What I learnt this week: 20th April 2017

Writing update and leaping fish

When I last left you, I was buried in edits for my next book (provisionally titled Too Nice? and out in August). So what’s happened in the last week?

  • I finished the first round of edits and sent them gleefully back to my editor with a huge sigh of relief. The first round is the hardest, in my experience, with chunks being added, deleted, moved around. Next, if I’ve done my job properly, will be the line edits. If I’ve moved the wrong chunks into the wrong place, or done an Ernie Wise (the right chunks, just not necessarily in the right order…) it’ll be first round, take 2.
  • I’m back writing The Christmas Book (aka The Christmas Hotel). To date my word count stands at 28,000 and, according to my haphazard outline, I’m just over half way through the story. Some has been written outside on the patio. Sitting in the sunshine, writing about romance at Christmas – it’s a tough job, but I’m manning up to the task.

And the leaping fish?

We have eight Koi, six we’re enjoying watching grow and two (Mahrez and Vardy. No I didn’t name them. Yes, my husband is a Leicester City fan) we’re enjoying even more, watching the big buggers dashing round the pond.

Mahrez (on the left) and Vardy

Mahrez (on the left) and Vardy

Mahrez has recently taken to leaping out of the water in a dolphinesque manner, though with slightly less style. By the time I’ve grabbed my phone to record his antics, he’s had enough, so you’ll have to take me on trust. We were chuffed to think we had the only magical dancing Koi, until we looked it up on line. Apparently Koi start to leap out of the water during the mating season, when the males chase the females. So perhaps Mahrez is actually a girl, and there is a beautiful romance going on in our pond.

Or perhaps he’s keen to be a youtube sensation. We’re buying hoops next week. Watch this space.

What I learnt this week: 13th April 2017

A fortnight of edits (with a little break)

In the two weeks since I last updated this blog I’ve been mainly immersed in edits. The book I’m working on – temporary title Too Nice? – will hopefully find its way onto the ebook platforms in August. That’s if I keep to my editing schedule, and so far I’m on track.

Too Nice is a book I first wrote back in 2011. At the time it was called Coming Home, and I sent it to be professionally critiqued. Of the many (make that many, many) comments I received back, one was that the hero, Nick Templeton, was too nice. Feeling considerably bruised and battered by the critique (which in hindsight was excellent and worth every penny) I shoved the (pages and pages) of feedback into a drawer and got on with writing the next book. That turned out to be this one…

TC_NEW front 150dpi

It was two years (and a publishing contract with Choc Lit) later before I dived into the manuscript again, this time seeing the comments for what they were. Not a savage commentary on my writing skills but a thoughtful, carefully worded appraisal of how I could improve the book. I re-worked it, taking most of the ideas on board, renamed it Too Nice? and submitted to Choc Lit.

Nick Templeton is a nice man – I’ve not changed him too much, but given this quiet, reserved accountant a bit more backbone. He needs this to stand up to the woman he’s loved for most of his life. When he first fell for her she was simply his best friend’s younger sister. Now Lizzie Donavue is a stunning supermodel who seems to have it all. A glittering career, a glamorous lifestyle in LA and a parade of handsome boyfriends. But then it all goes horribly wrong…

I loved the idea of an accountant and a supermodel. I hope you will, too :-)

I did have a little break from the editing – an incredibly well timed trip to the Cotswolds last weekend, when it happened to be wall to wall sunshine. In my very biased opinion there is no finer place in the world than England, when the sun is out. When it’s raining, I’ll be happy to get on a plane to anywhere.

Morning view from our rental place

Morning view from our rental place

Before we went on a bike ride. After it, I wasn't smiling quite so much...

Before we went on a bike ride. After it, I wasn’t smiling quite so much…

Finally, a quick update on The Christmas Book (aka The Christmas Hotel). I did do a little bit of writing in the sunshine. It’s now up to 21,800 words. Hopefully I’ll have my edits finished by the end of this week, and back into the swing of mince pies and mistletoe next week. After a small break to eat a few Easter eggs…

 

 

 

What I learnt this week: 30th March 2017

A writing update

A short blog today (what do you mean, whoopee?), because I’m not just juggling my medical writing with writing The Christmas Book (aka The Christmas Hotel. Maybe). Yesterday the edits for my next book landed in my inbox.

