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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Writing A Book In A Month, Part Four...

NaNoWriMo 2014 attracts corporate supporters as well as donations from writers. One of these, Webucator, approached writers for their insights into the creative writing process. I'm delighted to get people interested in trying something I've enjoyed all my life, so here's an extended version of the interview I gave to them:

I've written for pleasure all my life, and became a full-time writer in my late twenties. Before that, I worked in finance, then marketing, and finished up in the technical library of a gas-turbine (aero engine) manufacturer. Nobody who read my jet-fighter manuals was interested in happy endings, and the atmosphere wasn't good. Reading was my way of escaping, and I wanted to share that pleasure with others by putting my own stories into words. My wonderful OH offered to support me for one year to see if I could earn my living from writing and luckily, I found I could.

My goals haven't really changed since I began my writing career. I always want to write the best books I can, which help readers to get away from it all for a while. I write about complex men and independent women thrown together in difficult situations, who develop an understanding as they grow toward a satisfying conclusion. Their happy-ever-after is as good for me, as it is for my characters.    

Coming Soon, From Wild Rose Press
I'm very lucky to enjoy writing romance, which is a popular genre. You can find a list of my available titles heremy next book, His Majesty's Secret Passion, is being published soon by Wild Rose Press, and I've also got more titles scheduled for publication in 2015. Of course there's also my NaNoWriMo project, Tasting The Peach. This is a thriller, which is a completely new departure for me so it's a work-in-progress in every sense of the word. Joining up for NaNoWriMo 2014 allowed me to concentrate for one full month on producing the first draft. I'm only formulating the first draft, so there's still some way to go, but I already know Tasting The Peach won't have a conventional happy ending. I'll be posting updates here on my blog about its progress. You can keep in touch by subscribing, using the button above.

I'm lucky in that writing makes me a decent living, but in any case I can't stop. Sad, but true! As well as romance, I've written a lot of non-fiction articles for national magazines. Nature writing has always been  my first love, and I'm still trying to capture the passing seasons with the skill of a Roger Deakin, T.H White or H.E Bates.

My advice to any young person who wants a career as a writer is to find a conventional job that'll pay your bills and give you a grounding in life, but which still allows you time to write after-hours. You'll never produce your best work if you're worrying about making money from it, and you need some life experience before you join a profession whose members spend 90% of their time shut away from reality—you only have to look at politicians in Westminster (with the notable exception of Lord Moynihan, here) to see where that sort of insularity leads! 

Read as widely as you can, and in genres other than your own speciality. Don't just enjoy the story: analyse it, see how the author and editor have made it work. Then apply that insight to your own, original work. Most importantly of all, always write from your heart—readers soon spot insincerity, and they hate it. 

Finally, don't forget to subscribe to my blog (by clicking on the box, top right above) to get my tip sheet of  hints for the career writer.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Writing A Book In A Month, Part Three...

My writing got derailed by vital admin this week, but my NaNoWriMo word count's risen—although in fits and starts.

I've written here and here about how I've been helped by creative workshops organised by the Marcher Chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association. The most recent one helped me refine the first ten pages of a new project, Tasting The Peach. I'm now turning this embryo into the initial draft of a full-length novel, using National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2014 to spur me on. NaNoWriMo relies on donations, and as I write this they've raised $1,034,544.78 so far this year. You can click on the figure to contribute, and help support the organisation.

By Monday morning, 17th November, I'd reached a word count of 33,629. The NaNoWriMo website has a load of exciting data, which makes it just right for an obsessive like me. When I update my daily word count, it calculates my average, and from that how long it will take me to reach the 50,000 word target. As the deadline of 30th November gets closer, the stress increases. My daily average is 1865 now, but I had a bit of a slump midweek.

I've never written a crime novel before, but it didn't me take long to work out they are books which are best written backwards. I started on November 1st with my two main characters fully formed in my mind, but only a vague idea of what was going to happen to them. I opened a file, called it Chapter One, and started to type.

I managed to keep my butterfly mind pinned on DI Josh Miller's unravelling of the conspiracy behind a politician's murder, but the plot twists were coming as much as a shock to me as they were to him. Who knew a bacon roll would play such a pivotal...well, role? I didn't, and I'm supposed to be the all-seeing author. I needed to step back and take a long view of where this book was heading. The trouble was, all I could see was the NaNoWriMo cut-off point of 30th November, hurtling toward me.  

