Welcome to 2022 – the year of the novel!

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Happy New Year folks!

OK, I think we can all agree that in many ways 2021 was not the greatest. Nonetheless, I have to say a huge thank you to you guys who’ve read my blog, subscribed to my mailing list, bought a book, left a review, or followed me on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. The support I’ve received has meant that 2021 has been my most successful year in terms of book sales, with December 2021 being my most successful single month. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 🙏

From the title of this post, you can see I’ve promised myself that this will be the year when I finally complete a novel. I’m not saying that I’m leaving short stories behind entirely, but right now I am positively buzzing with potential novel ideas (in addition to the hodgepodge of half-written novels I already have sitting in my laptop files), and I really want some of these ideas to make it onto the printed page!

So my pledge to you, dear reader, is that during the course of 2022 I will move from the picture on the left (my brain in its current state!) to the picture on the right (well…. ish…. I mean, I’m not promising to write five books in a year!). I hope you stick with me for the journey, and I’ll do my best to keep you updated on my progress.

Here’s to 2022 – cheers! 🥂

KDP Sales Analysis: paperback is king

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The Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) page has a new reports beta available for authors which allows those of us who publish with them to view our sales and royalty stats with some cool new graphs as well as the traditional reports. As always with the Amazon data, whilst both reports and graphs are fascinating, there’s also a lingering irritation as there’s never one report which quite does what you want!

Still, here’s some (to me, at least!) interesting facts from my brief sales analysis:

  • My paperback sales outstrip my ebook sales (56% paperback to 44% ebook)

This is for all time, despite the fact I’ve only had paperbacks available for just over a year. I suspect that this is in part people wishing to buy books as gifts (and whilst it is possible to purchase an ebook for someone else, either people are generally not aware of this, or it doesn’t feel quite the same as a physical present). I was initially surprised about paperbacks still being as popular but, to be honest, I prefer a paperback (even though I do read lots of books via e-reader) and apparently I’m not alone.

You can now create a hardback through KDP – which I might have a go at in the future – but I can’t see that being a big seller (whilst hardbacks look lovely, most people I know say they would prefer to read a paperback as they are simply more comfortable to hold). I’d be interested to hear other opinions on this. (Please pop a comment in below if you have a view.)

  • Currently, At the Paddock Gate is by far my best-selling book, but it will be interesting to see if Mine for a Month ultimately does as well. Since Mine for a Month was published, At the Paddock Gate accounts for 51% of sales, and Mine for a month 44%.
  • Whilst the vast majority of my sales are (unsurprisingly) in the UK, the equestrian fiction also does reasonably well in the US. My other sales have been made in Canada, Italy, Germany and India. Additionally, back in the day when my books were available on Kindle Unlimited, and in my previous promotions, I’ve picked up additional readers in France, Spain, and Australia.

So what does all this tell me?

  1. Keep producing paperbacks.
  2. My books which include horses are more popular than those which don’t!
My three paperbacks to date

Mine for a Month – pony stories out NOW!

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The best thing about being an indieauthor is the fact that, whilst there’s an awful lot of preparation in the background, the physical publication part of the process is so incredibly quick. My copy of Mine for a Month, my new children’s pony story collection, has arrived! (Cue fanfare and ceremonial opening….. or rather just me ripping open the Amazon packaging!)

The not-so-grand opening!

The stories are aimed at children between 10-13, though if (like me) you still enjoy pony stories, I’m quietly confident that you’ll be entertained as a grown-up.

If you too would like to get your hands on a copy of these stories – whether ebook or paperback, and whether for yourself or for a young equestrian in your life – please click here for more info!

Cover reveal for brand new pony story collection!

