Monday, 28 October 2013

Marissa de Luna on How to Get Detail into Your Writing

As promised last week, I am hosting talented fellow Abingdon Writer Marissa de Luna as she celebrates her recently published second novel, 'The Bittersweet Vine'.

Continuing her blog tour, Marissa reveals her tips for keeping your novel full of interesting detail and description so that your characters become more developed and your scene setting sparkles. Take it away, Marissa!! 

It’s All About The Detail

Not long ago I read in interesting article by Dona Levin on what she calls incorporating ‘Killer-Diller’ details in to your novel in order to bring your characters to life.

One of her suggestions is to keep a little journal so that you can write down interesting descriptions as you come across them.

I have tried this and it is immensely useful. I must have started doing this in winter because the other day when I was trawling through my notebook, most of my references were to ice and snow.  But now as we are in the tail end of summer when I want to write a wintery scene and all I can see outside is glorious sunshine or miserable rain, I can just dip into my ‘observations’ book and find some wintery inspiration.

Before I started writing, I have to admit, I had the observational skills of a bat. I was useless but now I have started writing I am more observant. Now I walk around observing different aspects of people, their habits, and their mannerisms. I take a twitch from one person, a dimple from the other and make characters that come alive on the page.

But why are writers so hell bent on the detail? It’s simple. It is our job, as writers, to create a reality in fiction. The only way we can successfully do this is by describing scenes and characters that ring true. And this is where the detail comes in.

So here are my top tips for honing those observational skills and using those annotations in your writing.
  •  Keep a journal in your bag/on your desk at all times. You never know when you will observe something of note. Divide the book up into vocabulary, personal detail, nature, rooms and objects. If you don’t do this, it’s going to be hard finding that description when you are looking for something in particular.
  • Set yourself a goal of how many details you want to put in your journal everyday. My goal is three a day. In reality, I barely manage three a week. I have to remind myself to observe like I remind myself to drink 8 glasses of water a day. Like water, this exercise is good for you. Stick a post-it note on your desk prompting you to do this.
  •  When you get a moment to yourself, instead of checking your social media on your smart phone, have a flick through your little book of descriptions. It might provide inspiration for a new scene or provide that all-important detail for one of your characters.
  • Another great way to hone your description/observation skills is to take a journal and go somewhere like a garden or a park. Then describe what is closest to you. What can you see 1) Near your feet - say 1 meter around you. Describe it all - take five minutes to do this. 2) Then describe everything within 6 metres – keep increasing your vision. 3) Then describe what you can’t see. Behind the line of your vision. Go crazy – be imaginative.
  • And remember all the other senses as well. It’s not all about sight! In the best books, description will get all the senses going. Smell a flower and describe how its smells. How do you feel when you smell that flower? Describe emotions and feelings brought about by that smell. Your characters may use it someday.  And not just flowers. You'll have to describe malodourous smells too. New tarmac being rolled out, for example. Petrol stations, butchers – wherever you go – have a sniff and describe it. Smells evoke feelings and memories and have a great effect if they are successfully described in novels. 
  • Textures… It’s all about the texture! Touch some fabric and objects around you - what do they feel like? Jot it down! 
  • Taste - give your taste buds an explosion. Write about foods with a flavour that will ignite your reader’s senses. Make them want to Google the foods you talk about just so they can go out and try it. I always think if your reader searches on-line for something in your book it’s a successful novel as you are really engaging them!
So, how do you use this detail to its full potential?  I believe you can really crystalize what you are trying to describe in a few words. Cut the waffle and mix a little show and tell to create the perfect scene. For example, if you are talking about how cold it is you could talk about the crunch under foot from the leaves, the pavements sparkling with frost, the cobwebs on the traffic lights frozen like silly string, the fog thick and oppressive covering the town like a blanket. Those are just a couple of my observations from the weather earlier this year from my little notebook.

Using your ‘observations book’ you will be able to describe things with fewer words and with such clarity that your books will be simple to read. Which leads me on to having a vocabulary section in your notebook as well. Call it your own little thesaurus. For example, there are several ways to say someone sat down on a sofa. They could slump, lower themselves, fall into.

