The Joy of Creation – and the seventh day

Back in late June I had a whole bundle of good intentions for the summer. The most important of these was to complete the first draft of my WIP; I was 30k words in. Now, I have 35k. You don’t need to be good at maths (I’m rubbish) to see that I failed to meet my objective in spectacular style. 5,000 words? A figure I would commonly knock up in less than seven days.

The Family LineThings went pear-shaped from the off. The EU referendum result rocked me to an extent and depth I was utterly unprepared for. For weeks, I could think of nothing else and fed my addiction by reading everything I encountered on social media: articles, debates, the numerous passionate conversations between friends and colleagues, and, sadly, the trolls. Struggling with despair, a ‘what’s the point, we’re all going to hell in a handcart’ attitude, I did manage the edits on the revised edition of my debut, renamed The Family Line. Which was just as well: it had a July publication date.

Then Ginger1 went away. For a month. A whole month. One child lighter I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to catch up. Wrong. Instead I fretted about him constantly, using up precious emotional and mental energy. I couldn’t focus.

Late July and Ginger2 finished school for the summer. A week later and his older brother returned home safe and sound – if grubby; he’d been living in a tent for the duration. Now the long break has never been an easy time in which to write, as many mothers know, but I have plodded on in the past, albeit at a reduced pace: I worked in the mornings and we played in the afternoons. It didn’t pan out that way. I did try. Time and again I sat at my pc and typed a few measly sentences, before admitting that I wasn’t getting anywhere, fast. And for days, and weeks, one question plagued me: What on earth is going on? Have I lost my passion? Will I never complete a novel again?

In the past seven years I have written six (and a bit – there’s that third of the WIP) novels, a number of short stories, and a radio play. The shorts and five of the novels have been published – the sixth is scheduled for release in June 2017 – with all the attendant promotional activity. The radio play is almost ready for submission. Whether or not it is ever produced remains to be seen. On top of this I have continued to teach, mentor and work as an editor.

Prussia Cove, Cornwall

Prussia Cove, Cornwall

In August we went away for our family holiday. This year to Cornwall, to the most southerly point of Britain: the Lizard.  On this holiday, where we walked and sailed and mostly admired the stunning beauty of the Cornish coastline (though the Helford Passage is worth a visit too) I realised that I needed to stop beating myself up. That my sub-conscious had been at work. I’m tired. I needed to take stock, step back, refill the well.

So, aside from a stint as a writer-in-residence for Little Green Pig (that’s a story for another time…) August and this first two weeks of September has passed without writing and little social media activity and – shockingly to me – it’s been OK. Really, really OK. Great, even.

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The Little Green Pig pop-up in Brighton

I’ve read a lot – both fiction and non-fiction – rediscovering my love of writing from across the pond. American literature was a strand of my degree but in recent years I’ve read British works almost exclusively, feeling the need to keep up with trends.

I’ve swam almost every day, in the sea mostly – how lucky I am to live in Brighton; I’ve hung out with much neglected, and extremely tolerant, family and friends, realising in particular that my boys are growing up fast and it won’t be too long before they’re gone. Ten years from now, I won’t regret having written five rather than eight or nine novels, but I will regret not having spent more time with my children. A novelist friend said exactly the same thing.

At the weekend I was at a character masterclass run by The Beach Hut Writing Academy, tutored by clinical psychologist Dr Sam Fraser and thriller writer Rebecca Whitney. It was a fascinating and inspiring day. I came away buzzing with ideas and during one particular  exercise I discovered what the heart of my story was – and it wasn’t what I’d thought it was! The whole thing needs a re-write.

And here I am, ready to face the autumn, to enjoy reconnecting with my craft, a rewrite, my characters and their stories, to reconnect more fully with online friends (I am fortunate to have many astoundingly wonderful online mates) and I’ve learned the importance of taking a break, stepping away and reassessing.

A writing life is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to pace ourselves.

Creation is a marvellous thing and regardless of whether or not you believe in the Christian creation story (I don’t) the significance of the seventh day should not be underestimated.