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OK, so the title of this blog is a little misleading. Not all the stories in my forthcoming collection for children are entirely brand new. A couple are re-drafted from versions I wrote over 25 years ago. (OMG, 25 years ago! How can that be?!) But readers of this blog will already know this since I discussed some of the difficulties I encountered in my re-drafting in a previous post (if you’d like to read that, you can find it here). Some of the difficulties proved insurmountable, hence two of the stories in the collection are indeed fresh and shiny and replace those which it was simply not possible to rescue. Another was half-written a few years ago but at the time I couldn’t see where it was going and so it ground to a halt. Reading it over, I liked it too much to let it perish, so it was worth the work to pick it back up and see it through.

This project has indeed been a labour of love – though definitely a labour nonetheless (and there have been times when I didn’t love it!). But one thing I loved immediately was the gorgeous cover created for me by Shar at itsawrapdesigns.com. Shar mocked up four different versions as originally I’d intended to run an opinion poll to see which everyone preferred (as I did with my collection of horse stories for grown ups, At the Paddock Gate). But unlike the cover for At the Paddock Gate, when I saw these designs, I knew exactly which I wanted to use and it wouldn’t have made a jot of difference if everyone else had preferred a different one, so sorry folks, you don’t get a say this time!

So, without further ado…I’m proud and excited to reveal the cover for my children’s story collection: Mine for a Month…. (drum roll, trumpeting etc.) … ta da:

My new collection for children – coming soon!

The featured pony is my step-daughter’s beloved Musket – from a photo taken by loljonesphotography.co.uk – check out her website for more gorgeous horse pictures.

The book itself will be available via Amazon, in both ebook and paperback – so watch this space as they say, and I will let you know as soon as it’s available.

99% Perspiration: why I’ve not blogged for a while!

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Too many of my blog posts start with an apology. This one is no different. If you’ve followed me in the hope of any writing insights, or even pony pictures, you’ve been sadly disappointed for the last few months – for which I am sorry. If you’re reading this, thank you for sticking around so long!

So where have I been? Well, for much of the summer I was spending time with the horses and avoiding spending time writing. In May, my stepdaughter and I signed up for the British Horse Society’s 2021 Rideathon and chalked up a few miles exploring our local bridleways and byways, and raised some money for the BHS’ work on access (aiming to get horses and riders off our busy roads and onto safer alternatives). If you want to see some footage of our rides, I made some five minute films (I have a camera mounted on a chest harness) which are available on YouTube – try these quick links: byway, bridleway, 2nd byway

Of course, as the weeks stretched into months, and I still hadn’t made any progress on those pony stories, I began to feel that nagging anxiety of the looming deadline. And when I say looming deadline, obviously I’m not referring to the first one I’d set myself – which was Easter – since that had loomed and then simply passed by. (Ahem.) No, I’m referring to that monster-deadline which is Christmas (sorry, I said the C-word) – the time of year when quite a lot of people buy books and it’s really sensible to have your book out there for sale! Oh yes, that deadline.

Hmm… So, September came and went – book not finished. October came and went….and…er….book still not finished. Eeek!

I had made some progress. I’d managed to complete story number 4 of 5, which was the one which I’d thought needed the most work. Story number 5 was pretty much there…or so I assumed. Turns out, not so much. Story number 5 took an age to finish. (Mostly because I had a beginning and an end, but it was the middle which was a mess.)

But, since I’d waited all summer for inspiration, with very little in the way of results, I now had to put in some perspiration. And as we all know, this is a way more effective approach! The stories are now finished (well, as much as stories ever are – I mean, there’s the constant desire to tweak, much like the desire to pick at a dry scab…). Most excitingly, my cover designer has produced a fantastic draft design which I absolutely love – so I’ll be revealing the final version very soon.

I still have a tonne of work to do to get the book out there, but I can’t tell you how excited I will be to see it finally in print. Pony stories are where I started on my writing journey 30 years ago, and what’s that saying – a man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it? Well, yes, it’s a little like that.

Hope this has in some way atoned for my long absence – and (as is so often the case) you may see a little more from me during the winter months. Oh, and here are some pony pictures too! 😉

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.