Tag Archives: fiction

8 Comments

I recently carried out a survey about women's fiction and the 132 responses made for fascinating reading.

There were the ordinary, useful questions about reading habits and demographic etc, but as a writer, what interested me most were the responses to questions I posed about the nitty-gritty of the writing, because this gave me a real flavour of what makes people read a book compulsively.

One of the questions asked respondents to choose statements about women's fiction they agreed with, and to add some of their own. Many people went on to make some very interesting and insightful suggestions, and I really wanted to share these results with you.

So, to start off with, here are the responses to the statements I provided myself:

It's important that I care what happens to the main character in a book and almost feel as if the events of the story are happening to me. 75.76%

I like to feel extremes of emotion when I'm reading - both happy and sad. 55.3%

When I'm reading, I enjoy being taken to places and experiencing situations I've never experience before. 76.52%

I'm happy for a novel to include an element of magic, or events that might never happen in real life, as long as the author makes me believe in it. 57.58%

A romance of some kind is essential in a book in order for me to enjoy it. 17.42%

I like a book's main character to grow and to learn something during the story. 63.64%

A book must have a happy ending, otherwise I feel cheated. 10.61%

It's not a problem to me if the main character is someone I don't particularly like. 39.39%

I like to feel I have something in common with the main protagonist. 25%

And here are the statements that respondents added themselves - the ingredients and factors that are important to them in a satisfying women's fiction novel.

  • I don't like loose ends, need to know what happened to all characters
  • Furthering women's causes
  • It has to feel realistic and not too cliched.
  • Not too far fetched...
  • Needs to grab you in the first chapter, dialogue is important
  • Well written prose.
  • It doesn't always have to have sex. Geez already.
  • Anything to keep me interested and page turning. A good storyline.
  • Helps me learn or appreciate something new
  • I like some humour
  • If I'm not supposed to like a main character, I need something bad to happen to them.
  • The main character should have some kind of intelligence, I get bored by ditzy girls, they have to be smart or witty or work things out
  • A good beginning that draws me in!
  • A sense of suspending disbelief or of an idealised reality being portrayed- country cottage, independent woman, seaside etc
  • Location. Books,based in a city with a bit of a story about the city interest me.
  • That the supporting characters are also fleshed out and have a story
  • The characters and their responses to situations must be believable.
  • Inner conflict
  • Good quality prose
  • Intelligence. Please expect that I am intelligent and need brain stimulation.
  • I prefer heroines who aren't weak, who can save themselves or others
  • Humor is so essential for me to thoroughly enjoy an MC or supporting characters. A book needs to take me away from the BS of everyday stress, the new and political mumbo jumbo. It needs to be a true, enjoyable or fascinatingly interesting escape!
  • Great characterization and good writing is a key
  • I am discouraged with novels crammed with over detailed descriptions of superficial things
  • Well written with relatable 3-dimensional characters
  • Good writing with realistic dialogue. An element of truth in the theme that I can relate to.
  • Right or wrong, that she be strong 🙂 (#StrongWomenWrite hashtag on Twitter)
  • Needs to be believable, must like the hero or heroine and care about them.
  • The author doesn't insult my intelligence by telling me everything.
  • Expect the unexpected
  • I love to get into the mind of the character - and I like novels with suspense, ie. Gone Girl.  I am more interested in the writing and how the writer creates rich and complicated characters.
  • Words chosen in writing should be easily understood by most people. Grammar is very important.
  • No misogynistic cliches please. I'm so fed up with Women as victims. Women don't need men to rescue them. They don't have to be superhuman - just real!

To sum up, (and this is my interpretation of the results) most people want a strong character who draws us in because we're intrigued, and prepared to invest in finding out what happens to them. We might be prepared to suspend our disbelief in the process, but we want to have our intelligence respected. We also want to have work to do - to have things to work out, and that actively engage our imaginations and our thoughts. We don't want to be handed everything on a plate like a bland meal, but we're happy to be entertained. We want good-quality ingredients, but a novel doesn't need to be so good for us it feels like a meal we eat when we're on our best behaviour.

I'm so grateful to everyone who took my survey. Their answers have really given me an insight into what people want from a great women's fiction novel. I'm off to apply all the advice!

Bye for now.

Margaret

 

Hello, everyone

I don't know about you, but I'm a huge Cecelia Ahern fan. I always get the feeling she's writing exactly what she wants to write, following whatever path her inspiration and her imagination take her on. From love stories like PS I Love You, to stories including elements of magic like The Time of My Life, to the more gritty The Year I Met You, I've read and enjoyed them all.

Some writers consistently produce a novel a year, and their readers look forward to a new release, confident that it will include the same key elements - for example, a story from the past with old secrets to be tracked down; secrets that will help someone to find happiness in the present day.

With these types of authors, I often imagine the expression of dismay on their editor's face if, after a year or more of waiting, they were to discover that their author has broken from habit to write something entirely new. There is a lot of pressure out there for writers to give readers what they want, and readers often more of the same.

Cecelia Ahern, however, seems to trust her readers to follow her as her books evolve and change. But that's very much harder to do when a writer not only changes the type of book she writes, but who she's writing for. Cecelia has done just that with her novels Flawed and Perfect, which are written for a new, younger audience, hungry for dystopian novels about a bleak, future way of life. An audience that is most definitely not me.

I'm sad, I have to say. Cecelia is doing what she's always done - following her inspiration and her imagination, but it does feel a little as if a door's been slammed in my face. Of course, who knows what she might write in the future? Hopefully our paths will cross again, and in the meantime, I'll do my best to feel happy for the lucky young readers who are discovering the worlds she creates for the first time.

