Journals: and where to find them

DSCF0369Writing tutors always advocate keeping a journal or writing diary. I keep one sporadically, writing an entry a couple of times a week, then maybe not for a month, then four times in one day. It depends entirely on what is going on in my life.

Why is it useful?

Well, to begin with it’s therapeutic. You can use it to de-stress your life, like a best friend, it won’t tattle on you. You can pour out your heart and soul and love and bile into a journal, and no one will slap your face or lecture you. If you keep it private, you can say and do whatever you please, and know that your dodgy experiments and weak efforts, your anxieties and temper tantrums will never see the light of day, and your loved ones will be unscathed by the trauma that exists inside the average writer. So it’s a safe place to try new stuff or give a voice to things that are bothering you, or to learn how to do new stuff by practising and honing your skills.

It is a great way to keep track of what happens when in your life – all too often, especially once you reach ‘a certain age’, you can forget what happens in your life and how it affects you. Later you can look back and think, Oh I was writing such-and-such when Great Aunt Jemima had her hip replacement. It’s useful more often than you’d think.

I also use mine as a way of noting down odd things I see. I often write a blog post based on a journal entry about people watching. Title or character ideas can also be quickly noted down, or I might write something along the lines of ‘a funny thing happened on the way to the supermarket’. I also make notes of ideas – either for a story that is already part of my life, or a new idea that has just come to me or that I’m playing around with to see if it has enough oomph in it to create a whole novel from.

I write to-do lists along the lines of ‘Tues: finish chapter three, do blog post, tweet, Facebook, and emails to X, Y and Z. Wed: chapter four and think about a flash fiction or poem. Thurs: more social media; create graphic for marketing.’

I make notes about the technical side of writing and self-publishing – keywords to try, niches and genres, blurbs, other books to read, ‘how-to’ tips and ideas.

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AND the main thing I use it for – to write rough drafts of chapters for ongoing work. On top of all these, if I have an epiphany on the bus into town, I can haul out my notebook and scribble away. I often add sticky notes to the page edges so I can find something important later.

I don’t use fancy-schmancy notebooks, I just use an ordinary lines A5 notebook. Okay so big confession: I am a bit of a sucker for a pretty cover. And I like thickish paper, otherwise ink just blobs through flimsy pages and ruins the next page or two. But I still don’t spend a fortune on them. Not individually at least, though I do buy them often and in quantity, but that’s our little secret. I’ve got stacks of them in drawers and on shelves and in boxes. I love to go through them sometimes, perhaps even many years later, and often get a fresh insight into an old problem, or find a forgotten piece that I can use in my writing or on my blog. Sometimes it’s just nice to look back and see a mention of a hope or cherished dream and think, ‘well I’ve done that now’.

Journals can be a gold mine, as a writer you really can’t be without one.

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All change!

I decided on the spur of the moment to change the covers on my murderous journal-style trilogy. I’d had the same covers for books two and three for a few years, and I’d only changed the cover to book one within a month or so of its original publication four years ago. I just felt it was time for a face-lift for the set. I also changed the subtitle of the trilogy which has been ‘The Posh Hits murder mysteries’ up to now. At

the time, I wanted a descriptive subtitle to give potential readers a bit of an idea what the books were about, but I’m not sure Posh Hits ever really worked, but at the time I was a bit short of ideas!

Now I’m using the byline from the cover of the three-in-one version of the book. So the books are now going to be tagged with ‘Friendship can be murder: book 1’ etc in addition to the name of each volume.

I feel quite pleased with the results, hopefully the books now look a bit fresher and have more colour and eye-appeal. I kept the cocktail glasses motif on the covers, as in book one, my main character is quite a socialite and is often knocking back a colourful drink laden with fruit and stirrers. As the story progresses, she becomes less ‘posh’ and a bit more of a down-to-earth mum and family-oriented woman. So I was tempted to put a cup of hot chocolate on the cover of book two and maybe a herbal tea on book three, but in the end they just didn’t look quite right. So I kept the cocktail glasses theme going.

