NEW - CRITIQUE SERVICE

I am now offering a critique and manuscript assessment service. For further details, please e mail me at janelovering@gmail.com

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Christmas. Cold, storms...my imagination only goes so far

This is torture and it happens to me every year.

I am writing a Christmas book. Now, I think the people of Britain should employ me to write Christmas books (although, I suppose, in a roundabout way, they actually are, because if they buy my book it's a bit like being employed by them. Just as long as they don't ask me to clean their windows or cook dinner or anything) because it seems that as soon as I start writing about Christmas the temperature climbs into the twenties and the sun is relentless.

Although I do have to admit I started this book (currently called The Discovery of Christmas, but that will no doubt change) it was November. It was cold.

It felt proper Christmassy. Although on Christmas day it was actually sunny and dry but we won't talk about that.
Now I am getting towards the end of the book. It's still Christmas in book world. Only a few weeks have passed booktimewise. However, here in the real world it's July, the sun is beaming down, even the dog won't go out in the garden and my butter has melted.
If you look closely, you can see my butter melting
So here I am, trying hard to conjure the image of storm lashed coastline, a bare house with sleet pelting the windows as two people huddle up against the cooker to keep warm. With all my windows open and the dog belly-up on my feet.

It's unfair. I spent the last seven months absolutely frozen and now I need to imagine 'absolutely frozen' it's bikini weather. I bet if I suddenly send my leading couple to a desert island, the rain will cascade down and not stop for a fortnight. So, if any farmers would like to sponsor my writing, I will gladly adjust my book settings in order to bring forth whatever weather they desire.

My next book is set back in Yorkshire in a damp spring. So, be prepared for next spring to be the driest on record, will you?

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Building yourself a hero

Do you have a constant procession of imaginary people walking through your life?

Annoying, isn't it? When you start to feel that they are better than your real friends (well, of course they are, they do everything they are told!), more amenable, probably richer and better looking too, unless your real friends are - I dunno - the Beckhams or something. Because imaginary people have to be like real people, only more so.

Now I'm here to talk about heroes in books, particularly in romantic fiction (because those are the books wot I write, and therefore I have a vague idea what goes into them).

The men can't just be normal men; ok most of the time, bit crap at helping with the housework, fairly clueless when you are upset but basically decent. No. They have to have hair of ebony, eyes like liquid chocolate, muscles that fill their clothes out and generally they smell of something luscious and exotic, like lemons and cold air. They are always empathic, touchy-feely, as full of hugs as a HobNob is full of crunch. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, sickening. If they have a flaw it will be one that makes them that little bit more attractive - they will be devoted to the memory of their dead wife, or single-minded in their pursuit of the life that they want (and the heroine).
Like this. Only with a puppy in one hand, a bunch of flowers for his mum in the other, and a tea towel over his shoulder.

If they have a physical flaw, like a scar or a missing limb, it will have been sustained rescuing orphans from a housefire, being caught in crossfire whilst serving in a military unit somewhere troubled or saving a puppy from a runaway vehicle. It won't, for example, have been sustained falling downstairs while catastrophically drunk. Because your average hero doesn't get drunk, unless he's drinking to forget his (equally picturesque) sorrows. He doesn't overdo it at a party, walk into a lampost, sustaining a nasty cut to the forehead which scars in an unpleasantly puckered way, and then spend the rest of his night with his head down the toilet. No! For he is a Romance Hero...

So. When you come to Build Yourself a Man (can I recommend putting the eyeballs in last?) consider not just the muscles, they way his thighs bulge in his jeans, his sparkling eyes, the way he loves his mother, his dog and his job and how fabulous he is at everything he does. Consider, instead, making sure that he feels REAL to your reader. Even readers who are reading for the pure escapism and want their heroes to be billionaire sex-gods with biceps of iron, designer suits and an orphaned niece who needs bringing up, want a hint of believability in this man. They want to think that they just might run into him (or his poorer, slightly less muscly and dressed in Top Man younger brother) down their High Street on a Saturday night. They need a thread of believability running through their general Weave of Perfection.

Give him something he's bad at. Whilst a man being good at something is ineffably sexy, a man who isn't afraid to admit his imperfections is just as sexy. Show him making mistakes (and putting them right). Yes, he can be attractive, but he has to feel attainable. 
Okay, maybe not THAT attainable.
 

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Quick, Quick, Slow...

I've had several reviews lately, describing the beginnings of my books as 'slow'. I don't have any problem with this, especially as the rest of the review has been stellar, but it did make me think.

