Monday, 28 December 2015

What have I done this year?

After the build up to Christmas and the day itself, my family and I are having a few days at home together. It's all very relaxed and with no real plans to keep to. Late nights, family games and good company. My husband and children are taking advantage of the lack of routine to have lie-ins so I'm usually first up, enjoying the quiet with my morning coffee. It gives me time to think and reflect on the year that's almost over. It's been generally a good one, in some ways quite magical, and definitely a year I want to remember.

Back in January, I posted my 2015 reading list and my goals for the year. I didn't do very well with the reading list, only completing three of the fifteen (even worse than in 2014). I must read more next year. I did better with my goals. I revised and polished my novel and began the search for an agent. I returned to the partial first draft of my second novel which now requires a massive rethink because of changes to the first novel. Due to the amount of time spent on my novel, I didn't get around to writing two more plays for Murdering The Text but I did start on a plan for one of them.

In February, I received back Brian Keaney's assessment of my novel. This set me on the track for revising Shadowbinder. I would thoroughly recommend Brian and the Writer's Workshop to anyone seeking advice on their writing.

March saw my first book review of the year of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I also shared a trailer review for Kelly Hashway's novel, The Darkness Within and talked about the sad news of the death of one of my favourite writers, Terry Pratchett.

In April, I took part in Camp NanoWrimo and although I didn't reach my writing target of 30,000 words, I wasn't far off at just under 25,000 words. I also found a new place to write and draw inspiration from which just happened to be a coffee shop. Who'd have guessed?

May was a month of working on my novel in earnest as I set myself the target of finishing the redraft by the summer.
In June, I made the decision to take a break from blogging to concentrate completely on reworking my novel. The break continued throughout July until I finally posted back on here in August.

That month, I also made some changes to my blogging routine and posted a new 7 ways article on how I cope with my anxiety.

In September, I reviewed The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern which I had read on holiday in August.

As part of the Chester Literature Festival in October, I met with agent Carrie Kania to discuss the first fifty pages of my novel. Her advice was informative and encouraging, and I came away feeling very optimistic.

In November, having completed and polished my novel, I submitted it to three literary agents. I also posted a new 7 Ways article on motivation.

December went by in a whirl of waiting for agent responses, preparing for Christmas and taxi-ing my children to various events. To date, I have received two no's from the three literary agents I submitted my novel to. The first came back with helpful and encouraging feedback though so I'm not downhearted.

Personally, 2015 has been a year of improvement and change, all of it welcome. Both my children are now at high school (which brings all kinds of new and varied challenges). We've moved house. I have my first ever study (no more hogging the dining table or sharing a computer desk). Life is good and looking better. I can't wait for 2016 to arrive.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Just a quick post to wish you all the best for Christmas. May the day bring you all that you wish for, and if that isn't possible (I doubt I'll get that unicorn this year - darn) then I hope you have the kind of day that you need. 

Corny I know, but this is from the soundtrack of 
one of my favourite Christmas films.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

My Christmas List

Have you made a Christmas list this year or are you just hoping that your family know you well enough to buy the right gifts for you? I've probably left this list a little late to be of any use to my family but just in case...

Firstly, I'd like a peaceful Christmas Day. Not peaceful as in alone, or with the family tied to their beds, but peaceful in that there are no cross words or bad feelings, towards anyone, just good cheer and lots of laughter.

Secondly, for my family to remember that when I'm tidying away the torn-off wrapping paper and fussing over some aspect of the food, I'm not being a kill-joy. I'm simply attempting to quieten my anxiety and keep on top of things. I'm enjoying myself, really I am, even if I'm frowning.

Thirdly, wouldn't it be wonderful to have a day without war, or murder, or cruelty? This is a long shot, and incredibly naive. Still, fingers crossed for that one.

I'd like a day without pain. I'm still suffering with my injured shoulder. It's nothing serious but the constant pain is beginning to get me down. Maybe the day itself will distract me enough to not notice it for twenty four hours.

Of course, one of the best Christmas gifts would be to have a literary agent for my novel by Christmas. Two of the three I submitted my manuscript to in November, have said no, but with some wonderful and encouraging feedback. Fingers crossed for the third one.

So, what do you reckon? Will I get anything from my list? What about you? What's on your list this year?

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Something Useful for 2015 - Exercise No. 17

Have you seen this Christmas advert yet?

An elderly gentleman finds that the only way to bring his family together at Christmas is to fake his own death. This German advert has reduced most people I know to tears, including me.

Many families only come together to celebrate weddings or commiserate the loss of a loved one. For me, Christmas was the main time each year when my own family gathered in one place - aunts, uncles, cousins, friends who meant as much to us as family too - and it was these gatherings that often created the stories my family would tell and re-tell.

What Christmas tales did your family create from the yearly gatherings? Happy? Sad? Comical? All of those together?  Let me know.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Photo Inspiration for December

Early one morning last week, while my family remained warm in the house before school and work, I ventured outside to leave the bins for the refuse collection. It was hardly a romantic or glamorous start to the the day but when I looked up, I saw this.

