Tuesday, 23 December 2014

How Grandma Invented Christmas (with holly, ivy and an awful lot of glitter ... ) by Louise Marley

In our family we owe most of our Christmas traditions to my grandmother, who absolutely loved Christmas, even though she had every reason to hate it. She grew up in extreme poverty and her husband was killed two weeks before Christmas, leaving her with a three-year-old daughter (my mother). Instead, she absolutely embraced Christmas and we still carry on many of the traditions she started.

I grew up in a rambling old house with my two younger brothers, my parents, my grandmother and several assorted dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and goldfish. My grandmother would make our Christmas decorations by disappearing off into the nearby woods and coming back with bags of all kinds of evergreen foliage, including the ubiquitous holly and ivy. (I think there’s a law against this now; there probably was then). She would outline the leaves in glue, and dunk them in glitter, and then use them to cover the mantelpieces and the tops of the pictures hanging on the wall. And, while infuriating my mother by leaving trails of glitter throughout the house, she would tell us stories about the old Norse gods and explain why we decorate our houses with evergreens at this time of year.

We always had a real Christmas tree, which had to be so big it wouldn’t fit in the sitting room; so we’d have to bend over the top, meaning the fairy spent most of Christmas hanging upside down. Every year my mother would try to find new ways to keep the tree alive, including spraying it with various ‘miracle’ concoctions. In the end, she settled for shoving the tree in a large bucket of water, but every time the dogs pushed past it, wagging their tails, a shower of pine needles would hit the floor and it would be bald by Boxing Day. All the Christmas baubles had been bought individually, some dated right back to the 1940s, and each had its own little story to tell.

My mother began the tradition of Christmas stockings mainly (she admitted to me later) so she’d get a little bit longer in bed on Christmas morning. She and my grandmother would make three Christmas puddings – one for Christmas Day, one for Boxing Day and one for New Year – but my mother refused to hide money inside them, because she thought it was unhygienic. My grandmother got around this by boiling the coins, wrapping them in paper and sneaking them onto our plates when my mother wasn’t looking. We were allowed to unwrap one present in the morning, before heading off to church, and the rest of the presents would be opened after listening to the Queen’s Speech.

I never questioned any of these traditions until I left home and had a family of my own. Obviously I couldn’t raid the local woods for holly so I bought it from the local garden centre. Sadly the berries were plastic and tied on. The mistletoe had been imported from France and was a strange yellow colour and, as soon as I got it home, all the berries dropped off. So that tradition didn’t last long! Because my mother had never let me near fairy lights in case I electrocuted myself (some of them were pre-war, so she probably had a point), I had no idea how to decorate a tree (I still don’t) but I did carry on the tradition of buying each Christmas bauble individually so it has a story to tell.

My husband just laughed when I suggested we make our children wait until after the Queen’s speech to open their presents, and we ended up with an artificial Christmas tree after realising my six-month-old daughter, who had just begun to crawl, would end up stabbing herself on the shrivelled-up pine needles. And no one likes Christmas pudding, so now we make mince pies instead.

So I guess that is what Christmas traditions are all about. You keep some, you adapt others and finally you create new ones to suit your own family.

Now, where’s that glitter …

Louise Marley is the author of Something Wicked - out now!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Traditions by Cheryl Lang

I don’t think we have any Christmas traditions in our family, probably because I was brought up in East Africa and Christmas was a vague event.

We often lived in remote places with no shops for hundreds of miles.  My parents, in hindsight, had to purchase any gifts either back in the UK on leave or during the long voyage out by sea. How they managed to gather a few toys together when we didn’t have UK leave, I’ll never know.  

We didn’t have any Christmas decorations, nor did we make any. I never knew what a Christmas tree was. We certainly didn’t have Christmas cards to give. My brother and I were told stories of Santa and of snow and ice and reindeer and sleighs, and I could imagine it. We did hang stockings up on Christmas Eve as we knew Father Christmas would visit us.  We never thought to question how.

Christmas Day was a little unusual. We’d wake up and find a stocking miraculously filled with toys. We never questioned where they came from. Toys were rare. We usually used our environment as our playground and were happy with that. There was no special Christmas Dinner with Turkey and the trimmings. We weren’t aware of the turkey tradition. We probably had a homemade curry. We also kept scrawny chickens that I looked after and were pets with names. Unknown to me, we ate one of them one year. When I found out I was devastated.  

Sometimes when we lived in a more populated area the children, home from boarding schools, were gathered together at the Country Club and we rehearsed a play that we performed to an appreciative audience. I don’t recall any Christmassy ones. One year we did ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin.’ Afterwards, I recall the shock of Father Christmas visiting with a sackful of toys and a named present for every child. 

