THE WRITING LIFE – new website, new novel, new ideas…

Hello! This is the first blog post via my brand-new website. I’m pleased to have a ‘proper’ website at last, and I’m enormously indebted to my clever son for building it for me, and for being patient with my dithering over how it should look and work in terms of links, pages etc. I think I’m finally getting to grips with how to update it and add content now, so hopefully it’ll have stuff to interest both readers and writers.

So, the first thing to report is that the e-book version of my debut novel, The Things We Never Said has been picked for the Kindle summer sale promotion, which means that for a few weeks only, it’s just 99p!

 click here to buy

The Things We Never Said will always have a special place in my heart, partly because it was my first novel, but also because it brought me so many lovely emails and loyal readers. And I still totally love that cover!

It’s been a busy time for me recently, because not only have I been working on this website as well as promoting my third novel, What She Lost, I’ve also been finishing my fourth book, as yet untitled. I’m very excited about this new novel, because for the first time, I’ve felt confident about the story, almost from the word go.

I wrote the first draft in four months, and I’ve spent several more months redrafting. I submitted the new version to my agent and editor a few weeks ago, and I’m delighted to report that they loved it. There were a few points that still needed addressing, but these only took a couple of weeks, and now it’s off to the copy editor. There will be more tweaks and twiddles – I’m sure the copy editor will find plenty of typos,  repetitions, inconsistencies, and other problems I haven’t spotted, but after that, it’s done and dusted. Apart from coming up with the right title, of course.

Titles. Oh dear. Is anyone else as rubbish at titles as I am? I’ve come up with a few for this book, as has my agent, but nothing feels quite right yet. Sometimes, something jumps into my head and I think, ‘that’s it!’ and then the next day, I think ‘that’s awful – what was I thinking of?’

But apart from the title, there’s not much more for me to do, so I’m now trying to come up with an idea for my next novel.  I gathered together some of my notebooks from the last couple of years, together with a folder full of random notes scribbled on scraps of paper, and I spent several hours reading through them.

It’s amazing how the same things seem to crop up over and over again – the same themes, same situations. Thing is, a theme and a situation  does not a story make! And not only that, but I need to decide which theme, which situation I’m going to go with, and then I need to develop it. My love of cooking means I’m always using  food analogies, so here’s  one about finding a new idea for a novel: I have a few basic ingredients, but not enough to know what I’m going to cook. I need to decide what dish I want to make, then I need to gather the rest of the ingredients, and most importantly of all, I need to work out a recipe.  I suppose I’m also wondering whether to stick with the sort of dish I usually cook, or whether to make something a little different.

I envy writers who are constantly bubbling with ideas and can’t wait to finish one book in order to get on the next. I have no trouble coming up with situations and characters, but as to what actually happens and how it will all end is a huge struggle. It seems that every promising storyline quickly hits a wall on which the words THAT WON’T WORK  are written in six foot high letters. Any tips or advice gratefully received!

Right, back to the notebooks…

 

THE WRITING LIFE: Endings – happy? hopeful? sad? A dilemma…

Another long gap between posts. My excuse is that my new baby – in other words, my new book – just recently made its way into the world, so I’m still quite busy promoting it. (Click here to buy on Amazon)

To continue with the analogy, my fourth novel, which I’m currently redrafting, is close to full term, so all in all, I’ve been busy. Right, I’ve had enough of that, now, so I’ll start talking normally.

I wrote a first draft of book 4, as yet untitled, relatively quickly – in four months – and I’ve been rewriting it since the beginning of February. A good boost to the process was a six-day writing retreat at the Arvon foundation’s Clockhouse. away from domestic responsibilities and in the company of three other lovely writers, I got loads done.

Communal sitting room
private study lounge

My task was to make the novel little less dark, so there were new scenes and chapters to write, but I also needed to do some restructuring. To my delight, there was an enormous corkboard in the room. I work on Scrivener, but I still like actual physical pieces of paper on an actual physical corkboard. I printed out my chapter summaries and was able to fit the whole novel onto this wonderful corkboard so I could move stuff around.

