Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas Wishes

Just a quick message to wish everyone who's been kind enough to follow my ramblings this year, a very happy Christmas and a specially good New Year. To those who write - I wish you all the success you dream of. It's a difficult time for writers, but we must accept that it's a difficult time for just about everyone, and just hope things will improve soon.

I've surprised myself, in the run-up to Christmas this year, by finding the time to start the New Novel, which I hadn't expected to do until New Year; so I've now got a nice buzzy feeling of anticipation about getting back to it after Christmas, instead of that dreaded 'blank screen anxiety'!

But wherever you are with your writing - whether you're plotting something, revising something, mid-story or mid-novel or just trying to come up with some ideas - give yourself a break over Christmas. Most of us surely need to, especially if we're hosting Christmas, cooking for families etc - but I never fail to be amazed (and not sure whether to be impressed or just slightly puzzled!) by those writers who say they can't bear NOT to do their thousand words, or their next chapter, or whatever - even on Christmas Day. OK, so most of us are a bit fanatical about our writing but surely we can 'let go' once in a while! Don't you think so? Apart from anything else, I'm sure my husband and family would object, and think I'd completely lost the plot, if I took myself off to do some writing in the middle of the festivities - and they'd be quite right!

So let's all give ourselves a well-earned break - and enjoy it. Have a lovely time everyone.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Freebies for OAPs? (or maybe not!)

I still haven't quite got used to being an Over-Sixty. In fact I keep referring to my recent birthday as my fiftieth - by mistake of course, I'm sure I'm not fooling anyone! In fact my fiftieth birthday only seems like a couple of years ago, which is a bit scary. However, I'm a positive-thinker by nature, and I'm also aware that I have a lot to be grateful for: I'm still in pretty good health, have a wonderful family and lovely friends, and I've achieved my dream of becoming a published author.

AND I'm determined to enjoy whatever perks come my way for the privilege of reaching the age of maturity! I can't understand those of my contemporaries who feel insulted by being issued with their bus pass, for instance. I'm lucky to live in an area where the bus routes are good, and already I've saved myself a lot by taking the bus into town - especially at this time of year when the car parks are so full, as well as being expensive. OK, so it takes a little longer, and I've had to get used to not buying too much Christmas shopping in one go, or I can't carry it all home! - but after all, I have a more relaxed lifestyle now I'm not working in a day-job so why worry?

When I realised I was also (apparently) entitled to Free Swimming at my local pool, I was very excited. I like to swim a couple of times a week when I can - it's the only form of exercise I enjoy, so I'm keen to keep it up. So I applied (on-line, as suggested) within days of my birthday back in September. Heard nothing for weeks, but I'd been busy with Daughter's Wedding and then went on holiday, so eventually presented myself at the pool again and asked what was happening about my Free Swimming pass.
Receptionist: Oh, if you applied on-line, you won't hear back from us.
Me: But it said, on the website, that I'd get a letter.
Receptionist: Sorry. That might have happened once, but it doesn't any more. You just have to turn up here and collect your pass.
Me: OK. So here I am. Can I collect it?
Receptionist: Give me your name and address and I'll see if your details have got into the computer system yet. (Looks on computer). No, sorry, you're not on the system.
Me: But I applied over a month ago!
Receptionist: Well, I don't know what happened there. OK, I'll enter you on the sytem now.
(Puts my details into the system.) OK: have you got your proof of ID?
Me: Sorry? What proof of ID?
Receptionist: We need two proofs of ID - your driving licence and a utility bill.
Me: That wasn't mentioned on the website either. I don't have them on me.
Receptionist: Sorry. You'll need to bring them next time, then.
Me: OK. I'd better pay for today's swim, then.

Next time, I went along duly armed with proof of ID, and explained what had happened before.
Receptionist: Right. That's all fine. So I'll just get your pass for you. That'll be ten pounds, please.
Me: What? Ten pounds? What for?
Receptionist: The free swimming pass costs ten pounds.
Me: Then it's not free, is it?
Receptionist: Well, no, but you get in free every time you come, once you've paid for it.
Me (sighing): Well, I haven't got ten pounds on me today. So I'd better pay for today's swim again.

Next time, I made sure I'd got ten quid on me. This time I was definitely going to get a free swim!
Me: Here's my ten pounds for my 'free' swim pass.
Receptionist: Thank you. Here's your pass.
Me: And here's my parking ticket. (The cost of an hour's parking at the swimming pool has always been refunded to users of the pool).
Receptionist: Oh, sorry. We don't refund your parking if you're having a Free Swim.
Me: What! Why not?
Receptionist: Well, you're not paying for the swim, so you don't get free parking.
Me: But I've just paid ten quid!
Receptionist: Sorry. And you do know the pool is closing for refurbishment at the end of November, don't you? (This was the middle of November).
Me: Yes, but now I've got my pass, I can carry on using it after Christmas when you reopen, can't I.
Receptionist: Yes, until the end of March.
Me: What! I thought it lasted for ever!
Receptionist: No. It's for a year, from April to March.
Me: So I have to pay another ten quid in April?
Receptionist: I'm afraid so. But as long as you come back in January and swim at least once a week, it'll still be a bargain.

A bargain? I thought it was supposed to be a freebie! I get my swim free (for £10), but I now have to pay to park? How's that a such a bargain?? I'd go by bus (of course!) except that the bus route doesn't go to the swimming pool. Honestly, it's enough to make an OAP swear!

However, continuing to look on the bright side, I did get my pension at 60, and I realise this is something to be very grateful for. I'm one of the very last bunch of women to still be entitled to the State Pension at 60, before it's gradually phased up to 65, the same as men. As several people have pointed out to me, it's totally unfair, in this age of equality, for women to get their pensions earlier than men. Oh yes.

BUT ... I'd like to point out, in defence of all those of us born back in the 1940s and 50s, that in the era we were born into, raised and educated, we were NOT equal to boys or men at all. Things have changed so rapidly in this respect over the last few decades that our daughters have grown up not just expecting to be treated the same as boys, but not even understanding why there should be any question about it. And thank goodness for that. But when I started work, women's salaries were certainly not equal to men's, and lots of career opportunities were still closed to women. We were also expected to leave our jobs when we were having babies - we certainly didn't get maternity pay - and most mothers I knew weren't able to find decent jobs afterwards that they could fit around their young families, unless they were teachers. We mostly made do with part-time work that typically paid us only 'pin-money': a few pounds a week, to help out with the family budget.

I'm not complaining, because I loved bringing up my children, but that was the way things were. When my kids were older I went back to work in the NHS and paid into the NHS pension scheme as well as paying my National Insurance for many years - ending up paying double N.I. because I was self-employed as a writer, as well as working at my day job. My expectation had always been to retire at sixty with a full pension - and maybe it's not fair, but I am very relieved and grateful to do so. And whilst I agree that it's only right to phase the retirement age gradually up to 65, I feel sorry for those of my contemporaries who have just missed out by a few months and will have to wait a little longer for their pensions. I also feel very sorry for younger people - including our own children - who will have to work until they are even older. I just hope that they are compensated for it by having a better lifestyle, better jobs with good salaries, and all the other benefits to life that we didn't have when we were young. The trouble is, in this current economic recession with everyone's jobs being so uncertain, I don't know whether that's true.

So I'm quite happy really about having entered the ranks of the Senior Citizens. I certainly don't feel old, and I certainly hope to keep enjoying life for a long time yet. Whether I have to pay for my swimming or not!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

My Weekly story research

I promised Julie over at 'Julie's Quest' blog a while back that I'd join her in doing some research into the magazines I have trouble getting published in. Typically of me, I bought the magazines, read a few stories, for pleasure, and didn't get any further ... so I felt quite guilty when I read Julie's excellent post about 'Take a Break' ( - because 'Take a Break' is the magazine I most need to get to grips with, and what have I done? Nothing!! I'm really grateful to Julie and sure I will find her research very useful - I certainly hope so as I have never managed yet to get a story in TAB.

So to make up for it, I sat down last night with My Weekly's 'Bumper Issue' (No 5000) from 28 November, and did some proper research on the stories in that. Sadly, 'My Weekly' has become a closed door for many writers, since they recently decided to stop considering submissions from anyone who hasn't had a story published there before. I can only hope they'll change their minds again in due course; but I haven't found it an easy market to target recently anyway, although I have had stories published there in the past.

The first thing that struck me about the Bumper Issue was that, out of only four short stories and one serial, TWO short stories are 'Exclusives from best-selling authors'. So it does seem as though 'My Weekly' are concentrating their efforts on not just previously published writers, but very successful writers!

The second immediately obvious point is that, although this is only a 28 November issue, ALL the stories have Christmas themes. So the scope for Christmas stories, at least in this mag, is wider than I'd realised.

The two best-selling authors in this issue are Jacqueline Winspear and Rosie Harris, and their stories of course are both great.

