- Night and Day: the Dottie Manderson mysteries are reaching out to new audiences
At the beginning of this year, with sales doing better following the release of book 5 of my Dottie Manderson mysteries series, I decided it was a good time to branch out to non-English translations. Partly it was because of the increasing sales from other countries, and partly it was because Amazon had made some changes which made it easier to reach, in particular, readers in mainland Europe.
So I’m very proud and pleased to announce that book 1 of my 1930s mystery series (with a heavy side helping of romance) will be released in German and French on 25th June. Other languages may follow, at least I really hope so! The books are already available for Pre-order, if you or someone you know are interested.
No, before you ask, I will not be embracing languages such as Klingon, Dothraki or Valyrian. Sorry. Es tut mir leid, je me regrette, przepraszam, lo siento.
Huge thanks for the hard work and patience of French Translator/Editor Eden Rébora.
And huge thanks too to Stef Mills, translator and editor, for all her hard work on the German version. You can find out more about Stef on her website here:
To those lovely people who have shown interest in books about a young woman from Britain in the 1930s, and all the scrapes she gets herself into: thank you so much, I really appreciate your support.
- The Thing Above All Things
In life we all have stuff we love. I’m not talking about our family, our friends, our pets, obviously we love those above all else and before all else.
I’m talking about the thing that makes us get up in the morning, that keeps us up late at night, the thing we can’t wait for Monday, or Friday, or whenever we do this ‘thing’, for. I’m calling it ‘the thing above all things’, the one thing to rule them all. What is that one big thing in your life?
Some people love their garden, or their dog. Or they like to whittle driftwood into an elaborate recreation of Queen Victoria’s coronation. Some people paint, often beautifully. I do not. I can draw sunglasses. I can draw flower doodles. I can draw little row boats on a wave. That’s all I can draw. I can’t paint. I’m not even very good at colouring in, because I’m not good at following rules—or staying in the lines. I love art, I find it a constant inspiration, colour and shape inspires me always, but I cannot draw.
I used to sew but I was never very good at it, and I could always buy something far better for a lot less money than I could make it, so I felt bad about how much it cost me to make something that was never quite right. I used to knit, but ditto.
I tried to learn the violin, but I was useless, I made a noise similar to the sound you get when you turn the handle of a rusty mangle. It was bad.
I like to garden, but I get bored after a while. Also, I feel a reluctance to uproot weeds, as they’re flowers too, right? I mainly leave my garden to do what it wants, and feel very grateful to be able to enjoy the resulting chaotic beauty. I’m a slave to feeding the birds, hedgehogs and squirrels. I like bird-watching, but usually go into a daydream and forget to actually watch the birds, Or I feel like I’m getting in the way of them feeding or gathering nesting stuff. There’s quite a lot of nesting stuff in our garden. The birds have not yet had to resort to pulling fluff out of my cat.
I like to meditate, but I fall asleep in the middle and wake up with a stiff neck. I like to bake, but can’t be bothered following a recipe, and anyway recipes are just a suggestion, aren’t they, just one of a number of suggestions of how you could create a cake? I’ve got an oven that turns itself off when it feels like it, I’m guessing that’s not always the best for baking.
So I write.
I think I have always written. That’s what I tell people, anyway. I can remember writing VERY short stories on the back of envelopes and scrap bits of paper when I was really small. I created this book cover from a Weetabix or Cornflake packet when I was in junior school, so maybe 10? If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, or I have just stopped writing. Or I’m trying to do something else (to make me a more rounded, more interesting person) but really, I’m just wishing I was writing.
I even got a short story out of the experience of learning to play the violin. That’s my actual violin up there at the top of the page, I never did go back to learning to play it, but I sold it for LOADS as it was quite special. You can read the short story here, if you feel like it. It’s not so much a short story as what actually happened, so technically a life writing piece.
Have you found it yet?
Your one thing? What is your be-all and end-all?