If you are like me, when you write you just want to get the story out. But when you are editing there is no harm in reading your description/observation book intermittently, just for a bit of inspiration or to change a few words around here and there.
As writers, we are lucky. We are surrounded by inspiration and experience and it’s free! We just have to know how to use it.
Thanks for the great tips Marissa! 

Marissa de Luna is an author with a passion for adventure and travel. 'The Bittersweet Vine' is her second novel.

'The Bittersweet Vine' is available now.

The Bittersweet Vine (ISBN: 978-0-85728-094-7, Thames River Press, paperback and e-book) at
Amazon or other on-line stores and in selected bookshops.  

For more information about 'The Bittersweet Vine' or the author see

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Does self-publishing kill you for traditional publishers?

Before we begin, I just have to bring to your attention a lovely crafty site that I have just discovered called Sew Sweet Violet and her beautiful giveaway she is doing - gorgeous advent Christmas bunting. The giveaway ends on Tuesday 29th October and she will post to ANYWHERE in the world so, quick, go and leave a comment on the appropriate post and come straight back here. I'll wait for you... 

Okay, entered the giveaway? Cool. Let's continue. 

So, next week I have a guest blogger, Marissa de Luna doing a post here on the importance of detail in your writing. Marissa has recently published her second book 'The Bittersweet Vine' with a traditional publisher, having self-published her first book 'Goa Traffic'. 

Marissa's story is really interesting, not least because she got herself an agent and a traditionally published second book after self publishing her first novel. It seems to be commonly accepted that if you have self published, traditional publishers won't touch you (unless, of course, you have phenomenal sales like E L James). But Marissa proves this wrong and I'm sure she isn't the only one as traditional publishers slowly become more accepting of Indie authors. 

Indie published authors haven't always been treated with disdain and scorn though and today's self publishers are in good company. Recognise these names?
  • Deepak Chopra
  • Charles Dickens
  • Mark Twain
  • Anais Nin
  • Virginia Wolff
  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Alexandre Dumas
  • Beatrix Potter

They all self published at some point in their careers and some of them self-published their most famous books too. 

I can't deny that some Indie authors are, quite frankly, not up to scratch and it's easy to see why publishers would have rejected them. Novels full of cliches, clunky dialogue, meandering plots, under-developed characters. Yes, lots of Indie books are truly bad. But, then again, there are many bad traditionally published novels out there too.

So, is it sometimes luck and timing that can get you a publishing contract? Maybe your novel captures the zeitgeist of the moment? Or you just so happen to have a complete manuscript ready to go that can piggyback on the success of a similar 'latest big thing'. 

The originally self published 'Fifty Shades of Grey' has spawned a whole raft of erotica, not that it wasn't there before. It's just more mainstream now. Of course, e-readers have a lot to do with the rise of erotica sales. No longer is it confined to bedroom reading. It can be read anywhere you like - buses, trains, in the supermarket queue. Nobody has to know that the colour in your cheeks has nothing to do with the over heated coffee shop and everything to do with Stavros having his wicked way with prim and proper Phillipa al fresco under the stars. 

Both self-published first before being picked up by trad publishers
As a writer, it's really hard to decide which route to take but if Kathryn Stockett can weather 60 rejections before finally getting 'The Help' accepted by a publisher, then maybe I should have a little more patience and faith in myself. 

My personal feeling is that traditional publishing gives you more kudos as an author and the knowledge you acquire through working with editors and agents is really valuable. HOWEVER, the money is not exactly great for a debut author.
I suppose the real question is, do I want to go into a bookshop and see my book on a shelf or am I happy with just seeing the cover on Amazon?
Finally, here's a really interesting article with New York Times bestselling author C J Lyons and why she both traditionally and self publishes. What are your thoughts on Indie and traditional publishing? Have you made an absolute decision on which way you want to go? 

Friday, 4 October 2013

The greatest book that never was... 5 cures for Writers' block

Ah yes, writers' block. The horrible blankness inside your head, the desperation clawing at your brain, the internal harpy-like shrieking of:
Fear wraps his talons around your now cold heart and whispers in your ear *give up, you loser. Writing is for imaginative people. You're just a pretender. A useless hack. Give up now. Quit while you're ahead. It's the smart thing to do.*

No? Just me then? Well, anyway, however it makes you feel, it seems to catch us all out during our writing life and the Internet is chock-full of ways to cure it. Or at least postpone it until the next delightful muse-kidnapper appears. 

