Writing Tip #7 – Character & Conflict

Hello my lovelies,

hope you’re all okay and have been enjoying these writing tips – I’ve certainly had lots of fun writing them and the comments/likes have been lovely 🙂 In the last post, I talked about constructing your story. Now we get to the heart of it – characters.

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For me, it’s hard to define what comes first – characters or conflict. The two are intertwined. Your character’s goal will normally help form the basis of your plot. But then do you: –

– Create your characters first, followed by deciding what conflicts will occur for them, both internal and external, with the conflict arising directly from their personality? i.e. their likes, dislikes, upbringing, values, life experiences

OR

– Do you decide what the conflicts will be first and then build your characters around them, deciding what personality traits and life experience will support that kind of conflict?

Let me give you an example…

Starting with conflict

The idea for my debut novel, Crazy, Undercover, Love which is a romance set over a long weekend in Barcelona, literally came to me in a dream. Yes, I know how it sounds! But I had this visual of a couple stranded in a room together, unable to get away from each other, alternatively arguing and then falling in love. For some reason, the hero was really angry with the heroine.

I woke up and jotted some ideas down, and knew that the external conflict was going to come from them working together closely over a few days (therefore unable to get away from each other) and from the actions of a secondary character. I also decided that for the internal conflict, the heroine was going to be trying to achieve something that might seem deceitful and dishonest i.e. make the hero hate her, and that she was really uncomfortable with. He was going to have an internal conflict around women in the workplace (no, he’s not a sexist pig, he just doesn’t like romance at work!) It was also going to be a bit of a comedy of errors.

After some time and thought I built a plot, fleshing out the conflicts fully based on the main character’s goal and what led her to need to achieve that goal. Once I had that, I started working on my characters. What kinds personality traits would cause them to clash, but also help each other learn different ways of looking at the world? What kind of man would my heroine Charley be looking for (if she was looking, which she absolutely wasn’t at the start of the book, being fiercely independent), and what kind of man would really rub her up the wrong way? And what about Alex? What kind of person would he warm to, or dislike on sight? What background would he need to give him such a strong sense of pride and responsibility? What might have happened to him to give him such a skewed view of the world? What kind of traits would Charley need to have to give the book the slight ‘comedy of errors’ feel?

Starting with Character

For my #LoveLondon novella, Strawberries at Wimbledon, I had the title and of course the setting, but nothing else in terms of plot, goals etc. What I did have a strong sense of was a headstrong character called Rayne who was a bit off the wall and slightly rebellious. I could fully picture her at uni in a short skirt and tight top, reluctantly making friends, falling for a boy called Adam who was very different from her. I knew that she was who I wanted to write a story about next.

So I got to know her better, and from her background, upbringing, the things she’d been through and therefore what she craved most (stability) I decided what Adam was going to be like and teach her, and how the two of them might meet again when they were older. That lead me to why they might have broken up in the first place, and what might have changed in the meantime, and from all of that grew the conflicts. So in that way, the conflict came from the characters themselves.

Personally, I’m not sure which way round is better, and I switch between either one depending on the book I’m writing 🙂 How about you?

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One thing is for sure; without characters, we’d be lost. Even if you have an amazing idea for a book and a well paced, interesting plot, you need your characters to act as the linchpins of your story. Everything they do, say and think must drive the story forward. So it’s really important to know them when you sit down to write. Again, depending on personal preference, you may build full character bio’s (if you’re a plotter) or you may just ‘know’ your characters in your head and let them act out their own scenes, and determine their own fate as you write (if you’re more of a pantster). It’s entirely up to you. Personally, I outline character bio’s on index cards or as a part of a visual storyboard. I’m not suggesting I need to know each character’s inside leg measurement before I get started, but I do need some idea of at least half of the following: –

  • Age (plus date of birth – month and year)
  • Name (this is SO important; although I have changed character names halfway through books before if I think they’re not working!)
  • Location i.e. where were they born? Where do they live now?
  • Upbringing i.e. class, heritage, culture etc
  • Living situation – do they live alone, or with family or friends?
  • Friendship circle
  • Have they got children? Do they want children?
  • Romantic relationships i.e. dating history
  • Occupation & employment status
  • Hobbies
  • Likes and dislikes i.e. cat vs dog, films, books, music, TV, driving, food, drink
  • Appearance – just a few details i.e. eye colour, hair colour, body build (unless they are especially clear in my head)
  • How do they like to dress?
  • Values and beliefs – are they honest or liars, do they treat people respectfully or not give a damn, are they risk takers or do they sail close to the wind, do they work hard or play hooky? Are they law-abiding citizens?
  • Personality – confident, shy, brash, humble, arrogant, optimistic, pessimistic, detail-oriented or visionary, selfish or selfless?
  • Significant life experiences i.e travel abroad or no travel at all, bereavements, illnesses, weddings, divorce etc

What about you? Is there anything you’d add to the character bio? And what do you think comes first – conflict or character? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Until next time, happy reading and writing,

Love, Nikki x

Writing Tip #5 – Plotters vs. Pantsters

Hello my lovelies,

where has the sunshine gone? In any case, we’re not worried, because you have better things to do than worry about the weather don’t you? Yes, it’s time to think about plotting and planning your book! In earlier posts we identified what genre you’re going to write in, along with what you know and love, and can therefore write about, so we made a good start. A quick disclaimer: This post isn’t about the technical aspects of writing a book = how to create a story arc, how many acts to use etc. it’s about your approach to plotting and planning… with my own experiences thrown in for good measure.

