Archive for the ‘writing’ Tag

One Hundred Years of Solitude

The UK formally went into lockdown on 23 March 2020. Which wasn’t actually a hundred years ago. It just feels like a hundred years.

In July and August things started to open up again – pubs and restaurants, shops, hair and beauty salons, sports centres and gyms. In August, when the government messaging changed from ‘work from home if you can’ to ‘go back to the office if you can’, our office in Westminster opened up again (albeit briefly), and we were taking it in shifts go in, one or two days a week. There were only ever a handful of us in at one time, and things were a bit strange, but it did feel like a shift back to normality. But then the government message changed once more, and the office closed again. We were told that we should go back to working from home again, and be prepared to do so for perhaps another six months. But we had the ‘rule of six’ at that point, which meant people could meet in groups of no more than six indoors or outdoors, and that meant we could start running round-the-table D&D games again with some extra safety precautions (individually wrapped snacks, for instance, instead of everyone dipping into the same big bowl).

But now England has a ‘3-tier’ system depending on the number of cases in an area, and from today all of London is in Tier 2, which means you can’t have anyone in your house who doesn’t live there, and you can’t meet your friends in a pub or restaurant. or anywhere indoors. Some parts of the north of England are in Tier 3, which has further restrictions, and in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of the rules are different again.

It’s all very confusing, and as well as no more D&D games this means I will no longer be able to go out for dinner with friends to celebrate my birthday next weekend, as I was planning to. The only person I am now allowed to go to a restaurant with is my husband, since we live together. So I guess it’s going to have to be just him and me celebrating.

Over the last six months of lockdown, there are a few things I have learned about myself.

  1. I don’t really like working from home. It was OK for a couple of weeks, and it would still be OK if it were one or two days a week, but five days a week with no face to face contact with anyone I find really isolating. It’s making me seriously question this lifelong ambition I always had to be a full-time writer. It won’t suit me. It’s too lonely. Which leads to…
  2. I am not an introvert. I always assumed I was, since I spent a lot of time alone when I was young, but this was mostly because I had trouble making friends. Truth be told, I like talking to people. Being alone I find exhausting. Over the years I’ve attended many conventions and gatherings alone because I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, and if it was something I really wanted to do I would just go, confident that once I got there I would find plenty of people to talk to. And I have made friends that way, so I would recommend it.
  3. I really like swimming. I have a love/hate relationship with exercise of all forms, but since the pools opened up again I have been swimming three mornings a week and it has greatly improved my mental health. Swimming is actually the only form of exercise I do enjoy, and I hadn’t realised how much until I wasn’t allowed to do it.
  4. I am really struggling to write during this crisis. Particularly horror. I am working on a sequel to OUTPOST H311, but I’m finding it really difficult to write an apocalyptic book when it feels like we’re in the middle of a real-life apocalypse. I think perhaps I am not alone in this – there seems to be a collective anxiety about the coronavirus crisis that is affecting creativity for a lot of people.
  5. I don’t like surprises. I like to plan. I did already know this about myself. I set myself up at the start of the working day with a list of things to do, and another list of things to achieve by the end of the week. I like to put conventions, and gigs, and weekends away, in the calendar. I like to know what I am doing tomorrow, and next week and next month, and even this time next year. Covid-19 has taken all that away. All the things we had planned for this year have been cancelled. We can’t plan any trips away, or even an overnight stay in the UK because everything is changing so fast and we don’t know where we’ll be this time next months, or even next week. The move from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in London was announced with just over 24 hours’ notice. There is still talk of Tier 3 if Tier 2 doesn’t work, or even another ‘circuit breaker’ full lockdown for a couple of weeks when the schools break up. How can one make plans to do anything, under all of this?

In an attempt to find some balance, I am now going to try and list some positives that have come out of the last six months:

  1. We are saving a lot of money by not having to pay for train fares every day.
  2. We are both getting more sleep, since going into London for work required getting up a lot earlier.
  3. Hubby and I are actually having conversations with each other during the day, whereas when we were both in the office all day, we’d just communicate via email. We are also getting to eat lunch together every day, which is sort of nice.
  4. I have actually learned to cook. A bit. Although I am still largely hopeless, there are now a couple of recipes I can make for dinner, and they actually turn out quite well. I just have to make sure I make a point of buying the ingredients in my weekly shop, if I’m planning on making one of these recipes.
  5. I still have a job. A lot of people I know haven’t any more, and every day it seems there’s someone else in my social media sadly announcing they’ve been made redundant, so maybe I need to be grateful about the fact I am still earning a regular wage.

