Sorry for the touching

In my last post, I looked at ways of trying to improve my luck. The main action points were to grasp opportunities, stay positive and do something out of the ordinary each week. Here’s an update on how I’ve been doing.

Last night I attended my first ever author talk in a local library. David Nolan, previously a journalist and TV producer, told us the story behind his crime novel Black Moor. It is named after a nearby reservoir in a bleak spot, the sort of spot Vera might trek to in order to view the body.

‘To Sue, Best wishes (sorry for the touching), David Nolan’

This was my ‘do something out of the ordinary’ thing for this week.

David is an entertaining speaker who claimed (tongue in cheek) he was so lucky that luck oozed from him. Hence, every time he told us about his next bit of luck, he held out his hand for me, as the nearest member of the audience, to touch him to rub off some luck. Perfect for my luck improving quest! (I may never wash my right hand again.)

Obviously, I bought his book and got him to sign it. He added ‘sorry for the touching’ to the dedication which I then had to explain to my husband. I’ve added Black Moss to my reading pile and look forward to it.

Last weeks’ out of the ordinary activity was a trip to London for The People’s Friend first Serial Writing Workshop. This provided many opportunities. First, a rare meeting with my sister and brother who live a lot close to London than I do. (I had totally forgotten about my dad folding up the clingfilm on his sarnies for Mum to reuse. Does anyone still do that?) Second, I had a challenging and informative day which left me more enlightened about what a People’s Friend serial looks like. Third, and perhaps best of all, I met an online writing friend (Fran Tracey, hellooo) and put names to lots of faces  such as Jenny Worstall, whose book Three Hundred Bridesmaids is in my reading pile, Alison Carter, prolific WOMAG author, and Francesca Capaldi who was a fellow short-lister in the People’s Friend serial-writing competition some years back. And there was a great sunset over the city viewed from Waterloo Bridge on the way home.

Mills & Boon

A week or two before that I grasped an opportunity. Marguerite Kaye, a romance author who I follow on Twitter for her weather updates on Argyll (I kid you not) asked for volunteers to honestly review her latest book in return for a free copy. My virtual hand shot straight up and the book duly arrived. My review of An Invitation to a Cornish Christmas is now up on Goodreads and Amazon. And I’ve decided to add a review page to this blog.


So, what has all this done for my luck? Are the acceptances rolling in? When is my book due out?

Ha! If only it was that easy. I have done a lot of useful networking, something I’m useless at generally. At David’s book talk, for example, I met Carmen Walton, a local WOMAG writer whose workshop was instrumental in getting me my first sale, and she bounced an idea off me for another workshop. I picked up a brochure for the Manchester lit festival (it’s hopeless to decide anything from the website) and I also found a flyer for a local writer’s group.

Reading Marguerite’s book, and another Mills & Boon which I picked up at the RNA conference, has convinced me that historical romance is where my heart lies.

The People's Friend
The People’s Friend offices at 185 Fleet Street

And the trip to London? That was just magical. Who knew The People’s Friend offices look like this? Or you could get a handmade sandwich (salmon and dill) and a coffee with significant change from a fiver right in the heart of London? So many little experiences that will no doubt come in useful for a story somewhere. And a chap tried to chat me up on the train home!

So I might not have been lucky, but there have been a lot of positives which I think illustrates why we writers must get out from behind the computer and do stuff we wouldn’t normally to make things happen.

I just have to think up an unusual (for me) activity for next week now.

What are you doing?


Luck is all in the Mind

I’m trying to stay positive this week. It’s a tad tricky given the disappointment of the feedback on my novel last week, not making the long list of Agora’s “Lost the Plot” work in progress competition and losing badly to my husband (again) at Scrabble last night. I need picking up.

I need some luck.

So, I found this article on luck, the traits of ‘unlucky’ people and how to improve your ‘luck’. The description of ‘unlucky’ people is me to a T. The thing is, I used to consider myself lucky; it’s only as I’ve got older that nothing good ever seems to happen. Is this just a mindset? According to the article, yes! “Luck is well within your control.”

Lucky people are more likely to be:

  • extrovert (nope)
  • make eye contact frequently
  • smile more often

In short, they are more sociable and optimistic.

Unlucky people are more likely to be neurotic and anxious (is it any wonder with all these bad things happening?). And presumably, they are more pessimistic, too (I refer you to the tag line of this blog…)

The good news is you can improve your luck. Hurrah! Here’s how:

  • Keep your mind and eyes open. Keep an open eye for other opportunities. Don’t focus too much on your goal.
  • Look on the positive side
  • Do something out of the ordinary this week

So, I’m off to buy a pair of shoes.

I can’t remember the last time I bought shoes and I definitely need new ones. I am not going to worry about parking or not finding ones I like, and I will focus on how wonderful they’ll look with my new white Capri trousers. I’m not going to think about the fact it is chucking it down out there and I’ll probably get drenched. I’m not going to wonder how big my bum will look in white capris, either (well, maybe a little).

