I knew they were due, but didn't expect them to arrive last Friday! So I've switched projects from my current writing project to focus on the copy edits for 'Summer Dreams at the Lakeside Cottage.' These edits focus on the specific language, phrases and punctuation - I need to work through the suggestions/comments tracked on the manuscript.
Thankfully, the task was made easier as it coincided with the 'birthday marathon' for London Writers' Salon who held a 24 hour zoom session - so I made the most of their company and ploughed through my pages. I tend to pace myself completing a set amount each day of the four hundred page document, but not this time. I have a two week deadline for completion but I have CampNaNoWriMo on the horizon, which I have planned for and wish to focus solely upon so I've given the copy edits my all since Friday.
Fingers crossed, the edits will be gone by mid-week, enabling me to return to my current writing project for a day or so before Saturday arrives.
Note: finished and returned to my editor on Tuesday - I can return to my current project.
Christmas Eve - the busiest day
From dawn till dusk, heavy hearts pass through ornate gates,
Pinned wide to welcome. Parked cars edge the manicured verge.
Satin bows and emerald wreaths, like the thorns of grief,
lean against weathered granite. While some have crosses to bear.
Robed angels peruse chiselled psalms upon gilded pages,
comforting those toppled by grief – leaning, tilted or eternally broken.
Solitary figures, with downcast stares, replay memories upon tufted earth.
While patient relatives respectfully wait, a distance away, beside an unseen stranger.
Lengthy absences explained, undying love declared and faith renewed.
Amidst the lengthy pause, a stream of comforting words is imagined, in reply.
Overhead towering yews, naked of life or leaf, whisper loudly,
While wringing hands, muttered prayers and tears seep freely below.
No gifts of gold, frankincense or myrrh but a simple pebble – a parting
gesture placed upon a well-worn headstone.
I'm thrilled to reveal that my poem 'Christmas Eve - the busiest day' was chosen by John Burton, from the George Eliot Fellowship, to be awarded joint second in a local poetry competition. Nowadays, I don't write much poetry but I try to participate in anything that keeps the creative juices flowing freely. It provides my brain with a respite from my usual writing and sometimes, produces an unexpected piece.
The countdown has begun! Nine days remain until CampNaNoWriMo begins on 1st April for thirty glorious days. The project will be the second half of my current book, so I'm hoping to finish draft one by 30th April. I'll be aiming for the 50,000 words, though CampNaNo is slightly different from its big bro in November, as you can choose your own target be it editing, a specific word count or any other writerly pursuit!
To reach 50,000 the daily word count needs to be 1667 bright, sparkling words. I tend to go over the required minimum each day, as experience has taught me that life usually throws me a curve ball during a NaNoWriMo event, so getting ahead is my best option.
My current project is set in Cumbria, in a rented cottage filled with women! I began writing draft one on 1st March knowing April's challenge would complete the story. So far, so good as manuscripts go. I've slightly changed my method of writing with this book, processes change and evolve with each book, to be honest. I'm loving my characters, whilst not liking some of their behaviour - which makes for interesting writing.
CampNaNoWriMo is free to join, open to anyone who wishes to participate. Link: here
Since childhood, I've created routines and habits within my week that enable me to accomplish my work and tasks. Friends and family often compare my daily habits to theirs declaring 'that's weird!' My argument has always been 'but if it works for me, let me be!'
I'm someone who is very conscious of time. The hours in a week, the passing seasons and even the 'waiting' time that others create within my world. I'm conscious of the 'wasted' time which others seem oblivious to.
I seem to move around in my own bubble amidst folk who don't realise the limited commodity they have available, some may say 'granted', to them. When I was teaching, the pupils used to remark that '168' must be my favourite number, as I regularly quoted the hours in each week. To me, 168 denotes the hourly slots I have available to live my life. I can't argue about going for an hour's jog when it leaves 167 hours remaining to enjoy a healthy body and eat cake!