I am reaching a bit here, because on the whole I am waking up in a rather dark mood every morning and struggling to find reasons to be cheerful. With everything I was looking forward to this year cancelled, and not able to book anything for next year because of uncertainty, there’s nothing to look forward to.

I also hate this time of year, because I hate the dark and the cold weather and I really struggle with depression in the winter. I brought my anti-SAD lamp home from the office and I start each morning at my home working desk under its very bright light for two hours. It does seem to help for a while – until I start thinking about the state of the world again.

At the moment shops and retail service providers are still open, I am still able to go swimming, and if Hubby and I fancy a night out we can still book to go to a local restaurant, as long as we follow their Covid-19 rules. So I guess we should be making the most of these things while we can, as we may well go into full lockdown again with everything closed at some point.

But by God, I can’t wait for this year to be over. There has to be an end to all this eventually. I struggle to see that far ahead, but I guess all any of us can do is get through this terrible year as best we can, and hope that better times will eventually come.

Lockdown

Well, what a strange world we currently find ourselves in. In the UK we are now in the seventh week of lockdown. I think. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what day or even what month it is.

The beginning of March started ordinarily enough. Covid-19 (which I refer to as the C-virus) was in the news every day, but no one seemed particularly worried about it. On 7 March we flew off to Argentina for what was going to be an amazing two-week holiday. It was amazing, but we had to cut it short. For about a week or so everyone in Argentina was incredibly relaxed about the C-virus, and they are a very tactile people, with men and women alike greeting each other with hugs and cheek kisses. But then, on Sunday 15 March, we got an email from the airline to say our flight the following Thursday was cancelled. We somehow managed to get seats on the last flight to London from Buenos Aires the following day. There’s a lot more to this story and I will save it for another blog post. The day we left Buenos Aires, I noticed that the locals were no longer greeting each other with cheek kisses – they were using elbow bumps instead.

The short version is, we got back into London the morning of Tuesday 17 March. Since that day, our house has not been empty. The UK wasn’t in lockdown at that point, and we had not been told to self-isolate having been out of the country, but we tried to stay home as much as we could. We did have to go out foraging for supplies. Panic buying was in full swing. There was no toilet paper to be had anywhere, no fresh fruit or veg, and most places had sold out of bread. Over the course of three days, with the two of us taking it in turns to visit as many grocery stores as we could get to, we managed to find enough food to keep us going for a week or so.

I was in contact with my colleagues, who had heard about Argentina going into lockdown and worried we got stuck there. I reassured them I was safely back in the UK. Initially I was going to go into the office to pick up my laptop so I could start working from home the following week. Things were changing so quickly it was soon decided to courier my laptop to me so I wouldn’t have to go in.

Hubby’s office had already decided to close down their London office, and he keeps a laptop at home anyway, for home working. So the week of 23 March saw us both setting up work spaces at home. He was working from the dining room table. I moved my personal laptop out of my writing den and set up my work laptop there, on the strength that I had a desk and proper chair in there, and I know from experience that if I spend hours working on a laptop on a stool or dining chair, I get backache. And so, ever since then, this has been the arrangement. It has taken some getting used to. This is a new way of life.

There are some positives. I am not on the train every day to work so I don’t have to get up so early, and I am saving a lot of money by not having to buy rail passes every month. Hubby and I have actual conversations during the day when we have lunch and tea breaks together. In pre-lockdown life we would largely communicate by email during the day. We are both still working, and largely able to carry on our jobs from home, although adjustments have been necessary. A lot of people are out of work. There are two of us, and we have a four-bedroom house so there is plenty of space for us both to be able to work without disturbing each other. We are spending less money, because there’s nowhere to go to spend it.

But on the whole, it’s been difficult to adjust. I miss not being able to go out and meet friends in a restaurant or a bar for a meal or a nice glass of wine. All the things I was looking forward to this year – weekends away; gigs; open mic nights; conventions – have been cancelled. Although we were lucky enough to get our holiday to Argentina, or most of it – a lot of people have lost their holiday completely and are still struggling to get the money back.

