Books always indicated that I made more money via KU than sales of physical copies (even in those halcyon 6 months when I actually got decent royalties). But what I need help with is some market research. For those of you with Kindle Unlimited, do you tend to still buy books, or just use the KU feature? If a book wasn't part of KU, would you buy it or would you skip it? (I'm talking about books by authors like me... obviously people may buy books by famous authors if they're not on KU, but that's different, I think).

I'm trying to work out whether to keep the book in KU after its 90 days or not. At the moment, sales and income from KU are similar, with maybe KU having a slight edge. My fear is that if I pulled it from KU, I would miss out, because people would tend to just find another 'free' book instead, rather than buying it. But, I'm a scientist, so I'd quite like to make a decision based on data, not just supposition.

So, my question to you all is: if you see a book (by an unknown author) is not available on KU, and the blurb interested you, would you buy it anyway? Or would you think that there are a gazillion books available via KU and find one of them instead (I do see that there is a filter button on Amazon  to limit searches to include only KU books)?

Thank you in advance! If you could let me know in the comments, that would be brilliant.



Tuesday, 29 October 2019

The Wrong Kind of Clouds

[a.k.a. The Call...]

I'm in the middle of going back over this book, ready to re-publish it and I'm irritated all over again by the 'copy-editor' that Joffe Books used!


I'm in the process of producing a 'core file' that will be the basis of the paperback version and the e-book version. It's an unformatted copy of the manuscript. The formatting is then added either in Word (for the paperback) or Kindle Create for the e-book version. But in order to have a core text, I've been comparing the 'final' version I sent back to Joffe Books, with the version they sent back for approval after their American 'copy-editor' had looked at it (the '' are because I'm not convinced she had any copy-editing qualifications).

She drove me up the wall then, and the comments she made then and what she did to the ms are driving me up the wall now! For a number of reasons, but primarily:

a) she didn't always use track changes
b) her grasp of vocabulary (and grammar) was limited
c) she introduced a whole load of errors and inconsistencies that my amazing editor (Gillian Holmes) and I had removed/sorted.

Not always tracking changes... really? I mean, that's bad enough, but she made changes that introduced grammatical errors! But, they weren't immediately obvious, because track changes was off (or she'd made the change and accepted it before sending the file back to me). I spotted most of them before Joffe published it, but as I'm going back through the ms now, I realise I didn't spot them all.

Her grasp of vocabulary... I'm not going to bore you with details of the kinds of things she didn't know, but if I wasn't sure of a word, I'd look it up in a dictionary, rather than 'correct' it to another (incorrect!) word. And if I did change something, I'd have track changes on so the other writer could see!

The errors/inconsistencies. Some of these were major. Some of them were trivial but very annoying (like, what happened to ellipses... Joffe style was to have them as: dot-non-breaking space-dot-non-breaking space-dot. No, I don't know why they couldn't just be the ellipses symbol, but, that was their house-style. Anyway, she changed some of the non-breaking spaces to regular spaces, but crucially, not all of them so that a find and replace now wouldn't find them all!).

As it turns out, most of these are not major issues, but only because I have a previous version of the ms - as it was before all these errors and horrors were introduced. If I hadn't got that, I'd be tearing my hair out. Anyway, it shouldn't be long before I have the paperback and e-book versions up on Amazon.

Keep you all posted!


Tuesday, 22 October 2019

NaNoWriMo and Page One


It's almost November and so some people will be attempting the annual NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month, where participants write 50,000 words of a novel, in November.

For those who like (or hate) maths, that's 50K words in 30 days, or 1,667 words per day, every day. If you take one day a week off (5 days off over November) that makes it 2,000 words per day.

Now, I know a lot of people do this and find it useful, and/or an accomplishment. I am not one of them. I'm far too much of a planner to be able to write that much in such a short period of time. And I can tell you for free, that if I did manage to write 50K words in 30 days, they wouldn't be worth reading and I'd spend at least six months editing them into the equivalent of a first draft, so I might as well just spend 3-4 months on a first draft!

For those of you who are thinking of doing the challenge, I wish you all luck and hope that if you write the 50K you're happy, but that if you don't manage to do it, you don't feel bad. Either way, a plan may well help you keep those 50K both flowing and worth keeping, so let me show you a notebook I was given to review, recently. It's the Page One notebook, designed specifically for writers.

