Tuesday 30 December 2014

How (not) To PLan A Novel

Whatever we write, be it short story, play, novel or poem, we all go through the same initial process: Planning. There are more ways of planning a piece of writing than there are pieces of writing - please read on quickly as I'm not sure this analogy works.

It is said you are either a ''planner'' or a ''pantster''. As the world's weirdest combination of the two (more anon) I don't think I am in the slightest degree qualified to lay down the law on the Hows and How Nots. Nevertheless, given that my lack of expertise has never stopped me piling in and sharing my ignorance, and several people who've read my two Victorian crime novels  have asked me how I went about it, here's what I do:

Thinking: Every book I've ever written has started in the same place. Inside my head. I spend an inordinate amount of time before starting, and during the writing process just mulling over ideas for story development, or characters. Many of them will be discarded. Sometimes I do this lying on my bed, sometimes I go for a walk, sometimes I carry the story around whatever I'm doing. But however it happens, nothing begins without a lot of thinking taking place. No notes are made at this stage. The thinking will recur regularly right throughout the writing process.

After a lot of cogitation, I progress on to:

Sketching: This is where I might make a few notes on paper. More likely I will write up small sections of the book, or small pieces of dialogue that I quite like. I know the names of the main characters (secondary ones get named as they appear). At this stage I usually have a couple of ''pages'' at the end of a file named ''new book'' with phrases or descriptions that I think I might incorporate.

When I think I know, very roughly, what I might want to say, I progress to

Researching: For Diamonds & Dust, Honour & Obey and now Death & Dominion I visited London and took pictures of the areas I thought I wanted to use. I went online and searched for original documents (there are loads on various Victorian sites). I transferred the entire contents of 3 local libraries' Victorian history section to my TBR pile (rotating as necessary). And I read every novel written in the period that I could -- frequently skimming to get a sense of it.

At this stage, I have a couple of random pages of notes, some online, a pile of downloaded articles, and books with bits of paper and bus tickets poking out of them. Again, researching is not a finite process and will change as I write and need to find out different things.

And now, I start:

Writing: I always do this the same way. I write the end. Then I write the opening section. Then I write a bit more of the opening ... a bit more of the end. Then I kind of join them up. Yup. Weird. And AT NO STAGE do I ever have a clear idea of the overall structure of the book or what is going to happen next. It's like fast downhill skiing in the dark.

No serious pre-plotting is ever done. None. No story arcs. No narrative graphs. No cards files. Nothing. The story evolves as I write it. And I write in short episodic sections, rather than chapters, tracking the story through a host of different characters. It's a spirally way of doing it rather than a linear one. I think it makes the story far more pacy and exciting - certainly for me as the writer, although it is sometimes like herding cats as bits of plot wonder off into the long grass and have to be rescued.

As I write, I also revise in the light of the direction the story is taking. The whole thing takes about a year. And then I have to go back and edit. So that's me. Chaos and madness.
How do you plan ....?

Sunday 21 December 2014

Follow Me: A Cautionary Christmas Tale

'You know what? You can stick this stupid job!'

And with that, my career as a medical secretary came to an abrupt end. I marched out of the office, head high, my heels clicking on the polished wooden floor. No more being ordered about by underbright oversexed Registrars. No more ticking off for wearing too much lipstick or bright red nail polish in front of patients. Finish. End. Gone.

Over the next few days, I revelled in the freedom and the absence of wage-slaving. I shopped for clothes. I bought lovely underwear at Agent Provocateur. And I thought a lot. About my life, my future. I was nearly 32, unattached though with several loose connections. I was bright, witty, and a total charmer. When it suited me.

I spent some time staring at my reflection in my mirror. My russet curls, my emerald eyes, the sprinkle of rusty freckles across my cheekbones. I thought about my ability to turn men's heads as I strolled by in the street, carrying my takeaway latte.

It seemed a shame that so much talent should go to waste on another boring job. I knew I was too old to become a model, and with the best will in the world, I had no intention of entering that dubious exploitative ''alternative'' world of modelling.

I was lying in bed one night, when the idea came to me. Belle de Jour. If Brooke Magnanti, an academic could pose as a call girl and make a shedload of money writing about it afterwards, why couldn't I do something on similar lines? Maybe I could even make money on the way.

And that's how @DoctorDiva was created. Early next morning, I went on Twitter and set up a fake account. I spent some time writing my bio, carefully selecting all the things that I knew would attract a certain type of male to my site. The professional ones with good incomes. I put that I liked Opera ... and also jazz ... I liked theatre and art exhibitions ... I liked Romcom films and fine dining. I added a bit about writing a novel: the thing about a good lie is that it always has to contain a modicum of truth.

I uploaded a couple of selfies - me smiling to myself, my red hair half-covering my face like falling autumn. Me staring at the camera with my head on one side. Cute. The classic poses. Then I went live. After five minutes, I had two followers. Both male. And that's when the fun began. In the months before the run-up to Christmas, I posted lots of tempting pics: me in the driver's seat of an Alfa Romeo. Me wearing a black beret. Me in a cocktail dress with spiky high heels.

I'd watch and see when the men who followed me came on line, then respond to one of their tweets. I had a good degree, I was very bright and I knew enough about politics and the media to sound convincing ... and of course there was always the doctor thing to give me credibility.

 It didn't take long before I had all my followers eating out of my little red nail polished hand. Every time a man sent me a flirty or suggestive tweet, telling me I was gorgeous and stunning and they'd like to meet me, or similar stuff, I cut and pasted it into a folder.

