A review of my 2016

In terms of general news, 2016 has been a difficult year. We’ve lost some big names in the world of showbiz – for me, those that hurt the most were Alan Rickman and Victoria Wood – and had some big political changes with the Brexit vote and Donald Trump becoming the President of the United States. I’m not going to comment on either of those as this blog isn’t a place for politics.

But for me, as a writer, 2016 has been a good year. I don’t normally do a ‘review of the year’ as I usually don’t have much to report, but this time it’s different.

So here’s the highlights:

  1. I finished my first novel – those who follow me on Twitter will know that I’ve been wrestling with Book One for the whole of 2016, editing and editing and editing trying to get the book right. In fact, the editing process has taken probably the last 18 months, but as this is the year when I finished, I’m going to celebrate now. I’ll admit I leapt to my feet and tried to do a victory lap around my rather small office, in celebration. Submitting the novel or self-publishing are in this little guy’s future, but for now I merely celebrate the fact that I finished.
  2. I started to edit my second novel – yes, I actually have a second full length novel and now have to begin the editing process all over again. However, the time that I’ve spent on Book One means I’ve learned a lot and Book Two’s process will be easier (I hope). I was surprised to find that I still like the story and I think it still holds together. It needs a lot of work but thanks to a few tricks picked up from the Roz Morris book I referred to in my ‘Top books of the year’ post, I’m already spotting the key issues and have a plan to work on them.
  3. I made it to Harrogate Crime Festival – I’ve been promising myself for years that I would make it to Harrogate, just to see what it’s like. I spent a lot of time walking around with my mouth open like a country mouse in the city playing spot the celebrity. I also attended just about every talk that was going thanks to my weekend pass. It meant that I left exhausted, but full of happiness at what I’d managed to see. Oh, and I queued for an hour each to get books signed by Jeffrey Deaver and Tess Gerritsen.
  4. I met lots of Twitter friends offline – Harrogate helped a lot with this because everyone who’s anyone goes to Harrogate, so I’m told. So I got to put a lot of faces to names and make some new friends and connections. This is fantastic. I even plucked up courage and spoke to some well-known writers, which is unusual to me as a shy girl/introvert.

So, as you can see, a very successful year. I didn’t realise how successful until I looked back over the year.

I’ll be setting a few goals for next year over the next couple of weeks, but it’s unlikely that I’ll blog about that. I’ll be trying to be much more realistic and strategic in my goals for 2017 but I’m always nervous about putting them out there. I’ll tell you when I’ve achieved them, but until then I’ll keep you in the dark.

All that’s left to say is Happy New Year. Let’s hope 2017 is a great year for everyone.

My top five books of the year

It’s that time of year when everyone starts to look back at the year that’s passed and what happened in that time.

I’ve seen a lot of posts on Twitter of people’s top books for the year so I thought I’d add my thoughts to that list.

JM Hewitt – The Hunger Within

I met JM Hewitt at Harrogate Crime Festival in the summer and she talked about her book Exclusion Zone, set in Chernobyl. This is still on my to-read list but, having an interest in Ireland during The Troubles, I picked up The Hunger Within. I was not disappointed. What struck me about the book was not only the level of research that had gone into it, but the atmosphere. What is conveyed is the feeling of fear and mistrust – you don’t know whether someone is friend or foe, and if they’re a foe then you’re really in trouble. I could write pages on this book, in the style of an A Level English Literature essay, but instead I’ll content myself with repeating the review I posted on Amazon – “This is a fantastic book. Very well researched, gritty and atmospheric. A must read if you like modern political history”.

SJI Holliday – Willow Walk

This book is the second part of a trilogy and again is very atmospheric. The trilogy is set in a small, Scottish town and so it’s a very restricted environment, but the overall feeling is one of menace and being trapped – psychologically rather than just physically. From the first scene, you’re drawn into the world of Banktoun and until the end, you can’t get out. But, despite that cloying atmosphere of everyone knowing everyone else’s business, you don’t want to. You want to know why Marie is so mentally scarred, who is writing the letters, and will she ever be able to escape her past? I read the book in about two days while I was on holiday, so I think that says it all. It’s not often that a book grips me like that, and there was no way I was going to slow down to keep myself from finishing too quickly. I needed to know and nothing was going to get in my way.