Jacqueline Winspear's story, 'The Scent of Love', a one-pager with a full page illustration, is about a blind girl who spends Christmas with her family who find her disabilty difficult to deal with; but the person who understands her best (apart from her faithful guide-dog), is her driver ...
What struck me about this story was that it was written from the point of view of the dog, was told in the first person and the present tense. I like writing in the first person myself, and often in the present tense, but some of the other mags discourage both of these - as they also discourage stories told from an animal's viewpoint! So it was good to see that 'My Weekly' had no such qualms - at least, not where a bestselling author is concerned!

Rosie Harris's story, 'The Christmas Wallflower', a longer 3-page story, is about two sisters, illustrating their differences (one quiet and shy, one outgoing and confident), and how at a Christmas ball, the quiet one ends up getting the man, which was a nice satisfying ending, although not altogether unexpected! This is more traditionally written in third person and past tense.

There are two other short stories in this issue - and as per My Weekly's stated requirements, these fell into specific and labelled categories: the first a 'Twist in the Tale', the second a 'Coffee-Break Tale'.

The 'Twist' story, 'An Absolute Treasure', by Deborah White, is a two-pager and again, I was pleased to see that it has some unusual elements: It's told from a male point of view, and concerns a mixed-race relationship, with a baby given up for adoption before her parents marry.
The daughter then comes into their lives again by chance as an adult. A nice idea, presented really as a love story - and worth noting that 'My Weekly', unlike 'The People's Friend' for instance, isn't afraid of stories involving babies born out of wedlock!

The 'Coffee-Break tale' is 'Clowning Around' by Stella Whitelaw - a one-page quick read, again told from an unusual point of view - that of a child, whose parents are separated and who unwillingly has to play the part of a clown in the school Christmas play - but manages to make her parents smile.

The serial is a 'Christmas Murder Mystery' - called 'The Blue Rinse Brigade' by Douglas McPherson. This 4-page instalment is the first part, and is a good, lively read about some pensioners who decide to act as civilian volunteers to help the police. I've only ever tried writing serials a couple of times - many years ago! - so this isn't really my field but it seems a good market for those who do write them.

To sum up: for those of us still currently eligible to submit to 'My Weekly', I think it's still going to be a hard nut to crack, as they obviously seem to have their pick of well-known writers.
However, I was heartened to see the variety in these stories: particularly the different viewpoints being used, indicating that the editors are more interested in a good story than in sticking to any particular rules about tense, POV, etc - and that they're publishing stories with sensitive themes like the blind girl, and the mixed-race baby given up for adoption.

So all I need to do is come up with some new ideas, presented in an unusual way, make them into cracking good stories, fit them into one of My Weekly's standard categories - and I'll still probably get nowhere, but at least I might be giving myself a chance! Good luck to anyone else targeting My Weekly in 2010 - and let's hope their submission policy gets reversed soon, to give everyone else a fair chance.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Have I got another problem?

OK, don't answer that - I know I've got problems, haven't we all!

But this time it seems my blog is causing grief - Colette over at has just kindly let me know that she can't seem to post comments on this blog recently.

So this is a trial. If anyone would kindly like to try to post something (just 'Yes!' will do!) on this one... I'll guess I'll know the answer if I seem to get ignored, won't I!

Thanks for your help. I suppose I'll have to find a kind (or otherwise) helpful Help person on the Blogger Help, if it's not working - unless anyone more knowledgeable has any ideas! x

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Strictly Writing - and strictly for computer dummies.

Phew - deep breaths ... I'm just calming down from the excitement of coming back on line after yet another frustrating computer problem, to find that my guest blog post has been published on the Strictly Writing blog ( ) - fame at last! Thanks, guys for letting me have my shout on your brilliant blog. Only sorry I was late finding out about it.

Does anyone else feel like crying and throwing their toys out of the pram when they have computer problems or is it just me? I'm the first to admit that I'm technologically challenged, but we have other friends of our generation (pre-computers, almost pre-typewriters really!!), who never seem to endure the sort of frustrations we keep coming up against. It makes me feel like we must be doing something wrong! And being without the internet, even for a few days, is such a horrible experience these days, isn't it - how did we all become so dependent on it! I managed a quick visit to our village library (only open for half days on alternate days) yesterday to have a brief check of my e-mails, but it just isn't enough time to do all the things I need to do. I've now got to catch up on all my favourite blogs and writers' forums etc! Sigh!

And one of the worst things about computer failure is the way some of the experts on the Help lines speak to you. They either babble away in computer-jargon so that you haven't got a clue what they're on about, or else they adopt a really patronising attitude as soon as they realise they're dealing with someone who knows next-to-nothing. This can be even more annoying. OK, I might not understand the workings of a computer but that doesn't make me an idiot! I'm the customer, and I'd like to be spoken to with respect and a little sympathy, to have my problem taken seriously and discussed in layman's language. If a doctor can manage that when dealing with his patients (I'm on home ground here, as I worked for doctors for most of my life), then I'm sure computer technicians can manage it too. After all - for all these very superior-sounding so called Help people know, I could be a brain surgeon or a brilliant linguist or a world-famous scientist - (or even a novelist, ha ha!) - and computers could be the only one thing I'm not clever at! (I wish!).

Having said that - we do sometimes come across really helpful, polite, people on the help lines and we spoke to one recently at PC World, too, who obviously knew his stuff and was prepared to talk to us like we were human beings despite the silly questions we were asking. So if there are any IT technicians reading this - please remember all this when dealing with computer dummies! We do need your help but that doesn't make us thick!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Feature in Writer's Forum - and a successful talk

Like all of us, I get my share of rejections and disappointments! - so it's specially gratifying when a couple of better things happen in my writing life in fairly close succession, making me feel a bit more successful again!

Hot on the heels of the publication of my story in last week's Woman's Weekly, I've now had my feature on pseudonyms published in 'Writer's Forum' magazine ('Name Games' on p44).

It's the January 2010 issue, which is out this week - weird thinking about January already when I can hardly believe it's December yet!

Several lovely fellow members of the RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association) contributed their thoughts to the article, so I hope everyone will find it interesting and informative! My 'real' photo appears on the page together with the 'young me' one that I used when I was first reinvented as Olivia. Quite amusing to see them both side by side!

I've also got a snippet in the 'Members' News' pages of the new issue of 'Writers' News', revealing my 'Olivia Ryan' identity as Sheila Norton ... I sent this in a few months ago when I first 'came out', but it's taken a while to be published! Still, it includes a bit about the latest book so I'm hoping it might catch a few readers' eyes.

The other thing might not sound particularly glamorous or amazing, but I gave a talk one evening last week to a local Rotary Club. Being an all-male club, and as the books and short stories I write tend to be quite female-oriented (although I must point out here before they contradict me, that I do have male fans and I'm dead chuffed whenever I hear from them!) - I was wondering how to target my talk and whether they'd find it interesting or if they'd all doze off after their dinner! I decided to talk about the realities of life as a writer - good and bad! - including various facts & figures, and quotes from better-known authors. And I'm pleased to say they were very appreciative and - always a good sign - I got asked lots of questions at the end. And sold some books too! So, together with the lovely meal provided for myself and the husband, it made it a successful evening for me.

I've given quite a few talks since having my books published; it's not a natural thing for me, and at first I was very nervous. But I'm a lot more confident now and actually enjoyed last week's one so I'm keen to continue building on that - it's all good PR and I hand out business cards and/or handouts about my books, as well as selling a few books if I can. I never would have thought, years ago, that I could cope confidently with this type of thing (I much prefer writing to talking!), so I'm quite chuffed to have gained a new skill at my advanced age!

And I've just seen that I've got a nice five-star reader review on Amazon for 'Tales From a Honeymoon Hotel' - which has really cheered me up!

Now to concentrate on the magazines I'm failing to 'hit'. Julie over at Julie's Quest ( and I, have made a joint challenge to ourselves to go back to basics by studying the relevant mags again, and trying to work out what sort of stories they're accepting and why ours aren't hitting the mark. I've just bought my first couple of 'research' issues ... so I'll be back soon with my thoughts!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Stories - old and new!

My short story 'The Lamp' is being published in Woman's Weekly 8 December issue. I've just received my complementary copy and feel pleased with it - the illustration is lovely and the story reads OK. Do you have favourites amongst your own stories? This was one of my faves from this year - because it was inspired by the trip to Marrakech we went on, last May, with our group of friends. Re-reading it, I remembered other stories I've written, over the years, that were inspired by holidays: some of them, I know, turned out better than others! Sometimes the idea was too weak, and wasn't enough to make much more than a rather dreary 'holiday' story. Other times, there was something different about the holiday - or something different that occurred to me - that made the story a bit more special. Those, of course, were the ones that got published!

