A Tale of Two Contracts – Act II

_MG_5263Sorry about the tease at the start of the week. I couldn’t resist! Where were we? Oh yes, publishing deals being like buses. You wait nearly a year for one and two come along at once.

At this point, I hadn’t signed with the US publisher but I was close. I had to be honest. I emailed back the 2nd publisher (a UK company) and explained the situation and that I’d love to find out more but would understand if they didn’t want to pursue things. The Publishing Director was eager to chat to me and we caught up on the phone for about 30-40 minutes that evening.

What I was facing were two very different offers:

US publisher

  • Established (but only two years ago) so dedicated readership already
  • eBook only
  • Distribution rights around USA & Europe
  • 3-book deal
  • Launching summer 2015 with books 2 launched two months later and book 3 two months after that. Big pressure to have next books ready, even if the contract with them didn’t continue beyond the trilogy
  • Concern over wordcount reductions
  • Concern over the friendship theme; would I need to tone it down?
  • Writer community for all their authors with lots of support and guidance
  • Would set up a blog tour but marketing beyond that would mainly be down to me

UK publisher

  • Brand new with no track record in publishing books
  • eBook and print format
  • Distribution rights around USA & Europe
  • 3-book deal (once they found out more about the trilogy, they were keen to offer this too)
  • Launching spring 2015 (probably although could be summer) with a book a year in the spring (or summer) in order to maximise on marketing activities
  • Don’t want to cut any words at all – love the story
  • No issues over the friendship theme running alongside the romance
  • Lots of marketing activities planned because, of course, it was important for them to do what they could to make this a success
  • Lower royalties

When I write it like that, it does look like a no-brainer until we get to the last point of lower royalties which brought the indie debate back to the forefront of my mind: I’d earn far more by publishing that way but would I sell more copies just on my own? Probably not. Almost definitely not. I then reasoned that having my novel available in two formats – eBook and print – would surely mean more sales which would ultimately cancel out the lower royalties.

I asked lots more questions of the UK publisher on email the next day and all were answered in detail. I asked the US publisher to absolutely clarify the wordcount and theme issue too and was assured it wouldn’t be a problem. But there was still this niggle …

Initially my head had been saying to go for the originally offer from the US publisher – established, more money and they offered first, but my heart and gut were saying So Vain Books (SVB). On the Thursday evening after a day at work where my mind flitted back and forth between the two, I spoke to my husband. He’d been initially encouraging me towards the US offer and I was a bit concerned that he wouldn’t be as supportive if I said that I was leaning towards SVB. Unexpectedly, he’d changed his mind. He’d reflected on how I’d enthused about the conversation with SVB and how upset I’d been on Black Friday when I was so worried about whether the US offer would lead to me compromising my stories.

P1050675I ran it by my parents over the phone who felt SVB were the best option too. In my debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’, my protagonist Sarah has some major decisions to make. She does this using colour-coded post-it notes stuck to her wardrobe door, highlighting the pros and cons. So that’s exactly what I did (any excuse to use stationery). This is my bear cabinet obliterated with my musings. Green for go (positive) and dark orange for stop (negative). As you can see, there’s pros and cons for each.

And, just to make absolutely sure there wasn’t anything I’d missed, I got my lovely colleague at work to coach me about the decision (thanks Joanna) and SVB came out on top!

So who did I go for? It’s probably not going to be a surprise after all that but I’m delighted to say that I have chosen to join So Vain Books, the UK-based publishers, and it feels absolutely the right decision.

I went to bed on Friday night with a churning stomach because my contract arrived in my inbox from my US editor and I couldn’t help but feel incredibly guilty at letting them down. I know it’s business. I know that. But I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like to let people down. It doesn’t sit with my values very well.

On Saturday morning I rose and had a shower. I’d made my definite decision to go with So Vain Books and, knowing that was going to be the case, I’d asked the Publishing Director if I could call her that afternoon to tell her in person. And if I had any doubts that I’d made the right decision, I turned the radio on when I came out of the shower and guess what song was playing? Carly Simon’s, “You’re so vain!” Now is that spooky or is that spooky? I’m a firm believer in signs and they don’t get much more significant than that! It was wonderful to make that call and be told that I’d made her day.

Emailing the US company was very hard but I was honest about the situation and, to be fair to them, I got a lovely email back saying I’d done the right thing to take time to weigh up the offers and that I had to do what was best for my career. It was a lovely email but I’d expected some reference to them being disappointed that they weren’t going to be representing Steven. Which just showed that it’s business. Always has been. Always will be. And that made me feel a lot better. But with SVB, it feels like it’s more than business; it feels like a partnership and I am incredibly excited about it. I’ll share my journey to publication on this blog as and when I can.

P1050687My parting words would be to say to any writer out there who’s still looking: never give up on your dreams. Believe in yourself and believe in your work. There are many options out there with eBooks and indie publishing so you can have the dream whether it’s via the more traditional route or by your own hand. For me, indie wouldn’t have been the “failure” option; it would have been my choice to not submit anywhere else and to take my future into my own hands. But my final round of subs reaped rewards and I knew that So Vain Books, in particular, could support me in a way I couldn’t support myself with regards to marketing so I’m absolutely delighted to be on board. A friend of mine makes signs. I got her to make me this one which fellow-Write Romantic Helen Phifer introduced to me. It feels very apt. It can be apt for you too.

Jessica xx

A Tale of Two Contracts – Act 1

P1050690Have you ever got something you really, really wanted? Something you’ve longed for years and years? How did it feel?

On my wish list for the past eleven years or so has been “to become a published writer”. My husband and I have often joked about this making us millions and us moving to a huge grand “author’s house” in the countryside but that’s not why I wanted to become a published writer. Don’t get me wrong, it would be very lovely thank you, but the real reason is the one I’d expect many other writers to cite: I have stories to tell and I want people to read them.

On September 1st, I took a step closer to my dream. I awoke on a dark Monday morning and checked my phone like I always do. Typically this results in cleansing my inbox of Groupon deals, Nectar points info and some freegle messages. But September 1st was not a typical Monday. Because sitting there in my inbox was an email from a US-based publishing house. And they wanted to publish my book.

I’d dreamed of this moment for a long time but this wasn’t quite what I expected. I’d imagined “the call” being exactly that; a phone call coming through on a dreary day and lighting my life. I hadn’t really imagined an email and especially not one with a “but” in it. You see, they wanted my book but they felt it was a bit long (it was 100k words) and wanted to know if I’d be prepared to cut it. I wandered round in a bit of a daze as I got ready for work. I didn’t feel excitement; I just felt a bit numb. Was it because I couldn’t believe I’d finally got the call? Was it because the call was an email? Or was it because there was a “but”? I’m not really sure.

P1050689I emailed them back saying of course I’d consider a reduction in words but how much and what sort of guidance would they give? Plus, would they be interested in the other two books in the series? The wordcount cut concerned me as I’d already cut my novel by 32k words and felt that it couldn’t lose much more without starting to lose the story. Cue anxious several hours (damn time delay!) before a reply came back saying that my editor loved series and would be delighted to offer me a 3-book deal and not to worry too much about the word cut as she loved it all so much that she was struggling to see where to cut words. Phew! Finally, excitement set in. Telling my immediate family was thrilling; especially telling my parents because my mum was beside herself. It was lovely to hear how proud they were of me for working so hard at my dream and never giving up. I also made an announcement on Facebook. I was away in a hotel with work and it was a joy to sit back and watch the likes and the congratulations messages flowing in.

