The 5 Stages of ‘I Have Got To Keep Going!’ #MondayBlogs #MondayMotivation

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There are some creative projects which bring you to your knees, force you to question your motives, present you with obstacles and make you want to run away.

I am trying to tell myself that these are special projects and perhaps I should view them as gifts….that keep on giving! Sigh!

There are 5 stages of progressing through your creative suffering and reaching the magical moment where you whisper to yourself “I have got to keep going!”

  1. Creative suffering. You are up to your eyeballs in creative suffering! This project of yours is giving you nothing but creative pain. You have not made any progress on it for days and smiling seems like a distant memory. This is the stage where chocolate, coffee and cheesecake become your new best friends. Loved ones give you a wide berth and pets cast you an odd look, as you assume the dreaded foetal position, on the floor beside your writing desk, whimpering about how bad your fourth chapter sounds.
  2. Inner Turmoil. If this stage was part of a film, you, the hero / heroine, would be sat in a deserted Jazz bar, wearing a forlorn facial expression and asking the barman for his finest whisky. It’s time for inner conflict! There is no more cheesecake or tissues left in your house, so you start to question your reasons for embarking on this painful creative project. You knew writing a romcom novel was going to be a tall order with your ever changing emotions. In view of your emotional state why didn’t you just opt to write something serious like Sci-Fi?  This inner turmoil inevitably leads onto a general re-evaluation of your creative career so far, which doesn’t end well. During this stage you can expect to take some solitary walks in the rain, long periods of staring into space and some quality time soaking (till you look a prune) in the bath.
  3. Quit Everything. This is the stage where you decide to quit everything including your project! It feels really good to stand and shout “I QUIT!” so this stage can get quite noisy. You then start lie to yourself and create another reality in your head where your creative project meant nothing to you. With a nod you tell yourself that your now 60k word second draft will be easy to ditch! It’s not like you will spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened if you had worked on it! No! Still smiling at your own fantasy you conclude that creative life ambitions are meant to stay fluid and constantly change…aren’t they? Yes they are!  After convincing yourself that you can walk away from your creative project you do so muttering stuff like  “good-bye and good riddance!” and “I am going to get my life back – hell yea!”
  4. Change your mind about quitting everything. This stage is where you realise that you can’t quit, because your ex-creative project won’t leave you alone. It refuses to get out of your brain and insists on appearing on a random basis throughout your day. This can be an infuriating stage so prepare for some frustrated screams, some frantic bulk buying of more cheesecake and some desperate photos recording your suffering being uploaded onto Instagram. 
  5. Magical moment. This is the stage where you come to the conclusion that you can’t go back to your earlier stages of creative suffering, you can’t eat anymore chocolate or cheesecake, nor can you quit your project, so the only thing left to do is to whisper “I have got to keep going!” It is a magical moment for both you and your creative project.

I hope you all have a wonderful day!

Regular readers of my blog – I promise not to moan about my second draft anymore.

Photo: StockSnap

 

How To Remain Patient With Your Favourite Author #SundayBlogShare #Books #Author

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It is not easy waiting for your favourite author to bring out their next book.

After binge reading all their books, fangirling them by email and social media, all you can do is sit and wait for their next offering.

This agonising waiting period will involve some serious finger drumming, a lot of social media stalking and you forcing yourself to enjoy other books (written by other authors – gasp!).

You will find yourself saying things like “how long does it take to write a book eh?” and “what is she / he doing…seriously it has been MONTHS!” 

And then that empty feeling inside you sets in. It is going to be a long and cruel wait.

Your literary pain will intensify when your favourite author sends you a newsletter with either a small taster of their next book (for noting: it will sound AMAZING and may even leave you gasping) or they let you know that they will have some important news on their book very soon (can someone actually define this time period?). I get that these newsletters are an important marketing tool but they can be torturous to an author’s biggest fan.

Here is how to have patience during this challenging time:

  1. Have faith in them and their book writing abilities. They will deliver on that next book!
  2. Don’t believe everything you read on social media. Just because their Twitter feed gives you the impression they are enjoying themselves / not writing their next book, it probably isn’t true. They will be beavering away behind the scenes…on that relaxing beach holiday! Sigh.
  3. Focus on that special day in the future when their next book is launched. All your literary pain and suffering will go away in an instant as you log onto Amazon and see their next book twinkling at you.
  4. A regular tweet or two might not be a bad idea. It lets them know their reading fans are getting eager for their book and might encourage them to get a wriggle on!  Add some appropriate hashtags like #hurryup and #getoffthatsunloungerandwrite
  5. Writing a book is hard so go easy on your favourite author. You only have to look at the tweets on Twitter under the #Writer hashtag to get an indication of how hard it is.
  6. It’s tough being an author these days. Have some sympathy and try to picture them tearing themselves away from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Netflix to write their next book.
  7. Don’t think about stuff like whether or not their next book will be the last in the series or whether this next book will need a sequel. These things will just make your  book misery worse.
  8. Try not to dwell on things like which characters will die in the next book and which characters will start a steamy romance. All will be revealed in due course.
  9. Put as much pressure as you can on your book club for getting your fav author’s book read. This will give you a wonderful opportunity to read their book again. Let’s hope none of your fellow book club members disagree with you on the quality of your fav author’s book! Sigh.
  10. Hunt out fan fiction if available or write some yourself!  Rewrite those romance scenes that didn’t live up to your expectations or those fight scenes where the wrong character died. All of this will keep your literary love alive.
  11. Reassure yourself with the following – your favourite author is taking their time to write you an amazing and brilliant book. Good things come to those who wait!

Take it easy and be patient!

Have a great day!

