From L-plate to collaborate

“The awful part of the writing game is that you can never be sure the stuff is any good.” (2)I was recently offered the opportunity to collaborate with multi published romance author, Beth Good, on a Christmas novella.

You’d think I would have jumped at the chance, right?

Wrong.

Well I did do a happy dance but when it was over I sat down and my insecurities kicked in.

  • Was I good enough?
  • Could I commit to a project like that as I don’t exactly have a track record for being very productive.
  • Could I see it through to the end?
  • Would I be able to get enthusiastic about someone else’s story?
  • What if my writing was so awful or my interpretation of the brief was so bad that the author had to ‘sack’ me or chose not to use my contribution?
  • Could I even write romcom/ light hearted contemporary romance? I’m not exactly known for my rollicking sense of humour.

I was very conscious of how lucky I was to be offered the opportunity and so I decided that I’d be stupid to let fear, and my own long list of insecurities, hold me back. I committed to the project and dived in.

I never once thought that there could be other benefits to working with an experienced author outside of the obvious one of having my name associated with hers. But there were.  Strangely enough, the biggest gift I got from the collaboration was an increase in my self-worth and confidence as a writer.

The fact that another author, one I respect for her work ethic, professionalism and talent, was prepared to take a risk on me was a massive initial boost. More quietly, yet no less effective, the fact that I met my commitment and actually enjoyed the challenge also contributed to increased self-belief.

On top of all that I learnt a lot about planning and editing. This sort of knowledge is like the proverbial hen’s teeth. Very rare, especially when you’re still unpublished. I’m currently absorbing the knowledge and going back over it to squeeze even more learning from it.

It doesn’t stop there. Working to a deadline meant I learnt that I didn’t have time to heartache and double guess each word or plot twist. It showed me the truth behind the theory that being disciplined, and writing even when you don’t feel like it, brings its own reward.  Inspiration did flow when I started writing, making me far more productive than before, when I used to have to be ‘in the mood’ prior to putting fingers to keyboard.

Sometimes, when I look at how much I’ve learnt from the experience I feel as though maybe I should have paid for the privilege. Sshhh! Don’t tell Beth I said that. 😊

Now that it’s all done and dusted, I am super pleased that I dived in and went for it and I’m hoping that I can take that learning curve and use it to boomerang my own productivity and writing into better places but most importantly, I think…I hope, that I have a new friend in Beth.

 

lucky parrot

The finished product!

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Agent one-to-ones

I was super pleased recently when my friend Sasha Greene (2016 winner of Kosta’s Olive Tree short story competition ) got a well-deserved 10 minute pitch with an agent. I’ve invited her on to my blog to talk about what she learned from the pitch. 

Meeting with, and pitching to an agent is the holy grail for most authors but also terrifying. You were recently lucky enough to attend a pitching event run by a well known agent so tell us, how did you feel when you secured the appointment?

I was both excited and and also a little bit scared! I’m never very good at selling things as I generally think people should be allowed to make decisions for themselves without things being pushed in their faces, but what really helped me is that I genuinely believe that the manuscript I was pitching is a really good story that deserves to be published.

Did you do any research/preparation prior to the appointment?

I didn’t do muchIMG_20160614_174037 (2) research prior to the appointment, but I did do a lot before sending in my submission. I took a good look at the agency website and made sure that the agent I was pitching to would be interested in the genre that I was submitting. Once I had decided on the agent I thought would be the best then I had a look at the authors that person represented and even bought a couple of those authors’ books to see what their writin
g was like. I was also very fortunate to get some really valuable input from another lovely RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) member on things that had worked for her in cover letters to agents. Then I carefully crafted my cover letter, making sure that I also adhered to the agency guidelines about what they wanted me to mention. When preparing for the pitch session I had a good think about what messages I wanted to put across and how I could best convey them in a simple way.

What sort of things did the agent expect from you during the pitch?

I think every agent will be very different in this, but I have the feeling they always ask some variant of the question “What is your book about?” It’s always good if you can describe it succinctly. I was helped by the fact that I had answered a lot of the basic questions in my cover letter so we could really make the most of the time I had. The agent was also really nice so that was a real bonus that I was very happy about!

What did you learn from the experience?

