Saturday, 30 January 2016
1. If possible, write on something that is NOT connected to the internet. That way you aren't tempted to check Facebook/Twitter every 5 minutes.
2. If you are writing on an internet-free laptop, make sure it isn't in the same room as the internet connected one (see 1).
3. If you can't accomplish 1 and 2 for physical/financial reasons, try to allocate yourself specific times of the day to Tweet/update your Facebook. Do not weaken.
4. Unless specific, dickering about on Google is not research.
5. Checking your Amazon rating and sales figures every two days is liable to lead to suicidal feelings.
6. Reading the 'I wrote a whole novel today - go me!' claims of other writers on Facebook
7. There is no such thing as 'Writer's Block', it is just a posh excuse for not writing.
8. The only way to write a book is to write a book.
9. If you are not constantly awash with doubt/fear/insecurity/self-loathing/envy/anxiety/panic, you probably aren't a writer.
Tuesday, 26 January 2016
Little G and You must be mad are just back from New York, where they have been visiting family for a week. I have asked her what she got up to, but all Little G will tell me is 'Dumbo', which was the movie she watched on the return plane journey.
I know she had a good time, because You must be mad told me. Central Park's playgrounds were visited. The petting zoo was an out and out hit. Apparently as they left, Little G said 'Bye-bye new toys' which was very sweet. But can I get anything out of her? Nope.
It's the same with nursery. She spends two days there, but all she will divulge is that she had 'toast.' Nearly one year of eating toast has happened. I still haven't a clue what else she does. I'd worry about her mental processing, except that if asked, she can reel off exactly what she and I did last week: Blue bus > baby rhyme time > grandma's house >kitten > biscuits > pink slide > pets. OK, it is a tad verb deficient but as a basic summary, it's pretty accurate.
Little G would make a very good secret agent. Her feigned selective memory is impressive. She can recall a goldfish we saw at Vets for Pets three weeks ago. Ask her about the location of her gloves though and she morphs into vaguely non-plussed mode. And stays there until you give up and go and find them for her. And if the mark of a good politician is the ability to avoid ever giving a straight answer, then Little G could run the country. Based on her current evasive skill set she probably will be. Possibly a lot sooner than you think.
To be continued ... ....
Saturday, 23 January 2016
'Stories begin with once upon a time.'
This is the opening sentence of Jigsaw Pieces my YA ebook. It is written in the voice of 18 year old Annie Skjaerstad. She continues: 'Once upon a time when I was 16 years old, somebody I knew died and changed my life forever'.
Jigsaw Pieces traces two pivotal experiences in Annie's life: the suicide of a classmate and her chance meeting with World War 1 veteran Billy Donne. Annie lives in the UK, but was born in Norway. Her father left when she was very young and she never sees him. She is a loner in a strange land who doesn't fit in, says the wrong thing, and is generally disliked and misunderstood by her fellow students. Yet as the story unfolds the reader begins to understand where Annie is coming from. How she has had to develop a strong carapace to survive, and I hope they also begin to see another, softer, more empathetic side to her prickly character.
Where did Annie spring from? Looking back at my own life, I am struck by how many similarities we share. I too was an outsider, growing up in the 1960's as the only Jewish girl in a school of 600 christian ones. My parents were refugees from Hitler's Germany. Like Annie I tried to fit in, but never really did. And then there was the inevitable racism and bullying. I underwent many bad life-events as I matured into an adult, but I firmly believe these were what eventually turned me into what I am today: a writer.
So out of our negative experiences we emerge, Annie and I, strong women, our characters forged in the fires of what we have endured. As Annie says: 'I like the idea of being strong. I've grown up with the concept. It's in my bones and my blood. Strong people survive. They weep, but they don't go under. That's how I am.'
‘He had been part of my everyday life. I hadn’t liked him much, nobody had liked him much, but he’d been there. Now, I’d never see him again.’
Annie Skjaerstad had been searching for her identity since being uprooted from her native country of Norway. With a spiky personality winning her no friends, and family members suddenly torn out of her life, she is left seeking comfort from a growing intrigue into the stories of fallen war heroes.