Friday, 19 December 2014

Juggling Writing and Family Life by Anne Bennett

When Valerie-Anne wrote about the way she viewed her writing life, she likened it to a constant spin cycle and I know exactly how she feels, for it’s how I feel too. If I was to give a tip to aspiring writers, it would be quite presumptuous of me, for one of the first things I would advise them to do would be to concentrate on managing their time efficiently to give themselves space to write. Yet after nearly eighteen years in the business, and at present writing my 19th novel, that is the thing that I struggle with most. And like the majority of women this failing makes me feel guilty so much of the time.

My family is very important to me and I have four children. Three of them have married, bringing two son-in-laws and one daughter-in-law to join our family, and then produced children of their own so we also have five grandchildren. It often seems that one of them is having a crisis of one kind or another, or that they just need a hand for a while. If I can’t help them, I immediately feel guilty that I can’t, yet if I do and then my writing suffers, I feel guilty about that. 

We also go in for get-togethers as we live a fair distance from one another, so meeting up is usually amazing. I am of Irish descent and we party very well indeed and when the family are all together we always have fun.

It’s like keeping all the balls in the air trying to please everyone and strike some sort of balance and this year the balls were very top heavy on the family side as my youngest daughter got married in early August. So of course the spring was taken up with choosing the venue, the outfits and having fittings for my daughter’s dress, during which I was asked to look after Catrin, their little girl who was three at the time. The guest list had to be drawn up and invitations issued, the flowers organised (who would be having button holes etc), and hiring matching suits for the men. 

It was all very exciting and something I very much wanted to be part of, as any mother would, just as I wanted to be part of the hen weekend when we took over a youth hostel in a small Yorkshire town and had a ball.

After the wonderful wedding we looked after Catrin for a few days while her parents went away. 

However, Catrin hadn't been back long when my husband, Denis, developed a severe infection in his lungs. For months they were unable to clear it and I was extremely concerned as he had battled with lung cancer four years ago. As he could do so little for himself without becoming frighteningly breathless, writing took a back seat while I cared for him.

He is slightly recovered now and able to do more for himself and so now I am ready for Christmas, I would like to be back to the work-in-progress until the festive season is upon us. But again it will have to be shelved as my daughter-in-law’s mother died almost a fortnight ago, which is sad for me too for I knew her very well, and we will soon be travelling to Birmingham for the funeral.

My publisher knows all about the difficulties I have had this year and they have been very understanding and are publishing another of my backlist ahead of the new book to give me more time. This book, out in May, is called ‘Love Me Tender’ - Elvis eat your heart out!

Let’s hope 2015 is not quite so turbulent and I will be able to settle down to some serious writing.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Tips for Being a Domestic Writer-Goddess at Christmas

Feeling stressed? Tearing your hair out, wondering how on earth you’re going to get everything ready for Christmas without completely neglecting the novel? Well read on, because a few of the Novelistas have some tips for staying calm over the holiday period...

Annie Burrows: “My first tip is get online if you can and order your big Christmas shop from your favourite supermarket, and get them to deliver it to your home. I know some of them charge up to a fiver for this – but think of all the time you save queuing, and trying to find a parking space, and getting soaked (because it always seems to pour with rain when the only parking space is at the furthest corner of the supermarket car park). And yes, there may be one or two items that don't arrive, but then they wouldn't have been on the shelves if you'd gone to get them yourself, so you would still have had to go to the corner shop for the cranberry sauce/hovis/holly-sprigged loo rolls.

And it's Christmas - you deserve to treat yourself!”

And your second tip, Annie? “Don’t take on extra blogging!”

June Francis: “In the run-up to Christmas, I find it's best to give one day over to writing. I can concentrate on the characters and plot that way, and the next day think about and do Christmassy things.”

Valerie-Anne Baglietto: “I start all my shopping weeks in advance so there's not masses of last minute stuff. Then, once the kids are off school for the holidays, I accept that I won’t get any writing done so I make the most of enjoying family time instead. Of course, as I said in a previous post, the writing muscle is always at work, so even while I'm busy baking Christmas cookies with the kids (because I always seem to turn into Mary Berry at this time of year) I can't hold back the plot twists and ideas that insist on swirling through my head. So my final tip: ALWAYS keep a notebook and pen handy... on the kitchen counter, by the stash of nuts on the sideboard that never seem to get shelled, or even under the Christmas tree."