It’s a always a drum roll moment for me when I open the attachment. I’m excited to see what changes are being suggested to improve the book, but also apprehensive over how many, how long it might take me, and most scary of all. Can I actually make the suggestions work? Adding new characters, changing dialogue, including new scenes, softening/deepening the current characters can all enhance a book. They’re not always easy to do. You spend months and months editing the book yourself, making sure it flows, the plot works, the timings work. And even if you do say so yourself, it’s pretty damn good.

Then an editor comes along and shows you it wasn’t perfect after all. And actually, it could be a lot better.

Now you have to cut into your hard work and hope when you put it back together again, it still works. It feels like being a book surgeon (umm, a penguin surgeon was the closest image I could find).

Surgeon penguin

Let me explain my thinking. The body (book) is an intricate thing, yet I’m delving into it with a knife, chopping bits out, moving other parts around. Perhaps stitching new parts in. When I sew the body (book) back up, it’s with the hope that I didn’t just do no harm. I actually made it better than it was before.

Well there you go. As a child I always wanted to be either a writer or a doctor. I ended up being a pharmacist, who worked in a pharmaceutical company, writing. Who then went part time to write fiction. Who’s now convinced herself she’s a surgeon…

For those interested, the Christmas book word count is currently at: 19,400 words.

Not bad progress from last week, but it will be put on hold while I get my scalpel out. Wearing the surgical gown is optional.

 

 

What I learnt this week: 23rd March 2017

Writing hiccups

So, a quick update on where I am with The Christmas Book…and yes, I hope it gets a better title than that, too. I’m working with The Christmas Hotel. I know, I know, two of the three words are the same, but with a bit of luck replacing that last one will haul the title up from dull to interesting. Thankfully my publisher will have their own view, one based on years of knowing what titles sell books. Not just my stab at making the title have something to do with the content.

Current word count: 12,600.

Of course it would be higher if I wasn’t sitting here writing this blog, but I couldn’t let you down. You were waiting for an update, weren’t you?!

By my reckoning this means I’ve written only 4,100 words during the last week. Have I been:

  • watching daytime television. No!
  • faffing around on twitter (umm, guilty, but writers need to get out there on social media, honest).
  • sitting at my desk twiddling my thumbs? No (though maybe I’ve gazed up at Jenson once or twice. And yes, you’ve guessed it, that does rather give me an excuse to slot in a photo of him).
Where I look for inspiration

Where I look for inspiration

 

What happened, was that work got in the way. Now I’m not going to complain, because my medical writing pays the money that helps us to eat. But it does rather stem the flow of the book writing. I’m used to this though, because I often find myself diving between the two types of writing. The trick I’ve found is to try and keep the book alive in my head even when I’m writing about cardiovascular events rather than beating hearts. So when I’m making a cup of tea, driving the car, doing my morning run or swim, I think about my characters. It often leads to me playing around with dialogue in my head which, I have to confess, at the time I think is rather brilliant. Sadly when I finally get a pen in my hand to note it down, the brilliance has often faded (or perhaps it was never there?).

I’ve finished my medical writing work for this week though, so I’m heading back into the book. I’ve left it in the middle of a chapter which is a great tip I was given as diving straight into some action or dialogue makes it much easier to pick up the story. Now I just have to translate the not quite brilliant scribbles I made after my run yesterday, and off I go.

I’ll update you in another week. Go on, you’re interested now. Aren’t you?

What I learnt this week: 16th March 2017

Beginning a new book

Those of you who read this blog (come on, admit it, that’s you, mum) will know two weeks ago I was about to start my next book – a short Christmas book, targeting around 50,000 words.

So how is it going?

Well, as you’ve been kind enough to show some interest, I’ll tell you.

I’ve started it (cue fireworks).