Photo: StockSnaps

Author Interviews @Sam_Carrington1 #Author #WeekendBlogShare

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Welcome to my weekly blog series – Author Interviews. 

I love this series!  Saturdays got a LOT better for me once I started interviewing some interesting and inspirational authors, over a virtual cuppa and biscuit.

This series is all about spreading writer love!  It is about sharing literary journeys, writer learnings and author experiences. Speaking of sharing, this week I found a great quote which sums up what I am trying to do, on a Saturday, in my tiny blonde corner of the World Wide Web.

“Authors have to help each other out. It isn’t a competition; we’re all holding hands to cross the street here.”
― Marie Krepps

This week I am bubbling with literary excitement, as I am interviewing thriller author Sam Carrington!  I have just read the prologue of her book Saving Sophie and I think I am going to have to clear my hectic social schedule.

I ADORE reading thrillers. As a literary thrill seeker I am looking for authors to take me on a tense and uncomfortable book journey. I love plot twists, scary feelings and the book hangover you get from a good psychological thriller. After a couple of days the book is usually still messing with my mind, I will be getting flashbacks from key scenes, dreaming about the characters and the literary tension created by the thriller won’t have left me. Yum!

So let me crack on with this interview. Please welcome Sam Carrington! 

Hey Sam, please have a seat..

Tell my readers about yourself and the books you have written.

I live in Devon with my husband and three children. After working for the NHS for fifteen years, during which time I qualified as a nurse, I took a psychology degree and then decided I wanted a change of career. I went on to work for the prison service as an Offending Behaviour Programme Facilitator. My experiences within this field inspired my writing. After my dad died I re-evaluated things and I left the service to spend time with my family and to follow my dream of becoming a novelist. SAVING SOPHIE is my debut psychological thriller about a broken family, love, lies and obsession – and one tragic night that changes everything.

Mmmm.. that sounds right up my reading alley – love, lies and obsession! Sigh..

When did you write your current book? 

The very early stages of writing Saving Sophie began in December 2014 with the novel being completed in the July of 2015.

Why did you become a writer? 

I think it was always in the back of my mind as something I’d love to do. It was a very romantic notion to be able to write full-time and have a long, successful career making things up! In 2013 the opportunity to actually do something about it came about – so I ‘jumped ship’, leaving my job to pursue the dream.

What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?

Trying to get my family on board with my writing being a career, not just a hobby was an initial problem. When you’re spending days and days at a laptop with no financial gain, things can seem a bit pointless to others! Having time to write was also an issue at times – being at home, therefore visible to everyone (and at everyone’s beck and call) was frustrating. To get around this I began telling people when I would be writing and in that time frame I wasn’t to be disturbed. I can’t say it always worked, and until the book was actually published I wasn’t validated as an author!

Did you go through any bad writing patches and what kept you going?

With my first attempt at a novel I did have weeks where I didn’t write at all. I remember one of those gaps being because I was away on holiday and another because I’d become obsessed with watching the Oscar Pistorius trial online! It made getting back into the swing of the story more difficult and obviously put my writing schedule back. I was part of an online writing group, though, so had a lot of support and encouragement to keep plodding away at the manuscript. There were times when I just had to be strict with myself and make myself sit down and write. The end goal of a completed 80k manuscript was one that kept me going. And coffee. A lot of coffee.

Are you a plotter or a ‘just write / see what happens?”

I’m a plotter. I begin with writing a synopsis and this acts as an initial plan. I will expand on this and add subplots so that it’s more detailed. I also jot down roughly what I need in each chapter – although I might only work on five or so chapters ahead at any one time.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

  • Lying for a living.
  • No, seriously, being able to write a story that others will read and hopefully enjoy is a privilege.

What is the worst thing about being a writer?

  • Feelings of self-doubt is possibly the worst.
  • Oh, and the other, more mundane things that come with the writing – like admin. Yuk!

Have you ever considered quitting?

There comes a time around 30k into my novels that I think I can’t do it. After I get over this ‘hump’ all is fine.

What does a typical writing day look like? 

I try to get up between 6 and 7 a.m. and the first thing I need is coffee. Then I fire up the laptop and trawl through Facebook and Twitter while eating breakfast, replying to messages, tweeting and retweeting.

*Squeal* I am loving your social media breakfast!  I must try this. 

After this I might write a page or so on my current work-in-progress, but because I’m an edit-as-you-go writer I’ll go back over it. Sometimes I might even manage a whole chapter before reading back through it and tweaking. Although this makes writing a slower process, it does make editing quicker when the first draft of the novel is complete.
I have a few coffee and snack breaks and I’ll also stop writing around 2 p.m. to take the dogs for a walk.
I’ll either carry on writing when home, or do other writing-related things, like blog posts or research. I don’t tend to write in the evenings unless I’m nearing a deadline. Likewise, I don’t generally write at the weekends, spending time with the family instead. So, I’m afraid I don’t head the ‘write every day’ advice!

How do you go about researching your book? 

For SAVING SOPHIE there were a few things I needed to know prior to writing – such as how agoraphobia affects sufferers, and I scoured the internet for information. However, a lot of research I do as I go along. There have been occasions when I’ve stopped writing to look something up, but I’m now trying to train myself to highlight it to check later, and keep writing. The flow is easily disrupted if you keep stopping to check facts.

What have been your 3 biggest writing learnings?

  • You need to have bucket-loads of patience.
  • You need perseverance and the ability to grow thick skin.
  • You need a fabulous support network to help get you through the more challenging times of being a writer, and to share in the good times.

Do you have any advice for budding authors?

