MISSING: Have you seen my Mojo?

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So here I am starting with an apology – after all my good intentions at the start of the year, I’ve not managed to keep up with this blog for the last few weeks and I thought I owed you an explanation. Here are my three main reasons.

1) I’m still working on my latest short story collection (pony stories for tweens – sorry, don’t have a title yet, you know how I struggle with those!) – and it’s taking a little more time than I had hoped (and a little more emotional energy than I’d expected, if I’m honest). Much of this is to do with deciding that what I had originally drafted simply wasn’t good enough. I’ve re-written a couple of stories and abandoned some completely. I’ve also written some new ones, and while I’m pleased with them, I’ve still got a fair bit of work to do on them. Since I want to get a full draft finished very soon, obviously this work is taking up a good chunk of writing time at the moment.

2) It’s spring, the days are longer and lighter and, as always when this happens, I’m spending more time riding and doing maintenance jobs up at the yard. I’ve made a couple of videos of our recent hacks, so if you’re interested in those, you can find them on YouTube – the link to this morning’s hack out is here.

3) Like a lot of people, I’ve found this lockdown harder to deal with than the previous ones. Not sure if that’s down to the time of year, or simply that my resilience seems to be waning after a year of COVID restrictions. I know I’ve got nothing to complain about in comparison with so many people who have been hugely affected by this horrible virus, and I know we’re all in the same boat, but for the last few weeks I’ve been struggling to generate any enthusiasm for anything. Yes, I’m still writing and riding and chatting to my friends on Skype etc. but my mojo has definitely gone to ground. All my efforts have been directed at the things I absolutely must do and, as a result, this blog has suffered. I also feel slightly guilty that, as I’m still posting stuff on social media – usually the carefully edited, positive bits, I’m adding to the problem of the internet being full of false perfect lives which is no help to other people who are similarly struggling. I suppose that we are trying to convince ourselves as much as anyone else.

So, apologies once again for the radio silence. The sun is shining (at the moment) and the end of lockdown is tantalising close, so I’m sure I’ll snap out of it soon. In the meantime, I hope you’re doing OK, and if you are similarly mojo-less for no particular reason, just remember that’s OK too.

Getting Dialogue Right

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Of the numerous tricky aspects of writing, I’ve always tended to enjoy constructing dialogue. If I’m stuck on a story, one of the ways I can usually generate some momentum is just to have a couple of the characters talk to one another. Their conversation (which often seems to flow in my head very much like a conversation would in real life) usually gets me out of the rut and on my way again.

And most of the time, I think you can tell when you’ve got it right. For instance, I was once tinkering with a piece of dialogue in which originally the two characters in the situation were husband and wife. I then wanted to amend it so that it was a woman and her friend. Instantly I had to re-write all the ‘husband’ dialogue because it no-longer sounded plausible. The way we speak to our partners is different from the way we speak to our friends (even good friends) – I’m pretty sure in general we’re usually ruder and meaner to our partners, simply because of the very close relationship. (Or is that just me?) Similarly, if you’ve written a conversation between two characters which sounds really good, you can bet it’ll be really difficult to go back later and shoehorn in an extra bit because it simply won’t flow properly. People’s responses can so easily turn the direction and tone of a conversation – which is why it’s so difficult to plan something you’re going to say to someone because invariably they don’t provide you with the right gaps to get your message across in the way you’d imagined.

One of the important parts of writing dialogue is remembering that people don’t tend to say what they mean. People are careful, they don’t want to offend. They (generally) don’t like confrontation. Or they lack courage to admit things. They temper what they say depending on who they’re speaking to – to save face, or to show deference to someone they admire, or because they don’t want to start the other person off on a tangent they’ve heard before.

On the other hand, if you were to write dialogue as people really speak, it would be terribly tedious to read – with all the ums and ers, unfinished sentences, contradictions and misunderstandings. A good writer has to present the feel of real speech (its rhythms and quirks) without overdoing it. That means choosing vocabulary carefully, and perhaps using actions alongside the dialogue itself to convey the character’s mood or motivation.