Laura x

Guest post from Kristen Bailey: Flippin’ Fish & other culinary delights

Kristen Bailey’s debut novel, Souper Mum, is published today by Accent Press and I have the great honour of welcoming her to my blog. Kristen is a kindred spirit; she’s as hopeless in the kitchen as I am! Some of you might remember my Great British Burn Off? But today’s all about Kristen. Over to you…

Can I cook?  Well, in theory, yes.  For example, if you gave me a chicken breast, I could season it, apply heat to it and you’d end up with one cooked chicken breast.  Ta-dah!  The problem is I’d probably overcook it.  It’d be charred (code for burnt) on the outside and inside the consistency of chalk but yes, definitely cooked.  Bon Appetit!

Souper mum cover_FCMy culinary prowess is a bit of a running joke in my family.  It started back at school where I had to create a dish for my Home Economics lesson.  I had the truly great idea that I’d coat bits of cod in cornflakes.  I called them Fish Flips.  I didn’t use any binding agent like egg or flour.  So it just ended up as shrunken rubbery pieces of cod in a sea of baked cornflakes.  Yum.  My brother still brings up this spectacular culinary fail fifteen years down the line.  When there is talk of Christmas, family birthdays and celebration meals, the conversation often goes as such:

Mum:  It’s my birthday!  Let’s go out for dinner!

Me:  I could cook?

Mum:  Or we could go out for dinner?

And I’m not sure why I’m so bad at cooking, I give it a good ol’ stab.  I have cookbooks about my person which I bookmark and drool over.  I watch the odd cookery show and help myself to those random recipe cards you find at the back of supermarkets.  But for some reason, those glossy pictures of burnished lamb shanks with crowns of rosemary, and lustrous fruit tarts usually get lost in translation through my cooking skills.  I’m not sure if it’s my bad maths that can never work out the timings or perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with my palate but many a time, my kids curiously drag their forks around their plates.  Children who are essentially, the worst food critics, ever. ‘I don’t like it.’  Imagine that as a restaurant review in The Times, just that.  Ouch.

The general reaction to my cooking

The general reaction to my cooking

And what is worse is that I come from a family of foodies.  My mother is the archetypal kitchen-dwelling matriarch.  When you eat at her table, it’s a veritable feast of courses and flavours and love.  My sister produces layered, well-iced cakes that are GBBO worthy. I have aunts, cousins, grandmothers who have recipes and dishes that are firm family favourites.  And then there’s me.  Mac and cheese, anyone?  I make a decent mac and cheese?  With a side of frozen peas?

So in a market saturated with cook books, foodie blogs and faddy diet advice, I wrote Souper Mum for mums like me, the non-cooking sorts.  The ones who try, who let occasional junk pepper their dining tables but who also level it out with a bit of broccoli.  Mums who have limited cooking skill, fussy little customers and who have to think about other constraints like time, fatigue and budget.  It’s like the proper Hunger Games.  Your kitchens are the battlefields; they’re not the pastel, beech work-topped utopias you see in your cookbooks.  These kitchens are covered in yesterday’s washing up, school newsletters, Lego and a remote control without any batteries.  The mums within have little to no foodie wisdom or ability; they’re literally just winging it with a bag of pasta, a tin of chopped tomatoes and half a block of cheddar cheese.267828_10150312087550731_6309393_n

My Souper Mum is Jools Campbell: she grills cupcakes, messes up scrambled eggs and has never really worked out the secret mastery involved in chopping onions.  Let’s just say I had a catalogue of excellent bad-cooking anecdotes to lend to her story.  Her journey is one of self-discovery – the same one that I think most mothers go on when they find themselves embroiled in parenthood and are trying to dig through the debris to remember what’s important in life and reclaim their sense of identity.  Her story is set against a foodie culture she decides to take a stand against with hilarious if life-altering consequences.  If your life is full of quinoa, samphire and you’re one of those full-on crazy people who feel the need to make their own puff pastry, then I warn you, you may not like what Jools has to say.  However, if tonight you’ve opened your kitchen cabinet, reached for the baked beans and are examining those last few slices of bread for mould then Souper Mum might just be your new best friend….

DSC_5363Souper Mum is the story of Jools Campbell, a stay-at-home mother of four, who becomes an unlikely foodie hero when she stands up to a pompous celebrity chef, Tommy McCoy on a reality show.  Armed with fish fingers and a severely limited cooking repertoire, we watch as she becomes a reluctant celebrity and learns some important life lessons about love, family and the joyless merits of quinoa.