I am particularly missing my swimming. I had a good routine going, and I had finally found an exercise routine I could stick to. I am probably eating too many cakes and drinking too much wine because these are the only pleasures I seem to have left in lockdown.

It’s been over two months now since I was last in the office and I am finally starting to get used to this new routine. I am going out for a walk on a daily basis. We go grocery shopping once a week, and put up with the socially distanced line that is necessary in order to get into the supermarket. Generally it’s me that goes to the grocery store while Hubby cleans and vacuums the house. I am OK with this arrangement. I hate grocery shopping, but I hate cleaning the bathroom more. We are buying a lot more food. In our pre C-virus life we generally both ate breakfast at lunch at work, so the only meal we’d have at home was dinner.

But as well as struggling to maintain physical health, mental health is a struggle as well. I found this article from the Harvard Business Review online in the first week, and it helped me realise that the feelings I was struggling with were a form of grief. Mourning for the life I used to have, that is probably gone for ever. I’ve also been having a lot of really weird dreams. Apparently this is common amongst people trying to cope with lockdown as well. It’s our brains trying to deal with the general anxiety of the situation. Some days I end up feeling really down and crying for no particular reason. Some days I am OK. This week, I feel I should add, I have been largely OK.

But the writing has been non-existent. In the first week of lockdown I got up at 6:30am and attempted an hour and a half writing session. I managed less than 700 words in that time, and each one was a painful struggle to get down on the page. I’ve been avoiding writing ever since. Six weeks now, and I haven’t written a word. And that really bothers me.

The government in the UK is now talking about ending the lockdown. We need to be cautious, no matter how desperate we all are to regain some semblance of normal life. It’s going to be a long time until places like bars and concert venues will be able to open again, and there is no doubt that even when we achieve some degree of normality, life will not be as it was. I will certainly be continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, as our Chief Executive has already informed us all that she expects it to be ‘several weeks, if not months’ before the office can open again. It’s the getting to the office that is problem – most people in the London office travel by train or tube, and you can’t social distance when you are in a carriage so crowded your nose is in someone’s armpit. And I really can’t see a solution to that any time soon.

So, like everyone else, I am doing what I can to get through lockdown. We are spending our evenings watching a lot of films and TV shows. We are looking for fantasy and escapism; we have discovered that right now we can’t deal with anything that features a dystopian world (like The Walking Dead, for instance). Last week we went through the entire Lord of the Rings extended DVD trilogy (that’s nine hours of viewing). Video chats with friends on Zoom and other forms of video calls are really helping. I can’t meet my friends for a glass of wine, but we can talk to each other while we drink wine at home. We are even running our D&D games using video calls – not ideal, and you have to shout a lot at the screen to make sure everyone hears, but it’s better than not playing at all. And everyone needs the escapism of being in a fantasy world for a while.

I’ve also been wasting a lot of time on social media, enjoying the rather ingenious lockdown videos created by people with far too much time on their hands. I leave you with this rather ingenious stop motion Lego creation, to the tune of Abba’s ‘The Day Before You Came’.

This, too, will pass, and one day we will all be able to see each other again. But until then, stay safe, friends.

Year in Review: 2019

Another year has gone by, and it’s time to look back at the goals I set at the end of 2018 and see how well I did.

With regard to the exercise and healthy eating, that has gone reasonably well. I am still doing my personal training session, 25 minutes once a week. I still don’t enjoy it, but I do it, and I am now seeing the benefits. I have more strength in my upper body, my arthritic knee doesn’t hurt as much, and I have more flexibility in my body generally. I am also still doing the swimming, and I can now swim 40 lengths (which is 1km) in 30 minutes. I’ve never been a big fan of exercise, but I am starting 2020 fitter than I’ve ever been before.

I’ve been following Weight Watchers since June last year. Progress is slow. The system has changed again, and although it is slightly easier to follow, it’s a lot harder to lose weight now I’m older than it used to be. The last time I was on Weight Watchers, I was back into the size 12 clothes after six months. I am not anywhere near getting into the size 12s now, although the size 14s fit a bit better than they did when I started.