Thinking about this, yesterday I got out the file where I keep copies of all my published stories, and started looking through them. During the early 1990s, before I started seriously trying to write a novel, I had stories published quite frequently in 'Woman's Realm'. It was actually the fact that this magazine folded, that spurred me on to write the novel that eventually got published first. 'Woman's Realm' had been my best market, the editor was lovely, they paid me well - so losing it was a terrible blow, and I began to think I'd never have any short stories published again: so I became more determined to try being a novelist. At least I have them to thank for that!

Of all the stories I had published back then, I have a few favourites - stories I was really pleased with at the time, and still feel pleased with now when I re-read them. One was inspired by a holiday in France; another by a trip to the Yorkshire Dales. Travelling definitely seems to do the trick! On the other hand, lots of stories back then were also inspired by my day job: working in a hospital does give you access to lots of stories - some funny, some sad, some romantic!

It occurred to me that some of my best stories from a decade or more ago, could easily be rewritten slightly, brought up to date where necessary, and made into completely new stories to be submitted elsewhere. I've been feeling a bit short of ideas lately, so I got quite excited about this, and chose one straight away that I thought would lend itself to a re-write. With the original story out in front of me, I started tapping away at the computer. New names, new places ... the heroine would now have two young sons instead of a teenage daughter; the hero would be a doctor instead of a lawyer. A new twist occurred to me; the plot took a different course ... and suddenly, I realised something strange was happening. I wasn't just changing the original story as I went along ... I was turning it into a something completely different!

I worked on that story until quite late last night, and I'm still feeling somewhat shell-shocked. I've gone from idly wondering if it was worth changing and resubmitting some old favourites, to feeling quite fired-up at the thought of using LOTS of my old stories to simply provide some much-needed inspiration for new ones! Why hadn't I thought of this before? When the creative spark feels like it's started to flicker and die a little, it needs feeding ... so, if going off on another jaunt abroad is out of the question right now - I'll get back to looking at some more of my old favourites!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Doing what comes naturally

I've just been reading Samantha's excellent post over at Strictly Writing ( ) giving her Top Writing Tips. It set me to thinking about how often I've been asked, when giving talks to writers' groups etc, for tips and advice. Of course, we all have our favourite tips: I often tell would-be writers, for instance, that the best advice is just to make a start! - as so many people tell me they'll become a writer at some imagined point in the future - when the kids start school, or when they retire, etc - and I really wonder whether they ever will, if they're not motivated enough to get started right now!

But I often also repeat a quote I've seen, by Somerset Maugham, who said: 'There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are."!

I love writers' magazines, books about writing, forums inhabited by writers, etc - and over the years, I've gleaned some wonderful advice from all of them. Just as you're never too old to learn, you're also never too experienced or successful to find out more about the inexhaustible topic of writing for publication. Not that I'm particularly succesful! - but I have been going at it for a long time - and yet I read Jane Wenham Jones' 'Wannabee a Writer' earlier this year, and found loads of helpful advice in it - presented in an easy-to-read and amusing way.

But as Samantha points out in her post, we all need to be able to filter the massive amount of advice we read, to take on board the bits that apply to us (and which work for us), and ignore the rest. Sometimes that's difficult when it seems that all the so-called 'experts' out there are saying stuff that seems to go against what comes naturally to you.

For instance, I don't think anyone would disagree that when you're fitting in your writing around a full-time job, you just have to write whenever you have the time and the energy - but it seems that once you're a full-time writer, almost everyone advises you to work to a routine. I have to keep reminding myself not to feel guilty or to feel like I'm not a 'proper writer' for completely ignoring this advice! It just doesn't suit me - since not having a day job, I like to be flexible and write at whatever time I feel inclined on different days.

I'm giving a talk at a Rotary Club this week and I've no doubt I'll give out some of my so-called pearls of wisdom about becoming a writer! - it's what people usually want to hear. But since reading Samantha's post and mulling all this over, I'll definitely also add the caveat that my tips might have worked for me - don't necessarily expect them to work for you. Writing isn't an exact science, where you can learn the 'rules' like a maths lesson (God forbid!) and expect to get 10 out of 10 or a gold star (showing my age, there!) for getting them all right. So if you like using adverbs, for instance, or you think you might be doing a bit of Telling instead of Showing - but it seems to work, and feels right - don't beat yourself up. Trust yourself to break or bend a rule or two and see what happens!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

A Rainy Living Library Day; but good news on a feature

Well, the 'Living Library' Day yesterday could not possibly have been on a worse day, from the weather point of view, could it! The rain was beating down and the wind was blowing a gale as I drove there - and the library was pretty much deserted all afternoon! I felt sorry for the organisers as it could have been such a nice event.

There were only three of us 'living books' for the afternoon session: the fourth, a dog breeder, had dropped out because his staff were off sick - presumably he needed to be there to breed the dogs! Pity, because it would have been interesting to talk to him. Apparently there were four 'living books' for the morning session too, including a nun and a funeral director! Hmm. Well, the other afternoon people were a man who worked for the Royal British Legion, who was responsible for distributing money from the Poppy Appeal in Essex, and a lady who makes willow sculptures, and also lectures at a local college, running courses in working with willow and other horticultural subjects. The three of us did manage to find plenty to chat about all afternoon, which was just as well! - as we only had two genuine 'readers' (who we shared between all three of us). And one of those hadn't actually come to the library to talk to us - we just saw him looking lost and called him over, and he was too polite to refuse!

Well, I hope they decide to try it again, (perhaps in the summer!) - as I'd certainly agree to take part again and see if we can get it some better publicity next time. I suppose I'm quite used to taking part in events where only a handful of people turn up so it didn't seriously disappoint me!

On a more positive note, I finally had confirmation on Friday from the 'Writers' Forum' editor that he's going to use my feature on writing under a pseudonym in the January issue (due out at the beginning of December). I'm looking forward to seeing that published as I spoke to lots of authors about their experiences, for it, and I'm hoping people will find it interesting. I'll let you all know when it's out.

The new novel is finished and I've started the submission process; and meanwhile I've got a few rejected short stories to 're-work' and send out again. And a talk to prepare for a Rotary Club booking next week. Hopefully there will be more than two people there!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

A Living Book - me???

I've taken part in quite a few library events since I've written my books - mostly giving talks about how I got published and so on. But this coming Saturday, I've been invited to take part in a rather unusual event at one of the libraries near me (Ingatestone Library in Essex). It's a Living Library Day. The idea is that I, and other so-called 'experts' - (which is very amusing in itself as I don't think I'm an expert in anything, except perhaps drinking too much beer and managing not to fall over) - will act as 'living books' on our subject. My subject of course is writing and getting published, not drinking beer unfortunately! We 'books' then get 'borrowed' by readers, who 'read' us by sitting with us, asking us questions about our subject.

I don't know who the other 'living books' are, but the Readers' Guide says 'books may represent prejudices, stereotypes or experiences', which sounds intriguing. And apparently we 'books' are encouraged to chat to each other while we're sitting on the shelf waiting to be borrowed! So it could be interesting. Sounds like it could end up with books arguing amongst themselves!

The rules include the fact that 'living books' may not be taken out of the library - bit of a shame if I happen to get borrowed by any fit young men, or anyone who'd like to take me to the pub to read me! - and also that 'living books' may return themselves to the shelves if they should encounter any rudeness or aggression from readers.

It sounds like it could be fun - hope so, anyway! My only real concern is that I might end up 'on the shelf' for the whole afternoon with nobody borrowing me, which could be a tad humiliating - but then again, no more humiliating than book signings I've done in the past where I've sat on my own the whole time, chewing my pen!

Well, it's all good PR if nothing else. And back when my first Sheila Norton book was published, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't turn down any opportunities like this if I could help it.
I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Coming to The End

Which part of writing a story, or a book, do you enjoy most? Looking at the blank screen in front of you, deciding where to start? Oooh no - that may be exciting but it can also be scary and overwhelming, especially at the start of a novel. The middle - if it's all going well and you're enjoying it and have a bit more idea where it's going? Yes, that can be exhilarating and even quite surprising when ideas come out of nowhere and characters sometimes do things you didn't even plan!

But for me, the lead-up to the end is often the most exciting. Not that I'm particularly good at endings - sometimes, especially with short stories, I change the last couple of sentences lots of times before I'm happy that they're snappy enough. But approaching the final chapter of a 100,000 word novel can be a great adrenalin rush. I've been at that stage this week, and I could hardly bear to be away from the computer - I knew exactly how I wanted to finish the story, and how I wanted to get there, but of course, it couldn't be rushed ... and the very last words of the last chapter had to be just right. Typing them made me want to shout Hooray!!

But then ... oh dear. That very first chapter, that I've been worrying about all the way through but was determined not to go back to until I'd finished the book, now needs some attention - and I've got no excuse for putting it off any more! Not so good.

And then ... the dreaded submission process to 'look forward to'. Enough said!

Ah well. 'The end' isn't actually the end at all, of course!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Lovely Blog!