A template contract was sent to me, I sought some advice on it, and several emails were exchanged about the content and size of books 2 and 3.

Then Black Friday hit.

I picked up an email from my editor to double check that all the books were about 100k and to tell me she wanted them to be 80k instead. A 20k reduction? One fifth? Twenty per cent? Look at it whichever way you like, that was a hefty reduction and I’d thought the word count didn’t matter. Especially as the offer was for eBook only where surely the size doesn’t matter quite as it does with paperbacks (and the costs incurred).

It got worse.

P1050686There are two threads in my stories; romance (obviously, given that romance is my genre) but there’s a secondary theme of friendship and it’s really important to me that the stories I tell contain both. My editor wanted to check there definitely was a romance in book 3 as it hadn’t come out strongly in my summary and she also said that the friendship had to be a background story with the focus being on the romance. I panicked. Big time. You see, before I’d had the offer, I’d made the decision to go indie. Part of the reason was that I couldn’t bear the waiting times to hear news from some publishers and part of it was so that I could get the control; tell the stories I wanted to tell, with the covers I wanted on my books, the pricing and timescales I wanted and so on. I knew I’d not be able to resist a publishing deal if one knocked on my door as a foot on the ladder to getting my name known but I also wanted to be sure the deal was right. And there were some alarm bells ringing that this one may not be quite right after all.

I emailed back and expressed my surprise at the significant wordcount reduction. I also outlined where the romance came into book 3 and asked it if it was ok. An email came back the next evening saying the romance was fine and not to worry about the wordcount. Again. But we’d been there before. My contract would be with me by Friday 19th September.

But on Wednesday 17th September, another email arrived. It would seem that publishing deals are like buses because this email contained another offer from a completely different publisher. This was a publisher who could offer me a deal for a print version of my book as well as an eBook but who presented a risk because they were new.

So what did I do? Come back later in the week and I’ll let you know!

So many choices and so few decisions

I have a problem. My problem is that I’ve done a lot of writing recently … but hardly any of it has been novel-related. I’ve written a short story for The Write Romantics Anthology out later this year which I enjoyed and I’ve written several blog posts but I haven’t really progressed with my novels.

Why?

I think the fact that I say novelS – plural – rather than novel could be part of the problem.

By the end of November last year, I was absolutely storming it with my writing. I’d finished book 1 and it was out there seeking representation, I’d also finished my first draft of book 2 thanks to NaNoWriMo AND cracked on with about a third of book 3. (I cheated on NaNo. Officially you’re meant to start from scratch with a new book but that simply didn’t work for me timing-wise so I finished one and started the next and, let’s face it, my aim was to do 50,000 words and I achieved it. It made no difference to me whether that was on one, two or even twelve novels! Eek. Twelve. The thought brings me out in a cold sweat).

Fast forward eight months later and I’m in exactly the same position. Book 1 is out there seeking representation (still waiting on the final publisher decisions before going down the indie route), book 2 is no longer at 1st draft but it still needs work, and book 3 is still a third in and I’ve changed my mind about the order of events that I’d plotted out so carefully so change is needed. Problem is, the change is within the third I’ve already written. Typical.

So what I’m doing right now is dithering. I do a bit on book 2, I then move to book 3 and I’m now feeling I want to revisit book 1 again and all of this is not actually getting anything done.

A few thoughts spring to mind as to why a normally-organised and in control person like me is dithering so much:

  1. I’m bored of writing the trilogy, having worked on it for 11 years now and I’m ready to start something fresh
  2. I’m having a crisis of confidence thanks in part to my awful NWS critique on book 2 (where my reader kept saying there were lots of good bits then forgetting to tell me what they were)
  3. I’m genuinely not a good enough writer. I can see there are plot points to be improved upon and I’m not talented enough to do anything about them
  4. There is too much else going on in my life. Between a full-time job with a ludicrous amount of unexpected travel, family time, Brownies, keeping up with social media (as a good writer should) and life in general, I don’t have the time or energy to undertake the amount (or quality) of writing I’d like to
  5. I feel like my life is on hold whilst waiting for three final publishers to come back to me. One of these is several weeks overdue and the other two are due this week (specific timescales they gave me via email discussions as opposed to the general guidance provided at submission time). If I did get the call and if I did accept it, where I go next with the books may be quite different to what I’d do if I became indie so I’m in a state of flux not knowing at the moment

Or could it be all of the above? 

I’d say it is. Except perhaps 1. Eleven years is a heck of a long time to work on a trilogy but I’ve had significant periods within that time when I haven’t written at all (we’re talking several years when I had the munchkin) so it hasn’t been eleven solid, intensive years. I also love my characters, my setting, and believe in their stories so I don’t think I’d ever get bored of them. But perhaps that links into points 2 and 3. Because I love them so much and am so passionate about the stories they want to tell, I panic that I can’t do them justice.

Another problem is that my writing time is so snatched. I may get two hours one evening and then 2 days with nothing. This is hard for the thought process. Approx two months ago, I scrolled through book 2 and wrote on a set of post-it notes the main points of the chapters. I stuck them on a glass display cabinet next to my desk. As I was writing these out, thoughts were whizzing through my mind as to what I could link/change/add in/remove. The next step was to capture these but we were going out so my thought process got broken. A week later, I had time to pick it up again but the cogs that had been turning so well were now dormant and rusty. I tried to look at the chapter details and remember. But I couldn’t. So I put some token thoughts on in other pretty-shaped post-it notes and it all looks very impressive … but it’s not quite right because of that break. And because it’s not quite right, I’m putting off returning to book 2 because I’m still unclear what I want to do to it or why. What I really need to do is do that whole exercise again in its entirety. But where do I have time to do that?

Answer: Take a month off work (at least) and write solidly.

Likelihood of that happening: Absolutely zero.

So how do I overcome points 2-5 above and deal with the snatched writing time so that I can get this trilogy finished to the absolute best of my ability (ignoring the doubts of points 2 and 3)?

I don’t actually know.

One of my day job roles is a coach. I ask questions of others and I guide them to help them reach the solution that they have within themselves. I’m quite good at coaching myself and I like to do this in the form of writing. I’ve found that writing down my thoughts in a post such as this really helps. I explore the options and the pros and cons of each, coming to the conclusion that’s right for me. I’ve effectively coached myself through the problem. I did this with my recent decision to write under a pen name and the exploration prior to that around the indie route. When I started writing both those posts, I wasn’t really sure what I’d decide and the process generated my conclusion.

This time I can’t coach myself because the answers aren’t within me. I will put my hands up (or I would if I didn’t need them to type this) and say I honestly don’t know what to do.

Do I just hang in there and wait for no 5 issue to be resolved and hope the timescales given to me are met? What if they aren’t met, though? How much time might I wait? Time that I would be wasting. Time that I could have been writing. If I could get my act together and write!

Hmmm. Answers on a postcard please or, even better, in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your take on it. Do you recognise yourself in this post? How did you overcome it (assuming you did)? Help!!!!!

What’s in a name? Quite a lot!