It wasn’t my first pitching session; I was lucky enough to have three sessions last year at the RNA conference so that helped a lot in knowing what to expect. Evenscripture-960538_1920 (2) if it’s not ultimately successful, any practice at these sort of things is great. However I realised specifically this time around that it’s essential to prepare, but in the end I just had to play it by ear as I couldn’t really tell in advance exactly what they might say or what
questions they might ask. We did also discuss my current work in progress and I also feel that helped as it showed that I am serious about writing.

What would you do differently?

I think I would be less nervous next time. it’s a bit like job interviews; they get easier the more practice you get!

Any hints for anyone facing a pitch?

I think probably the following:
– Do your research. Most agents have a list of what they are looking for and provide lots of useful information on their websites and twitter feeds.
– Know your work. Be prepared to answer in-depth questions about it.
– Be confident in the quality of what you are offering. If you don’t think your work is good then it’s going to be much harder to sell it to anyone else.
– Be concise. Ten minutes just flies by.
– Ask for feedback if they don’t offer it willingly. It’s free advice from someone in the industry so why wouldn’t you?

I think most importantly though be yourself. OK, so you probably want to put your best side forward, but if you don’t get on at the start it’s going to be more of a challenge to end up with a solid working relationship!

And also remember that if you get to the pitch stage they have already seen your writing and you wouldn’t be there if they didn’t like it, or at least think it has potential, so take courage and go in with your head held high.

Wonderful advice Sasha, thank you for sharing! Best of luck with your WIP.

You can find out more about Sasha at http://sashagreene.wordpress.com/

and follow her at @SashaGreeneAuth

Author interview- John Jackson

 

 

John it’s great to hear that your book  “A Heart of Stone” is to be published by Crooked Cat Books, in Oct/Nov this year. Thanks for coming on my blog to talk about it.

What was the inspiration behind the book?www.PicturesbyRob.co.uk York Photographer Rob Cook FBIPP FMPA QEP covers weddings portraits and commercial assignments across Yorkshire and the North East in Leeds Harrogate Selby Malton Tadcaster

PicturesbyRob.co.uk

plus.google.com/10681431368529952538

Some years ago, I came across an amazing story about my great-great-great-great-great parents. He was a young Irish peer, and he married the daughter of another Irish peer. After several years, their story took a tragic turn. While the story was fascinating, I could see that the real events were too tragic to make a book as it was. NOBODY ended up with a happy ending from this one!

That being said, the story provided a series of hooks that couldn’t be ignored. What I hope I have written is the story of “what should have happened.” The hero and heroine deserve it, after all these years.

How did you come to write your genre of choice? 

I have always been a fan of historic fiction and historical romances. My father used to get each new Georgette Heyer novel as she wrote them, and he passed his love of them on to me. Once I started to write, I never thought of writing in any other genre.

How does it feel to one of the few males in the predominantly female world of romance writing?

Absolutely great! I have been astounded by the support and goodwill I have received from my writing friends, and members of the RNA. It’s thanks to them that I am writing at all. They gave me the confidence to try and write.

Have you experienced any difficulties breaking into this world?

I have come into the industry at a time of great change. As I found, most agents are extremely risk-averse. Unless you have Cornwall, Café, or Cupcakes in your title you are really going to struggle (and I did). Being a man in a mainly female genre, probably also told against me.

What has been especially good about your journey to publication in this genre?

Self-publication is ridiculously easy in this day and age. It would have been far simpler for me to publish on Kindle or Smashwords, but, by getting the MS taken by a publisher, this represents “Peer Approval”. Someone else, apart from family and friends, thinks it worthy of publication. Being taken on by Crooked Cat was massively encouraging.

When did you start writing and why?

I started writing stories for our daughters when I was away from home on long sea voyages. Simple animal tales, and unfortunately, now lost.

I eventually moved into the world of documentation for ships, covering laws, compliance and safety, etc. This has been handy, at least in making me familiar with the process of writing and producing documents. Of course, these were all non-fiction, but I had the job of trying to explain policy and procedures, in English, to non-native English speakers, mostly from Eastern Europe and the Philippines. I soon learned, clarity was everything.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become an author in this genre?

Read, read, read, and then write, write and write again. Recognise your limitations, and learn that the people you meet have been doing it longer and generally better than you, so learn from them.

About ‘A Heart of Stone.’ 

A Heart of Stone, a tale of love, power, jealousy, starvation and prison, set in 1740s Ireland.

What happens when a young, beautiful girl is made to marry the worst man in Ireland?

But he has a brother, and they will risk everything to be together. Her husband doesn’t take this well.