I'm very excited and proud to say I've been passed this 'Lovely Blog' award by Teresa Ashby - whose own blog 'A Likely Story' at is one of my favourites, and who is such a successful writer I can't think how she has time to write such a lively and interesting blog! I'm very honoured and surprised that Teresa has chosen mine. Thank you, Teresa!

It's now my turn to pass the award on to someone whose blog I admire. Oh dear. I feel like I used to when my children were little, and they asked me to choose the best one out of their works of art or stories, etc. How to choose, when you love them all? I'm sure this is why I'm now such an indecisive person - all those years of saying 'Well, yours is the nicest drawing, but she's used the best colours, and she's chosen the most unusual subject ...' etc!

I'd like to nominate so many of you - everyone whose blogs I follow - because obviously they're all my favourites. But I'm going to settle for Julie of Julie's Quest, at , because I've been so impressed by the progress she's been making as a writer during the time I've been following her blog, by the sheer amount of work she puts in, and by her lovely attitude. Julie - I'm afraid I can't remember if you've already received one of these! - if you haven't, you should have done! And if you have, then my apologies for doubling up but it's obviously well deserved! The procedure seems to be that you now choose someone else to pass on the award to. Well done Julie and keep up the good work with your Lovely Blog!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Back to reality!

I seem to have been away from the blog for ages. Well, I've been away from everything for ages!
Ten days in Northern Cyprus - and it felt like I was away for ever. It was such a relaxing place, and there were no computers at the hotel (they had WiFi, but I don't take my laptop on holiday with me - a notebook and pen is all I allow myself!). So I decided to be brave, stay away from internet cafes etc, and NOT check my e-mails, Facebook or anything else for ten whole days. It felt quite strange. How on earth did we manage before the internet, mobile phones, etc?

When I got home and looked at the hundreds of e-mails that had accumulated while I was away, I found one offering me a date to speak on a panel of local authors at the Essex Book Festival next year. Luckily my writer friends who are also going to be on the panel knew that I was on holiday and not just ignoring this fantastic opportunity! And luckily the date looks fine - well, it's not till next March, and I don't tend to be that much in demand! Last time I was booked to do a talk at the Essex Book Festival, a couple of years ago, the event was cancelled due to lack of support. I was pretty mortified, although I know this is just the sort of thing we not-well-known authors have to expect. So this time, having the support of a group of friends on the panel, I'm hoping we'll attract more of an audience! We all write different types of books so I think it should be fun. I'll tell you more, a lot nearer the time. (Fingers crossed!).

Since then I've been invited to talk at a local Rotary Club meeting next month, and am already booked to talk at a U3A meeting in January. Makes me think that maybe I'm more popular for giving talks than I am for writing books!!

Of course, by now the holiday seems like ages ago. It didn't help that when we got back, we found out that my mum-in-law, who was staying here while we were away (she likes to have a change of scenery from her little flat, and also cat-sits for us), had a fall almost as soon as we left, and broke her arm! What with Eldest Daughter breaking her wrist just before her wedding - I hope we're not making a habit of this as a family! Luckily, Middle Daughter and son-in-law were kind enough to come and stay, with baby Noah, the whole time we were away, to look after poor Mum-in-Law. She'll now be with us for some time, as she can't manage on her own, one-handed.

Fortunately Eldest Daughter's wrist seems to be mending well and she & New son-in-law had a wonderful honeymoon in Mauritius. Meanwhile Youngest Daughter & other son-in-law (keep up!!) went to Turkey for a week to celebrate their first anniversary - and all of us had beautiful weather and stayed in lovely places.

And the nicest thing about coming home from holiday - apart from seeing the family of course! -
is that NOW, I don't have that sinking feeling any more, about going back to work. My work is my hobby, my hobby is my work, and I know I'm so lucky. All I need is to earn a little money from it now (please!) to make it perfect! So - back to work. A book to finish, more short stories to write, and a talk to prepare soon. In between visiting my gorgeous grandson!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Re-writes - and a welcome break

We're off for a quick holiday in Cyprus on Tuesday and I'll be taking with me, for 'relaxation', two short stories recently rejected by one magazine, printed out so that I can take my red pen to them, chop them about and re-write them sufficiently to re-submit elsewhere when I get back. Am I a bit strange for actually enjoying this process? Of course, it goes without saying that I'd prefer every short story I submit to be accepted by the first editor I send it to! But as that's unrealistic, the next best thing is to have a rejection accompanied, as these two both were, by a nice letter from a lovely editor who has taken the time to explain why the story wasn't quite suitable for them. Even better, a letter (or e-mail) saying that they liked the story but would like a few changes made before reconsidering it. This, too, has happened to me twice recently, and I've spent most of the past week doing the necessary re-writes. I think the reason this is enjoyable is that the actual creative work has been done, and this editing and re-writing is improving the story or giving it another shot at acceptance - so it's a hopeful situation and takes the dejection out of rejection!

I'd intended to work on my new novel this week, as I'm at a nice stage (80,000 words plus), where I can see the ending in my mind, know the main 'happenings' I want to include on the way, and can't wait to get there - but the short story re-writes seemed an easier job to get done before going on holiday. Of course, finishing the novel won't actually be the finish of it at all - I'll then be going back to the beginning, reading, editing, hopefully improving - before presuming to send it out to be read by anyone. And yes, if I get to the stage where any agent or editor wants me to re-write it, just as with the short stories, I'll be very willing to do so. (I've done it before, it was a huge undertaking, but it was definitely worth it to get the book published!).

This holiday will be a welcome break after all the excitement of our baby grandson's arrival and our daughter's lovely wedding last week. I don't know whether it's all part of getting older, but even happy, exciting occasions seem to leave me feeling shattered these days! I know I'll be anxious to get home again, though, to see how much baby Noah has grown while we're away - at one month old now, he's already a big bouncy boy! and I'm looking forward to his first smiles!

Here he is sleeping his way through the wedding reception!

The wedding was just perfect. We haven't got any 'proper' photos yet of course, but here are a couple of our own.

I know all brides look lovely and I might be slightly biased (!) but my daughter did look stunning. I only cried a little bit! Should be getting used to it by now - the third and final wedding! The bridesmaids - our other two lovely daughters and the bride's best friend - looked beautiful too in lovely shade of royal blue. So that's it now - all three happily married, job done! Cyprus, here we come!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Fame at last!

One of the stories I sold earlier this year to Woman's Weekly ('Nothing To Wear') has just been published in the October/November Fiction Special - and to my surprise, I'm mentioned in big green letters on the front cover! (along with Simon Brett, a great and very funny writer who I heard speaking a few years back at a writing event and who also has a story in the same issue). In case you should see a copy of it, it's my own name (Sheila Norton) you need to look out for by the way - I write my short stories as myself rather than Olivia!

Simon and I are described on the cover as 'This Month's Big Names'! - wow! I've been called a lot of things in my time, but never before have I been called a big name! I did a lot of whooping and exclaiming about it while unpacking the shopping this morning and heating up soup for lunch, and then nearly spilled the soup when I looked inside the magazine to see my story and Simon's described in the index as the 'Bestsellers Collection'. Well, this is really very nice of Gaynor and Clare at WW, in fact I feel like kissing them both, as I'm not exactly a bestseller, but just for the little while that this issue of the Fiction Special sits proudly on my desk, I can pretend and dream that I am!

It's nice to see that I'm also sharing this issue with Teresa Ashby of 'A Likely Story' blog, whose story 'Always' is in there too. I feel very privileged! This has taken the sting, a little, out of yet another rejection that also arrived today - hey, can't be a big name and a bestseller ALL the time! Wouldn't want to get too used to it, would I! (or would I?)!

I'll write another post very soon about the wedding, with some pictures - it was fabulous. But meanwhile here's the picture of my Waterstones book-signing that I couldn't download before.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Book signing - and story flopping

My signing at Waterstone's on Saturday went well - I sold about a dozen books, which was a definite improvement on another occasion some time ago when I sold one! Several of my customers were lovely friends and acquaintances who had turned up to support me, but I did also manage to chat to lots of people who were browsing in the shop, gave them handouts about my books and websites, and a couple of sales resulted from this. (I've tried four times to insert a picture here, but it keeps crashing the site and I've now lost my patience as well as the will to live, so this will have to go out picture-less!).

Sadly, the good writing news stops there, as today I came home to the news of THREE rejected short stories in one e-mail - a bit harsh, I thought, although would it have been any less disappointing if they'd all been rejected separately? Probably not!

But family news is more promising, with the wedding now only days away, and the bride-to-be has had the plaster cast taken off her wrist today so she's very happy!

I promise to write more on the blog after the wedding!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

I'm going to be at Waterstones!

If any Essex girls (or boys!) are reading this, and you happen to be in or around Chelmsford on Saturday (26th), please do pop in to Waterstones in the High Street between 12 and 1pm to give me some moral support for my first book signing there!

