Life Cycle of a Writer – Jumping in and letting go

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.

  1. 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.
  1. My house is tidier. (Not tidy – but tidier…)
  1. My garden has real flowers in it, not just weeds.
  1. 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:

IMG_3661

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 🙂

Vanessa
x

 

Life Cycle of a Writer – Turning to Crime (Writing)

The last couple of months have seen a few changes for me – I’m back to the day-job now as my writing bursary period has come to an end. It was wonderful to have so much time to write and I’m hugely grateful to Literature Wales for awarding me a bursary. I achieved more than I hoped to – my work-in-progress has moved on and been through a whole new re-write and edit and I’m almost ready to press send… and I’m keeping everything crossed that the faith shown in me and this book will be rewarded with some good news.

I also attended Crimefest in Bristol last month – my first ever crime writing conference. I’ve always loved attending the annual RNA conferences but as my current book is a domestic noir / psychological thriller, I was keen to hear other writers in the crime/thriller genre speak about their books and their writing. Each day of the conference began with a debut authors panel and as an unpublished writer, it was interesting to hear about all the journeys to publication.  The conference is for readers as much as writers so I got to discover dozens of new authors I can’t wait to read – and, of course, I ended up spending far too much money at the bookstall! As well as all the interviews, panels and spotlight sessions, there were several drinks receptions hosted by publishers plus a reception to announce the CWA Dagger Shortlists. I didn’t make the pub quiz or gala dinner this year, but I’ll definitely be there next time!

IMG_3576

 

As well as dabbling in crime, I’ve been indulging in a bit of flashing… Flash fiction is my other writing love – when I find myself floundering in a 100,000 word ms, writing something 500 words long – or 300, or 100 – is a breath of fresh air, a pit stop, a power nap. If I write a tiny flash piece, I go back to the novel refreshed. National Flash-Fiction Day is on 27th June and I’m happy to report my story Useless Without The Other Half will be in the upcoming NFFD anthology http://nationalflashfictionday.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/presenting-landmarks_17.html

Almost more rewarding than any of that was the eureka moment when the fragments of ideas floating around for my next book came together – so my next couple of months are now set: After I’ve sent off The Murder House, I won’t allow myself too much time for obsessive in-box watching because I’ll be straight onto the first draft of the next one! I’ve bought the post-it notes, a new notebook and three new pens. I’m ready!

Happy writing!

Vanessa x

Dear Auntie Romaniac… Plotting panic

Dear Auntie Romaniac …

Keyboard

I’m just beginning to think about a new book idea. I’ve bought a new notebook and a new pen and I have some vague thoughts in my head. Now, what I usually do is have a beginning and an end in mind, a setting and an idea of my main characters and armed with that, I begin writing and the story forms as I write and as I really get to know the characters. The problem is, I then end up with lots of scenes and chapters that are really just character studies, or nice descriptive bits, which don’t advance the story and my second/third drafts involve major re-writing. I have tried advance planning and plotting and character questionnaires but I struggle until I get into the minds of my characters by writing them. How can I plot and structure my book when I don’t really know the characters yet?

Vanessa
x

Sue: I always plot heavily before I write, but I have found if I can get to know my character really well beforehand, this makes life easier. You could ask your character a number of questions, or give them some moral dilemmas – these don’t necessarily have to be part of the story, but they will help you know your character thoroughly before you start writing. Maybe, write the first draft focussing on the plot and then go back and weave character traits, thoughts, feelings and reactions in afterwards. 

Catherine: I think I’m still learning on this, like you, Vanessa. I use a bullet point story line method. I start out by planning what is going to happen in the novel and I scribbled it all out in a notebook. Each bullet point is about a paragraph of information and that eventually becomes a chapter. I haven’t stuck to it rigidly, but it has given me a framework to go by, so each chapter I know what the purpose of those events are and where it will eventually lead. In my second draft I will add more detail and check the timeline, something I could have done prior if I’d been more organised, and that’s something I will try to do with the next one.

Laura: It’s a great question, Vanessa. I tried detailed planning for the first time for book I’ve recently finished, using the three act structure, brilliantly explained by author, Fiona Harper, at a Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. Here is a great series Fiona wrote for the Pink Heart Society in 2012 about that. I usually start with an idea, then bring in the characters, and sketch out a rough picture in my head of what I’d like to happen. Often parts of the plot don’t come to me until I’m inside the story. Even having planned book 3, I struggled with refining the end. How was it resolved? I talked through it with Catherine – she was my captive audience in my car for five hours – Some might say that’s extreme advice, but I’m only suggesting talking it out as the method, not the kidnapping. It really helps me to talk through the story with trusted friends. However, I do like to get to know my characters well before I start writing. I use enneagrams to determine their personality traits. This was one of the many tips I picked up from the fab Julie Cohen a few years ago. This gives me an instant insight into what motivates my characters, and a foundation on which to build.