  • There is SO much advice! Maybe my advice is to limit taking every bit you hear on board – it can become overwhelming and might actually hinder your creativity.
  • I would say though – don’t leave big gaps between writing – keep the flow by trying to write regularly. I don’t write every day, but wouldn’t leave more than a few days between writing sessions now. (After learning the hard way that it’s difficult to pick up the pace if you’ve left your characters alone for too long).

Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?

I do have moments of being ‘stuck’. I wouldn’t say it’s writer’s block though – just a part in the story where I’m lost and don’t know where I’m going. But I go back to my plan (synopsis) to see where I should be going, or, do some bullet points of things that need to be covered in the next chapter and start there.

Did you ever think about your next book whilst writing? 

I hadn’t until I was partway through writing my second novel (to be published next September). For some reason, the idea for novel three kept popping into my mind. I made notes so that I wouldn’t forget my ideas, and once I’d done that I could focus on what I was writing for book 2.

What do you wear to write? 

Right now I’m in my PJs…
There are days when I begin writing as soon as I get up, so I might make it until lunch time before remembering I haven’t showered and I’m still in them! (Delightful, eh?) Mostly though I just wear jeans and a shirt/jumper.
How can my readers read your books? 

The ebook of Saving Sophie is widely available now – from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Google Play, etc The paperback is out on 15th December and is available for pre-order from Amazon and can be bought online from many retailers. It will also be in supermarkets from the 15th December as well as some WHSmiths and Waterstones stores.

 

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Oh my days – I enjoyed that! Thank you so much Sam. 

 

This is what I am taking from this fab interview:

  • Trying to get loved ones to support a writing passion is a challenge. I can totally relate to this. 
  • I have found that my ‘book writing hump’ is around 40k. Interesting how you have your ‘hump’ at around 30k. I forgot to ask whether you are like me and go a little strange during the ‘hump?’ All I can say is thank goodness for supportive writer friends and patient loved ones during the ‘book writing hump!’
  • I think you raised a good point about not disrupting the writing flow. 
  • I am loving the PJ look and your honesty about finding yourself still in PJs at lunch. 
  • I see you have a blog and you are about to go on a blog tour. I have added a link here.

Ok Sam, I need to make a start on this wonderful book of yours…so if you can show yourself out🙂

If you would like to join me in my red chair please get in touch. 

Next week Allie Potts joins me. 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/79577679@N00/5448848999″>the chair in the attic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

How to Survive Deleting a Character From Your Story #Writer #AmWriting

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Writing the death of a much-loved character can be demanding and can leave you inconsolable.

There is, however, another literary situation which can be just as challenging and it can cast a nasty gloom over your writing day – deleting a character from your story.

I am not talking about deleting a random minor character; someone who you created one day after too much coffee, inserted into the middle of your novel, just to beef it out (technical literary term) and then deleted them the following day after realising your stupidity. Sigh!

No – I am talking about when you make major changes to your draft and you decide to get rid of a key character. They will be a fictional person who has been with you since the start of your story and someone who you have history with. The awful thing is that you know a change like this needs to happen and..dare you say it..your story will be better without them.

This situation can play havoc with your emotions as you have to ERASE this fictional character from your story and then act like they NEVER existed!

You don’t know about literary heart-break until you have experienced severing all ties with a fictional character.

So, if you are an emotional writer like me, you will find deleting an existing character tough going.

Here are some useful tips on how to survive this dark literary time:

  1. Once you have made the decision to delete them from memory don’t spend hours deliberating. If your gut is saying ‘delete them!’ – do it!
  2. Save a copy of your draft with them playing a part in your story. You may need this when you wake in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, clutching your loved one and whispering “I shouldn’t have deleted [enter character name of choice]”.
  3. Perform your delete swiftly and humanely. They won’t feel a thing! Ask your ‘find’ button for some much-needed support with this.
  4. Prepare yourself in advance for a tough clean up operation post deletion. This will involve, what we in the trade like to call, some quick and dirty editing. Adjusting those scenes involving another character having a heated conversation with your now deleted character or where a character was in the middle of a romantic embrace with the one you have just cruelly deleted. The latter scenes are the hardest to mop up in this situation.
  5. Things will feel a bit different for a while after the deletion. You might feel a bit raw / needy for a few days. For noting: if your loved one is unsympathetic with you after a character death, don’t expect ANYTHING from them post a character deletion. The best you will get is an eye roll! You are on your own with this one.
  6. Tell yourself that your deleted character’s time will come again. Don’t dwell on the fact that you erased them from this story because they were dull / weak / surplus to requirements or replaced by a better looking character. Reassure yourself with a comforting phrase like square peg in a round hole!
  7. Prepare to hear your deleted character’s name in real life conversations after the deletion. Bite your bottom lip, steady yourself and go make yourself a nice sugary cup of tea.
  8. Talk your feelings through with a sympathetic writer friend.

Take it easy readers!

Have a great day!

Photo: Pixabay

How My Writer’s Block Was Cured By A Life Affirming Moment #MondayBlogs #Writer

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If you read my post about writers needing to learn how to heal themselves from creative pain, you will know that I recently experienced an awful strain of Writer’s Block. For weeks I was hard work; I wore a glum face, I stopped working on my second draft, I questioned my creative abilities, I did a lot of moaning and every time I sat down to write I froze.

Then something really odd happened to me. I had a weird moment – which CURED my Writer’s Block – gasp!  It has taken me a few weeks to work up the guts to tell you all about this thing that happened to me.

Before I go any further I need to clear some stuff up. You see, I know my BWM blog readers very well and I know that after reading about this ‘weird moment’ they will have a few questions for me…

When this weird moment occurred I was NOT:

  • Half way through a delightful bottle of Rosé wine.
  • Highly caffeinated.
  • High on sugar.
  • Craving carbs.
  • About to choke on a cheese and chive crisp, coated in a tasty garlic dip. 
  • In the middle of a hormonal fluctuation. 