I'll try to explain why this is such a big deal for me.

As soon as my first Sheila Norton book was published in 2003, I did as much as possible to promote my work, especially in my local Essex area. I held my own launch/book signing parties, gave interviews to local papers and magazines, gave talks at libraries, writing groups, book groups etc, and (scarily) had interviews on local radio stations. I even starred in Boots 'Health & Beauty' magazine in a feature about women who had achieved something special 'later in life' (I tried not to feel insulted (!), as it was great publicity, and involved a photo-shoot at a country house in Surrey, being made up and dressed up and given a free lunch. I was terrified by all of it apart from the free lunch!).

All of this had to stop when, after my fifth book, I became reinvented as Olivia Ryan. My publishers wanted the Olivia books to be established in their own right before anyone knew Olivia's identity, so I could only reveal my pseudonym to my family and a handful of close friends. I couldn't tell any of the local shops, papers, etc about my new books or make any public appearances. It was quite difficult and frustrating although I had to trust my publishers that this was for the best in the long run. The exception was my local independent bookshop: I entrusted them with my secret because they had been so fantastically supportive to me - so when they closed down, earlier this year, it was devastating.

With the release of 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel', I've been given the go-ahead to reveal my identity - so I've once again been able to appear in the local press, give talks, and have contacted all my local bookshops asking for their support.

Most authors who aren't in the best-selling bracket will know what I mean when I say that it can be quite demoralising looking out for your books in the big book chains, and even more demoralising asking if they're intending to stock them! I'm sure most local branches would love to support their local authors, but are often restricted to what they are told to order by their head offices. So it was with great excitement that I heard back from my local Chelmsford Waterstones, a few months back, that they would indeed like to give me a Saturday lunchtime slot for a book signing.

Yay! At last!!

Now, all I need is Rent-A-Crowd so that I can get one of those mile-long queues in the High Street, like we see when the likes of Jordan are up there signing their books. If they sell out of books, so much the better - they'll have to take orders!

I know, I know - dream on, girl! I've done a book-signing in the past (in a little shop in Leigh on Sea that doesn't exist any more), where the only two copies of the book I sold were to the owner of the shop and the other author sharing my slot!! So I know I'm far more likely to be humiliated by the turn-out than overwhelmed by it! But dreams are good, dreams keep us going - and my dream, this time, is that the event is so successful, Waterstones head office will order mega-loads for all their other branches and I'll get a new publisher offering me a huge contract for the next book.

Or maybe I'll just write a short story about someone who has very exciting and unrealistic dreams!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Real life dramas

My writing continues to be neglected - for all the best reasons. Baby Noah is now one week old - actually I don't think I've recovered yet from the angst and eventual excitement of last Monday, in fact I think my daughter has recovered better than I have!!

Added to which, we've also just had the excitement of Eldest Daughter's hen weekend. I feel very grateful that I was invited on all three of my lovely daughters' hen weekends. I know these occasions are mostly for their own friends, and would not have expected an invite but was hugely honoured. All three of them have been fantastic fun and despite being (very nearly) an OAP, I wasn't treated as an old fogey by any of the girls! On this occasion, we stayed in a big house in the outskirts of Bath.
It was a beautiful place, with lots of rooms, a big kitchen and dining room, big garden with a sauna - just perfect.

On the Saturday night we dressed up the 'Hen', as you'd expect, and as we were going into Bath for the evening, it had been agreed we should all wear the appropriate headgear - bath hats!

Unfortunately during the course of the evening the Hen took a bit of a tumble on the dance floor and ended up with a painful swollen wrist. The next day we made her a sling out of a scarf, gave her painkillers and suggested ice and elevation - all of us convinced she'd sprained it.

When we got home it was still painful so her fiance took her to A&E to have it checked out. It turned out to be fractured - and was put in a temporary cast. My poor daughter was distraught, as the wedding is now only two and a half weeks off and not only was she facing the prospect of getting married with her arm in plaster but the possibility of her honeymoon being postponed. Apparently some airlines won't fly anyone wearing a cast because of DVT risks.

Well, after a worrying couple of days, we've been back to the fracture clinic today and although she's now in a proper cast, on hearing the circumstances, the doctor immediately agreed it could come off before the wedding and be replaced by a splint, which in turn can come off for the wedding ceremony. I feel almost as worn out by the trauma of all this as the bride-to-be does!

I'm sure this will all find its way into a story before too long ... what a shame I wrote 'Tales From a Hen Weekend' a few years back. Hmm. 'More Tales from more Hen Weekends'??

I've had one short story accepted by People's Friend recently, and one rejected, so my score for the year hasn't changed much! The rejected story has of course been turned around and sent back out again.

Meanwhile ... I'm busy with preparations for my Big Special Birthday party this Saturday, and praying hard that it won't be a cold, wet evening as there will be about 40 people here and we need to open the doors onto the garden or we'll be sitting on each other's laps. And there's yet another exciting piece of news - on returning from the Hen Weekend, my daughters announced that their birthday present to me from themselves and their 'other halves' is: tickets for the Coldplay concert at Wembley this Friday!! I am SO excited - I've wanted to see Coldplay live for ages - what a fantastic present.

What with all the form-filling-in that seems to be necessary for the privilege of becoming an OAP - pension claim forms, forms for the Taxman (over and above the usual annual tax return, which I haven't faced yet), bus pass form (good one, that!), etc, etc, it's probably just as well I no longer have a Day Job, or I'd never fit in the time I need to see my baby grandson!

One more photo of him ....
... and that's me finished on the computer for tonight. Normal service will be resumed after things have calmed down a bit!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

It's a Boy!

Right now, I don't care about whether my stories are going to be accepted or not. I don't even care, right this minute, whether I'm going to get my next book published. And before you faint in shock or ask whether I've finally flipped, take a look at this picture and you'll see why!

This is our beautiful new grandson, Noah George, who arrived safely (and finally! nearly 2 weeks late!) at half past eleven last night. He's my middle daughter's baby - and she was only 6 and a half pounds when she was born all those years ago ... so we were all pretty shocked that Noah weighed in at a hefty 9 pounds, 6 ounces!

Yesterday was the longest day I've had to endure since ... well, since my own three babies were born. In fact I think in some ways it was harder (well maybe not! But emotionally harder) than having a baby myself. Knowing what my own 'baby' was going through, but not being there to help her and wondering, all day, how her labour was progressing but not wanting to keep bothering them with calls or messages - it was, (as even my husband said), torture! And then after we got the good news do you think I could sleep?? The adrenalin was flowing so madly I felt like I wanted to sprint round the block - not that I've ever sprinted anywhere, and certainly not round our block at gone midnight, but you get the picture!

It was a home birth - but because the baby was so late, it was looking like my daughter would have to be admitted to hospital to be induced, so they were very happy that Noah finally decided to get his act together just in the nick of time. We've been round there today of course, and although they're both tired, daughter and son-in-law are so happy and relaxed, that I can see the benefits of the whole home birth thing. My babies were all born in hospital and everything was absolutely fine - I didn't even consider a home birth, but it seems to be encouraged again now.

Sorry this post isn't about writing and sorry I've neglected following everyone's blogs, but I haven't even turned on the computer for writing - only for e-mailing family & friends etc - since yesterday morning, and I wonder how long it will be before I feel like getting back to it! Especially as I'm off on Eldest Daughter's hen weekend on Friday, and then preparing for my
Rather Special Birthday party the following weekend, to be swiftly followed by the wedding 2 weeks after that! Do other families have everything happening all at once like this, or is it just us???

OK - one last photo - here's me with the baby, and I think I look a lot more tired and unkempt than my daughter!! It's very tiring being a new grandmother, I can tell you! I think I need a few drinks tonight to get over it!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Fan mail

I don't get a lot of fan mail. I'm not well-known enough, or successful enough, and I'm the first to admit that most of the e-mails I receive saying someone enjoyed one of my books, are from friends and family who know how much I need the boost!

However ... it does happen. Occasionally, and unexpectedly, I get a response from one of my websites, and I'm always terribly thrilled and excited, probably out of all proportion to the actual event. The thing is, I recognise that for somebody to take the trouble, after reading a book, to look up the author on the internet, browse their website and then go even further and send a message - they must have REALLY enjoyed the book! I treasure those messages, because (sad and desperate though it sounds!), it means there are actually strangers out there who appreciate my work - they're not all friends of my daughters who have been cajoled into supporting me (bless them) or local people in Essex who got curious after reading my 'bit' in the local paper - they're genuine fans! Whoopee!

Amongst the messages I've treasured most, are those coming from abroad, and (this might sound odd) those that still occasionally come in on my Sheila Norton website about my earlier books - because it's so nice to think that they're still being read and enjoyed.

A particularly gratifying message recently came from a 21-year-old, who said she loved 'The Trouble With Ally' (very first book - middle-aged heroine), because reading about an older woman having so much fun, made her feel better about the thought of getting older! Ha! So much for younger readers not liking to read about older heroines!