Shakespeare famously wrote: “What’s in a name?” I say, ‘Quite a lot actually. And it’s got me confused!’ Let me tell you why …

This weekend I’ve been to the Romantic Novelists’ Association Annual Conference. Looking down the attendee list, I was struck by how many of my fellow romance writers use a pen name. Some of them were completely different names (NWS organiser Melanie Hilton writes as Louise Allen), some were same first name but different surname or vice versa, some were slight changes (e.g. Write Romantic Alex Weston writes as Alys West) and some were just a change of spelling (e.g. Lynne to Linn).

I found myself wondering why all these writers choose a pen name. Three of The Write Romantics use pen names but for different reasons. One wanted to distance her writing persona from her professional persona and have a name that felt more closely aligned to the type of book she writes, one changed hers because there’s already a writer with the same name, and another wanted to use her maiden name.

P1050384My maiden name is Williams and in the days before eBooks, I always knew I wanted to use a different surname because Williams would feature at the bottom of the bookshelf! Fortunately I married a Heslington and moved right up to a prime eye-level position. Except my book is more likely to be an eBook so the bookshelf-browsing scenario isn’t really an issue anymore.

In the early days of my writing, when I fantasised about one of the big publishers taking me on, I imagined a scenario where they asked me to change from Heslington because people couldn’t spell or pronounce it. (Personally I think it’s easy to pronounce but when it comes to spelling, we’ve had post addressed to allsorts – Heslerton, Hesletine, Hessington and even Heffalump!) I toyed with an alternative name and the one I kept coming back to was the name I’d given to the munchkin: Ashleigh Brooke. I adore that name (obviously or I wouldn’t have picked it!) But I dismissed it and decided I’d fight for my right to be myself and write as Julie Heslington. Only now I’m having doubts …

P1050385Pen names have been around for centuries. Anyone heard of Sieur Louis de Conte? No? Me neither. I bet you know his other name though: Mark Twain. But neither of them are his real name. He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Lewis Carroll was really Charles Dodgson and George Orwell was Eric Blair. CS Lewis was his real name but he also used Clive Hamilton and NW Clark for his writing. Crikey! That’s a lot of pseudonyms floating around.

So why use a pen name? There are a stack of reasons. Many years ago, females found it difficult to be taken seriously in the publishing world so Mary Ann Adams brought her books to the world as George Eliot and all of the Bronte sisters wrote under male names. This reason hasn’t gone away today. It’s widely known that JK Rowling used her initials to make her book appeal to a wider audience as males are typically less likely to pick up a book penned by a female than they are by a male. Female crime or horror writers often go for male names or initials too for this exact same reason ☹

P1050383The “right name for the right audience” is a key one that goes beyond gender too. Names can age a writer and a woman in her mid-twenties looking for some romantic comedy is more likely to be attracted to a writer with a young-sounding name like Sophie Kinsella than an older-sounding name like Mavis Winterbottom (apologies if there is a Mavis Winterbottom out there writing rom-coms aimed at twenty-somethings!) Speaking of Sophie Kinsella, she was born as Madeleine Sophie Townley, married to a Wickham and brought out her original books as Madeleine Wickham but then changed to a lighter style of writing with her Shopaholic series and, with this, used her middle name and a new surname to launch a new identity and appeal.

So changing genre is another reason for having a pen name and why several writers such as CS Lewis have more than one. Hiding one’s identity, writing something controversial, writing as a pair or a team but presenting the work as one author identity are all other reasons. So is being such a prolific writer that not all books are released under the same name due to a worry that readers would perceive more than 1-2 books being launched in a year as being poor quality. Don’t think I’ll struggle with that one given that it took me ten years to write my first!

These are all great reasons and, until now, I thought the only reason I had to use a pen name was that my surname is a little unusual. But then it struck me that my first name ages me. I like the name Julie. I’ve always liked it. Unfortunately, it’s dying out. In the 1960s, there were 4,307 Julies for every 1 million babies born in the UK. Whilst it’s currently the number five most popular name in Belgium and Switzerland, hardly anyone in the UK names their baby Julie anymore. Which now ages me as someone in my forties or fifties. Not someone currently in their mid-late twenties experiencing the relationship traumas I write about. Hmmmm.

Something else that struck me recently is social media. I’ve had my own Facebook page for several years which, like most people, I use to share family photos, news and pictures of cats in funny poses. Linked to this is my Julie Heslington Writer page. However, (and please shout if I’m wrong here) in order for me to invite fellow writers to like my writer page, I need to friend them on my own Facebook page first which means they get to see my family photos, news and pictures of cats in funny poses. Do I want them to? Maybe not. Do they want to see these? Almost definitely not. I’ve always had a strict policy of only accepting friend requests from people I actually know well with a few exceptions of people I have encountered, find interesting, and would like to keep in touch with. I’d rather build my writing relationships elsewhere and, let’s face it, me rabbiting on about writing is probably dull as a dull thing for my family and friends who aren’t into writing so do they really want their newsfeeds filled with my writing exchanges. Solution: develop a whole new persona, have a FB author page off that for when (!!!) I get published and keep my own FB page for what I always intended it to be: a way of keeping up with family and friends who I don’t get to see very often.

P1050382The other thought floating around my head is around the idea of going indie. As readers of this blog will know, this is the way I anticipate going. I have a few more subs in although I don’t anticipate any of them leading anywhere so I’m getting myself ready. I feel that the success of being indie will be in me viewing myself (and therefore my writing) as a product that I’m taking to market rather than thinking of it being me. In my mind, I find it easier to take a business approach to the idea of marketing “Pen Name” as a product rather than trying to promote myself. Promoting myself gives me the fear. Promoting Pen Name is a little daunting but not nearly as much so – after all, I’ve worked in recruitment on and off for twenty years and have promoted many companies and graduate schemes. This would be the same principle; different scenario.

I’m there aren’t I? I want a pen name. But do I go for Ashleigh Brooke or something else. Eek! What would the something else be? Time to dig out the baby name dictionary. Any suggestions? Watch this space!!!

Indie Jules & the SP Quest

Tuesdays are normally a fairly harmless day. Perhaps they’re a little closer to a Monday than I’d like and not quite close enough to the weekend but, generally, they’re ok. Today was an exception. 

Today started off with the usual battle to get out of the house for work with the munchkin washed, dressed, brushed, fed and watered. But we managed it. We usually do. Today didn’t start with me having to clean cat mess up in the kitchen, dining room and hall thanks to Pixie clearly having a dicky tummy. No, that was yesterday’s pleasure so today was already looking much better than Monday.

So I arrived at work this morning with a plan of activities and priorities and was looking forward to a productive day. But the best-laid plans usually come unstuck and today they unravelled before my eyes. I won’t bore you with the details but I had to spend most of the day re-working some stuff that I really shouldn’t have had to re-work at the 11th hour because it had been out there for comment 2-3 weeks ago and nobody commented then. Grr.

Hubby picked me up from work and I had a little rant then felt much better. Next stop was Currys to return an iPhone dock that declared on the front that it was “iPhone compatible” but is actually only compatible with an iPhone 5. And I don’t have one of those. Cue sarcastic young chappie on the desk who says, “That’s why it says on the front of the box that it’s got a lightning connector”. Yes, young man, it might well say that. But if you don’t have an iPhone 5 and don’t have an interest in technology, how the hell are you supposed to know that a lightning connector is something that connects into an iPhone and not some technology that just makes the sound better or the connection stronger. He ignored me when I tried to point this out. Rude. But at least I got my refund.