Here are five ideas that could help you banish it. For a while anyway:

  • Get out in the fresh air. Take a walk (or a run if you're that way inclined...). Or, if you're really, really lazy, just stand in the garden for ten minutes and stare at the sky. Don't think about that pesky storyline that's going nowhere or that piece of dialogue that 's horribly clunky and stilted. Take a few minutes to get a bit zen. Zone out. Enjoy the flowers, kick up those autumn leaves, lift your face to the rain. As the ever awesome En Vogue would say:

Free Your Mind
  • Do something creative that's not writing. Drawing, crochet, sewing. Bake a cake, which has the added benefit of providing important sustenance ready for your mammoth writing session where you not only smash writers block into the ground like the Incredible Hulk but write your BEST EVER Scene. One that would make Angels weep and Shakespeare cry in his grave. Ahem. What I mean to say is - force the creative buzz to get going by doing something else and maybe that impossible chapter ending will just pop right into your head. 
The Incredible Hulk. Smash!
  • Organise your bookshelves. Or go to your local (hopefully independent) bookshop and take a look at their tables or staff pick titles. Read the blurbs, peek inside. Take inspiration from what you read and use those ideas to kick start your own work. 
  • Try free writing for fifteen minutes. Write whatever comes into your head and don't stop writing until the timer goes. If you start to freeze up, write your thoughts. Put onto paper the actual words 'I don't know what else to write. I can't think of anything', etc until even the tiniest grain of an idea pops into your head. Run with it. Let your mind wander and go off on tangents. Write everything that comes into your head. The idea is to build up your momentum and get you into the flow of writing again. You never know what these raw, in-cohesive ramblings might inspire.
    I'm not suggesting this was the product of free writing... 
    But this one might have been
  • Or go to this super awesome site. It's the Holy Grail for writers suffering from the dreaded BLOCK. Writing prompt generators, articles on famous authors, creative writing exercises and more. Beware though. It is a serious time suck. Don't get stuck on the character name generator. You have been warned. 


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Been a bit busy lately...

The title of this post is a bit of an understatement really. Since my last post, we made the monumental decision to leave Australia and return to the UK so there was a lot of organising to do before we left and then again when we got home. 

We have been busy, busy bees. 

I did worry that we would regret the decision to leave Perth after only thirteen months there but, I can honestly say, not once have I thought,
Oh God. What have we done?
The only regret I have is wasting so much money getting visas and moving out there in the first place. Some people love it but it wasn't for us and I am so, so glad to be home. 

We had a beautiful summer to welcome us home and it has been so good to see friends and to watch Lady M with her grandparents and, most importantly, her baby cousin. What a joy to see them absolutely loving each other (well, most of the time. Ahem) and to hear Lady M demanding to see her cousin every day. 

I've enjoyed sights such as this on my doorstep:

As well as going blackberry picking, feeding the ducks, having a drink in the local beer garden, walking the cobbled streets of beautiful Chichester and wandering around Waitrose delighting in the quality and variety of food available to name but a few. It is bliss to be in England again. 

I've even been baking and cooking again and ENJOYING it (a sign of mild depression perhaps, that I hardly baked or cooked in Perth at all?).

Yesterday, I finally got back to writing and it felt soooooooooo good. Now I just have to find a writing group and finish my two half written manuscripts which I got writers' block on in Australia... Does anyone have any tips for plot development on a novel you half wrote many moons ago and can't get a grip on now?

Just in case you don't, I'm going to research it and try out the best ones over the next week so I'll let you know what worked for me and, hopefully, they'll work for you too. 

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Submissions once again!

So, I've finished my edit bar rewriting a couple of chapters slightly and next week I will be sending out submissions again. Well, I say again but I only sent three last time.. I'm not even sure that really counts as a submissions round - I plan to send more this time, I promise! 

I'm going to rejig my synopsis too, hence the 'next week' deadline. I will be revisiting Nicola Morgan's 'How to Write a Synopsis' as well as her 'Dear Agent' book. I'm pretty happy with my current synopsis and pitch but these things can always be improved. 

