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My Mum Might Read This…and Other Issues With Writing a Sex Scene

In theory, I have no problem writing sex scenes. The first story I wrote that got any recognition was about a girl having sex with a guy she just met, in a disabled toilet, at her aunt’s funeral. I am not squeamish. But that’s literary fiction. That’s when sex serves a purpose, to show the breaking down of walls, or the attempted escape from reality. Sometimes it’s symbolic of trying to feel alive. I can write sex scenes when they’re symbolic.

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But when I first started writing The Last Word, I had to consider what level I wanted to write at, in terms of sexuality. I’ve read a lot of really explicit stuff, and I’ve read things that fade to black. I tried for somewhere in between. The truth is, sex is weird. It’s a lot of strange mechanics and actions that are difficult to write about, because you have to imbue some sort of passion and emotion. If you’re just writing ‘then her hand goes here’, that gets to the point, but doesn’t make the reader care. Some of the best sex scenes I’ve read come from really old novels, where the build up is the most important thing. And I think that’s true of chick lit too- sex is the pay-off for many chapters’ worth of sexual tension. If you write a book where your love interests are at it before they’ve even interacted at all, well, I’m not really interested. 

 

I suppose that’s a female thing, that we want sex to mean something. That’s a generalisation, but in terms of readers of chick lit, I’d say it’s a safe assumption. Sex should be passionate and engaging and emotional. I couldn’t resist it in this book, that it should become symbolic again. All of my female characters seem to have trust issues, and sex is a form of trust. Letting someone in, being vulnerable, all that character development comes from sex scenes. Plus, I think we have a duty as writers to show what sex is really like. I remember as a teenager watching that Britney Spears movie, Crossroads, when they fade to a sunset after she kisses this topless guy, and thinking: this is clearly not what a first time is like. Doesn’t mean there can’t be love or passion, but awkward and uncomfortable are two big contenders there. And it can be funny, and strange and you can sound different to how you do normally.

 

One of my biggest peeves with Fifty Shades of Gray (of which I have bazillions) was that Christian Gray went from being all stiff upper lip, very ‘proper’ dialogue, to all ‘yeah baby’ in the bedroom. Your characters are still your characters in the sack. Don’t revert to stereotypes just because they’re boinking. Which is clearly not the biggest problem with that book, but was something that jumped out at me.

 

So, I did have trouble, writing the first few sex scenes, and as I got more confident in them,  I explored different situations. Some of them worked, and some of them had to go. One in particular involved such an awful play on words and a reference to oral sex that I actually shouted ‘oh gross’ when I read it through in edits, and scratched it through in red pen five times.

 

Who are your favourite writers who deal with sex scenes, what do you expect from them, and how do you find writing them?

 

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Five Ways to Know If a Creative Project is Worth Your Time

As writers, artists and other creative entrepreneurs, we are often asked to do things for free. Or worse, we’re given ‘opportunities’ that turn out to be free labour. From internships to magazine work, freebies are a part of the creative work environment. But how do you know if you’re wasting your time?

1. You’re Getting Paid

Obviously, you’ll decide if it’s worth it- but if you get paid for what you do, that’s a good sign that it’s worth doing. Not only are you making moolah, but being paid is a legitimising factor. It’s a symbol of professionalism, and a mark of respect. And once someone pays you, the likelihood it they’ll continue, as will others who want your services.

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2.Feedback

There’s a reason facebook is so powerful, and it’s not its addictive quality or ability to pander to nosiness. It’s because of the information it holds. People’s likes and dislikes, their hobbies and preferences matter. And they should matter to you. If you get the chance to get feedback, professional or otherwise- it’s invaluable. It can help you hone your skills, get testimonials which can lead to further work. It’s also useful in marketing because you’ll know what your audience likes, and know where to focus your advertising.

 

3.Contacts

No artist is an island, and the greatest thing we can do is find contacts in our field. They might promote your work, they might pass opportunities your way. They might just be someone who works the same way you do, and can make you feel like you’re not so alone. This artistic life can be a bit lonely, and the more people you know, the easier your life becomes. Just don’t get sucked into trying to attend everything- be as supportive as you can.

 

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4. It’s good advertising.

