The one where two of my books get a fresh look and a new identity

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

When the idea for my debut novel,  Searching for Steven, came to me, I had no idea whether I had the ability to turn it into an actual book. I enjoyed writing but writing a book was a bit different from writing the questions for a job interview, a case study for a role play or a training course; all part of my day job as an HR Professional. With a lot of false starts, many hours poring over self-help books with my highlighter poised (shh – don’t tell anyone I do that!) and thousands of abandoned words, I made it. And not only had I got to the end of a book but I’d developed a trilogy. Woo hoo! Highly unexpected and very exciting.

A publishing deal followed (after many rejections in case that sounds like it was really easy to secure) and a home for the trilogy was found. My publisher asked if I could pen a short story as a sample of my writing, introducing potential readers to the fictional world of Whitsborough Bay. An idea came to me for the perfect prequel to the series, but I tend to think big when it comes to plot ideas and it became a novella instead of a short story.

Raving About Rhys was released in May 2015, a couple of weeks before Searching for Steven but it was deliberately written as a standalone novella and could be read before or after Steven.  The other two books from the original trilogy – Getting Over Gary and Dreaming About Daran were released in March and August 2016 respectively but, not long after, it all went a bit wrong. My publisher ceased trading and I needed to quickly re-release them as an indie writer, each with a speedily-designed new cover. Once we had more time, each had another new cover designed. Hubby and I never really liked the cover for Raving About Rhys but I was a bit stuck for ideas so we decided to live with it. Within 18 months of being released, Raving About Rhys had had three identities!

Raving About Rhys tells the story of Callie Derbyshire who works in Bay View Care Home, and loves her job, mainly because she adores the residents. Her favourite resident – even though she knows she shouldn’t have favourites – is Ruby, a woman in her mid-eighties with a colourful past and a grandson who may or may not be a figment of her imagination. Out of the many characters I’ve created across my books, Ruby has remained my very favourite (don’t tell the others in case they stop speaking to me!) She’s funny, mischievous and has a fascinating dynamic with fellow-resident, Iris, who she swears is not her friend.

8. Callies Christmas Wish COVERAlthough Raving About Rhys was a complete story in novella format, Ruby stayed with me over the next couple of years so, last year, I decided to write a follow-up. Callie’s Christmas Wish picked up a few months after Raving About Rhys ended and, as well as letting the reader find out whether Callie’s happy ending stayed happy, it revealed the secrets to Ruby’s past. But Rhys was about to get his fourth identity and, this time, it would be more than a change of cover…

Half of my amazing nine-book publishing deal with the fabulous Boldwood Books comes from my back catalogue. Across 2020, the original trilogy will be re-edited, re-titled and re-released but as a four-book series starting with Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish combined into one story.

The brand new title for this combined book is … drum roll please …

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I absolutely love the new title which combines the name of the care home where Callie works with the strong theme of wishes that I originally had. Funnily enough, I toyed with changing the titles of each book in the series last year, wondering if I should go for something a bit more commercial. I came up with a couple of reasonable(ish) titles but kept trying to incorporate ‘care home’ into the replacement title here which just didn’t work. It never entered my head to simply use ‘Bay View’ even though I frequently refer to Bay View Care Home as Bay View throughout the book! I think you can be too close to your own work and it’s lovely to have the objectivity of an editor who can stand back and see different things.

Raving About Rhys is temporarily still available on Amazon but, once that has been linked with Making Wishes at Bay View, he will disappear from sale and only the combined version will be available. Callie’s Christmas Wish has already been unpublished in preparation for this change.

Business Card FRONTAs for the story, what’s changed? Very little. When I wrote Callie’s Christmas Wish,  I needed to incorporate some backstory from Raving About Rhys for the benefit of anyone who hadn’t read Rhys first. Combining the two books meant all of that needed removing because it wasn’t needed anymore. The story itself hasn’t changed at all and we still have the same fabulous cast of characters, including a real treat of a couple more scenes between Ruby and Iris which I loved writing. There’s a bit more detail around the friendship between Callie and her colleague, Maria, and a couple of tweaks to Maria’s storyline but it’s otherwise the same two stories and characters brought together under one book.

So do you need to read Making Wishes at Bay View if you’ve already read Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish?  It’s entirely up to you. If it’s been a while since you’ve read them or you loved the stories so much that you were going to revisit them anyway, you might want to read the fresh version. I know my mum will and so will my sister-in-law, Sue, who has read the whole series several times!