Why do they say my books are slow, and is there anything I can do about it?
This is my actual face as I asked the question
And then I sat down and though again, and I thought 'no. I understand why they say the beginnings of my books are 'slow'. And I'm not going to do anything about it...' This is why...

You know that girl? The one you briefly met on a train once? Well, she's just madly in love with a bloke. Oh, I don't know which bloke, just a bloke. Anyway, she's madly in love with him, but there's a problem, because his sister hates the girl, you know, the first, girl, the one you met once on that train.

Do you care? Thought not. Okay, try this...

Your best friend, the one you've known since you were five, the one you've had loads of in-depth conversation with, whose hopes and fears you understand, the one you know inside out? Well, she's just met a man. And, you'll never guess, but he's that chap that you got friendly with over a coffee, the one who told you all about how afraid he is that he'll never find anyone to love him because of his background? It's him! And they are in love!

I bet you care a lot more about those two. About whether they get together, and the story of their relationship, because you know them. You know about the struggles they've faced and how much they both deserve their happy ending. The girl on the train, I mean, obviously, you hope she's happy too, but you can't get too invested in her romance, because you don't know anything about her. All you know is that she's pretty and she seems nice.

Now, there's a place for the first type of story, of course there is. And there are people who want to read it. People who want their couple to meet quickly, for there to be loads of intial attraction, but something that prevents the couple from getting together.

But that's not what I write. I write about the second kind of relationship. About characters you already know by the time they fall in love. Characters you are cheering on, because you know how hard their lives have been and how much they deserve their happy ending.

And that is why my stories have 'slow beginnings'. Because I think readers need to know the characters before they fall in love. Otherwise, why should they care?
Because sloths are adorable, that's why...



Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Working with an editor. Or, not actively against one.

So, you've signed your contract, sent back the mermaid, and it's all gone quiet.

Make the most of it. Because soon it is going to get really REAL. Because the first thing your publisher is going to do is get an editor to go over your work.
How editors look while they are reading your book
Now, do you remember all those things I told you about dealing with rejection? Go and practice them. Because you are about to get something called an Editorial Report on your manuscript, and it will cause you to experience Going Full Tea Towel all over again. Also stock up on biscuits (it's hard to swear with a mouthful of HobNobs, at least, it isn't hard but nobody can tell what you are saying, so you get away with more), wine and clean pyjamas, because nothing much is going to get done for the foreseeable future, and as long as you have wine, HobNobs and clean pyjamas you are going to be fine. Or, maybe not fine, as such, but you will be fed, drunk and not smell, so that's all good.

Oddly enough, because the publishers have bought your book (remember, you signed the contract whilst extracting tights from the dog?) the first thing they want to do is change it. Okay, they aren't changing it because it's not good, or they had a quick whim that they wanted a book that was almost exactly like yours only completely different, but they are changing it because they think it will be better done a different way. Or with more characters. Or less. Or located in Dorset. Enid Blyton's 'Five Go To Smuggler's Top' was originally called 'Four Go To Hayling Island' before the editors got their hands on it, you know.
Except none of the editors knew where Hayling Island was, so it had to go...
 And you will look upon your editor's words, ye mighty author, and you will despair. Oh boy will you despair. This is where the swearing comes in, by the way. Because you will find yourself looking at lots of comments like 'I love this bit, but why does she say.........?' You remember writing that bit and laughing like a drain at your heroine's witty comeback, but you are now forced to realise that nobody else understands why it's witty. Just because the phrase 'no, you're a banana!' makes you roll around slapping your thigh and giggling, doesn't mean that anyone else is going to find it amusing. Remember - if you have to explain a joke, it isn't funny.

In essence, your editor is going to make you rework your book. It's going to be like doing the ironing. Hopefully it won't be more than smoothing out a few creases and getting the corners to lie flat, but it might be the literary equivalent of putting the pleats in a kilt and 101 Ways with a Lace Collar.
I've never ironed anything, but I understand this is a suitable analogy.
 Don't be afraid to stand up and tell your editor that you can't pleat that way because it will affect the way your sporran hangs later in the story, but do be guided by them when it comes to the book version of the Fitted Sheet. They know what works. Take their advice.

Oh, and don't turn your editing iron up too hot. Nobody wants a melted plot device.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Your first moments as a writer, probably mermaid-free.

Now that you are about to become a fully fledged author (or are thinking about it, or even if you aren't you are reading this, so you must be mildly interested), you may think that signing that first contract for publication will be the high point of your career.