And nope, it’s not going to rain for the wedding this weekend, either, no matter what the forecast says.

Oh, and I’m going to smile at people, too.

Quite how this will get my novel published, or stop my drake trying to kill his offspring, I don’t know, but it might make me feel better.

So, how are you improving your luck today?

Shades of Purple

It’s been a bad week at Cook Towers. We spent several days chasing an unpleasant smell in the kitchen before tracing it to a stagnant evaporation tray at the back of our new fridge. A new cat has found our garden, threatening the flourishing baby bird population and our ducks and ducklings.

But worst of all, the critique on the manuscript I submitted under the New Writer Scheme of the Romantic Novelist’s Association arrived.

I was hoping for just a few tweaks on a story I’d worked really hard on and had high hopes for.


While there were a lot of positives, the problems with my story include the subject matter, length, and heat level!

Me after reading my report

In short, it does not fit a category. This was particularly upsetting because it pinpoints one of my personal weaknesses: comparing, assimilating and categorising. I’m hopeless at it, not just in writing but all aspects of my life. I once caused ructions on a treasure hunt because I’d put one of the clues in the pocket of my husband’s coat which I described as purple. The kids couldn’t find a purple coat. When I told them which coat I meant, everyone said it was blue, not purple, and I am not colour blind! Show me a chart of purples, blues and pinks and I can point to the colour of a violet. Show me one purple (or do I mean blue?) and I will not be able to tell you what colour purple it is. As for the beige spectrum, forget it.

And so it is with writing. The whole genre thing stumps me. Give me a crime to read and I can have a stab at which subgenre it might be, but I won’t be sure. I’m even a bit hazy on the differences between crime, thriller and suspense.

So the questions ‘where do you see this novel fitting into the market?’ and ‘who do you write like?’ paralyse me. I don’t know. More importantly, I don’t know how to fix it.

Telling me to read more doesn’t help because I don’t have the necessary hardware (or possibly software) to assimilate that reading and turn it into a useful targeting or marketing strategy. I can only describe it as similar to telling someone who actually is colour blind to look at more greens and reds.

I don’t even know which subgenre some of my favourite writers write in. Sarah Morgan, for example: is she mainstream or long contemporary? It doesn’t helpfully say on the Harlequin website.

So, what to do?

By complete coincidence, today the HarlequinWritingCommunity‘s Facebook group page posted about books to help you write that novel. This Harlequin page is great, by the way, if you want to write for them because there are all sorts of useful links to stuff on their website which can be otherwise hard to find, and notification of specific submission calls etc, which I would otherwise miss.

The list of books is actually on the So You Think You Can Write website. I have read 2 – Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and Steven King’s On Writing. Neither helped with my problem.

Kate Walker’s 12-point guide to writing romance, a well-known British book for romance writers, is not on this list. Nor is the one I found which sounds like it is for me: on writing romance by Leigh Michaels.

on writing romance available from Amazon

Leigh’s book arrived this morning, a paper copy for me to scribble on and stick Post-its by the most relevant passages. I’ve only looked at chapter one so far but it is written clearly in simple, easy-to-understand language. She has outlined all the different sub-genres very clearly and there is this telling line: If you don’t understand the differences between similar-looking categories, you may end up writing a manuscript that doesn’t really fit anywhere.

Which sums up my problem perfectly. And I think this is what budding but as yet unsuccessful romance writers refer to as ‘the formula’. Each line has a specific set of requirements which some people will master easily and others, like me, won’t.

Fortunately, Leigh follows this up with a framework for analysing various romance categories (or lines). Hopefully, with this, I can work out the ‘formula’ or requirements for a specific category romance and start writing books I might be able to send to the right publisher.

So, I’m going to get out my pen and ruler and my little flag-like Post-its and read this book before I write any more. Otherwise, I know I will keep writing books no one will know what to do with.

Including me.




10 Tips to Help You Write Out of Season.

One day this week, in high summer, I found myself writing a Christmas story for The People’s Friend. This is typical behaviour for magazine story writers, obviously, but it doesn’t make things easy.

Actually, it wasn’t that difficult this time because the weather was positively filthy and the sky so dark that at 4pm you could honestly believe dusk was nigh.

But when the sun is shining brightly and the trees are clothed with green, as they say, how do you get yourself in winter mode? And if it’s minus 15 outside, the heating’s turned up to max and your fingers are still numb, how do you get yourself into summer hols mode?

It can be difficult. But here are a few of the tips I use.

  1. Start writing your seasonal story in that season. I have a number of December stories that I started in December, Halloween stories that I suddenly had inspiration for in October. Mark on the diary when you need to send them off next year and make sure you do it.
  2. Keep a photo diary. I have lots of photos of the countryside, the village etc, at various times of the year so I can refer to them for inspiration, mood and setting whenever I need to.

