I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s in a small Gloucestershire village – back then, there were only four channels on the telly and as a teenager there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. My nearest library was ten miles away, my nearest bookshop twenty.
I was never one of the hanging-round-on street-corner kids, I preferred to stay in and read. As a teenager, I remember endless rainy Saturday afternoons when there was nothing but horse racing and darts on TV and my mum and dad’s bookshelves became my escape. Lack of access to bookshops meant I had to make do with what I could find and expand my reading genres – once I’d worked my way through the teenage reads in the school library, I read anything and everything we had at home. On my mum’s shelf, there was Mills & Boon and Catherine Cookson, Jackie Collins and Shirley Conran. On my dad’s, it was Alistair MacLean, Stephen King and James Herbert. I read my dad’s non-fiction books about nature and war, I read cookbooks, I read the bible. I read every copy of 2000AD stashed in my brother’s room and I even read the Watchtower magazines the Jehovah’s Witnesses stuffed through the letterbox.
I learned a lot from all of them, but most of all I learned not to be a reading snob: I appreciated a good thriller or a sweet romance as much as any of the classics we read at school.
Some of those books still sit on my shelves – all my old Enid Blyton and Noel Streatfield books, the Narnia books, What Katy Did and Little Women. But also my dad’s Stephen Kings and Alistair MacLeans, my mum’s Catherine Cooksons and Jackie Collins.
Now I’m all grown up and writing my own stories – whether it’s short stories, flash fiction or novels, I’ve written thrillers and romance, comedy, fantasy, sci-fi and horror. I like to think the access my parents gave me to all those wonderful fictional worlds has helped shape me as a writer and I want to thank them for that – I only wish they were still alive to see where their love of books has taken their daughter.
At the moment, my eldest daughter is only interested in books with horses in them and my youngest books about fairies, but I’m hoping they’ll find their own inspiration in my bookshelves as they get older – shelves that offer romance and crime and horror and fantasy, a fictional look into the past and the future, classic books and future literary classics.
I hope that some rainy afternoon when there’s nothing on TV will open up a whole new world for them like it did for me.
I made the decision at the start of the school summer holidays to lock my work-in-progress away and leave it alone for a couple of months. Complicated editing left my brain aching and I was no longer sure if I had something good or the worst thing ever written in the history of the written word. I couldn’t look at it objectively – all I could see was a big, tangled mess. Definitely time to let go and walk away before I deleted the whole thing. So I did think my turn on LCOAW would be a very short and not-so-sweet ‘I’ve done nothing in the last two months’… but sometimes the down times can be productive in other ways.
- Progress has been made on the next book – I have a sheet full of post-it notes, a notebook slowly filling with character and plot notes.
- My house is tidier. (Not tidy – but tidier…)
- My garden has real flowers in it, not just weeds.
- I’ve caught up on a lot of reading – all ready to top up the TBR pile with lots of lovely new releases.
And most importantly, I’ve had time to spend with my daughters – trips to the park, the beach, the cinema – picnics and playtime and fun. Sometimes that’s as important for grown-ups as it is for kids!
Last week, I went on holiday – first week away in the sun for many years – and it was total bliss. A wonderful week of relaxing and reading. Mostly there was a lot of this:
But I did also put the work-in-progress on my kindle to take with me. Having rested it, I was ready to read it through again – away from the computer so I couldn’t edit as I went along, but armed with a notebook so I could make brief notes.
The time away from it worked wonders – as did the lack of access to a computer. I read it through in one go and could see right away the problem that’s been bogging me down for ages, and I could see how to resolve it. And as soon as the children go back to school next week, I’m going to sit down, re-edit and finally call the book finished!
On the first day of our holiday, the first thing my daughters did was jump straight in the pool with all their clothes on. I was more cautious – one toe at a time… that’s how it’s been with this book. Changing genre is scary and I’ve been nervous about jumping straight in – it’s definitely been a one toe at a time kind of book, nudged and encouraged along by my agent. Maybe by the time I get stuck into the next one, I’ll be braver – maybe I’ll even jump straight in 🙂
Whilst this is still very much true, I have made huge progress with my latest WiP. And I have the RNA conference to thank for that.
