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This week, I’ve been really enjoying reading all the suggestions for fantasy places to read made by those who have completed my survey about women's fiction. (If you haven't completed the survey yet, there's still time - until the 31st May - and you could win a £20/$20 Amazon gift card. Here's the link: TAKE THE WOMEN'S FICTION SURVEY.

There have been so many great suggestions for fantasy reading places. Gardens of various sorts were a popular choice. I’ve recently been watching a re-run of a TV series called Around the World in Eighty Gardens, and your fantasy reading places made me want to go on a world trip called Around the World in Eighty Fantasy Reading Places. Wouldn’t that be great? Not only to experience all those wonderful places to sit and read a book, but to have the time and tranquillity to really get absorbed in reading.

Of course, for it to work properly, you’d need to have somebody on hand to carry your book pile and to supply you with refreshments. And they’d have to be somebody willing to melt into the background so they didn’t distract you.

drinks brought to fantasy reading place

One respondent was very specific about her choice of garden, naming the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Not being familiar with it, I took a look. Wow! Isn’t it an amazing place? So amazing, I might not be able to concentrate on my book if I were there, which would mean I would need to go there often to get used to it, which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

courtyard of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Another garden choice that caught my eye was: in the garden of my childhood home. How evocative that was! In a flash, I was back in the garden of my own childhood, remembering every detail of it, or at least, every detail that counted to me as a child – I daresay my mother would have an entirely different memory of it. (After all, she was the one who did all the gardening.) For me, it conjured up memories of the sumac tree I loved so much with its rust-coloured furry trumpet fruits, and leaves that turned a vibrant red-gold every autumn. The pink roses I once looked at in the sunshine, causing pink splodges to appear before my eyes for ages afterwards. The bush I mindlessly plunged my hand into only to have it stung by a bee. The time when I was forbidden to go to the end of the garden because my dad was secretly making me a doll’s house for Christmas in his workshop.

 

If I could go back there now to read, it would have to be beneath that sumac tree in the autumn. If you could return to the garden of your childhood, I wonder whereabouts you’d read your favourite books?

Of course, not everyone has a garden when they're growing up. If that’s you, I wonder what your fantasy garden would be like? Or perhaps you’d be happy to stay indoors.

I'd love to know your thoughts on reading in gardens, childhood or otherwise.  Comment below, or you can tweet to me at @margaretkaj.

I'll bring you more from the fascinating survey results soon. In the meantime, happy reading, whether you're in your fantasy reading place or not! Have a good week.

Margaret 

Hello to all you women's fiction lovers out there! I'm carrying out a survey to get your valuable views on what makes a women's fiction novel the best ever experience for you.

I don't know if you're like me, but sometimes I find it difficult to find books I really want to read. Maybe that's partly why I write what I do - because these are the type of books that really grab me. My fantasy reads that transport me to an entirely different world; one where I'm completely hooked on the characters and what's happening to them.

The perfect place to read women's fiction, cosy, warm, cup of coffee

For me, romance on its own isn't enough.

If there's a romance in a story, that's fine, and if I care about the characters I'll root for them. But on its own? No, it doesn't do it for me. (I realise I might be in the minority, as romance novels sell like proverbial hot cakes).

I want something more than that though.

I want to read about women who are overcoming challenges of all kinds, not just the romantic kind. Women who are rebuilding their lives or challenging themselves, or dealing with complicated issues. About secrets and how they can eat away at relationships or self-esteem like a cancer. And personally, I'm quite happy to accept events that might not happen in real life if the author helps me to believe in them. Magic, I suppose.

women's fiction the magic of being totally absorbed

The compulsion factor

So, right now I'm on a quest to find out more about what other women's fiction fans want from women's fiction. I want to see whether I can find people like me, which would be very nice, but also to find other books and authors who can stir and move me, and make me read hungrily into the night. So, I've put together a short survey on Women's Fiction, and, to entice you to spend a few minutes answering my questions, I'm offering a £20/$20 Amazon voucher to one lucky respondent.

women's fiction survey - tell us your views and win an Amazon gift card
Click image to give your valuable opinion and to be entered into a draw to win a £20/$20 Amazon Gift Card.

So, what are you waiting for? if you enjoy reading good women's fiction, let me know what matters to you and where and how you enjoy reading by clicking on the link. Oh, and if you have a fantasy place to read, I want to hear about that too!

your fantasy place to read - tropical island paradise
Where's your fantasy place to read? Tell us!