 I've already done some research on agents which was surprisingly difficult. It seems that if you write in any genre other than romance, you can collate a list of agents as long as your arm in a relatively small amount of time. Given that romance is one of the most popular genres, it sure is difficult to find an agent who lists contemporary romance as a genre they represent. Weird, no? 

Anyway, I have found a few but it took a lot of delving around the internet to do so. My top tip is:
Look at the websites and blogs of authors you think write the same sort of stuff as you and check out who they're represented and published by. There are still publishers who accept unsolicited submissions, especially digital publishers! 
You could also take a peek at the acknowledgements page of books which are similar to your own - authors tend to thank their agents. 

I've got a list of five agents and three publishers now including Novelicious who have started up their very own publishing company, Novelicious Books.

Novelicious are also running a competition to win a subscription to Agent Hunter but hurry - it closes on Friday! 

Agent Hunter is 'the most comprehensive literary agent database anywhere' and promises to be the easiest way to find agents for your work. Fingers crossed for a win on this one - I need it!! 

So, my writerly to - do list now looks like this: 

  • Rewrite two chapters
  • Write a blurb
  • Revisit synopsis and tweak as necessary
  • Write agent emails and send! 

Scary exciting times ahead... I think I'm going to need lots of chocolatey sustenance like these:

Joy the Baker cookies

and also this:

Because it's totally healthy even though it's chocolate, right?

You will get fat but you will be oh so happy if you buy this book! 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Five tips for editing your novel!

Many writers dread the editing process and, I freely admit, I used to be one of them but you know what? After three edits of the same novel, I have finally discovered that it can be quite fun. Yes, fun!

Okay, well maybe not THIS much fun.
When you've left a novel alone for a long time, revisiting it is like meeting up with friends you haven't seen for a couple of years. Things have changed in your life, you have new experiences to talk about, different stories to tell. Everything is good and glowing and exciting. You rediscover their funny little quirks and find that you really missed their self-deprecating sense of humour.

And then you introduce a new friend to the equation and they love your old friend. They love your old friend so much, they keep bugging you for more get togethers. They tell you things about your old friend that they've noticed - things you hadn't thought about. Seeing your old friend through your new friend's eyes really helps you appreciate all the good things about them.

Of course, the new friend also likes to gossip about the old friend pointing out (in a totally non-bitchy way, natch) the annoying things about them too. And their flaws. But this is all okay because, once you know all the things that aren't quite 'right' about your old friend, you can set about changing them. At least, you can if the old friend happens to be a book you wrote (or maybe if you're a psychiatrist. Do they even have friends?!?)

So, this is where I'm at right now. Having given a friend my manuscript to read (purely as a reader. She doesn't write which, I think, is a really good thing), she's given me a different perspective from previous writing buddies that have read it and a few things that require clarification or beefing up a little. To that end, my top tip is here, at number one in the list:

  1. Get somebody who has never read it before to read through it. Fresh eyes are the best! Believe me, they will pick out things that are missing like WHOLE SCENES. Good grief, you say, how can you miss out entire scenes? Well, after a brutal editing round last time and all of the story residing in your head, it's easy to 'think' bits in when you, the writer, are reading through your own story.
  2. Print it out in a different font/size/colour to whatever you typed it in. Apparently, this tricks your brain into thinking it's something fresh you're reading and not the book you've been working on for the past eleven years months.
  3. Jot down the main points of each chapter as you read them. Then you can check that continuity is alive and well in your novel and someone isn't enjoying a beautiful scenic bike ride through the English countryside when, two chapters previously, they were talking about how they never learnt to ride a bike and haven't learnt how to in the in between chapters.
  4. Read it out loud or, at least, read aloud your dialogue. If it sounds stunted and clumsy when you read it out, then it needs to be changed. You can get programmes that will read text for you - try a free trial and see if that works for you before splashing out on it or check out this free text to voice software.
  5. Have lots of chocolate on standby. Let's face it, this is just a top tip for life in general.
Stick your face in one of these when it all gets a bit much
And, if you have no idea how to even begin editing, then take a look at these links:

I like Writer Unboxed so much, I'm adding it to my regular blog visit list - loads of really informative and succinct articles and interesting author interviews, etc. Go and check it out!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Final edit ahoy!