I was actually in the company of some wonderful writing and blogging friends. We were discussing our respective creative projects. I was sat looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp and hating everything about my half-finished second draft.

Before I go into the weird moment in detail, because I am sure you are all on the edge of your seats, I am just going to quickly fill you in on my creative journey so far. Trust me this will only take a couple of lines!

So, I have written a few stories in my time. Some are published on Wattpad, some have been on my blog and the rest are in folders in the attic, never to be seen again, ever!

I have not gone down the publishing / self publishing route with any of my stories because:

  • I believe writing is an apprenticeship so I have been busy acquiring experience, and
  • I have never felt strongly about any of my stories to go down those routes. Yes I turned the Roxy series into a podcast, but that was more about me enjoying myself after a few gin and tonics strong coffees and learning about how audio can enhance my writing.

Anyway, so there I was in the lowest of creative moods. My half-finished second draft felt like it was dead to me. This is what can happen with Writer’s Block. It really is a terrible ailment. My block was so bad I was on the verge of putting my draft in a folder, in the attic.

One of my writer friends turned to me and suggested I start talking about my half-finished second draft novel. I shrugged, exhaled loudly, rolled my eyes and started talking about my novel, the plot and characters etc.

As I talked about my story, my reasons for writing it and why it used to excite me, I felt something inside my chest.

Something was tugging on my heartstrings. My cheeks started to warm up, heart started to beat faster, I started to tremble and my voice sounded thick with emotion. All my characters from my story rushed into my head and I was overcome with emotion at the sight of them.

I explained how I was feeling to my writer friends and they passed me some tissues. It then hit me – I was having a life affirming moment over my half-finished second draft. Gasp!

My half-finished second draft was not dead to me, in fact it was quite the opposite; alive and well, deep inside me. Once I had taken control of myself I knew that this moment meant something. I have an emotional connection to my second draft and somehow I have to carry on.

I have never experienced anything like this before.

The minute I got home from visiting my writer friends I started to write. Since then I have not stopped either!

Talking about my story made me realise how much I love it and how passionate I am about it. This in turn resulted in a life affirming moment which cleared my Writer’s Block.

If you are troubled by Writer’s Block, try talking about your story and see what happens!

I love this quote from Roald Dahl’s My Uncle Oswald:

“If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”

Have a great day!

Photo: Upsplash.

 

 

5 Stages of Being Obsessed With Your First Chapter #SundayBlogShare #AmWriting

 

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First chapter obsession is a known form of literary hell. Sadly there is no escape.

There are five stages and they might go something like this…

  1. Unrealistic expectations. With a goofy smile on your face and a head full of characters, plots and adverbs, you set out to write your literary masterpiece. As with any creative project you kick things off by setting a few unrealistic expectations; you will write a minimum of 2,000 words a day, you swear blind that you will stick rigidly to your plot plan and you will NOT get obsessed with your first chapter. In your head writers who have First Chapter OCD are newbies who have no self-control. Your first chapter is going to be amazing and will slam dunk your reader into your novel.
  2. Euphoria. You are sat in ‘Writing Corner’ squealing with literary delight at your first draft. It is quite simply a masterpiece!  It sounds so good, you are seriously debating whether it needs further rewrites. After a huge yawn and a bit of a stretch you alert the world, via Twitter, that you have finished your first draft and it is #outofthisworld. As you sit back in your chair, gazing longingly at the first page of your draft novel, your eyes casually skim read the first few paragraphs. Your stomach clenches and your mouth runs dry. A little voice inside you whispers ‘they are going to need some tweaking!’ 
  3. Denial. Whilst you ‘rest’ your beloved first draft in a drawer, for a few weeks, you keep yourself busy by binge reading articles and books on the craft of writing. The only thing you take from this diet of writing advice is that your first chapter needs to be as hot as your literary pants! Forget the rest of the novel, the first chapter sells your book. You reassure yourself that your first chapter was hot (albeit in need of  some light tweaking) before you put it away. Once your draft has rested you fish it out and read! It is at this point that you start to realise your first chapter is going to need more than a ‘light tweak’. Your gut tightens, causing you to exhale loudly. A few days later and you are still fiddling with your first chapter. A little voice inside you whispers “you are getting obsessed with your opening chapter – what about the rest of the book?”  You deny this straightaway – how could your mind come up with something so ridiculous! You are not obsessed! 
  4. First chapter obsession. You can’t leave the damn thing alone! Tweaking has turned into aggressive pruning and all you can see in your mind when you close your eyes at night are the words ‘rewrite!’  The rest of the novel is left alone whilst you butcher your first chapter, fuelled by all those articles you read whilst your draft rested. What really bugs you are those initial opening sentences which seem to haunt you in the small hours, making you sit bolt upright in bed, drenched in sweat. A loved one finds you in a tear-stained huddle on the floor whimpering “save me – my first chapter is still not right and I am obsessed with it!”  They tell you to get a grip of yourself and focus on the rest of your book. Your first chapter will sort itself out. After casting them a dark look, muttering some stuff about how they don’t know anything about writing, you get to work editing the rest of your novel.
  5. False Hope. You don’t like to admit it but your loved one’s advice proved to be valuable. After focusing on getting the rest of the book right you realised where you were going wrong on your first attempts. You finish your second draft and with a goody smile back on your face you send it out for beta readers to review. Your obsession with your first chapter is over. For the first time in weeks you have been sleeping like a baby at night and you can go through an entire day without thinking about your first chapter. A month later and your email box contains all your beta reader feedback. With that same goofy smile on your face you start to wade through their feedback. As your loved one sits down to relax and drink a nice cup of tea they hear a piercing scream from Writing Corner. They groan as you charge into the living room red faced, sobbing and clutching your draft. Those pesky beta readers believe your dreaded first chapter needs a LOT more work and may require a rewrite. 

