Time For A Sex Change

Hector's HouseHa, yes, it’s a cheap trick but now that I’ve got your attention..

On Friday night I had a most enjoyable time, listening to writer S J Watson ‘in conversation’ as part of Warwick Words Xtra events.

‘SJ’, as you may know, is the author of best-selling thriller Before I Go To Sleep which was made into a film last year (we all wanted to know what Colin Firth was like!!) and his second novel, Second Life zoomed in at number five on the Sunday Times bestseller list within 3 days of being published last month! (jealous? moi?)

What you might not know, is that ‘SJ’ is a man – Steve, to be precise. Because the protagonist of Before I Go To Sleep is a woman (and, indeed, so is the lead character in his second novel), most people think ‘SJ’ must be female. He gets asked all the time about his choice of female protagonist(s). Apparently, one of the many foreign publishers who bought Before I Go To Sleep insisted on seeing a photo of ‘SJ’ – they were so convinced that the book must have been written by a woman.

Which made me think about women who write from the point of view (POV) of men. JK Rowling does a pretty good job with her detective Cormoran Strike and no-one ever questions Kate Atkinson’s ability to get into the head of her male lead character (also, coincidentally, a detective), Jackson Brodie. So, what is it about men writing from the POV of a woman? It seems rather sexist to be surprised that they can do it!

There’s an interesting article here, from The Guardian, asking the question ‘Can Men Write Good Heroines?’

I must admit, I hardly ever write from the POV of a man, just because it doesn’t occur to me to do it. I am more in-tune with women’s issues and potential problems. But perhaps I’m limiting myself! That’s it, I’m having a sex change. The next story I write, will be from the point of view of a man! And..er.. he’s going to be called Hector! Oh no, that’s too Greek-mythology/Hector’s House-ish (remember Hector’s House?).

Do any of you prefer to write as a member of the opposite sex? And, secondly, any ideas for a good hero’s name?

Posted in Events, Men, Novels, West Midlands | Tagged | 9 Comments

How Much Do You Earn From Writing?

Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man's world

Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man’s world

OK, I’m not really expecting you to answer that, but now that I have your attention…

The reason I’m asking is that a person I know, new to writing, has told me today that very soon, their intention is that writing is to become their ‘main source of income’ and it’s definitely ‘not a hobby’.

Now, while I applaud the ‘not just a hobby’ part and I’m the first to encourage anyone to try to earn hard cash from their writing, I had to voice my concerns to this person and say that it’s very, (VERY!) hard to make even a half-decent income from writing. Even established novelists have to supplement their income by teaching and the like – and if you’re a beginner, it’s even harder to earn anything.

See this SHOCKING article from the Guardian (January 2014), which claims that a writer’s average yearly earnings is £600! Gulp. Gasp. Now, that includes all kinds of writers, including ‘aspiring’ and those who self-publish and hardly make a bean (but are still writers, of course) but it’s still surprising.

Take yours truly. I am not a beginner by any means but could I live on what I make from my weekly writing class, my Writers Bureau tutoring, my ALCS income, my short stories, my (occasional) articles, my (very occasional) competition wins and my e-book of short stories?

*Pause while she laughs hysterically*.

Er.. no. Not even with my part-time job at the charity, which brings in a little bit each month. I can only do what I do because I have the support of a lovely partner, who is happy to pay the bills (and er.. just in case he is reading this and not on the golf course, “I am ETERNALLY grateful! Would you like a cup of tea?”)

What’s really annoying though, is that everyone thinks writers are rolling in it – right? But the reason that there’s such as song-and-dance about novelists who secure a 6-figure deal for their first novel is because it’s so unusual!

My dad, bless him, is convinced that if I can only get a short story accepted for Radio 4 and/or a novel published, I will be made, financially. But everyone knows that the BBC doesn’t pay very well and I read somewhere that the average amount made from a debut novel is £5000.

So, the answer to my friend who wants to make writing their ‘main source of income’?

1) Write for love, not money.
2) Don’t give up the day job!