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Because guess what? As with many things when it comes to writing, plotting/planning is slightly different for everyone. There are as many ways of doing this as there are authors. Some people love to fly by the seat of their pants and simply ‘write into the wind’ with no clue where the story will take them. These are the ‘Pantsters’ of the blog title. Some like to have a general timeline with a beginning, middle and end (the traditional three act structure).  At the other end of the spectrum there are those who will have project management style Gantt charts and post-it notes and colour-coded index cards with every little detail on them, aka the ‘Plotters.’ The important point is, as in my last blog post about learning your craft, the path you pick needs to suit you; it’s a question of personal style.

  • You may be a ‘Pantster’ and opt for no planning whatsoever if you’re a really laid back person, enjoy the thrill of creativity and need the element of surprise in order to keep you excited about a WiP (Work-in-Progress) and have written before, so have a good understanding of how to create a good story arc and keep it tight. On the other hand, with this approach you may find that your key themes get lost in the mix, characters do their own thing, you go off-piste halfway through, the pacing is off (the dreaded ‘saggy middle’) and that the story ends half way through the desired word count i.e. you end up with half a novel.

I had some experience of this when I first started writing, back in my early twenties, and at least fourteen years before I was published. I was writing short romances aimed at Mills & Boon, and when I was writing my first two or three books (which shall never see the light of day!) I used to sit down most evenings and write into the wind. In my head knew who my two main characters were; what they each wanted (internal conflict); what might prevent them from getting what they wanted and the setting/circumstances (external conflict); and how I thought they might get there, but it was as loose as that. And boy did I suffer! I lost count of the number of times I wrote myself into a corner, either because my story arc came to end 30,000 words in (the M&B titles were circa 50,000-55,000 words full length) or because my plots had massive holes in them. As I got older, wrote more, was offered my first publishing contract and was then under deadline, I radically changed my approach…

  • You may opt for some light planning if you need some structure and a framework to write within but are quietly confident that you know how to get to the end of the book without too much trouble, or that you can handle any curve balls your characters may throw at you (once you start writing, you’ll know what I’m talking about 🙂  For example you might write an extended synopsis of the book, which is a 3 – 5 (A4) page summary of the whole storyline from start to finish. Alongside this you may have a character bio for each of the main characters, and also some notes on the structure of the book i.e. straight prose, diary entries, emails, multiple or single view points, which chapter is from whose point of view, number of chapters, estimated length of chapters, time (past versus present, with dates) etc. On this basis, you are less likely to have problems finishing the whole book, and are unlikely to write yourself into a corner. But if you follow this approach, don’t be afraid to flex as you need to, and if you come up with a better idea then amend the outline and change the story.  If your characters speak to you and they want to do something different, stop and think about where that might lead, and if you should adapt your story accordingly.

When I was writing my #LoveLondon series, I was working on the above basis. The series is made up of five novellas and one novel, all romances set in London. I had the titles from the outset so already had my event/date and the exact setting before I started writing them. Each story can be read as a stand alone, or works together as a linked series because one of the main characters in each of the novellas is related or knows Matt or Zoe, the main characters from the novel, Picnics in Hyde Park. So I wrote a rough outline for each of these stories, a bio for the two main characters, and then because of the complexity with regards to the linking of characters and events, I created a timeline with dates and characters on it so that I could check for continuity. This was also to make sure I wasn’t missing months out of the year, or introducing someone the reader had never met before! This approach worked well for me. It was a great balance of having enough information without stifling my creativity.

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  • If you’re detail-oriented, or under deadline, or have a complicated structure that calls for careful planning, you may want to go for the belt and braces approach and be a ‘Plotter.’ This might mean a colour coded spreadsheet where every scene of every chapter is laid out, and the minute detail of the themes, balance of dialogue versus setting versus action, use of five senses etc. is noted along with a full bio of every character in the book. Different people will use different tools, and there is writing software out there that you can use for this, or writing planners you can buy. You may use coloured post-it notes and lay these out so you can ‘see’ the balance and structure visually i.e. pink for setting, blue for male character, red for female character, yellow for key theme 1, green for key theme 2, etc and where this doesn’t look right you can adjust accordingly.  Plotting works really well for some authors, but others hate it because they know everything that’s going to happen in the book, and so they’re no longer excited about writing the story and they lose interest. This is Not Good Idea. So if you think this isn’t for you, ditch it – don’t be too prescriptive.