As soon as the cover is finalised, Boldwood will do a reveal and the ARC version of Making Wishes at Bay View will be made available through NetGalley.

Screenshot 2019-06-18 at 09.41.35It’s currently available on pre-order on Amazon here. It’s going to be £1.99 for eBooks across all platforms but Amazon have priced it a little under that at the moment at £1.59 and will adjust this to £1.99 when the other platforms have it up for pre-order and Amazon’s systems price-match. Therefore, if you want to bag a bargain and grab the new version at a slightly cheaper price, zip on over to Amazon right now! As well as other eBook platforms, it will be available on audio and paperback again. I’m thrilled that the same narrator from The Secret to Happiness, Lucy Brownhill, will be recording the whole of the new series so, if you enjoyed that, you’re in for an absolute treat as she’s sticking around. Yay!

The other three books in the series all have brand new names and we’re in the process of editing them too so, if you’re new to my writing and are thinking of buying the series, you might like to hold fire until 2020 when they’ll all be edited and re-released through Boldwood Books. Title reveals coming later.

Hugs and good wishes.

Jessica xx

Here’s the blurb:

Never give up on a wish for a happy ever after…

Callie Derbyshire has it all: her dream job as a carer at Bay View, <i>finally</i> she has found the love of her life. Everything is perfect.

Well, almost.

Ex-partners are insistent on stirring up trouble, and Callie’s favourite resident, Ruby, hasn’t been her usual self.

But after discovering the truth about Ruby’s lost love, Callie is determined to give Ruby’s romantic story the happy ending it deserves. After all, it’s never too late to let love in again. Or is it?

A heartwarming and uplifting novel of finding love and friendship in the least expected places from top 10 bestselling author, Jessica Redland.

This book was previously published as two novellas – Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish.

 

A Little Christmas Reading

Every Christmas I take time off work. Typically I like to have Christmas Eve off right through to New Year and, if there’s only a day or two after New Year’s Day (like this year), I like to add them to the end of my break. A week and a half off work. Perfect. What a lot of time to spend relaxing and reading.

Except that never really happens.

P1050958I have visions of spending a relaxing family Christmas Eve watching festive films and eating chocolate. I wish! Typically there’s some last minute Christmas card distribution, a trip down to the market to buy the Christmas dinner vege, and the 4.00pm Christingle Service with my Brownie Pack. I take the munchkin with me and the girls are asked to dress as kings, shepherds or angels which is lovely. Only the munchkin never seems to get ready on time, or has a last-minute costume change, or we can’t find something so it’s a fraught panic to get out of the house and arrive before the Brownies. But, once we’re there, it’s fabulous. We have a good turn-out from the Brownies each year with around 15 or so of my pack of 24 joining us. There’s something very magical about being surrounded by excited 7-10 year olds, dressed in their Christmas costumes, singing carols by candlelight on Christmas Eve. Despite the getting-out-the-house annual panic, it’s one of my favourite events of the year. I’m wondering if the nativity can top last year’s. I can’t remember exactly what happened but it pretty much descended into disorganised chaos and I got the giggles. I often get the giggles. I know I shouldn’t when trying to be the role model for a group of children but, hey, if you can’t laugh at Christmas, when can you?

I’d best return to the point of this blog post which was about reading. So, every year I have these great intentions of doing a stack of reading. I’ve noticed more and more Christmassy books appearing over the last decade or so and they always look so enticing on the shelves (or the virtual shelves on Amazon). I’d never, ever bought a Christmas novel but I was drawn to one six years ago. The snowy cover enticed me, the blurb assured me it was my kind of story and, although I wasn’t familiar with the author, I made the purchase. But here’s what happened:

_MG_6905Year 1 – the book came home from the bookstore, got put on the shelf, got forgotten about

Year 2 – I picked the book up and read one chapter but Christmas chaos ruled and, by the time I picked up the book again three months later, I’d forgotten what happened in chapter 1 and I decided it was no longer the time of year to read about Christmas so it went back on the shelf

Year 3 – Exactly the same as Year 2 except I think I managed two chapters this time!

