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Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Dear Diary...I have a big, pink ball...

I read back through some old posts on my blog the other day and it struck me that writing a blog is a little bit like writing a diary, only it's a diary that you hope other people are going to read.  Not like the one you wrote when you were fourteen, documenting every exchange, however slight, with that boy you fancied something rotten in 9C. Hopefully you've now looked back and realised that him tripping you up and laughing every time he saw you was not, in fact, a sign of deep love and was because he was an enormous bully.  And you only fancied him because he was the tallest boy in Year 9 and you could always see him in the corridors, six inches about the cloud of viruses that hovered around everyone's heads.

Now diary-writing has been replaced by blogging. We lay ourselves bare (in a manner of speaking, you wouldn't want to see me with my vest off) on the internet instead of between pages of 'narrow feint and margin' and those little photo-booth pictures that used to pepper the pages, where we posed with our BFFs with our tongues poking out and careful hairstyles to conceal the acne, have been replaced by pictures from our phones or plucked from elsewhere on the internet to illustrate our points.

These are my BFFs. I'm not quite sure what point they illustrate, other than that having terriers drives you to madness and/or extreme fitness.

Anyway, dear blog... I have just splashed out and bought myself a ball to sit on.  A big, pink thing it is, designed to help my balance, so I'm sitting on it as I write this.  It's a bit like trying to blog whilst sitting on a small, restless pony, to be honest. It keeps shifting from side to side and it's only the nobbly bits on the top that stop me from sliding off.
The observant among you may notice that it is resting on cushions. This is not because I am concerned for its comfort, nor to give me a softer landing should it shy dramatically to the left and throw me. No. The cushions are there because, in purchasing my ball, I neglected to ensure that when blown up and sat on, it would enable me to reach my keyboard.  I tried without the cushions, which resulted in me typing somewhere at shoulder level, like an infant trying to do the washing up.

However, I am assured that the ball, in conjunction with the terriers, should ensure that I end up with a bottom like two halves of a tennis ball, only less yellow and furry.  Dear Blog, I shall report back...

Sunday, 2 April 2017

When you have a large book family...

Well, that's another book released into the wild.

You know that metaphor about books being like babies?  The 'nine months gestation and worrying that everyone will think it's ugly, and the big 'push' before it's released' and all that?  I've just found another one...
This one. Available here
With your first baby/book, everyone gets terribly excited. You get lots of advice and then, once it's born, lots of sympathy when things don't quite go the way you expected.  People ask how it's doing, make 'ooh' and 'ahh' noises, send flowers and are generally very interested in the whole process.

When book/baby number two comes along, everyone is impressed that you felt you could do it all again, particularly with the fuss you made the first time, and the level of complaining.  But they admire your determination and, whilst they aren't popping round with flowers and home-made rice puddings any more, they enquire politely after your book/offspring, remember its birthday and give you a nice level of reassurance that it will all be all right and the first one won't be jealous.

By the time you get to book/baby number five (I only had five babies, so this possibly continues but I shall NOT be finding out), your announcement is greeted with groans, a level of 'oh, not another one, what do you want to keep doing that for', as though you personally wrote/got pregnant simply to annoy other people.  From number one, where everyone assured you that they would keep an eye out for it/buy it/come round straight away (only two of these apply equally to babies and books, try to work out which one doesn't), you now get a more lack-lustre 'well, if I'm passing and I like the look of it, I might try.'  However...

Little Teashop of Horrors is my eleventh published book and, I am delighted to say, its birth was greeted with just as much excitement as Book Number One.  It seems that the news of the pending arrival is met with less enthusiasm than the actual delivery, whereupon, like with babies, everyone overcomes their initial reluctance and discovers that, really, it doesn't matter whether it's first born or one of many, every single one is an individual with its own little personality. And cover.

Thank you to everyone who congratulated me on my new book baby. I'll take those home-made rice puddings now...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Yorkshire, Source of inspiration since...I first thought of it.

