All About Reading

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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 

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The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

My guest this week for the Write Despite feature is author Emma Rose Millar, a single parent whose inspiring commitment to her work has had her give up watching TV and write through the darkest of times. But I'll let Emma tell you more about it.

me
What challenges have you had to overcome in order to write?

Hi Margaret, thanks for inviting me. Like many writers, I’d say the main challenge for me is lack of time. I’m a single mum and my six year old is on the autism spectrum. Raising a child with autism is a rollercoaster ride: exhilarating, lonely, joyous and exhausting, but never, ever dull. I’ve also got a day job; I’m a sign language interpreter in further education. At the moment I’m rehearsing with special needs students to interpret their latest drama production into BSL.  Again, it’s a hugely rewarding job, but takes up a lot of emotional and physical energy. So I find there’s very little time to write. I only open up my laptop once my son’s gone to bed―any earlier and I start getting that parent-guilt―I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough as a mum. At one time I’d be up writing until two in the morning but that really wasn’t good for me and in the end I started to feel ill. I’ve had to be strict with myself and set a sensible time limit on my writing. These days, before bed I put on some music and do thirty minutes of yoga to try and unwind before I go to sleep. Otherwise my head’s full of ideas and I can’t switch off.

How do you this challenge has impacted on your writing?

Because I’ve reduced the amount I write, it now takes much longer to finish a manuscript, but I’ve come to realise that some things are more important. I’ve taken to writing novellas and children’s stories; they require much less commitment than a full length novel. I do also love my co-writing projects. My last novel Five Guns Blazing was an intricate tale of piracy, slavery and treason, which needed a huge amount of research. Having Kevin Allen as a co-writer meant I could share the workload.

kevin allen

Through our different backgrounds and experiences I think we managed to create a story it would have been very difficult for a single author to write. For my latest project, The Women Friends, I’ve also joined forces with another author. It’s a series of two novellas based on a painting by Gustav Klimt of the same name. Writing can be a lonely business, but writing in partnership with somebody else means you can bounce ideas off each other, share the high points and the low, give constructive feedback and pull each other through at those  times mid-story when it’s easy to feel like there’s no end in sight. Marketing’s also so time-consuming that two heads are always better than one.

 

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What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

When I first started writing I was caught up in a bad relationship. I used to write in secret because I was terrified of my partner finding out. It was an extremely dark time in my life and that came across in my first novel. Strains from an Aeolian Harp was a story of domestic violence and opium addiction in 1920’s Britain where women weren’t allowed to divorce their husbands on the grounds of cruelty alone. I’ve started re-writing it now with a new title, Jezebels! and am hoping to make it more marketable. Of all the stories I’ve written, it’s always been the most important to me because it was so personal. I’m not ready to give up on it yet.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and /or challenges.

I truly believe that if you want to do something enough, there is no obstacle too big. The single best thing I did though was turning off my TV; I haven’t watched it for over four years now and looking back, I can’t believe how much of my life it used to swallow up, or what a negative impact it had on me. Did I need all those soap operas? No. I find writing a much more constructive way to spend my evenings and I love the feeling I get when I finish a novel or short story.

Tell us a bit about something you’ve written that you’re really proud of, or something you’re writing now.

Probably my proudest moment as a writer was winning the Chaucer Award, (Legend category) for Five Guns Blazing last year. The novel tells the story of convict’s daughter Laetitia Beedham who in 1710 is set on an epic journey from London’s filthy back streets, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates Anne Bonny, Mary Read and John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham.

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Here’s a short excerpt:

“You have been brought before me again, Mrs Beedham!” The magistrate looked at my mother over his spectacles. She must have considered him an idiot if she thought that a flash of her ample cleavage and of her fine eyes would win her any favour. He took the monocle from his breast pocket.

“Theft of a handkerchief, soliciting, affray, the attempted theft of a lady’s purse.”

Her lips twisted at the corner into a little smile, which she quickly straightened, but she looked almost pleased with herself as the charges were read out. I could picture her clear as day, proudly emptying her stolen trinkets out onto our mattress, all shiny and gleaming in the dipping glow of the rush-lights, as a child might present a parent with a painting or piece of needlework. My mother’s eye was as keen as a magpie’s for anything sparkly; she could pick out at ease the glint of a cufflink or a hairpin in the dullest of crowds and would glide her way after it, completely unseen. Later, she would stand back to admire the baubles and bits of finery with her hands on her hips and a look of satisfaction in her eyes, then quickly her face would fall as if she had suddenly noticed they were tarnished or broken and she would snatch them back and wrap them away in her cloth.

