Friday, July 30, 2010
Of course, coffee. I start the morning energetic, ready to launch myself on my MS full steam ahead.
Oh, I how I love bread. It's my mid-morning snack once the caffeine buzz wears off and I'm really kneading the heck out of my MS.
Nuts! When it's crunch time in the mid-afternoon and I need to buckle down and get my day's work done.
My sweet treat at the end of the day, once the hard work's done.
And finally... wine.
I can sit, sip, and let the day slip away.
What are your super foods? Happy Friday!
Thursday, July 29, 2010
First up is Candyland's amazing contest, I Heart Joy like BR80. You can win some fantastic prizes, including two of my 24 Hours series travel books (London and Paris -- not that I'm saying they're fantastic or anything, but they are pretty darn good!). Click here to read more!
At Unedited, Jen Daiker's launching a Guess that Character Blogfest that looks to be loads of fun.
Ann at Inkpots n' Quills is giving away signed copies of The Lacuna and The Poisonwood Bible.
And please help feed Jayne's Ginger Kitty by heading over to enter her contest in honour of her first query. Congrats, Jayne!
Alex J Cavanaugh is also holding a contest to celebrate 200 followers! Make sure to check out his amazing book trailer when you're over there.
And yesterday on Theresa Milstein's blog Substitute Teacher's Saga, she did a wonderful thing: listing lots of fellow bloggers with books for sale (including me -- thank you so much, Theresa!).
Thank you for all the bloggery goodness and for just... being there! Please, if you're following me and I'm not returning the favour, can you let me know? Sometimes blogs aren't linked to profiles so I can't find your blog.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
A small selection of things rattling around my brain last night:
- What if I can't get my novel exactly where I want it to be?
- What if people hate it, what if it flops, etc etc?
- What if I never make it as a writer?
- What if I have to go back to work -- how will I explain a three-year absence?
- What if I can't focus tomorrow because I'm so tired?
- What if I let my husband down by not using my 'time-off' wisely?
- What if I can't sustain a writing career?
- How will I ever retire on a non-existent pension?
I think I'll stop there; I don't want to bring you all down! What I'd like to know is why people don't ask themselves positive what-ifs in the middle of the night? Imagine this:
- What if I become a best-selling author?
- What if I make enough money to have financial security?
- What if my husband and family are just so proud they can't stop telling me?
- What if I write a book every year, until I choose to stop writing -- if ever I want to?
- What if I believe in myself and have the confidence and focus I need?
You know, strangely, I do feel a whole lot better now!
What are your what-ifs, positive or negative?
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
Ah, pet peeves!
Friday, July 23, 2010
But joking aside, I'm very pleased today to have Stephanie Butland here from Bah! to Cancer. After a successful fundraiser back in May, she's kicking off the Bah! Brilliant Book Bonanza again in August. Each Sunday, there'll be a selection of books up for grabs to those who donate, so make sure to check it out.
Take it away, Stephanie!
What is BBBB?
The Bah! Brilliant Book Bonanza (Bah! BBB to its friends) is a way for people in need of a good, uplifting read to get hold of great books. Every three months, a series of lists of great books - many of them signed by the author - appears on my website. You leave a 'pick me!' comment for the one that you want, and make a donation of £2/$3 to one of my three nominated charities. I choose the winners at random and send them their books.
Why have you decided to use books to raise money and awareness of breast cancer?
When I was recovering from surgery to remove a breast cancer, I learned that in my tired, vulnerable state I needed books that were uplifting and nourishing. As my dance with cancer progressed I also realised that I wanted to find a way to both support charities and offer tangible support and help to others going through any kind of a hard time. The Bah! BBB is a fusion of those three ideas.
You’re writing a book on your own fight against cancer. Tell us a bit about that and where you are in the publishing process.
'Thinking, laughing, living, dancing: how I said Bah! to cancer' is a book about my approach to cancer. It tells my story but also draws on my experience as a trainer in thinking skills - Edward de Bono, inventor of Lateral Thinking, has written a foreword - to offer strategies to think differently to help cope better. It's also funny. I'm talking with a publisher and agent at the moment.
Did you find it difficult to put your own story out to agents for evaluation? How did you deal with critiques and rejections?
Yes and no. Because I have been blogging my dance with breast cancer for more than a year and a half, I'm used to putting it out there. (Once you've published pictures of your own breasts on the internet, anything other kind of exposure gets easier!) And I'm lucky in the the rejections I have had have been full of praise for the book - the difficulty for most publishers is the crowded market, and the fact that generally, cancer books don't sell.