Louise Marley: "My advice would be to not even try! Make sure all your deadlines have been met and then give yourself over to organising Christmas. If you try to do everything you'll be the one going crackers. Enjoy spending time with your family and keep a notebook handy to write down any ideas. Somewhere round about 3.00 pm on Christmas Day you'll find the kids have disappeared to play with their new toys and everyone else has nodded off. You now have the choice between the washing up or turning those ideas into a story. Don't disappoint me!"

Johanna Grassick: “Like Valerie-Anne, I can’t get much done once everyone’s home, so I suggest you regard it as time for filling the well of creativity. Watch lots of films, read lots of books, spend time catching up with friends and family – it’s all ‘research’ for plots and characters! If you're really brave, you could try getting up early and getting an hour's work in while everyone else is in bed. It's better than nothing and it keeps the book ticking over in your mind.”

Happy Christmas from the Novelistas!

Friday, 12 December 2014

My Favourite Christmas Tradition by Sophie Claire

I remember attending a marriage preparation course once where the facilitator said: “You’re weeks away from getting married, knee-deep in organising photos and cake and table decorations. Well, today we’re going to put all that to one side and focus on what marriage is really about.”

There was an audible sigh of relief around the room, and that feeling is what I get when, on Christmas Eve, we meet our good friends and head for the hills. 

Our two families go for a long walk usually in the Pennines, occasionally in the snow, and then back home for soup and bread. Afterwards, we sit around chatting over cups of tea while the children hang out.

It’s deliberately simple, and that’s what I love about it. Time out from preparing gifts and food, from fretting over decorations and frippery. Just family and friendship.

And isn’t that what this time of year should be about?

Monday, 8 December 2014

A Satsuma and a Sugar Mouse by Trisha Ashley


When I was a little girl I always knew that at the bottom of my stocking would be a delicious-smelling, loose-skinned Satsuma, a handful of nuts (why?  I was hardly likely to be able to crack them with my teeth!) and a sugar mouse.

I’m sure the sugar mice for the Rhymer’s annual Mouse Hunt in Every Woman for Herself were made by Em the traditional way, using uncooked egg white for the fondant, but I’ve devised this simple recipe using only icing sugar and tinned evaporated milk.  You can add a little liquid glycerine for a slightly softer fondant. I just form my mice by hand, but you can get plastic and silicone moulds for them, too.

Trisha Ashley's Sugar Mice

6oz/175g icing sugar
A tin of evaporated milk
Sugar balls for the eyes
Thin string for the tails
Food colouring, if desired
Half a teaspoon of glycerine (optional)

Put the icing sugar into a bowl and slowly add the evaporated milk a teaspoonful at a time until you can form a fondant dough.  If you overdo the milk, just add more sugar till you get the right consistency.
At this stage, you can divide up the dough and add a tiny drop of food colour to each batch, kneading in well. I like to leave half my mice white and colour the rest pink, but one year I made green peppermint mice.
On a board sprinkled with icing sugar, form the fondant into small pear shapes, pinching one end into a pointy nose and two rounded ears. Press in little silver sugar balls for eyes. 
For a traditional tail, pierce the back of the mouse with a skewer and then push in the end of a short piece of thin string. (Caution: do not eat the string unless you are seriously short of roughage.)

Allow to dry and harden, then store in a box or tin lined with greaseproof paper till needed. 

Every Woman for Herself is available from: Amazon UK and Amazon US

Thursday, 4 December 2014

I is for...Internet by Annie Burrows

On the first Friday of the month, Novelista Annie Burrows shares snippets from her writing life.  In alphabetical order.  This month she's reached the letter I

When I first started writing, I used a small word processor which I got second hand.  I used floppy disks (which regularly got corrupted) to save my work.  And when I wanted to do any research I went to my local library.

I used to spend hours browsing around the stacks, desperately searching for that one nugget of information I needed, and getting pretty frustrated in the process.  I never did find a book that could tell me where troops used to embark during the Peninsular War, or how often injured officers got sent home - though there were half a dozen biographies of Lord Wellington.

Eventually I realized I was going to have to cut back on the time I spent doing this sort of research, and concentrate on writing the story, or I was never going to get anywhere.  So - I couldn't find out where the troops disembarked from - did I really need to put it in my story?  Couldn't my heroine just receive a letter saying that her brother/uncle/sweetheart had sailed?

I still spent a lot of time going through second-hand bookshops, hoping to find that one book which would have the specific bit of information I wanted, and in the process learning all sorts of things that might come in useful one day (and subsequently have).

The next computer I bought (again, second hand so it was practically on its last legs) had a button I could press which would connect me to the internet.  Which opened up a whole new world of research possibilities.  Whatever I wanted to know about, you could bet someone had written an article (or blog, as online articles are known - mad, eh?) about it.