Hers was the first case of the day; the beak had seen her at least three times before. Needless to say, my mother was well acquainted with the good magistrates of Holborn; such was her fondness for relieving wealthy ladies and gentlemen of their belongings; handkerchiefs, pocket watches and so on. The magistrate thumbed through a pile of papers on his desk, a history of her sordid misdemeanours, seemingly oblivious to the swelling underclass packing his courtroom, with their poor diction and their sticky fingers. The public gallery was full of them: undesirables and reprobates, sweating, scratching. There were women employed at their needlework, old men dozing, and a girl with some younger children who spread a muslin cloth upon her lap, then proceeded to break up a meat pie and divide it between them. And of course there was me, Laetitia Beedham, the accused’s daughter who had weaved my way through the tangle of legs and crouched behind a man who I imagined might have been a farmer, or gamekeeper. He stood solidly in front of me, cleaning the dirt from underneath his fingernails with a blade.

“Oh, don’t hang me, sir, I beg of you!”

The court seemed suddenly excited by her outburst. It was all entertainment to them; the law after all is only theatre; it did not matter much if one was hanged or not, it was all part of the drama.

“I only did it for my daughter, who was sick and in need of medicine. My husband’s dead, sir, what is a woman to do?”

I felt a blush burning from my collarbone to my temples, and someone laughed and shouted, “She is a liar, sir! The girl is the bastard child of two thieves!”

Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon

Many thanks for hosting me, Margaret J

Thanks for being such a great guest, Emma!

See you next time.

Margaret

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We promise not to share your details with anyone.

The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

This week's guest on Write Despite is author Claire Stibbe who's so passionate about writing, she advises us to write until we "croak." But what challenges does she have to overcome in order to get her words down on paper? Let's find out. Welcome, Claire.

Claire B&W
What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

Working full time has always been a challenge since there are so few hours left in the day to sit down in a dedicated space and write. Now my main challenge is social media, updating webpages, editing, blogs, proofreading, reviews, formatting and Facebook. Each tiny distraction takes away precious minutes and hours from getting back into my writing zone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself not to be sidetracked by the onslaught of bestselling workshops that promise essential writing tips, marketing and promotion. There’s only so many you can take.

How do you think this challenge has impact on your writing?

I love doing it all. That’s the problem. But these commitments need to be managed. Having succumbed to an egg-timer and doing only one hour a day for twitter and Facebook, I have found a large chunk of time to write. My contemporary crime books don’t really fit the blueprint of thriller & suspense. They tend to fall somewhere between literary and mystery rather than being branded to one or the other. So I call them Myst-Lit (or MisFit).  I love doing pottery and gardening, and during these times a tape recorder is handy to record inspired chapters and plots.

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What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

Criticism. There are so many writers out there who have folded under that big giant, lost all their drive, passion and nerve. It’s awful to watch. I fell victim to the thought that making a book public would attract a queue of literary critics and I’d be buried under a morass of one star reviews. I remember going to a dinner party in London several years ago and sitting next to a man who kept referring to my writing as ‘a little project’ and ‘did I understand that writers must have a PhD to be considered for publication.’  I decided to load my sling and be a David to that Goliath. Reviews can be harsh, but we need them all the same.

Here’s my review puppy. I trot him out when reviews are scarce. Who can resist those little boot-button eyes…

Doggone 9th

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write but is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

All books are subjective and reviewers are only doing what comes naturally― evaluating the story. Take constructive criticism on the chin and learn from it and take no notice of the one star bandits. All the best authors have them so why shouldn’t we? Trust your gut, change what you feel you need to change and leave the rest. Write until you croak.

Tell us about something you've written that you're really proud of, and something you're writing now.

The 9th Hour, is a contemporary mystery/thriller set in New Mexico. The first book in a seven-part series introduces Temeke as the MC, an English detective who couldn’t be further from his native stamping ground. He is not much liked by his peers and due to a barrage of poorly chosen words finds himself ousted from Homicide and sent to Northwest Area Command.

billboard subway

When the ninth young girl falls into the clutches of a serial killer, maverick detective, David Temeke, faces a race against time to save her life.

The Duke City Police Department in Albuquerque, New Mexico is no stranger to gruesome murders, but this new serial killer on their block keeps the body parts of his eight young victims as trophies and has a worrying obsession with the number 9. The suspect is incarcerated in the state's high security penitentiary but Unit Commander Hackett is faced with a dilemma when another teenage girl goes missing.

Detective Temeke and his new partner, Malin Santiago, are sent to solve a baffling crime in the dense forests of New Mexico's Cimarron State Park. But time is running out. Can they unravel the mysteries of Norse legends and thwart the 9th Hour killer before he dismembers his next victim?

This is the first in the Detective Temeke Crime series.
Night Eyes is the second in the series and was released last week. I think this is my favorite book so far.

4 Book Banner Blog

When the young son of Albuquerque's Mayor is kidnapped, Detective David Temeke and his partner Malin Santiago are called to investigate.
Meanwhile, a ten year enquiry into the murders of several young boys has gone cold. No witnesses, no suspect. Or so the police believe. But a mysterious phone call leads Temeke and Santiago to the remains of a young boy found near the ancient ruins of an Anasazi settlement. Is this a random act or the work of the serial killer?

Drawn deeper into the wilderness by a man waging a war with his past, twelve year old boy-scout, Adam, must use everything he has learned to stay alive.

Temeke and Santiago are pushed to the limit in the second book of this thrilling, fast-paced series set in New Mexico.