I’m being a Plotter for my new book. That’s because it has two viewpoints, uses a couple of different devices to tell the story, includes past and present scenes and chapters over a twenty year period, and most of these are not featured in chronological order. I also want to be able to share detailed ideas with my editor Charlotte and get her input, as well as make sure that the whole story curves beautifully over 90,000 – 100,000 words.

For me, what this looks like is (a) story board with ideas and pictures, timelines etc so I have a visual of the book which keeps my inspiration alive (b) character bios of five main characters so I can add colour to the book with rich detail and (c) a detailed chapter by chapter outline from start to finish, outlining key events in each chapter, who they involve, where and when they’re set and what happens in each of the scenes within each chapter. I’ve never worked in such a detailed way before, and wondered if this might stifle my creativity and make my writing feel flat, but actually it’s going really well (other than taking forever due to the demands of daily life including the day job!) When I sit down to write I have an aim to work towards, but I also give my characters enough space to express themselves and go off on slightly different tangents, and adapt the storyline if I need to. I’m still writing organically in the way I prefer, and feel excited about this book 🙂

I didn’t think I’d be saying this, after doing light plotting for years and thinking that was my thing, but now I am firmly in the Plotter camp and happy to stay there.

So, what works for you already, or what approach are you going to take? Any thoughts or experiences you want to share? And are you a Pantster or Plotter or something in between? Let me know!

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

 

Writing Competitions 2013 – January to June

On the basis of feedback from followers who’ve said they’ve found competition round-ups helpful, here’s a list of comps I’ve put together for the first half of the year, some of which I’m intending to enter myself(!)

Please note that they’re generally the most well know open competitions or those in recognised writing publications but by no means am I covering even a fraction of the comps that are out there.

Please remember to double-check the entry rules and details with the competition organizers as these are subject to change. The best tips I can give you are to read the rules carefully and stick to them, especially with regards to word count and format, and also to look at who the judges are, what type of genre they specialise in (if any) and what their writing style is, and to consider those factors when you think about the piece(s) of work you enter.

So, in order of closing date, here goes…

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Northern Writers Awards – FOR NORTHERN WRITERS ONLY (not because I’m biased against writers from the rest of the UK but because this prize is under New Writing North sponsored by Arts Council England).

These awards are prestigious and feature high-profile literary judges.

The categories are:-

Northern Writers Awards – a fund of £20k awarded to writers to finish /move forward with works-in-progress

Angela Badendoch First Fiction Award – £2K award for first-time female writer over the age of 42

New Poets Bursaries – Six places worth £1.5K each on a professional development programme

New Fiction Bursaries – Five editorial reports worth £300 each with The Literacy Consultancy

The Arvon Award – An Arvon writing course for best prose received

International Residency Award – An established poet will be offered a residency worth £5K with Hunter Writers’ Centre in Newcastle, Australia

All applications have to be made through an online submission system. To read all the rules and enter go to www.northernwritersawards.com

Deadline is 31 January 2013.

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Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook Short Story Competition

This is a great one because entry is free, there’s a great prize (£500 and a place on an Arvon writing course of your choice) and publication in the WaA Yearbook which is a high-profile publication for those in the writing industry (I buy it every year for the articles and listings of publishers and agents) where the winner would be rubbing shoulders with best-selling authors and respected agents etc.

Entries must be a short story for adults with a maximum of 2000 words, on the subject of ‘Freedom,’ however you might want to interpret that.

Entry is online by emailing with WAY13 COMPETITION in the subject line to shortstorycompetition@bloomsbury.com BUT please check the details and rules at http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/competitions

Deadline is 15 February 2013

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Mslexia 2013 Short Story Competition

There is a first prize of £2K as well as two optional extras, which are a week writing retreat at Chawton House Library and/or a day with a Virago Editor. Second prize is £500 and third prize £250. Winning entries will be published in a summer issue of Mslexia.

Stories will be judged by Janice Galloway, must be original, unpublished, on any subject, a maximum of  2,200 words and by a female writer.

There is a £10 entry fee. To read all the rules (pay particular attention to formatting of entries and the need for a separate cover sheet) and/or enter go to www.mslexia.co.uk/shortstory

Deadline is 18 March 2013

2013 flyer_thumb_medium300_0Bristol Short Story Prize

This is very prestigious competition which has been well-regarded for the six years it’s been running. There is a first prize of £1K plus a Waterstones’ gift car but also cash prizes for another nineteen entries with all top twenty stories to be published in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 6. The winner is also published in the Bristol Review of Books Magazine and there’s an awards ceremony at the Bristol Festival of Literature in October.

