My Chocolate Bar Challenge

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Last weekend I was invited by my friend and fellow author, Tara Ford, to take part in the Chocolate Bar Challenge Blog Tour.

Ooh, chocolate, I thought. Ooh books, I thought. Ooh, chocolate plus books, I thought. What could be more fun? (Well… aside from wine of course). And so I have spent the past week sampling chocolate, because if you’re going to compare it to your favourite books, you need to do your research properly, right?

And now I feel fat and I have chocolate crumbs round my mouth, on my clothes, even in the duvet for chrissakes. So thanks a lot, Tara Ford.

For those who don’t already know, Tara is the author of the Calling All… series and her latest novel, Calling All Dentists was released earlier this year. Her genre is probably best described as chick lit and she is a very funny lady. If you like my humour then you will definitely like Tara’s.

To find out more about Tara and check out the result of her Chocolate Bar Challenge, visit her website http://taraford.weebly.com/blog/chocolate-book-tag-challenge

I have selected seven books for my challenge. Do check them out below and let me know what you think of my comparisons.

THE MAGIC FARAWAY TREE – ENID BLYTON

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This was by far my favourite book when I was a child. Enid Blyton had a fabulous imagination and with Faraway Tree novels (this was the second in the series, The Enchanted Wood being the first) created wonderful worlds for the reader to visit. The story follows four children – Joe, Bessie, Fanny and Dick (you couldn’t make this up) and their adventures at the top of the oak tree near where they live. There are many colourful characters living in the tree, Moonface, Silky the Fairy, Dame Washalot, who pours her dirty laundry water down the tree, and Saucepan Man, who is covered in pans and kettles. Together with the children they visit magical lands by climbing a ladder at the top of the tree, experiencing numerous adventures.

My chosen chocolate bar is the Kinder Surprise, as the lands at the top of the tree change every couple of days and the children never know what they are going to find.

THE SHINING – STEPHEN KING

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‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ types Jack Torrance, lead character in The Shining. Well, I have chosen a Mars Bar for this story, as it will help Jack work, rest and play. Hopefully then he won’t take his axe and try to butcher his wife and little boy, Danny.

Jack is an author struggling with writers block and takes a job as winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel. The hotel is vast and empty, albeit for Jack, wife, Wendy, and little Danny, and they are snowed in for the duration. As Jack starts to go slightly crazy, is it caused by cabin fever, or is there something sinister within the walls of the hotel? Danny knows something is wrong. He has the shining, a gift of seeing into the future. Can he use this to alert help before it is too late?

TALES OF THE CITY – ARMISTEAD MAUPIN

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After reading this book, I wanted to find a time machine to transport me to 1970s San Francisco.  Young, wide-eyed Mary Ann Singleton moves to the city and becomes the latest tenant at 28 Barbary Lane. TOTC follows the colourful characters who live there, including eccentric, pot growing landlady, Mrs Madrigal, hippy, Mona, womanizer, Brian, cagey man on the roof, Norman, and the recently ‘out of the closet’, Mouse.

Maupin really captures the colour and vibrancy of the city. The characters are all so different, but their personalities shine through and for this reason I have chosen Quality Street.  Mary Ann would be the vanilla fudge, Mouse the strawberry delight, etc, etc.

REBECCA – DAPHNE DU MAURIER

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I adore both Du Maurier’s book and the Hitchcock movie adaptation of Rebecca, a story for me that has a little bit of everything. Our protagonist is the second Mrs de Winter, a shy and innocent young woman in her early twenties, who has been working as a companion to a rich American woman. She marries Maxim de Winter, after a whirlwind romance and suddenly finds herself lady of the house at Mandalay, the home Maxim shared with his first wife, Rebecca. The new Mrs de Winter soon finds herself out of her depth, particularly when she comes up again the housekeeper, a bitter woman called Mrs Danvers, who was fiercely loyal to Rebecca.

There are many twists and turns throughout the book, which is in part a love story, but also has a much darker core. The foreboding Mrs Danvers is the domineering presence and for this reason I choose the smooth, fine and intense, but very dark, Bournville.

VALENTINE – TOM SAVAGE

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This book is a hidden gem and although it has sold moderately well (and spawned a movie – which I recommend you avoid at all costs, as it takes everything that is clever about this book and throws it out of the window) it is a real shame more people do not know about it.

Jillian Talbot is a successful novelist who attracts the attentions of a Valentine stalker. It starts innocently enough, but things soon get sinister, and she begins to suspect there could be a connection to her past. In high school, Jillian was part of a clique, and a prank played on a fellow student ended with devastating consequences. If you like my novels, you will love Valentine. Tom Savage is a master of twists and red herrings and the plot moves at breakneck speed, leaving you going ‘Oh my God!’ at the final revelation.

