So many things and people have in the past, and continue to, inspire my writing, it’s difficult to know where to begin.
Going way back to my childhood, I suppose my first influence was Enid Blyton. I loved her books, especially anything where a mystery was involved, ‘The Secret Seven‘, ‘The Famous Five’ and my favourite series, ‘The Mystery of ….‘ books. Later on, I became a fan of Agatha Christie and more darker authors, such as, Minette Walters or thriller writers like, Chris Kuzneski and James Patterson with his ‘Women’s Murder Club’. As you can see, mystery and thrillers have been a long held passion of mine.
At the other end of the scale, I do enjoy a good romance and it was through reading Jilly Cooper‘s ‘Riders‘ that I learned how, over a period of time, you could turn a villain into a hero – think Rupert Campbell-Black. Through reading Sue Moorcroft‘s novel ‘Starting Over‘ I discovered the Romantic Novelists’ Association and I was delighted to be able to join under their New Writers’ Scheme. Without the support of the RNA and the wonderful people I have met through it, I’m not sure I would have made it this far in my writing adventure.
Special thanks must also go to Julie Cohen, Sarah Duncan, Sue Moorcroft (again 🙂 ) and Margaret James as I have attended or been enrolled on courses delivered by each of them at some point over the past four or five years. Words of encouragement, advice and general support is much appreciated – they’ve fulfilled their end of the deal by inspiring me to continue with my writing, now it’s up to me to fulfil mine.
It’s not only people who inspire me but the whole world around me, locally, nationally and internationally. Absorbing everything around me, consciously or sub-consciously, it all go into the Ideas and Inspiration Pot.
I couldn’t close without saying that daily, not only do my family and fellow Romaniac girls encourage me to keep writing but readers do too. Hearing how much someone has enjoyed one of my books both humbles me and inspires my writing.
Today I’m vlogging about receiving revision notes from my editor, Charlotte Ledger at HarperImpulse. If you have three and a half minutes to spare, please do take a look.
It’s my turn to give an update for our Life Cycle Of A Writer series this week …
I was due to send a new edit of my work-in-progress off to my agent at the end of January – this has been delayed by a few weeks as I moved house and it’s taken me a while to find my way through the boxes to my desk! Also delayed by the fact I keep thinking I’ve finished, then waking up in the night with new ideas so I go back to re-edit. But I think I’m nearly there and the latest edit will be going off to Juliet at the end of the week and I’ll be back in the waiting room refreshing my emails every five seconds and biting my nails waiting for feedback.
I think all writers spend time in that waiting room, whether unpublished or published, agented or not. We wait for responses to agent or publisher submissions, we wait for feedback, we wait for editorial notes, we wait for the day our books are finally published, we wait for reviews, we wait for sales figures. We wear out our computer keyboards refreshing that email in-box and we jump every time the post hits the mat.
I often fill the waiting time by entering writing competitions – this is also good for my poor agent who, otherwise, would end up getting a squillion needy emails a day from me looking for updates/news/reassurance. Entering writing competitions also adds to that email checking excitement – the next email that comes through might not be spam, it could be news of a shortlisting or even a win!
Last year, I entered a lot of competitions (I’m not very good at waiting) but also had a lot of shortlist success which is another kind of reassurance – I found myself on shortlists of competitions I’ve come nowhere in in previous years: The Harry Bowling Prize, the Yeovil Literary Prize, the Mslexia Novel Competition, the Brighton Prize, the Caledonia Novel Award. For me, it’s a sign I’m heading in the right direction with my writing – a sign I need at the moment as I’ve changed direction and this book is a psychological thriller. Previously, I was writing women’s fiction, but with dark themes and ideas and I could see I was heading for a cliff edge where I needed to decide whether to step back and go lighter or make the commitment and jump. Talking through my ideas with lovely agent Juliet, I could see where this book wanted to go – it wanted me to jump, to fully embrace the dark side. The clue was in the title – my original working title was Hunting the Light, which is maybe what I was doing, nervously standing at the edge of that cliff, but it didn’t work for the book so I’ve re-named it The Murder House, taken a deep breath and jumped off the cliff.
I was thrilled last week to find The Murder House in the final four of the inaugural Caledonia Novel Award so I think taking that jump was the right move. And I’m also hoping that with The Murder House in its new edited form, this year will be the year the waiting ends.