Fireworks NYE

It’s always a big relief to get those first words down. Not that I’m daunted by the blank page – in fact often I’m excited by it. To me it represents a world of possibilities; maybe this book will be the one that takes off, the one that lands me in Hollywood, helping the producers turn it into a film staring Chris Hemsworth (cue some photos so you’ll feel it was worth visiting my blog this week).

chris_hemsworth chris_hemsworth 2 chris_hemsworth 3

What this writer is daunted by is what I actually put on that first page. Once I’m into the book, it all falls into place (until an editor comes along and shuffles it round again) but I often struggle with those first few chapters.

I’m clear where the story is going…yes, okay, we all know it’s a romance based around Christmas, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Honest. I’m also clear on my main characters – in fact I even have biographies for them to help form my thinking. Over the years these biographies have developed from: tall, dark hair, brown eyes, to something more detailed. Now I don’t just know what they look like, I know their back story, their likes and dislikes, their personality. Their vulnerabilities.

What I struggle with is this; at what point do I delve into their story? And from whose point of view? Do I need a prologue to set it up?

I’ve learnt not to dwell too much. Better to get stuck in and get on with it, than to dither for ages trying to work out the best path to take. After all, the overall direction I’m heading in is clear. It’s just there’s more than one route I can take at the start, and knowing which is best isn’t always obvious until I’ve begun to walk down it. I use the same principle when I’m map reading, too. The difference is with writing, if I later find there was a better path (less muddy, more downhill. Perhaps going past a café and a pub. And a chip shop) it’s easy to go back and edit my words. With walking, it’s a long slog back up that hill to begin again. By which time you’re muddy, starving hungry and your family have threatened to never walk with you again.

So I’ve set off, 8,500 words in, and so far I’m walking at a decent pace. I’ll let you know how I get on over the next few months. I’m hoping that chip shop will come in view very soon.

chips no mayo

What I learnt this week: how long does it take to write a book?

Perhaps I should re-title this:

How long does it take me to write a book?

Because all writers are different. I believe Barbara Cartland used to write a book every two weeks. Now that’s going it some. She carried the book in her head and dictated it to her secretary. I don’t have a secretary (shocked?!). Even if I did, I dread to think what my book would turn out like if the thoughts in my head were transcribed unfiltered.

Some writers plot, plot, plot before they begin to lay down the words. Others just sit and go for it.

I lie somewhere in between. I plot in my head for weeks before dumping my thoughts into a document that loosely ends up being a biography of the main characters and an outline of the book, chunked into sections.

So when we talk of time taken to write a book, do we count the plotting phase? For this exercise I’m not going to, because for me it takes place in my head when I’m running or swimming, so technically it’s not actually taking up any of my time.

Swim hat and goggles trainers

But I do spend time putting my thoughts into a document, so I’m going to allow:

Plotting = 1 day

Now, the writing. On a good day, I can write 2,000 words a day. Let’s say the book I need to write is going to be a novella (i.e. a shorter novel) and I’m looking at around 50,000 words (for comparison most of my books are around 90,000).

Perfect world first draft time: word count (50,000) ÷ words per day (2,000) = 25 days.

Of course there are days when real life (and real work) crashes in to my creative world. So we need to double the writing time. Then there are bad writing days as well as good. Days when words flow as easily as burnt treacle. So I need to add another 10 days to account for that.

Real world first draft time: (word count ÷ words per day) x 2 + bad writing days = 60 days.

Now that’s just the first draft. It could be useless. It will no doubt have great chunks that need swopping round, re-writing. It will definitely need another pair of eyes to read it and tell me where I’ve gone wrong. So we need to add another chunk of time, equal to the original writing time, for editing.

Time taken to write a decent draft: (word count ÷ words per day) x 2 + bad writing days + my editing = 85 days

Alas we’re not done yet. By this stage I’ve hopefully got a story I think is the bees knees, and is therefore ready to submit to my publisher. They will forward to an editor who won’t think it’s the bees knees. They’ll see all the holes, the flaws I didn’t. And the story will need editing again. Then more minor edits. Finally a proof check. This could take a couple of months, though not of it all my time.