What are your plans for the future? More fundraising, more books?
Yes and yes! I'm hoping that the Bah! BBB will continue to grow, and judging from my groaning Bah! BBB bookshelf, it will! This September I'm walking 20 miles to raise money for Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres with my father and my son. I do a lot of work to support Cancer Research UK too. Lance Armstrong, the cyclist who survived cancer and now heads the LIVESTRONG organisation, talks about the obligation of the cured. He says that when you survive cancer you have 2 doors you could walk through. One door leads straight back to your life, forgetting your cancer experience as much as you can. It's fine to take that route if you want to. The second door is for those who feel that, as one of the cured, they want to do all they can to help cure cancer and help those going through it. No prizes for guessing which door I chose!
Please drop by Stephanie's blog to learn more about Bah! BBB and to say hi!
Thursday, July 22, 2010
First and foremost, I'd love to be a writer who could Tweet all day, never be distracted and never get thrown off course when an exciting review or a bit of news trickles through the inbox. I'd like to have a brain of steel rather than a cotton woolly one where random bits of info float around and sometimes manage to stick themselves down on paper.
I'd like to never get jealous or even slightly green when I hear someone's signed with an agent, got a killer book deal or made Amazon Top 10.
I'd love to write with confidence, with belief in myself and my ability -- and not look for outside validation (sigh).
I'd like to have a killer ass that doesn't get sore from sitting down too much or spread outwards as an after-effect.
I'd give anything to stop feeling apologetic for writing women's fiction, to stand up for my genre and let people know there's value in what I do!
I'd love to be one of those super-cool writers who always look funky in cafés with their Macbooks and horn-rimmed specs; I'd like to be a writer who can write in cafés!
And finally... I'd like to write like me, but better.
What about you? If you could have an extreme writing makeover, what would be on your list?
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Anyways... (as my husband would say, despite my protests that it's not a word), last night I braved the sauna-like conditions of the Central Line to head to the monthly meeting of the London Writers' Club. I emerged, dewy and glistening (i.e., drenched in sweat), ready to hear Scott Pack hold forth on everything there is to know in the wonderful world of publishing.
Scott runs The Friday Project (a HarperCollins imprint) and also works as Digital Director for HarperCollins. Not only that, he also blogs at Me and My Big Mouth and runs the BookSwap events in Windsor. All that and the man loves cake. How could I resist?
Although I didn't get to know everything there is to know about publishing -- like, how one can bribe Waterstone's without using cash to get books on their discount table -- I did learn a lot.
Here's a few of his points:
- Twitter does help sell books. Case in point: The Atheists' Guide to Christmas. Almost all of the authors in the anthology were on Twitter. On a designated day about two weeks before the pub date, they all tweeted about the book. It rose from 200,000 to 11 on Amazon!
- Publishing is a funny thing -- what works in one territory doesn't necessarily work in another. For example: Shit my Dad Says is a massive seller in the States but is only a minor hit here in the UK. There's still a lot of territorial-ism in publishing. Much in publishing is about luck and timing, too.
- No matter how big something is on the Internet, about 80 to 90 per cent of your target bookbuyers won't have heard of it.
- Broadsheet reviews don't sell books, because the books reviewed are usually too literary or obscure. It's much better to get news or features in broadsheets than reviews.
- Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to get momentum -- particularly if the book has a low publicity budget.
- If you're going to go down the self-publishing road, make sure to invest in a good copy-editor and cover designer.
He said a whole lot more but I tired of scribbling notes and started fixating on the promised cakes...
Many thanks to Scott and the London Writers' Club for another great event!
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Today's Ten for Tuesday will be something a little bit different. In the past two years, I've read a lot of blogs and slowly come to figure out what makes a blog 'work' for me, and how to grow your following. I'm no expert so please feel free to chime in with your own bloggery loves and hates; I'd love to hear them!
1. If you want to increase your followers, follow others! This may seem like a no-brainer, but I'm always surprised when people ask me how to get followers. Follow blogs, and usually people will follow you back. Which brings me to my next point: if someone follows you, follow them back (unless, of course, it's something you don't agree with on a philosophical basis). If you don't want to add the blog to your Google Reader (which happens automatically now if you follow with a Blogger account), sign in and follow using a Twitter account. I think it's just good blog etiquette.