We made it home a little after 6.30pm and I logged onto my computer while the munchkin had her bath and the day deteriorated even more …

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my decision to go indie and then, last week, a spanner was lobbed into the works when one of the eBook publishers I’d pitched to at the Conference got in touch, apologised for the delay, and said my book would be the next she read. For a few days, I was incredibly excited because this was the eBook publisher who, out of all my submissions, I believed I fit with best. And for a brief moment, despite them having taken nearly nine months to respond to my submission despite having asked for a full in person at the RNA Conference, I forgave them and started imagining what it would be like to receive “the call”. For me, “the call” has always been about that affirmation that I can write because a publisher thinks highly enough of me to take me on.

But then the doubts set in.

You see, I really did (and still do) believe that indie is the way for me. I consider myself to be pretty good at my day job which includes planning, organising, engaging with customers, promotional activities and many other skills that I could directly transfer from a company to myself as my own business. Why wouldn’t I do that? Why would I let someone else take control over deadlines, edits, promotion etc when I believe I have the skills (and would pick up the experience) to do it myself and buy in professionals to do bits I can’t do? I met my lovely writing friend and fellow-Write Romantic Alys, for a drink and a spot of sticky toffee pudding (would be rude not to) at the start of last week and we chatted about her wonderful news that she’s secured an agent (read more about it here) and my dilemma of indie v “the call”. We discussed the pros and cons. We even got out the calculator and did some sums. And everything still pointed to indie so I posed the question to the other Write Romantics and asked them what they’d do. Everyone admitted they’d struggle to say no to “the call” and I should accept it as a platform to get cracking, perhaps becoming indie later. Yes. Very sensible. Probably the right thing to do. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that indie was still for me and the longer I waited to hear back with a decision, the more convinced I became. Let’s face it, did I really want to work with an editor who had kept me waiting for nine months, then told me I’d be next, then kept me waiting another fortnight?

Let’s return to the bad day. I logged on to my computer and there was an email from the ePublisher, a day shy of two weeks since I was told I’d be next. And it was a strange email because it didn’t say “no” but it certainly wasn’t “the call”. Instead, it was a further apology for the inexcusable wait and a thanks for my patience (believe me, I have NOT been patient!) Then there was something nice about the premise and the setting. Then there was something not so nice about it needing further development and three tips to help me improve this book and “future ones”. I’m not going to list these and declare that I disagree strongly with these tips because that will sound like I’m being all defensive. All I’ll say is that feedback is subjective and the three points raised are ones that my NWS critique and beta readers also raised … but in the opposite way i.e. they think I’ve done those things very well. Who’s right? Who knows?! I’d like to go with the NWS critique and my beta readers. There’s more of them. My little army!

As for the end of the email, it just said to ask if there were any further questions. That was it. No, “so regretfully it’s a no from us but we wish you every success in your future writing” or “please do these changes and resubmit” or any other variation on these themes. It just ended. No offer. No rejection. No next steps. No good luck message. Have I really waited nine months to hear that?

Four submissions are outstanding. I’m sure one must be a no as this is the other ePublisher who I pitched to, who wanted a full, who didn’t respond and who hasn’t replied to chase emails despite a promise that everyone will hear either way. The other three will, I am sure, be rejections but I won’t prolong this post with the reasons why.

I actually cried when I read the email this evening. I cried lots. Those proper fast-flowing tears that drip down your cheeks and wet your blouse and feel like they’re never going to stop. And it wasn’t because I’m upset at the rejection. I’d believed I’d been rejected a long time ago and somebody just forgot to tell me. No, that wasn’t it. It was because I’d been built up only to be trampled down again. It was because I’m frustrated as a frustrated thing that’s really frustrated with this whole ludicrous dance we do to try and get noticed. And it was because, quite honestly, I’ve had a crap day and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I nearly cried at work so I was already teetering on the edge.

Have you ever been interviewed for a job that you don’t really want but you need a job because either (a) you hate your current job and are desperate to leave or (b) you’re out of work and desperate to be earning again? Do you find yourself hoping it’s a “no” so that you don’t have to make the difficult decision as to whether to accept or turn it down. I’ve been there several times with jobs and this situation reminded me so much of it because, deep down, I wanted a no so that the decision would be made for me and I wouldn’t have to push indie aside for fear of turning down a publishing deal. I got what I wanted, didn’t I? The decision has been made for me and that particularly publishing footpath leads no further.

But is it a case of be careful what you wish for? Watch this space …

 

I can’t sign off without saying thank you so much to the wonderful kindred spirits that are Jo, Alys and the other Write Romantics for their valuable guidance, support and advice and to honorary WR Sharon Booth. And to hubby who let me cry on him too. There may have been some snot in there too. Sorry about that! xxx

To SP or not to SP: That is the Question!

Self publishing. Indie publishing. Call it what you like but it’s the subject that has been going round and round in my mind for the last few months and I really can’t decide what to do. I’m not sitting on the fence on this one; I’ve been leaping back and forth across it from Traditional Crop to Indie Meadow and, quite frankly, I don’t know where my head’s at! So, in true writerly style, I’m going to put fingers to keyboard and try and write my way into a decision. Would you like to come on a little journey with me?

In the beginning …

When I first had the idea for Searching for Steven back in 2003 and decided to write, the dream was simple: to get a publishing deal and be able to hold a book I’d written. (If I’m being honest, the dream was really to dive into Waterstones, WH Smith or my local bookshop and be photographed grinning inanely whilst pointing to said book but let’s not go there cos it’s slightly cheesy even though I’m sure most writers long to do it!) When I say “book” I mean a physical book because this was four years before the first eReader came out and it simply wasn’t on my radar to even imagine a world where there would ever be a format for books other than paperback, hardback or audio. How things change!

ImageBack then, I had no idea that something called self publishing existed. But I hadn’t heard of vanity publishing either. In fact, I had little ideas of how publishing worked full stop. Then I met my husband and, as a freelance typesetter, he opened my eyes to the world of publishing. Sadly he mainly sets journals and text books so doesn’t have connections in the large fiction publishers so this isn’t going to be a short story with a happy ending where he introduced me to one of his clients and the deal was done. Instead, what I learned from him was the existence of self publishing. Local vicar-turned-writer, G P Taylor (Graham) had self-published his debut novel “Shadowmancer” that same year (2003) and Mark had picked up a 1st edition in Waterstones. The book took off and was picked up and re-released by Faber & Faber and became a New York Times No 1 bestseller. Graham’s books were cited at the time as being “hotter than Potter”. Imagine that! No pressure then!

In 2006 I attended a creative writing course run by Graham and, although I never thought seriously about becoming self published at the time, Graham’s success was always at the back of my mind. You can read more about G P Taylor on his official website

For several years I continued writing and learning my craft, always working towards the goal of being published in physical book format.

Then the eReader hit the market and the face of publishing changed forever.

I fought against owning a Kindle for some time. Books. That was what people should be reading. None of this new-fangled technology rubbish for me putting writers out of business. Except the reality has been quite the opposite. It’s actually opened up a world of publishing to many who would never have been in the right place at the right time with the right idea to secure a traditional publishing deal.

I succumbed and got a Kindle for Christmas 2012 and I confess I absolutely love it. It will never fully replace physical books for me. I’ll always love the smell and feel of an actual book but my Kindle is so practical. It’s with me all the time for those unexpected moments of waiting. I’m someone who can’t bear not being on the go and who hates wasted time so being unexpectedly stuck waiting for a lift, bus, child etc can suddenly be time well-spent by whipping out my Kindle and reading a few pages.