Soon it was time to move to Phase 2. I opened an Instagram account. I got a friend to take a lot of, let us call them 'artistic' pics. I suggested my followers might like to check me out on my new site. Most of them sent me a request at once. One click and there they were.

It is said that everybody leaves digital footprints all over the internet. You just need to know how to find them. My speciality was in IT - yes, my talents were completely wasted as a medical secretary. But I was very good at tracking people down online. Before long, I had the addresses and mobile phone numbers of most of my followers.

Then it was merely a matter of contacting them, and suggesting a 'reasonable compromise' to stop me forwarding their flirty tweets and my naked pics to their girlfriends or wives. Meanwhile, the novel was coming on in leaps and bounds. I quickly found a publisher, and several newspapers were already interested in doing interviews with me.

And now it is Christmas Eve. I sit at my brand new laptop, a glass of vintage champagne at my elbow, wrapped in the beautiful cashmere shawl I could never afford before @DoctorDiva was created. I go on line. Oh look - your partner has just followed me. Mmm ... nice. I like his avi: blue eyes that crinkle at the edges, finely chiselled jawline, the face with just a hint of stubble. I think I'll follow him back.


Wednesday 17 December 2014

Cancer Clear and Very Grateful

As some of you know, this time last year, I was diagnosed with DCIS ( ductile cancer). It was picked up at a routine screening and meant I spent either side of Christmas as a patient on the cancer unit at the Luton and Dunstable University Hospital - I cannot praise the staff and my consultant enough.

At the time, I was told I should have further follow up treatment: 3 weeks of radiotherapy. I was reluctant: I don't believe in unnecessary medical intervention, and I trusted my surgeon when he said he had removed all the cancerous cells.

Friends piled in on either side of the argument. I listened, but made the decision not to go forward, even though the consultant told me there was a 70% chance of the cancer recurring. My daughter was about to give birth; it was important that I should be there for her, not wiped out by some treatment.

I also prayed. Some of you also know I am a Messianic Jew. I don't ram my faith nor my personal beliefs down anybody's throat, nor go on about it. But I am. And I felt strongly that I was being told to trust and go ahead with my decision despite the facts.

Yesterday I went back to the hospital for the first of 5 annual checkups. Given the dichotomy of my decision and those ''facts'', you can guess how the days before the appointment felt. So many conflicting emotions: I now have a little granddaughter. My writing career seems to be having a late bloom. Was all this about to come crashing down around my rash ears?

No, it wasn't. At the end of a scan and an ultrasound, I have been declared free from cancer for another 12 months. The news is slowly seeping into my subconscious which has been overthinking and catastrophizing for the past week.

The chances of being 'free' from cancer, given the odd were so stacked against me are not only an amazing relief, but a witness to ''other'' things than can come into play. Sometimes, I think we have to go with our ...instincts, gut feelings, God-breathed advice. Call it whatever suits you. I know what I'd call it. And I am grateful.

Friday 12 December 2014

THE PINK SOFA meets Teagan Kearney

The PINK SOFA is proud to welcome Teagan Kearney as its last guest before Christmas and is very grateful for her popping in early to help decorate the Writer's Attic. The Sofa would like to take this opportunity to thank ALL its lovely guests over the past year, wish you all A HAPPY CHRISTMAS and remind you that there is still a bicycle, two non-matching gloves, a cracked iPad and a packet of crisps in the Lost Property box on the landing. Over to you, Teagan:

''Thank you, Carol, for the invitation to have a seat on your scrumptious pink sofa. It is an honour, and yes, thank you I shall certainly partake of the delicious fare provided. Mmm ... these chocolate brownies are irresistible. I’ve known Carol since I ventured onto Twitter, and I always enjoy her posts. Carol writes a clever, humorous blog full of sharp witticisms about life, growing older, her grandchild and her writing, so I’m delighted to be here.

Okay, well I’m here to talk about my writing, and myself - as you requested a bit of bio. So if you’re sitting comfortably, let’s begin.
Once upon a time, (no numbers, I’m allergic) I was born in Highgate, north London, and when I was seven we moved to south London.  My parents were Irish, (mother from Dublin, father from Donegal) and I was one of three with an older brother and a younger sister.

            And I’ve always been an avid reader. An early memory connected with reading is from when I was around 8, and my sister 6. We were walking to the local public library by ourselves for the first time; naturally I was in charge. I remember a sunny day with a clear blue sky, and it must have been springtime as we were wearing the new red and white striped hats my mother had knitted for Easter.

Two plaited pieces of wool hung from the crown of each hat; the plaits were of different lengths and each sported a red and white bobble at the end. These bobbles swung as we turned our heads. As we walked, we would look ahead and turn quickly towards each other, laughing in delight at the swing and thump of the bobbles as they hit our heads. We giggled and relished the sense of adventure at being out by ourselves.

The back roads we took were fairly empty, and as we passed a piece of rubble strewn waste ground we looked up. And there, flashing through the sky we saw a shooting star. In the middle of the afternoon. We were stunned into stillness.

