Thursday 31 December 2015

My Goals of 2015 - Did I Succeed?

It's time to say goodbye to 2015 and hello to a new writing year.

As usual, at the beginning of the year, I sat down with writing chum Tracy Fells over teacakes and set myself some writing goals for the year - you can read the full post here.

So how did I do?

Below are the goals in brief and whether or not I achieved them.

Goal: To continue to write one short story a week.
Achieved? Sort of. I can't say that I wrote a story absolutely every week for the whole year (due to holidays etc.) but I did manage to keep up the output most weeks even while writing the novel.

Goal: Write at least 40,000 words of my novel by the end of August to submit to the RNA New Writers' scheme reader.
Achieved? Yes! I sent 54,000 words to the reader and completed the novel (85,000 words) in September.

Goal: Go to the RNA conference
Achieved? Yes! I went, I saw... I conquered (my tube phobia). It was a great weekend and you can read all about it here.

Goal: To self-publish another collection of magazine stories.
Achieved? Yes! I published The Last Rose (Stories of family and Friendship) in March. This collection contains stories from The People's Friend, Take a Break Fiction Feast and Woman's Weekly and I am thrilled with it.

Which leads me very nicely to my end of year present to you. The last Rose is on Kindle Countdown for one week only at a bargain price of 99p! So if you had a new e-reader for Christmas, it might be a welcome addition to your collection. You can buy it here from Amazon.

All that's left is to wish you all  a very Happy New Year and I hope you will continue to enjoy my blog in 2016.

Sunday 20 December 2015

My Writing Year 2015

Today I am going to be looking back at all the lovely things that have happened in 2015 (excluding general story sales or publications).

January - The year started as usual with teacakes and goal setting with writing chum, Tracy Fells. I joined the RNA New Writers' Scheme and author Ben Adams wrote a guest  post.

February - Met Karen Aldous in London for a celebrity make-over with daughter Gemma as a prize win.

March - A fanfare to celebrate the Publication and Launch party for story collection The Last Rose. As part of my bog tour I was guest on these  blogs The Write Romantics, Anne Harvey, Write Minds Write Place, Karen Aldous, Ben Adams, Never too Late to Write.

April - My first serial, Charlotte's War, was published in The People's Friend. I had an article published in Writing Magazine on writing serials. Patsy Collins and Samantha Tonge were blog guests. Went to the Riot Jive Weekend on Hayling Island.

May - Had a wonderful holiday to Vengen in Switzerland and a weekend at Corfe Castle. Alison May was my blog guest. I am guest on A Woman's Wisdom blog.

June - Had three lovely guests on my blog: Julie Shackman, Malcolm Welshman and The People's Friend Fiction editor, Shirley Blair talking about writing serials for the magazine.

July - I attended my first RNA Writers' Conference in London. Deirdre Palmer was my blog guest and I had a lovely boating holiday on the Kennet and Avon Canal.

August - Entered the #PitchCB contest and had two agents 'favourite' my novel pitch. Had a story in The People's Friend Annual 2016. Merryn Allingham was my blog guest. I was asked to be competition judge for the SWWJ John Walter Salver award.

September - Had my second serial, Life at Babcock published in The People's Friend magazine. I was interviewed by Doug McPherson for his article on breaking into serials in Writers' Forum. Writing chum Tracy Fells and I joined forces to discuss writing buddies in Lyn Hackles' 'Novel Ideas' column in writing Magazine. I was featured author on the Writing and Wellness blog. Had a weekend in Bordeaux with my girlfriends. Went on a wonderful research trip to Skopelos and Alonissos and finally finished my novel.

October - Sold my 100th story to The People's Friend. Samantha Tonge and Julia Gibbs were guests on my blog.

November - Went to the RNA Winter Party in London. Patsy Collins and Leonora Frances were my blog guests. I was guest on Elaina James' and Susanna Bavin's blogs. Had my novel back from my RNA NWS reader.

December - I was special guest at the SWWJ Christmas tea in London, along with Sir Tim Rice, where I awarded the prizes for the story competition. Had four Christmas stories published in magazines. I was guest on Rachel Brimble's  blog.

Now I'm off to have a sherry and a mince pie so all that's left is to wish all you lovely readers a very Happy Christmas and thank you all for supporting my blog through another year!

Sunday 13 December 2015

To Blog or Not to Blog

Today's blog post is inspired by Carol hedges' post A Blog about Blogs in which she discusses why she continues to blog when so many writers are giving up. It's well worth a read.