But this posting isn’t about the virtues of Kindles (other e-Readers are available!) It’s about the decision to self publish or not so let’s get back to that …

ImageLast summer I attended the RNA’s annual conference where one of my biggest learnings was that it is almost impossible for a debut writer to secure a UK publishing deal in my genre (note I said “almost”; some do, of course, achieve it but they are definitely the exception rather than the rule). For the rest of us debut writers, it became clear that a publishing deal would more likely be with an ePublisher. Many of the large publishers have set up dedicated ePublishing arms. I was lucky enough to secure a pitch with editors representing two ePublishers at the conference and, to my delight, they loved the premise of my story and my writing style and both wanted to see my full MS. The excitement I felt at this news made me realise that, even thought I will always like the idea of holding a book of mine in my hand, I would be very happy to secure an ePublishing deal. I think several factors contributed to this change of heart; my new love of my Kindle, the reality check that this was the way forward for a debut romance writer, the speed at which the book could be available to readers when compared to the traditional print market and also fellow Write Romantic, Helen Phifer, having secured a deal with Carina for her debut novel. You can read more about Helen here

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing Helen’s journey with her and have observed what it means to be ePublished via a large publisher. In the meantime, I’ve been submitting my MS. I’ve submitted to both the ePublishers I met (would be rude not to when so politely invited), I tried a few agents (just in case; got to keep that traditional publishing deal dream alive) and a handful of other ePublishers, more recently a few in the USA.

As expected, I’ve had some rejections. I had a very encouraging “near miss” from an agent which was exciting but, for every positive response, I’ve been disappointed by the “if you don’t hear from us within 6 weeks/2 months/6 months, assume it’s a no” approach to decisions. My day job has seen me in many recruitment roles over the years and I have always, always, always had the courtesy of getting in touch with candidates to let them know their application has been unsuccessful. It takes a bit of time to do and it’s bad news for the candidate … but at least it’s news! They can move on. They can apply elsewhere. They don’t have to keep checking their email wondering if today will be the day they hear. In this day and age where most submissions are online or via email, there simply isn’t any excuse for not getting in touch to tell an aspiring writer they’ve been unsuccessful. In my mind, it’s downright rude and it’s also poor customer service because, don’t forget, those who are good at their craft should also be voracious readers and therefore customers you’d hope not to alienate. Phew! Relax. Deep breath. Rant over!

Back to the journey …

So, I waited and I waited. And I waited some more. And I’m still waiting. And, to be honest, it’s frustrating as hell. Where else in business would such a long wait be acceptable? Nowhere. It feels so out of control. And that’s where the appeal of indie publishing comes in. It’s in your control. There’s a line in one of my favourite films, Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts’s character, Vivian, confronts Richard Gere after his lawyer, Stuckey, assaults her when she refuses his advances. She yells at Gere, “I say who, I say when, I say who …” Well, with self publishing, I’d say what, I’d say when, I’d say how much. I hadn’t really thought about the control thing until I had my recent lovely writerly afternoon with fellow Write Romantic Alex and our fellow NWS-friend Sharon. Sharon is quite keen on the idea of SP and one of the main drivers is the control. I’m someone who likes to be in control. I’m very organised, I’m usually a manager/leader at work, I’m a Brown Owl outside of work and generally I like to get things done … but within my timescales. I would only have that as an indie which makes indie very appealing.

I left my afternoon with Alex and Sharon with a spring in my step about self publishing. But then a couple of The Write Romantics received some really positive news that took them one step closer to their publishing dream and I had another reality check. I revelled in their news vicariously and was absolutely ecstatic for them. But feeling their excitement for them was a reminder of how excited I’d feel myself to get “the call”. Suddenly indie lost its shine and I was back to square one.

My current day job is a Learning & Development Advisor and, a couple of months ago, I was asked to be a facilitator, supporting a colleague running a coaching workshop. To give the delegates an opportunity to practice their coaching skills, they were broken into small groups and the facilitator of each group needed to present an issue they were dealing with outside of work and get the group to coach them. I choose “to SP or not SP”. I have to say the results out of this coaching session were quite fascinating. The only thing stopping me from going indie was me (often the case in any coaching situation) and the only reason I was stopping me was this slight doubt I have at the back of my mind (which I’m sure all debut writers have … and probably some successful writer too) is that I’m not good enough and having “the call” would be having someone in the know saying, “Don’t worry, Julie, we loved your work; you really are good enough.” But one of the coaches-in-training asked me the most enlightening question of the session: “Is there any other way you can get feedback that you’re good at writing.” OMG. Lightbulb moment. Sales. Reviews. Feedback. Of course!!!! (This lightbulb moment is worthy of several question marks even though I know that’s really a writing sin!)

Which brings my journey to present day …

I’m still waiting to hear back from 7 publishers. This is not me being either modest or down on myself but I absolutely do not expect to hear back from the three UK ones. I don’t think I have a chance with one of them as they did a submissions call and were inundated and I think they’ll be spoilt for choice. The other two have had my book way, way, way too long. Yes, it’s possible it’s going through a process and the length of time I’ve waited is a good sign but it’s equally possible it still hasn’t been read and, given that both editors specifically asked me for it, I feel that if it was really calling to them, I’d have heard by now so I have to conclude that the pull that was there in the summer isn’t there any more and I don’t know why. As for the US publishers, it’s an unknown for me. I want my book to be available to UK audiences as I want my friends and family to read it. Surely they deserve to after hearing me wittering on about being a writer for 11 years! I wonder if they’d publish in the US and I’d retain UK rights which would mean, what? SP is the only route in the UK again? I don’t know. As I said, it’s an unknown entity and a bridge I’ll cross if I ever get to it.

ImageThe final update on the journey is that, although at the start of this rather long post, I said Mark doesn’t have connections, that’s not strictly true. He has a local contact called Piers who has been in the publishing industry since the early 1970s. Piers writes fact and fiction, is traditionally published and self published and has published for others so he’s a wealth of knowledge and experience. I had a very useful phone conversation with him on Tuesday and he presented the indie route as a no-brainer, particularly financially. There’s no guarantee you’ll sell shed-loads but, hey, there’s no guarantee you’ll do any better if you have a publishing deal. Either way, you still have a lot of the marketing to do yourself and, with SP, you reap greater financial rewards for the same volume of sales. There’s formatting to do (cue expertise of typesetting husband). And a cover to design (cue expertise of amateur (but exceedingly good) photographer husband or his best friend (best man at our wedding) who happens to be a graphic designer). And there’s reliable experts to proof-read and edit the work (hello Write Romantics) and then voila! He also presented an idea I really hadn’t considered but which is pretty obvious if you think about it. The books he SPs, he does in both e-format and print format. He’s going to give me the details of a very good printing firm he uses and gave me an indication of costs. I love the idea of the credibility and increased market that potentially having eBooks and print books available on Amazon could bring. And if I didn’t want to invest in a large box of books, there’s CreateSpace who do POD (print on demand) so there are many options available to become indie AND still hold a physical book in my hand AND get that feedback from reviews and sales that my work really is good enough.