An electrifying new edition to the Stibbe arsenal, Night Eyes confronts the relationship between husband and wife, father and son, detective and villain. Temeke comes to understand that he is dealing with a perpetrator who will put him to the test, both professionally and personally and, at the same time, battle the darkest demons in himself. Not since Marklund's Annika Bengtzon series, has there been a novel with as much insight into spiritual warfare. Fast-moving, riveting reading which ranks with the best thrillers out there. ~ Noble Lizard Publishing.

To find out more about Claire’s books, visit her website here 

Also by Claire Stibbe

 For updates on new books, book signings and regular blog features, why not sign up for her occasional newsletter here

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 Claire is also a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, New Mexico Book Co-op and the Southwest Writers Association.

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The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

Author Rumer Haven is on my Write Despite feature this week, talking about the special blend of genres that make up her novels, and her fears when she was starting out that her ideas wouldn't stretch to a whole book. Welcome, Rumer!

 

Rumer Haven
Rumer Haven

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

Probably finding my voice and genre. I’ve always loved creative writing, but for a while there, my writing was primarily of the academic and business variety. I tend toward long, intricate sentences, and I had a graduate school professor once tell me that my writing was good but could be great if I would only relax it a little.

I have also felt caught between the literary and commercial realms. I don’t consider my writing highbrow, but it’s not exactly a beach read either. And while my stories usually have romance, they don’t fit the formula of that genre.

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How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

I think by now I’ve learned to embrace the hybrid genre. The stories just are what they are; it’s how they come to me, and I’d be hard-pressed to hack limbs off them just so I can squeeze them into one category or another. So while it can make it difficult to position myself to find the right audience, the more I write, the more I see the commonalities between stories, which makes the cross-genre easier to define (even if takes a few words to do so). As has become clearer to me from my first two novels, I trend toward contemporary women’s fiction with historical, paranormal and romantic elements. Gives me a lot to work with, and I’d prefer to continue mixing and matching versus pigeon-holing myself into any one.

Streamlining my style is an ongoing challenge, yet I’ve found that it helps to pick up my pace when drafting. If I don’t let myself dawdle and dwell too long on the wordsmithing, and instead just push the story forward by writing faster, my language does seem to simplify and relax.

WTCK_teaser3
What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

Not having an idea that I could sustain across an entire novel. Since then, it’s fearing what others think of my stories—but in the beginning, I wrote for myself. I simply wanted to write a novel whether it would be published or not. And it took years to find that first idea, so I doubted it would ever happen. But once I did grab onto that first idea, subsequent ones flowed, which has been such a happy relief.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

Write. Just write. Don’t wait for the right time, don’t even wait for the right idea (like I did). Just write, and the words and ideas will flow from there. Staring down a blank page (or blank screen, in this day and age) is daunting, so write something on it, and it won’t be scary and blank any more! Ideas beget ideas, so even if your first draft is crap, trust me, there are diamonds in that rough. Pluck them, polish them, and set them in something stronger. But you can’t do that unless you have something to work with in the first place; you have to create the clay before you can mould it. And in my case, writing actually helped me work through difficult circumstances that threatened to squash my dreams. Instead, I achieved them…by just…writing.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now. 

I’m presently writing a 1920s murder mystery. My first time dappling in that genre, so we’ll see how it goes! But it’s fun writing Roaring Twenties historical fiction again after my debut novel, Seven for a Secret.

FB cover (1)

 

Meanwhile, I’d be remiss not to share my latest release, published just last week! Woven between 21st-century and Victorian London, What the Clocks Know is a haunting story of love and identity:

Twenty-six-year-old Margot sets out on a journey of self-discovery – she dumps her New York boyfriend, quits her Chicago job, and crashes at her friend’s flat in London. Rather than find herself, though, she only feels more lost. An unsettling energy affects her from the moment she enters the old Victorian residence, and she spirals into depression. Frightened and questioning her perceptions, she gradually suspects her dark emotions belong to Charlotte instead. Who is Charlotte? The name on a local gravestone could relate to Margot’s dreams and the grey woman weeping at the window.

Finding a ghost isn't what she had in mind when she went ‘soul searching’, but somehow Margot's future may depend on Charlotte's past.

Amazon UK - http://amzn.to/1QsiFfr
Amazon US - http://amzn.to/21DZoCw

Thanks so much for joining us, Rumer, and for your fascinating answers to my questions! Good luck with all things hybrid.

Until next time,

Margaret

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The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

This week, I'm delighted to have author Sue Barnard on the Write Despite Feature. As well as working on her fourth novel, Sue is also an editor and finds it difficult to find the time to write. And when she does find the time, she can feel selfish about it. But I'll let Sue explain. Welcome, Sue.