So, what's so special about it? Why is it for writers? And how will it help me through NaNoWriMo?

Well, the notebook has 192 pages, split into several sections: characters, plot, setting, scenes, notes, research... and for when the book is finished, a section for tracking submissions. It's actually very well designed. Some of the sections have a little structure to them - the character pages are particularly well thought out, with space to note various details and even include a picture (should you wish).


The other sections are largely free-form - space for notes with less structure, but it will keep all of your notes on one particular area all together. There's also a table of contents at the back so that you can quickly look up where you made the notes on x or y.

Will you write 50,000 words in November, just because you bought the notebook? No, of course not. You actually have to get your ass in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard to do that. But it may well help you write 50,000 words that won't need totally ripping apart and re-writing in December (and beyond).

As you may have guessed, I won't be doing NaNoWriMo (I'm eyebrow deep in editing and other stuff, even if I was otherwise inclined towards doing it), but I will be using the book for planning book 9, even if it takes me considerably longer than 30 days to write 50,000 words.

Anyone doing NaNoWriMo? Let me know how you get on?



Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Swings, roundabouts and rollercoasters...

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that I didn't post anything last week. Mum had surgery on the 1st October and it's been a rollercoaster since then, with her recovery being slower than she wants (not difficult as her expectations are utterly unrealistic...). I ended up staying with her for longer than expected when she came out of hospital (with no internet).

That's the rollercoaster... As for the swings and roundabouts... well, my physiotherapist has allowed me to start running again. I went for one run (it was okay... hard work as I've lost a lot of fitness, but I survived). Then I had a long delay before the next run (as I was staying with Mum). And then, the next run was great, but I pulled my hip flexor while I was warming down! The Achilles (original injury) is fine, but now I'm hobbling about with a rubbish hip.

Ah well.

As for The Trilogy... the first book is back with Fiona (my editor) for a final read-through; the second book is due back from her soon for me to work on; I'm currently going through the draft of the third book, typing up the edits I finished back in June, ready to send to Fiona for the start of November for her to look at. October is looking busy, both on the editing front and with family responsibilities.

Onward and upwards!



Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Still juggling too many things...


Okay, well, the ebook and the paperback of Lies That Poison are out. Woo hoo! One book out of the five that I was juggling is sorted. Just six months of solid work to go then...

That just leaves me:

  • finishing the editing of book 1 of the trilogy
  • typing up the edits of book 3 of the trilogy ready to send to Fiona (my editor)
  • doing the edits of book 2 of the trilogy as they come back from Fiona
  • getting The Call/The Wrong Kind of Clouds ready to publish
  • doing the edits of book 3 of the trilogy as they come back from Fiona
  • publishing the trilogy!


The current timetable looks like this:

  • End September/start of October - finish the book 1 edits and send back to Fiona for a last look
  • Start of October - go through the first tranche of edits of book 2 that have come back from Fiona and check I know what I'm doing with them
  • Middle-end October - type up the changes to book 3 of the trilogy
  • Beginning of November - send book 3 to Fiona
  • Also the beginning of November - sort of The Call/The Wrong Kind of Clouds and re-publish
  • November to early December - finish the edits of book 2 of the trilogy and send them back to Fiona for a last look
  • December - look at the first lot of book 3 edits back from Fiona
  • January - finish off the edits of book 3 and send them back to Fiona for a last look
  • February - get the trilogy ready to publish
  • March - publish!


So... not much then.

To try and unwind after long days (I seem incapable of actually taking a day off...), I've started knitting. I've done a lot of cross-stitch in the past and found that very relaxing, but the light isn't really good enough in an evening now to do that. I've been taking my mum to a 'Knit and Natter' group for about a year, but for most of that time, I've not known how to knit and did cross-stitch instead! Anyway, in the last couple of months, Mum's taught me how to knit (for the umpteenth time!) and I'm now knitting blanket squares for a blanket for me and hubby. I'm not terribly fast at knitting, so the blanket will probably only be ready for next winter! But, it's (hopefully) stopping me from burning out.



Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Well, this is addictive...

The e-book went live last weekend; the paperback has been submitted and should be available this week, but...

Live reports for sales!


On the Amazon pages, you can see exactly how many books have been sold and, below that, pages read on Kindle Unlimited. At the bottom is a list of royalties and where they come from (though this is just for books sold; it doesn't cover the pages read part).

This has made me inordinately happy for two reasons...

1. I can see that I've earned more royalties in the last week than I did in the whole of the last quarter with my publisher (yes, seriously...)

2. I can see exactly which marketing idea is working (or not) since I can see when sales came in (and in which country).

Of course, the downside is that I keep looking at it all the time instead of getting on with editing!

I've also been introduced to a free video creation software site (InVideo) so had a play... what do you think?

But now... back to editing!

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Cover reveal!!

Many thanks to the Hive Mind (my amazing friends who gave me such valuable input over the designs) and of course to the designers (MiblArt). The cover has gone through a few iterations and tweaks, but I'm finally able to share it with you all...

So, without further ado, here's the new cover for Lies That Poison.


The ebook has been uploaded to Kindle and the (hilarious) spelling error it thought it had found was "summun'" which was in a dialect section ("Hannah allus said it was Edward’s fault. Left Beatrice wi’ child and married summun else."). Of all the bits of dialect, that was the only one it didn't like!

So, the ebook text is loaded, the paperback version is loaded, the cover is finalised, the keywords and categories are all done. Less than two years after Joffe Books published it (22nd September, 2017), both the ebook and the paperback will be published by my imprint. The ebook is available now (here!!); the paperback will be available from Saturday. The new version has some bonus material in it at the back - an exclusive interview with me.

Phew! It's been a bit of a vertical learning curve, but I got there!



Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Progress!!

Apologies for the brief post, but it's all a bit busy at Fleet Towers. Where I'm at with Lies That Poison:

  • I'm almost ready to sign off on the cover
  • I have the interior file for the paperback ready
  • I have the ebook file ready (only Kindle at this stage)
  • I have it all loaded up on Amazon (other than the covers)
  • I still need to check a few things, but it should be available very soon!

Thank you for all your patience. It's been a bit of a vertical learning curve, but I'm getting there!



Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The dust settles...


After last week's surprise unpublishing of both books (I was anticipating one - Lies That Poison - but not the other - that was done in error), I'm feeling a little more sanguine about everything. But I just have a shed-load of work to do. So much that a) I feel somewhat overwhelmed, and b) this post will be short!

Because the books were enrolled in KDP select, I can't re-release the ebook until those 90 day periods have finished (as far as I can tell - anyone with other info, please let me know?). For Lies That Poison, that's 11th September, but for The Call, it's not until November 10th. Hence me being so upset when it was unpublished early in error - it still had 75 of its 90 days left - leaving me with it neither on sale published by Joffe Books for that time, not able to be re-released by me for that time either.

I can re-release the paperback versions before those dates, but not the ebook, so that's what I'll be working on.

More news as and when I have it.

As for the trilogy... I have the final edits for the first book to work on. Book 2 is now with Fiona (my editor) and I have some changes to book 3 to type up before that too heads to Fiona's desk.

Time to make a big pot of tea, dust myself off and get on with things. Live and learn. Live and learn...



Tuesday, 27 August 2019

More news...

At the time of writing (27th August, 5.15 p.m.), Joffe Books have unpublished both of my books. I am anticipating getting the rights back for them on September 11th (Lies That Poison) and November 10th (The Call), though I have queried why I'm not getting them back immediately, as they are now unpublished.

Apologies to anyone trying to buy them. I was given no notice that they would both be unpublished in quite this way.

Shiny new notebooks!


[Yeah, I know, I could write this as a post almost every week... but these are just gorgeous! And not available to buy anywhere - so I feel super special!]

I was recently asked to give feedback on some prototype notebooks. Actually, this happens quite a lot, as I write for Nero's Notes, but this came directly from the producer - Cambridge Imprint.

If you don't know their stuff, go check it out. It's just glorious! Anyway, I'd contacted them to ask if they would ever consider doing their hardback notebooks with lined paper instead of plain (I'm too messy to use plain neatly and making a mess annoys me). It turned out they had some prototypes and wanted feedback. Quel dommage!