Some routines are so ingrained in my life that I don't notice them or even have to think about their completion. Whilst others, I consciously perform anticipating the end result or the nearing deadline.
I have grown up hearing other people complain, calling me 'selfish' regarding my time management, but I refuse to feel guilty for tailoring an existence that enables me to do what I do. The alternative would be a disorganised world which doesn't appeal to me. I don't want to spend hours chasing my tail, searching for the piece of paper I had a minute ago or continually remarking to others that 'I really should do some exercise this week!' The constant berating has affected my development to the point that I'm a fairly introvert character, rarely relying upon others for support or companionship.
On my travels, I do spot kindred-spirits who appear to uphold the same organised habits, but they're rare. Their mannerisms, tidy desks, punctual delivery and personas call out to me in passing - these are my people!
My personal sense of fulfilment is more important to me than silencing my critics. An organised lifestyle allows me to complete my work, enjoy my hobbies and socialise, when necessary. If that makes me weird, eccentric or unpopular then fine. I'm simply being me.
Six years ago today, I sat at this writing desk reading a publishing contract offering me a three book deal with Aria Publishing, part of Head of Zeus. It felt like a dream come true, yet I hadn't a clue if I was about to sign it or not. The details, the percentages and the durations meant nothing to me - I was reading but I had no understanding if it was good, bad or ugly in its contents. I wanted too cry, I'd worked so hard, for what seems like a lifetime to be presented with such a document, only to be met with fear.
The contract had come about after I attended a writers' retreat in Bristol organised by Rowan Coleman and Julie Cohen. Rowan's agent, Lizzy Kremer dropped by for an overnight stay and after hearing a critique of my current project - presented me with an email of an editor who was seeking such work. On arriving home that night (5th March), I emailed the editor saying that Lizzy Kremer had passed on her details and that I had a finished book on the topic she was seeking. The next day, she requested the manuscript. Two days later, the editor contacted me to ask if I could and would move the time line from it being a New Year's eve story to a Christmas eve story. That would involve shifting the entire story line by a week. Could I do that? Did I want to do that? I agreed to the suggestion and was given a one week window to amend the new time line.
She also asked if I had any other ideas for books? I explained that I'd written, part-written, abandoned numerous books over the years and outlined several to her.
At the time I was working full-time as an English teacher in a secondary school, so it meant me having to juggle my time but I was used to doing that to fit my writing around the 'day job'. Anyway, to cut a long story short - I did it within the week and sent the amended manuscript back to the Aria editor.
Two days later on the 14th March, she sent me an offer of a three book deal. She later told me it would have been just two books had I not outlined so many stories proving I had an imagination to produce multiple books, and not just the one idea!
I sought advice from my now agent, David Headley, who the wonderful Katie Fforde put me in touch with, regarding the contact details and signed on the 15th March. So today, I have 10 books published, two in the pipeline to be published later this year and in about ten minutes, after I've fetched a fresh cuppa, I'll start another chapter on what I hope will be book 13!
I'm regularly asked how I start writing a new book? So given that I've just started writing a brand-new sparkly idea, which I hope will be my thirteenth publication, I'll outline my process. Every author has their own routine and preparations, but this is mine.
I keep an ideas book, I have done for years, in which I jot bits and bobs when they come to mind. I've stopped pretending that I'll remember them all so I save when they occur, so it's like a treasure trove of ideas. I mull over my notes and see if anything grabs my attention or can certain ideas be merged together. I'm looking for a golden nugget of an idea, like a seed - which can grow. Once I have a basic idea, I create notes and mind-maps about potential conflicts or opportunities that can occur around that subject. If I'm struggling at this point then the topic has no legs and is probably a non-runner - but that rarely happens.
Once I've got ideas, I start thinking about the kinds of people I would throw into that situation. We all react differently given the environment we're dropped into, be in physically, mentally or socially, so I begin to ask questions and create people based on potential reactions - sounds weird, I know.
