Uncategorized, writing tips

The Choir on Hope Street gets a gorgeous new look!

I’m so excited to have my lovely friend Annie Lyons on the blog today. Annie wrote one of my favourite books of 2017 (which will incidentally be featured in that post next week) The Choir on Hope Street.

It is just so uplifting, life-affirming and funny. I’ve read every one of Annie’s books and she only gets better. This book absolutely made me want to sing!

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing more joyously rewarding than singing in a choir. I have been the proud member of my beloved Churchfields Community Choir for nearly three years and can honestly say that singing with them has brought me levels of happiness that I hadn’t experienced since I wore out the cassette reel on my treasured Adam and the Ants Prince Charming album in the early eighties.
When I wrote The Choir on Hope Street, I wanted to convey this happiness – this love for music and singing. I wanted to show the sheer joy you can feel as you channel your inner Carole King or Rihanna – as the real world melts away and for a blissful moment, hearts rule heads and music does its awesome thing.
Of course it’s tricky to convey all this in a book cover but I am delighted to reveal today that those clever people at HQ have done just that with this brand new beauty of an eBook cover.
So, stick on your favourite tune (I recommend Crazy in Love by Beyoncé for this particular moment) and feast your peepers on this!

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Gorgeous or what?
If you’ve already enjoyed The Choir on Hope Street, you are also already one of my favourites. If not, you can find out more about the story by following this handy link.

I absolutely loved this book, and some choice friends and family members will be getting the paperback as Christmas presents – share the love, raise your voice and get singing about this book. It’s a winner!

therapeutic writing, writing tips

Larmertree Festival 2016 – a recap

So, I make no apologies for my obsession with Larmertree festival – it was the first festival I ever went to, it’s small and family friendly and chilled as hell. Bigger festivals make me anxious with their vastness and the huge amount of people. At Larmertree, if you feel a bit overwhelmed, you can go sit in a tree or lay in the Social on some pillows, or hang out in the Lostwoods and look at the lights. Quite frankly, I love it.

I also love that I get to run workshops, and explore all the different things I’m excited by about writing. Over the years I’ve run kids writing workshops, writing and craft, writing for wellbeing, fiction writing, and this year, I was exciting to offer three new ones: Writing and Nature, Writing and the Body, and Writing for Publication.

It was really great to be able to offer some activities based on my MSc research into writing and body, and I think everyone found it to be something a little different, and connected differently with it. For some, it was about writing an apology to their body, another was to ask why the hell it was slowing down on them in later life, and others just made a promise to stop feeding them rubbish and move them a little more.

It was such a beautiful, calm environment, and it’s renewed my desire to run writing for wellbeing retreats, something I’m going to start looking into as soon as my degree is over. There’s something so magical about being in nature, writing for fun, looking inwards and sharing with a bunch of people who really ‘get’ what writing can be.

I’ll share a few tips from my Writing for Publication talk next week, and hopefully Sara from Huhbub, who gave a talk on Publishing as an introduction for writers who aren’t sure where to go next, can share some more of the wisdom that she offered in the Larmertree Gardens. I’ve been working with publishers for years, but it’s amazing to hear about how it all works from the other side!

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Hope you guys are having a good week! Keep writing!

 

 

writing tips

Is there a new style book launch in town?

The idea of a book launch has always been very straightforward.

1- You find your favourite book shop.

2 – You ply people with cheap wine in the hopes that they’ll buy your books.

3 – You sign books and feel like a superstar.

4 – You read from your book and feel like you wanna vomit.

5 – You console yourself that you sold books and people love you, even though you have a sneaking suspicion a lot of them were there for the free wine.

Traditional book launches have the advantage of being very simple to organise, lots of fun, and they make the author feel important and supported. It’s almost a rite of passage as an author. That is what a launch looks like to most people.

But I wonder how many books get sold at these events, really? I know when I’ve had to stand in front of people I love and people I don’t know, reading from my novel and trying to convince them that I deserve to have such a fuss made, I don’t feel like I’m doing my work justice. Also, did I mention about the wanting to vomit?