We must always remember how sophisticated readers have become. They are attuned to look for clues – often without knowing it – so as a writer you don’t have to tell them what’s going on – they will be able to work it out for themselves. A character does not have to say they distrust someone – but it might come across in say, a note of scepticism in their speech, or they might stay quiet when someone else is singing that person’s praises.

And whilst dialogue can and should move the plot forward, it’s not the place to dump a load of explanation which doesn’t ring true. Great if a character is telling another character something they genuinely wouldn’t have known (and that the reader doesn’t know either). Painful if we already know it – or the character quite obviously wouldn’t need reminding of the facts!

Confident though I usually am about dialogue, I am having doubts when it comes to my current project – the pony stories for ‘tweens’. The reason I’m doubtful? Because I’m….a-hem…..forty-something….mumble……and clearly haven’t been a teen or a tween for a long time. The stories themselves aren’t presenting much of a problem because I’m still pretty much 14 on the inside, but I have no idea how real teenagers talk. I can guess from stuff on the telly (but then, that’s scripted too – so I’m relying on someone else getting it right). But even then, there are different regional speech patterns and vocab. And since the way people talk evolves so quickly, what feels appropriate for 2021 is sure to feel dated in a few years time anyway. Plus, I’m pretty sure teenagers use a lot of bad language (I mean, even though it was a long time ago, I remember we used a fair bit) but I can’t put that in the stories, so I have to create a feeling of genuine speech patterns without using the specific vocabulary. Which is tricky.

I’m hoping I can find a willing teen to read through and highlight any particular cringy bits before the collection is finally published, but in the meantime, if anyone has any tips for writing authentic dialogue for younger characters, I’d be very grateful. 🙂

No writing – just horses!

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I should be writing. But the sun is shining and there’s not a breath of wind, and so the call of all things equine has trumped the urge to put words on the page. Instead, I thought I’d share some photos – after all, they do say a picture is worth a thousand words! 😉

How to buy directly from an author

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Many people are beginning to think more and more about their power as consumers – knowing that what, and where, they buy can really make a difference. In fact, if you’re anything like me, shopping has become a bit of a nightmare. It started with food. Checking for the Red Tractor label, choosing to buy local produce where possible, and when that wasn’t possible, agonizing over which purchase was less morally reprehensible. (If you cut down on the food miles to save the planet by refusing to buy from overseas, do you risk creating more poverty in some far flung corner of the world when there’s no longer a market for their products? Arghh!)

Whilst we’ve been in lockdown, more and more people are buying online and getting goods delivered – and often this purchasing is from the big name supermarkets and of course from Amazon. And Amazon is an ethical nightmare all of its own – especially for authors. We might all agree that it’s not healthy or desirable for one business to have such a huge share of the book market, but the fact is, buying from Amazon is ridiculously easy, and often incredibly cheap. No, of course it’s not nearly as lovely as pottering around an independent bookshop, sniffing the heady aroma of print pages, having a chat with the person behind the counter who actually has a passion for reading and isn’t just there to make money… I think we’d all prefer to do that right now – but that’s just the point: we can’t. So, guiltily, with a couple of clicks, we get our chosen book delivered to our door in just a few days (or sometimes hours).

And what about those of us who publish through Amazon? No, it’s not the only platform available to self-publishers. But, like it or not, it’s the most viable. For paperbacks, it’s the easiest way for an indie to create and distribute their books. And for ebooks, well, recently I ran a poll on Twitter just to find out where people bought their ebooks. OK, it wasn’t a massive poll, so as empirical data goes, I probably shouldn’t extrapolate too much, but 100% of respondents said they bought their ebooks through Amazon. So, while I am experimenting with Kobo and Barnes & Noble, I know full well that the vast majority of my sales will be generated through Amazon. Yes, that’s morally uncomfortable. Yes I understand there are questions over the contracts under which Amazon employs people and the working conditions in their huge warehouses, not to mention all the lovely independent book shops being driven out of business. But the bottom line is, I want to sell my books.