And now came a whole new form of time-wasting.  Instead of getting on a bus and going into town, where I would spend hours finding out virtually nothing useful, I could now waste an entire morning finding out a whole lot more than I ever actually needed to know.   Because every article (sorry, blog) seemed to have a link to another blog about something connected to the topic, which looked absolutely fascinating.   So I may have started out wanting to find what kind of rifle a soldier would have carried in 1815, and instead found a page which told me all about the parlour games people would have played during Christmas of 1814, and then stumbled upon all the information I'd wanted to find out about troop movements in the Peninsula three books ago!

I now regularly use one site to find colourful phrases for my characters to use, another to make sure that the language I put into my character's mouths was actually in use at the time they were alive, and another when I want to describe a Regency dance.
So - internet - good for research?  Yes, in that it's easier to find out exactly what I want to know.
However, I now have to be careful that I don't just end up wandering through the stacks of knowledge available to me from my own armchair, instead of getting on with the story.

And don't get me started on facebook.  Yes, it's a great way to keep in touch with readers and friends.  But do I really need to watch that video of a dog going berserk in obedience school?  Again?

Or post a picture of myself in the style of a French impressionist?

To find out more about how Annie wastes her time, you can find her on facebook.

Her latest book, a Regency romance, is "Lord Havelock's List" and can be purchased from Amazon UK

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Writing Life ... a Constant Spin Cycle! by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

Valerie-Anne Baglietto continues the new series on successfully juggling writing and a busy life (or failing, as the case may be)... 

When I was asked to come up with a blog post about juggling writing with a hectic life, I admit I was daunted. So many other writers have produced amusing, sparkling and informative posts on the subject, I wasn’t sure what more I could add. So I went away (well, I sat down in my favourite armchair with a coffee) and thought long and hard about it and realised all I could offer was absolute, hand-on-heart, painful honesty. Which might make me unpopular, but then I do suffer from foot-in-mouth syndrome, so I hope I’ll be let off.

I’ve been writing professionally for around twenty years - since circumstances led me to give up working as a graphic designer - earning enough from writing to be able to sustain my handbag habit. I’ve mutated from a single twenty-something living with my parents into a menopausal* housewife and mum of three (*not quite there yet, but it covers a lot of excuses for my general behaviour). I appreciate I’ve been lucky. Without a Day Job outside the home, I’ve had time to write indulgently for hours on end, happy and free from guilt, right?


The arch nemesis in a writer’s life. Well, in mine, at least. And it’s a two-edged sword. Firstly, regret for those times I’m so obsessed with my story and my characters that I can’t focus on my family – an uncomfortable nagging feeling that I’m failing them somehow. Secondly, guilt that I ought to be writing when I’m busy keeping the household functioning as it should.

I don’t know if this all stems from the post natal depression that blanketed me when my eldest was born. I was working to contractual deadlines back then. It all got too much, but even with the attached remorse that my baby was growing up fast and I couldn’t savour it, writing became my therapy. I managed four novels – straightforward romcoms – before I had my third child. I allowed motherhood to take over my life completely at that point because a) post natal depression hit again and I felt swamped, b) I was drained of ideas I felt passionate about, and c) my publishers didn’t want such large gaps between books.

Writing v. Motherhood

A couple of years on... 

I began to experiment with children’s stories. To cut a long story short, they evolved into contemporary adult fairy tales, and suddenly, blissfully, my passion for writing was reignited. So inevitably the guilt returned. The guilt that probably haunts every working parent who wants to work/needs to work/strives to find that perfect but ever-shifting balance between career and family.

The solution was simple if I wanted to write professionally without turning into an emotional wreck. I had to work for myself. I had to become an Indie. My own deadlines, my own rules, my own failures and successes, but with some much-needed help along the way. My first adult fairy tale Once Upon A Winter reached #1 in both the Fairy Tale and Contemporary Fantasy Charts on Amazon UK. I was elated, but I wasn’t complacent. Every Novelistas Ink member will tell you, it’s an uphill struggle, the proverbial treadmill. Achieving success can be easy in comparison to sustaining it.

Do you recognise yourself in any of this?

If it helps to know that you’re not alone and the writing life is *cliché alert* a journey not a destination, then I’m glad and relieved. I would have liked to produce a list of useful tips, as the other Novelistas will so eloquently do, but I failed miserably. There’s enough pressure out there for writers without putting more on ourselves. There isn’t one single approach to how we juggle work and life, because we’re all different. So this is me. And if it’s a little bit like you, then it’s nice to know we share a few traits.

Take NaNoWriMo, for instance... 