I have recently been afflicted with a heinous staph infection ON MY HANDS. Thanks to some severe scratching of hand eczema combined with soaring stress levels and the heat, my right hand resembled something out of a horror movie. In fact, I looked like I was starting to turn into one of the 'prawns' from District 9. Yuck. Not only was it incredibly gross to look at, it was intensely painful (I spent a weekend with my hand on packs of peas, dosed up with Ibuprofen) and incredibly restrictive.

I did discover something about myself though. I am, in no way, ambidextrous. In fact, I believe I am as far from ambidextrous as it is possible to be. You would think I might lose some weight what with not being able to use cutlery but you would be so, so wrong. Turns out, biscuits and chocolate bars are super easy to eat even using your ridiculously ineffective left hand. Ripping packets open with your teeth is pretty effective.

Anyway, all this means that I haven't been able to do any typing and I couldn't even really edit my hard copy of Rock-a-Lillie as I couldn't hold a pen! However, things are back to normal now (apart from lots of little marks on my hands and forearms which I really, really hope won't leave any scars) and I am feeling in the right frame of mind to tackle yet another edit!

I already have a few ideas of some little things that I want to change. Nothing massive, at this stage doing a major overhaul seems counter-productive, but just things that I think would appeal to my market a little bit more.  A bit more fighting spirit in my heroine, more interaction between her and her best friend, more band scenes, etc. I probably just need to add in a few extra scenes here and there to make it exactly what I want.

I've also been wondering whether splitting it into a series would work better. Shorter novels seem to be very popular these days and I do think I could easily split this novel into two books with a final book really wrapping it all up and following the two main characters a bit further into their futures.

I would honestly relish the thought of carrying on with the characters in Rock-a-Lillie - I love my hero and his best friend - it would be interesting to write more of his life and his motivations for the way he behaves. A couple of early readers really fell in love with him and he certainly wrote himself into more and more of the fabric of the story as it went on. He became quite a major part of things really and instrumental in some pivotal scenes. Maybe he could have a spin-off novel later on? Perhaps I'm getting carried away now!  Is anyone e-publishing a contemporary romance series at the moment? Are you finding it successful? Or do you wish you'd stuck with the more traditional stand alone novel?

I'm not sure how I will have time for all this as I have just been asked to go full time at work - there goes a good few hours of free time! Looks like I will have to take a look at some serious time management - apart from getting up early (anyone who knows me will be laughing at the idea of that), I'm not sure where I can fit in writing time. Does anyone have any suggestions - how do you find writing time without getting up at 6am? I'm really not good in the mornings.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I've just finished reading Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks which I found fascinating, disturbing and utterly compelling. 

It's the story of how human tissue research and many of the medicines we have today are pretty much all down to one woman and her cells. Specifically, her cancer cells, which were the first cells to be grown in culture successfully, leading to masses of medical research. Cells which are still grown and used for research today. These cells were taken without her consent in the 1950's and Skloot leads us through the murky past of medical research admirably. 

Thanks to Henrietta Lacks, scientists were able to invent a Polio vaccination and her cells have been instrumental in many, many other medicines used to treat all kinds of diseases, including cancer. HeLa cells (Henrietta's cells) have contributed  more to modern medicine than any other person in the world and yet she is largely unknown. A travesty, surely?

But, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the bio-ethics debate that still rages on. It's frightening to know that any blood samples I have given can be used, without my express consent, in medical research all over the world. I'm certainly not opposed to scientific research and curing cancer, but I'd sure as hell like to know if part of me (and my DNA) are being used in that way. 

The human interest part of the book is a good contrast to all the science and legal issues surrounding human tissue research (deftly explained by Skloot and easy to understand for the most part). The Lacks family presents other difficult issues - poverty and racial inequalities in the modern world. A health care system that fails a huge part of the American population. 

I don't think I have ever read a book that makes me want to tell everyone to read it. Like Henrietta's family, I want everyone to know that Henrietta Lacks is the reason why we have a vaccine for Polio and why cancer research has advanced so much in the last 60 years. I don't know why it should matter so much to me. Perhaps it's a testament to Rebecca Skloot's research, tenacity and writing that it does. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Why you should join a Writing Group...