In the midst of the lightening sky, a crescent moon and a star (or is it the space station?) sat shining alone together. It was one of those skies that made me pause (and obviously take a photo).

What does this sky inspire you to write about? New beginnings? Peace? Partnership? Let me know.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Choice Words for December

One of the questions I asked myself when plotting my novel, Shadowbinder, was how I could make things hell for my protagonist? And then, how could I make it worse? The next question I asked myself was how could I make the story's outcome matter to him?

Writer K M Weiland discusses this same topic in her article, When Your Story Stakes Aren't High Enough. Have a read.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

It's that season again

Christmas trees are going up in people's homes (they've been up in the shops since the beginning of November). Black Friday and Cyber Monday saw a record spend by the British public. Bets are being placed on whether we'll have snow on the big day.

In the run up to Christmas, I think we all go a bit doolally in our quest for the perfect festive celebration. That isn't necessarily a bad thing but it can certainly cause as many arguments as it does rewards.

When I first started writing the 7 Ways articles, I posted one on how to survive the run up to Christmas. I think that 7 ways to keep your sanity in the festive season is still as pertinent today as it was back then. Go on, slap a snowman.

A major part of the preparations in the run up to Christmas is buying presents. Throughout the year, I make a note of all the things that my children mention they would like so I have a shopping list by the time I get to November. My husband is more difficult. This year I told him, "Tell me what you want for Christmas or I'll buy you a load of tat that you won't want". Strangely, it worked and his presents are now waiting to be wrapped. What about me - the writerly one? I'm probably the most difficult of all to buy for. If you have the same problems with a writer friend or family member, then my article 7 ways to give to your writer friends at Christmas might prove helpful. Have a look.

I'm off now to begin the present wrapping saga. I may be some time.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

What I'm Doing This Month - December

December this year finds me in a very festive mood and for once, I'm rather organised. I finished my Christmas present shopping in November. That's never happened before. I have Christmas cards ready to be written and wrapping paper at hand. We're not quite sure where the Christmas tree is going to go in our new house but that's only a minor blip on the festive horizon.

I'm still unpacking boxes with the target of having it all finished by mid month, and delighting in re-discovering all kind of gems that I'd packed away during probably the move before last.

I have a new desk for my first ever study. I'm sitting at it now as I type. This will probably be the last room I'll sort out but I'm all kinds of giddy to have all of my things together, unpacked and in view.

So what of my writing for December?


After sending off my novel to three agents mid November, I'm waiting for a response. One got back to me almost immediately to say they were looking forward to reading my 'intriguing' novel and would contact me before Christmas. I could send myself mad wondering what the responses will be but I've decided to put the novel to bed for now.

In the meantime

I'm working on my next murder mystery play. I have a title, a setting and scenario, a murder victim and the beginnings of a cast. I'll let you know how that goes in the new year.

The next novel

Working on the final draft of Shadowbinder, I changed quite a lot of the original storyline, details about certain unseen characters and the future of the antagonist. This means that the second novel has to begin on a completely different footing to what I had originally planned. I started to write novel number two during last year's NanoWrimo so I have several chapters already under my belt (around 30,000 words) and thankfully I'll still be able to use the majority of that. First though, I have to finish my murder mystery script.

Have a wonderful December.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Take the time to share a story

On Sunday night, my children, my husband and I sat down at the dining table to play a game of Cluedo. We try to make a point of having a family board game most weekends. Sometimes it might be Scrabble, other times Monopoly. It doesn't really matter what we play. The main value of the experience is in coming together, away from gadgets and TV, to concentrate on spending time with each other. Most of the conversation will be centred around the game but we'll also swap stories about the week that has just passed and discuss what might be coming up in the days ahead.

As a child, board games, card games, and family gatherings were a regular event. Sometimes it would just be me and my parents (I'm an only child). On other occasions, the neighbours would come in, or for a special night like New Year's Eve, there'd be a party of friends and family filling the house with laughter and chat.

Whether there were few of us or many, the gathering would always lead to the telling of stories. My father would discuss his childhood in the countryside surrounding Loch Lomond in Scotland. The photo is of a working horse called Rosie with my father when he was a boy. He would help take Rosie home to the farm after her working day was done.

My mother would discuss family members and tales of childhood (normally involving her being naughty) with her cousins and sister. She spun a wonderful tale of a girlhood spent running riot in rhurbarb patches and sliding on a tray down muddy hills.

In my own life, I do my best to share stories of my own childhood, my parents and life in general with my children but there is a constant battle against gadgets, TV and computers. As a society, we seem to rely on these outside devices to supply us with stories, rather than looking in, to our friends and families, to share stories in a more traditional, oral way.

There is something very comforting about coming together to share a story, especially when it's a story of a shared heritage, but looking people you care about in the eye as you recount a tale of whatever can be a wonderful experience too.

