Sonia Bellhouse is the author of Fire & Ice, a Scandi-timeslip romance about ice dancing, Norway and Vikings. She is also a contributor to Passages, a short story anthology and a contributor to Writing the Dream, an anthology for published writers both published by Serenity Press. In 2012she won two major awards in the inaugural Rockingham Short Fiction contest.
Sonia's articles and stories are published in various magazines both in Australia and the UK. These include Good reading, Today's Bride, That's Life! and That's Life! Fast Fiction in Australia and Yours, The People's Friend and Best of British in the Uk. Sonia worked as a book reviewer for two years. An avid reader and writer of multiple genres she facilitated a local book club for eleven years. She reluctantly decided to give it up, to concentrate on her writing. Sonia is a long time member of a writers group, regularly engaging authors to present workshops to the group.
Sonia enjoys catching up with friends, ignoring the ironing in favour of playing with her cat and learning new things. She's taken several online courses with Future Learn and The University of Iowa for both writing and non-writing topics.
Did you keep the promises that you made to yourself and to others?
Are you nearer your goal?
Are you proud of what you have achieved this year?
Did you use this precious year wisely?
OR did you fritter your time away?
For many of us, the end of the year is both a time of celebration, but also for self-reflection.
CHANGE BEGINS IN YOUR THOUGHTS.
I was already considering what I had achieved this year when a prompt popped up on my Facebook feed from Karen McDermott of Serenity Press She asked a simple question.’ What is your word for 2018?’
The idea was to choose a single word that included all the concepts and things that you wanted to achieve in the next twelve months. Many people had replied with their word choice and many of their words resonated with me. Yet,none seemed exactly right
It nagged away at me, I kept reading and thinking ,but my perfect word eluded me . It simmered away in my brain as words were tried and then discarded. While I applauded other people’s choices, no one word felt right to me.
My word appeared when I was writing my early morning pages. I noted down a few words, Progressing, Enjoying, Completing. And then suddenly I thought’ I need to focus,’ and there it was , my perfect word
Focus, to pay close attention
So focus on I want to achieve in my writing and in my personal life.
Reflecting on this year, it was easy to see that I had not focused .Instead, I had done things that appealed to me without asking do they further my ultimate goals?
So this year my writing focus is on completing the first draft of my novel and then editing it. After that? Who knows?
My personal focus is one shared by many, improving my health by losing weight. I haven’t been paying attention and it shows. Time to get back on track.
Will you choose Focus as your word of the year , or does something different appeal? Please let me know.
Am I doing what I want to do? Am I getting closer towards my goal?
Should I have a goal? The answer to the last question, by the way, is YES.
The Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland gave Alice this advice
At the beginning of 2017, I made a list of the things I wanted to achieve with my writing, and as the year draws to a close I am reviewing it and assessing it. Here’s what I discovered.
The Good: I achieved far more than I originally intended
The Bad: While I did far more than previous years, I was not specific enough.
The Ugly Truth: I am no further towards my goal than I was at the beginning of the year
How did this happen?At the start of the year, I made a list of practical things I could do to extend my writing. Then the list held nine items, one of which was to start a blog.
At years end the list had grown to sixteen items, as I added things I thought would be interesting or fun to do.Everything on the list depended on me doing something. The only actions that I can control are my own. I cannot make readers or editors like my work. My task is to write and to improve and not try to second guess what others will think.
What did I achieve? I wrote a novella, a long short story, an 8-word story, I submitted to a couple of magazines, took some courses, attended some author talks and a writing convention and completed National Novel In Month.
A lot you might think BUT I haven’t done much to achieve my real goal of completing a novel and getting it published. I have been busy, very busy and in one sense productive, but I have not got any nearer to my goal.
I scattered my efforts, and now I know this I intend to make another list for 2018. It will have fewer items but a bigger goal to finally write that book! The book that I have wanted to write for so long, but hesitated to do so. I am giving myself permission to try.
What do you want to achieve in 2018? Maybe you should make a list of the steps to take to get you there. Let me know what you plan on achieving.
Bewildered describes most of us at this time of the year, as inspiration and energy are in short supply.
Men generally want to please the woman in their life and this makes them the perfect target for hard- selling salespeople. Those who happily assure them that’ She will love this,’ about everything imaginable, from a wok and up to a camper van and accessories.
Ladies, do the guys a favour and let them know what you do want.Leave out catalogues and magazines with the items that you would like circled in bold marker pen and tell them that you have done so.