Of course I haven’t weighed myself for about three weeks now, with all of the Christmas chocolate and such around. On Monday I have to go back to the Weight Watchers meeting and face up to just how many pounds I’ve gained over the Christmas period.

I also pledged to keep in touch with friends. I haven’t done as well on this as I was hoping. There are still people I wanted to see last year that I didn’t. But there were some that I did, and most I have at least made contact with, so this is a work in progress.

I have not done so well on the writing either. I made a start on the sequel to OUTPOST H311, but I didn’t plot it first. I got about 15,000 words in, realised what I had wasn’t working and gave up. That will teach me not to plot. But I haven’t managed to get a handle on the plotting either, so that book has gone nowhere.

The fourth Shara Summers novel sits on my laptop, about 35,000 words into the first draft. The third Shara Summers novel does not currently have a publisher, so I stopped writing that series to work on OUTPOST H311, which does have a publisher. But since I’m struggling with the sequel, maybe I should just go back to the Shara series. Just to be writing something.

So, here are my goals for 2020:

1. Get back to a regular writing routine, aiming for 3000 words a week. What I write isn’t important, as long as I’m writing something.

2. Keep up the exercise routine. Aim to have improved my personal best of swimming 1km in 30 minutes by the end of the year. It would also be nice to fit into those size 12 clothes by the end of the year as well, but those menopausal hormones do keep making it very difficult to lose weight.

3. Aim to declutter. I have a house full of stuff, everywhere, and I never throw anything away. This year I want to go through things, bit by bit, to tidy up my personal space. And if I can learn to organise my brain as well (which is also full of stuff, flitting from one thing to another at record speed), all the better.

It seems appropriate to finish with an image from the table-top game Cyberpunk, which we played a lot of in the early 1990s and which was set in 2020. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be too prophetic.

Happy New Year, everyone. Hope you achieve your goals for the year.

End of a Decade

There’s a thing going around social media at the moment inviting people to summarise what they’ve achieved in the last 10 years, as we approach the end of the 2010s and get ready to move into the 2020s.

When I thought about this I decided it warranted a blog post, as it’s actually too big a topic for a

Misty & Misha – 1996-2012/13

tweet.

So, here we go. Here are the things that have happened in my life since 2010.

 
  1. We said goodbye to our two cats Misty and Misha, and took on two rescue kitties Alia and Cassie. Three of those four were named after characters in various D&D campaigns.
  2. I became a published novelist. This is actually a huge deal, as it achieves a goal I set my sights on in childhood. In the last 10 years I have had five novels (three horror, two crime) and one short story collection published. I feel very confident that as far as achievements go, this decade of my life will always come out on top. And because I can’t let this moment go without a blatant plug, here are the Amazon links to my books (UK and US).
  3. I started learning to play the bass guitar.
  4. We met a lot of role players. Hubby and I met playing D&D and it’s always been a big part of our life, but for quite a long time we were gaming with the same crowd. We now have three different groups on the go. Hubby runs the game for all of the groups, and I am a player in them all. Two of the groups have more women than men. Two of the groups consist of players around our age, and one of them consists entirely of people under the age of 35. We try and play once a month with each group, so we do a lot of gaming these days, but each game has a different atmosphere and we always have a lot of fun. And it’s good to have met so many new friends through gaming.
  5. We moved house once, from a three-bedroom 1970s terraced house to a 100-year-old four-bedroom semi detached house. I have to admit I am totally in love with this house. We have spent a lot of money on improvements since moving in, seven years ago. Every time I walk through the door it makes me happy, and it feels like home.
  6. Another one of my life ambitions since childhood has been to travel. We have taken some amazing holidays in the last ten years. Places we have travelled to include: Fiji; Berlin; Borneo; Vietnam; Bali; Mauritius; Guam; New York; Thailand; Cambodia.
  7. On a sadder note, two close family members have passed away: my father-in-law, and my stepfather. We have also had to grieve a couple of friends.
  8. I started the decade a size 12, after following a weight loss plan. I finish it a size 14, once more following a weight loss plan. The whole weight loss thing has been a lifelong struggle, to be honest. I am far too fond of sugary treats, and harbour a dislike of healthy food and exercise. I have spent most of my adult life trying to lose weight, only to have it all come back again. However, thanks to a personal trainer (who I have now been seeing for a year) and a regular swimming routine, I feel I am finishing this decade fitter than I’ve ever been, despite the weight loss struggle, and despite the fact that when one gets older, it becomes much harder to lose weight.
Alia and Cassie at 12 weeks old – June 2013
Guam, March 2019

