Monday, 23 February 2015

And Now For My Next Trick

There comes a time when you have to push the send key. You’ve laughed with your characters. You’ve cried with your characters. Sometimes you may even have wanted to wring their necks. You know your book inside out. You’ve been pouring your heart into it for months – if you haven’t you shouldn’t be calling yourself a writer. But the day arrives when, like a child, you have to fire it off into the outside world. And then you wait. This piece is not about what happens to it next. It’s out of your hands, at least until the time (you hope) when someone says they are interested. By then of course you are totally immersed in what happened after you hit the send key and perhaps you struggle even to remember the names of those characters you knew so well. You are several chapters into your next book.

A week ago my finger was hovering. All my courage was not in both hands but in that suspended digit. Could I do more? Almost certainly I could but there comes a time…I pushed. I was comforted by the thought that I might be able to some extent to put it out of my mind rather than open my mailbox first thing in the morning and look at it last thing at night in a fever of anticipation. Who am I kidding? I always boot up at the start of the day and stay on line till I go to bed. Only a week later it’s far too early to become feverish – and in any case I have work to do.

In the weeks leading up to submission I was quite sure I knew what my next project was going to be. A book, all eighty-two thousand words of it, not hidden in the bottom drawer but laid aside because I knew it needed a lot of work and what I thought was destined to be my entry for the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) couldn’t possibly be finished in time. I turned to another ‘laid aside’ manuscript and I’m delighted to say it afforded me publication and graduation from the NWS.  

Now, I thought last Tuesday, almost rubbing my hands together, I can get back to Daisy. Only something happened to rock that particular boat. In the novel class at The Write Place Creative Writing School, Elaine Everest set us some homework. Regardless of what we were working on at the time we were tasked with writing an outline of our next novel. Of its own volition a new idea jumped front and centre into my mind. Where did that come from? Do we write our own books or do they write themselves. I don’t know. What I do know is that poor Daisy has once again been laid aside as excitement mounts. Even in this short time my hero and heroine are familiar. Already I know their hopes and fears, their strengths and weaknesses. So chapter breakdown is next on my agenda. I’m less of a planner than a panster but I do need some sort of structure. Hopefully it won’t be long before I’m typing Chapter One at the head of the page.

Added to all this I have to admit to being as human as the next person. Of course I will be scanning my inbox. Of course I’ll be waiting and hoping to hear good news of the child I’ve sent into the outside world. At the same time though I will be nurturing my new baby. It may not yet be on solid foods but I will be working to ensure it follows its big sister into the outside world. Come on, Sweetheart, just another spoonful. 

Monday, 16 February 2015

Amazingly Jill Mansell

I’m delighted to welcome you here today, Jill.

Ive just been to your website to look at your list of books and found myself smiling at fond memories as I the read the blurbs. I also realised there were a few Id missed so obviously I have some catching up to do. In the meantime, allow me to ask you a few questions.

Youre a prolific writer but each plot is different. Are you aware when you begin a new book of how its going to pan out? Do you plot or, ahem, make it up as you go along?
I start out with little more than the spark of an idea, some interesting scenario that I might pick up from a TV show, a newspaper or website. Then I create the characters and gradually build up from there, sticking scribbled-on post-it notes to a very long timeline as future ideas come to me. I'm sure planning an entire plot out beforehand would be easier but I just can't seem to bring myself to do it. I prefer writing 'into the mist'...

Your heroines are all different. Some are efficient, some scatty to say the least, some are married with children and some are single. All are appealing. So where do all these diverse characters come from?
Thank you! I don't really know, but most of them are probably versions of me at different ages. My daughter used to find it impossible to read my books because she said all the characters sounded just like me. But I'm definitely scatty and untidy rather than organised and efficient - that's just wishful thinking on my part.