Thanks so much. I can't wait to read your answers.

Bye for now.

Margaret 

This week I've been trying to explain to my creative writing students the concept of head-hopping and why it isn't usually  a good idea.

Usually, it isn't something they've thought about before, although its use may well have played a part at some stage in their not enjoying a book without them even being aware of the fact.

So what is head-hopping? And why is it such a no-no?

Put simply, it's when from we move quickly from one character's view of the world and events to another character's view of the world and events within a scene.

It's probably best to illustrate it with an example. Here's an extract from my novel The Goddess Workshop, rewritten to include head-hopping.

‘He’s got no clothes on!’ Janet hissed to Estelle and Kate as the man continued to pose and smile, obviously under the impression that he was giving her a treat.

Reenie puffed to her side. Didn’t Janet know anything about the area? ‘This part of the beach is for nudists, love,’ she said.

‘Goodness!’ said Janet, still not moving.

‘Come on,’ said Kate, giving her a little shove. She was getting impatient with them, standing around the way they were. ‘Let’s get away from here before I lose my lunch.’

Janet responded to the shove, and they wandered on towards the sea. When Estelle and Reenie began to giggle, it was difficult not to smile.

Reenie smiled. Janet was starting to get some colour back into her cheeks, thank goodness. ‘Feeling better now, love?’ she asked, and Janet nodded.

‘A bit, yes thanks,’ she said, and it was true, she was. She had only known these three women for a short time, but they were all so dear to her. In a funny kind of a way, they were almost like a second family.

‘Well,’ Estelle was saying, grinning at them all, ‘I can think of something to cheer us all up,’ she said. ‘Not to mention Droopy over there!’ and with that she threw her bag down onto the sand, kicked off her shoes and began to strip. To hell with it! Life was for living.

Phew! In all, we get to discover the thoughts and feelings of FOUR different characters in this extract, and that's a lot to take in.

While the scene might still entertain the reader, it makes us feel a bit jittery and on edge. Let's face it, in real life we just can't know exactly what anyone else is thinking or feeling. To do so, we might need to wear something a bit like this:

The Goddess Workshop is told from all four women's viewpoints, but at different times, not all at the same time. Each time I wrote a scene, I deliberately decided whose viewpoint it would be best for it to told in. Sometimes this was just a question of balance for the story - maybe I hadn't had Kate's viewpoint for a while, for example. But usually, it was because the scene would work best from a particular character's viewpoint to advance the story or to show that character's development. In this case, I chose to tell the scene from Janet's point of view, because it's an important moment for her - the moment she fully commits to making a change in her life and to shedding inhibitions and old habits that are draining her self-confidence.

Nude on beach self-confidence confidence

Here's the scene as I originally wrote it.

‘He’s got no clothes on!’ Janet hissed to Estelle and Kate as the man continued to pose and smile, obviously under the impression that he was giving her a treat.

‘This part of the beach is for nudists, love,’ Reenie told her, puffing up to her side.

‘Goodness!’ said Janet, still not moving.

‘Come on,’ said Kate, giving her a little shove. ‘Let’s get away from here before I lose my lunch.’

Janet responded to the shove, and they wandered on towards the sea. When Estelle and Reenie began to giggle, it was difficult not to smile.

‘Feeling better now, love?’ Reenie asked her kindly, and Janet nodded.

‘A bit, yes thanks,’ she said, and it was true, she was. She had only known these three women for a short time, but they were all so dear to her. In a funny kind of a way, they were almost like a second family.

‘Well,’ Estelle was saying, grinning at them all, ‘I can think of something to cheer us all up,’ she said. ‘Not to mention Droopy over there!’ and with that she threw her bag down onto the sand, kicked off her shoes and began to strip.

If you don't tell your story from one viewpoint at a time, the writing becomes clunky, and the reader doesn't truly have the chance to engage with your characters. And I don't know about you, but I really want my readers to do that. I want the reader to care about my characters and to root for them. Maybe even to feel as if they are them, or at least to be able to empathisize with them.

It's all a part of the glorious experience of an absorbing read.

The Goddess Workshop - four women on a quest to become sensual.

Happy New Year, I hope you had a good Christmas, and a very warm welcome to anyone who’s new to my blog.

