Writing Highs – And why you should enter the Rethink Press New Novels Competition 2014

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It has been just over a year since I learnt I had won a package with Rethink Press to have my novel, Dead Letter Day, published and as I edit the sequel I am taking a moment to reflect back over the highs of the last twelve months.

Writing can be difficult. Depending on the day, staring at the blank page can be either terrifying or exhilarating. The story is in your head, but finding the right words to put it down on paper so other people can enjoy it can be challenging. You have to breathe life into characters, write believable dialogue and create realistic, but interesting scenarios that will make a reader want to turn the page.

To any aspiring writers and certainly anyone toying with entering the Rethink Press New Novels Competition 2014, let me share with you why persevering was worth it for me.

1/ There is no greater high than having someone read your book and then take the time to tell you how much they enjoyed it. I honestly had no idea how Dead Letter Day was going to be received, but the response was amazing and I have dozens of emails from people I have never met telling me how they were kept up most of the night unable to put the book down.  Several of these lovely people have continued to engage regularly through my Facebook Author Page, as they wait for the sequel, and I am so grateful for their support. I was also invited to talk to two book clubs – a surreal experience listening to the members discussing and dissecting my story, but also very rewarding – and both clubs are keen to invite me back once they have read the sequel.

2/ I never expected to get a good critical reception to Dead Letter Day. I always believed professional critics to favour literature over popular fiction; therefore I read the reviews of my book in the local press with trepidation. I honestly couldn’t have asked for better write ups and these helped restore my confidence and belief that I am good enough to do this writing lark.

3/ Holding the hard copy of your book for the first time is a feeling you will never forget. All the years of hard work, rejection and periods of self-doubt are sitting there in your hand. Dead Letter Day looked fantastic thanks to the folks at Rethink who designed a slick, classy and striking cover and seeing it sitting on the shelf in Jarrold Book Department alongside established authors such as Dan Brown and Mark Billingham just about blew me away.

4/ Finally, I turn to the Amazon sales ranking. Dead Letter Day spent much of the first month or so inside the top 5,000, which when you consider the millions of books on sale means it was doing pretty well. But the ultimate high came about three months after the release when a surge in sales saw it almost break into the top 1,000. The geek in me had to capture a screenshot to remember the moment.

Two months before I learnt of the Rethink Press New Novels Competition, I was sitting in a dead end job with a bleak future. I had taken so many knockbacks with my writing I had thrown in the towel, concluding I just wasn’t good enough. If this is you, do not give up on your dreams. Yes, I still have to do a dead end job, but winning has restored my faith in my writing ability and I know I have a future in this industry. I have just completed my new novel, working my butt off putting in ridiculously long days, but it has been worth every minute.

No I have not become an overnight success, but let’s be honest, how many people do? What I do have is the belief and the determination, and now the foundations to build on the opportunity I was given. And if you enter and your book wins, you could have this too.

For more details about the competition, please follow this link.  http://rethinkpress.com/new-novels-competition-2014/

Good luck to all of the entrants.

Writing versus Social Media

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I have been very bad of late, ignoring my blog in order to work on my book.

For a while I tried to juggle both, wishing there were more hours in the day, but this took a toll on my writing and eventually I had to commit myself to finishing the novel, with my only social media coming in the form of brief Facebook posts on my author page.

As I hurtled towards the finishing line I even turned my back on Facebook and was reminded of the importance of daily interaction as I saw my ‘post reach’ tumble from the 1,200 down to just 500. I need to build this back up while editing Dead Write and also to start engaging on other sites, getting the word out about the new book, in order to give it the best chance possible.

It really is a chicken and egg situation and I know I am not alone, with every other author experiencing the same dilemma. Writing is the most important thing, right? This is your product and it is what you are trying to sell. It has to be good, the best work you can produce, and it takes time and concentration to get it right. But without social media, how will the finished article reach a wide audience? You may have written the best book in the world, but what is the point if no one knows about it?