And best of all (and probably most surprising) are those - like one I received yesterday - from male readers. This nice chap - again commenting on - said that although I described my books as women's fiction, he had loved reading them, and was pleased to see that I'd written some more as Olivia. That was another very satisfying thought - that there are men out there enjoying the books. What a pity we have to categorise all our fiction these days in order to market it!

The only other guy that ever got in touch with me out of the blue was an American, who said his wife had made him read books like mine in the hope of 'making him more romantic'. He wrote to tell me that he did identify with one of my male characters - but didn't like reading about wives leaving their husbands and hoped that wasn't going to happen in my next book. The next book was already written - and I wasn't about to change the plot. So unfortunately, I never heard from him again!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The truth about short stories - rejections and acceptances

One of my fellow-bloggers, Julie of Julie's Quest (, has been brave enough recently to give details of her short story 'tally' for the year so far. Julie's writing output is as admirable as her attitude; she realises that we all have to accept the inevitable rejections and keep on trying, keep on submitting, if we're going to improve our success ratio.

This made me realise that it's quite helpful to hear about other writers' rejections as well as their successes! We all enjoy celebrating with each other when we've had an acceptance, a sale, a publication - but we quite often prefer to keep the bad news quiet, with the result that aspiring writers could fall into the trap of believing that those of us who are already published, don't have rejections or failures at all! And I think it's reassuring to know that - ahem! Yes, we certainly do.

So I had a count-up myself. My situation with short stories is that I was fairly widely published in magazines (under my own name, Sheila Norton) during the 1990s, but after I had my first novel published in 2002 I had to concentrate on the books, because I was still working full-time so the short stories had to take a back seat. Once I left the day job last year, I had more time and a lot less money (!) so I needed to get back into the short story market again. And this time around, after a gap of only 5 or 6 years, it's been even harder as there are less magazines publishing fiction, and different requirements everywhere.

Of course, I had plenty of rejections first time around, too - it was never easy. But it took me most of last year, while I was recovering from my operation, to get myself back into short story writing 'mode'. So now I'm full-on into submitting stories again, (alongside writing a new novel, which by the way also hasn't been accepted yet!) - what's my score?

Strangely enough, like Julie I've sent out exactly THIRTY stories this year. Of those, a mere FIVE were accepted for publication by the first magazine I submitted to. A further FOUR have been accepted following at least one rejection. Two of those were accepted on the third attempt; one was finally accepted this year, following six rejections when I was submitting prior to 2002 - and one further rejection this year! Of course - I'd been changing, updating and improving it each time it bounced back, but I'm telling you this to make the point that it does happen! Just ONE story has been put in the 'given up' section of my card-index system because after four rejections, I decided it just wasn't good enough and I couldn't do any more to improve it.

I now have TWENTY stories still 'out there'. Of these, SEVEN have been rejected by at least one magazine and are awaiting a decision from another one. The remaining THIRTEEN are still waiting for a decision from the first editor I've sent them to.

So you can see from this that, even with a reasonable track record, I'm by no means getting, and certainly not expecting, anywhere near a hit every time! I AM hoping, though, that each success will give me a little more 'credibility' with the editors, and bring my 'score' a little higher. Even if that doesn't happen - I'm working hard, enjoying every minute of it, and am thrilled to bits every time I have a story accepted. That's NINE so far this year, out of thirty submissions. But it's the twenty still out there that hold the promise ... they're the ones I focus on, because they are still possibilities. And I think it's important to have as many stories in that category as we can - to keep us hopeful.

The main points I wanted to get across, from this, are:
Firstly, don't give up too readily - send out those rejected stories again. What one editor hates, another might love. But of course, make sure the story is adapted for each different market. And do be prepared to give up eventually, if you've flogged it to death and realise it's never going to happen.
Secondly, please don't think, if you feel like you're getting more rejections than you were prepared for, that it's just you. It is par for the course - part of a writer's life - and not only beginner writers - we ALL get rejections; we all hate them, they're disappointing, and frustrating, but they are an inevitable part of it.

I hope this helps someone, somewhere, to feel just a little bit reassured! Good luck with those submissions - we need it!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Hospital Stories

How much do you use the experiences of your own working life in your writing? The reason I ask is that I've been saddened by all the criticism of the NHS coming from people in America who don't know much about it - because I spent most of my life working for the NHS and although I'd be the first to admit it's not perfect, I do believe in it passionately and feel aggrieved that people don't appreciate how lucky we are to have it.

What's this got to do with my writing? Well, I've often used hospital life as the background to my short stories: it was obviously easy for me to do so, being surrounded by it all day every day! - and (as is evident from the popularity of TV programmes like Holby, ER, Casualty etc), I think most people enjoy a good 'hospital story'.

Why? Well ... for a start, the range of characters is fantastic. All human life is there - and that's just the staff! Doctors, nurses, technicians, secretaries, porters, cleaners, kitchen workers, radiographers, therapists ... I won't go on, but you get the picture. One of the things I loved about my job was the mix of people we worked with - young and old, all backgrounds, all nationalities, creeds, origins - I learnt such a lot, over the years, just working with so many amazing colleagues.

And then there are the patients: a never-ending source of interest! There were dear old souls who were so poorly, so lonely, so bereaved or bereft it would break your heart, but they were sweet, patient and uncomplaining. Sometimes they just wanted someone to talk to. Then there were the bad-tempered ones, often suffering from no more than an injury sustained in a drunken brawl - demanding special treatment, or being rude and aggressive - but was it because they were actually nervous of hospitals and doctors? There were frightened children, worried parents, people given bad news, others making wonderful recoveries from operations that couldn't even have been contemplated a few years previously. The stories I soaked up, doing my job, were sometimes sad, sometimes heartening, often moving but sometimes funny: a perfect mental megastore of memories to revisit and work into fiction.

Once, I wrote a story about two male doctors having an argument about their girlfriends - which was rejected by the editor I first sent it to, with the words: 'I can't believe doctors would be so childish or spend their time discussing such trivial things'. The story was (very loosely!) based on a true incident, and I showed that editor's response to the young doctors involved - who fell about laughing!

Best of all, I decided to use the hospital background for my third Sheila Norton novel - 'Body & Soul'. When I proposed the idea of the book to my then-editor, she was a bit dubious. She felt that although TV hospital drama was popular, it might not translate well to a novel. But she agreed to look at the first few chapters - and I'm pleased to say, immediately changed her mind. Because I only used the hospital setting as a background - making the characters the focus of the story rather than going into too much technical detail about medicine or surgery - she agreed that it worked well. It went on to sell to an American publisher and has been translated into Portuguese and Russian.

I've written features about the hospital where I used to work for my local paper, and during my years of working there I also co-wrote and co-edited a staff newsletter, and helped to write sketches and songs for hospital shows. When I won my short story awards, and then years later when my first novel was accepted for publication, the support and encouragement I got from staff at the hospital was just fantastic. Working in a large hospital was great for promotional purposes too, as word spread around the hospital community and I was constantly asked for signed copies!

My working life was often difficult, stressful and certainly not helped by targets, rulings and regulations handed down from government, by constant changes to the organisation and heirarchy of hospital management, or by chronic shortage of staff. But on the other hand, it was rewarding and rich in experience, companionship and teamwork.

Sadly, it's the politics in hospitals that often cause their problems - and in my case, they caused my own downfall. The Trust that employed me failed to support me when a technicality in my contract put my job at risk, and sadly my career with the NHS was cut short a few years before my official retirement - so I went on to experience a whole new world of work, in a surveyors' practice, before leaving to undergo a big operation myself. I still feel cheated and sad that things ended the way they did - but I was a casualty of mismanagement at the top of the Trust, and the tactics of central government.

I don't remember the years before the NHS, which was founded the year before I was born - and I think it's a pity that so few of us do, or we might appreciate it more. My 97-year old auntie told me the story, recently, of being admitted to a hospital in London at the age of 8, to have her tonsils out. She had to share a bed (sleeping at the other end) with a male soldier who was being treated for injuries from World War 1. And when she cried for her mother, a nurse slapped her round the face. 'I didn't think that was very nice,' she told me, quite mildly. Her mother - my grandmother - would have been paying for that treatment - but in those days, nobody complained, much less sued, the hospital. My own mother had her tonsils removed by the family doctor, in the kitchen at home.

There are plenty more stories where those came from! I'll never run out of ideas - thanks to the good old NHS!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Facebook - should I face it??

OK - come on, tell me, everyone - why do I need a Facebook account? I want to know, seriously.

I've been invited by lots of people to join Facebook, and yes, I'm tempted, of course I'm tempted - I don't want to be the only person in the universe left out of something that seems to be so much fun! Or does it? My husband joined recently, under pressure from some new friends (as in, real live friends!) - but having joined, says he can't see the point of it and hardly ever bothers with it.