Sue Barnard author pic
Sue Barnard

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

The biggest one has been finding the time to actually do any writing.  Real life has an annoying tendency to get in the way of creativity.  And for some reason I always feel selfish about sitting down to write – as though I should be doing something less self-centred.  Oddly enough, I don’t have this problem when I’m editing or critiquing work for other writers – which is, of course, another claim on my time.  My own writing always has to take a back seat when I’m doing that.   That might go some way towards explaining why my current Work In Progress has remained In Progress for so long.  Could this be because women might be conditioned (consciously or subconsciously) to always put their own needs last?  It would be interesting to know if male writers have the same problem.

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

I sometimes have to force myself to ignore other commitments and just sit down and write.  Having said that, I find that I do a lot of thinking when I’m busy with other (non-writing) tasks.  Sometimes inspiration strikes at the most unexpected moments.  On one occasion a complete stanza of a poem arrived, fully-formed, when I was sitting in a traffic jam.  Gardening can be particularly profitable. I’ve had some of my best ideas when I’ve been mowing the lawn.  Perhaps the most significant of these was how to resolve a particularly thorny issue in The Ghostly Father.

Sue's lawn
Sue's lawn - mowing it can inspire lots of ideas for writing.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo a couple of times, and I’ve found that to be a great help, as having an externally-imposed deadline gave me an excuse to concentrate on my own writing for a while. Last year, although I didn’t meet the target, I did manage to write several key scenes of my current WIP.

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

I think the biggest one was self-doubt.  When I first started writing, I never thought I’d ever manage to produce anything that anyone else would want to read.  Even now, as a published author, I’m still afraid of producing something sub-standard. I’m lucky enough to have some very loyal readers, and I’d feel as though I was letting them down.  I’m also nervous about getting bad reviews, but I’m now starting to develop a thicker skin.  As one writer friend pointed out recently, it’s impossible to please everybody.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

Don’t waste any opportunity to think or observe.  As I mentioned earlier, inspiration can strike anywhere at any time. Keep a notebook (or a smartphone) handy, and jot down ideas as they occur to you.

Try to set aside a time each day, or week, for writing and/or research.  This doesn’t have to be at home – sometimes it helps to get away from the house and any home-related distractions.  Try your local library.  Or your local park, if the weather is fine.  Or maybe a coffee-shop.  That certainly worked for JK Rowling.

Don’t be afraid to seek advice from other writers, either face to face or online.

Don’t feel disillusioned or frustrated if you find things aren’t going smoothly.  It took me quite a while to realise that writing a book takes a lot longer than reading one!

Try to write something every day, even if it’s only a paragraph or two. A novel of 100,000 words begins with a single sentence.  Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect at the start.  You can always go back and edit it later, but you can’t edit a blank page.

If you are short of ideas, find some writing prompts.  You can buy books of these, but it isn’t essential.  You can find prompts anywhere; it’s just a question of knowing where to look.  As an example, turn on the radio then write something which fictionalises the first thing you hear.

TGF front

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now.

I was particularly proud of my debut novel, The Ghostly Father, even though it was never originally intended for publication.  It’s a re-telling of the story of Romeo & Juliet, but with a few new twists and a whole new outcome.

 

I wrote it for myself, simply because I’ve always loved the story but hated the way it ended, and I wanted to give Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers a version which didn’t end in tragedy.  But judging by the number of people who have bought it, read it, and been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed it, it seems as though I’m not by any means the only person who prefers the alternative ending.

Shakespeare

I’m currently working on my fourth novel, which is a time-slip story based on an old French legend.  Unfortunately I can’t say much more than that at this stage, as it would give too much away!

The Ghostly Father: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple iBooks

Nice Girls Don’t: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple iBooks

The Unkindest Cut of All: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple iBooks

Thanks so much, Sue for your interesting and informative answers to my questions! Now do go away and be as selfish as possible for as long as you want (ie, get writing!).

Until next time,

Margaret

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The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

This week I'm delighted to welcome Crooked Cat author Vanessa Couchman to my Write Despite Feature. Like many of us, Vanessa struggles with procrastination. I'll let her tell us how she deals with it. Welcome, Vanessa!

Vanessa with The House at Zaronza
Vanessa Couchman

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

I’m an odd mixture of contradictions. A perfectionist by nature, I am also a serial procrastinator. Add in a lack of self-confidence and you have a recipe for complete stasis. I call it the rabbit in the headlights syndrome. It’s amazing that I get anything done at all – but, paradoxically, I have a tendency to take on too many commitments. I’m just a gal who can’t say no.

So my main challenge is carving out time to write and forcing myself to use that time effectively, rather than just frittering it away. We live in the wilds of Southwest France and so I don’t know what I would do without the internet. But sometimes I really wish it had never been invented. It’s the procrastinator’s paradise. I don’t have the willpower to turn it off. Also, there’s a lot of pressure on authors to have an extensive social media presence, which takes up plenty of time.

Najac in SW France, in the mist
Najac in SW France, in the mist

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

As a freelance writer by profession, I can’t afford to miss deadlines, but when it comes to writing fiction I just assume that I have infinite time to get it done. Then I reach the end of the day and realise I haven’t achieved what I set out to do. Despite this, I do actually love writing and it gives me a buzz to see my characters take on a life of their own.