CL Taylor – The Missing

CL Taylor set the bar pretty high with The Accident (I was terrified for the whole book), but The Missing is a whole new thing. Again, it’s a hot house environment (I seem to have a liking for those) in a family whose teenage son is missing. It’s a twisty-turny plot, and only unravels when the author unravels it. I stopped trying to second guess what was happening and instead just enjoyed being swept along. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to have someone missing in your family, but the story feels wholly accurate in the way the different members of the family react to each other, and to the situation. The ending is utterly satisfying, and it’s another book that I ripped through in a couple of days while on holiday. Highly recommended.

Jane Isaac – Beneath the Ashes

This one is slightly different to the others – it’s not so much of a hot house environment – but nonetheless it’s wholly engaging. Who is the women who commits suicide in the first page? Who is the body in the barn and why can Nancy not remember how she ended up on the kitchen floor covered in blood? It’s another twisting turning plot that leads DI Jackman a merry dance as he tries to figure out who the victim is in order to work out why he was murdered. There are a number of threads in the book, which wind together skilfully and naturally. Again, the ending was a real eye opener and you can’t possibly solve it, until Jane is ready for you to do it. A very dramatic ending which entirely satisfying.

Roz Morris – Nail Your Novel – Draft, fix and finish with Confidence

I know that these lists usually focus on the fiction that has been read throughout the year, but this book has been so invaluable that it’s got to be in there. It’s not a brand new book, but still deserves its place. Anyone who’s followed me on Twitter knows that this year I’ve been wrestling with my first novel, editing it and editing it to try and achieve that goal of perfection. However, in the back of my mind is what comes next, and so I’ve been resurrecting Book Two. Now bearing in mind that I finished writing that book about four years ago and haven’t looked at it since, this was always going to be a challenge. So I turned to Roz for her expertise. I was not disappointed. Her advice is simple but incredibly effective. Without the card game and the beat sheet I would never have spotted the fact that my hero was a bit placid, being acted on by other forces rather than acting for himself. I haven’t managed to read to the end of Roz’s book yet because every few pages she comes up with something that sparks an idea of what I need to do next. My editing process on Book One has been laborious and frustrating to say the least. Thanks to Roz, this time around it’s not going to be so difficult.

I’m always on the look out for new reads, so if there are any books you’d highly recommend, drop me a line in the comments box below.

Coping with an ending

I haven’t blogged for quite a long time now, as you’ll see from the date of the last post, but today’s writing session has been really interesting for me and I wanted to share some thoughts.

There is such a thing as ‘resistance’, as described by Steven Pressfield in his book ‘Turning Pro’. Other people call it writer’s block, but I’ve never been a fan of that term. I’ve had issues with resistance before but today was particularly painful. I have all the time in the world today, a whole afternoon to devote to writing with no distractions. Could I get started? Could I heck.

I made dinner. I put on a crime drama. I checked Twitter. I watched a bit more TV. Just to the next ad break and then I’ll write. That ad break came and went as did the next one. I was very conscious, and already feeling guilty, that I was wasting time. In the end I just forced myself off the sofa, made a coffee and headed up to the office.

The interesting bit was that the resistance really did feel physical. It felt as if I was pushing at something and it was pushing back, stopping me from going where I wanted to go.

There could be several reasons for this, but it’s my belief that there is only one – I’m nearly finished the book. I had four chapters left to edit but I knew they were going to take a lot of work and so I didn’t want to start.

In addition, I’ve been editing this book for what feels like a decade (it’s actually only about two years in reality) and I’m sick of the sight of it. Apparently this is a good sign, my good friend and writer Jane Isaac tells me, as this meant you are actually nearly finished it. And yes, I am nearly finished. There’ll be just one read-through left after this round of editing, and then it’ll be deciding on what happens next. That’s a scary thought. I’ve spent a long time on this book, making it the best I can, but what if it isn’t good enough? What if no one likes it, no one buys it or reads it?

There are a lot of conflicting emotions going on, but it’s important for me to remember why I set out to write this book. I wanted to tell a story. I wanted to tell this story and I think it’s a good one. So, I will finish. I’m not a quitter and no matter how many times I’ve said ‘I give up’ over the years, I don’t ever really give up. Those people who know me well enough know that I’m determined (for that, read stubborn) and I will finish this project.