I just can’t do it. I once wrote 90k in six weeks, but that was another incarnation of my writing self, long before I had real commitments. I was up till three or four a.m., in Deep Writing Mode. Caffeinated. Hyper. Driven. Consumed. These days, the thought of trying to write so much in so little time turns me off. I’m not a bash-out-a-first-draft-fast person any more. I edit as I go along, so by the time I get to the end it’s more of a second draft. At this time of year, though, it’s easy to feel like an alien if you didn't take part in the NaNoWriMo challenge. For a novice writer, you might feel there’s something wrong with you if you didn't, or if you tried and failed, or if you just didn't fancy it. But there’s nothing wrong with you. Some people thrive and others falter; if you’re in the latter group, whatever you do, don’t get discouraged. Quite probably, it just wasn’t for you. It worries me a little that potentially good writers might feel inadequate if they don’t complete the task. It’s OK to take part, just as it’s OK to abstain.

If only...
I’m also not a big fan of the school of thought that dictates a writer can only call themselves a writer if they force themselves to produce something every day, whether it’s good or bad. I get depressed doing that, although I concede it’s probably useful if you’re working to a tight time-frame. But I can’t rest until I shape my words into something I’m proud of, and quite often there’s no space for such crazy perfection in every single busy day. I can’t stay hunched over my laptop till one o’clock regularly without something suffering; my health, usually. Anyway, the ‘writing muscle’ isn’t something you can only exercise while sitting at your desk. It’s constantly at work; the heartbeat of your subconscious, pumping ideas through your head, absorbing new ones from every experience. It can be incredibly liberating to remember that. A writer’s mind is never off duty, even if it feels as if it is. How can it be, when even your dreams at night can spew up ideas?

Then there are times in my life when I need to ruthlessly detach my mind from my WIP for an extended period, and I don’t allow myself to go near the world of the story except to jot down random notes in longhand. If I don’t maintain such a degree of separation I can’t function (to my satisfaction) doing whatever else life demands of me. This year, for example, I hardly wrote anything for weeks while I tried to get my house in order in preparation for some building work. Junk and memories accumulate, and I’m something of a hoarder; it’s difficult for me to let go. I knew that if I allowed myself to go near my story, I would weaken to the temptation, and never tackle the hard stuff reality was demanding of me.

On a smaller scale, and more frequently, it’s the same with family life; those days when I can’t succumb to my creative self because subsequently I’d be a crappy wife and mum. Some people can juggle lots of balls brilliantly, sadly I’m not one of them. I’m in awe of those who can, but I’m just not organised enough. Admittedly I’ve got the luxury of setting my own deadlines, but it’s worrying to think that many writers can’t just switch off when they might need to.

So, to recap - the message I’m trying to convey is that you have to find what suits YOU. 


Be flexible.


Don’t get stressed over other writers’ habits; although by all means read about them, take advice, share tips.

In the end, though, you have to work to develop your own pattern, because there isn’t a right or a wrong method. And habits will be different at various points in your career. For instance, one day I wouldn’t mind working with a traditional publisher again (big or small), at least partially, but at the moment I need to be flexible enough to drop everything if my young family needs me.

So, finally (yes, this is the last paragraph, yay!) if you’ve read this far, thank you, and please remember one thing even if you forget everything else about this post – as writers we’re ALL mad and sane, each in our own wonderful, unique way. Let’s celebrate our differences, admit to them, learn from them and ultimately grow to respect them.

Valerie-Anne's latest release is the full-length novel FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY.

Mystery and magic in the sleepy Cheshire village of Fools Castle, where a lively young fairy-godmother who normally gets things very, very right, suddenly starts getting them disastrously wrong.

A modern, grown-up fairy tale perfect for fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Cecelia Ahern.

Amazon US - view here
Amazon UK - view here

Twitter: @VABaglietto
Facebook: Valerie-Anne Baglietto Author

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Where I Write by Johanna Grassick

Many years ago when I started writing, I had a cupboard in a dark corner of the dining room with a slide-out shelf and a laptop which could be put away when I wasn’t working. Now, however, I’m lucky enough to have a room of my own.

It’s big (well, I think so) and there’s room for lots of books (good job, those top three shelves are my To Be Read pile), and it’s very pink (I live in a house full of boys so this is the only room where I can get away with it). 

The only downside is that because it’s my room, no one minds if it gets messy – and it does get very messy! I’m an old-fashioned girl and, despite sitting in front of the computer, I still handwrite a lot – to draft a scene, to edit a printed page, or to jot down notes as inspiration strikes. This means there are usually papers and notebooks strewn everywhere (usually - I tidied for this photo!), and those post-its you can see on the desk are individual scenes for the book I’m currently working on.