Well, it might. But, on the other hand, it is almost certain that the contract will arrive by email, you will have to print it out and then sign and post it back. It will not - contrary to what you may imagine -  be hand delivered by mermaids on unicorns. Actually, a mermaid probably wouldn't be able to ride a unicorn, when you think about it, she'd just keep sliding off. Even sidesaddle wouldn't help, because you have to sort of cock one leg over the top of the other, and a mermaid hasn't got any legs to cock.
I think we can all see that this isn't going to work, can't we?
So, whilst it might be a nice idea that just results in a faceful of pavement for your mermaid and a unicorn galloping unrestrained around your local streets, you are probably not going to have this problem.

Almost positively, the day your contract comes by email will be the day the dog swallows a pair of tights, a child comes down with an illness you are sure is chicken pox, there will be Marmite all over the kitchen and a strange smell behind the fridge. You won't have seen the cat for three days, the TV remote will have vanished and there will be a letter from the bank that has a tint of red around the edges.

You will print out the contract with one hand whilst on the phone to the vet with the other. With your third hand you will take the temperature of the ill child. When you finally sign and return the contract, you will be so distracted that it will hardly even register. And your pen will probably run out half way through, so part of your signature will be done in green pen, because it will be the only one you can find that works, but will make you look as though you forgot your own name part way through.
You will have had a lovely pen all ready for this momentous..errr...moment, but you'll forget all about it when the time comes. You'll probably be so distracted that you will post the contract back without a stamp.

Don't worry. The rest of your writing career will consist of moments like this all joined together, so you might as well start as you mean to go on.

Monday, 7 May 2018

The publishing equivalent of Those Men on Facebook

It's a Bank Holiday Monday, the sun is shining and I can't wait to get outside and run for a few miles...

...no, sorry, I can't even type it with a straight face. It is a Bank Holiday Monday, and one on which I am not at work, but far from being consumed with a desire to go for a run, I'm sitting indoors, in my pyjamas, wondering whether I can legitimately start eating chocolate at not-quite-ten in the morning. I will go for a run later but...yes, later...

So, here I am to talk to you about the next stage in your writing journey. I'm calling it 'When To Say No', but it's not some long tale about Dubious Consent (which is a whole other topic in the romance writing fraternity, regarding sexual consent - yes, cream cakes are nice, but you don't necessarily want to have one forced down your throat when you are trying to watch NCIS, and associated imagery), it's about not jumping on the first publishing offer that is sent your way.

I KNOW that when you get that e-mail (or letter, if you are old-school), your first instinct is to punch the air and leap about all demented yelling "Somebody wants to publish me!!" Of course it is! You've worked long and hard to get here! All those biscuits! All that sobbing over the keyboard while the cat stares at you!
But, just sometimes, The Offer is not all it appears to be.

You know those men on Facebook? The ones that want to Friend you, and have a picture that makes them look like a cross between Keanu Reeves and Mark Harmon (go and Google them both, if you must, quite frankly I despair of you!) in a uniform? Well, there's a publishing equivalent.

If a publisher emails you (or, as previously mentioned and old-school, writes you a letter), and it goes along the lines of 'hello lovely Lady, you have such a pretty smile I can't help myself but write to you and want to be your friend,' BEWARE.

Although the letter will more likely go 'Dear 'AUTHOR' (sometimes they will spell your name wrongly, but this is merely a courtesy detail).

'We, here at Boggin Books, have read your submission' (which will carefully not be named here) 'and are delighted to say that we would love to publish it.'

This is the point at which you whoop, punch the air and, usually, stop reading. Sometimes you break out the gin or champagne. Someone loves your book! They want to publish it! You have practically made your first million, and you start planning your poster campaign and what you will wear to your first book launch party.

But hold hard.

Dubious people out there know how desperate authors are to be published. They will leap on your hope. Beware of ANY letter (or email) from a publisher that doesn't mention your novel by name, and also doesn't mention any kind of contract, because the follow up letter to the one I mention above, once you have confirmed your interest, will often go...

'Dear AUTHOR

We are delighted you have expressed an interest in using Boggin Publishing Services. We would ask for a small contribution towards the cost of publishing YOUR TITLE HERE, in order to maximise your reach.'

or some such.

AUTHORS NEVER PAY TO PUBLISH. Except self- published authors, of course, and they know that they are self-publishing. Don't EVER get duped into paying any money to produce your book, not for 'cover design rights' or 'for a top notch editor to work with you' or 'to have your book listed on Amazon'. Publishers, proper publishers, pay these costs for their authors. It's why they get first grabs at the money and your royalties are what's left - because they've taken the risk of publishing your book and put money into it.
I know, but it's fair when you think about it. So, if you get an offer that you think might be too good to be true...

think of those widowed single dads in the US military who inexplicably want to be your friend.



Monday, 30 April 2018

Those three little words...