I read two extremely inspiring books over the Christmas period – Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. They are quite different books, but they are both about the creative process – what it’s like and how we can get the most pleasure and fulfilment from it. I loved both books, and they were an excellent reminder of why I write and why I’m passionate about helping others to write – because they're such amazing, life-affirming things to do.

It’s difficult to pick one thing out to share with you from them, but I particularly liked Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice in Big Magic to treat your creativity as if you are having an affair with it! Gilbert points out that when people are having a passionate affair, they make time to meet up with the object of their desire, no matter how busy they are, and even if it’s only for a snatched – but passionate – fifteen minutes. She advises us to fall in love with our creativity like that and to see what happens. “Stop treating your creativity as if it’s a tired, unhappy marriage,” she says, “and start regarding it with the fresh eyes of a passionate lover. Sneak off and have an affair with your most passionate self.”

It certainly sounds like fun to me!

While we’re on the subject of fire and sparks, I’ve just released a new e-course called Story Ignitor. It’s a highly practical course based on material I’ve used in my successful day-long workshops. I believe in learning by doing, so you’ll fuel your creativity and start to spark ideas for stories by creating a three-dimensional character and using an innovative technique to help you to plan a story. You’ll also learn about story themes – ways to choose one that resonates with you, and how they can make writing easier. I’m offering the course for an introductory price of £49 (that’s about $60), and all of my students are entitled to join my WriteUP Course Café Facebook group. This is a place to connect with other writers and to find out about writing opportunities as I learn about them. Here’s the link to find out more about the course, or to enrol: http://storyignitor.strikingly.com/

story ignitor - a course to help you find ideas for writing
ENROLLING NOW! CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION.

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re Norfolk-based, I’m also offering some new face-to-face courses this term. Here are the links to find out more about those.

 

I love the start of the year – it’s a wonderful clean slate, just ready to be filled with exciting opportunities. I intend to really get stuck into my writing this year. How about you?

Until next time.

All the best.

Margaret

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Hello there!

With Christmas fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to adapt the lyrics of the popular christmas song The Twelve Days of Christmas to make them relevant to writers. Here's my effort, which is designed to give both fun and focuss!

If you're unfamiliar with the tune, you can play it using the link below as you attempt to fit my words into it.

TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS MUSIC

 

By the way, in my version, YOU  are the writer generously giving yourself all these things so that you can write!

Have a wonderful Christmas, and I wish you an amazingly creative and fulfilled New Year!

Margaret

 

mail-1841718_640

 

 

 

On the first day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the second day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the third day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

Two perfect plot plans,

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the fourth day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

A huge cup of coffee,

Two perfect plot plans,

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the fifth day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

A giant Keep Out! sign.

A huge cup of coffee,

Two perfect plot plans,

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the sixth day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

Voices in my head,

A giant Keep Out! sign.

A huge cup of coffee,

Two perfect plot plans,

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the seventh day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

Self-washing children,

Voices in my head,

A giant Keep Out! sign.

A huge cup of coffee,

Two perfect plot plans,

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the eighth day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

A freezer full of meals

Self-washing children,

Voices in my head,

A giant Keep Out! sign.

A huge cup of coffee,

Two perfect plot plans,

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the ninth day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

A large glass of wine

A freezer full of meals

Self-washing children,

Voices in my head,

A giant Keep Out! sign.

A huge cup of coffee,

Two perfect plot plans,

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the tenth day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

A brand new notebook,

A large glass of wine,

A freezer full of meals,

Self-washing children,

Voices in my head,

A giant Keep Out! sign.

A huge cup of coffee,

Two perfect plot plans,

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

Supportive writing friends,

A brand new notebook

A large glass of wine,

A freezer full of meals,

Self-washing children,

Voices in my head,

A giant Keep Out! sign.

A huge cup of coffee,

Two perfect plot plans,

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my writer gave to me

An inspiring writing course,

Supportive writing friends,

A brand new notebook

A large glass of wine,

A freezer full of meals,

Self-washing children,

Voices in my head,

A giant Keep Out! sign.

A huge cup of coffee,

Two perfect plot plans,

Three-dimensional characters, and

A compulsion to write all the time.

 

Fans of the Great British Bake-Off will know that participants are often rushing around trying to get things finished at the last minute, before the time runs out.