Sometimes doing a freebie is worth it if it’s going to lead to further work. This summer I’ll be running a Write Here, Write Now writing workshop for kids as part of the Finchley Literary Festival. I’m doing this for free. But the hope is that the kids and parents who attend will know who I am and what I’m about, and know where to find me if they want to do further lessons. It’s also a great chance to give out some flyers, talk to interested people, and generally find out who is in the area. Doing too many of these freebies isn’t advisable, as people tend to think you’re willing to work for free. But the occasional work to get you into a new area, especially when you know people in that field are doing well, is very worth it. 

5. You enjoy it!

 

Sometimes, you won’t get paid for doing what you love, but if you love it, it can be worth it. I ran a creative writing workshop every week where only one child turned up. Technically, it would have been smarter to scrap the workshop and focus on new revenue streams, or writing my book, but I LOVED working with this kid. He was excited and talented and really appreciated the time I spent with him. And that excitement invigorated me in the rest of my work. Sometimes we forget about the joy- it’s a necessary component!

 

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Giving Yourself Permission to Write

Even as a professional writer, taking the time to write feels a bit selfish. Yes, I’ve got a deadline, and yes, it’s a business, but still. I get to sit here and make up stories, and it feels a little self indulgent. I could be doing my laundry, or cleaning the house, or advertising the book. We often take the stance that this is procrastination, and sometimes it is. But other times, it can come from the idea that what we’re doing isn’t worthy of the time we’re spending on it.

Writing is something just for you. In many ways it’s a completely solo activity. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, people write in a group, and share stories, create together, but usually, the process of drawing out a story from within you to on the page, is a personal journey. Learning that the stories you have to tell are relevant and important is necessary to work well. If you think about it in terms of your feelings, regardless of how the work will be received or what others will say- you have a story within you, and you need to get it out. If the story stays untold, unacknowledged, it’s not going to be good for you. It’ll sit forgotten, itching at you. Like many things that reoccur and pop into our heads, nudging us for attention, it’s important to listen to them.

To ignore your artistry is to ignore how you work, and how you feel about it all. I run Writing for Wellbeing Workshops, and these are a fairly new and holistic way of using creativity. It’s thinking about the process and not about the outcome. Obviously, the writing you produced has a part to play, and often you’ll create some beautiful and meaningful work. The reason people come to these workshops is because they feel they need permission to spend the time on their writing, to take a break from their lives for the day, and focus solely on them and their creativity. It’s a brilliant atmosphere, and the hope is that when you finish the day, you’ll take away the sense that writing is good for you, and it’s not selfish to do it, but necessary and helpful to you.

There’s more details on the workshop here, but always try to remember that anything you do has purpose, and you can’t feel guilty about that.

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Blog Hop…’My Writing Process’

 

Thanks to Aurelia B Rowl for nominating me to take part in the My Writing Process blog tour! I’m following up from Aurelia’s brilliant post from last week, which you can see here.

Okay, here goes:

 

What Am I Working On?

I’m currently working on my next novel for Carina UK. It’s a snarky romantic comedy, focused around a woman named Tigerlily James (I love my strange names!) and how she deals with how static her life is. She and her friends have The Misery Dinner once a month where they moan about their lives, but she’s tired of being miserable. Cue love interest, the return of strange friends, terrible exes and lots of shenanigans and navel gazing. At the moment the working title is The Young and Bitter Club, but it might be changing to Unstuck.

 

 

How Does My Work Differ from Others of its Genre?

 

Well, I’m trying to make sure it’s not just a romance story. I like there to be a journey of discovery, something positive in the female characters that comes from them and not their love interest. It has to be about the timing, and realisations, and love, all coming together to move them forward. I find that really inspiring in the work of Sarra Manning and Mhairi Mcfarlane, where it’s not just chick lit, it’s an emotional realisation in the mind of the character.

 

 

Why Do I Write What I Do?