The funny thing is, I read it at just the right time. You see I'd had a bit of a blank about my own blog. For the first time in a long while, the act of writing and promoting it seemed quite a chore. It occurred to me that if I was struggling to think of a topic, then whatever I wrote would be just for the sake of updating the blog rather than because I was enjoying the writing or adding value to it.

I've been writing my blog since 2012. At first I wrote three times a week (how did I manage that!) but I soon began to settle into a once a week pattern. I've always enjoyed writing it, have made some good friends through it and have had some fabulous guests. Recently, though, I've been questioning why I am doing it. This is partly because blogging is a two-way process. It's no good just being a blog writer - you need to be out there reading other people's blogs and commenting. You also need to promote your blog if you've any hope of having a healthy readership (the whole point of writing, unless you want to talk to yourself). 

All this is time-consuming.

When I started Wendy's Writing Now, I was at a very different stage in my writing career. I'd just had my first story published and the idea of the blog was to chart my journey from that point. There was no pressure, to be witty, informative or entertaining as there weren't very many people reading it. Now, 150 story publications later, with my first novel written and a high number of pageviews per post, I'm wondering as to the purpose of my blog. 

I looked at the list of blogs I follow and realised that there are only about a third of these blogs still active. These writers have moved away from their blogs but I still see them on Facebook or Twitter. Others resurrect their blogs when they have a book out... then fall silent again. I'd like to ask them why they stopped - or more importantly whether they are glad they did. Also, it made me wonder about those of you who continue. Is it because you love writing it? Is it because you hope it will promote sales? Is it because you're scared to stop? If you feel inclined to tell me - please be honest.

One of  the things that was worrying me was the fact that my blog isn't a 'How to Write Better' or even a particularly serious blog. When I looked back at my old posts, I saw that there was a lot more about my bad step-dog, Bonnie, my dancing and singing and even my holidays. Not exactly a serious writer's blog.

Did it matter though?

Through the simple act of writing this post, I've realised that maybe it doesn't matter. Wendy's Writing Now was never meant to be serious and I must stop thinking it must be. I don't want to teach or preach. I want to enjoy my blog and allow it to show the reader a little bit more about me. My blog post To Read of Not to Read  (where I talked about not reading the magazines I write for) has become legendary and garnered some of my highest number of comments and pageviews! That post was me just being honest.

Over on Carol's blog, book blogger Rosie Amber, says that she loves writing her blog but 'when she gets fed up, she'll hang up her hat and walk away'. Clever lady. 

Giving up on my Wendy's Writing Now would be like saying goodbye to an old friend... and I'm not ready to do that but if that time ever comes, I hope I shall have the courage to do the same. 

Please let me know your thoughts.

Sunday 6 December 2015

The SWWJ Christmas Tea... and Meeting Sir Tim Rice

Many of you will know that it's been a difficult time for me recently with two bereavements in the space of just a few days. I made the decision not to update my blog last week and retreated from social media for a while (sorry if yours was one of the blogs I didn't comment on) but there was one shining event to brighten up my week - the SWWJ Christmas Celebration.

You might think I'm looking rather pleased with myself in the photograph and that's because I never in a million years thought I'd have double billing with Sir Tim Rice of 'Joseph' and 'Evita' fame. I even have the programme to prove it. Okay, so my name is slightly smaller than his but I won't hold that against him.

So why was it that at 2.20 pm on a Thursday afternoon I was standing at a lectern, speaking into a microphone to a roomful of writers? It's not as if public speaking is something I do a lot. Being a typical writer, I don't particularly like being in the spotlight and, as a former teacher, I'm more comfortable speaking to a classroom full of children. The answer is, I was presenting the prizes for the John Walter Salver short story competition which I adjudicated. Sir Tim was there because he is one of the society's patrons.

That I was even at this lovely event was due to fellow magazine writer Vivien Brown (Hampshire) as it was she who asked me to be the competition judge. What an honour. It was a pleasure to read everyone's stories when the entries were sent to me and it was nice to have the chance to meet the winners. First prize winner, Carloline Aukland, is in the photograph above.

The event took place in a beautiful room at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall Place, London. It was a very grand venue - finding the cloakroom in the maze of corridors was an event in itself!

I was quite relieved that I would be reading my judge's report and presenting the prizes at the start of the afternoon which left me no time to get nervous.

After a lovely introduction by Viv (thank you for making me sound so important!) it was time for me to take my place at the lectern. Luckily, once I'd started speaking, it wasn't nearly as nerve wracking as I'd imagined it would be - it's amazing what can be achieved when you picture your audience as a class of seven year olds! It was also nice that a few of my RNA writing friends had come to the tea to support me. I was thrilled when it turned out that one of them, Margaret Mounsdon, was the third place winner (she'd kept it quiet that she was a member and an entrant). Here I am presenting Margaret with her prize. People were so lovely and said such nice things afterwards - I'll certainly feel more confident if I have to do something like this again.