To buy Souper Mum, click on this link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Souper-Mum-Kristen-Bailey/dp/1786150689/

BIO

Mother-of-four, gin-drinker, binge-watcher, receipt hoarder, hapless dog owner, enthusiastic but terrible cook.  Kristen lives in Fleet, Hampshire and has had short fiction published in several publications. The sequel to Souper Mum will be published later in the year.

She writes a weekly blog about being a modern mother.  That and more can be found at her website: http://www.kristenbaileywrites.com

You can also find her on:

Twitter @baileyforce6 and Facebook www.facebook.com/kristenbaileywrites

Sounds fantastic, Kristen. Best of luck – with the book (and tonight’s supper!). x

Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey rules: Guest post from historical novelist Tom Williams

Back HomeToday, please welcome another Accent Press author to my gaff. Tomorrow is the official launch of Back Home and I’ll be there in person to toast Tom’s latest offering. In the meantime, let’s raise a virtual glass here. Cheers, Tom. Over to you.

Back Home is the sixth historical novel that I’ve written but it differs from the other five in that it is not tied to a specific historical event. My son insists that I like writing historical novels because I lack imagination. It’s true that if somebody asks me where I get my ideas from, the answer is, “History books.” Indeed, part of the fun of plotting my previous novels has been making sure that my characters are in the right place, at the right time, to fit the historical record. My fictional creations meet and talk with real people, often using the words that those real people actually did use in their diaries and letters. It can be challenging, but it’s a lot of fun, and it does mean that I seldom have to ask myself, “What happens next?”

Back Home is different. My narrator, John Williamson, has returned to England after his adventures with the real James Brooke (The White Rajah) and having survived the all-too-real horrors of the Indian Mutiny (Cawnpore). Back in his native land, though, there are no great events for him to be caught up in, so I had a blank page on which to write whatever story I wanted.

In fact, I didn’t really have an entirely blank page. Cawnpore had ended with John Williamson landing in Devon and in The White Rajah I had suggested that he died in Devon, so the story has to begin and end there. But, reading history books in search of plot material, I had been caught up by tales of the Victorian underworld and these seemed to centre on London. Certainly London’s underworld is the best documented, largely because of Mayhew’s astonishing work on London Labour and the London Poor. John, I decided, would travel to London for one last adventure before retiring to live out his years peacefully in Devon. And that adventure would involve the criminal gangs of London and, in particular, Seven Dials, an area that had fascinated me for years. (I’ve written about Seven Dials and why I wanted to set the story there on Lynne Shelby’s blog)

Within that loose geographical outline, I could write whatever I wanted. I thought it was important, though, that the story reflected the tone of the previous John Williamson stories and was historically accurate. Although the events are completely fictional, the historical framework within which they take place is quite detailed – arguably more so than in the previous stories. The London that John explores is the London of Bradshaw’s 1862 Hand Book. The streets are the streets of the Post Office Directory map of London from 1857 and the people he encounters are Mayhew’s characters. The background of worries about possible invasion by the French and concern about communist revolutionaries is real. (Karl Marx features, and his character – and some of his words – are true to life.) I learned how to forge a sovereign (I really could, I think) and where to pick up a prostitute. I found the cost of a light lunch and what exhibits were popular in the British Museum. And, once I’d done all this, I let rip with a story about villains and secret policemen and government plots that is entirely fantasy.

In the end, the difference was less than I might have expected. History sets limits on what you can have your characters achieve, even when they are very much on the margins of great events. It turns out that Dr Who is right. History is governed by wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey rules. The attempted revolt of the people of Seven Dials is doomed: they will vanish from history. Enemies of the state will quietly die, possibly in not-quite-explained circumstances. Social misfits will conform or perish or, just possibly, escape back to Devon and a sort of peace. In art, as in life, history will move on remorselessly. We have less control of our characters, and our lives, than we like to think.

BLURB
In 1859, John Williamson returns from India, broken by his experiences in the Mutiny. England has become a country he hardly recognises. Industrialisation at home and military expansion abroad have made Britain into a dynamic political and economic power that dominates the world. Yet, in London, he finds the same divide between the poor and the rich that he saw in the Far East. Once again, is caught between the machinations of the powerful and the resistance of the powerless. But now that he is back home, can he escape the cycle of violence that has dogged his life?