With a bit of luck, you might get something that you want and can use. Then, your cries of pleasure will be genuinely meant, while the man in your life will have bought you something that you actually wanted.
Please don’t give the men in your life the usual socks and jocks which they have come to expect. Think more imaginatively. Of course, you should have been listening for clues all year, for those items they moan that they need and have not got. It’s not too late!
Think experience– a plane flight, a brewery tour, a home brewing class, a paintballing session. Think fun, whatever their kind of fun is-concert tickets, footy tickets, Harley rides, hot air ballooning. Even think practical if you must and buy the screwdriver set that they wanted or the more expensive version of the old faithful saw or drill. Mr Practical will be delighted.
Now for the Christmas feast, should you do the whole traditional bit or something a bit lighter with a more contemporary feel? To some extent it depends on your climate, what is appealing on freezing winter day does not hold the same appeal in an Antipodean summer.
My answer is to keep the bits of tradition that I like and discard the rest.So I set a colourful Christmas table and pick and choose what I serve. The turkey. or chicken may be served cold with salads or it may be served warm.The only Christmas pudding lover gets an individual pudding and it may come with ice cream!
After all, Christmas is supposed to be about celebrations and joy and not suffering, just because everyone expects it.So why should the cook slave away?Anyone who complains can be enlisted to help, which will allow them to appreciate the amount of work involved.
With confidence and some forward planning, the festive season can be fun for everybody and that includes the harassed woman who is usually at the centre of it.
Absorb your seasonal lessons, what went wrong this year and what went right. Plan to have an even better time next year. Oh, and quick reminder- never decorate your Christmas tree twice,
To explain yes I was still reading in October and November, but as it was National Novel in a Month my focus was mainly in my writing. Reading was my relaxation and also my inspiration throughout the month.
I did achieve the word count of 50,000 words and that is nowhere near the end of the story., which I will allow to rest for a month and then look at again.
These are the books that I read in October
A Seaside Affair by Fern Britten
An easy and relaxing read, Fern’s own television experience has obviously informed the insights into how reality TV is constructed.
At times reminiscent of those old movies where a bunch of amateurs try to save a theatre by ‘putting on a show.’That is essentially what happens here, only with professional actors. Producer Penny is able to call in some favours to recruit stars of TV and film to help save the old theatre. Fern name drops Downton Abbey’s Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville and writer Lord Julian, Fellowes believably and with ease. A good holiday read,
Talk of the Town by Rachael Johns
An enjoyable read with an engaging duo of Megan and Lawson at its centre, as well as a supernatural element. I personally really enjoyed the supernatural aspect of the story and would have liked to have seen more of it.
Megan has moved interstate in an attempt to leave her past behind her. Perhaps she hadn’t reckoned on country town hospitality and curiosity? in spite of being wary of revealing too much about herself, Megan is unable to resist Lawson, and his adorable and incorrigible eight-year-old son, Ned. The characters are well drawn, relatable and appealing. The mysteries of the Old Store and Megan’s past are revealed slowly and satisfyingly.
How to Market Your Book by Rachael Bermingham.
A thoroughly practical and useful book, written by someone who as she says,’made all the mistakes’.She shares her insights and expertise and as she is a best-selling- author, Rachael is the best advertisement for her methods.
Chapters cover so much ground from media release tips to marketing plans How to get your book into libraries and how to obtain testimonials. How many promotional copies you should send out. Many of the suggestions simply require you to use your time rather than money. A worthwhile book for anyone with a book to promote
Body on Baker Street By Vicki Delany
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery.
Although I had not read book one of this series Elementary, She Said, It is an oversight that I will rectify. In spite of that. I was able to connect easily with the characters and the story,
The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium and Mrs Hudson ‘s Tea Rooms are situated in West London, Massachusetts The bookshop is currently being run by British Expat Gemma, during the prolonged absence of her Uncle Arthur. Her friend Jayne runs the tea rooms, which are handily situated next door.
When a famous author Renata Van Markoff who writes, a pastiche Holmes series decides to visit the store it is a tremendous boost to the bookshop sales.That is until she is murdered there. It happened after a very public argument during the book signing. Gemma’s amateur sleuthing abilities are put to the test, and it sets her at odds with the local police department. Worse, there is an embarrassment of suspects, many of whom wanted to see Renata dead, Who will solve the case first?
It is a More Abbreviated List for My November Reading
A Trail Through Time By Jodi Taylor
Book Four in The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series; The Battle for St Mary’s.
