Life Cycle Of A Writer: Five Years

Life Cycle Of A Writer: Five Years.

Since losing my mum, 21st March 2012, not a day has passed when I’ve not thought about her. Often it’s wondering what she would have said or thought about a particular incident, a program, a snippet of news, our children’s achievements, problems, disagreements, how she would have handled a sticky situation, what advice she’d have offered, what she’d have found funny …

I’ve written before about navigating March, so today I thought I’d share some of the events that have happened in the last five years – every single one of them came with a ‘I wonder what Mum would have made of this’ moment.

The first was meeting Jodi Picoult. It was a week on from losing Mum, but I wanted to go. My mum had introduced me to Jodi Picoult’s books and I was a huge fan. I have met her three times in the last five years, each occasion an inspiration.

Sue Fortin, Jodi Picoult & me 2016 The 3rd meeting

Shortly after, I found out I was the runner up in Choc Lit’s short story competition. My mum knew I’d entered, she’d even read and critiqued my story, Bitter Sweet, and if I recall rightly, we’d heard it had been shortlisted. It would have been wonderful to have told her about the second place, but I remember how pleased she was with the shortlisting.

Telling Tales was the runner-up in the next Choc Lit short story competition, and I received a tweet of congratulations from the lovely Erica James. Honestly, I don’t know which I was more excited about. I do recall I was with Catherine Miller at the time, though. I think we may have been heading to the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. Do you remember, Catherine?

As well as meeting Jodi Picoult, I’ve also met Jill Mansell, Sheila O’Flanagan and Erica James. All are warm, intelligent and entertaining women. All were authors my mother read and enjoyed and whose books she introduced me to, and all are firm favourites of mine, and massive inspirations.

I have made many great friends within the writing community, the first few of whom my mum was aware – names with which she would have become familiar had she still been with us. She knew how much writing fulfilled me and how I felt I’d finally found my place in life.

I’ve written three novels. I used to say to Mum I would one day ‘write that novel’. She used to tell me to hurry up and get on with it, which still makes me smile. It’s good advice. I feel extremely privileged and very lucky that she read Truth Or Dare?. It wasn’t the first draft, but neither was it polished. It came with colourful language and hot scenes as appropriate, but I didn’t worry too much about those aspects – my mum read widely and didn’t embarrass easily. Her thoughts on the novel were honest, fair and she gave lots of encouragement, but without gushing. Had she not liked the story or the characters, or considered their actions fake or daft, she’d have said. I was writing Follow Me Follow You when we lost her, but I’d told her the plot and how I was exploring attachment disorder and PTSD. She knew all about Chris Frampton. This became my first paperback. Mum would have loved that.

What Doesn’t Kill You was released as a paperback in January of this year, and I attended my second book signing at Waterstones, Dorchester. What would Mum have made of that?

As a family, we’ve caught and run with a number of health curve balls, one being of the major variety, which I’m pleased to report appears to be under control. I’ve had joints replaced and joints removed; on top of my long term rheumatoid arthritis and colitis, I picked up a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, which I’m still learning to manage, and there has been a knee dislocation, (not mine) torn knee ligaments, (separate incident, different family member) and perforated eardrums (not mine and nothing to do with my singing). I’m convinced the hospital will start charging the James family rent.

Four years ago, we shared a healing three weeks away in Orlando. It was our first family holiday and it was exactly what we needed. Going to Disneyworld was a dream come true. Later the same year, I took a trip to Italy, on the Arte Umbria writing course and came home feeling nurtured and rested, with a way forward as to how to finish writing Follow Me Follow You, which had stalled in March 2012. I sat on the beautiful terrace at Arte Umbria and thought how much my mum would have loved to have been there. We’d talked of going to Italy together.

She’d have smiled at my news I’d shaken Paloma Faith’s hand, and that I’d seen Kate Bush sing live in London, and she’d have given me excellent advice regarding … well, all sorts of stuff, including a reminder that some things are best kept private. And she’d have made sure I keep on keeping on.

So, five years on, with the love and support of family and friends, that’s what I’m doing.

It’s head down and on with the work-in-progress. Life.

Take care.