I don’t regret the time spent working on Dead Write. It is currently with my test readers and the four who have finished it so far all think it is better than Dead Letter Day, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

So I will edit and send the manuscript off to my publisher, and I will become a social media whore for the next few months, trying to get my face and name everywhere. I played the game once before with moderate success and this time I want to spread the word wider, get my book on the map.

Love me or loathe me, expect to be hearing a lot more from me over the next few months.

 

Grammar is sexy

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Let’s face it; women are fussy, right? Most of us have a list going on that all dateable men must tick.

Must be independent, must show signs of intelligence, must be reasonably attractive, have own teeth, decent levels… of hygiene. Must be witty, must be confident; must be capable of holding a conversation that doesn’t just consist of grunts.

Well that’s all fair enough, but then I have to take it to a whole different level, which is why I will probably be one of those spinster types who grows old with a whole bunch of cats (and dogs hopefully) in a house covered in animal hairs and stinking of pee.

Fine by me, as I like my own space, a lot. I like being fully selfish over how I spend my time, I like my stuff to be exactly as I want it, where I leave it, I get cranky if people are even breathing around me when I am writing, I’m in charge of the remote, I eat what I want, when I want, and I don’t ever have to consult anyone over decisions.

Now I’m not stupid, and I know there is plenty to be said in favour of relationships, but it would have to be someone pretty damn special to make me want to give up my bachelorette life. And it doesn’t help that in addition to the usual list above I have other no-no’s.

It goes without question that my man would have to be an animal lover. Cats, dogs, horses, donkeys, elephants, dolphins, you name it. Nothing warms my heart more than reading heroic tales of men rescuing helpless kittens and puppies (perhaps why I have a thing for firemen and paramedic types) or the policeman who stops the traffic to let a mother duck and her baby ducklings cross the road in safety.

I like a man who reads. I don’t care what the material is, but there is something very sexy about a man with a book in his hand.

My other thing is spelling. I can forgive the odd mistake, hell, I make typos all the time and who can forget grizzly gate? But I couldn’t date a man who was unable to spell basic words, was unable to differentiate between the correct usage of their, there and they’re, or your and you’re.

The possession of correct grammar is a very sexy quality.

I don’t do text speak. Fair enough I can accept the odd ‘c u’ and ‘2’ in a phone message (though expect my own messages to be fully spelt out with capital letters and correct punctuation), but if you write like that in real life I will want to punch you in the face.

And then there is the word ‘honey’. One of my biggest pet hates is people calling me ‘honey’, ‘dear’, ‘babe’ or ‘darling’. I hate these words at the best of times, but especially when they’re coming from people I’m not intimately involved with. And if you’re going to use the word ‘honey’, at least bloody spell it right. ‘Hunny’ and ‘hunni’ are not words and when I see them written down, I just think ‘oh, hello, stupid person alert’.

See, I told you I’m fussy.

 

What ya talking about, Willis?

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Words are great, aren’t they?

Well they are so long as you’re not misusing or mispronouncing them. We’ve all had that awkward moment where we’ve used a word in the wrong context, then hoped like hell no one has noticed. Fortunately for me I talk so much, people tend to tune out and miss my mistakes. My sister wasn’t so lucky.

One day, while doing some DIY, she asked “Keri, can you come hold the ladder? I’m feeling rather promiscuous up here.”

Then there is the dear friend of mine – who shall remain anonymous – who is the queen of mispronounced words, trying to get a tan in an asylum, talking about those poor sesame twins who are joined together and even getting her movie titles muddled up to spectacular effect. “Hey, Keri. Did you see that film on TV last night called A Day To Die?” After much confusion we established she had actually watched ‘A Time To Kill’.

We won’t even mention the time her husband convinced her that her favourite actor, Sean Bean, pronounced his name ‘Seen Bean’.

Ever hear of that place in Wales, Betws-y-Coed? My work colleague clearly hadn’t as he kept referring to it as Betty’s Coyote.

And finally we have my poor mother, who in true Norfolk style gets her O’s in a muddle. She’s been known to have soap for lunch, scrub herself down with soup in the shower, put on her boats to take the dog for a walk and have a day trip out on a boot.

