In the past two years, I’ve grown and changed as a writer. Now its time for this blog to reflect that too. All the old posts will still be there, but in future, I will be concentrating on what I write, and what inspired me to write it. From time to time I will post about what I am reading. There will be a research section for those of you, who like me like their facts to be accurate. Along the way, I will be happy to answer your questions.
So from now, the focus will be more on the writing process, ice dancing, Bergen in Norway. Vikings and Viking beliefs.
Inexplicably October wasn’t a good month for reading for me, as I only managed to read four books
It rare for me to read biography or autobiography , but I made and excpetion for Michelle Obama’s Becoming
As Becoming was getting rave review and I was curious about the Obama presidency I chose to read Becoming. It was surprising to me how candid Michelle Obama was and how she spoke of the difficulties and challenges of acclimatising to the loss of privacy.
I had always seen her as someone who was quite reserved and even a bit stand-offish so her frankness was surprisng.- She talks of her upbringing in a decent and loving but poor working class family. She acknowledges the strength of kinship and extended family. Her own good fortune was in being intelligent and in having encouraging and supportive parents.They gave her confidence in her abilities and higher aspirations. Her rise as a lawyer, working hard .She was always aware that she was a flag bearer for others. How she and Barrack first met, his easy going attitude that charmed ,but at times irritated her. She speaks of their courtship and eventual marriage. She doesn’t paint him as a paragon, revealing that he’s messy, overcommits and at that time was smoking. I loved the honesty of the book. Michelle reveals that she was reluctant for Barrack to try for the presidency, fearing the loss of privacy, as well as the effect it would have on their childen.Later there was the weight of expectation at being the first black First Lady of The United States of America. Although they served with grace and dignity it is obvious that she would relish the return to their previous less public life. The autobigraphy is humanised her frankness in discussing their struggles to start a family as well as their hopes and losses as well as sucesses. Destined to become an important historical document.
Sanctuary by Judy Nunn.
As I was soon to attend a talk by this immensely popular author, I wanted to read at least one of her books. Sanctuary was inspired by a real-life event when a fishing boat filled with asylum seekers pulled up at Geraldton in West Australia’s north. This is not their story, but a story of a similar group of people who land on an uninhabited island. The issue of asylum seekers is a contentious one in Australia and has been politicised. Here we learn of the reasons these desperate people have taken the life-threatening risk to try and make it to Australia. In my opinion Judy Nunn establishes sympathy for them while allowing voices of prejudice to also speak. She set up a situation where I feared for the happiness of them all and left us with them facing an uncertain future.
Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I applaud the clever premise of this book, but for me, it didn’t quite come off. Initially, it was okay, and I enjoyed the contrast, but the further into the book I got, then the more confused I became. Maybe in part, this was because I was not able to read for long stretches at a time. The book has been compared to the film Sliding Doors, and I wonder if perhaps it might be easier to convey the dual timeline visually.
The Shelley Bay Ladies Swimming Club by Sophie Green
Explores the growing friendship between four diverse women who may never have connected at all but for swimming. Elaine, an unhappily relocated British ex-pat has come with her surgeon husband who is an Australian. She misses her adult sons and her English life Leanne, shy, self-contained except around children her past hides a painful secret, one she is unwilling to share. Marie, the doyenne of the group, a lifetime swimmer now widowed. Her two loves are ocean swimming and Charlie Brown, her dog. Theresa, overworked mother of two with a neglectful husband who steals time for herself with a precious early morning swim. The four women forge bonds of friendship that in time go far beyond the superficial. Topics include loneliness, isolation, starting life again, illness and infidelity. Believable it had some tense and tender moments- perfect for a book club discussion.
You like to think that you are a good person.You dont hate people or resent them, until an acquaintance has a stroke of writing luck.
Until, someone you know wins a contest, has a piece published, writes a book or simply seems to be everywhere . They are on websites, giving interviews in magazines and book shops ,they are the next big thing and you tell yourself you are happy for them and you are. BUT…..
Not Quite So Happy?
But there is voice in your head that isn’t quite so happy at all. An inner voice that says ‘but what about me?’ Eventually, you realise that you are suffering from writer envy. You want what he or she has got. You whine inwardly because it seems to have been so easy for them.
And because we are all good people, you don’t talk about it or mention it to anyone. Gradually, you realise you are envious because what they have matters to you. If they were climbing mountains or being a successful investor, that wouldn’t cause you to envy them. But writing, that’s your thing, your passion.
