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:

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Interview with Lesley Kelly


The pandemic is spreading.

On Friday, three civil servants leading Virus policy hold a secret meeting at the Museum of Plagues and Pandemics.

By Monday, two are dead and one is missing. It’s up to Mona and Bernard of the Health Enforcement Team to find the missing official before panic hits the streets.


Lesley Kelly
This week, I'm delighted to share my interview with the fabulous Lesley Kelly with you all. I first met Lesley back in 2016, when we were at Bloody Scotland and we've stayed in touch ever since. Lesley is the author of 'A Fine House in Trinity', which was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, and the series 'The Health of Strangers'. Her latest book, 'Death at The Plague Museum' is the third in this series. Her books are absolutely amazing, so if you've not yet read them, what have you been doing??

Your fourth book, ‘Death at the Plague Museum’ has just been released. This is the third book in the Health of Strangers series. Tell me a bit about it?
The Health of Strangers series is set in a parallel Edinburgh where there has been a Virus, not unlike Spanish flu. Most people survive the Virus, but around 5% of the population dies. My books focus on the Government response to this. In this world, the Government have established a regime where everyone needs to go for a health check every month. If you don't turn up the Health Enforcement Team (HET) come and track you down.
The HETs are made up of seconded staff from the health service and the police, and nobody really wants to work for them. The staff of the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team are all there because they've blotted their copy books in some way. However, they are markedly more competent than the other HETs across Scotland so any difficult cases involving sex, religion, or politics makes their way to them.
In the latest book, Death at the Plague Museum, three civil servants had a secret meeting at the Edinburgh Museum of Plagues and Pandemics on a Friday night. By Monday, two of them are dead and one of them is being hotly pursued by the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team…

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Finding an editor... using Reedsy

Choosing your editor is possibly one of the most important decisions you'll make if you're self-publishing, I reckon. It's a close call between the editor and the cover designer. Both roles are there to make your book stand out from the crowd and shine. They are the final polish. An unedited (or badly edited) book can be the difference between me rating a book as 2* in a review or 5* and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

I've had two amazing editors so far, but both of them preferred to edit crime and what I need now is an editor who likes fantasy, so, I'm in the process of finding a new editor for the Trilogy. It's daunting! There are a gazillion editors out there. Even a quick look at Joanna Penn's list of approved editors is enough to make your heart sink into your boots and never reappear, because there are just so many. Where do you even start?

Well, where I've started, is to look on Reedsy. Why? Because it was less daunting, I could easily select what I was looking for to draw up a shortlist and I could send the same brief to five editors.

There are hundreds of editors on Reedsy (as well as cover designers and website designers and so on), located all over the world. The process of shortlisting potential editors is very easy.

Once you've set up an account with Reedsy (name, email address), you can then see this side panel.


If you select Marketplace it takes you to this selection panel:


Here, you can select what it is you're looking for. I was looking for a copy-editor, for fiction, genres fantasy and urban fantasy, language English UK:

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Writing notebooks: what I use when I write a book

This post was originally written for Nero's Notes, where I'm one of the blog writers, but I thought it would be interesting to my readers, too.

A few weeks ago, I talked about the notebooks I use to capture ideas (Writing notebooks: 'capture'). Today, I'm going to talk about what kind of books I use once an idea has enough oomph that I think it will be a book.

This noodling around could be thinking more about the setting, or plot or the characters. Usually, it's a bit of all three, though plot and characters often seem to come together.


I used to use A4 Clairefontaine Age Bag notebooks and all notes went in them. They had a decent amount of real-estate and were fabulous for writing in with a fountain pen. They were a one-stop scrapbook of ideas which in some ways was great - everything was in one place, but were often fairly disorganised. I'd often start out intending to do notes on setting in one colour, on characters in another etc., but then by about 40 pages in had forgotten to do that! If I went back to them after any time away, I was flipping back and forth through them to find things. Fun, but inefficient. The paper is amazing. The rest of the notebook is 'no frills' with no ribbon markers, no elastic closure and no pocket in the back cover, but for what I wanted, they were brilliant.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Crutch-word slaying

I'm almost there with the first book of the trilogy... I'm in the middle of line edits and crutch-word slaying and then it will go off to a professional editor to find all the bits that still need fixing.

I was feeling especially pleased with myself just before I started on this, as I managed to create a macro in Word that would, with a couple of clicks, highlight all of my over-used words in the ms. I'm not saying I managed to create the macro the first time I tried (or even the second, third, fourth...) but I did eventually make it (and even made a 'How To' sheet to send out to a couple of writer friends so that they can create their own versions).