Regarding the nuts and bolts of the job, do you have a system? That is to say, is your workday carefully mapped out or is your writing inspirational in the sense that you might wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and have to deal with it ‘right now?
I mainly work school hours, even though my children are no longer at school. I like to take weekends off, but it depends how busy I am - at the moment Three Amazing Things About You has just been published so I'm doing tons of online promo and writing blog posts for various sites. I do this in the evenings and whenever I can - it's not something that comes easily to me so it takes ages. Also, I still don't know how to type and have no idea where the letters are on a keyboard so I make millions of mistakes and have to keep going back to correct them. As for inspiration, I would never wake up in the night with an idea and actually go and write it, but I might jot the idea itself down. Nothing more frustrating than knowing you had a great plot twist but being unable to remember it the next morning...

You made a dramatic career change when you moved from the field of clinical neurophysiology to writing. Did they at any time run in tandem? What prompted the changed and have you ever had any regrets?
They ran in tandem for a couple of years - it was surreal, switching between glitzy events in London and wrestling with difficult patients back in Bristol. (Once I was speaking on the phone to my editor and a patient was trying to bite my face.)Then I discovered I was pregnant so it seemed a good time to give up the day job. I did wonder if I'd have the discipline to write at home, but if you don't get the book finished you don't get paid, so that meant I had to do it! And no, no regrets - that little baby who never slept and scribbled all over my manuscripts now types up my books for me, so she turned out to be a pretty good investment in the end!

It seems there is always a recently published or eagerly anticipated ‘Jill Mansellbook. How long does a book take from inception to publication and what route does it take?
It takes me a year to write a book, then it's another year before it comes out. I don't do lots of drafts - I just write the book, then go through it once to divide it into chapters and tidy it up. (It was many years before I discovered that this was called an edit - I had no idea! All I do is improve the flow of some of the sentences - I never alter the plot.)

Its rumoured youre not the worlds best cook. Something that you dont like doing or, unlike your writing, proves to be unsuccessful?
I can cook lots of things but I find it quite boring so it's not top of my hobbies list. I make fantastic roast potatoes. Baking cakes is what I'm really bad at, but as I can't really eat cakes (thanks to side effects of gastric surgery) it doesn't bother me. I do like watching the Great British Bake Off though!

In this brave new world social networking can take up a huge amount of time (dont I know it!) Do you limit your access or is it random?
I don't limit my access. I probably should, but I like it too much. I bet my publishers wish I'd spend more time writing books and less time on Twitter...

Ive just been back to your website and seen Jills A-Z of Happiness. Must get myself one of those. In the meantime, and finally, what makes Jill Mansell happy?
At the moment, hearing from people who have finished reading my new book and have loved it. Out of all the novels I've written, this is the one I'm most proud of. (It's also the first time I've ever had a really good idea for a plot!)

It’s been a pleasure ‘talking’ to you, Jill. I wish you every success with Three Amazing Things About You

No. 1 bestselling author Jill Mansell’s novels regularly go on to the Sunday Times bestseller list in both hardback and paperback. Jill lives in Bristol with her family.  Three Amazing Things About You is her latest novel and her favourite – we hope you think so too!

Follow Jill on twitter @JillMansell or visit her Facebook page/OfficialJillMansell.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Are Deadlines Healthy?

Do you think deadlines are healthy?

Sometimes I wonder. After all, isn’t life stressful enough without adding to the pressure? Well, yes – and no - I think. I’m quite good at setting my own deadlines, and sticking to them. I don’t know if I’m my own worst enemy or best friend but if I say I’ll do something I usually stick to it. I throw down my own gauntlet. (I’ve used this photo elsewhere before but I like it so much I just had to use it again) That said I am just as good at displacement therapy as the next person. I play Scrabble on line with my sister. We began with one game but now have several on the go. There’s sibling rivalry so naturally we don’t just put down the first word we think of. What started as just a few minutes of fun to relieve the daily pressure has become a pressure in itself.

