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Valuing alternative narratives: How to be a positive member of the writing community.

It’s the one thing that is asked time and again – ‘Tell us your journey to publication.’

Partly, we like the story of the author to be as interesting as the story they sell us. I always worried I was too boring to be an author. There was nothing tremendous or particularly special about me, except that I could spin stories on a page. I am not particularly adept at doing it in real life, or in conversation.

But the main reason we ask, is because we want to replicate the effect. We want to know the nitty gritty, the exact thing they did. Sometimes, an element of it will be relevant to us, but most of the time it won’t.

Another element is that we want to know that someone does things the same way we do. We want to be classified as traditional or indie, with agent or independent, plotter or pantser. We create boxes for ourselves, because all of us, at all stages of our journey, at one time or another, struggle with legitimacy.

We each want to be a ‘real’ author – so we look for the markers in others to determine what that means. Then we look to ‘successful’ authors to see what they’re doing.

The thing is, success looks different on everyone. And so does the route heading towards it. Back at the beginning of my journey, I would look at authors where I am now with envy. Now, I turn my head towards the next goals – higher sales, different defining factors of success.

What we need to remember, as members of this community, is that everyone’s story and journey is different, but that does not mean it is not as valid. Those with agents are not more talented, and may not necessarily achieve as much with an agent. Those in professional groups or with memberships and affiliations are not more professional than others. Those with traditional publishing deals are not necessarily at an advantage over those who self publish.

Each journey has its ups and downs, its forks in the roads, and if being part of this community has taught me anything, it’s been the comforting realisation that there is no one right way.

But this is a job where egos are delicate and fragile, where the dismissal of one author can shatter and break belief in your journey. Where being made to feel that if you don’t have an agent, a big name publisher, big sales, consistent income, five star reviews….you’re not doing well.

The thing to remember is your goals, and to stay in your lane. Define success for yourself, and with each book, aim to improve, and beat your own goals, rather than competing with other authors. You have a unique voice, and a unique story, and the best way to be part of the community is to share that without judgement, and celebrate others’ stories without judgement as well.

There is room enough for everyone who has a story to tell, and we are all doing brilliantly.

 

What is your favourite thing about the

 

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Interview With a Bartender – Oscar

In researching my new book Cocktails and Dreams, I focused on what bartenders go through every night. I worked in a pub, where I was only ever taught to make one (disgusting) cocktail, so I don’t have much experience in this area. What I do have experience in is sitting in cocktail bars, watching people.

Cocktail bartenders have to hold a wealth of information, dozens of recipes in their heads whilst serving multiple people, answering questions and making the drink with flare! The balance of flavours and presentation of the drink are key.

For the next couple of weeks Interview With a Bartender is a Friday feature on my blog. I would love to hear what your favourite cocktails are, and if you agree with the bartender!

Welcome to Oscar, a bartender in London.

What’s your favourite drink to make?

My favourite drinks to make are any kind of sours, I find the wet and dry shake and additional complexity adds to the theatre and suspense of the drink the customers waiting for.


What’s your least favourite?

My least favourite has to be Cuba Libre…. how it’s classed as a cocktail I do not know!


What’s the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is seeing the intrigue in customers’ faces while they watch their drink being prepared, answering questions and giving tips that help people find and hopefully replicate their perfect drink.


What’s the most surprising thing about your job?

I was surprised at how unsociable the job can feel at times. Although on the clock I’m constantly talking with new people, I am still in work mode. Working 99% of the times when the public (including your friends) go out can be tricky!


If you were a cocktail, which one would you be?

I would be a Mai Tai.. Punchy, sweet, crisp and exotic !

So what do you guys think – should a Cuba Libre be classed as a cocktail? What cocktail would you be?

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Work In Progress Sneak Peak

Creatively, this year has been a departure from the norm. I’ve got a new publisher, and my writing is growing, maturing, and (I hope) improving.