For me, National Novel Writing Month has been a boon. (Nanowrimo.org) I wrote my first novel, The House at Zaronza, during November 2012 and most of a second novel in November last year. Having to achieve 50,000 words in a month is just the goal I need. The problems are, first, that you end up with something that isn’t quite novel-length and have to finish it and, second, that the focus is on quantity rather than quality, so a lot of editing is needed.

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What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

I first started to write when I was very young. Then I had no fear at all. I just wrote to tell stories. At that age, you don’t have dreams of publication or the hang-ups that accumulate as an adult.

I started writing fiction again about six years ago after a very long gap that was filled with a career and then running my own business. My fear then was that my writing wouldn’t be good enough. I began with short stories and I cringe when I look at some of the early ones. With the help of colleagues from a small online writing community, Writers Abroad, I improved and got some successes in competitions under my belt. But I have always felt that novels, rather than short stories, are where my heart lies, even if their length makes them more daunting!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

It obviously depends on the circumstances. And, given what I’ve said above, I’m probably not the best person to offer advice! However, if you also have the procrastination gene, I suggest trying to set goals for what you want to achieve each day or week: not huge, overarching goals, but broken down into bite-sized pieces, so that you can achieve them, tick them off and feel a sense of satisfaction.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now. 

If you had told me a few years ago that I would be a published author, I would have fallen over. I’m sorry my mother didn’t live long enough to know it: she loved books and reading and would have been so proud.

The House at Zaronza, published by Crooked Cat, was inspired by a true story we came across when holidaying on Corsica – an island we love and keep revisiting.

Village on Cap Corse, Corsica, setting for The House at Zaronza
Village on Cap Corse, Corsica, setting for The House at Zaronza

The B&B where we stayed had framed love letters on the walls, which the owners discovered walled up in the attic when they restored the house. They were written in the 1890s by the local schoolmaster to the daughter of the house, but they were destined never to marry. I just had to write the story, which stretches into World War I and beyond.

Corsican sunset on Cap Corse
Corsican sunset on Cap Corse

If I’m allowed two things, I’m also rather proud of my French life blog, Life on La Lune. We’ve lived in France since 1997 and I started a blog six years ago about French life, history and culture. People often take the trouble to write to tell me they enjoy it, which means a lot to me. Here's the link: France blog: http://vanessafrance.wordpress.com

Thanks so much for appearing on Write Despite, Vanessa! I'm sure many readers will related to your procrastination, and thanks for such beautiful, inspiring pictures. They really make us want to read your book! Vanessa's links and the blurb to A House in Zaronza are below.

Until next time!

Margaret

Blurb from The House at Zaronza

The past uncovered. Rachel Swift travels to Corsica to discover more about her forebears. She comes across a series of passionate love letters and delves into their history. The story unfolds of a secret romance at the start of the 20th century between a village schoolteacher and Maria, the daughter of a bourgeois family. Maria’s parents have other plans for her future, though, and she sees her dreams crumble. Her life is played out against the backdrop of Corsica, the ‘island of beauty’, and the turmoil of World War I. This is a story about love, loss and reconciliation in a strict patriarchal society, whose values are challenged as the world changes.

The House at Zaronza universal Amazon book link: http://getbook.at/Zaronza

France blog: http://vanessafrance.wordpress.com

Writing site: http://vanessacouchmanwriter.wordpress.com

Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vanessa-Couchman/e/B00LQM4T9O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/houseatzaronza.vanessacouchman

Twitter: @Vanessainfrance

About Vanessa

Vanessa Couchman has lived in France since 1997 and is passionate about French and Corsican history and culture. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and placed in competitions. She is working on a sequel to The House at Zaronza, set in World War II and another novel set in 18th-century Corsica. Vanessa works as a freelance writer and is a member of the Historical Novel Society.

2 Comments

The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

This week's Write Despite guest is author Carol Maggin, who is published by Crooked Cat Publishing.  Carol has never suffered from any particular fears about writing, but the idea of 'coming out' as a writer really terrified her. But I'll let Carol tell you about it. Welcome, Carol!

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Firstly, a very big thank you to Margaret K Johnson for inviting me onto the Write Despite blog. It’s a pleasure to be here!

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

The challenges all came later - as a child, I just wrote stories. I’m not, of course, claiming that these were any good. They often featured John Noakes and Shep, whom I liked, and sometimes our cat, Smoky, who was rather more problematic. As a teenager, it obviously got more angsty, with chunks of everything from Jean Plaidy to Edgar Allan Poe thrown in. And as a young woman, I wrote vast, overambitious and unwieldy narratives that tended, eventually, to collapse under their own weight. I think the point is that none of these were written with any thought of publication. Only my best friends knew that I wrote at all. I wrote a lot, but quietly.

As I got older, and my life got busier, and time for writing became a luxury, a turning point started to loom. By this time I had a cupboard full of stories, plot lines, and manuscripts. Either I just stopped doing this, and let go of the idea of being any kind of published writer, or else I needed to take the next step. I didn’t know what the next step was, and I wasn’t at all sure that I was up to taking it.  It sounds melodramatic, given that nothing hinged on this except my view of  myself, but it really did feel like teetering on the edge of an abyss.