They're amazing little books. At 12 cm x 18.5 cm, they're a perfect size to go in a bag and the paper is perfect for fountain pens (so I'm very happy!).

So, what will I use them for? Ah... a (currently) secret writing project. Keep you all posted when I can.



Tuesday, 20 August 2019

News!


I can finally share something with all of you (subscribers already know this...). Both Lies That Poison and The Call will be being re-released as I'm getting my rights back from Joffe Books.

It's been a difficult decision, but, I hope, the right one.

Both books will be getting some bonus material added before the re-release. Lies That Poison should be getting re-published in September, and The Call should be re-released in November. They will both be available up to those dates, but there may be a short gap between them being published by Joffe Books and re-released by me.

I'm hoping to share the new cover with you for Lies That Poison very soon! That was the 'other project' I talked about last week. I'm currently working with a great cover designer, finalising things.

Watch this space... there will be some competitions and giveaways coming! Some will be exclusively for subscribers to the newsletter, so sign-up below (if you haven't already).


Tuesday, 13 August 2019

How to find a book cover designer

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been researching book cover designers. I started by going through the list of cover designers that Joanna Penn has on her website (https://www.thecreativepenn.com/bookcoverdesign/). It's not an exhaustive list, but I needed to start somewhere and these were people that either Joanna Penn had used herself, or who came recommended to her. There are about 70 names on the list I think and I looked at every site, plus another set of sites that had been personally recommended to me. There's also a list on ALLi of recommended services: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/self-publishing-service-reviews/ graded by how much they trust them and I looked at anyone who was in their 'green' (trusted partner) category. I would recommend checking that page once you've chosen your shortlist, in case ALLi have flagged up any issues, even if you don't use it as a starting point.

After trawling through 100+ book cover designer sites, let me share my tips and tricks to make the process as easy as possible! Most of these apply to getting a custom-made design, rather than a pre-made, but some apply to both.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Carrots and sticks...

My expression after an hour of research...
I can think of more exciting things to do than to find a cover designer... trawling through potential designers isn't a quick job - after all, I want the right kind of cover for these books, since I feel like I've spent half my life writing them (okay... that's an overstatement, but after all the time and effort of writing them, and the cost of a professional editor, I need the right cover!).

My brain will explode if I spend all day at it, so I've produced a list of 'rewards' that I can get to if I've put in a decent chunk of effort on the cover designer research! In no particular order...

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Do you need a professional book cover?

Yes. You do.

[Maybe I should leave this as possibly the shortest blog post ever, but that's not stunningly helpful!]

I have a number of writer friends. Some of them are traditionally published, some are indie-published. Even those who are 'doing it all themself' are rarely actually doing that, and rightly so. They've hired editors and cover designers and quite probably a number of other people in the process of getting their book out there. As an indie, you have to shoulder a lot of stuff that traditional publishers do for you, but always get an editor. And unless you're a graphic designer or do book covers for a living, leave it to the professionals!

Why?

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Focus and planning...

Not far off what my planning sessions look like!
Man alive, I have a shed-load of stuff to try and do in the next three months! I think (think) I've drawn up a plan that will let me shift the work without it killing me, but it's really made me consider how I maintain focus when I have a gazillion different things to be thinking about. All too often I feel so overwhelmed that I do nothing, and then feel even more overwhelmed, and annoyed with myself for not getting stuff done.

When I'm writing, although I feel busy, I'm busy on one kind of thing, really - the book. This quarter though, I have a lot of very different things I need to focus on. How do I deal with that?

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Oops... another book is waving at me

Action shot!
Taken on the hills above Ullapool
In the cold. And rain.
I knew it would... I went on holiday! Though, frankly, I need a new book brewing like I need a hole in my head. But, if I had to choose between having no ideas and having too many ideas, I would always choose the latter!

At the moment, the ideas are parked in notebooks. The book that's brewing is a development of the ideas I had a year ago (while sitting on a train, coming back from seeing my good friend Jackie McLean).

