Monday, 24 November 2014

I Went to the RNA Winter Party - Well Done Me!

I did something very brave, last Wednesday - something that took me out of my comfort zone. So what did I do, I hear you ask - Did I skydive from 30,000 feet? Did I walk through a field of bulls? Did I sing karaoke in my local pub?

No, It was none of these things. What I did was to go to a party. Not any old party, but the RNA Winter Party. Why was this brave? Let me make you a list.

  • I don't like parties
  • I don't like talking for long periods (I like dancing)
  • I don't like London
  • I don't like tube trains
  • I've nothing to wear

Why then did I decide to do it? Well, it all started with a pair of shoes - not my shoes, I'd like to point out, but a lovely pair that writer Sue Moorcroft had talked about on Facebook.

"I love them but where would I ever wear shoes like that?" I asked.
"To the RNA Winter Party," she replied.
"But I'm not a member."
"You don't have to be."
"But I don't write romantic novels!"
"No, but you write romance."

And the seed was sown. I couldn't let the chance to meet up with so many on-line friends pass me by, so I made up my mind to go.

Luckily, RNA member Deirdre Palmer (from The Write Romantics) said I could go with her. She also said we could go by bus from Victoria station which eliminated problem four so I moved swiftly on to problem five - what to wear. I have three dresses. I don't wear them very often and when I tried them on one was tight, one was very tight and the third one is best not spoken of. I opted for the first and hoped I could get away with standing with my back against a wall. I then made the mistake of deciding it would be a great idea to wear these shoes for three hours!

Once I'd decided on my outfit, other doubts started to surface. What was I going to talk about for three hours? What if people found me boring? What if I caught them staring over my shoulder in the hope that someone else more interesting had come in? What if they asked me to name ten romantic novels starting with the letter J? The answer was clear - I would have to find a pillar to stand behind.

... only nobody told me there weren't any!

So, what did I think of my first RNA party? 

To begin with, I felt like I was participating in some sort of party game. Everyone wandered round the room looking at each others stomachs (where the name badges round our neck seemed to hang) and when the music stopped we talked to the person nearest to us. Well, all right, I exaggerate, but you get the idea. When you have a room full of people you are dying to meet, most of whom you have only ever seen in a small Facebook picture and you have no glasses with you, it can all get a bit excitable. Speed dating would seem a doddle in comparison!

And the verdict... I had a great time!

I got people mixed up, I called others by the wrong name, I asked well-known people what they did and I put my foot in it a few times (and then got a blister on it).

But as well as this, I talked to some lovely, interesting people, the time went by in a flash and I came away having made many new friends (here I am with Talli Roland, Natalie Kleinman and Elaine Roberts.

So, would I go again? Absolutely!

Monday, 17 November 2014

In Praise of National Short Story Week

What is National Short Story Week? Basically, it is an annual awareness event, whose aim is to focus the attentions of the public and the media on the short story and short story writers, publishers and events. Find out more about it here.

The short story is considered by some to be the poor relation of the novel but this couldn't be further from the truth and this week is a good time for the myth to be dispelled. There are wonderful anthologies and collections of short stories around, written by known and lesser known authors, and what better time than National Short Story Week to read some of them or add them to your reading list.

So, what have I been doing for National Short Story week?

This month, I was very excited to publish my own collection Room in Your Heart (romantic short stories previously published in The People's Friend magazine).

First, I had my launch party which, if you couldn't attend, you can read about here

Then, I wrote an article in Writing Magazine about my experiences of putting together my collection for kindle.

Initially, I was only going to bring the story collection out as an e-book but was persuaded to publish it as a paperback as well. I am so glad I did as my collection can now be read by everyone - with or without an e-reader.

Having Room in Your Heart as a paperback has meant that I was able to show the collection to my lovely local bookstore: The Steyning Bookshop. It's a fabulous place to browse and buy books and I was thrilled when the owner asked if she might have a few for her display for short story week - as a self-published author, this is a great honour.

