We’re all going on a blog tour!!!

We’re not scared. With a pen in our hand and post-its too ….

Something slightly different on my blog this week. I was very excited to be invited to join my fellow Write Romantic, Rachael Thomas, on to join The Blog Tour. Her debut novel, A Deal Before the Alter (HMB), will be available later this year and I can’t wait to read it and follow her journey as she fulfils her dreams. Find out more about Rachael at http://rachael-thomas.blogspot.co.uk/

So, what I have to do is answer a series of questions and nominate three other writers to do the same. We’ll start with the three questions:

My Writing Process


What am I working on?

I am about one third of the way through my third novel, ‘Discovering David’. It’s the final book in a trilogy. Book 1, ‘Searching for Steven’ went through the RNA’s New Writers Scheme in 2012 and 2013 and is now out there fluttering its eyelashes and hoping to secure a publishing deal. Book 2, ‘Getting Over Gary’ was submitted to the NWS 5 weeks ago and I’m anxiously awaiting the verdict. Book 3 has been planned but I’m in the first stage writing process. The trilogy follows Sarah and her two friends Elise and Clare and explores the core theme of love but also the theme of friendship and how this can shift over time and circumstances. Book 1 is essentially Sarah’s story, book 2 is Elise’s and book 3 is Clare’s. However, each picks up where the other leaves off and becomes multi point-of-view to do that.

How does my story differ from others of its genre?

Most novels in my genre (romantic comedy) are one-offs. There are exceptions but the majority are stand-alone so I feel a trilogy is fairly unique. I also have further books in a series planned in that they will be set in the same place (fictional North Yorkshire seaside town Whitsborough Bay) but feature different characters … although the original cast may have cameo appearances!

‘Searching for Steven’ was also inspired by a real-life event which I think makes it pretty special too.

Why do I write?

I couldn’t not write. I have so many ideas and have always loved putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). My favourite tasks at work are always ones that require writing. I think it’s just part of me.

How does my writing process work?

My writing time is typically on an evening after my 7-year-old daughter has gone to bed and lunch breaks at work although 45 mins isn’t long to eat and write! ‘Searching for Steven’ was a massive learning process. I knew roughly what the story was, I knew the characters but I had no plan of how to get from start to end. Result? Ten years of work! I wasn’t going to put myself through that again. Book 2 was completely different. I planned out every chapter (about an A5 page per chapter), chartered it on a weekly planner to ensure I’d captured the days of the week, months and seasons correctly, and then wrote. Helped by doing NaNoWriMo in November last year, I completed book 2 in 7 months. Slightly different to the 10 years for book 1!

I’m hoping that April will see good news about Steven. Please!!!!

Next week, the following authors will be participating.

Helen Phifer, a fellow member of The Write Romantics and member of the RNA. Helen’s brilliant debut novel, ‘The Ghost House’ was published by Carina in October 2013 and her second novel, ‘The Secrets of the Shadows’ is out next week (and I can’t wait to read it). Visit Helen’s blog at: http://helenphifer.wordpress.com/

Alex Weston, also a fellow Write Romantic and NWS member will be tackling the blog tour on her Facebook page (thanks Alex) at https://www.facebook.com/alexwestonwrites?fref=ts

Sharon Booth, fellow NWS member (who, like Alex, kindly let me beta read her debut novel) will talk about her experiences at http://sharonbooth23.wordpress.com/

 

Thanks for reading!

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Pick my product! Pick my product! Buy me! Buy me! Now!

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that, every so often, a headline appears on Yahoo!’s home page that intrigues me and that, instead of doing what I’m meant to be doing (writing!), I click through to it. Come on, you know you do it … that’s why advertisers pay a fortune to appear on these links. Sometimes I’m glad I did as I read something genuinely funny or interesting but, more often than not, it’s a waste of my time.

About a week ago I was particularly intrigued by was this one:

http://uk.movies.yahoo.com/secret-life-of-walter-mitty-wins-worst-product-placement-award-123218430.html

I studied marketing at university and, although I’ve never followed a career in marketing (I went down the HR route instead), I’ve always been fascinated by adverts and product placement. I confess I have neither read nor seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty but I’m now curious to do so simply because of the apparent randomness of product placement. Over the years, this is something I’ve noticed become more and more blatant in films and TV programmes and it’s quite often laughable. I imagine Coca Cola and PepsiCo have quite brutal fights over the right to have the stars drink their brand of pop when, truth be told, it wouldn’t make a jot of difference to me as I’d pick the one that I like the taste of best (Diet Pepsi in case you’re curious). However, it clearly makes a difference to those who are perhaps slightly more influenced by these things. Or they wouldn’t bother.