Year 4 – I had gritty determination to conquer my Christmas novel and, although I struggled to find time during the day to relax and read, I made sure I read some each evening. I actually finished the book before the end of January but, unfortunately, I didn’t like it! What an anti-climax! I was absolutely determined to plough through it because of the epic number of attempts to read it but I didn’t warm to the heroine, I didn’t really believe the story, and I was hugely disappointed by the ending. Needless to say, I’m not going to share the name of the book or author. Perhaps it was just me. Perhaps my battle to read it had already clouded my feelings and I was never going to enjoy it. Poor book

Year 5 – I was excited to discover a Christmas book in my RNA Conference goody bag. I decided I’d start this one much earlier so that I’d be well into it by the time Christmas itself hit and I’d make myself find a few snatched moments across the holidays to bury my nose in it. I managed about three chapters but then Christmas hit and we dug out a Christmas jigsaw we’d bought the year before but never opened. The munchkin likes jigsaws and I’ve helped her complete children’s ones over the years but I haven’t done a complicated jigsaw since I was a child and, here we were, presented with a 1000-piece scene from a toy shop at Christmas. We lay it out on the coffee table and all joined in. I had no idea that it would be so hard or that it would become an addiction; one that caused hours to whizz by without me noticing. The Christmas book is still on my bedside shelf with the marker in at the start of chapter 4. And, guess what? Yep, I can’t remember what’s happened so far.

This year, however, I’m already ahead of myself. Because this year, I’ve discovered the wonder of the novella. If I’m honest, I hadn’t actually heard of a novella until last summer. In my mind, there were novels and there were short stories and I had no idea of a concept that existed in-between and may I say what a wonderful concept it is.

As a writer, I should read. I know I should. It’s research. It’s enjoyment. But as a writer who also has a full-time job, a Brownie pack to run, goes to bootcamp 3 mornings a week, and has a family, time really is a struggle. I hardly ever watch TV as evenings are my writing time. I’m trying to get into the habit of going to bed a smidge earlier and reading before sleep, even if only a chapter. The novella has helped massively because these are stories that are long enough to develop characters, make you care about them, and tell a decent story, yet they’re short enough to be read across just a few evenings. Perfect for the person with no time.

The fact that I’ve read three Christmas-themed novellas already and we’re still a few days off Christmas Day speaks volumes. Ok, so I cheated and I actually read one of them over half term in October whilst on my holidays, but it was still a novella set at Christmas and I did go on to read the other two in the series.

So, here’s my lowdown:

The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come by Jo Bartlett

51RNIeU+KiL._AA160_Even if Jo wasn’t a fellow-Write Romantic and great friend, I would still be raving about this book because it’s gorgeous. Set in the fictional St Nicholas Bay (where I want to move right now!), it spans across a whole year, starting and ending with Christmas, and leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. I can’t recommend this novella enough. And it seems I’m not the only one; 15 x 5-star reviews agree!

Here’s the blurb:

The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come is a novella that spans two Christmases and one woman’s quest to complete a family with a missing piece.

School-teacher Kate Harris is about to turn thirty-four and suddenly the tick-tock of her biological clock is almost deafening. Facing another Christmas without a longed for child in her life, it’s time to take action.

With the support of her closest friends, in the close-knit small town of St Nicholas Bay, she decides to go it alone. But in a town where Christmas is big business all year round, and it’s rumoured that Charles Dickens wrote some of A Christmas Carol, it turns out Santa Claus isn’t the only one with mysterious powers.

Should Kate listen to a voice from beyond the grave telling her to slow down and wait for her real fate to be revealed, or follow her heart and find the missing pieces of her family in a way she’d never imagined?

Holly’s Christmas Kiss by Alison May

61JIt0EQtvL._AA160_This Christmas Kisses novella was out last Christmas but I only downloaded it this year and I’m glad I did. From a wedding to an airport to snowy Scotland, this is another warm and fuzzy read that will leave you smiling. I’m off to download the second Christmas Kisses novella right now, Cora’s Christmas Kiss, as I think I’ve time to squeeze in one more before Christmas Day!

Here’s the blurb:

Happy Holidays? Not for Michelle…

Holly Michelle Jolly hates Christmas and she has a good reason to. Apart from her ridiculously festive name which made her the brunt of jokes at school, tragic and unfortunate events have a habit of happening to her around the holiday season. And this year is no different.

After the flight to her once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination is cancelled, Michelle faces the prospect of a cold and lonely Christmas. That is, until she meets Sean Munro. Sean loves Christmas, and he wants to share the magic with Michelle.

With Sean’s help, can Michelle experience her first happy Christmas, or will their meeting just result in another year of memories that she’d rather forget?