The website states that stories can be on any theme or subject and are welcome in any style including graphic, verse or genre-based (crime, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, romance, historical etc.).  There is a maximum word count of 4,000 words but no minimum word count.

There is an entry fee of £8 and the rules and details of how to enter can be found at http://www.bristolprize.co.uk/rules.html

Deadline is 30th April 2013

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The Yeovil Literary Prize 2013

In its tenth year, this is a really prestigious internationally acclaimed writing competition with three categories to be entered, with some great prizes. Just bear in mind the steeper entry costs (Novel £11, Short Story £6 and Poems £6 for one, £9 for two, £11 for three).

The Novel – Submit a synopsis and opening chapters (up to 15,000 words in total). The prizes  are 1st £1000, 2nd £250 and 3rd £100.

The Short Story – submit a piece up to a maximum of 2,000 words long. The prizes are 1st £500, 2nd £200 and 3rd £100.

Poetry – Poems up to a maximum of 40 lines. Prizes are 1st £500, 2nd £200 and 3rd £100.

There’s also an additional Local Prize – The Western Gazette Best Local Writer Award, which is judged from the entries to all three of the above categories and the author must live in Dorset or Somerset. The prize is £100 plus a trophy.

For further info go to www.yeovilprize.co.uk. 

Deadline is 31st May 2013.

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The Bridport Prize 

This is one of the most prestigious open writing competitions in the English Language.

The categories are short story, poem or flash fiction with a maximum of 5000 words for short stories,  42 lines for poems and 250 words for flash fiction (and no minimum word count for any of these).

The Prize is open to anyone, including non-UK applicants of over 16 years, and is either postal or via email. For other eligibility criteria please see the website – entries cannot have been published anywhere including online or been placed in competitions previously. The entry fees are £6 for each flash fiction, £7 per poem and £8 per short story and you can send in as many entries as you like (and can afford!)

The prizes are attractive and as follows:

Poem: 1st prize  £5K,  2nd prize  £1K,  3rd prize  £500, Highly Commended  10 x £50

Short story: 1st prize  £5K, 2nd prize  £1K, 3rd prize  £500, Highly Commended  10 x £50

Flash fiction: 1st prize  £1K, 2nd prize  £500, 3rd prize  £250, Highly Commended  3 x £25

Deadline for postal entries is 31st May at 5.00pm, and online entries 31st May at Midnight GMT.

Writing Magazine Short Story – Monthly Open Competitions (there are also closed comps for Writing Magazine subscribers)

Cash prizes of £50 – £200 plus publication in the magazine (for the w inner) or on the website (runners-up). A different theme each month, with the word count dependent on the theme. Check the rules and deadlines, and enter online at www.writers-online.co.uk or buy Writing Magazine. Entry fee is £4 per story or £3 per story for subscribers. Postal entry is also available.  Themes are:

January – Start Talking (opening a short story with a piece of dialogue of a single sentence)

February – St Valentines Day (main character must receive an unexpected Valentine card)

March – Short short story (any theme, any genre but max 750 words)

April – Paranormal

May – Crime

June – Writing for Children; The Modern Family (story for children on your interpretation of the modern family)

Good luck if you decide to enter any of these comps. I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to share details of any other competitions, what they’ve entered and if they place…

Look out on Wednesday 16th for a guest post with author Peter Jones.

Happy writing, Nikki

Writing, Work and Wine With … Carol Hedges

This week I am delighted to be joined by author Carol Hedges. I’ll pass over to her for a short intro.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Nikki for allowing me to share my writing journey with you. I write short stories and novels. My current 4 books in the Spy Girl series are published by Usborne. I have had 11 books published in total, though many more lie gathering dust somewhere. One of my short stories was recently broadcast on Radio 4.

Q. Thanks for that Carol. Can you tell us a bit more about your writing? What’s your journey been like? Any successes or rejections you want to share with us? Are you agented?

A. I never consciously decided to become a writer; it’s always been something I did. Like breathing. I am lucky enough to have an agent: Caroline Walsh at David Higham although sadly, being agented is no guarantee of publication in these straightened times!

My first novel, Ring of Silver, was published in 1992 by a small and very friendly Christian publisher, who went out of business shortly after they published my fourth novel, There’s more to Life than Pizza –  I don’t think I can be held culpable for their demise!

I moved to OUP, and had a further 3 novels published, subsequently to Usborne. And then, just as my books were beginning to take off, the recession happened! Usborne cancelled the 5th Spy Girl, and the next 4 books were not taken by anyone – despite my agent assuring me they were perfectly good stories. It seemed that publishers were no longer interested in ‘middle-list’ writers.

I now know that this has happened to many writers even higher up the food-chain, but at the time, it was devastating to be rejected over and over again. And I had an agent!! In April of this year, my agent decided there was no point even trying mainstream publishers at the moment. A week of utter despair and darkness led to my decision to ‘go it alone’.