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Interview with Sandra Ireland

Sandra Ireland
This week, I am delighted to welcome back to the blog, the amazing Sandra Ireland. I've known Sandra since we were both 'Spotlighters' at Bloody Scotland in 2016 and since then, Sandra has gone from strength to strength. It is no lie to say that I adore her books and can't wait to read her latest, The Unmaking of Ellie Rook.

The Unmaking of Ellie Rook
A single phone call from halfway across the world is all it takes to bring her home . . . ‘Ellie, something bad has happened.’

Desperate to escape her ‘kid from the scrapyard’ reputation, Ellie Rook has forged a new life for herself abroad, but tragedy strikes when her mother, Imelda, falls from a notorious waterfall. Here, according to local legend, the warrior queen Finella jumped to her death after killing a king. In the wake of her mother’s disappearance, Ellie is forced to confront some disturbing truths about the family she left behind and the woman she has become. Can a long-dead queen hold the key to Ellie’s survival? And how far will she go to right a wrong?

The Unmaking of Ellie Rook is your third published novel. How has your writing method changed since the first novel? Do you plan more? Do you plan less? What lessons about writing have you learned over the three books?
I think the learning process only starts when you’re faced with the copy edits! It’s a bit like learning to drive a car, the journey really begins once you’ve passed your test and are ‘let loose’ on the open road. Novel-writing is a bit like that - there’s no substitute for practical experience, and you just have to pick things up as you go along. The process definitely gets easier, mainly because you understand what NOT to do! Planning the chronology beforehand is a must - I was forever getting bogged down in difficulties of timing. Be realistic about how long it will take your character to get somewhere, and make note of the time of day. Don’t have someone arriving at a destination in daylight if they only set off at 8pm! I’ve got a lot better at doing suspense, by withholding information and playing up the reactions and emotions of the characters.

Your characters and settings are always so vividly drawn, that I feel as if I’ve just looked in on their lives, and that they were all going along, minding their own business, long before I peeked in, and will carry on after the book has finished. How do you make it all so real? Do you make a lot of notes on each character or place? Or does it all come naturally (in which case, I may just have to hate you a tiny bit!)?

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Update on trying to reduce my plastic use...

A while ago, I talked about how I was cutting down on plastics where possible and trying to move to plastic-free products. I'm still muddling along, trying to do my best... Today I want to share my successes and fails.

Let's do successes first.

1. Tea
I drink a gazillion cups of tea a year. I don't drink coffee. I use a teapot with a stainless steel inner (London Pottery Teapot) and loose tea. Finding plastic-free decaffeinated loose tea has been an uphill battle that I've not yet won, but I've gone for the least plastic to tea ratio I can in buying a 1 kg pack of Taylors of Harrogate tea. This gets decanted into airtight storage jars and I send the wrapper to be recycled via Walkers crisps (as it's the same construction). Not perfect. In an ideal world, I would be able to buy the tea wrapped in paper, but there's nowhere near here that does that. I buy Tesco's Scottish Blend loose leaf tea and it comes in a cardboard and paper pack - no silver paper/silver plastic bag around the tea. I suspect that there are more teabags available plastic-free than when I started doing this, but I've got used to making my tea like this and the used leaves are thrown on the garden so get incorporated into the soil.

2. Soap
About a year ago, I started to use soaps made by Friendly Soap Ltd. Not only are their soaps amazing, they're also vegan (if that matters to you), not tested on animals, are biodegradable, contain no palm oil... essentially, they tick all the right boxes, and their prices are sensible! I love them for my skin (but you'll see a fail a bit later in the post...)

3. Loo rolls
I'm still buying my loo rolls from Who Gives a Crap - I like the company ethos and the fact that 50% of their profits go to charities involved with clean water and sanitation. I've moved from the recycled paper loo rolls to the bamboo ones - partly because the bamboo is nicer, but also because I read that some recycled paper can get contaminated with plastic if it's not sorted properly and I was concerned that I was flushing microplstics into the water system.

If you'd like to try Who Gives a Crap, you can get £5 off your first order by following this link: https://www.talkable.com/x/seofIR You could get 48 rolls of the bamboo toilet paper for £35 with free delivery using the link. Of course, they also do tissues and kitchen roll and stuff too!

Okay, so what's not worked?