A brilliantly original idea and a great concept, but for me, it is all getting a little too complex and confusing,
When historians cross and recross the timelines and St Mary’s itself has several different incarnations, then the story can become too complicated. While the introduction of the Time police in this book whose job is to monitor the timelines was an innovative touch.Adding to my confusion with the story is that the two major characters Max and Leon have both died at various times in some timelines. By crossing and recrossing the timelines, loves, lives, memories and relationships are all being challenged both by the past and the future interactions. This popular series continues.
Still Writing by Dani Shapiro
I was prompted to read this book as it was recommended by author Natasha Lester at a workshop that she gave.
While there are no outstanding insights, I felt that Dani Shapiro was an encouraging voice who understood the doubts, fears and insecurities which plague most writers.Her advice is sound and she reminds us via words from poet Jane Kenyon to ‘Be a good steward to your gift’
I loved the irony of the title, as ‘still writing?’ is the query that writers, whether paid or not, hear most frequently. The subtext apparently being ‘what haven’t you got a proper job yet’
Last weekend I decorated the Christmas tree; this weekend I decorated it again.
Last weekend I decorated the Christmas tree; this weekend I decorated it again. It was the Christmas lights which caused the problem. Light of my Life thought the set of fifty lights looked rather paltry and returned home with a set of one hundred,. Before you could say, Santa Claus, The tree had been stripped of all its lights and decorations and Light of my Life said calmly’”The rest is up to you”
One hundred lights should go twice as far as fifty, so I thought that it would be easy. But the one hundred lights did not even go as far as the fifty lights had.
After three disastrous attempts, the happy Christmas mood was decidedly fragile. I glared across the room at Light of my Life imagining with some satisfaction the Christmas lights wrapped tightly around his neck.
Luckily, his survival instinct kicked in He calmly unwound the lights from the tree and laid them on the floor. Then laid the despised set of fifty lights parallel with them. The cable lengths were identical. So to fit the one hundred lights on the same length of cable the gaps were much smaller.
The fifty lights were then replaced on the tree and the redecorating completed, without the joyous mood of the previous occasion. A hundred lights were then replaced in their box and returned. Seasonal lessons learned? Decorating the Christmas tree can only be enjoyed once in any Christmas season. The second or third time around, it’s just a hard slog. When buying Christmas lights look at the cable length and NOT the number of lights.
Other seasonal lessons that I have learnt the hard way include keeping some spare Christmas cards, as well as the appropriate Christmas postage stamps. Someone that you have forgotten inevitably sends you a card. You can mask your forgetfulness because you are using the Christmas card postage rate, rather than a standard stamp¬ a dead give-away that you forgot. After Christmas, any spare card can be stored for next year and any leftover stamps can have additional postage added and be used for your normal correspondence.
Even worse than the unexpected card, is the unexpected visitor smilingly bearing gifts.Forward planning can have you cool and composed rather than fraught and frantic. Buy a couple of multi-purpose items that you could use later if they are not needed. A nice bottle or two of wine, whisky or sherry, maybe some imported beer. Or a biscuit selection, chocolates or even gift vouchers Have these items wrapped and tagged, ready to be written at a moment’s notice and no one will ever guess that they caught you out.
Next week The Gentle Art of Present Giving and Getting!
September has been an unusually busy month, as I completed a five-week writing course and I also enjoyed attending the Rockingham Writers Convention. There I participated in various workshops and met admired authors, Tess Woods,Natasha Lester, and Annabel Smith. It also gave me a chance to catch with the dynamic team from SerenityPress, Karen McDermott and Monique Mulligan publishers of Writing the Dream and I saw fellow contributors Sandi Parsons and Michelle Nugent. I met another author ( more about her later) and caught up for the first time with a couple of ‘Facebook friends.’ One (J) had come from Queensland to attend the convention and the other(D) has recently moved to Western Australia from Queensland. We’d never met before but we hit it off right away, finding much to talk about.
Under Her Spell by Monique Mulligan
Writer Oliver Pendall is on location for the filming of his book Multiples.
He meets Kaylie by chance. She both teases and fascinates him but he’s not looking for a relationship.Despite this, Kaylie captures his imagination with her passion for using unusual words. Oliver’s writer’s interest is piqued by her lively mind and he’s also captivated by her cute persona too.Sadly, Kaylie appears to be disinterested in him, except when paradoxically, she isn’t.It’s a rare book that has a reader turning to Google to search out the meanings of words, but this one did. A sparkling romance.