Since I was born at the end of a decade, as each one ends I celebrate a Big Birthday. Hence, this year has marked the end of my being a 40-something, and I move into the 2020s as a 50-something. Sometimes when I think about that it seems painfully old. But one can’t stop the passage of time, and writing this blog post has made me look at the achievements of the past decade, and realise there was a lot to celebrate.

None of us know what the future holds, but I am hopeful that at the end of the next decade I will still be here to highlight more things to celebrate.

Halong Bay, Vietnam – 2011
Bali – 2014

 

Monthly Round-up: January 2019

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It’s been a while since I posted a monthly update. Mostly because I haven’t had much to report.

COMING SOON

I am pleased to announce that my short story ‘Cigarette Burns’ will be appearing in the 10th Women In Horror issue of THE SIREN’S CALL‘ e-Zine (issue #43). This is the second year I have appeared in the special WIHM issue of this e-zine.

PUBLICITY

I’ve really not been pimping myself of late, so nothing to report.

WORK IN PROGRESS

This is where it gets difficult. I’m still trying to get my writing mojo back. I have several works on the go, but struggling with all of them.

The fourth Shara Summers book I have recently done a bit of work on, but since I still don’t know what’s happening with the third Shara Summers book, and the first two really aren’t selling, I am not sure if there is any point in my carrying on with this series.

The collaboration I have been working on with Hubby – a rather sweeping crime thriller set in the 1960s – I have put to one side because I think there are so many problems with it I don’t know how to fix it.

And finally, there is the sequel to OUTPOST H311. Which I do want to write. The first book seems to be doing reasonably well, sales-wise. The problem is I haven’t finished plotting the sequel yet, and that stage of staring at a blank page wondering where to start is even more overwhelming than usual.

Hopefully by the end of next month I will have something more positive to report. In the meantime, if you’ve read any of my books I would really appreciate it if you could consider leaving a review. Knowing I have a few readers out there provides more encouragement to a writer than you could ever imagine.

Year in Review: 2018

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This year hasn’t been a particularly good year for me, for various reasons. At the beginning of February I had to have surgery for a vaginal prolapse, and although this is a fairly minor operation, the recovery time took far longer than I was anticipating. It was two months, really, before I felt fully recovered and I had underestimated how much the recovery process would take out of me.

Then, in June, I was hit by a bombshell when I found out I was to lose my job. Having been with the same organisation for nearly 13 years, the prospect of having to go back out into the job market was daunting, to say the least.

The worst part of it all is that since that day in June, when I was faced with this news I haven’t written a single word. Not one.

Initially, all my energy was going into getting my CV up to date and applying for jobs, a process I hadn’t had to do for so long I had forgotten how time consuming it can be. Fortunately I found another job fairly quickly, but after having been so long in one organisation, having to be the ‘new girl’ again and learn everything from the ground up was quite exhausting. And then by the time I’d settled into the new job and felt comfortable in it, I had just been too long away from the writing routine to get back into it.

Hence, my resolution from last year of completing another novel by the end of 2018 remains depressingly unfulfilled.

So all in all, I will be glad to see the back of 2018. 2019 is a New Year, and I am in a new job, but it’s an uncertain time in British politics and I am also acutely aware of the fact that nobody’s job is guaranteed in this day and age.

The wider picture is too overwhelming, so I am starting the new year with a few personal goals to focus on.

  1. Get back into a healthy diet and exercise routine. I always say this every year, but I am currently facing the depressing fact that I can’t fit into half my wardrobe these days. I have already made a start on the exercise routine, because I’ve just commenced sessions with a personal trainer. But I need to stick with it, and I need to be more disciplined with the eating regime. More fruit and veg, less chocolate. Realistically this is not going to start until all the Christmas chocolate is gone.
  2. Make more time for friends. Social media makes it easier to stay in touch with people we don’t see very often, but it doesn’t match face to face contact with friends. There are people in my life I consider good friends, and I haven’t seen nearly enough of them this year (in some cases, not at all). That has to change next year.
  3. And finally, and most importantly, I need to get back into the writing routine. Back to the early-morning writing sessions in a coffee shop before work. Back to regularly scheduled writing time. I am not going to set a goal of finishing a particular manuscript this year, because at the moment that seems too overwhelming. I just need to get back to writing.