Of course, there is another way – for ebooks at least. Encouraging readers to buy books directly from the author through their own website. I’ve been wanting to have a go at this for ages, but simply didn’t know how. This week, I’ve been struggling with the actual writing (I mean, I have done some, but it’s poor stuff which I know will need a lot of re-writing in the future) so I’ve also been doing some work to re-vamp this website and put in a few more features. If you’re accessing this on a laptop or similar, you should be able to see some more feeds (from my Instagram account and YouTube channel for instance), and if you go to my “books” tab and click to “Beyond Words”, you’ll find a link to be able to buy this ebook directly from me through Payhip. You can pay with either Paypal or your debit/credit card, and (as I’ve also linked Payhip to Bookfunnel) you’ll be able to receive your copy of Beyond Words in whatever format works best for you. Best of all, this means a cheaper purchase price for you, and a better percentage of that price for me.

My new Payhip store

Ultimately, I’m intending to do this with all of my ebooks, so eventually you’ll be able to find them all on my Payhip store here – but in order to do that, I need to extract them from their current exclusivity on Amazon KDP, so bear with me!

PS: If you’re a writer or other creative who wants to find out how to do this, The Creative Penn has an excellent video on it here.

Palentine’s Day and Celebrating the Many Forms Love Takes

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Happy Palentine’s Day! Yes, 13th February is the unofficial day of celebration of non-romantic love – our besties who, perhaps this year more than ever, are necessary for keeping us sane and preventing us simply disappearing into an abyss of wine and Netfix. So I’m sending virtual hugs to those friends I’ve not been able to see in real life for eons, to my writers’ group for their constant support and advice, and also to those people I’ve only “met” through social media – fellow writers and readers who I’ve chatted with here on this blog, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al. Lockdown would be a whole lot worse without being able to keep in touch with you guys in the virtual world. 💕

I’ve been spending far too much time in the virtual world recently. Last night, I happened to watch some YouTube videos of various people playing those pianos which are left out in public spaces (shopping centres and the like – obviously shot pre-Covid). Watching them made me think of my mum, who loved to play the piano, and who always kept the fallboard up (the hinged covering that goes over the keys) so that she could nip in and play a few notes whenever it took her fancy (between roasting the spuds, or whipping the vacuum round, etc.). Back in the day, she had composed her own short waltz for a piano exam and, if pressed, she would play this for me, from memory. More than once, I asked her to write it down but (to my knowledge) she never did. Probably she didn’t think it was worth it. I showed no interest in, or aptitude for, playing the piano myself, other than banging out the odd version of a tune she taught me (which I’ve just googled and discovered was Flohwalzer – or the ‘Flea Waltz’ in English) – though I have always loved listening to other people play, and have nothing but admiration for their skill.

So, assuming she never did commit her waltz to paper, it will have died with her, and be lost forever. No-one will ever play it again, which is incredibly sad. I’ve tried being philosophical about this – perhaps that is the way of the world and some things should be allowed to be let go. Would it have been worse if she had written it down, and I’d felt compelled to keep it, but would have never played it anyway? But no, I’m still sad. A little piece of music that was created and brought into the world will never be heard again.*

Perhaps this is why we write – to capture meaningful feelings/moments/ideas that would otherwise dissipate and be lost forever. Where it might be unhealthy to cling to certain emotions within ourselves, writing helps savour those special moments in life, fixes thoughts, keeps a snapshot of memories. It allows us to hold on to what we love.

So, whether you’re celebrating Palentine’s Day today or Valentine’s Day tomorrow, this is an opportunity to remember those we love, and to be thankful that they have touched and enriched our lives.

