Monday, 30 April 2012

A Novel Event

Aydon Castle
Yesterday I attended  part of the Hexham Book Festival. A panel talked about how to get published and writing in general. Taking part were Mark Stanton, agent (Jenny Brown Associates), Alison Baverstock, publisher, writer and teacher of creative writing (Kingston University) Jo Dickinson, editor (Quercus).

MS wants a brief query letter, 3 chapters and a synopsis which he may read after he’s looked at the 3 chapters.  He gets on average 10 submissions a day, every day, and may only read the first page before deciding he won’t go any further. He wants good writing he can sell, relies on his own judgement of good writing and storytelling that appealed to him. He thinks if he likes it, others will, too. (He once passed on Alexander McCall Smith’s Lady’s Detective Agency and tried to sell an author called Dennis Donnelly, but no publisher would accept the book.)

His method of working sounds fine – but when asked if he ever put forward something he considered good writing even though he didn’t personally like it, he said no. Challenged that this bordered on arrogance, he had no answer except that he was happy to work that way. The challenger agreed that it was his prerogative to do so. Rustlings around the room suggested his audience disagreed with the statement.

JD wanted commercial fiction and looked for good storytelling that gripped her.
AB thought that these days e-publishing has empowered authors. They can chance work agents may not like on the market place and discover that the public likes it.
The UK is a couple of years behind the US, where publishers are discovering they must cater to the public’s requirements. Agents may lose out in this new world.

Editing is vital before any publication. Time is good, too; finish a story, put it away for three months before looking at it again. The distance enhances critical faculties, and results in a better book. In e-publishing, Amazon holds control and agents dislike and fear this. 10k sales via Kindle may interest a mainstream publisher, but if the book is selling copies in excess of 70k, why is a publisher needed unless the author wants the kudos of holding his book in his hand, or seeing it on Waterstones’ shelves. The other reason is that PR etc leaves little time for the self-published author to write.  Having a publisher takes care of that side of things and leaves the author free to write.
The panel agreed tht Authors get 25% of each book sale as opposed to 10% of a hardback sale, which I found debateable, for I know that Independent e-publishers sometimes offer more, and noone mentioned that Amazon Kindle promises 70% on books priced over $2.99.

Friday, 27 April 2012


Our local writers group meets this lunch time in Alnwick and we're going to discuss  the very important topic of How to Write a Synopsis. I've been digging around in my files to find a one page synopsis in order to print off several copies to hand around for comment. Most of mine, it turns out, are two and tipping a few words onto the third page.
So I am reduced to selecting the only one that will fit the bill. It isn't good. I can see the faults in it now, and Heaven knows how long ago I wrote it and then forgot about it, but it will do for the exercise.
I don't find them easy to do. Perhaps I'd get more bites from agents if my synopses were better, so it is something I really ought to study. I shall report back!
Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the ride to Alnwick. After nearly a fortnight of heavy rain, the world is going to be green, green, green. That's if the fields are not flooded, flooded, flooded. The picture above was taken about a fortnight ago in the wonderful sunny weather we had at that point. It's on the fields above Hexham, looking south west, with aydon Castle a mile or so behind me.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Five gold stars

Yesterday I finished an excellent read. Truth to Tell by Mavis Cheek. Nina Porter is living the good life, says the blurb on the back cover. "Happily married, well off, a loving mother and daughter. So how come she finds herself alone in Venice with a handsome Italian? It starts with a marital row about honesty. Nina claims she always  tells the truth; her husband says it can't be done. And so the challenge is on. As Nina tries to live without the little white lies that support us all, she finds her life spiralling in directions she never expected."

Not only is the book good, I thought the back cover blurb was excellent, too.

The first line was even better: Tipping points are peculiar things. One minute the thought or desire is not on your radar, the next it is not only on your radar, it is looming so large it blots out almost everything else. And a tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell says in his book, helpfully entitled The Tipping Point, is irresistible.

I was hooked. There are so many good things in her writing that I may well read it again just for the sheer pleasure of enjoying her particular prose style. Five gold stars to Ms Cheek.

The book trailer is nothing to do with Mavis Cheek. I decided to showcase (that awful word from America which I shouldn't allow my self to use!) my book trailers, and this is the third. Worry not, there is only one more to go. Unless I finish the one I'm working on for Reluctance, in which case there will be two more to come!