In life we sometimes think, if I were twenty years younger I’d have a go at that. Or if I had more money, more time, more energy, if I was taller, slimmer, had a better education or had done that course…I would…
*insert dream Thing here*
I say, why not now? Why is discovery and experimentation only for the young? How many years might you have ahead of you? Do you want to waste the next twenty thinking, wow, I could have done that or learned that or gone there by now. Even if you only have days, weeks, months of life left ahead of you, do you really want to spend that time looking over your shoulder at what you could have done? Don’t miss out.
Do it now. That one thing above all other things. Don’t let fear stop you. Because what’s the point of having nothing to look back on but regrets?
- The unreliable narrator – she’s out to fool you!
Like all stories, mysteries are told by narrators. Even mysteries told in the third person have a narrator, though the story is usually told by an omniscient narrator with a kind of ‘bird’s eye view’ of the story and its characters. But if you are reading a mystery written in the first person, the ‘I’ of the story is your narrator, and in this very intimate world of the first-person narrator, you as a reader need to be on your guard because the main mission in the life of the first-person narrator is to pull the wool over your eyes!
This is very often how the author introduces red herrings. As the reader, you get drawn into the world of the first-person narrator, he or she seems nice, they explain things to you and tell you what the other characters are like or about their secrets. They are your feet, eyes and ears as you step into the story and begin to explore the fictional world of the book.
Or maybe they are really horrid, but either way, they unfold to you the plot of the story as they see it and it all seems very plausible. You are drawn inside and it is only at the end, you realise that they missed out crucial information or disguised themselves or presented events in a rather biased manner, with the deliberate intention of thwarting your attempt to solve the mystery all by yourself.
Maybe they are seeking to divert suspicion from themselves, or even if you know what they did and how they did it, it is important for the first-person narrator that you sympathise, even condone their actions and approve their motives. They deceive you with half-truths, half-lies or even simply accidental misinterpretation. The bumbling narrator is in many ways the worst. They disarm you with their apparent incompetence, they admit to being forgetful, or unsure of their facts, and all the time—all the time—they are deliberately drawing you into a sticky web of their own creation and you cannot escape until you read the words, ‘The End’.
They might throw you off the scent by seeming to reveal some great truth. They admit to some minor sin in order to distract you from your hunt for clues. Their very openness, the revelation of their intimate thoughts, feelings and actions actually conceals greater guilt—the guilt of deception. Even worse, the author actually uses them to control your reaction to the story and how information is revealed to you. Can you believe it? So often in an apparent display of ‘fairness’, they will actually allow the narrator’s flaw to be revealed early on in the story, in the hope that you will have forgotten it by the time the story reaches its denouement. The author manipulates your sympathy, forcing you to acquit the narrator of wrongdoing as you stand in the place of the judge and jury to examine the action of the story. The author actually laughs as they write those lines that will trap you then surprise you. He he he.
Now that you know this, you are forearmed, and will be on the lookout for these artful devices.
Here below are a few noted novels with unreliable narrators: (sorry to spoil that for you…)
I also tried this with my Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy.
Agatha Christie’s infamous The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho
Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita
Ian McEwan’s Atonement
- Reflections on a visit to an exhibition
No I haven’t been to an exhibition. I have barely been out of the house for seven weeks! So I’m trawling through my old blog posts and notes to find something to
rehashahem, to look at from a new perspective.
Back in January 2017, I was about to start writing book 2 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries. The book was called The Mantle of God, and featured an ancient clerical vestment, a mantle, that is to say, a kind of cloak for priests. This topic had been triggered by a TV documentary I saw about Medieval English Embroidery, called Opus Anglicanum (English Work), that was on sometime over Christmas I seem to think. Anyway, a bit of research on the old interweb showed me that the V & A museum in London were holding a special exhibition, so thither went I post haste. Actually it was by Midland Trains but anyway…
I had to see it for myself. The enthusiasm of the narrator/presenter of the documentary (which I’ve forgotten the title of, and also the name of the presenter – I wish I’d made a note) made it seem so relevant, so real. Of course, life gets in the way sometimes, and in fact the exhibition was almost over so I nearly missed it but I am so glad I finally made it.