Jan: I’m a serious plotter. To touch on what Sue has suggested above, I create and then interview each main character, posing various questions and scenarios. This gives me a great sense of who they really are, how they think, their gut feelings, motivations, private versus public reactions. I then roughly draft out what will happen in each chapter, as in ‘harmony versus tension’ scenes, points of conflict, timelines, etc, making sure I have a good idea of balance and story pace. It probably sounds a bit regimental, Vanessa, but even though I’m methodical in my approach, I do keep an open mind when I’m writing, to allow for any unexpected diversions. That’s the fun and beauty of telling the actual story – you’re never 100% certain where it may lead you. I wish I could come up with a magic solution, but I suppose it really is a case of trying every option, every which way, until it gels for you.

Life Cycle of a Writer – In the Waiting Room

It’s my turn to give an update for our Life Cycle Of A Writer series this week …

I was due to send a new edit of my work-in-progress off to my agent at the end of January – this has been delayed by a few weeks as I moved house and it’s taken me a while to find my way through the boxes to my desk!  Also delayed by the fact I keep thinking I’ve finished, then waking up in the night with new ideas so I go back to re-edit. But I think I’m nearly there and the latest edit will be going off to Juliet at the end of the week and I’ll be back in the waiting room refreshing my emails every five seconds and biting my nails waiting for feedback.

I think all writers spend time in that waiting room, whether unpublished or published, agented or not. We wait for responses to agent or publisher submissions, we wait for feedback, we wait for editorial notes, we wait for the day our books are finally published, we wait for reviews, we wait for sales figures. We wear out our computer keyboards refreshing that email in-box and we jump every time the post hits the mat.

waiting room

I often fill the waiting time by entering writing competitions – this is also good for my poor agent who, otherwise, would end up getting a squillion needy emails a day from me looking for updates/news/reassurance. Entering writing competitions also adds to that email checking excitement – the next email that comes through might not be spam, it could be news of a shortlisting or even a win!

Last year, I entered a lot of competitions (I’m not very good at waiting) but also had a lot of shortlist success which is another kind of reassurance – I found myself on shortlists of competitions I’ve come nowhere in in previous years: The Harry Bowling Prize, the Yeovil Literary Prize, the Mslexia Novel Competition, the Brighton Prize, the Caledonia Novel Award. For me, it’s a sign I’m heading in the right direction with my writing – a sign I need at the moment as I’ve changed direction and this book is a psychological thriller. Previously, I was writing women’s fiction, but with dark themes and ideas and I could see I was heading for a cliff edge where I needed to decide whether to step back and go lighter or make the commitment and jump. Talking through my ideas with lovely agent Juliet, I could see where this book wanted to go – it wanted me to jump, to fully embrace the dark side. The clue was in the title – my original working title was Hunting the Light, which is maybe what I was doing, nervously standing at the edge of that cliff, but it didn’t work for the book so I’ve re-named it The Murder House, taken a deep breath and jumped off the cliff.

standing on the cliff edge

I was thrilled last week to find The Murder House in the final four of the inaugural Caledonia Novel Award so I think taking that jump was the right move. And I’m also hoping that with The Murder House in its new edited form, this year will be the year the waiting ends.

Vanessa
x

 

Roving Romaniacs – 6 Go To London

We’re getting about lately, the other week it was the Festival of Romance and last week, en masse, six of us attended the RNA Winter Party.  As always, lovely to meet up with each other at a Kensington hotel which is rapidly becoming our London HQ. The only downside was that our lovely Jan and Catherine weren’t able to make it this time.  

It was great to see so many people at the Winter Party but, as is usual at these events, never enough time to speak to everyone. We also realised that we need to get the camera out a bit more – so, watch out at the next RNA event, we’ll be snapping away and trying to get as many of you as possible for our blog post. 

Six of The Romaniacs, RNA Winter Party 13
Six of The Romaniacs, RNA Winter Party 13
lizzie lamb
Lizzie Lamb
Brigid Coady
Brigid Coady

 

RNA winter 13

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Debbie, Celia, Laura and Vanessa
Debbie, Celia, Laura and Vanessa
harrods
Beautiful
Putting on The Ritz
Putting on The Ritz
A blustery walk to the tube
A blustery walk to the tube

 

Thank you to Jan Jones and everyone at the RNA for a lovely evening.

