Life Cycle of a Writer – Random Inspirations

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There’s got to be something awe-inspiring about looking out on a view like this, especially if you’ve been feeling less than sparkling, but when we left for our much needed adventure by train to Switzerland, inspiration was the last thing on my mind. Chocolate, yes. Mountains of sticky cake, yes and yes. Wine…oh yes.

Deep gloom had set in over the last few months. I’d had quite a few family worries. The novel that I’d finished in 2016 was lacking something. I hadn’t got the oomph to decide what was missing and although I’d written a new children’s book for NaNoWriMo, it had taken a lot of editing and courage-plucking to send it out to agents (it’s still out there). My confidence was, and is, at a very low ebb.

The Swiss holiday that had been booked to celebrate ten years of knowing my other half came just at the right time, but even better, the reading material that I’d shoved into my travel bag minutes before we set off turned out to be the biggest inspiration of all. Without giving too much away, Mark Haddon’s intuitive story was the missing link for me, and my novel is now facing a huge rewrite.

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So a change of scene, some clear mountain air, a LOT of wine and a brilliant book have given me my mojo back. See you on the other side…

Celia x

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Life Cycle of a Writer – On Retreat

Going away for a writing retreat has been a long-held dream that I’m happy to say was realised at the beginning of 2017. Last year, I entered the Myriad Editions First Drafts prize for the opening of a crime novel with 5000 words of my new psychological thriller Reunion. The prize was a week’s writing retreat at West Dean College, plus mentoring from one of the judges. I never expected to win – I didn’t expect to be shortlisted. But I got the email to tell me I was on the shortlist of eight writers, inviting me to a prizegiving event in London, at Waterstones Piccadilly, where I’d have the chance to read an extract and hear feedback from the judges, bestselling crime writers Peter James, Elly Griffiths, Lisa Cutts, Lesley Thomson and Elizabeth Haynes.

This opportunity seemed like a prize in itself and I went there, meeting Laura, Sue and Jan for a fortifying cocktail before (and several after) the event.

I’d been shortlisted for the prize before and was going along with no expectation of winning. But when Candida Lacey, the editor from Myriad Editions stood up to announce the winner, I almost fell off my chair when she said my name! http://www.myriadeditions.com/competitions/first-drafts/

Having to organise time off work and childcare meant it was a while before I could take up my prize so it wasn’t until the beginning of January that I got on the train and headed for Chichester. West Dean College in West Sussex is internationally recognised for conservation and creative arts. It has beautifully restored gardens perfect for winter walks, seeking inspiration and solving tricky plot problems. West Dean College is part of The Edward James Foundation, a registered charity originating from the vision of founder and Surrealist patron Edward James.

West Dean College

West Dean College

Inside West Dean

Inside West Dean

My prize was for a full week, staying in the beautiful 19th Century vicarage in the grounds, with views of the gardens and South Downs, a writing desk and access to the house, archives and library. I arrived with the hope of writing 20,000 words. I looked forward to hours of time to write in beautiful surroundings and not having to worry about school runs, work, cleaning and cooking.  What I didn’t expect was to be made so welcome by Martine McDonagh, a writer and teacher who runs the creative writing MA there. I joined her and her students for several teaching sessions, sitting in on lessons about point of view and psychogeography. I was also lucky enough to be there for the first ever West Dean literary salon, enjoying a very entertaining talk from CWA Diamond Dagger winner Simon Brett.

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The Vicarage

Another part of my prize was the offer of mentoring from two of the prize judges, Elly Griffiths and Leslie Thompson, who both teach on the MA. I got to chat with Elly while at West Dean to talk about the form this mentoring might take and look forward to working with her and Leslie later in the year.

Meeting up with the lovely Sue Fortin in West Dean Gardens

Meeting up with the lovely Sue Fortin in West Dean Gardens

The view from my room

The view from my room

I was initially worried I’d spend too much time procrastinating and not enough time writing, but the week was both productive and inspiring. With no constraints on my time other than turning up for meals which I didn’t have to cook, I could write for as long as I wished and luxuriate in planning time, strolling around the gardens or sitting by the fire in the Oak Room. I finished the week with more than 22,000 words written and the rest of the book planned out. It was an amazing start to the year and I hope to visit West Dean again in the very near future. My aim now is to have a first draft of Reunion finished by the spring and for 2017 to be THE year I become a published writer!