Due to it being the off-season, the number of visitors wasn’t quite as large as usual, and the organisers were happy to allow everyone to wander around and browse to their hearts’ content, and also due to the exhibition being busy but not cheek-by-jowl crowded, I was able to perch on a bench and gaze fondly at the Butler Bowden Cope, which was the main item I had come to see ‘in the flesh’, amongst many other copes, mantles, chasubles, altar cloths and more. Being a writer, of course I had come armed with notebook and pen (and bought several more in the gift shop). I was able to sit and make notes without feeling a need to hurry along and make way for others. The items were fabulous, far beyond what I had expected, and beautifully displayed. Here is a little of what I felt and noted:
‘The red velvet background was, as I expected, greatly faded away to a soft, deep pinky red although here and there it remains fresh and vibrant, and the threads of the velvet fabric were worn and even almost bare in places. As is typical, tiers of Biblical scenes and characters are interspersed by smaller tiers of angels, and twining branches form vertical barriers between sections.
‘The figures are more or less uncoloured now, but their hair still shines softly gold or silver, and here and there a vivid patch of blue cloth has retained its glorious colour. Lions peer between branches of oak, their heads realised by spirals of tiny pearls, for the main part still intact after, what, almost 700 years? 700 hundred years – I can hardly believe it.
‘Actually, I feel rather in awe. Of the creators, their skill, and even of the measure of inspiration they enjoyed, and the careful, devoted execution of the work: it all touches me, and I feel grateful, even tearful as I look at these beautiful garments and draperies. Who knows how long it will be possible to move these often fragile items and take them to other audiences? And then, when they are gone… all we will be left with will be photographs and facsimiles. Somehow it isn’t enough just to go and look, I feel a need to record my experience, to capture it for the future.’
As you can tell, I was lost in the moment. As were–I noticed–almost all the other visitors.
The cafe, too, is well worth an hour of contemplation! The stunning blue delft tiles on the walls, the lovely ceiling and windows… Entrance to the main part of the museum is, as ever, free, but the specialist exhibitions such as the Opus Anglicanum, have to be booked and paid for. But this is surely a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I certainly didn’t mind paying the price of £12. I also spent an age sitting in front of the permanent exhibition in the hall of Flemish tapestries. Absolutely beautiful – and HUGE.
When Mantle of God came out, a couple of people said that the story was far-fetched – that no one would be prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect a clerical vestment, or to hand a piece of it down through the generations, protecting it the way I suggested in my book. But I based my idea on real evidence: the presenter discussed a similar item – a mantle, that had at some point been cut into four pieces and later–much later–the pieces had been restitched to create one whole garment again.
So I felt there was every possibility that a few loyal families could between them take and hide one piece of a mantle. If the worst happened surely at least one piece of the holy relic would survive? They were taking their lives in their hands for their faith.
Remember, in those days, Britain was Catholic, Protestant, then Catholic, then Protestant again. It was so incredibly dangerous to be caught on the wrong side of the faith-fence by your enemies. Literally having a tiny fragment of a priest’s garment on your premises could mean death. Churches that had been beautifully decorated Catholic places of worship were white-washed–the paintings and murals often not discovered until hundreds of years later. If found, the ornaments and attributes of mass were destroyed, or plundered for the treasure chests of royalty. There’s a reason they had priests-holes in those big old houses.
- Catching up with romance and fantasy author Emma Baird
Hi Emma, it’s great to have this chance to find out a bit more about you. Thanks for allowing yourself to be bullied in this way. Let’s jump straight in to my not very exacting interview! I’ve read most of your books, and love them, I’m not just saying that because we’re pals.
I’d advise readers who love romance to get started NOW on book 1 of the Highland Books: Highland Fling, where we meet Gaby and go with her to the perfect setting for romance: a little village in Scotland where she meets a variety of brilliant characters, and of course, the love of her life – her cat! (kidding)
Q1. What kind of books do you write?