But even stranger, I’m moving into new genres. I’m working on a thriller under a pseudonym, which I’m hoping to get done soon, I’m moving into self publishing with the Ruby Tuesday novellas, and I’m working on what I call my ‘secret project’.

So I thought I’d share a little chunk of it here. It might be the opening, it might be featured later, it might not end up in it at all. But I’m very, VERY excited. And I’d love to hear what you think.

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She was born on the back of an easterly wind, strong and insistent, on the longest day of the year. A child born on a solstice was magical enough, at least to those who honoured the old gods, but one born at three am, on the longest day? A child come at witching hour to bid farewell to the sunshine.

The elders of the town did not like that at all.

Father O’Connor liked it even less. He paid no mind to solstices and stone circles. It was that baby, born out of wedlock, to a mother who did not avert her eyes when he looked at her. That was what drove him to an intoxicating sort of madness.

Aoife Grace had long been a woman who vexed him, with that obstinate chin and that long dark hair, always falling over her face. She never bowed her head, never even attempted meekness or humility. She never said anything, just watched him watch her as her belly grew, and grew. She took pride in nourishing this life that was doomed to be sinful. She loved to wave it in his face, this flagrant disregard for his faith.

And still, she came, sitting in church every Sunday, even as her ankles swelled and her stomach heaved. She sat in the back row and watched him, and he knew she must be tearing apart each sermon, dismissing the words of God as he spoke.

Every Sunday, until that baby was born.

She came into the world in silence, no screams or cries. The midwife was concerned, but Aoife looked at her daughter and knew she was an old soul in a new body. She kissed her forehead, and looked into those dizzying, strange eyes, one green, one blue.

‘I will protect you, I will love you, I will give you my life. This is my vow.’

The baby gurgled and blinked, as babies do. People visited, as Aoife was young and pretty, and they wanted gossip as much as anything else. They commented on her unusual eyes, her strange stillness, that feeling that even though she was a baby, she understood what they were saying. It disturbed them, and they made their excuses, muttering to themselves that Father O’Connor must be right, and the child must surely be the devil’s daughter.

Or, put more simply:

On a sunny morning, in a tiny rural village in Ireland, Fionualla Grace was born.

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Writing a Multiple Character Driven Novel, with Emily Benet

I was lucky enough to meet Emily a couple of years ago now, as part of the Finchley Literary Festival, and she’s doing amazing things with her books.

I caught up with her to hear more about her new novel, The Hen Party:

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I’m a huge fan of the book Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. It’s sharp, clever, funny and fast-paced. I’ve read it about five times. I’ve dissected it with coloured pencils, trying to understand how she so successfully knits together those three main characters and all those other entertaining voices captured purely in dialogue.
I love books written from the perspective of more than one character. Deborah Moggach does it really well too and my copy of Heartbreak Hotel is full of underlining and scribbles in the margin. After writing three books, Shop Girl Diaries, The Temp and #PleaseRetweet in the first person, I was determined to write a novel told from the point of view of more than one character.
I wanted the book to begin with a mystery and for each character to know a different part of the story. I also wanted a story set in Mallorca, because I had just moved there and I was besotted. Multiple characters in a popular holiday destination… aha, I thought, what about a hen party?
Then…

What about a hen party reality show?

…which goes missing!

The Hen Party starts with a director who has lost all the hens and goes back and forward in time revealing what happened. It was a challenge to write and I started it three times. I was determined for it not to be too soppy or cliché. I really wanted the story to be intriguing. Once I had the plot sorted, I ended up rewriting the characters to make them stronger, so they would stand out from each other.
The novel follows five hens and a director, so it’s important they all have different personalities and agendas. I used a colour-coded spreadsheet to help me coordinate the chapters. I used to stick strips of paper on a wall, but now I find spreadsheets more reliable.
Although I have finished The Hen Party I definitely haven’t finished with the multi-character driven novel. For my next book I’m already exploring an idea which focuses on a number of characters, all neighbours, responding to a crisis in their different ways. It’s going to be a challenge but that’s fine by me if it means I get better at my craft.
The Hen Party is a little different from my other books but my stamp is still clearly on it. It has moments of comedy and romance and hopefully enough drama to keep you turning those pages!
Book Blurb
Film Director, Kate Miller, is in serious trouble.  The entire cast and crew of the reality TV show The Hen Party has gone missing while filming in Mallorca.

