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Personally, I'm quite happy to describe my novels as women's fiction. To me, women's fiction can be defined as below (with thanks to the author Becca Vnuk), and I'm happy with this. These are the books I enjoy reading as well as writing. And it's not that I think men won't be interested in them, rather that it's less likely:

"The common thread is that the central character is female, and the main thrust of the story is something happening in the life of that woman (as opposed to the overall theme being a romance or a mystery of some sort). Emotions and relationships are the common thread between books that belong in this category. A woman is the star of the story, and her emotional development drives the plot."

And I suppose for me, it distinguishes my fiction from chicklit, which Wikipedia defines as:

Heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists. The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood – from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace – in humorous and lighthearted ways.

But some writers feel very strongly about their novels being described as women's fiction.

Take best-selling author Jodi Picoult, for example.

In an interview for the Orlando Sentinel, Picoult said: “I don’t write women’s fiction. What that means is I have lady parts. There is absolutely nothing gendered in my writing. Some books I think of as more male-centric than female-centric. Honestly, when most people talk about women’s fiction, they’re usually talking about a light-and-fluffy beach read. If anyone is describing my books as light and fluffy, you have serious issues.”

Interviewed on Popsugar.com, Taylor Jenkins Reid (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo) also expresses her dislike of the women's fiction category.

She said, "Anytime I meet someone and they ask me what I do and I say, "I'm an author," and they say, "Oh, what kind of books do you write?" I say, "I write fiction." And they say, "Well, what does that mean?" What I choose to answer is, "I write book club books. I write books that you would read in a book club." What I mean by that is I write commercial fiction that is hopefully accessible to anybody that wants to read it, but they can be thought-provoking and give you something to talk about. But that's a very long answer to a small question, and the short answer is I write women's fiction, and the reason why it's called women's fiction is because we want to make sure, in no uncertain terms, men know "don't read this," which is just absurd.

"We have a society in which woman have learned to read about men and to find interesting things about the inner lives of men, and we have not done that same service for men. We have told men that women in their lives are not interesting to them, that the stakes of domestic fiction is not relevant to them — all of these things are completely untrue. Books about love and family are just as important and can be just as skillfully and beautifully written as books about war. I don't know why, so often, we put such a larger value on the story areas that men are interested in than what women are interested in. I also just don't buy the conceit. I think we just haven't allowed for men to admit when they're interested in these things, to open themselves up to be interested in these things. We've said, time and time again, to men, "What goes on in a woman's mind is not relevant to you." And that's just crazy. What goes on in every man's mind is relevant to me. We exist in the world together. I'm married to a man. The world is full of men. We should be doing that same thing for men. I think we're fixing it slowly. Big Little Lies was such a great example of a story, exclusively about women and about issues that directly affect women, that men watched. They cared. We're at the beginning of it."

(You can read the full interview here).

What do you think of the Women's Fiction book category? Are you happy with it the way I am, or do you agree that we're excluding men by using it? And if we are, is that right? Do, in fact, women's fiction books have something to offer men too?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

All for now.

Margaret 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Goodness!’ said Janet, still not moving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nude on beach self-confidence confidence

Here's the scene as I originally wrote it.

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

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

‘Goodness!’ said Janet, still not moving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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?

 

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

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

Happy writing!

Until next time.

Margaret

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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.

 

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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crocodile-pool
Until next time!

Margaret

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Today I want to talk to you about how Joan of Arc destroyed my self-confidence. Actually, that’s not right - my apologies to Joan. It’s not fair to blame her. It was all entirely my fault.

Or maybe the teacher’s for putting me under so much stress.

 

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But whoever was to blame, those few unhappy seconds in a French lesson when I was eleven years old had a dramatic effect on my self-confidence – an effect that lasted for almost twenty years.

Let me set the scene for you. I was newly transferred to the class, and painfully shy, so it was unfortunate that one of the first things I had to do was to give a talk in a French lesson. My allotted subject was Joan of Arc (for those of you who don’t know, Joan – otherwise known as Jeanne d’Arc – is a Fifteenth Century French saint). I duly did my preparation and went to stand nervously at the front of the class when it was my turn to speak.

Then I opened my mouth, and, with all eyes upon me, I said: “Joan of Arc was brought up as a pheasant.”

pheasant

 

I had, of course meant to say peasant – a country dwelling agricultural worker, not a large, colourful game bird – but nerves got the better of me, and I’m sure you can imagine the reaction that followed my slip up. There was general hilarity in the class, pretty much drowning out the rest of my faltering words.