Take this blog as an example. When I began writing – short stories to begin with and then novels – I had absolutely no idea of the amount of time I would have to spend social networking and at first I resented how much it took me away from what I truly wanted to do…WRITE. Circumstances, however, alter cases. With two books published in the same year social networking became a necessary and integral part of my day’s activities. And I LOVE IT! Okay, I’m not a great fan of Twitter but I suspect that’s more because I don’t use it properly. I could (and sometimes do) spend hours on Facebook interacting with other writers and with friends, and other writers have now become friends because of it. The blog has only been running for just over a couple of months with a weekly posting, some of them from guests but still requiring my input. I love that too. Time consuming it may be but it’s satisfying and in any case I love the way it looks. I have a fondness for owls, you understand.

Does anyone reading this have difficulty finding time to actually read (yeah, I know, split infinitive). I have a pile of books, literally and figuratively – on my Kindle – and look forward to the occasional train journey so I have a chance to indulge myself.

Back to the subject of deadlines. I have one for my work in progress. It isn’t set in stone but neither do I have the luxury of taking it easy. During the past few weeks I have been struck down three times with one lurgy or another. Not the sort of thing where you can muddle through. I had to succumb. On the few occasions I was able to sit up and take notice I concentrated on social networking. So now I’m left playing catch up with my novel. Pressure? Having spent some time (due to said lurgies it took weeks and weeks) incorporating several changes suggested by my lovely agent, Lisa Eveleigh, of the Richard Becklow Literary Agency, I began last Wednesday by going right back to the beginning. Three chapters fine-tuned and three more the following day. Thus far I've covered 43% of the total. I thought I hated this part of the process but I’m absolutely loving it. So much so that I’m having to pace myself, I’m not sure if the pressure is coming from me or the manuscript but, hey, who cares. All things being equal and lurgy-free I should make that deadline with ease.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Chatting with Sheryl Browne

I'm delighted to welcome Sheryl to the blog today. She was good enough to answer my sometimes searching questions.

I first ‘met’ you when I read your novel, The Edge of Sanity, (great book) in 2014. I now know this was a complete departure from your usual genre. What made you move to a thriller and was it a difficult leap?

Hi Natalie, Thank you so much for inviting me to share a little about myself and my books. 
Thank you also for the lovely comment re The Edge of Sanity. The idea for this book gelled when I found myself worryingly alone on a narrowboat one moon-free, foggy night, but that’s a whole other story! It is a departure from my usual genre. However, it does have something in common with my other books, in that it explores the fragility of love, life and relationships. If a character calls to me, I simply have to write his story. It just so happens that one of the characters in this book is a psychopath. I’m told I make a good one! Hmm? I’m choosing to take this as a compliment. My previous books, described as poignant romantic fiction, will always tend to turn around the family unit, looking at family dynamics and the tenuous bonds that hold people together. In The Edge of Sanity we begin with a family already torn apart by the loss of their young daughter, the ultimate question being: is their love strong enough to survive the cruellest of life’s twists? The Edge of Sanity is a harrowing story of hope amid loss and betrayal.

Going back a bit, I understand you were a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme. What influence did that have on your writing and on your career?
I certainly was. I get a huge thrill now seeing many members of the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) blossoming and going on to publication. The NWS offers invaluable advice on where your manuscript might be flagging (or shining!) and generally encourages and supports new writers. My manuscript was sadly flagging, something I was aware of. However, with excellent editorial feedback, I was able to redraft that manuscript, and I couldn’t be happier that that book, Warrant for Love, is finally published. The most important lesson I learned was that superfluous narrative wasn’t needed. If it’s padding, i.e. doesn’t move the story forward, take it out. It’s your story and you have the power to change it (isn’t that fabulously freeing?). Also, if you’re struggling with a particular scene, in that you find it a bit lacklustre in the reading, look at your point of view. Chances are you’re telling it from the wrong one. Simply, who has the most to lose by the end of it? I bear that advice in mind to this day. I don’t think I would be published if I wasn’t willing to take positive criticism on board. So, to anyone considering joining, I’d say go for it. You’ll find yourself with a wonderful support network.  