Thank you to Myriad Editions and West Dean College for the wonderful opportunity!

 

Vanessa x

 

Happy New ‘Me.’

It’s half way through January. Christmas and New Year have been and gone. In our house, all that remains are a couple of yellow, deconstructed sprouts in the bottom tray of the fridge, six (gifted) packs of ‘After Eight Mints’ and various boxes and cartons of chocolates with only the dodgy coffee cream and coconut varieties left that none of us like.

So, how many of you are still hanging in there with your New Year’s resolutions? You’ll be impressed to know I haven’t broken any yet (although mainly because I didn’t make any!) I figured after the year I’d had, health and writing wise in 2016, 2017 could only be better. 2016 could be defined by two words. NO WRITING. Or, perhaps I should say; ‘pain and sleep.’

fullsizerender-1Both RNA parties and various writing events and meet ups fell victim. For the first time since joining the RNA’s New Writer’s Scheme, I missed the Conference, usually one of the highlights of my year. My 50th Birthday celebrations were lovely but muted and I was unable to host the sacrosanct Romaniac Sparkle Weekend. The bilateral jaw joint replacements I’d had in 2010 were not working and numerous tests and an exploratory manipulation of my jaws early in the year showed my mouth opening was less than half a centimetre. One side was encased by new bone growth.

All I could eat was soup, shepherds pie, lasagne and soft foods from a small spoon. Eating in public became a no no. As my jaws deteriorated, I became hyper conscious of the pitiful ventriloquist’s dummy act my poor mouth attempted when forced to talk. Those who know me well will understand why I chose to hermit. Morphine patches and top ups of extra morphine and analgesia helped, (or maybe caused) the excessive drowsiness. Whatever; morphine and sleep became my best friends in 2016.

We take for granted the simplest actions of eating, sneezing, yawning and brushing teeth. When these basics became almost unbearable, my Maxillo Facial surgeon asked if he could consult with my original surgeon who had since retired and see whether there was anything they could do. Several weeks later I was advised that my original surgeon had agreed to come out of retirement and together they would try a major and risky operation. There were no guarantees. If the pain improved, that was a bonus, but the main proviso of going ahead was simply to help give me back a quality of life.

13th October was D Day, and, by coincidence, six years to the day since I’d had the bilateral total jaw replacements.

 

It’s been a long and painful recovery. As a result of the surgery I’ve developed hyperacusis and vertigo which has hindered progress but in terms of the work the wonderful surgeons did to free up my jaw prosthetics, it’s still early days, but it seems to have been a huge success. 2016 wasn’t a complete wipe out after all and the highlight of my year was being able to stuff a whole mince pie in my mouth at once! Beat that!

Not being a lover of New Year, I’d planned to go to Northumberland for Twixmas but cancelled at a low point post surgery to give a good friend chance to re hire their cottage out. However, as I improved and both my lads made plans, I got the itch to take off on an adventure, have some space, maybe do some writing. I had no intention of sitting home alone on New Years Eve to enjoy a solitary evening with the BBC and Robbie Williams, toasting Bruno, my Labrador! So guess where I ended up? Charlestown, in St Austell. Yes, I know it’s even further than Northumberland and I must be mad but I paced myself by stopping over in Glastonbury, my spiritual home, to split the journey.

For six days I relaxed, breathed in huge lungfuls of sea air to heal and blow away the past months. In between I secreted myself in the quiet corners of restaurants and pubs, and wrote. Yes, I wrote! I can’t tell you how good it felt to scribble again, to watch the words and scenes flow effortlessly across the various notebooks I’d received for Christmas. By the end of my break I’d added about eight chapters, plotted the main twists and turns and written the ending of Country Strife, my second novel.