♥️❤️💜🧡❤️♥️

* Equally sadly, dad now always keeps the fallboard closed. He also keeps the curtains open, which I found faintly irritating for a long time, until I worked out why that might be. When I was a child, mum never drew the curtains until dad was home, and vice versa. They kept a look out for each other. When everyone was safely home, that was when the curtains could be closed for the evening. Perhaps, consciously or unconsciously, dad doesn’t want to shut them while mum isn’t there. And that, I believe, is true love.

The joy of paper – taking a break from all things ‘e’ during lockdown

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Like many people, I’ve been struggling recently with life being reduced to screen after screen after screen. I work from home, staring at a screen. All my meetings are via Teams calls, nothing is printed, text is vertical and backlit. Friends and colleagues are stuck in a rectangular box, their words confined to email or text messages. And then in the evening, there’s the news and Netflix via another screen.

Last week, I wrote about ‘morning pages’. The very act of writing on a physical page feels different when so much of what I write (this blog post included) is composed via an electronic medium. Writing by hand slows you down, the paper feels different (the bumps on the back of the page where you’ve pressed a little hard), the mechanics of writing are different (for example, if you’re left handed like me you can’t write as close to the edge of your notebook on the right hand page because your hand is in the way).

And perhaps it’s the same with reading. Recently I’ve gone back to paperbacks after a lot of ebook reading on my Kindle – the tactile nature of a physical book is a simple pleasure right now when so much is virtual. There is something about holding a book, turning a page, measuring the distance to the end of the story with your thumb rather than a percentage calculation… I do love a print book.

Lockdown (and the pandemic itself) is also teaching us to cherish our human relationships. Friends keep in touch through email, WhatsApp, or Skype catch-ups. Writers’ Group continues via Skype and email. And there’s the unexpected joy of Twitter where a brief interaction – just a few words or a silly emoji or two – can really make a difference to your day. But here too is an often forgotten physical alternative.

Communication with my dad (who is 93, very deaf and 150 miles away) is in the main by the lovely back and forth of lengthy letters (mine typed, his in beautiful fountain-penned script). While on the face of it, there’s nothing much to say about life at the moment, we both manage to fill several pages with our ‘news’ – and just seeing the handwritten envelope plopping through my letter box gives me a lift (which I hope is the same for him).

So if everything ‘e’ is beginning to get you down, write someone a letter, or send them a card. Find a lovely notebook and try keeping a journal. Pick up a physical book and enjoy the feel of those pages turning. It’s a simple joy, but a very real one.

If you’re struggling to concentrate on a whole novel right now, and you’d like to read some shorter fiction, my collection of short stories And Not Forgetting Love is available as a paperback. And if you love horses, you can get At the Paddock Gate in paperback too.

Experimenting with Morning Pages

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I’ve known about the concept of morning pages for a while now but, despite the fact I’ve been writing for (cough) over 30 years, I’ve never tried it until the start of this year. So, since we’re almost at the end of the first month, I thought I’d review what I’ve discovered so far.

To start with though, if you’re not familiar with the concept of morning pages, I’d better give you a brief outline. Broadly, the idea is that you choose a nice notebook, and first thing each day you write three sides in freehand, before your mind is polluted by influences and ideas from the outside world (so before you glance at your smart phone, listen to the news, or discuss anything with your spouse/housemates etc.). You write whatever comes into your head – without stopping to censure your thoughts – so it can be about anything.

So, how has the experience been for me?

I’ve read a lot of stuff about morning pages written by people who seem to have a zen-like attitude to the world. I imagine those people waking each morning, going to their well-ordered, minimalist kitchens, making their morning cup of green tea, and then going to sit in their special writing chair, which is probably stationed next to a window overlooking a stream, or perhaps an elegant art-installation-style water feature in their garden. They will then serenely write their three pages, before spending a further few minutes meditating, or doing yoga or tai chi meaning they will then be ultra-prepared for their day of creativity ahead.