From my desk I have a beautiful view of the garden, and I’m sometimes distracted by squirrels chasing each other around the oak tree, foxes wandering through, or, this summer, a family of doves which nested in the tree outside my window.

The important thing, however, is that they’re not too distracting. Because when I write I retreat into my characters’ heads and become absorbed in their world. 

Any interruptions and that focus is lost, as I discovered a couple of years ago when we had builders in. To get away from the noise and the dust I tried working in cafés, as so many writers successfully do, but I found that other people’s conversations were just too loud and too interesting! And I can’t work with music on to drown the noise because, for me, a song is a story in itself, even if it doesn’t have any lyrics. In the end I resorted to driving round the corner and writing with a notebook in my car. 

And now, having my own space and solitude is a luxury I truly appreciate.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Where I Write by Louise Marley

As I found out last month, I don’t need a room of my own in which to write. I can write anywhere. It doesn’t mean I have to like it though! I love having my own study – and it is definitely a study – ‘office’ sounds far too much like work. Writing can be very hard work but it’s also the best job in the world. Make stuff up for a living? What’s not to love?

So, welcome to my world! I’ve not written much here yet, as I’ve been too busy moving house. I don’t close the door, unless the writing is going badly. I’m incredibly nosy and I like to know what is going on elsewhere in the house. Having said that, I always listen to music while I work, to drown out background noise. I create playlists to help me get into the right (write?) frame of mind and I also have mood boards on Pinterest – but you can read more about my actual writing process here.

I write on a laptop. It enables me to work anywhere. I can touch-type as fast as I can talk – and believe me, I can talk very fast. If pushed, I can also write using paper and pen, although my handwriting is appalling – even I have trouble reading it back.

The box on the left of my desk contains recent issues of trade magazines – Writing Magazine, The Author, Romance Matters and The Bookseller. The red box is my ‘pending’ tray. The action figure perched on the edge of the pending tray is Reno, my good luck charm. Reno is a character from a video game called Final Fantasy but he’s also a character in one of my favourite books, Fire and Ice by Anne Stuart. I won him in one of her competitions.

I am a terrible hoarder and hate throwing anything away. I collect mugs, and when they get broken I reuse them to store my pens. The white one with the crest on it is from Hampshire Constabulary, where I used to work as a civilian admin officer – this is why my characters are often police officers.

Unfortunately I don’t have room in my study for all my books – they live in plastic crates elsewhere in the house. This is probably a good thing; I’m the kind of person who can’t be trusted to be left alone with a book. The only books on my study shelves are there for reference.

I also rely heavily on my Kindle Fire for work. I edit on it when I’m out and about, and I use it for catching up with emails, social networking and blogging. It also contains over 1,000 books. I know because I counted them – and yes, I have read most of them! So if I should suddenly go quiet, I’m sure you’ll be able to guess what I’m up to …

Read More:

Monday, 17 November 2014

5 Top Tips for Juggling Writing with a Busy Life by Juliet Greenwood

Though some of the Novelistas write full time, we all have first-hand experience of juggling writing with work, family and other commitments. At a time of year when things can get frenetic, we thought we'd share some of our tips to ensure writing doesn't get lost in the chaos. First up is Juliet:

1. Simplify and organise (I’m still working on this one!)

The essential ingredients for writing are time and headspace. I’ve found the trick is to organise before I start actually writing a book so that I have as little to think about as is possible with a day job and a busy life.

Organise your writing time. Find a time of day that suits you and set yourself an amount of time or a word count each day. Because writing is an ‘invisible’ activity it can easily be pushed aside. Some writers get up at 5am, some start at midnight. Find your slot and stick to it. (But don’t beat yourself up if you miss it now and again.)

Simplify housework. Preferably don’t do it at all. A writer’s house that is spotless is a writer who is not writing! But, being realistic, stick to the loo and bits that visitors will see. You can have a blast of cleaning and catch up between drafts. And anyone who objects can always do it themselves. Housework is not rocket science.

Organise meals. The last thing you want to do when you’ve left your heroine in a fight to the death with wolves, or tied to a railway track, is to start thinking about how to make a meal. I try to have a day when I plan the meals for the week. I cook batches of soups and stews (while plotting, see 2) that can have bits added to them, and freeze them. And anyone who objects can always be pointed in the direction of the kitchen or the local take-away.

2. You don’t have to be writing to be writing.

Like most writers, I feel guilty if I’m not actually bashing the keys, but in reality much of writing a novel is working it out in your head, and this can be done any time, any place. I tend to work out the details of the next chapter, or a knotty plot twist, while walking the dog, gardening, the commute to work, queuing in a supermarket, cooking, or watching TV.