But one day, a boy from her school unexpectedly commits suicide, changing things forever. Confused by the tragic tale of someone she knew, Annie soon finds herself conducting her own investigation into his death.
What she uncovers will bring her to a dark and dangerous place, as suddenly – her own life is put at risk.
As you probably all know, Diamonds & Dust, which was rejected out of hand by my former agent as ''not remotely publishable'' and subsequently went on not only to be published, but to be up for the CWA Historical Dagger, the Walter Scott Prize, the Folio Society Prize, and score 73+ reviews on Amazon, is now developing offspring.
It wasn't meant to. Seriously. I didn't envisage trotting out the two Victorian detectives Stride and Cully again. But like lily pond paintings by Monet and Haydn String Quartets, once started, it seemed logical to keep going.
Thus the sequel, Honour & Obey, which was published November 2014, and Death & Dominion which came out last October. Murder & Mayhem will be the fourth outing for Stride & Cully and should appear this Autumn. I am currently putting a cautious toe in the waters of a fifth book.
There are those writers who regard a series as a bit of a ''cop-out''; after all, you've got your characters already written for you. To them I would say: writing a series is MUCH harder than producing a one-off text. And I know what I'm talking about: this is my second series of books. (The Spy Girl series for Usborne was the first)
The main problem is that unless you started with the idea of writing a series, and few authors do, they just tend to evolve, you are stuck with whatever you wrote in the first one. You cannot radically alter the appearance nor personality of the main character/s without readers going ''What the ...?'' After all, it was how they were in book one that will keep them reading books 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. You can and must develop the main characters, but in essence, they have to bear some resemblance to how they were in the beginning.
Then there is the problem of keeping the plot momentum going. I find book 2 is usually the easiest, as it seems to evolve naturally out of the first one. Book 3, however, is far more problematic. New areas have to be introduced to keep the reader interested. Some fundamental shifting of perspective must take place, or else book 3 becomes merely a watered down version of the previous two. Actually, book 3 is usually the pivotal one upon which the rest of the series rests. If you cannot pull it off successfully, it is best to admit defeat and pretend you only meant to write two in the first place.
By book 4, the pitfall is over-confidence. You have run the gauntlet of three books. You feel the surge of expertise as fingers hit keyboard. This, after the previous three, will be a doddle to write. You have your characters, you know how the story arc works. Sometimes this attitude pays off: I still think Dead Man Talking, the fourth Spy Girl book, is the best plotted. However, beware: book 4 can so easily wander off into alien territory, or become a repetition of book 3 with added lacklustre.
I have never got further than book 5 (and Usborne turned it down) so I cannot speak from experience, but I can say from avidly reading crime series, that some writers manage to sustain plot, characters and reader interest beyond book 5, but many more don't and the result is a series of flat readalike stories with little variety at best, or downright daftness at worst (Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's hamster has survived longer than any hamster should or ought)
The trouble with series is that publishers LOVE them. They are easy to market, and each book sells on the back of the previous ones. Thus the temptation to go on churning them out year after year, when by rights the whole thing should have been allowed to quietly slink off and hide in a dark corner after the fifth one.
I have been told though, that the ''real money'' comes from a 5 book series, which means most other writers will have been told this too. I can't see myself getting as far as finishing a fifth book right now. Mind, I never thought I'd get as far as a third or fourth. My former agent didn't see any mileage in the first ...
So what's your experience:
Do you prefer a series? Or a one off novel. If you are a writer, have you ever tackled a series, or does the prospect fill you with horror? Do share your thoughts....
Wednesday, 20 January 2016
I first posted this blog a couple of years ago because I was so angry at the closures of public libraries, in particular several branch libraries in the London Borough of Brent, where I started my career. Now that this vile government has cut local government grant cuts to the bone and beyond, leading to more closures, I am still angry.
My first encounter with books was via the local library in Welwyn Garden City, my home town. Dumped in the children's library, age 4, I selected a book from the box (in those days all picture books had the same plain library covers). I opened it up and there was Orlando, the Marmalade Cat, his Dear Wife Grace and their three kittens, Pansy, Blanche and mischievous Tinkle.