To SP or not to SP? I think I’ve answered the question haven’t I? I think the question really should be, “Do I have time to go indie for the summer market or do I wait and aim for Christmas?” Impatient by nature, there’s a part of me saying summer but professional by nature too, I believe Christmas may be more sensible. More time to plan. More time to network and build a customer base. More time to get the cover that’s really right for me. Plus, I’d like to do one more edit of Searching for Steven (just in case). After all, I haven’t read it for about nine months and a fresh look may inject new energy and life into it. And I suppose I would like to give that last few months to (hopefully) have the final decisions in from the 7 publishers who have Steven.

Although it would make a really great beach read …

 

A Space of my Own

I am very excited at the moment because I have finally got something that I’ve longed for in ages; my very own writing space. All mine.

ImageWe moved to our current house a little over three years. Our previous home had been a big Victorian three-storey five-bed end of terrace property in town. As we only have munchkin, this meant three spare bedrooms so hubby and I had an office each and there was still a spare bedroom for guests. I didn’t write as often in those days. I wanted to but I watched Emmerdale, Coronation Street and lots of other programmes until I realised that I could claw back time if I pretty much gave up TV. So I did. But I still found lots of distractions to keep me from writing.

When we moved to our current home – a newish-build four-bed house – having my own office didn’t seem that much of a priority. I’d stopped working from home and I didn’t write that often so why would I need my own space. Surely a spare room for friends and family to stay was more important? Thing was, family and friends never came to stay. We bought a new bed for the room and it’s been slept in four or five nights during three years. Whereas I have ditched the TV (mostly) and write every spare moment I have (ok, so I faff about with social media as well but I should be writing!) and have far more need for a writing space than our non-existant guests have for a bed.

ImageExcept hubby didn’t see it that way. I worked from home for a year and we shared an office and, when I started working in an office again at the start of last year, it was even harder to persuade him that I needed my own room. But then I began annoying him. Not deliberately, mind; I’m not that mean. My small desk seemed to be permanently stacked with papers and, every so often, I’d feel the urge to tidy them. Shuffling papers is apparently a distracting sound. Sometimes I like music on and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes he wanted music on and sometimes he didn’t . Yes, you’ve guessed it; these times never corresponded. He’d annoy me too. He can work with TV programmes or films streamed through his laptop. I can’t work at all if the TV is on because I’ll watch it whether I’m interested in it or not (may come from watching TV so rarely so I grab it where I can!)

It was my birthday at the start of May. A few months before, I told him that what I wanted would only cost a tin of paint and a few shelves. I wanted my own writing space. “It’s not going to happen,” he said. “It is,” I replied. And it finally has. Whether it’s three months of increased pressure that has got to him or sympathy for me having a minor health-scare last week, he’s caved in. There are conditions. I have to keep it tidy (no more piles of paperwork on my desk) and I have to make more time for the munchkin when I get in from work instead of disappearing into my writing sanctuary. I’m not convinced she’ll want my time as she’s usually watching something on TV or engrossed in a game of schools but I’ll do my best to be a better mum and try not to be insulted at the suggestion that I’m not.

ImageSo this bank holiday weekend has all been about tackling the spare bedroom. That would be the spare bedroom that had become a dumping ground because, with no staying guests, that’s what happens to spare rooms isn’t it? It took me several hours on Friday night and a couple more on Saturday morning to clear all of this out and it took me until Sunday to finish painting. I have a stretch of about a foot of unglossed skirting board to do because a large piece of furniture blocked me from doing it at the weekend. I need a couple of shelves putting up and there are still a few more boxes to unpack (not quite sure where the stuff is going to go but I’ll find somewhere eventually) but, other than that, I’m pretty much there. And I love it!

I haven’t actually done any proper writing yet i.e. on my novel rather than social media or this blog but I’m excited about doing that. I’ve surrounded myself by inspirational messages and gorgeous things. They don’t all match, there’s a complete mix of styles and colours but the room brings together the things I love – reading, writing, teddy bears and pretty things.

ImageI think hubby approves. He stood in the doorway earlier and said, “I think I might move in here”. He had the opportunity. As the one who works from home, I did say he could have this room instead (it’s slightly bigger) but he decided to stay put so he’s made his choice. This is MY space. ALL MINE!!!

Time to write … ooh, is that tea I smell? Perhaps after that then …

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These are a few of my favourite things!

It was my birthday at the start of this month and my husband actually excelled himself with his gifts. My main gift was to go to the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Conference in July so he just needed to get me a few small bits and bobs from him and our 7-year-old daughter. He apologised after I’d opened them for them being “not very exciting.” My instant response was, “You may find these boring but, to a writer, these are incredible gifts.” You see, he’d actually put some thought into it and searched online for gift ideas for writers and, as a result, had bought me:

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  1. A biro with the engraving, “write bestseller with” on it (I know that’s not grammatically correct but “with which to write my bestseller” would have taken up far too much space 😉 ) And it’s my favourite colour; purple
  2. A book called “642 Things to Write About” by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto which has, surprise, surprise, 642 ideas to get your creative juices flowing. It’s brilliant. Any one of those ideas could prompt a character, a scene or even a whole novel!
  3. A “Books to Check Out” journal where you note down books you want to read, books you’ve enjoyed and books you’ve borrowed or loaned to others. Fabulous

 

On top of that, he got me a book, CD and DVD. What a brilliant set of wonderfully imaginative presents! He may have thought them boring but, to me, these are the things that writers love!

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Writers themselves are brilliant buyers of gifts. My wonderful Write Romantic pal, Jo, sent me a gift that included a notebook, pen and a gorgeous paperweight with the word “Dream” in it. How very appropriate.

I have another writing friend, Sarah, who isn’t in The Write Romantics as she writes children’s books. We met about four years ago. We don’t see each other very often but we have always bought each other a birthday gift and I think we deliberately keep this up because we know that we will buy each other a fabulous writing gift; the sort that we’d like to buy ourselves but can’t justify spending the money on. Over the years, she’s bought me some wonderful items. This year it was a set of Emma Bridgewater stationery, which I love, but one of my favourite gifts ever was this gorgeous planner. I can’t wait to get my own writing space so I can put this on my wall and use it properly.

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I’ve always loved stationery, even before I had any thoughts about being a writer. I have three weaknesses: coloured pens, notebooks and pencil cases. I’ve got about eight pencil cases which is a bit ridiculous for someone who doesn’t go to school! I daren’t count how many notepads. I’ve asked hubby to take some pictures of them but, sshhh, don’t tell him that this doesn’t reflect the full collection! I buy them mainly when they’re on offer or because they’re simply too beautiful to resist. I like to use a pad to out each novel my they have to be right for novel. When I came up with the idea for book 1, I soon realised it was going to be a trilogy and I scoured bookshops, stationers and supermarkets trying to find three notepads that were part of a set yet different. I finally got a set that had different colour flowers on them and then I discovered some Paperblanks in WH Smith. One of them would set me back nearly double what the original three had cost but they were just so gorgeous. If you’re a Paperblank fan, you’ll know exactly what I mean. They are hardback, have quality paper, a little envelope in the back and a flap that closes over onto the front with a really satisfying thunk. How many times must I have visited WH Smith over a two-three week period telling myself I couldn’t afford them. I must have lost the battle because here they are and I’ve used one per book and not regretted the investment at all.

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Book 4, however, has moved completely away from the Paperblanks as, although it’s set in the same place, it has a new cast of characters and I wanted to start completely afresh. Boots were selling these over Christmas. Aren’t they gorgeous? In fact, cute or what? as they say on the front! The pages inside are pale pink with the owl motif on one side of the page and the bird on the other.