The rewriting was going so well, I was fairly sure I’d be finished by the end of this month. But now I’m about to embark on writing the final scenes, I find myself suddenly crippled by doubt and indecision. I usually go for ‘hopeful’ rather than ‘happy’ endings, but my original ending for this book – can’t give details, obviously – couldn’t be described as either.

When I wrote it, I thought it was the right ending for this character’s story – the natural progression for her, given previous events. My character was not exactly ‘happy’, but calm and accepting of how things worked out. But my agent and editor didn’t like it. Let’s face it, they’ve been in the business a long time – they know their shit, basically, so I’d be stupid not to listen. The three of us bandied round a few ideas for an alternative ending, and I set out to do the redrafting with one or two possibilities in mind.

However, now I’m at this stage where I’m trying to actually write the alternative ending, I find I’m horribly stuck, because something is telling me that these alternatives are wrong – contrived. I know many other writers will say I should stick to my original idea. But the thing is, there’s no point in doing that if it makes the book into something no-one wants to read.

So what do I do, people? What is more important to the reader, a truthful but sad ending, or a believable, hopeful ending, that may just seem slightly contrived?

A couple of years ago, I read a book that I loved from the first page and almost to the last. It was brilliantly written, with sympathetic, convincing characters and a page-turning plot. The central character was in severe peril, and I was convinced that something would save her at the last minute. It didn’t. I was devastated. The integrity of the author was flawless – in that situation, at that time, what happened in the novel is almost certainly what would have happened in life. But I went from wanting to recommend this book to everyone, to not recommending it to anyone, because the ending had left me feeling so bleak and I didn’t want to pass that on. (If you’re interested, I blogged about this at the time – you can read the post here)

So you see my problem? I don’t think my ending would be as bleak as this one was, but maybe I’m deluding myself. readers and writers, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this dilemma! The only thing I can think of to do at the moment is to try and force myself to write one or two alternative endings and see how they feel. I’ve already set one of them up through the novel, but even that feels almost impossible to write at the moment. Arghh!

On a more positive note, there have been some lovely reviews for What She Lost this week:

Amazon reader review

Amazon reader review

Amazon reader review

If you’d like to find out more about me and my work, please visit my (soon-to-be revamped) website or follow me on Twitter or Facebook

THE WRITING LIFE – Sheffield launch of What She Lost

A very quick blog post this time, because I’m packing to go to London as we speak. So it was the Sheffield launch of What She Lost at Waterstones on Thursday last week, and I think it went rather well. It was a pretty good turnout of somewhere between 50 and 60 people. Lots of friends, obviously, but also some ‘real’ readers, as in people I hadn’t met before, or who I only knew through Twitter or Facebook – it was lovely to be able to put faces to the names. Continue reading

THE WRITING LIFE – publication week and what it’s really like

The long-awaited (by me, anyway) publication of What She Lost was a week ago, so I thought this might be a good time to reflect on what publication day (and week) actually means for an author.

 

A mother whose memory is ravaged by Alzheimer’s, a daughter desperate to discover the truth, a terrible secret that has haunted them both. Can Eleanor reconnect with her mother before it’s too late?

Continue reading

THE WRITING LIFE – book 3 out in less than two weeks, redrafting book 4

Whenever I start a new blog post after a bit of a gap, I feel like I should begin with: it has been eight weeks since my last confession…

Yes, I was quite shocked to see that I haven’t blogged since just before Christmas. My only excuse is that there’s a lot going on in my writing life at the moment.

In my last post, I talked about the experience of writing the first draft of my fourth book surprisingly quickly and receiving positive feedback. A few weeks ago, on a cold and drizzly day at the end of January, I met my agent and my new editor for lunch in a lovely little Bloomsbury pub. we sat at a table next to a blazing log fire and discussed how I might approach the next draft. Continue reading

THE WRITING LIFE – hurrah! Great feedback on the zero draft!