Women’s fiction – which is a broad church, thankfully. So, I can write romantic comedies in the main, but also chick lit, young adult and I’m currently trying my hand at urban fantasy stroke paranormal romance.
Women, luckily, are very open-minded about what they read. And they tend to read voraciously. I think that gives writers so much freedom.
Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?
I just read. And read. Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and a lot of Greek mythology which meant I was useful for crossword clues.
I remember loving Judy Blume. She tapped into the 80s child psyche so well. Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret and Forever are the two books I remember the most, the latter for obvious reasons… Though I did have to figure out what the British equivalent was for the food mentioned in those books—Graham Crackers for digestives and jelly for jam.
And er… my mum had a copy of a Jackie Collins book, and a friend and I used to sneak into her bedroom and read it. Now, that was educational.
Lol I bet it was. My parents used to go through my books quite carefully to check they were suitable. I’m glad to say a few things slipped through! They didn’t realise I read their books too!
Q3. I know you’ve recently released a boxset of the three books so far in your Highland Books romantic comedy series, so what are you working on at the moment?
What can we look forward to in the future from you?
Oof. I went through this mad writing phase in the last four years and finished quite a few books. They are not yet fit to be unleashed. Re-writing and revising is the really important bit of the book process. I wish I could find a way to stop procrastinating about it. My way of dealing with rewriting is to start another story instead!
However, I’ve finished the fourth book in my Highland Books series, Highland Chances and hope to have it out by the summer. And I thought I’d fling in a final one, Highland Christmas to finish it all off.
I started a novella on Wattpad recently—A Leap of Faith, a COVID-19 lockdown love story. Not sure if that proves I’m overambitious, stupid or what.
Q4. Who are your favourite authors? What are you reading now?
I re-read my way through Barbara Pym’s books a couple of years ago, and I really enjoyed Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop. I love their observational skills, and the way they make the ‘ordinary’ so interesting. I’m a big fan of crime (cosy mysteries are such fun!) and big sagas. I’m re-reading James Mitchener’s The Source at the moment.
Special mention too, to Fiona Walker and Marion Keyes (women’s fiction experts extraordinaire). I’ve read all their books – and Marion Keyes is vastly entertaining to follow on Twitter.
Q5. What do you do when you’re not reading?
Cook. I love cooking. I don’t do anything else while doing it, but prep and cook, so it feels mindful. I walk a lot, as it’s easy exercise. Kind of fond of drinking wine too… (interestingly, you can drink and write, but you can’t drink and read!) Also, I’m very much into the 21st Century habit de jour – Netflix binge watching. What the flip did we do before Netflix?!
Q6. What is your writing process?
Boringly prosaic. A word count per day. The day job helps with that too. I get a percentage of my income through copywriting – blogs, website content, product descriptions, e-books, video scripts, etc. The usual deal is you get paid by word count, so that discipline makes writing for yourself a lot easier.
At least you’ve got a process that works for you! Emma, thanks so much for ‘popping along’, and I wish you every success with the Highland Books, and with your future projects.
To find out more about Emma and her work, please follow the links below:
Amazon author page: Emma Baird
- What larks, Pip! or How to survive a writing disaster.
I like to think I’m very organised with my writing. But I’m not. I tell myself several lies as I write: a) I know what I’m doing, b) I will remember what I was about to say when I broke off from my writing, c) I will remember where I put those crucial notes, d) I will know where I saved the various versions of my draft.
As I said, lies, all lies.
I’ve just spent about ten days trying to piece back together the draft of a novel I wrote six or seven years ago. In January I had the ‘most brilliant’ idea for it, suddenly it came to me, out of the blue, the direction to take the story in, all the background and setting, after years of pondering, fell into place and seemed so–right.
It took me an hour to put all the separate chapters into one complete draft, and reading through, I realised there was a lot of material missing. I had:
No chapter 39
Or chapter 40, though I had a 40a (???)
