Friday, 31 March 2017

Flawed characters - and why I love them.

Ever since I wrote my first novel – and even before that, when I was writing short stories for women’s magazines – I’ve loved to make my readers laugh and cry, often at the same time. My early novels were romantic comedies, so you might think that the laughter would be understandable but why would I want my readers to cry? Well, I couldn’t seem to help myself.

Funny moments
And sad ones!
Let’s face it, life is never all fun and laughter, neither is it ever all sad. For a story, and more importantly the characters, to feel real, and for the reader to be really engaged in what’s happening, I instinctively felt the need to have moments of pathos in the rom coms. And in the novels I’m writing now, which are marketed to be light, cosy stories, there are inevitably some episodes to make my readers chuckle, moments to give them that warm and fuzzy feeling, but I still can’t resist including some moments of sadness Without these emotional ups and downs, I’m sure you’ll agree, a story would be very dull and flat.

Even the animals in my stories have to be sad sometimes!

In the same way, to my mind a character who is all good or all bad is not only frankly unbelievable, but can also be dreary and boring. I’ve occasionally been criticised for creating a plot line where my heroine behaves in a way that some readers might find reprehensible. Not all the way through the story, of course! – or it would be difficult to root for her as a heroine. But I can’t bear to write – or read – about people who seem to be faultless and perfect, whether they’re secondary characters or the main protagonists, heroes or heroines. It’s just not realistic. 

We're all capable of being a bit naughty sometimes!

I’ve lived for a long time, and so far I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have any faults, or who doesn’t occasionally behave in a way that others find unacceptable – but that doesn’t mean they’re horrible people, or that I don’t like them. After all, in real life I don’t stop liking my own friends if sometimes I think they’re being a bit daft, or doing something I might not do myself. And I’d hope they feel the same way about me!

So I won’t apologise for the fact that my basically nice, ordinary, heroines, have flaws just like the rest of us. They have problems in their lives, as we all do – otherwise there would be no story. They’re dealing with pain, loss, trauma, loneliness, fear, unhappiness of some kind – otherwise there would be no happy ending to hope for. So if they never stepped out of line – got drunk, swore at somebody, kissed somebody they shouldn’t, lost their temper, acted childishly or selfishly or stupidly – they’d be ridiculously unrealistic and personally I wouldn’t be able to believe in them or even like them very much!
Nobody likes a goody-goody!

Just as, if I’m reading crime stories, I like a villain to occasionally betray an unexpected human side – perhaps showing tenderness to their mum, or a puppy, despite being a killer – so I like my heroines to show that they have their faults, make mistakes, but can still come good at the end. Laughter and tears, people being kind and unkind, good and bad, happy and unhappy – we want to feel something when we read a story, and for that to happen, it has to be believable.

So my latest stories might be light, they might be easy reading, but I certainly hope nobody finds them dull or unrealistic. I’m always pleased when people say they laughed out loud at a funny part or cried at a sad part. But the readers’ comments that please me most, are those that say they really sympathised with the heroine and could understand how she felt. Yes, even if during parts of the story she wasn’t very sensible !

The paperback edition of THE VETS AT HOPE GREEN will be published by Ebury on 1 June 2017.
 Meanwhile it's being serialised in four digital parts on Amazon: Parts 1 to 3 available now, Part 4 available on 16 April.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

When do we buy books?

The other week, I was looking at the statistics for those of my earlier books that I self-published, and those I re-published that were originally with my first publisher. Having downloaded December's figures I could now see the trends for the whole of last year - and I started comparing my sales and Kindle Lending Library loans, month by month.

And it started me thinking about my recent books, being published by Ebury, and the time of year each of them has been published. Is there a time of year that people read more or buy/download more books? What's the best time for a book to be published? Or does it actually make any difference, as these days the digital edition will remain available, presumably, for ever?

I'd always thought most people (including me!) read the most when we're on holiday. Away from the constraints of work, and other responsibilities, with time to sit on the balcony or lie on the beach or whatever you do to relax when you're away from home - surely that's when we finally get the chance to read some of those books that have been languishing on our to-read pile, or on our Kindle, for ages.

On the other hand, perhaps in the summer months people are more likely to be outside, doing their gardening or going for healthy walks in the sunshine, whereas in the depths of winter they might spend more time snuggling down on the sofa with a good book. Is that actually still something most people do, or is everyone much more likely to be watching TV or on the internet?

And what about actually buying books? Again, I normally make sure my Kindle is well stocked up before I go on holiday (so much easier than carrying enough books for a fortnight in the suitcase!).

But then again, books are still a favourite present for Christmas, so perhaps that's when sales really peak.

So there were a few surprises in the statistics for my self-published Kindle books. The best months for downloads last year were actually May and November - so that might tie in with my theory about buying in time for summer holidays and again before winter sets in. The worst months were August, February and October. Flicking back through my records for previous years, I discovered that December too, was usually one of the worst years for downloads . . . but of course, as these are Kindle books, people wouldn't be buying them for Christmas presents, and were probably too busy doing their shopping and preparations, to read much themselves!