Crutch-words are words that an author relies on and uses far too often. I know what most of mine are (though maybe some new ones have crept in). If I spot them as I'm going through edits, I try and kill them off, but inevitably, hundreds of the little critters still make it through to the line-edits. What my macro does is to change all of the crutch-words (that I know of) into the same word but with yellow highlighter on it. I've then printed off the whole ms (and got umpteen paper-cuts as I've stacked the pages neatly) with the words highlighted.

Next up is going over every word of the ms and tightening it all up as much as I can. I used to hate this stage, but now I love it. It's a bit depressing how much yellow is currently on each page, but it's better to kill off those over-used words now, than leave them in.

It's a slow process. I can't do more than a short section in one sitting or I find my brain stops working on improving it all and just reads it. I'm using my 30 minute sand-timer and then getting up and stretching/having a walk/doing something else before going back to it. The print-out is 268 pages long and the only way I can tackle things like this (without going doolally) is to split it into small chunks.

I have to say, I'm so excited to have reached this stage with it!


Tuesday, 2 April 2019

A good excuse to start a new notebook...

Which one to choose??
Not that I really ever need an excuse... but, the time has come for me to do some serious research into self-publishing and so, naturally, I need to keep it all in a new notebook!

But which one? I mean, it's not like I don't have a gazillion to choose from!

Ideally, it will be about A5 size, though B6 would also work. Despite loving B5 notebooks for book planning, I think they might be a bit big.

Since I'll be collecting a selection of information in the book, numbered pages and an index/table of contents would be useful.

And of course, it's going to have to be fountain pen friendly paper!

There are 4 main contenders:

  • Taroko Design Breeze A5 (Tomoe River paper, numbered pages, table of contents, dot-grid paper)
  • Rhodia A5 soft cover (Rhodia paper, dot-grid, no TOC or page numbers)
  • MD notebook A5 (great paper, lined, no TOC or page numbers)
  • Life A5 notebook (great paper, lined, no TOC, no page numbers)

On the whole, it would seem like the Breeze is the best option, as it ticks all the boxes. It's a really lovely notebook, and I've been in danger of not using it, precisely because it's so nice. But, it's dot grid and I'm not such a great lover of that for writing notes (rather than plans or lists). The dots are 5 mm apart, which is a shade too narrow for writing on every line, but a bit too wide-spaced to use every other line. A 4 mm spacing would have been perfect...

That knocks out the Rhodia too, so it's a toss-up between the MD and the Life. I have several of each kind. I think I'll go for the Life notebook, because I know the paper is amazing and there are these small marks on the top and bottom lines of each page which make it really easy to draw a table if needed. I don't mind having to put in my own table of contents, or number the pages.

I'll keep you all posted as I move through this new phase. I'm both excited at it all, but also terrified!!


Tuesday, 26 March 2019

I'm going to be on Mearns Radio

Tomorrow (27th March) from 3-4 p.m. I will be on the radio, talking about books and inflicting my eclectic taste in music on the listeners! I will be taking part in Wendy's Book Buzz - a fortnightly programme run by my good friend and writer, Wendy H Jones. If you're not in the area, you can listen live via the website: https://mearnsfm.org.uk/

Please do tune in...

Update:
I ended up appearing on the 3rd April as there were technical issues on the 27th which meant that although I could hear Wendy, she couldn't hear me!


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Writing notebooks: 'Capture'

This post was originally written for Nero's Notes, where I'm one of the blog writers, but I thought it would be interesting to my readers, too.

Current 'capture' notebooks
People (who evidently don't know me!) often assume that I just write straight into Word when I'm writing my novels. Actually, I barely use Word at all! I write and edit in Scrivener, but that happens a long time after any initial ideas for a book - often months, sometimes years down the line. Long before I actually start writing anything that could conceivably be considered part of a scene or anything, I capture ideas and do a shed-load of noodling around, thinking about characters, settings, plot... None of this is done on the computer! All of my planning is done in notebooks.

I've been writing seriously for well over a decade now, so I have a lot of notebooks that I've used for novel-writing. To cover all of them in one blog-post would leave you all wanting less (a lot less!) so I'll break it up into a couple of posts... Today's post is on the kinds of books I use for capturing ideas. I'll do another post on the notebooks I use once a book idea has got enough going for it that it will actually get written!