Black Cats and Butlers A Rose Ravensthorpe Mystery by Janine Beacham
I happened on Black Cats And Butlers by chance, as it was shelved with adult fiction. in the library. It’s actually a middle-grade fiction – so I’m not the intended readership. Despite that, I really enjoyed it. The story was fast-paced and exciting. It appealed to me for both the humour and the crime content. Imagine, butlers those bastions of respectability are being murdered. Additionally, I was fascinated to learn about the cat statues in York England being stolen. Note there really are statues of cats on buildings in York and more are being put up. Tourists can take a tour of the statue locations.
Rose Ravensthorpe is a feisty and determined character and I can certainly see the potential for many further adventures. A lot of fun!
Love Under Fire by Carolyn Wren
A fast-paced action /romance
I was pleased to meet delightful author Carolyn Wren at The Rockingham Writers convention, we were seated at the same table and talked. She is a contributor to A Bouquet of Love and I was able to tell her how much I had enjoyed her hilarious story Angel in the Baking. She is also the author of eleven books.Later, I bought a copy Love Under Fire which she kindly signed for me.
Love Under Fire lives up to its promise. Astrid James, aid worker and daughter of a prominent politician is caught up in a coup in small jungle nation. Black ops agent Remy Cross has been sent to rescue her and has three days to do so.Despite the increasing danger Astrid refuses to leave unless the two orphans that she is protecting can be rescued too. It’s an unwelcome complication that Remy hasn’t planned for. The repartee and action continue from this well-matched duo. I was swept along with the plot twist and turns. A fun read.
Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Blues by Trisha Ashley
Tansy Poole’s relationship with her fiancée Justin is at a stalemate. So she returns to the Lancashire village of Sticklepond. There, Tansy is needed to help her much loved Aunt Nell with her shop Bright’s Shoes. Her aunt’s age and failing health mean that both she and the shop are in desperate need of more care.
Tansy is torn between a boyfriend who spends more time with his mother than with her and who is increasingly critical of everything about her and her aunt who brought her up and who needs her. Guilt and baking are her constant companions as she tries to keep everyone happy.
It’s a relief for her to return to Sticklepond.Tansy’s biological clock is ticking and her hopes for a home of her own and children seem further away than ever. At least in Sticklepond she’s wanted and avoiding her fiancés increasingly pointed criticisms, of her dress sense, her behaviour and her weight.
Staying with her aunt enables her to avoid her two malicious stepsisters and a potential mother in law from hell.Tansy wants to be with her aunt, who she cares for. When her aunt dies Tansy decides to stay and reopen the shop, to sell beautiful wedding shoes, vintage shoes, and even the chocolate shoes of the title
Her next door neighbour is presumed to be an ancient Shakespearian actor who has come to live in the village for peace and quiet. Instead, he is irascible, but a devastatingly handsome man, who dumped Tansy years ago. He doesn’t appear to recognise her or appreciate her dog, the noise of the workmen or the shop bell.
I really enjoyed this lively story, my appreciation sharpened by the fact that I knew so many of the locations, such as my old hometown of Southport, and neighbouring places such as Ormskirk, Rufford Old Hall, though not, of course, the fictional village of Stickelpond
As a child growing up in Cornwall, my imagination was captured by the exciting tales of smugglers and pirates. I loved hearing the tales and would listen to them, spellbound. Then there were the tales of the pixies, those mischievous wee folk who could lead you astray.
We lived in a village which was just a short walk from a lighthouse and above the coves where seals came to play. Wild flowers grew in abundance along the cliff tops and I delighted in picking them. It was an almost idyllic place. The only cloud in my sunny life was a flock of aggressive geese. They roamed the village green and terrified me. As we lived by the green I often had to face them. I ran quickly past them and they ran after me squawking. Heroes face their demons in all the best stories.
Looking back on it now, I realise now that every story needs its conflict or drama, to keep a reader turning the pages. My ‘paradise’ had vipers; Britain’s only poisonous snake. They hid in the rocks of the churchyard which I avoided at all costs, especially at night, when my friend said ghosts drifted up from the graves.
Where do stories live? Not in a magic wood. There are no magic woods. Stories live inside the child who finds and believes the wood is magic, that its trees are alive and that mysterious inhabitants live there. There is an alchemy which takes place between the listener and the story-teller. Stories can amuse us, engage or enrage us. They can transport us to other worlds; magic realms of heroes
Yet all stories are in reality words in our ears, or letters written on the page. We use the term spell for the way that we arrange the letters to form words Yet spell has another meaning beyond the merely mundane; that of a magical incantation, or an enchantment.
