Tuesday, 24 February 2015

What Broadchurch Can Teach Us About Story Telling (**Spoiler Alert**)

(If you don’t want mild spoilers for Series 2 of Broadchurch, don’t read ahead)

Series 2 of Broadchurch came to an end last night. As I didn’t watch it then, I spent all morning avoiding Social Network in case it was spoiled for me (hence my warning to others above). I think it might have been hard to spoil it really, because the ending was so complex it could not really be condensed into a click-bait headline.

It’s been a patchy series, and I think most of us agree it didn’t have the bite of Series 1. On the other hand, I could not stop watching, thanks to compelling performances by David Tennant and Olivia Coleman, and their polar opposites, the toxic couple, Claire and Lee played by Eve Myles and James D’arcy (who, along with his vest and fence mending skills, is definitely going in one of my novels as a hero one day).

Whilst I haven’t always agreed with some of the more obvious gimmicks of Series 2, it has taught me how one might play around with story-telling and, if the viewing figures are anything to go by, get away with it. It’s also taught me a bit about what not to do. I’m sure you have your own ideas, but this is what I’ve learned:

You don’t always have to do things ‘by the book’

By this I mean that even if you know how a court case is supposed to proceed, it doesn’t really hurt if you play with that a bit for the sake of drama. I’m sure in real life people blurt things out in court cases that they should not, and witnesses don’t always turn out to be perfectly behaved. That’s one of the reasons court cases fall through in real life, or someone who should have been guilty gets off – or vice versa. I’m reminded of a teenage girl who had to give evidence during a real life court case (I think it was the case of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence), who ended her testimony by asking (I’m paraphrasing) ‘Do I get my reward money now?’ It begged the question of whether her evidence was what she thought they wanted to hear, rather than the truth, because she all she could see was the money she’d get.

The lies characters tell don’t always have to make sense to the story

Usually in a murder mystery, the actions of the innocent are linked in some way to the murder, so that they’re afraid of being implicated in the crime. Maybe they happened upon the body then ran away, afraid. Or they lie because the truth will make them look bad (for example, Mark Latimer having an affair). There was a good deal of that in this series, but there were also some lies that didn’t make sense to the story yet added to the drama. I’m thinking of Susan Wright (played brilliantly by Pauline Quirke), who was determined that, Nige, the son she gave birth to was cut from the same cloth as her murderous, paedophile husband and therefore she was determined to implicate him. That had nothing to do with how or why Danny died, but everything to do with her not being able to let go of the past. Her lies (or mistaken belief) added well to the drama, helping to put doubt into the viewer’s mind. Similarly Mark spending time with Tom in Susan’s caravan was made out to be sinister, yet it wasn’t.  He was just trying to reach out to his dead son through Danny’s best friend.

I used to work in the Citizens Advice Bureau and before that as an employment advisor in a law centre. I was often shocked to find that the people I advised lied to me about the most stupid things, in order to cast themselves in a better light. And this was even if they had a solid case. It was a matter, I think, of over-egging the pudding. Susan, and others, over-egged the pudding because they were determined to see justice done in the way they deemed fit.

The story doesn’t always have to make sense

There’s a saying that real life doesn’t have to make sense, but fiction does. Well the writers certainly played around with that idea in series 2 of Broadchurch. A lot of things happened that didn’t make sense, and the viewers did moan about it. But on the whole, few of us could stop watching as we really wanted to know what happened. So whilst your story might need a satisfying ending, the road there doesn’t necessarily have to make sense (though don’t go too mad on the side roads or you’ll lose your readers).

It’s good to have lots of suspects

This was something Agatha Christie knew, hence the plethora of suspects in her stories. It helped to keep the reader guessing. Broadchurch had so many suspects, that at one time I even suspected Hardy (of Pippa and Lisa’s death) and Ellie Miller (of Danny’s death) because I’d run out of other characters to suspect (this was after I’d discounted Claire and Lee for being too obvious).

It doesn’t do to pinpoint your main suspects too soon

I think one of the main problems of Broadchurch is that Claire was too quickly revealed to be completely toxic. Whilst she and Lee might not have turned out to be the Fred and Rose West of Sandbrook (though the jury is still out on Claire), they were involved in the murders. I think that if they’d let Claire seem vulnerable and afraid of Lee for a bit longer (letting her have sex with him so soon into the series was a bit revealing of their relationship – though if James D’arcy turned up at my house – and with chips – I’m not sure I could resist), we might have suspected her, but it wouldn’t have been so obvious that she knew what happened to the girls. You could argue that she was so obviously a suspect that she must turn out to be innocent, but I don’t think it quite worked that way.

It doesn’t hurt to have characters whose story isn’t necessarily related to the main story

I’m thinking of the two barristers. Yes their rivalry impacted on the court case, but there were parts of their story that had nothing to do with the case. For example, Jocelyn’s eye problems, and Sharon’s problems with her son, along with whatever had happened with those two before. Normally in crime shows involving courtroom scenes as an aside, we know very little of those prosecuting and defending (I’m talking traditional crime stories and not series based around courtrooms like Silks). It added a richness to the story, though some might argue that it was just filler to get through the eight weeks. Still, by the end, I found myself intrigued by both women and I’ve got a funny feeling that between them, they’re going to bring Broadchurch to its knees as the real truth behind Danny’s death is revealed not just to involve Joe but others. Because I think that’s where the Sandbrook case is leading. As there was more to that than they originally believed, then there’s probably more to Danny’s death than we know yet.

The ending doesn’t have to be tied up in a neat bow

Normally in crime stories, the ending is neat and tidy. The bad guy/girl is caught, immediately confesses and is then locked up. We may not see the court case, but we know it’s going to happen. The innocent are rewarded in some way, and justice is seen to be done. This is satisfying for readers/viewers.

That might be how it appeared in series 1 of Broadchurch, but series 2 blew that out of the water. It went much deeper, into the anguish of a court case on a family who has already lost so much, and I include both the Latimers and the Millers in that. It showed that it isn’t over when the killer confesses all, and also that a confession does not necessarily lead to a conviction.

There were a lot of questions left unanswered in the end of series 2 (no doubt to be answered in series 3), but the ending was satisfying anyway. Because at the end, the townspeople faced Joe Miller and made it clear that the verdict of the court meant nothing to them (and for that I’m adding Arthur Darvill to my list, along with James D’arcy).

It’s okay to play with storytelling

There may be some things that have made me groan in series 2 of Broadchurch. Some things I’ve loved. The acting cannot be faulted in any way, and the ensemble cast played a blinder.  What it did teach me is that it’s okay to play with storytelling a bit. As long as the story is still enjoyable, and compelling, you can get away with it. Not everyone enjoyed this series, and I was on the fence for some of it, until what I thought was a brilliant last episode that made up for much of what went before.

I’ve learned so much about what I want to do with my writing, and what I never want to do, from watching Broadchurch series 2, that I can’t help but raise a glass and say ‘Thanks, Chris Chibnall, for making me think about what works and what doesn’t.

Friday, 20 February 2015

14 reasons I wouldn't want to be anything but an author

A YouGov survey has revealed that the most desired job in Britain is that of an Author (followed closely by Librarian and Academic). This despite the fact that the average wage of an author is said to be £11,000 a year (and how many of us read that amount and thought ‘I wish!’?)

In response, Chas Newkey-Burden (great name!) has come up with 14 reasons not to be a full time author. I was nodding along to most of them, and there are times the job is tough, like when the words don't come or you haven't sold anything for a while, but I can also think of lots of reasons being an author really is the best job ever.

These are my reasons. I’m sure you have your own. Feel free to share them in the comments.

