Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Winter Wonderland

At the beginning of this month two feet of snow fell and we were stranded. The snow very quickly thawed just enough to refreeze into ice, and it became too dangerous to drive anywhere (I know; I tried) and pretty hazardous to walk. Our usual fifteen-minute walk to school (once the school reopened after being closed for the first week) took around twice that as we shuffled carefully across the uneven ice-sheet, with much comic flailing and many spectacular falls. On the plus side, though, the children made a great snowman, two igloos, and put the snow they didn't use on these magnificent creations down each other's backs, into each other's wellies, and all over my lounge carpet. They took photographs of themselves clutching five-foot icicles, and insisted on putting said icicles in the chest freezer. (Not a problem, since the freezer was empty.)

It thawed; we and the rest of the population of our village (15,900 people) went to Sainsbury's and replaced all the things we had been forced to eat during the previous two weeks (a tin of lentil and carrot soup with a sell-by date of March 2006, spam, loose prawns from the dusty bottom of the chest freezer, icicles) and now it has snowed again.

It has now snowed again, but this time we are fully stocked and prepared to batton down the hatches and go nowhere until Spring.

This snow is different from the last batch. I tried - and failed - to build a snowman, because the snow is strangely dry and powdery; snowballs just fell apart in my hopeful hands, and I couldn't get a good large rolled ball going for my snowman's body at all. Conversely, it was really easy to shovel it all off the driveway, and when it compacted under the considerable weight of my feet it didn't squish into a treacherous ice puddle, but crunched rather pleasantly and then just, sort of, vanished. I'm starting to see why Eskimos are reputed to have so many words for snow. This snow is bizarrely dry given that we live on a humid little island and are used to the wet, slushy stuff.

An old schoolfriend of mine from Laramie, Wyoming is visiting, and despite being British herself is amazed at how pathetic we Brits are in the face of this strange white stuff which occasionally falls from the sky. She hasn't let traffic reports urging motorists not to travel unless their journey (for example, to hospital to give birth) is absolutely necessary, and has merrily taken her husband and six children round the M25 to Hampton Court and Bluewater (on the last Saturday before Christmas) as Hubby Dearest and I shook her heads and wondered at such madness.

We Brits are rubbish at snow. We see it so rarely that we forget what to do with it when it appears. I recently received an email from national "autocentre" chain Halfords urging me to get my car ready for the cold weather and suggesting several items I might want to buy for the purpose. (It overlooked the facts that the horse has bolted, and that I don't have a car.) These items included a windscreen scraper, anti-freeze, and a tartan rug to keep back-seat passengers warm. Entirely absent was anything which might actually make it possible to use your car in the snow, such as snow tyres, sacks of salt or snow chains.

So it looks as though we're in for a white Christmas, and I know for a fact that the last time a snowflake fell in Britain on Christmas day was in 1995, because it was my eldest daughter's first Christmas. Apparently Laramie has about six feet of snow for six months of the year.

But as pretty as the stuff is, and as appropriate at it might be given the season, I'm still not too fond of it, either the wet stuff that turns into terrifying ice or the powdery stuff that defies all attempts to sculpt it into more interesting forms. That's why I'm ticking off the years until I can spend my winters in Florida, and like every other Brit, forget all about the possibility of snow.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Writing vs. Editing

This year I am really looking forward to having a holiday over Christmas. The charity I work for closes between Christmas and New Year, and this gives me a whole week off work. I'm very excited to have all that extra time to enjoy with my family and various visitors (including friends from Wyoming). But I'm even more excited to have a whole week free to finish writing the epic fantasy novel I've been working on all year. I love the writing process and can't wait to get stuck in to the creative part.

Not every aspect of writing a book is quite as exciting. This past weekend I have been very busy proofreading the "galleys" (they're not called that any more, but I don't know what they are called now) of my forthcoming book. It's been hard work. The problem with writing a book is that you don't just do it once. You write the first draft, then read through it and change it, several times. Honeymoon Heist then went to a professional freelance editor who went through it with me, which meant reading it again. I then submitted it, it was accepted, and I went through the whole process again with another editor. Finally I had three days to read the whole thing looking for typos and errors. Since I'd already read the book at least six times at this point, it was really very boring indeed. I wrote the thing, so there really was nothing new to discover on the seventh read-through.

But it's done now, and I get to immerse myself in the fun part of writing again. I must remember to make this one more interesting so that I don't mind having to read it through seven times. Editing is necessary, and it really does improve a book immensely, but I'm glad that I get to spend my precious Christmas holiday time writing, not editing.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


I recently overheard a conversation about one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett, who has been very public about the fact that he has Alzheimer's Disease, including doing a documentary about the illness. The comment that particularly troubled me was, "He's had to collaborate on his latest book, so obviously it's the beginning of the end now."

Should I be worrying about that view, I wondered? You see, I am collaborating on my latest book, and as far as I know I don't have Alzheimer's. If co-authoring a book with someone else is a sign that it's the beginning of the end for your writing career, then I might as well hang up my laptop now.

This is the first time I've had help with writing a book, and I'm loving it and wonder why I didn't do it before. Writing comes fairly easily to me, but coming up with workable ideas is more difficult. So for my current book, a fantasy epic called Emon and the Empire, I'm collaborating with two friends. Ryan came up with the original concept and gave me the outline of the story, and Phil is reading through, making suggestions and filling in some details. I've also roped in a few test readers whose comments have been very helpful, and will shortly be on the lookout for more.

I've found several advantages to having Ryan and Phil help me with this book:
  • They encourage and inspire me with their enthusiasm, and keep me motivated to keep writing. They always want to know when the next chapter will be ready for them.
  • They read this kind of book, so they know the market and they are my target audience. If they are happy, then I'm doing something right.
  • It is told from the perspective of a young man, so it is helpful to have two men around to tell me when it becomes too "girly". Which is often. Fewer romance scenes, more fighting.
  • They are very good at spotting errors, inconsistencies and areas where it isn't working.
  • It's fun! Our last "book meeting" was over a takeaway Chinese meal, we laughed nonstop and they came up with so many fresh and workable ideas that it was all I could do to write them down fast enough.

I've almost finished Emon and the Empire and have just started a new book which I am going to need some help with. It's the story of a young Welsh girl who moves to a town in the middle of nowhere in Utah and has some problems settling in. I need to find someone with good knowledge of the Utah public school system who is prepared to read it to let me know whether my American schoolkids sound convincing. Any volunteers?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Just for fun, here's a list of quotes from rejection letters, and similar, and the books and authors they relate to.

"We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell."

(Rejection letter for Carrie by Stephen King)

"An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull."

(Rejection letter for Lord of the Flies by William Golding)

"He hasn't got any future."

(Said by one publisher to a colleague, of John le Carre)

"I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say…Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level."

(Said by a potential publisher of Catch 22 by Joseph Heller)

"It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA."

(From the rejection letter for Animal Farm by George Orwell)

"There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice."

(Said by a potential publisher of Sylvia Plath.)