Christmas at The Gingerbread Café by Rebecca Raisin

51JIuTL6nPL._AA160_This is the first in a series of novellas set in Ashford, Connecticut; a small town with lots of small businesses including Lily’s Gingerbread Café. I gobbled up the first three novellas whilst on holiday over half term and am about to download the fourth which is set at Christmas too. Perhaps that’s one for after Alison’s?

Here’s the blurb:

Christmas is the season the Gingerbread Café in Ashford, Connecticut was made for…but owner Lily couldn’t be feeling less merry if she tried. She’s spent another year dreaming of being whisked away on a sleigh-ride for two, but she’s facing festive season alone – again. And, just to give her another reason to feel anything other than candy-cane perky, a new shop across the road has opened… Not only is it selling baked goods, but the owner, with his seriously charming smile, has every girl in town swooning.

But Lily isn’t about to let her business crumble — the Gingerbread Café is the heart of the community, and she’s going to fight for it! This could be the Christmas that maybe, just maybe, all her dreams – even the someone-to-decorate-the-Christmas-tree-with ones – really do come true!

P1060064Of course, there are a stack of other novellas and novels out there. These are just three that I have read and loved and therefore recommend if you want something quick that will make you smile and make you care.

Oh, and Winter Tales: Stories to Warm Your Heart is still available, of course, with all proceeds going to Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust.

Happy reading and Happy Christmas!

Jessica 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 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

To Novella or not to Novella? That is the question

On today’s Saturday Spotlight on The Write Romantics blog, we were joined by fellow-RNA member, Liz Harris. Liz became a published writer two years ago with a novel and novella published in 2012. She spoke to us about writing novellas and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about today.

If you don’t know what a novella is or if you do and would like to find out more, you may like to start by checking out our blog post from Liz:

http://thewriteromantics.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/saturday-spotlight-guest-slot-writing-a-novella-by-liz-harris/

Got it? So, in very stripped-back terms, it’s basically a novel but a lot shorter, with fewer characters and one main plot rather than a sub-plot or several running alongside it. A writing friend had her first book published last year as well as a novella and said that the novella sold really well. This could be because it was a Christmas one and, with the stress and hectic-ness (if that’s not a word, it should be) of Christmas, perhaps readers feel they have time to read a Christmas-themed novella but not a full novel. I’d echo that. I like the idea of reading a Christmas novel each year but find my reading time is so limited that I started one Christmas novel in 2010, started it again in 2011 and finally read it all the way through during Christmas 2012!

It all sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? Fewer words = double the number of books I could write = more sales (if I get published or, if not, when I self-publish).

Except I’m stuck for an idea. I have several ideas for novels swimming around in my mind but, every time I think of one as a novella (i.e. shorter, more focused), the cast of characters have a fight with me and scream, “What about our sub-plot?” I’ll be honest and say that I’m struggling to think of an idea that isn’t too big. Let’s face it, my first idea for a novel became a trilogy and has since developed into a series so I’m not exactly from the school of thinking small and focused am I?

My wonderful writing friend and fellow Write Romantic, Jo, is currently working on a Christmas novella and she tells me she’s finding it great fun to write. I’m not sure whether the fun comes from the theme (surely anything Christmas-themed must be fun?) or the different approach needed so I must explore more. I feel I want to write one because I am someone who over-writes. My first draft of book 1 came in a little shy of 130,000 words so I had to do a lot of hard work to narrow it down to something closer to 100,000. A bit of focus on a novella could be really great learning.

I’m currently trying to write a short story which is presenting me with an even greater challenge for exactly the same reason. I’ve come up with the premise and my typical approach is to allow it to brew in my mind for a while before putting pen to paper. Whilst I can see how it could be a short story, the novelist in me has already made it bigger. I imagine the event in the short story being a chapter or two in a novel and can see great scope for developing the characters and sub-plots and I keep having to tell myself to stop getting carried away. Perhaps that’s where I’m going wrong. Perhaps I should stop fighting the bigger picture and write the short story but then write the novel featuring it. Maybe the short story could be a teaser? I’m sure I’ve ready many times that writers have done this; write a short story then create a whole novel from it. The thing is, I don’t think that would work with a novella as that’s like writing half a novel then padding it out with another 50,000 words by introducing another character or two and a couple of sub-plots. That really, really wouldn’t work.

Where does that leave me? I’m feeling quite comfortable with the idea of my short story being a springboard for a novel, now but I’m wondering if a novella perhaps isn’t for me. Or am I just thinking that because I’ve never actually read one. How can I make a decision about writing something when I’ve never read it? Perhaps it’s time to bob on over to Amazon for a few quick Kindle downloads. In the meantime, do let me know if you’ve ever written a novella and why. If you’re a reader of them, what do you like about them and can you recommend any you’ve really loved? Would be great to hear from you.