 

Well, the first book I wrote was a coming of age drama, and the novel I was working on before I got the call from the publisher was literary fiction. So I’m not going to limit myself to one genre. I’ve also got a few YA novels and a kids book up my sleeve. But at the moment, I love writing chick lit. It’s fun, less taxing, and you get to design the dream love interest and make other people fall in love with them. It’s pretty much like day-dreaming, at least until the hard work of actually writing the thing comes into action. I’d never really visualised myself writing romance, if anything, my first novel was described as ‘a romance trying to be an anti-romance’. I don’t like fluff, I like attraction, and sarcastic comments, attraction and wit. Some handsome guy turning up with roses is not a romantic hero for me. So getting to play with that is pretty cool.

 

 

How Does My Writing Process Work?

 

Well, I start with the idea, which changes over and over again. Last week, over the course of two days I changed the names of three characters, the visuals of the love interest, the back story, and a whole bunch of other stuff! And once that happens, it starts to click. I write fragments in my notebook, and I’m now onto typing up fragments on my laptop. Nothing in order, nothing necessarily structured or even important, I’m just exploring. When I’ve got enough, I’ll print them out, arrange them, look for what I’m missing, and start typing it all up in order, adding in as I go. 

When I first start, I’m writing to discover, which is why things change. I’m allowing for adaptations, realisations, character development.  Then comes the typing up, changing, and about five rounds of editing! 

All of that seems so far off right now! But I’m chugging away at it so it’s ready for deadline on the 1st May. Terrifying.

 

Next Week: The Blog Hop moves on to two brilliant writers and creatives:

 

Louise Davidson 

 

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Louise Davidson is a writer, free-lance script-reader, dramaturg and PR executive. She graduated from the University of East Anglia and has worked in theatre for the last four years, doing everything from directing to ushering. She has acted as Assistant to the Director on shows such as Uncle Vanya at the Lyric Theatre and Land of Giants as part of the Cultural Olympiad and is a script-reader for Tinderbox Theatre Co. and Accidental Theatre Co. For the last year, Louise has worked in PR, specialising in Arts Marketing and PR. She has written two plays, various flash fiction, and is currently working on a novel.

 Check out her entry here 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annie Harris

 

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Annie is a 23-year-old actress, theatre producer and blogger living in North London.
 
After graduating from the London College of Music in 2011 with a degree in Musical Theatre, Annie networked her way through the scary, bustling city that is London with a tummy full of caffeine and a backpack full of business cards.
 
Recently, she’s written articles for [Miro Magazine](www.miromagazine.co.uk) and [Youth Arts Online](www.youthartsonline.org), been featured as an incredibly dumpy and spoilt young woman in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the classic Walt Disney film, Cinderella, and has recently dipped her toe into the world of vlogging by becoming a [Youtube Partner](www.youtube.com/missannieharris). 
 
When she’s not busy poking her nose into other people’s lives, you can find Annie tending to her fast-wilting coriander plant, fantasising about taking up pole dance classes, or singing 80’s power ballads in the shower.
 
You can find Annie on Twitter [here](www.twitter.com/ubermagee).
 

 

 

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Wellbeing at the Weekend: Week 1

Hi all,

 

I’m going to try and offer a writing exercise every Sunday that will be gently creative, something for you to try out and explore for your wellbeing at the weekend.

This week we’re going to start with narrative. What is the story and structure of your life? What has been achieved? Where have your plot points and tailspins and adventures been?

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Imagine you are writing your autobiography. Choosing what to include and not include in the story of your life is defining for you- what makes your story? What was the making of you?

Think about what the title would be, consider how you would arrange your chapters, what those chapter titles would be. Where would you start and end your story? Is it a star chart, jumping from point to point, getting higher and higher? Did you have a dip? Have you risen again from the ashes?

 

Don’t feel you have to force a plotline to form. Our lives, day to day, are about plodding. They’re about slow and quiet realisations that look little but mean much. Looks for the simples and re-occurring themes in your life. This can be as simple as noticing the bluebells in the garden every year, and recognising the passage of time. The tune that recalls a certain memory when you hear it. These realisations and moments of contemplation matter, they are the fabric that binds us.

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Think about the stages in your life. Where are you now? Are you at the beginning of your journey? We are always discovering, always changing and growing. Do you think you can recognise the stages and phrases of those changes?