I think it's time we learned to turn off the gadgets, even if only for a while, and return to the concept of gatherings simply for the purpose of communication. Play cards or a board game by all means, but take the time to look the other members of your party in the eye and talk.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

7 ways to stay motivated (or get motivated in the first place)

Are you a self-motivator or do you need a nudge or a carrot to keep going? I'm a bit of both depending on the task at hand but over the years, I've come up with a number of ways to motivate myself.

1. Treat Yourself

This is the 'carrot' I mentioned above. Promise yourself that when (not if) you complete the task, you'll treat yourself to something. What that 'thing' is depends of course on you. You might choose simply to have a cup of tea and sit down to read a book. You might decide to go out somewhere. You might even take yourself shopping for a new bag, book or other item. You know what kind of treat will keep you going (plus what you can afford in the case of a shopping trip) but make it something that really delights you and raises a smile.

2. Visualise the end result

This is not to be confused with day dreaming. That way, only procrastination lies. You can visualise the end result in your mind, have an image on your computer screen or go the whole hog and put together a dream board (see comment above about day dreaming and procrastination - don't spend all your time on simply putting together the dream board and not getting the actual task done). When you feel bogged down in the amount of work you have to do, return to that image.

3. Break the task down into smaller chunks

Sometimes, the tasks we have to complete seem so immense that we're too scared to even start. With every house move I've gone through (and there have been many of them), the experience of shutting the door after the delivery of our  things and facing the mountain of boxes to unpack has reduced me to tears. There was so much to do that I didn't know where to start, but on each occasion I broke the 'mountain' down into rooms. I would tackle the kitchen first, and so on. This allowed me to chip away at the multitude of boxes in a way that didn't paralyse me with fear.

4. Leave it to the last minute

I can feel many of you shaking your heads at this particular piece of advice but for some people (I'm raising my hand) and with certain tasks, this can work. For some reason, flying round my house like a demented tornado while I clean in the run up to a visit by family tends to motivate me more than having a daily cleaning routine. It's probably best not to leave everything until the last minute but it can work as a way to motivate on occasion.

5. Have everything you need to hand

There's something very satisfying about being prepared. I use this method when I'm writing. Whether, I'm camped on the sofa with a pad and a pen, or working on my laptop in my study, I ensure that I have everything that I need to hand so there is no reason for me to stop midway to go in search of something. Having everything prepared and laid out means that I can focus on the task at hand. 

6. Have a plan

Now, this very much comes down to the kind of person you are. There's a phrase in the writing world - plotter or pantser - which means that either you prepare a plot line before you write and stick to it, or you don't and therefore you are 'flying by the seat of your pants' when you write. Most of my life has been spent doing the latter but there are occasions when having a plan shows me the way forward and motivates me to keep going. I plan my murder mystery plays, for instance, from initial notes and customer query, to character list and what I need to reveal in the play, to the final script delivered to the customer within their time frame. I've tried to plan other tasks (like cleaning the house) and failed to keep to the plan because, well, I'm just naughty like that. 

7. Set a timer

When I'm in the flow of my writing, I can happily carry on for hours, but when the words refuse to come and have to be dragged into existence, I set myself twenty minute slots (using the alarm on my mobile phone). I agree with myself to write for that twenty minutes and then, if I'm still struggling, to stop. If I'm not struggling, then I can just carry on. It's similar to breaking the task down into smaller chunks. If you are facing a difficult task, then knowing that you only have to do twenty minutes or one hour of it before you can stop, can be a real motivator.

How do you motivate yourself?

Monday, 16 November 2015

The die are cast

This morning I did something that I've been longing to do for years. I submitted my novel to a literary agent. Actually, I submitted it to three.

I'm lucky to write my plays for a living but to be a novelist has always been my number one dream. I've written and honed, and rearranged, and edited my manuscript for the past few years. I've sought professional advice and assessments on my writing. I've turned to my favourite writers for advice and inspiration. I've even put together a cast list of actors for my characters. I've taken my novel as far as I can.

Submitting my manuscript today made it all feel very real, and quite terrifying. I read each agent's submission requirements, located the correct person to submit to at each agency and nervously emailed off my novel.

I'm hoping for a good response from at least one of them. I know that I may not hear anything until the new year. Let's be honest. If they're not interested, I may not hear anything at all. That's always a possibility.

I have four other agents lined up to submit my novel to if the initial three say no. I'm hoping for feedback if they decide that my novel isn't for them but I'm also aware that there are many factors involved in their decision, not simply the quality of writing.

So, I'm on the proverbial tenterhooks and I daresay that'll continue for a couple of months at least. I'll keep an eye on the websites of the three agents I've submitted to. My emails pop up on my mobile phone so there's no chance of missing one. I have a murder mystery play to write and the next novel in my trilogy to start on too (or rather pick up from what I wrote of it in last year's NanoWrimo).

I hope the agents love Steve and Hartley and Blessing as much as I do. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Something Useful for 2015 - Exercise No. 16

Around this time every year, I compile a set of family photographs, one for each month, to create a calendar for the following year. December is a shot from the previous year. It's always a pleasure to look back over the last twelve months and remember.

