Tag Archives: Crooked Cat Publishing

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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

A post that first appeared on author Jane Bye's The Breath of Africa blog.

When I travelled to Cuba in 2001, it was with revenge in mind. Don’t worry, I didn’t smuggle any weaponry into the country in my luggage. I simply chose Cuba as a destination because I’d been learning Spanish with my ex-partner, and I knew that Cuba would be a country he’d love to visit. But he wasn’t here. I was. And after I’d got beyond the unbelievable chaos of the arrivals lounge, it was to be a fortnight of amazing experiences and fun.

It was around six months since my relationship had suddenly ended, and I was still feeling very raw. Fortunately, I palled up quickly with Sharon, a fun-loving Londoner I’m still friendly with today. Together we wondered at the near-empty supermarket shelves, gazed in awe at the crumbling buildings and were chauffeured in classic cars.

Cuban taxis, courtesy of Sarah Morgan
Cuban taxis, courtesy of Sarah Morgan

We visited cigar factories, learned about black magic and the Revolution, and spent a crazy hour making – and wearing – fake Castro beards out of catkin seeds stuck onto double-sided sellotape. We played and we laughed, and we fell in love with Cuba with the ever-present images of Che Guevara looking down on our shenanigans. It was absolutely the best gift I could have given my broken heart.

 

Messing about with fake Castro beards
Messing about with fake Castro beards

Murder Maker - A Story of Revenge

When I returned to the UK, I was to use Cuba as a setting for scenes in two books. First came Murder Maker, a novella for the TEFL market aimed at people learning to speak English. It’s about woman who becomes a serial killer as a result of being cruelly dumped by her partner. Yes, I admit it, it was my therapy book.

 

 

 

Later, I wrote Taming Tom Jones, which was published by Crooked Cat Publishing last year. In Taming Tom Jones, I wanted to move two of my female characters out of their usual environment to throw a spotlight on the nature of their friendship.

 

TTJ Cover

Havana proved to be perfect for this. The rambling, decaying streets of Havana play on your imagination and feel full of mystery and the potential for adventure. Even danger. Just right for the dynamics of a friendship to be exposed. Jen, one of my main characters in Taming Tom Jones, is a bit adrift as a person; carried on the tide of other peoples’ wishes and desires. Her time in Cuba acts as one stepping stone to her taking back control of her life, Just as, I suppose, my time in Cuba did for me.

 

I went on to get over my heartbreak and to build a much more fulfilled and successful life for myself, but I have never forgotten how it felt to be that broken person who flew into Havana hoping for the forgetfulness of adventures. Cuba and the power of writing brought me through it, and it is for this reason that I have just published my first non-fiction book, The Four Seasons of Breakupvia – A Workbook for Recovery from Relationship Break-up at the end of April

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It is a book of activities and writing exercises designed to take people through the grieving and re-building process following a relationship break-up, and it draws not only on my own experience of recovery, but also on research I have done on the subject, and my experience as a creative writing tutor. I’m extremely proud of it, and really hope it does people good, and that through using it, I can help them to discover the incredible power of the written word in dealing with loss. I secretly hope to turn them all into writers too!

A close friend of mine recently spent four days in Havana and was just as enthralled with it as I was all those years ago. From what she says, it’s hardly changed at all, right down to the near-empty supermarket shelves. Which obviously I realise, can hardly be a good experience for its people. They are extremely resourceful people though; you’d have to be to be able to keep all those amazing classic cars on the road year after year.

Faded colour, Cuba, courtesy of Sarah Morgan
Faded colour, Cuba, courtesy of Sarah Morgan

So, I want to finish off by thanking them and their country for what they gave me for those two weeks I visited. I arrived feeling completely vulnerable and depleted, and left with a thousand experiences and memories to bring my characters and stories to vibrant life.

It was a magical time, and I shall never forget it.

 

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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.

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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.

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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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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…

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

Front cover final 2

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.

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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'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.

mon moor
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.

 

val mcd
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.

daniel taylorruin

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

AEWBlackWhite

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.

 

OnStageasElvira
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!

CoverArt

 

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.

Shani Pic
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!

Tintagel Sunset
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

It took more than sixteen years for my novel A Nightingale in Winter to find its way out of the attic and to get published. I thought that must be some kind of a record, but I was wrong. This week's guest on my Write Despite blog feature about authors who have overcome obstacles in order to get their words out there is Crooked Cat author Jane Bwye, whose first novel Breath of Africa took forty years to see the light of day. I can't imagine how it must have felt when Jane finally saw her words in print.

But I'll let her tell the story. Welcome, Jane.