LINKS
The White Rajah: myBook.to/WhiteRajah
Cawnpore: myBook.to/Cawnpore
Back Home: mybook.to/backhome

And here are the stories about James Burke.
Burke in the Land of Silver: myBook.to/LandofSilver
Burke and the Bedouin: mybook.to/Bedouin
Burke at Waterloo: myBook.to/BurkeWaterloo

I blog at http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk/
My Facebook author page is https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTomWilliams/
My Twitter handle is @TomCW99

Bio:
Tom portraitTom Williams used to write about boring things for money. If you wanted an analysis of complaints volumes in legal services or attitudes to diversity at the BBC, then he was your man. Now he writes much more interesting books about historical characters and earns in a year about what he could make in a day back then. (This, unfortunately, is absolutely true.) He also writes a blog (http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk/) which is widely read all over the world and generates no income at all.

Besides making no money from writing, Tom makes no money out of occasionally teaching people to tango and then spends all the money he hasn’t made on going to dance in Argentina.
Tom has a wife who, fortunately, has a well-paid job, and a grown-up son who has resolved that he is never, ever, going to write anything.

Thanks for stopping by, Tom. Good luck with the rest of the tour and the book itself. May it fly off the virtual shelves.

Blog Tour Day 4, with bestselling author Jenny Kane

Blog tour listingsFINALYup, it’s day 4 and I’m chatting with the super lovely Jenny Kane about some of my favourite characters. Jenny is one of those authors who is incredibly nice and so incredibly supportive of other authors, you want to give her a huge cuddle. Do pop in for a chat!

http://jennykane.co.uk/blog/redemption-song-blog-tour-these-are-a-few-of-my-favourite-things/

Boots, bottoms and pants

2016-01-25 13.50.46Gosh, there are just three days to go before *Publication Day* of Redemption Song. Nervous and excited, I don’t know what to do with myself half the time. I have, however, chosen my footwear for the launch so that’s a relief. I always work from the bottom up, and I adore these old (shoe)boots, even if they do cripple me. I’ll need a hand staggering to the pub afterwards that’s for sure. And talking of bottoms…

Planner or Pantser? I’ve an article on process in the super-fabulous Nudge magazine (formely New Books) which you might find interesting, especially if you’re a writer. Here’s the link: http://www.nudge-book.com/blog/2016/01/im-a-writer-and-i-dont-know-whether-im-a-pantser-or-a-planner/

See you again soon!

Laura x

 

2015: A Writer’s Year

In a 12 month period during which I have seen no new publications of my own work, you’d be forgiven for questioning my post title. But with a new novel set for imminent release – Redemption Song on 28th January – and a new edition of my debut, Bloodmining, set for the summer, it’s been a writing year rammed with re-writing. And as we know, writing is rewriting.

Work on Redemption Song followed a traditional publishing journey with a draft submitted to my editor Greg in February, followed by substantive comments after a London Book Fair meeting in April, the copy edit in the late summer, more copy-editing in September (naughty me) and proofs in October. And a sparkly new book very soon *an excitement/fear stomach flip combo*. 2016 promises to be a year of fabulous fiction – for starters Jo Cannon’s debut The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is published on the same day as mine – and who knows if my book will be remembered in amongst so much good work? I can only keep my fingers crossed and keep on keeping on.Redemption Song Final

Alongside the work on Redemption Song I redrafted my very first novel. Me-oh-my what an interesting (ahem) experience that was. Proof positive of how much I’ve learned in the past four years. I feel extremely privileged to have had this opportunity: to put right all that was lumpy and bumpy in the first edition. It still isn’t perfect – what is? – but I am much, much happier with it. I’ll keep you posted once I have an exact publication date.

Despite the absence of a new book, 2015 was full of appearances too. So many that I had to consult my diary to recall many of them! It began in January with a talk at the University of Hertfordshire literary festival, and another at the University of Kingston. In March there was a reading with other Brighton authors at the Oxfam bookshop to celebrate International Women’s Day, and more local readings at Together the People Festival, and in the Tinker Box at the Brighton Festival in May. To top it all I was invited to two events at the Shoreham WordFest; one running a short story workshop at Ropetackle and an in-conversation with organiser Morag Charlwood and fellow author, Ed Hogan. We spoke to a packed crowd on a wet and wild Monday evening and it was such a pleasure I get a lovely warm feeling thinking about it again now – in direct contrast to the hideous weather that night.