‘Quick,’ I whispered. ‘Make a wish.’ For that instant the world was silent as we prayed for our secret desires to be fulfilled.
Fast forward a few years, and at around thirteen, I read through the local library’s shelf of fairy tales from around the world; Egyptian, French, Russian – from every nation. By fifteen this morphed into an early foray into Dennis Wheatley (a huge spider stayed in my memory long before Shelob appeared). In later years, French and Russian writers captured my attention, as did science-fiction (books passed on by my brother), and fantasy. I fell in love with Lord of the Rings, and re-read it three times.
          I blissfully misspent my teenage years and early twenties, and I’ve lived in several countries over the years. As an adult I studied for a degree with the Open University, (in my opinion it’s a brilliant institution) majoring in modern and post colonial literature and film studies. I’ve had several careers and ended up teaching English Literature, an excellent way to study the works of great writers, especially as I enjoy critical analysis.
            What drew me to writing? At 11years old I won a prize for my age group in an all London junior schools poetry competition. During the first English lesson at my new secondary school, the English teacher called out my name and awarded me the prize. This teacher had great hopes for me; sad to say, I sorely disappointed her during my school years. But the fact that someone had noticed my writing when I was young, made an impression on me.
                 Years later out of nowhere a story jumped into my head, and I just had to write it down. Life took over and nothing came of the writing, until a decade later when I had an idea for a black comedy, and decided to write a screenplay. Which I did, and it horrified my middle class writing group. And then I wrote a fantasy novel, and blithely sent the first draft off. The reply that sticks in my mind is the one that said - What? No map? When I look back at these early efforts, I shake my head and have to laugh at my ignorance.  
                    I came to a point where I took writing more seriously, and returned to studying with the Open University. After two and half years of writing courses I gained a Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and made some great friends along the way. I love studying, and contemplated doing a masters in something literature or writing related, (sometimes think I’d be an eternal student if I could) but I had to decide whether to continue studying or have a serious attempt at writing. And as all life has an end point, I plumped for the writing thing.
            And now here I am. I’ve somehow completed and published two novels, which continues to astound me. I wrote the first chapter of One Summer in Montmartre, my debut novel, as a writing assignment, and returned to finish it after several years as the story stayed with me. My second novel, just published, Tatya’s Return, is the first in a trilogy and is a paranormal thriller/romance.
            I’ve always had itchy feet, and my travels have taken me to many interesting places, but I’m now happily living in the scenic county of Aberdeenshire. I don’t know if it’s the writing which satisfies me so much or not, but I’ve put down roots and seem to have come to a full stop. Of course, it may just be the pull of the granite holding me here!
            Well, thank you, Carol. I’m stuffed with cake and cookies (can you ever have enough cake and cookies?) and it’s time to take my leave. Thank you for having me – it’s been a pleasure to visit.''

Saturday 6 December 2014

The Day I Became An Alien

Imagine the scene:

I'm hanging at the bus stop with my crew: Jo, Mo, Flo* and Allan**. We are the Freedom Bus Pass Gang; twice a week we gather at 9.35am to wait for the 657 bus to take us into town. (It used to be the 620 but Uno, the bus company, recently changed it to the 657 and now it comes 8 minutes later. No don't ask, because we don't know either.)

The crew are OK about the fact that I write letters to the local paper as they all know I am the co-founder of Harpenden Independent Partnership and chair of a community action group trying to stop the local town council from selling our urban green space to a developer. Thus I fire off a lot of what I like to think of as wry, witty, urbanely Swiftian epistles which always get published in our local paper.

This is because the editor knows my stuff will generate rude responses from people with humorectomies and irony bypasses who live in the posh bits of town, and see no reason why our urban green space shouldn't be covered in tarmac and Tesco School of Architecture housing because hey, it isn't their urban green space. Over the years I've developed quite a following, and am apparently referred to colloquially and locally as 'the redhead who writes those letters'.

But the crew also know that there is a darker, more perplexing side to what I do, known as 'The Writing', words usually uttered in the same cautious tone of voice that one might use for other words like 'shark' or 'cockroach'. Thus it is that Jo eventually plucks up courage and asks, 'How's The Writing going then, Carol?'

And that's when it happens. Without even thinking, I sigh deeply, roll my eyes and say: 'Had to cancel my Facebook launch as I lost my Wifi. And then Google spammed my blog so I had to go into a chat room and talk to a techie, and I had to download an app to sort it out.'

There follows a long silence that hangs around in the air in the way that bricks don't. The crew study the ground carefully. Then Flo murmurs, 'Didn't understand a word of that, sorry.' And Allan agrees. And Jo and Mo step away from me as if I might infect them with whatever I've got. And then thankfully for all concerned, the bus arrives. We scramble on board, showing our passes to the cheerful Polish lady bus driver.

Nobody sits next to me all the way into town.

*   Names changed to protect their identity.
** This is his real name.

Saturday 29 November 2014

So You've Published A Book?

Last Tuesday, the sequel to Diamonds & Dust came out. It's called Honour & Obey (I'm into linked titles) and if you cast your eyes to the right space bar, you can see it. I'm into linked covers too. If you click on either cover, you can read a free sample. It would be easy now to sit back and preen. Many writers do. The book is out. Let the sales start.

Oh no they won't!

Writing a book and getting it published, by whatever conduit you use, is only the start. To get any sales, you have to make people aware of your masterpiece. In this blog, I'm exploring some of the ways I use to promote my work, because unless you are out there, loud and proud, nobody will notice you.

1. Social Media: I've blogged before about how to use Twitter; you can read it HERE. And about using blogs to enhance your digital presence - read it HERE. Suffice to say that most of my sales come from Twitter. And practically all come from people recommending the books to other readers, and that comes from me chatting, interacting and posting funny stuff. In other words, I'm a friend first, an online character second, and a writer selling books third.

2. Press Releases: The local press are (usually) delighted to receive a press release, a publicity pic and a free copy to review.

2a. Press Releases: Anywhere your book is set will be delighted also.

3. Local Radio: Contact them via Twitter, phone them up, arrange to do a studio interview. Listen, I sound like a 15 year old mainlining helium, but I still do it.

4.National Press: Will be interested if you have a brilliant backstory, particularly if it involves abuse, or hardship. Also if you earned shedloads of advance shekels or you are very very photogenic. I haven't cracked this one yet. Maybe you will.

