Turning into a rhinoceros

Image by  M Ameen , Pixabay

Image by M Ameen, Pixabay

Having completed The Garden Plot, I’ve started to look at a cover for the e-book.

This was done on the cheap – actually, done on the extreme cheap - with a designer who wasn’t so much a designer but a ‘putter-together-of-images’. Naturally, what I know about book cover design could be written on a post-it note, so when she looked to me for guidance, it was like the blind leading the blind.

But notwithstanding any of that, I was rather pleased when it was finished.

TheGardenPlotCover 2019.jpg

I put it onto a social media group to get some feedback.

And oh my…these were some of the comments:

‘Doesn’t look like romance to me…’

‘Too many fonts.’

‘I had to look for several minutes before I realized it was a woman with a bun on her head (thought it was a young boy with a mystery thing over his head).’

‘Too soft focus’

And gradually my quiet pleasure in the cover I’d managed to get created for about thirty-five quid dissipated almost completely.

Down, but not out

Gathering the shredded tatters of my dignity around me, I stalked off. (Watch this space for the new cover, from a completely new designer very soon.) I obviously have a lot to learn, and hopefully, my new designer will have more of a clue, too.

A week on, I’ve been invited to join a writer’s group, where everyone gives feedback on each other’s writing. Given my experience with the cover discussion, I was a bit wary. Feedback is a gift, albeit sometimes you wish it came with a receipt so you could take it back to the shop and change it. Did I want feedback?

With trepidation, I sent off the first three chapters of the sequel to The Garden Plot, my work in progress Love in a Mist. It’s very, very different sending your work to a bunch of strangers than to people who know and love you and will take the time to give criticism carefully. So yes, I was a bit worried.

Being brave…

The chapters returned with some super-helpful comments, and a wish to read more. I relaxed.

And then it struck me that writing a book means you have to be brave, put it out there and cope with what comes back. Some people say they never read reviews – and I suppose I can see why. Not only do you protect your self-esteem, by the time you get the reviews, it’s too late – the book’s written, you’ve set it free into the big wide world. If you’re writing for publication, once it’s out there, anyone can take a pop at it, or love it, or be critical.

So - time to grow a thicker hide?


Are we 'Friends'?

Image by  Florentia Buckingham , Pixabay

Image by Florentia Buckingham, Pixabay

There are a few people I knew, growing up, who I don’t see any more. For whatever reason, they have disappeared from my life.

I was talking about one friend in particular, who’d I’d known from school. In all, I think I’ve known her …48 years. God, it seems - well it is - a lifetime. But we don’t speak any more. I get cards, Christmas, birthday. But nothing else. No texts. No calls.


I’ll admit, having tried to keep the contact going, my confusion and bewilderment turned to hurt. I’ve now simply stopped trying to get in touch. I think I’ve deleted her number. I did this while remembering all the times she turned up on my doorstep after yet another failed relationship, where I fed her ice-cream, helped boost her confidence and generally held her hands until the hurt went away.

Although I don’t think I knew it at the time, when she turned her back on me for another friend, it was the end for me. In my head, I began divorce proceedings, finding other friends, and writing her out of my life. One New Year, not so long ago, I made a resolution to only spend time with people who loved me.

A friend is…?

Talking about this with other friends, we got into a discussion about what friends actually were. There were lots of areas of agreement. It doesn’t matter that friends don’t see one another for ages - it’s about the contact and warmth when you get together. It doesn’t matter if you disagree - people do it all the time. It doesn’t matter if you argue - friends make it up, however clumsily.

What constitutes a friend, we decided, were two things. One, they don’t hurt you, they’re not purposefully cruel. Two, they always have your best interests at heart, and you know that. You may not agree, they may be wrong about what constitutes your best interests, but in their hearts, they only want you to be happy, and fulfilled.

Moving on

She’s in lots of photos of the key moments in my life - my wedding, my second wedding, major birthdays… But now I’ve decided that I don’t recognise her as a friend, and will simply wish her well and stop mourning what was. I’m not quite sure what would happen if she got in contact, but I think I’d rather not welcome her back. It feels, now I think about it, like an abusive relationship.

And the best place to be in abusive relationships is out of them.

Do it NOW!

Thanks to Pixabay for the photo

Thanks to Pixabay for the photo

On Friday, I shared this tweet.

What my tweet didn’t say was the reason that I actually DID get off my bum and start the new book was a message I received about a young gardener who did some work for us when we first moved into our new house. I asked for recommendations, and his was the name that popped up. I messaged, he messaged back, he did some work for us. Let’s call him Adam.

Adam was lovely. Not afraid of hard work, he put his back into helping with our clogged up pond, brought in a mate, went to buy stuff we needed – the full package. He was starting a new business, he told us, and was very excited. The next time we saw him, he had a van with his new company name and logo on the side.

He finished the work and we approached him on Facebook a second time to ask if he’d like to quote for it. We heard nothing. I messaged him, left a message on his mobile, texted. Nothing. A bit puzzled we asked someone else to do the work.