Thinking time

3. Little and often is better than none at all

You don’t have to write 5000 words a day. 500 is fine. The main thing is to try and do a little each day. Don’t worry if it’s rubbish. Books go through so many drafts you’ll have time to sort it – and you might find when you read it back it’s really rather brilliant. The main point is to keep the book in your head. To stay in its world and in love with the characters. That’s the way to keep the faith through the long, hard process of writing and rewriting that goes into creating a novel.

4. Switch off.

Don’t burn yourself out. Take days off. Get out in the sun. Don't feel guilty watching ‘Strictly’. Besides, everything you do can be classed as research…

5. Enjoy! 

(Or else what’s the point?)

Friday, 14 November 2014

Where I Write by Beth Francis

Once upon a time…

Over fifty years ago, my first short story was published in the Brownie Magazine. I’d scribbled it in a lined notebook, and typed it on a borrowed typewriter on the living room table, surrounded by my bemused and skeptical family.
Years later, married with young children, I graduated to a typewriter of my own, electric it was, I loved it, but I still wrote my stories on the living room table, surrounded by my family.
            Now I have my own computer, my own room and my own desk.

The characters I write about are still created wherever I happen to be: 

On buses, trains, cafés anywhere where people strike up impromptu conversations and tell amazing stories.
At the swimming pool, swimming length after length, ideal for thinking, no phone calls, no texts.
In the garden, my characters often end up working in their gardens and I’m currently writing a Pocket Novel set on an allotment.
Walking along the coast, the inspiration for Safe Harbour came when I was watching a yacht sailing into a bay.

The list is endless, but when the real work starts, getting those ideas from my head into print, I return to my desk.

The ever-changing view from the window can have me staring at the mountains instead of the computer, but to be honest, after years of writing surrounded by distractions, I’ve no excuse not to simply get on with it!

Except…this morning the mountains are covered with a layer of sparkling white snow, so beautiful it would be a crime not to pause for a while...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Where I Write by Juliet Greenwood

The place where I write is my crog loft.

If you don’t happen to live in a traditional quarryman’s cottage halfway up a Welsh mountain, I should explain that a crog loft is a tiny room tucked under the eves where the children would have been packed off to sleep. Fortunately mine has been extended at some point, plus I’m short, so I can just about stand up in it, and there’s a window looking over my garden with some pretty glorious sunsets over Anglesey.

Originally you’d have clambered up a ladder. I’ve now got stairs, but they are very steep and not for the faint hearted. As the rest of the cottage is all on the ground floor, it means that my little crog loft is a world into itself. I have my computer, shelves of files and a few books, and pictures and bits of research and information pinned onto the wooden cladding (necessary insulation!) of the walls. I love it. It means I can leave my work behind up there when I go back down into the living part of the house. There’s usually a cat sitting on my lap, and Phoebe the dog has her bed in one corner (when not commandeered by the cat, that is), and I work each morning to her gentle post-dog-walk snores.

The windowsill is very wide (a legacy of thick stone walls) so Phoebe also can sit there and supervise proceedings, with half an eye on the sheep in the fields around us and any goings-on in the garden next door. Plus she can watch for any visitors coming up my path and rush down to greet them through the cat flap.  
Juliet's garden
I love my little crog loft. It’s where my imagination is free to roam, and when I leave I can leave it just as it is, so my characters are there, waiting for me when I return. My thinking time is when I’m in my garden, or dog walking, but I always return to my crog loft to focus the mind and get on with the real business of the day. It is, without doubt, a room of my own.

Friday, 7 November 2014

H is for heroes

Novelista Annie Burrows continues her alphabetical meander through her life as a writer.  This month she's reached the letter H, which of course stands for heroes...
I've recently handed in a book that is going to be part two of a historical trilogy.  The three books in the series deal with the loves of three officers in the same regiment, who fight at the battle of Waterloo.  And about the first thing my co-continuity authors wanted to know about my episode was "What does your hero look like?"

Sarah Mallory and Louise Allen had already put pictures in our joint files of actors who'd inspired them when it came to imagining their heroes.

Sarah Mallory chose Peter O'Toole when he was  Lawrence of Arabia for the Colonel of our fictitious regiment.

 Louise Allen picked Sean Bean for her Major Flint.

My problem was that although I had a clear image in my head of my own hero, I hadn't based him on an actor.  I just can't do that.  Because for me, what the hero is like inside, as a person, is far more important than what he looks like.  I always start with the personality, and work outward.  And if I start picturing a specific actor when I write about my hero, I'm always worried that the actor's personality traits might sneak in.