The fabulous Cobblestone Tea House in my village, (where I meet with my friend Tracy once a month for teacakes and writerly chat) and where the seed was sown for the collection, has been really supportive too. They were delighted to promote Room in Your Heart by having my book on show and bookmarks for visitors to take home. I can't thank these local businesses enough.

Having a paperback has also meant I could sell books to members of my local choir and dance groups (I felt very proud when I was asked to sign them). The support I have received from local people has been overwhelming and I am very grateful.

I don't want to finish this post without mentioning the short story magazines. Without them, I would not be doing what I love best - writing short stories! There are fewer now than there used to be but those that still print short stories are much loved by their readers.

Room in Your Heart is a collection of my People's Friend romances and one of my book reviewers said, '... after enjoying them all so much I think that this is one magazine that I really should start reading.' which says it all! You can read her full 5* review here.

But enough about me. I want to share with you two wonderful anthologies which I am sure you'll love:

Fugue a collection of contemporary short stories which includes a story by my good friend Tracy Fells and
Winter Tales an anthology of uplifting stories, by the Write Romantics, with proceeds going to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

There are many more wonderful short story collections which have been written by my writing friends and I would love to name them all but won't as I would hate to leave someone out. What I will do though is leave you with this thought: whatever your reading tastes, find some time to read a short story this week - I'm sure you won't be disappointed!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Why I said No No to NanoWriMo

For anyone who stumbles upon my blog and doesn't know what NaNoWriMo is, here is a short description taken from the horse's mouth:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. 

'On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.'

I thought fleetingly about a novel. In fact, I fleetingly think about my novel every day. I started it in the summer... it reached three chapters and then stopped. It stopped because I was too busy wring magazine stories, my serial, a Writing Magazine article and putting together my short story collection, Room in your Heart.

You would think that NaNoWriMo would be perfect for me then - the push I needed to get up earlier and go to bed later in order to write the novel alongside everything else. Why then did I turn away from the yearly event that could have seen its completion? I considered it - I really did, so why eventually say, "NoNo" to NaNo?

It was simple really. When I taught English to my year sixes (could it really be nearly four years ago?) I would often get them to highlight key words in a text or on the questions of test papers. I did the same thing. Let's look again at the definition above. The words that stand out for me are highlighted: Fun and seat-of-your-pants.

I'll look at 'fun' first. I am lucky that I don't have a 'proper job'. I can be flexible when I write and try and balance my writing with other things (dog walking, my choir, Zumba and FitSteps and my dance classes) not forgetting grandma duties! I love my writing time simply because it is not forced on me. I realised that if I gave up some of the things that balance my writing life (even if only for a month) I would be a very sad writer indeed, probably bored out of my mind and with chronic back ache. Not a lot of fun in any of that!

When I looked at my calendar, I also saw that the first weekend of NaNo, I had a theatre trip in London with my mum on the Saturday and a charity tea dance on the Sunday. I could do these things or write an enforced 1,667 words or worse - do these things and have to make up the word count later in the week. I could feel myself getting stressed before I had even begun.

The other key word was 'seat-of-your-pants'. Now, don't get me wrong, I love that word. I plan my articles meticulously, but when it comes to writing fiction, am a pantster. So what's the problem? Well, the 'seat of your pants' element for NaNo is to just write... anything! Although I often start writing with just the seed of an idea, I cannot just write and write. I edit and change as I go and when I have finished, there is very little I change (I am talking short stories here). If I felt I was just writing words for the sake of it, I would lose the will to write.

I have heard of writers who have been jubilant to have completed their 50,000 words only to have their manuscript languish in a drawer because they know it was rushed and needed complete re-working or they were sick of the sight of it. Many people plan their novel meticulously before the beginning of November to give it a better chance (a very good idea) but one which wouldn't work for me being the aforementioned panster!

So now you know why I didn't join the thousands of writers taking part in NaNo this year but of course this is just my own personal opinion and what is not right for me, will be perfect for other writers... and who knows, maybe one year I'll join in.