  1. You are your own boss. You start when you want, and deadlines notwithstanding, you finish when you want. That’s not to say that writing isn’t hard work. When I’m in the grip of a story, I can work until I’m literally dropping from exhaustion. But it’s a good sort of exhaustion, and much better than the stress I used to be under when I worked as an advisor for a charity, often finishing late because once people turned up for advice, pouring all their anguish into you to add to your own hang-ups, you can’t (and shouldn’t) turn them away.
  2. You take holidays when you want. If I decide I want to go off for a couple of days, I can just do it. I don’t have to clear it with anyone (again deadlines notwithstanding).
  3. You can stop for a cuppa whenever you want. There are no designated tea breaks or lunch hours. You pick your own hours, and if you decide to slink off to the kitchen for a bit to get a drink and a snack, there’s no boss looking over your shoulder. You can choose to work all day, or into the night. It’s your call.
  4. Whilst it can be a lonely job, you do get to meet some fantastic people, who help and inspire you. Since I started writing, I’ve found some of my best friends ever, and my work on the Romantic Novelists Association committee, organising the parties, has helped me to meet many more. As someone who could have been agoraphobic given half the chance, this is a Good Thing for me.
  5. You’re on your own. That’s not a bad thing for everyone. Writing is a solitary job and if you’re a solitary person, that might be just what you need. I have a need to be alone at times, and get quite antsy if I can’t be. When I started writing, it was an escape from the bustle of family life. Apart from everyone turning up in the bedroom for a chat (see previous blog post) it meant I had time to myself in which I could breathe and just be me.
  6. You get to make up stories all day. How cool is that? It’s like being a child and having daydreams, only now you can turn those daydreams into stories and maybe earn some money from them. You can lose yourself in your own fictional worlds, with characters that you care about and it’s allowed because you’re an author.
  7. You decide what you write and when (within reason). If you’re in a day job and working on a project, you have to see it through to the end, even if the outcome isn’t what you hoped for. With writing, if something doesn’t work, you can scrap it and start again. This is, again, within reason. If you have a contract and your editor is expecting a novel about the human colony of Mars, and you’ve scrapped it to write about the existential musings of a mouse living in Prague, then you might have problems. But mostly the choice is yours.
  8. Seeing your work in print for the first time, with your name on the cover of a book, is the best feeling ever, and it never gets old. It’s proof that you, who didn’t do well at school and was voted most likely to die in a bedsit, having choked on a tin of prunes, have actually created something that someone else felt was worth publishing.
  9. Five star reviews from someone who isn’t actually related to you. They’re brilliant. 1 star reviews sting, true, but a five star review from a complete stranger sweeps all that pain away.
  10. Someone is reading your work, and, hopefully, enjoying it. That means you’re giving someone the same pleasure from reading as you got from all those nights under the cover with a torch (reading, you dirty minded lot!)
  11. You have an excuse for being a bit vague. ‘Oh, she’s artistic’, they’ll say, so you can get away with forgetting to turn up for things you didn’t really want to do anyway. When my husband’s club needed someone to make sandwiches for an event recently, one of the other wives said to me ‘Don’t worry. We’ll do it. You stay home and write.” Result! (I hate making sandwiches)
  12. When the royalties, PLR and ALCS payments come in. Okay, they might not keep you in a manner to which an Arab Sheik becomes accustomed, but it’s still a thrill to get them and pretend that, for a short time at least, you’re in the money. And as a friend has just said, some writers do make a good living, even if they're not writing best-selling novels. We're not all starving in garrets.
  13. When people come up to you, with your book in their hand and say ‘Will you sign this for me please?’ What else can I say but that it’s a fantastic feeling?
  14. It makes me happier than any job I’ve ever done. Okay, I’m not rich. I’m not a well-known author. But when I’m writing, I’m really happy. When I’m not writing I get depressed, because I have no outlet for my vivid imagination that doesn’t involve pretending to everyone that I am Grand Duchess Anastasia who was cryogenically frozen and then brought back. And people don’t like you when you do that.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Tips for Being a Selfish Writer

This post was inspired by someone in a Facebook group that I run, who told us how unsupportive their family are towards their writing endeavours. The family's negativity was astounding and very sad to hear about.

Another friend recently showed their book to a friend who was an expert in the subject about which they wrote and the 'expert' completely rubbished the book, leaving my friend feeling very sore and bruised indeed.

I think that most writers come up against these problems at some point in their writing career. If it's not close family, it's friends and acquaintances who just don't understand that compulsion to write. More importantly, they are unable to separate you from whatever you've written. Alternatively, they have some ulterior motive for not wanting you to succeed.

When I first went back to school, in my early thirties, I had to put up with a lot of negativity. Not from my family, who I'm glad to say were, and still are, very supportive, but from friends, neighbours and acquaintances, who asked things like 'Don't you think you're too old for that?' Or mused 'I don't think I could do that' (the inference being that you shouldn't be trying it either). Even when I stuck to my studies, I'd get people commenting in disbelieving tones, 'Oh, you're still doing that, are you? I thought you'd have given it up by now.'

Then someone, claiming to be supportive would say to me, "I was talking to so-and-so the other day and they were on about you and they said 'I don't know who she thinks she is. She's nobody really, yet she thinks she can do that.'" Yeah, thanks for that. I already knew I was nobody, which was why I wanted to better myself, but there's nothing like having it laid out before you by someone claiming to be on your side.

The most astounding comment was from a male friend who said, "(Wife's name) couldn't do what you're doing. She's not as clever as you are." I don't know why he thought I'd see him demeaning his wife as a compliment. She left him not long after that. I can't think why...

It was much easier when we moved house, so that when I met new people, I was already a mature student and a writer. They didn't know the old me, who lacked goals.

I don't want to generalise (which means I'm about to), but it does seem to be women who have more problems in this area. I was reading a book of writing advice, and the author had got together some big writing names to add tips at the end. It was interesting to note that all the male writers said 'Oh just shut the door, sit down and write', whereas all the female writers said 'Make sure the kids are dropped off at school, try not to worry about the housework, don't let people ring you and interrupt you, etc etc. You have to learn to be selfish.'

It's not selfishness to want something in your life that's your own. It's just that women in particular are often made to feel this way if they dare to have a life outside of the narrow bounds of family.

So here are some tips, for both men and women, about how to be a more selfish writer.

Find a space of your own and claim it
It can be very difficult, when living with a family, to find your own space and even harder to claim it.

I have an oft told story about when I first started writing. I'd set up a desk in the bedroom. One day when the family were all sat watching telly, I thought I'd go up and start writing. Ten minutes later, hubby came up to the bedroom, lay on the bed and promptly started snoring. Loudly.

A couple of minutes after that, the daughter arrived. She jumped on the bed, woke her dad up and they started having a conversation. Also loudly. What's more, they wanted my input.

Then my son arrived, and joined in. So that's three of the family, all sitting on the bed, talking, whilst I'm trying desperately to write in the corner. When the dog came and joined them, I put my head on my desk and gave up!

Nowadays, I'd probably tell them all to get lost and leave me alone. But back then I hadn't learned that I was entitled to some space of my own. I just felt guilty for wanting to do something that didn't involve them.

But it was after that that I learned the art of being invisible in the corner of the living room, tapping away on my word processor. If I didn't leave the room, they didn't even notice I was still there.  The minute I left the room and tried to write anywhere else, they'd follow me, as if they were afraid of missing some great mystery.

Whatever space you choose, whether it's the corner of the living room, the bedroom or your own study, teach people to respect that space and that when you're in there, you don't want to be bothered unless the house is on fire or there's some other emergency. Running out of Chocolate hob nobs is not an emergency, unless they're for you. The same goes for answering phone calls in the middle of the day. It's a sad fact that if you work at home, people do think you can just drop everything and go and do their bidding. Make it clear that you can't and won't.

Accept that you are allowed to have something of your own
It can be hard, especially in a busy family, to put up boundaries. Family, more than anyone else, is allowed to push past certain boundaries. We all do it. But remember that as your family members are allowed their own hobbies and interests, you are allowed yours.