However, Sarah and Louise - who write much faster than me - were already writing scenes where my hero would have to stride across their pages, and really, really wanted to know what my hero looked like.

Fortunately (for them!) about that time I found an image of Tom Hiddleston in a cravat, from when he'd been playing a nineteenth century gentleman.  That was about the nearest I could come to explaining what my hero would look like.  And it wasn't about his features.  It was about the cleverness you could see in his features.  The potential for wickedness beneath the charming smile.

Posting an image of Tom certainly inspired their imaginations.  Whenever they sent me a scene in which he appeared in one of their books, they had my Artillery Major off to a "T".  He was a flirt.  A charmer.  And devilishly good-looking.

Thinking about Tom Hiddleston kept them happy for a while.  
( Well, he seems to make a lot of ladies happy.)

Until they wanted to know what his name was.  I had to explain that he hadn't told me yet.  In my defence, I explained that I was only on about chapter 3 by then, and he was only just waking up after having sustained a head injury.  He was confused, and concussed, and couldn't everyone just call him "Sir."

I can't remember exactly when, during the course of the emails pinging back and forth as we created our fictional regiment, we started referring to him as Tom.  And then, when I couldn't come up with a surname, Louise Allen coined the nickname Tom Cat, which really, really suited him.
This kind of procedure is how it usually goes for me when naming my heroes.  I know that some authors can't start writing their heroes until they have a name, but I find that mine don't tell me what it is until I have got to know them pretty well.  My secondary characters had to speak of one of my heroes as Lord Rakey Rakerson well into my second draft of his adventure!

And it's the same with the book I am currently writing.  I know quite a lot about my hero's childhood, and naval career.  At the time he meets my heroine, he's reached the rank of Captain.  He is also an Earl to an almost bankrupt Scottish estate.  So naturally, the heroine has been having to call him Captain Lord Scotsman.

But only a few days ago, his sister (who is a minor character in the story) bounced up to him calling him Alec.  Which is short for Alexander.  And since I knew her name was Lizzie Dunbar (because it's always much, much easier to name minor characters) that meant his family name had to be Dunbar too.  Which is just right, and sums him up perfectly.  Alec has a sort of cautious ring to it, somehow.  He is a solid, dependable sort of chap.  He is also the Earl of Auchentay (a Scottish area I invented several books ago, which has come in very handy)
And yes, I have the same slow process when it comes to naming my heroines.  I think it is because it is so important that they get a name that really, really conjures up an aspect of their character - something that will help them to come to life on the page.  I can't just pluck any old name out of a baby book, or something similar.  The name has to have a resonance.  Tom was a good name for my military hero - there's nothing stuffy about a Tom, is there?  And you can imagine a Tom being brave on the battlefield, insubordinate to his officers, and lethal with the ladies.  And once we started calling him Tom Cat, well...  

If you'd like to read more about Lord Rakey Rakerson, well, this is the book he became the hero of. (available at Amazon UK and Amazon.com  )

You'll have to wait until next Christmas to read about Captain Lord Scotsman! 

And if you should want to know about any of Annie's other books, there's more information on her website

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Where I Write by Cheryl Lang

This is my space. My office, to make it sound formal.  It’s painted a soft green that I love. I have a comfortable green swivel chair to sit on and I’m surrounded by pictures and photos I’ve taken in various countries. When I’m stuck for inspiration I just gaze at the pictures and I can almost feel the heat. (In reality, the heating probably needs turning down.) 

At the top are a couple of small baskets for holding millions of ballpoint pens, spare cartridges and other bits and pieces collected over time. I tend to use my laptop more than the PC these days as the PC is rather slow. I often take it out to the conservatory and work there. I can watch the birds, in idle moments and am easily distracted to  track planes on the computer. I find it fascinating to know where they are all going or returning from. 

In my ‘office’ I play CDs because it sometimes helps fix the mood I’m trying to create. I need to get up and walk about every now and then, so that often calls for my purple cafetiere to be filled. Sometimes, if things aren’t flowing I’ll go outside and do some gardening. It sometimes works.

I also have a tall book shelf which is packed with books on how to plot, or write a best seller, (I’ll let you know when that happens!) dictionaries, maps, guides to places, and books I’ve particularly liked. Those three folders in the middle are the print-outs of novels. One, The Sun in her Hair, is currently short-listed in The Write Time competition. Another is a work in progress and the third is one I need to revisit. I tend to keep a hard copy as well as keeping copies on memory sticks and on clouds. 

The other folders further down are my stamp collection. Unusual, maybe, but I started collecting when I was seven and every so often I feel compelled to add more.

Thanks Cheryl, and best of luck with the competition!