So you've submitted your first three chapters, and you've heard those magic three words for the first time..

No, not 'I love you'. It would be odd to be hearing someone say I love you in response to submitting your novel, unless you have submitted it to your Significant Other, which would be, largely, pointless unless you are dating the head of Random Penguin or whatever they call themselves today. Plus, if you are dating the head of a random penguin, your problems may well be further reaching than I can deal with in this blog.

The three words to which I refer are 'Send. More. Please.' There is a caveat about making sure that these words refer to your words, and not, say sandwiches or cake or biscuits - it's always wise to double check, but in the event that you've heard a publisher or agent say them, and you have therefore Sent. More. Words (those words being further words of your novel, not just stray words you happened to have lying around the place), now you need to fill your time until you hear back about the satisfactory nature of those words.

This can be a hard time. You will obsess. You will have the e mail button open on your laptop at all times, and every time a new mail pings in you will open it with your heart thumping. Unless you are expecting your credit card statement, of course, in which case you will close down all means of communication and probably move to the moon. You will make bargains with Fate, wandering around muttering 'if they promise to buy the book I will never again eat four Walnut Whips in succession' and suchlike. Usually with at least one Walnut Whip in your hand.
Unless, as previously stated, you are talking to a random penguin head.
You will read books published by the publisher (or represented by the agent) and try to work out whether your work is in any way comparable. You will also eat a lot of chocolate and sleep standing up.

What you should be doing:
 Apart from pledging yourself to diet off those biscuits and chocolate at the first opportunity, this is what you should do: Get Yourself On Social Media. If you haven't already got one, get a Facebook profile, get on Twitter and make yourself a blog. (What? You didn't think I was doing this for FUN did you?). Because the first thing that publisher or agent will do, on receiving your treasured manuscript is Google you. And it's all very well keeping a low profile and being all mysterious and unavailable and everything, particularly if you have either recently robbed a bank or have more injunctions taken out against you by a certain Sir Tony Robinson, but what a publisher or agent wants is someone who knows how to sell themselves.

I tried to sell myself to Sir Tony, but he returned me with the receipt and asked for his money back. I was, apparently 'not fit for purpose'. Sigh.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Dealing with rejection by going Full Tea Towel.

Now comes the stage in your publishing career where you have to send your book baby out into the wide world - which is why I've called this bit 'rejection'.

I know you think your book is perfect. Of course you do! You wouldn't be submitting it otherwise, would you? You think it is the shiniest thing that ever shone and it's amazing and wonderful and original and lots of other adjectives that can otherwise only apply to Lord Tony of Robinson...
Just tell me if he isn't the most adorable thing you've seen since my appearance in the penguin onesie...
So, you've got your book all shiny, and now you need to send it out to people who might just put it out into the wide world. And how do you go about that?

Firstly, go and buy yourself a copy of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Honestly. it's full of Really Important Information like names of agents and publishers and their submission details, and, if all else fails, it makes an excellent doorstop. You can make a list, if you like, of all the agents (or publishers if you're going the direct route) that deal with the sort of book that you've just written. If you are really keen you can do a spreadsheet, but I've never really got to grips with those, and just end up with lots of little boxes which get all mangled and it looks like a wall built by someone who'd rather be knitting.
Like this. Only with words in.
And then you go online and you look up the agents and/or publishers. Their websites will have their submission guidelines - pay close attention to these. If they ask for you to send the first three chapters, then send the first three chapters and not a word more. Honestly, there's very little that annoys a publisher or agent more than people who don't read the guidelines, and you don't want to make them any more purple-faced with rage than they already are, because the publishing industry is the sort of industry that brings out the purple face of rage more readily than any other.

You submit your work, and then you wait. And yes, it's all right to send it to more than one place at a time (although it's only polite to tell those you are sending it to that this is what you have done). Submission guidelines will tell you whether they want a covering letter, a writer's CV or a synopsis as well. Do make sure you've put it all in the envelope before you post, there's nothing worse than toddling back from the post office, or pressing the SEND button, only to find that you left out a vital piece of requested information and having to send it separately (see: Purple Face of Rage).

Now is the time to lay in a supply of chocolate, lots of biscuits, some very good friends and a vocabulary laden with invective. I'm particularly fond of 'hamfisted amateurs with the imagination of a brain dead dinosaur'. Because when your rejection comes, you will need every last, sweary, chocolate-stained word, but that's fine. Honestly. Channel your inner Malcolm Tucker. Go Full Tea Towel. (If you've never heard of Tucker's Law, then it's here but not for those who are easily offended).