Monday, 23 April 2012

A little shameless

A little shameless self-promotion today - and why not? Looking back, Banners of Alba was a complex subject for a first book, but my heart was in it and I'm not telling porkies when I say it was a labour of love from start to finish.

Shakespeare was to blame, because he maligned the character of MacBeth for the sake of a play. It was a good play, but I decided to look into the story of the real MacBeth. There wasn't a lot of written history available to me, and so I had to use my imagination. Gradually the shadowy figure of the king who reigned for seventeen years and thought of Alba as one united country morphed into my version of what kind of man MacBeth might have been. Because it is fiction and not a biographical study (not at all!) I gave him a new name - one I could spell, and a Gaelic one whose spelling I had to check every time I used it.

If I wrote it today, I suspect it would be shorter, but it might just lose something in the process. Best to leave it as it is, I think.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Book Trailers

In case the quality isn't too good, here's the link for the video on YouTube:

I enjoy doing these book trailers far more than I do a synopsis, or even a book blurb. I think it's because there's a combination of words, pictures and sound instead of just words. and I love the fact that I can juggle all three around endlessly until I get it just as I want it.
For the story encapsulated in this book trailer, it was wonderful to be able to go out and take pictures of the actual places and buildings where the story takes place. As the pictures suggest, most were taken in high summer when everything is green and lush in the Tyne valley.

What I need to know is this: do book trailers help to promote books? Is there any evidence for or against?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


Apart from the fact that I like making them now I've got Windows Moviemaker, are book trailers any good as a promotional tool? Now that I have my new book out, I'm wondering if I should make one for Reluctance.

 If you follow the link above, you'll see I have four trailers up for viewing, but I'm constantly surprised by the number of views they get. Not that they get a huge number, but that the book that sells the least has the most views.
Isn't that odd?  and to make it odder still, the title that has sold the most copies has the least number of views. This suggests that there is a direct and inverse principle operating here!

I'd love to hear your views, and how you promote your trailers, so feel free to leave comments here!

Monday, 16 April 2012


Spring is here.We've had the snowdrops and daffodils, the wood anemones, primroses and violets - and now the bluebells and garlic are blooming in the woods  around us. But we still have cold nights -it was down to -2 last night. Not time yet to change the winter-weight duvet for the summer one! I wish we had  clearly defined seasons as they do in other countries where they reach a certain date and decide it's time to pack away all the winter clothes until next year. We can't do that. Even in July and August we can get days of cold rain and wind, and we need the woolly sweaters and heavy jeans. Telling people what to pack when they come to the UK is difficult!

We're going out for a meal with friends this week to the Feathers Inn here and I thought a swift look at the website might intrigue some of you. After Thursday I'll let you know how we got on!

Friday, 13 April 2012


Read this article order to find out where we're all going wrong! It is very good, and I won't even try to paraphrase it because she says it all and you should read it all - yes, all the way to the end.

"Why do badly written books become bestsellers? It’s a question that banged against my consciousness as I tried to read 50 Shades of Grey, E L James’s unintentionally hilarious erotic fanfic tribute to Twilight. An ebook, it has become a self-publishing phenomenon, earning the British author an eye-watering advance from a traditional publishing house."
It's just as well that we know what we're up against when we try to get published, and sometimes I wonder if agents and publishers of the past are squirming in their graves as they see what is published these days. I would no more buy a celebrity book than I would fly to the moon - yet people are doing that these days. I hear it's the latest vacation for the super rich.
And I've told a fib, because I bought Rafa's book, and I suppose he counts as a celebrity. I was thinking more of your Katie Price-type celebrity - the ones with silicone breasts, botoxed lips and hair pieces but hardly a brain in evidence and very little to say except how to look good and keep themselves in the headlines. Maybe I'm being cruel to the KP-type celebs, and you may ask how could I know what their books are about if I've never read one. Good Question! It's prejudice, I suppose - I imagine I know what they will write about. Their actions speak louder than words, sometimes.
And - don't forget to read the Danuta Kean article!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

In medias res

I suddenly realised the other day that I had made a great leap.  Without thinking about it, I have stopped introducng every scene with description and walking my characters off-stage. I first noticed this when I was doing the third edit of what is now called The King's Business and someday I might go back through my other stuff and take note of where and when I made this great leap.
 As an English Lit student I knew all about playwrights starting a scene in medias res, but somewhere I had picked up the idea that when writing, a scene had to be fixed in time and space so the reader could grasp it without effort. When I first began writing, almost every scene started that way. It's only when I did a whole-book edit, that I noticed how boring it was. But when I think about it, I'm not sure I noticed consciously. I didn't have a light bulb moment and make a conscious decision about it.