First chapter OCD is a terrible ailment and I have much sympathy for any of my readers currently experiencing this.

Good luck out there. All I can say is that therapy does work🙂

Photo: Upsplash.

 

Author Interviews – Siân Evans #QueenBees #SianEvans #Author

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Welcome to my weekly blog series – Author Interviews.

Every Saturday, here on my blog, I get to interview an amazing and inspirational author over a virtual cup of tea and a virtual biscuit. The author tells me all about their literary journey, the obstacles they have overcome whilst writing their books and their literary motivations. These interviews give me a fascinating glimpse into the writing life of an author and they also give me some valuable writing learnings and tips.

This week I am bubbling with literary excitement because one of my mother’s favourite authors is sat in my red chair. When I informed my mother that I had managed to persuade Siân Evans, author and cultural historian, to be interviewed on my blog,  I had to hold the phone away from my ear. Sigh!

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Siân’s latest book Queen Bees, is a story about six extraordinary hostesses who shaped British society in the inter-war years.  This book was devoured by my mother and thoroughly enjoyed by my daughter’s Godmother (who helped me get in touch with Siân). Any author who manages to please these two tough readers is amazing in my eyes.

Queen Bees has received dazzling book review headlines like:

‘ENTERTAINING’ The Times

‘A FASCINATING ACCOUNT’ The Sunday Times

‘GLORIOUSLY GOSSIPY’ Red Magazine

‘ENORMOUS FUN’ Observer

This book is now on my ‘To Be Read’ reading pile and I can’t wait to delve into a world of posh tiaras, glittering social events and society hostesses.

So please welcome Siân Evans! 

Tell my readers all about yourself the books you have written..

I live in suburban south-west London, and home is a 1920s semi, which is stuffed with battered old books and Art Deco ceramics of dubious merit. I’m originally from Cardiff, studied at Manchester Polytechnic then the Royal College of Art in London, then went to Tokyo University for 2 years.

I have always been fascinated by the social and cultural history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I started researching the objects of that era through the history of design, then broadened my scope to the culture of the era, and am now particularly interested in the people of the times – so I have gone through the ‘what’, to the ‘how’, and am now interested in the ‘who’ and ‘why’.

I’ve published 14 books so far; the first one, In the Oriental Style, was published by Thames & Hudson in 1991. My most recent books include Life Below Stairs in the Victorian and Edwardian Country House; The Manor Reborn; Pattern Design; and Mrs Ronnie: the Society Hostess who collected Kings. The latest one is Queen Bees: Six Brilliant and Extraordinary Society Hostesses between the Wars, which was published on 8 September 2016 by Two Roads, part of Hodder. It’s a group biography about 3 American and 3 British women, all formidable personalities, who clawed their way to social influence in the Twenties and Thirties.

When did you write your current book? 

I was commissioned to write Queen Bees in December 2014, and it is about 105,000 words long. It’s a complex subject which covers a lot of ground, so the pace of work was pretty demanding. I delivered the manuscript in January 2016, and then over the following 5 months I cleared permissions for quotations etc, gave the text a spot of buffing and polishing, and once we got to proof stage, I compiled the index. A factual book without a decent index is just annoying…

Why did you become a writer? 

I learned to read quite early, and was always a very keen reader, ploughing through anything I could find, from old copies of Punch to the backs of cereal packets. I remember hearing on the news that Enid Blyton had died, and being distraught that the supply of Famous Five books was now about to dry up. I always loved writing stories and essays for school. Then when I was 10, one of my poems was published in Pictorial Knowledge, a rather worthy children’s magazine. I was amazed and thrilled to see my name in print, and still am. So I always wanted to become a writer, although it took me quite some time as an adult to find a way to make it happen, like most authors.

What writing issues did you encounter along the way and how did you overcome them?

It is staggering how the practical business of writing has changed in my lifetime. When I started writing seriously in the mid-1980s, such as freelance articles for magazines etc, the most sophisticated piece of kit generally available to would-be writers was an electric typewriter. I used the money from my first book to buy my first PC (Personal Computer) in 1991; it cost over £1,000 including a printer, and it was slow, cumbersome and not very bright, but I wrote my second book on it, and I thought it was ‘cutting edge’! By comparison, the technology available nowadays to ahttps://www.apple.com/uk/nyone researching and writing is extraordinary – and of course, now there is the internet, which has revolutionised the acquisition and spread of knowledge. My first 3 books were largely researched in person in libraries and archives, a time-consuming process.

Did you go through any bad writing patches and what kept you going?

My first 4 books were researched and written while I was working fulltime in London; mostly as a press officer firstly for the Design Museum, then the V&A and finally the National Trust. So that could be quite demanding – holding down a job, then writing in the evenings and at weekends. But in 2006, the NT moved its head office from London to Swindon, and that decision presented me with one of those life-changing opportunities. I figured that if I didn’t try to make it as a writer, I’d never know. Working on the principle that you most regret the things you didn’t do, I took the redundancy that was on offer to those employees who didn’t want to move to Wiltshire. This allowed me to stay in London, but also bought me time to get established as a writer, and I got by initially role by various freelance jobs. It was a gamble, and I wasn’t sure if I could make a living at it, and I suppose I am still not convinced! But I don’t regret that decision ten years ago for a moment, and feel I was very lucky to have such a chance.

Are you a plotter or a ‘just write / see what happens?”