Then, courtesy of the publisher Wild Rose Press, I was given the perfect excuse to take a break from working on Tasting The Peach.  The galley proofs for my next release, His Majesty's Secret Passion, arrived. Concentrating on checking everything was perfect before my new book goes to print gave me the change of pace I needed. My daily word count for NaNoWriMo suffered, but by working late and early each day I squeezed in some forward planning on motivations and motives for Tasting The Peach, too.  This allowed me to catch up, once the proofs were checked. I'm now back on target for NaNoWriMo—just about!

If you're working on your own NaNoWriMo project, how are you getting on? If you'd like to keep up to date with the progress of my next release, His Majesty's Secret Passion, just visit my new author page over on Facebook, and hit the "like" button.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Guest Blog—The Write Romantics' New Release: "Winter Tales"

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Winter-Tales-Stories-Warm-Heart-ebook/dp/B00P84UGHA/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415125192&sr=1-4&keywords=The+Write+Romantics
The Write Romantics' New Release
I'm delighted to welcome guest bloggers The Write Romantics today, with news of a lovely seasonal book release—just in time for those long winter evenings!  They're having a Facebook launch party here on Saturday 8th November, and all proceeds go to two very good causes, so please pop in and support them.

For all the details, read on...
The Write Romantics is a group of ten writers who are members of, or recent graduates from, the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme.  When we decided to write an anthology to raise money for charity we asked our writing friends if they would help us out.  We were absolutely delighted when so many fabulous writers agreed to give stories to the anthology. Our guest writers include Annie Lyons, Rhoda Baxter, Samantha Tonge, Sarah Painter, Alison May and Kerry Fisher. 
We wanted to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust because my nephew, who is 3, suffers from this condition.  When we first came up with the idea of the anthology, he’d just had a two week stay in hospital with a chest infection and we wanted to do something to help find a cure for this terrible illness.  Inspired by the incredible courage of Stephen Sutton we chose the Teenage Cancer Trust as our other charity.  Absolutely all the proceeds from the anthology will go to raising money to support the work of these two amazing charities. 
Sixty Per Cent Of The Write Romantics!
There’s twenty-four stories in the anthology and, although they’re all warm-hearted and likely to leave you smiling, there’s a tremendous variety in them.  There’s wonderful romance in Meet Me at Midnight by Rachael Thomas.  There’s comedy in Loving Mr Perfect by Holly Martin and The Handsome Stranger by Alison May.  Jo Bartlett looks at the challenges of finding love in All the Wrong Places and Muriel’s Christmas Surprise by Jennifer Bohnet shows you’re never too old for a new romance.  There’s also a few old flames, some family reunions, a sexy vicar and lots and lots of snow. 
Here’s an extract from Meet Me At Midnight by Rachael Thomas to give you a taste of what’s in store:
He paused and looked at her, his hand still holding hers, as if they’d known each other forever. ‘Christmas holidays in Wales?’
‘Something like that.’ More like escape from the past, she thought as she looked down, suddenly not quite able to meet his gaze, wishing they were still walking through the field. The intensity in those blue eyes was too much and she wondered if he could see right into her soul and retrieve every secret she’d hidden. ‘I decided last minute to get away from London.’
What It's All About—Smiles!
As far as she was concerned she wasn’t in a hurry to get back to the bustle of London and even though she’d only been in her little cottage for a week, she was glad she’d taken it for six months. If she hadn’t got herself together by then, she probably never would.
His cold fingers lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him once more and the buzz of attraction she’d felt up on the road exploded into something much bigger. She was beginning to wish she had met him in a London bar. Suddenly going back to the bright lights seemed infinitely more attractive, especially if he was going to be there.
‘I’m glad you did.’ His eyes locked with hers, sending shivers of excitement down her spine.
She blinked, not believing what was happening and his hand dropped. Letting out a breath she’d had no idea she was holding she stepped back away from him, acutely aware his other hand still held hers.
Something warm leant against her leg and she looked down as the somewhat bedraggled collie lolled against her, tongue hanging out. It was nice to think the dog trusted her enough to do that, but it also meant there wasn’t any escape from Rob and the way he made her heart flutter. Something she thought it would never do again.
Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart by The Write Romantics and Friends is available now as an ebook from Amazon by clicking here  The paperback will be available from Amazon by mid November. 