As part of the National Library Day celebrations, Southampton City Libraries have started a story on twitter, and they want you to join in and help finish it. As their writer in residence, I provided the first line, now they want people to join in to see where the story goes. It is open to everyone, and Southampton Library chooses the winner out of the lines provided via twitter. Taking part is easy, just use the hashtag #libstory so we can see your sentence, and use @SotonLibraries if you want to be doubly sure they spot you! Here is the story so far. The next winning line will be selected on Mon 30th March at 10am. I’ll update the winning lines here and the next deadline. There is no limit to the number of times you enter. Good luck if you are taking part!
@katylittlelady The fumes clinging to the back of his throat told him he was home. He let the motorbike’s engine run as he took his helmet off.
@Briggy44 What sort of welcome could he expect, given the chaos he’d left behind, when he’d roared off that day?
@suefortin1 He cut the engine. Mind made up. He turned to the house. As if expecting him, the door opened and there stood …
@Laura_E_James a young girl, six, maybe seven years old, her hair the shade of summer corn, her dark eyes…
@Briggy44 so like those of the woman standing behind her, challenging him to step over the threshold …
@Laura_E_James “You couldn’t help yourself, could you?”
@lucie_wheeler His shoulders drooped as he exhaled, the guilt burning deep.’I had no choice,’ he pleaded, ‘you have to believe me’
@Briggy44 ‘What, like the last time and the time before that, you mean?’ said the woman. ‘Where on earth have you been …?’
@suefortin1 ‘That doesn’t matter. What matters now is us. I have just one question and I need an honest answer.’
@lorrainehossing Looking at the child, he asked. “Am I the girls father? And I want the truth this time.
@jjackson42 “Just look at her! Look at her properly. Could she be anyone elses? Every time I look at her I see you so clearly!”
@ros_rendle With that, the child stepped forward. “Are you going to be my daddy? I’ve always wanted one,” Her eyes, large and pleading.
@suefortin1 What the hell was he supposed to say? His head said one thing, his heart another. “Well, sweetie, it’s like this”
@suefortin1 It’s not as easy as just turning up and you calling me Dad. There’s something us growns up need to sort out first.
@VvSavage He looked at the mother of his child, the love of his life. “Are you going to tell her the truth or should I?”
@Laura_E_James The woman laid her hands on her daughter’s shoulders. ‘This man is called Cain,’ she said. ‘He..
@suefortin1 Was once my best friend. We were inseparable. Then one day, something happened which changed everything. We …
What happens next? You decide!
If you are not on twitter, but want to take part, please add your sentence below and I can add it to twitter for the judges to see. It needs to be 130 characters or less so it can fit into a tweet.
Best of luck,
Can you believe it? Today, The Romaniac blog is a whopping three years old. Three years! We have had the most amazing journey over those years, both with each other and with all you lovely lot, too.
When we launched our blog, back in February 2012, we never imagined we would receive such a warm, welcoming response from everyone. It has been truly amazing.
Over those three years we have each grown as individuals. Some of us have won awards, some of us have bagged an agent, some of us have started new careers and taken writing into a new direction. There are some of us who have taken the plunge and crossed genres and even those who have decided to write in a few different ones. A few have had publishing contracts and we’ve even given talks!
We’ve each had our ups and our downs, but you have all been there, standing firmly by our sides and supporting us throughout it all. For this, we are truly thankful.
One of the things we have achieved as a group, was the publication of our first Anthology, Romaniac Shorts. A collection of 22 short stories and flash fiction, penned by all 8 of our lovely Romaniac girls. There is a real mix of genres throughout our Anthology, a little something in there for everyone’s liking. All our proceeds are split between Dyslexia Action and the Romantic Novelists’ Association and we are delighted to be sending each a cheque this month for the first year’s royalties.
Which brings me onto the exciting giveaway we have. In celebration of our three years on the blog, we are giving away a fantastic book bundle. The bundle consists of a SIGNED copy of Romaniac Shorts (signed by all 8 Romaniacs), Follow Me Follow You (Signed by Laura James) Closing In (signed by Sue Fortin.), together with tea, coffee, hot chocolate, biscuits and a mug; ideal reading companions.
All we are asking of you, to be in with a chance of winning this book and gift bundle, is to do one/or all of the following:
LIKE our Facebook page and comment ‘I’m in’ (link HERE)
COMMENT on this blog post with the words ‘I’m in!’