So the answer? A modern twist on the book launch. After all, many of us are ebook authors, what is achieved by sitting in a bookshop when there aren’t physical copies? A lot of authors run online launches, which can be fun and I’ve seen them done really well, with prizes and giveaways, and they certainly make you pay attention. But getting twenty notifications every hour from other people who have ‘popped by’ the launch can be a bit frustrating, and  might drive away your readership.

Enter Sara Veal, from Huhbub Ltd, a creative company that believe books can be ‘the jumping off point’ for creative campaigns that promote your book, but also benefit the community.

Thing is, I love an event, and I was excited to see what Sara could do with my book, Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, a novel focused around the healing power of arts, noughties era nostalgia and some girl power. I wanted an event that placed my story in the centre, without making me the centre of attention: And that was exactly what I got.

Ruby image

In the basement of one of my favourite spots in London, Drink Shop Do (a place actually used as a setting in one of my other novels!) Huhbub managed to create a night of comedy, music and burlesque, with cocktails, nostalgic noughties music and the chance to raise money for Core Arts, a charity that focuses on using creativity for mental health.

An event that does good for the community, promotes my story, allows me to have fun without having to talk about my work, and gets people talking about the themes in the novel.

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In my opinion, getting called out by a fabulous drag queen MC, dancing to Craig David and drinking sparkly Ruby-themed cocktails whilst people look at the postcards featuring a free copy of my book beats the tepid wine of yesteryear any day.

Ebook authors need to find a new way to celebrate and promote their new releases, a modern way to engage with readers and writers without making it about ego or the money. Here is your answer: build a huhbub around your book.

I think it was a roaring success and if I could do it for every book I write, I would!

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Big thanks to Sara at Huhbub for such a wonderful event, and thanks to all those who came on the night! Share your photos and favourite moments!

 

 

writing tips

Balance and Control in Publication

It’s the first thing anyone an author will say when you ask why they’re self publishing:

I’m in control of my book, every element of it.

Now, that can sound controlling, paranoid or just like a hell of a lot of work. When you think about the things outside of writing a book, that are just as important, like the editing, the promotion, the cover, the blurb, the reviews, the pricing and the long term plan for a book, it can seem daunting.

I’ve never thought I’d be able to do my books justice. I struggle as it is to write and work and study.

But there is something terrifying about leaving your book at the mercy of others, letting the cover, the angle, the promotion and the pricing be decided by someone else, whether they’re a specialist or it’s the market that determines how it’s seen.

The truth is, your book is never going to be more important to anyone than you. For you, it’s a piece of yourself, a piece of your truth, whether it’s a silly story or a saga you spent years perfecting – it’s yours. And the idea that it might been seen in a way you don’t want it to be, can be painful.

However, at some point, you have to give up the control any way. The minute those words are released into the world, the minute someone picks it up and starts the first sentence, you have no control. The control you had as a writer is done the minute the final draft is finished. The control you have as a publicist is to ensure your book is defined correctly, that the cover isn’t misleading and that you keep the conversation going.

This summer, I’m running workshops at Larmertree Festival in Wiltshire. This will be my sixth year with them, and along with my writing for wellbeing, I’m going to be running a ‘Writing for Publication’ class. This will be focussing on defining your work, branding and owning that branding. Deciding who you’re writing for and what you want to say. But as a dear friend and excellent writer said recently, “I want to work with writers who love what they’re writing.” So publication can’t always be the main goal. It’s got to be a labour of love, to an extent.

That’s how I feel about my latest book, Goodbye Ruby Tuesday. It will be released on Friday, and then I’ll have to let it go, out into the ether to make its own destiny, create it’s own history. Perhaps, it will achieve greatness, or perhaps it will sink into the depths of thousands of other books being released this week, month or year – ignored and destined to sit sweetly on an Amazon page. And after it’s out there, all I can do is talk about it, tweet about it, and wish my baby well. There’s a grief and anxiety in that, like not fully preparing your child before they go off to uni.

But most of all, I’m excited to introduce you to Ruby. This is my favourite story, and I’m so glad I get to write two more books in the series, and hang around my fictional friends a while longer!