"I'm sorry ... but you just don't know how to use the English language."

(Letter from a publisher to Rudyard Kipling.)

Stay-at-Home Mum

I'm going to say something very controversial. I expect a lot of people will disagree furiously with me. But it's my blog, and if I can't use it to express how I feel, then what's the point in having it?

I wish we could go back to the days when the father went out and earned the money, and the mother stayed at home and cared for the children and looked after the house.

I've mentioned here before that I have three jobs. I work for LawCare (http://www.lawcare.org.uk/), I'm an Avon Rep, and I'm a writer. I'm in the lucky position of liking all my jobs very much, and I'm lucky that they all involve working from home. But I wish I didn't have to do the first two.

Years ago mothers didn't go out to work. The income was provided by the husband and father, and it was enough. But we can't ever go back to those days, because when women started working too, families became much richer and, as a result, house prices went sky-high. Now most families could not pay the mortgage on one income and so the wife has to work and the children have to be farmed out to a childminder.

I'm even going to say that I am angry at this state of affairs.

Since the nesting instinct kicked in about a month before my eldest was born, I have wanted to make a nice home for my children. I want it to be clean and healthy, I want them to have freshly laundered and ironed clothes, balanced and nourishing meals, and plenty of quality time with me. Instead, when I come home from dropping them off at school I have to walk past the dirty breakfast dishes and piles of laundry waiting to be sorted, folded and put away, into a cold, dark office where I will organise volunteer rotas and design advertisements for five precious hours, before collecting my children from school again.

I would dearly like to spend that after-school time doing homework with them, cooking great meals, playing Mousetrap or Pop-up Pirate, but that's when I have to go and deliver my Avon orders or collect brochures. And the evenings which should be time for Hubby Dearest and I to relax together are the only chance I get to make an exhausted attempt to catch up with some of the housework.

As of now, the smaller children are two days overdue for their baths because I've just been too busy the last two evenings with shopping and taking the eldest to Sixth-Form open evenings. My lounge is desperately in need of tidying, hoovering and polishing, and we're halfway through redecorating it. My dining room floor is filthy and needs mopping, and the dresser is covered in junk. I have five clean loads of washing to be sorted and put away, and about four more waiting to go into the washing machine. Two beds need changing, and I can't remember the last time I hoovered upstairs, but it doesn't matter anyway because I can't see the carpet in either of the children's bedrooms. The garden hasn't been mowed since September, and is completely overrun with a pernicious bramble, assorted varieties of triffid and very wet toys. To cap it all, my ironing pile it so big I keep having to turn away outdoor types who turn up at the door with ropes and crampons wanting to climb it.

I want to do all these chores. I want to spend time with my children and make a good and happy home for them, but I can't because I have to work.

Decades ago, women decided they wanted to "have it all" and have jobs outside the home. They learned, I think, that you can't "have it all", you can only have a little piece of everything. I don't want to have it all. I just want to be the very best mother I can be, but that option - to be a stay-at-home mum - is not open to me because of the changes in society. It's not as though we have an ostentatious lifestyle - we buy value own-brands and I don't have a car - but the cost of living today means that I have no choice but to work, despite the fact that Hubby Dearest is highly qualified and has a professional career.

Of course, this might be just me. I am sure there are lots of women out there who love their jobs and are the kind of superwomen who still live in perfect houses and have clean and fulfulled children despite their careers. There are even those who earn enough to employ nannies and cleaners and ironing services. But I'm fed up with feeling stressed, short-changed and neglectful, and I truly wish we could go back to the days when the father went out and earned the money, and the mother stayed at home and cared for the children and looked after the house.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Ghost Writing

Dawn French is everywhere at the moment because she's just published her first novel. I love Dawn French; she was superb in The Vicar of Dibley and she makes it OK to be fat, but I confess that despite acknowledging her comic genius generally, not for one moment, when I heard her talking about her novel on Radio 2, did I actually believe she'd written it.

I must have been involved with the writing industry too long; I've become sceptical. Partly it's because I have a good friend who, as well as writing her own books, is a ghost writer. She's signed a cast-iron contract not to reveal who she writes for, but she makes a fair living out of writing books which others then pass off as their own work. It's pretty common, she told me.

Since I learned this, I have come to realise that of course it is going to be common practice. Writing well is a skill, like any other, and (there's a risk here that I'm going to sound terribly pretentious and big-headed) I have seen enough amateur writing to know that most people are really, really bad at it. Lots of would-be writers can't actually string together a good sentence, so why should any celebrity who wants to write a novel just happen to have the talent to create a robust plot, believable characters, and write in an absorbing and effective style?

Take Jordan - Katie Price - for example. Famous initially for having an embonpoint surgically enhanced to cartoonish proportions, she has written several novels which seem to score between 4 and 5 stars from Amazon reviewers. I've heard her being interviewed, and Essex accent aside (I have an Essex accent. It makes me sound stupid too) the girl does not have the greatest command of the English language. I find it difficult to believe that being a celebrity automatically embues her with the understanding and ability required to write a full-length publishable book, any more than it gives her the talent to turn her hand at her other enterprises, such as designing jewellery or lingerie. (OK, I'll admit, she is probably qualified to design lingerie.)

Several celebrities have used their fame to launch a writing career, and done well out of it. Alan Titchmarsh, Madonna, Pamela Anderson, Hilary Duff and now, apparently, Tyra Banks who has been offered a three-book deal. It's possible that some, or all, of those have written the books themselves - possibly with the help of an extremely thorough and heavy-handed editor - just as it's possible Dawn French wrote the novel with her name of the cover.

But I'm going to suggest that most of them didn't, because ghost writing is a great game for everyone. It's a win-win arrangement for the writer (who gets paid well), the celebrity (who gets extra publicity, and the right to claim to have written a novel) and the publisher (who sells many more copies of the book than they would had the actual author's name been on the cover). The only people who lose out are the buying public, who are being duped, but even they get to read a great book they might not otherwise have bought.

So would I ghost write? Yes. I need the money. And I would love to see a book I had written plastered all over posters on the Underground or in big displays in Waterstones, even if it did have Robert Pattinson's name above the title.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Writing for Children

I was recently asked for writing advice (like I know anything!) by someone who wants to get into the children's books market.

Unfortunately I don't think I was very encouraging. What little I've gleaned over the years suggests that it is actually the most difficult market to write for. There are several reasons for this:
  • The children's market is pretty saturated already because new children are coming along all the time and they are happy to re-read the same thing their older siblings read three years ago. So books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which is 40 years old) or The Gruffalo have a constantly replenished market of excited new readers. A book for adults dates much more quickly, and adults are generally much more demanding of fresh, new books or the latest idea or twist. If you'll permit me the pun, children's books have a longer shelf life.
  • There is a perception that children's books are easy to write. Generally they are much shorter, so whereas it takes me about a year to write a 100,000 word novel, a children's book may take less than a week. Those for younger children, especially, tend to be very short and basic, and for that reason there are a lot of writers who choose this market and are competing for a slice of the pie. You have to have a totally original and gripping idea to get noticed among them all.
  • Books for children are expensive to produce. They generally have many colourful illustrations (which cost a great deal to print even after you've paid the artist) and have to be hard-wearing so printed onto good quality paper, and sometimes even board. They may have gimmicks like "lift-the-flap" which add considerably to the cost. Yet the cover price of the book has to be kept as low as possible, because parents don't generally have a large disposable income. This means that profit margins are lower, which makes publishers more nervous about taking chances on unknown writers.