You're also allowed to keep it to yourself. I don't mean keep the fact that you're a writer secret. What I mean is that you don't have to tell them what you're writing and you certainly don't have to show it to them (more of which later). Just get on with it.

Don't let your family and friends put you off writing

There will still be naysayers; people who've known you a long time, who might still try to put you down. Don't let them. Remember that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent (though God knows some people will try very hard to do so).

The problem is, I think, that when you start trying to reach goals in your life, it reminds some people that they don't have any. And that's fine, if they're happy the way they are. Sadly, a lot of people aren't, and because of that, they can't bear the thought of anyone else trying. It makes them feel inadequate. That's no excuse for making you feel inadequate. They might tell you you've become stuck up or selfish. Both are accusations I've had aimed at me - not by close family - but by 'well meaning' people who think they're doing me a favour in pointing it out. Neither are true. I'm the same person I was twenty years ago. The only difference is that I've stopped apologising for being that person.

If you're in a relationship with a partner who puts you down, chances are they're afraid that if you do really well with your writing or other endeavours you might realise you deserve better than them. So they'll try to drag you back down to their level to avoid losing you. When I went back to school, I lost count of the number of women in my classes who gave up because their husbands told them they were wasting their time, or he resented the couple of hours a week the woman didn't spend on him.  Another girl told me that her partner was annoyed with her because she was doing her homework instead of watching him playing a computer game (!) For the sake of balance, I also met a man in OU Summer School whose wife had told him that if he went away that week he needn't bother returning home. I don't know to this day whether she let him go back in the house.

Trampling on someone's dreams is a way of controlling them and keeping them to heel. Don't let that happen to you.

You don't have to share your writing with your family and it's probably better if you don't
When I first started writing,  mostly poems and short stories, I'd bore everyone who came to the house by pushing the latest one on them and saying 'read that'. I must have been insufferable. I was lucky though, because they were fairly kind.

It took me a while to realise that I didn't have to do that and probably shouldn't have in the first place. Family and friends aren't necessarily the right people to read and review your work (unless you're married to Stephen King or Hilary Mantel, in which case...). One relative told me, in very kind and positive terms, that she found it hard to separate me from the story so would I mind if she didn't finish reading the novel she started. I was glad she told me, and particularly grateful that she understood that it didn't mean my story was rubbish.

Your family and friends know you. They know your strengths and your weaknesses, and all this will be at the back of their minds as they read your work. They may find it very hard to separate the two. They may be shocked at a scene that is sexy or violent. They may not like romance or crime or horror, or whatever other genre you write. They may just not have the ability to know if it's good or bad, because all the time they're thinking of  you and the fact that you've written it. They may even be looking for signs that you're failing, because that will make them feel better.

I must admit I find it very hard to read friends' books because I'm terrified of not liking them (though I do know some bloody good writers so that never happens). But I do start each book with that worry in my mind. What do I say if I don't like this? Luckily I'm able to be tactful if I find I don't like something. Family and close friends are rarely tactful, especially if they've grown up in a negative household.

Unfortunately some households do seem to run on negativity. It's often inherent, so that if parents had negative parents, they pass that on to their children. Sibling rivalry may also play a part. When I was a child I was often compared, unfavourably, to a prettier, cleverer cousin. Try not to let that negativity get to you. Avoid it completely by not letting your family see what you've written.

Keep telling people you ARE a writer
Don't tell people that you 'want to be a writer'. It's too easy then for them to tell you not to bother trying. Tell them that you ARE a writer. Keep on saying it, until they get the message.

You don't have to be published to be a writer, and nor do you have to have earned lots of money to claim that title. If you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) then you are a writer.

As an analogy, stamp collectors are still called stamp collectors even though they don't earn a wage from their stamp collecting. The same with trainspotters, those who enjoy needlework or woodwork etc. Yet for some reason, if one doesn't earn a living as a writer, then people think you don't have the right to call yourself a writer. That's rubbish. If you write, then you are a writer.

They may say you're wasting your time. It isn't a waste of time if it makes you happy to do it. If it makes other people unhappy for you to do it then ask yourself if they have your best interests at heart. They won't have.

Recognise that it's others who are being selfish, not you

People will try to put you off for all sorts of reasons, as discussed above. But in reality, they're the ones being selfish. Every time they rubbish your attempts at being a writer, they're really saying 'I don't want you to do this, so I'm going to say whatever I can to make you stop.' They'll wrap it up in 'honesty', but it's not honesty at all.

Chances are you do still have a lot to learn as a writer, but rest assured that the family and friends who are negative about your efforts aren't really bothered if you're good or bad. They're only bothered that you're doing something they don't think you should be doing, because it takes away time they think you should be spending on them, or it makes them feel threatened in some other way.

Be unselfish sometimes
Life is all about compromises and it's possible that your partner or friends are genuinely upset that what you're doing is taking time away from them. Writing is like a drug and it is easy to lock yourself away and do nothing else.  So learn to compromise a bit. For example, if my husband, who is retired now, says to me 'Shall we go out today?' and I know I have to write, I'll say 'Not today, but we'll do something tomorrow'.  Or I might say 'Okay, we'll go out today, but tomorrow you have to leave me alone so that I can write'.

But whilst you're compromising, insist that your family compromise too. Make sure they understand that if you say you want to be left alone to write, that you mean it. if you give in through a sense of guilt, every time they moan at you to do something else, then they will never respect your boundaries.

Don't end up in the corner of the bedroom, banging your head against the desk, with hubby, two kids and the dog chatting on the bed, whilst you're desperately trying to get that story down!

It isn't really about being selfish in the end. It's about asserting yourself, in a non-confrontational way, so that the people in your life begin to accept that you've made a decision to follow this path, and you're not going to be put off by their negativity and/or lack of support. Once you accept your right to do this, they'll have to accept it. And if they don't, then ask yourself whether you need them in your life.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Tips for 'Easyer' Self-Publishing on Kindle

I've been asked, privately, a few times for tips on self-publishing on Kindle. I'm always happy to advise where I can, but have avoided putting up public tips because I know there are people who are far better qualified than I am to give advice. A lot of my self-publishing efforts have been trial and error.

Then I was shown the link to this ebook and realised that actually there are people far less qualified than I am to advise you. And they're charging £1.99 for the privilege. For 6 whole pages! And not even with pictures to break up the relentless ALL CAPS presentation.

Not much makes me angry, but I was really annoyed about the above ebook because only last week I had an email from Amazon because someone had complained about 3 errors in one of my 40k word novellas. It turned out that one of those errors was an error on their part, but I was told that I had to put it right or my book might be taken off sale. Of course I want to know if there are errors in my ebooks. I do care about quality. But then I saw the 'Easyer' ebook above and wondered how the hell that even got through Amazon's initial quality process.

When someone publishes a book on Kindle, they're told it will take up to 48 hours whilst the ebook goes through 'quality controls'. Obviously, given  how many millions of books are now put onto Kindle on a daily basis, they're not going to be able to read them all through. But the sub-title of that ebook isn't even spelt correctly, yet no one at Amazon noticed. Or if they did, they didn't care.

I'm afraid I think it's the latter. Because if 10 million writers put ebooks onto Amazon, and manage to persuade one or two of their friends or family to buy it, Amazon are making money. Regardless of the quality of the book.

But you don't want just your family and friends to buy your ebooks, do you? Surely you want it to reach others. And surely you want it to be as good as it can be. And I promise to stop calling you Shirley from now on (old Airplane joke - thanks to the kind person who DM'd me privately to let me know I'd got that one wrong - I put Airport originally  - see  how easy it is?!)

So here, completely free of charge, are my own tips for anyone hoping to publish on Kindle. As with anything, they are worth what you paid for them (nothing), but I hope they help you in some way in your endeavours to become a self-published writer. A lot of what I have to say is a result of trial and error. I've made mistakes myself, so feel I can share how to put those mistakes right.