5. Literary Festivals: Everybody's doing it. Local library will have contacts of yours. Get in touch. I did the first St Albans Literary Festival this November. I ran a workshop on how to get published ... ooh, and I had some books on a side-table.

6. Signings: Local bookshop is worth approaching. If it's Waterstones, good luck.

7.Talks: WI - you have to audition and be approved, but it's worth it. Local book clubs/writers' groups are also worth contacting. If you write YA or childrens' fiction, schools are always keen to have a visiting writer. Make sure you get paid - the Society of Authors has recommended fees.

As you now see, there is a lot more to being a writer than merely writing. Writing is the ''easy'' bit! And lest you should eye your mainstream published brethren and mutter 'bet they don't have to do all this' - YES THEY DO! Big publishers are very selective about who they spend their publicity budgets promoting. If it ain't you, you will still have to do the legwork. I've spoken to some ''famous'' names, and it is so.

Finally - make sure you are registered for PLR - Public Lending Rights: that's the money paid by libraries every time your book is borrowed. You can register at www.plr.uk.com. Every little helps.

If I've missed out your favourite publicity medium, then please mention it in the comments. Congratulations on being a published author, welcome to the club. Now get out there and sell!

Saturday 22 November 2014

THE PINK SOFA meets Carol Anne Hunter

The Very Late Carol Anne Hunter – Writer?

Every now and then,The Pink Sofa falls in love with one of its guests. Carol Anne is its latest crush. I met Carol Anne when Crooked Cat asked me to advise her as she entered the tricky land of Social Media. Carol Anne is a whirlwind of fun mixed with compassion and a HUGE writing talent. The smitten Pink Sofa is reading 'Project Me' at the moment, and wishes you all to know that it is THE Go-to book this Christmas (stuff my new book - but that's furniture for you). In honour of Carol Anne's visit, there are bowls of mincemeant ice cream and chocolate cupcakes on the coffee table. Go Carol Anne ....

The Very Late Carol Anne Hunter – Writer?
If you ask me what I do, I’ll say I’m retired, or a carer, or I work part-time behind a bar. I never say I’m a writer, although it’s all I want to do, it just feels too grandiose to be me. Or maybe it has something to do with the time it took me to write my first book and see it published – six years all in, although I wasn’t writing full-time and there were long spells where I didn’t touch the manuscript at all. But I always came back to it and I knew I couldn’t let it fester in a drawer. It also has to do with my disbelief at being published at age sixty. 

The term ‘late starter’ should be my mantra. So should ‘endurance’. I don’t mind telling you that Crooked Cat offered me a contract from the book’s fourteenth submission. I comfort myself with the thought that much better writers than me also braved this test of self-belief. Dedication is the name of the writing game; persistence is its publishing partner.
Carol's latest novel
Twenty-seven years of working with Jobcentre Plus (DHSS as was) gave me lots of writing fodder, which was often less to do with the behaviour of our public and more to do with the characters amongst our staff. The men at the golf club are a great source of banter, too, especially when they’ve quaffed a glass or two.

 I also hail from a huge extended family – my mum was one of eleven and I’m one of around forty grandchildren (give or take). The eight year old me would be sent behind the couch to play while mum and her sisters gossiped about family matters and boy, did I have big ears. I’d pick up on snippets such as, ‘Remember when whatshername had the B-A-B-Y?’ While they rattled the skeletons in the family closet, I learned the clan’s secrets. 

In my defence, their chats were educational. Well, as far as spelling went, that is. And I have a handy quirk – I can remember almost every one-liner, put-down or clever remark ever uttered in my presence, all of which have been captured and stored in my computer, and are jostling for their moment on a page. One came in email form.  I messaged a friend late one night before climbing into bed and signed off with ‘Nite nite, I’m off to bobos.’ She came back with, ‘ooh, is that yon new night club in town?’ Priceless. Like I’d ever be caught dead in a night club.
After early retirement I didn’t want to go back to targets, deadlines and budgets, but I craved a challenge. Then I thought back to my early thirties when I’d taken an English ‘O’ level night class. The tutor, who was more accustomed to being ignored by twelve year olds than teaching enthusiastic adults, refused to mark my first submitted essay and accused me of copying it from a book. I was so busy flouncing out of her class that I didn’t catch on to the compliment at first. My indignance took me back to a different class the following year and I achieved an ‘A’ in the English Higher. With distinction. And bells and whistles. And a happy dance. Every cloud…

I wanted to take my studies further but by then I had met the man I later married. He was starting up a new business and I became his part-time company secretary and step-mum to his three kids while still working for DHSS full-time. Writing was relegated to the bottom of the work pile, hence the reason I didn’t take it seriously until I was fifty-five, post-marital and retired.

I’m currently working on Book #2, the sequel to Project Me. I’ve had to take my foot off the writing pedal due to my mum’s deteriorating health but I won’t pull on the brake the way I did in my thirties. Instead I’ll slow it down, write when I can and hope I reach the finishing line while it’s still relevant.

I’ve always written in some form or another. Funny poems are my forte and once I get into the zone it all seems to flow as if it’s being fed down via some cosmic link. I love word play, gritty dialogue and attitude and I hope that comes over in my writing.

What’s the new dream? Now that the book is published, I suppose it’s to have someone make the movie. I’d love to see my characters brought to life. It’s unlikely to happen, given the odds and the number of fabulous stories out there vying for attention, but it would be amazing all the same, and the only way I’d ever get to meet the gorgeous Douglas Henshall since I wrote the part of Maggie’s ex-boyfriend, John, especially for him.  
   Well, a girl needs something to aim for, doesn’t she?