Looking back over my photographs for this year, along with the family shots are images that I took that don't show my family. They're shots of the garden or landscapes or other things that took my fancy. They tell a story in themselves.

Choose twelve photos, one for each month of the year (November and December can be from past years if that's easier). Now, looking at the photos as a group, weave them together into a story.

Here are mine.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Choice Words for November

There is so much advice and opinion out there about how to write a novel (or how to write anything, for that matter) that after a while it can all turn into a blah shade of grey, the same thoughts, techniques and scenarios repeated over and over again. For me, the most informative advice is the kind that comes from a writer's personal experience, illustrated with their own 'story'.

Nathan Filer's TEDx talk, How to write an award winning bestselling first novel, is just such a lesson. If you can spare fifteen minutes, then it's well worth watching.

Nathan Filer

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Photo Inspiration for November

I like unusual buildings and entrances, in fact any kind of threshold that is a little out of the ordinary. I took this photograph back in March on a family trip.

What do you think of this? Is it inviting or just a little bit intimidating? Would you like to drop in? What would you find if you ventured through that door? Who might live here?

What does this inspire you to write?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

What I'm Doing This Month - November

November is here, harbinger of winter and bringer of light in the form of Bonfire Night (a very British celebration). The darkness arrives noticeably earlier each afternoon and the central heating is on. I've taken to snuggling up in my shawl when I write, hot drink to hand.

After the house move in September, visiting Chester Festival and planning Hallowe'en costumes for my children in October, November feels like an altogether more quiet month.

On a personal note, I'm about to start learning Italian (enough to pass as a tourist at least) for a birthday trip/delayed honeymoon to Venice in the new year. I'll let you know how both of those go.

I'm also suffering from a shoulder injury which means I can only spend short amounts of time at a keyboard without my shoulder and arm clamping up. Bedtimes are a series of contortionist feats to sleep without pain. As the doctor said when I went to see her about this, "Perhaps ice skating at your age wasn't such a good idea". We'll see.

My Novel

Following my meeting with Carrie Kania at the Chester Festival last month, I'm making the final edit on my novel. My cover letter is written (thanks to Carrie's advice) and I have a list of agents ready. It's going well and the intention is to have it finished mid month so I can begin to send it off before the end of November.

Fresh Blood

In between everything else that happened in October, I managed to draw up a plan for my next murder mystery play. I'm not saying too much about it at the moment but once my novel has been sent off, I'll start penning the new play.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to take a break from the keyboard to rest my shoulder. Time for a hot drink and some lunch. Ow. Grumble. Ooch. Sigh.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

A Sunday Morning Chat

This is where I found myself on Sunday morning. This is Chester City Hall. As part of the Chester Literature Festival, I was booked in to speak to a lovely lady called Carrie Kania, an agent from Conville and Walsh. The slot was for fifteen minutes, not long, to discuss the first fifty pages of my novel which I had previously emailed to her.

I was directed up a sweeping staircase to wait on a wooden bench. I don't know if it's allowed but I took the opportunity to photograph the impressive, gothic interior. You can find a couple of shots at the bottom of this post.

After waiting for only a couple of minutes (I was early), one of the heavy wooden doors opened. The writer before me left and Carrie invited me in, a small dog trotting at her heels. Her dog is called Foxy and once he had barked at me sufficiently to let me know who was boss, he settled down for a snooze. I nervously took a seat, notepad in hand, ready to hear the verdict on my writing.

Carrie was relaxed, chatty and very professional in her manner. She talked about my writing, my cover letter, the market for my work and where I should go from here. Her advice on my cover letter was detailed and thorough, to the point that I now feel confident about writing it. I've shown my novel to other readers and writers, but having an agent with an in depth knowledge of the publishing world see my work was always going to prove incredibly useful.

The verdict was that the standard of my writing and my novel was already at the point where I could submit it to an agent. Carrie advised that I send it out to agents who specialise in the genre and age group that I'm writing in (12+/teen fantasy), three to five at a go.

I came across the advert for the Chester Literature Festival completely by chance but I'm so pleased that I took the time to find out about it all. The meeting with Carrie has enthused me to carry on with my novel, knowing that I'm on the right track.

I have a final draft to finish (I'm about halfway there already), and then a cover letter and synopsis to write. I've already compiled a list of suitable agents (one of which is Conville and Walsh where Carrie works). Hopefully, I can begin to contact them in November.

Wish me luck.

Carrie and Foxy
- image from

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Photo Inspiration for October

I recently walked into my study and noticed that there was a white smear on the window. When I looked closer, I found this.

 Can you make it out? It's an imprint of a bird that must have collided with the window. You can see its beak, breast feathers and the feathers from an outstretched wing.

I checked the garden but there was no dead or injured bird, and no sign of feathers either, just in case a local cat had taken advantage.

The imprint was created by something completely normal but it signifies a suspended moment in time, a reminder of the past, a ghost.

