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

 

 

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Tag! You’re It!

At Romaniac HQ, we’ve been discussing author tags.

Without turning into Violet Elizabeth, (Just William), I would really like one. The problem is, I’m yet to come up with something that captures the overriding sense of what, or how I write. It needs to be catchy, relatable and relevant.IMG_6365

Truth or Dare? has been cited as ‘Romance with bite’, ‘A love story with oomph’, and ‘A love story without the soft edges’. In one review, the style is likened to one of my all-time favourite authors, Jodi Picoult. I do enjoy a gritty, thought-provoking read. I love stories that challenge perception. Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You is a fine example.

First and foremost, I write romance, mainly coastal, but having completed two novels, and planned my third, I can see trends appearing. Family relationships are extremely important to the story, I enjoy strong female leads, and at the book’s heart, there is always an issue. It’s dark in Truth or Dare?, a shade lighter in Follow Me, and pitch black in What Doesn’t Kill TOD_FRONT largeYou (book 3). But … I love a happy ending. I like all the loose ends tied neatly and tucked away, and I believe good must ultimately defeat evil. What I hope to achieve is to guide the characters and the readers through the cold shadows, out into the brilliant sunshine.

Romance by torchlight? Hmm.

As I continue to ponder, I would love to see your author tags and learn how they came about. Or perhaps it’s not something you find necessary. Should the book do all the talking?

Tag! You’re it!

Laura x

Tagless.

Life in a Book

Some stories, whether in novel, song, poem or film, get right beneath my skin. They’re the ones that stay with me.

Paloma Faith

Paloma Faith

I’m obsessed at the moment with songs from Paloma Faith. I made mention of it on my site last week. It’s possible you’ve caught me posting on Facebook too. I’ve listened to both her albums for some time, but it’s now only that I’m relating to the lyrics. Is it that I’m paying proper attention to the words or that the songs are relevant to this point of my life? Or have my life experiences been such that I now understand more?

Recently, I read Sue Moorcroft’s Dream A Little Dream, and aspects of the story resonated within. It was the same with Me Before You, Jojo Moyes.When I read these books, their subject matter was extremely pertinent to what was happening in my life, and their effect on me was made all the more powerful by the skill and care with which the books were written.Sue Moorcroft DALD

The first book to make me cry was Love and Devotion, Erica James. If I remember rightly, I read it not long after I’d had my second child. I won’t give away the plot, but the questions the book raises, and the fact the tragedy that befalls the children in the story is not outside the realms of possibilty, affected me greatly.

Jodi Picoult and Laura.

Jodi Picoult and Laura.

My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult, was the second book that made me weep.

I was watching Home Alone with Child Number Two a few days ago, and even though I warned him I would cry at the end of the film, he was still surprised by my emotion. ‘Really, Mum?’ he asked, eyebrows as high as the Empire State. ‘Really,’ I replied, as Gajitman passed across another Kleenex.

Have you ever watched Beaches? Yep. Makes me cry every time. Sound of Music does too. And I know why. It’s because I understand the parents’ point of view, and feel for the children. Since having my two, my tissue expenditure has increased ten-fold.

So, which books, films, songs or poems get beneath your skin? Which make you sob your heart out? Why are we affected so much by stories?

Laura x

The Jodi Picoult Blog

Howling Like The Wolf

This post is being run by The Romaniacs and Laura E. James

The Jodi Picoult Blog 

American author, Jodi Picoult, is rated within my top three favourite authors. She is unafraid to tackle subjects others might consider taboo, she writes from multi-viewpoint perspectives and she is an intelligent and entertaining lady.

When the day comes and I’m asked ‘Upon which shelf in the book shop would you place your novel?’ my reply will be, ‘Not next to, but somewhere in the region of Jodi Picoult.’

I do not purport to be an expert writer and I certainly do not possess the same flair or delve the same depths as Ms Picoult, but I recently realised to what extent my writing has been influenced by books such as My Sister’s Keeper and Second Glance.

In March, a friend and I drove to Axminster, an hour from Weymouth, for an evening with Jodi Picoult (pronounced Pico). I was beside myself with excitement. I could not believe an internationally acclaimed author would visit the beautiful, but small Devon town. The reason became clear as Ms Picoult explained the research for her current book, Lone Wolf, took place in Combe Martin, North Devon, at The Wolf Centre.

Having listened to a fascinating extract from the book, we were educated with great enthusiasm and knowledge about the workings of a wolf pack. Ms Picoult had clearly spent time with Shaun Ellis at The Wolf Centre and absorbed all his expert information. Her delivery was exciting, humorous and informative. Her grasp of the subject and her ability to impart it to the audience showed the extent to which she is prepared to go in order to write a gripping and accurate story.

This is why her books sell. I believe there are no half measures when it comes to Ms Picoult, an impression that will stay with me and one to which I will adhere when it comes to research and writing my novels.