    A local winter scene in my photo diary
  3. If you don’t do photographs, go online and look some up. Watch a film from that time of year. Turn the lights off, close the curtains, put the fake fire on and get Frostie on the TV. Immerse yourself visually in that season/event.
  4. Read stories based at that time of year. You’ll find some online, or if like me you have Readly, you can read April’s mags in January, Augusts in May…
  5. Lookup a holiday for that time of year and imagine yourself there.
  6. Actually take a break somewhere where the weather is right: nip off on a last-minute bargain to the Azores in winter, Iceland in summer (chances are you’ll get some cold rain).
  7. Think outside the box. In the UK, Christmastime is inevitably cold and miserable, but in Australia or South Africa… Who says you have to be celebrating at home? Being away from home might be one of your ‘problems to solve’, especially if you’re in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas.
  8. Keep last year’s editorials from the magazines you target: the editor will often give ideas there for their seasonal content.
  9. Look back at your diary/blog entries/texts from that the relevant time for inspiration. What were you up to? What little hiccups got thrown your way?
  10. Freewrite! Remember those? Sit with a pen and paper and a relevant item in front of you (a Christmas card, cream egg, picture of a firework display, whatever), set your timer for 5-15 minutes and GO.
  11. Put that tape of carols on, put up the tree and pretend you’re visiting Antipodean rellies…

I’ll stop there. I meant to stop at 10 but the ideas keep coming. No doubt you’ve got some of your own. And, I must go and put “No Little Something”, a light-hearted story about a man who never knows what to get his wife, in the post.

Exterminate, Exterminate

No, I’m not talking about Daleks, but verbs.

Last weekend I attended my first Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. What a fabulous event! Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, and the range of talks offered made it difficult to choose. I changed my mind several times and still regret switching out of the session on alternatives to MS Word.

I left more enthused than ever to finish my current writing projects. This means, however, I am editing novels rather than writing new stories. I am a member of the New Writer Scheme. This means I can have a manuscript assessed by an experienced romance writer, as long as I submit it by the end of August. Some organised people have got theirs in already.

I have a finished novella which has been rejected by Carina. I could send it in now, but…

I have improved areas of the story which I think lacked passion (this means emotional power, not more sex) and am now on the final proofreading. Or so I thought.

A snapshot of the work ahead

I am hopeless at proofreading my own work, so I have a paid-for electronic editor, ProWriting Aid, which picks up a lot (but not all) of the problems. One of the features it offers is overused words. This is a handy function but, to my chagrin, almost always lists the same problem verbs: was/were (or is/are if I’m writing in the present tense), have/had, knew/know, think/thought, could, feel/felt.

Why are these a problem? With the exception of ‘could’, they are all stative verbs, that is verbs which describe things. They tell the reader about something rather than show it in action. This is one of the reasons so many writing blogs advise chasing down and exterminating the verb ‘to be’.

Let me explain a little more about stative as opposed to active, or doing, verbs. Stative verbs indicate:

  • properties or states of being/belonging: That was my ex-husband. Morally it was right. Damian was so angry that … Your colour is better.  These things had no place in the field
  • ownership: Probably she had friends who were lords. I’ve a croft about a mile from here.
  • thoughts and opinions: You wouldn’t believe how many emails that generates. I know this is a fling. I didn’t recognize you. I woke up and saw sense.
  • senses: She felt the kick of adrenaline… “Thank God,” Damian said when he saw them.

These are all examples from my novella, Digging up the Past. After working through the first 12 pages yesterday, ProWriting Aid still advises reducing was/were from 590 to 476. I have no idea how it comes up with this second figure, but it signifies that I’m probably telling more than I’m showing so some rewriting is necessary. The important point is how to go about it.

You will find plenty of advice online, but I find a lot of this ends up simply substituting one verb for another or adding in a cliché. For example, instead of ‘The room was very silent,’ a suggested rewrite was ‘Silence filled the room’. Really? In my opinion, this is unimaginative writing of another kind: yes, you’ve eliminated a ‘was’ but not in a good way!

You can’t exterminate ‘to be’ or ‘to have’. Sometimes they form part of the progressive tense and that is correct for the situation: “I was taking a bath when the intruder broke in.” If you change this to ‘I took a bath when the intruder broke in.’ it means something completely different. Leave it in.

Sometimes it is right to tell: it moves the story on quickly.

Dialogue is another issue. The sort of writing I do — romance and women’s fiction — contains a high proportion of dialogue. People use the verbs ‘to be’ and ‘to have’ a lot when speaking: writing these verbs out will result in some unwieldy utterances. For example, ‘That was my ex-husband.’ is spoken by my heroine to the hotel keeper who has just encountered the dastardly Jonathan. How else will Lauren convey this fact without sounding like a thesaurus? Ditto ‘I had no idea’ and ‘I’ve a croft about a mile from here’. There are alternative ways of phrasing these, but they aren’t necessarily better in context.

So, I am concentrating on the problem verbs occurring outside speech because that’s where the most gain will be made. ‘She … felt the kick of adrenaline that came with the start of a new dig.’ probably needs to go, especially as it’s in the first paragraph. How to do that without descending into purple prose will be a challenge. If you have any suggestions, please let me know inform me leave a comment.

Nobody said writing well is easy.