And then… 

Then on Thursday night, I had a message on Facebook. The gist of it is below:

Hi – this is Joanne, Adam’s mum. Adam was killed in a car crash in April. We’ve decided to carry on his business, so if you still want someone to take a look, let us know.

I was stunned and so appalled. All his plans, his dreams - gone in an instant. He was 24.  

Given that nobody ever goes to the grave wishing they’d stayed longer at the office, this dreadful news galvanised me in a way nothing else could. I’ve written two books, but published neither. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for – divine inspiration? The first needs blurb, formatting and a cover. The second (not in the same series) needs the same. And the third book that I took a running jump at on Friday is the follow up to the first. This summer, I’m determined to sort it, and get the first book ready to go, and write at least half of the second book in the series.

With luck and a following wind, I’ll be here, safe and sound, with my loving partner and my wonderful new home. But, really – you never know. There’s a line from TS Eliot which I remember from my student days:

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

To me now, this seems even more powerful, more poignant. So I will write. I will publish.

And I urge you to do soon whatever makes you happy. And raise a glass to Adam for the reminder.  

You've got to have friends

Connected writers across the world. Thanks to  Pixabay

Connected writers across the world. Thanks to Pixabay

I’ll be honest, it had been a pretty dire day. I’d slept badly. Then I missed my train because I miscalculated the time it would take on a Monday morning for the bus to crawl through town to the railway station. This cost me not only the price of the rail ticket (which was a fixed train) but also an additional sixty quid for another ticket.

I missed my client meeting as she couldn’t move her meetings and I would be forty minutes late for our original one. This left me in London kicking my heels for three hours before my second meeting - and naturally I hadn’t brought any other work to keep me occupied.

And another thing….

Then the train back was delayed, which meant I missed the last bus to the Park and Ride where I’d left the car, and this cost me another £15 in cab fares. So grumpy was I when I looked at Twitter, I could have picked a fight with anyone.

But there in my notifications was a share for the last blog I’d written (shamefully back in December) from the wonderful, fabulous @ReadingisourPas.

Kindness and support

This supportive, kind, and endlessly positive Twitter account does what it says on the tin - reads a lot, retweets, blogs and reviews and is generally a rare ray of sunshine in a darkening world. I’ve been editing book 2 for what seems like years, but through the struggle they seem to have been there, urging me on.

Tomorrow, it’s likely that I’ll complete the edit, send it out to a couple of trusted beta readers and start thinking about a cover. And go back to a draft cover for Book 1. And the back blurb. And the formatting. And the promotion - such as it’s possible for a minnow like me, swimming in the vast sea of books that is self-publishing.

Slim chance?

I reckon my chance of earning much (if at all!) from my books are slim. But the support I’ve got from the reader community and @ReadingisourPas keeps that tiny spark of hope alive.

So thank you.

Are all reviews created equal?

Thanks to  Pixabay

Thanks to Pixabay

Having finally finished the ‘difficult second book’, I gave it to my partner to read. It had taken eighteen months to write, she was eager to read it.

To my delight, she texted, “I’d pay good money for your book.”  Given that’s why we write – to sell and delight – could I ask for more?

No. And, well – yes. My partner pointed out mistakes with some names – I would keep getting Margaret and Dorothy mixed up in the early stages – and gave me some thoughts about hypnotic language.

She was encouraging, enthusiastic, complimentary and genuinely happy to have read my book. But somehow, after the initial euphoria fell away, I began to say I would send out to other, more critical readers, and frankly, that started a bit of a row in our house.

“Do you think I’m just being kind? Why don’t you believe that if it had been crap, I would tell you?” she asked, exasperated.

Initially, I didn’t have an answer. Now I’ve thought about it, I think it’s because we trust the people we love not to hurt us. Even had my partner hated the book, the feedback would have been careful, gentle, at the very least.

I’ve asked other people to look at the book with more of an editorial viewpoint, people who will spot if I’ve padded some bits, if the language in the first section is too florid (something my partner also pointed out, to be fair), if the plot becomes hackneyed, if the characters don’t ring true.

And let’s face it, the people poking holes in our work are much more likely to capture our attention. But it strikes me as sad that, having had a great review from someone I know and love, I’m now discounting it as ‘too nice’. As if they know nothing about writing and books. But now I recognise that’s rubbish.

My partner reads and can tell a good book from a bad one as well as anyone else, regardless of our relationship. So bring it on, I say. Bring on the next great review. I can take it. I can believe it.

Fear of finishing?

I've been writing my second book for more than a year. Which is fairly slow, although I have been editing and refining the first book along the way.

I was fairly happy with the second book - I thought I'd progressed as a writer, with an interesting plot and decent characters. I'd done my research homework, but not become hung up on the details,

You've got to have friends



It’s been a while. My last post was seven months ago.  After an absence of that long, it’s embarrassing to post again. But a couple of things have made me grit my teeth and hit the keyboard again.