August was spent at the glorious Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales, working on another novel with a working title of The Bad Buddhist and Me. I have blogged extensively about my time there so won’t repeat it. Suffice to say, it was a truly incredible experience. I love that place! I want to go back!

11705357_10153295090155817_6347792843615633973_nAnd then there were the talks to writers groups at libraries, and my mentoring and coaching work with emerging writers; work I enjoy enormously. It’s such a delight to journey with other writers, see their work develop. And I was lucky enough to edit some fantastic books, including Sarah Rayner’s Making Friends with the Menopause – a self-help book in the same family as her amazing bestselling Making Friends with Anxiety. I’ve read some incredible books too; you can read about my favourites here.

2015 has been a good year, for me, and right now it’s hard to believe 2016 could be better. But the great thing about the future is that we don’t know what it will bring, what plot twists, thrills and spills will be thrown our way. We can only endeavour to make the most of the ride, learn from the challenges and bad times, and appreciate the good. And remember those for whom life has not been so kind, and when possible, do something about it; extend the arm of friendship and support; money when necessary and if you can afford it. I’d love to know if 2015 has been kind or mean to you, and hear about your plans and dreams for 2016.

In the meantime: Happy New Year dear readers – journey on, loving and learning.
Laura x

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The Pleasures and Pain of Writing a Series by Georgina Troy

RNA Joan Hessayon shortlisted author, Georgina Troy, talks us through the pleasures and pain of writing a series. As author of The Jersey Scene Series, Georgina is well placed to talk about the challenges and I’m delighted that she agreed to stop by my place. Take it away, Georgina.

A Jersey DreamboatThe Pleasures: Although the books are stand-alone stories, one of my pleasures has to be that I can revisit favourite characters in each of the books. For example, although you’ll meet Luke, Bea and Paige in book one, Paige is also the heroine in book two. Sebastian makes his first appearance in book two where he meets Paige. In book two, Luke and Bea make an appearance, as they do in books three and four. Knowing I haven’t had to leave these favourite characters of mine behind is fun, I love meeting up with them once again through the other books in the series.
Another pleasure has to be the setting of this series. I love Jersey – it’s small, only 9 x 5 miles in size, so it’s good to get away occasionally. But whenever I do get away I’m always reminded how lovely it is back here and am happy to come home, refreshed and able to appreciate with a fresh perspective what a treat it is to live here. Setting my series here means that I can either introduce places that I love in the island, small bays, areas of the quieter parishes, etc, to readers who haven’t visited Jersey, or give others who might be from here and living away, or who’ve come here on holiday, and remind them just how lovely it is.
The Pain: I can’t begin writing a book until I’ve settled on the names of my characters. To be able to envisage them as people they have to have a name that I feel suits them and says something either about their character, or where their parents were emotionally when they named them.
I recently submitted the fourth book in my Jersey Scene series, A Jersey Bombshell, to my editor, happy with the name that I’d given the hero. Then, I was sent the edits for book three, A Jersey Dreamboat – which was published on 9 July – and realized that I’d used the same name for one of the hero’s brothers in book three that I’d given the hero in book four! I decided to keep the brother’s name aware that I’ll now need to find a suitable replacement name for my marine explorer hero in book four. Getting the names right can take me some time and it’s amazing how many times I revert to the same names and have to change them.
To be honest, I can’t think of any other pains. I try not to re-use a setting and for each character I need to come up with a new story, but that’s what writers do and I love that side of creating a book.

About Georgina

Georgina TroyGeorgina Troy believes her love of writing was influenced by Father Christmas giving her a typewriter when she was seven. It probably wasn’t the present she was hoping for at the time, but on reflection, maybe it helped focus her imagination while giving her parents a break from her constant chatter.
She bases her Jersey Scene series on the island where she lives and spends a lot of her time working through plotlines while walking on one of the two beaches near her home. Previously self-published, Georgina was signed by Accent Press in August 2014.
Georgina was a finalist in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award 2015 with her first book in the series, A Jersey Kiss.

Thanks very much for inviting me to your lovely blog, Laura.

So good to have you here. Good luck with the novel!

Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Jersey-Dreamboat-Scene/dp/1783757094/
Amazon.co.uk http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jersey-Dreamboat-Scene/dp/1783757094/
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/GeorginaTroyAuthor
Website: http://www.GeorginaTroy.co.uk
Blog: http://georginatroy.blogspot.com/