I am never without a notebook. Never. Whether I'm at my desk, out and about, or in bed, there's a notebook to hand. Sometimes I get an idea about the book I'm working on and need to capture it. Sometimes I've seen a person and there was something about them that I wanted to note - their clothes, their conversation, their demeanour. I can also get ideas about stories or settings, or see a whole scene really clearly and need to write it down before I forget it. All of these things and more are captured in a series of notebooks that I have dotted around the place.

Essentially, I'm too disorganised to have just one notebook for capture. I'd forget to take it out with me, or I'd leave it next to my bed, or in my handbag and by the time I'd found it, whatever it was I wanted to note would have flown out of my head and be lost forever. It would make my life a lot easier if I could just manage to have a single notebook for capturing these things, but I'm an old dog and that would be a new trick.

So, these are what I have in use at the moment:

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Can I have a break, please?


All too true. That said, at least I'm enjoying the company of my characters, but it feels as if I'm never 'off duty'. Even when I'm not at my desk, re-reading/revising/writing, my head is in the trilogy. I'd love to take a long weekend off, but my brain just never stops!

Where am I at with it all?? Well, I've just finished the re-reads of the middle book and the final book of the trilogy, converted them to ebooks and sent them off to my beta readers (thank you! You're all amazing!). I'm about to do another re-read of the first book, and look at the feedback my fabulous beta readers gave me for that book, and re-work whatever needs re-working.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Noir At The Bar - Edinburgh

Last Wednesday I was delighted to be one of the readers at Noir At The Bar in Edinburgh.

For those of you who've never been to one of these events, let me tell you a bit about it. All of the authors' names are put in a hat (or pint glass or whatever) and someone in the audience is asked to draw a name out. That author then reads a short section from their book and gives a brief description. The person who drew the name out of the hat gets a free (and usually signed) copy of the author's book.

There were 14 authors plus two wild cards last Wednesday. The readings were split up into groups of four with a short break between the sets, to allow people to refill their glasses and natter. I always love these evenings, even if I'm not reading, because it's a great chance to catch up with friends and find out how they are and what they're up to. And of course, it's always amazing to hear everyone's readings.

If you want to see my reading... it's here! Thank you to the amazing Kelly Lacey for the video and to Jackie Collins for the introduction.


Please do also check out all the other videos from the night on the Noir At The Bar Edinburgh Facebook page.

I had a really fabulous evening. If you've not yet been to a NATB, get along to one!!


Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Galloway run:walk method

Over the last couple of years, every time I've tried to run longer than 5 miles, I've ended up injured, however carefully I've tried to take it and however gradually I've built up the mileage. But, I still want to run a marathon before I'm 50, so being able to stay injury free over much longer runs than 5 miles is needed!

I turn 50 next year. 😳

I was talking to one of my running friends the other day and telling her that I'd got up to 5 miles as my long run, but that I was worried that my Achilles would inevitably flare up again. She suggested the Galloway method and said that she uses it for any distance above half-marathon (I should point out here that she runs marathons and ultras and barely thinks twice about a 20-mile run!)

I knew nothing about what the Galloway method involved, so Googled it. The method is named after Jeff Galloway, and there's a wealth of information on his website, http://www.jeffgalloway.com/

Essentially, the idea is that you intersperse short periods of walking into your runs. How much you run to how much you walk is essentially up to you, but there is a guide that suggests ratios, based on how fast you could run a fast mile (the "magic mile").

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Sarah Fine - Guards of The Shadowlands


I don't know if any of you have read any of these books (if not, click on the images above to go to their Amazon pages), but although I've read a fair amount of fantasy in my past, this trilogy was the one that made me start writing fantasy. After reading these, I wished I could write something even half as good. They aren't aimed at my age group (though I don't really hold with age-assigned genres really. A good story is a good story) but I absolutely inhaled them. The characters leapt off the page at me and the settings and set-up were incredibly unusual and innovative.

In Sanctum, the heroine's best friend kills herself and ends up in a place beyond the Suicide Gates. The heroine (Lela) ends up dying and chooses to go to this awful place, to try and rescue her friend and the book follows her journey as she tries to survive and free her friend. This is the blurb:
A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance – hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone – she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.

As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she’s captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city’s endless streets. Their all-too human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn’t – the dark city isn’t the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.
I was hooked from the first few lines and as soon as I finished it, I bought the other two books in the series, hoping they would be as good. They were.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Some news!!

Logo of a black dog with a monocle and the name Nero's Notes

Those of you who've followed me for a while (bless you!) will know that as well as writing books, I also have somewhat of a stationery addiction! Well... I'm now managing to combine both loves as Stuart Lennon has asked me to write for the blog on Nero's Notes.