I can’t give you my heart, but I will certainly give you my last Rolo if you try this book.

SUPERSTITION – DAVID AMBROSE

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You know those times when you are alone and think you hear the presence of someone else in the room? Well for that reason, Wispa seems the most appropriate chocolate bar for this supernatural tale.

I say supernatural, but the twist here is Superstition follows parapsychologist, Sam Towne, who sets out to prove that ghosts come from the human mind and not beyond the grave.  He invites a number of volunteers, including skeptical reporter, Joanna Cross, to take part in an experiment to ‘create’ a ghost. The experiment appears to be a success, but then things get out of control and when the volunteers start dying, it seems their ghost has taken on a mind of its own.

A THIN DARK LINE – TAMI HOAG

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I have saved my favourite book for last and as it is set in Cajun country in the deep swampy south of Louisiana, close to New Orleans, my final chocolate choice is Black Magic.

Pamela Bichon was horrifically murdered and the prime suspect, Marcus Renard, who relentlessly stalked her prior to death, has just been freed on a technicality. Detective Nick Fourcade blames himself for Renard walking free and goes after him in a drunken rage. Enter rookie cop, Annie Broussard, who comes across the scene and arrests Fourcade. This action sets the scene for the rest of the book, as Annie finds her alienated by her male dominated colleagues for turning on one of their own. Worse still, Renard is very grateful and Annie has just become the object of his latest affection.

Tami Hoag is a brilliant storyteller and the characters and the setting come alive off the page, making you feel the sticky swampy heat and Cajun flavour and as a reader you are really drawn in to Annie’s battle to do the right thing in a mostly corrupt police department.

If you have never read this book then I strongly recommend it.

 

So those are my choices for the Chocolate Bar Challenge and now it is time for me to hand over to three new authors, whose blogs will appear next week. They are all from across the pond, so I guess it now becomes the Candy Bar Challenge.

Say hello to Robin Hardy, Bryan Koepke and Megan Denby.

Robin Hardy is an award winning author, who has been writing Christian fiction for 29 years. She has dozens of novels to her name, including Chataine’s Guardian (runner-up for the Gold Medallion book award) and Streiker’s Bride. Robin says about her writing ‘What I have learned (and keep learning) is that the most powerful story in the world is that of redemptive love. So I keep working at it, trying to get the story right, and to adequately express something that is really beyond me’.

Robin is most prolific on her Facebook author page and this is where she will be posting her Chocolate Bar Challenge Blog. You can find her page here https://www.facebook.com/pages/Robin-Hardy/55052677826

Denver based, Bryan Koepke, published his first novel, Vengeance, earlier this year. The thriller follows Reece Culver, a former aerospace engineer turned PI, who is tortured by unanswered questions revolving around the mystery of his father’s cold-case murder. His latest case puts him on a collision course with the man who can provide those answers.

Bryan’s blog can be found at http://thewriterscabin.blogspot.co.uk/

Finally, onto Megan Denby, award winning Canadian author of A Thistle in the Mist, an atmospheric and epic tale of love, tragedy and murder set on the shores of Scotland and Nova Scotia. The story was inspired by her Scottish Grandmother. Megan is currently working on the darker and disturbing sequel, Lost to the Mist, which should be released later this year.

Find out how Megan gets on in the Chocolate bar challenge at http://www.megandenby.com/

 

Why I write

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I have friends who just don’t get it. They don’t understand why I am prepared to sacrifice such a huge chunk of my life to writing.

‘You should come out more at the weekends and do stuff’ they say. ‘You need to expand your social circle and meet more people. It’s not healthy spending time cooped up indoors writing’.

For the record I think my social life is fine. I have plenty of friends and I generally dedicate one day of my weekend to seeing them or family and one day to writing. Truth be told, I could do with a few extra days in the week to fit everything in.

For those in any doubt, this is why I write.

Firstly, the boring reason. I write for added security.

I have a day job, but it’s one that pays barely enough to cover the bills. I live in a tiny one bedroom house and drive an eighteen year old car that keeps threatening to die on me. At the moment I have no future financial security. Until this year I couldn’t even afford to pay into a pension and I permanently live in my overdraft.

This was never the plan and it would be nice to look forward to a future where money wasn’t such a worry. No different to a million or so other people I expect.

Writing gives me a chance to have that added security. Okay, so I’m never going to make it on to the rich list alongside JK Rowling and James Patterson, but while my books are selling my income does receive a tiny boost and the more I write, hopefully, the bigger that boost will be.