Make sure you really do want to be a writer and aren't just in it to earn money

The title is self-explanatory really. The question is do you want to be a writer? Or do you want to be rich? It's perfectly acceptable to answer yes to both those questions. But if you do want to be a writer, with a product worth buying, then work on your craft. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, make sure your writing is the best it can be. It is fine to want to earn from your endeavours too, but if  you just throw any old ebook onto Kindle, hoping to get rich, it won't work. Okay, sometimes it does work. Dino Porn anyone? But mostly it doesn't.

Use correct spelling and punctuation

Typos can creep in anywhere, as I've found out myself. Most readers can forgive one or two. But if your book is completely unreadable, due to bad spelling and grammar, they're going to give up. It's worth pointing out that Amazon have a 7 day return policy on ebooks. So that if someone doesn't like it within 7 days, they can get their money back. If you can't use decent English, either your extract will give you away and you won't sell any at all, or you'll end up having to refund a lot of readers who have got fed up of wading through treacle.

This isn't about the quality of the writing or the story - that comes later. It's about how accessible the book is to readers.  Come the revolution against grammar and spelling Nazis like myself, you can write how the hell you want. But until then, as a writer, you are in the business of communication, and if you can't communicate with readers in whatever language you use you've already failed as a writer.

I know of writer pals who pay proper editors to edit their books for them (and proper cover illustrators, more of which later). Not everyone can afford it. I can't. I edit and proofread all my own books. I like to think I'm a fairly clean writer, but as I've found out, odd typos slip through.

When you come to edit, ask yourself: Is this as clear as it can be? Are my sentences too long? Are my paragraphs too long? Have I used proper punctuation? Is everything spelled correctly? Don't rely too much on spellcheck, because that can miss words you've spelled correctly but used incorrectly, such as their/there or were/where/wear/we're. One of the mistakes picked up on in my book was that I'd put 'ante room' instead of 'anteroom'. I bet I won't make that mistake again!

If you have a very patient friend, ask them to do a read through for you. Though do be sure they know what they're doing or you end up in a blind leading the blind situation. I give this advice even though I don't do it myself. I'm not arrogant and thinking I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm just a bit anal about not letting anyone else read my work before I publish it.

One word of warning. You will never please everyone with your spelling and grammar even if you get it all right. American spelling and grammar is different to British English spelling and grammar. Personally I want to scream every time my spellchecker wants to change the S in 'realise' to a Z. However, if I were reading a novel by an American author, I'd accept their right to use that Z if that's what they want. Not everyone is that understanding, and you will get complaints.

As long as you've got it right in whichever language you're using, try not to worry about that criticism. You can't possibly release an ebook in every different language variation. Just be consistent and ignore the complainers.

Format correctly

Formatting ebooks for uploading sounds incredibly difficult, but actually it isn't. You can publish an ebook using a simple Word document. You can also save it from Word to a web page, filtered (which is what I do) or pdf format.

However, pdf format does not always transfer properly to Kindle. When I tried uploading pdf files, all my single quotes/apostrophes, became double quotes. As it didn't show in the preview on Amazon, it took a reader complaining about it for me to realise and put it right.

Personally, I've had the least problems with the web page, filtered format.

Present your work well
This is sort of aligned to correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, but it's also about how your work looks on the page. The ebook I've linked to above has all the words centred on the page, and even though the author gives lists, he hasn't put them in list format.

I would suggest that for titles, chapter headings, and lists, you can use centred formatting. For any other prose, poem, etc, it's best to use left hand aligned, with a jagged right edge. Be aware that 'justified' alignment does not work very well on Kindle. It tends to leave huge gaps between words.

If you are offering up a list of things, then do put them in a list, with proper bullet points or numbers.

Choose a font that's fairly easy to read. Times New Roman 12pt or Arial 12pt (I think some e-readers allow readers to choose anyway). Use single line spacing with no indents, but with a full return between each paragraph (what we used to call 'block paragraphs' in the olden days of typing work out). You'll find then that if you save as web page, filtered, it puts the indents in all on its own (though some ereaders may vary).

DO NOT USE ALL CAPS! That is considered shouting at people (see what I did there?) Plus, using all caps is saying to your reader, I think you're probably very stupid so I've had to put this in big writing so you can get my meaning properly.

Similarly avoid using All Bold or All Italic.

Caps, bold and italics are often used for accentuating words and phrases. As I try to explain to my hubby, who does everything in all caps until I go and change it for him, if you ACCENTUATE everything, nothing stands out anyway.

Some e-Readers are a bit idiosyncratic about how pages are set out. Again, as long as you're consistent, try not to worry if someone complains that it looks different on another platform.

Find a nice cover
I'm going to put my hands up and admit that the first covers I used on Amazon Kindle were atrocious. I couldn't afford to buy covers or pay anyone to do it for me. So I used a plain white background with a motif - a strawberry on one, a red ruby on another. They looked cheap and gave the impression that my ebooks were cheap. Actually my ebooks were cheap, at 99p each, but I mean cheap in the tacky sense. I didn't sell many...

Then someone told me about dreamstime.com and another someone told me about Jimmy Thomas's wonderful site. On Jimmy's site you can get romance novel covers for as little as $10 (£6 and a bit). For a bit extra (about £25 I think but don't quote me), you can have a cover artist add your title and author name. On dreamstime.com you buy credits, and can get a decent cover for as little as 4 credits, going higher if you want something a bit more special. Now Amazon have their own cover creator page, with which to add the text, creating your own quality cover has never been easier or cheaper.

I've sold loads more ebooks since making sure the covers were attractive and tempting to the reader. Incidentally, Jimmy Thomas has his own following and fans will buy any ebooks with him on the cover, so that's another market for you right there.

People do judge your books by the covers, so it is important that your cover is attractive and properly reflects what's in your book.

Don't use copyrighted material without permission
Don't use covers or words in your books that belong to someone else without their permission. Whilst you can, at the moment, use the same title as a favourite song, or even from another novel (titles are not copyrighted), you cannot use anything from the body of work if it's still in copyright.

Copyright laws vary from country to country, so it's wise to check the laws in your own country. It's generally about 50-70 years after the death of an author. At which point, the work becomes public domain. But there are not only variations in countries, but also in subject matter (songs, images, novels, etc). There is such a thing as 'fair usage', but only in so much as you're writing an article of non-fiction.

Fair usage is generally considered to be around 100 words per extract. However, if you use song lyrics, even five words makes up a rather large chunk of the whole. A friend of mine was quoted £350 plus VAT for the usage of one line from a Beatles' song. Understandably, she decided not to use it.

Neither can you drag pictures from anywhere on the Internet and use them on your covers. Copyright belongs to the person who took them. That's why it's better, if you can, to buy rights from places like Dreamstime.com and Jimmy Thomas. There are some sites that have images that are free to use (under certain restrictions), but they tend to be rather generic, and not as exciting as you might wish your cover to be.

Know your subject

When writing fiction, you can pretty much make it up. That's what fiction is about. But even then, if you've failed to research something that's integral to the story, people will call you on it. Sometimes they'll call you on it even if you did the research. But at least if you've done the research you can, if not tell them they're wrong, at least know in your own mind that you got it right. It is so easy nowadays to just Google for information, so there's no excuse for getting it wrong. However, I'd be the first to say don't let the facts get in the way of a good story - just make sure there's a disclaimer at the front telling everyone you know you're playing with the facts.

When it comes to non-fiction, it's even more important to get it right. The reason I'm not putting this advice on Kindle and charging for it is because I really don't consider myself an expert and would be embarrassed to take money from people. If you're going to put yourself forward as an expert on something, then do make sure that you are qualified to talk about it. People will find out if you're making it up as you go along!