I attended the RNA conference this year, in London, and, as always, it was FANTASTIC! I loved every minute of it (well, maybe not the throat infection part and losing my voice, but the rest was huge fun!) Every year I attend the conferences, I always come home feeling hugely inspired and raring to go. The talks and workshops are amazingly informative and full of inspiration and self belief, the evenings are full of laughter and friendship and the atmosphere is something like I’ve never experienced anywhere else. However, this year, there was one difference for me. I actually got involved with the conference from a participants point of view – myself and my fellow Romaniacs presented all conference goers with the opportunity to speak about themselves and their writing, on camera, in our Romaniac Sparkle Corner. It was incredibly popular and not only did we fill all our slots, but we squeezed some additional people in as and when we could to help satisfy the interest. It was incredible! It was so lovely to give something back to the RNA and all our supporters – I hope everyone who took part (and those who watched/shared the videos) all enjoyed it.
Another thing I came away with from this years conference was self belief and motivation. And I suppose this was another difference to this years conference – I had some one-to-one industry appointment’s. For those who are not aware of what this is, this is a chance to meet an editor/agent on a one-to-one basis for a 10 minute ‘pitch’ with them. These are invaluable and they give us writers the chance to meet and ‘sell ourselves’ to some huge names in the business. I had always been too scared to apply for a slot in previous years but this year I just went for it – and I am so glad I did. I had two meetings and both were incredibly positive and encouraging. They made me believe in myself and my work and gave me huge hope for the future. I came away thinking, I CAN do this!
So I made a plan. I rang my agent and we discussed this plan. And now I am working to make this plan happen! This includes quite a re-write of my latest novel, however, it will *hopefully* make the novel more appealing to publishers. Both my one-to-one appointments gave me some very good advice on where my novel needed to be and so I am taking their advice and reshaping it.
At first I was a little frustrated and thought, not another edit, however, as writers, we have to be prepared to do as many edits as it takes to get it right.
You only get one chance to make a first impression when submitting to publishers – I need to make sure it is a damn good one!
So it’s back to the desk for me and an overhaul on the book, but it will be worth it. Hopefully my next Life Cycle round up will be a little more exciting.
Watch this space…
It’s taken four long and tumultuous years and four re-writes but I’ve done it! Yesterday I printed and packaged up my first novel and sent it off to the Romantic Novelist Association New Writer’s Scheme. COMPLETE. A whole 86200 words! And I can’t tell you how good I feel today.
It’s been a tough slog. Along the four years my Nan, who brought me up, passed away, I’ve had major surgery, my husband of twenty-three years left my sons and I. Then there was the subsequent divorce, house move and upheaval, yet more surgery and treatments while at the same time having builders in for months to renovate our new home throughout.
Looking back I can see how my writing slipped well down the list of priorities. There were times when I despaired at my lack of inspiration and motivation to progress my WIP, ‘Living in the Past,’ or ‘Mothers Love’ as it started out when I came second in the Festival of Romantic Fiction’s new Talent Award in 2011. My head was too full of everything. I’d lost my mojo and all confidence. I couldn’t do it. Who would want to read my books? The number of times I’d mutter to myself, ‘Stop kidding yourself! It’s just a dream.’
But a dream is just a wish without a plan isn’t it? Somehow I mustered some inner strength and with the cajoling of my closest friends, I was persuaded not to give in. Knowing I had to do something or I’d forever kick myself for failing, I booked to go on an Arvon Course with Kate Long and Simon Thirsk. There for a week, I motored on with the WIP and when I read out one of the chapters to the group my writing was described as, ‘Catherine Cookson meets Stan Barstow.’ It was a huge turning point. That course made me believe.
However once I returned home from course, inspired as I was, domestic chaos kicked in again. I drifted for another year or so. I say drifted. What I actually mean is I spent about nine months of it stepping over bags of concrete, RSJ’s, lengths of wood, stacked in piles and tins of this and that, listening to builders and their incessant banter, drilling, hammering, sawing, being without electricity or water for days on end. It was hardly conducive to quiet writing time!
