Working on one novel at a time? Pah! Let’s go for three and a novella!

When I set up my writing blog, my intention was to post at least once a week, preferably twice. I’m lucky if I manage twice a month at the moment. I do have a good excuse for the lack of posts, but I’ll come onto that shortly.

P1050559My good writing friend, Sharon Booth, is currently posting on her writing blog on a daily basis (every day except Sunday) and it puts me to shame. However, there’s also a good reason for this. You see, Sharon is taking part in the A-Z Blogging Challenge where bloggers blog every day (except Sundays) for a month, working their way through the alphabet in order. When Sharon first mentioned that she was going to do this, my first reaction was that it was a crazy idea. Where on earth would you get the time and inspiration from in order to generate posts for each letter of the alphabet? Sharon’s debut novel, ‘There Must Be An Angel’ (click on the link to buy it) had just been released, and she saw this as a great opportunity to promote aspects of her novel. What a great idea! Suddenly the A-Z Challenge made sense to me, so much so that I worked out my own alphabet of posts linked to the launch of ‘Searching for Steven’. Sharon had participated in the A-Z Challenge in the month following her launch, but I was going to do mine in the month leading up to the launch of mine. I was quite excited about it.

P1030956Thankfully I got no further than the list of potential posts because I’d completely misunderstood one vital aspect of this Challenge: it was a National Challenge for the month of April and bloggers signed up to it in the same way that writers would sign up to NaNoWriMo for the month of November. Oops! So I’ll hang onto my list of ideas and perhaps sign up to next year’s A-Z Challenge in the run-up to the launch of book 2 instead!

I’m also relieved that I no longer plan to do my own A-Z Challenge in May because, quite honestly, I don’t know when I’d have time to prepare the posts in-between working on three novels and one novella. Surely that’s more than enough for one writer to manage at one time.

Let me explain…

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nMy debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’, will be launched on 3rd June (oh my goodness, that’s only 44 sleeps away!) The MS has been edited, proofread and formatted so I now have the pdf. But there’s one last opportunity for a final read-through before it goes to print. My wonderful publishers, So Vain Books, have said that I don’t have to do the final read-through (as they’ll do one), but I feel that I want to so that I can give a final seal of approval before it goes to print. I’m away with my day job for four nights this week – lots of alone time in a hotel which is perfect for reading – so I’ve committed to having that done by the end of the weekend.

My second novel, ‘Getting Over Gary’, will be released in 2016. This is the sequel to Steven, although it can also be read as a stand-alone book. I’d edited Gary recently, but I felt that I hadn’t quite got there with a particular plot-point and I needed some direction. My lovely writing friend (and publishing company buddy), Jo Bartlett, had offered to do another beta read of it. Sharon had recently read Steven for the first time and also offered to beta read Gary for me. The feedback came back and they both had a couple of suggestions that I wanted to work on. Originally I’d agreed a deadline of end of May to get the MS to So Vain Books. This was well in advance of 2016’s release, but there didn’t seem any point in delaying putting Gary to bed. However, when I received the pdf of Steven, I flicked through to the back where the release of Gary was announced and it struck me that we were missing an opportunity to promote him properly. I had an email conversation with SVB’s Publishing Director, Stephanie, and we agreed that it would be great to include Gary’s blurb or, even better, the first chapter. But SVB would need to read Gary before we could finalise either of these so I’ve been working like crazy over the last week to do the final edit and another read-through. I emailed Gary to Steph last night. I confess I’m slightly nervous about this. What if they don’t like him as much as they loved Steven? Eek!

P1030967My third novel, with a working title (likely to change) of ‘Discovering David’ is the final novel in the trilogy. The plan is to release it in 2017 and you might think this is ages away so why worry about it now, but I want to be able to park the whole trilogy and move onto new stories before the end of the year. As someone who has a full-time day job as well as writing, it’s really important that I try to have several books in hand so that I’m not always trying to write to a deadline that I’d struggle to meet. While Sharon and Jo had Gary, I returned to David, and had got into a bit of a flow with him so I’m keen to return.

Finally, I have a novella on the go! Steph suggested that, as a good way to promote my writing, I might like to consider a short story relating to the trilogy. I knew that the heroine would need to be a minor character from the trilogy so that I didn’t give away any secrets. The obvious character was Callie who is the sister of my hero, Nick, from book 1. She gets married near the start of book 1 and I wanted to tell her story. I’m not known for short, short stories, so I was thinking that this would be more like an eight to twelve thousand word story. The problem is that, when I started writing it, Callie wasn’t content with being a short story. Her personality and her life grew and I suddenly had a twenty-four-thousand word novella on my hands. Oops! I emailed it to Steph with an apology that I’d sort of failed to deliver what we’d discussed. Thankfully, she loved the story – ‘Raving About Rhys’ – and could see great potential in launching a novella instead. Phew! It needs some minor editing as there’s a part of the story that happens a little too quickly (I completely agree). I don’t have the luxury of time, though, as this was meant to be released BEFORE Steven so it needs editing, proof-reading and getting out there fast. So I’ve also committed to returning the new and improved version by the end of the week.

P1050434I’m really excited about the challenge ahead, although I’m also looking ahead to the point when David is finished (hopefully early summer) so that I can relax for a bit. I’ve worked so hard for so long. A typical day for me sees me working until 6.30pm in the day job, getting home, checking social media while my daughter’s in the bath, then doing two to three hours of writing before bed. I try to have one evening off a week, but it doesn’t always happen. Thankfully, hubby understands. He’s self-employed and frequently has work to do himself on an evening, but I do feel that I neglect him so hope to have some office-free time soon.