The thing is that if something is presented as non-fiction, and written down, people tend to believe it's true. So your advice could be dangerous or misleading if you're not really on top of your subject. Or if they know better than you, they will call you out on it.

Behave professionally at all times
This is not really about putting out ebooks. It's about how you behave if someone comes along and tells you your 'baby' is a load of rubbish. I have to be fair and say that the author I linked to above has kept a dignified silence about the complaints made about his work.

It is so hard to do that when someone is having a go at you. Especially if you know, or feel, they've got it wrong. Or if the review is really just petty and unpleasant, rather than a proper critique of your eBook. But don't ever tell them that, as tempting as it is. Have a moan to your friends about it. Punch your pillow (don't kick the dog or the cat or I'll have to come around and give you a good talking to). Anything rather than respond.

Writers have learned to their cost that responding to negative criticism can lead to everything blowing out of proportion and the whole world knowing about it. In fact, on Goodreads they advise authors not to even respond to positive criticism, which I feel is going a bit far, but I can sort of understand why they say it, given the response on that site to authors commenting on reviews.

Before the Internet such things went away quietly. Now they are forever...

I hope my advice has been helpful. If you've any of your own advice to add in the comments, please do!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Another Extract from The Dark Marshes and a FREE short story download

To begin with, my short (5k) story Her Friend From the North is available to download FREE for today, because it's Valentine's Day and my heroine is called Valentine Day! (the hero is inspired by Sean Bean too, just to excite you all more!)

Now I have another extract from The Dark Marshes to share with you. I really enjoyed writing this bit. The elderly twins, Molly and Dolly turned out to be such fun!

I can also reveal that the beautiful model on the cover of the book is called Sanja Balan. She sent me a lovely message last night, telling me that the picture was taken by her boyfriend. She is as lovely in person as she is on the cover!

It's available for Pre-Order from Amazon and will be out on 1st March 2015

Testimony of Molly and Dolly Marsh

To think that a Servant like Nan Bradley would have the Audacity to ask us to write down our account of the Tragedy that befell our Family. We want to make it Clear that if His Grace had not then visited to insist, we would Not do be Doing this at all. There was little Need for him to be so Brusque about it.

We are Christian women and speak Nothing but the Truth. Neither will we be Bullied into writing Separate Accounts. What, we ask, is the point? Molly and Dolly Marsh are never apart and we always speak as one.  Whilst we may take it in turns to write parts of this Testimony – for our poor old hands do ache so on cold days – One Account is all they shall Receive.

We are the daughters of Sir Peregrine Marsh and the sisters of Lady Henrietta’s father, Julius Marsh. May God forgive him for his Wicked ways? For most of our Lives we lived at Marsholm Manor, the family home in Derbyshire.

Julius was Twenty years younger than us, from our father’s Second Marriage to a Miss Dunfree. We still call her Miss Dunfree, because she died in childbirth, hardly having time to become our stepmother. God rest her Degenerate soul.

Father had Always wanted a Son, and Miss Dunfree left him Twin boys. We have been asked who was Born first. We were told it was Julius, and that Alexander was Born ten minutes Later. We were Not in the Room at the time, as it would not have been Fitting for Spinsters to be Present at the birth of a child, so we Do Not know that for Certain.

Despite what has been said About us, We were Happy to have Brothers, because at least it stopped our Home being Entailed away to some cousin, who we gather was Born in a Slum. It meant that We would Still have somewhere to Live when our Father died.

We were Fond of our Brothers, particularly Alexander, who was such a Spirited child. Julius was quieter, but we Distinctly remember the Madness in his eyes. Of course We did not Know how things would Turn Out, but Looking Back the Signs were there. When the Tragedy involving our Brother and his Wife took place, we said to Each Other ‘It was Always going to Happen’.

When Julius Married, not long after Father’s death, we Stayed on at Marsholm Manor and we must Concede that Julius was always very Gracious to us. It Must be said that he Sometimes expressed Impatience with us, not that we Gave him Any Cause.

He married Miss Charlotte Portland, an Heiress in her own Right, with a Fifty Thousand Pound fortune. When they Married, he put all that Money into a Trust Fund. He said it was so that if they Only had Daughters, the young Ladies need not worry about their Future as we had worried about Ours until our Brothers were Born.

He left such a Strange last Will and Testament. The estate would, as was Custom, be given to the Next male in the Family line. This was a Distant Cousin whom We did not Meet for a very long Time. The money in the Trust Fund was left to Henrietta, with the Proviso that even when she Married, the Money remained Strictly under Her control. If she Died, then the money would go Directly to her Children, or in the Event of her having No children, back to the Marsholm Estate.

If you Ask us, It was Scandalous. A Woman should never be Responsible for that Much money, and a Wife should always Defer to her Husband in matters of Finance. We wonder that Sir George took an Interest in her at all. A Man needs to feel that he is the Master in his own Home.

Of course we expected to Marry, so we did not Expect Julius to Provide for us. We were not Unattractive as young Women, but neither did we want to be Separated, so Both of us Turned down Several Suitors. We Refused so many, that eventually they stopped Asking. Julius did leave us the Lodge in which to live and Five Hundred pounds a year each. One would have Hoped for more. But we were not Bitter, as some people have suggested!

Our other Brother Alexander joined the Army and we did not see him for Many years. He died Overseas, as did his Wife, and young Cora was brought to Marsholm Manor. Of course we took the Darling girl to our hearts. She was Ten Years Old but already a beauty, with such Nice manners. And how she loved her little cousin, Hetty – which was what she called Henrietta. Even though very Young herself, Cora Insisted on Helping the Governess to Care for Hetty.

We Believe it was Also around this time that Nan came to work at Marsholm Manor. We have No idea from whence she Came, or how Old she was. We do Not concern Ourselves with the Details of Servants.

She was in the kitchens, but Succeeded in fooling Dear Julius and Charlotte into letting her Help to care for Hetty.

 Nan was a Sullen girl, especially when Cora was Nearby. This was Undoubtedly because Cora was so Beautiful. We still remember her Golden curls and Cornflower Blue eyes. Nan was pretty enough, we Suppose in that Lower Class way that tends towards fatness in middle age, but she would never be Feted as a Beauty in society and I think she Hated Cora for that.

We don’t say that the Maid was not Devoted to young Hetty, but it sometimes Seemed that she thought the child Belonged to her. If the Child so much as cried, Nan would Snatch her from dear Cora’s arms and take her from the Room. We spoke to our Brother about it Several times, but he Refused to let the girl go.

“Nan’s doing the job she’s been employed to do,” was all he would Say, before Shutting his Study door on us. It was No good Speaking to our sister-in-law. She spent Much of her time in Bed with Megrims, only Rising to spend a couple of hours each Day with her Daughter. She did Not take as Much care of poor Cara as she Should have. We Weep to Think of the Loneliness that child must have Suffered but We did not Fail in our Christian duty to Make her feel a Part of the Family even where Others have Failed.

What must we Discuss now? Oh yes, the Dark Marshes. We have been Asked to clarify some of the Information about the instances of Insanity in the Family. Personally we see no Reason why we Should air the family Shame, but His Grace is insistent and as we now rely on his Charity to keep a Roof over our Heads, we have no Choice but to Comply.

We grew up on the Stories. Our Mother used to Love to tell them, especially on Cold, Dark nights. Mama had a Great sense of the Dramatic. We Disapproved of course, but One did Not argue with One’s Mama.

The girls used to Ask us About it, and whilst we Believed it was wrong to Fill their young Heads with such Tales, we also Believed it was our Duty to tell the Truth about the family History.

As Spinsters, we were used to People not Listening to us, so we Suppose it was Nice when we were asked for our family Expertise. To say we Embellished is a very Cruel charge indeed, but what can one Expect from a Girl like Nan Bradley?