One of the many things I miss about the UK is Abingdon Writers and I'll tell you why. Being part of a critique group really forces you to think about what you don't like about a piece of writing. What doesn't make sense, what doesn't flow, what needs clarifying. It's lovely to have friends and family gush over your writing and assure that you're going to be the next J K Rowling or whatever but that's not at all helpful. Ego boosting, yes. Making you a better writer, no. Constructive criticism is what it's all about.

I was lucky enough to be part of a writers group that has just gone from strength to strength. From starting off as a bunch of writers who had never shared their writing with strangers, much less agents, to being a talented group of writers, some of whom have become agented and won nation-wide competitions! 

Even if you rarely read your work to your group, listening to the critiquing of other people's work can benefit your own writing enormously. So, someone in your group always gets positive comments on their dialogue - listen carefully to see how you can improve yours. Ask them how they write it, compare it to your own. Maybe someone else often has great concepts but struggles to portray them in words. Take note on what other members are suggesting for ways in which to fix that. 

Concentrate on what your fellow writers home in on so that you can know what readers (listeners?) pick up on. Give a book to five people and they will all have different takes on it, even if they're all readers of the same genre, but there will be something that they all loved. Something that they all agree worked really well - character development, dialogue, plot twists, use of language. The same will be true of your own writing and a writing group will help you to discover what it is you do really well (yay - ego boost!) and the other things that you need to get right.

Depending on the group, you may also find yourself a writing buddy and these are invaluable. These are the people you can email your manuscript to and ask them to read the whole thing. Cover to cover. And they will be honest with you. But in a constructive way. And you will do the same thing for them. They might write in the same genre as you (helpful) or be really good at grammar (great for submission time) or just be really solid at critiquing, picking up holes in your plot or mistakes in your character development.

Your fellow writers will also clue you in to competitions and other groups that you can join such as SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) in the UK or RWA (Romance Writers of Australia) in Australia. AND they will encourage you to enter said competitions, help you to get your piece ready and celebrate with you when you're long-listed, short-listed and win (or commiserate if you don't and then motivate you to keep entering competitions so that one day you will be celebrating).

Plus, seeing your fellow writers morph from 'amateur' status to being a 'real' writer with an agent or writing credentials like being long listed for competitions really gives you the shove up the bottom that you need. There's nothing like your comrades-in-ink getting on with it and REALLY pursuing their publishing dreams to persuade you to sign up too. Who wants to be left behind, not even on the slush pile but murmuring about the fourth book you've written, when everyone else is surging ahead, climbing the ranks, earning their writing stripes (I think I've exhausted that metaphor now)? Not me. I'm off to polish up that synopsis and make my query letter sparkling. 

And after that, I'm going to find a critique group to join. Maybe one that doesn't have quite so many shining stars in it...

deep space

 Huge congratulations to the following AW writers 
with recent and thoroughly deserved successes:

Sally Poyton- long listed for the Times/Chicken House  2013 Children's Fiction Competition (and for SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2011)

Nicki Thornton - long listed for the Times/Chicken House 2013 Children's Fiction Competition

Marissa De Luna - Newly agented writer!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

It's decided. I need a plot outline...

God, I know I should be ecstatic that the sun is shining but, dammit, it is just too frigging hot here at the moment. Sticky, clammy, disgusting, sweat-rolling-down-your-back heat. In other words, it is humid, which is a word not supposed to apply to Perth weather. I feel betrayed by all those websites and weather reports which clearly stated that Perth does not suffer badly from humidity. 

Honestly, all I want to do is lie down in front of the air con and watch John Hughes movies with iced coffees and Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. Well, two out of four isn't bad, right? However, I have managed to open the laptop and write 3,000 words of my WIP so I feel like I have really achieved something despite this vile, muggy weather. 

Old couch

I still have no idea where this new book is heading and I'm wondering if it really is necessary to have a rough approximation of plot at this stage (15,000 words in). Nathan Bransford thinks that you do, Caro Clark looks at both sides of the coin (although really, she says to plot) and Neil Griiffiths says, ' No. Absolutely don't do it!'