Talking Writing with Writers
I recently brought this up in an online writer’s forum and most people were happy to acknowledge that yes, they felt it too. There was compassion and wise advice posted in the comments. Many adniited feeling the same. One piece of advice was ‘ be yourself- everyone else is taken.’ Their is wisdom in that, we each have our own lived experience and perceptions. So we have a unique perspetive .
Taking it further Here is the dictionary definition of envy from dictionary,.com
Envy a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.
So, knowing we do feel envy ,what do we do about it? How do we use it creatively? How do we avoid bitter envy, and don’t say or even think those things?
Take action instead and use the feeling to spur you on. What did they do that you didn’t?
If they won a contest that you didn’t enter that might encourage you to enter next time. They submitted their work to a publisher while yours is still in a drawer. They got a lucky break, yes, but they were out there in the writing community .Being there,they met people, heard of opportunities.
Let envy encourage you to take action. You may never sweep into a book talk with an entourage of publicist, bookseller and adoring fans as some succesful authors do. But rememeber that even the most successful writer began somewhere- with blank sheet of paper and in an idea.
I presented an author talk on Friday The Art of Publishing a Romance and it was lots of fun and I think the audience enjoyed it too.
Then we came to the questions and answer session and the first question was the one that all authors expect and at times dread.
‘Where do you get your ideas?’
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? If only we could say ‘well, I pop down to the ideas store and see what they have saved for me.’ Wouldn’t that be fabulous? A store of ideas curated just for you.
So how do you explain the creative process, or more specifcially ,your own creative process?
For me it is partly research, looking at things that interest me, but equally it could be daydreaming..That aimless, letting your mind run free. It could be a tv program that I watched ,or a snippet of conversation I heard.
Ages ago I asked New York Time Bestselling author Natasha Lester a similar question.
‘How do you know you have enough of a topic to make a novel?’
Her reply really resonated with me.M/s Lester told me that she took two unrelated ideas and combined them. Four very successful books later, her latest being The Paris Seamstress AKA The Paris Orphan in the US I know she has a winning formula.
It followed that advice when I combined ice dancing and Norway with a time slip romance with a Viking age past that led to my book Fire & Ice.
So, ideas need to permeate, they need to resonate and then suddenly you realise that you have the right idea and that you are eager to write.
You may not have heard the term Vanity Publishers and they themselves don’t advertise as such, but they are out there and are a danger to both your self-esteem and your bank account.
What are vanity publishers and how do they differ from hybrid or assisted self – publishers?
Quality Control- is totally unselective with vanity publishers because their business model isn’t about the quality of your writing or its saleability. That doesn’t matter as a vanity publisher would happily publish your shopping list and tell you it was great if you paid them. They often approach you directly and you think you have hit gold. How do they find you? Maybe you won a contest or signed up for a course or a newsletter.
I personally signed up for a free writing course, a week of writing prompts and interaction with the course leader. She was a personable and engaging personality. The course was interesting, and some exercises worked, but then the hard sell began. There was a contest for a mentoring spot. An ‘associate’ called me to say that unfortunately I’d not won, but I had placed high, and I had so much potential. They could offer me a spot at a reduced price of $3,500. I politely declined saying that while I was sure it was an excellent opportunity it was way out of my budget and comfort zone.
It didn’t end there. There were a couple more phone calls, a blend of flattery –‘you have so much going for you,’ to warnings, ‘time is running out,’ and ‘we can’t hold a spot for you much longer.’ The price was reduced to $2000, and it was suggested that maybe I had savings or could take out a loan. Warning bells ringing loud and clear I thanked them but still said ‘ no’.Their final call offered me the whole course for $ 397. They said it was bargain I couldn’t refuse. But I did refuse, and I haven’t heard from them since.
This is the kind of intense pressure which encourages people to sign up with a vanity publisher. Vanity publishing is all about selling you, the writer, a service at inflated costs. As well as persuading you to buy tons of copies of your book. They don’t need to bother with marketing your book, because they made their money from you. Getting out and promoting the book is up to you. They may offer to put the book up on Amazon, but you can do that yourself if you self- published.
If you can, check out other books from the publisher, what’s the quality like? Also, be careful as their contract may take away your copyright and author rights. Buyer beware! Contact their authors and ask about their publishing experience.
The American Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association keep an updated list of publishers to beware of- it doesn’t hurt to go online to check it. Even if you simply do an internet search for Vanity publishers you will find that a heap of names come up.
Hybrid and subsidised publishing are legitimate and do charge you for partial costs but as always you need to be careful and compare costings and even research the company name to check complaints about them.
As always if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is! Save your dollars and your peace of mind by doing a little checking.
For some reason, September was a slow reading month for me as I only managed to read five books. There was another non- fiction which I gave up on so let’s not talk about that!
