Life Cycle Of A Writer: Letting the stories lead you

I’ve broken some of the rules.

I’ve gone a little bit crazy. A little bit rebellious. Much like the character of Olive.

You see, The Gin Shack on the Beach is a book that misbehaves.

It doesn’t sit neatly in a genre. Even a couple of the reviews have said as much. In fact, Olive would like to believe she’s a genre in herself.

“The book was a cosy hilarious feel good mystery if that could be a genre.” Kim the Bookworm

“This book is a whole lot of fun and as I was reading it, I found that I enjoyed it more because it’s not like anything I usually read. Of course the traits are still the same – a strong lead character, troubled pasts, plenty of friendship and frolics, but there was no need to categorise this and try and make a genre out of it. It was simply highly entertaining, and reading it was a great way to spend a day with a big smile on my face.” Sophie Headley – Book Drunk

But sometimes, the idea, the notion of the story is so strong you have to go with it, especially when your editor and agent encourage you just on the back of a blurb:

When Olive Turner’s son pushes her into a retirement home several years too early, she isn’t going to fade away to oblivion like he wants.

She sets about proving that the residents of Oakley West Retirement Quarters aren’t finished yet by turning her beach hut into The Gin Shack Club. But word soon spreads about the secret weekly meetings and everybody on Westbrook beach wants to become a gin connoisseur. The secret club becomes a legitimate business possibility, but are the residents of Oakley West too long in the tooth to pull it off? Or is it about time life began at eighty-four?

A story of friendship, defiance, and the quest for the perfect gin and tonic.

I’d sent two story ideas to my editor, both good ideas, both ones she was happy for me to write. The other story (I’ll write it one day) was in similar vein to my first two books and The Gin Shack was a wild card. Victoria was happy to support me with whichever one I chose, but I’m pretty sure there was a glint in her eye for gin.

I ended up having a phone conversation with my agent, Hattie Grunewald, to come up with an action plan of what I should do. Having not written a word of the book yet, I wasn’t sure I could do it justice. My first two books are emotional reads with an element of romance. This was completely different. We decided I should write the first chapter and see if it was something I could manage. So, I did. And I have never enjoyed writing a chapter so much and it didn’t take long for the rest of the story to follow.

And it was exactly that. The story led (Olive is a character) and I followed.

We never intended to break the rules. We didn’t mean to get rebellious, but sometimes the story leads you and as Sophie said “there is no need to categorise this.” It’s just the metadata guys I feel sorry for.

So, yeah, break the rules. Don’t conform. Go ahead and #BeMoreOlive

Life Cycle of a Writer: An Open Letter to my Daughters

To my dearest daughters,

I want you to always dream big. To see sidewards of whatever situation you are in, and know that, whatever cloud you are chasing, it is entirely plausible to catch it.

There will be people telling you what you’re trying to achieve is an impossibility. That you should aim lower, and stick to making daisy chains while lounging on the grass gazing at those far away clouds. And no one, NO ONE in the world should tell you that the impossible is impossible. Because you are the only one who should set your limits. It will never be my job to tell you what to dream, only to be your cheerleader in whatever way you need.

And in that same breath, I hope I am showing you what it is to chase dreams, even when it means letting go of the ones you once held.

Because like clouds, life is everchanging, the format may shift in a moment.

What was once there may drift away in the breeze while you’re not looking.

Then once that cloud has passed: find firm ground. Find the people able to take that ride with you. Find the friends willing to lift you up onto their shoulders in support. Know that you are loved in abundance so many times over. Know that you can weather any storm.

Let’s not wait inside while it rains. Let’s go and feel those drops on our skin, let’s run wild like today is the only chance for an adventure. Let’s hunt for dragons in forgotten corners of the world. Let’s lie on our backs and stare at wide blue skies and even if we only ever get as far as making daisy chains, at least we did everything within our power to capture those wispy white clouds.

So, dream big. Dream loudly. Dream in a way that only you can master. Find happy. Chase after it like nothing in the world matters. Because the journey is important. And when you are on it, whatever way it takes you, remember to be kind. Be kind to everyone you meet, because if you are the ones to raise your friends up onto your shoulders, then when a time comes, and you have your own battles to get through, they will be there for you in return.

My dear girls, my best friends, my daily wonders, everything that has passed is a promise that I will never let go of my own dreams, and I hope, in turn, I help to fuel yours.

Love, Mum xxx

Life Cycle of a Writer: Keeping Secrets and REVEALING Them!

Secrets are part of the course for writers. Ideas, news, contracts… all sorts of things that we sometimes aren’t allowed to talk about for months. I’ve been harbouring a secret for what feels like AGES. I haven’t been very secret about the fact I’ve been working on a #secretproject, It’s a contemporary comedy and different from my previous two books and at long last I can tell the world, so, without further ado, here she is and I do so hope that lots of readers want to join Olive at The Gin Shack on the Beach. Pull up a chair, you’ll be very welcome…

A new contemporary comedy for fans of THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

You’re never too old to try something new!