Laura xx

 

 

Life Cycle of a Writer: Uncharted Waters – The RoNAs

This weeks LCOAW is all about me saying a blooming big ‘EEEEEK’!

Today I have been mostly looking at these:

Ready for the suitcase

This is my very first ticket for the RoNAs, and it’s the beginning of a whole new adventure. Over the coming year I’m going to be right in there with the organising people, sorting out the readers etc. for these prestigious awards and making sure everything runs as smoothly as it has for Nicola Cornick. She’s bravely handing over the baton and it’s very exciting but also a tad terrifying, as her organisational skills are second to none.

So on Monday I’ll be at The Gladstone Library on Whitehall Place, clutching my ticket and trying to take everything in, wondering if Prue Leith will be approachable (am loving the recent newspaper report about her late-blooming romance and marriage) and if the opening of the envelopes will be less fraught then at some other recent events…

This is a big challenge for me – but what about you? Is there anything coming up in your life that’s making you say ‘eeeek’? The Romaniacs would love to know what it is, so that we can cheer you on and send virtual cake.

Which reminds me, I wonder if Prue would like a chocolate sponge? There’s just about room in my case if I leave out the gin and the control knickers.

Hope to see you there, I’ll be the one dressed as a book title (The Red Tent).

Celia

Life Cycle Of A Writer – Roundup

Life Cycle Of A Writer – Roundup

img_0095Here, at Romaniac HQ, we’re preparing for spring and all the loveliness it brings – fresh hope, new ideas, Easter eggs …

This is what happened over winter:

Laura: I’ve had a busy three months, starting with a chest infection in December, when three of the James household were knocked out by the awful cough and wdky-in-whsmiths-travel-victoria-londoncold virus that swept the nation. Thankfully we were on the mend come Christmas and New Year as I spent the last part of December gearing up for the paperback launch of What Doesn’t Kill You. I took the Romaniac bus on a virtual blog tour starting on launch day, 9th January, and gigging all over the country right into the following week. No hotel rooms were smashed up, but there was plenty of celebrating and digesting of cake. I had a short story printed in February’s edition of Your Cat Magazine, and a book signing event at the ever-supportive Waterstones Dorchester on February 18th. And yesterday I received my first WH Smith shelfie. I knew WDKY was going into WH Smith Travel stores, but I hadn’t seen one for myself until Sue posted the photo.

Celia: I edited my NaNoWriMO children’s novel and slashed and burned my way through a grittier adult one, then threw myself back into the WIP which is nearly half completed, hooray! Also attended my first ever RNA committee meeting ready for my new role organising the judging etc. of the RONAs, which is going to be great fun if a bit scary…

Vanessa: After coming away from my writing retreat at West Dean College thoroughly inspired, I have almost finished the first draft of my new WIP. I’ve also been working on edits from my agent on the other book and trying not to get mixed up between the two! (Although… that could be an interesting mix-up!)

Debbie: Everything is much the same here since my last Life Cycle Post . I’m still writing, albeit sporadically, in between hospital appointments and the usual domestic chaos. However I’ve had a bit of a compelling change of heart. Instead of working on Novel two, ‘Country Strife,’ I’ve returned to the original, ‘Living in the Past.’ Yes, the one I’d almost given up on. It’s the nearest to completion and something inside me won’t give up on it. Not yet! I’ve also discovered I get more writing done when I work in local cafe bars and tea rooms. Who’d have thought it?

Sue: My fourth book with HarperImpulse was released in January and has been doing very well in the charts. I spent a long weekend on a writing retreat in Hampshire with Laura, Catherine and Lucie which really helped move my wip along. I’m in the very last stages of finishing it and will be sending to my agent in the next couple of weeks. After that, I’m going to catch up on some long overdue reading.

writing-retreat

Jan has been hard at it, gathering research and working on her second novel which is coming along nicely. While Lucie is doing a marvellous job juggling her university studies with editing her debut novel, The First Time Mums’ Club which is due to be released in May. Catherine has been working on a secret project which has involved some super-speedy writing and is currently working on her edits for this, not to mention running round after her twin girls – we have no idea how she manages it all.

Life Cycle of a Writer: Paperback Writer.