What would it inspire you to write?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Something Useful for 2015 - Exercise No. 15

It's autumn. The trees are shaking off their greenery. My morning journeys are wrapped in fog from the fields that I drive past. There's a chill in the air even when the sun is shining. I can feel it in my bones (or maybe that's a touch of rheumatism). Everything is on the shift.

This month's exercise is inspired by a word that, for me, denotes this time of year.

Change is ever present although sometimes the change is so gradual that we don't notice it. On other occasions, change can be brutally quick, shocking even.

If you were to write about 'change', what would your story tell me? Who would it be about? What would be its tone? How does change inspire you?

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Choice Words for October

It truly feels like autumn now, the turning of the year into cooler days and tawny shades. I love this season for the same reason that I love spring - there's change in the air.

My choice words this month come from the award winning writers Doris Lessing and Octavia Butler.

The wonderful Doris Lessing talks about writing.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

What I'm Doing This Month - October

Where have the last few weeks gone? I wrote September's post about my plans for the month with the full intention of posting lots more in the following weeks. Then, our house move happened and somewhere in there our internet connection was cut off for several days too.My time has been hijacked by continual carrying, unpacking, searching and way too much cleaning. I'm still surrounded by boxes but at least now they're only knee high and I can see my family over them.

Yesterday, I handed over the keys for our old house and so today, I can finally sit in my new study without any immediate deadlines to drag me off my chair.

So what's happening in October for me, as a writer?

My Novel

I'm still working on my novel, editing and polishing. I was excited to return to it this week but nervous too. Time away from my writing allows me to look at it with fresh eyes and I worried that I might have lost the thread of my storyline in all my editing but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Last month I polished the first fifty pages and emailed them off for an agent appointment at the end of this month.


I packed my book away when I moved and have only just found it again. I'm reading Sepulchre by Kate Mosse. This is the first novel of hers that I've attempted and so far I'm intrigued and entranced by her writing. The aim is to finish it for this month's book review.

Chester Literary Festival

During the Chester Literary Festival, I will be meeting with Conville & Walsh agent, Carrie Kania to discuss the first fifty pages of my novel. The aim is to not only inquire about the quality of my writing but also the commercial viability of my novel. It's only a short slot but fingers crossed it will provide some fresh insight on my writing.

A New Murder Mystery

I wrote three new murder mystery plays last year for Murdering The Text and I think it's time to add another so this month I'll be throwing around ideas for my latest whodunnit. I have several scenarios in mind.

So that's it for me for October. Now I'm (mostly) unpacked and online, I'll be back to my usual blogging routine of once or twice a week. All of that should keep me busy for now.

Monday, 14 September 2015

What I'm Doing This Month

Yes, I know it's mid month and I really should have posted this at the beginning of September but it's been a hectic couple of weeks and I've only just sat down (reaches for coffee).

No, really, it has. The beginning of September saw my children return to school (youngest child joining his big sister at high school) which should have given me a chance to catch up on everything. I say 'should' because around the same time, my husband and I decided to start the cogs turning in the 'moving house' process. The documents are signed. The boxes have been purchased (and several of them packed). We have keys to collect and measurements to make in the new house. It's all good but it's also time-consuming.

My daughter also turned into a teenager, this weekend just gone. There were presents to buy and wrap, and arrangements to be made for a birthday weekend away. We got back late last night.

So, back to the topic at hand (need more coffee), my post, this post, on what I'm getting up to in September, preferably on the creative front. Here goes:

I'm working on the penultimate draft of my novel before putting it through a process called the Story Grid which was created by editor and writer, Shawn Coyne. I'll be reporting back on how that worked out and what I  thought of the Story Grid when I've used it.

I'll be especially polishing the first fifty pages to email off to a lady called Carrie Kania. Carrie is a literary agent for Conville & Walsh and is taking part in the Chester Literature Festival this October. I'm hoping to meet with her for a chat about my novel during the festival.

Before I knew that I'd be whipped up in the moving house whirlwind, I signed on for a free course through Future Learn - Introduction to Journalism - to further develop my writing skills. If you haven't heard of Future Learn, here's what they have to say about themselves.

"We're a private company wholly owned by the Open University, with the benefit of over 40 years of their experience in distance learning and online education."

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life."

"We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you're learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas."

I've also joined an online writing group formed of current and ex (like me) Open University students. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed discussing my and others' writing.

So there you have it. September looks to be busy in all kind of ways. I hope I can keep up. Wish me luck.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - a book review

One of the delights of my recent family holiday was having the time to read. The literary gem that I took away with me was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I love a book that enthralls me so much that I forget time and my surroundings. The Night Circus was just such a book.

This is a novel of magic, illusion (magical, mechanical and emotional), gameplay and love, set at the turn of the twentieth century in Europe and the USA. These are the first lines that I read.

The circus arrives without warning.
   No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and  billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

To me, this opening does two things. It announces the arena that the novel will take place in, the circus, and it employs the magic of the circus (that most of will have experienced) to pull us in as an audience. We want to read on and find out what happens.

