Taking Time Out

Since reducing my hours by half at my ‘day job’ last November (it’s really an evening job as I work out-of-hours shifts), I get a lot more weekends off. After years of working unsocial shifts and often only having two or three days off with my husband Nik a month, I’m still relishing that ‘Friday feeling’ and having a whole free weekend where we can do what normal couples do. (By normal couples I mean sensible people who work 9-5 Monday to Friday like my husband, rather than unsocial 6pm – 2am shifts any day of the week like I do.)

Even when I’m not doing the ‘day job’ the weekends will often be taken up with freelance work, whether that’s researching and writing articles, updating my blogs or editing my novel. However, this weekend just gone I took the whole two days off.

Saturday started off well with a lovely long lie-in (once we’d let our dog Frodo out into the garden at 6.30am), followed by a walk in the park and lunch at the Tobacco Factory Cafe. Dinner was homemade Mexican Beef Mole with rice and stir-fried cabbage and then we lit the wood burner, curled up on the sofa and watched Strictly Come Dancing.

Sunday was a perfect autumnal day; cold and sunny with a cloudless blue sky. Recently I’ve been going for a walk with Frodo through the woods and fields that surround Tyntesfield, an incredible Victorian country house owned by the National Trust. Now that it’s winter dogs are allowed into the formal gardens, so along with Nik and my Mum and Dad we took Frodo there for a walk. The gold, rust red and greeny-yellow colour of the trees punctuated with a vivid splash of scarlet red of an Acer stood out against the deep blue of the sky. The Rose Garden was serene and still beautiful despite it being the middle of autumn. The impressive house with its ornate turrets and towers overlooked formal gardens that had sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. Planted with a variety of herbs the kitchen garden had been carefully tended to with row upon row of Brussels sprouts, while the lush green fields that seamlessly continued from the gardens were home to cattle. After working up an appetite we headed to the cafe and sat outside in the sunshine with all the other dog owners and tucked into tasty homemade vegetable soup with croutons.

Slow roasted belly of pork with honey glazed crackling, pumpkin mash and peas were on the menu for our Sunday dinner, so we spent a good chunk of the afternoon cooking as the pork needed to be basted every 20 minutes. It was worth it though. Completely stuffed, we wouldn’t have been able to venture out even if we’d wanted to. Instead it was another cosy night in.

So, the moral of this post? Take time out – it’s good for you.

The Year Ahead

I ordered a 2013 writer’s diary from Mslexia yesterday. My husband has bought me the Mslexia diary every Christmas for the last few years but this year I didn’t want to wait another seven weeks until Christmas Day to get my hands on it and start making plans. The diary is invaluable for writers (or anyone creative for that matter). It has loads of blank pages for scribbling down ideas, a section for keeping track of your submissions, plus plenty of informative and inspiring pages detailing writing competitions, literary festivals and book suggestions. As you can probably tell, it’s the best diary I have ever had.

Ordering the diary late yesterday evening got me thinking about what kind of year 2013 will be writing-wise for me. I’m anticipating that it will be a good year. To begin with I’m going to self-publish my novel, The Butterfly Storm, so that in itself will be a very positive start. I had hoped to publish it before the end of 2012 but life and other writing work has got in the way and delayed things. I also want to do it justice and feel there’s no point in rushing it.

So, with The Butterfly Storm published at the beginning of the year I want to then focus on my second novel, Time Shifters, a time travel adventure story for children. It’s already written and edited, I just need to decide what to do with it – whether to send it out to agents or consider self-publishing it too.

As well as all the promoting and marketing that will be involved following the release of The Butterfly Storm, there’s also other writing work to concentrate on – work that’s actually guaranteed to earn me money such as writing articles, blog posts and online content for easyJet holidays and lowcostholidays.com. Ideally by this time next year (if not before) I would love to be working as a writer full time. Only time and a lot of hard work will tell.

What are your plans, writing or otherwise, for 2013?

How to Make Writing Friends and Influence Readers

Last Friday I was invited to writer, blogger and book promotion expert, Debbie Young’s launch of Sell Your Books! her new book for self-published and indie authors. Published by SilverWood Books, it’s an indispensable guide for the budding indie author and the already self-published.

As a writer about to take the plunge into self-publishing my first novel, The Butterfly Storm, it was a fantastic opportunity to meet and talk to Debbie and other SilverWood Books authors who have chosen the self-publishing route. The authors I spoke to, including Helen Hollick and Lucienne Boyce, were friendly and encouraging and happily shared their own self-publishing experiences with me. What I took away from Debbie’s book launch – besides some new writer friends – was the following sound advice:

  1.  However small my budget for self-publishing The Butterfly Storm is, I should at the very least put aside some money to get my novel professionally proof read.
  2. Ensure the front cover looks professional and is suitable for a book.
  3. Have a well-thought out promotion and marketing plan to Sell Your Books!