And now, here I am. I’ve just published my first ebook, Jigsaw Pieces on Amazon Kindle. I’ve started a blog, built up my Facebook page, and joined Twitter – all at the age of 62! I’ve met some lovely writers on the internet, who have all encouraged and helped me on my way – Nikki you are definitely one of them, so thank you!

I remember being up for the Angus Book Award with one of my OUP novels. While waiting for the judges to decide on the winner, I got chatting to a very famous children’s author (no names). He took one look at my book and told me dismissively I was “lucky to be published”. Harsh and unkind yes, but true.

I am lucky to be published. Lucky that people are prepared to spend money on my books and take time to read them. Lucky to be part of a warm, embracing writing community that has welcomed me and accepted me in a very short period of time.

Q. Wow, that’s a bit of a writing roller coaster – well done for not giving up (and thanks for the compliment, you can send me the fiver through the post later)! I love the cover of Jigsaw Pieces. So, any writing tips you want to share with us?

1) I’d just like to encourage anyone reading this who is going through a similar experience to mine to keep going. There IS light at the end of the tunnel.

2) Never give up.

3) Never stop believing in your talent and ability.

Q. And what about your work? Do you write full time or do you have a day job?

A. I do not write full-time, as I can’t afford to. I’ve been a librarian, run my own children’s clothes business, been a dinner lady, a teaching assistant, my husband’s secretary. At the age of 46, I retrained as an English teacher when I realised my daughter was going to have to pay university fees and we couldn’t fund her. Now, I tutor GCSE and A level students to keep the wolf from the door.

Q. A woman of many skills and talents. Finally what’s your favourite wine?

A. It has to be Prosecco. Nicely chilled. And I’d like to drink it at a café table in Florence, sitting in the Italian sunshine with my lovely husband Martyn, and my beautiful daughter Hannah.

That sound lovely. Thanks Carol for popping in and I wish you all the best with your writing endeavours.

You can buy Carol’s new release, Jigsaw Pieces on Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jigsaw-Pieces-ebook/dp/B008SB9TB4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346198754&sr=8-1

To find out more about Carol you can go to Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/carol.hedges.779 or to her blog at http://carolhedges.blogspot.com or you can follow her on Twitter @carolJhedges

As always, hope you’ve enjoyed this post and please leave a comment if you have a minute. Look out for another exciting guest post next week with Choc Lit debut author Liz Harris.

For now Happy Writing, Nikki.

Writing, Work and Wine With… Hazel Osmond

This week I am joined by Hazel Osmond . She writes contemporary romantic comedies with heart- wrenching bits and her first book ‘Who’s Afraid of Mr Wolfe? was shortlisted for Romantic Comedy of the year 2012 by the Romantic Novelists’ Association in the UK. She also writes short stories, not always on a romantic theme and in 2008 won the Woman & Home short story competition sponsored by Costa.

She has worked for many years as an advertising copywriter, both in an agency and as a freelancer, and the spark to write stories came after watching the actor Richard Armitage in the BBC adaptation of ‘North & South’ and being moved enough to write some fan fiction.

Q. Welcome Hazel, glad you could pop in. Brilliant intro, can you tell us more about your writing? 

A. My publisher is Quercus Books and I have an agent – the wise and witty Broo Doherty. My books vary in length but are around the 120,000 words mark.

‘Who’s Afraid of Mr Wolfe?’ was published in April 2011 and ‘The First Time I Saw Your Face’ is published in paperback on August 16th 2012. The ebook was released on June 21st.  I have a contract for another two books after that.

I like to write with humour and I’m particularly interested in how it can take the sharp edges off painful experiences… being able to laugh at fate, or even yourself, is a huge plus in life. I also believe that love, the good kind (and there are others!) can drag people back from all kinds of pits into which they have fallen and I’m eagerly exploring that in my books.

Q. Lucky you – on both the Quercus and the Broo front. I think you’re right about the transformative power of love. I particularly like reading books where the damaged protagonist is healed or at least made better by knowing their love interest; a bit like Jack in Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe? So, what have been your most memorable writing successes? 

A. Winning my first short story competition. Writing is a funny pastime and although you’d happily do it without recognition or reward there is that other part of you that needs someone to pat you on the back and say, ‘No, you’re not a deluded ego maniac, you can write and people will enjoy reading it.’ Winning gave me that.

Q. And I’m glad it did. What about your most memorable writing rejection? 

A. Argh. One I got for Mr Wolfe which said Jack reminded the reader of David Brent in the Office. I was crushed for about ten minutes – there is no way you want your sexy, strong hero to be compared to him (no offence to Ricky Gervais). Luckily my humour gene kicked in after that. Eventually. 