 

Four seasons in one day

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People say I am unobservant. And yes, they are correct. I am the person who walks down the street and ignores you. Not intentionally, but I am so caught up in my own little Beev bubble (probably dreaming up my next plot) that I literally do not notice who or what is going on around me. You can be standing right in front of me, waving like a loon and calling my name, but unless you pull my hair or slap me round the face, chances are I will pass you by and never realize you were there.

I once had six full sacks of garden rubbish sitting beside my front door waiting to go to the tip. One day while I was at work, my neighbour kindly took them for me with her own rubbish. It took me two weeks before I noticed they had gone. And let’s be clear, these weren’t small sacks, they were giant size and filled to the brim. In fact I had been tripping over them every time I tried to get in and out of my front door, so you’d think I would have noticed when they’d disappeared.

So we have established just how unobservant I am, yet as a writer I do notice some things. I notice idiosyncrasies, I always notice and remember how things smell, from people to animals to places, and I notice the changing seasons.

Summer is my favourite season. I love the warmth of the sun on my skin, the thick lush greenness of the flora, evenings that stay light until nearly 10pm, thunderstorms and the scent of summer rain. That said, I can find something to like in all seasons; tulips, daffodils, blossom trees and new born animals, and the promise of the summer to come in spring, the beautiful fall colours of autumn, crunching through leaves, that cooling nip in the air, then winter, often haunting and bleak, but so pretty at times in the frost and snow; especially when you’re snuggled up in the warm with a hot cup of coffee or a smooth glass of wine and some good food, looking at it through the window.

I think most writers would agree that the seasons play a part in your work. Once I have established my characters and the basics of the plot, I think about what time of year I want to set things. Will my characters be suffering through a humid summer or dealing with the shorter days of a harsh winter? The sounds, smells and feel of the weather all help add atmosphere and can bring a scene to life.

The Dead Letter Day sequel is set during a sweltering summer.  The stifling days add to my characters frustrations and cause sleepless nights. I’m planning on throwing in a good thunderstorm to help set the atmosphere for a particular scene and the heat can cause carelessness. It’s never a wise idea to leave the windows open when there is a killer on the loose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve months in the life of this writer

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So another year has passed in the life of Beev and what a hell of a year it has been. Here are some things I learnt over the course of it.

My memory is steadily getting worse. Over the past 12 months I have routinely walked in the room, only to forget why I am there. I have also paid for my grocery shopping, then walked out of the store with an empty trolley, because I’ve left it all sitting on the checkout. That I don’t know my mobile number is excusable, but I changed my landline last winter and I CAN’T REMEMBER IT. To be fair, I don’t call myself, do I? As for my writing, I have to go back and check over earlier chapters because I keep forgetting details. Nothing major, just stuff like dates, locations, character names, who the killer is… I honestly believe I am going to finish the Dead Letter Day sequel and then be able to read it along with you guys, as I won’t have a clue what’s going to happen.

I still hate winter nights, but I am learning to cope with them. I am a summer girl. I like my maxi dresses, beer gardens and warm evenings that stay light till 10pm. Going to work and coming home in the dark depresses the hell out of me, but last winter I learnt that hot soapy bubble baths, snuggly PJs, scented candles and good food and wine can be pretty good. And all that darkness gets me in the mood for writing some sinister plotlines.

Grisly is no longer a word I spell incorrectly and I now know the difference between a cuddly brown bear and a gruesome scene. I also now know the entertainments editor of a certain national newspaper is a bit of a pedantic old witch, so not to cross her path.

I am still incredibly gullible. My work colleague told me the Channel Tunnel is closed at certain times of the year when we have heavy rainfall, as they have to repair the leaks. Yup, I was the stupid idiot who said, ‘really?’

I have learnt my periodic table. My quest to be the ultimate geek continues. Not content with learning all of the countries of the world, all of the capital cities of the world and all of the flags of the world, I decided to take on science. I may not know my own telephone number, but I’ve got all that yttrium, molybdenum and protactinium shit down pat.