I first 'met' Stu a couple of years ago. There are quotation marks, because in fact, Stu and I haven't ever met in real life (though I hope we will one day). We were both part of a #writingchat chat on Twitter (where various writers come together via Twitter on a Wednesday night from 8-9 pm UK time, to talk about a range of topics relating to writing) and the topic for the night was writing buddies. Neither Stu nor I had a writing buddy, nor were we in any writing groups. To cut a long story short, Stu and I swapped a small chunk of writing, gave feedback to each other and have ended up good buddies ever since!

Stu is now one of my beta readers - a very select group who read my books when I'm happy enough with them I can bear the thought of someone else seeing them, but with still some work to do on them. He also shares my love of good stationery. In fact, so much so that he bought a pocket notebook company! It was originally called Pocket Notebooks, but under Stu's guidance, has become Nero's Notes.

Picture of pen, paper, envelopes and ink bottle, for letter writing
Stu is also one of the friends that I write to. Yes, I still write proper letters to people, on proper paper and put them in proper envelopes, add a stamp and post them. In fact, my very first blog post for Stu is on writing letters and it comes out tomorrow. Please pop over to the blog and check it out? It should be up after 2 pm.

For those of you who share my love of good stationery, go and have a rummage through the Nero's Notes site. There are notebooks, pens, pencils, accessories and some excellent subscription boxes to feed your habit. There's some amazing stuff on there, including some things you won't be able to get anywhere else in the UK. Hopefully see you all over there!



Tuesday, 5 February 2019

In praise of some simple notebooks!

B5 notebooks by Green World
I've started editing "book 8" (a.k.a. "Guardians of The Realm 3: Chaos" - the third book in the trilogy) and have just started my third notebook for it!

I used to use Clairefontaine Age Bag A4 notebooks and I do still have a small stock of them to use up, but over the last year or so, I've shifted to B5 as a preferred size. It's halfway (roughly) between A5 and A4 (179mm x 252mm or ~7x10"), so big enough to get a decent space to write in but not so large that it takes up too much real estate on my desk.

The only problem is that B5 isn't a very common size to buy in the UK.

So far with the current book, I've used a Stalogy 016 notebook (used for general plot ideas and structure) and a Leuchtturm dot grid (used for scene planning and 'thinking' - noodling about, trying to work out things). The Leuchtturm is now full and I've moved into a Green World B5 notebook for notes.

I bought the four-pack of these from Amazon last year. I just found them again on Amazon and they're currently much more than I paid for them. Maybe they're one of those products where the price varies quite a bit. Considering that they weren't terribly expensive (at least, not when I bought them) they have some really nice features, though fountain pen friendliness isn't high on that list!

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

More editing... different book

picture of woman with pen making notes on paper
Last week, I finished the re-read and second edit of the middle book of the fantasy trilogy (a.k.a. "book 7"; a.k.a. "Guardians of The Realm 2: Aeron Returns"). I wasn't sure if I would actually manage to finish it as a zillion other things landed on me last week, but, I got it done. That's not its final edit by a long chalk, so if I have missed things, I have more edits to come, where I can pick things up.

Now, I'm on the re-read and first edit of the final book of the trilogy (a.k.a. "book 8"; a.k.a. Guardians of The Realm 3: Chaos"). I'll have a chunk of work to do on this as a consequence of changes made to the middle book, but that's okay. I'm fondly saying 'the final book of the trilogy' but there's still the possibility that there's another book in the series rumbling away in my head!

I expect that all of my spare time in February will be taken up with editing "Chaos" but there's a lot of other stuff going on in my life that's taking me away from writing/editing. It may well be that my editing schedule shifts or has to be re-written! Best laid plans of mice and men and all that... There are ongoing issues with the health of my parents that take up quite a bit of time, but I'm really hoping that these will resolve soon.

With everything that's going on, it's been hard to remember to have time for myself, but hubby and I did make it out to the cinema last week (to see "The Favourite" which was excellent) and are hoping to go this week (to see "Mary Queen of Scots" - yes, let's see how many historical inaccuracies we can pack into two films... 😃). I'm also looking forward to some friends coming up to see me in a couple of weeks. I'm really bad at remembering to take a break from writing/editing!

Right. Back to the life-stealing demons and the havoc they're creating!


Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Editing, the analogue way!!

Yep... I've been literally cutting and pasting recently.