1. Shampoo bar
I desperately wanted this to work, but I don't know if it's the soap, my hair or the water where we live, but it just turns my hair to straw. I used the Friendly Soap bar and I know others have sworn by it and have great responses, but not me. In fairness, I haven't tried any other brands. In the past, I used Lush, but they are so heavily scented and there's something in them that makes my eczema flare up. I'll keep trying, but that was not a success.

2. Grocery Shopping
We've definitely cut back - using our own paper bags and buying loose fruit and veg - but it's absolutely impossible to be completely plastic-free with the shops we have available here. What's worse, is that the plastic used is often non-recyclable too. I'm trying to console myself that at least we're cutting back and also have been putting pressure on the supermarkets to reduce their plastic (emails, customer satisfaction surveys, online protests etc.). But it's still a fail...

What tips do you have to help cut plastic use? I'm desperate to reduce my footprint on the planet!



Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Holidays!

Picture from last year taken by Colin Nicol
https://www.colinjmnicol.co.uk/
Holidays... If other years are anything to go by, I will come back from my holiday this summer with more ideas for books than I can possibly write in a lifetime. It's a curse... but it's a curse I don't mind!

Perhaps it's because my brain gets to switch off from current projects, but as soon as I'm away, my brain fills up with a gazillion other ideas for books! The whole idea of the trilogy came about after a walking holiday in Yorkshire (though in fairness, it started as one book and then grew arms and legs). Last year, just a train trip to Glasgow led to me writing half a notebook of notes for the next book. I suspect I'll come back from this holiday with a heap of notes for that book. I'm genuinely hoping I don't come back with ideas for another book as I have three already lined up to be written!

Of course, the scenery is always inspiring, as I hope the picture at the start of the post, taken by my amazingly talented hubby shows! How could I not be inspired when staying in a cottage where we could see the stones at Calanais from the lounge? One of my favourite runs was to run from our cottage up past the stones, even given the one in three slope up to them! Pretty much everywhere on Harris and Lewis looked amazing and was a huge inspiration.

We always go on a walking holiday, and I think that the combination of not being at my desk, the amazing scenery and walking, frees something up in my brain. I always have a notebook with me (I shall also be road-testing some outdoor-specific notebooks for my role with Nero's Notes this year) and since hubby frequently spends ages getting his camera set up, I have plenty of time to sit and look at the view or make notes on ideas. Charles Darwin used to walk every day and used his daily walks for significant thinking time (see "Charles Darwin's Daily Walks - The mental rewards of exercise" for more information). Scientists think that doing a physical activity that doesn't need much concentration (walking, jogging, running) allows the brain to freewheel, so perhaps it's no great surprise that I come up with lots of new ideas while I'm out walking!

I'm sure I'm going to come back from my holiday with several notebooks' worth of new ideas. But let me leave you with another of my hubby's pictures to inspire you, this time from Skye. You can see more of his pictures at: https://www.colinjmnicol.co.uk/




Tuesday, 18 June 2019

When writing is still writing, even if no words are written

Some days the words can flow like Skogafoss (go Google it...). Some days they can flow like treacle. But writing isn't always about increasing the word count of a manuscript. Sometimes it's a sitting and thinking day that's needed. Sometimes the brain needs something completely different.

Here are my top five writing activities that don't necessarily increase the word count, but which still help with 'writing the book':


Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Keeping track of injuries...

I don't write romance. I'm sure that won't come as a surprise to anyone who reads this blog (or any of my books). My first two published novels were crime/psychological thriller and I'm currently editing a fantasy trilogy in which there is a lot of fighting at times, so I need a way to keep track of who is injured, where and how.

Enter post mortem diagrams!

I know. I teeny bit gruesome perhaps, but they're so useful. They're a blank front and back of a body which looks perhaps more male than anything else, but I use them for all characters. I print them off four sets to a page and then pop the character's name at the top of a set and mark up their injuries to use as a quick reference. They're also useful for remembering which characters have tattoos, along with what the tattoo is of and where it is on the body. If there are any other major distinguishing marks (scars/missing digits/etc.) they also get noted.

This is what I'm currently using and forgive me, but I can't remember where I got it online. Absolutely no copyright infringement is intended. If it's your diagram and you want me to take it down, please say and I will!