Rachael Thomas’ debut novel, A Deal Before the Altar is published by Mills & Boon and available by clicking here

I thought that was a great post, and a lovely extract. Thanks to The Write Romantics for their blog, and I hope they have lots of success with Winter Tales, with their fund-raising for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the Teenage Cancer Trust, and of course with their individual projects, too.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Writing A Book In A Month, Part Two...

http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//138/media-138613/large.jpg
H.M.Bateman, via Wikimedia Commons
...including The Woman Who Said No To A Launch Party, Nibbling Is The Thief Of Time, and Creative Accounting, NaNoWriMo Style...

Last week I told you how I'd signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2014, to give me the perfect excuse to shove all other work aside and concentrate on a new project I've been thinking about for ages, but never managed to do much about.

You can read about how I joined here. Once I'd signed up, I became part of the NaNoWriMo community. Although it originated in the US, there are now members worldwide and where there are writers, a support group soon follows. My local NaNoWriMo chapter invited me to a grand launch party in Cheltenham, on Hallowe'en. The idea was to round off a social meet with a countdown to midnight. Then the writing would start. I was Trick or Treating elsewhere, so sadly had to refuse but I can't think I'd have got any writing done. I can't wait to start my project (working title, Tasting The Peach), but I need to get right into the zone before I can write. Complete silence and a total absence of crisps, drinks and nibbles is my recipe for writing productivity (Coo, what a diva! Ed.)  My office is in a part of the house furthest away from the kitchen. I have to shut myself off from everyone and everything, and well away from every distraction (especially food).

I hope everyone got off to a good start with their NaNoWriMo projects. I sat down at my desk at 6:30am on 1st November, and opened a new Scrivener file to begin. You can read about the amazing help (and enjoyable hindrance) Scrivener can be to any writing project here. To write a book in a month is a tough challenge. It takes an average of one thousand, six hundred and sixty seven words every single day to hot the 50K target. That's pretty relentless. NaNoWriMo offers all sorts of help and support, but I started with a shortcut of my own. As well as uploading the character files and background research I did in preparation for November 1st, I cut and pasted in the opening of my embryo novel, which was worked up for the most recent creative workshop organised by the Marcher Chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association. It was only a few pages, but it was better than siting down to a blank page.

At the end of each day, NaNoWriMo participants log the number of words they've written. No way was I going to claim I'd written nearly five thousand words in one day—and on a Saturday, at that! Apart from anything else, my word count would fall off a cliff on November 2nd, so I ignored my uploaded figure, and entered the words I actually wrote on the day.

So as at the start of Monday, 3rd November my total word-count is 6,129, although I've only written a daily average of 1,700 words.

My NaNoWriMo efforts are likely to be derailed as I've had some very exiting news. To be among the first to find out what it is, mail me at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk. As an incentive, I'll include an extract from Tasting The Peach.

PS: Don't forget to change (at) to @ in my email address.


Monday, 27 October 2014

Writing A Book In A Month, Part One

For thousands of writers all over the world, November means NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to start work on a novel on 1st November, with a goal of reaching a 50,000 word count by midnight on November 30th. 

If you’ve ever thought of writing a novel, NaNoWriMo is a great place to start. That unbreakable, unmistakeable deadline, coupled with a helpful website dedicated to this non-profit making enterprise, is a great way to turn ideas into words. In 2013, over 310,000 participants from all over the world made the leap from wishing to writing.  Sign up like they did, and you can get guidance, support, hints, and tips from professional writers and experienced participants via forums, email alerts and local groups. 

I'm coming in late to this game, and for a very special reason. My published novels (you can see them all here), whether historical or contemporary, come under the romantic fiction banner. I've always wanted to try something different, but I enjoy working in my familiar genres so I've never got around to branching out. My working life has always been very structured, but after attending a couple of RNA workshops (details here) I discovered the wonders of a free-form approach. Getting out of my writing comfort zone turned out to be less scary and more productive than I'd imagined.

November this year just happened to coincide with a gap in my work schedule, so last Monday I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2014. The process was easy. The prospect is chilling. All (!) you have to do is commit to writing a first draft of 50,000 words for your story, before the 30 November deadline. That works out at around 1,670 words per day. Every day. Once you’ve signed up, you start writing on November 1st. Each day, you log in to the NaNoWriMo site and update your word count on the header menu. It’s a stark measurement of your progress. I get stressed about reaching my usual10,000 word per week target as it is. Seeing my figures flagged up like that will really pile on the pressure. 

