Tag Archives: writing

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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 

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Goodness!’ said Janet, still not moving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nude on beach self-confidence confidence

Here's the scene as I originally wrote it.

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

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

‘Goodness!’ said Janet, still not moving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It certainly sounds like fun to me!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Until next time.

All the best.

Margaret

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

christmas_angels_from_ore_mountains_called_lichterengel_carved_from_lime_tree_10

 

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

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

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

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

Have a great week.

Margaret

 

 

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

person-731165_640

Sometimes it seems as if they are never still.

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

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

bag-1609281_640

 

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

 

dog-1418330_640

 

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

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

Happy writing!

Until next time.

Margaret

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

  • a glint of a gold tooth

  • the rhythmic rocking of the boat

  • red and gold fabrics, gleaming in the midday sunshine

ecuador-1257123_640

 

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

should be

should do

the right way

the wrong way

 

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

Streams flow to the sea.

Every ant has a designated role in the colony.

Lists help you to remember.

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

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

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

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

narrative-794978_640

 

How wonderful!

Until next time,

Margaret

 

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Hello, everyone

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

dive-15840_640

 

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

 

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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.

clay-1754170_640

 

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

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

Go for it!

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

Margaret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crocodile-pool
Until next time!

Margaret