The second reason I write is because I love it.

Telling stories is what I do. It’s what I have always wanted to do, it’s what I am good at, and no other job on the planet will ever give me the same buzz or satisfaction.

I love creating characters, fleshing them out into real people, building twisty tales around them, and trying to grab readers in those first few pages before dragging them on a rollercoaster adventure that climbs and climbs and climbs before an exhilarating drop back down to the finale.

I remember being in my early twenties and telling people I wanted to be an author. Most of them used to smirk, some politely humouring me. Writing was a career like singing or acting. It wasn’t a job that people in the real world got to do.

Well, guess what. I believed in my dream and I persevered, and eventually it came true. And if anyone thinks I am going to be complacent and assume the hard work is done, then you’re wrong, because now I have that dream in my grasp, I’m never going to let it go.

In fact, I’m just getting started.

 

 

So you want to be a writer?

The number one thing I get when people find out I’m a published author is ‘I’m thinking about writing a book’.

I am always polite as I smile and wish them luck, but deep down I know that for most of them it is all talk and they have no idea what is involved in writing a novel.

That may sound harsh, but it is honest and anyone contemplating writing a book, read on because here are three truths that you need to take on board.

TO BE A WRITER YOU MUST WRITE

This is where most people fail. Penning a novel is an arduous task. To begin with you need a decent plot structure, one that will be interesting enough to appeal to your audience. You need to identify your genre and meticulously plot where your story is going, and you must create likeable characters who will undertake the journey with the reader, people who are fleshed out and easy to identify with.

Pad of Paper & Pen

Okay, so you have gotten this far, now you need the commitment to write. You need to be able to sit down at your computer and stare at a blank page and be able to put words on it – regularly.

This is where many start to make excuses. Fear of the blank page, writer’s block, not enough time to write regularly. If this is you and you’ve maybe penned the first couple of chapters over a few year period, chances are you may never finish it.

We are all busy and struggle to find free time due to family commitments or holding down a fulltime job to pay the bills and there may be times in our lives where it is truly impossible to find the time to write, but if you are really serious about penning a book you will need to stop saying ‘one day’ at some point. I work fulltime and have very demanding bosses. Most evenings I arrive home exhausted and with my brain only half functioning. I wrote Dead Write during my evenings and over weekends, setting myself a schedule and sticking to it. Yes it meant sacrificing 90% of my social life, but it was worth it to see the book finally completed and in print.

As for writer’s block, the only way to beat it is to write. Chances are the first few pages you churn out will be drivel, but so what? You’re writing. And the more you write the better and the easier it will become.

A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR IS A NECESSITY

It is scary how many people are arrogant enough to think they can write a book and edit it themselves. Once you have completed your manuscript you need to go through and do a rewrite, taking out irrelevant clutter and sharpening your work, but remember, you wrote this, so you will likely miss several errors in your story. That is why you need to hand it over to fresh eyes. And professional fresh eyes too.

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I have six beta readers (I call them my ’alphas’ because there is nothing beta about them) who are great for judging the story for readability, character likeability and picking up plot holes, but they are not professional editors, trained to pick up grammatical errors.

When I send my manuscripts off to my editor I always think they are perfect. ‘Ha, she’s not going to find any errors this time,’ I told myself after completing Dead Write. And then it came back with a lot of highlighted areas and notes in the side column and I huffed in frustration at all the silly mistakes I had made and reminded myself I’m not as great at grammar as I would like to be.

Ignore this advice at your peril. Yes you can publish a book that hasn’t been professionally edited, but it will show and it will never be taken as seriously as its counterparts.

PROMOTION IS KEY

Too many authors are of the opinion that once their book is written and published the hard work is done and they can sit back and watch the sales rack up.

No book is going to sell itself and if you want people to be aware of your novel’s existence then you need to spend time promoting it.

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By promoting, I don’t mean blatantly shoving it in people’s face, but you need to build a fan base and ideally you should do this well in advance of your book’s release.

Make sure you have a website and blog on this regularly. You should also set up a Facebook author page and get yourself on Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Google + and as many other sites as you can manage. Chances are you will only have time to dedicate regularly to a couple of these, so figure out what is working best for you and concentrate on it.

For me it’s my Facebook author page and I try to post to this on a daily basis. A few of my posts are suggesting people check out my books, but mostly they are humorous anecdotes, pictures or quotes, things I think will engage people and hopefully bring them back to my page.

Promotion really is vital and the harsh truth is, unless you are prepared to put in the effort you will sell very few books.