Everyone who reaches the 50,000 word target is a winner. From 20th November onwards, you can paste your completed novel into the NaNoWriMo site.  Once validated, you can apply for your winner's badge (the NaNoWriMo site allows you to scramble your text, so you don’t need to worry about security).

NaNoWriMo helps writers in all sorts of ways. There are forums where you can get support and inspiration from other sufferers (sorry, writers). There's even a section where you can pick up orphan plots, characters or settings suggested by other people, and generously offered to anyone who's stuck. The whole site is a well of inspiration, and a hub for networking. 

I’ve had a particular Alpha male living inside my head for quite a while, but he felt too damaged to be the hero of a classic romance. I knew he’d be locked away for a life sentence unless I found some way to free him on parole. Then my local chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association held a workshop where we each had to submit the first ten pages of a novel. These would be reviewed by all the other workshop members.  It felt like the right place to give him an airing, so I let my mind freewheel around the idea for a few days. In that time, my damaged hero solidified into a guy called Josh with a “dangerous" dog and a bad attitude. He met an anti-heroine, Sophia, whose backstory is even darker than his own. Then I sat down at the computer and fooled around with the pair of them until I had a sample long enough to submit to the workshop. 

The other writers thought my new project had a future, but a series of tight deadlines meant Inever got a chance to do anything more with those first ten pages. 

Luckily, I finished my current Work In Progress, His Majesty’s Secret Passion, in time to sign up for NaNoWriMo 2014. It's given me a concrete reason to devote one whole month to my new project. I’m raring to go, if a bit apprehensive. On the plus side, I’ve already got the first ten pages of my new novel, a folder full of character outlines and a general idea of what’s going to happen, to whom, and how.  On the minus side, typing “The End” seems a long way over the horizon, and it’ll be uphill all the way. 

I’ve cleared my diary, sharpened my pencils, and told the family I might be taking a holiday from the kitchen. If the words don’t come, we'll be living out of the freezer until December 1st.

Keep tabs on my progress by subscribing to my newsletter—just click on the subscribe button top right, or drop me a line at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk.

Are you going to join NaNoWriMo 2014?

Friday, 10 October 2014

A Covering Letter To Cover You With Glory...

By Antonio Litterio
You've heard of "show, don't tell"? In your covering letter, you've got to "sell, not tell".  Imagine you're surfing the net to check out holiday sites while your boss's back is turned. You've only got a few seconds, so it's the sites where one glance tells you all you want to know that get bookmarked, isn't it? The same goes for the letter you send with your manuscript when it's sent to an agent or publisher.

That letter is your landing page. It's your shop window, where you entice an overworked reader to stop and take a second, and maybe a third, look. Make it sleek, professional, uncluttered, and easy to understand. Writing for publication is a business, so make your communications businesslike. Keep it to one side of A4, and don't write it by hand. Get it printed.

ADDRESS:
Direct it to the right firm, and if possible, a named person.  This shows you've done your research, rather than copying-in multiple agents and publishers with a scatter-gun approach.

OPENING PARAGRAPH:
Tell them who you are, and give details of any relevant publishing history you might have. Be brief, and don't be afraid to blow your own trumpet, but beware. What's the first thing you do when you discover a new person? That's right, you check them out on Google. The writing industry is no different. If the Dalai Lama doesn't really ring you for advice each morning, your credibility will go the same way as your chances of reaching nirvana.

Include the length and genre of your book, the market you're targetting, and why you're the best person to tell this story. Explain why you're writing to them in particular. "The MegaPublisher website names you as the commissioning editor in charge of contemporary romantic fiction," shows you've read up on them. Make sure you've checked out their requirements, too. List what you're sending, which should ideally be no more than a synopsis, your manuscript and return postage if you're sending it via the postal service.

YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH:
This is the essence of your story, distilled into no more than a sentence or two. A synopsis is the proper place for full details of your story (you can find out how how to write the perfect one here).  Your covering letter must major in facts, to plant seeds of curiosity about your fiction. Cultivating an overworked editor's need to find out more about your work will stop them moving on to the next manuscript in their inbox.

YOUR FLOURISH:
Tell them why you write and for Pete's sake, be original. We all have "a compulsion". None of us "can help ourselves". Sad sacks that we writers are, we all "just have to write" and "can't go a day without doing it". Imagine the excitement of an editor who's read a million of those tired old trills when they come across something like "My sense of injustice provoked me to write this story," or "Solitary confinement after my conviction as a rogue trader left me with time to fill, so here's the inside track on pork belly futures," They'll dance with joy—as long as you don't go on to blow it all by claiming the Dalai Lama got you released.
Unless it's true, of course.