Alice Hoffman, the well-known author, believes that ‘books are the only magic’, while Robert Escarpit, French book historian, notes that books are more than merely words on paper because, ‘ When we hold it in our hands all we hold is the paper-the book is elsewhere.’
I believe the place where stories live is in the hearts and minds of readers and writers. Tales heard in childhood peopled our imaginations and live on in us today. We may tell them to our own children. Readers speak of characters leaping off the page. These are the ones who linger in our hearts and minds long after the book is closed. The magic is the transference from one mind to another of those captivating places and people whose exploits, travels and adventures leave us spellbound.
As a writer I want to create that experience for my readers and myself. We writers are the dream chasers who hunt down that elusive story; one that enthralls both ourselves and our readers; the one only we can tell.
Adult or child alike when we sit down to watch a movie, or open our book our implicit wish is to be captured and transported to a different world. Make me believe you. Pull me into in your imaginary world. Make it so real that I can see it, smell it and taste it so intensely that real life fades away.
I lost myself in the pages of books and I found myself there too, in those stories which snuggled me like a warm blanket in front of a fire. As an only child whose parents ran a business, I spent a lot of time alone; I never felt lonely once I learnt to read. I started inventing stories and I found it easy to lose myself in the imaginary world I created.
What do we demand from story tellers? Conviction. We rely on their ability to hold us spellbound. We are their co-conspirators; we take the words on the page and add details from our own imagination, making the story uniquely ours.
Stories connect us to our culture and enable us to explore other cultures, lives and emotions. They pull us into the centre of the action. We can be heroes, if only vicariously. Stories reassure us we are not alone, that other people feel and have felt the way we do. Our lives are enriched through the power of story.
Write Naked by Jennifer Probyn- A helpful and inspiring guide to writing by a New York Times best-selling author. Not all books on writing hit the mark with me – but this one did
A Bouquet of Love by Various authors .published Serenity Press. An anthology-based around Serendipity bridal boutique. Ten authors give us their own inimitable take on romance. They made me laugh, they made me cry.
The Forever House by Veronica Henry-
A delight of a book that ticked all my ‘must -haves’.,Simply enchanting I liked the characters so much and wanted to live in The Forever House myself, with its romantic name of Hunters Moon.
Escapism, romance, nostalgia, and even estate agents’ selling secrets. A peek into another lifestyle which is far more glamorous than my own I didn’t want to close the pages. A captivating read! *****
Champagne for Breakfast By Maggie Christensen.
A mid-life romance
The Little Teashop of Lost and Found by Trisha Ashley.
Another delight An abandoned baby girl is left near Haworth in Yorkshire – home of the Bronte sisters. Alice is adopted and then left with a chilly stepmother when her lovely dad dies.
The book centres on Alice finding herself through baking and buying a tea shop near Haworth in an attempt to find her past. The tea shop is a dump and she has spent almost all her money., but of course a feisty heroine always has a plan and a potential man, if she wants one. *****
A Desirable Marriage By Hilary Boyd.
What turns a long-term marriage on its head? The declaration that the husband has fallen in love, with another man! Who could resist reading that?
There is just one thing to ask when we identify as writers- when will we feel comfortable doing so? How many books or articles do we need to have published before we can say confidently ‘I am a writer’? I have heard published authors confessing that they still didn’t feel like writers.
Liz Byrski for example had published several non- fiction books and was a successful journalist, as well as being an ABC radio co host. It was a comment from her then husband that spurred her into writing fiction. When she said she had published books, his reply was allegedly ‘yes, but they’re not the right books.’
As far as I know he wasn’t a writer, but he certainly was a critic. She needn’t have listened, she could have said ‘I ‘m fine, I’m happy with what I do, Its paying the bills,’ but when your nearest and dearest speak, you tend to listen.
We writers are sensitive souls, we struggle with fear to put words onto the page. The fear of being exposed as stupid, not clever enough, odd, strange and all those other critical things we say to ourselves and are afraid that others will say to us too.
Is this why we want to have written, but procrastinate about writing? If there is nothing on the page then there is nothing to criticise, but equally there is nothing to praise, nothing to improve, nothing to challenge us to do more and to do it better.
Are we waiting for a sign from the universe?
Folks this is it – here is your sign-
Write with pen and paper, write on your I-pad, write in a notebook, jot notes and observations while you are out or sit at home with your laptop or desktop computer and simply write without restraint, without fear of criticism. Let the words flow and deal with the overflow, later.