I don't want all this to put anyone off, because children's books are so important. It's fostering a love of books at an early age which leads to adults hungry for good stories, and those of us who write for those adults are grateful to the wonderful writers whose inspiring books for young readers created our audience.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Political Power of Words

Today is Margaret Thatcher's 85th birthday, so if I was ever going to blog about politics, now is probably the time to do it.

I recently began following a well-known American public figure on Twitter. This person is a much-admired and very talented LDS celebrity who happens to have some very strong political views which he is not afraid to make known. And I have been so shocked at the words he has chosen to make his views known that I have had to stop reading the tweets because it makes me feel troubled and angry.

To give you an idea, he describes the politicians in the party he doesn't support as "lazy, racist, moronic, blind, and hate America. " He calls their policies "evil" and says they "stink to high heaven, or hell as the case may be" adding "I hope they [those asked for support] all spit in your face!"

Now, I know nothing at all about American politics, but I know that I don't like those who slander and insult others, or spout vitriolic hate speech against them. I find myself feeling like the impartial passer-by in a playground fight standing with the victim against the bully. How can an educated, intelligent LDS man justify such a strongly worded assault? And it's not just him - I've heard several American LDS women speak (write) in scathing and scornful terms and with real loathing about politicians they dislike. (I've never heard a British LDS woman talk about politics at all since it's not really a polite topic of conversation here.)

Well chosen words can bring about a strong emotional response, and politicians know this as well as anyone else. A good soundbite, a catchy slogan, or maybe even a cleverly disguised insult, can sway voters. Steve Cone, who wrote a book called Powerlines: Words That Sell Brands, Grip Fans, and Sometimes Change History notes that the candidate with the catchiest slogan has always won the American presidential election. He also notes that candidates have run on the basis of a slogan which runs down the other side, and says nothing about their own. And they've won, purely by insulting the opposition.
Badly chosen words, such as those which criticise and belittle others, can have the effect of saying more about the speaker than those they attack.
So, to end, some great words from Margaret Thatcher who was Prime Minister for much of my youth.
"To cure the British disease with socialism was like trying to cure leukaemia with leeches."
"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."
"Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country."

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Why I Write for the Mormon Market

As I write this I am appearing as the featured author on the Walnut Springs blog. (http://www.walnutspringspress.blogspot.com/) As you'll see, I answered some questions about myself, sent in some photographs, and wrote a piece about "Why I Write". (Believe me, it's not for the money.)

I was pretty honest and said that the reason I initially started writing for the LDS market was because I was hoping to get a foot-in-the-door with "real" publishers. My problem was this: If you write a novel and send it to a publisher, or an agent, the chances are they won't even read it. Almost certainly they will simply reply with a standard rejection letter. Various journalists have tested this theory by sending in the text of Booker Prize winning novels or literary classics, only to have them rejected by the oblivious acqusitions editor.

For a new writer, it's extremely difficult to get published because you don't get taken seriously. You're a new commodity, an unknown, and even as the market was in 1998 (when I started writing seriously), publishers are very wary of investing in unknowns.

My theory was that if I could get a book or two published in the fairly small, niche and friendly LDS market then I could send my Magnum Opus to a "real" publisher or agent with a covering letter explaining how both my previous books had been bestsellers in their genre (I would probably fail to mention that that genre was religious fiction) and I had received armfuls of accolades and floods of fan mail. Maybe then they'd take me seriously enough to actually read my manuscript.

In 2002 the time was right. Both my books had made the Deseret Book top ten, and I had received accolades and fanmail. It was the ideal time for me to make my assault on the "real" publishers.

And yet I then wrote four more manuscripts for the LDS market, Christmas at Haven, Landscape in Oils, Honeymoon and Easterfield. Why? Had I had a crisis of confidence? Abandoned my ambition?

It wasn't even a conscious decision, I think. Looking back, I suspect I just found I liked the LDS market and felt comfortable writing the sort of thing my established fans wanted to read. Maybe I recognised that whatever talent I had was God-given and I owed Him a little more back before I exploited it for personal glory.

Perhaps too, I realised that I couldn't write certain explicit scenes which are expected in the national market. I take the view that intimate behaviour should always remain private between the (married) couple concerned, even when that couple is fictional, and I refuse to write anything I wouldn't want my children, or my parents, to read. As I've complained here before, most mainstream books are expected to be peppered with sex scenes.

I also believe that LDS literature is as good as anything in the national market. In Stephanie Black, Kerry Blair, Robison Wells, Chris Heimerdinger and many others, the LDS market can hold its head high and I am proud to be associated with it and share shelf space with such talent. Stephenie Meyer, the most successful author since JK Rowling, is LDS.

The LDS fiction market is an exciting place to be right now. Jennie Hansen wrote an excellent article on how it has changed in recent years (http://www.meridianmagazine.com/article/6230?ac=1) and it continues to develop with LDS publishers now looking to break into the general market with clean, quality literature which is moral but not religious. I want to be part of that.

I haven't forgotten my ambition. I am currently writing a fantasy novel which I will market to UK agents in due course. But I love the LDS market and an happy and proud to be part of it.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Winter Woes

I've just learned that my next book, as yet untitled, is due to be published in February 2011. That's really good news, partly because it gives me something to look forward to during the long dark winter months.

I hate winter. After Christmas, there really doesn't seem any point in it being so cold and wet and dark. We've already passed the Autumn Equinox and our heating goes on next week, so winter is coming. But ever the optimist, I'm trying to think of things I do like about this time of year.
  • No wasps, flies, fleas, maggots or other general nasty creepy-crawlies making the cat bowl smell bad or scaring the children.
  • Being able to have warm, dry towels in the bathroom, courtesy of the radiator.
  • Good stuff on TV. The winter schedule is so much better than the summer offerings.
  • Christmas. I love it so much I'm already halfway through the Christmas shopping.
  • Dreaming of the day when I won't have to face winter again. Roderic and I plan to be snowbirds during our retirement, with a winter residence in Florida.
  • Not having to mow the lawn or, in a similar vein, shave my legs.

Nope, that's all I can think of. Except to reiterate that I can look forward to my new book in February...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Fan Fiction

I have recently started writing fan fiction, as you may have realised if you've been reading these posts. I've joined a lovely online community of people who not only love the books that inspire me, but enjoy speculating about - and writing fiction based on the series (no prizes for guessing which series it is). Mostly it's short stories exploring a particular character or continuing where a book left off.