To make matters worse, the network boss is flying in to check up on her production.

Kate thinks it’s all her fault. She hasn’t exactly been following the guidelines.

But if she is to blame, why were the hens arguing between themselves? And why is the groom-to-be calling her up in tears?

Kate doesn’t know the half of it. The hens have their own secrets and it’s only matter of time before they all come tumbling out.

A party of eight arrive on the island, but not everyone’s going home.

 

Biography

The Hen Party is Emily Benet’s 4th book. Her debut book, Shop Girl Diaries, began as a blog. Her second, Spray Painted Bananas, racked up a million hits on the online platform Wattpad and led to a 2 book deal with Harper Collins. They published her Wattpad book under the new title The Temp as well as her comedy about social media addiction, #PleaseRetweet. She lives in Mallorca with her husband and writes for abcMallorca magazine.

Universal book link for The Hen Party https://books2read.com/u/b5Oyq7
Website http://www.emilybenet.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/EmilyBenetAuthor
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/@EmilyBenet

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‘Grow a Thicker Skin’: The most irritatingly true piece of advice to authors?

Dealing with bad reviews as a writer is part of the job. Anyone who thought they were going to write something beloved by millions with no criticism is the same person who expected to retire on the royalties from their debut.

But the only piece of advice we have for authors dealing with bad feedback is: Grow a thicker skin. And it’s true – you can’t let every one star ‘boring’ ‘didn’t care’ ‘is this author an idiot?’ comment stop you from achieving your purpose. You’re there to write stories, and more than ever, we live in a world where social media gives people the right to say whatever the hell they want from the safety of their keyboard.

There are a few tips writer friends have given, and a few I use when dealing with the low feelings when you get bad reviews:

  • Firstly, don’t go looking for them! Every author knows Goodreads is the place where lower ratings and bad reviews thrive. Goodreads, in many ways, is for readers, not authors. Don’t punish yourself!
  • Go and look at the bad reviews of your favourite authors – it reminds you that we’re all in this together.
  • Rant about the hilariously bad/mean reviews with your writer friends – again, you’re part of a community of which this is a standard experience.
  • Look at your good reviews, or the positive emails. I’ll always remember one review I had where the person said they were in hospital whilst their dad was ill, and reading my book helped them take their mind off it, and even laugh a couple of times. That has stayed with me and nourished me even as the negative reviews try to chip away.
  • Remember those times where you’ve read a book that just wasn’t for you – it’s not personal, it’s just taste. I’ve read books that everything about them was great, and I should have enjoyed them, but I didn’t. I, like most authors (I assume), I don’t write bad reviews – if I don’t like the book I don’t review it. Let the people who love something spread the word. If I didn’t like it, I’m not going to waste time pulling down something someone else has worked on. The same way I don’t walk into my friend’s home and tell them how much I hate their new kitchen.

 

But what happens when growing a thicker skin isn’t enough?

I kind of thought I had my whole ‘responding to criticism’ thing sorted – I know how to deal with feedback, bad reviews and I avoid Goodreads like the plague. I have a whole self care system in place for if I need to deal with bad feedback.

But sometimes, we are sensitive, soft beings, and however thick your skin is, a punch in the gut is a punch in the gut. If you’ve worked hard on something, spent your time and energy and passion pouring into something, only to have it rejected and dismissed or vilified – it’s going to have an effect. Humans with thick skins are still humans, and telling writers to ‘just grow a thicker skin and get over it’ sometimes doesn’t work.