2. Comment on other people's blogs, and return comments. I have two blogs: one that I started almost two years ago and this blog, which I started in March. On my other blog, I don't usually return comments and I don't comment on other blogs (I didn't really 'get' the importance of it at the time). After almost two years, that blog has 108 followers. When I started this blog, I made a decision to comment, to return all comments, and to proactively follow blogs. After four months, this blog has 340 followers! A massive difference!
3. Make your blog posts short and try to limit them to one subject. I have a Netbook and I hate scrolling through screens and screens of text. I understand posting extracts of work every now and then but if your blog posts are long all the time, I may resort to skimming. I also find myself more drawn to those posts that keep to one subject and pose a question I can answer in the comments. Make it easy for people to comment.
4. Use easy-to-read fonts on plain backgrounds. One of my blogs is white text on a black background and I got emails from readers complaining it was difficult to read. I must admit I hate struggling to read text when it's faded or covered in swirly designs. Also, be aware that if people read you in Google Reader, using a strange-coloured font (i.e., pink, yellow) will show up as pink or yellow in Google Reader, making it very difficult to read.
5. Have a 'Followers' gadget! I'm amazed that some people with Blogger blogs don't have this! I want to follow you! I could be wrong, but I think Wordpress lets you have this gadget now, too?
6. Put your 'Followers' gadget towards the top of your page. I don't want to scroll through loads of awards to find it.
7. Make your page easy and quick to load. If you have tons of videos and heavy photos sometimes it takes ages. I don't like waiting.
8. Turn off word verification! Argh! I know, I know, there are spammers out there, yes. But how many do you really get? And it is possible to moderate commments that are older than whatever date you choose, so you can eliminate the threat of spammers on your older posts. I detest word verification. If I'm returning 40-70 blog comments each night, it just takes SO much time to type in those silly silly words.
I have failed yet again to come up with ten, but I probably sound curmudgeonly enough without any more! I'd love to hear any other tips or pet peeves others may have!
Monday, July 19, 2010
Strolling amongst the women's fiction (chick lit! I can't help it!) books in UK bookshops, I quickly found myself lost in a world of curlicues and cartoons. The same books I'd brought with me from North America -- with sensible yet pretty covers -- now sported new, more girly designs. It was like seeing an old friend wearing an outfit that didn't quite work.
Take Emily Giffin, for example. I'm a big fan of her writing and I bought all her books when I was living in Canada.
The two looks are strikingly different, but the UK cover fits in perfectly with the cover-styles of similarly marketed books.
Which begs the question: why are covers in the UK hyper-girly, while American ones are more restrained? Does it reflect the different personality of the markets, or is it publisher driven?
At my recent conference, novelist Joanna Trollope told us we should stand up for ourselves when it comes to cover design; that our covers should be for grown-up women, not breathless adolescents. But what do women readers really want? Has anyone even asked?
So you tell me: which cover do you prefer? Are you turned off by curlicues and high heels?
Friday, July 16, 2010
It couldn't be, I scoffed. But last weekend, my worst fears were confirmed. I heard it not once, not twice and more than thrice (love that word!): chick lit is dead.
Should I be worried? Well, I should clarify that the label 'chick lit' is dead, not the writing itself. Rom-coms or even women's fiction is a better tag for the kind of writing that once was labelled chick lit. The market is saturated with 30-something women drinking wine, scoffing blocks of cheese and bellowing out 'All By Myself', apparently. Time to move on to a new label which will come to mean... exactly the same thing?
See, I quite like the chick-lit label. You know exactly what you're getting: a bit of romance, a bit of wit and a fun-spirited, usually spunky heroine. Women's fiction, while nebulous enough to encompass just about anything, sets my teeth on edge. I mean, you don't have men's fiction, right? On the flip side, you do have dick lit, with thirty-something men drinking beer, scoffing kebabs and bellowing out, I dunno, Bon Jovi classics.
I'll get over my chick lit loss, eventually. I'll come to embrace 'rom-com', or the heady heights of the phrase 'light women's fiction.'
But oh, chick lit.
It was good while it lasted.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
It's all down to DRILLING.
It's hard enough to write well without the consistently jarring noise of the DRILL across the courtyard. Given the gaping holes where glass once was, the builders appear to be replacing the windows.