I wrote when I could (which wasn’t very often) and sent in a partial of the novel last year to the NWS. It was a very favourable report which once again, restored my belief. Realising if I kept on as I was doing, I’d keep on getting the same results, I went on Tamsyn Murray’s, ‘Live, Breathe, LOVE WRITING!’ earlier this year. I talked about it in my last Life Cycle post. It gave me that final push and with the help of two of the other delegates, Helen Walters and Bernadette O’Dwyer, we challenged ourselves to finish.
It was a first to actually be able to type the words, ‘THE END’ at the end of July. Then final edits and one last read-through with the help of a good friend and it was done.
I don’t mind admitting there were several dark occasions when domestic chaos, my health and the demands of life overwhelmed me and I almost bailed from writing and the RNA altogether and gave up forever my dream to be published. Had it not been for my Romaniac girls and the wonderful supportive RNA, writer friends and closest friends who kept my spirits up and kept me believing I may not be able to say, ‘I DID IT!’
I DID IT. Now the hard work begins to find an agent or publisher who is interested but for now, I’ll settle for having finished it. My Nan’s words ring in my head, ‘You see; didn’t I always tell you, there’s no such word as ,’CAN’T.’
Until another day,
Thought for the day – writing’s no picnic. Sometimes the words flow with no problem at all but we’ve all had times when we need a place to go, something comforting to look at or just a few old photos to get the ideas going. Here are a few of ours…
The garden’s handy, and peaceful so long as you’re not tempted to run inside for a spade or some secateurs. A walk’s always good, a friendly (even if sleepy) face can help, and you really can’t beat a sea view.
So where’s your thinking place, and what do you need to spark off the pearls of wisdom?
Dear Auntie Romaniac,
I’ve got a practical dilemma this week rather than an imaginative one. In the writing basement is the prequel to Little Boxes, which came out last year. It’s called Moondancing, and it’s my first baby, started in the first place as a one-chapter assignment at college, developed over the years for fun and finally licked into some sort of shape and sent to the NWS. It then went back under the bed as, frankly, it was awful.
Now it’s been revamped, edited and generally given a spring clean and it’s been accepted for publishing. The problem is that the dates, ages, character details etc don’t always exactly match and flow into the next part of the story.
Where do I begin? LB is in ebook format only – copies of it and Moondancing are on my Kindle, but can I do a proper job without printing them both out in full? Research and checking finer details are my two (very) weak spots).
Now, this isn’t going to be one of those rude blog posts with shades of 50 Shades, so if you were hoping for smut, go and put the kettle on while I ramble because you’ll only be disappointed.
The stimulation I’m talking about today is the kick-in-the-pants sort you get when you either have a deadline to meet or some lovely person has shown an interest in your work and wants to see it when it’s completed. The sort that can either be worth its weight in fruit cake to make you get your finger out and get moving, or drag you into the doldrums, making you feel guilty if you so much as pick up your Kindle for a crafty read.
The RNA conference last month was a shot in the arm for a lot of us. Not only did the Romaniacs meet lots of wonderful writers/agents/publishers, many of whom were up for an impromptu Sparkle interview, we also heard their words of wisdom about not giving up. That was the message that came across loud and clear. Lots of authors were willing to recount their own setbacks and depressing moments, and it couldn’t fail to show anyone watching the interviews that even the most glittering of Sparkle interviewees had had their down moments by the shed load.
The other boost for me was the chance for a one-to-one with an agent and a publisher – both really encouraging. Felled by a very bad back soon afterwards, having to miss Sue Moorcroft’s Italian course and with a list of school jobs to do longer than the Nile, I moved back several places in the game, but now I’m almost up and running again, have made my first list of the holidays, been given a fabulous new notebook and used the notes Sue M gave me to reshape the first chapters of my WIP. All I need to do is to finish writing the book now…
What’s your own kick-in-the-pants tip?