From wasting time on the Internet doing some research, I think I would really benefit from roughing out a plot outline as I do feel rather stuck at the moment. I spent twenty minutes deciding on a  closing sentence for the last chapter I wrote, which has nothing to do with the will to write a really good closing sentence and everything to do with not having the faintest idea of what was going to happen next. A new sort of displacement activity for me.

I also purchased Writing a Romance Novel For Dummies by Leslie Wainger who has 25 years experience in the Romance business. So far, it is a little repetitive and common-sensical but I think once I get into the nitty-gritty chapters, it will be an excellent resource. I'm almost certain she will say plot, plot, plot. 

 Edit to add: Wainger mentions category romance a lot and I'm thinking of researching this a little more and trying my hand at it. As she says, if you are time short (Yes!), then category romance could be a great way to go. It's shorter than Mainstream Romance (as short as 50,000 words) and publishers provide tip sheets for what they want from their lines. I've heard of quite a few best selling authors who started off writing category romance and now sell bazillions of mainstream romance novels. 

Lesson learnt - plot (which means shopping for a big new pinboard or whiteboard - yay!). Even if it's a really super rough outline. Your novel and, if you're anything like me, your waistline will thank you for it. Are you a plotter? Or more of a chilled out what will be, will be-er?

Friday, 4 January 2013


Happy New Year!!

This time last year, I'm pretty sure I did a Resolutions list but I can't be bothered to look, much as I can't be bothered to make one again this year. If you don't commit it to words, you can't harangue yourself about it a year later, can you? And, anyway, nobody ever manages to keep those stupid things beyond the second week of January. Do they?

I know I kept one resolution/challenge and that was my ever-increasing GoodReads challenge, which started off as 40 books to read in 2012. That crept up to 50 when I realised I was rapidly approaching my 40 books about half way through the year. I increased it again to 80 when I started reading A LOT on my long commute when I started working again. It rose again to 100 and then, in the dying days of December, to 105, which I just managed to achieve by finishing Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway on the afternoon of New Year's Eve. Phew. 105 books. I'm not even going to attempt that again but I do like the idea of cataloguing the books I read each year so I'm going to set up a 2013 bookshelf on my GoodReads account - first book on the shelf? The Probable Future by one of my favourite authors, Alice Hoffman. 

If you haven't read Hoffman and you enjoy writing like this:
It was lake water, Elinor believed, that made the difference in her garden... so cold the roses shuddered on the hottest days of August and gave off clouds of scent.
 or this:
Night was rising from the grass the way steam lifted from a mirror.
 then you should get hold of one of her books immediately. My favourite Hoffman novel so far is The Ice Queen but, be warned, my book group didn't much care for it and I was a bit busy having a baby on that particular book group meeting, so I couldn't defend this wonderful, haunting and enchanting author.  She has never disappointed me, her characters are so perfectly drawn you won't forget them for a long time and the way she describes even the most mundane of things is sublime.

But, back to the original subject, maybe I will manage to read the 87 86 books that stand sadly on my wall of books, waiting desperately to be taken down and read, praying that I don't go to the library (fat chance, I'm there right now!) or to a bookshop or stray onto Amazon or the Book Depository. It would be nice to think that I had read all the books adorning the wall - apart from the Chardmeister's section (rapidly spreading though, might have to add some more shelves soon...) 

I'm pretty sure there are some more books sailing the high seas at this very moment, eager to join the ranks of books in our house - certainly there are at least a couple of cookbooks (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Lorraine Pascal - yay!) - and, according to my Dad, at least another 38 assorted titles for each of the Aquilina family. Looks like I might be looking at over a hundred books after all and I haven't even told you how many unread e-books are on my kindle (27 if you want to know. Eek!)

As well as (possibly) reading all those books, I am planning to write daily in the lovely 365 day book I got for Christmas from Kikki.k - I started off so well, printed out a lovely black and white photo of Lady M, taken down at the river on New Year's Day, wrote a little paragraph on the first page at about 10.30pm on the 1st January, got into bed on Wednesday (2nd of January) and jolted myself awake just as I drifted off into the world of sleep with this thought,
'Dammit, forgot to write in that bloody 365 day book today and it's only the second day of the New Year. I am utterly shit. But, truthfully, not at all surprised.'
 Have you already broken your 2013 challenges and promises to yourself? Please tell me some of you have so that I won't feel like the complete failure I surely am!