I live in a lovely part of the world.  Well, I suppose that is relative, if you like lots of shopping opportunities and have a fixation on Harrods, you'd hate it here.  Also if you have a particularly intricate hairstyle this is not the best part of the world to be in, on account of the wind.  And also sometimes the rain..anyway, suffice it to say that North Yorkshire is a generally lovely place if you don't give a tuppeny stuff what you look like and also have a lot of laundry to dry.

Most of the books I write are based here.  Well, not here, because my sofa isn't that interesting and I'd be hard pressed to get more than a paragraph out of my living room, but here as in ...(I'm waving my arm to take in the general scenery here, but you can't see me doing it so I don't know why).  Location adds more to a book than just a place for it to happen in.  Think of Daphne du Maurier's books, 'Jamaica Inn' and 'Frenchman's Creek' - they are so steeped in Cornwall that you can practically smell the cream teas when you open them. 
Oddly enough, a lot of it was filmed in Yorkshire...
And then you've got all those Shetlandic detective thingies that are all rocks and isolation and fish and simply wouldn't work if you tried to transpose the action to Birmingham, not least because there just isn't that much herring in Solihull.

So books are coloured by their backgrounds, and, if you're writing a novel then it's very useful to have the sort of background that can also reflect the action in the book.  York, for example, has a lot of windey (also windy, see above) streets, and wandering through narrow, cobbled streets where the shops all lean against one another is a time-honoured way of having a character reflect on their circumstances, and if they can do this whilst buying a loaf of bread and a cabbage, then so much the better.  Wide open spaces give characters lots of 'walking about' time, and my characters go in for a lot of musing, so it's useful to have them doing it where they won't walk into other people or fall off the edge of the pavement.

Seasons and weather are also bigger in the countryside. In cities rain is just wet, out here it can be horizontal and blinding and hail can knock all your fingers off. All good stuff when you need a 'big moment' in a book...
My locality (not actual size)

Sunday, 26 February 2017

'How long does it take to write a book?' A lifetime and counting...

Everyone (and this is quite literally, everyone, from people who meet me at book signings, to the elusive milkman, who only speaks to me from the other side of the road, while running away) wants to know how long it takes to write a book.   Usually because someone suggested that they take up a hobby, and crochet or macrame seemed to involve too much committment, so they thought writing a book might be a nice way to pass a couple of afternoons when the weather was too wet to go out.
Does anyone else think this just looks like a really inefficient way of catching cod?

So. How long does it take to write a book?  That's a question that's a bit like 'how long is a piece of string?'  I wrote one of my books in six weeks.  Others take around six to nine months. One took over a year.  But that's just the physical writing, you see, the bum-on-chair, fingers-to-keyboard, biscuit-to-mouth stage. The stage where people can see what you are doing.  There is a whole stage previous to that one, which is a stage I call 'cooking the book' (which is not at all like 'cooking the books', which is strictly illegal and, since I cannot reliably count my own fingers and get the same number twice, probably not something I shall ever do).  This is the stage where a writer walks around a lot, talking to themselves, sometimes ejaculating such gems as "if it's purple, it could work!" and also sometimes wearing their pants on their heads.

You see, if you aren't a writer, you won't understand this a writer everything is writing. A writer, upon very reasonably being asked what the hell they are doing when they are standing in a field poking a large tree with a stick, can pefectly honestly answer 'I'm writing'. Because, in their head, they might need the information about what happens when you poke a large tree with a stick (no, I've no idea either, but maybe they are writing Swedish Crime Thrillers, where a lot of tree poking goes on. I understand. I don't read them. Because of the tree poking thing).
This was originally called 'The Girl Who Poked the Oak Tree with Really Quite a Long Stick.'
 Plus, of course, all of life informs a writer's writing. I'm told that life imitates art, but when I tried imitating Venus Rising I just got told to put my clothes back on and to get out of the fishmonger's, so I'm not sure how that works, but life certainly informs art.  You can always tell a writer because, when their house burns down, their husband leaves and their children appear on the front page of The Sun, they will say through their tears, 'It will all go in a book, one day'.