I haven’t blogged since I finished the ‘zero draft’ of my 4th novel at the end of October because everything went a bit crazy (in a good way). Clare, my lovely editor at Simon & Schuster who I’ve worked with since 2012 told me she was leaving to go to Orion.  I was pleased to hear she was making such an exciting career move, but obviously gutted to lose her as an editor. Anyway, when she knew I’d finished this draft, she asked if there was any possibility it might be ready for her to read before she left Simon & Schuster – in five weeks!

My plan had been to do a leisurely re-draft over three or four months. After all, the zero draft was full of exposition, the voice was inconsistent, there were countless repetitions, slow scenes, scenes with no action etc. Could I possibly get this anywhere near decent shape in just five weeks? Clare had liked the original synopsis, so I really wanted her to see it, especially as it took me so long to write my third novel, What She Lost – out in March but now available for pre-order…
Out 9th of March – just over 11 weeks to go…
So I had one hell of a deadline! I set to work…

Fortunately, I had a five-day retreat booked where I’d planned to ‘make a start’ on the redraft. I threw myself into it and worked 9-10 hours most days. One night, I was so fired up and excited that, having made myself stop work at 9:30, I went to bed at 11, couldn’t sleep and ended up getting up and working again until just after one in the morning. 

I worked my arse off! I always get a lot done when I’m on a retreat, but this time, the amount of work I got through was astonishing. Partly because of the deadline, but also because I had enjoyed writing the zero draft (the very rough, pre-first draft) so much that I was bursting with excitement and couldn’t wait to start on the next draft, the one I would show to my editor, albeit a much earlier version than I would usually share.

For me, redrafting is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing a novel, and this time, it feels like I’ve written the whole thing on a high. The most brilliantly wonderful thing is, she loved it! She has loved my books before, but they’ve usually been through at least one more draft and are a lot more polished by the time she sees them. So you can imagine how thrilled I am, especially as I’ve actually enjoyed this early part of the process for a change.

Obviously there’s still work to do, and I’m looking forward to hearing my new editor’s thoughts towards the end of January, and to getting started on the next draft.

In the meantime, I’m wondering if I’ll ever be able to repeat what has been such an uncharacteristically enjoyable experience. Writing a detailed synopsis helped enormously, but I found it hard. It took me weeks! But writing the synopsis turned out to be a microcosm of writing a novel, with all the getting stuck, thinking the story won’t work, putting into much back story – at one point, I started to feel pleased with myself when I realised I’d written a page and a half, but then I realised that it was all back story! So I drew a line under that and started again. But then one paragraph began to suggest the next, and slowly, the story started to develop.

I’ll definitely try this again. It’s true that some stories may not work, but probably better to find that out after four or five weeks working on a synopsis than after four or five months (or longer) working on a novel, which is what I did earlier this year.

I’m now turning around ideas in my head for book five. Who knew how hard it would be to make up stories? 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

If you’d like to know more about me and my work, or if you’d like to sign up a ‘writing a novel’ workshop, please visit my website, or say hello on Facebook or Twitter

THE WRITING LIFE – book 4, zero draft – complete!

Newsflash! The Things We Never Said is on a Kindle Monthly deal at just 99p throughout November Buy it here

Well, I did it, I hit my deadline!  I have written a very rough, very basic draft of my fourth novel in a little under four months. To be honest, I could have finished this on Saturday, but I really wanted to put that last cross on the calendar today. Ok, so maybe there’s a touch of OCD involved…

If you’ve seen my recent blog posts or if you’ve been following my Facebook page, you’ll know that I’ve been using some incentives to help keep me going. First, there’s the calendar, an idea I adapted from one I saw in Mslexia magazine. Just print out a calendar, then for each day you hit your writing target (mine was an absolute minimum of 200 words but aiming for 1000) you put a cross in the squeare for that day. So here, a cross means I wrote at least 200 and if I got to 1000, I added a dot.