Slowly but surely, my scene-starting changed. Some started with dialogue, some with action and sometimes how the character was feeling.  Interestingly, my scenes also  now stop when the important point has been reached. I no longer take the characters by the hand, walk them to the door and shove them through it.
I've even starting missing out other bits. When I began, I felt obliged to describe every teensy comment, or describe every tiny bit of action in something like a sword fight. Now I'm more capable of editing a scene at the writing stage; describing only the important sword thrusts, if you like.

Perhaps the show-don't-tell mantra was partly responsible for my earlier writing. Hammered home by so many, the trouble is that once you start showing a scene, there's a distinct feeling of obligation to go on to the end.  The danger is, take it too far, and the writer starts describing every breath the protagonist takes. I now think Telling is very useful way of linking bits of Showing, and I intend to go on with it. I even twist it into my protagonist's POV/inner dialogue. I've come a long way, and I'm looking forward to learning even more.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Memes and titles

I’ve been tagged with something called the Lucky No 7 Meme.  I’m not even sure what a meme is, and it’s not in my dictionary! Still, Anita’s a good friend, so here goes.  Here's what she tells me to do:
*go to page 77 of your current WIP
*go to line 7
*copy down the next 7 lines/sentences as written and post them on your blog or website
*tag 7 other authors
*let them know they've been tagged.
The first hitch in the programme is that I haven’t got to page 77 in my current wip, so the best thing to do is go to the work I’ve spent so much time on lately doing a third edit. I’d love to give you the title, but I keep changing it. Originally I called it Endangered Queen, but soon changed that to Treason, thinking it was more exciting until someone gently suggested that as my protagonist is an Englishman, he cannot commit treason in Scotland. H’mm. How true.
So I thought long and hard and came up with The Hope of Scotland but then doubts crept in. How could that title be a good fit it with an English hero? Now the story is lurking behind King’s Business.  Any thoughts on which appeals most?
But to get to the point of the post ~ Here are my seven lines:
“Meg remained standing next to the window and did no more than raise her brows at Lennox. She would not be the first to break the silence. He closed the door behind Matho and paced slowly to her side, drew a deep breath, as if to speak, and then let it go on an explosive sigh.
She gritted her teeth. Lennox deserved to suffer. She was glad Matho had been here, glad that she had kissed him and especially glad Lennox had seen and been annoyed by it.”
Now, who shall I choose to send this on to?

Friday, 6 April 2012


Passion can be many things – anger, sorrow and grief as well as desire and I hope I’ve incorporated all of them in the book that is released today by MuseItUp
I believed the author who wrote that the lead up to a scene of passion is as important as the scene itself. So I took the time to explain that the hero of Reluctance, Jack, is still in a state of grief six months after his wife’s death when everyone confidently expects him to be “getting over it.”

The lead characters are vital in any story. It goes without saying that if the reader doesn’t like and empathise with them, then any scene of passion is going to have all the impact of a wobbly jelly hitting the kitchen floor. We need to know why the passion is erupting now, what has driven the protagonists to such a collision and what will be revealed within it.
Any good passionate scene will have a result; the plot will move and shift, perhaps in a small way, sometimes in by taking huge bounds, and there may be regrets from one or both characters. But shift they must, otherwise the plot is static. I’m hoping I’ve covered all these points, but only time and readers will tell!

Happy Easter, and Happy Reading!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Speedy writing cont'd

Now that I’ve blown my own trumpet about my new book coming out on Friday – Good Friday! – I’ll get back to thinking about speedy writing. They say that when we write, we produce sentences in a burst-pause-evaluate, burst-pause-evaluate pattern. Stop and think right now – do you do that? I suppose I do, and sometimes I get hung up in the evaluate bit. Writers who’ve been writing for a long time produce longer sentences, but the pattern is the same.