If you would like to know more about this series, please click this link:

The Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy

A little bit about the books:

Spoilt society girl Cressida Barker-Powell confides to her journal that she plans to murder her unbearable mother-in-law. But when she arrives at the scene, she finds the old woman already dead. Obviously her Hitchcock-Movie-loving best pal, Monica, has carried out the deed for her!  Taking the murder-switch idea from the movie Strangers on a Train, Cressida decides the only proper way to show her gratitude is by killing off Monica’s philandering husband and his bimbo girlfriend.  After all, Monica of all people should appreciate the idea of swapping murders? That’s what she wants, right?

Wrong! Cressida quickly discovers that unfortunately this was not what her friend had in mind, and now Monica is devastated and planning to exact a terrible revenge. Which means their friendship is definitely over. Isn’t it?

 

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The needs of the one outweighs the system of the many.

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Establishing a writing routine has taken me years. And years. And it’s still a bit shaky. But I’m going to keep at it and work on it because it is a great booster to my productivity and I feel good about it.

Years ago, I read in several different books about ‘morning pages’ and I tried to implement that kind of writing. The idea is, you wake in the morning and immediately begin to write before the rude outside world has a chance to impinge on your subconscious and stifle creative impulses.

This didn’t work for me on a number of levels, not least being, I’m not a morning person and would usually just fall asleep again. Once I woke to find myself still holding my alarm clock, and found that all the wonderfully creative, insightful things I’d written were just a dream I had – the page was still blank! A few times I achieved some writing, but mainly it consisted of ‘I want to go to sleep’, or a completely illegible scrawl, or was a meandering, unfocused stream-of-consciousness waffle that would have had Virginia Woolf throwing up her hands in horror.

So that didn’t work for me.

It’s taken a long time but now I’ve realised I don’t have to do things the way other people say I should. I don’t work well with instructions. I never follow recipes, can’t stick to knitting or sewing patterns, and don’t understand formulas. I have to find my own way to achieve what others do by following guidance.

If you’re like that, you can do this too. If a system fails to help you, it’s not a sign that you are no good, it’s a sign that you need a new system.

I started slowly, from what I wanted to achieve right then and there. I’m a night person and I do my best thinking when the house is quiet and everyone else has gone to bed. So that’s when I write.

Instead of morning pages written when still in the borderlands between sleeping and waking, I have learned to achieve a deep relaxation, a kind of meditation, and I write random stuff then. I have found that this is quite easy to achieve with practice.

But I also do brainstorming activities with spider-web-like diagrams to work out problems or new approaches to a piece of writing.

Writing a journal helps me to ask myself questions, get things off my chest and examine, often over a long period of years, how I feel about my work in general or a specific piece of writing. I’ve just had a new idea about a book I wrote three years ago, and also thought of something to help with the plot of a book I wrote in 1996.

And my normal routine of weekly grocery shopping gives me half an hour or so in a café away from the house with a nice cup of coffee and my notebook, to write the blog post of that week – something I used to really struggle to get done.

So if you’re not in favour of the cookie-cutter writing system, start with what works for you and don’t apologise to yourself or anyone else, if that ‘failsafe’ system everyone espouses doesn’t work for you.

You’re unique, not like everyone else, and you need a writing method that works for you, for your individual needs. If it gets you writing, it must be working.

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Create your reader

girls-462072_1920Recently someone asked me what age group of reader I was targeting with my WIP. My initial reaction was probably the same as most people: “all of them!”

After all, as writers, we want to reach as many people as possible, don’t we? It puts me in mind of board games where it says on the side of the box “fun for the whole family: aged 8 to 80”. (Sorry you 81-year-olds!) And that’s kind of how I feel about my books: Ihope they will be enjoyed by people older than me and younger, and those who are my (approximate) age. We want to reach as many as we can with our work, and are reluctant to rule anyone out. After all, we know that not all fantasy is read by young people, that not all family saga is read by older people. There are always plenty of people who don’t fit into marketing stereotypes, and we don’t want to disregard them just because they are a bit different to what it says on the box.

I’ve read several times this week about the importance of having in your mind an image of your perfect, or some might say, average reader, and of writing your book as if you are writing for that one person. The idea is that it makes it easier to keep your book focused, and to maintain consistency of POV and tense.