Fan fiction is something of a murky world and treads a difficult line. The author automatically owns the copyright of a work, and publishing anything which purports to be related to it breaches that copyright. I could not write another book in the Harry Potter series, for example, because JK Rowling owns the copyright to Harry, Hogwarts and even the word "Muggles". And if you're thinking that you've seen a lot of Jane Austen inspired works (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for example) that's because Jane Austen's copyright has expired.

These days "publish" is a relative term. When I finish writing this blog I will click a button labelled "publish", and anyone copying and pasting this very same blog under their own name has breached my copyright. So when fan fiction is uploaded to a website, is it breaching the author's copyright? And with so much of it around, is there anything the author can do about it?

As a published author myself, I tried to think how I would feel to be the "victim" of fan fiction. How would I react if strangers took my stories in directions I had not planned for them to go, or had characters I created say things I never intended them to say? And I'm something of a pedant; how would I feel to have a sequel to Easterfield published online and discover it to be full of incorrect apostrophes, spelling mistakes and poor use of language?

Are you kidding? I'd love it!

  • I'd love knowing that someone has enjoyed my book so much that they can't bear for it to have ended.
  • I love knowing that I had inspired someone to write, or to improve their writing ability or style.
  • I'd love seeing the extra publicity (and thus sales) that fan's devotion was likely to bring me as they proclaim and disseminate their appreciation for my books.
  • I'd love reading what they've written to see what extra insights it gives me into how my readers perceive my books, and I might even get a few ideas for sequels myself.
I take the view that fan fiction is extremely flattering and mostly harmless. The vast majority of fans don't benefit financially out of what they write, and don't injure the author's royalties or reputation in any way. For me, it's a great opportunity to practice and hone my writing skills without having to worry about finding a new idea - instead I am inspired by the skill of someone else.

I'm planning to add a page to my website which will have some of the short fan-fiction stories I write. And one day I really hope I can also post stories which fans have written based on my books. I think then I will really know I've achieved something worthwhile.

Monday, 6 September 2010


One of the things I actually like about myself (the other two are being tall and being blonde) is being left-handed. OK, so it's not that uncommon, but it is a slight quirk which marks me apart from many other people. It adds an interesting dimension to my life, and most right-handed people can't imagine the struggles involved in managing with everyday items. For example:
  • My mother bought me a very pretty floral oven glove. I put it on my left hand and burned myself getting something out of the oven because all the padding was on the other side.
  • My kettle has a little light on it to let you know when it's switched on, and a gauge to show how much water is in it. With the handle to the right (for right handed people) you can see both the light and the gauge, but with the handle to the left, where I naturally have it for easy of filling and pouring the kettle, they face towards the wall.
  • My ironing board has a wire attachment to hold the flex of the iron and stop it getting in the way as I'm ironing. Natually it is on the wrong side, and pokes me in the stomach as I do the ironing, while the flex of the iron goes wherever it likes.

That's before you even get me started on tin openers, pastry slices and cake forks.

Two of my three children are left handed and it's interesting watching them face the same problems learning to write as I did. Writing from left to right means that your hand covers the letters you have just written which makes neatness and accuracy a challenge. It means a very dirty ink-covered hand at the end of the day, and smudged writing. On the plus side, both Gwen and I can write backwards (mirror writing) as easily as we can write forwards. Ceri is only 5 but it looks as though she will too, given than she writes her name backwards as often as not.

Sadly it seems that left-handed people live an average of seven years less than right-handed people. However, since I also live the LDS Word of Wisdom (no tea, coffee, alcohol or tobacco) and that's been shown make people live seven years longer (what do you mean it just feels like longer?) I reckon I've evened the odds.

Left handed people are also reputedly more creative. If true, this is yet another reason why I am proud and happy to be of the sinister persuasion. Who knows whether I would ever have had a novel published had I been right-handed?

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Bookshops vs. Bookstores

Last time I went to Lakeside (the second largest shopping mall in the UK) I commented that it seemed the Americans had arrived. It has Taco Bell, a gelato stand, and adverts for Mountain Dew although I still haven't found any in the shops. Well, on Saturday I discovered that the American bookstore has also arrived on these hallowed shores.

On my first visit to Florida (my honeymoon in 2006) I went into a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Orlando. It was my first visit to an American bookshop and was blown away by how wonderful it was. First off, it was far bigger than any bookshop I'd been into in the UK but that didn't surprise me, because everything in America is bigger. What amazed me was the atmosphere, and the fact that they seemed to want you to be there looking at the books. There was a wonderful colourful children's area with a cute little safety fence around it to stop your sprog wandering off, and plenty of toys and play activities for the children to enjoy as well as the books. There were sofas and chairs, so browsing was comfortable and enjoyable, and even a coffee shop so that you could enjoy refreshments as you flicked through the books.

Contrast that with my experience of UK bookshops which are, obviously, much smaller and won't have any chairs at all, let alone comfortable ones. If you read much more than the backliner the scruffy owner will be at your shoulder to remind you in a menacing tone that he isn't running a library. Moreover, there are no price stickers to be seen anywhere. The price the publishers printed on the back of the book is the price you pay. If you're lucky they might accept book tokens.

But Waterstones in Lakeside has a sofa and two comfortable armchairs. Nearby is a computer terminal with a search facility enabling you to find out quickly and easily whether they stock the book you want and where in the shop you might find it. There is even a branch of Costa Coffee at the back of the store. Best of all, there are price stickers on the books, and offers. I bought a book for £4 when the publishers RRP was £7.99, and also took advantage of the "Buy one, get one for £1" offer saving myself £5.99. There were helpful flyers with suggestions that if you like one particular author, you might enjoy another author who writes in a similar style or genre, and the uniformed staff were friendly and helpful and seemed to rather enjoy being there, and to be avid readers themselves. Everything about it said that reading is a great pass time, and one the store wanted to encourage, even if it was on the premises.

There are many things about America which I would welcome here. Taco Bell and Mexican food in general. Big washing machines and dryers. Basements. Of course, there are other things I don't want under any circumstances - liberal gun laws and private healthcare. But the bookstore that celebrates reading I more than welcome. Bring on the rest of the invasion!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Young Adult Fiction

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a big Twilight fan. Yes, I admit it, I succumbed to the hype and read the books and now I'm completely in Vampire thrall and Team Edward and the whole kit'n'kaboodle. I'm 41 years old and totally obsessed with the love story of two American teenagers. What's wrong with me?