Both, in a way. I write non-fiction, so I create a synopsis and a proposed structure for each of the books I write, and I get commissioned by publishers to proceed on that basis. So I start off with a ‘scaffold’ around which I build the text, though of course that can change shape as the work progresses.

However, I also constantly doodle around with ideas and themes. Often I start by just hand-writing words, or phrases, or thoughts, or references on sheets of A4, and I shuffle a lot of paper. I collect images, and photos, and make a kind of ‘mood board’ which I find helps the imagination. I also try to listen to music from the era and country that I am writing about…so Duke Ellington, Marlene Dietrich or Noel Coward will be burbling away in the background while I am still at the research stage.

Yes, I am a great believer in ‘just writing and see what happens’…in my experience you have to treat writing a bit like physical exercise, you get creaky if you don’t do it frequently. In a way it doesn’t matter what you write, it could be a damn fine e-mail to an old friend, or a diary, or an account of a conversation overheard on the bus – write it down, and then buff and polish it to be as good as you can make it. It’s all practise.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

The infinite possibilities.

What is the worst thing about being a writer?

The infinite possibilities! Seriously, it can be hard to focus. And of course writing is a largely solitary pursuit, so you have to guard against getting too isolated, and make sure you have a social life too. Over the last 8 weeks I have appeared at 7 literary festivals or events in connection with the launch of Queen Bees. It is ironic that after 18 months of beavering away quietly in libraries, archives and at my kitchen table, I am suddenly entertaining audiences of curious, committed and often avid readers. I’m very happy talking to the public, and I enjoy being interviewed, but it doesn’t suit every author, many of whom tend to be rather more introverted in character.

Have you ever considered quitting?

There is a wonderful Posy Simmonds cartoon which appeared in the Guardian years ago, in which a rumpled-looking, despairing woman in a dressing gown is sitting at a laptop surrounded by discarded sheets of paper, talking to a mild-looking chap with glasses, who is carrying bulging supermarket carrier bags. In the caption, she is saying something like “…and of course, it’s not like anyone is ever going to read the bloody thing….”  We’ve all been there. Yes I have sometimes got totally stuck and fed-up, but then I go off and do something practical like have a swim, or do some savage pruning in the garden. Something happens while you are away from the problem, and you find a way to tackle it differently. Good friends and family are also invaluable when you hit the buffers.

What does a typical writing day look like? 

Depends what stage I am at with a particular project. If I am researching in London, I might be holed up in the wonderful British Library, reading through books or magazines of the era, or transcribing letters etc. I might be in an archive in an unfamiliar place – I had a terrific time ploughing through the Scottish National Brewing Archives records in Glasgow University, a lot more fun than it sounds, and I was fascinated by the Royal Archives in Windsor, where I sat and read the hand-written personal diaries of King George V and Queen Mary. Or I might be ‘in the field’ visiting somewhere relevant to my research, such as a historic house, or an overgrown graveyard, taking photos and making notes.

If I am at the writing stage I sit at my dining table, with a view of the garden, and something instrumental burbling away on the CD player. I read over what I wrote last time, and make a ‘to do’ list, which I never completely finish, but it helps decide what needs doing next. I try to limit looking at phones and e-mails till I have a break for tea or coffee; as much as I love being in contact with friends and family, I could spend all day sending lengthy e-mails or browsing news websites. And then, I get writing. When it is going well, you get what a friend calls ‘that warm bath moment’. If I get stuck, I’ll take a break, as above.

I try to take breaks every 90 minutes or so, to stretch – writing is a sedentary pursuit so you have to look after your back, and it is really important to get physical exercise too, so I often factor in a walk. I tend to work either morning and evening, or afternoon and evening so I can get some time away from whatever I am working on. Of course, when I am up against a deadline I can be working 12 or 14 hours a day, and normal life is suspended. That’s when I turn into the dishevelled lady writer in the Posy Simmonds cartoon…

How do you go about researching your book? 

I still read avidly; most of what I write is historical and factual, so I rely on contemporary accounts, such as diaries and letters, or newspapers and magazines of the time. Increasingly I am coming across sound archives which are helpful too – not only Pathé or BBC recordings, but also ad hoc interviews conducted in the 1970s or 1980s by volunteers quizzing ordinary people who witnessed extraordinary events.

Early film footage and photos are invaluable too – many of these can now be accessed on-line. I try to watch movies from the era, and read the plays and novels that were written around the time. I mentioned collecting images; they not only inform what I am writing, but are useful as a ‘wishlist’ to hand on to picture researchers once the book is almost finished.

I compile 2 bibliographies as I go along – the first lists books or resources I want to read or access, and the second lists those sources once I have used them.

It is helpful to keep accurate records of where you found a particularly juicy quote or a wonderful image – just add the reference below that quote all through the text, and edit it out in the final version. It will save hours of frustration if you need to include that image, or get permission to reproduce the quote in your book.

You have to be wary about copyright issues; you can quote the title of a song or poem without infringing copyright, but beware of quoting from song lyrics or chunks of the poem. If the work is still in copyright, you need to get permission from the copyright owner, and publishers of poetry and song lyrics often charge large sums for reproduction.

What have been your 3 biggest writing learnings?

  • Find a subject, field, theme or person that fascinates you. You will be investing a lot of your time and energy in writing about it or them, so be sure you genuinely want to know more, and that you want to convey what you know to your readers. It may not be easy to write, but it should ultimately be rewarding.
  • Be aware that you might not always like the people you are writing about, but there is also a great deal of fun to be had in writing about villains!
  • There is a reason why publishers impose deadlines – it is so they can rest your manuscript away from you and turn it into a book, which is what they are in business to do. If they don’t snatch the text from your hands, you could spend decades fiddling with a manuscript and never actually deliver. So, meet those deadlines, and don’t forget, they will let you buff and polish it further once they have had a look.