Sometimes they will be seen squatting in front of their ovens, looking through the glass and willing their cakes or loaves to bake faster.  Even though they always seem to be having fun on the show, there's usually a bit of a frenetic atmosphere in that GBBO tent.

But sometimes they just have to accept that there is nothing for them to do but wait. Their dough is in the proving cupboard, and it just has to stay there to rise before anything else can be done with it.

It's always a good idea to leave a first draft of your novel in a 'proving cupboard' for a while, just as you need to allow bread dough to rise before you can do anything with it.

 

This week, I'm celebrating reaching the end of the first draft of my new novel. Notice I say "reaching the end of", not finished. Experience tells me that I will have seriously rushed my ending, and that I will also have to add more scenes and move others around.  I've written previously about the raw material of a first draft - you can read that post here.

Experience also tells me that the days or weeks when I've just finished writing is not the time for me to be able to see all these things clearly. So, The Self-Help Angel is in the proving cupboard, and I won't take it out again for several weeks. With Christmas rapidly approaching, it might even be a month before I look at it again. Then, when I do take it out, I'll be able to see it properly.

 

christmas_angels_from_ore_mountains_called_lichterengel_carved_from_lime_tree_10

 

One thing that really helps me to maintain momentum when I'm writing, and to get that 'dough' into the proving cupboard is not to number my chapters.

At the start of a new chapter, I just type the word Chapter, then start writing. It might seem like a small thing, but it gives me mental permission to change things around at a later date, and, perhaps more importantly, it removes the pressure of feeling I've got to get it completely right first time. It also seems to make me feel I can write whatever scene happens to be demanding my attention at that particular moment, instead of thinking 'I can't write that because it doesn't come next.'

Anything that helps you to keep your momentum going when you're writing is valuable, because momentum is your best friend. Momentum creates - and maintains - a writing habit. A writing habit means a word count that steadily grows. It also means results, and when you can see the results of your labours, you start to feel you are achieving something. Because you are! And that's more than half the battle.

So, what am I going to be doing while The Self-Help Angel is in the proving cupboard? I'm going to be working on some exciting new courses. Watch this space!

Have a great week.

Margaret

 

 

As I write my first draft of my new novel, my characters are forever doing things like putting their hands into their bags to find their car keys, moving forward to take people into their arms, or crossing the room to look out of the window at the rain.

person-731165_640

Sometimes it seems as if they are never still.

I see them doing these things in my imagination, so I describe them doing it all. But it doesn't always make for fascinating reading, and this is something I have to be aware of when I come to rewrite and to edit.

Of course, what a character has in their hand bag, and whether their bag is tidy or not, can tell us a lot about character.

bag-1609281_640

 

So can the way they hunt for their car keys. Do they up-end their bag? Throw it across the room when it doesn't come up with the goods? Search calmly and methodically? Talk to themselves while they're looking? Shout at the dog? Kick the cat? Scream at the kids?

 

dog-1418330_640

 

All these reactions are clues to character, or an insight into the mood of a scene, adding tension or making us laugh.

But sometimes, in fiction, as in life, we just need to get our characters out to the flipping car without all the phaffing around. If they urgently need to head off in pursuit of a villain, then just get them out there. Unless their tendency to lose their keys is going to play a key (apologies for the pun) part in the action .... Hmm, good idea.

Happy writing!

Until next time.

Margaret

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Sometimes my writing flows smoothly, like a stream along well-worn channels, curving around obstacles, intent on its course.

Sometimes my writing flows smoothly, like a stream along well-worn channels, curving around obstacles, intent on its course.

 

At other times, my ideas are like ants in a disturbed ants' nest, scattering in a hundred different directions.

Sometimes my ideas are like ants in a disturbed next, scattering in a hundred different directions.

 

Sometimes my images come out almost as a list on the page:

  • a glint of a gold tooth

  • the rhythmic rocking of the boat

  • red and gold fabrics, gleaming in the midday sunshine

ecuador-1257123_640

 

I take what I get, and use it any way I can, pushing aside thoughts of

should be

should do

the right way

the wrong way

 

There is only what there is, and it helps me to remember that:

Streams flow to the sea.

Every ant has a designated role in the colony.

Lists help you to remember.

This past week has been a disrupted one for me. It can be difficult enough to deal with self-inflicted disruptions to our writing - a tendency to get distracted by social media, or to put our own dreams and priorities last.

But sometimes Life just happens. A two-day headache that divorces you from your imagination. A phone call from the school asking you to collect your poorly son.