Time taken to write a ‘proper’ book: plotting time + (word count ÷ words per day) x 2 + bad writing days + my editing + professional editing

Is there a purpose to this rambling, I hear you cry. Surprisingly, yes. The thing is, I want to write another Christmas novella and I haven’t started it yet. I need to know whether I have a chance of finishing it in time for Christmas – which ideally means it being ready for November.

So let me see, for a draft ready for my publisher it will take me: 1 + 50 + 10 + 25 = 86 days.

Allow me some time off at the weekends (pretty please?) and we’re looking at around 4-5 months. If I start now, it could be ready for submission in July. Looking good. But then I need to factor in my holiday. Also my publishers schedule as, surprisingly, they have other books that need editing besides mine.

Basically, I think this all sums to the following:

I need to stop writing this blog and get on with writing my flipping book

emoji grinning

(and finally, just in case you missed it, my current Christmas book)

second-christmas-wish_front_150dpi

What I learnt this week

We need imperfections

Yesterday I opened my front door as usual. As I do several times a day. This time, I actually noticed the letterbox.

IMG_1179

It’s the same letterbox cover we’ve had since we moved in. It’s bent at the corners because it keeps falling off. It’s gold where the rest of the door fittings have slowly been changed to chrome. Yet somehow we’ve never got round to changing it even though it’s a simple, inexpensive task.

It’s the same with the eyelet curtains on our landing. When we put them on, we threaded them through wrongly so the lining shows. Such an easy thing to fix, yet they’ve stayed that way for over ten years now.

IMG_1175

Then there’s the ‘cricket equipment’. Apparently it’s too important to store in the garage, and too much hassle to keep going into the garage each time they need it.  Not a problem. We bought a blanket box to store it in. But then with three males in our household playing the game, it has spilled into the space next to the box. Carefully disguised, of course. Yet have we done anything about it, other than the ‘disguise’? Of course not.

IMG_1180

I’ve come to the conclusion that despite all these niggles being easy to solve, we don’t get  round to it because subconsciously we like them. They make our house a home. A place that’s lived in by real people.

I believe it’s the same reason we don’t want perfect characters in our stories. We’re far more likely to fall in love with a flawed hero – take Rochester, James Bond, Ross Poldark (umm, yes please). These fictional heroes capture our imagination because they have imperfections that make them real to us. Lovable. Plus they’re gorgeous, which helps…

Of course when it comes to our own, real life flawed heroes, it’s worth pointing out that leaving wet towels on the floor isn’t a sexy imperfection. It’s lazy.

What I learnt this week: 26th January 2017

What do you do with that first manuscript?

Red heart

A first manuscript is like a first love – very special. Very hard to forget.

If you’re lucky, that first manuscript has led to a publishing contract and a fabulous writing career. For most writers though, that first book, lovingly, painstakingly crafted during weekends/evenings around the day job, has remained on the computer. Only read in its entirety by you (and maybe an unlucky beta reader or two).

For sadly that first novel, destined in your mind to become a Times Bestseller and a blockbuster movie (staring a hunky actor you chose) often turns out to be…let’s just say considerably less amazing than you’d hoped. Considerably.

Or maybe it was just mine?

I couldn’t leave it alone though. I’ve written many books since, thankfully even had some of them published (cue promo photo):

book-covers-november-2016

But I kept hankering back to my first. Did it still have potential? Could I re-look at it now I’m a ‘better’ writer and shape it into the bestseller it was meant to be? (yes, okay, I’ve still got some of my head in the clouds).

I decided I could.

I was wrong.

I still love the story, but trying to edit a book that was inexpertly written, and from only one point of view (when now I write from two) was painful. I love writing, but for once this was more a chore than a joy. More like real work. Stupidly I began editing it, taking each chapter and deleting parts, changing parts. I was a third of the way in before I realised I wasn’t actually using any of my original masterpiece.

What I should have done, was use the outline and write it again, from scratch.

Lesson learnt. Your first love – at least from a novel perspective –  should remain in your head. A soft, shimmering memory of something beautiful. If you try and re-visit it, you’ll realise it wasn’t just considerably less than you’d hoped. It was a pile of poo.

Will you see it published one day? Who knows. I did plough on to the end but now I’ve left it festering on my computer. I daren’t look at it again for a while. In case it still looks like…you know.