RETWEET the giveaway tweet on Twitter.
*The competition will close at midnight on February 20th and a winner will be picked at random shortly after. Due to postage costs, we are afraid that we can only offer this to UK participants this time. Apologies to those unable to enter, we thank you for your understanding and support. *
All that is left to say is a huge THANK YOU to each and every one of you for your continued support and encouragement over the last three years. Here’s to many, many more.
Dear Auntie Romaniac …
I get anxious when I read about how other writers have deconstructed and reconstructed their work-in-progress several times. I tend to be a slow first draft writer and tweak as I go along. My inner editor loves to play, and I am compelled to rewrite sections of what I consider to be the first draft, before I’ve reached the end. I aim for my second draft to be the one I send out to my publisher.
What constitutes a draft? Is it a draft only once I’ve written ‘The End’? I also wonder if rewriting it mentally and altering notes, scattered in pads, sheets of paper and on my phone, count as drafts.
Dear Auntie Romaniac – it’s a minefield. Please help me through it.
Good morning, Laura!
I’m usually a fairly fast writer, but with very little time to spare at the moment, my normal style (of writing a couple of chapters and then next time revising/editing and so on) has had to change.
Recently, my WIP, with which I was seriously stuck, was given a hefty edit by the marvelous Mandy James, and she gave me so many pointers and hints to improve it, that I’m now bowling along at a cracking speed and trying not to get side tracked by too much in-between editing.
The final product will probably have had at least six or seven complete edits and overhauls. I’m aiming to finish the first complete draft by the weekend and bounce it back to Mandy. She did the same job on Little Boxes, and her ideas for storyline revamps and tweaks are second to none.
My advice to anyone struggling with numerous drafts is to get a trusted reading buddy or editor. Our very own Jan Brigden is also a super talented typo queen, with a grasp of grammar that most of us can only dream about.
Wish me luck, and the same to all of you out there trying hard to get the words down before life gets in the way,
Lucie – I really feel your pain, Laura. I, too, have often wondered this exact thing. For me, I think you know when you need to edit. When I wrote my first book, I wrote it chapter by chapter and had it critiqued this way. This was because I was doing a writing course and so my tutor (who was the very lovely, Margaret James) was checking it as I went along. So my first book was slow to complete. And then, because it was my first book, it went through a number of edits; through the NWS, through private critiques and personally editing. It will still probably need another one when my agent sends her edits through to me. And then, if it is ever accepted for publication, no doubt it’ll have another edit with their editor!
However, when writing nowadays, I tend to find that there is less editing. I don’t know if it is because I know how to structure a story now and my writing, generally, has improved, but I tend to blast out a first draft as quick as possible and then begin editing. I try to get as much of the story down in the first draft so that I can concentrate on the edits. I find it easier to get the story down as a whole, keep the flow going, and then worry about fiddling with it after. I try to only read back a scene or two, before I start writing for that day, just to get back into the story, and then continue. If I thought too much about editing previous scenes before going forward, I fear I would be stuck in a rut, two steps back, one step forward.
So, I do think it is a personal thing. Some people edit as they go, some, like me, get the story down, typo’s and all, and then polish the rock into that diamond. 🙂
Vanessa: I usually go for a dirty first draft that’s only around 60-70,000 words. I leave that to brew for a while and then go back for a more polished draft. I then look at structure and pace and plotting, kill some darlings and produce a third draft which is getting close to what I hope is the finished thing! (I say this, but I’m currently on draft four of my wip!) I think how we write and how we edit is going to be different for every writer and no way is the right or wrong way.
Debbie – Oh, Laura, this is a dilemma many will relate to and as someone currently on the fourth re-write of a WIP, I can sympathise.
I can hear myself saying, ‘Just one more draft and it will be complete …’ But one more draft turns into another, and another. Of course not every writer is a perfectionist, but it’s worth remembering that re-writing a novel has the potential to become infinite with rewrites, and remain ultimately unfinished. Only you can break a cycle of rewriting and editing your work in the constant battle for satisfaction. We’re all different, although most writers I know are of the same mould.
I went on an Arvon course last year. Uber experienced writers, Kate Long and Simon Thirsk were tutors. Simon did a reading from his novel, ‘Not Quite White.’ There were post it notes and red pen all over the pages of his copy and when someone asked why, he admitted that after every reading he did (despite being Costa Book Award shortlisted and bestseller) he could always find some word or line to tweak!