The presentation was followed by a delicious tea with sandwiches, cakes and scones. I'd been a little worried about what I might talk to Sir Tim about as I was slightly star-struck (in junior school I was in a school production of Joseph and since that time, have seen every one of his musicals except Chess) but I needn't have worried as he was warm and friendly, praising my short story success and 'meteoric rise' in the market. Gulp! I only just managed to stop myself from blurting out, 'You've done pretty well yourself'. If you're reading this, Sir Tim, I'd like to thank you for making me feel so at ease - I hope I didn't bore you too much with stories of my children!

After the tea, there was the chance to talk to some of the other guests and then it was time for Sir Tim's speech. Amongst other things, I found out that he started his career wanting to be a pop singer and that his favourite out of his songs is 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall'. It was a great speech to bring the lovely celebrations to an end.

Wouldn't it be lovely if  next time I speak to an audience it's to introduce my debut novel. Well, you know what Sir Tim Rice would say... Any Dream Will Do!

Sorry, everyone - I just couldn't resist it :)

If any of you are thinking of joining the SWWJ, their website is here

Sunday 22 November 2015

The RNA Winter Party - a week to celebrate!

This is me at the RNA winter party. It may look as though I'm smiling but in fact I am grimacing due to the ridiculous height of my heels! In fact, from the moment I arrived I was unable move from this spot and had to wait for people to come to me (a bit like the queen) for fear of toppling into someone if I worked the room. I seem to remember the same thing happening at my first party (there's a picture  of them in a post about it called 'I Went to the RNA Winter Party... Well Done ME!' which you can read here).

It was  a lovely evening, especially as I got to meet Viv Brown (who writes as Vivian Hampshire). It's always great to meet another magazine writer in 'real life' and we had lots to chat about as Viv has also been writing a novel alongside her short stories.

Talking of novels, it was due to the other two people in the photo, Natalie Kleinman and Elaine Roberts, that I even have a novel. At last year's winter party I went as a guest, not as a member, and I have these lovely ladies to thank for persuading me to join the RNA New Writers' Scheme which in turn made me get on with writing my book. It was certainly nice to be there this year as a novelist as well as a magazine writer.

I'd show you all my  wonderful photos if only  I'd remembered to take any! This one is courtesy of Francesca Capaldi Burgess... thanks, Francesca!

I had this great plan that during the evening I would make sure that I would stalk chat to some lovely agents and plug tell them about my amazing debut novel. When it came to it, though, the room was so packed and loud that even if I had managed to collar introduce myself to one of them, we would have been shouting and using sign language. I did manage to have a chat with Rebecca Lloyd from Accent Press though (who I'd had a one-to-one with at the conference). It was nice to see her again and she was very happy to answer some of my (probably rather naive) questions.

My biggest disappointment of the evening was not being able to meet up with half the people I wanted to. In fact, some people I didn't even see or saw so briefly that all I could say was a quick hello. I can probably blame my shoes again for that! Still, as someone said to me - there's always next year.

Now that's the the RNA party covered but what is it I'm celebrating I hear you ask. Well, it's two things really. The first is that I have a story in both The People's Friend weekly and the Christmas special.

... and the second is that since I started my blog three years ago it has had 150,000 pageviews WHOOP!

Sunday 15 November 2015

Who'd Have Thought? - Quick Fire Guest Patsy Collins

Last week, writing chum Tracy Fells and I were lucky enough to meet up with fellow magazine writer and author Patsy Collins for a considerable amount of cake. I even had a tour of her campervan (she must like me). With Patsy cornered in the cafe, it was the perfect opportunity to ask her some quick fire questions. Of course it was a bit of a risk as, with Patsy, you can never be certain what the answers might be! I shall now unveil them.

Hi Wendy and thanks for inviting me onto your blog to answer some easy questions. I just hope they don't involve decisions. I'm not good at making decisions.

Black or pink?

If the pink is bright then pink, otherwise black. Pale pink doesn’t really go with purple. Actually I’m not sure bright pink does either. So black. 
I thought you said these were going to be easy?

Strictly or X Factor


Kindle or paperback?

Both. I don’t want to rule out a good book which is only available as a paperback or vice versa.

Fireman or paramedic?

Fireman. They know how to handle hot stuff ;-) 

Night in or night out?