Thank you John, it’s been great talking to you. Thanks for coming on my blog today. Tell us a little bit about yourself before you go.

Author bio: 

After a lifetime in shipping, I am now retired and living in York. An avid genealogist, I found a rich vein of ancestors going back many generations. My forebears included Irish peers, country parsons, and both naval and military men.

A chance meeting with some authors both historical and contemporary, led me to try my hand at writing. I am a keen member of both the Romantic Novelists Association and the Historic Novel Association.

I was brought up on Georgette Heyer from an early age, and, like many of my age devoured R L Stevenson, Jane Austen, R M Ballantyne, and the like. Favorite modern authors include Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow, Liz Fenwick, Jenny Barden, Carol McGrath, Lindsey Davis and Kate Mosse.

“A Heart of Stone”, to be published by Crooked Cat  in October / November 2017

Contact John:

Twitter @jjackson42

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/johnjacksonauthor/ 

Blog: john42hhh.blogspot.co.uk

 

Continue reading

On Dickens and The Crash cover reveal and how one led to the other.

Today I’m super pleased to host Stephanie Cage who has recently started blogging her novel, The Crash.

For the first time today she’ll be revealing her cover for The Crash and telling us why and how she was inspired to write it.

How Dickens helped me complete National Novel Writing Month

Once a year a huge number of people challenge themselves to write 50,000 words as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It sounds like a ridiculous amount to write in a month, but if you’re willing to write fast and not worry about rambling it’s actually not too hard.  Problem is, you then end up with a sprawling mess of a novel which needs a vast amount of work to make readable.  (Well, I did!)  My first novella, Desperate Bid, began as a NaNoWriMo novel but by the time I’d taken out all the detours it was a much more manageable 35,000 words.  So when I set out to write The Crash a few NaNoWriMos later, I decided to take a few lessons from a master storyteller to make sure I ended up with a story I’d want to keep.

Crash cover (2)

Tada!              Stephanie’s awesome cover.

Dickens was the master of serialisation and every chapter he would help his audience by giving them a clue what was to come.  Each chapter begins with ‘In which…’ and then a brief summary of the events of the chapter.  This acts as a taster for the audience to intrigue them with the content of the chapter but when I started drafting my chapter headings they also helped me as author to clarify what I was going to write.  With a few sentences summarising the content of the chapter it was easy to ensure that I didn’t become distracted as I wrote my scene at my speed using ‘write or die’ software (OK, Dickens didn’t have that, so maybe I cheated a bit!)

Dickens also needed to make sure that every week his audience would come back, which meant ending the chapter with a strong hook.  Regardless of what had happened in the chapter, the ending sentence had to raise a question in the audience’s mind which would bring them back next week to find out the answer.  Sometimes when I wrote the question I wouldn’t know what the answer was going to be but by the time I came back the next day to write that day’s instalment I would have figured it out.

Using these two techniques I was able to complete my 50,000 words novel with only a very rough outline and still develop a plot which constantly kept the reader moving forwards with the story.  Of course some rewriting was required but for the first time I had a story with no dead ends or major digressions.  I have continued to use variations of this technique ever since.

You can follow Stephanie and read her posts, including previous episodes of The Crash here: Stephanie Cage -Writer

Twitter: @StephanieWriter

Behind the Fence

‘You’ve been crying,’ Johann said.

I struggled to get words past the iron fist in my chest. ‘My brother is missing in action.’

‘I am sorry.’

For once I found no pleasure in the German colour of his words. ‘Perhaps it was a brother of yours that killed him.’ I said.

‘I do not have a brother.’Outfit a German soldier during the Second World War

I wanted a reason to hate him. To hurt him. ‘My father has forbidden me to talk to you anymore.’

It took him some time to respond. Finally he said, ‘Ja, I understand.’

I glanced at him and found him looking at me, a strange mix of compassion and resignation in his gaze. I knew I couldn’t follow my father’s edict. I didn’t want to. I would work alongside Johann until evening. There would be time enough another day to avoid him.

We paused to eat and he carefully unwrapped a thick slice of bread spread with margarine. I bit into my lunch and watched with curiosity to see what else he had. Nothing.

‘Is that all you have to eat?  Again?’

‘Ja.’

‘Did you have a good breakfast, at least?’

He licked the margarine off his fingers and carefully gathered up the crumbs that had scattered across his chest.

‘This is breakfast –lunch, both.’

I shared my food with him then and found it easy to forget that he was the enemy.