I’m guessing for most of us it’s not quite like this. Usually my day starts with me thinking ‘How? How can it possibly be time to get up?’ My next thought is ‘Need a wee! Now!’ And by then the dogs know I’m up and about, so I need to throw on some clothes and take them for a walk before they start whimpering. Or my husband will take the dogs out and I’ll be heading up to the yard to muck out the horses. After that, it’s time to jump in the shower, have breakfast, and (at the moment) switch on the computer for another day of working from home. So, my main issue with morning pages is finding the time without disturbing the rest of the household – and without fretting about the things I have to do in just a sec. Yes, alright I’m coming….

This brings me onto the next thing. Fretting. Wow, I’m gloomy in the mornings! I’ve kept a diary for a large chunk of my life, and whilst I wouldn’t say it was necessarily perennially sunny, usually I try to mention the good bits of the day, or at least celebrate that the bad bits are over. But first thing in the morning, boy am I full of anxiety! (Not least when, on top of worrying about work, I know that it’s below zero and in a couple of minutes I’ll have to defrost the car, turn the horses out in the dark, break the ice on the water troughs etc. etc.!) So a lot of it makes for gloomy re-reading (which I’ve only done today for the first time, for the purposes of informing this blog post). That’s of course when I can actually read what I’ve written since my writing, poor at the best of times, is at its worst when I’m barely awake!

But…has it been valuable? Well, there have definitely been days when writing down my thoughts about the day ahead has helped me tackle a particular challenge, or to work out my priorities. It’s also incredibly interesting reading back to see how much I have achieved in a short space of time. One entry might have me not knowing how to do a particular task, or not able to see my way out of a particular difficulty, and within a week or two I can see I’ve solved the problem, and learned something new.

The other good thing is, as with any lengthy piece of writing, there are occasional bits that have surprised me, thoughts I would have since forgotten if I’d not captured them on the page. Plus the physical process of writing (though tiring for someone who mainly types on a keyboard these days) feels good in its own right.

So what have a decided overall? Yes, I think it’s been beneficial, and I will keep going with it. But I’ve not completed my pages every morning, and I’m not going to beat myself up about this. I will do it as often as I can. And if my day doesn’t lend itself to the process, I’ll let it go and pick it up the following day.

If you regularly do morning pages, I’d love to hear your experiences – so please add a comment below. 😃

We all need a little love right now 💕

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When I’m not writing about horses, the topic which most often fans the flames of my imagination is love. Not necessarily romance as such, but love – and the way it makes us feel and behave. I’ve written lots of stories where love plays a role (whether it is new and delightful, or tarnished and withered). Stories which are about revenge, or reflection, or regret – but where the root is love.

Twelve of these stories are found in my collection And Not Forgetting Love. I released this as an ebook last year, and it has a handful of decent reviews – but as is so often the case, I didn’t promote it terribly well after its first post-publication flush.

Roll on twelve months, and I’ve seen my collection of horse stories for grown-ups doing really well in paperback, which has made me realise there are people out there who still prefer the feel of real pages rather than an e-reader. So, I decided to create a paperback edition for And Not Forgetting Love.

My fantastic cover designer at itsawrapdesigns.com (who created the original ebook cover), stepped in, worked her magic and produced a paperback cover version – and, I have to say, I absolutely love it. The richness of the colours and the design just makes me smile every time I look at it.

It’s a tough time for many at the moment, and while we often want to be distracted from the gloomy reality of our current world, I’ve heard plenty of people admitting they’re struggling to enjoy reading at the moment, finding their concentration limited, their mind wandering. If a novel seems daunting, maybe a short story is a way into the fictional world.

If you know someone who might like And Not Forgetting Love, it’s available in paperback here, and the corresponding ebook is on a limited time offer of 99p on the UK Amazon Kindle store here here.

15 Ways to Support a Writer – plus a free giveaway for readers

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So, it’s January, it’s cold and dark, and we’re in lockdown. Everything is a bit rubbish right now, everyone seems to be feeling a bit low, and probably a bit broke too, so today I decided to talk about FREE stuff!