Now, if this was a normal neighbourhood with normal houses, the whole process probably wouldn't have taken more than a week. But since this is a neighbourhood with freakin' millionaires who live in their freakin' millionaire houses with freakin' millions of windows, of course it's taken almost two months -- and counting.
I don't have anything against the builders themselves. I can take their burping, their shouting, the ABBA music they listen to, and even their very resonant farts. I just can't take the BL**DY DRILL!
So, I ask you. What should I do to stop the DRILL?
A. Take them cups of tea and ask them sweetly to cease and desist.
B. Flash them from my window and stun them into silence.
C. Using sorcery, arrange for a constant cloud-burst overhead so they can't work outside. 'Cause I can do that, of course.
Together, we can rid the world of DRILLS. Because a world with DRILLS is a world where I'm going FREAKIN' CRAZY!
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
My choices were:
It's been ages since I've read any Danielle Steel, and I was anxious to see if it was the same as I remembered. I spent one summer living in Texas with no telly, no radio and no furniture. But I did live close to a second-hand bookshop and Danielle Steel novels became my escape.
You know what you're getting when you read one: woman (usually living in Boston or New York) has a tragedy; woman moves to California; woman meets wrong man; woman meets right man (of course I'm generalising, but you get the idea). With fast-paced narrative and some very hunky heroes, it's a definite recipe for success.
Matter of the Heart differs slightly in that there's nothing about California. The same general formula is there, though, like a security blanket to latch onto. You just know that no matter what the heroine's been through, it will come out all right in the end. And it did! It was a great read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Have you read any Danielle Steel? Thoughts, opinions?
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Today's Ten for Tuesday is a round-up of the top ten things I learned at the recent Romantic Novelists' Association conference. There were some amazing tidbits that really hit home with me -- some great 'aha!' moments.
So in no particular order, here we go!
1. When creating characters, think about their worst fault and their greatest quality. How do they connect? (For example, being work-obsessed can be both a good and a bad thing). Many thanks to Julie Cohen for that one; she helped lift me out of my Sunday morning grump and actually got me writing!
2. Keep your receipts! Keep your receipts! Keep your receipts! Who knew you could claim for things like books and laptops as long as you're working towards a profitable enterprise? Thanks to Kate Harrison for drilling that into my head (in a nice way, of course!).
3. Think of your writing as a career, not just as a one-book wonder. Another gem from Kate, who urged us to think beyond the first book we have published to what we hope to accomplish as a whole. Do you have more than one book in you? What are you looking to accomplish from your writing?
4. Think of conflict like an onion. Deal with one layer, then peel it away to reveal another layer until the core problem is exposed. Oh, how I love this analogy! It's already helped me rewrite a few scenes I wasn't happy with. Thank you, Kate Walker!
5. Don't be afraid to ask. The worst that can happen is someone says no! This wonderful bit of promotional advice came self-professed media tart from Jane Wenham-Jones, whose book So You Wanna Be a Writer was the first book on writing I ever read!
6. Want to reach a wide audience in one shot? Try short stories. I'd never thought of publishing short stories for some reason (I have no idea why), but Sue Moorcroft made a great point: with one short story you can reach thousands of readers! It's also a good promotional tool if you have a novel coming out.
7. Don't be apologetic about what you write. Several different people said this and I took it to heart. For some reason, a slightly apologetic note always creeps into my voice whenever I explain to people what I write. No more!
8. If you're going to wear a name-tag, make sure you take it off before your hour-long Tube journey home. I only discovered why people were staring at me after I got home.
OK, that's only eight (I'm not doing so well on the Ten for Tuesday theme lately), but there are so many great tips floating around in my head it's hard to pin them down!
Don't forget to comment for a chance to win Della Says: OMG! Happy Tuesday!
Monday, July 12, 2010
I'm back from the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference. I'm exhausted (and surprisingly tanned), but most of all I'm inspired. What a fantastic event! With great sessions, a beautiful location at the Old Naval College in Greenwich and lots of friendly attendees, you really couldn't ask for more.
I managed to unearth a few dresses worthy of conference attire, my gala outfit went off a treat (despite being SO hot that sweat was dripping down my legs), and I even worked up the courage to finally introduce myself to RNA Chair and legendary novelist Katie Fforde. I'm glad I did because she had some nice things to say about the short story I'd entered in the conference competition -- and because she was so lovely.
I'll be sharing some of the great information I received over the next few weeks, but for now I'll leave you with a few photos of my wonderful weekend!
The fiftieth anniversary of the RNA!