Being a writer, and spending so many hours on the computer anyway - and having now ditched the day job so that I do have (ahem!) a little more time to explore all these brave new worlds - I'm actually a lot more interested in social networking than he is. But so far, I've held back - and the only reason is that I'm worried about ending up spending all my time on these other pursuits, and actually squeezing my writing time out of existence!

I already have two websites to maintain (one as Olivia Ryan and one in my real name, Sheila Norton), two blogs (I started before this one), two e-mail accounts, a Snapfish account where I post my photos, and I belong to the RNA forum as well as following lots of other writers' blogs. I know I'm not alone - from what I hear, most writers seem to have at least this amount of 'networking' outlets, if not more - lots now use Twitter, too, as well as Facebook.

I'm not of the generation that has grown up with conducting their entire social life on the internet, and to be honest I wouldn't want that, at all. Like a lot of writers, I enjoy working in solitary confinement (!) and it would be all too easy to do this, neglecting 'real' social interaction and eventually turning into a hermit! But I hope I'm not yet old enough, either, to dismiss everything that's new, different, and technologically (for me!) complicated, as not worth bothering with.

So where does that leave me? I'd like some honest advice from others who, like me, enjoy a bit of social networking on the internet, but don't want to spend half their lives on it. Am I missing out? Should I learn to Facebook, prod, nudge, twit, etc? What are the benefits? Tell me, please!
I'll be very grateful !

Monday, 27 July 2009

Persistence pays! (sometimes ...)

I've just been following Gonna Be A Writer's comments on her blog - about how many rejections a published author might have, before getting a novel accepted. It prompted me to check back in my files, to remind myself what happened when I was sending out 'The Trouble With Ally' - the first book I had published (as Sheila Norton, my own name).

It actually took even longer than I remembered! I first sent it out to agents in September 1999, and it was accepted by Piatkus in February 2002. I didn't keep all the rejection letters - I think I probably found most of them too depressing to keep! - but I did keep a few, including one from a major publisher which stated that I had 'a bright, confident style and a gift for amusing dialogue', and that the novel was 'quite publishable' ... but it wasn't for them! Even though they rejected the book, I remember being thrilled with that particular letter! But not, of course, as thrilled as I was with the e-mail dated 13 February 02, which told me there was an offer letter in the post to me. I remember sitting at my computer crying when I read it - I could hardly believe it was finally happening.

If that lengthy time span is depressing for would-be novelists, all I can say is that I didn't give up because (having already abandoned several previous attempts at novels which I knew weren't good enough) - I always had a feeling that 'The Trouble with Ally' was good enough to make it, if only someone would agree with me! And secondly, throughout that waiting period, I continued to write short stories, so that I had some acceptances to cheer me up and keep me going, and I also wrote my second novel, 'Other People's Lives'. I was glad I did, because Piatkus offered me a two-book contract, and I'd almost finished the second book by then.

On the subject of persistence, I've recently sold a couple of stories to magazines, which had been turned down several times already. You know how sometimes you have to accept that a story wasn't that great, and file it under 'given up' - but at other times, you think that it's worth a bit of tweaking, a bit of improving, lengthening or cutting, and sending out elsewhere? Well, both of these had been revamped and re-written to within an inch of their lives by the time they finally got accepted (by different magazines) - proving that it's still possible to sell something even when you've almost exhausted all the possibilities.

I'd like to say 'don't ever give up' - but I know, as well as anyone, the angst that can be caused by disappointments and rejections. I'd been writing as a hobby for several decades before having that first novel accepted - and have had some painful rejections since, too. It never gets easier!

But sometimes, the waiting game does pay off. So good luck to everyone out there who's waiting for responses!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Writing under a pseudonym

Sometimes it's such a relief to get something off your chest! That's how I feel now that my publisher has agreed it's OK to reveal my 'double life' as a writer-under-a-pseudonym.

It's been a well-kept secret for over two years now; during that time it's been fun, if at times challenging! - being two people at once. I'd already had five novels published under my real name (Sheila Norton) when I wrote 'Tales from a Hen Weekend' . My editor decided this was a particularly strong idea that could lead to a new series, so she wanted to 're-brand' me under a new name - without linking the two names, until the Olivia name was sufficiently established.

And now - with the publication of the third book in the series, I've been given the go-ahead to 'come clean'. It's good finally to drop the secrecy, and has given me the chance to do some promotion of the latest book myself, without having to wear a mask whenever I go out! (I'm joking, of course, but when the previous two books were launched I couldn't actually make any public appearances as Olivia in my local area where people already knew me by my real name).

It's been an interesting experience - one I never anticipated when I started writing, as I was always happy using my real name. But I've now given two talks on the subject of writing under a pseudonym so I have a new area of 'expertise'!

I'm sure there are lots of other writers out there who use a pseudonym - or maybe more than one pseudonym! - and probably for lots of different reasons. I'd love to hear from anyone who wants to share their experiences.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Books and Booze

Last night's launch party went well - if anyone who came along is reading this, thanks again for your support and I hope you all enjoyed yourselves! Jeremy from Swan Books in Upminster - who someone referred to during the evening as my 'tame bookseller' - did a great job selling books for me, taking the heat off me as I hate having to 'think money' while concentrating on signing books and (of course) socialising!
It's great to have a good relationship with a local independent bookseller - that's him with me in the pic - as it's so beneficial to both of us. Independent bookshops will do all they can to support their local authors, and of course the more of my books he can sell, the better it is for him as well as for me.

Signing books as 'Olivia' does take some concentration, as it's not my real name, and before becoming Olivia Ryan I was writing (and signing!) books under my own name. So far I haven't made any mistakes and signed a book with the wrong name - and to my surprise, the 'Olivia' signature flows quite well now - even after a couple of beers ...

It was great to celebrate with my lovely family and friends - including ex-colleagues from the hospital where I used to work, and two of my 'writing buddies' - Fenella and Fay who are fellow Essex Girls from the RNA.

Although I've had launch parties before, for my previous books, this was the first one I've done as Olivia, so all three 'Tales From' books were available and it was nice that we sold some copies
of the first two books as well as lots of copies of 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel'. So I'm happy to say it was definitely a success and I'm grateful to Irene and Ted at the Baker's Arms in Stock for letting me have the party there again.
Here's a nice artistic
picture, taken by one of my daughters,
that I think sums up perfectly the ethos of the evening:

Books and Booze! Not a bad combination!

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Winner Is ...

I'm delighted to announce that the winner of the competition for a signed copy of 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel' is Cara Leitch from Ballyclare in Northern Ireland. Cara's correct answer - which everybody got right of course! - was that Jo & Mark, and Ruby & Harold, are the other two couples in the book. There were a lot more entries than I anticipated, so thank you everyone who entered - it was a great response and it was very exciting doing the draw!

Everyone who entered will be receiving an e-mail from me over the next couple of days, and Cara's book will also be on its way to her. Congratulations, Cara, if you are a reader of this blog!
Everyone else - sorry there could only be one winner, but all is not lost, you can still get a copy of the book from the shops! - or from Amazon where (dare I say it) it's on a special offer price right now.

Meanwhile happy reading ... and writing ... everyone, and have a great weekend.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Today's the day!

Publication Day! It's always an exciting feeling, waking up and thinking: Yes! Today's the day my book will actually be 'out there' for all the hordes of excited readers to queue up and buy ... well, OK, that bit might only be in my wildest dreams, but hey, what's the point of being a writer if you can't dream up a few wild imaginings!

Actually ... nothing very much seems to happen on Publication Day. My launch party is happening on Monday night, because that's a quieter night at the pub where it's being held (otherwise there just wouldn't be enough space for all those hordes of excited readers queueing up for a signed copy, you see!). My talks at local libraries are on different dates, although fortunately they are close enough to Publication Date to make it possible to give the new book a little plug! And even my lunch date with my editor has been put back from today to tomorrow - although that's nice, in a way, as it's still something to look forward to.

Believe it or not, this time I haven't even got my order of books! Having given all but two of my precious six free copies to my closest family members (as I always like to do), I was anticipating the box of further copies I ordered to have arrived well before now. I usually have them in plenty of time for publication, so I phoned the distributors yesterday and was told they'd be sent out in about a week's time! I explained that I was the author and that today was the publication date - and they're going to see what they can do and get back to me later today. A tad annoying, as I ordered them a month ago, but what can you do? Quite amusing, really, as I know that people who have been ordering them from Amazon started getting their copies through last week!

Actually - something is happening today. A photographer from my local paper is coming to the house this afternoon to take a pic for a feature they're running about me. So when I come home from my swim later on, I'd better remember to comb my hair and put on a clean top!