And it will. But it might be twenty years down the line when everyone else has forgotten. But writers Never Forget Anything.  Anything plot related, that is. I can't remember where I put the car keys.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

28th of March. Put it in your diary. Go on...'s when my new book comes out.

Unless anything terrible happens between now and then titlewise, it's called The Little Teashop of Horrors, and I hope very soon to have a cover to show you and a blurb and all those conventional things.  Until then you are just going to have to take my word for it.

It is, of course, set in North Yorkshire, in a stately home called Monkpark Hall (loosely based on this house)...
No, it's not my house. My house has more cats than chimneys.  This is Nunnington Hall.

It's about Amy, who lives with the grandmother who brought her up in a cottage on the estate, and Josh, who gives demonstrations of flying with his birds of prey and lives in a caravan.  So it's not about landed gentry in an Upstairs Downstairs way, it's more about what happens if you live in a tied cottage and need to work on the estate to keep your house, when the person taking over the management of the place threatens your job...

One of the stars of the story is a barn owl called Skrillex, who looks a bit like this
..only scruffier.

It also contains many mentions of tea and scones, considerable amounts of baking, a hidden staircase and a large quantityof brussel sprouts.  There's a ghost-that-isn't-a-ghost, a motorcycle and gratuitous mentions of Whitby Abbey too.

Now. You were going to put 28th of March in your diary, weren't you?  Go on, I'll help.  E-book, out on 28th March, called Little Teashop of Horrors.  By Jane Lovering.

And hopefully I'll soon have a cover to tease you with!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

'To blog - or not to blog? That is the question...'

I was recently involved in a discussion about 'mummy blogs'. Well, when I say 'involved in', I mean I read the discussion and occasionally nodded. 'Mummy Blogs' are where (usually new) mothers blog about their experiences of parenthood and can vary hugely from 'this isn't what I expected, I want to go back to work, the baby's just eaten pooh and the dog's been sick on the carpet', to 'here are my little treasures enjoying an educational game before eating a home-cooked nutritional meal #feelingblessed'.

And it got me thinking... do you read blogs by your favourite authors? Are author blogs less or more interesting than Writing Blogs?

Really well known authors tend less towards blogs (and if they do have a blog, chances are they haven't written it, it's done by their Publicity People, because they have people. Most authors are barely on speaking terms with themselves, let alone people) and more towards newsletters. The 'here's my latest release, out on Tuesday, here's a competition.'  Which tells you a lot about the actual book, but not much about the author behind it.  So, here's my question... do you like reading author blogs? If you do, would you rather read about the author's experience with their grumpy neighbour and how everyone thinks 'working from home' means sitting around drinking coffee all day and running down to the shop in their slippers to buy more biscuits?  And how their hoover is broken and why the cat has that face on?  Or would you rather read purely about the books?

Or, again, would you rather read a Writing Blog, where authors write about the process of writing?
Do you want to read about the person behind the author? (I mean, the actual person, the real one, not someone standing behind the author with a whip and a stern expression muttering something about edits having been promised last week, because that is called a Publisher, and they have their own blogs, thank you).  And I know that reading my blogs is more like reading about the person behind that person, because I've got a lot of people in my head and it seems rude not to give them all a turn.  Or would you rather read about the writing processes of authors?

Or would you rather that we all just shut up and wrote books and didn't bother you with our biscuit preferences and our dog pictures?  Because, if you are going to be like that about it...

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Writing advice - A book doesn't just tell a story!

OK, I'm going to let you in on a little secret here - writing a book isn't just about telling a story.

Are you shocked? Well, don't be, just have a cup of tea and a sit, have a HobNob, it's all right the cat only licked the top one, the rest are fine, and I shall explain what I mean.  By the way, if you write books you will already know this, so please feel free to do some light dusting or clean down the back of the fridge while I explain it to the others, yes, you can take your tea and HobNob with you.  There's some dishcloths in...well, actually I have no idea where the dishcloths live. There might not even be any.  Just sort of waft, it will be fine...