Although book 4 keeps screaming at me to be written…

By the way, I hope you like the pictures. The official cover-reveal of ‘Searching for Steven’ will be this coming Friday (24th April) so I couldn’t include any images of the book. Instead, I’ve posted some snaps I’ve taken of Scarborough, North Yorkshire (except the one of me, of course, which hubby took) which is the inspiration for the fictional seaside town of Whitsborough Bay where the trilogy is set.

Jessica xx

Does a novelist only write novels?

I’m always keen to experience anything that will help me improve my writing. I’ve got a shelf full of ‘how to’ books about all aspects of writing that I dip in and out of from time to time, and I would absolutely love to go on a writing workshop but I simply don’t have the funds. However, when hubby spotted an advert for a one-day script-writing workshop at our local theatre for just £30, I immediately signed up.

As a novelist, I’ve never considered scriptwriting before, but my books are very dialogue-led and scripts for plays are all about the dialogue so I thought, ‘why not give it a try?’ Earlier this year, I challenged myself to write a short story for The Write Romantics charity anthology, ‘Winter Tales’ (still available on Amazon here in paperback and eBook formats) and I really enjoyed the experience of writing in a different way to the norm so I figured that scriptwriting could be another great diversion.

I had no idea what to expect. The blurb in the programme simply said: “…gain an insight into the way scriptwriting works … come along and discover how to create your very own original piece of drama.”

There were eleven of us on the workshop at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre. Two of the delegates were college students, then there was me in my early forties, and all the others were in their late fifties or older so that made for quite an eclectic mix.

The workshop started with a brief discussion on the difference between scriptwriting and novels, then we explored different types of scriptwriting: plays, TV and films. Our tutor explained that scripts were made up of three components – story, characters, setting – and that the day would focus round these.

P1060185Then we moved into a series of activities. I confess that I was a bit thrown by one of the morning activities because it involved working in pairs and, because there were odd numbers, I ended up working in a trio. I work in a team all the time in my day job but I’ve never tried writing with anyone else. It was really hard. I’d been asked to develop a character and the other two had a place each. Our task was to develop a story with that character and the two settings. Sounds like a fairly easy piece of teamwork but it wasn’t. You see, we’d been asked to pick images with which we had an emotional connection so we’d all developed and bought into a very clear idea of where we wanted the story to go. Combining all three ideas (the lady, open road with a figure on, and lighthouse shown in the picture) was a huge challenge and incredibly frustrating at first, especially as both my team-members had imagined characters in their settings and the three characters didn’t necessarily work in the same story. Quite a bit of discussion and compromise got us there in the end, though.

An interesting exercise we were asked to do was called ‘What’s in the bag?’ We were asked to imagine one of the characters from the story and think about what they might have in their bag or briefcase. This would help establish what was really important to that character and the sort of person they were. We had to be detailed e.g. if our character had some paracetamol, would it be a branded one or supermarket own-brand, would make-up be Clinique or Rimmel and what sort of condition would it be in. I actually found this a really helpful exercise and, as I pointed out to the group, I thought that what was missing from the bag was also very revealing. For example, I imagined that my character had hair bands with bits of hair still attached to them but no hairbrush which showed a lack of interest in her appearance.

We returned to our groups and completed a fun exercise where we were challenged on genre. We were asked to transpose our world into the wild west (history), the moon in the future (sci-fi), fairytale world (fantasy) or soap opera world (slice of life). It was really interesting seeing the changes this made to everyone’s stories as they shared them around the room.

P1060180The afternoon was all individual activity. We were given a new set of pictures all on the theme of love (well, it was Valentine’s Day) but we were told it didn’t have to be romantic love. We could be thinking about friendship or families when, as before, we selected an image that spoke to us and develop the character(s) in that image, then create a story, then write a script for a scene. What was fascinating was that, out of sixteen pictures and eleven delegates, seven of us were drawn to the same picture! This was an image of two old people ambling down a blossom-strewn lane (shown below).

I really loved my characters and the story I developed. When I gave the group the synopsis and read out my script, I got a fantastic reaction. This was incredibly flattering. It was a historic piece – not my usual genre – which reminded me of a piece I’d written on a creative writing workshop many years ago. I’ve always thought about returning to that piece and I’m thinking now that this would be a great piece of work alongside it that I would like to develop further.

P1060181Overall, it was an enjoyable and interesting workshop and, if I’d been a beginner, it would have been a great starting point for unlocking the imagination. What it didn’t really do is teach us how to write a script. But maybe I’m overcomplicating it. After all, isn’t a script in it’s simplest form just a list of names with dialogue and some stage directions? The challenging part is developing the story, characters and setting that our tutor said were the three components of a script. What I personally took from the workshop was a great premise for a story that I might develop, a useful exercise in the form of ‘What’s in the bag?’ and encouragement that I can very quickly and easily come up with characters and a plot that others love. As to whether I can imagine myself moving from novels to scripts, I’m not so sure. I’m already imagining my lovely old couple story as a novel rather than a script, but is that because that’s my default style?

I’m glad I attended. My next decision is whether to take this to the next step. The Stephen Joseph Theatre run scriptwriting workshops on a termly basis. They’re run in batches of six lessons every other week and I’m toying with whether to join one after Easter. As I understand it, delegates develop a script for a play across the time and enhance this through group discussion and the support of the tutor. Twice a year, the plays are performed at an event called ‘Plays and Pinot’. This is a fairly informal event where actors (and some of the writers I think) read out the plays while the audience enjoys a glass of Pinot. It must be exciting for the writers to hear their plays read out. As part of my workshop, I get a free ticket to attend a ‘Plays and Pinot’ performance in a weeks’ time. I’m going to see what that’s like and then make a decision on whether I join the post-Easter course and develop a play.

Can a novelist write more than novels? Absolutely, yes. But do they want to? Hmm. Watch this space!