The various cover designs (my copy looked like the one above) are all predominated by the colours of black and white, with a touch of red, a perfect reflection of the novel.

   The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds or crimsons to be seen. No colour at all, save for the neighbouring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colourless world.

The black and white is seen not only in the design of the circus but also represents the importance of balance in the novel. When that balance is finally stripped away by a broken heart, tragedy will befall the circus and its inhabitants. You'll find out the significance of the red if you read the novel.

The novel is structured in a similar way to the circus itself.

The Whole of Le Cirque de Reves is formed by series of circles. Perhaps it is a tribute to the origin of the word "circus," deriving from the Greek kirkos meaning circle, or ring. There are many such nods to the phenomenon of the circus in a historical sense, though it is hardly a traditional circus. Rather than a single tent with rings enclosed within, the circus contains clusters of tents like pyramids, some large and others quite small. They are set within circular paths, contained within a circular fence. Looping and continuous.
- Friedrick Thiessen, 1892

Similarly, the novel leads us along many paths whose endings are hidden and presents us with a delightful temptation of tents in the form of involving stories and rich characters.
  • There is the description of the experience of the circus through seemingly anonymous eyes that begins the novel.
  • The writings of Friedrick Thiessen, master clockmaker and the original reveur.
  • The story of two apprentice magicians and illusionists (neither term truly describes them), Celia and Marco, set against each other in a battle of magic.
  • The establishment of the circus by theatre master, Chandresh Christophe Lefevre and an unusual gathering of like-minded people.
  • The lives of the circus people themselves and their intrinsic connection to the circus.
  • The Reveurs, the followers of the Night Circus.
  • Finally, there is the story of a boy called Bailey, not a circus person, who finds a place to belong.
By the end of the novel, I felt like one of the Reveurs, as if I had been given a glimpse into and become part of the magical, theatrical experience of the Night Circus.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Choice Words for September

It's the first day of September (pinch punch, white rabbits, something like that) and the last day of the summer holidays for me and my children. Tomorrow, I go back to being a grown-up. Today, however, I can still relax - phew.

So along with the first day of September, this is the first monthly Choice Words post. Today, I'm sharing an article about another 'first' from the Writer's Digest website written by novelist Jeff Gerke, 4 Approaches for the First Chapter of Your Novel. I've started my novel with approach no. 2. Have a read and you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

7 ways I cope with my anxiety

I was diagnosed with 'anxiety' a number of years ago. I had been suffering from continual tiredness, achey muscles and a general feeling of being 'just not right' for a long time before that. Physically, I've generally been very healthy throughout my life so feeling unwell for such a long time, and not being able to put a finger on it, was a worrying development.

The diagnosis of anxiety was, to a large extent, a relief. It was a problem I could solve myself so I accepted all the literature that the doctor gave to me and I began to research the condition. Page by page, article by article, things fell into place - physical conditions, emotional reactions. It all made sense and moreover, I could see when the anxiety began too.

I've been coping with my anxiety ever since. It doesn't ever go away completely but that's ok. I've developed a number of ways to manage it, to ensure that it doesn't rule my life. I'm not medically qualified in any way but I know what anxiety is for me, and what it can do to a person.These methods may not work for everyone. We all cope and react in different ways to what life throws at us. They work for me and I'm sharing them in the hope that they may help other anxiety sufferers too.

1. Prepare. Anxiety can cause me to feel very scattered and distracted, which in turn leads me to forget things. This then goes one of two ways. I either do forget to do something or take an item with me, or I have to check and recheck until I'm sure I've picked up my keys or locked a door. To avoid that situation, I do my best to prepare for events that could cause my anxiety to flare up. A while before, maybe even the previous night, I check that I have everything I need. I think ahead and make sure that tasks are done (my children's school uniform washed and ironed, the information compiled for my tax return, the lounge tidied in case we have visitors). Knowing that things are in place allows me to relax.

2. Worse Case Scenario. This can make me anxious in itself but again, it's part of being prepared (see point 1). If I can think up the worst possible outcome to an event, then I can solve (hopefully) all the things that could go wrong. Most times, it's really nothing very serious (having to wash knickers on holiday because I haven't taken sufficient) but facing the possibility of things going wrong means that I can not only prepare but that I also know how to react should it happen.

3. Have a safe person. I know that when my anxiety flares up, it can affect my emotions. My reactions can become irrational, dramatic and blown out of any kind of proportion. That's when I check in with my safe person, my husband. I know that if I ask him whether my reactions are reasonable, he'll give me an honest reply. Yes, that's completely reasonable, or no, you need to sit down and have a cup of tea. Anxiety can narrow our view of life. Sometimes, we need someone safe to take off our blinkers.