Apart from starting my well known love of cats, it also started me on the path to reading, which led me, in time, to become a writer. My parents did not consider buying books for young children as a necessity, as many parents for a variety of reasons, still don't. Without the books I borrowed each week, my life would have been impoverished.
As I said at the outset, I started off my library career in the 1970's working for Brent Libraries, and knew all the six libraries that have been shut very well. Many served poor, ethnically diverse communities and were used by people who could not afford to buy books for themselves, or for their children. The staff were treated with the utmost respect by locals, who valued what we offered and what we represented. I vividly recall being beckoned to the front of a long queue in the local Caribbean greengrocer - the owner succinctly informing the rest of the line that: 'this is the Liberian lady - she got to get back to work!'
Here in Hertfordshire, our libraries have recently been 're-structured to meet the needs of the modern user'. As far as I can see, this means they shut at odd times, just when you want to borrow a pile of books, and far too much space is now given over to desks of computers, at which people sit and dicker all day. Mainly playing mindless games. Books? Nah, don't need them. Got to move with the times. Books are relegated to fewer and fewer shelves.
I find it hard to put into words how upset I was at the disclosure that Kensal Rise library had all its books carted off in the middle of the night by Brent Council workers. The furtive and underhand way in which this wicked deed - sorry, I find no other words to express it - took place, resonates with all those other occasions in the past when the banning, or burning of books has marked a civilization in crisis, or steep decline.
Monday, 18 January 2016
There is a reason why it is called 'The Terrible Twos' - and it has absolutely nothing to do with clever alliteration. Child specialists and experts may drone on about 'infant separation' or the 'need for establishing the self'. The rest of us put it down to just plain cussedness!
Little G is already a fully paid up member of the club. Take, for example, the small toy dog. Every time we go out, the small toy dog comes with us. It has to walk along walls, and jump on and off steps along the way. It has to do this to the accompaniment of 'woof-woof.......woof-woof'.
Sometimes, the dog has to go back and repeat the process. I don't know why and I can't get a logical explanation out of either of them. There is also the stairgate thing. The stairgate has to be closed behind us when Little G and I go upstairs. If it is left open, we must return to the bottom of the stairs and begin our journey again.
It's like Snakes and Ladders meets Pilgrim's Progress but without any allegory. Or dice. Then there is the dancing. Dancing takes place in the kitchen. Only in the kitchen. And nowhere else. Ever. I'm hoping she'll grow out of this by the time she's sixteen or her social life could be rather limited.
Meanwhile we muddle along together in a baffling world of ever-changing but terribly important rules which one of us, (me) continually fails to get right, and the other one, (her) persistently fails to provide a logical explanation for. Bit like life, really ...
To be continued... ....
Friday, 15 January 2016
Last year was a momentous one for this vintage writer. It saw the launch of The Adventures of L-Plate Gran, a blog based on the two days a week that I mind my granddaughter. It also marked the publication of the third Victorian Crime book, Death & Dominion.
However some time towards the end of December, a crossroads was reached. Two paths lay ahead of me and I had to make a choice which one to follow. I made that choice and thus, from 2016, all my adult novels will be published under my own imprint: Little G Books. They will be available in ebook and book format, initially via Amazon. I'll try to master Barnes & Noble & Kobo eventually, give me time.
The covers have been re-done by David Baird, my graphic designer friend. The colours all come from an original Victorian paint company catalogue, giving them an even greater authenticity. This is the cover for Diamonds & Dust:
Here's the new cover for Honour & Obey:
And here's the slightly different coloured cover for the most recent book: Death & Dominion:
I'd also like to thank my fellow writer and friend Andrew French (@) and his lovely wife Alison (@), formatter extraordinaire, for helping me with all the complexities of diving back into self-publishing once again. I've still got some bits and pieces to sort behind the scenes, but it's 99.9% there... and I'm really looking forward to sharing the next book, Murder & Mayhem with all of you later this year.
So let the adventure start!
Thursday, 14 January 2016
As some of you already know, I write Victorian Crime Fiction, featuring two members of the detective division of the London Metropolitan Police, DI Leo Stride and DS Jack Cully. Their latest adventure is being marketed as a Murder Mystery but you, canny person that you are, may notice that it actually says: A Victorian Sensation Novel' on the cover.