I also used a reward-based incentive. Assuming this draft would be around 90,000 words (it’s ended up as 81,500) I put 90 small coins in a glass, each coin representing 1000 words I had to write. Each time I wrote 1000 words, I took one of those coins out and chucked it back in my purse, but I also put a pound coin in another class. So I saw the number of words I had to write going down, and the amount of money I had to celebrate completing the draft going up. It’s a winner!

So there’s now £81 in that glass, and me and Himself will be having a night out on it this week. (I think I’m going to have to do something similar to the redraft – got to celebrate the end of that, too.)
Here’s the proof of my wordcount and a sneak peek at the first page:

Of course the other thing that helped was that this time, for the first time ever, I was working from a detailed five-page synopsis– thanks to my agent Kate Shaw for keeping on at me to do this! I found it very difficult – it took several weeks – but I will definitely try this approach again.

Inevitably, things have changed a little from the original synopsis, but the basic story is the same. I’ve changed some character details – occupation, for example. I’ve also got rid of one supporting character and introduced a new one. The other thing that’s different is that a few things I thought I could skim over in a paragraph as back story have turned out to demand full scenes of their own.

What I’ve learned is this: planning a novel out like this is difficult, and there were many points at which I felt sick, certain the idea wasn’t working and lying awake at night agonising over whether I would be able to make it work. But this is EXACTLY what I usually go through halfway through writing a novel anyway. Maybe sometimes an idea doesn’t work, but surely it’s better to abandon a synopsis after a few weeks of work than to abandon 70,000 words after several months, which is what I ended up doing back in June – you can read about it here

So, I feel exhilarated having completed this draft and very excited about embarking upon what I hope will be a decent first draft. I will, of course, keep you posted.

If you’d like to know more about me and my work, or if you’d like to sign up for one of the popular Novel Writing workshops I run with Russell Thomas, please visit my website, and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter

THE WRITING LIFE – book 3 cover, book 4 progress

A quick-ish one today, because I’m under pressure from my self-imposed deadline of the end of this month to finish the ‘zero draft’ of book 4, working title When the Bough Breaks. More of this in a moment, but I’ve just realised I haven’t yet shared with you the cover of my new book, What She Lost, which is out on 9th March, so here it is:

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Well done Simon & Schuster – I absolutely love it! Here’s the blurb:

Eleanor and her mother Marjorie have always had a difficult relationship and although they’ve tried, they have somehow just failed to connect. 
    Now Marjorie has Alzheimer’s, and as her memory fades, her grip on what she has kept hidden begins to loosen. When she calls her daughter to say, ‘There’s something I have to tell you’, Eleanor hopes this will be the moment she learns the truth about the terrible secret that has cast a shadow over both their lives. 
    But Marjorie’s memory is failing fast and she can’t recall what she wanted to say. Eleanor knows time is running out, and as she tries to gently uncover the truth before it becomes lost inside her mother’s mind forever, she begins to discover what really happened when she was a child – and why… 

Very excited about this now, especially as it was such an absolute bugger to write. Those of you who follow this blog may remember the agonies I went through with this book. After a dreadful first draft, I completely rewrote around 80% of it. It was a mammoth task, but definitely worth the effort because it resulted in a much better book, and one I now feel proud of. 

So, moving on to book 4. I’m now at 69,000 words, thanks to my two visual incentives. First, there’s the calendar. I gave myself around four months to write this draft, with a target of 1000 words a day and an absolute minimum of 200 words. Every cross on the calendar means I wrote at the very least 200 words on that day, and where there is a dot as well as a cross, it means I hit my 1000 word target.  


As you can see, I now have just 20 days (including today) to finish the draft. I’m guessing I have about another 10 to 15,000 words to write, so it’s just about doable. Somehow, I’ve GOT to do it! My second incentive Works on a visual level, but also promises a tangible reward. I took two glasses and put 90 five pence pieces in one of them. Each coin represents 1000 words of this draft. (It’ll probably be slightly less than that, but who knows.) For each thousand words I write, I take a 5p out of the glass, but I put a one pound coin in the other glass. The idea is that when I finish this draft, there will be enough quids in the pot for myself and himself to celebrate with a nice meal out and a bottle of bubbly. 