DON'T:
Wreck your chances by telling them it's a work of genius, you're the next E L James and you'll be ringing them in a week's time to arrange a date and time to sign your contract. They're much better qualified to make decisions about things like that than you are.

AND FINALLY:
It's not only self-pubbers who have to market their own books these days. Mainstream publishers expect a team effort. They have a lot invested in their authors, so everyone has to work hard at promoting their books. An unknown who shows they've got a good grasp of the marketing basics by presenting a faultless covering letter stands a much better chance of getting their manuscript read.

Can you condense your favourite classic book down into the one or two sentences of an elevator pitch?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Write The Perfect Synopsis...

By Antonio Litterio
The perfect synopsis is a single page of description to tempt an editor to read the sample of work you've sent with it. Publishers are so busy, unless your synopsis grabs their attention straight away and won't let go, they won't bother looking any further. They don't have time. Your manuscript's file will be deleted without being opened if it was sent by email, or shredded if you sent a physical copy but didn't include return postage. To give yourself the best chance of getting readers to see Chapter One, read on to find out what to include in a perfect synopsis–and what to leave out.

Use a standard font, in a size that makes it easy to read. Times New Roman, 12-point is ideal. DON'T reduce the font size any more than that. If it's difficult to read, your editor won't bother. Include your email address and the word "SYNOPSIS" to the header or footer, so your work can be easily identified.

Single-spacing (rather than the double-spacing used for your manuscript) means even a complicated synopsis can be squeezed into a couple of pages. That's the absolute maximum these days. If a story can't be explained in under two sides of A4, you've got problems. There's no hope of your editor reading further, or looking at your full manuscript. Wikipedia has nailed the entire plot and character developments of J R R Tolkien's enormous Lord of The Rings saga in 1,600 words. On my WP package, that's two A4 pages plus a few lines. Chances are you'll be able to make the synopsis of your own work a lot shorter than that.


A synopsis must sell your work and your writing style. It has to encourage agents and publishers to pick up your complete manuscript and read it. That’s something they won’t bother to do unless you convince them–fast–it’s worth their while. 

In the first line of your synopsis, give your contact details, the word count, and a reminder of the genre or line you're aiming for. Full details of your intended market should have been included in your covering letter, but you still need to make sure the right person's reading your work.

Concentrate on selling your story, major characters and themes while giving a flavour of your writing skill. Take a lot of time and effort to distil your work down into its most interesting and vital points. Remember, great thinkers such as Blaise Pascal and George Bernard Shaw have all apologised for writing long letters by saying they "didn’t have time to write a short one". 

Write in the present tense. Outline the most important plot points in the order they happen, and why. Include details of your characters’ development as it happens through your book, and the reasons for their inner and external conflicts. A synopsis isn't the place for riddles, cliffhangers, or hooks. Your potential editor can't afford to wonder what happens next. They must know.

Study the cover text and reviews of recently-published books in your genre. When something entices you to read the rest of the book, that’s exactly the type of writing which will make anyone reading your synopsis hungry for more. Never copy anybody else's work, but follow their example to produce a tempting result.

Don’t bother including details that don’t influence the plot. You may have spent hours deciding whether to give your heroine blue eyes or brown, or whether your hero likes cats. That's vital background detail when you’re building your story world, but an editor doesn’t need to know any of it. If your heroine must wear contacts to disguise her appearance, or an allergy to fur makes your hero sneeze when he's trying to hide from the villain, that's fine. Otherwise, leave it all out. 

If you’re submitting by mail, make sure you send everything in one envelope: return postage, your synopsis, cv and covering letter as well as your manuscript. Make sure it’s all cross-referenced, and includes your contact details. Busy publishing house won’t have time to marry up items that get posted separately, but they’ll be grateful for clear labelling on anything that’s accidentally separated in-house.

With all the components of your perfect synopsis in place, tighten up your prose as much as possible. Then go through your manuscript and make sure all the promise and talent you've shown in your synopsis is reflected in your text. Once it's perfect, it'll be time to target your submission. But that's another story...

For more hints and tips on writing (and cooking, beekeeping, gardening and eating cake...) sign up for my newsletter by mailing me at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk, replacing the (at) with @ and putting "newsletter" in the subject line. Subscribers get a free copy of my Tipsheet For The Career Writer.