 

You do not have to write your biography, just plan our the chapters. Give them titles, decide what would be involved. Perhaps you would like to try to write a bit about some of those moments that you feel are defining. Try to get as close and as within the moment as you can- look for the sensory memories, the strange details. As you envelope yourself in your own memories you will often find these details appear. The taste of school dinners, the journey to your first job, the feelings and sounds and blur of having children. Look through photos, talk to people, try and regain the wholeness of these moments. To truly own your history is a beautiful thing, and to find the narrative is to feel like the journey carries on, open for exploration and new beginnings.

 

Don’t forget about my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in April!

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On Being Authentic (and how writing can help)

It’s hard to be ourselves, these days.

 

We are constantly seeking a place to validate our thoughts and feelings on paper, or on screen. To see those words, and have them responded to respectfully and emotively is often all we crave. To receive a few kind words of encouragement or understanding. But the power of social media today means that we misplace that intention into a great fizzing ball of everyone’s insecurities, hang-ups, stresses and day to day life.

We do not heal ourselves by writing about our dead cat on facebook. We open ourselves up to derision, insincerity and judgement. But to write in a private moment about how we feel about such things, about our day to day life, our losses- it is our moment of understanding in expressing these things that matters, not the reception.

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It is so expected that your realisations and thoughts should be public, to be related to or ignored, that people cannot even define what is important to them. The loss of self, of authentic voice is more prevalent on social media sites than anywhere else. I am sad today. Well, if I tell facebook, people will tell me to cheer up, if I use twitter I am limited to characters, perhaps I’ll text a friend and they will comfort me. Nowhere in this scenario is sitting down and using words to consider why you’re unhappy today. You are too busy trying to figure out if your feelings matter enough to be considered your ‘status’ or if they are appropriate for the medium you’re using. That is the power of private writing- or even of therapeutic writing that is shared- there is no inappropriate, as long as you are authentic.

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An Exercise in Connecting to the Authentic:

Take a moment to ‘check-in’ with yourself. How are you today? Do you feel good? What one word would sum up how you are right now? Say it aloud. Own it. It is surprising? Is there anything more to be said? Have you picked a word that gives little away, like ‘fine’ or ‘okay’? You don’t have to limit yourself, or be polite, you are just interacting with yourself. If you feel content, if you feel anxious, if you feel awful, all of these feelings are okay.

 

Take out a watch, or a timer on your phone. You’re going to do five minutes of ‘free-writing’. This means you will write whatever comes to mind, you won’t form it, you don’t have to worry about spelling or punctuation or sentences. Go with what feels right. Try and almost bypass the brain in this exercise, imagine your pen is connected to a delicate thread that goes up through your arm and into your centre. The pen connects with the subconscious, just let it do what it wants. Start with the word you used to define your state of being. Run with it. Write as much as you can, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t look back, just keep writing.

Okay, so you’ve done that. Look back. Was that check-in how you really felt? Did anything become apparent? How do you feel? Writing this way, writing for ourselves, not for any validation, recognition, or to fill a space, is a powerful thing. There might not be any writerly ‘merit’ in the thing you have written, but if it feels honest and true to you, then that is merit enough. You may also find a phrase or word that you really like in there, and can use that to jump onto a more structured piece of work.

 

Authenticity is important- we are surrounded by the noise and pressure and expectations of others, things to do, places to go, how we should be, that sometimes we just need to centre ourselves again.

That is just one small and simple exercise in how writing can be therapeutic. Why don’t you try it out and let me know what you created? If you’re interested in the therapeutic possibilities of writing, remember I’m doing a Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet on Saturday 26th April. Email andrealmichael@aol.com for more details!

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Words With Edge Festival!

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It’s finally happening!

At: Red Door Studios, Masterman Road (rear of 120 high street south) East Ham, E63RW

Sat 24th: Opening, feat Newham Music Hub, Poetry Society’s Slambassadors (Rhythm of Men, Megan Beech, Naga MC) and Dizraeli. 7pm Free entry

Sat 25th/Sun 26th: 11am-5pm  Workshops, performances from Early Doors Collective, Myths of the Near Future, Four Thirty Three Magazine, Hollie Mcnish (performance and poetry workshop), Arachne Press, Stairwell Books, Atlantic Books, Kids storytelling with Clare Murphy, Writing for wellness with Me! Scriptwriting, both beginners and people who want feedback, with Louise Davidson.