My cooking is edible. For years I’ve been hiding behind diabolical culinary skills as an excuse to get everyone else to cook dinner for me. Now I finally accept I can make most things if I’m prepared to put the effort in. Of course I am Beev and the microwave is still my best friend. I never was very good at that “effort” business.

And finally, I have learnt to never give up on your dreams. A year ago today I was furiously typing away trying to get the Dead Letter Day manuscript ready for entry in the Rethink Press New Novels 2012 Competition.  Before that point, it had been sat in a cupboard under a few bottles of red wine gathering dust. Little did I know that it would win me a publishing package and remind me that, aside from family (human and fluffy) and friends, writing is the most important thing in my life. As I sit here working on the sequel I can’t believe I became so jaded I gave up. Seeing my book in print and reading the great reviews makes every year of struggling and every knockback so worthwhile. If you have a dream, stand tall above your critics and if you believe in yourself enough, you can make it happen.

 

 

Why indie writers make me smile

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There have been many highs since winning my publishing contract. Seeing my book in print for the first time, stumbling across someone intently reading it, getting it into the bookstore, almost breaking into the top 1,000 club on Amazon and the emails and reviews of praise are the most obvious ones, but another and more constant high, has been the friendships I have struck up with some of my fellow indie authors.

I don’t get all indie authors. Some seem so far up their own book’s ass, they have no time for anyone else, and their persistent pleas to ‘buy my book, buy my book’ get extremely irritating.

Then there are those authors who because they are now published, seem to think it’s their God given right to be nit-picky critical with every book they read. Again I don’t get this.

Anyone who has written a book knows exactly what goes into it; the blood, sweat and tears, the frustrating moments when you doubt yourself and don’t think you will get to the final chapter. Our books are personal, they are the thoughts and daydreams in our heads and we are exposing them, putting them down on paper for everyone to read and desperately hoping we don’t get ridiculed.

Any writer who says criticism doesn’t hurt is lying. It hurts like a bitch. And that is why I don’t get those writers who seem to enjoy digging the boot in, because they know this better than anyone. Leave the negative reviews to the critics and the non-writing readers. If I love a book I will review it and say so. If I don’t like a book, I will keep quiet. So many people say they are going to write a book and don’t get around to it. I figure anyone who actually goes through with it deserves my respect, and there are so many different genres and writing styles, just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s not good and won’t have its fans.

Fortunately I have connected with a number of very lovely indie authors over the past few months; genuinely nice people who are happy to share their experiences and swap feedback. They are always there with a kind word or a joke when needed and so supportive, and I really love sharing the publishing journey with them.

I am hoping over the next few months they will all agree to be interviewed here on this blog. I have read a few of their books and love that they have taken me out of my comfort zone, away from my usual genres. I feel privileged to be connected with such talented writers and look forward to reading more indie books in the months to come. This publishing lark works so much better when we all pull together.

Fellow indie writers, I salute you.

 

 

 

A day in the life of this writer

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Working full time, I have to grab my writing opportunities when I can, be it a couple of hours in an evening or an afternoon of a weekend. Occasionally I will have a clear schedule; a solid six hour period to throw myself at my novel. Nothing will disturb me, no one will interrupt me; I will churn out twenty odd pages of brilliance.

Except it never quite works like that, at least not for me.

This is pretty much how it goes.

Fire up laptop.

While it’s loading, time for a coffee.

While the kettle is boiling I notice a few weeds poking up in my pathetic excuse for a garden, well… it’s actually more like a verge. Okay, it’s the area I step over between my front door and the bin. I pour my coffee and head outside to remove the offending items.

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Lola follows, because she is not really a cat, she is a sheep. A sheep disguised as a cat.

She rolls around on her back making funny little whining noises in an attempt to get me tickle her belly. I am a sucker for cat belly so I bin the weeds and give her a cuddle.

Her sister, Ellie, hears the purring and realizes she is missing out. More belly rubs and cuddles. That is another five minutes wasted.

Back inside, I grab my coffee and head back to my laptop, which has switched itself off, bored waiting.

I reboot and drink my now lukewarm coffee. Once the laptop is loaded I quickly check Facebook, Twitter and my email. Because you can quickly do that, right?