Finally, pushed on by a sense that I had to either put up or shut up, I applied to go onto an Arvon Advanced Fiction course, and was accepted. The tutors were Alan Bisset and Val McDermid, and the course was held at Moniack Mhor, a lovely old house near Loch Ness.

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Moniack Mhor

I nearly didn’t go. Obviously. I teetered.  But finally I was on board the train, watching Scotland spin past me, and feeling frozen with nerves. The train was delayed, naturally, and myself and a writer from Norway arrived in the middle of dinner.  People made room for us and poured wine, and I began to think that, just possibly, this might all be okay.

There were about ten of us, and we were a variety of nationalities, ages and stages. It helped that we were taking this leap together, and that Alan and Val were great tutors.

 

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Val McDermid

We had a week of bright sunshine (I know- bizarre) and for the first time I talked to other writers, read and listened to their work, and began to see what the next step could be. I read my work out loud for the first time. The others liked it. My tutors liked it. They thought it was good. They thought I should certainly be looking for publication. My first reaction was not to believe them, and think they were just being kind. My second was what I can only describe as a long, slow revelation. Writers, after all, were only people like me. If they could do it, then I could. Probably.

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

The effect of the course was to finally push me out into the world. It made me buy The Writers and Artists Yearbook as if it was actually relevant to me in some way. It prompted me, in the end, to follow a friend’s suggestion and contact Crooked Cat. I was lucky, and they’ve published two of my novels.CC Logo

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

I’ve never had any fear of writing – it’s as natural to me as thinking – but becoming a visible writer was and is deeply scary. Taking the step of saying, ‘This is mine. What do you think?’ took me years. Decades. And now, if someone says, ‘I’ve read Ruin,’ or ‘I’m reading Daniel Taylor,’ I still have a bit of a tendency to stop breathing.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

It depends on what the circumstances or challenges are. We all have times in our lives when too much else is going on, and all we can realistically do is get through those times. We may have memories of school. A teacher who wrote on a chirpy little essay of mine ‘Don’t try to be facetious,’ silenced me for a long time. A writer’s group can be a great place to try to stretch your wings, with support and constructive feedback.  If there isn’t one in your area, then maybe you could be the one to start it?

After that, it’s a question of chiselling out a little time for writing, and…doing it. Little by little.

Tell us about something you’ve written that you’re really proud of, or something you’re writing now.

I’m proud of both Ruin (a dark contemporary comedy) and Daniel Taylor (a thriller set in Rome) and the great job that Crooked Cat Publishing have done with them.

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I’ve also moved into the history of my home city, Liverpool, with The Case of the Adelphi, a tale of the supernatural set in the Adelphi Hotel in 1856. It isn’t published yet, and, typically, I’m teetering on the verge of parting with it.

And I’m probably proudest of my current work in progress, with a working title of The Devil of New York and his Downfall, set in that fabulous city in 1888. It won’t see the light of day for quite a while yet, but it’s the most ambitious novel I’ve attempted, and I’ll be very pleased if it works out as I hope…fingers crossed!

Thank you for hosting me, Margaret, and good writing, mes amis!

It's been a pleasure, Carol! Until next time.

Margaret

Carol can be contacted:

Facebook: Carol Maginn

Twitter: @carolmaginn

Goodreads: Carol Maginn

4 Comments

Hi there!

Joining us for the Write Despite feature this week is author and actor Angela Wren. Like so many of us, Angela has a nagging critical voice inside her head. Angela calls hers Nemesis. But I'll let Angela tell you about it. Welcome, Angela.

 

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What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

Luckily I'm fit and healthy and have never had any physical challenges to overcome - unless you count being totally left-handed a challenge!  My greatest challenge is my greatest fault and that is my uncanny ability to persuade myself of things that cannot be true.  Call it inner doubt, insecurity, whatever you wish, but I call the her that I sometimes become, Nemesis.  She is my greatest enemy, she is a rival that I have to keep at bay, and she is always there, somewhere in the background as a voice that will never be completely silenced.  She appears at trivial moments - for instance when I'm having that discussion with my wardrobe about what to wear for a night out - as well as critical ones, such as when I'm waiting in the wings to make my first entrance.  I have ways of dealing with her but, I've never yet found a way to make her disappear altogether and perhaps I never will.

 

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Angela on stage as Elvira in Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit"

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

Greatly in some respects, even preventing me from writing at all.  I've loved stories from being a child and my very first attempts were as a schoolgirl but I stopped because Nemesis agreed with and reinforced Sister Mary Paul's assessment of my efforts.  Much later, in July last year when the email arrived in my inbox from Crooked Cat, Nemesis told me to delete it unread.  I didn't of course, but it did sit there for two days before I opened it.  And even then, as I read the first few lines offering me the contract to publish Messandrierre, my other self was telling me that it had to be a mistake.  'That email was meant for someone else,' she said.  I told her to shut up, read and re-read the email, had an hour or so dancing on the ceiling, and then accepted.