Tues 28th- Literary Pub Quiz, £3 entry, 7pm start

Weds 29th – Cake Club. Theme: stories. Bake about stories! Free entry if you bring cake, £2 entry if you just want to eat!

Thurs 30th- Theatre ThursdayThe Woodhouse Players perform The Book Club of Little Whitterington and Joz Norris in his one-man comedy ‘Awkward Prophet’free entry!

Fri 31st- Open mic from local authors and artists, followed by End of Festival (and end of my residency!) party! All welcome! Free! 7pm

 

For more info:

facebook.com/wordswithedge

@wordswithedge

 

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How to Write More in 2014

 

So, who made a new years resolution to write more? Are you working on new projects, or you just want to get yourself back in the habit? I’ve jumped into 2014 with the realisation that I have about three months (thought I’m desperately begging my publisher otherwise!) to finish the next novel. Now, considering I had absolutely NOTHING, I almost freaked out. And then I got writing. So maybe a little pressure is a good thing!

Here’s a couple of ideas me and some friends are working on to increase our writing this year:

Writing in a different environment. I work from home, and as much as I love it, things can get a bit samey. Some writers will tell you routine is key, and I’m not going to argue with them. But a different environment to shake it up can really get your writing going! Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, suggests going to a cafe to write. Make sure there’s comfy seats, it’s not crazy busy, and you’re actually hungry! Plus, if you’re taking up a table for a while, make sure you tip well! I went to Drink Shop Do in Kings Cross, which is my favourite London cafe so far. I went in knowing I wanted to write, and came out knowing my characters and rough plot! Inject some life into your writing routine! Plus, treating yourself to a decent snack never hurt the senses, did it?

Writing Together. My friend (and writer and blogger and publisher extraordinaire) Sara Veal and I have decided to have writing dates. We take turns picking a venue, sit together, write for a while, break and have a chat, write for a while, and so on. Probably until I drink wine and end up too drunk to write! Hemmingway, I am not. 

Talk About It… This is what I absolutely love about having friends in the same field. I can chat to my friend Louise Davidson (scriptwriter and drama genius) about what I’m up to, and she’ll get it! I got a text the other day saying she fixed a plot twist and felt like a genius. And I got it! Those little fiddly bits of writing, where you can spend hours trying to sort something really simple, can drive you mad and it’s great to have some support!

But Also Be About It… This doesn’t mean everyone wants to hear the whole plot of your novel. In fact, I’d avoid doing that. Firstly, because if you’re taking up a whole conversation with a play by play, no-one’s going to appreciate your company, and no-one’s going to buy your book! Also, it tends to make it a bit dry when you come to write it. So, share your enthusiasm, your progress, you irritations, but this is your story. If you’re not going to write it, there’s no point talking about it. Get to it!

Stationary- I don’t know about you, but buying a new notebook for a project really gets me excited! It took me forty five minutes in Paperchase to choose the right one the other day. #writerproblems

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself- Not to get all business-speak on you, but the problem with most excellent writers is that they don’t have a product. Talk the talk, blog, get excited, make contacts, look up publishers…but you need something to show them! Don’t make promises on what you think you can do- just do it! Lock yourself down and get going!

Read! I know a lot of writers who don’t read whilst they’re writing a book, incase it distracts them from their story. To each their own, but if you’re not reading fiction, then you should at least be looking at blogs, newspapers and just keeping engaged with the world. If we’re retreating into our own minds for sufficient periods of time, it’s good to get back into the world every now and then. Ideas come from within, but inspiration comes from the external world. The more you see, read and experience,the more you’re likely to get ideas!

Trust your process– You might not write every day. You might write when you feel like it. Some days may bring pages, others may have one great idea. If you know how and when you work best, trust that it works for you! We all work differently, and as they say, comparison is the thief of joy! Trust that you do this because you enjoy it, so make it enjoyable for you!

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I wish you all a creative and inspiring 2014! Please do follow my twitter @almichael and my facebook Author Page to keep up to date with the release of my ‘snarky chick lit’ novel The Last Word being published by Carina UK in the coming months! You’ll be hearing more about it soon! 