So these are the resolutions I am making as we head into 2019.

Happy New Year to all. What are your goals for the forthcoming year?

Monday’s Friend: Sarah E Smith

Today’s guest is fellow KGHH author and crime writer Sarah E Smith. Welcome, Sarah!

Inside the Mind
By Sara E Smith

A couple of months ago, Sara asked me to blog about my processes, and whether it’s changed as I’ve developed as a writer. So I thought I’d explain how I do a whodunnit and why Byrd books are taking much longer to write than the Secret of Aldwych Strand did.

For mesarah e smith (2), writing a time travel trilogy was like falling off a log. Mark and Lucy’s story oozed from every pore. Tumbling like a river in flood; desperate to reach the world. This new set of books is best compared to wading through treacle without waders.  Symington, Earl Byrd,  my latest creation for KGHH publishing, is a gentleman detective; living and working at the start of the 20th century. His world is dark and dangerous. His opponents vicious, clever, and always one step ahead. Hence the treacle. I had to rethink how I wrote; had to become more methodical. Plot more, think more. Draft and discard more.

You see whilst I know exactly who the murderers are and why they have committed such heinous crimes, these tales aren’t put together from chapter one to chapter last.

Right from the beginning, before you write the words Chapter One, it’s important to know who the murderer is and why their victim, or victims, had to die. So, I write the murderer’s confession first. You know the drill: “Of course, I murdered Major Plumb in the Study with the lead piping…” and in early draft, this section always ends with: “And I would have got away with it, were it not for you pesky kids.”

After establishing the who and why, I write the first murder and continue up to the point where Byrd shows how clever he is by examining the evidence at the crime scene.  Then I stop, and write Byrd’s final speech to the suspects: “I’ve called you all here today to…” This allows me to establish the red herrings,  and the lies these people need to tell during the rest of the tale in order to make them possible murderers.

From then on it’s pretty plain sailing. Get the rest of the main story written predominantly from Byrd’s perspective – except when 3rd person or another POV is needed; meet and interview the suspects; and then kill off at least one more person. This done, it’s time to open the files: “I called you all here today” and the “Pesky Kids”; copy and paste them in, and job jobbed.

Except of course it’s not.

It’s at this point I realise I’ve  missed out one motive,  or forgotten to murder someone. In the worst case (as at the moment with his second book) the plot’s twisted in on itself and the universe will implode. So back I go and change, rewrite, and add until I’ve had enough… and never want to write a murder mystery again.

SB COC NEW MASTER COVER (2)So

Am I

Finished?

No!

Because as I read this draft through, it becomes blindingly obvious there’s no badinage and interplay between Byrd and his bizarre entourage: cousin CC (a chief inspector with Scotland Yard); Sampson and Watkins his servants. There’s no sub plot; no tantalising glimpses into the central characters past – or present.  By this point I also realise the history is missing. Those passing references to the events of the early 1900’s, which I must include, or burn in the fires of inaccuracy. So, after a short temper tantrum, I add those bits, and send it off to the editor before I make any changes … or throw any more toys out the pram.

At this point peace descends. A short month(ish) truce broken by an email from the editor. This reveals: gaping plot holes and an ending that doesn’t make sense; sections of text which drag, she doesn’t like or are a pile of poo – my words. It’s also now I realise, that some of the voices are too similar. A constable on the beat speaks like a toff. Byrd doesn’t have enough whimsies and mannerisms, and the least said about Sampson and Watkins the better.

Eventually though, the final product emerges and it’s over to you dear reader for your verdict…

twitter pics1 (2)

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Born in Plymouth in 1967 to a naval family, Sarah never wanted to go down to the sea in ships, she wanted to travel in time. For some people this would be a daunting challenge. For Sarah it was easy. There were three ways to do it: stow away in the TARDIS, study History and write a book. The last two were achievable, and she may not have travelled in the TARDIS, but she did once travel in a Mini Metro with Tom Baker, the fourth (and for those of us of a certain age, the best) Doctor Who.