Size DOES Matter…

We’ve been talking a lot about size at Romaniac HQ recently (I’m talking about word count, OF COURSE!) with some of us having had recent successes on the short story and flash fiction front as well as the exciting book deals.

Vanessa's flash fiction in print: Winter's Kiss
Vanessa’s prize-winning flash fiction in print: Winter’s Kiss

I’m currently between edits of a book, which is about 95,000 words long. I began writing it just under a year ago and it’s gone through many drafts, but I’m hoping it’s nearly at the point where I can say it’s finished.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel a bit lost when a book is resting between drafts – when I’m forcing myself to leave it alone for a week or two. To go from such intense immersion in a fictional world for nearly a year back to real life is always a shock, and I’m always keen to dive back into another fictional land as soon as possible. Real life is all about contemplating the chores I haven’t done for a year because I’ve been too busy writing, or it’s about filling in tax returns and doing accounts… No thanks.

But another book straight away is too much, so I turn to short fiction between drafts, the shorter the better. Flash fiction is my thing – 500 words and under, every sentence edited down to the bare bones to get a complete story across in just a few short paragraphs… after a seemingly endless and meandering journey from 0 – 95,000 words with a novel, having only 500 words to tell a whole story is a refreshing change, an icy-cold gin and tonic in the sun after a year of rich red wine in a dark room, a slice of key lime pie after a year of gooey chocolate cake… you get my drift.

It’s a tonic, it’s a change, it’s a chance to re-charge batteries and best of all – I can finish a whole project in less than a day! Flash fiction is also brilliant for editing practice – I wrote a story the other week I wanted to enter in a competition and it came in at just under 700 words, but the word limit for the competition was 500 words. It can’t be done, I muttered to myself, every word is VITAL TO THE STORY. But when I went back through it, I found there were actually quite a few words – whole sentences even – I could delete without ruining the story. And I ended up with a much stronger piece of writing. And all the time I’m writing my flash fiction pieces, new ideas for the next book are brewing nicely…

The size of story I struggle with is the short story – anything between 2 and 5,000 words. I like my fiction very short or very long. What I find happens with this length of fiction is it gets away from me – I can’t stop and before I know it, I’ve got six chapters of something never intended to be a novel. The first book I wrote started out as a short story idea that never really stopped, which I guess makes me a bit of an accidental novelist – Vanessa Savage: The girl who could not type The End…

I’d love to know what word count works for you…

Vanessa x

An Earthless Melting Pot, an anthology of prize-winning flash fiction and short stories, can be bought here.

Letting the Pictures do the Talking RNA Conference 13

The RNA Conference in Sheffield last weekend was a most excellent occasion. Five of The Romaniacs attended and we all had such a great time.  It was lovely meeting up with old friends and making new ones. The talks and workshops were so informative, we all came away feeling very focussed and itching to get on with our writing. A BIG thank you to everyone who helped make the conference such a success, as always.

Here is the weekend in pictures …

Sheffield The Edge

Hello, Sheffield University!

Sheffield Romaniacs

All ready for the Gala Dinner

Sheffield goody bag

Great goody bags with lots of lovely gifts

D&J

Debbie and Jules Wake

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Alison Maynard, Mandy Baggot and Linn B Halton, join the usual suspects line-up

Sheffield Nikki Goodman

Nikki Goodman (she did really want her photo taken – honest)

Sheffield Laura RhodaLaura and Rhoda Baxter

photo_3No idea what was so funny!

Sheffield Julie Cohen

Excellent talk on ‘Theme’ by Julie Cohen

Sheffield Sue M

Another great talk from Sue Moorcroft on sex scenes

Sheffield Piaktus

 

Anna Boatman from Piatkus, just one of the several industry talks

photo_4 (1)Relaxing in the evening sun shine

photo_5

We found a lovely spot on the grass for evening drinks

Sheffield celia bottles

And we left it to Celia to carry all the refreshments 😉

photo_2 (1)Another one of  those ‘what was so funny?’ moments

Sheffield Sue Celia Kitchen

Sometimes you just can’t beat a natter and a cup of tea!

Sheffield Celia tree

Sitting in the shade with a fab book – bliss!