The first to go Mad was Percival Marsh, way back in Henry VIII’s time. He was a Parson of the Brimstone and Ashes ilk. Some say he had Catholic leanings, but of course the Marsh family are, and Always have been, good Protestants.  It might Explain his Descent into Madness. Too Much Communion Wine. We have always Abstained from alcohol, Preferring to keep our bodies Pure for when we Meet our Maker.

Percival Marsh had a particularly Devoted congregation, whom he Persuaded to join a Community that lived within the grounds of Marsholm Manor. It was he who Built the moat and drawbridge, so that they could Cut themselves off Completely. The Happenings at the manor were of the most Profligate type.

Being good Christian ladies we have No idea what that can Mean. It makes the Blood run cold just to Think about it, so we Try very Hard not to Think about it at All. Needless to say, we are Sure the events were very Depraved indeed.

They have All gone to Hell since Percival persuaded them to take their Lives, before taking his own. It is said that his Ghost haunts Marsholm Manor. We have Never heard it, but Hetty always felt a Presence. When they took her to the Asylum, we realised that it was her own Sick mind.

Then there was Sir Kenneth Marsh. He lived during the Civil War, and was a staunch Royalist, which is as it Should be. When Roundheads came to the District, he had them all arrested and then put their heads on stakes all around the estate. We hear it was very Gruesome and set the Royalist cause back somewhat even if we Believe that the Roundheads deserved it.

We must not forget Father’s brother, Uncle Horatio. He did not Kill or Maim anyone, thank goodness. He would Disappear from the dinner table, saying “I’m going to see Rodney.” Mother and father would Roll their eyes, and when we asked who Rodney was, they would reply “Rodney is no one.” We were not Permitted to ask anymore.

Horatio used to say that he Wanted to Die in Rodney’s arms. As it Happened, he was Crushed under a horse when coming back from the tavern one night. It seems, looking back, that Uncle Horatio’s friend, Rodney was purely Imaginary. Just like Hetty’s young man. Things might have been Better there if Nan had not lied for her. We still do not Understand why Julius and Charlotte trusted a Serving girl.

We have been called to Dinner so we will finish our Testimony at some Other time.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Why I won't apologise for disliking Fifty Shades of Grey

It's fair to say that Fifty Shades of Grey is everywhere (again!) at the moment, due to the impending release of the film.

There are those who loved the books and those who hated them. I'm in the latter part, though I'll add the disclaimer that I only managed to read 250 pages of the first book before deciding I'd had enough. I even wrote a lot of reviews, but they have been lost now after I deleted my last blog.

It is everyone's right to like whatever they want. Yet it seems that those of us who dislike FSOG aren't allowed to express that dislike without being dismissed as haters who hate. Don't we have as much right to dislike the books as others have to like it, without our opinions being dismissed?

I have friends and family who have read and enjoyed FSOG. I haven't told them they shouldn't have enjoyed the experience. Nor have I looked down on them for enjoying the books. I know they're bright, intelligent women who just enjoyed something I didn't. I may mock the books, but that does not mean I'm mocking those who enjoyed reading them. Or those who may want to go and see the film.

It is possible to separate the subject matter from those who enjoy reading/watching.

So this is not me looking down on FSOG and its fans from some lofty literary viewpoint. I've enjoyed reading and watching more than my fair share of trashy fiction and films. I write in popular genres and books I write are meant to be read in (mostly) one sitting. Two of my favourite films are Con Air and Armageddon!

I disliked what I read of FSOG because it was badly written fanfiction, and the way Christian treated Ana crossed the line into abuse (which is not, I am told, what BDSM relationships are about). As someone who grew up witnessing domestic violence, it was not a comfortable read for me. (and yes, I know domestic violence and BDSM are different things. Sadly E.L. James doesn't realise that). I also dislike the message that if you love a man enough, and put up with his abuse long enough, he'll stop abusing you and love you as you deserve to be loved. This is not how it works, as any victim of domestic abuse will tell you. The more an abused person tries to please the abuser, the less they're able to, which only leads to more abuse. Believe me, I've witnessed it and I saw my mother go from being a bright, funny, beautiful woman to a shadow as she tried to second guess what wouldn't piss my stepfather off on any particular day.

For this reason I won't go to see the film because it will only be more of the same (especially as it's reported that E.L. James wouldn't allow the director to change one little bit).

So to those who love Fifty Shades of Grey, I say, great. I'm glad you enjoyed it and I hope you enjoy the film. But that doesn't mean I have to apologise for saying that I didn't like the book and don't fancy seeing the film.

(Added: A review from Rosie Waterland, who saw the film, thinking it would be one big joke. Spoiler: She came out feeling very differently)

And now for something completely different. The wonderful Victoria Wood and the Ballad of Freda and Barry.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Shortlists for The Romantic Novel of the Year and RoNA Rose Awards

It's been my absolute honour and privilege to organise the RoNA Rose awards this year (for shorter category romances). I can now reveal that the shortlists for that award and the Romantic Novel of the Year awards are now live on the RNA website.

Shortlists for the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards and the RoNA Rose.

Shortlist Photogallery - books and authors

Are any of your favourites amongst them? I'd love to know (I can't comment myself on my own favourites at the moment as it would not be fair).

The awards will be presented by none other than Barbara Taylor Bradford; a true superstar of the writing world.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Bobbie Blandford Book 3 and the art of writing a series and period pieces

I've just started work on Bobbie Blandford Book Three. The working title is Big Girls Don't Cry (inspired by 1962 The Four Seasons song). Set in 1962, Big Girls Don't Cry sees a bank robbery take place in Stony End, resulting in the death of one of the tellers. As Bobbie investigates the case, she finds herself undermined first by a flippant remark from Leo, and then by the arrival of her Scotland Yard detective brother, Tom Blandford who, though brilliant, doesn't quite understand small town politics in the way Bobbie does.

I've been waiting to introduce Tom to everyone. What can I tell you, girls? He's gorgeous in a very Tom Hiddleston sort of way, and he's going to be setting a few hearts racing in Stony End. What else is happening in Stony End? Well, Bobbie's mum, Dina, has bought the pub, so will be having a bit more to do in Bobbie's life (whether this is a good thing remains to be seen).

I'm really getting to know my characters now, but it isn't always immediately apparent where I'm going to take them from one book to the next. I do have a story arc planned regarding Bobbie's career and romance, but other than that, I really do just come up with a new crime element for the books after I've finished the previous one.

I am, however, inspired by1950s and 60s crimes. Runaway (due out on 12th March and on Kindle on 1st April) is inspired by a 1940-50s crime I read about in a non-fiction book last year. I shan't tell you what it is, as it gives the game away. But if anyone wants to know after reading the book, drop me an email and I'll tell you.

Big Girls Don't Cry, though dealing with a bank robbery, is partly inspired by the Great Train Robbery and how the perpetrators were treated like modern day Robin Hoods when in fact they a nasty bunch of hardened criminals.

Writing a series has its own challenges. I have to remember everyone's names for a start! Then where they live. What they look like. What they've done since they were first introduced. I also have to remember whether or not I killed them off in a previous book, and/or whether they went to prison.

The main difficulty is in giving the reader as much information as they need to know about each character and what has happened before, without throwing in clumsy information drops. I realised just how this could look when in the last book I almost wrote something like: '(name) was accused of killing his real father, who had impregnated the woman (name) thought for many years was his sister...' Arrgghhhh!!!!

And for more, tune in to next week's episode of 'Soap' (remember that series?)

Another issue, with writing a murder mystery, is in not giving away who was the murderer in the previous books but in also giving enough of a teaser so that those coming to the books anew might want to go back and find out.

Then of course I have to get the local and era details right. Did you know that policemen/women didn't get personal radios till 1969? If they didn't have a car (usually a Zephyr with a fixed radio) they had 'points' - basically telephone boxes a la the Tardis or public phone boxes - where they had to be at certain times on their beat. If there was a problem, the operator would ring a particular phone box and keep ringing it until the person on the beat answered it. That can have two effects. It can make the lead up to a call out a bit clunky when writing it, or it can add drama, as no one can expect the police to arrive on the scene immediately that something bad has happened. I try to use it for the latter.