Q. Hmm… not sure what that reader was thinking… So can you share your top three tips for writers? 

  1. Write every day if you can and stop hemming your creativity in by thinking everything has to be perfect first time. Writing is actually re-writing.
  2. Read as much as you can…good stuff, bad stuff, your genre, outside your comfort zone – you’ll find what works, what doesn’t.
  3. Do not show your work in progress to every man and his dog… only to someone who is objective, kind and reads in your genre. And then listen to what they say.

Q. Some good advice. What about your work/job? What do you do and what is a typical day? 

A. Nowadays, writing books and short stories has largely taken over from my advertising work, but the pattern of a typical weekday has stayed the same for years even though what I’m writing is different. I drop the girls at school, dabble in a bit of housework, write until lunch and then do another stint after lunch until picking up time. I grab short sections of time in the evenings and weekends sometimes too… depends how obsessed I am with a story!!

Q. What do you love and what do you hate about writing full time?

A. I love being able to immerse myself totally in writing with no distractions – no office politics, no cooking meals, no seeing anyone else if I don’t want to. Selfish I know but I love it.

I’m really, really sorry to sound smug, but there is nothing at all I hate about it. I know just how lucky I am to have this time (and space) and I’m doing the best job I’ve ever done… in a comfy chair and near a kettle.

Q. Sounds fabulous. Okay, so lastly tell us about your favourite wine? 

A. I would hate you to think I’m forever drinking it, but I’d have to say a glass of cold, straw-dry champagne or Prosecco. I think it’s because my brain is hardwired to think bubbles = celebration. See, I am deeply shallow.

Nothing shallow about it at all, nothing wrong with a bit of champers! Thanks so much for talking to us and good luck with the The First Time I Saw Your Face. Thank you to Liz McAulay and Woman & Home magazine for the author photograph of Hazel.

‘Who’s Afraid of Mr Wolfe?’ and ‘The First Time I Saw Your Face’ are available to buy on https://www.amazon.co.uk/ and other websites in both ebook and paperback format. Hazel would also like to point you towards two fantastic bookshops if you’re ever in Northumberland. Forum Books & Crafts www.forumbooks.co.uk in Corbridge and Cogito Books in Hexham www.cogitobooksonline.co.uk.

You can contact Hazel via her very pretty website at http://www.hazelosmond.co.uk/ and read her blog there as well. You can also follow her on Twitter  at @hosmond

For now, happy writing everyone, Nikki

Writing, Work and Wine with… Jill McDonald-Constable a.k.a Amos Carr

A big warm welcome to this week’s guest Jill, who writes Westerns under the pen name of Amos Carr  – which is no mean feat as she is one of only four female Western writers in UK! Her first book, The Ghosts of Poynter is due out on 30th June (available for pre-order on Amazon now) and her second book, Crazy Man Cade is due for release in October 2012.

Q. Jill, great to have you here. I don’t know a lot about the western genre, so why don’t you start by telling us about your writing?  

A. Well, I will be having two books published this year by the Black Horse Western imprint of Robert Hale. They are both around 50 – 60,000 words in length and should be a good read for any Western fans, old and new. I don’t have an agent, I simply approached Robert Hale directly and to date, getting a contract for my first and second ‘real’ books is my most memorable writing success, a lifetime’s dream come true.

Q. Well done, I’m really pleased for you. Now, everyone is always interested in the one(s) that got away, so what was your most memorable rejection?

A. To be honest, they all blend into one horrible one and I don’t know if I should admit it, but I once sent one to Mills and Boon; they said it was too ‘Mystical’ (read Hippy / New Age) for them, with too much violence. I thought they’d like something ‘different’. Bad move. Don’t do it!

 Q. So can you describe your writing journey to date for us in less than 50 words?

A. In brief? It was a hard, uphill slog, but I knew it was all I ever wanted, so I kept at it. And it paid off in the end.

Q. It certainly has! So what are your top three tips for writers?

1) Never, ever, give up.

2) Treat rejections as a learning process.

3) Mostly, send the right type of genre to the right publisher. It’s what worked for me!

Q. Some good advice there. Now can you tell us about your work? Do you work full-time? What do you love and hate about your work / typical day?

A. I am disabled, and have a husband who has had two strokes, so life is pretty much my full-time job really.  I steal Thursday (when Hubby is at Day Centre) to do most of my writing work (and any other spare moments that I can squeeze from the day.)

A typical day for me is looking after my hubby, our two crazy dogs, myself, and the usual home and garden ‘stuff’ which all other women have to do all the time. It can be tough, but I believe that writing really is a kind of magic. I can escape and be someone else, somewhere else for a while, away from reality.

As for what I hate about a typical day, it’s a strong word and I don’t really do ‘hate’ much. But the one thing I really do hate is what these strokes have done to Cris, how they’ve changed his life, our lives. On a selfish note, if he was still himself, I’d have a lot more time to write!

Q. It sounds like you really have your work cut out for you and I am full of admiration that you look after your husband and do everything else and still make time to write… and to become a published author after all that… Wow! We’ll move onto something easier now. What’s your favourite wine (or drink of choice)?