The Sensation Novel was a particular genre of fiction, dating from 1860 -1880. The Victorian Web defines it thus: The Sensation Novel features a beautiful, clever young woman who, like Magdalen Vanstone in Collins's No Name (1862), is adept at disguise and deception —such women are doubly dangerous and generate social instability because they possess and threaten to use secret knowledge.
Other strategies employed by Sensation authors include the exposure of hypocrisy in polite society, intentional and unintentional bigamy, adultery, hidden illegitimacy, extreme emotionalism, melodramatic dialogue and plotting, and the brilliant but eccentric villain with gentlemanly pretensions. Reginald C. Terry in Victorian Popular Fiction, 1860-80 employs the term "detailism" to describe yet another aspect of the Sensation Novel, its rigorous realism that catered to a contemporary "taste for the factual" in its descriptions and settings, a feature that novelists such as Collins skillfully blended with the exciting "ingredients of suspense, melodrama and extremes of behaviour".
In addition, Terry notes how the plots of such novels often utilized "the apparatus of ruined heiresses, impossible wills, damning letters, skeletons in cupboards, [and] misappropriated legacies". P. D. Edwards adds yet further "ingredients" to the Sensation formula: "arson, blackmail, madness, and persecuted innocence (usually young and female), acted out in the most ordinary and respectable social settings and narrated with ostentatious care for factual accuracy and fulness of circumstantial detail" . To all of these features we should add the realistic and sympathetic investigation of individual psychology and an exploration of the female psyche.''
I loved the idea of trying to write a Sensation Novel, albeit slightly pared down for modern taste, but as the book features Detectives Stride & Cully, who also appear in the first two books, it is easier to shuffle the book into the previous genre (especially as Amazon, Barnes & Noble don't have a category for Sensation Novels)
Anyway now you know what to expect from the book, here is a little taster from the opening:
'' London, 1862. It has been a cold summer – the coldest on record, they say, and the autumn nights have come early and bitten hard. Wind batters the city, rattling the windows and inn-signs, whipping up the Thames into white-capped rage.
Wind whirls rooks into the sky like cinders. Wind prowls across narrow quadrangles and round unsuspecting corners, blowing dead leaves into nooks and stairwells. In weather like this, right-thinking people wrap up warm and stay indoors in front of the fire.
Not all of them though. Look more closely.
A tall man is making his way towards King’s Cross station, his shoulders squared, tilting forward as he walks. He is darkly handsome, the sort of man who causes women’s heads to turn when he enters the room. He knows this. His name is Mark Hawksley (though not all of the time).
As he reaches the entrance, a gust suddenly rocks him on his heels forcing him to make a half-step backwards. He takes a deep breath, the wind pummelling his face, the richness of the oxygen making him feel temporarily light-headed.
Steadying himself, the man enters the shadowy arch of the station and heads for a specific platform where a train is expected to arrive at any minute. In the station air he can hear it coming, the sudden frantic chugging of a locomotive, a series of clanks as it passes over the final set of points, then a long exhalation of steam as it pulls alongside the platform and comes to a halt by the buffers.
Instantly all is bustle and bedlam. Dogs bark, porters shout, and trolleys are hurriedly trundled towards the baggage carriage at the back.
Two respectably-dressed men alight from the front carriage of the train, turning to help down a small female figure, heavily-veiled and clad in deepest black. They escort her along the platform, steering her carefully through the milling throng of passengers, the meeters and greeters, the mounds of luggage, and the cabbies touting for fares.
Reaching the barrier, they hand over three tickets and are allowed through and onto the forecourt. They glance around apprehensively, their faces clearing as Mark Hawksley steps forward into the light, lifting his top hat in a smooth elegant gesture.
“So here you all are at last,” he says.
“Here we all are. Just as we telegraphed you,” one of the men replies.
Hawksley gestures towards the heavily-veiled woman.
“May I?” he asks.
“Be our guest,” the other man nods.
He lifts the thick veil, then steps quickly back, uttering a gasp of surprise.
“Amazing,” he breathes. “She is exactly as you described her in your letter. You might almost believe … But come, we need to get our guest to a place of safety before she is recognised.”