What do people think? How do you keep track of distinguishing features or injuries?


Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Interview with Malcolm Hollingdrake for "Treble Clef"

Treble Clef - DCI Bennett book 8

Harrogate attracts hundreds of players to the annual Games Convention and for one player it is the perfect opportunity to kill by the mechanics of his own sinister game.

Each victim will die in the same way.

Each will be classed as the loser and their time will have run out.

The escape room and the game table will draw more, each believing they are invincible. However, in every game there is always a traitor waiting in the wings.


It is my great pleasure to share an interview I did with Malcolm Hollingdrake, author of the bestselling Harrogate Crime Series. The latest in the series, "Treble Clef" is out this week and I caught up with Malcolm to grill him about things!

Malcolm Hollingdrake
picture credit: Tony Bithell
Hi Malcolm, thanks for coming on the blog!
Hello, thank you for inviting me to tell you a little about myself.

When did you first start writing? And what made you start?
Having worked in a classroom for thirty-two years I suppose I have always written, from assembly stories to end of day tales. Although I would often start off reading the story, the book would be put down and, having written it, I could tell it adding action and emphasis; a sure way to capture the imagination of the children.

What was the first full-length novel you ever wrote? (I realise this may not be the same as the first book you have had published!) 
As I was approaching the end of my teaching career, I was influenced by the Gulf War and the resulting medical troubles; Gulf War Syndrome seemed to hit the news but there also seemed a reluctance by the Government to accept, not only its existence but to accept any degree of responsibility. It was this that proved to be the catalyst to pick up my pen. I had lived in Northern Cyprus and knew at that time there was no extradition procedure for criminals from Europe and this proved perfect. So, I simply linked the two and “Engulfed’ was born. I have now re-written the book and shortly it will be published as “Bridging the Gulf”

Your new book, “Treble Clef” is due out this week. This is the eighth book in your Harrogate Crime Series. Tell me about the series? Who are the main characters? Why did you choose Harrogate for your setting?
The series is set in the beautiful spa town of Harrogate but also links with many of the places of outstanding natural beauty. I found Harrogate’s interesting and curious history fascinating, using it as the warp for the story to be weft within its very fabric.
DCI Cyril Bennett and DS David Owen are the main characters whose professional and personal relationship has developed over the period of eight books. Cyril is not your usual detective, reliant on booze and bad relationships, quite the contrary. A man with impeccable dress sense, somewhat old-fashioned one might say. An eye for the ladies in the earlier books but now... Let’s just say he is settled in a relationship. Cyril is also an avid collector of Northern Art. He enjoys the auction houses of the county. Owen, on the other hand is a giant of a man whose personal hygiene leaves much to be desired and is the antithesis of his boss. However, they make a formidable team.
Being brought up in Bradford, I had often visited Harrogate and I heard that it was the happiest place in the UK to live and so introducing a little crime would not go amiss. The streets, The Stray, the buildings all lend themselves to the genre. Agatha Christie took refuge in the town for ten days causing great national concern and of course, Harrogate is famous for its Crime writing Festival held every year. Importantly too, Harrogate is a main convention centre attracting thousands of visitors annually; now if we take the law of averages, not all will be well behaved.

Tell me more about “Treble Clef”? What does your DCI face this time?

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

"It isn't work if you love it" ... but what if you don't?

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a retired friend who asked me how I found the discipline to actually sit down and write. At the time, I gave him a bit of flippant answer, saying, "It isn't work if you love it. I get up and I want to write, so I do."

Which is true. At the moment. I'm still loving writing the trilogy. And editing it. And editing it some more. In fact, I've yet to have a bad week with it (though I'm sure I've now tempted Fate, and the rest of the year will be spent grinding it out, loathing the thing...).

But it absolutely wasn't true just over a year ago. When I was finishing the first and second drafts of "book 4" I would rather have completed my tax form, done the housework, had root-canal work with no anaesthesia or pulled my nails out with pliers, than sit down and write.

So how do I make myself do the work, when it's not all roses?

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

When is a trilogy not a trilogy?