Of course, once I’ve got to the end of a zero draft, I need to go back to the beginning and write what I hope will be decent ‘first’ draft, something which, once I’ve spent some time editing and tidying it, will be in a good enough shape to send to my agent.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now – must crack on!

PS A quick plug for the workshops – there’s one coming up on 22nd of October called Bringing Your Characters to Life. Details of that, and the other Writing a Novel workshops can be found on my website

THE WRITING LIFE – half a draft in eight weeks

Last time, I talked about the value of the visual stimulus in helping to get to the end of the first draft, or ‘zero’ draft as I prefer to call it – this is the draft where there are superfluous characters, scenes that simply tread water, plot holes as big as a house, and page upon page of tell-y back story which will eventually (hopefully) form the basis of some useful scenes.

The main visual aid that’s keeping me going is an idea I picked up from the Mslexia Facebook page. Their suggestion was that you print out a calendar and mark a cross in the box for every day you write some words, ‘no matter how many or how few’, with the aim that you never break the chain (cue Fleetwood Mac).

Now that ”no matter how few” could catch me out, because strictly speaking, that means ten words would count, or three! So I decided to set myself a target of 1000 words a day, but with an absolute minimum of 200 words. So if I write 195, no cross on the calendar! If I hit 200, I get a cross, and if I write 1000 words or more, I get across and a little dot. Here’s how I’m doing so far:

As you can see, things slowed down a little after the first few weeks, but in my defence, this summer has been quite busy with family visits, holidays and so on. Also, of course, the further on that you get with a story, the more complicated it becomes, because so many things have been established that there is more chance of problems arising. I’m resisting the temptation to deal with those at this stage, (unless of course the problem is so big it’s preventing me from moving forward) because that can all be dealt with in the next draft.

The other thing I’m using to coax myself to the end of this draft is partly visual, but part reward incentive. I’m assuming this draft will be around 90,000 words, So in the left-hand glass, I put 90 small coins – 1p & 5p. Every time I write another 1000 words, I take one of those small coins and put it back in my purse and I put a pound coin in the right-hand glass. so when I get to the end, I’ll have £90 with which to celebrate before I embark on a decent first draft. That should be a pretty good night out for myself and Mr EW!

Both these methods are working very well for me – I love seeing the level in that right-hand glass go up while the level in the left-hand glass goes down. And with the calendar, my desire to not break the chain has become so strong that I’m now finding myself getting twitchy each day until I’ve got at least 200 words down. The other night after a long and tiring day, it was gone 11.30 when I realised that I hadn’t ‘done my words’. I was so shattered that I almost just climbed into bed, but when I thought about that empty square on the calendar, I just couldn’t do it, so I picked up a pen (too tired to climb the stairs to my study) and managed to drag 230 words from somewhere.

As of today, I’m now at a total of 48,000 words, which, given my usual agonisingly slow pace, I feel is not too shabby.

In other news, What She Lost is progressing nicely and I will very soon be able to reveal the cover, so watch this space! In the meantime, I’m currently reading through the page proofs. This is a lovely stage to get to, because it’s the first time my words start to look like a real book. I’m still finding the odd error, even though the book has been read many, many times, thoroughly edited and copyedited. Still the odd thing creeps through.

That’s about it for this time. I’ll post again in a couple of weeks by which time I hope to be well on my way to 60,000 words. I’m also hoping to reveal the cover for What She Lost.