So, I will finish by wishing everyone taking part good luck... and a comfortable cushion!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Meet My Cover Designer - Guest Post Sarah Hughes

I would like you all to give a huge welcome to my very talented cover designer, Sarah Hughes. Sarah graduated with a degree in illustration from the University of Lincoln in 2013 and is now pursuing a career in illustration.

I am absolutely thrilled with the cover Sarah has created for my short story collection, Room in Your Heart, and thought it would be nice if she could give us an idea of what it's like to be an illustrator and the steps behind creating a book cover.

What made you decide to be an illustrator?

I always wanted to do something art related. Throughout school and college, I dabbled in various art and design subjects and it was just a matter of narrowing down my choices. The freedom of all that illustration can encompass is what ultimately led me to choose that route - along with the ability to bring in elements of the other subjects should I want to.

Tell me a little about winning the cover design competition at Lincoln University.

There was a competition to design a cover for a children's novel, The Strange Encounter of Sally Shakespeare and Toby Tinker by Adam Rawlins, that was being published by a local publishing company (Hawkward Books). They targeted our university in particular for entrants so I was up against most of my classmates. Ultimately, the publisher and the author felt I had best captured the essence of the story, without being too direct, while also suiting the audience. They thought the cover looked nice too - but you could say that about plenty of the other entries - so these were some of the specific reasons mine stood out for them.

I absolutely love your cover design for my romantic story collection, Room in Your Heart. Can you take us through the process of how you designed this cover, Sarah?

Well, first I read a couple of the stories from the book to get a feel of what kind of personality the cover should have. From there, it was a case of getting out a bunch of ideas, starting with quick thumbnail sketches. These were then narrowed down and I worked with what was left to create more finished, detailed artwork before narrowing these down again, deciding on the final design and turning them into the finished image.

How do you work with the author in order to create the perfect design?

I involve them in each of the narrowing down stages so I know that I'm not completely off track and that the author is getting what they want. Also I make sure I have enough information to understand what an author wants from their book: sometimes there are nuances in genres and I don't want to misrepresent the author's work. For example, for this book the genre was romance but romance can be epic, chic lit, family drama... and those would all call for different covers, so getting a feel for the author's work is important to me.

How many drafts do you have to do before settling on the final design?

It mostly depends on whether I have a clear idea of what I want the image to look like early on or if I need to work through different ways to do things to find what I'm looking for.

How important do you think a cover is to a book's success?

Pretty important. I'm sure if a book had the worst cover on earth but was a truly spectacular book, then word of mouth would eventually get it to where it deserved. Generally speaking though, there are a lot of books out there and a good cover is one of the best ways to stand out amongst them.

Would you say you had a signature style?

Not quite as signature a style as some illustrators but there are some elements to my work that reoccur. It's more related to the way I use colours and create the art than having a specific way to draw things. I do eventually hope to fine-tune my style to a point where someone who knew my work would recognise something else I had done as mine. I would like to build up my signature style over time.

Are there any books you have seen where you've thought... I wish I'd designed that?

Maybe in terms of money but seriously, not really. If I like a cover that much, I'd be more likely to save it to a folder somewhere on my computer as inspiration, than wish I'd done it.

Where would you like to be in five years time?

Well, I would love to be at a point where I have published a graphic novel and have a steady stream of requests for book covers. I would also like to have a line of my illustrations on T-shirts in a high street shop and designed album covers and posters for musicians. There are quite a few pathways illustrators can branch down and I doubt in five years I'll have made a success of them all but I would like to get the chance to work on a variety of projects. Mainly, though, I would just like to get to the point where I can be making a living wage out it this, meagre or otherwise... preferably otherwise!

Thank you very much, Sarah, for being my guest this week and I wish you every success in your career.

If you are interested in discussing illustrations for your own project or would just like to find out a bit more about Sarah, she can be contacted here:


Room in Your Heart, a collection of romantic short stories, previously published in The People's Friend, is available for Kindle and in paperback here