Then you smile, and send it out again somewhere else. And you keep doing that.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Beta Readers - or why too many cooks might spoil your broth

Where were we?  Well, in my case, mostly in Tony Robinson's shrubbery, but we'll let that go for now (or, at least have it taken into account with several other pending cases). We were at the next stage of 'how the hell do I write a book anyway', which I now realise isn't the catchiest title.

You've written it. You've re-written it and taken out all the 'just's and the 'then's and you've made sure your story has a character arc and plot development and doesn't just tell a flat story. You've also, hopefully, made sure that your heroine doesn't change eye colour half way through, or start the story coming from Latin America, widowed and owning a small boat, and somewhere along the line starts coming from Swansea with a pursuing husband and owning a small cottage in Holderness. You have checked all those things, haven't you?

I'll wait while you go back and look.

Right. So now you are at the stage of letting your book be seen by someone else.  I realise you might have been tempted already to let someone have a quick read, but do try not to. That way madness lies, and I should know, because I have a holiday home there.
It's like this. Only with more screaming.
If you let people look at work before you get it to the state where you think it 'might' be finished, you will find yourself getting "oooh, I love it but why don't you make him a blacksmith. Blacksmithing would be good"  and so you make him a blacksmith because it does seem a good idea at the time. Then another person reads it and says "why is he a blacksmith? You need him to be a jewellery designer, so then he can design her a ring - oh, oh, I know, and then they can go on a TV show where they have to compete for this huge prize and she wins and...."and various other inputs and opinions. When you are still in the 'creating' phase, the last thing you need is opinions. You will have plenty of your own. And most of your own opinions will conflict with your other opinions so you don't want other people putting theirs in there too - we talked about madness, didn't we?

So the book is as nearly perfect as you can get it, what with your feeble eyesight and your typing it out using only a crow's beak and an old bent fork you found in the garden - oh, hang on...

...no, apparently that's only me.
I did wonder.

And what you need now is a Beta Reader. Someone to test drive your book and iron out all the little wrinkles. I did a post on beta readers a while back, and you know how I hate to repeat myself, so here's the link.

http://www.janelovering.co.uk/2016/02/what-beta-reader-does-apart-from.html

so now all you have to do is find one. You can ask on Facebook, that's always good. Just DO NOT USE YOUR MUM, all right?

Sunday, 8 April 2018

What to do with a flabby middle

The average book is around about 80,000 words, give or take a full stop.

So, using 'author maths' (which is the only kind I am any good at, I can't even count my fingers and toes and reach the same total twice), you need around 5,000 words to introduce your characters and set up the premise for your book, and, say, another 10,000 to get things moving. And then it's going to take you around about another 10,000 for your denouement, to wrap up all the loose ends and get it all over and done with.

As you can see, that leaves you with...(hastily calculates) around 55,000 words in which you are neither starting nor ending your story. And, if you are not careful, those 55,000 words can just sit there, all lumpy and not pulling their weight, because words will do that, if they are allowed to. They lie back on the sofa of your novel, eating crisps and hogging the remote and doing absolutely nothing to advance your plot. And you need to go after them with the cattle prod of plot development and then give them the kick up the bum of character arc too.
Imagine it like this. You are the boot and the little man is your story, by the way. If you are imagining it the other way round, you may want to rethink the life of an author.

Remember what I keep telling you? That every single word needs to further your plot or develop your character? Take a look at those 55,000 words. Now, stop treating them like teenagers who don't tidy their rooms or bring their dirty plates out into the kitchen, and start treating them like co-workers who are leaving you to do all the heavy lifting whilst going out and getting drunk and coming back and putting their feet on the desks.

Basically, make them work. What about introducing a sub plot to give those 55,000 words something to do? Or a twist to the plot you've got? If you really can't get them to do something, maybe have a think about your plot. Have you got enough to fill an entire novel?

If you are really struggling, and those wretched words have not only taken over the remote but they've eaten all the chocolate too and are now lying back and asking you to make them a coffee - try taking your novel apart. Go through, chapter by chapter and make a list of which characters are doing what in each one. Then sum up each chapter - does it need to be there? What does it achieve in terms of the book as a whole?
Do not let your words tell you this. If they are not dragging your story, kicking and screaming, onto the next act, then they are not working.
And don't let me catch you using the 'really long descriptions' excuse to use up a lot of those flabby middle words. Those are still flabby, they're just wearing flattering clothes.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Editing: You are now at the 'chop chop arrrgh' stage

All right, calm down. Deep breaths. Now. You've written your novel and you've followed my instructions and you are now staring at pages and pages of scribbled on manuscript, convinced that this is the worst idea you've had since you bought that outboard motor and strapped it to the swimming aids in the local pool.
To be honest, that was NOT your finest hour
So now what do you do?