A. I’m not a drinker now, but I used to be a whisky lover, until the party where I polished off three whole bottles of it and still walked home, with another bottle to have for breakfast.  Then I stopped, I guessed it was time, eh?! Now, I drink Advocaat at Christmas, and Shloer or Diet Coke. (But a good cup of tea is my favourite drink ever.)

I love a good cup of tea myself, especially with chocolate biscuits. Personally I am intrigued by how you stayed standing after those three bottles of whisky, never mind how you walked home! I’d have been under the table.  

Anyway Jill, thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences with us, and good luck with your books.  

You can contact Jill a.k.a Amos or find out more about her and her books via Twitter @JillMcD-C on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/JillMcDCAuthor or on her lovely website www.womanwholeads.webs.com

Pre-order her first book via Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghosts-Poynter-Black-Horse-Western/dp/0709095422

Don’t forget to check out the next post in this series – Writing, Work and Wine with… Christina Courtenay, scheduled for next Wednesday.

All the best, Nikki 🙂

Writing, Work and Wine with… Talli Roland

Talli Roland writes fun, romantic fiction. Born and raised in Canada, Talli now lives in London, where she savours the great cultural life (coffee and wine). Despite training as a journalist, Talli soon found she preferred making up her own stories–complete with happy endings. Talli’s debut novel The Hating Game was short-listed for Best Romantic Read at the UK’s Festival of Romance, while her second, Watching Willow Watts, was selected as an Amazon Customer Favourite. Her novels have also been chosen as top books of the year by industry review websites and have been bestsellers in Britain and the United States. Construct A Couple is her latest release.

Q. Hi Talli, great to have you here, thanks for stopping in. Can you start by telling us about your writing

A. I’m unagented, have been published since 2009 and write light women’s fiction (aka chick lit). My novels are generally around eighty-thousand words in length. Although they have an element of romance, they focus mainly on the heroine’s journey. I have two non-fiction and two fiction books published by Prospera Publishing. I’ve also self-published two novels.

Q. I think self-publishing is very brave and I’ve heard that it takes an enormous amount of hard work in terms of promo; something you are fantastic at, if the results of some of your blog splashes etc are anything to go by. Self-publishing has obviously worked for you with your impressive results! Can I ask, what are your most memorable writing successes and rejections so far? 

A. My most memorable success has to be when I signed my first publishing contract. Even though it was for non-fiction and ultimately I wanted to write fiction, I was thrilled to get my foot on the ladder. But as for rejections, oh, sigh! Do I have to relive this? Well, a publisher was very enthusiastic about my MS. They asked me to revise, I did, and then waited months, and months, and months… only to have it rejected.

Q. Well it seems you’ve left that kind of experience behind you! Can you tell us what your top three tips for writers are?

  1. Don’t wait for ‘the muse’. Set a schedule and stick to it.
  2. When you’re writing the first draft, don’t worry about making it perfect. I think first drafts should be crap!
  3. Keep writing. It’s the only way to get better.

Q. Some really sound advice, thanks. So, tell us about your work. Do you have a day job or do you write full-time? And what do you love and hate about it? 

A. I’m very lucky that I’m able to write full-time.  My typical day is that I get up quite early, hop on Twitter and Facebook while I drink my coffee and wake up, and by seven, I’m at my desk. I write until noon, when I take a break. Depending on the day, I’ll either continue writing or spend the afternoon blogging, answering emails, and doing any other promotional tasks that crop up.

I love the control I have over my time; the fact that I’m working for me – and at something I love! I’m struggling with whether there is anything about it I hate! To be honest, writing full-time is my dream job, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m aware this is a very lame answer, but it’s true.

Q. Good for you, I love that you’re living the dream. Now to finish, tell us what your favourite Wine is. 

A. Ooh, I love this question! Without a doubt, Merlot and Pinot Grigio. Yum!

 I’m a Pinot Grigio girl myself! Thanks for your time and good luck with Construct a Couple. Build a Man was my favourite book by you so far, so I’m looking forward to rejoining Serenity and Jeremy on their adventures. 

To learn more about Talli, go to http://www.talliroland.com or follow Talli on Twitter: @talliroland. Talli blogs at talliroland.blogspot.com. Her books are available to buy on Amazon Kindle, Amazon UK www.amazon.co.uk and The Book Depository http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/. The kindle edition of Construct a Couple is available to buy now on Amazon for a bargain 99p!

Look out for the next guest post out on Tuesday 26 June – Writing, Work and Wine With… Jill McDonald-Constable a.k.a Amos Carr

And the last time I’ll mention this I swear. Voting for the Novelicious Undiscovered competition closes tomorrow so please do pop in, read the entries and cast a vote (http://www.novelicious.com/voting2012undiscovered.html)

Happy writing, Nikki 🙂

Writing, Work and Wine with… Liz Fenwick

Liz Fenwick writes women’s fiction and her first book The Cornish House has just been published by Orion books, with the second due out next summer. She is represented by Super-agent Carole Blake, is somewhat of a PR / social media guru (helping to run the RNA’s blog) and splits her time between the UK and Dubai.