 

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I expect my classmates soon forgot about it, entertaining as it was, but I certainly did not forget about it, and the incident affected me drastically. I clammed up almost completely after that – never saying anything at all in class unless I was forced to, and unfortunately this silence and terror extended to my life post-school. My extreme phobia about public speaking limited the courses I could take, and the jobs I could apply for.

Until finally, with my thirtieth birthday looming, I decided enough was enough. It was time to do something about this fear.

So, I did. Very gradually, until I proved to myself that I’d made a complete recovery by performing stand-up comedy to a crowd of two hundred people in a London comedy club. (I put my experiences into a novel!).

 

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So, how did I do it? By taking baby steps, and celebrating each and every one.

First of all, I joined an adult education class – I don’t even remember what it was about now – and then I challenged myself to make one statement, or to ask one question at every session. Then two statements or questions. Then three. (You can’t imagine how my heart pounded and my hands sweated as I willed myself to speak).

I did it just a little bit at a time, until I was ready (yikes!) to join a public speaking course. There, I made people laugh. Deliberately, this time. It felt fantastic. After that, I felt ready to take a teaching qualification. And I discovered that I loved the performance side of teaching. Everything about teaching, in fact. Then, eventually, came that three-minute stand-up routine at the Up The Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich, which was one of the greatest moments of my life so far, and the pinnacle of getting over my public speaking phobia, I’m sure you’ll agree. Every time I feel my self-confidence ebb a little bit, I just watch myself on YouTube and remember that I did it. I actually did it. The sense of achievement that night was incredible. On a par with holding my first published book in my hand…

 

me-doing-standup
Performing stand-up comedy at The Up The Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich, London

So, if you want to write, but something’s holding you back, find out what that something is. Be kind to yourself. Take baby steps to deal with it, and celebrate each and every one. Think in terms of asking a question in an adult education class, rather that a full-blown stand-up comedy performance straight away. Get support on your crusade. (Although maybe not from Joan!). Your efforts will be worth it, because all those little steps can add up to something bigger.

Like a novel!

Want to learn more about how fear can affect writers and what to do about it? Join my Feel The Fear Webinar on 20th October. If you can’t make it live, a recording will be available to those who register.

Oh, and just a reminder that the early bird price of my course Feel The Fear and Write Anyway ends on Sunday 24th October.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Margaret

 

 

 

When my son was younger, I used to read picture books from the That’s Not My… series to him.

If you’re not familiar with them, there are hundreds of books in the series – That’s Not My Truck, That’s Not My Robot, That’s Not My Monster, even That’s Not My Cow! The format is always the same – they start off with several pages of, That’s not my… for example, That’s not my monster, it’s eyebrows are too hairy. Then they finish on a triumphant That’s my… That’s my monster, his spines are so prickly. (Or whatever it is).

thats-not-my-monster

With my new course Feel The Fear and Write Anyway coming out soon, I’ve been thinking about author fears a lot lately, and in particular, about how people might not always think they have any fears about writing.

But if you’re:

  • procrastinating, and rarely getting any writing done,
  • constantly putting other people’s demands before your desire to write, or
  • you never finish anything, and you’ve got a drawer full of unfinished stories,

Then fear is probably at work somewhere, whether it’s a fear about what people will think of what you write, or an insecurity about everything you feel you don’t know about writing, or, quite simply, the strongest fear of all, a fear of failure.

Sometimes, recognising our monster – in this case, what lies behind our self-limiting fear – can help us to deal with it and move on.

After all, nobody wants to keep a monster for a pet, do they? Even if it does have a very fetching pair of horns!

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If you'd like to know more about Feel The Fear and Write Anyway, you can check out the course website or sign up to my FREE WEBINAR on Thursday 20th October, at 2pm GMT.

Cheers!

Margaret

 

In my last post, I looked at how I've used my experiences in the work place in my novels. This time, I look at how you can steal ideas from other writers.

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Only kidding! Nothing illegal about this, I promise. Watch the video to find out more!

You might also enjoy:

Where do you get your ideas from? Inspiration for Writers.

Always wanted to write but can't get started? Or started and now you feel stuck?

Sign up for the 10-Day Fear-Busting Challenge for Authors and get writing!
Sign up for the 10-Day Fear-Busting Challenge for Authors and get writing!

 

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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