4. Be in the moment. I mention in point 1 that I can become scattered and distracted when my anxiety flares up. What I do, when this happens, is concentrate on what I am doing at that moment. If I'm leaving the house, then I give all my attention to locking the door. If I'm driving, I concentrate on the road (rather than letting my mind drift off to what that character should be doing in my novel). What this does is slow my thinking down, which in turn, slows my breathing. Deep breathing is a wonderful way to ground yourself in the moment. There is rarely a situation when you can't just stop, for thirty seconds even, and take a few deep breaths. Being in the moment means that I don't have the 'head space' to worry.

5. Recognise physical signs. Long before my anxiety affects me emotionally, it is evident in my body. My muscles become tense, especially around my neck and jawline. I sometimes develop stomach ache. I often feel light-headed. Eventually, the tenseness in my muscles will cause them to ache. By listening to my body, I can stop the anxiety from becoming worse.

6. Food and drink triggers. There are certain foods and drinks that I avoid, and there are others that I partake of only occasionally because they exacerbate my anxiety. I love a good latte but too much caffeine can send me up the proverbial wall. I therefore drink decaf coffee and save the real stuff for an occasional treat. The same goes for tea - I'm a firm fan of decaf PG Tips. I don't drink pop (coke, pepsi, lemonade) because the mixture of caffeine and sugar causes my anxiety to flare up. I only eat a small amount of sugar of any kind because again, for me, it increases the effects of my anxiety.

7. Keep big decisions for when you're calm. I know full well that if I try to make big, important decisions when I'm feeling overly anxious, I'll probably mess up. Now on occasion, I may not have the luxury of waiting (burning building, tyre blow out, fashion house sale stampede) but overall, most decisions can wait until I am calmer and more clear-headed. This is another time to speak to that safe person.

I suffer from anxiety but I don't let it rule me. It's just another factor of what it means to be 'me'. I have children, I have an overactive imagination and I'm affected by anxiety. I cope, just like we all do. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Photo Inspiration for August

This month's photograph was taken during a walk in the Grosvenor Park in Chester with my children. I can't find any information on the archway anywhere. It is simply described as a 'relic'.

There's a smaller archway to the right hand side and behind me is another archway. Looking at the three together, it was probably the two ends of a walkway at one time, but why the very small arch?

What does this image make you think of? The people who have passed through it? The building it was originally a part of? The era of its creation? What would this inspire you to write?

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Something Useful for 2015 - Exercise No. 14

Taken from Wikipedia
Did you have an imaginary friend when you were a child? I did. Mine was a puppy - a very naughty puppy that always stopped in the middle of the road to have a poo when we were supposed to be crossing over, much to the annoyance of my mother.

I'm an only child and although my parents were loving, I was left to amuse myself for the large part of my time at home. I also wanted a puppy but after a failed attempt at mixing a toddler and a young red setter, my parents put thoughts of a pet aside until I was older.

So I created a friend, and a puppy, to keep me company and make trips out with my parents much more interesting.

What about you? Did you have an imaginary friend? What kind of conversation would you have with your imaginary friend if they visited you now?

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Change, change, change

During my time away from blogging to work on my novel, I reconsidered the use I was making of this website and I've decided to alter a few things.

Tuesday Choice Words

While there is a lot of brilliant advice out there for writers, what I've found in searching for new links and videos to bring to you each Tuesday, is that a large percentage of it is repeated advice, different slants on the same literary gem. So as of this week, Tuesday Choice Words will cease to exist.

What I will bring to you instead is a monthly post of an article or video that I think really stands out from the crowd, something that has helped me personally.

Book Reviews

Although my writing has taken precedence recently, I love to read. I also love to share my literary finds. Expect more resulting book reviews.

My Journey

I started this blog (back in 2009) as a way to explore and share my own writing journey. Somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost that. Now that my novel is nearing the final polish, I want to share my experiences of achieving that final version and my attempts at obtaining an agent, and ultimately being published.

What isn't changing?

Don't worry. It's not all new. My monthly photo inspiration and writing exercises will still be here, along with news related to Murdering The Text. I also plan on writing more 7 Ways articles.

So there you have it. I hope you'll stay with me for the journey.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

I'm back

It's been a busy few weeks since I last posted on this blog. I've weathered the emotional storm of my son's last year at primary school (I knew I should have taken tissues to the leaver's concert - darned un-waterproof mascara), tackled the first half of the summer holidays with my children (zoos, ice creams by the sea, computer games), and through it all, I've worked on my novel.

The task that I set myself was to rewrite my novel bearing in mind the advice I'd received from my manuscript assessment. This meant re-engineering some existing chapters, scrapping others and creating some completely new ones. 

The patching together of all of these has been a challenge. I've removed a lot of bit-part characters, reduced the number of villains, given one of my favourite characters a larger role, and I've cut the point of view down to two characters. I've also made my main protagonist, Steve Haven, much more pro active which has felt good.

One of the more emotional choices has been to remove an important character. She was someone I identified with greatly but she was superfluous to what was needed. She's not gone forever though because removing her from book one has created the chance to bring her in later in the trilogy in a big reveal. 