Plus, be aware of my East London Literary Festival Words With Edge

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Andi Says RELAX

 

 

When people ask me what my main strength is, I don’t tend to say writing. I tend to say enthusiasm. I am like a child. Give me a task and I’ll see an adventure. On the right day, I may even jump up and down and clap my hands. I love what I do. I love writing, teaching, reading, editing and helping people learn to harness their gift. But goddamn, it’s exhausting sometimes.

Creative Entrepreneurship teaches us that, as artists, we are likely to get our wages from a variety of income streams. The more strings to your bow, the more you can make. Now, I’m not saying a 9-5 isn’t exhausting, but this whole multiple income streams business makes me look like I’m vibrating on a different frequency. You have to be able to switch between projects pretty quickly, as well as travelling, planning, executing, arranging and looking out for new opportunities whilst making sure you don’t lose the ones you already have. Plus there’s social media, which can’t be ignored. What’s the point of doing all this work if no-one knows about it?

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I wasn’t this exhausted when I worked a PAYE job, and worked for myself part time. And I got up at 5am most days.

This is the question: Should we do many things, and do them well enough, or do a few and do them brilliantly?

When you split your income stream, you split your focus. If you have to teach to make more money immediately, then the novel gets put on the backburner in order to plan a lesson. Do we end up prioritising away the whole reason for this lifestyle?

When your job splits down into five or six different jobs, and then you consider the average tasks that come with being a human- paying bills, grocery shopping, socialising, doing laundry, going to the bank….how do we ever get stuff done?

I think I’ve found the answer. Or rather, I’ve known the answer all along, I’m just incapable of sticking to it:

CALM THE HELL DOWN.

Frazzled, exhausted minds do not do good work. Unless you’re Hemingway. Or Kerouac.

If we are our own boss, we need to treat ourselves nicely. We need to know when to switch off the laptop, put down the pen, turn off the phone, and STOP WORRYING. We need to sleep well, eat good food, exercise. Spend time thinking about things that aren’t work. Stop thinking that we’re not going to survive if we don’t do it ALL RIGHT NOW. Make plans with friends and stick to them, prioritise them over the chance to make a little more money.

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I’m terrible at this. I’m an overachiever, right until I burn out and spend weeks feeling ill and depressed. And then obviously it’s so much harder to get back to work with that attitude. Balance. That is what we need, and what I’ve been searching for. We all know the basics: Eat well, exercise, work, learn, socialise, have fun, create, sleep.

I used to think the busier I LOOKED, the more successful I was. This isn’t true. You think you’re juggling balls and spinning plates like a pro, when actually you look like a run-down jittery maniac running on coffee and determination. No-one approves of that person, because their work is destroying them. That’s not smart.

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So, next week I will be on holiday. Problem being I’ve already agreed to do a proofread on a client’s novel and set myself the task of polishing up one of my novels for perusal by an interested publisher. So I’ve pretty much just agreed to sit doing two weeks worth of work in 5 days. Why did I do that? Because I looked at them and thought ‘Ooh, those days are free!’ THAT IS THE WAY THEY’RE MEANT TO STAY. My holiday is usually for reading and writing, but in a non-uniformed, enjoyable and open way. No goals, just fun. And I’m not saying I won’t be sitting there with a cocktail in hand whilst I do it, but the lesson has yet to be learnt.

We need time to ourselves, to heal and reboot and relax. So I hope you can learn from my mistakes!

 

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Wine Dark Sea Blue- Out now!

So, over this last year or so, the goal has been to get published. Yay, level up! The next goal is to sell those books.

Wine Dark, Sea Blue is a coming of age story. It’s about London, the recession, finding comfort in strangers, escapism, loyalty, and never really knowing how to say the things you want to say. It’s about secret keeping, family connections, unsaid truths and making art.

You can buy Wine Dark, Sea Blue from my publisher Stairwell Books. It will soon be available on Amazon and kindle, but please bear in mind, if you want to support the author and publisher, don’t buy hard copy books from Amazon, buy them straight from the source.

I’ll be blogging about the launch party and how it went (fantastically!) but for now, get hold of your copy, and show how much you’ve enjoyed it by posting a pic of yourself with the book, and hashtagging #almichael #winedarkseablue like all these lovely people have done! Get involved!

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