Learn more about Sarah and her writing on her website, her blog and her Amazon page, or follow her on Twitter.

 

BOOK LINKS:

Meet Symington Byrd. Playboy. Gentleman. Detective.
viewBook.at/COC

For the Time Travellers out there: the Trilogy is complete:
getBook.at/CompleteTrilogy

 

 

The Ten Commandments of Writing #10: Thou Shalt Never, Ever Give Up

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I get quite cross with people who imply that I write ‘for fun’. Or ‘for pleasure’. This generally comes into a conversation where I’m trying to explain why the writing is not my full-time profession. I’m trying to explain that I don’t make enough money from the writing to do it for a living, and so they say, “oh so you do it for fun then.”

There is nothing fun about writing. Yes there are moments of exhilaration, like when the WIP is going well and words are flowing, when you’re in that stage when you can re-read the words you’ve written and think to yourself, “actually this is pretty good. And I created it.” But you know this is going to be followed by a period of crashing self-doubt, when you are absolutely convinced that everything you’ve written is a steaming pile of turds and you should give up deluding yourself that you’re a writer and go and spend your time watching TV instead. This bit of the process is not fun. Neither is the constant lurching from self-confidence to self-loathing that I am convinced absolutely every writer, no matter how successful they are, experiences.

No, we don’t do it for fun. So why do we do it? It’s more a need, an urge. We need to write to keep on living, the same way we need to breathe.

You need to remember this once you have accepted the fact that you are a writer, because the road will not be smooth. There will be rocky patches. There will be times when you want to crawl under the bed covers and never come out again. Every time you submit something to an editor, you will spend the next few hours, or days, or weeks, on tenterhooks. You will be checking your email every two minutes to see if you’ve had a response yet. When you discover there isn’t one, you will experience conflicting feelings of disappointment and faint hope, because no response at least means no rejection. Yet.

And then when the email finally comes you’ll be afraid to open it, trying to put off the inevitable rejection and the crashing self-doubt that follows for as long as possible.

But then one day it won’t be a rejection. It will be an acceptance. And it will all be worth it. On the dark days, it can be tempting to just pack it all in. But it’s important to keep on going. When each rejection comes, give yourself a few days to pick yourself and dust yourself off, and then send the story back out into the world again. And carry on working on the next one. Whatever you do, you have to keep at it, because being a writer is in your psyche and no matter how hard it can be sometimes, it will always be who you are.

 

 

 

The Ten Commandments of Writing #9: Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid to Pimp

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Writers are, by nature, solitary creatures. We are not comfortable in crowds. So it’s sadly ironic than nowadays we are expected more and more to get involved in marketing our books. To be expected to do readings and interviews. Most writers tremble in fear at the thought of facing a crowd of people.

The days of the writer holing themselves up in their garrett writing, never seen by the public, while the publisher’s minions run around selling books for them, are, by and large, over. Unless you land a deal with one of the major commercial publishers who have a publicity department – and even then you’ll have to turn up to signings and promotional events they arrange – you will be expected to play a proactive role in marketing. So, set aside your fear of being the centre of attention and get used to pimping yourself.

Every writer should have, at the very least, a blog, a web page and a Twitter account. Many people assume there’s no point in setting up social media accounts until they’ve got a publisher, but there is an argument for getting yourself out there and setting up accounts before you’re published, and at least by the time you’ve got something to sell you’ve built up a following of people who may be willing to go out and buy your book.

None of these things have to cost any money. You can set up a blog on Blogger or WordPress in a matter of minutes, just by choosing a template. There are several free templates available for websites too, that don’t require any programming skills (the one I use is Weebly). Set up a Twitter account and start Tweeting about things that interest you, using hashtags to connect with people who have similar interests. Never underestimate what aspects of your life that you take for granted someone else will find interesting. I take the train into London every day and shuffle around the capital with thousands of fellow commuters, and I’m half asleep when I do it. But occasionally I am reminded that to people that don’t live in London, this is an endlessly fascinating city.

As a writer you obviously want to talk about your writing, but don’t be that person that only ever Tweets ‘buy my book’ because that turns people off really fast.