The first was a lovely comment from Carmelita D Brooker (@Evadene2016 on Twitter) who said: 'Enjoying the blogs on your site, Sara.'

The second was a blog on stage fright for writers from the wonderful Stella Duffy. If Stella Duffy, with 17 novels to her name, suffers from stage fright before writing a new one, I think I'm at least in good company.

Like many writers, I often doubt that my writing has merit. I find that writing a blog multiplies this.  It's something about the need to be punchy, smart, for there to be a pay-off in less than 300 words, when my natural style is a bit more...relaxed.

In a bit of a tweet exchange, where I said I wasn't sure my blogs were sufficiently interesting, Stella urged me to do it anyway:

It's impossible to know that though, right? If you concentrate on how interesting it is for YOU, then at least you've pleased one person! With any luck the rest will follow.

As a result, this blog is about support, and how it often comes from the most distant of places. For example, while my family loves me and is (generally) supportive, they see my writing as simply a hobby - not something that is really important to me. Their feedback on my first book has been lukewarm at best, dismissive at worst. My mother decided she's wait until the book was on the shelves before reading it. This was despite me saying that I'd probably self-publish and that an actual physical book is highly unlikely.

One of my friends gave me 'feedback' on an early draft without - I discovered - having read it all the way through. Others have said it wasn't 'their kind of book'. I do understand this. As one Twitter posting put it, 'You can make the best cup of coffee in the world and some people will always prefer tea.'

Therefore it comes as a rather emotional surprise when people who have only the slightest connection to you, come out with flags waving and words of comfort and encouragement.

Writers understand the trials of other writers. My good friend Jess Ryder who has a string of thrillers to her name, has been incredibly supportive and generous with time and advice. I find support on author groups too; I recently posted a note to say I'd completed another chapter of book two and within minutes there were comments and congratulations.

I've discovered that writers, regardless of how famous, published or not; writers of romance, thrillers, literary fiction, even some genres I'd never heard of until I saw their postings; they understand my triumphs, however tiny they sound to my family and friends who have escaped the writing bug. They also understand the fears, the unhelpful comparisons, the sense of being not-quite-legitimate.

So to all the writers, the wqould-be writers, the writers who also work another job, the stumbling, the revising, the editing and pitching writers, the writers helping other writers - thank you for your support.

Now I'm off to finish another chapter and practise my own flag waving skills.

Speaking of romance

As it’s Valentine’s Day, it’s the perfect time to talk about romance writing.

Considering the statistics (romance sells more than science fiction, mystery and fantasy combined) it’s puzzling why so many people have such a poor view of the genre.

Any genre will have its own tropes and romance is no different – Alpha males, friends to lovers, the ‘working relationship’, a past that so damages one or other of the protagonists so they can’t love again, until…

Suffering from the mid-book block

I understand about the ‘shitty first draft’ that Stephen Kings speaks of, but prefer the definition from NaNoWriMo - ‘your first draft is a mining expedition to sift through for the diamonds’.

The problem I have is that I haven’t finished the digging yet.

Sixty thousand words in and I’ve hit a wall. Instead of ploughing on, getting through my story and developing my characters as they encounter their trials, I feel that I’m going backwards.  I’m tweaking, not even writing.  I change a word here, a sentence there. I get hung up on research, writing notes I probably won’t even use. And I’m tying myself in knots.

I’ve read endless blogs on how to fix this. I’ve washed dishes, taken hot showers, walked, looked through photo albums, listened to music, not listened to music, turned off the internet (God, that was hard!), exercised (that was hard too), played games. I’ve swapped rooms to write, tried to change the time I write, read other people’s books. 

It all seemed like procrastination.

I write for other people – I’m in internal communication. I write to deadlines for organisations without any problem at all, so I’m stumped as to why I can’t make my own deadlines for something which is important to me. 

One of the most prolific indie writers is Shannon Mayer, who said in one memorable podcast for The Bestseller Experiment that ‘your muse is your bitch. You have to get it to show up when you want to write, not the other way round.’

Well, my muse appears to have gone AWOL. I’ll let you know when it’s located again.

The sincerest form of flattery?

The sincerest form of flattery?

...the word 'admiration' means more than just passive contemplation, respect and warm approval.  It can also mean emulation.  And as Charles Caleb Colton, and English clergyman said, 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery'. This certainly seems to be the case in publishing - anyone want a best seller? Put 'Girl' in the title. Even Amazon promotes books on the basis of 'If you liked that, you'll like THIS...'

Call me a dullard

Call me a dullard

I admit, I’m a plotter, rather than a pantser.  Starting to seriously write a book was scary enough, without not being sure where the story would end up.  Having said that, I do wonder sometimes whether having a tightly-plotted story becomes a little like ‘writing by numbers’. I was a bit distressed to read that Stephen King in On Writing calls plotting 'the good writer's last resort and the dullard's first choice'. Really?