A couple of favourite examples of product placement are two films that blatantly satire it: Wayne’s World and The Truman Show. Two very different films but love them both … and their approach to advertising!

So what does this have to do with writing? Quite a lot actually. It’s only a matter of time before the massive reach of books is exploited by advertisers. There are examples out there already but nothing on as grand a scale as TV and films but how long will this last? 

In my debut novel, Searching for Steven, my protagonist has two cats. Good friends of mine had two cats who they’d named Caffrey and Guinness. As our student days weren’t long behind us and we were very fond of Irish ales, this seemed a great pair of names. Inspired by this idea, I named Sarah’s cats Cadbury and Buttons. I love chocolate so why not? But then I started work as a Recruitment Manager for Nestle and it seemed very wrong to be promoting the competition so I changed the names to Kit and Kat which I thought was genius on another level (small things amuse me!) I also thought it would be a great little story when (if) I got my publishing deal and I could maybe try and wangle some sponsorship out of my employer in the meantime. It wasn’t to be. I never got the book finished while still working for them! When I left Nestle four-and-a-half years later, I decided to change the names again. But I couldn’t do it. I’d lived with Kit and Kat for so long and the poor little things didn’t deserve another identity crisis.

Last weekend, I went away to a lovely lodge overlooking a lake and asked my husband to take some photos of me writing on the balcony to use on this blog. His twin sisters were with us and they decided that the pictures should include a little bit of product placement. Except it wasn’t a little bit. They dragged every branded item they could find out of the cupboards. What do you think?

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Hmmm. Even The Truman Show would be proud of that one!!!

Personally I prefer the slightly more under-stated Apple product placement …

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Plus it’s a far more flattering shot of me. Not that I’m vain. But that first one is pretty grim and a reminder that I really need to get the diet back under control. I will just point out that I didn’t then go on to trough the Flake, Walker’s Crisps, box of Thorntons etc. Well, not all in one go anyway!

Over to you. What do you think of product placement in books? Have you come across it in any books you’ve read? Have you done it in yours? Would love to hear more

Silence is golden when you’re a writer … or is it?

Wednesday evenings in my house are very quiet. Once my 7-year-old daughter has settled to bed and the cats have been fed, it’s just me and my writing because hubby goes out on Wednesday to do some shooting. Not guns. Arrows. He took up archery last summer and loves it. I usually really enjoy Wednesday evenings because I can just get on with my current WIP with absolutely no distractions and no feelings of guilt that I’m lost in my little world of imaginary friends while other members of the household may actually appreciate a bit of company.

But last night felt strange. Last night seemed overly quiet. Last night, writing was a struggle. And I realised that, for me, silence isn’t always golden. Silence doesn’t always help me write. Silence isn’t always my friend. I knew only one person could help me … Delta Goodrem. “Who?” I hear you ask. Long blond hair. Australian. Plays the piano. Started out in Neighbours in 2002. Used to be engaged to Brian McFadden (formerly of Westlife) and did a duet with him called “Almost Here”. Debut single was “Born to Try”. Know who I mean now? I confess that “Born to Try” isn’t one of my favourite tracks but I absolutely love everything else she’s done. I don’t know if it’s the piano or her particular vocals or the fact that I’ve listened to her albums so many times that I don’t need to concentrate anymore but Delta is the perfect soundtrack to my writing. Plus she writes about love and loss and emotional angst which is exactly what a romance writer needs. (Find Delta on https://www.facebook.com/DeltaGoodremMusic)

I’ve tried to write and listen to other albums and I’ve discovered that any old music won’t do. I can’t write to anything brand new or anything I’ve only heard a few times because I sit and listen to it instead of concentrating on my writing. I can’t write to anything too up-beat. And I can’t have any music on loud. I also can’t have the TV on because, even if it’s something I absolutely hate and would normally rather gouge my eyeballs out than watch (e.g. football or Newsnight), I’ll be drawn to the TV and completely unable to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Going back to last night, I will admit that, once Delta got going, so did my writing. Not particularly fast, mind, but it was better than it had been before I switched the music on.