Sit down, have a large cup of tea and a packet of HobNobs, and a think. Do you have one of those Kindle thingies that reads to you? Doesn't matter if not, you can do this with your own voice. If you have got a fancy Kindle, save your manuscript to it and get it to read it aloud to you. If you haven't, then you're going to have to do the DIY version, and read it aloud to yourself. As you go, make notes, and bear in mind that EVERY SINGLE WORD has to earn its place. Remember what I said about huge long descriptions? And lots of words about things that are never going to appear in the book again? I don't want to have to come round and slap your hands...

Notes. Lots of notes.
Thsi is what organised writers do. Apparently
This is the time to move scenes and people around if they don't work where they are. Or kill them, killing them is good - not necessarily really killing them, unless it's that kind of book, but if they don't seem to work, or they appear on the page, say something vital and then go off never to be heard of again - try to think of a different way that information can be got over. Merge two people into one (don't try this in real life, they don't like it). Make your characters REAL. Just take out the boring bits of real life, nobody wants to read about cups of tea, walking the dog, cleaning the toilet...if your characters must do these things then at least have them talking about things RELEVANT TO THE PLOT while they are doing them.

And I cannot stress this enough...every single word you write must advance the plot or deepen the characters. I know you've done lots of research into tree felling, but the readers don't care. They don't need to know how you fell an oak, they just want the characters to do it and move on to the next thing.
Yes, it's complicated. Yes it takes work. But your readers want 'chop chop arrrrgh' not a lecture
In fact you need to get your book distilled down to the 'chop, chop, argggh' stage. Cut out all that flabby prosey stuff, where you describe the night sky for four pages. Readers know what a sky looks like, they want to know what is going to fall out of it.

And, as you cut stuff out, you are going to be thinking 'chop, chop....arrrgh, I love that bit, surely I can leave that in?!' Just think about how important it is to the plot...

Next week I am going to be working on your 'flabby middle'. Won't that be nice?

Sunday, 25 March 2018

How to Edit - well, to start with...

So, you've finished writing your novel! Well done! You should now have in front of you, a file of around 75,000 consecutive words! Some of them make sense! Some of them may even be good words like 'sussuration' and 'castigate', two words of which I am particularly fond but find little excuse to drop into conversation. And I am sure you think that these 75,000(ish) words are ready to go out in public, where they will undoubtedly draw the praise of many, the attention of a few, and possibly the finances of a publisher.

But hold your horses there. It is, and I hate to tell you this, extremely unlikely that your book is ready to be seen unescorted and out alone yet. It, like a three year old, may appear to be perfectly functional in all ways, but is still incapable of crossing a road or whipping up a cheese souffle. In fact, you may discover that it isn't even a proper book, but we can sort that out in the edits.

Firstly - put it away. Honestly. Somewhere you can't see it or smell it. A locked box in the bottom of a filing cabinet (you can put a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard' if it makes you feel more comfortable). At least six weeks should do it.
If you understand this reference, you are My Kind of People
But as long as you can bear it. Whilst it is marinading in there, write something new. Or go on a long holiday - anything that distracts you.

When a decent length of time has passed, withdraw the book and sit down with a big red pen (or highlights open on your computer) a bar of chocolate and the curtains drawn. DO NOT tell people what you are doing. They will Ask Questions, which is very offputting. Now read through your book again, and make notes as you go (hint, if you want to know how bad things really are, do a word search through your manuscript for little modifiers like 'just' . Once you've passed the 200 mark you can scream if you want).  Remember what I said about your characters having to grow and change? And every word moving the action on or developing the characters? Be honest now, can you really say that they do? Do you have four page descriptions of locations (or, even worse, clothes)?

And then, sit back, and think 'why should the reader care about this?'

Now, eat the chocolate. You can despair a bit, if you like, it's natural. You are also allowed to think you've written the worst book ever in the history of books, and that's including that four page illustrated 'Store of The Heghog' you wrote when you were seven.
'A captivating tale of nature' - your mum
But, admit it. There's a few sentences in there, a few descriptions, where you think 'that wasn't too bad'. Maybe the characters are wooden and don't behave like real people but there's this bit where they.... and that's not too terrible. Maybe the storyline still strikes you as unique. There's...just....something....

Now, quick. Make notes. Capture those 'somethings' that stood out for you. Circle them if you have to. Scribble all over your page (it's easier if you've printed it out for this bit, we've all ruined lots of laptops doing this). You will end up with things like 'why did she say this here? Why not earler?' and 'where's the caravan gone?' and, if your handwriting is like mine 'habble flib con not won argon'. Which you can decipher later.