First, let’s talk about ways you can support writers whose stuff you like. Now obviously you can buy their books – but what if you can’t quite manage that right now? Well, I’ve made a list (and yes, buying their books is on the list, but there’s lots of other ideas too). I’ve broken it down into three sections – so the first section is when you’ve just discovered a writer and want to find out a bit more about them. The things in the second section take a bit more time and effort, so that would be for an author you really like. And then the final section is for real hard core fandom…but staying the right side of actual stalking…! 😉

So that’s what you can do for a writer – what about what a writer can do for you? Well, in the spirit of free stuff, I’ve created an ebook of six short stories as a giveaway for anyone signing up to my newsletter.

The stories feature a range of characters who each, in their own way, are on a journey of self-discovery.

A couple of the stories have been published before in the UK, the others have only been seen by a very select few (mainly members of my writers’ group!).

The collection is available in a range of formats, whether you choose to read on an e-reader, tablet, phone, or computer.

If you’d like to get your hands on them, please sign up here. You’ll get a confirmation email, and then once you’ve clicked to confirm your details, you’ll get another email with the link to claim your free book. Enjoy! 🙂

Beyond Words: A limited time offer before ‘going wide’ with my short stories

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I currently have five ebooks published through Amazon KDP, four of those are currently enrolled in Kindle Select, and therefore exclusively published through Amazon. This means that anyone who is a Kindle Unlimited subscriber can read any of these four for free (and as the author of these books, I receive royalties based on the page reads for these books). As a writer starting out in self-publishing, enrolling your book in KDP Select makes perfect sense, and I have no regrets about having had my books in the scheme in the past. I am though thinking about changing my strategy in the future, and wanted to share my thought with you.

I mentioned in last week’s post that I’d just taken my first ebook The Camel in the Garden out of Kindle Select, and published it through Kobo, where it’s now available free (it’s also now perma-free on Amazon). I’m also planning to publish it through Barnes & Nobel and Apple Books. I’m going through all these stages to work my way through each platform and familiarize myself with their requirements before I think about uploading any further work.

And why am I going down this route? A couple of reasons:

  • Amazon is indeed king of self-publishing, but that whole “all eggs in one basket” thing has been nagging at me for a while. Yes, if you’re only going to be published in one place, you’d pick Amazon. But I feel brave enough to try some of the other platforms now. I would like to get my books out to a wider market, including possibly libraries. I would like not to be entirely beholden to Amazon.
  • I do get page reads through KDP Select, especially when I first release a new book. But these tend to tail off (partly my own fault for not getting the word out, I know), but to be honest, at the level of page reads I’m currently tending to get, the income is miniscule, so it won’t much hurt me to experiment by coming out of Select with at least a couple of my books.
  • Lastly, a friend of mine has recently bought an e-reader and chosen a Nook rather than Kindle – which has made me think harder about all those other readers out there with non-Kindle e-readers. I want to be able to provide books for those readers too.

So, getting back to the point of this post, Beyond Words is my second collection of stories – 12 stories about love, death and deception. As the subtitle suggests, these stories are a little darker than some of my others, but there’s some light-hearted elements (even if it’s rather black humour!). In terms of reviews and sales, this is one of my most successful books, but it’s definitely been a slow burn, and I’ve probably not pushed it as much as I should have. I almost feel sorry for the book – I put it out there and rather left it to get on with it. It has been in Kindle Select continually until now, but it’s coming to the end of its current opt in period and I have already removed the automatic renewal in preparation for it spreading its wings in the future.

If you would like to read Beyond Words it’s on special offer this week from £2.99 down to 99p. Once it has been released from Select prison, I plan to make it available on other platforms at the original price, so if you do have a non-Kindle e-reader, you will be able to pick it up very soon.

PS: If you use an e-reader other than Kindle, I’d be very interested to hear your experiences, since I’ve only ever had a Kindle.