And there's more good news. The competition I've been running for a signed copy of the book has attracted lots of entrants - it's your last chance today, if you haven't yet entered! Details on my post of 21 June.
Also, a local branch of Waterstone's have said they might be interested in having me do a book signing, probably in August - so fingers crossed.
And today, the new book is featured on the very first posting of the new RNA Blog - - together with other RNA members' books that are being published this month. Pop over and have a look!

So for now I'd better contain my excitement, get on with writing the next book, and try not to get distracted too often by checking my Amazon ranking! Have a nice day, everyone.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Library talks

It's been a while since I've given a talk at a library, so I was really looking forward to last night's one at my own village library. And what a lovely audience I had there! (If any of you from Galleywood find their way to this blog - hello (wave)! - and thanks again for coming! I didn't count the numbers, but the library ran out of chairs so that was a good indication! I mentioned last night that I once heard another writer say: 'It's always good to see more than one person at these events!' - and that's absolutely right. It's so nice that people make the effort to come out in the evening - especially a hot one like last night - to listen to a fairly unknown local author, so it really is appreciated.

I'll now tell you the original story behind the 'more than one' comment, because I think it's very funny. I heard it in a talk by Simon Brett, a very clever and funny author and excellent speaker. He described a situation encountered by a friend who arrived to give a talk in a huge auditorium in Finland, seating 500. Only one person was in the audience, right at the back. He waited until 10 minutes after the starting time, then stood up and suggested to this guy that, as there were only the two of them, it might be better if they went to the pub instead and talked in a more intimate environment. The chap responded: 'You talk.' So the author returned to the podium and began his talk. There was no reaction whatsoever from his one-person audience, so again, he suggested calling it a day and heading for the pub. Again, the response was: 'You talk.' So he carried on, but eventually, he couldn't stand it any longer and asked the guy why he really wanted him to continue to talk. He replied: 'You talk, I play piano afterwards.' He'd been hired to provide piano music at the end of the event - the audience was actually non-existent!

So you can see where we're coming from. Total lack of audience = humiliation. More than one = fantastic!

The new book's officially out tomorrow - I'll be back with a celebratory post then.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Writers' Forum feature - and the RNA

The July issue of 'Writers' Forum' magazine is out now, with my feature about giving up the day job - under the heading 'Will you be happy if you write Full Time?' And if you think that's a difficult question - after all, who really knows whether they'll be happy? Who can tell them? - then you'll be relieved to know the article is fairly light-hearted, exploring the pros and cons and pointing out a few pitfalls and considerations.
But the best thing about it is that four successful novelists - Katie Fforde, Judy Astley, Christina Jones and Fenella Jane Miller - have contributed to the feature, and I'm sure you'll find their experiences far more interesting than just reading me rabbiting on!
They're all members, like me, of the RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association) - such a supportive bunch of people. Anyone reading this who's interested in writing romantic novels (and that covers a very wide spectrum, including both historical and contemporary fiction) ought to consider applying for membership of their New Writers' Scheme - which provides critique of a full novel, as well as all the benefits of membership of the society. Take a look at the website for more info.
I didn't know about the RNA when I first started writing; it was my editor who recommended them to me, and by the time I joined I'd already been published - but I've found their on-line forum an amazing resource of advice and support - and made some lovely friends. In fact a group of us who live relatively near each other are having lunch tomorrow. Which I suppose brings me back to where I started - about writing 'full-time'. I could never have taken time out from my day-job to meet friends for a leisurely lunch ... hmm, yes, I think that's another tick under the 'advantages' column!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

A competition - win my new book

This week I have mainly been .... sending out an e-mail newsletter about my new book, to as many people as possible. I enjoyed writing the newsletter, but the process of sending it out hasn't been as straightforward as I hoped (nothing ever is, I suppose!). I had to teach myself a few new 'tricks' - like sending out to 'undisclosed recipients', with all the e-mail addresses in the 'BCC' line, to protect everyone's privacy. Then, of course, quite a few bounced back, either because people's e-mail addresses have changed, or their in-boxes were full, or their internet provider didn't like the look of my 'spam' message!

The newsletter includes a competition to win a signed copy of the new book - 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel' - which will be published on 2 July. Here are the details of the competition in case you'd like to have a go:

Q. Gemma and Andy are one of the three couples featured in 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel'. What are the names of the other two couples? (First names only are needed).

You can find the answer to the question on my website: - and to enter, you need to send a message on the website's 'Contact Me' page, before midnight on the publication date. Title your message: 'Competition', give your answer, your name and e-mail address. Also your postal address, to send your prize if you win! - it won't be used for any other purpose.

I'll send a signed copy of 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel' to the sender of the first correct answer, drawn at random after the closing date. (UK only). Good luck!

I'll announce the winner on this blog as well as notifying them personally of course.

Now my next important task is preparing for a couple of talks I'm going to be doing at local libraries during the next few weeks. I'm not quite as nervous about this sort of thing now as I was when I first started, and don't now need to have the whole talk written out, in case I freeze up! But I like to have some notes to refer to, so I don't forget any of the stuff I want to talk about. So that's my main job for this week.

Hope you all have a good week!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Google Alerts - and my author copies

Something weird has been going on with my Google Alerts. You know - the system you can set up so that you get notified whenever your name, or any of your books, are mentioned on the internet? I hope I'm not the only one who uses them - it already makes me feel a bit vain and self-obsessed, but I'm so pathetically excited whenever one of the books gets a mention, even if it's because it's being sold for 0.1p on E-Bay and described as 'in perfect condition' (in other words, nobody's even bothered to read it!).

Anyway - I had a couple of Alerts come through today, and suddenly realised I haven't had any for ages. I suppose I'd just assumed nobody had mentioned my books for a long while! :( Well, by the time I'd finished reading those two - a whole lot more were coming through, until my in-box was almost full of Google Alerts! What was it all about - some kind of backlog? I checked my Google Alert settings (I have to admit, I had to look up how to do it), and the instruction was still as I set it up - to check once a day. Nobody had sneakily changed it to once a month or whatever. So I can only assume there had been a log-jam or some sort of constipation going on in Google Alert Land.

And yes - most of them were offers for sale on E-Bay, although there were a couple of mentions of one of the books being stocked in a library in the USA - which is always an exciting thought. Oh - and a posting about one of my books being left in a pub. Not by accident, but by someone taking part in 'Book Crossing' (where people with good intentions but no thought for impoverished authors not getting their royalties, leave their used books lying around for other people to pick up, and post the location of the 'drop' on the website). Well - I hope someone picked it up and enjoyed it, and goes on buy the others!

Never mind - I feel quite cheery today, having got my six free author's copies of 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel' in the post. And the cover looks even better 'in the flesh' so that's a good start!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Writing a series - that's not a series!

When I wrote 'Tales from a Hen Weekend', it hadn't crossed my mind that it might lead to a series. Not until my editor pointed out that the 'tales from' idea could work really well with other situations ... and then I had a field day, listing all the things I could write about tales from! We
eventually settled on following it with 'Tales from a Wedding Day', and now 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel'.

The reason they're not exactly a series is that they're all separate stories, with different characters. The only thing linking them is the titles, and the fact that they tell stories of emotional discoveries amongst groups of friends and/or families.

Writing a series that's not really a series has been a challenge in some ways: I've been conscious of the fact that some readers who enjoyed the first book might expect the second to be a sequel, so I've been careful to make it clear on my website etc that this isn't the case. On the other hand, I'm not sure that I would have enjoyed writing three novels with the same set of characters quite so much. I'd love to hear from anyone who's done this, or attempted it. I wonder how difficult it would be to keep up the impetus through three books.

Writing about events surrounding a wedding has been great fun - there's so much going on, so many emotional undertones to explore. Every bride is different, every character has their own hidden dreams, memories and agendas! 'Tales from a Hen Weekend' was inevitably the most lively book, with drunken antics leading to the unintentional revelation of various secrets!
In 'Tales from a Wedding Day', while still keeping the tone light and humorous, I perhaps introduced more tender moments, and explored some depths of emotions such as jealousy, betrayal and forgiveness.

The new book, 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel' is different again - telling the stories of three very different honeymoon couples, who have all gone into marriage with some unresolved problems. When I started writing the book, I had to decide where to set the honeymoon hotel, and after a couple of changes of heart, eventually settled on the Croatian island of Korcula - where I'd had a holiday myself a couple of years ago. It's beautiful and romantic, and small enough for the three couples to realistically interact.

Well, I'm not going to give too much more away! But the point is that I think the three books have turned out to be quite different in tone, as well as being different stories. I didn't particularly set out with this intention - it seemed to happen automatically because of the circumstances of the characters and their stories.

Of course, it's always much more interesting to know what other people think of the books, than wittering on about what I think - which is why as a writer, we love getting feedback from our readers, isn't it! I've always likened it to sending your kids off to school and then waiting with bated breath to find out whether the teacher thinks they're well-behaved and whether the other kids like them!

So - only a couple of weeks till publication: my baby's going out into the big world and I can't wait to know whether everyone loves it or hates it!