What I Learnt this Week: Thursday 19th January

January blues

I’m not going to lie, right now I wish I was here.

Hawaii beach

Or here

boats near beach

Or here

2012 Antigua 042

I think you get the picture (well, I have provided three: Hawaii, Thailand, Antigua)

But I’m stuck with taking my holidays around the school calendar which means I can’t really go to these places until the summer, when actually the thought of sitting in my back garden is quite appealing.

I want to be on one of those beaches now.

I’m fed up with rain. Fed up with defrosting the car, not being able to run outside without fear of slipping on the frost. Putting on fleeces. Wearing socks and slippers.

At the moment I’m wishing my life away because I’m aching for spring. For some warmth.

But that’s crazy, because there is so much to appreciate in living in a climate like England. Crisp winter sunshine is actually glorious, if you’re wrapped up warm enough (see suggested hat below. The kids wouldn’t be seen with with me, but my husband bravely cycled next to me).

Me with bobble hat

And I’m not sure you can fully appreciate the summer if you haven’t toiled through the gales of autumn, the cold of winter and the floods of spring. As a reminder of how exciting the weather in this country can be during these seasons, here’s our village green in all three of these seasons.  All photos were taken from approximately the same place, though not all in the same year. Thank goodness. The middle photo was taken two days ago.

Tree upended Wraysbury green. smallJPGWraysbury green in mistCricket underwater small

Still, though I’m trying not to wish the next two months away, I can’t deny I am looking forward to seeing the green looking like this.

Wraysbury cricket summerWraysbury cricket ground bench

 

And though that means I’ll be a cricket widow again, at least I’ll feel the sun on my face. Until the rain comes, obviously.

That’s when I’ll be wishing I was on one of those beaches…

 

 

What I learnt this week: 5th January 2017

Writing resolutions

So, here we are, five days into 2017. The drooping Christmas tree has been disposed of (underfloor heating and real trees – not a combination to be recommended), the decorations jammed back into the loft for another year.

It’s the time we look what we need to do to change our lives for the better. Then make that dreaded resolution to do just that, only to fall back into old habits before the month is out.

None of the usual resolutions really apply to me. I’m not overweight, I exercise regularly.

Proof - me after running round Dorney Lake over Christmas holidays. Taken from a distance so you can't see the pain etched on my face.

Proof – me after running round Dorney Lake over Christmas holidays. Taken from a distance so you can’t see the pain etched on my face.

I eat a relatively healthy  I don’t eat too unhealthily (a little of what you fancy does you good, right?). I drink just within the recommended guidelines, leaving two days alcohol free and sticking to a glass of wine during the week (though there are glasses….and glasses, depending on how the day has gone).

img_1156

I definitely need to be more positive in my outlook, but I doubt I can change that (oops – see what I mean?). My family would say I need to nag less, but intangible resolutions are almost impossible to stick to. Besides, the family are wrong. They need to do what I say more often.

The one resolution I made and stuck to was back in 2009 when I said I would write a book.

I figure writing resolutions are the way forward for me. So here they go. In 2017 I’m going to:

  • Finish revising the first book I wrote seven years ago, and each time I cringe at a sentence I wrote then I’m going to remind myself how much better I am at writing now. That should help with the positivity.
  • Be more organised in planning my writing. I rush through that stage, all too keen to get on and write. When you have breaks in your writing though, like I do when I dive into the medical writing, you forget details that are important. What colour were his eyes? Has she admitted her feelings to him yet – or even to herself? What one earth was the name of his friend/PA/goldfish?
  • Stretch my writing by at least planning (see, these resolutions aren’t just slapped together) the book that’s in my head. It’s deeper than my usual style and I’ve held off writing it because I’m not sure if I can.
  • Believe in myself more. Linking to point 3 (wow, I’m good at this resolution lark) I’m going to push myself. I can become a good writer. I can make a career out of writing romance, rather it being the exciting thing I do in-between my medical writing. I might not succeed (note, that’s not negative, it’s realistic) but I’m damn well going to give it my best shot.

How’s that for positivity?

And you, dear reader, will be able to see if it works…