Mark Hawksley steers the little party to where a line of cabs are patiently waiting. He signals to one driver, gives him careful instructions, then bundles the group into the rear of the cab. He closes the door. The driver whips up the horse. As the cab rattles away into the night, Hawksley’s handsome, chiselled features break into a wide smile.
“Oh yes,” he murmurs. “You will do nicely. Very nicely indeed.”
Monday, 11 January 2016
The more Little G and I are together, the more I realise how fast time is fleeting by. In six weeks she will celebrate her second birthday. It is hard to believe. Some time this spring she'll become a big sister and You must be mad will be at home on maternity leave, so our precious two days of fun may no longer happen. Two more years and she could be in full time nursery school.
There's an ache in my heart as I look back on our times together. Crawling races in the shiny summer grass, culminating in a shared ice cream. Hoisting her up into the swing to screams of delight. Collecting autumn leaves to take back. Dancing in the arcade under the twinkly Christmas lights. All this is now in our past. It won't ever happen again.
Whenever I hear mothers complain that they 'can't wait' for their little ones to start nursery/school. I want to grab hold of them and say, 'You will never get this precious time back. This period of innocence and trust, when cuddles and kisses are freely given. When you are the epicentre of the world; your lap is safety and your arms represent security and comfort.'
Little G is developing into a small person. She makes choices and decisions; she doesn't always co-operate. Sometimes we have disagreements and bust-ups. I watch her walking away from her sweet baby-self and stepping into her little girlhood, leaving behind all the lovely times we have both shared. And I know that's how it has to be. For both of us. As the poet C.Day Lewis put it: 'Selfhood begins with a walking away,/And love is proved in the letting go.'
To be continued ... ....
Friday, 8 January 2016
|This isn't me!|
When my first book was published in 1991, I wish I'd known that one day I'd be able to send off my edits merely by pressing a button called Send. In 1991, I had to print out the entire book, pack it up, send it through the post, wait until it was returned, red-pencilled by the editor, do the relevant correction on my very ancient computer and then print it out and send it off again.
This continued until both me and the editor reached a concordat. Now, thanks to 'track changes' I can interact so much faster without having to wait weeks, losing the momentum. And I can change or amend my manuscript whenever I want. No more huge envelopes arriving on the mat. No more pages being accidentally dropped all over the floor. Bliss.
I wish I'd known that inspiration and perspiration are actually two sides of the same coin. I used to believe that I only wrote when I felt inspired, and that until the book 'arrived' in my brain, the Inspiration Fairy hadn't turned up so it wasn't worth bothering to write. Now, 14 books later, I know that inspiration happens when I sit down and write. Every day. Even if I end up deleting it the next day. As I write, the book appears. Bit by bit by bit. And unless I write, it doesn't. Simples.
I wish I'd known that one day, there'd be this thing called 'social media'. Sitting at a laptop making up stuff in one's head is a very solitary occupation and for me, until 2012 when I joined Twitter and Facebook, that's what it tended to be. I never dreamed how many friends I was going to make; how much sharing and caring, laughs, amazing blogs, books, advice, help, support and fun was waiting out there. Wonderful.
I wish I'd known all this when I started out my writing career .... but I'm very glad I know it now!
Monday, 4 January 2016
Little G is rapidly approaching her 2nd birthday, and so we are sidling up to another of the many targets that we both try hard to avoid. Honesty compels me to admit that I cannot remember You must be mad's progression from wearing nappies to not wearing them. Clearly it must have happened at some point.
I certainly recall being told by various female family members of the 'much-older-and-therefore-wiser-than-you' brigade that in their day, babies were 'dry' by a year, but hindsight is a deceptive mistress. I doubted it then, and I still do.
Be that as it may, Little G has been given a picture book by her Nursery called 'Monkey Business' from which it is clear that we, the hapless and hopeless, are being shuffled onto the developmental treadmill once again. This is not the first time that Little G has been 'targetted' ... see this previous post and I cannot help feeling that she is being made to fit into some arbitrary set of rules, regardless of whether she is ready to fit into them or not.