This got me wondering whether I’m the only one who prefers a soundtrack to writing in silence and a specific one at that. So I asked my fellow Write Romantics. Aspiring writer Helen R lives in Australia (must ask her if she knows Delta!) in the suburbs and says she’s often distracted by the noise of hedge trimmers and leaf blowers so likes to put on music to drown that out although it varies as to whether it annoys her or revs her up. Lynne is similar – sometimes music, sometimes not although she’s found it can be helpful to listen to specific music to get her into a specific mood e.g. 1970s tunes if her novel is set in that time. Alex echoes this in that she does enjoy quiet but did delve into a bit of Scottish folk singing (listening to it; not doing it) when she was trying to perfect a Scottish accent in her debut novel.

Soon-to-be-published Rachael likes to listen to music when she writes, although usually something without lyrics to avoid them getting into her head. She finds that switching the music on helps her switch her mind into ‘writer mode’. Interesting. A bit like some writers making a drink in a certain mug, wearing a particular piece of jewellery or using a specific pen.

Successful novelist Helen P (2nd book “The Secrets of the Shadows” is out next month – can’t wait!) differs from us all. She tells me her writing space is in the corner of the room next to a huge TV so silence is not in ready supply. She needs to put her iPod on and drift away into her own world. What’s on her iPod? “I tend to have a playlist for each book. The last one had Frank Sinatra, Elbow, Barry White, U2, Nat King Cole, Kelly Rowland, Lady GaGa to name a few”. Eclectic mix or what?! Not sure I’d manage to write to all of those!

On the other side of the coin, Jaxx and Deirdre do believe that silence is golden. Jaxx even goes so far as to wear ear defenders to keep out the noise (I so have to see photographic evidence of that) and Deirdre needs “complete quiet” but admits that a busy main road and “a certain someone talking to the cat, singing, having TV up loud etc” pretty much scuppers her quest for peace.

It seems we’re a bit of a mixed bag although it seems we’re all united in avoiding the TV. That said, Helen R said that one of my favourite authors, Jill Mansell, writes with the TV on and it apparently gives her lots of ideas. I know that Jill writes long-hand rather than straight into a PC so I’m wondering if she can maybe find TV helpful in the ideas formation stage or whether she can switch off enough to do this at all stages in her writing. If you’re reading this, Jill, we’d love to know!

One more thing I’ll say about Delta Goodrem is that, not only does her music help my writing flow but she writes some amazing lyrics and some great song titles which would make great titles for a book. I find this quite a lot with music; I’ll hear a line or a title of a song and think “great title” and then, suddenly, there are all sorts of ideas about what the book could be about. I have a word document called “Potential Book Titles” and it’s full of ideas – many of them from songs – and a sentence or two about the book theme.

So, thank you Delta Goodrem for being the background singer as I work and thank you to the wonderful Write Romantics for helping me with this post. 

Over to you … is silence golden?

Becoming a writer is like 80s music. Really it is! Don’t believe me? …

I love dressing up. No! Stop it! I don’t mean in a saucy “ooh matron” fifty shades kind of way! I mean 70s gear, murder mysteries, theme party kind of way. And on Saturday night, I got to dig out my huge bag of outfits and go back to the 80s. The 80s for me were age 7 to 17 so meant my childhood, my first broken heart, friendships made and lost, my school years, discovering music and attempting to discover fashion. To be fair, I was briefly very trendy. I owned not one, not two, but three ra-ra skirts. I had a big perm. I had fluorescent socks (worn one pink, one yellow of course; bang on trend) and I had roller boots and a Sony Walkman. How cool was I?

So Saturday night took me back to those days. My hair is short these days so I attempted big and back-combed which wasn’t so easy but the neon was easier. Leg-warmers, net skirt, bangles, beads … absolutely gorgeous. And here’s the proof …

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Yep, pretty scary isn’t it. And also a reminder that I must get back on that diet. I’d been doing so well until I discovered the chocolate machine downstairs at work.