A night out in the camper van. 

Camping or glamping?

If that’s your idea of a trick question you need to buck up my girl. Campervanning, obviously!

Jane Eyre or Frankenstein?

Jayne Eyre. The plot relies on coincidence a little too much for my liking, but otherwise it’s a great story.

Letter or email?

Email, although I feel just slightly guilty about that.

Beer or champagne?

Champagne. Or Cava. Or Cremant de Alsace. Or Prosecco. If my drink has bubbles I want it to be white and to taste of wine. Unless it’s a gin and tonic.

Cats or dogs?

Dogs. I like to be loved.

Heels or slippers?

Why aren’t boots an option? I have slipper boots, high heeled boots, hiking boots, wellies, even rigger boots. I could have answered a question on boots.

Boiled or poached?

That one’s easy. Poached. Spiced pears poached in port or poached eggs on a buttered muffin v boiled cabbage or socks.

Thank you, Patsy. That was... erm... interesting! 

Alice has a fantasy. It starts with being rescued by a hunky fireman, involves the kiss of life and ends in him not needing his uniform. At the New Forest Show, Alice is offered an innocent version of her dream. Reluctantly she turns down fireman Hamish's invitation.

Despite Alice's blameless behaviour, boyfriend Tony's obsessive jealousy kicks in. Hamish wants to take Tony's place, but a hoaxer ensures Alice already sees far too much of Hampshire Fire Service. The threat of an explosive sprout surprise, her mum's baking, sister Kate's mind boggling pep talks and the peculiar behaviour of Alice's boss Miles provide distractions.

Is Alice really in danger? What is Kate up to? Can Hamish possibly be as perfect as he seems? It takes Alice masses of wonderful food, disgusting wine, smelly mud, red footed crows and steamy Welsh passion, but she finds the answers. And rethinks her fantasy.

You can buy Firestarter here

Sunday 8 November 2015

Not Just a Shaggy Dog Story...

Someone said to me the other day that they hadn't seen much of my bad step-dog Bonnie on my blog recently - or Bob cat for that matter. Well, today I am going to remedy that by telling you the inspiration behind last week's story in The People's Friend, 'For Better For Worse'.

I've always been a 'cat person' and my sister a 'dog person'. I think it started the first year I found a cat calendar in my stocking on Christmas morning and my sister found a dog one. The same happened every year until I left home, so it's no surprise that when I eventually had a house of my own, I got a cat... and my sister a dog!

I've had many cats over the years and they've all been lovely but I have a very soft spot for my cat of the moment, Bob. He's fifteen years old, a great lap lover and a great dribbler. After my divorce, he, my daughter and I lived happily for several years - not expecting anything to upset our little family. But as John Lennon so cleverly put it - life is what happens when you are making other plans. What I hadn't expected was that life was going to be a whole new family - a husband, three step-children and... a step dog. 

A new husband was a blessing, my step-children a blessing also - but a dog? I knew nothing about dogs - except that they were big, hairy and often smelly. When I visited my sister, I would ignore her dog and refer to it as 'the hound'. Now I was going to be expected to live with one. Would I cope? More to the point... would Bob cope? 

'We'll have a trial,' I said, 'and if Bob is traumatized and leaves home then Bonnie will have to go.' Except that it wasn't as simple as that. When I told my colleague at work (who is a dog lover) what I had said, she warned me that the bond between a man and dog is a strong one. If Bonnie went, so might my future husband (although he insists this wouldn't have been the case). Also I felt sorry for Bon - she was, after all, the innocent party in all this. We would just have to try our hardest to make it work. 

Bonnie started by coming on day visits and then for sleepovers. She wasn't allowed upstairs, so Bob had a safe place to escape to, and we kept her on the lead in the first instance until Bob got used to her. And, you know what? It worked. The fights and the stand-offs never happened. For the first few days Bob stayed upstairs and then he gradually came down. Now they play together like the best of friends and if Bob gets agitated by something (like the cat next door) Bonnie comes to find me to let me know!

So what about me? How am I getting on? Well, for a start, a lot of the scrapes Cindy the dog gets into in 'For Better for Worse' are inspired by ones that Bonnie also got into. One of them is shown in the video below (which I know some of you have seen before but I just had to show it!).

TIme for dog-divorce? Actually no. The truth is, after five years, it is me who walks her and me who worries about her. I moan about Bonnie but I know I'd be the one to miss her if she wasn't there. My story is a tribute to my furry family.

Hmm...I wonder what calendar I'll be getting in my Christmas stocking this year?