I am in a phase right now where I’m looking at the book I was once proud of with a sort of shame, where I don’t really want to look at it. I’m trying to focus on my other books, I am desperately trying to write enough to get me going full time, and even though I’m driven and determined, I’ve stalled. Every time I try to write, it’s like pressing a bruise. I’m still doing it, I’m retaining my thicker skin and trying not to let it stop me, but that thick skin has been a little bruised and scarred.

But perhaps that’s how we thicken our skin – with scar tissue. Every setback and failure and rejection, every dismissive word and angry response – that is what builds thick skin. It’s not just pulling on a coat to protect you from the world, or turning out the light so you can’t see them – it is moving forwards, step by sluggish step, sometimes skipping, sometimes dragging a boulder behind you.

At times like this, I freewrite about my ‘why’. Why do I write? What keeps me writing? What could stop me? And it’s this last question that gets me, because without even pausing – nothing could stop me from writing. It’s my therapy, my creativity, my escape, a dominant part of who I am.

So telling authors to have a thick skin is, unfortunately, still the correct advice. It’s a hard world out there, and putting something creative into the world feels like putting something vulnerable and soft into a harsh space. It feels like hanging your poor, soft heart out on a ledge and seeing if people squeeze and poke it. But hearts are strong – they’re muscle, and whilst you feel those squeezes and pokes and bruises, you are becoming stronger and more determined.

You have a reason for writing, and when you put your work out into the world, you are a warrior, someone brave and strong. Protect yourself, look after yourself and remember that every bruise and scar you feel is your skin thickening, until, one day, you won’t feel those bruises at all.

Protect your why and keep on writing.

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Goal Setting And Managing Your Expectations As An Author.

It seems like everyone these days is asking ‘What’s your why?’

It’s the kind of question that I heard four or five years ago, when I was doing my masters degree in creative business. That degree was designed to prove to me that being independent and profitable in a creative industry was possible. What it didn’t point out was how hard it would be.

‘What’s your why?’ is really asking for the strongest level of commitment you have. What is the thing that’s going to keep you going when you’re not making enough money and you’re struggling and life is hard? Your why is the thing that stops you from throwing in the towel.

Your why is motivation from behind, from a root or reason in the past – it’s your kick up the bum. Your goals are the motivation from ahead, the possibility, the want, the hunger. Just as we needs equal parts confidence and fear of failure, we need who we are and what we want to align, in order to achieve.

I’m going to be straight with you here:

If your why is making loads of money as an author, going to fancy parties and being a bestseller – I’m going to have to burst your bubble.

HOWEVER -versions of that exist. People reach bestsellers lists every day. They break into the top hundred in Amazon charts, they win competitions and sell lots of books. Sometimes they have a good month/quarter and their royalties are excellent. Maybe they go to a great conference or party with load of other writers.

Elements of these goals are true and possible, but I would hesitate against making goals until you know the industry. Once you’ve been doing this a while, you know which goals seem realistic, and which ones are just smoke and mirrors.

For example, most digital authors’ goal is to get paperback. Understandable – opening to a new audience, holding it in your hand, feeling it be this real thing you created. But paperbacks don’t sell well, especially in certain genres. They’re more expensive to produce and harder to sell. When they don’t get picked up by certain bookshops, it damages your reputation and you might not get another chance.

So the goal, whilst feeling like a definition of success, is probably something that stands in the way of your success.

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I am a big fan of a list, and I would encourage you to come up with a couple of long term and short term goals.

The long term ones can be a bit more fantastic, if you like. But they should be grounded in the industry, in what you know and have learnt as an author. Yes, I still dream of paperback, even though it’s silly. But perhaps I think of a different genre of book that would benefit from PB. Or actually, it’s a POD system for this other book I’m writing. Let your knowledge and experience influence your goals, and vice versa.

Short term goals need to mean something to you.