Posted in E publishing | Tagged | 25 Comments

Going On An ‘Artist’s Date’

Bonnie's birthday bowl

Bonnie’s birthday bowl

Recently I went to Center Parcs and ‘made’ Bonnie this bowl for her second birthday. I know, unbelievable, isn’t it? (Not the bowl – the fact that my pupster is TWO!).

Before you start imagining that Demi Moore/Patrick Swayze potter’s wheel scene from Ghost, I must admit I didn’t actually ‘make’ the bowl but I ..ahem.. ‘designed’ it (it looks better in real life – the white paint is all sparkly! Honest!) and I painted it in the Center Parcs ‘Pottery Painting’ studio.

It was sooo relaxing and so much fun, that although we were allocated a 1.5 hour slot to create our masterpieces, my friend and I ended up staying in there for THREE hours and I found myself thinking, this would make a perfect Artist’s Date.

What is an ‘Artist’s Date’?

This is another of writer-and-teacher Julia Cameron’s ideas. She reckons that if you do Morning Pages every day (I do, I do! I’ve written about it here) and undertake an ‘Artist’s Date’ once a week, you’ll see a ‘sea-change’ in your creativity.

Julia talks about Artist’s Dates here.

An Artist’s Date is, in a nutshell, ‘a festive, solo, weekly expedition’. The only rules are, that it has to be your idea of FUN, has to push your comfort level a little and you have to do it on your own (so my pottery painting didn’t count because I was there with a friend).

What you are trying to do is ‘enchant yourself’, to woo your subconscious and to help feed your creativity. If you keep drawing on your creativity but never top it up, it’ll run dry.

Cameron describes this date as a way to spend quality time with your inner creative self or child. As with any parent/child relationship, she insists that quality time together is important, ‘Your inner artist needs to be taken out, pampered, and listened to.’

Resistance To ‘Artist’s Dates’

Julia Cameron says that most people are highly resistant to the idea of making – and keeping – a date with themselves (and I must admit, it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for ages and keep putting off!).

She says often we’re happy to ‘work’ at our creativity but we don’t want to ‘play’.

The usual excuses – for me and probably for everyone else who doesn’t manage it – are:

1. I don’t have time!
2. What would I do?
3. It all sounds a bit self-indulgent and frivolous
4. On my own? Bor-ing!
5. People will think I’m weird!

What Constitutes An ‘Artist’s Date’?

I’ve seen someone, on another blog, refer to an ‘Artist’s Date’, as ‘getting out of the house’! But I think it’s a little more than that (and actually you don’t have to get out of the house. You could light scented candles, play some Mozart and wallow in a bubble bath for an hour and I’m sure that would count!)

It doesn’t have to be ‘arty’ or ‘high art’ – or expensive, for that matter. (But I don’t think clothes shopping counts as one. Or drinking a bottle of wine, in front of Eastenders – sorry). But you could go to a museum or art gallery, if you think that will be fun and if that idea excites you.

Here are some other suggestions:

• Visit a garden centre or a park (maybe take your camera?)
• Try out a new restaurant
• Take a bus or train to a new town for the day
• Wander through a flea market – or any kind of market
• Go for a bike ride
• Buy yourself a colouring pad and crayons – and crayon for an hour
• Take yourself on a picnic
• Browse the fabrics in a department store
• Visit a National Trust or English Heritage property
• Go to a pound shop and give yourself an allowance of £5 to buy stationery
• Go for a walk near water – on a beach, along a river, around a reservoir (don’t fall in! Remember, you are on your own!)
• Go to a play, to see a film, to a concert
• Visit the children’s section of a book shop and see what books attract you

Are you getting the idea? What do you think? Could you do it? Do you want to do it? I think, if it’s going to work, then you need to put that Artist’s Date in your diary each week – and stick to it.

Let me know if you try it – or if you already go on Artist’s Dates. I’m still intending to try this out so I will report back when I do!