Amazon.co.uk   http://amzn.to/1yea08M
Amazon.com     http://amzn.to/122tym1
Crooked Cat Books:        http://urls.ht/3N9
Combined website/blog – www.carolannehunter.co.uk

Friday 14 November 2014

Please Please Me: Sex and the Victorians

A mechanical vibrator

One of the joys of writing Victorian crime fiction is the unexpected area of research that you innocently type into Google, not anticipating anything to appear. And then it does. For my current book, I wanted to explore some of the myths surrounding the ''sexually repressed Victorians'' legacy.

The biggest myth was that the Victorians, particularly women, ''hated'' sex and were all frustrated and miserable. They certainly did not and were not. Queen Victoria for one, loved it. The morning after her wedding night she wrote ecstatically in her diary that sex was ''a foretaste of heaven''. The Victorian era marked the start of the ''information age'' and there were manuals, pamphlets and advice books on love making, if you knew where to buy them.

Victorian women were not the sexually passive creatures they have come to be seen as. The lives of famous courtesans like Cora Pearl, and ''Skittles'' -  one of the 'pretty horsebreakers' who rode out on Sunday afternoons in Hyde Park, totally naked under her riding habit, show that female sexuality was as expressive and varied as it is today.

Don't ask
Of course there were exceptions. The notion that girls arrived at their wedding night pure, sexless and ignorant to be awakened (or not) by her husband can be seen in the forlorn comment of Mary Sidgewick, married in 1859 at the age of 18 to a much older man. She later wrote in her diary: ' how I cried at Paris....the nights!' However, the importance of the female orgasm was certainly known about and seen as vitally important in a relationship. Sexual pleasure, especially female sexual pleasure, mattered.

This was because the Victorians believed that a woman in a sexually satisfying relationship was more likely to become pregnant, thus the idea that masturbation was not a good idea. A book entitled The Art To Begetting Handsome Children, published in 1860, had detailed instructions on foreplay and love-making within the marriage relationship - for the Victorians, of course, this was the proper and only place for sex to happen.

electromechanical vibrator
The other myth is that the Victorians used vibrators via pelvic massage administered by the medical profession to induce orgasm in women, who were supposed to suffer from hysterics. The release of the ''hysterical paroxysm'' (orgasm) purportedly helped the poor things to calm down. To aid this, the Victorians apparently  'invented' the vibrator, because there were far too many women and not enough strong-handed doctors.

1890 hand-cranked vibrator
Frankly, I find this difficult to believe. Victorian vibrators (see pics) are the most unsexiest things I have ever seen. I can't imagine any women, however 'hysterical' reaching orgasm with one of these devices clunking and buzzing away down her lower end! Luckily, there were many more attractive aids available. Victorian sex toys were many and varied, often crafted in ivory, or wood or leather.

Some were decorated with flowers or delicate silver tracery.
All were created to enhance women's sexual pleasure. For the Victorians, sex, pleasure and love were important concepts, and they were just as preoccupied, fascinated and eager to experiment as we are today.

If you would like to download a free sample of Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so HERE.  Honour&Obey, A Victorian Crime Thriller can be viewed HERE

Friday 7 November 2014

Don't Leak On My Parade

Tricky times at Hedges Towers. We have a leak in the flat roof, and water is coming in and soaking two walls. Thus the bathroom contents are currently on the landing, and the utility room is in the hallway. Apart from the worry of water damage and the bill to have the roof fixed - we now know it needs to be completely replaced thanks to the disreputable cowboys who fitted the original one, we are also having to get up in the night to change the newspaper that is soaking up the water

Which meant we were pretty fed up by the end of the week, when BH and I went into town to close his annual savings account at the bank and transfer funds elsewhere. He has to be physically there because I, despite being married to him for 39 years, and in full possession of every identity document of his that you could shake a stick at, am not now allowed to open or close or do anything without his actual presence, thank you, even though we apparently own 60% of the bank concerned.

We both think it's preposterous and a waste of our time. Especially as we used to be able to open and close accounts for each other, and we have a joint account there anyway. So, picture the scene therefore: It's Saturday morning. We are anxious about the roof. We are cross. We have not slept well. We have heavy colds. We are fed up with stupid bank protocols. What followed was something Samuel Beckett would not have been ashamed to own. As I recall, it went like this:

BH:  You don't need to stay with me.
Me:   Really? Are you sure?
BH:   I can manage perfectly well. You go and wait over there.
Me:   Over here? OK. I'll wait.
Young Female Bank Person: So Mr Hedges, what is the name of the savings account?
BH:   I don't know. It's just a savings account.
YFBP: I need the actual type of account.
BH:   Oh for goodness sake. (calls) What's the name of the account?
Me:   I thought you told me to wait over here.
BH:   I don't know the name of the account.
Me:   You said you could manage.
BH:   I could, only I don't know the name of the account.
Me:   So you want me to come over there now?
BH:   Yes.
Me:   You don't want me to wait over here?
BH:   No.
YFBP: (smiling rather too brightly) Right. Let's start again...

That was pretty much as good as it got. We agreed afterwards that we'd never made it through a bank visit quite so speedily before. Bank Person couldn't get rid of us fast enough. None of that 'while you're here ..'' stuff that usually heralds them attempting to flog you naff insurance. It was: Pretend to smile, press the buttons, print the paperwork, please please go away now. We are thinking of hiring ourselves out to other bank customers.