2014 has been a momentous year for you, both on the personal front and in your writing career. Can you take us through it?
It has definitely been an up and down year, Natalie. Unfortunately, 2014 saw my partner diagnosed with prostate cancer, which means we’ve both been a bit all over the place. I should also mention that his prognosis is extremely good after early diagnosis - and that he is now very positive, agreeing to share his progress with Prostate Cancer UK in hopes of encouraging other men to seek help early. This is pretty amazing, because, initially, like many men, he was reluctant to talk about it – at all. Coincidentally, however, I was asked to contribute a short story to an anthology (Let’s Hear It For The Boys) raising funds for Movember, a charity which aims to raise men’s health awareness. Somehow, in mentioning the book and the charity to him, it prompted him to open up and the rest followed. Obviously, I am now super-pleased that I did write that short and that, in a roundabout way, it has helped my partner and hopefully other men who might be encouraged to seek help, or simply need someone to talk to, whether it be about physical health or mental health problems. Sad news, but not all bad news, I think.
The news on the publishing front is just lovely! Towards the end of 2014, I was signed with Choc Lit for my upcoming novel, currently titled The Rest of My Life. This development is all the more special because Choc Lit read the book on recommendation of someone who restored my faith in my writing. Excitingly, the news was announced first in The Bookseller! Wow! Little me rubbing shoulders with Burt Reynolds and Julian Clary (form an orderly queue, guys). I owe this person a huge debt of gratitude for picking up my book, loving it, and being prepared to say so in the right ears.

Prior to signing your new contract you had several books published with Safkhet Publishing. When did the first one come out and how did they take to your change of genre in The Edge of Sanity?
I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Safkhet Publishing, who not only commissioned me to write Recipes for DisasterSexilicious Romantic Comedy Combined with Fab, Fun Recipeswas published in 2012 and, since then, I’ve just kept writing. My writing has, of course, grown and changed as I’ve explored new genres. I wasn’t entirely sure Safkhet would take The Edge of Sanity but … they loved it. I’m hoping their faith was well placed as the book does seem to be getting some excellent reviews, one fabulous such review recently on Best Selling Thrillers where the book sits proudly alongside such hugely talented authors as, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Patricia Cornwell. Needless to say, I am thrilled.

my first book for them but opened an imprint for three further novels. Despite my determination, I was at a point then where I wondered whether continuing to pursue my dream was sheer self-indulgent madness. Safkhet believed in me, giving me huge impetus to keep writing. My first book,

So you are now a Choc Lit writer and in very good company. Please tell us something about your soon to be published The Rest of My Life. 
The Rest of My Life is still at editing stage (though I’ve also had some fabulous news about audio rights, etc, recently. Isn’t that amazing? I don’t have details to share yet, but watch this space!).  Briefly, The Rest of My Life follows Adam Hamilton-Shaw, a womaniser with a dark, defining incident in his past, and screenwriter Sienna Meadows, who is having problems with her script. Tagline (for the moment): Two damaged hearts, a sizzling sexual connection. Can love find a way to bring Adam and Sienna together?

What’s next on your agenda?
Well, I have another two books currently being read by Choc Lit. They’re doing well, apparently! My fingers are crossed (which makes typing a little difficult). I’ve also just finished another thriller, the title of which, Death Sentence, was supplied by a chief constable! It needs another re-draft, but I’m hoping it will be received as well as the last.
Thank you again for featuring me here, Natalie. Can I also just add a huge thank you to all the wonderful bloggers, readers and reviewers out there, who give of their time and work so hard for authors? THANK YOU!

 A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and shortlisted for Innovation in Romantic Fiction, Sheryl has six books published with Safkhet Publishing and has now been signed with Award winning Choc Lit Publishing.

COMING SOON from Choc Lit
The Rest of My Life - Two damaged hearts, a sizzling sexual connection. Can love find a way to bring Adam and Sienna together?


It’s been a joy ‘talking’ to you, Sheryl. Thank you for joining me.