We went back to work in a comfortable silence and I found the courage to ask him about his family.

He paused.

By the time I glanced his way, he was concentrating on the swing of his pitchfork again.

‘They are all gone. My wife, my son and my parents.’

I fumbled with inadequacy. ‘I’m so sorry.’

He tossed another forkful of hay and, for the first time, I saw repressed violence in him. ‘My whole street gone. My family, my house, my neighbours, my neighbours’ homes. Perhaps it was your brother who dropped the bomb, ja?’

The magnitude of his pain silenced me. I pitched hay.

He pitched hay.

My cheeks grew wet and hot. I was shocked to find I was crying.

That night as I turned for home, he touched my arm. ‘I am sorry, you are sorry. We stay friends.’ He pointed down the valley to where the church steeple showed. ‘Do you go to church? I think it is good. You speak to God for me. I have no church for ten months.’

***

‘Why don’t the POWs go to church?’

My father put his spoon down to give my question consideration. ‘Might escape.’

‘They don’t try and escape when they work on the farms.’

Dad took a slurp of stew and chewed thoughtfully. Finally he said, ‘Church probably wouldn’t have them – if they even wanted to come.’

‘I’m going to ask the vicar if they can attend our services.’

‘I absolutely forbid it.’ My father’s moustache bristled like a living thing. ‘Do you know what the village will do to you? They’ll say you’re soft in the head over that German. They’ll call you a traitor.’ I’d never heard my father so eloquent.

‘Why?’ I demanded. ‘Widow Hardy is stepping out with an Italian POW. All I’m doing is asking if they can come to church.’

‘For pity’s sake, Irene. Use the brain God gave you. It’s one thing for a widow to choose an Eyetie who’s been released, another altogether for an unmarried lass to choose a bloody Nazi Hun.’

I asked the vicar anyway.

***

St Werburgh's Church, HanburyAt Sunday service a few weeks later there was a disturbance at the back. It rippled through the congregation like a chilly breeze. The vicar didn’t pause in his sermon but I saw my neighbour’s son Tom get the back of his head slapped because he turned once too often to stare down the church. I wished I had his courage. I could feel them behind us, but I didn’t dare look.

Mrs Jones muttered, ‘Fancy bringing Nazis to church among God-fearing citizens. What is the world coming to? They’re sure to kill us.’

I couldn’t see how anyone could think that the men – thin, weaponless, patched and shabby could be a threat – yet her views were representative of most of the congregation. As soon as the service ended and the guard had marched the three POWs away, the villagers gathered by unspoken accord in the hall.

‘What was the vicar thinking?’

‘This is what comes of letting them out to work on the farms. Keep them locked up, I say, otherwise they’ll be getting all sorts of ideas.’

It turned personal. ‘You put the vicar up to this. What have you got to say for yourself, missie?

I had plenty to say. ‘Perhaps my brother’s imprisoned somewhere. I’d want him fairly treated.’

‘He’s dead girl, like my Matthew. Forget this folly. They don’t deserve it.’

A lone voice rose to my defence. ‘I know that if it was my Andy who was a POW I’d want someone to be kind to him.’

The voices rose, a clamour that outrang the bell.

‘Enough. This is God’s house, not yours!’ It was the first time I had ever seen the vicar angry. The silence was absolute. Even the bell stilled. ‘There will be no further discussion. The men will be allowed to come to church, to find succour and repent of their sins if they so wish.’

No-one liked being forced to accept it but accept it they did. The POWs became a fixture.

***

Life slipped into a pattern, one season into another. I no longer worked with Johann but we often saw each other. One day he approached me.

‘Bring me something, please.’

‘Yes, of course. What is it you want?’

‘I don’t have the words,’ he said. ‘I want this.’ He used a stick to draw a shape in the soil.

‘A shell? You want a shell?’

‘Not one. I want many. Many, many.’ He opened his arms to show how many.

I brought him shells. Handfuls and pockets of them, until he ordered me, laughing, to stop. He wouldn’t tell me what he wanted them for. I pushed and nagged but he refused to answer my questions.

***

 Winter set in. Johann spent less time on the farm and more time behind the fence. I saw him only when it was his turn at church. Then one day they didn’t come.

When the service finished someone said spitefully. ‘There was an escape attempt last night. They’re not allowed to come any more. We’re not having them back in church no matter what.’

Nothing I said changed their minds.