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

It's the same with everything I do.  Nemesis with her constant nagging question, 'what if nobody likes your production, the character you're currently playing, the story your working on?'  She's been asking me that question all my life and I have no doubt that she will continue to do so.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

I think there are far more qualified writers than me out there who can provide pithy, sensible and very useful advice.  All I can say is that, in dealing with my Nemesis, I've learned that she needs to be challenged and managed.  And there are times when she just needs to be told exactly what to do with herself!  Perhaps I'll put her in a book.  Maybe she'll leave me be then.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now. 

I'm proud of everything I've done but I suppose my first and most awesome writing experience, thus far, was when I returned from France in 2010 to find a letter from an editor wanting to publish a short story called 'Aunt Maggie'.  It took a whole box of tissues to get through that moment!  And when the cheque arrived, I was so overwhelmed that somebody was actually paying me for my words that I never cashed it!

The first cheque Angela received for her writing
The first cheque Angela received for her writing

It sits there in a frame on my bookshelf in my writing shed.  And I know that when I get my print copy of Messandrierre I'll need tissues, lots of them!  I'm working on book 2 in the series, so my hero, Jacques, is constantly with me and he makes a very nice change from Nemesis!

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Thank you for speaking so openly about your inner critic, Angela! I know you're not alone in your constant fight with negative thoughts. Have you got an inner critic like Angela's Nemesis? Let us know in the comments.

If you'd like to connect with Angela, her links are below, together with her bio.

Until next time!

Margaret

Anyone wanting to meet Jacques and the other villagers in my murder/mystery, Messandrierre, can find him at :

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Smashwords

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

 

Author Bio

Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre. I’ve been writing, in a serious way, for about 5 years. My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical. I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio. The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

Novel Blurb

Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre.  But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won't give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case. Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?

 

2 Comments

The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

Hi there!

My guest for this Thursday's Write Despite blog  feature is best-selling author Shani Struthers. When I first met Shani at a Romantic Novelists' Association party, she was writing romance fiction, but since then she has become a best-selling Paranormal author. Shani is fun to be around, and passionate about her writing. But is writing always plain sailing for her? Let's see. Over to Shani.

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Shani Struthers

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

I haven’t had to overcome physical challenges as such – well, not unless you can call three children a physical challenge! Actually… thinking about it, I think you can term them a physical as well as a mental challenge! I’m the mother of three children. I also work (a freelance copywriter for the travel industry) and, like so many people, I have a million daily tasks to complete. Life is busy, busy, busy! But, I’ve always known I wanted to write novels. Copywriting is great but, in terms of creativity, you’re limited by the brief. It was only when the children had grown older that I could make that dream a reality, grabbing whatever hours I could whilst they were at school, or on play dates, or visiting the grandparents, fitting in a third job rather than taking time out to relax. It’s been worth it though, and, I’m learning now how to find a balance, even if the scales tip slightly over sometimes into late nights and early mornings – writing always seems to find a way!

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

It stopped me frankly, because for many years. I was too tired! But there comes a time when you have to stop making excuses, when you have to sit down and write the first sentence, finding a way to fit it all in, to write the next sentence and the next, until, voila! You have a book.

 

Shani's "Runaways" series.
Shani's "Runaways" series.

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

My greatest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to craft a novel. For so long, I’d thought about it, but I’d never put it into practice. I’d gained some confidence from my copywriting but a novel, as I said above, is a completely different beast. My first novel was called The Runaway Year, a contemporary romance, set in Cornwall, and, sending it off to various publishers, I was surprised to receive several acceptances. That spurred me on a bit!

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Tintagel, Cornwall. The inspiring setting for the Runaways series.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

Writing is supposed to be enjoyable, it’s supposed to be fun; you have to love what you’re doing, and not feel that it’s a chore. Find time for it but don’t beat yourself up about not finding enough time either, not initially – you have to live in the real world too. For people who lead busy lives, balance is something that will come if you’re determined enough.

The Highlands of Scotland, the setting for Jesamine.
The Highlands of Scotland, the setting for Jesamine.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now.

I’m proud of everything I’ve written but my heart lies not in contemporary romance but the paranormal, which is why I’ve switched to that genre.

Shani's best-selling Paranormal Psychic Surveys series
Shani's best-selling Paranormal Psychic Surveys series.

rise to me

 

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I love my Psychic Surveys series, a set of paranormal mysteries, but it’s Jessamine, my heart belongs too. A Gothic-style paranormal romance, set in the Scottish Highlands, the story wrote itself over a couple of months, making me cry on several occasions. From all the feedback I get from readers, I’ve gathered I tend to write emotions well – in Jessamine, a range of emotions are covered, including grief, loss, acceptance and hope. You’ll need tissues if you read it!

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Thanks so much, Shani. So interesting and inspiring to us all! Good luck with your future writing.

Here are Shani's links so that you can connect with her and find out more.

Facebook Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/p9yggq9

Twitter: https://twitter.com/shani_struthers

Blog: http://shanisite.wordpress.com

Goodreads http://tinyurl.com/mq25mav

Until next time!