Sunday 1 November 2015

Writing for Magazines - Guest Post Leonora Francis

Leonora Francis is a name you will recognise if you are a reader of women's magazines. She started writing the year before me and we have followed similar paths - from short stories to serials. I though it would be interesting to find out more about this magazine writer's writing life.

How long have you been writing and what made you start?

This is a true story. I wrote a book in my late twenties and received a lovely rejection letter from a publisher, with feedback, and they asked me to write another one. I should have, but didn’t. If only I knew then what I know now.

I didn’t put pen to paper again until four years ago. I was helping my daughter with an essay and it kick-started my love of writing. My son encouraged me to send my stories out to publishers. I did. And here I am.

Can you remember the first magazine story you sold and has your style changed since then?

I will never forget it. It was a humorous story about a granddaughter encouraging her granddad to give up smoking in exchange for removing her navel ring, which he hated. An acceptance was waiting for me from Shirley Blair at The People’s Friend when I returned home from work one day. That was in early 2011 but I didn’t really get to grips with writing until 2012. I learnt so much in those early days and I never gave up.

And yes, my writing style has changed. After that first acceptance, which I put down to the quirkiness of the story itself and not my style, I wrote many, many stories. They were all rejected. That is, until a kind editor at the People’s Friend personally contacted me by email. It was from him that I learnt about ‘voice’, which in turn helped me to engage with my characters. There are only so many themes that you can write about and I believe the story is almost secondary to characterisation. I thank my editor for bringing this to my attention.

How do you keep track of all your submissions, rejections and acceptances?

I have a lovely spreadsheet and use pretty colours for acceptances and rejections. More importantly, there’s also a short section to add a few words as to why the story was rejected. In the early days I used that section as a learning tool. I still do!

Briefly describe a typical writing day?

I’m brightest in the morning and write in bed. Yes, in bed, with my laptop on my knees! I exit my bed at about mid-day to start editing. I don’t edit in bed. I find some other room in the house and always edit on a paper copy. Don’t ask me why. I try to finish at about 3 o’clock, but if a story has gripped me, I can write into the early hours of the morning, which drives my husband mad.

What made you move from short stories to writing serials?

My stories were getting longer and developing into these huge dramas, especially the period ones. In late 2013 I received emails from both PF and WW asking if I would like to attempt a serial for them. I was excited and rushed into it without thinking. Fortunately, my first serial for Woman’s Weekly, Amos Browne, made the grade. My attempt for PF was a disaster.

Do you have any bad writing habits?

I don’t plan, so I have no idea what’s going to happen in any of my stories until just before I type, ‘The End’. It can be costly. More than once I’ve reached part 3 of a serial and got stuck. I’ve had to abandon a few because of it. I also have an obsession with commas and exclamation marks, but I don’t think I’m alone in that!

If you could write in only one genre what would it be?

It would have to be Sci-Fi or Fantasy. Andre Norton books were my first love and I’m just about to finish reading book 3 in the Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb. The only downside with writing Sci-Fi or Fantasy is that your memory has to be pretty good otherwise you’d have to constantly check your notes. You’d also have to have a fairly good understanding of all the technical/science stuff. I’m not sure I can write one until I try. 

Do you write in the same genre that you enjoy reading?

Before I started writing seriously I didn’t read much in the way of crime or romance. When I think of an idea for a story I rarely have romance in mind. My stories seem to turn into romances as soon as a strong male character walks on stage. As for crime serials, I concentrate less on the actual crime and more on character development. One day someone is going to clock that the crime itself doesn’t quite ring true or that it would have been impossible for the perpetrator to have ‘done it’! Seriously though, writing outside your comfort zone can be so much fun.

What are your future writing plans?

I won’t give up trying to write a serial for The People’s Friend. (My mother would be overjoyed! So would I!) After that, I’d like to attempt that Sci-Fi novel. I’ve got an idea forming, but it needs a lot more development before I crawl into bed, open my laptop and start typing. Saying that, I’m not sure I’ll ever abandon short stories because adore writing them.

Leonora Francis was born in Leicester and now lives in South London. She’s had over a hundred and twenty stories published in women’s magazines, and is currently writing her sixth serial for Woman’s Weekly. Leonora thinks she’s normal but her friends say she’s eccentric. Sometimes she has to agree with them.

You can find out more about Leonora on Facebook 

Saturday 24 October 2015

My People's Friend Journey to 100 Stories

This week was a bit of a milestone as I sold my hundredth story to the lovely magazine The People's Friend (bringing my magazine sales to nearly 150). If someone had told me this would happen when I sent off my first story to them in 2012, I would never have believed it.