Do you have any advice for budding authors?

  • People love stories. If you can tell a great tale, you will always find a receptive audience, whether you are writing comedy sketches or
  • Follow your hunches; you gradually develop an instinct for a rattling good yarn waiting to be told.
  • Always have a notebook to hand, or a smart phone – it is remarkable what ideas come to you while you are thinking of something else. Keep all your old notebooks and read through them when you have a chance.
  • When you get published, don’t forget to register your book for Public Lending Rights – it is easy to do online, and then every time a library-goer takes out a copy of your book, you will get a small payment, which is sent to you automatically once a year, and can really add up.

Do you suffer from writer’s block and if so how do you overcome?

Occasionally – see above. But I rarely see it as a problem, more as a natural ‘down time’. And I find that being physically active in other ways allows your mind to come up with a solution.

Did you ever think about your next book whilst writing? 

Almost always, as working on one book often triggers my ideas for the next one. I discuss the ideas with my agent, then if she thinks it’s viable I put together a proposal, and she approaches publishers who might be interested in commissioning me.

What do you wear to write? 

In winter, I can get very cold while sitting and writing, so I tend to go for warm and comfortable clothes such as fur-lined boots, stretchy leggings, long jumpers and scarves. Fingerless mittens when it’s really chilly, a hot water-bottle on the lap, rug over the knees, the works. I also have two enormous woolly ‘writing sweaters’, my favourites, hand-knitted by my mum, one of which I will wear on top of whatever else I have on. Summer is easier, whatever is cool and comfortable, though you have to beware of fierce air conditioning in the reading rooms of the British Library, so I usually take a cardigan or big shawl with me, even on hot days.

How can my readers read your books? 

I’m a great believer in public libraries, so would encourage your readers to support their local branches! But you can also find my books ‘in all good bookshops’, as they say, such as the many independents in this country, and of course in the big chains such as Waterstone’s.

Amazon provide a very comprehensive back-catalogue of current publications, e-books and second-hand copies too, and it’s easy to see what titles are available by typing ‘Sian Evans’ into the books section of their website. They also carry reviews by readers as well as press cuttings, which make interesting reading.

Incidentally, Queen Bees is also available as an audio book, and you can hear a sample from it on the relevant Amazon page, read by the excellent actress who plays Linda Snell in The Archers. Perfect casting….and I like to think it’s what those Queen Bees would have wanted.

Siân – what a fabulous interview!  Thank you so much.

Some points that I am taking from this:

  • I bet it was fab seeing your name in print at 10 years of age. That is serious dream making stuff for a 10-year-old!
  • The Posy Simmonds cartoon made me smile. I think I may have muttered something similar tonight whilst wrestling with my second draft. 
  • I need to enjoy myself and write about villains. 
  • I need to invest in some ‘writing sweaters!’
  • It was really interesting to understand the research process of a non fiction author. 
  • I love how you view Writer’s Block as simply ‘natural down time’ and you try to do something practical to get the mind working again. Great tip. 

It has been a pleasure to interview you Siân – thanks🙂

For other amazing author interviews please click here. 

If you would like to be interviewed as part of this popular series please get in touch with me.

These interviews are all about giving something back to the writing community which I think is really important for us all, no matter what we have achieved. 

Have a fabulous day!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/79577679@N00/5448848999″>the chair in the attic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

28 Reasons Why A Writer Might Be Having A Sleepless Night #Writer #AmWriting

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There are so many reasons why a writer might be having a sleepless night:

  1. They are bubbling with literary excitement about a new story idea. It is very difficult to sleep in this situation.
  2. They feel that they have more ‘tweets’ left in them. Sometimes it’s hard for a writer to say goodnight to Twitter. 
  3. Their excitable creative muse refuses to go to sleep. 
  4. They can’t stop thinking about how much they dislike their latest draft. Why is it that our writer demons always come out to play in the early hours?
  5. They are questioning their entire literary career. 
  6. Their blog stats are spiking due to their latest piece of flash fiction. 
  7. Their blog stats have flatlined ever since they posted their latest piece of flash fiction.
  8. They are waiting ‘patiently’ for an international writer friend, who is living in a different time zone, to answer their ‘writer in literary distress’ email.
  9. Before they went to bed they submitted a piece of fiction into a competition and are busy visualising how they will react when they are informed that their short story has won.
  10. They are riddled with writer envy, after a writer acquaintance tweeted earlier to say that they have a new literary agent and this particular agent is treating them to a large KFC bucket, fries and a Sprite. All the writer can think about is how their acquaintance went a step too far with the KFC treat revelation. 
  11. The book that they read before bedtime was so good it has given them a bad dose of writer envy. 
  12. The writer can’t get an old unfinished story out of their head. 
  13. They can’t stop thinking about a piece of negative feedback they got earlier in the day.
  14. The writer is lying in bed deliberating over whether or not to kill off one of their main characters.
  15. The writer is lying in bed trying to work out how they can kill one of their characters. 
  16. They pinned too many motivational and inspiring quotes on Pinterest and are now charged!
  17. They are feeling wired after a late night writing session.
  18. It is the night before their book is launched. How does one sleep in this situation?
  19. They can’t stop thinking about an attractive and dreamy fictional character.
  20. They are waiting for the literary elves to appear and magically finish their latest draft.
  21. Their characters won’t stay quiet.
  22. They have been suffering from Writer’s Block and are wondering whether they will ever write properly again.
  23. Their creative muse kindly woke them up an hour or so ago to ask them a question about their draft novel. The answer to the question is still bugging the writer.
  24. After a day of editing every time they close their eyes they see their own typos and badly worded sentences.
  25. They can’t stop thinking about a catastrophic plot hole which they uncovered earlier.
  26. They are suffering from Writer’s Insomnia.
  27. They have just worked out how to end their novel.
  28. Their future literary agent tweeted earlier to say they were ill in bed with the flu. The writer is genuinely concerned for their future agent’s welfare and is contemplating sending a ‘get well soon’ card, together with the first three chapters of their draft novel (which their future agent can read from their sick-bed).