I’d go a step further. Use a real person. Most of us have that one person we talk to about our writing, or one or two people. Most of us run ideas past them for feedback, let them read the messy first drafts, and sob on their shoulders when we get a stinking review. These are–hopefully–the people who can look us in the eye and say “Sweetie-pie, in all honesty, it sucks. Write something else.” Let’s face it, you already know this person so well, you know what they like, what they don’t like, their favourite colour, and their alcoholic drink of choice. So it seems to me it is simply good sense to use them as a sounding board during the writing process, not just after it.friendship-1199863_1920

BUT…If you don’t have someone in your life like that, you can just as easily create a mental image of a perfect reader in the same way as you create the rest of your book and people its pages with characters. Okay, so they won’t buy you a G & T when you’re down, but they can still be useful. Give your person a name and an identity, with the quirks and foibles of real people. See them in your mind and address them as if they were real and present in the room with you. Speak to them directly as you write–tell them the story. If it helps you could even put at the top of your first page, “Dear (insert name here!), I am writing to tell you the story of…” –after all, you can always remove this later.

It doesn’t matter if your perfect reader is real or pretend, so long as they act as your creative muse and encourage you to find your voice and get writing.

New Release: Check Mate – book 3 of the Posh Hits Trilogy

checkmate cover ebook version

I am delighted to announce the release of Check Mate – book three of my murder ‘mystery’ trilogy.

Cressida Barker-Powell-Hopkins, reformed society girl, and now devoted wife and mother, is back. In this, the third book of the Posh Hits trilogy, we join Cressida as at first reluctantly then with greater zeal she pours out her heart into her journal, trying to deal with her feelings after the traumatic events of the previous year. Her hit-list is down to just one name. Cressida wants vengeance on the woman who has terrorised her family and almost cost Cressida her life. But her murdering skills are a bit rusty, and her arch-enemy seems to have moved house. What on earth can Cressida do now? 

And here’s a little taster…

As I took a step forward, she waved the gun.

“Don’t,” she said. I halted. The rain was coming down, if anything even harder than before and I was trying—and failing—to think of a way out of this situation. In books, in movies, the protagonist always feels that they are in a waking nightmare, they wish they could wake up and find everything is okay. We’re told things slow down until the seconds deafeningly strike your heartbeat, but it wasn’t like that for me. She had my gun, she had my father-in-law, how could this possibly end in anything other than a nightmare? My calling out of his name still echoed around in my head.

Surely Matt would be here soon? If I could just keep her talking a little longer…

“Let him go, Monica, your quarrel is not with him but with me.”

She laughed. “Oh very High Noon! But sorry, did you want us to have a duel, see who’s quickest on the draw? I’m afraid I have your gun.”

I should have kept quiet. She gave a snort of derision. “God, Cressida, is that the best you can come up with? An awful cliché, after all this time?”

“Please,” I said, and I meant it. I took a couple of steps forward without thinking and Sid motioned for me to stop.

“Cress…” he said, and she laid the barrel of the gun warningly on his shoulder.

“Don’t! I told you,” she said. Her face was a white oval in the darkness, her eyes a barely discernible gleam. “Keep your distance,” she added.

I saw that she was craning to get a good look at the car. I intuited that she was wondering if I’d left the keys in the ignition. I took a step to the side, blocking her view, at the same time hoping not to totally enrage her.

The tip of the gun was jammed into Sid’s neck. He yelped and I almost peed myself.

“Who’s with you? Matt?” she snarled.

I couldn’t afford to make her mad. I stepped away from the car, backed a few steps away, my hands in the air.

“No. No one, I came on my own. I don’t want to play games with you, Monica, I just want…”

“Shut up, I’m the one who…”

At that moment there was a massive clap of thunder right overhead. I leapt half out of my skin, Sid also jumped and Monica lost her balance and dropped the gun. As Sid automatically reached for it, I heard a hollow popping sound and he was on his face on the ground. She’d hit him with the bat.

I hope that’s got you interested…

Also available in mobi, print, pdf, epub, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Smashwords… please see the page called My Books for links…