My People's Friend journey started like this. I sent a few stories at the beginning of the year and received the standard rejection letter - very quickly as it happens. I wasn't downheartened though as I had sent them off without expectation. Looking back at those first stories I realise that they really weren't that good (although I've since used the basic ideas and themes to write other stories that have found a home) and am not surprised they were rejected.

Then I received a letter from a real live editor... oh yes indeed! In fact it was from my lovely editor of three years, Alan. Okay, so it wasn't an acceptance but it gave me hope. I'll let you read the blog post I wrote about this. It's short and sweet and had no comments as I was new to blogging then. In fact I doubt anyone ever read it. It's called Resubmissions, Resubmissions

I must say I chuckled to myself when I read the sentence, 'I think I have become very stubborn about this magazine - I have made it my mission to have a story accepted.' 

Thank goodness I did!

It was then that I decided to try writing about something close to my heart - dancing - which has been a hobby of mine for over twenty years. At the time, I was doing Zumba classes and had also started ballroom lessons so decided to merge both of these into a story.

My passion for the subject must have showed because the next letter I received wasn't a general rejection but  one full of suggestions as to how to make my story better. Here's a little clip of it. As you can imagine, I was over the moon and sat down and made all the changes there and then, sending it out before the next post. A couple of months later, I went on holiday and came back to an email telling me that my dance story had been sold. Dancing Queen was published in The People's Friend Special the following February.

The post I wrote next is still as relevant today as it was then. It's called The People's Friend - A Friend Indeed.

The rest is history really. Having got a feel for The Friend readership, I continued to write and found more and more of my stories accepted. All this time I worked closely with my editor and I know that his invaluable advice has made me a better writer. When magazine editor Angela Gilchrist said in Writing Magazine 'if we see potential in a writer, the fiction team will work very hard with that person to get them their first acceptance' I can do nothing but agree with her.

I went on to write serials for the magazine and even wrote an article for fiction Editor, Shirley Blair, on the subject for Writing Magazine

Writing for the magazine has also gained me a new friend - fellow People's Friend writer and workshop leader, Alison Carter. We share the same editor and when he spotted we lived near to each other, I got in touch. We now meet regularly to eat cake and chat about the writing world and Alan likes to call himself a matchmaker!

In fact I feel very honoured to have had my name alongside Alison's in a People's Friend tweet, advertising their guidelines as Alison is a great writer whose sales far exceed mine. You can read their guidelines here.

I hope that reading this post on my journey to my hundredth sale to the magazine will give other writers encouragement to persevere. The magazine might be called The People's Friend, but the editorial staff soon become the writers' friends.

You might like to get an idea of the sort of stories I've written for the magazine. The ones in my romantic story collection, Room in Your Heart, have all previously been published in The People's Friend as have many of the ones in The Last Rose.

They are available in both ebook and paperback and can be bought here from Amazon.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Tips for Writing Romantic Christmas Novels - Guest Post Samantha Tonge

Samantha Tonge is no stranger to my blog... in fact this is her third visit! (you can read Sam's other guest posts here and here). Originally a magazine writer, Sam is now a successful Rom-com author who certainly knows how to work a title - I'm sure most of you will have heard of Doubting Abbey and Game of Scones. As well as these, Sam brought out a Christmas novel, Mistletoe Mansion, last year, and this week saw the publication of her second seasonal offering, My Big Fat Christmas Wedding.

I decided to ask Samantha to give some tips on writing that Christmas novel... over to you, Sam.

My Big Fat Christmas Wedding is set in Greece, at Christmas, and gives the reader a different view of this seasonal time of year - although main character, Pippa, does make a flying visit to snowy London with her sexy fisherman fiancé, Niko. They meet up with her ex-boyfriend, suave Henrik and... well, I won’t tell you anymore! Just to say I LOVE writing books set at Christmas. Last year’s was Mistletoe Mansion. I’m thinking fairy lights, Michael Bublé singing in the background, the aroma of warming mulled wine... *sigh*... there is just so much to make your heart melt!

So here are my five tips for writing a romantic novel set at this cosy time of year (other writers might heartily disagree with me!) :

Think location. Most readers want certain expectations fulfilled – snowy scenery, tumbling flakes falling onto lovers’ noses, crisp frosty pavements to walk across, warming hot chocolate to be drunk once indoors again... Whilst My Big Fat Christmas Wedding is set on an island with a milder climate than us at that time of year, a visit to white London plays a significant part in the book. Also, it’s definitely chilly in Kos in December, cue the need for honey cake, ginger baklava and warm Metaxa brandy... need I go on! For some readers, a story set somewhere tropical , for example, may not press the right buttons.