I have a working book, a manuscript bible, in which I keep every detail of a new book. So I create a page for each of the character and add details of their likes dislikes, secrets, back story, physical appearance, career, family, dreams, hopes, downfalls. I often nip to Pinterest and choose photographs of people who contrast with each other ensuring I have a visual prompt when describing. I often do the same with properties, street locations, shop frontages and clothing - but from real life as it makes it so much easier choosing a specific cafe which you can fictionalise. Though it does mean your hometown or local properties get included in your books albeit heavily disguised. My manuscript bible becomes invaluable with each piece of information - for me it literally is the back bone of my planning.
When I'm happy with my cast of characters, I sit for hours with a baby naming book picking and choosing names. I love names - their meanings, origins and spellings all add to the overall effect for me. For example, a Jenni is very different to a Jennifer or Jen, in my opinion. I tend to choose names which reflect the themes of my books - I do have a list of lovely names with I collect as I wander through life, so those come in very handy. Having selected names, I ensure they fit together as a group - you don't want too many beginning with the same letter, or the ending or the phonic sounds. I try to think about ages too and adjust the spelling to reflect, if needs be.
I then assign my three leading ladies, a colour code (pink, blue or green) this will relate to her post-it note during planning and her typed font on my manuscript. I never write in black. I change the document font to black about an hour before I submitted to my editor for the first time. The reason being is that my books are written in first person view point, so if I type in a coloured font I provide a visual reminder helping me to remain in that character's world and mind-set. It avoids head hopping and costly time trying to unpick a story line when you've forgotten to switch viewpoints. When I flip through my manuscript, I can see if one character has too much of the story lines based on the sections of coloured typing and the sequence order they appear on screen. It also looks pretty whilst I write.
I use a standard excel sheet for recording each scene, again this is colour coded to the women, making it easy for me to navigate the plot points and action. I keep a running total of the word count for each section so I can slice the manuscript into sizeable chapters later on in the process.
I have a template manuscript which I created years ago, which is my working document but which has to change to meet the general submission guidelines of any editor when submitted. I try to have the manuscript to my liking for the months that I'm working on it and then switch font colours, alignments, spacing options and headings prior to submitting. I tend to use dates alongside chapter headings so I take time to study the calendar/seasons and fit the story to the correct time frame. Though I'm usually a year ahead date wise, so mistakes can occur during the writing, if you aren't careful.
I like my dedication and a quote in place before I write chapter one. That's just one of my quirks, as it makes me smile to think I wrote the whole book with those in mind. I find they help to focus me on days when the mind is starting to wander towards new shiny projects or cake.
And finally, I write Chapter one.
I always have a self-imposed deadline regarding draft one so I know what I'm aiming for. In the past when I didn't do this, draft one would stretch on and on and on. No more, deadline date and done!
And that's it, apart from writing Chapters two , three, twenty-seven and forty - until you reach my favourite two words 'The End'.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you - to each and every library users who borrowed one of my books from their local library! I literally love you!
Many readers will be shocked to hear that authors are paid a tiny amount each time their book is borrowed from a library - some years it is calculated at 9 pence per borrow, other times as much as 30 pence a borrow. The lovely people at PRL collect the data and calculate the final amount and today, I received my annual payment. Boy, am I chuffed!!!
My regular followers will know that I always donate copies of my books to my local libraries on publication day. I like library readers to have the chance to pre-order, collect and begin reading on the same day as a purchased reader. It is something I believed in from day one as a published author, as my joinery as a reader began in a tiny local library, armed with three green cardboard library tickets. The tickets were numbered one, two and three, of which ticket one had my name written very badly/squashed untidily on the small dotted line - which narked me even then, I always used that ticket last! But I let the librarian off because she was the keeper of all the books - I've remembered it for 46 years instead!
I'm frequently asked if I use and borrow from libraries and the answer is yes. For 50 pence, I can order a book from anywhere in the county, have it delivered to my local library, borrow it and return it - which also saves precious space in my house.
And just for good measure, in case you missed how grateful I am to you for this annual payment, thank you xx