Half an hour later, after replying to emails, posting a couple of updates (because you’ve got keep yourself out there in the public eye) and making a Scrabble move or two, it is really time to crack on with writing. I log off the Internet and open up my novel.

First to reread the last few pages I wrote. I like to do this to get myself back into the flow of the story and reacquaint myself with storyland. So I’m up to date and ready to write. I have just typed the first few new sentences when the phone rings.

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It is my mother.

Now I swear that my mother has a magic telephone in her house that is programmed to ring whenever I am about to eat dinner, get in the shower, watch a movie or am working on my book. How else would she have a 100% record of interrupting me whenever I am doing one of these things?

Usually Mum is distressed about something when she calls. This may involve a decision she has made and is now regretting. She does this a lot, and not just with small stuff like agreeing to play golf three days in a row and realizing it is too much for her, but with big stuff too. Only my mum could spend ten years designing her dream kitchen, finally have the money to do it, then realize within a week of it being finished she should have done it completely different. Or spend years living in a house and dreaming of downsizing to bungalow, only to move to a bungalow and complain because she can no longer go upstairs.

If she’s not distressed about a bad decision, it will be about Tesco putting up the price of toilet roll by 15pence or no longer stocking her favorite kind of bottled water. Or it could just be distress because she is knackered. Now don’t get me wrong, Mum is fairly sprightly for a lady in her mid-sixties, apart from suffering from back pain and shoulder pain and headaches, and days where she just can’t put one foot in front of the other. Anyway, you get the picture; Mum has phoned to have a moan.

So I let her have a moan. I join in too, because I am her daughter and I can moan with the best of them.

By the time we are done – usually when her free hour is up – it’s back to the book. I’m thirsty from all the talking though, so first I decide to put the kettle on.

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While it is boiling I notice the flashing light on the washing machine and realize I’ve forgotten to get my clothes out. I make my coffee, sort my laundry and nearly trip over Lola lying on the stairs while I have my arms laden with clothes.

Lola wants a cuddle and shows me her belly. I cave and then have to make a fuss of Ellie, because Ellie is a very jealous cat and if she doesn’t get what she wants she might go upstairs and piss on my bed. (She hasn’t done it yet, but I know the threat is there).

S/W Ver: 85.97.F1P

Back to my laptop with my coffee, I reboot, take another quick look at Facebook, Twitter and my email. Lose another half an hour networking, then turn back to the book. I write a sentence, sip my coffee. It’s cold, so off I go to make a fresh one.

This time I will focus. I won’t get distracted by cats, mothers or laundry. I will stay away from the Internet. Well, okay, I’ll just play a quick game on Sporcle first.

Okay, enough. Get back to the book, Keri.

I type a few more lines before needing clarification of something. Being a writer, research can be very entertaining and very random. One minute I could be looking up the year Google was launched (September 4th, 1998, for anyone who is interested), the next I could be finding out how long a person could survive in a buried coffin. (One to two hours depending on how much you’re panicking and using up air).

So I do my research. Just check Facebook, Twitter and my email while I’m back online.

Hello, I’ve had a few new messages. Better reply.

Finally back to my book.

I notice it’s spitting outside. This isn’t good as I have plans for tomorrow. I check the weather forecast.

All this Internet work is making me hungry. I head off to the kitchen for a snack and another coffee.

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And so the pattern continues.

Finally I notice I have about one hour left of my six hour time frame. This is not good. How have I managed to waste my day again? I sit down to write and suddenly, like the man who ate a bad curry and had the whole wide world fall out of his ass, my writing starts to flow.

I am typing faster than my brain can engage, my characters coming alive and doing their own thing. I’m just documenting it and all of it is good stuff. I can’t stop and I overshoot my six hour window, working into the evening, forgetting to stop for dinner, for a shower or for sleep. Sometimes it’s ten pages, other times as many as twenty to thirty pages.

Eventually I stop. Usually I have to force myself to stop because I have a day job to go to the following morning, but I don’t want to.

I could write all night.