What you will end up with is lots of coloured circles, post it notes stuck on, chocolate stains, scribble, tear-stains, turned down corners and a notebook where you have, hopefully, written ideas. Oh, and lots of chocolate wrappers.

But the main things is - you've got something to work with. And, if I don't get distracted, next week I shall help you with that.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Starting your novel - some words of advice

"Gosh", people sometimes say to me, often from a considerable distance because I have a look in my eye that suggests I might throw things at them if they come closer, "I'd really like to write a book!" Then they look at my ragged clothes and my unheated, damp house and add, "A successful one though." And then, cautiously, sometimes poking me with a stick, "Can you give me some advice?"

So I thought I'd use this blog to give that advice, without the poor souls having to come any closer to me. Can't really help with the 'successful' bit, but I can tell you about how to go about starting...

1. Make sure you are writing for the right reasons. Don't think you will write a book because it's a good way of getting famous, making lots of money or easy. If you think it's a good, easy way of being famous and making lots of money, then writing a book is not for you. Why not try being a contestant on a game show? It will give you your desired effect with less humiliation than writing a book.

2. Make sure you have a Big Enough Idea. That interesting thing that happened to you once won't even fill a chapter, trust me. Your characters have to grow and change and develop over the course of a novel, and dropping an ice cream won't do that. Unless your character is the Incredible Hulk, of course, Because I imagine dropping his ice cream would make the Hulk grow and change quite a lot.
3. Have a vague idea of which genre you are writing in and read up on those genres. For example, romance (my genre) has certain conventions. Like having a happy ending, where the couple get together. Now, you can break that convention, but it will mean your book will become 'women's fiction', and publishers may shake their heads and mutter, and, as a first time author, you don't want to give a publisher the chance to shake their head and mutter. Know Your Genre.
Trust me, romance and the happy ending does not have to mean 'fluffy' books. But work with the conventions.

4. Write. And, whilst writing, ask yourself if everything you are putting in that book is necessary. Remember what I said about characters growing and changing (and possibly ripping their trousers, if they are the Hulk)? Well, every word must either move your story on or develop your characters. No lengthy discussions about dresses, please.
Not relevant, not relevant, not relevant - but nicer in the blue, with the sweetheart neckline and more embroidery on the bodice...


5. Finish it. Doesn't matter if you hate it by the time you get to the end, we all hate every word we've written once we get to the end. But the road to Writing a Novel is paved with unfinished first chapters, you need to stick with it and keep going. It will feel like pulling teeth and you will pray for death around about 50,000 words, but Keep Going. We will talk about making something readable out of what you've written, next time.
When you've written these words, you have my permission to go and eat a lot of chocolate. Or biscuits. Or cake...look, just go and eat everything you can see. It's fine. You're a writer now, it's what we do...




Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Unexpected Rose Bowl of Doom...and why I think it should be a cake.

So, you know last week, when I went off to the RoNAs. with my little suitcase and a packet of HobNobs, a bit like Paddington Bear only without the label?

Well, I only went and WON THE RONA ROSE!!!

For anyone who doesn't know, that's the award for the best 'short' Romantic Novel of the Year. Think novella, Mills and Boon length books, in fact, I think Mills and Boon donated the trophy in the first place (It's actually called the Betty Neels trophy after one of their more successful authors. You can look at her books here. She seems like a nice lady). So they gave me a rosebowl.

Here is the rosebowl in question. Also pictured, flowers and the star that you get when you win your category. And the dog's blanket.

And I was wearing unsuitable shoes! Now, if you've ever tried walking around a room carrying a rosebowl and a crystal star, talking in an overexcited fashion to people you haven't seen for nearly two years, and wearing shoes that you can barely stand up in, well. I don't recommend it unless you want people to think you are a) drunk b) in need of medication or c) possessed by the spirit of a three legged terrier hopped up on Bonio and in drastic need of walkies.

Here are pictures: 
This is the line up (minus two who hadn't arrived yet) for the Romantic Comedy award. Eve Devon, Trisha Ashley and Matt Dunn, plus me. We all had a good giggle before this was taken, and lots of talk about underwear (although, to be fair, that was mostly Eve and me).

And this is me, post win. Looking, as you can see, somewhat shell shocked. But that might have been the shoes.