But what has all of this got to do with writing? I do have a point. Honest. I said I discovered music in the 80s and I still think this is the best era of music. Ever. From cheesy pop to new romantics and even a bit of Ska, I love it all. And my useless knowledge won us the quiz at our 80s night which yielded a prize of 4 main meals at the venue. Very nice. But that’s not my point. My point is that trying to become a writer is like the music of the 1980s. Bear with me …

Imagine (John Lennon): It starts with an idea and you begin to imagine your characters, your world, the dilemmas, the pain and the joy and, because I write romances, the happy ever after

It Started With a Kiss (Hot Chocolate): That’s it. You’ve got your hero and you’ve fallen in love with him. The moment he first kisses your lead, it’s like he’s kissing you too. Awww

I Know Him So Well (Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson): It gets to the point where you know your hero better than you know your own partner. And perhaps even like him better than you like your own partner! Boy is it disappointing when your husband doesn’t behave in the same way as your hero (sorry hubby but you have a lot to live up to!)

Never Gonna Give You Up (Rick Astley): That moment arrives where you’ve written “the end”. You’ve edited then tweaked then edited some more and you realise that, unless it’s going to remain a computer file for the rest of your life, you’re going to have to let someone else read your manuscript. Eek! It’s very, very hard to let go for the first time

Relax! (Frankie Goes to Hollywood): That’s it! You’ve done it. You’ve submitted your MS for the first time, whether this be to a beta-reader or several or even a formal critiquing service. It’s time to relax. Except it isn’t really. Knowing that your ‘baby’ is being read by others for the first time ever is the most nerve-wracking thing ever. What if they hate it? What if they think you can’t write? What if you’ve wasted the last ‘X’ months/years of your life on a pile of grammatically-incorrect poorly-observed pile of twaddle. Relax is not the word

I Just Called To Say I Love You (Stevie Wonder): But then you get the call, text, email or Facebook message from your beta reader or critique service and it turns out you weren’t wasting your time. You can write. You have a great story. They loved it! You’re on your way!

The Land of Make Believe (Bucks Fizz): You do a final edit and you compile a list of agents and/or publishers to approach. You start daring to dream of that make-believe land where you can pack in the day job and write every day … and actually get paid for it. It’s time to send it out into the big bad world

Blue Monday (New Order): Your first rejection arrives. Blue Monday (or Tuesday, or Wednesday …) You expected it but it’s still hard because all you can think is …

Don’t You Want Me? (Human League): … and it appears they don’t. But you keep trying because you so desperately want someone to …

Take On Me (A-ha): Please take me on! Please!!! I’ll be a really good writer and do all the edits you suggest and meet all your deadlines. I promise. Just please take me on!

Then you get THE CALL …

Hello … Is it me you’re looking for (Lionel Richie). “She’s got it! Yeah baby she’s got it” (Venus, Bananarama). You know that Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now (Starship), The Only Way Is Up (Yazz) and Fame (Irene Cara) is just around the corner … except it’s not the fame you do it for. You do it because you can’t not do it. You have stories to tell. You have characters who need to tell them. And you couldn’t imagine a world where you didn’t let them.

So who’s going to Take On Me? I’m still wishing and Waiting for a Star to Fall (Boy Meets Girl). Please Don’t Leave Me This Way (The Communards). Say I’m Your Number One (Princess) and I’ll pack in my 9-5 (Dolly Parton/Sheena Easton). I’m Hungry Like The Wolf (Duran Duran) for this and, no matter how many rejections I get, I will Hold on Tight (ELO) to my dreams, just Wishing I Was Lucky (Wet Wet Wet).

I think I’d better end this post before I shoe-horn in any more 80s songs as even I can see it’s dripping in mozzarella now! Hope you liked my 80s references and they brought back a few classic 80s tunes to mind.

Please follow, share, comment. Thank you xxx

 

 

Welcome to my world: The one where I hear voices … but that’s normal. Apparently!

Thankfully the voices in my head don’t tell me to steal or kill or anything sinister like that. Typically they tell me nice things like how they want to fall in love and with whom. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m a romance writer.

I’ve been writing in one shape or form for as long as I can remember. English was my favourite subject at school, I was drawn towards essay-based subjects at college and university, then my subsequent career in HR was most satisfying when it involved writing. That could mean designing an interview script, job advert, training materials or a staff handbook because, to me, it was all writing. Strangely enough, though, I’d never imagined making a career out of it. Until 2002. I was working as a Graduate Recruitment & Development Manager for Thames Water and the manager who’d recruited me would often comment that my business reports would benefit from being a little more, well, business-ey instead of reading like a story. “You should write a book,” he’d say. Nice idea. Lovely idea. But what the hell would I write about? The genre was easy; romantic comedy. But the storyline? Eek! Where would I even begin?