To see more photos and learn a bit of history about The Old Royal Naval College, go here.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
I'm super excited, because I'm about to head down to Greenwich this afternoon for a pre-conference meet-up with some lovely Twitter/ blog buddies. I can't wait to meet them in person and hopefully settle my nerves ahead of the official start of the Romantic Novelists' Association Conference tomorrow.
It's very likely I won't be posting again until Monday, so wish me luck (please!) and have a great weekend!
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
I wasn't disappointed. I devoured Della Says: OMG! in a few hours, unable to stop for a second.
Here's the synopsis:
Della’s over the moon when she kisses her long-standing crush at a party – but then she discovers her diary has disappeared... When scans of embarrassing pages are sent to her mobile and appear on Facebook, Della’s distraught – how can she enjoy her first proper romance when someone, somewhere, knows all her deepest, darkest secrets?
What a great concept! Can you imagine your diary disappearing, only to appear on Facebook?
But for me the real strength of this book is Della. She's a smart, forthright teenager I couldn't help but connect with -- and giggle along with some of her discoveries (like when she finds out men have nipples, too!). She deals with all the ups and downs of adolescence, but not in the whingy way that has turned me off some YA protagonists. I loved seeing her relationship with Dan develop and grow despite the difficulties they faced. I wish I had a Dan growing up!
For anyone who writes YA and is looking for a great example to study, this is it!
Click here to order from Amazon UK or here to order from The Book Depository with free world-wide delivery.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
So to celebrate, this week's Ten for Tuesday will be all about my favourite summer things!
1. Pimms. When I posted about Pimms a week ago, many of you didn't seem to know what it is! For shame! Pimms is a yummy liqueur that you mix with lemonade, cucumbers, strawberries and gin. I know it sounds strange but it can actually be very refreshing. And lethal. A friend of mine once streaked through Richmond after consuming too much Pimms.
2. Proms. Every night from mid-July to mid-September, you can attend wonderful classical music concerts at the Royal Albert Hall for only £4!
3. The Serpentine Pavilion. Each summer, a new architect is commissioned to design a pavilion in Kensington Gardens. It's up for about two months and then they dismantle it.
4. Stripy deck chairs in Hyde Park. Plop one down by the lake, lean back, and watch the trees sway above your head. Bliss!
5. Regent's Park Open-Air Theatre. The only permanent professional outdoor theatre in Britain, Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre holds over a thousand people. With its pitched seats, though, you’ll feel like you can practically touch the actors on stage. Founded in 1932, the resident company is the New Shakespeare Company. At least two Shakespeare plays are performed each summer – one of them usually A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which lends itself perfectly to the park’s leafy environment.
6. Swimming in the ponds at Hampstead Heath. Bizarre but true - if you fancy a dip in a secluded pond, head up north to the Heath. There's a men's pond, a women's pond and a mixed pond.
7. Opera Holland Park. Every summer, a massive open-air opera stage is constructed in Holland Park. Tickets range from £10 to £57 and if you're a young person (not me...) then you can get free tickets here.
8. Pavement Cafés. Being able to sit on the street and eat probably doesn't seem that exciting, but when you live in a country where the sun rarely makes an appearance then it's downright intoxicating (in more ways than one).
9. South Bank Stroll. I may have mentioned that my husband proposed and we got married on the South Bank, so it's no surprise strolling along the Thames when the sky is brilliantly blue is on my top 10 list.
10. Sun. SUN! SUUNNNN! Although technically, I'm not sure sun can really be classified as part of a British summer, when it does make an appearance we appreciate it that much more!
Monday, July 05, 2010
This month in Prospera Publishing's newsletter, I try to explain what works for me! And Mason Canyon makes a guest appearance, too, talking about her pet plot peeves. The newsletter's full of great advice - you can get yourself on the mailing list by clicking the button on the top right-hand corner.
Happy Monday, everyone!
Friday, July 02, 2010
Focus. Concentrate. Do what you need to do, and stop writing 140 characters to anyone who'll listen every five minutes!
And try to limit the drinking to one glass of wine per day, please? I'm kind of struggling here.
Thursday, July 01, 2010
This Canada Day is particularly special thanks to Lynn over at Place to Create, who has mentioned me on her Great Reads by Canadians post! I'm so honoured and thrilled to be in such great company. Thanks, Lynn.
And now I'm off for my annual dosage of maple syrup, poutine and tortiere...