For me, it’s about improving and using what I’ve learnt. My goal for my next book is to get 100 reviews on Amazon, improving on my previous number. So I break that down – who can I reach, when do I do it, what’s the timing of the launch, can we do anything to encourage reviews, how do I promote in the best way possible? I do my research and I come up with a plan.

That goal doesn’t mean anything to anyone else but me. To some 100 reviews is ridiculously low, to others its high – but it’s my personal goal, a sign of my own growth and improvement.

So what are your short term and long term goals, and how have they changed since you started writing?

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Same Same but Different: What to do when you’re sick of your genre.

Surely everyone’s had the thought at some point.

‘God, why is every thriller since Girl on the Train a ‘girl on the something’?’

‘Ugh, why is every chick lit book set in Cornwall this summer?’

‘Why do all the covers look the same?’

‘Why have they all got song titles?’

‘Why is there always bunting?’

Why doesn’t anything seem original any more?

 

I do not write ‘typical’ chick lit. There is not going to be a little house/cafe/cottage by the sea/beach/river. Nothing I write is adorable or sweet. Occasionally it’s heartfelt, and sometimes it’s sentimental. But most of the time, I like to think, it’s funny and it’s genuine.

I’m not saying none of these other chick lit books are, I’ve read a lot of them and they’re very good. What I’m wondering is why we all have to be marketed the same. When I look at the books that grip me and demand attention, they’re the ones that have been marketed to look different, to stand out. From some authors, the different and the unique is embraced. For others, we are encouraged to write ‘same, same but different.’ The tropes of the romantic genre must be met, and manoeuvred and there should be no surprises. X meets Y, include something marketable, create a cute location, throw in a wedding or an island holiday, give it a happy ending and wrap it up with a bow.

Now, no author wants their work made small in that way. No one wants to think this story they’re writing doesn’t have value. But I’ve lost faith in the market, a little. Perhaps because I’m following hundreds of authors and bloggers, so that every romance book this summer seems to have the same blue cover. Because every thriller says it’s the ‘next girl on the train’.

I was burnt out, basically. I was tired of writing stories that already seemed to be written. I wanted to write stories that tested me, that I could measure my craft by. I could easily spend the next ten years knocking out snarky women’s fiction, but I didn’t feel like I was growing. So I’ve decided to experiment.

When in doubt, play. As a kid writing stories, I didn’t let not knowing about something stop me. One week I’d be writing a Ten Kingdoms sequel, the next a story about two special agents working to defeat a government agenda. The week after that I wrote a story about a girl being afraid to start dating, and then one about two twins called Ruby and Sapphire, who each had psychic abilities and were recruited by MI5. In between, I wrote fanfiction for TV shows, and got myself a little following.

Now, most of these stories didn’t have legs. But the point was, I was unencumbered by fears of branding and marketing and having a name. I wrote because a story appealed and it was fun. I played with genre and expectations, and just let the story tell itself through my fingertips.

So I’m doing the same again. I dealt with feeling like a tiny fish in a huge pond of ‘same, same but different’ books and decided to write something different. This has of course, left me in a pickle. As I’m now writing a whole bunch of books at once. I’ve got my romantic comedies for Canelo (the first of which will be out on 24th July 2017), a darker Ruby Tuesday novella (Out sometime in September 2017) a magical realism book and a thriller under a pseudonym. I’m also quietly plotting a more serious women’s fiction book.

My ideas, before expanding my space and genre, were beginning to stagnate. I wasn’t excited by anything any more. Everything felt the same. Now I don’t feel the need to stay in my lane, I’m making greater progress.

So, when you’re feeling weary and blue, when you think you’re stagnating and unsure of what story to tell next, I would encourage you to remove your fences, your limitations and your fears. And just write for fun. The stories that need to be told have a way of making themselves known.

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How do you deal with a lack of ideas, and do you ever feel like all these books are starting to look the same?