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Of course, something so beautiful needs a beautiful set of pens. Hello Stabilos. Look at all of those beautiful colours *Pauses to gaze at them dreamily* I’ve got four main characters in book 4 so I’ve been using a different colour to map out each one. Little things like that excite me. Is that sad? The Stabilo Boys also serve as great editing pens as I always have to print off a paper copy when I’m on my final edit as it’s the only way I can spot all the typos and consistency flaws. I’ve tried it on the screen and I can’t spot them although I do try to save the environment a bit by printing four pages per A4 page (I have good eyesight!)

So, I have my notepad and my lovely pens. There’s just one more tool I need to help me with my planning process; my planner. I used a diary when planning book 1 but then spotted one of these in the RSPB Reserve Shop at Bempton Cliffs of all places and I knew it was the tool I needed. As I plan out each chapter in my notebook, I write bullet points of the key events on the weekly planner and this helps me keep a track of days, dates and seasons.

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ImageThen it’s onto the computer and away I go.

I can’t finish this blog without a nod to some of my other favourite items of stationery so here’s a final selection of beautiful and practical things.

What about you? Are you stationery-mad? Please let me know what your must-have items are, the greatest stationery indulgence you’ve had or that one item you would love to have but simply can’t justify buying … yet!

Thanks for reading. And thanks to hubby for the wonderful photos, even if he did get stressed cos I gave him virtually no notice and he kept complaining the light wasn’t right so they weren’t his best work. They’re brilliant and better than anything I’d manage!

Julie xx

A bit of tea & sympathy is even better with cake!

I’m a huge fan of the Eurovision Song Contest so was glued to my TV for about 3.5 hours last night getting seriously envious of the skin and figure of bearded drag-Queen Conchita Wurst who took Austria to the winning spot with a massive 290 points. Inspired by Eurovision, I began writing a post about what makes a winning song and quoting some dodgy lyrics from the past. It took quite a bit more research than expected so I had to leave it part-written to go out and fulfil my afternoon plans. However, having got back from my afternoon out, I’ve ditched the Eurovision post in favour of inspiration from my afternoon instead.

You see, this afternoon I had something as good as a child-free afternoon of writing. I had tea, sympathy and cake with two writing friends (Alex and Sharon). We talked about writing solidly for four hours, only halted by closing time at Costa. I could have stayed for hours more and, driving home, I thought about what an amazing support network of friends I have with The Write Romantics and with Alex (who is also a Write Romantic) and Sharon which then got me reflecting on friendships and support groups throughout my life so far.

ImageWhen I was at primary school, I don’t remember having a big circle of friends. I was one of these kids who played with most other kids and dipped in and out of groups. There were a gang of kids within a 3-year age range in my street and the next who tended to hang around outside of school and I was a leader in that gang but we didn’t interact at school. By the time the oldest went to senior school, the gang fell apart because it simply wasn’t the done thing for senior school children to mix with primary kids!

Senior school overwhelmed me. With seven or eight feeder primary schools plus outlying villages, it was enormous. Most of my friends from primary school were disbursed amongst different classes and I felt really alone. I had a friend from primary school who I hung around with in my 1st year and then a new best friend (let’s call her Emily) for the next two years. We were inseparable while we were in the same form class but she found a new best friend by 4th year who was prettier and slimmer and therefore a better boy-magnet then me. Emily and I were still allegedly best friends until we went away for university but I’d say it was a toxic friendship and one I don’t miss.

In college, I was part of a small group of four but always felt like the outsider and it was the same when I started university. The first time I really experienced a great group of friends who supported each other was on my year out. There were a group of us who were on our placement year and we mixed with the graduate trainees with the bank we worked for. It was amazing. There was always something going on and I thought I’d found friends for life. But things don’t always work out as expected. Without email or mobiles, we lost contact during our final year at university and when a few of us returned as graduate trainees ourselves, I found myself on the outside of a huge clique. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. The next couple of years were a very lonely place although I did have a small group of very good friends from my final year at university who kept in touch and met up regularly.

Then, in my mid-twenties, I became part of a huge circle of friends. It felt like it had done on my year out again. We all worked for the same bank but had met through a work social club that organised adventure activity weekends. I felt so at home with like-minded people. We all loved being outdoors, challenging ourselves to abseil, gorge-walk, mountain-bike, surf or whatever we were doing that weekend. We all worked for the same company. And we liked beer! Once again, I thought I’d found friends for life. But one by one we left the bank to further our careers and, even though the love for the great outdoors hadn’t gone, the activity weekends had (because they were organised through work) and the connection of work had gone too.

After that, I moved around the country with work and never had a big group of friends again. I have some amazing friends I’ve gathered along the way from Guides, university, holidays and work but no big groups. Until I became a Write Romantic, that is.

One of the friends I met through doing all my outdoor activities used to say that we wouldn’t be friends long-term because, once we left the bank, we’d have nothing in common. She said friends come and go and it’s not worth trying to make a friendship work for the long-term. I used to find that quite an odd and disturbing outlook on things. But she was absolutely right. Perhaps things would have been different if social media had been around but it wasn’t so our friendship did, indeed, fall apart. I tried not to let it but she stopped returning my calls. Hard – but valuable – lesson to learn. 

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With The Write Romantics, we haven’t actually all met yet. I met Jo virtually and we set up the blog, then I met Alex at a dinner organised by another RNA-member. Alex met Sharon, another member of the New Writer’s Scheme, through Twitter and, as the three of us all lived within an hour of each other, we met up around this time last year and then again today.

Quite quickly after we started the blog, Jo and I realised we couldn’t sustain regular entries from just the two of us so we opened up membership and are now nine.

We’re different ages, live in different parts of the country (and one even lives in Australia), we write different genres and we all have very different backgrounds but the one thing that will always connect us is writing. We may move, we may change jobs, we may change partners, we may change other hobbies but the nine of us (and Sharon as our honorary member) will always, always, write. Because it’s in our veins. Because it’s in our minds. Because we have to. For that reason, we are – and will continue to be – the most amazing support network for each other. 

It’s been said many times that writing is a solitary occupation. It’s also one where you have to be so tough and resilient to face the rejections as you try to get published and the bad reviews when you do get published (whether this be traditionally or self) and we all have our moments where we wobble like crazy. Moments where we want to give up. Moments where we don’t think we’ll make it. Moments where we don’t believe we’re good enough. But all we need to do is put something on our closed Facebook group or message one of the others and we have tea, sympathy and cake to cheer us up. Most of the time this is virtual but today was so lovely to have it face to face. Alex, Sharon and I are all working on “that difficult second book”. We’re all thinking about the future and what it holds. And we’re all talking about self publishing and what this may mean. Today was so valuable to talk through where we are with our writing journeys and our hopes for the future. I think I may have talked far too much but I do have a few things clearer in my own mind about where I personally want to go with my writing. I feel even more positive about the latest rejection that came through last week. And I have a new idea for a novel inspired by a line in a song I listened to on the way home.