Sheffield Edge buildingThank  you Sheffield and the RNA 🙂

Roving Romaniacs – An Earthless Melting Pot anthology launch

I was very happy to spend a lovely, sunny, writerly couple of days in London at the end of May, traveling up on the Friday for author drinks arranged by super-agent Juliet Mushens. In a busy bar in Soho, around twenty of Juliet’s authors gathered to drink and chat. It was lovely to spend time with an eclectic group of writers at all different stages of the journey to publication: Those, like myself, at the nail-biting editing/submitting stage, those who have the longed for book deal who are now awaiting publication, and the published ones – the writers on the Richard & Judy list, the bestsellers, the debut writers and the ones sweating over their second. All lovely, all inspiring – I’m already looking forward to the next Team Mushens outing!

bookDay 2 saw me back in Soho, this time in The Gallery at Foyles bookshop, for a private party to celebrate the launch of the Words with JAM short story anthology. My partner in crime for this do was fellow Romaniac Sue Fortin. The anthology is a collection of the prize-winning stories from the annual Words with JAM short story competition and I was thrilled to have one of my flash fiction pieces, Winter’s Kiss, included – my first story to appear in book form!

June Kearns, Sue Fortin and Lizzie Lamb
June Kearns, Sue Fortin and Lizzie Lamb

We weren’t expecting to see any familiar faces, so Sue and I were very happy to spot fellow RNAers Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James, Lizzie Lamb, June Kearns and Rosemary Gemmell amongst the guests. Cathie was another prize winner with her gorgeous story Scent of Lemons.

Me and Cathie Hartigan
Me and Cathie Hartigan

The anthology itself, An Earthless Melting Pot, was beautifully designed and produced and I still haven’t got over the thrill of seeing my name in a book…

photo[2]As well as the anthology launch, the event was to toast Triskele Books first birthday and the launch of four books by Catriona Troth, JD Smith, Gillian Hamer and JJ Marsh. Each of the authors spent a few minutes talking about their books and we were also treated to readings of the prize-winning stories by Ruby Cowling and Ken Elkes.

Add to this an amazing buffet and lots and lots of sparkly drinks and the evening was just about perfect…

Vanessa x

Tuesday Chit Chat with Serena Clarke

We’re delighted to have the lovely Serena Clarke on the blog with us today, celebrating the publication of her debut novel All Over The Place.

Serena Clarke colourSerena grew up in a family of itchy-footed readers and dreamers – not concentrating, reading the atlas and Narnia books, and planning to escape somewhere magical as soon as she could. When she was 16, she went from New Zealand to live in Sweden for a year. It was the beginning of many travels and adventures – and quite a few disasters! She didn’t know it at the time, but eventually she’d be grateful for all the downs as well as the ups. As writers say in the face of adversity: “I can use that.” She’s now living back in New Zealand, where she writes stories reflecting her determined belief in magic, possibility and second chances – and happy endings!

Hi Serena, welcome to the Romaniac blog – take a seat, put your feet up and help yourself to cake 🙂

Ooh thank you! I’m always making banana cake, so it’s lovely to have someone give me cake instead! Thanks for having me today. *gets comfy*

Shall we start with you telling us about your journey to publication?

I’ve been a bookish, dreamy kind of person all my life. I always thought it would be amazing to write a book – but that seemed the kind of thing other people did, not ordinary old me. Then I started looking at all those books in the library, thinking, well, someone has written all of those. Maybe I could have a go. I was coming to an age when ‘one day’ starts to feel a bit more pressing! And after writing, and rewriting, and rewriting again, All Over the Place – actually a very English book – was accepted by a digital-first publisher in the USA.

Can you give us some detail about All Over The Place?

All Over the Place coverIt’s a story of finding the place you’re meant to be, and the person you’re meant to be there with. It has a chick lit feel – and a happy ending, of course! Here’s the blurb:

Livi Callaway has fled back to London after a reality TV disaster in New Zealand. Safely anonymous in the big city, she’s determined to stay under the radar from now on. But her attempts to build a new life are complicated by unexpected visitors from her old one, and new dangers and temptations lie in wait.

Late one night, she meets a mysteriously sexy American on the Underground – and the events that follow take her from Pooh Bear to the golden lights of Paris, via a trail of rock stars dead and alive. A family in disarray, a determined Swede, a crazed Australian and a childhood friend (who might yet be more than that) have her all over the place as she tries to discover the American’s secret – while keeping her own.

With help – and occasional hindrance – from her friends, what she eventually finds is something unexpected…sometimes, running away can lead you to exactly what you didn’t know you needed.

Sharing other people’s praise of your book feels a bit like boasting about your children on Facebook – not really the done thing. But one lovely person said it was “a thoroughly engaging, globe-hopping confection of a novel…an enchanting journey of both distance and heart.” Which I thought was very nice indeed. But I didn’t tell you that.

How did you celebrate publication day?

Well, because of the time difference, I was tucked up asleep for half of publication day! I stayed up to watch the book go on sale on Amazon, then I had to go to bed! But the next day I had a lot of fun catching up with everything that had happened overnight. And that night we took the kids out for giant New York style pizzas. We’re a family of bookworms, so they thought it was pretty cool.

How important do you think the RNA NWS was in helping you achieve your publication dream?

Oh, it was crucial. When I first started writing in earnest I didn’t show anyone, or even tell more than a couple of people. So I really wasn’t sure if I was going about it the right way at all! My NWS report was really encouraging, and it had incredibly helpful suggestions for how to improve the book. If I ever find out who my reader was, I want to give her a big hug! (In a very non-stalkerish way, of course!)

What means home to you? Is it a place, a person or a case of ‘Wherever I lay my hat’?

That’s a central question in All Over the Place, so I’ve thought a lot about it. We live out in the world so much more now, with the internet, and live TV from everywhere, and people live-tweeting everything. In the book, Livi strikes out into the world after a disaster, and everything’s up for grabs – she could actually go anywhere, just like I could once upon a time. But of course, it’s people who make a place special. Now I’m the grown-up person responsible for making a home for other people. (Although I still don’t feel like a grown-up!) Anyone who has children would probably say home is where they are – I feel that way now.

You’ve lived in a lot of cities and a lot of countries ­ which is your favourite? What are some of the snapshot moments, the memories that will stay with you forever?

Hm, snapshots… Hiking in summer snow in Swedish Lapland – despite the million-gazillion mosquitos! Riding a camel up the sand dunes as the sun rose in the Moroccan Sahara. Peering through the fence outside the White House, trying to imagine what momentous decisions were being made inside. Meeting my rock star crush before a gig at an underground club in London. Pretty much everything about Paris! And favourites…apart from beautiful New Zealand, I’d say Sweden, because it really is my second home, with my second mum and dad. I can’t wait to see them when I come over again.

You’re back in London for the RNA summer party for the first time in a long time ­ what are the first places you’ll be visiting?

Serena Trafalgar SquareTrafalgar Square! That’s my happy place, and in All Over the Place it’s the centre of Livi’s London. I’m looking forward to spending a day wandering around the National Gallery. There’s a painting there of Saint Cecilia that features in the book, so I’m excited to see it for real. Also, I have a great friend who lives in London, and we have a special ‘tourist’ walk, winding our way from Oxford Circus down to Trafalgar Square and ending at Big Ben. I’m kind of a soppy traveller – I can’t help getting teary at significant places – but luckily he puts up with me! (Blame the artistic temperament!)

What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Joan Hessayon award? Has it been a dream of yours?

The whole thing has been a dream, yes! There are so many amazing books in the running, I don’t expect to win. But can you imagine – getting on the plane to return to London, with my book published and the prospect of being in a room with so many wonderful authors and publishing people? What’s more, I touch down on my birthday. Best. present. ever.

What about your next book? Is it another international book? Or set closer to home?

Yes, it’s another international kind of book, with the same sort of chick lit vibe. It’s set between England and California, and follows the ups and downs of twin sisters after they discover the secret their mother kept. Think matchmaking, flash mobs, people power in a hyper-connected world, true love, and the trials and joys of sisterhood. (That’s something I feel qualified to write about, coming from a family of 4 girls and one boy!)

The one after that will probably be in set in New Zealand – but I can never resist an international cast of characters! And they’ll probably need a trip to Australia, now that I think about it… *eyes passport*

Where do you write? Do you prefer a room with a view?

I write at the dining room table, on the sofa, or on my bed, depending on what’s happening in the house! I’m addicted to the ‘My Writing Room’ feature on Novelicious.com, where writers share pictures of their office. I dream of having a little space of my own. Yes please to the view. There is quite a nice view from my bed!

Quick Fire Questions:

Home or away?

Away for adventure, home to snuggle.

Snow bunny or sun worshipper?

At the moment we’re in the middle of a drought, so I’m a bit over the sun. But I’m not a snow bunny either, unless you count tobogganing!

Right place or right time?

Don’t wait for either – just go ahead and do it!

Thanks so much for having me to visit with you today, and plying me with cake! What a treat.

Thank you, Serena – it’s been lovely chatting with you!

Find Serena here – she’d love to hear from you!

http://www.serenaclarke.com

https://www.facebook.com/SerenaClarkeAuthor

https://twitter.com/Serena_Clarke

All Over the Place is available from all major e-book retailers, including:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Over-Place-Crimson-Romance-ebook/dp/B00B2B0X9E/

http://www.amazon.com/Over-Place-Crimson-Romance-ebook/dp/B00B2B0X9E/

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/all-over-the-place/id594641901?mt=11

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/all-over-the-place-serena-clarke/1114286511