Last night, at the Twilight Book Club I run (told you I had succumbed) the question was raised as to whether the Young Adult classification put readers off. I may be stupid but I hadn't realised it was a young adult book. It made me wonder whether my current work in progress, Emon and the Empire, is likely to be classified as Young Adult too? We queried what it is about a book, specifically the Twilight Saga, which makes publishers market it to older teenagers rather than middle-aged mothers. These are just our theories, but it came down to three things:
  1. The book is marketed towards the age of the main protagonists. It is about 17-year-olds, and since people relate more to those like themselves it is therefore considered to be of most interest to 17-year-olds. (Yes, I know Edward is actually 109. One of the many things I love about the book is the expert way the author creates a character who is at the same time a moody, stroppy teenager and a century-old adult set in the traditions of the 1920's.) My character, Emon, is 18 at the start of the book and 25 at the end which, by this criteria, would make Emon and the Empire a young adult book.
  2. It definitely fits the sci-fi/fantasy/speculative mould, and I think there is some snobbishness out there which suggests that adults are less likely to read such books and more interested in serious, true-to-life stories. I say yah boo sucks to that. Terry Pratchett anyone? And what about Bram Stoker's terrifying original? Plenty of adults love sci-fi, but maybe publishers are still a little wary of marketing a fantasy book to adults. Emon and the Empire is a fantasy novel.
  3. There are no "naughty bits" in it. Now, I know certain among the Utah contingent dispute this, pointing to the delicately handled scenes where Bella gets covered in feathers and bruises, but believe me, it's very tame compared to the sex scenes in adult literature - and do mean adult with a small "a". Most books marketed at adults include graphic descriptions of sex. I hate that about them. I like Marian Keyes as a writer, for example, but I really don't see the need to have her characters' private fetishes and behaviours documented in detail. The fact that this is the expected norm in books written for the over 20's is one reason I have only written thus far for the LDS market. In the Twilight books, Edward and Bella get married, and only afterwards is there any hint of shenanigans, and even then it isn't described. If leaving out the sex scenes turns a serious novel into Young Adult fiction then I guess Emon is, once again, a Young Adult book.

So by all these criteria it looks as though my current work-in-progress is shaping up to be Young Adult fiction. But that's fine by me. After all, the Harry Potter series are children's books but I loved those too.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Most authors know all about rejection. I have a box full of rejection letters, and despite having some success I still have two complete novels languishing on my computer, in all likelihood never to see a bookstore shelf. I spent many hours on them, and it's not easy to know that they are not good enough to be published. But rejection is part of an author's lot, and something we all have to get used to. It's comforting to know that several publishing companies rejected Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

I'm usually the one being rejected, as opposed to the one doing the rejecting, but this week I got to see the other side of the coin. My day job, as you may know, is with a legal charity, and one of my tasks is preparing the regular newsletter to advise our supporters of what LawCare is up to. Occasionally people send in articles for our newsletter, usually on themes related to our work, and theirs. Most recently, for example, an inpatient treatment centre in Marbella sent me a very interesting article on the benefits of being treated abroad for an addicition. I was happy to publish it.

For the first time recently, however, I received an article which I really felt I couldn't use in the newsletter. The primary reason was that it gave a few stress-busting tips which we had already included in a lot of our literature and on our website so for LawCare at least there was nothing new in it. However, even before I'd read the full content I knew it wasn't going to be publishable. It started with the lines, "Things can be stressful when your a lawyer. As a result here are some tips."

With apologies to the author, this is terrible writing. "Things" is too vague. "Your" is incorrect, it should be "you're". "As a result" is badly phrased - does stress really lead to tips and suggestions, because for all these years I've been saying it results in heart disease and mental collapse.

Despite my conviction that the article really wasn't good enough, I felt horrible writing that rejection email to the eager contributor who had thoughtfully assured me that there was "no charge" for using his article. Was I hurting his feelings? Should I ask him to revise it, rather than rejecting it outright?

But it was a valuable experience if only in showing me how tough it must be to be a submissions editor. There is a lot of really dreadful writing out there - most people cannot write well - but there is also a lot which is quite good, excellent in parts, or promising. But with publishing being such a difficult business, editors must often turn down these manuscripts - books which are good, and which their experiences and well-educated authors know are good, but which just aren't quite to the very high standard required. it must be a very dififcult call to make, and, LawCare News aside, I'm very glad that I don't have to be the one to make it.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Mediocre Middles

Having blogged about beginnings and endings, I suppose the obvious next subject has to be the middle. Currently I am stuck in the middle of Emon. I'm very happy with the first few chapters, but last night I typed the words "Chapter Thirteen" and realised that the quality had been drifting downhill for several chapters and I was no longer inspired by what I was churning out. If I'm not excited by it, how can I expect the reader to be?

I have my dramatic twist at the end ready to go, and I know a few things that are going to happen before I get there, but I am finding the middle a very difficult place to be. However, middles are just as important as beginnings and endings. I don't want my readers laying down the book because they lose interest halfway through. Actually, they won't get the chance. If the agent loses interest halfway through, then no publisher is ever going to get to see it. The standard has to be maintained on every single page.

So my work-in-progress is having a mid-life crisis and I'm open to suggestions about how to overcome it. Skip to the end? Introduce a sub-plot or a new character? Ignore it for a week and hope it will go away? Go back to the beginning and revise what I already have? Plough on and worry about improving it later?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Happy Endings and Norilsk

Following my post about Great Beginnings a couple of days ago, I find myself thinking more about the endings of books. I've just finished reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger and that certainly had a spectacular twist at the end but I got the feeling that some of the following chapters had been done at the insistence of her publishers to tie provide "closure" for the reader. They came across as rather a rushed afterthought and I think the author, like me, would have rather closed the book at page 442 and leave the reader reeling and guessing than throw in some happy endings.

My second book, A World Away, left a big unanswered "life or death" question at the end, and much of the fanmail I had was along the lines of "I loved your book but did they die in the crash?" People seem not to like unresolved issues or loose ends. As a result, the third book in the series (as yet unpublished) includes a small aside which suggests that the answer is yes, the bad guys were killed in the car crash. And no loose ends at all.

So I was naturally uninterested at first in a short story competition a friend suggested I enter. Organised by the Stephenie Meyer group on Facebook, the challenge was to write a short story based on Jacob and Renesmee ten years after the end of Breaking Dawn. I rather like the end of Breaking Dawn the way it is, and didn't see any need to speculate on the exact nature of permanance of that happy ending. However, a dinner table discussion about unpleasant Russian towns and the realisation that Jacob and Renesmee's relationship would change dramatically from child and protector to romance rekindled my interest in the subject. I wrote the story, and today I entered it into the competition. And I'm pasting it below. (If you haven't read the entire Twilight Saga it won't make much sense, sorry.)