By the way, if you’re new to this blog, you might like to know that my writing doesn’t always go this smoothly. In fact, until now, it has NEVER gone smoothly. If you fancy trawling back through some of the old posts, you’ll see just what a struggle I had writing my third novel, What She Lost.  I mention this because if you’re struggling with a draft at the moment, it might help you to see how badly I went wrong, and how I managed to eventually turn it into something I’m quite proud of. I almost felt like giving up, but I knew I had a story to tell, so I kept at it. You can, too. No one said this writing lark was going to be easy…

If you’d like to know more about me and my work, or if you’d like to sign up for one of the 1-day Writing a Novel workshops (the next one, Planning and Plotting, is on 24th of September – £45 for the whole day, and it’s a cracking workshop, even though I say so myself information) visit my website You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook

THE WRITING LIFE – how a visual stimulus can spur you on

My last post was about how I had finally managed to write a detailed outline for my fourth novel. Planning doesn’t come easily to me, in fact, I’ve tried several times in the past to plan my story and failed miserably. This time however, I promised my agent ,who’d been gently nagging me about the advantages of a detailed outline, that I’d try really, really hard. 

At first, I was convinced I couldn’t do it, then I had something of a breakthrough when I realised I should only be telling the story from one point of view, not two. My agent and editor both liked the outline, so I made a start, setting myself a target of 1000 words a day. I started this novel on 7th of July and For the first few days, I hit my target fairly easily.  Of course, many of these words will be shit words that will be cut or changed later, but my aim is to get a ‘zero’ draft down as quickly as possible.

A few days in, I stumbled on a post on the Mslexia Facebook page, suggesting you print out a calendar and put a big cross in the box for every day you get some words down, no matter how many or how few, the aim being that you don’t break the  chain.   here’s the page – the post is July 12 if you like to have a look.

This seemed like a great idea, but I know myself, and I know that the ‘no matter how few’ could get me into trouble – would 20 words count? Ten? Two? So I set myself a daily minimum of 200, while keeping my personal target of 1000.  This is working brilliantly for me so far. Of the 39 days that I’ve been doing this, I’ve achieved at least 1000 words day on 26 days, and I haven’t broken the chain. Here’s the photographic evidence: 





Every cross represents a minimum of 200 words, and where there is also a dot in the box, it means I hit my target of 1000 words.  It’s become such a point of honour now, that I get twitchy every morning until I’ve done my 200 words. Some days, I know that life will get in the way and that’ll be the only writing I do that day, but at least I will have engaged with the novel, kept the momentum.  

It’s all too easy to avoid work, especially when you hit a tricky point. It’s true that sometimes a few days away from it can be beneficial, but it can also make it even harder to get back into, so I’d definitely recommend setting yourself a low, achievable target. To be honest, even if you don’t actually write anything, just opening the document and thinking about your novel means you’re progressing.

I first realised how helpful a visual stimulus can be when I did  NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago. If you’ve ever signed up for this, you’ll know that when you enter each day’s word count, you see a lovely blue bar getting longer and longer as you move towards the target 50,000 words.  I wanted to do something similar when I started my next book, so I came up with the idea of having two glasses, one of which contained 90 glass pebbles. For each thousand words written, I transferred a pebble from one glass to the other, so at a glance, I could see how much I’d done, and how much I still had to do. I blogged about it here

Anyway, now I’ve come up with an even better idea – you’ll like this one! It’s in a similar vein to the pebbles, but I’m using coins instead.  I’m aiming for around 90,000 words again. So, one glass contains 90 small coins – 5p and 1p. When I’ve written 1000 words, one of those small coins goes back in my purse and a pound goes into the other glass.  At the end of the zero draft, I’ll have £90 with which to celebrate before I embark on a decent first draft.



So far, I’ve written 34,000 words, and sticking a pound a day in the glass hasn’t bankrupted me, especially as it’s not every day. It’s no accident that I’ve used champagne glasses, because I reckon one of the first things I’ll buy out of that hundred quid is a bottle of champagne, then the OH and I will have a good night out on the rest.

So, next time I blog, I’m hoping the glass on the right will be a little fuller, and glass on the left a little emptier. I’ll keep you posted!

If you’d like to know more about me and my work, or if you’d like to sign up for a workshop or a ‘Space to Write’ day, please visit my website And it would be great if you would follow me  on Twitter and like my Facebook page