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!

Monday, 8 June 2009

A life of luxury??

One subject I always try to explain, when giving talks etc, is how authors get paid. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the fact that celebrities earning huge advances for their books are the only ones ever mentioned in the Press, most people seem to believe that as soon as an author has a book contract, they've 'made it'. People used to ask me why I was still working at my day job, whether we were going to move to a bigger house, and even whether my husband could now afford to retire! It's quite difficult to get people to believe that the reality of authors' earnings is normally so far removed from this fairy tale, that it's actually quite hilarious to hear it discussed in those terms. For instance, some people seem to believe that virtually the entire retail price of a book goes to the author (a typical author's royalty is actually 7.5% on a paperback).

So I was pleased to read THIS post on author Kate Hardy's blog this morning:
She's summed up the whole process perfectly, and it makes really interesting reading.

The only reason for pointing out these facts, as far as I'm concerned, is to warn would-be authors not to go into it for financial reasons. Personally I never expected to earn a living from writing (and never have done) - so whatever I earn is a bonus for me and for my family - not our sole means of support. I write, first and foremost, because I love doing so, and it was always my hobby; secondly because I'm thrilled that my books are actually being published; and only as an afterthought is the consideration of the little extra income it brings in - I'm very grateful for it, but would never rely on it. Short stories (which I also write, under another name) actually bring in a much higher rate of payment if you consider how quickly they're written, compared with the time it takes to write a novel. Of course, it's just as difficult to write them, and to get them accepted for publication, so it isn't an easy option by any means.

Having said all that - over the next few weeks I'll be telling you all about my next book - 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel' - which is due for publication on 2 July and I'm very excited about it - so watch this space (as they say!). You never know, this one might actually make my fortune for me and I might become one of those 'rich' authors everyone imagines! Hmmm ....

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

'Little Men'

Since my recent computer sickness, and another minor hissy-fit it's thrown today, I've been thinking about my mum and the network of 'little men' she and her friends used to have. It's not quite what it sounds! Quite simply, all the ladies who lived on their own in her area used to share details of tradesmen they'd found to be trustworthy and to give good value for money. I'm not being sexist about this, of course - I'd be equally happy with a network of 'little women' - or big women, come to that (I'm not quite sure how the diminutive description came into it) - as long as they - men or women, big or little - knew their stuff and weren't about to charge me three or four-figure sums just to point out that I hadn't actually plugged something in or that I'd clicked on the wrong thing on the screen and turned off something crucial.

Or, as in the case of my supposed oven failure a couple of weeks ago, I'd cleaned the damned thing (always a mistake - they're much better left to sweat out the dirt on their own) - and accidentally nudged the tiny, tiny, knob that switches the oven from manual to automatic. With no times entered into the automatic controls (obviously I have no idea how to do that), it just sat there cold and sulking when I attempted to switch it on. The guy I called out because I assumed the oven had died or was at least terminally ill, looked at me kind-of pityingly and apologised for having to charge me, like a doctor writing a prescription for something really embarrassing and easily avoidable. But to be fair, he didn't charge the full whack, or so he said. How would I know?

This is my point, and this is where the 'Little Men' come in. Mum's network of trusted tradesmen was so comprehensive, and all these guys were called out so regularly by all the ladies in the area, that they were kept really busy and never lacked work, despite the fact that most of them charged much less than the average. Some of them were also prepared to do little odd jobs that some of the older ladies found difficult, for instance while they were at the house sorting out the plumbing or the electrics they might change a fuse, or shave a bit off a badly fitting door. And they knew they'd get a four-star recommendation on the Little Men Network.

Well, what I really want is a cheap and trusted network of little/big men/women for the following :
1. My regular computer tantrums. All I ask is that it works, every day, sends its e-mails without undue complaint and doesn't freeze or go off without permission.
2. Ditto car tantrums. I just need the thing to start, go, and stop. Preferably in that order.
3. Any undue peculiarities of TV or Sky-thing. I don't know how it records programmes, and I don't need to. I just need it to get on and do it, please, without telling me it's tried and failed. I can do trying and failing myself - I don't need a machine to do that.
4. Instances of things falling down or falling apart. I'm not good with mending. I can wield glue, needle & thread, pins or sellotape just fine, but the result always looks crap.
5. The worst thing of all: finance. Just the sight of my annual tax return form makes me tremble.
I think it might actually be an allergy. Can I get medication for it? I can't afford an accountant - ha! Show me a writer who can afford an accountant! So Poor Husband has to help, and put up with my trembling and weeping and gnashing of teeth. Surely there's a network, somewhere, of retired accountants who just love doing tax returns so much, they'd like to do a few as a hobby?

I'm sure there are other things to go on that list but I'm feeling faint now I've started thinking about the tax return so I'd better stop. But if anyone knows any reliable, cheap, little men/women, and wants to start a writers' network, give me a shout!