See - every now and then being old has its advantages, and we need all the advantages we can get as neither of us are getting any younger. Certainly we're not getting any saner. Quite the opposite. And given the way that we are becoming more and more incensed with the red-tapery of life, we may soon be carted off to the nearest psycho-geriatric unit in matching his and hers strait-jackets. If the water from the roof doesn't carry us off first.

If you would like to read a FREE sample of my novel Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Crime Thriller, you can do so here

Saturday 1 November 2014


Hello. My name is Carol Hedges and I write crime fiction *nervous smile*. Look, I'm a nice person. Really I am. I drive a pink car; I have a peach-pretty blog. I help old ladies over the road (usually they're me). But. Somewhere deep beneath the surface lurks a dark, manic, twisted soul who likes nothing better than plotting how to murder, maim or mutilate people.

I have often wondered whether writers choose their genre according to their personality type: Chicklit writers are all heart (and cupcakes); Children's writers have secretly never grown up; Horror writers are replaying their monster-under-the bed fears. It would make interesting research for someone with nothing better to do.

One thing unites most writers: they usually start at the beginning of a book, and work their way in a sequential narrative until they reach the end. Crime writers differ. We do it backwards. We start with the crime and who committed it, then work out why and how it happened. Thus in each of the Spy Girl books and the three Victorian Crime novels, I always write the last page first.

This is followed by the 'hook' at the beginning, then by the bulk of the story. Sometimes I have as much of a clue as to what is going to happen next as my characters. I like this sort of writing, as it is always challenging - I couldn't do the JK Rowling 50 pages of notes and a couple of grids schtick, as I'd get bored. Very Bored. I have to walk away from every writing session thinking: Okay, how the hell am I going to get my character out of THIS?

Another fun aspect of writing crime fiction is the way that the story always unfolds in unexpected ways. Characters you never knew existed emerge from some mental alleyway and suddenly take centre stage. Often carrying weaponry. Is this the same for other genres? Please tell me if it is so. Because my current series of books are set in the mid-Victorian period and reference Charles Dickens quite a bit, I have got used to the proliferation of ''extras'' and am relaxed about their appearances and disappearances. With weaponry. As in life, so in literature.

On November 18th the follow-up to Diamonds&Dust will hit the bookstores, both physically and digitally. I have posted the cover at the top of this blog, so that you can read the blurb and get an idea of the story. As you see, it contains the two detectives from the first book  - but in a completely different narrative. Though afficionados of Diamonds&Dust will recognise a few familiar faces. I hope, if you are kind enough to read it, you will enjoy it as much as I did writing it.

Saturday 25 October 2014

The PINK SOFA meets Lorraine Mace

Lorraine Mace, who also writes as Frances di Plino, is another of the Crooked Cat writers. She is able to turn her hand to several genres: crime fiction, children's fiction and very witty articles for Writer's News. Like me, she does the occasional school visit to enthuse children about reading and especially about reading her books. I asked her to talk about one of these visits.

''As authors, one of the banes of our profession is that we very rarely get feedback from our readers. Sure, we get reviews on such sites as Amazon and Goodreads, but if one compares the number of sales to the number of reviews, it is clear that we have no idea what the vast majority of our readers think of our books.

Writing as Frances di Plino, I am the author of the D. I. Paolo Storey crime thrillers. On the first three in the series I have, in total across Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, just 81 reviews – and some of those are duplicated, appearing on both sites! As I know I sell far in excess of 81 copies each and every month, it means the ratio of reviewer to reader is somewhat skewed.

Under my real name, I write children’s novels. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit two schools to read to prospective readers – and this is where the point of the above information comes in. Suddenly, I moved from faceless author with invisible and mainly silent readers to a (slightly shaking) real person in front of a hall full of extremely visible (and potentially vocal) students.

If you intend to read to a large group of children, let me warn you here and now: it is not for the fainthearted!

At the beginning, they will gaze at you with such intensity you will be convinced your skirt is tucked into your underwear. Such is the power of their collective stare, even if you are male and know full well you are wearing trousers, you might still glance down to see if a bit of Victoria’s Secret (or Primark’s finest) is on show.

By the time you have stammered out who you are (if you can still remember) and told them the title of your book (ditto), you will be wondering how it is possible that only two minutes have passed out of the forty-five you have been allocated.
As soon as you begin reading, those intent little faces will switch off and you’ll wonder if you’re actually reading to yourself. I can honestly say I have never felt so alone as I did while reading Vlad the Inhaler at the first school. Every few lines, I took the opportunity to look up and engage with my listeners. At least, I would have done, if they had even glanced in my direction.

They looked out of the windows, stared at the ceiling, studied their feet, picked their noses, and generally gave the impression that they would rather be anywhere than in that hall, at that time, listening to my book!

By the end of the passage I’d selected, I felt completely demoralised and was on the point of vowing to give up writing completely. The hall was silent, the intent stares back, and it was with no real expectation of success that I asked: any questions?

The moment when a child put up her hand has stayed with me ever since. Her question? “Please, miss, where can I buy your book?”

That opened the floodgates. Hands shot in the air, attached to squirming bodies intent on gaining my attention. The questions were brilliant – showing they’d listened to every word. Nearly all the children dragged their parents in at the end of the day to buy a signed copy.

The reading at the next school followed that exact same pattern – but this time I didn’t allow myself to be fazed by the stares, or the apparent boredom while I was reading. The time at the end flew past with, once again, intelligent and thought-provoking questions being fired at me from all parts of the room.

I have several other schools to visit this term and I’m still a bit nervous at how my listeners will react. After all, children are the greatest levellers – if they don’t like something, it shows.

But when they engage with a book you’ve written, there isn’t anything else in the world that will provide an ego boost to match it.