As Helen rightly suggested, particularly with eBooks (the route that I’m initially taking with my novel), to show that you’re a novelist worth reading you need to take your writing seriously and that means a carefully edited and professionally proof read novel with a cover that wouldn’t look out of place on your local bookshop shelf. With so many books out there jostling for space and trying to hook readers you’ve got to give your own book the best chance possible. That means ensuring that any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors are corrected before publication and having a front cover that screams ‘buy me’ or at the very least seduces a potential reader.

Marketing and promotion, I admit, are not my strong points but once I’ve published The Butterfly Storm I’ve got to entice and persuade people to buy it to have any chance of success. That’s where Debbie’s book will come in – a guide to building a readership and keeping on building it. Joanne Phillips is one such author making a success of self-publishing with her first novel, Can’t Live Without, published as both an eBook and paperback, plus a newly released book of short stories. Joanne shares her writing journey on her blog, publishing posts packed with advice and ideas based on her own experience. It’s an inspiring read for someone like myself on the brink of self-publishing.

It’s thanks to Twitter that I’ve been introduced to so many new writing friends over the past few months. Writers are a friendly bunch. Far from being competitive with each other the majority of self-published and indie authors are generous and supportive – retweeting links, following each others blogs, leaving reviews and comments. This in turn builds a network of writing friends (and also potential readers) and you never know where those connections may lead.


Deadlines and Coffee Breaks

When it comes to writing I’m at my most productive in two ways:

1)    By having a deadline (gets me writing every time)
2)    By leaving the house, going to a café and tucking myself away in a quiet corner with a vanilla latte (a good latte, preferably flavoured with caramel or vanilla is very important).

With the dog needing walking, the living room needing hoovering and the internet needing browsing, it’s very easy to get distracted working from home. A deadline gives me focus. I write content for websites such as easyJet holidays and lowcostholidays.com and the deadline can often be for 9am the following day. I don’t mess about when I know I have a deadline. I knuckle down, do any relevant research, write the articles and edit them before emailing them off well before the deadline.

Self imposed deadlines don’t work as well because I know there’s no one to reprimand me if I don’t finish that blog post on time or if I fail to publish my novel by a certain date. I’m working on that though as time management and productivity is vital when you’re a freelancer.

If I really want to get a lot written in a relatively short space of time I simply leave the house and head to a local café. The Tobacco Factory Café in Southville, just a few minutes walk away, is one of my favourites, and I used to quite often walk into the centre of Bristol and settle down on one of the comfy armchairs in Starbucks on Park Street for an afternoon of writing. Music and other people’s conversations fade into the background and I can sit and write without any of the distractions at home that manage to take my attention away from the blog post or article I’m supposed to be focusing on. For me writing on a coffee break can be a very creative time.

Where and when are you at your most productive?

Why I Write

There’s not a time I remember when I haven’t loved writing. I love everything about it, forming characters, creating imaginary worlds, telling a good story, writing about things I’ve experienced and those I haven’t. I even love the actual physical experience of putting pen to paper and writing the old fashioned way.

My clearest early childhood memory was when I was seven and went into hospital for open-heart surgery to fix a hole in my heart. It’s not a traumatic memory, far from it, I thought it was a big adventure being away from home in a small ward with a couple of other kids, albeit very poorly kids. Even when I waved goodbye to my mum and dad before the lift doors closed and I was taken down to theatre, I never felt scared. Waking up hours later in intensive care with tubes poking out of me and machines beeping was disorientating but even then I was thankfully too young to take on board the enormity of what I’d been through and have the fears and anxieties that I’d have had as an adult.

After being discharged I had home tuition for a few months until I was well enough to return to school and that’s when I started writing stories. The experience directly relates to why I’m a writer. I’ll never know if I’d have become a writer if I hadn’t needed that operation. All I know is that time in hospital is one of my most vivid memories not just from childhood but from the whole of my life and 27 years on I can still recall the tiniest of details and remember how I felt. An experience like that has got to have shaped my life in some way and I know the time I spent at home afterwards being tutored on my own inspired me to write.

The first novel I wrote was called London’s Burning and was about a couple of friends who ended up going back in time to the Great Fire of London, although I did get muddled up with my history thinking the fire took place in Tudor times instead of 1666 when King Charles II was on the throne. Regardless of the inaccuracies I’m sure the idea of it inspired my children’s novel, Time Shifters, a time travel adventure story that I’ve just finished editing.

I spent a lot of time lost in my imagination when I was growing up. Until I discovered drama at senior school I was quite shy and I think I found it easier escaping into a made-up world. A lot of what I wrote when I was young was set in the past and involved time travel, so perhaps that was another way of avoiding dealing with the real world. Despite being relatively quiet I did start writing short plays around the age of 11 about a horse mad girl called Jessie Jump, which I performed with a younger friend to an audience of my mum, her mum and our long suffering brothers.

So, I’m a writer and have been since I was seven. This blog is going to be all about my writing life, the ups and downs, ideas and influences, inspirations and thoughts, and my hopes and achievements. I hope you will join me.