It’s a well-used phrase “write what you know” so I pondered on my relationships to date. I was single with some good and several disastrous relationships behind me but nothing interesting or juicy enough to form a plot-line for a book. And then something happened. Something quite unexpected and, for me, life-changing. I was at a bit of a crossroads in my personal life. I’d split up with my partner of two years although we still shared a house that we were trying to sell (hmm, that was fun!), I wasn’t happy at work, and I had a dream of moving back home to the north to set up a teddy bear shop but I’d been turned down for redundancy and, of course, I couldn’t do anything unless the house sold. It felt like everything was out of my control. I couldn’t plan. I couldn’t hope. A friend who is very into new-age thinking gave me a gift voucher for a clairvoyant telephone helpline. I can remember smiling politely and telling her I’d ring it at some point soon … then dumping it in a drawer. But one evening alone in the house in late 2002, something made me take that gift voucher out of the drawer and dial that number. What that clairvoyant said sparked an idea for a novel and, once it took hold, it was like the boulder in front of the cave of creativity had been rolled back and the glittering gems of ideas were all there for my taking.

You’re going to hate me now because I can’t share exactly what the clairvoyant said. Not yet. Why not? Quite simply, it’s because there’s no copyright on ideas and I’m an aspiring writer at the moment; not a published one. I think I’ve got quite a unique premise for my story and, whilst I will share the full back-story if (when) I get my big break, I need to keep it safe for the moment. Hope you understand.

So I’m not a published writer but I said this idea came to me in 2002. It’s 2014 now. What the heck have I been doing with the last 12 years! Truth be told, I did nothing about it other than bat the idea around my head until summer 2003 but, by that time, I had left my job, sold the house, said a permanent goodbye to the ex, moved back to the north and opened a teddy bear shop (dreams can come true!) I bought an old PC for the shop and, on quiet days, I started to write my book. Straight into the PC. No planning. No preparation. No idea on what I was doing! I met my husband Mark and shared my writing aspirations with him. He suggested I sign up to The Writer’s Bureau. So I did. And I realised I knew nothing about writing. Show don’t tell? What’s that?! I got some great feedback from my first few assignments explaining I clearly had a talent but it just needed honing with the “rules” of writing. So that’s what I spent the next decade doing.

Novel 1 was a painful process in many ways because I changed from 1st to 3rd person and back again, dabbled in present tense before reverting to past, ditched a major character, unexpectedly developed two major characters (and with them, the prospect of a trilogy of books), and basically had no clear idea of how to get from point A to point B. But I got there in 2012 and took a huge leap in my writing journey by joining the Romantic Novelist Association’s New Writer’s Scheme (NWS). It was with great trepidation that I submitted my manuscript (MS) as this was the first time anyone was going to read my work. The feedback was really encouraging but the biggie was that it was a biggie … far too many words! I managed to cut about 20k words but developing a couple of unclear plot points ended up back where I started. In 2013, I re-submitted the same novel to NWS and got even better feedback and some very clear direction as to what I could cut. I hadn’t been ready to make the cut before but I felt ready last year.

Summer 2013 saw another major step when I pitched to two editors at the RNA Conference and both asked to see my full MS. How incredibly exciting!

Since then, I’ve submitted my MS to both of those editors, some agents, and some other publishers. I’ve had some rejections, I’ve had a “near miss” (which I may talk about on another post) but it feels close. I’ve had a note from one publisher to say my work is very much under consideration and I know that I must be well into a process with another two because I have writing friends who’ve submitted later than me and have already heard that it’s a no. Assuming MSs are looked at in the order they arrive (it’s possible they aren’t), then that would mean I’m progressing … for now!

Other than the critique and the invaluable advice from the RNA online community, one of the biggest benefits I’ve had through the RNA is meeting other writers. I’ve been extremely fortunate to join forces with eight wonderful writers who cover a range of genres from Mills & Boon to supernatural to crime/thriller. We run a blog together http://www.thewriteromantics.wordpress.com and provide support and guidance to each other on all things writing (and often non-writing). I love being part of that blog but wanted to continue to increase my social media presence by running my own. I’ll talk about books, writing and life in general and, hopefully, one day share some amazing news that I can call myself an author!

Thank you for joining me today. Are you a reader or writer? What would you like me to blog about? Would be great to hear from you.

Julie

Mum, Wife, Writer, Brown Owl, Arctophile, Chocoholic