No chapter 41
Two chapter 42s (different chapters, not an original and a copy)
No chapter 44
Two chapter 47s (again different, not an original and a copy)
And although the story ends in the middle of the action – I cannot find the ending. And for some reason, there are a lot of very short chapters in this book, so it feels like a lot to keep track of.
I always back up my works in progress (I’d advise anyone to do this) – imagine something terrible happens, your house is flooded, there’s a fire, or your computer goes up in flames… (ditto important documents and of course, photos of your babies). I back up through several methods, and whilst these are a bit haphazard, (don’t judge me!) I’m slightly more organised than I used to be. So I save my WIP onto the computer, obvs, then onto a USB stick, and then I email the Word file to myself, and I save onto ‘the cloud’, int his case, my OneDrive account. Because you never know, right?
I saved all my files titles and so none of them were the same. So as I say, I’ve spent the last ten days trying to put a full draft together so I can see what I need to do with the story to make it work, and to try to make it good. This, by the way, is known as the half-baked writing system. I don’t recommend it as a process.
By the time I’d finished this on Tuesday, I was frazzled, because I’d muddled my brain trying to figure out what I already had, and what I still had missing. I had two files Windows just point blank refused to open. I had several that were basically entirely html – but with a bit of text in the middle. I’ve definitely honed my detective skills this week. I felt like I had a big uphill battle ahead of me to rewrite/replace all those missing and corrupted files. It was beginning to feel as though it just wasn’t worth the effort. I didn’t do much work on Monday/Tuesday, I was too low.
Yesterday, I started fresh, and went through everything, even the stuff I already ‘l knew’ I’d looked through. I pulled out my paper files and went through two lots of early drafts. I found my missing chapters! I went through all the back-ups of my backed up back-ups and found non-corrupted files to replace the ones I couldn’t open or that were mostly comprised of html. I still have no ending. But this morning I found a note to myself written in 2015 that says ‘Still need to do this, this and this,’ and having calmly sat and worked through everything, I realise I do have a ton of notes signposting the way I planned these missing chapters to go.
I only hope the end product will be worth it. I’m planning a new series. Did I mention that? This book will be the first of those, and I hope it will be out in the big wide world in 2021. That seems quite close now, even though we’re still only in April 2020. this has been a weird few months, hasn’t it?
If you can bear to, I’ve put a couple of chapters on here, so you can have a read. The book will be called A Meeting With Murder: book 1 of the Miss Gascoigne 1960s mysteries.
Thanks for putting up with me. I hope everyone is safe and happy. Live Long and Prosper, as our childhood hero Mr Spock says. 😉
- Author Interview – Paul Nelson, author of young adult fantasy, mystery and other genres
As we continue to rack our brains for something to do at home, this week I thought it would be nice to showcase the work of an Indie author and reshare a short interview from two and a half years ago!
Paul Nelson is the author of the Susquehanna series of books for both young adults and adults. The first book of this series is Burning Bridges Along The Susquehanna, which I highly recommend for a pacy and unusual read. Paul has also written Saving Worms After The Rain, and the Fisher’s Autism Trilogy. Paul is an advocate of autism and his main characters are autistic. It is Paul’s desire to open up the eyes of all of us to what it is to be autistic and to break through the preconceptions about autism and the way autistic people are treated. I can highly recommend these very original books, as they are warm, funny and very human. In addition, I love the period detail and the settings of these books, as they are steeped in local history and folklore.
Now, over to Paul:
Thanks for agreeing to be tortured in this way, Paul, I have a few basic questions for you, if you don’t mind. Hopefully these will help people to see the man behind the books!
Q1. What kind of books do you write?
I write fiction that includes those with disabilities, especially autism. Saving Worms After the Rain is an adult mystery with historical elements, and the Fisher’s Autism Trilogy are aimed at young adults and are mainly fantasy.
Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?