So, to 2017 …

When I got the email from Immi inviting me to re-join the NWS this year I replied instantly to take up my place. I missed seeing my RNA friends and the Romaniac girls last year; the support, comparing progress, the banter, the fun. All the Romaniac girls are now published, agented and have book deals. Except me. In 2016 I felt less and less able to contribute to our daily messages and to add anything other than congratulations to peers on social media. There is never any sense of competitiveness within the RNA or with the Romaniacs but seeing so many RNA friends enjoy publication days, book deals and to see their new relationships with publishers and agents etc, I realised I was being left behind.

Health is the most important thing in life, next to family and friendships and I have to accept, for me it will always be a challenge. I’ve realised I may never fulfil my full potential. But I have to keep trying. Having made the inroads with Country Strife, I’m going to type up what I scribbled in Cornwall and fill in the gaps. With the jaw surgery behind me and less pain and renewed energy, writing shouldn’t feel such an uphill struggle so I’ll push ahead while the going is good. And as if by magic, this years RNA Conference returns to Harper Adams, just up the road in Telford, so there’s no excuse for not attending.

I welcome 2017 warmly. I wish those of you who choose to get up super early to go jogging or head straight to spin class after work, and my sons who have replaced the selection boxes with boxes of protein shakes and dumb bells all the best. However, as long as I can limit my wine intake and reduce portion sizes, instead of resolutions for 2017, I’ll make three promises to myself:-

1/ I WILL finish Country Strife to send off to NWS – aiming for Easter. You heard it here first.

2/ I WILL go to the RNA conference in July.

3/ I WILL live well and enjoy every day of my 50th year as best I can.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and productive 2017 too. Let me know any promises you’ve made to yourself…

Until next time

Debbie xxfullsizerender

 

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU – The Paperback Tour.

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It’s day five of the blog tour celebrating the release of my third novel, What Doesn’t Kill You. It’s been a fantastic week, starting with Being Anne on Monday, Sincerely BookAngels on Tuesday, Jo Lambert on Wednesday and The Writing Garnet yesterday. Thank you to everyone taking part over the eight day experience.

The tour bus has been party central, and we’ve run out of cake and coffee, so with snow on the horizon and a rather large dent in our supplies, we’ve headed back to Romaniac HQ for today’s gig. Celia assures me there are plenty of scones in the cupboard for a Dorset cream tea.

I thought I’d take you to the place where WDKY begins – Portland Bill, a peninsular in West Dorset. The hero, Griff Hendry, is evaluating his life, wondering where it all went wrong, but rather than tell you, I’ll show you …

Did you catch sight of Pulpit Rock?

Thank you to my Littoralis friend, Kate Kelly, for her dramatic, stormy photo of the Rock.

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During the course of the tour, I’m giving away two signed copies of What Doesn’t Kill You – one today and the second on the final leg, Tuesday 17th, when I’m with my good friend and fellow Romaniac, Sue Fortin.

To be in with a chance of winning today’s copy, please comment below or tweet me @Laura_E_James, with the words, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You giveaway’ and add the hashtag #whatwouldyoudo. This competition ends midnight, UK time, Monday 16th January 2017, with the random draw to take place the following day. Good luck!

With the bus restocked, cleaned and refuelled, I’ll be leaving Romaniac HQ at first light tomorrow and heading for the next stop of the tour – Abbey MacMunn‘s site – when I’ll be revealing the secrets behind the WDKY book trailer. On Monday I’ll be setting the stage up at Linda’s Book Bag. Please do join me.

Who’s going to be in the mosh pit?

Laura x

 

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Publication Day for SISTER, SISTER #sistersister

I’m delighted that my latest book, SISTER, SISTER, is published today by HarperImpulse, HarperCollins. This one is more suspense and mystery than my previous books and I really enjoyed writing it.  To celebrate it’s release I’m running a competition over on my author Facebook page to win Afternoon Tea for Two, a Sister DVD and a book mark. If you fancy entering, pop over to my page by clicking this link.

ss-book-adss-book-coverTWO SISTERS, ONE TRUTH

Clare – Intelligent and loyal or paranoid and jealous?

Alice – Loving and kind or manipulative and devious?

Reunited after many years following the breakdown of the family unit, Clare and Alice reacquaint themselves in adulthood but as events take a sinister turn and nothing is at it seems, everyone must decide who to trust.

 

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As ever, thank you so much for all your support, it’s is very much appreciated.

Sue

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