I now have a child-free and husband-free afternoon. The hoovering is done, the washing is on and it’s time to write. Perfect way to spend a bank holiday Saturday in my opinion, especially as yesterday was spent traipsing around a farm, zoo and playgrounds with my little one so it’s guilt-free writing time as her Nana will be entertaining her instead. Think I’ll just poddle downstairs and get my Easter egg first. Yes, I know you’re not meant to open them until Sunday but I dropped it on the floor and it broke so I have to eat it. Honest …!!!

Pick my product! Pick my product! Buy me! Buy me! Now!

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that, every so often, a headline appears on Yahoo!’s home page that intrigues me and that, instead of doing what I’m meant to be doing (writing!), I click through to it. Come on, you know you do it … that’s why advertisers pay a fortune to appear on these links. Sometimes I’m glad I did as I read something genuinely funny or interesting but, more often than not, it’s a waste of my time.

About a week ago I was particularly intrigued by was this one:

http://uk.movies.yahoo.com/secret-life-of-walter-mitty-wins-worst-product-placement-award-123218430.html

I studied marketing at university and, although I’ve never followed a career in marketing (I went down the HR route instead), I’ve always been fascinated by adverts and product placement. I confess I have neither read nor seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty but I’m now curious to do so simply because of the apparent randomness of product placement. Over the years, this is something I’ve noticed become more and more blatant in films and TV programmes and it’s quite often laughable. I imagine Coca Cola and PepsiCo have quite brutal fights over the right to have the stars drink their brand of pop when, truth be told, it wouldn’t make a jot of difference to me as I’d pick the one that I like the taste of best (Diet Pepsi in case you’re curious). However, it clearly makes a difference to those who are perhaps slightly more influenced by these things. Or they wouldn’t bother.

A couple of favourite examples of product placement are two films that blatantly satire it: Wayne’s World and The Truman Show. Two very different films but love them both … and their approach to advertising!

So what does this have to do with writing? Quite a lot actually. It’s only a matter of time before the massive reach of books is exploited by advertisers. There are examples out there already but nothing on as grand a scale as TV and films but how long will this last? 

In my debut novel, Searching for Steven, my protagonist has two cats. Good friends of mine had two cats who they’d named Caffrey and Guinness. As our student days weren’t long behind us and we were very fond of Irish ales, this seemed a great pair of names. Inspired by this idea, I named Sarah’s cats Cadbury and Buttons. I love chocolate so why not? But then I started work as a Recruitment Manager for Nestle and it seemed very wrong to be promoting the competition so I changed the names to Kit and Kat which I thought was genius on another level (small things amuse me!) I also thought it would be a great little story when (if) I got my publishing deal and I could maybe try and wangle some sponsorship out of my employer in the meantime. It wasn’t to be. I never got the book finished while still working for them! When I left Nestle four-and-a-half years later, I decided to change the names again. But I couldn’t do it. I’d lived with Kit and Kat for so long and the poor little things didn’t deserve another identity crisis.

Last weekend, I went away to a lovely lodge overlooking a lake and asked my husband to take some photos of me writing on the balcony to use on this blog. His twin sisters were with us and they decided that the pictures should include a little bit of product placement. Except it wasn’t a little bit. They dragged every branded item they could find out of the cupboards. What do you think?

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Hmmm. Even The Truman Show would be proud of that one!!!

Personally I prefer the slightly more under-stated Apple product placement …

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Plus it’s a far more flattering shot of me. Not that I’m vain. But that first one is pretty grim and a reminder that I really need to get the diet back under control. I will just point out that I didn’t then go on to trough the Flake, Walker’s Crisps, box of Thorntons etc. Well, not all in one go anyway!

Over to you. What do you think of product placement in books? Have you come across it in any books you’ve read? Have you done it in yours? Would love to hear more

Silence is golden when you’re a writer … or is it?

Wednesday evenings in my house are very quiet. Once my 7-year-old daughter has settled to bed and the cats have been fed, it’s just me and my writing because hubby goes out on Wednesday to do some shooting. Not guns. Arrows. He took up archery last summer and loves it. I usually really enjoy Wednesday evenings because I can just get on with my current WIP with absolutely no distractions and no feelings of guilt that I’m lost in my little world of imaginary friends while other members of the household may actually appreciate a bit of company.