And then, the next day, I had to walk back through London, on a kind of inverse 'walk of shame', carrying the Unexpected Rosebowl. It's quite big and didn't fit in any of the bags I had, so it was stuffed, rather ignominiously, into a carrier bag, and turned out to be Quite Heavy when carted through town on plastic handles. Plus, I have no idea what to do with a rose bowl. In my house it's pretty much just a very posh Quality Street dispenser...

so, I put it to the Committee that, in future, all awards should be either very very light things which are easy to pop into a bag and carry for miles without arousing suspicion (like a bath sponge. Very light and squashy)
The new RoNA Rose award. Lacks a certain something, though.
or cake, OR something that is v v useful to have in the house (washing machine, log burner) or cake.

I realise it's harder to engrave the winner's name on a cake, and possibly a little harder to keep to pass on to next year's winner, but...IT'S CAKE! Plus much easier to carry, probably internally.




Sunday, 4 March 2018

Off to the RoNAs...

Tomorrow I shall be leaving my cosy existence in the wilds of North Yorkshire, for that there London, where I shall be attending the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards ceremony. Once there, I shall be running about with a big pink face, squeaking in excitement at all the very well known people there. I may even try to pee in one or two handbags.

It is a wonderful honour to be shortlisted. You knew I was shortlisted, didn't you? Well, I am. Once with
this, and once with
this. The list of other shortlisters is so esteemed that I am the only person on that list that I have never heard of and, indeed, very few people attending will have heard of me - except in the context of 'watch out for the one with the big pink face, she pees in your handbag if you don't keep an eye on her'.

So, think of me tomorrow, trying to be all polite and well behaved and everything, and trying to look acceptable in the pictures, where I must appear with normal people who look nice and are wearing lovely dresses (or not, in the case of the men) and shoes, and clapping happily at whoever wins. Because it's all about the books, you know, and the best book will most definitely win, even though I am pretty sure it won't be one of mine. It will just be lovely to see some of my friends there and have a giggle and a drink and applaud and just generally lig about.

Oh, and pee in a handbag, that's a given.

Here is the rogues gallery where you can see all the beautiful books and their beautiful authors. And me.


Sunday, 25 February 2018

Expecting The Beast, how far up the cat will it go?

Well, we've been warned. Cold weather is, apparently, on its way.

Now, it might have escaped some people's notice, but we've actually been entertaining a little season we like to call 'winter' lately. You know, that time between November and May when it gets darker and the birds finally shut up and the grass stops growing? That one?
Here's a clue. It looks a bit like this, only with less dog. Usually.
And the temperature fluctates on a day to day basis from 'nice in the sun but chilly in the wind' to 'cor, blimey that's cold, I'm going back inside to light the fire'. So. Winter is Cold. We can deal with that.

But, apparently, this Cold is bringing Snow! There might be lots of it!

Thanks for that, weather people. Can you stop giving me predicted snowfall in centimetres and tell me how far it's going to come up the cat? I still, despite having had a run of many years at it,cannot think in centimetres, but if the weather person could stand in front of their map and, maybe, indicate? With their hands?
 'In Yorkshire, we're forecasting around five centimetres of snow, which is this much' (holds hands apart to show how deep it is) or, approximately a quarter of the way up the legs of your average cat. For Jane Lovering, that means, don't let Zac out, but Big Arthur should be absolutely fine.'

That would be nice.

How far up the fluffy one? Vaguely?

Monday, 19 February 2018

Good grief, will you look at the cobwebs in here! I mean, I can practically write my name in the dust. Although, why I'd want to given that my name is in fairly big letters on the top of this website I have no idea - certainly time to get in here and have a bit of a wipe round with a damp thingummie...

Anyway. Hello. It's been a while. Mostly because I've been on Facebook, Twitter, publisher's blog, pretty much everywhere, and nobody needs THAT much exposure to me. So, what have I been up to? Well, apart from the things that are currently being taken into consideration by the legal profession (I'm up to forty nine injunctions, I believe that is some kind of record, but I think Sir Tony is really going to like the big surprise I've planted for him in the shrubbery), there's a few things..

I've had a Christmas novella out (this one)
I've got a new book out (this one)
The book (not that one, the one before that, this one) and the novella (yes, that one) are on the RNA shortlist for, respectively, Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year and Short Romance of the Year (I thought that was just Tony, but apparently not).

I've been to Australia, where it was very hot and sunny and I behaved impeccably and didn't get thrown out of anywhere.
But I did look pensively at a large number of different foods, some of which just might have had the Sydney Harbour Bridge in front of them.

I might even go back. There's still a lot of food I haven't looked pensively at. Bacon, that needs a good staring at. Fruit bonbons. Tomatoes. That sort of thing.

Anyway. Back to the blog. It's time this place had the windows opened, bit of a breeze through. There's a very strange smell in here...