Since then I’ve stopped twiddling with my WIP as I go along. It’s hard, but when I start on a draft I keep writing – something, anything – until it’s finished. The aim is to get the main bones of the novel down. I’ve learnt that most writers, even the most accomplished, need at least two drafts (preferably with a few weeks or months ‘breathing space’ between the two.) Then, after, ideally, another two edits and read through, once you’re as happy as you can be, stop tweaking and twiddling and get a friend/writing buddy, or if you’re lucky enough to have an agent or editor, and let them read it.
Sometimes we can become bogged down with the intricacies of the story or become so close to it we no longer see blatant errors. Taking a step back can help see it in a different light or often a second pair of eyes from a trusted opinion and someone not too close to a beloved piece will help give an insight into some points we may not even have considered.
Take it from one who knows, if you wait until you’re completely happy with your WIP, it might never see the light of day. So believe in yourself. All the best to you.
Great answers. Thank you.
How do you approach drafts?
This week it is my turn to give an update of where I am with my writing.
I come under the ‘agented’ category. My lovely agent, Sarah Taylor, has been fantastic and has always been on hand, day or night, to listen to me ramble on about an idea I have had, or a competition I want to enter, or even when I just can’t get the words down. It has made a real difference, to me personally, having an agent. I am not saying that everyone must have an agent, I am just saying that for me personally, it has been a good thing.
When I was writing just me, myself and I, I found it easy to be distracted by things. That funny post on Facebook, the fact that my phone beeped because someone has mentioned me on Twitter, the washing, the dog snoring… the ironing (but that was only when things were really bad – the ironing very rarely wins my attention.) But that isn’t just it. I found myself doubting my ability a lot, too. Regularly I would re-read things from the previous day and think, ‘I’m rubbish’, or, ‘This is absolute drivel’, and so on.
Whilst I do have the fantastic added benefit of The Romaniac girls to hand, having an agent means she can pull me into line when these doubts creep in. As they do. A lot.
My agent isn’t just there to send my books out and try to find homes for them, she’s also there to listen, to guide, to read, to laugh, to empathise, to be firm and be constructive. She will give me deadlines to work to so that I stay on track and stay focused. She will read that piece of absolute drivel and pull the goodness from it. She will tell me when I’ve really gone off on a tangent and that I really, really don’t need those extra words. She wants me to do well and she knows how to get me there.
As a newbie, I cannot do all of the above by myself. I am sure there are some of you reading this who are shouting at the computer saying, ‘yes, you can!’ and I am sure that if I had to, I could. But I feel like I am learning so much more about myself doing it this way.
So, an update on where I am.
My first full length novel, Head over Heart, went out on submission last year. Whilst I got back quite a few very positive responses, I am yet to be offered a contract. Rejections are hard, and they don’t get any easier. People I have spoken to who have been writing for years – some of who have previously had publishing contracts – also say that rejections do not get easier the older you get/the more you get. Unfortunately it is one of those things that we writers have to get used to and learn to take the positives. Yes, they may be saying no, but what about that paragraph where they also said that they loved the story but it just wasn’t different enough from the other books already in their line? Yes, that was one of my rejections. A no, but a positive no. They liked it. And it is hard to get publishers to like your book. So I take pride in that rejection.
As you can see, I go off on a tangent quite easily when I am writing. Hence why I like having Sarah reining me in.
After finishing my second novel, working title Love Hurts, it has been sent to Sarah. And as I type, she is due to call me this afternoon to discuss her thoughts. When we feel this is ready, it will be going out on submission, too.
There are a couple of publishers who still have Head over Heart on their desk to read, however, as I am sure many of you know, you cannot just sit and wait. They may be rejections, too. So Love Hurts will go out on submission whilst we wait.
After finishing this latest book, I had a week off where I tidied the house, actually had a conversation with my husband where I didn’t have one eye on the screen/notebook, and yes, I actually did that ironing pile.
Laura: We visit the Donkey Sanctuary once a year. Last time, this little feller had just been born. Meet Charlie and his mum.
Celia: We’ve been thinking about the wars a lot in school this year. On a trip to Staffordshire Regimental Museum, the children were amazed and impressed that wartime bomb shelters were named after me, although not surprised that I was old enough for this.