A page of great reviews on Amazon? Pah! Give me a room full of excited children asking what’s going to happen in book two, or telling me which character from Vlad the Inhaler they would most like to be, or meeting up with them in the bookshop later and finding out Vlad the Inhaler is now their favourite book in the whole world. No five-star review even comes close.''

Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.

Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending
The fourth in the series, Looking for a Reason, is due for release by Crooked Cat Publishing on 28th October.

Saturday 18 October 2014

Infrastructure Issues

As many of you know, I am a local community activist, or thorough nuisance, depending upon which side of Harpenden Town Council table you sit. Apparently I am known in some quarters as: ''The Coldharbour Lane Witch'' - a label I wear with pride. For the past six years, I have fought the 100% Tory Town Council to preserve a small council ex-allotment site, home to several species of listed Wildlife, from being sold off so a local developer can build ''affordable housing'' - a euphemism for ''housing that only rich people moving from London can afford or investment opportunities for ourselves or our friends.''

When we moved to Harpenden 23 years ago, there were people who still referred to it as ''the village''. They'd be hard put to do so now. Development has taken place at a ferocious rate, with all the concomitant evils of a high street that becomes Carmageddon during the rush hour, the school run and any problems with the M1. Now the Green Belt is being threatened, and the usual Nimbys who have staved off development in their area for EVER are re-bleating their mantra that ''the council has plenty of land within the town for development'' - ie: push more houses into poorer areas (like mine) so WE - your core voters can continue to enjoy our pleasant views.

Stupid cycle crossing
The picture above gives you an idea of what life is like here when it rains. Thanks to tarmacking a natural path to turn it into a cycle way and the utterly stupid cycle crossing (see right) which funnels all the water down from the main road into the road at the back of my house we now have regular flooding. This is exacerbated by the ''2 for 1'' building nearby and, should the plan to build on my site, just beyond the trees in the 2 flooding pictures, go ahead it can only get worse.

Recent flood with 2CV
And then there are the regular sewage overflows - which Thames Water knows all about but says they are not going to fix as it would mean relaying the whole main sewer which would cost too much. The Tory leader of the Cabinet stated at a recent Planning Meeting that the current building plan for 500 more houses couldn't take into account any infrastructure backlogs - translation for the uninitiated: we don't give a toss about 'small' local issues like drains, potholes, crumbling sewers, overcrowding, flooding, roads, parking, school places etc because they are the concern of the County Council.

State of the art patchwork road
No joined up thinking is being done. The County Council are currently running an infrastructure deficit of millions, so are probably not  - wild guess here - going to spend it fixing our 'small' local issues either. Even if they aren't small to the people who live here and get flooded or who can't park outside their own houses or are worried about future sewage backup if even more pressure is exacted upon the system, or who feed the badgers and care about the Roman Snails.

Hopefully, we can show them exactly how we feel about things next May, when most of the Town Council is up for re-election. A perfect storm is brewing, both in the real and the murky world of local politics. Mops and buckets at the ready.

Friday 10 October 2014

The PINK SOFA meets Andrew French, author

Andrew French is one of the many writers I met on Twitter. He has a wicked and wonderful sense of 
humour and is totally worth following at @AFrenchAuthor. He's also very supportive of other writers, and retweets their stuff regularly. BH took Andrew's first book, Assassin's Run to Italy with him, and enjoyed it immensely. He is now reading the third one. I have just started the first one. The Pink Sofa is reading the second. Says it all.  In honour of Andrew's visit, there is freshly brewed coffee and chocolate cupcakes on the coffee table.
I asked Andrew how he got into writing...

'' I have always dabbled a bit with writing. I wrote comedy scripts when I was at school, some of which I submitted to the BBC. I always fancied the thought of writing a book but always managed to find a good reason not to. For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed reading spy stories, Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, Alistair Maclean and Frederick Forsythe being my particular favourites.

When my youngest son, Matthew was born with some medical problems, I took the decision to give up work to care for him full-time. Once he became fully well and went to school I tried unsuccessfully to resume my career. A man taking a four year sabbatical makes him less attractive to employers apparently. So, no longer being able to find a good reason why I shouldn’t, I decided to write a book

I spent most of my working life in the funeral service. I began making the tea and sweeping up for a few hours a week in the local family-run Funeral Directors. I found the work fascinating. So much so, I became a full-time funeral assistant after a few months. My progression from then on was somewhat meteoric. I qualified as a Funeral Director, then as a bereavement counsellor specialising in children’s grief. The family-run business was acquired by a large independent funeral company and I became the branch manager. Two years later I became the company’s head of operations and two years after that I was the Managing Director responsible for thirty-three funeral businesses across England and Wales.

Michael Prentiss is the hero of my spy novels. I introduced him in the first book, Assassin’s Run set in 1980. Prentiss is a sixteen year old young man attending the army’s selection centre to join the Royal Military Police. He is, however, recruited by a secret army intelligence unit known as The Detachment, or simply, ‘The Det’, for an unofficial operation in Londonderry. The Det’s role is to combat the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland at the height of ‘The Troubles’.  

The Michael Prentiss series
Michael Prentiss is a man born out of time. He believes passionately in chivalry, not as we know the word today, but in its truest sense of courage, bravery, honour and defending the innocent whatever the cost. Prentiss is one of three main characters in my books. Michael Prentiss, Colonel Charles Mabbitt, the CO of The Det, and Richard Jordan, one of its best operators. These are my three musketeers. Although all my books have rather intricate plots with many twists and turns, they are first and foremost character driven. I take the reader on a journey, following the lives of these three men and how their experiences change them, not always for the better. 