A fellow Gran, let us call her Sheila (that, after all, is her name) is currently going through 'potty-training'. She has to lug said receptacle around in a plastic carrier bag wherever she and Slightly Older G go. She has to ask SOG at 2 minute intervals whether she needs to use it. Nightmare.
As far as I am concerned, Little G and I already carry enough stuff around on a daily basis to start a left luggage office. I can't imagine a potty is going to be even remotely possible to fit onto the Purple Buggy. So I'm guessing this is yet another target we will fail to reach to the satisfaction of some authoritorial wonk. But we'll get there. As we always do. In our own time.
To be continued ... .....
Saturday, 2 January 2016
The PINK SOFA is thrilled to host lovely writer Jan Brigden as its FIRST guest of 2016. Jan is a member of the Romaniacs - a group of writers who support each other and the wider writing community. They all write fab books too. DO ask her how they got their name..it's an amusing story!
''Carol, thank you so much for inviting me in for a chat. I’ve long had a soft spot for the pink sofa (it’s comfy beyond belief!) and I’m thrilled to be your guest. I’ve brought cake – naturally – so we can indulge in a wedge or three a bit later. If the triple-chocolate filling doesn’t melt in the meantime, of course…
Well, what a year it has been for me!
On Valentine’s Day, I found out that my first novel ‘As Weekends Go’ had been shortlisted in the Choc Lit and Whole Story Audiobooks Search for a Star Competition , and a month after that, discovered I’d won! I can’t tell you how elated I felt upon signing my Choc Lit contract. There had been times when I thought I’d never finish the book (mainly due to my endless tweaking and re-tweaking!) so to know it was going to be published had me jumping around like a mad thing - a truly brilliant feeling.
I’ve written for pleasure for as long as I can remember; short stories for classmates, odes for workmates, fun quizzes for family and friends. The idea for my novel stemmed from a creative writing course assignment I completed a few years back via The Writers Bureau. I had to create a tense scenario involving two characters only. I chose a husband and his wife’s best friend. He’d secretly invited her to his house on the pretence of discussing his wife’s surprise 30th birthday party. Instead, he confronted her about some gossip he’d heard regarding a recent weekend trip the two women had taken together. Which afterwards begged the question in my mind: ‘Well, what did happen during that weekend?’ And so the story slowly evolved…
Not having any buddies or contacts in the literary world, at the time, I attended as many author talks and events as I could. I also connected with writers and readers on Facebook and Twitter, where I learned of and subsequently joined the Romantic Novelists' Association’s fantastic New Writers' Scheme. The critique I received for the early drafts of ‘As Weekends Go’ from my assigned reader was invaluable. This, coupled with the unwavering love and backing from my husband Dave (the man deserves a medal!) gave me the confidence that I could actually write and that my book had much promise. Music to a budding author’s ears, for sure!
I then formed an online writing/blogging group with seven of the most talented, supportive, encouraging ladies I’ve ever met, who became The Romaniacs. Last year we released a charity anthology 'Romaniac Shorts: Fashionably Brief’. We also very recently had the honour of receiving the RNA industry Media Award. RNA Industry Awards Such a proud moment for us all and very much appreciated. We even got a mention in The Bookseller.
And now, as the year draws to a close I’ve had the biggest thrill of all in proudly seeing Choc Lit publish ‘As Weekends Go’.
Here’s the fab cover (designed by the equally fab Berni Stevens) and the blurb to give you a taster.
2015 will definitely be one calendar I’ll be keeping!''
What if your entire life changed in the space of a weekend?
When Rebecca’s friend Abi convinces her to get away from it all at the fabulous Hawksley Manor hotel in York, it seems too good to be true. Pampering and relaxation is just what Rebecca needs to distract herself from the creeping suspicion that her husband, Greg, is hiding something from her.
She never imagined that by the end of the weekend she would have dined with celebrities or danced the night away in exclusive clubs. Nor could she have predicted she would meet famous footballer, Alex Heath, or that he would be the one to show her that she deserved so much more …
But no matter how amazing a weekend is, it’s always back to reality come Monday morning – isn’t it?
As Weekends Go - available on Amazon.co.uk
Connect with me on Facebook - Jan Brigden
And on Twitter - @Briggy44 or @theromaniacs