Seduce all the readers’ senses – and boy, there is plenty of sensuality around at Christmas. The aroma of baking turkey and spicy mince pies. The touch of silky tinsel. Describe the romantic sights such as fairy light lit pine trees and sparkling evening frost. Then there’s the sound of nostalgic carols and log fires burning. And as for taste – well, where do we start? Chocolates from the tree? Rich fruit pudding drizzled with cream? Crunchy sage and onion stuffing? Really spoil your reader – make them salivate and long for the twenty-fifth of December to arrive.

Don’t paint too perfect a picture – remember the downsides to Christmas and thread them in to make your story more realistic. The burden of inviting those relatives around that you don’t really get on with. Those sad memories that revisit you of loved ones passed who won’t be at the dinner table this Christmas. The cost of presents and expectation that everyone should be happy. If you write romantic comedy, these negatives also offer a good source of humour.

Leave the reader feeling good. It’s Christmas – that time of year when we wish goodwill to all men and count our blessings. There’s nothing wrong with a Happy Ever After as long as the journey there is an emotional one that leaves the reader feeling satisfied.

Most importantly, when writing it, have fun, because that will shine through, into your story. Christmas is hopefully a time of year when we can relax a little, remark on those cute reindeer and snowmen and play silly board games before having one port too many during a cheesy movie. Make your story into something that will contribute to the reader’s sense of taking a break from challenging real life, just for a few days. Escapist, feel-good fun - with, of course, a delicious hero who looks hot even when the temperature is cold enough to chill your champagne in the garden... and who makes every reader wish he was in her cracker ;)

Thank you for another lovely guest post, Sam and you're welcome back any time.

Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and a cat that thinks it’s a dog. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Her summer 2015 novel Game of Scones hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart.

Things don’t always run smoothly in the game of love…
As her Christmas wedding approaches, a trip back to snowy England for her ex’s engagement party makes her wonder if those are wedding bells she’s hearing in her mind, or warning bells. She longs for the excitement of her old London life – the glamour, the regular pedicures. Can she really give that all up to be…a fishwife?
There’s nothing for it but to throw herself into bringing a little Christmas magic to the struggling village in the form of a Christmas fair. Somewhere in amidst the sparkly bauble cakes and stollen scones, she’s sure she’ll come to the right decision about where she belongs…hopefully in time for the wedding…

Perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Debbie Johnson. Don’t miss the Christmas Wedding of the year!

You can find out more about Samantha here:

You can purchase My Big Fat Christmas Wedding here:

Sunday 11 October 2015

Why You Need A Good Proofreader - Guest Post Julia Gibbs

You've finished the book, you've checked it for errors until your eyes are crossed. Your work is perfect... or is it? 

I'd like to give a very warm welcome today to Julia Gibbs. When I first 'met' Julia on Twitter, I actually thought her name was Julia Proofreader (her Twitter handle). It was only when I started to read some of her informative blog posts, that I realised proofreading was her profession not her surname! I am really pleased that Julia has managed to find some time out of her very busy day to answer my questions, so over to you Julia.

How long have you been a proofreader and what made you choose this profession?

At the risk of sounding clichéd, I didn't choose it, it chose me! I have always had my nose in a book from the time I learned to read, and I sailed through all English language and literature exams at school. I worked for some years for a firm of architects and found that everyone came to me for spelling and grammar advice; when the chief architect ruled that no document was to leave the office without being passed by me, I thought to myself, 'Hang on, I could do this for a living!' So to answer your question, I think I've been doing it for most of my life.

Are you a writer as well as a proofreader?

Good heavens, no! I don't know how you authors do it, I really don't. I could no more write a novel than I could run a marathon (PS, I don't run.) I can write blog posts, though, but I think my creativity expires after about a page and a half.

What’s the difference between a proofreader and an editor?

There is a difference between proofreading and editing fiction. Not every writer requires an editor, by the way, there is a minority who can edit their own work. Editors will perform services such as: suggesting cutting out characters; changing or omitting dialogue; changing the narrative arc of the novel; moving chapters around; various other suggestions that will in their opinion improve the book. I don’t alter the writer’s work apart from correcting it, although I will point out anomalies of plot if I notice them, and any other inconsistencies (this is copy editing, and goes above and beyond what a proofreader does, but I like to do it as well). I will also make other suggestions if, for example, I see a word or phrase repeated too often in a paragraph.

Why can’t we writers just edit our own work?