So as the end is in sight, how did I make use of this afternoon? Well, I recrafted two of the four chapters I have left. I’m now stuck on one scene and can’t figure a way out of it, so it’s time for some displacement activity. Anyone for a freshly baked scone?

Do you face resistance and a fear of endings? How do you tackle it? Post your tips in the box below.

 

What to do next?

Now that I’m back in the writing game, I have a few decisions to make. I’m still (yes, still) finishing off editing on my first book, and I’m anticipating that it will be finished by mid-November. But at the same time – ambitious I know – I’m going to try to work on other projects. I have a couple of weeks of holiday coming up and so I have more time to focus on writing away from my day job.

But this raises a couple of questions about what to work on next. Taking the editing with me isn’t practical so I have two options – continue with my third novel, which is currently sitting at just under 15,000 words but needs some detailed planning before I continue as I’ve spent so much time away from it, or to start on something completely new.

The lure of starting a brand new project is exciting, particularly as someone suggested that I make the two main characters in Book One into series characters. This was not my original plan and so Books Two and Three are also stand alones albeit set in the same town and featuring the same police detectives, but with a different protagonist each time. If I stick with my initial plan then the sensible thing to do is to continue with Book Three.

When I decide to publish, it would make sense that if I’m making the two main characters into series characters that I have a number of books to start the series before I start to do stand alones. However, I cannot think of how to turn Books Two and Three into part of the series as neither story would suit having the two series characters as protagonists – or fit in anywhere without it feeling contrived.

So, as you can see, some tough decisions.

What would you do? Should I continue or start with a completely new idea? Answers in the comment section below as I definitely need some help!

Weekend Edition – Planting the Seeds of a Writing Life Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

What a great post. Some very positive advice in here -something we can all understand!

Live to Write - Write to Live

Planting the Seeds of a Writing Life

seedlingThere is no short cut to creating a writing life.

There is no 3-step process, no silver bullet, no magic spell.

You plant the seeds. You water. You wait.

Sometimes you say nice things, nurturing words of encouragement and inspiration.

Sometimes you slip up, and mutter dark, sharp things under your breath. Cutting things that slice carelessly into tender green shoots.

But somehow, the seedling survives.

You say you’re sorry. You add some nutrients to the soil. You let some sunshine in.

You keep writing.

Some days, you think you know how this writing life will turn out. You feel like you have a plan. A purpose. A path. It all makes sense, and you work away – pruning and fertilizing – secure in your sense of certainty.

But then, one day, a new blossom appears, and you don’t recognize it. It doesn’t…

View original post 970 more words

In the silos of your mind

At the moment it’s fair to say I have a lot on my plate. I have a full time job, I’m studying for a diploma, writing and keeping up with family and friends. The latter group have very much fallen by the wayside but hopefully they will forgive me in the summer when it quietens down a bit. But the point to make is that my mind is a very cluttered place at the moment. This was brought home rather harshly when I recently wasted a day in the library.

I’d planned a successful day, so I thought. I’d highlighted some books I wanted to look at; although it was a bit early to start on the assignment I had, I wanted to make a start. When you’re studying outside work, every spare minute becomes precious. But I decided in my infinite wisdom to prepare for my study session by listening to a podcast about writing. Not good. The podcast was great but it meant I arrived at the library buzzing with ideas…about writing. My brain was not ready for academic reading or writing. So I couldn’t make sense of what I was doing or, I should say, trying to do.

What I’ve established is that I need several frames of mind. I can slip into work mode quite easily, but clearly the brain clutter means that I need more preparation for study and for writing to get me into the right mindset.

So, how do I do that? For writing it’s fairly easy. Let my brain wander, think about what I’m going to write, listen to a writing podcast and I’m away. Study is harder as it requires a different, more difficult, type of focus. Writing is much easier when you’re making it up! Academic reading and writing take a lot of brain work and almost need a meditative state where you block everything else out. I can do this very effectively with writing but studying is much harder.

So the lesson to be learned is that, like a child putting away its toys, I have to put the thoughts away in their individual silos. Mixing up the bits just doesn’t work and it affects my productivity. To get the most out of the limited studying time I have, my focus needs to be on full beam as soon as the session starts.

This means fighting my instinct to try to do everything at once and instead set myself priorities. On a study day, I do nothing other than study. Hopefully that will stop the pieces of the puzzle getting mixed up and will mean I can make the most of the time I have.