Margaret

You might also enjoy:

Write Despite. Meeting Louisa Heaton. Vertigo is Not Romantic!

Write Despite - Meeting Jane Bwye. Forty Years to Fruition.

 

4 Comments

This Thursday's guest on my Write Despite blog feature is Harlequin Mills and Boon author Louisa Heaton, who has had to overcome the debilitating effects of vertigo, which struck at exactly the wrong time in her writing career. Fortunately, Louisa didn't let it stop her from getting published. But I'll let her tell her own story.

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What challenges have you had to overcome in order to write?

I've always written. Ever since I could hold a pen in my hands. And for many years it's been relatively easy. At least, the sitting down part. The writing part. The getting published part? That was harder. But the real challenge came three years ago when I was struck down by a mystery illness.

I'd been working at a private hospital. My job was to take people's blood, assist in minor surgeries, usually skin cancer removal, remove stitches, take patient's BP, that kind of thing. It was perfect research material for my Harlequin Mills and Boon Medical stories I was trying to write.

Then one morning I woke up, had breakfast, felt absolutely fine, but was suddenly struck by the most vicious bout of vertigo. The world was spinning so fast and I was hit by a wave of intense nausea, as I collapsed to the floor of my home. I couldn't open my eyes. I couldn't move. Every time I tried, it just made it worse. I couldn't call for help as I felt like I would throw up. Luckily, ten minutes after it began, my husband came into the room and found me.

We called the doctor and he diagnosed an acute ear infection. Said I would be better in a few days and he would write me a prescription for anti-nausea meds.

He was wrong.

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How has this challenge affected your writing?

It took me nine days to walk straight after that first attack. The world seemed on an axis, the floor seemed tilted. I couldn't focus on anything that moved, as it made me dizzy. Just after I'd recover and think I was over it, another bout of vertigo would hit and I'd spend another week staggering  around like a drunk. I got afraid to leave the house. I couldn't write. I couldn't read. Staring at a computer screen, scrolling up and down would set me off. It was impossible.

It was at this point that I got a request for a full manuscript from Mills and Boon. I'd only written three chapters and they wanted the rest. I had to make myself sit at a computer and I wrote 5k words a day. Often taking breaks to lay back on my bed groaning, my eyes covered, trying not to let the world spin. It was tough. I cried. I despaired, not knowing how I would get through it.

I needed to write. To read. These were the two things that I loved doing. I needed to find a way around this disability now that I was housebound anyway. I had an MRI and saw an ENT and a neurologist. They discovered I had MAV, migraine associated vertigo, only my migraines are silent. I have no pain, just bouts of vertigo. I got put on propranolol, to control the migraines, but it had the added side effect of lowering my BP to such an extent it would take me three or more hours in the morning, just to go from a lying, to a sitting, then standing, position! I ended up writing in small stints. Ten minutes here. Five there. But I got it done. I had to.

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What was your greatest fear when you first started to write? 

That I wouldn't be able to give my publishers a finished book. Nothing much was helping, so I decided to focus on the migraine part of my diagnosis. I decided to put myself on a migraine diet, avoiding trigger foods and I got almost 95% better! I was able to finish and because I'd completed one book, I then knew I could power through and do it again.

I still get dizzy, but the vertigo is mostly gone. I can write again, which is good, as I'm currently writing my sixth title with Mills and Boon medical.

I can't do book signings or go to author events because all that head movement, lights, people moving, just makes me really dizzy again. I've learned that I'm still set off by patterns and colours and movement in my visual field. I'd love to do an author talk, but I can't guarantee I'll stay upright whilst doing it.

But I can write! And read. And I even quilt and sew.

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What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by challenges? 

My advice to someone who is set back by a physical challenge is to research as much as you can. Find out what you can do. I got myself better and I live with a condition that two years ago was debilitating and made me lose my job. I even looked into dictation software in case I had to give up typing. If you have a passion, a need, then you find a way to make it happen. Become your own advocate. You might even find you know more than your doctors do! It happens.

If you want to write, then do it. Find a way. Even if you have to do it the Barbara Cartland way and get someone else to write down what you're saying! It might take time, it might be hard and you may stumble along the way, but there are always options. The one option I took, time and time again?

Never. Give. Up.

Keep Going.

Persevere.

It's amazing what can be achieved.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something your're writing now. 

I'm proud of everything I've written, because each title has been solid effort on my part to fight past a disabling condition. I'm proud that my books do well, despite the fact that I can't do book signings or author talks, or promote myself in that way. My favourite book is the one about to be released in March this year, One Life-Changing Night, is out this March and is available for pre-order here.

 

Thanks so much for your inspiring story, Louisa! I do hope your health continues to improve. Here are Louisa's links, so you can keep in touch with her.

https://www.facebook.com/Louisaheatonauthor/?ref=ts&fref=ts

Twitter @louisaheaton

Website http://www.louisaheaton.com

Blog http://www.louisaheaton.com/blog

Until next time!

Margaret