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I remembered him. I remembered him in the same way that I remembered my mother looking horribly damaged but elated, or the explosion of relief when the fearful red-eyes had slunk away into the forest. Memories that were as brief and hazy as the last ethereal wisps of summer cloud that dissipated into the bright sunshine, but brought with them the same soul-stirring warmth. Memories of him stirred in me feelings of elation and anticipation. I was overwhelmingly happy to see him.
He was tall, far taller than me, and his burnished skin, so incongruous in this place, stretched and rippled across his taut muscles, glowing almost as much as mine in the weak winter light. His brown eyes matched my own and regarded me with a curious mixture of overwhelming devotion and uncertain suspicion. I felt a moment of alarm. Had it been too long? Did he not recognise me? Had I been wrong to go away?
“No,” my father said gently, hearing my thoughts. “We had to go. Jacob agreed.”
I felt bitterness and blame fighting in my chest. The truth was I had to go. They might have stayed in Forks but for me. The beautiful, devoted newlyweds who didn’t age, with the child who aged enough for both of them. Without me they would have enjoyed maybe three or four more years in the home they loved, surrounded by the family who were devoted to them. With me they had had to keep moving. Always cold, dark, dreary places. Alaska first, then north Wales, and finally here to Norilsk.
Forks, I remembered, had soaring forests that added a green haze to the enveloping mists. Wales had stunning mountains and ancient castles. Norilsk was bleak; the temperature rarely rose above freezing, the population suffered from heavy metal poisoning from the nickel mines, and during winter the sun rarely made an appearance at all. That suited my parents just fine; I craved warmth and light.
Jacob had understood that I had to be kept moving, kept hidden, kept safe. I remembered that he had told my father he could not come with us because he needed to stay with his pack. I remembered that I didn’t need my father’s mind reading ability to know that this was not true, that he was making an excuse to step aside so that my parents and I could be a family, just us, for as long as my childhood might last. I remembered also that I didn’t need Uncle Jasper’s ability either to feel the waves of sorrow and despair coming from Jacob. Those memories too seemed far away and as difficult to grasp as flowing water.
But now I was fully-grown, and Jacob, the warmth and light I craved, had come to me. He stood on the open porch of our isolated home, the barren snowy landscape laid out behind him as far as the distant Yenisey river. He was bare-chested and bare-footed, from which I surmised with delight that he had travelled from the station in wolf form.
I could not help but be aware of every part of him, every restless movement, from the bobbing of his adam’s apple as he swallowed nervously to the shifting of his weight from one bare foot to the other and the long, strong arms which hung pendulously at his sides, their fists clenching and unclenching as he tried to ease his anxiety. He was extremely striking, of course, but that was almost incidental to my feelings, as though I would have felt the same irresistible pull toward him even if he had been in wolf form. I should probably feel nervous too, I suspected, given that I had been brought back to Jacob to marry him, but I remembered him well enough that I could never be afraid of being with him. I wanted to be with him. I loved him already, and suspected I had since the day of my birth.
I heard my mother’s tender voice reassuring me. “Nessie, go ahead.”
Without a backward glance I did as she suggested. I took a step forward, through the front door of our comfortable home, towards this man who seemed to draw me like a magnet, seemed to mean so much to me. My betrothed. How was it that he had imprinted on me and yet I found myself so captivated, so fixated, that I had dreamed of him every night over the last ten years? This day had long been the focal point of my existence and I knew that in the same way the short centuries were delineated with BC and AD, for me my life would forever be divided into Before and After Jacob.
“Rensemee?” Jacob breathed, in a voice I could worship.
Close enough at last, I laid a hand on his hot chest and showed him, as quickly as possible, the last ten years of my life and my own joy at being with him again. I wanted to get the formalities over.
“I’ll have to tell you the long way,” he apologised, his big hand covering mine.
“We have time.”
His eyes hadn’t left my face since I had opened the door. “You are so beautiful!” he exclaimed quietly, as though to himself. Perhaps that explained why he hadn’t even looked at my parents yet. Maybe he didn’t need to. I was very like them.
This close to him I could smell the musky earthiness of his blood and hear it pulsing though his veins, but it didn’t make me thirsty; it made me… something else. I wanted him, but not for nourishment of that appetite. I just wanted him. My father sensed what I was going to do the instant before I did it and I heard his nervous gasp at the same time as I stood on tiptoe and pulled Jacob’s perfect head down to mine, pressing my lips against his full ones and feeling them yield, exult, respond. As his strong arms slowly wrapped around me, lifted me off my feet and pressed me to him I rejoiced in the completeness and perfection of our love.
I had been little more than a toddler last time we had been together, and this new dimension to our relationship might have been awkward. But it wasn’t. It was right, and good, and forever. He was vital and living and beautiful; he was my Jacob and always would be.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Feeling Creative

This morning, as I was hanging out the washing, I suddenly had a scene come into my head which would be ideal to flesh out one of the characters in a manuscript I started some time ago. I rushed inside to scribble down some notes to remind me of it so that if I find a few minutes to write this evening I won't lose that flash of inspiration.

Then later this morning a short story contest with a theme which hadn't inspired me suddenly took on new meaning as I saw an interesting angle to the story. So I've just written a 1,000 word short story which I will enter into the contest.

Funny how some days the ideas come so thick and fast I don't have time to get them down, and other times I can sit uselessly at my computer for hours and only manage to force out a few measly words.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Great Beginnings

I don't have a lot of time to read (three jobs, three children, two callings) so in order to make me read it, a book really has to grab me from the first paragraph. And once it does, I become what I call a "bad mother reader" - making noodles for the children for tea because it only takes three minutes, and telling the family "I'm going upstairs to sort the washing" when I'm actually hoping to snatch five minutes to read. Generally when they catch me reading the children declare "busted!" because I'm almost certainly supposed to be doing something else. Hoovering, polishing, or putting them to bed.

If a book doesn't grab me from the very beginning then this doesn't happen. I can't make myself read something I don't want to. If I'm going to steal time like this, it needs to be worth it. So as a writer, I know that the first paragraph, the first line, is crucial. It's the hook with which you need to catch the reader, especially if that reader happens to be standing in a bookshop debating whether to buy it or not.

The book which most recently turned me into a bad mother was The Host by Stephenie Meyer, which opens with a scene of alien surgery. It was a great book with lots of dark themes and "What ifs" and fascinating characters and startling twists. I already loved Stephenie Meyer, of course, but now I know that her success isn't just down to luck at having dreamed up (literally) the Twilight Saga phenomenon. She is a great storyteller.

I'm now reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger which opens with this line:

"Elspeth died while Robert was standing in front of a vending machine watching tea shoot into a small plastic cup."

It's so intriguing! Who is Elspeth? Is Robert her husband? Why wasn't he at her side when she died? I think it's a wonderful beginning, and although the book hasn't yet turned me into a bad mother, I am at least finding it pleasantly diverting. It was a great first line, and there are plenty of other great lines in there too.

Conversely, I recently picked up a book in the library and found that it began midway through the dialogue between a single father and his new girlfriend being brought home to meet the teenage children for the first time. An intriguing and promising concept, but it started; "Don;t worry, I've told them to be on their best behaviour." Too dull - I didn't worry. There's a lot the writer might have done with such an emotionally fraught beginning, and the fact that she didn't made me suspect that the rest of the book was going to be just as blah.

A good first line, from "It is a truth universally acknowledged" to "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" can set the tone of the rest of the book, so it's vital to get it right. I recently changed the first line of Emon and the Empire, my current work in progress. It's also the same as the last line. Still not sure I got it right, though. What do you think?

I am twenty-five years old, and everything has gone wrong in my life. I’m stuck in a strange place, facing an impossible choice, I can’t be with the woman I love and I have no one to call a friend.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Vanity Publishing

I have just listened to a very interesting debate on the radio about self-publishing.