You can, if you like. Some writers (a minority, as I said) are capable of being sufficiently dispassionate to edit their own work. But nobody can proofread their own work. Here's why: when you read what you have written, you see what you expect to see. In a sentence of 10 words, the mind actually reads the 1st, 5th and 10th words, and then makes sense of the rest of it on its own. I've proofread books by authors who've been pretty confident that they've been through their own work thoroughly and reckon that I might, if I'm good, find 30 or 40 errors. I've found on average 600 and upwards. You'd be surprised, as were some of my clients, see what they say here: Happy Customers

Do you only need a proofreader if you’re self-publishing?

If you have been accepted by a publishing company, whether mainstream or indie, then they will provide a proofreader for you, as part of the service. However, I have recently worked for a client who had 6 novels published by Random House, and wanted me to check his work before he sent his latest book to them, as he thought he'd written it in a hurry. (He was right to do so, I found over 1,500 errors.)

What are the most common mistakes you see writers making?

Most errors are typos – that is, mistakes made through inattention while the writer is in creative flow mode, and not caused by ignorance of spelling or punctuation. And most of these are punctuation, with people not realising that they've missed out commas or full stops because they're focussing on their characters or story line. That's where a non-creative pedant like me is so necessary, you see!
Some of the spelling typos result in hilarious misunderstandings, and I am currently compiling a list of the funniest ones I've come across, so that I can put them in a blog post – with the authors' permission, of course!

How long does it take you to proofread an average length novel?

Depends on how many mistakes I have to correct. My clients' books run the full gamut, from a few changes per paragraph, to one or two per chapter. On the other hand, some people say to me, 'this shouldn't take you too long, it's already been checked by a few people, so there will be very few errors'. My reply is, 'yes, but I still have to read every word'! I only work on one novel at a time, so that I can concentrate on the plot and the author's particular quirks. I reckon it to take me approximately 10 days.

There are many people advertising proofreading services. How can a writer sort the good from the bad?

You're right, there are so many people advertising themselves as proofreaders these days, and many of them appear to have just started. I notice that I am followed on Twitter by newbie proofreaders every day. Here are a couple of blog posts I wrote, which I hope will be of help to anyone looking for a proofreader, and not knowing where to start:

So, as my final word, dear authors – take all the time you need when choosing a proofreader!

Thank you, Wendy, for inviting me to have my say. I did enjoy it.

You're very welcome. It's been lovely having you as a guest.

You can contact Julia through her website here or on Twitter here

Sunday 4 October 2015

The Dreaded Synopsis!

I've cut the grass, hoovered the carpets, hung out the washing and walked the dog but I can't put it off any longer. It's time to write the dreaded synopsis. 

But I thought you'd already done that for your RNA industry appointments and NWS submission, I hear you say... and you're right, I did. The difference is, this time I have to fit it onto one page. ONE PAGE! 

The problem is this: my novel has a dual timeline - alternating between one character and another one year earlier (both stories have equal weight). Readers will have sympathy for one more than the other... so how should the synopsis be set out?

My attempt for my one-to-ones at the RNA conference was three pages long (yes, really) and probably bored the pants off the editors I met with. One said, "I love your writing and idea... but not your synopsis."

It wasn't that she didn't like the story - she did (so much in fact that she asked to see the whole thing once finished). The problem was the way the synopsis was set out. I had written each character's story separately starting with the events that happened a year earlier. Unfortunately this was the story written from the POV of my less sympathetic character. My nicer character's story came next and and I hadn't made it clear that the chapters would be alternating between the two, with the nicer character's POV always coming first. Are you lost? Yes, so was the editor... so now that my novel is ready to be sent out into the big, wide world I have to make this synopsis work for me.

I've been making a list of agents I'd like to approach and most are requesting one pagers. Knowing I needed help with the dual timeframe thingy, I turned to my author friends on Facebook - posing the question of how best to structure my dual timeframe in just one page.

What lovely generous people. I have been inundated with advice and I shall quote the most useful here.

  • Maintain two working synopsis (one for each story)
  • Use lots of signposts so its clear whose story it is e.g. In 1937...
  • Look at each chapter and use the key words
  • Read Nicola Morgan's book, Write a Great Synopsis
  • Read Emma Darwin's great blog post, Relax it's Only a Synopsis!
  • Read Louise Rose-Innes' great blog post, How to Write a Synopsis
  • Ask the lovely Kath McGurl who writes dual timeframe novels how she did hers (I did and she was wonderfully helpful)

I won't pretend that with all this advice, writing my one pager has been easy but I now have a synopsis that seems to be working for me. The only problem is it's one page and one paragraph long! Time to get out the pruners.