Reading was hard for me as a child. I think I have ADHD. When I got older, I read lots of short stories by Truman Capote in school. I also love John Steinbeck and Anne Rice. I read a lot about spirituality…Richard Rohr and Buddhism.
Q3. What are you working on at the moment? What can we look forward to in the future from you?
I’m working on a novel about a young woman with an autistic brother. (Spoiler alert, that’s the Susquehanna series, people, buy it now here) It’s historical and fantasy combined. They find a time portal and travel back in time. It’s about the Susquehanna River Valley, where I live.
Q4. What are your favourite authors? What are you reading now?
Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Richard Rohr, Anne Rice. I’m not reading too much right now. I’m trying to spend most of my time writing.
I know what you mean, I don’t read much when I’m writing either, it seems too much of a distraction, and I’m worried about bringing other authors’ voices and styles into my work. Plus I just don’t have the mental energy!
Now on to Q5. What do you do when you’re not reading?
My autistic son needs a lot of my time. I make sure I walk for at least 40 minutes a day. It’s good for the body and the spirit and mind. I do a lot of writing in my head when I walk. I also love movies. I wrote a screenplay of my first book. My son and I go to movies quite a bit. (Caron adds: let’s hope we can all get back to that soon.)
Q6. What is your writing process?
I like to write in my head first. When I sit down to start writing a rough draft, I imagine what I want to write as a movie scene. It’s like storyboarding in my head. After I write all the scenes, I go back and embellish, add descriptive passages and link the scenes together. I’m a very visual person.
That’s an interesting approach – I find it difficult to write until I’ve created a book cover – I need that visual stimulus to bring my story alive in my head, but I don’t do the full on storyboarding. Maybe I should try that.
Thank you so much for sharing your writing process with us. I’m really looking forward to your new book – and all your subsequent books out there in the big wide world.
About the Author:
Paul Nelson is a former music teacher who has written a trilogy of fantasy fiction books inspired by his 19-year-old son Michael, who was born with autism. Michael has a hard time communicating on his own, but Paul knows his son has a story to tell. Paul wants to show the world that people with autism are not ‘badly raised and in need of spanking’ nor are they ‘stupid and lazy’, but are creative, intelligent, compassionate people with something to say and who deserve the same respect everyone else should get. On top of that, his books are a breath of fresh air. The books are available as a set in one volume called FISHER’S AUTISM TRILOGY, or as individual volumes, entitled: Through Fisher’s Eyes, Dark Spectrum and A Problem With The Moon. In addition to this trilogy, there is also a novel for adults, Saving Worms After The Rain, which Paul describes as a mixture of mystery and the history of central Pennsylvania. You can follow Paul on his author page on Amazon.com or on Twitter.
- How to make a first draft: a list of ingredients
A lot goes into the first draft of a novel. It’s a phase, not just a single event. It goes through emotional twists and turns–as does the writer.
I write all my novels longhand in the first draft. Here’s a list of some of the ingredients I used to write my most recent first draft:
Firstly I needed six of these: (they HAVE to match…)
And I will on average use 4 or 5 of these: (I am literally writing purple prose).
One each of the these:
And even these:
Finally, raring to go, I will begin with excited enthusiasm: (the towel’s not really part of this.)
Then I will write furiously in a panic to get it all down on paper:
Then I will feel tired and only want to do this:
Next comes the phase of rebellion:
Then there’s a little bit of surprised ‘I think this is going to work’ feeling.
Followed rapidly by a ‘Why on earth do I do this to myself?’ sensation (which can last up to twenty years).
When that is over, I move into what I like to call the ‘Theoden, King’ phase of writing: a kind of grim resignation.
When writing a first draft you need a lot of sheer dogged persistence. Fortunately I do have quite a lot of that. It’s basically my only marketable (or not) skill.
Until one day:
And of course, plenty of:
The End (of the beginning…)
- The Older Author
Is it too early in the year to do a blog round-up? Am I the only one who feels like they’ve already had enough of 2020? And to think that only a couple of months ago I was saying that 2019 had been ‘the year that never was’.