Right. Everyone else. Now.  I know you want to tell your story.  You've got a very good story, say, for example, it's about a woman and a man who meet, and hate each other, then fall in love. Yep, that's a story, but it's not really, is it?

Think about it.  Two people meet and hate each other.  So, why do they ever have anything more to do with one another? I don't hang around with people I hate, it would be uncomfortable, and I only hate people who eat all the biscuits or are unkind to animals, so I wouldn't stay.  So you need an absolutely true and compelling reason for these two people to be together for long enough to fall in love.
Yes, I suppose trying to sabotage a race is a reason...
And then, because your reader wants to believe that their love will last long enough for at least a conversation, if not sex, to take place, then their 'falling in love' has be also be a believable conversion of feelings. One of them can't just see the other being approximately nice to an old lady and think 'oh, he/she's not so bad really, I must be completely and utterly in love with them! Gosh!' These characters must grow and change and become better people during the duration of the story; they must not act like puppets!  And, if at all possible, don't have one of them give up whatever it was that the other person didn't like them for - they both have to compromise (unless it's eating all the biscuits and being unkind to animals. No compromise there. In fact, kill them).

You know I do critiques, don't you?  I mean, in case you didn't know. And if you wanted some more and quite specific writing advice, just bear me in mind, because I've got loads more pictures of Dastardly and Mutley and I'm not afraid to use them...ahem. So. If you've written something and you'd like to have my advice on how to make it not feel like an episode of Wacky Races (I mean, I'm sure it isn't anything like that, but you might think it is and want a second opinion), then drop me an email and I will do my best to help you.

I'll even do the Mutley laugh, if you think it will help.

Right, after that little nugget of advice, I'm going to see if the others have cleaned behind that fridge yet. Keep it real (floats off, making little 'shruggy' motions and carrying a HobNob at a careful angle).

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Writing Guilt. Female phenomenon or general writerly angst?

I was having a discussion recently with a bunch of on-line friends. Yes. I have friends. Okay, so some of them I've never met in real life, but that doesn't stop me calling them friends - and yes, I am very aware of the rules on who I might be allowed to call a friend, believe me, someone with as many injunctions as me is very well aware of that sort of thing.  Anyway. What we were talking about was Writing Guilt.

We were a group of women (this is relevant, honestly) talking about having to get on with writing but our behaving as though writing was our own little 'treat' - something we must do quietly, and only when all housework etc is completed. As though, somehow, our writing was not a valuable contribution to the household earnings and/or our desire to write was something that must be placed lower on the ranking scale than the dog's desire to have a four mile walk and the cat's desire to have a really clean set of pillowcases to sleep on.

I call this Writer's Guilt.  And the topic of discussion with those friends (yes, they really ARE friends. No, not in the same way as Tony Robinson is a friend - see above re injunctions) was whether or not male writers also suffer from Writer's Guilt if they take themselves off to add a chapter to their WIP, or whether they are better able to prioritise their writing lives.  Does this depend on whether the writer is earning a living solely from their writing (ie, is it easier to ignore the hoovering and the dog if your writing is paying for the electricity and the Pedigree Chum, and I can't imagine that Sir Terry Pratchett ever delayed sitting down in front of his keyboard until the bath was clean and he'd completed the Sainsburys order)?   Is it just women who feel somehow guilty about sitting down in front of our keyboards, as though by writing we are neglecting something or someone else in our lives?
And where does this guilt come from? It seems to be felt right across the board, so it's not just an extension of the natural guilt that motherhood thrusts upon you, associated with the feeling of always being in the wrong, lack of sleep and never being able to find a pair of socks that match. Is it ingrained in us from birth? Are there men that also suffer?

Or is it just the way the dog stares at us?
Try not to weaken...