Q. Hi Liz, it’s a pleasure to have you on the blog, especially knowing that you came up through the RNA New Writers Scheme. Can you tell us a bit about your writing? 

A. This is so cool…I can finally say I’m PUBLISHED…it’s been a long road! I write Commercial Women’s Fiction, roughly 100,000 words in length and it’s targeted at women like me who want to be swept away and entertained…

I’m very lucky as the amazing Carole Blake is my agent – in fact my most memorable writing success was when three agents loved my book and wanted to sign me…no actually, it was when my husband read the proof copy of the book and loved it.

My most memorable rejection was the first one from Mills & Boon…a standard computer generated one and it never happened again (I never tried to write another HM&B – this could be why)!

Q. I think it was the right decision – a two book deal with Orion? Woo-hoo. So can you describe your writing journey to date in circa 50 words?  

Dream- attempt, dream-don’t do, dream- attempt, live life then put bum on seat in 2004 and take writing seriously…2011 sign with agent, 2 book deal with Orion and deals with Germany, Holland and Portugal.

Q. Wow, well persistence certainly pays. Can you give us your top three tips for writers? 

  1. To break a writing block set an egg timer for 20 minutes and write. It doesn’t matter what you write but write. It has worked every time and I thank Anna Louise Lucia for this tip.
  2. Listen to your work. I use text to voice software. When I listen to my work and it’s a computer doing it with no emotion – you really hear it, clunks and all. It also gives you distance and you use a different part of your brain. I can’t recommend this enough.
  3. Be professional. Don’t treat writing as a hobby if you want to be published. Treat it as a career even if you only have 20 minutes a day to give it. Invest time and money (in the form of craft books and courses, attending conferences and if necessary in professional editing before you send it out to the world).

Q. Fantastic tips, thanks. Tell us about your work. Do you have a day job? 

A. I write full-time and look after an international family in Dubai and the UK. There is no such thing as a typical day for me – that is something I long for. If I can I try to begin each morning with a quick look at emails, twitter, FB and blogs….then either I write or I edit, coming back to emails etc at the end of the day just before dinner. I also try and fit in exercise somewhere. I tend to read at night or during my lunch break. However those are on the days when I am in one place long enough to establish a routine…

Q. So what do you love and/or hate about writing full-time? 

A. I love living in the world I create. Many days I am in heat of Dubai and I escape to the cool of Cornwall and wooded walks filled with bluebells…pure escapism. I despise it when I’m on a roll and have to stop for whatever reason.

Q. I definitely know that feeling! So tell us what your favourite wine is. 

A. I LOVE wine and my favourite is one that my husband’s family introduced me to. It’s called Calon Segur and it’s a wine that we have at special meals and have done so since I met my husband.

Sounds like a wine I should try… thanks for stopping by Liz and good luck with The Cornish House as you continue blazing your way along the publicity trail. 

To find out more about Liz go to Just Keep Writing and Other Thoughts (what a fab title for a blog) http://lizfenwick.blogspot.co.uk/ or website http://www.lizfenwick.com/  or The Heroine Addicts blog at http://theheroineaddicts.blogspot.co.uk or at the RNA’s blog http://romanticnovelistsassociationblog.blogspot.co.uk/

You can follow her on Twitter @liz_fenwick or Like her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Liz-Fenwick/188542717850926

The Cornish House is available to buy on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Cornish-House-Liz-Fenwick/dp/1409142744, Waterstones.com and Play.com among others.

Hope everyone enjoyed this post. Look out for the next Writing, Work and Wine with… next Tuesday.

On the self-promo front, voting for the Novelicious Undiscovered competition is still open on their website until 20 June so please do pop in and consider voting for my entry #19 The Nanny’s Revenge. Thanks! (http://www.novelicious.com/voting2012undiscovered.html)

Happy writing, Nikki 🙂

A great new blog for aspiring romance authors run by lovely members of the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers’ Scheme

The Romaniacs

I am a strong believer in fate. I believe that things happen for a reason and I believe that you should take what life throws at you and turn it into a positive. This is exactly what happened to me pretty much two years ago this month.

I am not your stereotypical writer. I haven’t been writing stories since I was knee high and I haven’t read all of the classic stories that, probably, I should have. I didn’t grow up dreaming of being an author, or a journalist, or anything writing related actually. I grew up wanting to be a physiotherapist, and then later, a dancer. I left school, went to college and received a diploma in performing arts. I then secured a place at University and was set to train and become a dance teacher. A couple of months before starting the course I realised it wasn’t what…

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