That's why I've learnt to take writing - especially the writing I do for a first draft - as it comes, whether it's in the form of streams, scattered ants or lists. However it comes, it  accumulates and gets stuffed together. After a while it coagulates and becomes part of something bigger.

A book, with a life and an identity of its own.

narrative-794978_640

 

How wonderful!

Until next time,

Margaret

 

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Hello, everyone

I hope you've had a great week. Last time, I told you I was going to be plunging into my new novel this week. Well, I put my diving gear on, and I jumped over the side of the boat. I can hear voices inside my head as my characters speak to each other. I am in the writing zone.

dive-15840_640

 

But I'm just emerging for a while to share my thoughts about first drafts with you. Hint - they're the gloop in this message title!

 

running-81715_640

 

When I first started to write, I didn't know about first drafts. I thought you just sat down to write - and write - until you typed those magical words THE END, and then that was that. You sent your book off to a publisher and you then you waited with baited breath to hear from them.

 

writing fiction, typing the end

 

After receiving the inevitable rejection, I learnt that typically, writers write several drafts of their novel before they submit in anywhere. I was dismayed. What? Do that, all over again? Surely not!

But gradually, I came to realise the freedom of working in this way. Once you accept that your first draft is your raw material - your modelling clay, if you like - it takes the pressure off writing. If your first draft is your raw material that you will lovingly model and carve into something, it doesn't have to be perfect straight away. It just has to be out there.

clay-1754170_640

 

I'm writing quickly at the moment, because I want to get my ideas out there as they come to me. I have a loose plan, but past experience tells me that when I read back over what I've written, my characters are likely to be speaking to each other in a kind of a vacuum, and the reader won't be able to fully imagine where things are happening, or what characters are doing. But that's fine, because I can go back and add action, description and details that show character and set the mood of my scenes. I can engage my readers' emotions more fully. I can restructure my book, chop it about, add clues and create suspense. What's more, I will enjoy doing these things.

So, if you're writing a first draft at the moment, take the pressure off yourself. Decide not to worry about it being perfect, and enjoy the process of writing and the sheer pleasure of getting your story out there.

Go for it!

Until the next time, and wishing you joy in your creativity,

Margaret

Hello, everyone! I'm getting very excited, because I'm about to spend a concentrated period of time writing my new novel! It's a sort of sequel to my novel The Goddess Workshop. I say "sort of sequel", because it has a big twist to it, but it's a sequel in that I'll be continuing to write about the fortunes of some of my favourite characters from the book, and I can't wait! I left them with the world at their feet, but things have changed, and they're about to change still futher - more than any of them can possibly imagine...

Four very different women have an embarassing problem they're determined to put right! "I laughed out loud and missed my bus stop."
Four very different women have an embarassing problem they're determined to put right!
"I laughed out loud and missed my bus stop."

The Goddess Workshop started life as a stage play which was performed for three incredible nights at the Cambridge Drama Centre. Later, I attempted a screenplay of it, and finally, I wrote it as a novel, which allowed me to do so much more with it. With so many versions of the story, I lived with the characters for a long time - laughing with them, caring about them, and experiencing their challenges, heartaches and triumphs. I loved that group of friends. I heard their conversations inside my head as I walked the dog, and I missed them so much after I'd finished the book. So I'm thrilled to be about to plunge into their worlds again, and to spend time with old friends.

I wonder if any of you are about to plunge into some writing? To travel to that place where you're so submerged that magic happens frequently inside your head - plot points clicking together, story strands joining up satisfyingly, characters acting in ways you'd never even thought of, but which are so very right for your story.

This is the writing zone, where there is no procrastination, no trouble using every available piece of time to write, no worry about what others will think about your words. A place where your inner critic can be ignored. A glowing place of creativity and self-fulfilment. It's where I hope to be for the rest of the year, and it's where I hope you will be too, if you want to write.

But if you're finding it difficult to imagine yourself there, or you're trying to reach that place but it isn't working for you,why not enrol for my course FEEL THE FEAR AND WRITE ANYWAY, which I designed to help you to overcome blocks to your writing, to boost your writerly self-confidence and to help you really move forward with your writing goals. You can find out more and enrol HERE.

Happy writing! I'm off to a Sacred Crocodile pool in The Gambia.

crocodile-pool
Until next time!

Margaret