I also dipped into a childhood favourite Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree in preparation for an author talk I am presenting later this month. That threw up many memories as well as reflections on how life had changed in the intervening years-. Then the children were routinely expected to help around the house and garden and were served bread and jam and milk for tea.
The other books were a mixed bag of recommendations and whimsical choices
The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen.
I spotted this at the local library and having read her On Her Majesties Secret Service was inspired to give it a try. Set in WW1 Britain it offers a glimpse into a forgotten time. For whatever reason, it did not have the same bite and light touch of that series. The story focussed on Emily and Australian pilot Robbie lovers met only to be parted. It focussed on how the privileged young woman defied her parents and went on to make a life for herself. I was a little sceptical that delicately reared Emily could fit so easily into the back-breaking work of a land-girl. That her parents would disown her for defying them was more easily believable. Knowing the British class structure her gradual friendship with Lady Charlton was quite credible. In the second part, of the book, Emily is living in what is known as ‘the witch’s cottage ‘ and practising herbalism.
Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham
Deserves every ounce of praise it received. An intriguing story and one that explores the many preconceptions we have about people. I found some of the details a bit grisly but the major characters ( Cyrus and Evie )both fascinating and I wanted to know more about them. Thinking all the time how did they survive the traumas in their lives? A bonus for me was it was set in Nottingham the former home of skaters Torvill and Dean and had a bit about ice skating too.
Everything Publishing by Karen Mc Dermott.
Subtitled the Ultimate publishing guide and it is. All your publishing questions are answered here and explained in simplified form by someone who knows what she is talking about and who has indeed built a successful publishing empire.
Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Reid Jenkins
Allegedly based on Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac, the book reminded me of the movie A Star is Born. Although Daisy Jones started out having it all, looks, money and attitude. Through the multiple perspectives is an interesting way to tell a story. Each tells their own version of ‘the truth’ so the lies, evasion, jealousies are all exposed to scrutiny. And of course, as readers we ask – are they revising as they go? is this the truth as it was then? The songbook at the end of the book adds another layer of authenticity. I kept flicking back to read the songs as they were referred to and imagined them being performed, Camilla Billy’s wife doesn’t appear much in the book, but there is a sense of her presence in the background and perhaps she was the strongest of them all. It reads true. Did the book live up to the hype? In my opinion, yes it did.
A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison
It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. This is a mid-grade children’s novel. I would have loved this book as a child, and I enjoyed it now. The Widdershins sisters are a force to be reckoned with. Don’t you love the choice of name? They are brave, resilient and resourceful. They face challenges that are quite a bit worse than they and perhaps we would have liked. I especially liked the dual timeline story and how the two timelines merged.
The classic definer of a love story is the film Love Story starring Ali Mc Graw and Ryan O’ Neal. It is based on the popular book by Erich Segal. It is a real tearjerker, with the beautiful young couple parted by death. It is a tragedy and almost all of the love stories considered great have sad or tragic endings.
Here are some examples taken from films and books. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, filmed and updated as West Side Story.Othello. More recently Iain Mc Ewan’s Atonement, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.JoJo Moyes Me Before You, M.C Steadman’s The Light Between Oceans. And Cecelia Ahern’s Ps. I Love you, and of course ,my all-time favourite Casablanca.
Romances are different- they promise a reading experience or viewing experience that focuses primarily on the relationship between the couple or as Romance Writers of America says, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Or in simpler terms you are pretty much promised a happy ending and if not a happy ever after, at least the reader gets the happy for now ending.So if we know the ending why do we read romance?
We read for the journey, for the twists and turns of the relationship. A happy ending may be promised but getting there is half the fun. Who doesn’t love a flawed hero or heroine? Or beautiful couple too blind to see that they are destined for each other? Real-life can be dull and bland, but romances are exciting, sexy and fun. It’s far safer to have a fictional lover than a real one. Romance writers are endlessly inventive and contrive new ways for couples to meet and fall in love.
Examples of romances are Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and of course, it’s spin off’s Bridget Jones’ sDiary by Helen Fielding and the films Pride andPrejudice and Bride and Prejudice as well as the Bridget Jones trilogy of films. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a great read and has been filmed several times The fairy tales Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty.
Some romance movies are Romancing the Stone, Breakfast at Tiffany’s( but not the book which ends differently) Moonstruck, Brokeback Mountain( a guy to guy romance) Ella Enchanted and a real oldie but a goodie It Happened One Night.Another of my favourite films Love Actually spans both genres as it has both love stories with sad ending and romances with happy ones.
Why do you read romance and who are your favourite authors? Let me know!