Writers have been heard to say that the promise of money stimulates their word flow. They also claim that a crazily long session to meet unrealistic deadlines is bad, and often results in depression  because the deadline is not met, and at worst can result in writer’s block.

Kellogg tells us that creative writing is a serious business with huge cognitive demands. Naturally, authors pounce on this, and hug it to their manly chest or heaving bosom, because so many people who've never tried it think it must be easy to write a book. Writing is a thinking task, a language task, and a memory task, and requires the same kind of mental effort as a high-level chess match or an expert musical performance. Now there’s something to tell those people who think writing is so easy!

“Knowledge-crafting,” he says, “is a state in which the writer’s brain is juggling three things: the actual text, what you plan to say next, and –most crucially-theories of how your imagined readership will interpret what’s being written. A highly skilled writer can simultaeously be a writer, editor and audience.”

Before we begin to think we’ve bitten off more than we can comfortably chew, let us reassure ourselves that there are ways to make things easier. We all develop our own strategies to speed things along. It’s altogether easier when we no longer have to worry about penmanship (or keyboard skills), or consciously think about subject-verb agreement or where to place that apostrophe. Reading and practice usually takes care of those two things. The old adage comes walloping in - the one that tells us to write about a subject we know well, because then we won't have to keep all of the facts in our working memory, which frees up more attention for planning and composing.

So there we have it: read widely, write often, get rid of distractions, study your writing habits until you know when and how you do your best work, and manage your working practices rather than letting them manage you.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Release Date

I've just heard the release date for Reluctance will be 6th April - that's Friday of this week!
To whet your appetite, here's my first review:

Jen Black

"She’s lovely, with a peaches and honey glow and a wickedly devastating smile, an intellect a cut above her peers, and perhaps the wealthiest heiress in the country. He’s darkly handsome, all chiseled angles and fine bones, a faint aura of citrus and sandalwood, a tendency towards few words, and plenty of money of his own.
These two really should meet, and they do when Lady Frances Rathmere literally fishes Jack Slade, Marquess of Streatham, out of the river on her estate. Their relationship, begun under such untoward—and certainly unromantic—circumstances, progresses in a fashion that would horrify the denizens of society in early Regency London and Bath. But this is the North of England, where life is lived in tune with nature and definitely more colorfully, and where people, even the gentry and those with titles, are more full-blooded and multifaceted than their insipid and overly polite cousins to the south.

Frances is a widow in her late twenties whose husband, a childhood friend, left her with a decided aversion to “marital duties.” She is determined not to marry again, despite her family’s equal determination that she should and would, at the earliest opportunity. Jack is a widower who was so devastated by the death of his wife in childbirth that out of guilt he swore not only never to marry again but also to remain celibate for the rest of his life. Thus we have two protagonists who are reluctant, so say the least, to alter their present states, regardless of whatever attraction might develop between them or whatever circumstances might arise to change their opinions about what they should—or should not—do.

This is a historical romance in the best sense of the genre. Jen Black has captured the setting of the North Country with such precision and spare, elegant descriptions that the reader could be nowhere else but Northumberland. She has done the same with her characters who, from the two protagonists to minor figures who pass briefly through the novel, are rendered with precision and such beautiful detail that they become real, rather than one-dimensional actors from a stock play. One of the most difficult aspects of a book any book, is dialogue, and if the characters speak to each other as if they’re reciting lines from a very bad play, this ruins the story, no matter how inventive the plot. The dialogue throughout the story is crisp, funny, moving, emotional, and above all, believable for each character who speaks. Not an easy thing to accomplish, but Ms. Black is a master at it
This is not a formulaic Regency tale with a trite reliance on stilted drawing room manners and silly encounters in all the usual places with all the usual people.  Instead, it’s a story with enough twists and unpredictable turns to make you dizzy, while Frances and Jack will alternately endear themselves to you and drive you crazy.  In any event, you won’t be able to forget these two or their story.

A useful hint:  don’t begin to read this book until you know you’ll suffer no ill effects from reading throughout the night.  I learned this the hard way."

Margaret Scott Chrisawn, Ph.D