I realise the situation is different with physical books, so it was very interesting that the first of my new books with Ebury - 'Oliver, the Cat Who Saved Christmas', was published in hardback in October of 2015 (not a good month according to my research with Kindle books but of course it was published for the lead-up to Christmas), and then it was re-published in paperback in November 2016 - and has sold well. Obviously the title was the attraction at that time of year, and the fact that the hardback edition sold well, suggests lots of people bought it for presents.

The follow-up, 'Charlie, the Kitten Who Saved a Life', was published straight into paperback in August last year - again, not a good month according to my other stats - but I'd have thought a paperback at that time of year would do well, for summer holidays - and it's a holiday story too.  It hasn't matched Oliver's sales yet, though, but of course other factors could be at play here, such as the market trends peaking and changing.

The sales of my latest book 'The Vets at Hope Green' will be particularly interesting as, while the paperback is being published in June  - surely a good month, pre summer holiday reading! - the digital version is being released first in four parts, as a monthly serial. Part 1 came out in January and has sold really well. Bearing up my theory about snuggling down with a book in winter?  So how will the February, March and April instalments compare?


I'm sure the lovely people in the marketing department of my publishers know exactly how to target the publication dates of various books, and I'm fascinated to know whether these decisions normally work out right. If you're a self-publishing author, I'd love to know whether you think about the month of publication at all, and whether you find it makes any noticeable difference to sales.

And as a reader, when do you buy, download, or read the most books? Does the time of year make any difference?

Happy reading!


Sunday, 8 January 2017

We all need our dreams

'We all need our dreams'. That's what Sam, the heroine of my new book 'The Vets at Hope Green' says to her boyfriend near the beginning of the story when he thinks she's being unrealistic - and she repeats it, much later, to her grumpy boss. On both occasions, Sam's expressing a wish for something she realises she might never have: a different lifestyle, a home of her own, a dog ...  And on both occasions, those men in her life seem to be scoffing at her for not being realistic.  
I won't give away the plot by telling you whether any of Sam's dreams come true, but her habit of imagining a different life for herself is such an important element of the story that it set me wondering: do we all have these ideas in our minds about what we'd like to happen in our lives? Is it a good thing, or does harbouring fantasies that might be unrealistic, about 'better' lifestyles for ourselves, actually stop us from enjoying the here and now?

I guess dreaming about our futures is more common in younger people, near the beginning of their life's journey. Let's face it, by my age, most of us have either achieved what we hoped to, and feel content with where we find ourselves, or we're beginning to run out of hope that we'll have time to get there! And of course, each individual's dream will not only be different from everyone else's, but they'll differ in how modest and achievable, or ridiculous and unlikely, they are. 

Speaking for myself, as a younger person I never dreamed of being rich or famous, nor of achieving any kind of greatness (so that's just as well!). I certainly never dreamed, as a child, of getting married and having a family - that ambition only surfaced when I actually met my husband-to-be, and from then on, having a family and looking after my children pretty much took precedence over everything else for a long time. If I had any dreams for the future at that stage, it was probably to see all three daughters happy and settled in their lives - which, thank God, is going well! - and to be free of financial or health worries.

As for travelling the world - a common enough dream these days - when I was young, hardly anybody even had foreign holidays. So my younger self would be gaping in amazement at the amount of travelling I've ended up doing in my very much more mature years. We couldn't do it when we were young, so we're trying hard to make up for lost time.
Career-wise, my only real ambition was always to be a writer. What kind of writer, I wasn't very sure. I thought I might be a journalist, but instead I worked as a secretary, and wrote in my spare time. It wasn't till relatively late in life that I finally became a published novelist, and I'm constantly having to pinch myself because I'm so thrilled that this particular dream came true. 

And I think that's the whole point: although I hoped for it so much, I never actually expected it to come true, so I enjoyed the dream but got on with my life anyway. I guess it's fine to have these fantasies and dreams, as long as we're happy enough, in our way, without them coming true. It's only when longings and dreams take over from our real lives so much that we become miserable if they're not happening, that it can turn into a problem. 

I worry about contestants on TV talent shows who say, when they're voted off, 'But it's my dream! It's all I ever wanted to do!' - as if the depth of their passion should be enough to make the judges vote for them. Sadly, we don't all get what we want, and I think children should be taught that, if we want them to be happy in life. Without a combination of talent and luck, desperate ambition and longing simply aren't enough. 
So should we all give up our dreams and just settle for what we are, what we have? Surely not! Dreams, ambitions, hopes for the future are wonderful, aren't they, as long as we can recognise that they might not happen. And meanwhile, old-fashioned though I'm sure it sounds, I do think we should try to be content with what's good in our lives already, whether it's good health, a happy family, a job that doesn't actually make you totally miserable - after all, those modest blessings that we often take for granted are desperate dreams for many, many less fortunate people in the world. Starving, homeless people in war-torn countries would be at a loss to understand someone crying hysterically because they didn't win a TV talent show, wouldn't they!

What were your own dreams when you were growing up? And have any of them come true? I'd love to hear about them!

'The Vets at Hope Green', Part 1 - 'Escape to the Country' is published as a digital part-book on 19 January. Parts 2 to 4 to follow. 
Order here  from Amazon now.
The paperback edition of the whole story will be published on 
1 June.

Happy dreams!