PS: On a completely different note, I have a ‘guest post‘ on Della Galton’s blog today! If you were still thinking about buying my new short story collection (and, er.. by my latest calculation, that’s 97% of you, dear readers.. then that might be all the encouragement you need!). I’ll shut up now. Promise.

Bonnie Bowl 2

Posted in Blogging, E publishing | Tagged | 11 Comments

Guest Post: Kim Fleet – Writing Coach

Kim Fleet author photoKim Fleet is a writer, teacher and writing coach. She’s the author of two novels (so far!) and her short stories and articles regularly appear in women’s magazines, family history and writing magazines.

She’s worked with hundreds of writers, getting them writing from scratch, rebuilding their writing after a break and helping them to reconnect with their writing after a long period when it just hasn’t been fun.

I’ve invited Kim to my blog today – Welcome, Kim! – to talk about how, as writers, we often let the critical, pessimistic part of our minds take control without even realising it and how to combat it using a few simple tricks.

So, it’s over to Kim…..

What messages are you telling yourself, every day, without even realising it? Are you reminding yourself how wonderful, talented and all round fabulous you are? Or are you telling yourself that life is tough, work’s a nightmare and you’re a drudge?

You might be subliminally sending yourself messages that are affecting your mood and shaping your perception of life. Subliminal messages are those messages that you take in without being aware of them. A hidden word in an advertising campaign. A few frames of violence embedded in an otherwise innocuous film. Yet subliminal messages aren’t the preserve of evil advertisers or nasty filmmakers. We could be regularly feeding ourselves with messages that we don’t even notice.

A few years ago, my colleagues gave me a big, chunky mug as a present. The slogan was ‘Overworked’, and underneath the mug it read ‘Underpaid’. That was how we all felt. Eventually, I left the job, taking the mug with me, and for years it’s been my ‘morning coffee’ mug. A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly saw the mug with new eyes, and wondered, ‘What message am I giving myself each day? That I’m overworked and underpaid? Do I want to see my life that way?’ (Answer – No.)

Mug shot

It’s often said that you get what you focus on. You attract into your life what you think about. Think that you’re unlucky and you’ll be unlucky. You just won’t see opportunities that are there for you. Your brain filters out all signals that contradict your beliefs – it searches for evidence that what you think is correct.

I didn’t want to attract overwork and low pay into my life. I didn’t want to believe that I was a drudge, and I didn’t want to reinforce this belief subconsciously every day of my life, so I demoted the mug and it’s now awaiting reincarnation as a flower pot. Instead, I have a jolly mug decorated with beach huts that makes me smile and reminds me how much I love being by the sea.

I started to wonder what other messages we send ourselves. Hands up who’s ever had ‘Ihatework’ as a password? I changed all my passwords to motivational slogans – Iamlucky, Iamworthit, Happydays. It’s a small thing, but I probably type in those passwords ten times a day, and get ten little bursts of optimism because of it.

Then I looked at my workspace – cluttered, a teetering in-tray, a pile of receipts to write up, and a huge to-do list. The clutter was stressing me out – a constant reminder that there was lots and lots and lots to do.

I set aside an afternoon and cleared it all, then put a posy of scented flowers on my desk. For me, this created a calm, clean space in which to work. As for that to-do list – I now limit it to three things a day. It forces me to focus on the key priorities in my life. Each morning I ask myself, ‘How will completing this task get me closer to achieving my goals?’ If it won’t, it doesn’t go on the list. I tick off each item once I finish it, and there’s always a great sense of satisfaction at the end of the day when the list is struck through.

What messages are you sending yourself? Are they building you up or knocking you down? What can you change so you’re reminded how fabulous you are and that life is good?

Thanks, Kim! Lots of food for thought there. As it’s Valentine’s Day (aagh, I nearly managed to avoid mentioning it), perhaps the message to us writers really is ‘Love Yourself’!