But last night felt strange. Last night seemed overly quiet. Last night, writing was a struggle. And I realised that, for me, silence isn’t always golden. Silence doesn’t always help me write. Silence isn’t always my friend. I knew only one person could help me … Delta Goodrem. “Who?” I hear you ask. Long blond hair. Australian. Plays the piano. Started out in Neighbours in 2002. Used to be engaged to Brian McFadden (formerly of Westlife) and did a duet with him called “Almost Here”. Debut single was “Born to Try”. Know who I mean now? I confess that “Born to Try” isn’t one of my favourite tracks but I absolutely love everything else she’s done. I don’t know if it’s the piano or her particular vocals or the fact that I’ve listened to her albums so many times that I don’t need to concentrate anymore but Delta is the perfect soundtrack to my writing. Plus she writes about love and loss and emotional angst which is exactly what a romance writer needs. (Find Delta on https://www.facebook.com/DeltaGoodremMusic)

I’ve tried to write and listen to other albums and I’ve discovered that any old music won’t do. I can’t write to anything brand new or anything I’ve only heard a few times because I sit and listen to it instead of concentrating on my writing. I can’t write to anything too up-beat. And I can’t have any music on loud. I also can’t have the TV on because, even if it’s something I absolutely hate and would normally rather gouge my eyeballs out than watch (e.g. football or Newsnight), I’ll be drawn to the TV and completely unable to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Going back to last night, I will admit that, once Delta got going, so did my writing. Not particularly fast, mind, but it was better than it had been before I switched the music on.

This got me wondering whether I’m the only one who prefers a soundtrack to writing in silence and a specific one at that. So I asked my fellow Write Romantics. Aspiring writer Helen R lives in Australia (must ask her if she knows Delta!) in the suburbs and says she’s often distracted by the noise of hedge trimmers and leaf blowers so likes to put on music to drown that out although it varies as to whether it annoys her or revs her up. Lynne is similar – sometimes music, sometimes not although she’s found it can be helpful to listen to specific music to get her into a specific mood e.g. 1970s tunes if her novel is set in that time. Alex echoes this in that she does enjoy quiet but did delve into a bit of Scottish folk singing (listening to it; not doing it) when she was trying to perfect a Scottish accent in her debut novel.

Soon-to-be-published Rachael likes to listen to music when she writes, although usually something without lyrics to avoid them getting into her head. She finds that switching the music on helps her switch her mind into ‘writer mode’. Interesting. A bit like some writers making a drink in a certain mug, wearing a particular piece of jewellery or using a specific pen.

Successful novelist Helen P (2nd book “The Secrets of the Shadows” is out next month – can’t wait!) differs from us all. She tells me her writing space is in the corner of the room next to a huge TV so silence is not in ready supply. She needs to put her iPod on and drift away into her own world. What’s on her iPod? “I tend to have a playlist for each book. The last one had Frank Sinatra, Elbow, Barry White, U2, Nat King Cole, Kelly Rowland, Lady GaGa to name a few”. Eclectic mix or what?! Not sure I’d manage to write to all of those!

On the other side of the coin, Jaxx and Deirdre do believe that silence is golden. Jaxx even goes so far as to wear ear defenders to keep out the noise (I so have to see photographic evidence of that) and Deirdre needs “complete quiet” but admits that a busy main road and “a certain someone talking to the cat, singing, having TV up loud etc” pretty much scuppers her quest for peace.

It seems we’re a bit of a mixed bag although it seems we’re all united in avoiding the TV. That said, Helen R said that one of my favourite authors, Jill Mansell, writes with the TV on and it apparently gives her lots of ideas. I know that Jill writes long-hand rather than straight into a PC so I’m wondering if she can maybe find TV helpful in the ideas formation stage or whether she can switch off enough to do this at all stages in her writing. If you’re reading this, Jill, we’d love to know!

One more thing I’ll say about Delta Goodrem is that, not only does her music help my writing flow but she writes some amazing lyrics and some great song titles which would make great titles for a book. I find this quite a lot with music; I’ll hear a line or a title of a song and think “great title” and then, suddenly, there are all sorts of ideas about what the book could be about. I have a word document called “Potential Book Titles” and it’s full of ideas – many of them from songs – and a sentence or two about the book theme.

So, thank you Delta Goodrem for being the background singer as I work and thank you to the wonderful Write Romantics for helping me with this post. 

Over to you … is silence golden?