Although I didn't change the ending (more of that re-engineering I mentioned), I did alter  the wrap up chapter that comes after the explosive climax, and in so doing, I accidentally came across a brilliant way to start the next book in the trilogy. Result! 

I'm not at the finish line yet though. The next stage is to polish the novel to the be the best it can be. After that, I have another process to put it through (more about that in a later post). Overall, I'm delighted with the altered story. It's not perfect but it's greatly improved and it works so much better now. I can also envision the way forward for the rest of the trilogy. 

So there you have it. It's been a productive few weeks and there's more to come. "Onwards!" as Hartley would say.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Ta Ta For Now

It's Monday. I'm just back from a weekend away with my family and after the lovely distraction that those few days have been, I've picked up my determined hat and rammed it firmly onto my head. Ouch!

Over the next few weeks (right through to the end of July), I won't be posting anything on this blog. I may add the occasional link of interest to my Facebook page, but that's all. For the rest of June and throughout July, my main focus (never mind the ironing and feeding my children - pah!) will be to complete the rewrite of my novel.

So until the month of August rolls by, au revoir, toodle oo, have a great time and wish me luck.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Tuesday Choice Words

One of the things that interests me in writing a novel is breaking it down into its structure - beginning, middle, end, inciting events, resolutions, and so on. A well-formed structure can make all the difference, carving a path for the reader to follow.

Janice Hardy discusses The Act One Problem on her website, Fiction University, "the  bridge between the beginning of the novel and the middle". Have a look.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Counting Words

After a surge in my writing/editing during Camp NaNoWriMo in April, my non writing life took control in May. Add to this the fact that I couldn't get my head around a new scene that I needed to write and my wordage ground to a halt.

After throwing ideas around for that evasive scene for a couple of weeks, I finally managed to get it down on paper this week - phew. I also came to the conclusion that my writing output suffers when I don't have a plan in hand, a regular target. I've therefore returned to an old friend.

I've talked about the Pacemaker website before. Using your own choices of regularity of writing and wordcount etc, Pacemaker creates a writing plan for you. My writing plan looks like this:

Target wordcount: 25,000 (I've already written around that amount. Another 25k should finish my novel). Start date: Today. Finish date: 17th July (I want to complete this before my children break for the summer and take over my sanity). I've chosen the 'Steadily' option of writing the same amount every day which is apparently of average intensity. There's also an option for 'hard core' intensity - scary.

Using a wordcount plan like this, works for me. It gives me an immediate target. I'm too easily distracted to just 'wing it'. Working like this won't suit everybody. In fact, not everyone will even need a plan. I do. 

So the target for today is just shy of 800 words. I have a fight scene to write, well, revamp, with slightly different details and a smaller cast. After that, I have another new chapter to write. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Tuesday Choice Words

I like to blog. It gives me a  chance to connect with readers and other writers, discuss my writing progress and swap ideas about what works (and sometimes doesn't work) for me as a writer. I'm definitely a supporter of blogging.What about you?

On the Indie Plot Twist website, Danielle Hanna discusses The Benefits of Blogging for Novelists. Have a look.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Photo Inspiration for June

It's summer in the UK and with it, fun fairs begin to crop up in the most unexpected places. In case, you didn't know, this is a Helter Skelter. You run up the stairs in the tower and slide down the outside on a sack or mat.

What do you think about this image? Does it bring back warm childhood memories, or perhaps thoughts of your children? Look a little closer. Stepping  through the open yellow door takes you into darkness. Who waits at the top? Where is this, with it's forest surround?

Joyous childhood ride or scary trap for the unsuspecting? What does this inspire you to write?

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Tuesday Choice Words

What kind of beginnings do you like to your novels? Action? Mystery? Description? K M Weiland gives her opinion on what makes a good start to a story in her article, Why Avalanches, Wolves, and Lightning Storms Aren’t a Good Way to Begin Your Book. Have a look.

Monday, 1 June 2015

In a Quandary over James

I have a decision to make in the re-write of my novel. Having added two new characters, James and his younger brother, Michael (Glitch), I have to decide whether to kill James off.

If I do kill him off, then it would mean that Hartley would take Michael under his wing and his roof. There is certainly a role for Michael to play in this story and rest of the trilogy too.

If I don't kill James off, then there is no way that he would abandon his brother (James is 17, Michael is 10). They're street kids who have survived without adults for a long time. Could James and Michael still have a purpose in the trilogy if they weren't so close at hand?

Knowing who attacks James (and kidnaps Michael), I can see a purpose to his death. It would be a method of showing what the villain's magical power is but with a healer in our party of friends, surely he could be saved.

My son (also 10) says it would be too sad to kill James. I'm still undecided. Hm. I think I need more coffee.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Tuesday Choice Words

During the current rewrite of my novel, I found that it was necessary to cut certain scenes, chapters and characters. It was all a little sad, and scary, and brain-wrecking, but I can see that the story will benefit from all these changes.

In her article, Does it serve the book? Killing your darlings is a mark of writing maturity, Roz Morris discusses just this topic. Have a look.