Food is my favourite thing to write about, and I love thinking back to the things I ate as a child in the sixties and including them in the story. Spam gets a lot of mentions...

After that, I use a lot of pop culture to add colour. All the titles so far have been inspired by 1960s songs, with each song being one that was in the charts in the year my story takes place. That's fun, but if I mention a song within the story I have to make sure it was out at the right time of year. I'm only up to early1962 in my story, so I can't even begin to mention the Beatles yet (Love Me Do was released in October 1962). As it happens, Big Girls Don't Cry wasn't released until late 1962 either, but I've got around that by having my heroine state that she and her friend had that as a rule before The Four Seasons.

Ironically, some friends and I were discussing using titles from songs, films etc in our work, and we all agreed that it is probably a good idea to pick them from the year before your story begins. Particularly with films. That way, you can be sure they'll have reached British cinemas (and as cinemas often repeated showings when we didn't have DVDs, you still can't get it wrong).

There is a problem with using pop culture. It can date a story, though in a period piece that's what you want. But things can still change quickly. For example, in Runaway, I mention Cliff Richard in a very positive light. As I was writing, all the stuff about the police raiding his house came out, and I considered removing him from the book. Then I realised that by doing that, I would also be judging him guilty until he's proven innocent. It wouldn't be overstating the case to say that Cliff was a huge star in the 1960s (Summer Holiday is still one of my favourite films).  He was also considered a heart-throb so it's natural the women in that era like him. He belongs in 1960s pop culture and to leave him out because of unsubstantiated allegations would be wrong.

The trick is to add enough period detail to keep reminding your reader what decade they're in, but not so much that it drags the story down. I always consider that I am not a historical writer. I am a writer who includes history in her stories. I'm not sure if that makes sense to anyone else, but it does to me.

So, there are my thoughts on writing a series and a period piece. How do you go about it?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Exclusive extract from The Dark Marshes

My gothic romance, The Dark Marshes, is now available for pre-order on Amazon, for just 99p, and will be released on 1st March 2015. But here is an exclusive sneak preview extract from the opening chapter.

The Dark Marshes
by Sally Quilford

Chapter One

Introduction by Nan Bradley

My name is Anne Bradley, but most people call me Nan. I was a maid at Marsholm Manor from the age of twelve and I was the maid of Lady Henrietta Lakeham prior to her marriage. I’ve been asked to put together all the documents pertaining to the case involving Lady Henrietta Lakeham’s incarceration in an insane asylum and the tragic events that followed.

I don’t know why I’ve been chosen to do this, though I do appreciate His Grace’s faith in me.

“You’re a clever woman, Nan,” he told me, echoing something Mrs Marsh had said to me many years before when I first came up to Marsholm Manor from the Home Farm. “You’ll be able to make short work of this.” I’m not sure about that but I am happy His Grace thinks so.

The main problem with telling the story has been knowing where to start. The beginning would be a good place, if only I knew where the beginning was. I wasn’t there for all of it, and may God forgive me for that. If I had been, I might have been able to put a stop the tragedy. There’s others, with more invested in this story, that feel the same. So many people, including me knew or suspected the truth but said and did nothing. Others were just too far away to be able to help and by the time they come back, it was all too late. I could cry when I think about it. Never mind that. I’ve got to get on and let the truth be known, as painful as it is.

Personally I’d have liked to leave out the twitterings of the Misses Molly and Dolly Marsh. It seems to me those old ladies talk a load of rubbish, but I’m told that there’s a lot of truth in their ramblings. I’m not sure I can see it myself, but there you go.

Not everyone has wanted to tell their side of the story, and that’s their right, I suppose. Not all have been able to.  They did not leave any documents – that we have found – to aid our inquiries.

Something tells me that the doctor’s testimony is the right place to start, even though he didn’t come in till very late in the story. But it does explain why Miss Hetty was at the asylum.


From the notes of Doctor Herbert Fielding

St Jude’s Private Asylum

The patient is of great interest to me. Several weeks ago she was brought in kicking and screaming – as many are to this establishment – by her stricken cousin, Miss Cora Marsh. I remember that dear lady’s sad eyes even now, as she explained the situation to me.

“There will be a great scandal if anyone finds out she is here,” Miss Cora explained, her china blue eyes large and terrified. “So I beg you to keep it quiet, at least until my darling cousin is cured.”

“Have no fear,” I said, taking her hand, which trembled like a bird in mine. “We have had royalty through these doors and no one has ever known.” I was tempted to tell her how, as a young physician, I had treated members of the Royal family. I felt sure it would impress her, but I was sworn to secrecy. Of course, others took credit for helping Royalty, but I felt sure my treatment helped. If Miss Cora had known that, she might not consider me such a dry old stick.

“Thank you, Doctor Fielding,” she said, squeezing my hand. “The moment I met you, I knew that I could rely on you. The thing is that my cousin is under a rather strange delusion. Nothing we say can alter her belief that she has done this terrible thing.”

I am a great believer in the power of literature and that man – or woman – most reveals himself when he keeps a journal. So I have suggested to the patient that she write down the events that led her to this place. I suspect that Miss Cora has put her cousin here to protect her. I admire her loyalty, just as I admire her grace and beauty, but I intend to find out the truth about what happened.

Since arriving, after we had restrained and sedated her, the patient has shown all signs of regaining her equilibrium. She sits quietly in her room, looking out of the window. She submits to treatments without complaint, and she is polite to the staff. But I am mindful of the words of Miss Cora, as she left.

“Whatever you do,” she whispered to me, terror etched on her lovely face, “don’t trust her.”

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Structuring your novel

Structuring your novel (Originally posted on: 23 October 2012)

I was asked over on the pocketeers about how to structure a pocket novel. As I'm a 'seat of my pants' sort of writer, I'm not very good at explaining how I do it. It just somehow works out in the end. But I can give some tips that I've picked up from reading other novels.

Chapter Lengths

A chapter is as long or short as it needs to be. For the purposes of light reading, I'd suggest keeping them under 3000 words, and/or using section breaks to break them up a little more. Mine are roughly 3000 words and I tend to think of each of those chapters as one or two scenes from the novel, much like scenes from a film or television drama. So for example, my first chapter will always be the setting the scene chapter, and end on a hook to get people to read on. I'll introduce the heroine and the hero (not necessarily in that order), and hint at any conflict either between them and/or within the story. If I'm writing a crime story (which I normally do) I ensure that any dead bodies or other crimes are discovered within the first couple of chapters. Putting them in the first chapter is even better.

There is no specific minimum on chapters allowed in either the Easy Reads or the People's Friend pocket novels, but mine are generally between 16 and 18 chapters, but that might include some shorter chapters, particularly near the end as the story is coming to a head.


If you have a Kindle, it can teach you a lot about pacing your novel. This is because Kindles don't give page numbers. They give percentages. One thing I noticed when reading the Repairman Jack series is how tightly F. Paul Wilson kept to a structure. The first 25% was the setting up of the story. After 25%, you found that what Repairman Jack thought he was investigating was something else entirely. At 50% something bad happens and it keeps happening till the story reaches 80%. Until then, Jack is losing whatever battle is being fought against him. At 80% is when Jack started to really fight back (not that he was a wuss before then), and things start to turn in his favour, until the end. The ending might not necessarily be a victory, or it may be a pyrrhic victory, but the fact was that by the end, Jack, even if he's bruised and broken, always lived to fight another day. The last 5% of the novel was the 'tying up loose ends' or 'setting down clues to the next story' part of the novel. If you have a Kindle, read any genre novel and you'll find a similar structure.

You could use this percentage structure in a romance.