I hope everyone is keeping well and just as importantly, staying sane, in these very weird times. At Chez Allan, we are all fine. The hubs is outside now the weather has improved and doing manly things like banging the living daylights out of a piece of wood. If I had a hammer…
…I’d probably brain someone with it.
There’s a reason I write crime fiction.
Yes, in case you missed it, easily done in this world of megamarkets and worldwide internet shopping, I am a writer of mystery books, and in the case of one trilogy, murder-not-so-mysterious (she tells you what she did and how…).
I’ve always loved murder mysteries. I also love romance but not the really gut-wrenching, heart-breaking stuff. I like it light and fun. I am not a fan of too much reality – I have enough of that in my life, I want to escape to somewhere happy. Or as happy as you can be with a corpse at the bottom of the stairs…
I started just as many other
criminalswriters start, reading Enid Blyton etc as a small child. I mean really reading. I read well by the age of four, and was unstoppable when it came to books. I still have a VERY large collection of print books, and now eBooks too. (Of course the beauty of eBooks is you can have hundreds and hundreds and your partner doesn’t even know about them!)
From Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Secret Seven and other series, I went on to the wonderful and very under-rated Malcolm Saville’s books. Then it was just a hop, skip and a jump to the books I have loved for about fifty years: those of Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth.
So it’s not entirely surprising that my passion for books and words should make me turn to creating my own stories back in the days when you had to wait a year or more for your author to put out a new book, instead of every three or six months. I just used to like putting my thoughts down on paper. The power you have as a writer, to make the elements of life you don’t like disappear, and to put better ones, more exciting or glamorous, in their place!
I never thought I would be published by a ‘real’ publishing company. Quite the opposite. I did a short creative writing course to round off my degree, and the tutor spent as more time telling us we had more hope of going to the moon, than of being published by a publishing house than she did actually teaching. This did not boost class morale, I can tell you. But I had by my late thirties developed a dogged arrogance that I was going to keep writing, no matter what. (I destroyed all my writing once when I was about 28 or 30, because someone told me what I was doing was wrong, selfish, immoral, pointless and self-indulgent. I regretted almost immediately being so gullible. And that (probably awful) work is gone forever. The world won’t miss it, but I do, like an old friend.) I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
You might think then that it was clear I would have to self-publish. but I didn’t even consider that for many years. In fact it was 2012, when I was 52, that I finally thought, you know what, maybe that is a good idea. There was more stigma attached to that, because then even more than now, people saw it as ‘not real publishing’. If any fool could put their own book out there, well, what value was there in your work?
But I don’t write to prove I have some value. And I freely admit some people hate my work. But–and this is the bit that astonishes me even now–some people love it. And they say nice things to me like ‘I can’t wait for your next book’ or ‘I love these characters’. That’s amazing, and that’s what keeps me going.
If you look at great writers, or popular writers (not always the same thing) you will see some awful reviews for their books. I mean, we all think of the prolific and successful writers as ‘great’ in some sense, and yet they have their fair share of bad reviews. So it’s no surprise that a wannabe like me would have some bad ones too. You have to develop a thick skin, and send your tough journalist/critic persona out there to read your reviews and engage with reality, don’t let your sensitive, insecure creative persona go out into the big world, they will be crushed.
This has been rather a woolly, waffling blog post, I know, but I just wanted to say all this again, to talk about how you can come from nowhere special, with an average or below average education, income etc, and with determination and by learning a few skills, you can be a writer. It’s not quite as easy as I’ve made it sound, and it might be years before you make any money, but what have you got to lose? Give it a go. I also feel compelled to say this: it is not too late, you are not too old. Writing is one of the few careers where you can start at any age, and you don’t have to retire at sixty-five if you don’t want to.
There are a ton of writers out there who are old gits, I’m not the only one. Here is a link to an article about older authors:
- Embrace the chaos
This is a shamelessly rewritten blog post from a couple of years ago, mainly because it seems very appropriate for how things are right now, and partly because I was stumped for ideas. 😉
A while ago, I blogged about routine and how I think it’s essential to productive creativity. But what do you do if your routine goes to pot and everything is unsettled and out of sync? (Like now!)