When octogenarian Olive Turner is persuaded by her son to move into a retirement home, she congratulates herself on finding the secret to an easy life: no washing up, cooking or cleaning. But Olive isn’t one for mindless bingo with her fellow residents, and before the first day is over she’s already hatching a plan to escape back to her beloved beach hut and indulge in her secret passion for a very good gin & tonic.

Before long Olive’s secret is out and turning into something wonderful and new. Only a select few are invited, but word spreads quickly about the weekly meetings of The Gin Shack Club. Soon everybody on the beach wants to become a gin connoisseur and join Olive on her journey to never being forced to grow older than you feel. A story of friendship, defiance, and the quest for the perfect gin and tonic.

 

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 – 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: Why Writers Never Really Take A Day Off

I’ve seen lots of FaceBook posts on the run up to Christmas about having a break from social media. I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing, although I can’t say I’ve given up that vice during the festive season.

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For some of those writers, I’m sure they will be using that time wisely and relaxing with family and having a holiday of sorts. At Romaniac HQ we have a mixed bag:  writers with deadlines working some of the Christmas period and others having a break.

But do we ever really manage to have a day off as a writer? For me, when I am at my most relaxed, it’s when my imagination kicks into play and before I know it I have an idea forming that wasn’t there before. I’ve created work by relaxing. And if it’s not that, it’s the next chapter, the next part of the story pushing for attention. My brain does not have an off switch (apart from when I’m sleeping. Thankfully, my brain let’s me sleep most of the time.)

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I do have days off (Christmas being one of them), and like my children, my books call to me. They holler often and with annoying persistence until it reaches the point when they can’t be ignored. This is true of my kids and the books. And striking a balance is both exhausting and worthwhile. This Christmas I will be at the keyboard, but that’s in the knowledge I can relax more over the summer. The only problem with relaxing, is those pesky ideas that show up and want to be worked on. But, again, a bit like my children, I wouldn’t be without them because where would that leave me?

I hope whatever you are up to, you’ve had a wonderful Christmas and 2016! Romaniac HQ can’t wait to 2017!

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Love,

Catherine xx

LCOAW: Six Years At The Bus Stop (Avoiding the slush pile)

Strictly speaking six years at the bus stop is an underestimation. My quest for a literary agent started when I was about twenty-one and didn’t have a clue what I was up to. So, to be absolutely accurate, and for anyone good at math you can work out my age, it’s really been fourteen years at the bus stop.

In my first, very naive attempts to get an agent, I sent the first three chapters of a book called Child Y?. I wrote it at university and it was way too short and proved how much I didn’t know. Friends read it and enthused and I had one handwritten response, but every other submission was followed up with standard rejections. I left University as a qualified physiotherapist and was soon too busy to even tinker with writing until ill-health caused me to consider a career change.

This time I didn’t want to find a literary agent through the more traditional route of searching through the Writers and Artists Yearbook and sending off submissions. In my earlier attempt I’d found it a bit disheartening and faceless. Those six years at the bus stop were spent making contacts, having one-to-ones, gaining feedback, making friends, and learning where to source up-to-date information. It might have been a longer route, but it was a way of avoiding the slush pile. In the end, I had two offers of representation and I’m delighted to say I’ve signed with Hattie Grunewald of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency. 

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In no particular order, these are the ways I found to approach agents without being part of the slush pile:

  • Entering competitions – sometimes literary agents are judges and it’s a way for them to potentially read your work or even meet them. I entered the London Book Fair Write Stuff competition and ended up on the stage pitching to a Dragon Den style panel of agents.
  • lbf

    I’m the pink dot on the stage

  • Online events like #PitchCB – This is a monthly event that takes place where you can pitch your book and potentially get invited to submit your work.
  • Open submission periods – There are occasions when publishing houses and agencies will have a featured submission period. For example, United Agents held an open house across August.
  • Friends recommendations – Often writers will know when agents are looking to add to their list and in what particular genre.
  • One-to-ones – Conferences often offer the opportunity to have one-to-ones with agents and publishers. It was as a result of a one-to-one that I ended up signing with Carina.

I’m lucky enough to have had success with all the above in one way or another in a close space of time, but it’s important to remember that it was the result of sitting at the bus stop for years and years. And for every bus that flew by, spraying water on me as it went by, I never stopped tapping at the keyboard or believing that one day, if I worked hard enough, the buses would start stopping for me.

If you’re on the quest for an agent, the secret isn’t in never giving up, the real secret is to never stop typing.

Catherine x