Years ago, self publishing used to be called Vanity publishing, and it was pretty much that - someone thought so much of themselves and their book that they would part with thousands of pounds to have it printed and then try to flog it themselves by hawking it round bookshops and calling in favours from polite friends and acquaintances. Apparently in these days of print-on-demand and Amazon things are very different and it is becoming quite acceptable to self publish, as well as much easier to marker your self-published book.

There was a contributor to the discussion who had self-published his book, had it fall into the hands of an influential journalist and subsequently been offered a £2.5 million deal for his next three books. Another had written a book called "The Father's Home Birth Handbook" which he had self-published; it sold very well and he was then offered royalties by a publisher who offered to reprint it. So I guess sometimes it can be OK. Sometimes. I still come down against it for several reasons.

  1. I have always taken the view that if my manuscript isn't good enough for a reputable publisher to offer to pay me for it, then it isn't good enough. What's the point of trying, researching, working hard to hone my skill and perfect my craft if any rubbish I write could be published?
  2. One of the contributors on the show - the managing director of a self-publishing company - admitted that they don't read the manuscripts they publish. I think that speaks volumes. Those books could be oscene, inflammatory, misleading or badly researched. There's enough of that on the internet without it appearing in print too.
  3. The public only have a certain amount of money to spend on books, and self-published dross dilutes the market.
  4. The book-buying public deserve the best; a book is an investment. As a teenager I bought a book by Rosemary Conley, my favourite fitness guru, only to discover when I read it that it was basically a rehash of her last book. Off I trotted to the shop to return it as unsuitable. Of course, I was told I couldn't return it. Innocently I asked why. "Because you might just have read it and be bringing it back," I was told. "I HAVE read it and it's no good," I replied. "That's why I'm bringing it back." That's when I learned the truth. If any other product or service is shoddy or substandard you can return it for a full refund. Not so books. That's why we need discerning agents and publishers to ensure that the books we buy are worth the price we pay for them.
  5. Yes, it's very difficult to get published. Yes, it's tough to have a manuscript you've worked hard on rejected. I know, I've been there many times. Even the best authors have a box full of rejection letters. But it's partly the fact that so few people succeed that makes it worth aiming for. These days we seem to be getting rather too politically correct about not letting people experience rejection. It's part of life - get over it. What would be the point of an Olympics where everyone got a medal, or where the losers said, "Never mind, I'm going to pay someone to make me a nice shiny gold medal anyway and that'll be just as good."
  6. Books enjoy a better reputation than the Internet. It used to be that in order to get a serious work of non-fiction published you had to show your publisher meticulous research and well-reasoned arguments. This, in turn, meant that books could, to some extent, be trusted to be accurate. I decry anything which leads to the printed work becoming untrustworthy and of less value.
  7. Publishers do far more than simply edit a book. I don't yet know the title of my next book because my publishers are choosing it, and I trust them to do so. They know the market, they have been able to cast fresh eyes on my book and although in this case they didn't edit it, I know that the input of a professional editor is invaluable. They also take care of the marketing - generally the most difficult part of the process.
  8. Call me old fashioned, but I like to be paid for my work. I don't pay someone for the privilege of sitting at my desk for five hours a day keeping databases up to date any more than I pay my neighbours to have Avon products or look through Avon brochures. If I do a good job, I expect to reap a financial reward, and writing is no different.

I understand what it is to have such pride in your work that you want to see it in print. But if you've watched "Britain's Got Talent" you'll know that not everyone who thinks they are the greatest singer since Freddie Mercury is correct. Humility involves accepting that your best is not as good as someone else's, and doesn't meet a required standard. It doesn't mean paying out to give your ego a boost.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

In Praise of Book Clubs

I went to a book club last night with a friend who invited me along at the last minute. I met some great people, made some new friends, and got some tips about good books to look out for.The book club seems to be a relatively new social phenomenon.

Here in the UK it is largely connected with popular TV couple Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan who added a book club spot to their daytime talk show, sending sales of the books they recommended into the stratosphere. But even before Richard and Judy picked up the baton and ran with it, book clubs were springing up all over the place.

When I was a student doing my degree in English literature book clubs didn't exist which was a pity because I'd have loved to meet up with others as enthused and eager about Vanity Fair and Tess of the D'Urbervilles as I was. Instead my appreciation of these books was tempered by dry tutorials, long lectures, and essays which analysed all the magic out of them.

The book assigned for September's meeting of the club I just joined is Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger which is, I am told, on sale in Sainsbury's for £4. It probably helps that we don't have sales tax on books, but this is still a wonderful price when I factor in the hours of pleasure (assuming it's a good book) it will give me, not least of which will be the two hours spent eating cake and chatting about it at the book club. But despite a book club being a cheap form of entertainment (compared with, say, a restaurant meal or a cinema ticket) I don't think it's price alone which is making it such a popular social custom. For one thing, the rise of the book club predates the global recession even if it, annoyling, postdates my degree course.

Book clubs are great for authors too. If there are, say, ten people at a book club and they happen to choose your book for the reading list, you're going to sell ten extra copies. Just the fact that these clubs are getting people reading again, going into bookshops and recommending books to their friends is great news for those of us who scratch out a living writing those books.

My next book comes out later this year, and my publishers have asked that I include questions for book clubs to consider at the end of the book. I really enjoyed coming up with the questions; it gave me an opportunity to think analytically about the characters and plot, and I think it very much improved my understanding of my own manuscript.

I'm not really seeing any down side to a book club here. It sells more books, it gets people together to have fun and appreciate literature, it even helps writers with their craft. So if you're not a member of a book club already, I can highly recommend it, and if you are a member, I salute you!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Music - The Muse

It was the 25th Anniversary of Live Aid last month, and I remember it well. In 1985 a friend persuaded me that if I was going to watch any of it, Queen were the band I shouldn't miss. So (because my parents hate any non-classical music) I went upstairs to my parents' bedroom and watched it on the little portable TV in their room, lying on my stomach across their bed.

I was blown away, stunned by just how good rock music could be. And from that moment I was a Queen fan. I joined their fan club (I finally neglected to renew my membership 20 years later) and went to the local Woolworth's to buy every Queen album (vinyl) I could find. I could only get one - A Night at the Opera - but I played it so many times on my scratchy little record player it's amazing there was any of it left by the time I left it in the sun five years later and it warped.

In 1986, aged 17, I went to my first ever concert and saw Queen (supported by Status Quo and INXS) at Wembley Stadium in London. It turned out to be their last tour - Freddie Mercury died six years later. I'm so glad I persuaded my parents to let me go. For several years my entire wardrobe consisted only of Queen t-shirts and jeans, and my first husband, also a Queen fan, told me that I first caught his eye because of my choice of clothing.

Most important of all, I think, Queen's music inspired me to write. I still haven't finished it, but I started writing a fantasy novel called "Horses Born with Eagle Wings", based on many of the themes, characters and stories on the first two Queen albums. Even the title is a Queen lyric. (Should I mention that my tattoo is of a winged horse called Eagle? I'm a convert, remember...) That led to a general love of writing, and you know the rest.