The number of books the 'trilogy'
may end up having!!
I finished typing up the edits to the middle book of the trilogy the other week (still a few changes to be made, but the majority of it is done), so naturally, I started on a re-read of the final book.

The third book of the trilogy is at an earlier stage of completion than the others. It needs some work! But as I was reading it over, I realised that while I was writing it, I'd thought about whether there was a fourth book (making it a quadrilogy?) - see my post 'Trilogy...'. Then, as I continued writing, I wasn't sure if there really was another book to come after the third and so tied off various strands and sub-plots in the third.

Maybe I was getting distracted by all the other projects I have buzzing around my head that are desperate for me to finish the trilogy and so I 'finished' it too early and there really is a fourth book to be written... certainly on re-reading the third book, the bits that are tied off don't feel right. They feel hurried. They need work.

However, maybe there isn't another book in the series. Maybe the trilogy should finish at the end of the third book. Maybe I just don't want to leave these characters yet, but I'm outstaying my welcome.

The only way I can work it out, is to explore what, if anything, would go into a fourth book. If there is enough material, then I need to rewrite some bits of the third book so that they lead into a fourth book better (and don't get tied off). If there isn't enough for a fourth book, I need to rewrite some bits so that those strands are tied off properly in the third book.

Enter a new notebook, a freshly filled fountain pen, and a delay in getting on to the next draft of the third book while I work out what would be in any further book(s). I have a variety of worksheets I use when I'm planning a book, which make me focus on what the key parts of the book are. I'm going through them to see if the trilogy isn't in fact a trilogy, but a quadrilogy (or quintilogy or sexilogy (which sounds like something else entirely)).

I may be some time...


Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Why IS Ryan Gosling so sexy?

No, this isn't a gratuitous post about attractive actors... this post is the result of a discussion I was having both on- and off-line about why Ryan Gosling is so sexy. And that conversation arose because I was trying to describe what made a character sexy - they weren't good-looking, but yet they had a definite appeal.

Now, I understand that many people will disagree with me on this, but I don't find Ryan Gosling classically good-looking. But, I do find him sexy as hell. Mind you, when I Googled "What is considered good looking" (hoping to find a line-diagram of what is considered good-looking), the first image that came up was of Ryan Gosling, so what do I know?

From: https://www.kisspng.com/png-golden-ratio-face-mathematics-decagon-facial-1115755/
According to a variety of (not entirely scientific) sites, key features that make a male face attractive, include a square jaw, stubble, high cheekbones, thick eyebrows, fuller lips, a symmetrical face, a higher facial width to height ratio (i.e. a wider face rather than long face)... and I'm not 100% convinced that if you did a photo-fit with those characteristics, you'd come up with Ryan Gosling's face. I think his jaw isn't all that square and some might argue his eyes are a bit too close. That said, there was an article in Marie Claire that took a variety of facial measurements and came up with the 'top 10' men, and apparently, Ryan Gosling has a perfect nose... (the article is here, if you're interested). The slightly odd image above is one which creates a face from various ratios/ measurements, based on the Golden Ratio (though I'm fairly sure you can create any measurements you want from that, to make it fit your theories of beauty...).

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Reedsy - what was it like to use them?

A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you how to find an editor via Reedsy. So, how did I get on?

I used Reedsy, mostly because I found the idea of going through a list of editors, checking their websites to see if they edited fantasy (as it's an editor for the Trilogy I'm after), reading testimonials, sending them a sample to edit and asking for a quote, etc... just too daunting and too time-consuming. Even going through an 'approved' list, such as on Joanna Penn's website, would have taken me days. Instead, I looked at Reedsy, where I could easily filter a list of several hundred editors, by what I was looking for (copy edit, genre = fantasy, language = English UK etc.). I could then read over their CVs, look at their testimonials and draw up a long-list and a shortlist. I wrote a brief to be sent to five editors, included a sample of ~3000 words, and compared the offers. The ms is about 78,000 words long. I'd hoped for quotes of about £11-12/1000 words (based on what I've paid in the past and what seems to be 'the going rate'), but was prepared to pay more if the copy edit was what I was looking for.

Well.

I sent the same brief to 5 editors via Reedsy, and one who I'd found on Reedsy, but then approached directly through their website. I won't name names, but here are the results I got: