Friday, 18 August 2017

Learning Storytelling Techniques from Writing Serials by Juliet Greenwood

I’ve learnt so much from writing serials. Seeing the latest serial by my alter ego, Heather Pardoe, has reminded me just how much the techniques have helped me when writing my novels.

Juliet Greenwood

The art of writing of a serial is not to be underestimated. It has to be divided into parts, with enough characters and action to keep the story moving, while each part builds to a cliffhanger to leave the reader itching for the next part to arrive. Possibly not with quite the frenzy that greeted the climax of Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop, but as near as. No one has yet stormed my local newsagent on the day of publication, but you never know …

Juliet's latest serial in The People's Friend
You also have to keep the story moving evenly between the various sets of characters, so the reader doesn’t have time to forget or lose interest, and so keeps a vested interest in finding out all their fates. At the same time, the arc of the story must build, as in a novel, and the cliffhangers at the end of each episode need to build as well, ratcheting up the tension until you reach the final climax in the penultimate episode. 

Vanity Fair
The final episode then has to resolve the story and tie up all the ends without leaving a sense of anti-climax. A lesson in exactly how not to do this is Thackery’s Vanity Fair, which was originally written as a serial. When I re-read the novel recently, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe at the final ‘episode’, when the author had clearly finished the story and absolutely and totally lost interest, but had a word count to fill (even Dickens and Thackeray wrote for filthy lucre) and was waffling shamelessly.

Funnily enough, although I studied Vanity Fair as part of my Literature degree, it wasn’t until I became a writer of serials that the damp squib of that ending made sense. Because I love Becky Sharp, I’m quite glad Thackeray’s half-hearted pontificating is more in the cause of money than good old Victorian pomposity! I’m still nervous when planning the final part of each of my own serials and the endings of my novels. It’s definitely a lesson I’ve taken to heart. 

The White Camellia
Most of all, I’ve found I go back to the lessons of serial writing when I’m telling a story from two different points of view in my novels, as in The White Camellia, published by Honno Press, which is told from the viewpoints of two very different women, linked only by a family feud they need to resolve. Balancing the two viewpoints, and maintaining the reader’s vested interest equally in Bea and Sybil, was something I found a real technical challenge. It was overcoming that challenge that made me understand just how invaluable I’ve found the lessons I’d learnt while writing serials like Together We Stand.

Writing a serial, which is on a smaller scale than a novel, is definitely an excellent way to practise the techniques of writing a page-turning story with the interest balanced between the characters – and I always get a childish kick out of actually getting my story illustrated! 

If you want to try writing a serial, you need to check out the market and follow the guidelines – they know their readers and exactly what they like. Magazines like The People’s Friend will work with you on a serial they feel has potential, and are very supportive and great to work with. They also have a huge readership, so are a good way to start getting your name out there.

Useful Link 

Writing Serials for The People's Friend An excellent blog post from author Wendy Clarke, with tips on exactly what the magazine is looking for

Juliet Greenwood

Juliet is the author of three serials under the pen name ‘Heather Pardoe’, and has had three novels published by Honno Press. The first, ‘Eden’s Garden’, was a finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’, and the second ‘We That are Left’ was completed with the aid of a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary. Both reached the top #5 in the UK Amazon kindle store. Her latest novel ‘The White Camellia’, is set in Edwardian Cornwall, with a crumbling mansion, a goldmine with a dark secret, and a long-running family feud. She would definitely like to turn that into a TV serial!

Juliet's Books

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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A Little Learning by Anne Bennett

I can't remember a time when I didn't write. I was a voracious reader and they seemed to go together. However, I never expected to earn my living by writing books!  That sort of thing didn't happen to working class kids in the 1960s when I was growing up.  I also wanted to teach, though I achieved this by  a roundabout route, entering Teachers' Training College as a mature student after I had got married and had two children of my own.  By 1976 I had my teaching certificate and was doing a job I loved.  Alas, in the spring of 1990 a spinal injury caused lack of feeling and movement down my legs. I had to use a wheelchair and I was invalided out of teaching.

We moved from the West Midlands to a beautiful town in North Wales, but my life stretched out like a void and so to fill the days ahead I began to write. I began to research the origin and meaning of nursery rhymes, a topic that had always fascinated me. I then went on to write for children, interspersing this with writing short stories for the writing magazine I took every month.

I only ever submitted one of the stories.  It was for a competition for Valentine's Day and my story came second. The prize was a year's subscription to the Romantic Novelists' Association  (RNA). This organisation run a critique service, the New Writer's Scheme, where unpublished writers submit manuscripts to be read and critiqued by established authors.

My first submission  the reader said was good but not good enough to be published but, more importantly, it explained why it wasn't. So I made sure I didn't make the same mistakes with the second submission! That was called A Little Learning and it was accepted by Headline. I was ecstatic. It was the most semi-autobiographical book I have ever written.  I was advised to 'write what you know', and so the house on the original cover was the house I moved into at the age of seven. The book opens when Jane Travers was 11 in 1947. I wasn't born until 1949, but like her I was a scholarship girl, the only one on the sprawling estate I lived on to pass the 11 plus. Like Jane's mother, mine had a  cheque she had to pay in weekly, because the cost of the uniform and other required items came to nearly £100 -one hell of a lot of money for working class people in 1960!

By then the government had built new grammar schools, although mine was only two years old, but before then private schools had to offer a quarter of their places to scholarship pupils.  My school was set in a middle-class area and most of the pupils were middle-class too. Scholarship kids from council estates were a race apart.  If I suffered discrimination, I could easily imagine what my Janet Travers was going through, and I had a very special feeling for her - my first heroine and the journey through the book she had to make.

It is over twenty years since I wrote this book and life is very different for me. I joined Harper Collins in 2001 and regained the ability to walk in 2006. A few years ago Harper Collins bought the rights for the books I originally wrote for Headline and are re-issuing my very first book this summer. Although the title stays the same, there is a new jacket cover. This shows my Jane all grown now and a teacher on playground duty.

A Little Learning will be released on the 24th August 2017 and hope you enjoy it! 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Ask Annie: How do you plan your books?

"How do you plan your books? A kiss at 25%, sex at 50%, an argument at 75%? Or do your books grow organically?"

Organically, definitely.  From somewhere out of the depths of my imagination will come a scene, or an incident… (eg, a girl waking up in bed, naked, with a stranger and no memory of how she got there, or hiding from an embarrassing moment in a ballroom only to witness a scheming woman trying to entrap a man, and facing the moral dilemma of whether to risk more embarrassment by coming out of hiding and saving the hapless man, or staying hidden and feeling guilty for leaving him to his fate.)

From then, I imagine what led up to that moment.  And how the participants in it will deal with it going forward.  And, yes, since I write for Harlequin Mills & Boon, how I can resolve all their problems and give them a happy ending.

The scenarios that will lead to a happy ending may get worked into a synopsis, or brief outline, and filed away in one of my many notebooks.  So that if ever I run out of stories I’m burning to write, I can consult them for inspiration.

Sometimes the story flitting round in my head is so consuming I HAVE to write it down, and really come up with ways by which the poor unfortunate creature I have imagined in her pickle, can find a way to achieve a happy ever after.

The actual amount of kissing, or sexual intimacy which I write can vary immensely, since it stems very much from the characters personalities and the situations into which I have flung them.  In some stories, for example where the couple have to marry for some reason at the start, they may work through their issues with arguments alternating with make-up sex (I think of these as honeymoon books)

In others, if my heroine is a complete innocent, and the hero is trying to win her, or rescue her, then they might not even kiss with any passion until pretty near the end.  (my courtship books)  It really does depend on the characters.

So my books are a bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to get.  (And please, no quips about preferring hard or soft centres!)

The one thing I do need to factor in, at a certain point of the drama, is the “dark moment”.  Just as the characters seem to be finding their way to each other, there has to be an incident which will almost tear them apart, which will test the strength of their love, so that when they come through it, the happy ending feels much more emotionally satisfying than if they hadn’t had to face it.

But of course, being a romance, they will come through, in one way or another, whether it means the hero climbing in through a bedroom window with a rose tucked into his crossbelt (An Escapade and an Engagement) or simply writing the heroine a revised list (Lord Havelock's List)  (Though it’s funny how it nearly always seems to be the hero who has to do the grovelling!)

To be honest, I think that planning out my books to the extent you mentioned would feel a bit like painting by numbers.  Maybe it would be a bit easier if I could produce stories in this way, but I wouldn’t feel as if I was being so creative.  Nor would I get that sense of getting to know my characters as I write about them.  They wouldn’t become such real people to me, or, I suspect, to the reader.

Annie's next book is "The Major Meets his Match," the first of a mini-series with three heroes attempting to solve a crime.

Annie considers it one of her "courtship" books.

It is available for pre-order from Amazon.

You can read the opening on Overdrive

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Why Attend a Writing Conference? by Sophie Claire

I have a writer friend – let’s call her Jane – who recently divulged that she’s been a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association for twenty years and has never been to a conference.
I know – what a shame!
Goody bag

I’ve been to 8 conferences, and I always come away brimming with ideas and motivation and a hangover.  This year the RNA conference was held at Harper Adams University, and I thought I’d write a post about it – because if Jane knew what went on there, she’d want to try it for herself, right?

So what happens at an annual gathering of romance-loving writers? And aside from receiving a free goody bag (with chocolate and free books - Jane will like those!), what’s in it for you?

1. It’s informative:

Industry panel
(photo by John Jackson)

Because the RNA is a professional body, it offers the rare opportunity to glean from the experts their insights into the current state of the publishing industry and future trends.
This year the conference kicked off with an industry panel made up of agents and publishers. What they had to say was positive: people are still reading a lot (sales of books were steady year on year), and romance and crime are the most popular genres (6 out of 10 books sold are romance). In the UK, sagas are especially sought after (although readers are wary of longer books), and there is more of a mash-up of genres developing: for example, we’re now seeing domestic thrillers with a sexy edge.

2. Industry appointments:

The conference gives writers the rare opportunity to pitch to agents and publishers, and also freelance editors, all of whom give feedback on your submission. I previously blogged about my experience here and it was through one of these appointments that I got my first book deal with Accent press.

3. Bestselling writers:

Kate Johnson interviewing Jill Mansell
There’s nothing more exciting than meeting your heroes, and this year’s conference had its fair share of big names in the romance world. 

Jill Mansell talked about her writing method (by hand, with the television on and using post-its to plot ahead), why she likes to use a village setting in her books, and her solution for when she’s stuck with the plot (throw in a new character!). 

And Sarah Morgan and Nicola Cornick gave a workshop on Using Social Media which stressed the importance of engaging with your readers and driving as many followers as possible to your newsletter. (I’m a huge fan of Sarah’s and was very excited to get my book signed after her workshop!)

Sarah Morgan and Nicola Cornick
Fiona Harper

4. Writing craft workshops:

There’s the chance to learn or refine your writing skills, with two days packed full of workshops. 

I always find it useful to step away from my novel-in-progress and ask myself questions such as What is your character’s goal? This was one of 10 questions which Fiona Harper gave us in her workshop, Building Characters From the Inside Out, which focused on developing a strong character arc and that inner growth which makes a novel so satisfying to read. 

5. Inspiration:

There’s inspiration everywhere at the conference – in other writers’ success stories, the workshops, in the books which are for sale! How often do you get the opportunity to work with a life coach or learn about screenwriting?
Sonia Duggan taught us that our brains are instinctively risk-averse, yet the most exciting ideas usually involve stepping out of our comfort zones. She gave us tips to help us be less fearful in our writing, because if you’re willing to take risks, anything is possible!

6. Fun and friendship:

There’s nothing more motivating than spending time with writing friends – and making new friends too.
Novelistas Sophie Claire & Annie Burrows
Hearing about other people’s experiences and their methods of working, or about new opportunities is always beneficial. 

The RNA is a wonderfully warm community, people are generous with their help and advice, and I’ve always been made to feel welcome. 

The Gala Dinner
First-time conference goers (are you listening, Jane?) have the chance to join an online group so they can ask questions beforehand and meet others in the same boat when they arrive. Their name badges bear a little sparkly sticker so the rest of us know to make them feel especially welcome. 

Plus there’s wine – lots of wine (600 bottles, to be precise). What’s not to like?!

7. Time to think:

I’ve learned that I get more out of the conference if I allow myself breaks, and since Harper Adams University is an agricultural college, I decided to explore the grounds and look for the source of the pungent farmyard smell which permeated everywhere!

Although I didn’t find it, it was time well spent, letting my mind wander and chewing over all I’d taken in. 

Time out from daily responsibilities is good for the creative mind. It gives you space to breathe, to explore new ideas and be reminded of the important stuff – like your long-term goals and priorities.

Now I’m home again, and back to the daily routine...

...but feeling re-energised, and I have plans and ideas which I’m excited about. The conference always has this effect: it motivates me and makes me more productive.

So I wonder – will Jane be persuaded to try it next year? Will you?


Photos copyright: John Jackson and Sophie Claire

Friday, 7 July 2017

Ask Annie...about Regency costume.

On the first Friday of each month, Novelista Annie Burrows will be drawing a question out of the jar where we've been putting all the questions about the writing process posed by readers.

This month, the question she chose to answer is:

"Your heroines wear lovely gowns. Do you make them up, or are they based on actual Regency clothes?"

OK, well, first of all, if you’ve read any of my books, you will know that I don’t, as a rule, put in a lot of detail about this sort of thing.  This is because I think it can detract from the story, and the action going forward if you keep breaking off to spend whole paragraphs describing a room, or an outfit.  I tend to use broad brushstrokes to suggest the era, or the scene, or even the clothes, and rely on the reader to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.  So that I can concentrate on the emotional inner life of my character, and the action going forward.

BUT…part of being able to create vivid, believable Regency characters comes from being historically accurate.  I have to know all about the background even if all I’m going to do is sketch it in briefly, or it won’t ring true, and will be a far less enjoyable read.

This is particularly true of clothing.  I have to know what a Regency lady would wear, so that love scenes can play out convincingly as the hero removes her garments one by one.  I need to know what type of corset she might wear, how her stockings were held up, and whether or not she wore drawers.  Not only will this place her firmly within the historical era, but it will also say something about her social status, and her personality, too.  Silk stockings, rather than cotton, for example, or a gown that laces up at the back, rather than the front will tell the informed reader (and most readers of Regency are very knowledgeable about the customs of the age) a lot about my heroine without me having to take another couple of sentences explaining whether she is upper or lower class, wealthy or poor.

I also sometimes zoom in on an outfit a heroine is wearing to help show how she is feeling.  “The Captain’s Christmas Bride” for example, opens with the heroine’s friend struggling to do up the laces of her gown.  A short cut to telling the reader she has body issues.

In the opening section of “The Debutante’s Daring Proposal”, the heroine is conscious of her frayed gloves and her muddy boots when the hero strides onto the page looking all expensive and elegant, to emphasise the differences in their social and financial status.

As on all other topics of Regency life, I have a few favourite books that I frequently consult to give me inspiration, or to help me describe an outfit convincingly.

Another thing I’ve done is to purchase a reconstruction of a Regency costume, to see what it would feel like to move around in long skirts.  I wasn’t surprised that my movements felt a bit restricted compared to the normal jeans and t shirt which are my usual everyday wear.  Long skirts are not very practical.  By the end of the day the hem was filthy.  It seemed to suck up dirt like a hoover.  Being cotton, though, it washed very well, and came up good as new.  However, it made me realise that keeping clothes clean would indeed need the services of a maid to do the laundry and ironing.  How on earth would you have been able to keep your clothes clean without the help of servants in an age without washing machines?  Wearing light colours had to have been a symbol of status.  Lower class women would surely have chosen darker colours that didn’t need laundering every day, or changing every day at least.  So all those debutantes in their pristine white muslin gowns were probably making more of a statement than just about their youth and virginity.

           One thing that did surprise me, though, was how warm the outfit was.  Everyone assumes that
wearing light muslin or cotton gowns must have meant that the women would have felt cold.  The gown I’m wearing in the picture was actually made up of two dresses.  An underdress and an overdress.  The outfit came with a full length cotton petticoat, too.  The underdress could have been worn on its own, but I chose to put on the top one as well on this day.  Once I’d put all three layers on, I was actually too warm, so had to (shock, horror!) remove the petticoat.  I didn’t buy a corset, since I was only out in Regency garb for fun, not to go on a re-enacting event where authenticity would have been more important, but I can imagine that had I been dressed in a shift, corset, petticoat, underdress and overdress, I would have jolly well needed to make use of a fan to keep me from sweating.

 A  properly brought up Regency lady would not have ventured out of doors without a bonnet and gloves, either.  (I did buy a bonnet, but went without the gloves – shockingly fast of me!)  What with all those layers, and a hat and gloves, I felt I could have survived the most inclement weather.  Or at least, I could have done with the addition of a spencer (short jacket) or pelisse (long coat)  Don’t forget that with full length skirts, you could wear pretty much what you liked underneath and nobody would have seen it.

Thick woollen stockings and boots in winter?  Probably.

So, I do study pictures of what Regency ladies wore, and I’ve spent a day wearing a reconstruction of the type of gown a Regency lady would have worn, so that I know how she would feel in it.

So that I can leave out the descriptions of gowns with a fair amount of confidence!

(I have considered buying my husband some male Regency garb, strictly for research purposes of course, but they are far more expensive than the female attire.  Especially the hats.)

Annie's latest release is "The Debutante's Daring Proposal" in which the heroine wears a variety of costumes which are rather daring, and which cause gentlemen to look at certain parts of her anatomy rather than her face when they are speaking to her.

It is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon...

Sunday, 25 June 2017

'The Little Teapots I've Lost and Found' by Trisha Ashley

As the paperback publication day of The Little Teashop of Lost and Found draws ever nearer, my mind has naturally turned to the subject of afternoon tea – or afternoon coffee, in my case. For ironically, although I have an extensive collection of old teapots, I’ve never drunk a cup of tea in my life. 

This dog teapot dates back to the 1920s or 1930s, but the rabbit one is quite modern and was given to me as a gift.

This strangely beautiful white teapot came from a jumble sale over thirty years ago.

A very jolly Canadian toucan teapot from a car boot sale:

This Japanese elephant, minus its lid, used to belong to my maternal  grandmother.

I started the teapot collection in my early twenties, when I was given an old teapot in the shape of a man wearing a green jacket and flat cap, his arms forming the spout and handle. I loved it, but it turned out to be worth enough money to pay my mortgage for a month at a very difficult time, and since I loved having a roof over my head even more than the teapot, it sadly had to be sold.

But there are one or two coffee pots in my collection too, notably this bright yellow one I bought, with matching mugs, brand new in the seventies. 

I loved the colour, the clever design and the lovely shape and I fully intended using them - but they proved to be totally impractical. The handles were hollow, which made both pot and mugs hard to clean, and even if you did manage to get your fingers through the handles of the mugs, the hot coffee burned them… That barrel shape was really difficult to drink out of, too. So they were relegated to the display shelf, to be admired but not used – and out they come after every house move, to brighten up a room.

I’ve always been a mellow yellow kind of person… Just not a tea drinker!

The Little Teashop of Lost and Found by Trisha Ashley

Alice Rose is a foundling, discovered on the Yorkshire moors above Haworth as a baby. Adopted but then later rejected again by a horrid step-mother, Alice struggles to find a place where she belongs. Only baking – the scent of cinnamon and citrus and the feel of butter and flour between her fingers – brings a comforting sense of home. 

So it seems natural that when she finally decides to return to Haworth, Alice turns to baking again, taking over a run-down little teashop and working to set up an afternoon tea emporium. 

Luckily she soon makes friends – including a Grecian god-like neighbour – who help her both set up home and try to solve the mystery of who she is. There are one or two last twists in the dark fairytale of Alice’s life to come . . . but can she find her happily ever after?

(All photos copyright: Trisha Ashley)

Monday, 19 June 2017

Downtime by Sophie Claire

We’re into exam season and my children are studying hard. 

I’m glad. I have a strong work ethic and I firmly believe that hard work pays off in the end. But recently I’ve found myself saying Take a break, have some downtime, and I’m trying to follow this advice in my own writing too.

Because the more books I write, the more I realise that writing isn’t only about getting words on the page (although that is crucial, obviously), meeting targets, or sitting at the computer for long hours. It’s also about getting to know your characters and spending time with them, and you don’t have to be at your desk to do this.

When I begin a new book I find the writing is stilted. My characters are still new to me, I’m not sure how the plot will unfold.

But as the weeks and months pass by and I become increasingly submerged in the story I’m creating, the characters come alive and begin to follow me around. They creep into my life and float around at the edges of my conscious thoughts. When I’m watching television I find myself wondering what would X do in that situation? How would he/she react? In the supermarket I spot a product and think; That’s it! That’s what reminds my heroine of her childhood!

I love it when this happens. When my characters become real to me and the tiny quirky details of their lives and personalities reveal themselves.

But I believe that you need two things for this to happen:

1) To have spent time with those characters already (ie. writing)

2) To relax and take time away from the computer, giving the mind room to wander.

Time off can be really productive. 

It’s when the subconscious gets to work, absorbing and mulling over all the information it’s collected, both real and fictional. It’s when – for me, at least – the best ideas bubble up to the surface and land in my head, as if out of nowhere. It may not feel like work, but I've found that reading and researching are as crucial as writing itself. 

And so is time off. Spending time with friends and family, or indulging in your favourite hobbies feeds the imagination. An emotional conversation with a friend or even a passing comment from a stranger can trigger a new idea, and with any luck, that might develop into a character or a plot for a new book.

So I’ve learned that prioritising time off is as important as working hard. Switching off is actually like switching on.

How about you? When do you have your best ideas?


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Ask Annie: Prologue - Or Not?

On the first Friday of each month, Novelista Annie Burrows will be drawing a question out of the jar where we've been putting all the questions about the writing process posed by readers –

This month, the question is:

Where in the story to actually start the novel.

The glib answer would be to quote Lewis Carroll “Begin at the beginning…go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

But, what is the beginning?  A pivotal moment in the character’s past, which forms their character, or sends them on their quest?  The moment they are born?

Beginnings are very important.  The opening section of your story is the bit which will be available to a reader in the “browse the book” section if it is an ebook, or what a shopper in a real life shop will read to help them decide whether to buy your book.

Or not.

So it has to grab them, and make them want to find out what comes next.  You have got to make them interested in your main character, and what they are feeling, and what is happening to them.  Or they will put the book down, and buy someone else’s.

And with so many new titles becoming available every month, they have a lot of someone else’s to choose from.

So, I would say, start your story at a pivotal moment.  If you write romance (as I do) it is a good idea to start when your hero and heroine first get together, or reach some kind of turning point, so that the focus is on the developing romance right from the start.  And makes it clear to the reader that the romance is going to be front and centre all the way through.

To give you some examples, I have started some of my books with:
The moment my heroine has to jump out of the way of the hero’s curricle, which he is driving far too fast down a country lane so that she ends up in a muddy ditch. (His Cinderella Bride)

The moment when the hero first asks the heroine’s friend to dance, and, when she refuses, turns with resignation to the heroine, setting her heart a-flutter. (Captain Fawley's Innocent Bride)

The moment when the hero and heroine wake up in bed, naked, with no idea how they got there together. (In Bed With the Duke)

And the one I have just submitted to my editor opens at the point where my heroine socks my hero on the jaw.

However, when planning out a book, I don’t start imagining the story at such a dramatic point.  The story which I’m figuring out at the moment, for example, began when I imagined the heroine in a situation which rocked her world, overturned everything she’d assumed about her life, and sent her spiralling into depression. I can’t start writing it from that point.  Because it will be months before she meets the hero, and their romance starts.  And it is the story of that romance I will be telling – NOT HER LIFE STORY.

So, I am going to have to tell the reader about that crisis in her life, in little bits and pieces, as she relates it to the hero.  They will both explain why they react as they do, and behave the way they do, to each other, in conversation, as the pair get to know each other.  In other words, the reader will get to know both of them while they are getting to know each other.

It would be much, much easier to write this story in chronological order, starting with the heroine’s crisis, taking her through her depression and the beginning of her recovery, and then relate how the romance with the hero completes the process of healing completely.  But would anyone want to read it?  Would the reader have the patience to wade through all that depression, and gloom, in the hope that a dashing hero would come into my heroine’s life and help her see that life is worth living?

And more to the point, would my editor?

So, these are a few questions you could ask yourself when deciding where to start your story.
What will hook the reader?
What will give them the best idea of what kind of story it’s going to be?
And, if like me, you have a pivotal moment in the character’s life which the reader really needs to know about – what is the best way to relay that information?  In one big chunk (which is sometimes referred to disparagingly as an info-dump)
Or, in little snippets, which will entice the reader to keep on turning the pages?  (And is much, much harder to write!)

And there you have it.

If you’d like to Ask Annie anything about writing, then please contact her via the comments section on this blog, or if you’d like to remain anonymous, you can contact her via her website:
 putting Ask Annie in the subject heading.

And if she feels qualified to answer your question, you might see it become the next month’s blog post!

Annie's latest release is "The Debutante's Daring Proposal."

You can read the opening section here

You can purchase it from Amazon, Harlequin, Mills & Boon or any of your favourite etailers.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Just Do It! by Sophie Claire

What stops you writing?

For me, it begins with distractions: internet ‘research’, Twitter, writing blog posts, eating biscuits.

Then there are the crows of doubt: I worry, where is this story going? Is it any good? Will I make my word count today? What if I can’t think of anything to write? There are days when the prospect of beginning and completing a 90,000 word novel is so daunting I want to hide behind the sofa!

But last November I took part in NaNoWriMo and was amazed that...

1) I did it!

2) How fast I managed to complete my daily word count.

At my peak I wrote 2,000 words in as little as 2½ hours. It made me realise how inefficiently I had been working before, and how much time I’d wasted worrying when I could have been writing.

I resolved to learn from this. I would keep up the good habits which NaNo had instigated, and write each morning before I did anything else. No Twitter or Internet or fun of any kind until I’d written.

And, curiously, I found that writing became fun again!

A few months on, I’m still doing this. Yes, the anxiety still lurks – that niggling voice which asks, what will I write next? – but I don’t allow it to hold me back. I sit down, I begin to write, and things start to happen, they take shape of their own accord. The story takes flight; the characters speak and move and think and come alive; one scene triggers another, and before I know it, that little number at the bottom of the page is in the tens of thousands.

The writing process is so difficult to describe to those who haven't experienced it for themselves. It’s unpredictable: ideas can take me by surprise, or hide themselves away when I'm desperately willing them to appear. When it goes well I get lost in the story, only to resurface hours later. It sometimes feels as if, when I’m writing, magic happens.

It’s not something I can control, but once I stop trying to, I realise that this is exactly what’s so powerful about it.
So why not embrace this powerful, uncontrollable process? After all, unpredictable and surprising are wonderful attributes for a story. And magic? Well, we could all do with some of that.

Try it! Just write.I hope you find it as rewarding as I did.

Sophie. x

Next month: I’ll be blogging about why you should stop writing and step away from your computer!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Ask Annie: Pitching Your Story

On the first Friday of each month, Novelista Annie Burrows will be drawing a question out of the jar where we've been putting all the questions about the writing process posed by readers –

This month, the question is...

What are the differences between pitches?
For your book?
Elevator pitch, etc.

Annie's reply:

Elevator pitch?  Oh, yes, I’ve heard of them.  That’s when you go to a conference, and stalk an agent until she gets into an elevator (or a lift as we say in the UK) then jump in after her and rapidly tell her all about your book and why you should buy it before she manages to escape at her floor.

I’ve never tried one of those.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if I attempted one, the agent would not only not want to buy my book, but may never look favourably on anything I attempted to submit in future, either.

But then I’ve never managed to get an agent, no matter what I submitted, or how.  Instead, I kept on submitting first chapters to Mills & Boon, until eventually I’d learned to write well enough for them to ask to read the rest of the story, and then, when I’d done the few revisions they requested, offered me a contract.

For subsequent books, I’ve had to submit synopses for any new stories I wanted to write for them, before I start work on the story itself.  Which is a form of “making a pitch.”

And I’ve got to admit, it’s a process that I dread.  How can I condense all the twists and turns that my protagonists will go through before they reach their happy ever after, in the two pages that seem to be what writing gurus tell us is what we should be sending?  How can I make the characters come to life in so short a time?  How, in short, can I persuade the editorial and marketing teams that I have an idea that will turn into a story that lots and lots of people will enjoy reading?

Most of the time, my lovely editors give me the benefit of the doubt after reading the brief outline, containing the protagonists motivation, the rough idea of how I’m going to get them together, tangle them up, then bring them through to their happy-ever-after.  I’ve only had one or two story proposals rejected when I’ve pitched them.

But last year, I pitched ideas for a full length story, and a novella, and the team came back with the offer of a 4 book contract.  Which was rather worrying, since I didn’t have ideas for another two stories.  Only vague scenarios, a couple of characters I thought would be interesting to work with, and one opening scene.  So I owned up to my editor at the time, and she volunteered to have a brainstorming session with me.  From that lunchtime session, we hammered out a series of three books with linked heroes, who are each on the trail of a criminal and come across their heroines in their pursuit of him (or her).  I then came home and wrote out a synopsis for each story, as well as the over arching story that runs through all three books, and a trilogy was born!

Book 1 will be out in August/September, under the title “The Major Meets His Match”, and I’m in the process of writing the second of the trilogy.

So…pitching books?  In my experience, it’s different for every book, every editor, and every contract I’ve had.

One thing I do know, though, I am far too diffident to ever pin an agent into the wall of an elevator until I’ve told them all about my latest brilliant idea!

If you can't wait until August to read the first of that trilogy Annie was telling us about, look out for "The Debutante's Daring Proposal" which will be out in the UK, US, and Australia in June.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Marathon or a Sprint? by Beth Francis

Every marathon runner who completes the course will have a medal, only a few who complete a book will get published, but for both the finish line marks a great achievement to be celebrated with friends.

I spent my birthday cheering my daughter on as she ran her first marathon. After months of training she was ready, but as she set off with the other 10,000 plus runners I felt sick with apprehension for her.

Why a marathon? Why not another half marathon, or a 10k?

For the first ten miles her times showed she was running steadily, then nearing half way she slowed, the doubts set in, she knew, in spite of all the training, she could never reach the finish.

But her friends had come to support her, the route was lined with spectators encouraging the runners on. She kept going. Her pace picked up. She began to count the miles down. Then there was the finish line, the cheering of the crowds, the medal.

Waiting at the finish line, I was thinking about the novel I was about to start writing. 

Why a novel? Why not another pocket novel or a short story?

I know I’ll start off enthusiastically; the characters are already in my head clamouring for their story to be told. Words will flow freely; until I’ve written around ten chapters and doubts will crowd in. The plot is too thin, the characters unconvincing, others have already written this sort of story better than I ever could.

This is where I need friends who understand to support me, to encourage me to plod on, keep typing through the sticky patch. Once those middle chapters are written, the pace picks up. I begin to count the chapters down. Until I can type The End.

Time for celebrations!

My daughter said, 'Never again!' I said, 'Never again!' But if you run, you go on running. If you write, you keep on writing.

Next time I watch my daughter run a marathon, I hope to be well on my way to finishing another novel.

Beth Francis writes short stories and pocket novels, and has twice been shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Award.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Northern Lights Writers' Conference 2017 by Sophie Claire

It's always difficult to report back on a conference because there's so much valuable information and advice to be gleaned from the speakers, and #NLWC2017 was no exception. The day's agenda was packed full with guest workshops and panel discussions with writers, agents and editors, as well as a keynote speech given by historical writer, Sarah Dunant.

Kicking off the day was a panel discussion on Genre Writing with Julie Crisp (agent & editor), John Jarrold (agent) and Cath Staincliffe (crime writer & scriptwriter). The discussion centred mostly around science ficiton, fantasy and crime (sadly, no romance/women's fiction), and I've listed below some of the nuggets of advice which came out of the discussion:

“Don’t write what’s current. Write what moves you.” (John Jarrold)

Be aware of the market but write what gets you in the gut.

Cath Staincliffe researched the crime genre after being told by an editor that the issues and themes in her sci-fi novel would lend themselves to crime. She read everything in the library’s crime section then put her own bent on the genre by setting her novels in her home town of Manchester, and featuring a single parent protagonist working as a private investigator (rather than the more commonly used detective or police professional).

“If it’s a good book it doesn’t matter what (genre) label is attached to it.” (Julie Crisp)

Readers are drawn to a writer’s voice.

What is the next big thing (in terms of genre)? – Nobody knows. Everyone’s hoping the Psychological Thriller will soon have run its course, but it still featured prominently at London Book Fair last week.


Later in the day Sarah Dunant gave an entertaining and thought-provoking keynote speech. Here are some of the highlights:

Sarah Dunant
Sarah considered the differences between literary fiction and all the other genres. Literary fiction’s first love is language. For Sarah, however, narrative drive is paramount. 
But this doesn’t mean she doesn’t love language too, and in her own work she uses the engine of the story to convey this as well as philosophical and political themes.

“Story is incredibly important.” It’s inbuilt in humans to tell stories. They help us make sense of life and our fears about the future.

Writing is hard, no matter how experienced or successful you are, and as a writer you need to constantly challenge yourself.
Sarah recounted how she had to pause from writing one book (60,000 words into it) and take a 5 month break because she felt it wasn’t working. However, the break gave her perspective and room to relax, and she was able to complete it later.

Sarah sometimes shows her critical voice out of the room (literally – she gets up, opens the door, ushers it out, then closes the door!) if she feels it’s not helping the writing process. Later, she allows it to re-enter, usually when she needs to analyse the shape or structure of the book.
Kate Feld with Sarah Dunant

Asked about plotting, she said; “If you plot too tightly there’s no room for the unexpected.”
Characters sometimes take over, but they can also lead you into dead ends. As a writer, you must strike a balance between the technical and imaginative, and know when to use which.

The Northern Lights Writers' Conference is held annually at the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, Manchester and you can find more information here.