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Thank you Margaret for giving me this chance to think over my writing habits. It’s been an enlightening experience.

Jane Bwye
Jane Bwye

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

Conflicting priorities. I was never good at balancing my life, although as I’ve grown older, I like to think I’ve learned better habits. Once I focus on something, I am totally immersed in the task at hand, and everything goes out the window - that has included family!

Mummy often didn't even answer when she was spoken to,  and once she even forgot to collect somebody from school... My husband and my first five children suffered when I started writing Breath of Africa. They didn’t say anything. They just looked more and more unhappy until I had to take notice.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

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

…Which was why my first book took forty years to come to fruition. Looking back, I believe the long gestation period was good for my writing. I was that much more mature, and had many experiences to ponder over.  Once the children had fled the nest, and our “afterthought” was at University, we came to live in the UK and I had time on my hands. I was able to set and keep to objectives, but I yearned to be back in Africa.

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

I had no fears. I’ve been a freelance writer since my first commission at the age of twenty. I knew I could write, and had many stories and articles published. When I started writing my book, I would wallow in nostalgia for hours on end at my desk, while my husband ensured I wasn’t distracted by household chores. However, I soon discovered that I did not know how to write a novel! I had to learn the difference between a story and a plot, and the technique of viewpoints among many other things.

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

My advice to aspiring writers facing challenges is always to be humble. Look anywhere and everywhere for advice and inspiration. Go to conferences and workshops, rub shoulders with real authors, soak in the ambience. Ask for BETA readers and offer to do the same for others. Always seek to perfect your work. And never give up – even if it takes forty years.

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

Of course I’m immensely proud of Breath of Africa. I still can’t believe that it’s my book which won a Gold Star on the Harper Collins Authonomy website, was nominated for the Guardian First Book and Not-the-Booker Awards, and has been likened to the works of Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing. It is an Amazon best-seller, and has put me back in touch with people I had forgotten I’d ever known.

Breath of Africa cover picbreath of africa - 902kb

 

I am also happy to have found a charity to support with the book – helping a tiny village called Kajuki in the shadow of Mt. Kenya.

Kajuki micro finance
Women from Kajuki Village

I still regard Africa as my home, and here is my favourite excerpt from the book.

Caroline and Brian are courting…

“Their favourite place was the rim of Mt. Menengai, the volcano overlooking Nakuru town; smaller than Ngorongoro, it had its own dramatic character. They stood on the jutting promontory and looked over the dense scrub in the crater depths, interspersed with black mounds of glistening lava, a dark, forbidding country.

“It’s the third largest crater in the world,” Brian told her. “I read that somewhere.”

Caroline gazed beyond at the vastness of Africa which rolled through patterned farmlands, across hills and plains into the hazy distance. As evening fell, grey clouds crept along the crater depths and swirled up the cliffs, snatching at them with wispy fingers, as the wind caught and tossed the vapours into nothingness among the trees.

They walked towards the car, but a sudden movement in the long grass near the forest distracted them. Brian turned off the track, parting the stalks in front of him.

“Careful of snakes!” Caroline warned.

She followed, treading in his footsteps. As they approached the thrashing, it increased, and she saw the soft brown hide of a female impala, its eyes wide with fright. One leg was caught in a loop of wire.

“It’s a trap, but the wire hasn’t tightened too much. I’ll see if I can free her.”

Brian caught hold of the leg and the animal stilled. She seemed to know they were trying to help. He struggled with the wire, and eased it over the hoof. He let her go. The doe stood there for a second, then moved her leg and took a small step. She bounded away and the grass closed behind her. It was as if it had never happened. 

The sequel concluding this family saga is nearing its completion, and if it meets with the publisher’s approval, my cup will be full.

 

Thanks so much for apearing on Write Despite, Jane. It has been fascinating to read about your book and you writer's journey! Here are Jane's links, below.

Until next time!

Margaret

Links:

Amazon Author Page:    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Bwye/e/B00BOK0NN4/

Breath of Africa paperback:         http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breath-Africa-Jane-Bwye/dp/1908910798/ref=la_B00BOK0NN4

Breath of Africa ebook: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00BOAK0FA

Website:                              http://janebwye.com/

Blog:                                      http://jbwye.com/

Facebook:                           http://jbwye.com/

Twitter:                                https://twitter.com/@jbwye

LinkedIn:                             https://www.linkedin.com/in/jane-bwye-9866041b

You might also enjoy:

Write Despite: Meeting Ailsa Abraham. Three accidents, a stroke and several novels

Finding Your Writer's Path