How about you? Have you ever felt bereft when your favourite author has changed direction? Let me know on my Facebook page or in the comments below. I'd love to hear about it. And stay tuned for the results of my Women's Fiction Survey and prize draw, coming soon!

Have a great weekend!

All the best.

Margaret

2 Comments

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 

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

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

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

It certainly sounds like fun to me!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Until next time.

All the best.

Margaret

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

christmas_angels_from_ore_mountains_called_lichterengel_carved_from_lime_tree_10

 

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

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

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

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

Have a great week.

Margaret

 

 

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

person-731165_640

Sometimes it seems as if they are never still.

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

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

bag-1609281_640

 

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

 

dog-1418330_640

 

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

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

Happy writing!

Until next time.

Margaret

4 Comments

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

  • a glint of a gold tooth

  • the rhythmic rocking of the boat

  • red and gold fabrics, gleaming in the midday sunshine

ecuador-1257123_640

 

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

should be

should do

the right way

the wrong way

 

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

Streams flow to the sea.

Every ant has a designated role in the colony.

Lists help you to remember.

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

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

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

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

narrative-794978_640

 

How wonderful!

Until next time,

Margaret

 

1 Comment

Hello, everyone

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

dive-15840_640

 

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

 

running-81715_640

 

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

 

writing fiction, typing the end

 

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

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

clay-1754170_640

 

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

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

Go for it!

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

Margaret

2 Comments

Let me introduce you to Emma. She’s fun to be around, enthusiastic about writing and very talented. These days she has established a writing routine that works for her, and she writes regularly, despite having four young children and a tendency to drop everything to go to music festivals.

emma-cropped

But it wasn’t always like that. Emma’s enthusiasm and talent for writing were always there, but the writing routine was non-existent, and whenever she thought about writing, she felt fed up and blocked.

This was all because of a bad experience she had at a writing class, where she received very unhelpful feedback on her work. Far from highlighting Emma’s achievements and constructively suggesting areas for further development, the tutor for this (somehow) sought-after course, slated Emma’s work. He pulled it apart so thoroughly that her self-esteem – and virtually her will to live – were in tatters.

I might never have met Emma at all. She might have decided to give up on her writing dreams at that point. But a few years later two of her friends told her about my courses, AND she had a link to the enrolment page pop up on her Facebook timeline. Fortunately for me, Emma decided to view this as fate at work, because Emma came along to one of my courses, and she’s a joy to have in a class. Not only is she talented, but she’s so helpful to other group members.

When Emma first told me about her ordeal, and how it had stopped her from writing for several years, I was furious. How dare that tutor treat Emma’s precious writing dreams like that?

Emma explained to me that she was writing science fiction, which was far removed from the literary fiction the tutor had published, but this was no excuse at all, as far as I was concerned. Published writers – no matter how successful – should never forget how vulnerable people can feel when they first start sharing their words. I know I certainly haven’t.

When I first started writing, I was ridiculously sensitive! I remember the first time I read out a story at a writer’s circle, and I described a woman’s face ‘turning a colour somewhere between green and purple’ (with embarrassment and horror). OK, I realise now that it’s not a sentence from a great work of literature, but at the time I was pleased with it, and was quite taken aback when one of the group members stated quite abruptly that it wasn’t possible to have a colour between green and purple, and that I should use the word puce. Puce. I wasn’t even sure what the colour was, and I had to go home and look it up. And it was such a horrid word, sounding as it did, remarkably like…well, sick. My story was light-hearted and fun, with no pretensions to be anything else. Puce just didn’t fit. I felt discouraged, and never returned to the writer’s circle. (I told you I was sensitive in those days!)

As I’ve gained in experience and had many novels published, my self-confidence has grown to the point where I’m able to sift through feedback and make a judgement about whether it’s relevant and helpful or not. (If it’s from an editor, I’ve also learnt to be tactful if I don’t think so!) I always make a point in my writing classes of helping my students to develop the highly useful skill of giving and receiving constructive feedback. It’s such an important part of a writer’s development, because you can learn so much from it.

When I began teaching my creative writing classes, I encountered that vulnerability and that fear of exposure over and over again, and decided that my classes had to include an element of confidence-building in order to be of use to people.

As for Emma, she very kindly took part in the pilot version of my course Feel The Fear and Write Anyway – Self-Confidence For Authors, which opens for enrolment very soon. I asked Emma and other recent students to try it out and to give me feedback, so that I could make it as useful as possible. The power of feedback, see? I’m happy to say that all their suggestions were really helpful – and constructive!

I’m so excited that by creating an online course designed to boost writers’ self-confidence while they’re developing essential writing skills and habits, I’m going to be able to help people I might not otherwise have been able to reach. People who want to take that first step towards realising their writing dreams. Or, if they’re like Emma, people who want to recover from a set-back to move on towards their goal of completing a novel.

I can’t wait!

Enrolling soon!
Enrolling soon!
Sign up for the FREE Fear-Busting Challenge for Authors here.
Sign up for the FREE Fear-Busting Challenge for Authors here.

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

As a multi-published author, there are some questions that I get asked over and over again. One of these is:

"Where do you get your ideas from?"

When a would-be writer asks me this question, I'm often pretty certain that what they really want to know is, "Where can I get my ideas from?" Or, "How do I go about getting ideas for my writing?" So, I thought I'd make some videos about the way some of my ideas for my books have come to me, in case it helps other writers.

The first thing to say, is that there's no "one size fits all" way for me to get ideas for my novels and stories - ideas come to me from many different sources and in many different forms. It's bound to be the same for you.

On today's video, I'm talking about the way work and the various work places I've experienced have given me ideas for characters themes, and even whole novels. (Spoiler alert: it includes the world's largest trifle!)

trifle