Prentiss in particular has developed into a complex and multi-faceted character. What I love most is the bond the three men develop over the six years over which the four books are set.
I spend a great deal of time research. As the books are set in the 1980’s I have to ensure that everything is ‘right’. From the cars they drive, the food they eat and the locations I put them in, I make sure that it is as factual as it possibly can be. This gives the stories a feel of authenticity and almost one of nostalgia to those reading it that can remember that period.

I felt it was important to publish both in e-book and conventional book form. As popular as the e-book has become there will always be those who prefer to read an actual book. To hold a book and turn it’s pages one by one, admiring it on a bookshelf is a pleasure in itself. No matter how advanced technologically we become I feel there will always be a place for a traditional book.

I am now a permanent stay-at-home-dad. I try and write every day when I’m not doing the washing and ironing and cleaning, you know, all the exciting things of life. If the inspiration light bulb goes on I can write for six hours straight, typing like Jessica Fletcher in the opening credits of Murder She Wrote. Other times I struggle to write a paragraph. I spend a lot of time working out the plot. The trouble with writing about terrorists is that you have to come up with a plot that’s not only feasible but believable. This means the further I get into the book the more absorbed I get with it until it pretty much takes over my every waking moment.

When I’m not writing I love watching TV. Most of my free time however is spent with my wife Alison and my youngest son, Matthew. They keep me sane. Alison is my greatest critic and best friend and Matthew just makes me laugh all the time. I’m a lucky man.''

You can download a FREE sample of Assassin's Run HERE

Thanks Andrew. Finally, someone who publishes in both formats! So, while Andrew tucks into coffee and cake, why not join him on the sofa ... there's plenty of room and ask him a question.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Those ''Little Moments''

Who was it said they wished there was a stair lift that reached the top landing before you'd forgotten why you wanted to go up there in the first place? No, I don't know either, but the first three words of that sentence are currently proving to be rather a leitmotiv for my life. Do not get me wrong: I love entering vintagedom. The hair has never been redder, the attitude sassier or feistier and as for caring what the world and its partner thinks of me, I'm so waay ahead of Rhett Butler.

And yet, over and above all the feist and sass and damn, there are moments when stuff .... well ... somehow eludes me. A realization that was brought home vividly the other week as I stood outside a John Lewis store cursing because it was shut, and suddenly perceived the reason I couldn't get in was because I was pushing a door marked pull. Similarly, when I arrived back home minus the things I'd bought as I'd managed to mislay them somewhere between the counter where I paid for them and the homeward journey. And again the time I had a full-on public row with the Automated EE woman because I dropped my credit card while topping up the mobile on a moving bus and she didn't do ''hang on, just got to pick up the credit card''.

No, I am not going gaga, to use the medical terminology. Just getting a little .... what's the word I'm groping for? Yes, that. Like the other day I was waiting at the bus stop to catch the Luton bus, when I was actually supposed to be catching the St Albans bus which comes on the opposite side of the road and goes in the opposite direction. Fortunately remembered just as it turned the corner. Poor bus driver nearly had a heart attack as I dived in front of his wheels, arm outstretched.

Then there is the mobile phone. I put it down. Somewhere. Most of the calls to my mobile are me ringing it from the landline to find out where it is, having looked up the number beforehand because I can never ... umm ... thingy ...it. Thank goodness it's only a cheapo Nokia, suitable for the technically challenged and easily replaceable if I ever flush it down the loo. Which is always a possibility. Gawd knows what might happen if I had one of those £700 bendy i-Phone 6 things.

My best friend Elissa and I have these ... whatsits ... every time we go out together. Sometimes we find ourselves driving along somewhere without the slightest clue where we're supposed to be heading, though we knew when we started out. Or we can't find her silver Toyota in a multi-storey though in our defence there are always so many silver Toyotas in multi-storeys, silver being the go-to colour for most modern cars that it isn't really our fault. We have been reduced to pacing the aisles clicking her key fob in the hope that the car will respond eventually.

It's infuriating, but there appears to be nothing I can do to prevent it happening. And it does seem to be happening with alarming frequency. Whatever it is. So there you are ... who are you again? Anyway, you'll have to excuse me now: I have an elsewhere to be. Or I will have, once I can remember where the hell it is.

SEE ALSO: Aldi Antics  http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/aldi-antics.html
                     Transports of Delight http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/transports-of-delight.html

If you would like to read my short story 'The Fair Infanta' on Wattpad, you can do so HERE

Friday 26 September 2014

Serial Killers

As you probably all know, Diamonds&Dust, which was rejected out of hand by my ex-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 and the Folio Society Prize, is now developing offspring.

It wasn't meant to. Seriously. Grateful as I was to Crooked Cat Books, 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 I'd started, it seemed logical to keep going.

Thus the sequel, Honour&Obey whose title alone will be a cause of much distress to the US market, will hit the literary stratosphere in November. You have probably seen the Tweets. You may even have been invited to the virtual Facebook launch - please note: Victorian dress is compulsory and to those who attended last year's launch, yes we have secured the services of Ralph the Marvellous Performing Dog once again.

There are those writers who regard a series as a bit of a ''cop-out'': after all, you've got all 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 1 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 wonder 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. 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. This is probably why some of them are keeping doggedly going 10 + books later. I can't see myself getting as far as a fifth book right now. Mind, I never thought I'd get as far as a third. In the meantime, I plot on with book 3, crossing my fingers, hoping that it will avoid the ubiquitous potholes and that I can pull it off successfully yet again.

If you would like to download a free sample of Diamonds&Dust A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so HERE. US readers can do so HERE