Keep an eye out on twitter over the next few weeks using the hashtags #goodbyerubytuesday and #houseoncamdensquare and stay tuned for news of a London launch next month!

And to all the writers out there: how much control do you want over your book?

 

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday

 

 

writing tips

On Staying Silent: Review Etiquette

So…I had a little hissy fit last week. It was not my finest moment. Normally, I get a bad review and I react in one of the following ways:

  • ‘Damn, that’s a good point. Why didn’t I realise that before I submitted?!’
  • ‘Damn! THAT’S SO TRUE! WHY AM I AN IDIOT? CRAP!’
  • ‘Huh, that’s funny. I never noticed that. Better not do that in the next book.’
  • ‘Oh well, I wasn’t sure if that would work. That’s a shame.’
  • ‘Dude, I didn’t choose the title! That’s not my fault!’
  • ‘Dude, I didn’t choose the cover! That’s not my fault!’
  • ‘Dude, I didn’t tell you to read this book when you read one with a similar storyline last week!’
  • ‘Oh well, ya win some, you lose some.’
  • ‘Well…you really didn’t get what I was going for there…I’m not gonna question who’s fault that is, because a bunch of other people got it.’
  • ‘Oh…I wonder if you’re a writer who’s trolling…’
  • ‘Wow, I really feel like you know me and have purposefully tried to carve out my heart with a spoon- how can you possibly hate me this much?’

Last week, however, I was overwhelmed with the fact that I could answer a lot of the points this reviewer had made. That I could tell them I’d done the research, that in fact, yes this could happen. I wanted to tell them not to judge me on the title. I wanted to tell them that patting me on the head because 2 stars is actually pretty good due to their terribly high standards made me want to chow down on the living flesh of fools wandering in the woods at a full moon.

But I couldn’t. Because professionals don’t do that shit.

So what did I do?

I shouted at Twitter. In a series of 150 characters snippets, I shouted into the void. Not necessarily because I wanted to be heard, but because I wanted to justify myself. Reviewers have the power to determine sales of a book. They can create a buzz, share excitement and help authors become better writers. They can offer critcism because they read so much, but they can also be responsible for boosting a career when they’re a fan.

They also have the power and safety to destroy someone from behind a screen. To ensure a book never sells and never gets heard of again. To be snarky and sarcastic and even vindictive (and that is their right) because they have people who trust their opinions.

Do I think I wrote a perfect book? Hell no. Do I feel the really harsh reviews that tear things apart like scratchings against my soul? Not always, but yeah…sometimes. Especially if the reviewer forgets that writers are human. It’s harder to put something out there than it is to tear it down. There’s a lot more vulnerability in creation than there is in destruction.

Now I know what’s coming here- ‘Man the fuck up! You’re an author! It’s just part of the job!’ I’d like you to name another job where the people who pay your wages tell you on a regular basis that what you’re doing is perfect but is also shit and worthless and they hate you. In an ordinary job, you work to please your boss. In my job, if you do that, you’ll end up writing song-lyric-influenced-epic-wartime-love-story-between-a-werewolf- and-a-dinosaur-that-goes-back-in-time-to-save-earth-from-cowboys. Because every reader is my boss.

We have to write for ourselves. It is only in being marginally pleased with the result that we can put it out into the world less afraid, and with less excuses when the critics come to call.

Is the moral of this story to man the hell up and not care about reviews? No, I’ve met some lovely people through Twitter and the reviewing process. And their views do help make me a better writer. They also help me feel better when things feel a bit crap. So I didn’t shout out into the void when I justified myself to Twitter. I shouted out, and readers responded. And THAT is the moral of the story. Be upset by your reviews if you want, trust your own process, try to write for yourself. But know that somewhere out there is someone who loves what you do, and wants you to keep going.

writing tips

Reading as a Writer and how it can help your work.

I don’t mean that as a writer, you need to read. That’s one of the basic tenets of writing. I read an article this morning that had a list of things NOT to say to an agent or publisher, and ‘I don’t read because I don’t want to steal anyone’s ideas’ is one of them. Not to say it’s not a fair point, I think we all have that worry, but it’s imperative you’re reading. You don’t ask a painter to create for an exhibition when they’ve never even stepped inside a gallery.

But, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way you read. I’m currently in another of those ‘this is crap, this is so crap’ points in my work in progress (40000 words in, I should have expected it) and every line looks boring, or overdone, or slow. So I thought I’d go back to looking at some of my favourite books, and looking at how they do it. So I started reading as a writer. I looked at where she put the commas, how many times she used ‘said’. What the sentences in between the speech told us. I thought perhaps there was some sort of style or code to this author’s perfection. And what did I find?

Zilch. She uses said a lot. The sentences in between do the same that mine do. It’s not that fast paced, it’s just enjoyable to the reader to go on the journey, because the dialogue is funny. And that’s what I realised- when we write, we are judging our own work as critics of the language. We’re strangling the adverbs and looking at individual lines and worrying, worrying, worrying.

But when I read a good book, all those things become invisible. The ‘said’s cease to exist, because they’re just markers. The description translates directly into a vision of a character, I’m not sitting there wondering why she used a certain word, or commenting on the vocabulary- I’m too busy disappearing into the story!

Which tells me two things:

  1. I’m probably not as crap as I think I am right now, and I just need to buck the hell up.
  2. Some of the best writing is ‘invisible’ to the reader.

So happy morning all, I’m off to write some invisible words on the page now.

writing tips

My Top Five Places to Write

I recently had a negative review on Amazon, where the reader criticised the fact that my self-employed character, Tig, wasn’t just a coffee shop customer, she was a well known regular, who’d made friends with the staff. The reviewer seemed to find this irritating, but when you’re self employed, you do find yourself frequenting the same places, and getting to know people. Similarly, as I share my barista experience in ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’, I often remembered the customers, because they were in so frequently, and shared their stories.

I can’t always work at home. I get distracted by the washing that needs to be done, or it’s too cold, too hot, too dark. I put the TV on in the background (but then get distracted). So I turn the TV off, and it’s too quiet. The only time I work at home is in the evening, because I like there to be someone else in, to have background noise and to not feel so alone.

So I thought I’d make a list of my Top Five Favourite Places to Write:

Cinnamon Square, Rickmansworth

A gorgeous bakery/cafe with a tudor style building, higgledy piggledy walls, and magic happening in the bakery at the back. Often the gentle twang of Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly provides my background music, and I like alternating between writing and thinking about what cake I want. The coffee isn’t too strong, which means I can keep up the steady stream of Americanos throughout the day. Plus, if it isn’t busy, they let me sit at the huge bench in the snug, which is both great for writing and people watching. And the food is delicious , and they don’t get annoyed at me for sitting there for hours. Have currently written about a third of my WIP in here. If you’re in Hertfordshire, don’t miss out.

Drink Shop Do, Caledonian Road (London)

I actually set ‘My So-Called (Love) Life’ in this cafe/restaurant/home of awesomeness. It’s where I started the novel, where I’ve sat writing quite a few times, and where I meet writing clients, authors and friends. The cake is awesome, and I massively enjoy the array of events and art here. The tea comes in mismatched pots and cups/saucers, and the food is lovely. You pay London prices, and occasionally there can be an air in the evenings that you’re not really cool enough to be there, but that’s the price you pay for being a messy writer girl.

My Mum’s Dining Table

Sadly, this one isn’t open to the public, but there’s something about the height of the table, the sunshine through the windows, the puppy sitting at my feet and the frequent offers of tea that really works! Although when it’s winter and cold, it becomes dangerously possibly to curl up on the sofa with too many episodes of ‘Say Yes to the Dress’.

The Workshop, Norwich

I used to live down the road from this cafe when I was a student. Somewhere that did beer, art, free wifi and made fish finger sandwiches? They have a ‘study space’ in the basement that’s got comfy seating, and really strange pictures that seem to be the equivalent of Victorian porn. Well, it’s inspiration, right?

Cafe International, Haight Street

A great coffee shop in San Francisco. Reasonably priced, ridiculously delicious bagels, and most importantly they put frozen coffee ice cubes in their iced coffee so it doesn’t dilute! Genius.