My most important piece of advice for when you are published? Get yourself some business cards, with your name, your website, an email address and if possible, an image of your book cover. Take them with you everywhere you go, because you never know who you will meet. I have handed business cards out to people on mountains in Peru, and in deserts in Arizona. Every time I get chatting to strangers when I’m on holiday, if I have cause to mention I’m a writer, and the person replies, sounding interested, “oh, what do you write?” I will hand them a business card.

And I learned this lesson the hard way. In 2010, just after the first book came out, I went to the Horror Con in Brighton. I’d packed postcards, and business cards, but we headed down on the train after work, and when we reached the hotel we discovered there was a party in a bar on the pier, which had already started, so we dumped our luggage in the room and headed straight there. Then we discovered it was a free bar, so of course that’s where everybody was. And I had so many occasions to hand out my cards and tell people all about my new book, but they were all back in the hotel room. I’ve never made that mistake since.

Once you’ve got that book deal, there are other things you can do to promote yourself. Host guest posts on your blog site featuring other writers, and get them to host you on their site. It’s mutually beneficial to both host and guest, and it doesn’t cost anything to do it. Go to conventions – as many as you can afford – to meet up with other writers, readers and publishers in your genre. When the call for panels goes out, volunteer for one. Most calls for panel volunteers also ask you to list what sort of panels you want to see, so think realistically about what you could feasibly talk about. Short fiction? Cross-genre fiction? Independent publishing? The road to publication (no matter how far along it you are)? Throw out any ideas you can – you never know what might inspire the panel organisers.

You should also try contacting your local paper and your local book shops to see if they are interested in promoting you, but this is very hit and miss. I had some success with the former, but if you’re with a Print On Demand (POD) publisher, getting your book into book shops entirely depends on the shop’s buying policy. I have found that in the UK, a lot of book shops aren’t interested in taking anything they can’t buy on a Sale or Return basis, and that’s generally not possible with POD. But still, it doesn’t hurt to ask. You might discover that the manager of your local bookshop is an advocate for small presses and is agreeable to organising a signing with you.

In short, do what you can to pimp yourself, when you can. And there will be times when it all seems like a great deal of effort, and when the royalty statement comes in and you haven’t sold much, you will wonder why you bother. But marketing is all part of the process of being a writer, and it’s something that we all have to participate in to a certain degree, no matter how disagreeable it might be.

Doing It For Fun?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It’s sometimes hard to explain, to a non-writer, why I write. The confusion generally comes when the non-writer discovers I am not a full-time writer. “So it’s a hobby,” they say. “You do it for fun.”

I can’t explain that it’s not a hobby – more a need. And most of the time, it’s not fun. It’s not fun to experience the crushing self-doubt that arrives on a regular basis and convinces me that every word I’ve ever written is complete rubbish. Or that feeling of rejection that comes with every email beginning, “thank you for sending us your manuscript. We regret to inform you that it will not fit our list at this time.” Or, for me, getting up at 5:20am to write before work when really I’d much rather have an extra hour in bed.

Generally when such conversations come up I have to start by explaining that much as I would love to write full time, it’s not economically feasible. It doesn’t help that these conversations are generally with people who are not only non-writers but pretty much non-readers. They might have read Harry Potter, or Fifty Shades of Grey. So they think ‘writer’ and JK Rowlings and EL James spring to mind. And they’re rolling in it, so all writers must be loaded, right?

My last royalty statement was for all of £5, and that represented a year’s worth of sales. I am so far away from being able to make money from the writing that it seems an unobtainable goal. Giving up the day job is simply not an option because I have no other form of income.

At times I get completely overwhelmed. I leave the house at 6:20am so I can write before work. I generally don’t get home before 7pm. I have French lessons and bass guitar lessons and admin stuff to deal with like emails and blog posts. And this is before we get to household stuff – laundry and remembering to pay the credit card bill and so on. Sometimes I get to a point when I feel I just can’t cope with it all any more.

Logically, the thing to give up is the writing, because I kill myself trying to do it for no apparent reason. But even the mere thought of doing so makes me die inside.

And that’s really why I write. Because I need to do it to keep on living. Not writing is as unthinkable to me as not breathing.

It may be I never manage to make enough money from the writing to give up the day job. But I will, somehow find a way to fit it into my life because there’s just no other option.