*  The first 25% (12,500 words) is setting the scene and setting up any conflict between the hero and heroine.
* Up to 50% (25k)  they continue to skirt around each other, or get to know each other, but something is keeping them apart.
* At 50% they may reach the pivotal moment, where one realises they're in love with the other. So for the next 25% they may be making love or going out to dinner or whatever.
* At 75% (37,500 words) , is when the black moment comes. She's found out he's lied to her about something. Or maybe he finds out she's lied to him.  She's hurt and angry. He's hurt and angry.
* This goes on till the 90% mark (45k). In the last 10% they begin to find out the truth about each other and their feelings, and then all is resolved to the happy ending.

This is in no way a perfectly scientific calculation, and don't get too worried about making sure the word counts are perfectly in line to those I've suggested. It's just one way of looking at it, and a good way of helping you to pace your novel so that things don't all happen at once.

If you were to apply this to a 50k crime novel, it might (roughly) work this way.

* The first 25% (12,500 words) Introducing your sleuth, finding the victim or discovering the crime if it's non-violent. It's a convention of crime novels that the crime takes place very quickly. Readers like a body to appear as soon as possible if it's a murder mystery. It may even be a crime that happened years before.
* up to 50% (25k). Develop your sleuth, and the suspects. Drop some red herrings.
* At 50% Maybe have another murder at the exact halfway mark.
*  75% (37,500) the sleuth is still unable to solve the crime and people are acting suspiciously. Maybe someone else dies? It could be that the sleuth herself is put in danger
* At 90% (45k) the first real breakthrough in the case. The sleuth finds out something, or has a revelation, and is closing in on the killer.
* Last 10%. The reveal and the tying up of any loose ends.

If both the above structures were put into a graph, you would probably see how the line rises and falls as the story goes on, ending on a high as all is resolved. You'll also notice there's a lot to fill in, in between those percentages. That's where character development and other things come in. In a romance it will be the 'getting to know you' stages of a romance. In a crime story, it will be also be character development and the laying out of different clues. There may also be small sub-plots. For example when I write romantic intrigue I have both the romance elements and the crime elements to fit into those structures. But as I generally use the crime to develop the romance, it does work out in the end.

If you have a Kindle, you could always send your story to your device when it's finished and you'll get a rough idea if your story fits the structure.

You don't necessarily need to write your novel in order either. I've often written the last chapter halfway through a novel. Or I've written later chapters as they've occurred to me. This helps me know what I'm aiming for. Jane Wenham-Jones, in her book Wannabe a Writer? calls it the Mind the Gap exercise.  Basically if you get stuck, you write in block letters something like THIS IS THE PART WHERE CINDY AND JOE KISS. Then you move on to the next part, remembering to go back to Cindy and Joe's kiss before sending out the novel!

If anyone else has any tips for structuring a pocket novel, I'd love to hear them!

Monday, 2 February 2015

7 Tips for Writing the Perfect Romance

Leaving genres aside for a while, I thought I would share some top tips for writing your romance. With that in mind I asked some experts for their advice. Much does depend on the market you’re writing for, so always research what different publishers want.

Get the Hero and Heroine together as soon as possible

The first chapter is the best place to bring your hero and heroine together. The first page is better. The first paragraph is perfect. You can always feed in back story later. Once they are together, keep them together as much as possible. It’s a good idea to have them ‘on the same page’ at least 70% of the time. In Mills and Boon romances, they like the hero and heroine to be together at least 90% of the time. If they’re not together then they are thinking about each other. Keep the story focussed on the romance at all times, and make sure any sub-plots or external conflicts have some bearing on the romance.

Open the novel with a hook

One of the best bits of advice I was given by Kate Walker was to ‘never end a chapter with the heroine turning the light off and going to sleep’ as this is what your reader will do. I’d suggest the same goes for opening a novel. Try to avoid opening your novel with characters getting out of bed, or going to bed, or sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee in the morning. Start from a point of action rather than inaction. Think of the openings to classic novels. Jane Eyre starts with ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day’. Pride and Prejudice opens with ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’ Both openings set up questions for the reader that demand to be answered. Why does it matter so much to Jane Eyre that she cannot take a walk and what is it that matters about ‘that’ day? Will a single man of good fortune turn up?

Make sure your hero is a heroic

For Debbie Viggiano, “A hero has got to be exactly that. A hero. He must have impeccable behaviour throughout, no matter what the situation. I read a book where the hero - sticking up for the heroine - humiliated another woman badly. It just spoilt everything!”

I read a romantic novel where the modern-day hero saw the heroine receive money from a man at a wedding in broad daylight and immediately came to the astounding conclusion that she was a high class prostitute. After that, I found it hard to believe in him as a hero and felt that the story should have ended in the first chapter with her slapping him in the face and refusing to have anything to do with him ever again.

Let the hero and heroine earn their love

Sometimes it seems that the only reason a hero and heroine get together is because it has been decreed by the author that they do. This is known as being ‘strangled by the red string’ and happens when a relationship has not had time to evolve or the external conflict in a novel overtakes the internal and emotional conflicts of the hero and heroine. As well as showing your hero and heroine falling in love, you need to show why they’ve fallen in love. It’s not enough to tell the reader that the hero was the most handsome man the heroine had ever seen or that the heroine has a cute way of biting her lip. It needs to be shown why they are deserving of each other’s love, quite apart from their physical attractions. The reason they get together will come from their personalities.

Don’t throw the first kiss away

Mills and Boon historical novelist, Marguerite Kaye, says that one of her pet hates is “The hero and heroine getting hot and steamy without any reason at all. I just hate those kisses that are put in there because the author thinks, ‘I'm at page x and I haven't had them kiss yet’”

In romantic novels, kisses are milestones on the way to a relationship. Therefore, that first kiss has to mean something. It has to be the first of a million kisses. So make sure it matters and that, a) it’s not just put in for the reasons Marguerite states above and b) it isn’t mentioned as a throwaway line. Make that moment count for the hero and heroine and for the reader.

Make sure the conflict is important and plausible

Most romances will have some conflict keeping the hero and heroine apart. It is important that the conflict means something and keeps the reader wondering how the hero and heroine are going to get over it. One author, who also critiques novels by new writers, told me about one novel she read in which the hero stole the heroine’s parking space. She proceeded to hate him for that sole reason for most of the novel. It suggested that the heroine had severe psychological problems that falling love with the hero was not going to solve.

Marguerite Kaye cautions again conflicts, “… that can be resolved by having the hero and heroine just sit down and talk.” The conflict needs to be seemingly insurmountable. Author and writing tutor Elaine Everest says, “It's strange how many heroes have sworn off women since one evil encounter but then are attracted to our female lead within the first chapter.”

One great tip I received from Kate Walker was to think of the worst person your heroine could fall in love with and then make her fall in love with him.

Beware, however of a slap-slap-kiss type of romance, where the hero and heroine are at each other’s throats for 90% of the story, then finally realise they’re in love in the last 10%. You wouldn’t fall in love with someone who spent their whole time arguing with you and putting you down, so why should your hero/heroine? However, for the sake of balance, when I suggested this as a ‘no-no’ on Facebook, novelist Victoria Lamb disagreed, saying, “I like a slap-slap-kiss romance myself.”

I’d temper that by saying that yes, it can work if your hero and heroine are swapping witty repartee - think of the intelligent exchanges between Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester - but you still need to make it clear they like each other and with good reason. You will need some sort of ‘getting to know you’ time within the novel that proves to the reader that these two people are meant to be together.

Don’t write romance if you don’t like reading it

I know I’ve said this before, and in the very first article of this series, but I thought it was worth passing on the experience of writer, Val Bonney. “Never try to write Romance if you don't love reading it, no matter how good a writer you are.” When Val tried writing romance, her writing skills were praised but she was told that her attempts were formulaic. “(The novels) were rejected because I clearly didn't love the genre. Lesson learned!”