Sweet dreams writers!

Happy Thanks Giving to all my American readers.

Photo: Stocksnap

Why Your Second Draft Is About Holding On & Letting Go #MondayBlogs #Writers

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Second drafts are hard!

The best quote to sum up a second draft is from the film The Matrix (1999).

‘Buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye!’ – Cypher

The second draft changes everything. In some cases it can lead to your first draft becoming unrecognisable.

This is the drafting stage where all hell breaks loose as you change the plot around, ditch characters, rewrite the opening chapter about a thousand times and have many sleepless nights questioning why you are putting yourself through so much literary pain. It is also a passion killer of a draft as you are forced to say goodbye to those heady, fun filled first draft days and get serious – ugh! 

For me, the second draft has been total literary carnage. I am rewriting the first draft of my romance novel and the experience has left me emotional, craving coffee and looking like a shadow of my former self. I didn’t realise writing romance could do this to you. 

In my view, the key to the second draft is all about holding on and letting go. Let me explain…

Holding on:

  • You have to keep telling yourself that you will come out the other side, no matter what!
  • Cling to the belief that the second draft is taking you a step closer to the completed manuscript you are trying to write. Yes it feels tedious writing the damn story again but just keep the image of the completed manuscript in sight. (Try not to tell yourself that there will be other drafts after this one though!) 
  • Hold onto your supportive writer friends and non-writer friends because believe me you WILL need them. When you see them in person hug them tightly (until they start to struggle!) 
  • Cling onto your sanity! I have come close to losing mine on several occasions.
  • Hold onto the reason why you wrote the book. It will keep you going in the dark hours. 

 

Letting go:

  • You have to let go and say farewell to your darling first draft.
  • You have to be brave and let go of any revision fears. You have to hurt your draft.
  • You can let go of grammar because this won’t be the final draft!
  • You can let go of characters who do nothing for you! Go on – be brave and ditch them! 
  • You have to let go of the ‘overnight literary genius’ dream. Chances are you are not a ‘one draft’ wonder. 
  • You have to embrace change and let go of how you thought things would work out in the first draft. I have really struggled with this. Letting go of your original ideas and opening your mind to new approaches in the second draft is SO DIFFICULT.

 If you are currently wrestling with a second draft I feel your pain! Hang in there. 

Have an amazing day! 

Photo: Stocksnap

The Hidden Benefits of Writing Whilst Emotional #SundayBlogShare #Writers

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Once you try writing whilst emotional (weeping / sobbing / on the brink of crying / blinking away tears) you will discover a number of hidden benefits.

I stumbled upon this crazy badass writer technique whilst writing my debut novel. My first chapter makes me cry. No BWM readers – its not because my draft sounds so bad it makes me tearful nor is it because my first draft is jam packed with sob inducing typos – sigh!  There is one really sad part which I wrote a few weeks ago and every time I read what I have written I start to weep. God help my future readers – I just hope they know what they are letting themselves in for when they buy my book! Does anyone know whether fiction books contain emotional health warnings?

During one of my literary breakdowns, after reading my first chapter, I decided to carry on writing whilst emotional. It was a game changer!

There are a few hidden benefits of writing…whilst a little weepy:

  1. YOU DO NOT GET DISTURBED! Loved ones go out of their way to avoid you, once they see you snivelling into your draft. They take one look at you, raise their eyebrows, shake their head and flee the house. You get at least a couple of hours to yourself. It is almost worth investing in some sort of little squeezy bottle, which can give you false tears whenever you feel like a bit of quiet writing time.
  2. Deep stuff. You write some deep and meaningful stuff whilst emotional. I have also found that you rarely have to edit this deep stuff.
  3. You don’t hold back when you are emotional. This is great for your writing because you end up writing powerful and emotion-evoking scenes. Yes – you can tone down the heavy stuff at editing stage but I think being emotional just makes you put it all out there. Pour your heart out readers.
  4. Sharing your character’s emotional journey. I think sharing their emotional journey brings you closer to your characters and helps you get inside their head.
  5. ‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader’ (Robert Frost). Inject your emotion into your story and watch it reappear in the reader. I know this works because when I killed off one of my main characters in the second book of my Wattpad Vampire novella series, I bawled like a baby as I wrote it. My goodness I was a snotty and weeping mess for hours! My loved one made a sharp exit to the pub as soon as he heard me start to wail from the sofa. Once I published this literary gem I was inundated with messages from upset readers who in some cases, informed me that they couldn’t see the vote button as their eyes were streaming so much. Things got so bad I had to take the book down as there was an angry reader outpouring. Anyway, I think Robert Frost knew what he was talking about when he wrote this marvellous quote.
  6. Enhances your word choices. It is amazing how many different words spring to mind when you are a teary mess. Words you wouldn’t have previously considered using appear in your mind. It is like the emotional outpouring opens up a new literary side to you.
  7. You make some interesting noises. Sniffs, sobs, weeping and nose blowing sounds all make a refreshing change from grunts, groans and sighs. 

Cry into those drafts readers! 

Now, I am already thinking about weird and wacky writer’s Christmas gifts. If there are any tissue makers out there reading my blog – what about a box of Writer Tissues?  This would be a much needed gift for writers who, like me, enjoy getting emotional whilst writing.

Have a great day!

Photo: Adobe.