At an hour in, three volunteers were requested. I am no stranger to being centre stage through my singing exploits, but I hesitated, much to my friend’s surprise. 

‘This is your time,’ she whispered. I was unsure. Then Ms Picoult added, ‘Perhaps someone who sings?’ 

‘Put your hand up,’ my friend instructed, and as if conditioned to stimuli like a Pavlovian puppy, I raised my hand. 

The next time I looked at my friend, it was from the stage. I was a Numbers wolf, the young lady to my immediate left, Alex, was a Beta wolf and next to Ms Picoult was Sarah, the Alpha wolf. 

The Alpha wolf, we were told, howls, waits for a response, then howls again. Ms Picoult demonstrated. The Beta wolf waits for the Alpha wolf to howl, then joins in, but maintains a howl four times as long as the Alpha wolf. Again, this was ably and tunefully demonstrated by our guest speaker.

The Numbers wolf yelps.

Yes. My job was to sound like a puppy whose tail had been trodden on.

The Numbers wolves make as much noise as possible to create the impression the pack is larger than it actually is. Give Ms Picoult credit; she led the way and yelped.

I yelped.

Turns out, I’d make an excellent Numbers wolf.

If I don’t cut it as a writer, I have a back-up.

Here is the video evidence. Since this was spur of the moment and we didn’t have access to high tech cameras, my friend recorded the following on her mobile phone. The visual clarity isn’t the best, but you can hear me yelp. And it is a great personal reminder of a brilliant evening. Please right click on the following link and open in another window. Jodi Picoult and guests, howling like wolves. 

We were each presented with a beautiful, soft toy wolf, which now sits on my desk. My son calls him Suma, (the wolf, not my desk), which is the name on the label in his ear. (The wolf’s, not my son’s. His label says something completely different.) Suma is the name of the toy collection, but I like that my son named our wolf.

Soon after this excitement, the evening drew to a close, an orderly line was formed and we waited to have our books signed.

That was when the carnage began.

At my request, my friend and I waited until the queue had depleted and popped ourselves at the end. I had bought two books for signing – one for me and one to give away as a prize. My friend, Debbie G, was looking after that copy. 

As we approached the desk, Debbie leading, Ms Picoult’s colleague, standing beside her, suddenly exclaimed ‘Oh! I didn’t catch your name!’ 

My friend appeared a little surprised, but handed over the book for signing and before I could say anything, she replied ‘Debbie.’ 

I swear, the next part happened in slow motion. 

I could see Ms Picoult forming the D and the E in the book – the book I wanted to give away as a prize; the book that couldn’t have anyone else’s name in except Jodi Picoult’s. I stepped from behind my friend and said, ‘I was hoping I could just have your autograph on that copy.’ 

A bewildered international best selling author looked at me. ‘But I’ve already written D,E.’ Her eyebrows furrowed, ploughed and knitted. 

‘Perhaps you could write DEAR.’ I said.

‘Dear who?’ 

‘Dear Laura.’

‘Who’s Laura?’ 

‘I am.’ 

Debbie moved in, realising Ms Picoult had no idea what was going on or why I was hijacking the signing of the book of the woman in front of me. ‘This is Laura. My friend,’ she said, easing the situation. 

Compliant, charming and with extreme patience, Ms Picoult signed the book and returned it to Debbie. It read: Dear Laura. All best, Jodi Picoult.

I handed over my copy.

This is the copy that has Jodi Picoult’s signature in it and nobody else’s name. Mission accomplished. Most parties unscathed.

Since we had come this far, and we hadn’t been forcibly ejected from the building, I decided to pass over a letter, which I had prepared earlier, with some questions in it, hoping Ms Picoult would answer them at some point in the future.

It was probably a naïve and foolish thing to do.

It was a naïve and foolish thing to do, but Ms Picoult and her associate were lovely and said they would see what they could do.

Ms Picoult then thanked me for being her Numbers wolf.

I thanked her for a fun evening.

I suppose I stand a fair chance of being remembered – for all the wrong reasons, I grant you, but remembered all the same.

There is so much more I could write about that event, but the howling is enough for now. If you ever get the chance to attend an evening with Jodi Picoult, I urge you to take it. She is charming, friendly, confident and articulate. We were party to a master class in public speaking and positive self-promotion.

Lovely lady, brilliant story-teller, fierce mother. Much respect, Ms Picoult.

I would be honoured if my books one day occupied the same store as yours.

So, to the competition: To be in with the chance of winning a signed, hardback copy of Lone Wolf, we at the Romaniacs HQ would like to know which Jodi Picoult book is your favourite and why?

Due to the size and weight of the book, we are able to open the competition to UK entries only.

The winner will be chosen by The Romaniacs and the winning entry will be published on www.lauraejames.co.uk.

Please send your entries to laura@lauraejames.co.uk by Star Wars Day – May the 4th (next Friday.)

Good luck.

Laura x