The vicar visited the POW camp when he had time. That had to be enough for me. I hoped it was enough for Johann.

On Christmas morning the vicar came to the pulpit with a wrapped package. He stood in front of us all and slowly undid it. Nothing disturbed the silence but the crackle of paper.  He unveiled a mosaic of the nativity, held it high so everyone could see it. Beautifully made of delicate pieces of shell, every detail lovingly rendered, it glowed in the soft light that fell through the windows.

‘This…’ the vicar’s voice cracked and he cleared it and began again. ‘This is a gift from one of the POWs. To say thank you for allowing him to attend our services.’

The hymns that followed were subdued, shamed.

I couldn’t bear it. I left.

By the time my mother came home I had prepared a hamper and filled it with most of our Christmas dinner.  christmas turkey

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m taking them Christmas. Don’t.’ I raised a hand. ‘Don’t. Do you know what they get to eat? One slice of bread and margarine to last until supper. And now it’s Christmas and they have nothing. You’ll have to lock me up to stop me.’

Instead she said, ‘There won’t be enough there.’

‘I don’t care. I’ll take what I can.’ I struggled towards the door with the heavy basket.

‘Here, wait a moment.’ My father this time. ‘I’ll get the cart. It’s too far to walk with that.’

‘Where are you going?’ Tom called as I rumbled past his house.

‘I’m taking a bit of Christmas dinner to the POWs’.

***

The guards wouldn’t let us in.

Through the chain link fence I could see the men exercising in the yard. They stopped to watch. Snow on the frosty steel fence in winter after blizzard. Background.

‘We can’t possibly accept that.’ The guard indicated my hamper with a scornful flick of his wrist. ‘It would cause a riot.’

Tears of frustration stung my eyes.  ‘Please, it’s just a little bit of Christmas dinner.’

He softened a little. ‘There’s not enough to go round. How can I choose who is to receive something and who isn’t? I can’t allow it, I’m sorry.’

I gripped the links, pressed my face up against them, wished I could step through. ‘But it’s Christmas.’

His attention moved to a place over my right shoulder and I turned to see what he was looking at.

Coming up the road was the whole village. A parade of people, led by my parents and Tom and the vicar, and no-one was empty handed. They came with arms full of rations.

Warm fingers slid over mine where they gripped cold metal and I looked up into Johann’s blue eyes and laughed with the sheer joy of it.

 

 

Have a magical Christmas everyone!

Blue Christmas Bckg 4 - christmas illustration

The Butterfly

Last weekend I was at the RNA Conference and I was privileged to attend a talk by Catherine Fox. She has a wonderful wry humour and held us all spellbound. But what really inspired me about her is that she’s putting her writing out there free on her blog in  weekly installments. You can see her blog here: Catherine’s blog

Now I don’t have her talent, discipline or ability to write every week without serious preparation and editing and I don’t currently have a story that I could do that with- or the inspiration for one as I’m a bit emotionally depleted. I’m also a slow writer so I’m not even going to go there.

However I am inspired by the idea of putting my writing out there and not being miserly with it. I have some of it sitting round in files in virtual space and I don’t have the time or energy to try placing it in competitions etc. So I’m going to dust off stuff that I’m happy with but that doesn’t have a home and I’m going to put it out there. Some of it will be romance. Some of it won’t be.

Whatever it is I hope you get some pleasure out of it.

So here is a piece of flash fiction please remember that copyright is mine.

The Butterfly Monarch Butterflies flying in Michoacan, Mexico

He traced the path it took, as it fluttered and wavered, its yellow and brown wings gilded in the harsh sunlight that streaked across the floor of his cell. A bible fell unnoticed to the floor, its delicate, unread pages creasing in the dust as he rose to his feet.

The butterfly danced and danced, just beyond his reach as he leapt clumsily about the tiny space, his child mind unable to coordinate his adult body. The butterfly evaded his fingers, remaining just beyond his grasp and he laughed at the game.

‘Jim boy,’ the sheriff’s voice was gruff but not unkind. ‘Come on son, it’s time.’

Jim watched the butterfly meander through the bars as they bound his hands behind his back.

‘Murderer!’

‘Devil’s spawn.’

The words passed over him their concepts too much for him to understand and he lost interest, unaware he approached the scaffold, his eyes searching the sky above their heads.

The noose around his neck and still he searched the sky his eyes finally focusing on a growing glimmer of gold.

The door opened and, in the sudden rush and snap, the sky filled with butterflies.