Kim’s offering a free guide to the causes and cures of writer’s block on her website, banishwritersblock.com. Her latest novel, Paternoster, will be published in June by the Mystery Press.

heart20-240x220

Posted in Guest Post, Ideas | Tagged , | 16 Comments

4 (Random!) Things I’ve Learned This Week

professor-8321. If I want to write a (half decent) novel then I need a PREMISE. Does everyone else have a premise? It’s your core statement, a description of the novel in one sentence, it’s what you’re trying to ‘prove’ or show with your novel. You should have it in front of you when you write your novel and refer to it continually, like an exam question. Every scene you write should be linked, in some way, to the premise.

Apparently.

Am I the only one who didn’t know about this!? (I was discussing novel writing with someone who knows about these things and now that I’ve Googled it, it’s everywhere!). Please, someone, tell me about your premise (or lack of) and make me feel better!

2. Lots of people are nervous about the publication (in July) of Harper Lee’s first novel. Just in case it’s not very good (and first novels are, notoriously, not great). Bless, her, I hope it is good but could anything, really, be as good as To Kill A Mockingbird?

3. As much as I really want to go to this ‘Yoga For Creativity‘ day on 21st March, I’ve realised that a 4 hour round trip to Shropshire is probably not going to do much for my stress levels beforehand, or continuing my relaxed state of mind at the end. Shame.

4. The Manor House hotel in Moreton-in-Marsh, the nearest town to me, in conjunction with Books Yule Love bookshop, is hosting some writing lunches and evenings! Hurrah! The first one is a lunch next Friday 13th, with novelist Katie Fforde being interviewed by Jane Wenham-Jones. There’s wine and lunch and a book included. I am attending purely for research purposes and, ahem, to support a local endeavour, of course…I will report back!

Posted in Books, Events, Novels | Tagged | 24 Comments

If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get…

If you buy the latest (February 2015) issue of Writers Forum, which looks like this:

Writers Forum Feb 2015

Writers Forum Feb 2015

– all lovey-dovey with a heart on it – you’ll find me in there.

Erm.. twice.

Firstly, I’m the winner of the Newsfront section (which accepts short news items – under 200 words – on topics of interest to writers). The winner each month receives a year’s subscription to the magazine. I submitted my 2 pieces on 23rd December, when everyone else was probably wrapping presents, so I expect there wasn’t much competition this month!

They also award a year’s subscription to the Star Letter of the month and Simon Whaley, (FOTB – friend of this blog), won it this month. He’s talking about his letter here and how letters (as I’ve told you lots of times too!) can be the springboard to other things..

Now, sit down for this bit.. I’m also ‘starring’ in the penultimate page of the magazine.. yes, the ‘Where I Write’ slot! You may remember this post back in September, when I wrote, “I don’t suppose I’ll ever make an appearance on those illustrious pages of Writers’ Forum…” (and so, I created my own little ‘where I write’ piece).

Well, the universe, (in the form of Phil Barrington, who writes that column for Writers Forum), heard my plaintive cry (and blatant hint) and has put me in there! Yippeee. I am chuffed. And it just goes to show, if you don’t ask, you most certainly don’t get..!

PS: And on a very different note, did any of you hear the Graham Norton interview with novelist Marian Keyes on Radio 2 on Saturday? It was great and if you missed it, you can listen to it here. (Marian Keyes has sold 22 million books! Impressive!) Interview starts 29 mins and 25 seconds in.

And now, enough procrastinating.. I have to go and do my tax return. Aaaagh!

Writers Forum 2 001

Posted in Blogging, Magazines | Tagged | 18 Comments

The Stories Behind The Stories In ‘Paperchase…’

Pluto (is relevant, honest)

Pluto (is relevant, honest)

Now come on, you didn’t truly expect me to never mention my recently-launched e-book of short stories ever again, did you?

As they say on Miranda, ‘bear with’ – it’s only for a bit longer.

5 of the stories in the collection were placed in competitions and the other 7 were first published in Woman’s Weekly (a little while ago, though. You’re only allowed to re-publish stories yourself 18 months after they first appear in the magazine. That’s a WW rule, anyway – other magazines may differ).