 

Fun on the Norfolk Broads

A break away from writing yesterday as I traded laptops for life jackets and headed on out for fun and frolics on the Norfolk Broads.

Now this is why I love Norfolk. Yes, we might have a lot of people with webbed hands and feet and yes we might be the world capital of wolf fleeces and yes we might have more tractors and beet lorries on our roads than cars, but we also have the fantastic broads.

Seventeen of us headed out in three boats, armed with water pistols,  alcoholic picnics, captain hats (because you have to wear a captain’s hat if you’re gonna drive a boat, right?),  two umbrellas (brought by the pessimists) and one bikini (worn by the wildly optimistic member of our gang).

We left Wroxham under grey skies, and in true Brit style, smiled through gritted teeth, as we shivered and drank coffee/Bacardi/beer (depending on which boat you were on) and speculated about what a wonderful day we were going to have, despite the weather. By the time we made our first pub stop, ominous spits of rain were falling from the sky, but we were hardcore and remained out in the beer garden.

And then the sun came out.

I managed to burn my nose again and now resemble the reindeer who wasn’t allowed to join in any reindeer games, we had a man overboard incident after one of our party tripped on the dock while untying the boat (and it wasn’t clumsy old me), the umbrellas disappeared and Caroline’s bikini came out, Dave got carried away during the water pistol fight and chucked Caroline’s muffins in the water and we had fantastic conversations, the kind only Norfolk friends can have.

Example:

Jody to Dave who has just ordered tomato and mozzarella salad: Are you vegetarian?

Dave: Um, well, I suppose… Well I guess I am during the daytime.

Yup, we had a daytime vegetarian with us. At night I expect he is out there stalking deer and sheep.

All in all a fabulous day out with good friends and a great chance to recharge the batteries; and I was reminded yet again of the great opportunities for setting one of my book plots on the Norfolk Broads. There are so many good places to hide the bodies.

 

Even this writer gets spooked sometimes.

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We all get spooked at one time or another. As a writer, I draw on personal experience when writing creepy scenes. They stick out in my mind and I can remember exactly how I felt at the time. The tension, the thumping heart, feeling so frightened I barely dare to breathe.
On one such occasion I had been out partying with a friend. I lived with my parents at the time and she was staying over. We didn’t leave the club until late and short on money, had to get the cab we’d caugh…t to drop us about a mile and a half from my home.That mile and a half was down a deserted wooded road, not at all dissimilar to the one in the picture.
It was about 3am and there was no traffic at all and I remember it was a windy night; the breeze rattling through the trees, leaves shaking and twigs snapping, making it sound as though there was something hidden amongst the branches watching us.We walked dead centre of the road, not wanting to get too close to the woods on either side, pretending to be brave, but both of us spooked and on edge.  As we headed out of the woods and into my village, I remember feeling relief. We were back on safe ground and only a few minutes walk away from home.As we neared the turnoff that led down to my house, a figure stepped out into the road. He was close enough to distinguish as male, though his features were unclear, and he just stood there in the middle of the road staring at us.

Waiting.

I remember we both clocked him at the same time, froze to the spot and my legs turned to jelly.It was late. No one was supposed to be about and we had to go past him to get to my house.Those few seconds – and I am sure they were only seconds, even though they felt like an hour at the time – were completely terrifying.

Eventually he turned and walked to the side of the road, disappearing into the small enclosed bus shelter on the edge of the village green. Out of sight, but still there and we still had to get past him.

Slowly we crept along. Stupid, as he knew we were approaching, but we clung to each other, barely daring to breathe, let alone talk. Instead of passing the front of the bus shelter, we decided to cut around the back of it. We did so, constantly watching in case the man to reappear.

He did, just as we had passed the shelter, stepping out onto the green in our direction. All I remember from that point was both of us running and not stopping until we reached the safety of my front door.

Who was he? I don’t know to this day. My guess is he was probably a tramp and we had disturbed his sleep when he heard us approaching.

Regardless of whether or not he meant us any harm, it was still one of the most scary experiences of my life and I have never and will never go walking in the woods in the middle of the night again.