So thanks Alex and Sharon for today. Thanks to the Write Romantics for the last year. And thanks to all the friendships that have come and gone in my life because you’ve made me the writer I am today. At the RNA Conference last year, writer Julie Cohen ran a brilliant workshop about theme. I realised that all the plots I had for novels have a theme running through them. Yes, they’re all romance stories because that’s the genre I write but they all have the theme of friendship – lifelong friendships, friendships changing over time, toxic friendships. You name it, it’s in there. And I know it’s because of my experiences throughout the years as friends have dipped in and out of my life, most leaving fond memories but some leaving scars. I’ve also learned from those who’ve stayed in my life, some for the long haul, who I may not see very often (or even at all) but who are always there thanks to the power of social media and some incredible shared experiences over the years. Every one of these friends who have come and gone or stayed have given inspiration to this writer who won’t give up because she has friends around her who understand, who support her and who, quite simply, won’t let her. You know who you are xxx

Let’s Be British & Talk About the Weather!

I’m going to cheat a bit with my posting as it was my turn to pen the Saturday Spotlight on The Write Romantics blog yesterday so I’m using the same post with apologies to anyone who follows both sites!

 

Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Never has a BBC adaptation caused so much controversy. Complaints of mumbling, bad accents, incoherent speech etc. were rife. The BBC claimed “technical sound difficulties” on night one. Can’t say I noticed any difference by night two. I found myself faced with two choices – give up or put the subtitles on. I settled for the subtitles. I usually put Film4 on while drying my daughter’s with subtitles on because I can’t hear over the noise of the hairdryer. Having them on without the hairdryer was definitely a first.

But the purpose of my post today is not to discuss poor sound quality. I want to be extremely British and talk about the weather. I promise you that there’s a point to the Jamaica Inn reference. You see, the other thing that slapped me across the chops whilst watching the three episodes was the weather. Darkness enveloped the bleak moors, wet mud caked the bottoms of dresses (except in the continuity error when Mary Yellan ran across the moors at one point and her dress was miraculously clean but let’s not go there), dark clouds flew across grey skies and rain lashed down. Then, at the very end, we saw our first glimpse of blue sky and fluffy clouds.

I haven’t read Jamaica Inn (sorry, such a pleb) but I wonder if the weather in the dramatization matches the book. As it’s described as a “dark, gothic novel”, I’m imagining it does. The dark skies, fog, rain and mud all helped absorb the viewer in the remoteness, desolation and desperation of the cast stuck in a bleak place where smuggling and murder had become a way of life.

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The use of weather in writing is a subject that’s particularly close to me at the moment as it was one of the things that was flagged up in my disappointing NWS report for book 2, Getting Over Gary.

I’m very conscious that my natural style of writing is dialogue-heavy/description-light so I specifically spent time during an edit of book 1 making sure I covered all five senses, described my settings, and captured the weather. I thought I’d done this well and my reader of book 1 clearly agreed: “you describe things in just the right amount of detail, so that there’s enough to give an idea of the place, but not so much that it’s noticeable. I was very impressed. The setting is easy to picture (and quite stunning in location)”.

So how come book 2 got: “The North Yorkshire coast is beautiful, potentially forbidding and romantic all at the same time. A really excellent place to set this sort of story. So why not make more of it?” Oops! As soon as I read that, I smiled wryly to myself as I’d completely forgot to do my special edit to add in the stuff I know I leave out. Thankfully, it’s not tricky to do this and I know I did it well in book 1 so I can apply that same approach to book 2.

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The use of weather in books is fascinating. There’s the obvious idea that it helps us capture the seasons and therefore move the book through the passage of time but it’s even more powerful in that it can really help set moods and emotions. In book 1, I have quite a traumatic opening scene for my protagonist and the emotion is heightened in this scene through a thunderstorm. Throughout the book, heavy rain or storms make an appearance at various other points of turmoil to the point that the protagonist actually fears storms because they create such a sense of foreboding for her. In book 2, the protagonist’s “challenges” are in the height of summer; not so many thunderstorms around. And I didn’t want to repeat myself with the same storm technique to create mood so, instead, the fun and laughter enjoyed by families during the summertime at the seaside act as a stark contrast to her sorrow.

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As well as heightening emotion, weather can be the catalyst for something to happen. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that one of my favourite romcoms is 27 Dresses. In a key scene in this film, the two leads have a heated argument whilst she’s driving. Rain pelts the car (good mood-building weather) and then the car aquaplanes, leaves the road and gets stuck in the mud. This means the leads have no choice but to spend the night together and this is the catalyst for their relationship developing. The argument wouldn’t have been nearly so dramatic if there’d been sunshine and the accident wouldn’t have happened.

Another way of using weather is to trigger something e.g. flood-waters carry a dead body downstream which would have remained hidden otherwise or a ship is wrecked at sea in a storm and the survivors are washed up on a strange island. My imagination was particularly captured recently when I read an article in the Huffington Post. Two 17-year old girls went missing in 1971 in South Dakota. What happened to them had remained an absolute mystery until last autumn when high spring waters followed by a drought revealed the wheels of a car upside down at the bottom of a creek. It was the car they’d last been seen in and skeletons were found in the front seats. It would appear to have been a tragic accident rather than foul-play. Those poor girls in their watery grave and their poor parents not knowing if they were alive or dead for 42 years. I don’t write about murders or mysteries but still story massively triggered my “what if …” reaction. What if they’d never been found? What if they’d been found with bullet holes in them? What if the car had been found but the bodies inside weren’t theirs? What if one of them had been pregnant? What if other cars were found in the same creek? What if something sinister was found in the boot (sorry, trunk; this was in the USA)? And suddenly I had a load of plots for a different genre forming in my head which is not good because I already have book 3 in my trilogy and the outline of another 3-4 books of the same genre already in my head. Too many characters. Too much to think about. I feel a storm brewing in my head! And that brings us nicely back to the weather.

ImageI thought I’d finish this blog post with some more of my husband’s fabulous photographs (all the earlier ones are his) which are potentially really evocative of mood. This first one is a picture I absolutely adore. It was taken at the Armed Forces Day in Scarborough in summer 2013. My 6-year-old (at the time) was dressed in patriotic colours and we’d taken a break from the crowds. She wandered away to look at the fairground and hubby captured this shot:

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If you were to write a story about this image, what would it be? When would it be set? Would the mood be one of a happy childhood or is there something a little spooky or sinister about this? It generated a lot of debate when hubby first posted it on Facebook. Whilst everyone loved it, the jury was out as to whether there were dark undertones. I personally think it’s just very atmospheric and don’t feel the need to label it happy or dark.

 

 

 

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What about this one? Clearly it’s a very different time of year. This was taken round the corner from where we live in the winter of 2012/13. Excitement and anticipation of first-footing in the snow or something a little more eerie? I have this image of a dark shadow appearing under the lamppost …

 

 

 

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Here’s another completely different one. Same time of year but a very different feel. Is it a calm feeling or is it one of loneliness? Who is that man in the middle of the field and what’s he doing there? He was actually a dog-walker and you can see the dog in another shot but, without the dog, why is there a man stood in the middle of a field early one morning. Who’s he watching?

 

 

Finally, I’ll leave you with three contrasting photos of the incredible power and beauty of the sea on the North Yorkshire Coast. You can create your own stories from these…

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Thanks for reading. Thanks for looking. And thanks to the very talented Mark Heslington for allowing me to use his photos. Right, I’m off to inject more weather and scenery into book 2. Feeling pretty inspired after looking at these. I can bring that beauty to life. Or at least I hope I can! I’d love to hear your stories of great books or films where you think the weather has been used to good effect.

Julie xx