Answer: Just go with it.
I’m thinking of that song by Scott Walker about a million years ago, ‘Make It Easy On Yourself.’ That’s just what you should do.
If you allow the stress of being disorganised to get to you, you will become depressed, anxious, you will feel guilty, and become increasingly non-productive, you’ll be snappy and mean to your loved ones, then you’ll get even more deeply depressed and even less productive. So allow yourself the room to just do what you can manage, and don’t sweat it. Do what you can and don’t beat yourself up if you feel you’re not achieving as much as you think you should, or you planned to achieve.
My planner is a mess of crossed out items that I have not achieved, or not within my self-imposed deadline. That used to send me into a bit of a panic – I love to feel in control, that’s my security blanket.
But now I’m learning to accept and adapt. Or at least I’m trying to. To begin with, I found it quite difficult to have first my husband then my daughter at home all day every day. But now I really like it. We’ve spent so much more time together. (I know, not always a good thing, right?) And the house and garden are starting to look a lot neater now I’m not the only one doing it.
And I’ve seen how hard it is for them to get used to having no colleagues for the usual office banter, or just making work-related catch-ups easier. Thank God for Skype, Facetime, etc! (Seriously if you have colleagues who live alone, check in with them – they might be really lonely and finding it hard.)
At home, we have none of the fancy amenities of the corporate office. Our internet is sloooooooooow. We haven’t any of those comfy swizzle chairs that support your back. There’s ALWAYS someone else in the loo when you’re busting for a wee. No oggy van comes to our place. (Hot snacks and confectionery food van) (Non-Brits, Oggy is a slang term for a Cornish Pasty.) (Here’s a link to the Cornish Pasty association, you can find out how to make an authentic pasty, much better than typing up that report!)
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Meetings are more bearable when your bottom half is in your jammies and fuzzy socks, and only your top half has to look work-ready. We have three cats on hand at all times to help with difficult calculations or to open up a line of conversation with a prickly client. You can have your choice of music playing in the background, sit in the sunny garden for lunch, and your commuting time is down to 30 seconds. You NEVER get stuck in traffic! We are saving a small fortune in petrol.
I don’t advocate, as some have suggested, drinking shots every time you read some email that begins ‘In these troubled/challenging/difficult times’. That is not a good plan. I would be off my face by lunchtime.
Once adjustments are made, I can see that a lot of people will come to love this life.
Do what you can, go with the flow, and gradually normality will reassert itself.
If you only write a small amount, remind yourself it’s a step forward from yesterday, and any progress, no matter how small, is good. You may even find, as I am beginning to realise, that it can be a normal part of your creative process.
I usually start strong, like most writers. I have a good idea of where the story is going, I know what it’s about. But for me, again like many writers, the problems arise about halfway or so into the story when suddenly I realise a) I’m useless at writing, b) my story sucks, and c) it’s never going to be ready in time. This is all the more difficult when you can’t give 100% of your concentration to what you’re doing because you’ve suddenly got more people around you and a mad scramble for bandwidth and table space.
Over the years there have been a few times that my routine has been vandalised by circumstances. The first couple of times, I found it too hard, I struggled to keep my usual impetus and as a result, I gave up on the story. But gradually I’ve learned that I can work through the mess, embrace the chaos and finish a book.
This current crisis is a stressful one, and pressures can take their toll. Old anxieties may resurface, undermining your determination and your control of everything in your life. It becomes harder to push them away and carry on. But that’s what I’m going to do. And that’s what you are going to do. Because what choice do we have? Do we want to give up writing? NO!
So now, we will embrace the mess, and work with it, secure in the knowledge that, regardless of our feelings and the muddle that is our so-called routine, we can do this. It might take a longer than expected, and it might be baby steps all the way, but we will get there, and finish our book.