Paperback Writer

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What a busy, fun and exciting week this is. Yesterday, we Romaniacs celebrated our 5th birthday and cheered Sue’s fantastic thriller, Sister Sister, as it hit the top 5 on Kindle, today is Valentine’s Day, and Saturday, I’ll be at Waterstones Dorchester signing copies of What Doesn’t Kill You.

img_8935I was at Waterstones Dorchester on Valentine’s Day two years ago, signing copies of my second novel, Follow Me Follow You. It was such a lovely day. The table was perfectly decorated with red love hearts, books were wrapped in paper and bows, enticing customers to go on a blind date with their next read, and I spent the time chatting with people about books and authors.img_8939

I’m really looking forward to Saturday’s event. To have a paperback is special, even more so with What Doesn’t Kill You, as the front cover sports an author quote from my good friend and fellow Romaniac, Sue Fortin. Neither of us could predict that happening when we first met five years ago. There is also a depiction of a well-loved landmark on the front – Portland Bill lighthouse.lighthouse-cover-3There will be copies of the book available for purchase on Saturday, and I will have one of my trusty Pentel pens in hand, but which colour should I use?

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Do I go with blues and greens to complement the cover? Or should I stick with traditional black ink? I might just have to take my pencil case and decide on the day. What would you do?

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I look forward to seeing you all on Saturday. Dorchester is a fascinating Roman town, and it has literary links, too – Hardy referred to Dorchester as Casterbridge – so please do come and spend the day, and pop into the wonderfully supportive Waterstones.

I’m going to leave you with this classic Beatles hit 😀 https://youtu.be/xmVwo2DxkGg

Have a great week.

Laura x

Life Cycle Of A Writer – The Secret To Being Organised

*Descends into manic giggles early on in the post*

Organised?

*Uncontrollable maniacal laughter*

I’d love to think my life is organised, but currently it’s as far from it as it possibly could be. I’ve just finished what I once would have considered mission impossible: writing a novel in three months while my twins are only at preschool part-time. It’s not a surprise to find I’ve come away from the event slightly bewildered and confused.

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Very messy desk syndrome

I’ve spent the week following being entirely unproductive. Not for lack of stuff to do. More an overwhelming amount of realising I don’t know where to start. It’s very hard to balance time when you don’t have much to spare and it won’t be long until I’ll be back to writing, leaving me with even less time. So, knowing I’m going to be a bit pressed, I decided I’d revert back to a system I used to use at university. It involved a notepad and highlighters and a weekly TTD list.

This time, I’ve evolved the system. I typed up a master TTD list with ten sub-categories (yes, my life is that busy) and has started off with seventy-ones things that I need to do. I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten, but I’ll add them when I remember. I’ve then prioritised those in pretty colours (red, orange, yellow and green) so I know what needs to be sorted out first.

New system - champagne hiding #secretproject info ;)

New system – champagne hiding #secretproject info 😉

I’m then transferring all of the items in red onto a TTD list for the week. This is so I’m concentrating on the important things and not getting distracted. This week, I have enough on that list to keep me going, but as the weeks go on I hope to cross off some of the orange things to do.

The idea is, that at the end of each week, I can update my lists. I’ll cross off the items completed, add any new tasks, and for every four weeks that a task is on there, it’ll go up a priority level so that there’s not things remaining on the list for ever more. Then from the main list, I’ll create another new list for the week ahead. It means I can tackle major tasks one step at a time. Rather than feeling like I’m not getting anywhere, even if I’ve completed one thing towards that overall task, it’s a step forward.

Notepad for the weekly managable TTD list

Notepad for the weekly manageable TTD list

This won’t stop me being the person that never sends birthday cards on time (or ever). Or stop me from leaving things to the very last minute. Or stop me from occasionally making cups of tea with two tea bags. But in the very least, it’ll help stop me feeling quite so overwhelmed when faced with so many things to do, that I get lost on knowing where to start.

So, the title of this list is a little misleading. A bit like every click-bait piece of media that exists on social media. There are no epiphanies here because I’m very much on a learning curve. I don’t know the secret, but if anyone does, please let me know…

Especially because there’s a strong chance this will only carry on for three weeks and I’ll be back to wearing tops back to front and neglecting to headcount the twins.

*returns to laughing excessively*

 

 

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