If you want to write for WW yourself – or you’re just interested in where ideas for short stories come from – then you might find this useful:

1. Chatterboxes

I used to work in an office with a girl – let’s call her Denise – who happily chattered away about her family all day and unwittingly gave me several lines of dialogue, a couple of great characters and some plot ideas for stories. The nervy mother in ‘The Worst That Could Happen’ is based on Denise’s own mother, the title and subsequent dialogue in ‘Love You A Hundred’ comes directly from something her little boy once said and the classic line ‘I come to work for a rest!’ uttered by a character in ‘Accidents Will Happen’, well that’s a direct quote from Denise. Bless her.

So, if you have chatty colleagues that you feel like punching, DON’T! Tune in! They might be a great source of inspiration. Just make sure, if you use anything you overhear them saying, that you change names (at least!) and preferably a lot more, so that no-one can be identified or offended!

2. Newspapers & Notices

I got the idea for the first story in the collection, ‘Knitting for Zambia’, from a notice pinned up in my local library, asking people to ‘Knit for Zambia. Any colour except white.’ White, the notice explained, ‘is the colour of mourning in Zambia’. Then I asked myself ‘what if?’ ‘What If someone knitted something in white…? And the story took off from there.

The story ‘Heroes, Just for One Day’ originated from a small item in a newspaper. A man had been denied access to a bus, by its driver, because he was two minutes early (he had one of those off-peak passes). He was so incensed, that he told the driver he’d race him to the next stop and then he’d have to let him on board….

The inspiration for ‘The Curse of The Sheep Baby’ also came from a newspaper article. And, interestingly, the new Chinese Year this February is the year of the sheep (or goat) again. (Which just shows how long ago it was, that I got that idea!). According to the article I read, in some parts of China, pregnant women wanted to be induced, so that they didn’t have a ‘sheep baby’. They’re supposed to be unlucky.

I always scour notice boards – in village halls, shop windows, supermarkets, anywhere. I’ve had more than one idea from a notice board. And newspapers (dare I say it, the tabloids, rather than the broadsheets) are often great for story ideas but you need to look out for small, human interest stories rather than the big stories, that lots of people will write about.

3. The Radio

I love Paul O’Grady on Radio 2 on a Sunday afternoon. Listening to his programme during a drive home one weekend, gave me the idea for ‘A Certain Someone’. A listener had written in about his wife, who had once, when they were young and still courting, rescued him from a tree, by carrying a ladder half a mile across a field. That’s just a gift for a writer, isn’t it?

I’ve started listening to Radio 4 in my car, since the beginning of the year. As much as I love singing along to Radio 2 (and I still won’t be giving up Paul O’Grady), I’ve decided that it is a bit of a waste of all those hours that I spend driving. (Remember, I live in the MON – Middle of Nowhere). So, now I’m tuning into Woman’s Hour and The Archers and learning all kinds of interesting stuff, some of which may well find its way into a story or two…

4. Mnemonics

It’s hard to say that word, isn’t it? You know what I mean though: ‘Richard of York Gave Battle In Vain’, is the mnemonic that helps you remember the colours of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow and all that jazz); you can remember the fate of the 8 wives of Henry VIII if you recite this little ditty, ‘ divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’ (of course, you then have to remember their names, but I can’t find a mnemonic for that).

There are lots more here.

Anyway, I can’t remember exactly why or how, but I used the mnemonic for the order of the planets in the solar system: ‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles’* as the inspiration for a story in the collection, which is about a step-family and a slightly-neurotic mother who has declared her intention to go on a one-way trip to Mars (my mum used to say she was going to jump out of the window. She laughs when I mention that now and says she was ‘only joking!’… hmmm).

*If you’re looking for Pluto, remember poor old Pluto got demoted in 2006.

My e-book short story collection,’Paperchase and Other Stories‘ is for sale on Amazon, at just £1.99.

Posted in E publishing, Magazines, Short Stories | 14 Comments