I thought I'd never feel as inspired by music again as I was by Queen 25 years ago today, but recently my eldest daughter plugged her MP3 player into the car as we travelled together to go shopping, and I discovered Muse. They are well named. And yes, I've just gone out and bought every Muse album, and I'm going to see them at Wembley Stadium in September, with my daughter. I suspect some wardrobe changes are imminent.

As I write this I am listening to "Knights of Cydonia" and I've included lyrics from this, and from "Uprising" (my favourite Muse track) in my current fantasy novel, Emon and the Empire. I'm not the first writer to be inspired by Muse (I can't listen to "Supermassive Black Hole" without seeing vampires playing baseball) and like Sister Meyer I am finding that listening to their music whilst writing helps conjure up the required atmosphere and makes the words flow better.

So I would like to publicly honour the bands whose music has provided the soundtrack to my life, countless hours of pleasure, and the inspiration behind some of my books. Queen - Magnum - Def Leppard - Muse - Thank you for sharing your talent and helping me to share mine.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Relative Poverty

Sorry about the adverts now appearing on my blog. The recession has bitten, and having spent a month in America, had a new boiler, dishwasher and treadmill, we are now skint. The children all have birthdays before Christmas and then... well, Christmas. So a few pennies from a couple of ads seemed like a good idea.

I realised recently that I have three jobs - four if you include motherhood. I work from home five hours a day for a legal charity. I'm an Avon representative, and a writer. The pay I get for each job can also be rated in that order. Writing doesn't pay well.

If I really was desparate for money I could give up all my jobs (except motherhood) and take a better paid full time job in an office somewhere. But since I could never give up writing - or the time I spend doing it - I'll settle for some careful budgeting, putting ads on my blog and selling stuff on Ebay. I can live with being poor if it means I get to do what I love.

Friday, 18 June 2010


It's been such a long time since I've blogged that my blog address is no longer stored in my web browser. I need to do something about that.

One of the downsides of being a published author is that people assume you love writing (I do) and must be good at it (er...) and therefore you would love to write the roadshow this year. And having written it, obviously you have a vision for how it would look, so you should also direct it. Every Tuesday and Friday night, and Saturday mornings for the month leading up to it. And any problems with a costumes, sound, arguments between actors, are also yours to deal with. I have now written and directed four roadshows, all of them terrible, and I really don't want to do this year's. November is the date written in for our Stake. I'm going to try to protest that I'm really too busy with my latest book, but naturally this will just remind people that I am a published author, and therefore love writing and must be good at it.

I haven't read the book but Branden Bell (what an amazingly James Bond name) has received stellar reviews for The Road Show over on Anne Bradshaw's blog (annebradshaw.blogspot.com) so you might want to go over to Ann's place and enter her competition to win a copy. This blog gives me two entries, but as luck would have it the competition is open to USA and Canada residents only, so I'm not eligible. That's OK, I've had enough roadshow trauma in my life that I don't need any more.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Terrific Talent

I love writing. I have only recently come to realise quite how much I love it, and quite how grateful I am that writing is my talent.

I used to envy those people who could sing beautifully, or who were musically gifted. If I could sing and play the piano, my party piece would be singing "My Melancholy Blues" by Queen, a beautiful and haunting tune. But I can't sing. Well, not well. My friend, who never says a bad word about anyone and is musically gifted, charitably says I have a good choir voice. In other words, it might sound OK if 100 others were singing along with me to drown me out.

I can't dance either. I did ballet as a child but gave up because I didn't like all the French words and was sure I'd never learn them. Languages, you see, are something else I'm not good at. It took mew 17 years of living in Wales to get any kind of fluency in Welsh.

I have some artistic ability, but I think artistic ability is something that can be learned to a certain extent, and I had learned all I could and gone as far as I could go. I applied to study art at university but wasn't successful.

I'm pretty average at everything else. I have taken 15 exams in total - 10 O'levels (as GCSEs used to be called), 4 A levels and a degree. Never got an A in any of them, just a whole lot of Bs and Cs. The only test I have ever got an A in was my blood test, for which I got A+.

But I can write. You know when you read something in a book and it is just so perfectly and evocatively phrased that you have a real emotional response - fear, or love, or laughter, and then envy wishing you'd written it? I know pride is a bad thing, but reading over chapters of the fantasy novel I'm working on at the moment I am finding parts that I am really happy about. I love that. I love being able to use words to evoke a response, set a scene, create a mood and flesh out a character. I love being able to create worlds, people and adventures with nothing more than a keyboard. I've written more in the last three weeks than I wrote during the whole of 2009, and I'm remembering just what a thrill it is when the ideas, the lines and the scenes come faster than I can type them.

I may not be as talented as many - most - other writers, but I'm still learning my craft, and I know that I will improve with practice. However, I can write better than the average person on the street, and I wouldn't change that talent for any other - not even being able to sing, dance, play the piano and paint wonderful pictures all at the same time.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


My last post on the V-Formation blog (www.vformation.blogspot.com) created quite a bit of controversy, but having now read almost all the Twilight saga, I stand by what I said. They inspire me. Stephenie Meyer, in turn, was inspired (appropriately) by Muse and various other rock bands. I haven't got into Muse yet; I suspect they may be a bit grungy and emo for my tastes.

This got me thinking about what inspires us. My books have come from various sources, but strangely, rarely my own head.
  • Haven was suggested to me by my editor at Covenant, Valerie Holladay, who asked for a book set in Wales with a variety of different characters. A B&B was the obvious solution.
  • A World Away was the sequel to Haven. I had never intended writing a sequel, but publishers like sequels to successful books by new authors; apparently they establish the name and the market.
  • Christmas at Haven (as yet unpublished) is the third in the trilogy. More of the same, but with a difference in that Haven burns down in the opening pages.
  • Easterfield came to me because I love Jane Austen (who doesn't?) and realised that she lived shortly before the gospel was restored in 1830. I wondered what would happen if a Mormon element were to crop up in the society she writes about. So I wrote about it.
  • Landscape in Oils, my current effort, was inspired by a conversation I had with a drugs squad officer from Bangor police station many years ago. I have been writing this pesky book for fifteen years. But it is actually nearing the end, at last, after having been abandoned several times, sent in, sent back, lost, found, queried, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.
  • Horses Born With Eagle Wings is a fantasy novel I have been writing for even longer than I've been writing Landscape, and is inspired entirely by the first two Queen albums. The characters and even the title come from songs on those albums.
  • Finders Keepers/Four Friends was the brainchild of a friend based on her own adventures of being middle aged and single. I've started it, and will write more when I finish one of the other books I'm working on.
  • Emon, the fantasy novel I'm excited about at the moment, was the idea of Ryan Tench, who will be credited with me. Had a great meeting with him on Sunday, he just comes up with so many ideas, plot twists, character quirks and wonderful stuff that I can't write it fast enough. So perhaps Ryan is my muse.

What inspires you?