Now, don't get me wrong... I use Scrivener and one of the things that I love about it, is the ability to move whole scenes around easily - a drag and drop manoeuvre. But for one particular bit of the book I'm editing at the moment, it wasn't so much whole scenes that were moving about, it was parts of scenes and so I fell back on an old and trusted method... print the whole thing out, attack it with scissors and sellotape it back together once you've sorted out what's moving to where!

I said to a few friends that this was what I was doing and got a variety of reactions, but most of them were sympathetic! A few people suggested Scrivener (which I already use) but for what I needed to do, nothing much beats having the document printed out, spread across the dining room table, with symbols and arrows indicating which bits are moving where. I sometimes wonder if a career in cryptography might have been an option, when I look back at the notations!

As a consequence of all this cutting, pasting, rearranging etc. I feel as if the section is a lot tighter, and I also have a file labelled "bits that were cut out". I haven't deleted it yet - writers don't delete anything... you never know when they might come in useful... maybe not in this book, but perhaps in another.

Am I alone in this analogue version of getting a document sorted? What do others do?


Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Meeting Twitter friends in real life

Last week, I was delighted to meet two of my 'Twitter friends' in real life.

I'd posted something on Twitter about using Scrivener, and Angela and Marion came back to me, saying they'd heard about Scrivener but weren't sure if it was for them or not.

Angela has had a guest post on here, about using Power Point to plan books, so it seemed only fair to share my knowledge on using Scrivener. Since all three of us live in the same county, I suggested that we try and meet up and I could show them how I use Scrivener.

And so, last Wednesday, the three of us met up in a coffee shop, roughly equidistant between our locations. Marion in fact lives only a few miles from me, and kindly gave me a lift to the coffee shop. There was then a slight moment as we realised that actually, neither of us had met Angela in real life and the cafe was quite large... I had visions of us walking up to innocent strangers and accosting them. The situation wasn't helped by both Marion and I having the wrong mobile number for Angela!

Anyway, we managed to meet up without incident, ordered teas and cakes and settled in.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Editing... again!

In fact, I'll probably be editing for the majority of 2019...

But you know why I'm editing...?

It's because I finished the first draft of "book 8" (the third book of the trilogy) before Christmas!!

I'd hoped to get the first draft done before the end of 2018 and be able to start re-drafting/editing etc once 2019 started, but I had essentially finished on Christmas Eve (though I did go back and fiddle with stuff on Boxing Day!).

This is where the three books of the trilogy stand at the moment:
"Guardians of The Realm 1: Aegyir Rises" has been out to beta readers (who liked it! Hurrah!!)
"Guardians of The Realm 2: Aeron Returns" is at first draft stage
"Guardians of The Realm 3: Chaos" is at zero draft stage.

The current plan is to get all three books to the same stage and then send them out to a professional editor. I've just finished a re-read of "Aeron Returns" and am shifting that from first draft to second draft. Once that's done, I'll work on "Chaos". I don't think "Chaos" will need as much work as the first two books, as it was much more tightly planned from day one, so although it's a 'zero draft' it feels more like it's a first draft, to be honest.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Happy New Year


I hope that 2019 is a great year for you all. The latter part of 2018 for me wasn't brilliant, but when I look back on the year as a whole, it wasn't bad.

Okay, I didn't publish anything new, but I did finish the third draft of Book 1 of The Trilogy. I also finished the second draft of Book 2 of The Trilogy and I finished the first draft of Book 3 of The Trilogy, so all in all, that feels pretty good.

I also met lots of new writers and met up with lots of old friends at various book events (Murder and Mayhem, A Body in The Library and Bloody Scotland, to name but three).

I have lots of plans for 2019 - including publishing The Trilogy (so hopefully, you won't have to hear me wittering on about it for another twelve months!). If all goes well, before 2019 is out, I should be able to start on The Shiny New Thing that was distracting me back in July.

As well as planning to publish The Trilogy, I'm also going to try and do some better marketing and publicity. I'd hoped that when I got signed by a publisher that I wouldn't have to do so much and I could concentrate on writing, but hey ho. Apparently not.

I've still my usual fitness and running goals (I do still want to run a marathon before I'm 50, but that keeps getting closer and I'm still not running 13 miles, never mind 26!).

I'm continuing to reduce/remove single-use plastic (and plastic in general) from my life, though this isn't always easy. Where it's not possible, I'm trying to ensure that the things I buy have packaging that can be reused or recycled, but it's an uphill struggle sometimes.

I'm hoping that my fabulous new diary will keep me on track with all my goals. If nothing else, it should keep me organised!

Anyway, I hope that all of you have managed to have a break over the festive season and that 2019 is a very happy year for you.

What plans do you all have?